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All Souls Matter: Controversies on Universal Salvation in Late Medieval England

Wednesday, March 30, 2022, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

“The time of perfect salvation will come, of perfect reconciliation, when the fires of hell will be extinguished and Satan, the Prodigal Son, will mount to heaven and kiss the Father’s hand, tears flowing from his eyes.” (Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco, trans. Peter A. Bien)

The hope in salvation for all and in the finiteness of hell has been a continuous, though narrow, undercurrent of Christian thought. Christianity has provided various answers to the question of the accessibility of salvation, ranging from universalism (salvation of all human souls) to special election by God. In medieval Western Christianity, the idea of universal salvation remained peripheral and mostly deemed heterodox. The most significant heterodoxy of late medieval England, shaped by John Wyclif and his followers in the late 14th and early 15th century, did not challenge the exclusive aspect of salvation as it emphasized election and predestination. At the same time, a surprising amount of vernacular religious and mystical texts make a case for or against universal salvation, outlining more extended controversies. The preliminary hypothesis of my research project is that universal salvation had wider currency in late medieval England than posited by scholarship. My talk will survey the various “uses” of the discourse of universal salvation, balancing between nourishing and extinguishing hope in a complex struggle for authority and social-religious inclusion.