In a near unanimous vote, attendees of a Dumb Ox Debate held the evening of Sunday, Nov. 16, opposed the motion “This house dares to hope that all men are saved.”
The idea that Catholics can reasonably hope that all men will ultimately be saved and that there is no one in hell was popularized by 20th century theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar and has been a subject of much theological debate. Around 100 students and faculty showed up to Finnegan Fieldhouse for the event.
Graduate student Alex Denley opened the debate by affirming the motion. He began by citing 1 Timothy 2:4, which says that God “desires all men to be saved.”
“We are aligning our will, our hope, with God’s will,” said Denley. “Your hope … is based on the grace of God.”
Denley then addressed the numerous parables of the New Testament and visions of saints that describe the separating of the good and the wicked and the wicked being thrown into hell. These are not historical facts but “conditional prophesies” that may possibly come true, he said.
“It is not a description of a certain reality.”
Senior Athanasius Sirilla followed Denley’s speech, opposing the motion. He focused on the distinction between desire and hope.
“We can desire that all men be saved, but we can’t hope for it,” he said. He laid out a three-part syllogism to illustrate this point: One can’t hope for the impossible. It is impossible that all men are saved. Thus, one can’t hope that all men are saved.
Sirilla gave the analogy of it being impossible for him to wake up the next morning and suddenly be 6 feet tall; while he may desire it, he cannot reasonably hope for it.
“God cannot do what is impossible,” he argued, and it is impossible for Jesus, who many times throughout Scripture describes hell and judgment, to have been wrong.
Junior Alex Spieldenner then gave another speech affirming the motion. He pointed out that the Church has never definitely declared any individual to be in hell: “We do not know any individual is condemned.”
He clarified that his position is not necessarily that no souls are in hell, but just that one cannot know for sure.
“It is absolutely possible but far from likely, we admit,” he said. But “we cannot put a limit on God’s mercy.”
The final speaker, senior Clement Harrold, opposed the motion by citing various Scripture passages, Church Fathers and saints that describe hell and the punishment of the wicked.
“God has told us it is not the case that all men are saved,” he said. “You can’t hope for something that Jesus has already told us won’t be the case.”
Harrold emphasized the vision shown to the Fatima visionaries by the Blessed Mother, in which they saw souls falling into hell like snowflakes.
“What (the affirming side) is calling hope is presumption,” he argued, saying that it is presumptuous to hold that no man has ever died in a state of mortal sin.
The debate floor was then opened to audience members to give their own speeches.
Senior David Hahn opposed the motion by citing Matthew 26:24, in which Jesus states that it would have been better for his betrayer, Judas, to never have been born, which makes little sense if Judas too ultimately made it to heaven, said Hahn.
While God has offered man the grace to get to heaven through baptism, “if we commit spiritual suicide then we have no place in God’s family,” he said.
Senior John Mark Cayer also opposed the motion, saying that “God has given us free will.”
“Free will means that we can choose to not be with him,” he said, and to such people who choose against God, “hell is a mercy.”
Senior David Willey went on to affirm the motion, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1058: “The Church prays that no one should be lost.” It is presumption, said Willey, not to hope for the salvation of all but to believe that you can know for sure the status of others’ souls.
All men “turning to the love and grace of God at the moment of death” is not guaranteed but can be hoped for, especially because Christ died on the cross so to give this grace to all people, argued Willey.
At the end of the night, the audience voted to oppose the motion, with 79 votes opposing, seven affirming, and two abstaining.
This event was sponsored by the Veritas Society and was the last Dumb Ox Debate of the semester.