Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor Speaks of His Hope for Universal Salvation
The head of the Roman Catholic in England and Wales recently expressed his hope and belief that God will save all people in an interview he gave for the Catholic Herald.
“We’re not bound to believe that anybody’s there (in hell), let’s face it… I cannot think of heaven without thinking of being in communion with all the saints and with all the people I've loved on this earth.”
Protestants and non-believers are destined for heaven, says Cardinal
Catholic Herald, 7 January 2005
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor hopes that Catholics, Protestants and non-Christians will enjoy heaven together.
In an interview with The Catholic Herald this week, the Cardinal reveals his optimism for mankind as he sets out his vision of both heaven and hell.
Hell, he implies, may even be empty – conforming with Our Lord’s wish to save all souls. And heaven is a place where believers and non- believers may meet.
“We’re not bound to believe that anybody’s there (in hell), let’s face it,” he says. “But certainly in the Scriptures there’s a stark confrontation between heaven and hell.
“But when Jesus talks about hell, it’s also exhorting people to repent, to turn away.
“It is in the context not of ‘you will be damned’, but ‘repent and turn to God’. I believe that hell exists and it is really the absence of God.”
The nature of hell has been debated over the centuries, inspiring writers and artists alike with torturous visions of the damned. Medieval perceptions of the eternal fires of Satan’s domain have, over time, been replaced by a concept of hell as a place of utter loneliness, separated from the presence of God.
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of both hell and its eternity.
According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Jesus often speaks of Gehenna, of ‘the unquenchable fire’ reserved for those who, to the end of their lives, refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.”
The Catechism defines the chief punishment of hell as “eternal separation from God”. It continues: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a wilful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistent in it until the end … the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want ‘any to perish, but all to come to repentance’.”
Christ descended into hell “not to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him”. In this way, the Gospel was preached even to the dead.
Christ’s redemptive work came to men of all times and all places. But the question of whether this means that hell is empty continues to occupy theological thinking.
Our Lady of Fatima, in her appearances to three peasant children in Portugal in 1917, described a vision of the reality of hell so horrifying that the children willingly took on every penance and mortification they could imagine if it would only prevent souls from going there.
The Virgin is reported to have said: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”
Extract from the interview
Q: Many people in this country, including Christians, are confused about what the Church teaches about life after death. To judge from films and fantasy novels, the people of our time have an intense interest in the afterlife. And yet, if they were to go to a Catholic church, they would be unlikely to hear a homily about heaven, hell and purgatory. Has the Church lost the confidence to proclaim that there will be a final reckoning after death?
A: The four last things death, judgment, heaven – and hell – are realities. They should be preached I do so myself, particularly in November, at the time of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. If there is any reluctance – and I wouldn't necessarily accept that there is – then I would be sorry about that, because we are bound to believe, and we do believe, not only the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but in our own resurrection at the last day.
With regard to purgatory, all I can say is that most of us feel that when we die, we are not ready for the beatific vision. And, however God is going to purify us, the Church expresses that through its doctrine on purgatory.
I often tell people to read or listen to The Dream of Gerontius, that wonderful poem of Newman, where, Gerontius is confronted by God as he is dying and wants to be prepared for the Beatific Vision. It's beautifully expressed in words – I don't think I could do it better.
Q: And hell?
A: We're not bound to believe that anybody’s there, let's face it. But certainly in the Scriptures there's a stark confrontation between heaven and hell.
But when Jesus talks about hell, it's also exhorting people to repent, to turn away. It is in the context not of “you will be damned”, but “repent and turn to God”. I believe that hell exists and it is really the absence of God.
Q: What do you think heaven is like?
A: Well, I have not seen nor yet heard what God has prepared for those who love him, as St Paul says. Heaven for me is communio. It’s communion with other people, communion with the infinite beauty and blessedness of God, communion with myself in a new, strange way. And it’s a communion that gives everlasting joy.
I cannot think of heaven without thinking of being in communion with all the saints and with all the people I’ve loved on this earth.
Q: It is sometimes said that there will be a separate heaven for Bavarians because they would not be in a state of eternal happiness if they had to share heaven with the Prussians. Will Catholics and Protestants be together in heaven?
A: I hope they won't be separate. I think that the divisions manifest here on earth will be reconciled in some mysterious way in heaven. I'm not thinking just of Catholics and Protestants, but people of other faiths and people of no faith. We are all children of God.
Q: So we shouldn't be surprised if we were to meet in heaven someone who was a Muslim or an atheist on earth?
A: I hope I will be surprised in heaven... I think I will be.