Bishop Robert Barron on Hell: May we reasonably hope that all will be saved?

Bishop Robert Barron, prior to being promoted to the episcopate, gave a video talk for WordonFire.org, also found on YouTube: Fr. Robert Barron on Whether Hell is Crowded or Empty.

After discussing a range of views on the topic, Fr. Barron agrees with the position of Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar:

“My own view, having surveyed this grand tradition, my own view is that Balthasar has it pretty much right. I think that God desires all people to be saved. God has gone to the limits of God-forsakenness to effect this salvation. Can it be resisted? Yes, and that’s why we have to hold to the existence of Hell, at least as a possibility.”

“We have to accept the possibility of Hell. We have to accept the existence of it as a possibility because of human freedom. But, are any human beings in Hell. We don’t know. We don’t know. The Church has never declared on that subject. And we may pray that all be saved, and may even reasonably hope that all be saved…. It’s a theologically-grounded reasonable hope that all will be saved.”

“Bottom line: we may reasonably hope that all people will be saved.”

The video talk begins with a condemnation of the heresy of apocatastasis [Greek for “restoration”], which claims that all human persons and all fallen angels will eventually be saved. Fr. Barron: “Well, the Church condemned apocatastasis, and It said that it wasn’t taking Hell seriously enough.” And here is the text of that condemnation:

Council of Constantinople II, Canon 9: “If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema.” [Denzinger 211]

Notice that the condemnation extends not only to the position that all fallen angels and all human persons are saved, but also the position that either group, angels or human persons, is entirely saved.

Now Fr. Barron seems to reject apocatastasis, which he describes as the certitude that all are saved. However, his position is that we may hope and pray that all are saved. His position is that perhaps no human persons are in Hell. He states a lack of certitude, and so he thinks that he avoids the heresy of apocatastasis by this stated lack of certitude. But that is not how heresy works.

For example, suppose a Christian decides that Jesus was just a man, and not Divine at all, as if he had only a human nature, and no Divine Nature. Well, that is certainly a severe heresy. But what if a Christian takes the position that “perhaps” Jesus was just a man, but “we don’t know”. Suppose he says that “we may reasonably hope” that Jesus is the Son of God, but we don’t have to believe that he is the Son of God. Well, that position is also heresy.

Canon law (and the Catechism quoting Canon law) define heresy as either of two things: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.” [Can. 751]. If you deny or doubt, obstinately, any truth that is a required belief, then you are guilty of heresy. In this case, obstinate doubt is not a passing doubt or a feeling of uncertainty, but a definitive choice to consider a dogma of the faith to be perhaps false.

If a person holds to the heresy of the salvation of all angels, or of all human persons, or both, that is the heresy of apocatastasis. But if you instead say that we may reasonably hope and pray that the condemned heresy (that all human persons will be saved) is actually the truth, it is no less heretical.

What Fr. Robert Barron (now a Bishop) has clearly stated as his own theological position is that we may reasonably hope and pray that the heresy condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople is actually the truth: that all human persons will be saved. Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, has publicly stated a position which is abject heresy. Now this might not be the sin of formal heresy, since he seems to have misunderstood the extent of the condemnation of the Council. But it is a serious material heresy, which ought not to be found among the theological opinions of any Bishop or priest.

Essentially, anyone who hopes and prays that all human persons will be saved and eventually enter eternal life in Heaven is hoping and praying that Jesus and Mary and Sacred Scripture have all uttered lie after lie about salvation and Hell, and that the various Saints and visionaries who were given visions of Hell were all shown lies. Either Jesus and Mary and Sacred Scripture and many Saints are all liars, or we may not reasonably hope and pray that all are saved.

Certainly, we can pray for any human person in this life, and for the souls in purgatory. Before death, a human person might repent of any and all grave sins, thereby obtaining eternal life. But we cannot reasonably or faithfully pray that God act contrary to the teachings of Sacred Scripture and Jesus and the Church on the need to repent from every actual mortal sin prior to death. We cannot reasonably or faithfully pray for an end result that contradicts Jesus, Mary, Sacred Scripture, and the Saints.

Should we pray that those who are unrepentant from actual mortal sin be sent to Hell? Yes, according to Scripture:

[Psalms]
{30:18} Do not let me be confounded, Lord, for I have called upon you. Let the impious be ashamed and be drawn down into Hell.

Does Sacred Scripture state or imply that some human souls are in Hell? Yes, very clearly:

{48:15} They have been placed in Hell like sheep. Death will feed on them. And the just will have dominion over them in the morning. And their help will grow old in Hell for their glory.

{54:16} Let death come upon them, and let them descend alive into Hellfire. For there is wickedness in their dwellings, in their midst.

[Sirach]
{21:11} The way of sinners is paved and level, and at their end is hell and darkness and punishments.

[Ecclesiastes]
{9:3} This is a very great burden among all things that are done under the sun: that the same things happen to everyone. And when the hearts of the sons of men are filled with malice and contempt in their lives, afterwards they shall be dragged down to hell.

[Isaiah]
{5:14} For this reason, Hell has expanded its soul, and has opened its mouth without any limits. And their strong ones, and their people, and their exalted and glorious ones will descend into it.

{14:15} Yet truly, you shall be dragged down to Hell, into the depths of the pit.

If there is no Hell, or if no human person goes there, then the above verses are lies. And no one can claim that these verses are only a warning, so that people will avoid Hell, since it is useless to warn someone about a danger than never afflicts a single person out of many billions of persons.

Then the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels are even more clear:

[Matthew]
{5:22} But I say to you, that anyone who becomes angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. But whoever will have called his brother, ‘Idiot,’ shall be liable to the council. Then, whoever will have called him, ‘Worthless,’ shall be liable to the fires of Hell.

If no one goes to Hell, then no one is liable to Hell. A punishment that is never given to anyone is not a punishment.

{5:29} And if your right eye causes you to sin, root it out and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body be cast into Hell.
{5:30} And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body go into Hell.

But if no one goes to Hell, then this saying is a lie. It is not better to lose a member, if there is no danger of losing the whole person to Hell.

{10:28} And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But instead fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.

And why should we fear Hell, if no one is ever sent there? But the situation is not improved by the saying “perhaps no one goes to Hell”. For it is the same as saying “perhaps Jesus is lying”.

{11:23} And you, Capernaum, would you be exalted all the way to heaven? You shall descend all the way to Hell. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, perhaps it would have remained, even to this day.

If no one is sent to Hell, then this saying of Jesus is a lie.

{25:40} And in response, the King shall say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did this for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me.’
{25:41} Then he shall also say, to those who will be on his left: ‘Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.
{25:42} For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and you did not give me to drink;
{25:43} I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not cover me; sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.’
{25:44} Then they will also answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
{25:45} Then he shall respond to them by saying: ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did not do it to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.’
{25:46} And these shall go into eternal punishment, but the just shall go into eternal life.”

If no one goes to Hell, then Jesus was lying when He said “these shall go to eternal punishment”. As for the saying that we can “reasonably pray” or “reasonably hope” that no one goes to Hell, it is the same as saying we hope and pray that Jesus was uttering one falsehood after another about salvation. And that is neither reasonable nor faithful.

[Luke]
{16:22} Then it happened that the beggar died, and he was carried by the Angels into the bosom of Abraham. Now the wealthy man also died, and he was entombed in Hell.

Above is another saying of Jesus’ that would be an absolute lie if Jesus knows that no human persons will end up in Hell. He describes a man who died and went to Hell.

Fr. Barron (now a Bishop) claims that the Church has never said that anyone was in Hell. Does he not care that Sacred Scripture and Jesus specifically have said that some souls are in Hell? Does the Church need to repeat every word in the Bible, and every word in Jesus’ sayings in order for us to be required to believe?

[Mark]
{9:42} And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life disabled, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the unquenchable fire,
{9:43} where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished.
{9:44} But if your foot causes you to sin, chop it off: it is better for you to enter into eternal life lame, than having two feet to be cast into the Hell of unquenchable fire,
{9:45} where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished.
{9:46} But if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into the Hell of fire,
{9:47} where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished.

IF no one is in Hell, then Jesus was lying when He said “their worm does not die”.

[1 Corinthians]
{6:9} Do you not know that the iniquitous will not possess the kingdom of God? Do not choose to wander astray. For neither fornicators, nor servants of idolatry, nor adulterers,
{6:10} nor the effeminate, nor males who sleep with males, nor thieves, nor the avaricious, nor the inebriated, nor slanderers, nor the rapacious shall possess the kingdom of God.

The position which says that perhaps no one is sent to Hell is incompatible with the above verses from Sacred Scripture. Persons who commit these sins and do not repent before death will be punished in Hell.

[Acts]
{24:15} having a hope in God, which these others themselves also expect, that there will be a future resurrection of the just and the unjust.

[Revelation]
{20:13} And the sea gave up the dead who were in it. And death and Hell gave up their dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.

Saint Paul, in Acts of the Apostles, states that there will be a resurrection of the just souls in Purgatory and Heaven, as well as the unjust souls in Hell. And the book of Revelation agrees, explaining that even Hell gives up its dead to the Resurrection. It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that the general Resurrection includes a resurrection of all the souls in Hell (as well as Purgatory and Heaven). But if no souls are sent to Hell, then that dogma is false. And saying “perhaps” or “we hope and pray” does not make the claim any less heretical. It is the same as saying “perhaps Jesus is a liar — I didn’t say certainly, I only said perhaps!”

The book of Revelation also states that the Antichrist and the false prophet who assists him are both thrown into Hell (Rev 19:20). Where does bishop Robert Barron think that the Antichrist and the false prophet are sent? Shall we hope and pray that they and all their unrepentant followers are sent to Heaven?

The claim that every human person eventually arrives in Heaven implies that Hitler and his accomplices in genocide and torture go to Heaven with their victims, that rapists and abusers spend eternity with their victims, that people who will worship the Antichrist or devils or false gods of any kind nevertheless go to Heaven with those who worship God. The claim that all go to Heaven places in the same eternal destination, the unrepentant wicked and the innocent who were harmed by them, together forever. To say that we should hope and pray for such an outcome is sick and twisted. Such a claim has been rightly condemned, infallibly, by the Church.

The position of bishop Robert Barron on salvation is explicitly condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople. It is contrary to the infallible teachings of Sacred Scripture, in both Testaments, on Hell and contrary to Jesus’ own words. It is contrary to the dogma that the general Resurrection includes the resurrection of the just and the unjust. And it is incompatible with the teaching of the Council of Florence:

“But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

If no one dies in actual mortal sin, this teaching becomes null and void, as well as false. There can be no “unequal pains”, if not a single soul is sent to Hell.

The position of Fr. Barron also makes null and void the dogma that “Outside the Church, there is no salvation”. That teaching becomes a joke, if no one is outside the Church.

I am compelled by reason and faith to state that the position of bishop Robert Barron (expressed before he became bishop) is abject heresy, entirely incompatible with the infallible teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium on salvation and Hell. How any man can be a priest or bishop, while imagining that perhaps no souls are sent to Hell at all, is beyond my understanding. Whosoever says that perhaps Hell is empty in effect says that perhaps Jesus is a liar. Whosoever says that the existence of Hell is only a possibility in effect says that it is only a possibility that Jesus is telling the truth.

See also: Bishop Robert Barron versus the Magisterium on Hell

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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One Response to Bishop Robert Barron on Hell: May we reasonably hope that all will be saved?

  1. Michael says:

    Excellent post Ron. I’ve always been a fan of Bishop Barron’s work but I must admit I was confounded when I read his statements on Hell awhile back.

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