A Celtic View of Universal Salvation

My last article, written for Easter, explored some ideas from a medieval Irish text called The Evernew Tongue. I looked at the idea that the resurrection of Christ is an eternal truth which existed before the world was created and is indeed the means by which the world was created. You can read that article HERE if you are interested in that. In this piece I want to look again at the Evernew Tongue but from a slightly different perspective.

The Evernew Tongue covers a lot of ground in a relatively short text. It seeks to give a complete cosmology (which means an understanding of what the cosmos is). It looks at the nature of humanity in beautifully poetic terms, seeing human nature as a microcosm (miniature cosmos). You can read more about that HERE if you are curious. It also provides a commentary on the creation account in Genesis, expanding upon each of the six days of creation.

One of the topics it looks at, and the one I want to explore with you right now, is the nature of Heaven and Hell. It has some interesting things to say about both, more than we can explore together right now. But I do believe that it is at least hinting at a vision of universal salvation. The ideas put forth in The Evernew Tongue are remarkably similar to those put forward by Eriugena and Eriugena also taught a form of universal salvation which acknowledges the existence of hell but does so in a framework very different from the common expressions found today. Eriugena was drawing directly from Macrina the Younger in this regard, which you can read about HERE.

The Evernew Tongue teaches that at first the whole of the creation was a round multiform mass consisting of pairs of opposites. This is an idea familiar to Eriugena as well, read more about that HERE. These contraries existed together in unity until such time as God separated them from one another. The material of hell existed in this original creation, but it was not separated out from the unity until such time as Satan, an archangel, disobeyed the law of God. It also says that if the angels had not disobeyed then the material of hell would have become a heavenly realm. The quote below shows you what I mean.

This is the form the text takes in my book Psalter of the Birds. It was originally written as prose but I have adapted it into poetry so that it can be chanted. The words themselves have not been changed in the process.

What was found in the orbital circuit 
       Was the material of the universe
Cold and heat, light and dark
       Heavy and weightless, wet and dry

High and low, bitterness and mildness
       Strength and weakness, roaring sea and noise of thunder
The smell of flowers and the chants of angels
	And pillars of blazing fire

All of these were in the round multiform cloud
       Which was made of the material of the universe
It is there that the stuff of Hell was made
	For Hell was not made at the beginning

It was made when the archangel transgressed God’s will
       And forsook the law of the king
Who had created him together with the other angels 
       Until that time Hell was not made

Its material was stored away 
       In the round multiform mass
Out of which the universe was separated
       With all the kindreds that exist within it

If the angels who had sinned remained in the nature 
       In which they were made, in the angelic radiance 
The material of Hell would have been turned 
        Into a beautiful bright kingdom
	Like the kingdom of the holy angels

What this says to me is that the existence of hell is actually a by-product of sin. We often think of hell as the source of evil, the epitome of evil from which all sin arises. But here the message is a little different. Hell only exists because of sin. This means that if sin were to stop existing, hell would vanish along with it. This is an important point because later on The Evernew Tongue talks about the people in hell and what happens to them when they see the face of God.

The beauty and radiant splendour of his face
       Shine so brightly that if all the souls in hell 
Were to set their eyes upon his face
       They would not know any trouble 

Nor would they know punishment in hell
        Such is the holiness of his form 
That if someone were to look at him
       They would not be able to sin afterwards

Now let me be clear, the text does not explicitly name universal salvation. It seems to dodge the question a little. But yet, it puts forward this beautiful truth that any soul who sets its eyes on God will be forever transformed and unable to sin anymore. They would know no punishment in hell if they could see God in truth. It begs the question which the psalmist asked “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?”

This brings us back to the idea that hell exists as consequence of sin. The soul who suffers in pain suffers so because they cannot see God. If they were to see God, they would no longer suffer and they would no longer sin. To see the face of God is to transform hell itself into an angelic radiance. The text continues,

Such is the versatility of his power
	That though all the angels in heaven 
And all the demons in hell
       And all the humans on earth

And the beasts and whales under the seas
        Were to speak to God and address him
Even though each had their own language 
       God could answer them all simultaneously

According to their nature and in their own language
        Such is the beauty of the Lord’s form
That if it were revealed to the hells
        And the Lord’s beauty was uncovered 
The hells would be transformed 
       Into the lustre and radiance of heaven
Just like the celestial kingdom
       Such are the colour and brilliance of his face

That every impure soul in the infernal abode
        Would find it harder than any torment 
To be perpetually separated from beholding his face
       It would be harder than all the crosses 
        And all the torments of hell

If God’s true nature was uncovered in hell, then hell itself would be transformed into an angelic realm of beauty. I love the way that it talks about what would happen if God’s beauty was uncovered, rather than made present. It seems that the beauty of God exists in hell already, only it is hidden. There is no aspect of creation which does not partake in God’s beauty, truth, and goodness. They are prerequisites for existence. Something can only exist if it partakes in them. Hell is no different. It only exists because it has a share in the good and beautiful. But that beauty is hidden. And the hiddenness of it is the cause of the suffering found there.

The fact that God communicates with every creature, in heaven, on earth, and in hell in a manner which speaks to their individual nature, seems to hint at the fact that God will answer those in hell who call out to her. If any creature, whether angel, demon, human, or animal were to call out to God she would hear them and answer them in their own language.

The fact that the text moves directly from this insight to the insight that the uncovering of God will cure the suffering of hell feels intentional. If the souls in hell were to call out to God, certainly she would answer. What soul in hell would choose to deny God’s mercy forever? For some, pride may prevent them from reaching out for a while. But, as the text says, to be perpetually separated from God would be worse than any torture in hell. Who would not choose to turn away from their sin?

Considering the fact that death and resurrection is the primary theme of the text, it seems fitting that the death and destruction of hell would one day be resurrected as well. As I explored in more detail in my previous article, for The Evernew Tongue the pattern of death and resurrection is an eternal reality at the heart of creation. It was not a one time event but rather is the blueprint of the cosmos. The resurrection of hell, within that framework, seems to be an inevitability. As is the resurrection of every individual soul who finds themself suffering there.

If all it takes for souls to be saved from hell is for God’s beauty to be uncovered, then certainly God will not choose to hide her face forever. The suffering which is found there is a by-product of our own sin. If we cease to sin, then hell will cease to exist. No person who looks on the face of God will be able to sin anymore. Hell is the embodiment of sin, the manifestation of evil. It is sin torturing itself, because that is what sin does. Escape from hell is simply a matter of looking up towards God, and being resurrected according to the eternal nature of Christ.

The psalmist tells us the answer they received from God. The rest of the psalm says “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

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