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Center for Action and Contemplation

Universal Restoration: Divine Love Restores All

Monday, April 18, 2022

Father Richard writes about the early church’s belief in universal restoration and the eventual victory of Divine Love:

A number of Church Fathers during the first four centuries of Christianity believed in what’s called apokatastasis, or “universal restoration” (Acts 3:21). [1] They believed that the real meaning of Christ’s resurrection was that God’s love was so perfect and so victorious that it would finally triumph in every single person’s life. They were so sure about this that their thought partially gave rise to the idea of purgatory as a place. In the dying process or even after death, God’s infinite love can and will still get at us! They felt no soul could resist the revelation of such infinite love. (Most Catholics were never taught that the original folk belief in purgatory represented an overwhelming sense of God’s always-victorious love and mercy. Like many great mysteries, it deteriorated into its exact opposite, a place of punishment—which is all a worldview of scarcity can devise.)

From my reading of the history of the Catholic Church and its dogma, universal restoration was never condemned as heretical. We didn’t have to believe in it, but we certainly could. Isn’t it interesting that we Catholics canonize saints, pronouncing them to be in heaven beyond a shadow of a doubt, yet this same Church has never declared that a single person is in hell or purgatory, not even Judas or Hitler? The Church might just be holding out for a possible universal restoration.

The true meaning of the raising of Jesus is that God will turn all our human crucifixions into resurrection. This is a social, historical victory for God. Part of why we could not accept it is that we want individual people to “get their due.” But the real biblical message is that God is loving history much more than only loving individuals. This should have been apparent from YHWH’s relationship with Israel which was always corporate, both in its covenants and in its chastisements. We are all in this together, biblically speaking.

In her thirteenth showing, Julian of Norwich (1343–c. 1416) asked Jesus, “In fear and trembling, ‘Oh, good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin?’ And here I wanted, if I dared, to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest.” And to this our blessed Lord . . . taught me . . . ‘Since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know, by this, that I shall bring good out of all lesser evils, too.’” [2]

Could God’s love really be that great and that universal? I believe it is. Love is the lesson, and God’s love is so great that God will finally teach it to all of us. We’ll finally surrender, and God will win in the end. That will be God’s “justice,” which will swallow up our lesser versions. God—Love—does not lose!

[1] See Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, A Larger Hope? Universal Salvation from Christian Beginnings to Julian of Norwich (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019) for more on this topic.

[2] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Showing 13, chapter 29. See In Love Enclosed: More Daily Readings with Julian of Norwich, ed. Robert Llewelyn, trans. Sheila Upjohn, 3rd ed. (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2004), 49.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (Crossroad Publishing: 1999, 2003), 131–133.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Suzanne Szasz, Window Box at 69th Street (detail), 1973, photograph, New York, public domain, National Archives. Jenna Keiper, Icon at the Center for Action and Contemplation (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Suzanne Szasz, At High Rock Park on Staten Island (detail), 1973, photograph, New York, public domain, National Archives. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We are invited to fully experience resurrection wherever we are. Can you sense it? See it? Smell it? Touch it? It’s all around.

Story from Our Community:

Everything stops for a minute and the sun rises. / A new day begins in beauty and stillness. / Orange glows through leaves and fir branches. / Birds halt their song for a moment. / Squirrels and hedgehogs rouse from sleep. / Flowers slowly open their petals after the night. / The world awakens in awe / As a new day dawns / And life continues as promised / After the hibernation of the night.
—Heather I.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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