Hell Is Real — And It Isn’t Empty

Bishop Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and a pioneer of online evangelism, is hardly prone to controversy. Yet the telegenic prelate stirred something of a firestorm back in June that continues to spill ink today. In fact, it isn’t a new debate at all. Commenting on the Gospel reading for June 25 (Matthew 7), Bishop Barron noted that, “from time immemorial,” people have asked who will be saved and who will be damned. In response, Barron argues:

The official answer of the Church is that we don’t know. We are clearly warned about the real possibility of damnation. We do indeed know that there are many in heaven, for the saints are formally declared to be so. But there are no anti-saints in the Church; there is no one whom the Church has formally declared to be a denizen of Hell.

Therefore, without succumbing for a moment to anything-goes presumption, we are permitted to hope that all people might be saved. Indeed, St. Paul writes to Timothy: “God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Bishop Barron’s meditation was widely compared to a famed (or infamous) question posed by Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar: “Dare we hope that all men be saved?” (Barron is a well-known fan of von Balthasar’s.)

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