Update: I have edited this post and the following posts in this series slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of universalism clearer.
Last time, I defined Hard Universalism (HU)–all will be saved; Soft Universalism (SU)–we may hope all will be saved, but ought not to inquire beyond that; and what I’ve called Optimistic Universalism (OU)–we hope all will be saved, and the likelihood is that they probably will be. That is to say, OU, while having no metaphysical distinction from SU except degree, is functionally equivalent to HU. I myself hold and advocate OU. For reasons I discussed last time, it seems that OU is not heretical. I said last time that there is only one reason I can think of that one might, from a traditionalist perspective, reject OU. That’s the topic of this post.
Generally, one will hear that universalism is a form of the sin of presumption. The definition, and some commentary, from the linked article, my emphasis:
[Presumption] may be defined as the condition of a soul which, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them. Presumption is said to offend against hope by excess, as despair by defect.
Suarez…enumerates five ways in which one may be guilty of presumption, as follows:
- by hoping to obtain by one’s natural powers, unaided, what is definitely supernatural… after grievous sin (this would involve a Pelagian frame of mind);
- a person might look to have his sins forgiven without adequate penance….
- a man might expect some special assistance from Almighty God for the perpetration of crime (this would be blasphemous as well as presumptuous);
- one might aspire to certain extraordinary supernatural excellencies, but without any conformity to the determinations of God’s providence. Thus one might aspire to equal in blessedness the Mother of God;
- finally, there is the transgression of those who, whilst they continue to lead a life of sin, are as confident of a happy issue as if they had not lost their baptismal innocence.
Theologians draw a sharp distinction between the attitude of one who goes on in a vicious career, precisely because he counts upon pardon, and one whose persistence in wrongdoing is accompanied, but not motivated, by the hope of forgiveness. The first they impeach as presumption of a very heinous kind; the other is not such specifically. In practice it happens for the most part that the expectation of ultimate reconciliation with God is not the cause, but only the occasion, of a person’s continuing in sinful indulgence. Thus the particular guilt of presumption is not contracted.
Let’s analyze this.