The answer to the question, “Will everyone be saved?”, would appear to be simply a matter of fact, yes or no. But, is it? The answer could be simply a matter of fact if the answer were a definitive component of the supernatural revelation received by the Church. The question would then be solely within the context of the supernatural virtue of faith.
However, from the perspective of man, it is not primarily within the context of the supernatural virtue of faith, let alone solely so. From our human perspective, the question is primarily within the context of the supernatural virtue of hope by which each individual possesses hope for his personal salvation. The theme of this essay is that the virtue of hope, to be personal, and thereby coordinate with the personal virtue of humility, must extend itself to hope for everyone.
The Two Perspectives: Hope and Faith
Of the two divergent views on the question, “Will Everyone Be Saved?”, Bishop Robert Barron favors the perspective of hope, while Taylor Marshall and Timothy Gordon favor the perspective of faith. From the perspective of hope, Barron claims that it is permissible both to pray and to hope that everyone is saved, but it is possible some will not. From the perspective of faith, Marshall and Gordon claim that it has been revealed to the Church that not everyone will be saved. Their perspective precludes prayer and hopes to the contrary.
The Perspective of Hope
Bishop Barron notes the frequency with which Jesus talks of hell. He also notes two fundamental truths of the faith, namely, that God is love and that men have free will. The former is revealed in the fact that God has raised man’s destiny to the beatific vision. The latter, free will, requires the possibility of hell. Barron notes that hell is not a place but the chosen condition of one’s existence due to the finality of one’s rejection of God and his mercy. God sends no one to a place called hell. Hell is the final rejection of God. Hell is not only the self-imposed exile from personal beatitude but the exiling of oneself into the utter misery of solitary loneliness. Barron proposes that we must admit the possibility of choosing hell, but we may hope and pray that no one makes that final choice.
What is Our Hope Regarding Salvation?
An examination of our hope demonstrates that the virtue of humility requires us to hope for the salvation of everyone, in order for us to hope for our personal salvation.
This is evident in the Old Testament:
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered. (Psalms 130:3-4)
Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33: 18-22)
Throughout the New Testament, our Lord tells us unless we forgive everyone, we will not be forgiven. Analogously, unless we hope for the salvation of everyone, we cannot hope for our own salvation:
[Jesus said:] “When [the unforgiving servant’s] fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’” (Matthew 18:31-33)
Each of us must love his neighbor as himself. The New Testament story of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” The story implies our identification with the Samaritan. The Jewish victim is the recipient of the Samaritan’s neighborly love (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’ Jewish audience, however, would identify with the Jewish victim. Thus, the audience would interpret the story to answer the question, “And who is neighbor to me?” The prejudice of his Jewish audience would prompt, “To hell with the Samaritan!”
The lawyer’s reply to Jesus’ question at the end of the story was, “The one who showed him mercy.” The lawyer could not even utter the word Samaritan in a complimentary context. We are being taught not to condemn anyone to hell, but to see hope for the salvation of everyone, even our enemies, as inseparable from our personal hope for salvation.
What is Our Prayer Regarding the Salvation of Others?
… [F]orgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us …” (Lord’s Prayer)
Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. (Divine Mercy Chaplet)
To exclude oneself from the hope of salvation is the sin of despair. To pray while including oneself and excluding others from the hope of salvation is to pray in accord with the Pharisee, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11).
The Perspective of Faith
One could infer that not everyone will be saved from every mention of judgment by Jesus in the New Testament. This inference could be readily made from Jesus’ analogy of the sheep and the goats in the final judgment of men:
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)
Indeed, one could argue that these words of Jesus cannot be understood to be simply a warning of the possibility of hell for humans.
Marshal and Gordon cite the vision of human souls in hell in the ecclesiastically approved private revelation at Fatima as a reiteration of the fact within apostolic revelation that not everyone will be saved. However, they fail to mention the Fatima prayer, quoted above, asking Jesus to “lead all souls to heaven”.
Faith’s Mode of Knowledge of the Supernatural
Of the three cardinal virtues of faith, hope, and charity, only charity will persist after our life on earth. However, even our experience of charity after death, will not be what it is in this life. In this life, we possess these three supernatural virtues, but our experience of them is only in a natural mode. This is particularly evident with respect to Faith. Through the gift of the virtue of faith, we know the truth of supernatural things, but our knowledge of the supernatural is in the mode of natural human knowledge. This was poignantly noted by Blaise Pascal:
As Jesus Christ remained unknown among men, so His truth remains among common opinions without external difference. Thus the Eucharist among ordinary bread. (Pensées 789)
The natural mode of our experience of the virtue of hope was the basis of a question posed by professors of the University of Paris in their attempt to entrap an illiterate teenager at her trial in 1431. If Joan of Arc answered no, she would be admitting that her “voices” and her mission were demonic. If Joan answered yes, she would be judged guilty of the sin of presumption against the virtue of hope, by claiming to have supernatural knowledge of the supernatural state of her soul.
Asked if she knows she is in God’s grace, she answered: “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” (The Trial of Joan of Arc 52)
The Catechism cites Joan’s answer as an excellent exercise of the virtue of hope and notes that our mode of knowledge of the faith is natural, not supernatural (CCC 2005).
Conclusion: Jesus and the Church as Our Models
Jesus expressed his hope for the salvation of everyone by voluntarily dying on the cross and making his sacrifice for us sinners immediately present to us in the Mass. His verbal expression while on the cross was, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” St. Paul reiterates this hope of salvation for everyone:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
The Church is our source of revelation, albeit in the mode of natural knowledge. She names many saints in heaven and honors a myriad of saints anonymously. However, she names no one as in hell. In imitating Jesus and the Church, we must forgive everyone and not assign anyone, even anonymously, to hell, lest we too be so assigned. The virtues of humility and hope require our hoping that everyone be saved. The virtue of faith does not restrict the virtues of humility and hope, thereby the faith permits and encourages hope and prayer, in accord with Jesus’ desire, that everyone be saved.