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Father_Robert_Barron photo via Frank Licorice

I do enjoy many of Bishop Barron’s works with his apostolate Word of Fire. I also appreciate his podcast sermons which often highlight the typology of the scripture to often help flesh it out in the context that it would have been understood and how we’re to apply the Word of God today.

However, my problem relies on Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s theological influence on Bishop Barron’s ideas which I’ll call semi-universalism. Bishop Barron writes on Catholic News Agency, “Balthasar taught as well that we may reasonably hope that all people will be brought to heaven. A good part of Balthasar’s argument is grounded in the Church’s liturgy, which demands that we pray for the salvation of all. If we knew that Hell was indeed a crowded place, this type of prayer would be senseless.”

I just do not understand his reasoning with his last statement that if hell is crowded then praying for the salvation of all “would be senseless.” The liturgy has been adjusted with the proper vernacular word of the salvation of “many,” an acknowledgment of the reality that is professed in scripture. Furthermore, it’s shocking that he seems to miss the fundamental essence of what it means to pray. It would be like saying in a real-world situation, “You can’t save everyone from a sinking ship, so practicing to swim is senseless.”

Rev. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap has written a critique on Balthasar and by extension Bishop Robert Barron on CatholicCulture.org:

The problem with Balthasar’s “hope” is that it conceals an implicit doubt about the Church’s philosophy of truth and her doctrine on Jesus Christ.

A hope is absurd unless there is the possibility that it will be realized in the future. But, if Balthasar’s “hope” would come to fruition and everyone would, in fact, be saved, what would then be said about the fact that this situation contradicts statements in sacred Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church? If these sources clearly teach that Judas or someone else is in Hell (or will be in Hell), then to hope that everyone will be saved is to hope either that these sources of revelation are in error or that the natural law with its principle of noncontradiction is in error…

…as St. Augustine demonstrated in his Homilies on the Gospel of John, it is John 17:12 that indicates Judas’s eternal punishment:

The Son therefore goes on to say: “Those that thou gavest me, I have kept, and none of them is lost, but [i.e., except] the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (Jn. 17:12). The betrayer of Christ was called the son of perdition, as foreordained to perdition, according to the Scripture, where it is specially prophesied of him in the 109th psalm” [in some Bibles 108th Psalm] (Tractate cvii, No.7, ch. xvii. 9-13).

When Jesus stated, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” He was referring to Psalm 109. St. Peter applied Psalm 109:8 to Judas, when he said: “It is written in the Book of Psalms, … ‘May another take his office”‘ (Acts 1:20). By applying Psalm 109:8 to Judas, Peter also pointed to Judas’s damnation, because Psalm 109:6-7 says of the very same person mentioned there: “Set thou the sinner over him: and may the devil stand at his right hand. When he is judged, may he go out condemned and may his prayer be turned to sin.” Verse 7, “May his prayer be turned to sin,” or “May his plea be in vain,” foretells Judas’s (the betrayer’s) final impenitence. So, John 17:12, Acts 1:20, and Psalm 109:7 together indicate the betrayer’s eternal damnation.

I find that the truth of why I am wary of Bishop Barron’s Semi-Universalism is because it’s based on in my opinion bad theology, which consequently has founded the impression of error within all works of Balthasar by extension.

Of course, Rev. Scanlon drives home the point of my favorite scriptural critique of Semi-Universalism with Luke’s Gospel and the narrow gate:

A second scriptural passage that abolishes the possibility of universal salvation, and with it Balthasar’s hope that all men be saved, is Luke 13:23-24. Luke states: “But someone said to him, ‘Lord, are only a few to be saved?’ But he said to them, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able”‘ (Lk. 13:23-24). Now, “many … will not be able … to enter” means that “many” will not be saved.

On a side note, the more I dig into Hans Urs Von Balthasar, the more disturbing I find his theology. One might argue that his Christological ideas border on Arianism.