Sunday, November 29, 2009

1 Tim. 2:4

Martyrdom of St. Timothy

We know as a matter of faith that hell is real and that, unfortunately, there are some among the sons of men who will reject the grace of God and end up in this unhappy place. All loyal Catholics ought to ardently reject any teaching that hell does not exist, or that it does exist but is empty, as von Balthasar proposed. Hell does in fact exist and there are some unhappy souls among its number, along with the devil and his angels.

However, and paradoxically, we know that God wills that all men come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, as it says in 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri et ad agnitionem veritatis venire). Despite the fact that God wills for all men to be saved, since He has made this salvation contingent upon the free will and cooperation of mankind, it happens that there are in fact those who are not saved. Some use the free will granted by God to reject Him and thus choose eternal destruction.

Nevertheless we still ought to pray that, insofar as is possible, all men come to the saving truth and attain heaven. While I acknowledge that not all will be saved, I, with the Father, will that it would be so for all men and pray that everyone would accept Him. Some radical Traditionalists take offense at this, deeming it an acceptance of "universal salvation" to even so much as pray that all might be saved while we know in fact that they won't. I have never seen how praying for all to be saved implies universal salvation if God Himself can will all men to be saved even though they aren't. If God Almighty can say "I will all men to be saved" then I don't see how anyone can take offense that I simply pray that this might be so, even though it won't happen ultimately (kind of like when we pray for "peace on earth").

St. Augustine spoke of the issue this way:

And so when we hear and read in the sacred scriptures that God wills everyone to be saved, although we are certain that not everybody is saved, we should not for that reason envisage any limitation to the will of the Almighty God, but understand the words of Scripture who wills everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) as meaning that nobody is saved except those whom He wills to be saved, not because there is nobody whom He does not will to be saved, but because nobody is saved except those whom He wills to be saved, and so we should pray Him to will, for what He wills must necessarily come about (Enchridion on Faith, Hope and Charity, 27).

By praying for all men to be saved, we pray that those who will respond to God's grace may come to attain that grace and thus be among those whom He wills to be saved - our prayers truly make a difference.

One problem with saying we ought not to pray for all men to be saved is that out of all men we do not know who is on the road to heaven and who is not, and this information is deliberately concealed from us. If we withold prayers from anyone on the premise that "some aren't going to be saved and so we shouldn't pray for them," how do we know we are not witholding prayer from one who would have responded positively to God's grace had we prayed for them? Our prayers can be powerful and effacacious, and for this reason we ought to always pray that insofar as is possible all men from the rising of the sun to its setting come to love and adore our Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. We know that in the end some will be deceived by the wiles of the devil, but I don't see any valid reason why we shouldn't pray for God to extend His mercy as broadly as possible nevertheless.

Therefore I see no reason to heed the advice of some of the more radical Traditionalists in failing to pray for all men (some even reject Fatima because of the invocation "lead all souls to heaven") - such a prayer in no way teaches universal salvation and in the end, I'd rather pray too much for those who reject it than be guilty of not praying enough for those who could have benefited from it. When some radical Traditionalists say to me that they don't pray for all because all won't be saved, I ask them, "And who is it exactly that you want to go to hell?" They inevitably (and rightly) respond, "I don't want anybody to go to hell", then I say, "Then why not pray as you will?" I think this is common sense and I believe we are actually compelled to pray for the salvation of all, as St. Paul commanded, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men" (1 Tim. 2:1).

If there is one thing this sick, weary world does not need, it is for Christians to stop praying for people under the pretext that it's not going to do anything. That is a lie from the pit of hell.

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