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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 17, Issue 7/8, 2007

New Stages of Universalism: Complementarity of Secular & Sacred

Wacław Hryniewicz
Pages 81-105

“BUT THE PROBLEM REMAINS”. John Paul II and the universalism of the hope for salvation

This article shows that Christianity in its perception of eschatological events has early on given up the concept of therapeutic and corrective punishment, turning to the idea of vindictive and retributive punishment. Similarly to other Churches, the Roman Catholic Church in its teachings does not officially support the hope for universal salvation. Pope John Paul II developed his eschatological thinking in a careful way; he did not close the way to further search. The Pope reminded that former councils discarded the theory of apokatastasis (teaching that all creature would be saved), but admitted that “the problem remains”. He attempted at retaining the tension existing between the New Testament statement on the general intention of God to save all humankind and Christ’s words on the “eternal punishment” awaiting people lost through their own egoism and insensitivity to others. In the Pope’s teachings, traditional concepts are interwoven with new accents which correct the false idea of God as the cause of damnation and the creator of eternal hell. Hell is not a punishment imposed by God, but a state of final self-exclusion from communion with God. According to Pope, hell is above all a moral postulate, a requirement of justice in view of terrible human crimes which must not go unpunished. A final punishment is to serve the retention of moral balance in the history of humanity. The author of this article argues that all those in favor of the hope for universal salvation do not, by any means, preach impunity or mandatory amnesty. One has to bear the consequence of one’s evil actions. Moral consciousness is saved. Salvation is not a necessity or a compulsion but a God’s gift that has to be accepted freely. God does not remain entirely helpless in view of human freedom. He can attract it to Himself, purify it and transform it through His patient and boundless love. This can happen only through unimaginable suffering and terrible torment which, in human terms, can be even called eternal, taking whole centuries due to their quality and intensity, as suggested by the very Greek term aiōnios. It is a torment directed at correction and healing, which is prompted by the Greek term kólasis in Christ’s parable on the final judgment. The position of John Paul II betrays his internal split between the hope for universal salvation and the reality of eternal damnation. The studies instigated by the Church’s great minds caused also his anxiety, but as a pope and a teacher he wanted to keep faith with the teachings of councils and the traditional interpretation of biblical texts. The author of the article is convinced that the Christianity of the future will at some point achieve greater courage in its attitude to eschatological issues. The pedagogics of hope and mercy might then take the place of pedagogics of fear of God and eternal hell.

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