Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Posts of 2013

Another year has gone by on Unam Sanctam Catholicam! I can't believe that it has already been six and a half years...we have come a long way. This year saw the addition of our editor, John from Edinburgh, to the team. John performs the thankless task of going through my site articles and cleaning up the slurry of typos and grammar mistakes my off the cuff composition style leaves behind. We also had some major articles that got picked up on some very important sites: the article on Kasper, the Devil's Advocate, "Stop Shooting the Messenger" and Biblical Contributions were all viewed tens of thousands of times. Te Deum! I am happy to say that after the New Year, we will have another exciting announcement about this blog and site.

As always, here is my year-end run down of my favorite posts of 2013. Most of these are from the blog, but I have included a few of my favorites from the website as well.

Athanasius Schneider: Clarification of Vatican II Needed: Archbishop Athanasius Schneider goes on record about some problematic texts of the Second Vatican Council that stand in need of clarification.

St. Malachy: Case for Authenticity: Arguments in favor of the Malachy prophecies being composed in the 12th century.

In Praise of Virginity. Anybody? Instead of making excuses and justifications for consecrated virginity, why not actually laud it and celebrate it without excuse or apology?

Pastoral Applications in Concrete Circumstances: How the modern "pastoral" approach can consistently undermine Catholic dogma without the Church's teaching ever changing.

Roman Frescoes and English Martyrs: Excellent article on how the causes of some of the Englisg martyrs were saved by the discovery of some frescoes in Rome.

Kasper Admits Intentional Ambiguity: Cardinal Kasper's bombshell comments admitting that many of the Conciliar texts were not only compromises, but left intentionally ambiguous to grant elbow room to progressive interpretations of Vatican II.

The Benedict Narrative Emerges: How conservatives spun the historic resignation of Benedict XVI to make it "no big deal" even though it contradicted the narrative they contrived about John Paul II.

Stop Shooting the Messenger, Please. The highest viewed article of 2013, this piece entreats our conservative brethren to stop accusing Trads of being "negative" for simply telling the truth. The problem is not Trads complaining about the chaos in the Church; the problem is the chaos in the Church.

Contradictions in the Bible: Exposing dozens of the alleged 'contradictions' in the New Testament. Part of a series.

The Spirit of Lent: Keeping the ancient fast of the Church in spirit as well as letter.

The Belshazzar Problem: Solving the difficult problem of the existence of "King Belshazzar" in the Book of Daniel.

Spe Salvi and Universal Salvation: Dissecting some ambiguous statements in Spe Salvi which some have asserted teach universal salvation; part of a four part series on Balthasar, Fr. Barron and Hell.

What is the Hermeneutic of Continuity? The hermeneutic of continuity can mean two radically different things depending on how one views the historical event of Vatican II.

Gluttony and Lust: The relationship between the sins of gluttony and lust and how they mutually reinforce each other.

Divine Origin of Political Authority: Introduction to the classical Catholic view of the origins of the State and its powers.

Saints Aren't Perfect. Of course not...but we expect them to be pretty close to it. We certainly don't expect major derelictions of office from them. 

The Greatest Schism: The biggest problem in the modern Church is not progressivism, but the divorce of theology from asceticism.

Communal Orientation of Priestly Life: We are told that so few choose the priesthood because the life is so hard; but would it be so "hard" if priests still lived in community?

History of the Devil's Advocate: A very thorough treatment of the development of the canonization procedure with a focus on the institution of the devil's advocate.

Please share these links with others if you have enjoyed them. And, if moved in your heart, consider making a small contribution to this site to help keep these very high quality articles coming.

Pax Tibi.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

More on Mortification & Penance

In my last post, "The Greatest Schism", (see here), I posited the theory that one reason we have so much bad theology today is because theological studies in the West are divorced from any sort of regimented ascetic discipline. This means the faith is something that is solely academic, robbed of its living power. St. Paul said that his preaching was so efficacious because it was "not in the persuasiveness of the words of philosophy, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power (1. Cor. 2:4), meaning that his preaching did not flow simply from learning, but from a life lived. Mortification is necessary for the Christian life.

To be sure, proper intellectual formation is important, but unless theology is coupled with a life lived as a pleasing sacrifice to God, it is always missing something, lacking in a certain dimension. The theory of my last post was that this lack is particularly profound in the modern world, and that this lack means our teaching is more likely to go astray, because it is this ascetic spirituality that develops the spiritual "intuition" which recognizes the voice of Christ and helps keep one away from false teachings. This is what St. John the Apostle meant when he said:

"And as for you, let the anointing, which you have received from him, abide in you. And you have no need that any man teach you; but as his anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie. And as it hath taught you, abide in him." (1 John 2:27).

It seems, unfortunately, that several people misunderstood my argument here. The biggest misunderstanding was from the folks who made comments such as, "But you don't need to do severe penance to be holy", offering St. Therese's "little way" as an alternative; others questioned the whole need to do penance ("Can someone tell me why we need to flay ourselves alive every day to procure grace?"), suggesting that the simple sufferings of a broken home or a struggling marriage are sufficient mortifications.

A few clarifications:

First, we need to make a distinction between "mortification" and "severe penance", or "flaying ourselves alive." Mortification simply consists in self-denial. This can take a variety of forms and need not be severe; in fact, as many of you pointed out in the combox, most mortifications ought not be severe. To mortify simply means to "put to death." What we put to death is our flesh, and we do this through self-denial. Every single Christian, without exception, is called to practice mortification. This is why St. Paul says of himself, "chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27); and he encourages this on every believer when he says, "For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live" (Rom. 8:13) and "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols" (Col. 3:5). Mortification is obligatory on every Christian.

How this mortification looks will vary depending on our station in life and degree of spiritual maturity, and there are as many ways to practice self-denial as there are circumstances in life. So please understand that mortification ≠ severe penance in most cases. You are right if you say we need not all do severe penance, but you err if you infer thereby that mortification is not necessary.

Second, let us recall that in the context of my original article, I was speaking of the particular obligation for theologians to live lives of mortification, since there is a profound connection between what is understood in the intellect and what is experienced in the spiritual life. The two reinforce each other, and without a sound grounding in each, the other tends to lose its moorings and can drift; spirituality devoid of intellectual formation becomes sentimentalism, emotionalism and ultimately pantheism, while a merely intellectual faith without any spiritual growth becomes sterile and eventually open to novelty. Humility of thought and mortification in life keep everything in proper balance and result in a theology that is sound, balanced, and vivified by grace, such as the works of Aquinas, Augustine, Bernard and the other great saints. To the degree our theology has gone wrong, I am convinced this is a very real reason.

As for the question of whether simply enduring suffering is itself a mortification, the answer is yes and no. All the saints agree that patiently enduring tribulation and offering it to God is the most pleasing form of mortification and results in an abundant growth in spiritual strength. However, it is not mere suffering, but suffering endured patiently and offered to God. There is no merit is suffering for the sake of suffering; it is a tool, and it depends upon what one does with it. Furthermore, we might add with St. Paul that Christian Tradition presumes this suffering is only meritorious if it is unmerited. Our first Pope phrases it this way:

"For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God...But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a railer, or a coveter of other men's things." (1 Pet. 2:19-20, 4:15)

Simply growing up in a broken home, or living in poverty, or enduring a tragedy or some kind of abuse does not mean the suffering has been meritorious. It can be if it is handled rightly, but the mere fact of suffering is not meritorious. And even if these things have been suffered, the call to mortification is constant; we can never say, "I have denied myself enough in the past, I need not do it anymore." It would be just as silly to say "I have exercised enough last year; I do not need to do it this year." Ascesis, after all, means "training" in Greek.

Let all Christians practice mortification in whatever manner is appropriate to their state in life and level of spiritual maturity, subject to the approval of their confessor. Let Catholic theologians bind their academic life to a spiritual discipline of prayer, fasting and penance that their doctrine may be pure and their teaching pleasing to our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us conclude with the words of the great Dutch mystic and spiritual master, Thomas a Kempis:

"What is the reason, why some of the Saints were so perfect and contemplative? Because they labored to mortify themselves wholly to all earthly desires; and therefore they could with their whole heart fix themselves upon God, and be free for holy retirement. We are too much led by our passions, and too solicitous for transitory things. We also seldom overcome any one vice perfectly, and are not inflamed with a fervent desire to grow better every day; and therefore we remain cold and lukewarm." (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Chapter 11)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Greatest Schism

This post's title does not refer to the Greek schism, nor to the Great Western Schism of the 15th century, nor even to the tremendous modernist crisis within the Church today. The schism I am referring to is the unfortunate fracture between theology and ascesis, between spirituality and mortification. The more I reflect upon it, the more I am convinced that this division is at the heart of all our other problems, even the modernist crisis.

In Christianity, our beliefs influence our manner of life, and our manner of life reflects our beliefs; both come together in our communal worship. This is the much commented on connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, and if I can coin a third term, our lex vivendi. All three must be united. In other words, it is not possible to have a proper intellectual understanding of Catholic theology without participation in Catholic liturgy; likewise, attempts to enter into Catholic spirituality apart from adhering to the Church's doctrinal teaching wind up going astray, and neither our liturgical experience, our intellectual formation, nor our spiritual life can be rightly ordered if our personal, moral lives are imbalanced. I am thus referring to the inalienable nature of any one element of the Catholic Faith. 

The Church was traditionally compared to the seamless robe of Christ; this comparison is true on many levels. While it certainly applies to the Church understood in terms of her unity, it also demonstrates the interconnectedness of the different parts of the Faith and teaches that no one aspect of it can be compartmentalized or abstracted from the others without doing grave harm. G.K. Chesterton once noted that all major heresies arise from someone taking one aspect of Catholicism too far and breaking it off from the rest of the Faith.

The great schism I spoke of earlier refers to the fact that those who study and write on Catholic theology and spirituality today are, by and large, divorced from any sort of regular ascetical life. Let us reflect on the lives of some of our greatest saints and doctors. We know Benedict, Aquinas, Augustine, Bernard mainly from their writings, and that being the case, we often neglect to meditate upon the physical conditions in which they lived and how ascetical their lifestyles truly were. Benedict lived in an inaccessible cave for two years; Aquinas was a friar, in the early days when the lives of the friars were still lives of true poverty and want; St. Bernard lived under the most severe rule then known in Europe. The lifestyle of St. Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross would discourage even the most ardent soul today. This is to say nothing of the life of St. Anthony or the other early desert fathers.

Yes, their lives were harsh, their penances strict, their loneliness must have been overwhelming at times. But it was in that cave on Subiaco that Benedict first conceived his great Benedictine Rule, the masterpiece that created western civilization. It was through her fastings, vigils and mortifications that St. Teresa received the spiritual insights that made her a doctor of the Church; the same with John of the Cross. It was under the blazing Egyptian sun that Anthony worked out principles that are still foundational in Christian spirituality. Aquinas was austere in his personal life, went about barefoot, lived his life in drab, clammy cells that most of us could not tolerate a weekend in, and died prematurely, wasted away by a life of penitence and asceticism. But it was in the midst of this ascetical regimen that the intellect of Aquinas was flooded with the divine light that gave the Church the Summa.

To put it bluntly, the saints can talk the talk because they walk the walk.

Ah, but what can we say of our modern spiritual writers? In what crucible of mortification were our current spiritual writers formed? Not a drizzly cave or a scorching desert or atop a pillar, but in a cozy little diocesan institute of higher learning. Their authority comes not from sleepless nights of anguished prayer, bodies wracked from fastings or feet calloused from walking this earth unshod, but because they have obtained a certificate from a diocesan-approved two-year program that says they are "qualified" to be a spiritual director! At night they go home, not to a drab monastic cell to catch a few hours of sleep on a stiff board, but to a suburban home somewhere to enjoy all the comforts of modernity. Or, if they are more fortunate, to a larger home purchased with the income derived from their latest books on how to "unlock" the secrets of the spiritual life.

And what of our theologians? Do they walk the earth barefoot? Do they abstain from meat for six months out of the year, as did the early Franciscans of which St. Bonaventure, one of the Church's greatest theologians, was part of? Do they die prematurely because of the rigors of their penance? Alas, no.

Our modern spiritual thinkers have talked the talk, but they have not walked the walk, at least not in the manner that it was walked by the saints.

Thus there is a tremendous divorce between theology and asceticism which is choking up the channels of grace. This means that our theology and spirituality is more man-centered, more the product of human reason and human feeling than on divine truths and spiritual light. I realize I am being absurdly vague here, and that it is difficult to generalize - and that people will post comments saying, "How do you know what so-and-so does in his private life?" My friends, I do not know what so-and-so does privately or how much he fasts, but I know that most of our theologians and spiritual writers today are not living anything close to what even the simplest monk or priest would have endured a millennium ago. I understand there will be exceptions, but on the whole, I think this thesis is correct. In the past, we had theology and spirituality that proceeded from a life of faith actually lived out in all its rigor; today, it is largely the domain of "experts" whose approach is extremely anthropocentric because it is book-learned, based on the "latest theories" and the product of unaided human reason.

We need holy monks, holy hermits, holy nuns - men and women whose capability to speak on these matters comes from a life which is crucified and hidden with Christ, which is something that cannot be earned with any certificate program or degree. Who will reconnect our spiritual life with our intellectual life? Who can refasten the chain that once held the sun to the earth? Who can repair this schism?

I am speaking clumsily and with great imprecision here. Perhaps, by God's grace, some of you will see through the mist what I am trying to get at and be able to reword it more concisely. You see, I really have no place talking about theology or spirituality either.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Fall Articles on Unam Sanctam Catholicam

It has been awhile since I posted any website updates, but there have actually been quite a few great articles that have gone up in the past two months. If you missed any of this, please take a moment to review. Some of these, like the articles on Kulturkampf and Mariology, I worked on for weeks. Bless you for your continued patronage of this site.

The Lie of Integralism: The distinction between liberal progressivism and reactionary integralism is a false dichotomy created by neo-Modernists.

Building a Catholic Youth Group: Are you a new Youth Director looking to put together a Catholic Youth Group that is truly Catholic? This article will help.

The Belshazzar Problem: A cuneiform cylinder proves the existence of one of the Old Testament's most elusive characters - King Belshazzar.

Introduction to the Nephilim: Who were the mysterious Nephilim, mentioned throughout the Old Testament in connection with the fallen angels and sometimes referred to as giants?

Fundamentals of Mariology
: Very thorough but basic introduction to the fundamentals of Catholic Mariology.

Propriety of Eucharistic Devotions: Early Protestant objections to Eucharistic devotions were based on the novel doctrine that the Eucharist had one and only one acceptable "use."

Understanding the Kulturkampf: History of the struggle between the Catholic Church and the Prussian government during the 1880s and 90s.

Is Halloween Pagan? Definitive proof that Halloween was not based on the pagan feast of Samhain.

Comparing the New and Traditional Lectionaries: The arguments that the New Lectionary is superior to the old are actually based on faulty assumptions.

Deus ex Machina or Fons Entis?|Examining the atheist critique that religion fulfills the role of a deus ex machina, and that once all physical phenomenon are explained by science, there will no longer be a need for religion.

Can people sit on baptismal fonts? Liturgical quod libet examining why we can't just sit anywhere we please in the sanctuary.

Movie Reviews

Pius XII: Under the Roman Sky: So-so movie about Pius XII and the Jews that is really not about Pius XII.
The World's End: Latest apocalyptic comedy from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Athwulf of Thorney (Sancti Obscuri)

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Dear Pope Francis...

Dear Holy Father,

Greetings in Christ! Blessings and prayers for the continued health and well-being of Your Holiness during this Advent season.

I am writing to you as a Catholic who loves our holy traditions for the purpose of sharing some thoughts I have on a few very important questions. As a lover of tradition, I rejoice that you have recently reaffirmed the doctrinal value of the Council of Trent and the so-called "hermeneutic of continuity" espoused by our former Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, of happy memory. I also want to commend you for your forceful preaching on the reality of the devil and your frequent comments on the necessity of unity with and submission to the Chair of Peter for all Catholics. These gestures fill my heart with gladness and give me hope for the future of your pontificate.

Since, however, you have stated that traditional Catholics have an important role to play in "being lucid and watchful regarding the contents of the Catholic doctrine" and have expressed how valuable it is to be criticized in charity (source), I want to offer some humble concerns that I have regarding the content of your apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

I first want to thank you for writing on the important subject of evangelization. Catholicism is not understandable without evangelization; the first command our Lord gave to the Church after His Resurrection was "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt, 28:19-20). This commission has always had a particular urgency about it in our Faith, as it is bound up with the salvation of each and every person on this planet. In the parallel to this passage in the Gospel of Mark, our Lord reminds us that the penalty for unbelief is severe: "And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that does not believe shall be damned." (Mark 16:15-16).

Evangelization thus takes on a salvific importance - it has a supernatural end, and this has always been understood by Catholics throughout the ages. The purpose of evangelization is primarily to save souls.

However, in Evangelii Gaudium, the impetus for Christian evangelization of other cultures for the purpose of eternal salvation is explained in terms of a "dialogue", and the supernatural end (eternal life in heaven with God) seems replaced by a natural one. You write, "
Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christian" (EG, 250). The obligation for Christians to evangelize is "peace in the world", not the salvation of souls. This seems to substitute a worldly, naturalistic cause for evangelization for the more traditional supernatural one. Indeed, the two greatest issues Catholic evangelization has to respond to are said to be inclusion of the poor and world peace. (cf. 186, 217) It seems Your Holiness is suggesting that it is purely worldly concerns that the Gospel is here to address, not the salvation of men's souls or the false religions that keep them from that salvation.

Your Holiness, I share your desire that the Gospel should be spread as far and as wide as possible, that Jesus Christ be proclaimed boldly and without fear. However, some of the content of Evangelii Gaudium seems to be counter-productive to that end. Take the issue of our Separated Brethren. The Second Vatican Council took special pains to reach out to our Protestant friends, hoping thereby to end the spirit of mutual suspicion that had been dominant since Trent; in many cases, amiable relations with Protestantism were pursued even at the expense of relations with the Orthodox. In fact, to an impartial observer, the post-Conciliar Church looks closer to Protestantism than Greek Orthodoxy, despite the fact that the historical and sacramental bonds between the Catholics and the Orthodox are much greater.

Your Holiness knows all this; I mention it only to point out that ecumenism with Protestants in particular seemed to be particularly dear to the Council Fathers, whose vision you are so admirably fulfilling in your pontificate. You yourself restated this commitment in the exhortation, encouraging Catholics to recall that we all are pilgrims on this earth, "putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face" (243).

Yet a few paragraphs later we find this statement: "
Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live “justified by the grace of God”, and thus be “associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ” (254).

It is not my place to lecture the Successor of Peter on sacred theology, especially when I myself am no expert. But leaving aside questions of theology, of what it means for a non-believer to follow his conscience, of the formation of conscience, of how we are justified, etc., I feel compelled to point out, Holy Father, that from a strictly ecumenical viewpoint, no statement could be more offensive to our Protestant brethren than this. Though Protestants obviously disagree with us on many fundamental points, they ought to be commended in that many of them solidly affirm that one becomes a son or daughter of God solely through the mediation of Jesus Christ; in other words, despite our disagreements, most Protestant sects, at least in my country, still understand the fundamental connection between evangelization and salvation in the traditional supernatural sense.

Were I to take this passage to my Protestant friends, it would be not an aid to evangelization but an insurmountable obstacle. Not that we should be afraid to preach truths that Protestants may take umbrage with; otherwise, how could we discuss the Petrine authority, the Assumption of Mary, or other like doctrine? But this is different; in the teaching you have elucidated in Evangelii Gaudium 254, the traditional connection between evangelization, salvation, and the necessity of entering the Catholic Church is sundered. You would be asking me not to defend the traditional Catholic Faith, but a novelty - a novelty which the Protestant would be understandably justified in rejecting.

If we are speaking of following our consciences, Holy Father, I must tell you frankly then that I cannot in good conscience take this teaching to a Protestant and expect it to be convincing. I would be laughed out of the dialogue, and rightfully so.

How different is this teaching from the words of St. Irenaeus, who wrote:

"Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace. But the Spirit is truth. Therefore whoever does not partake of this Spirit is not fed at the breast of Mother Church, and cannot drink from the crystal clear spring which flows from the body of Christ." (Adversus Haereses, III.24:1)

Or St. Cyprian, the great martyr-bishop of Carthage, who wrote:

"Can he who is not inside the Church draw water from the fountains of the Church?" (Epistle 73, 10-11).

Of course, Holy Father, Catholic theology has always posited the possibility that men could be saved outside of formal membership in the Church; this was understood in the patristic era and taught at Trent. But I fear that what was once understood to be a possible exception is becoming understood as a normative teaching, and that this teaching is having deleterious effects on our efforts of evangelizing. Why would non-Christians convert to our faith if they can attain eternal life just by "following their conscience", which almost any human being can do with a little effort? Why would Protestants or any other Christian sect seek to reconcile with Rome when we seem to be saying that Christianity and the Church are not even really necessary for salvation? And, as apologists, how we are supposed to reconcile these newer teachings with statements like those of St. Irenaeus and Cyprian above, or with the famous dictum Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus or with many other authoritative statements on the normative necessity of the Church for salvation?

Dearest Holy Father, successor of St. Peter, Bishop of Bishops, Servus Servorum Dei, keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (for so you are all these things), I pray thee, understand my distress and realize how damaging these statements are to the efforts of faithful Catholics to witness to the faith and bring souls to God through Christ. This is still the final end of evangelization, we must presume? We still do wish for members of other religious and Christian sects to convert and return to Holy Mother Church, don't we?

Oh Holy Father, please be strong.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spe Salvi and Universal Salvation

In honor of the of November's liturgical readings on the Last Things, we are devoting this entire month to looking at one important aspect of eschatology: the question of the population of Hell relative to the assertions by Fr. Barron, drawing on the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, that we can "hope" that Hell is empty. We have already examined this teaching in light of the Bible, Vatican I, the Catholic sensus fidelium and from the point of view of the universal Ordinary Magisterium; in each case, Balthasar has nothing to stand on. In this article, we put the coup de grace to the arguments of Fr. Barron by examining his appeal to Benedict XVI's encyclical Spe Salvi.

In his encyclical on hope, the late Pontiff briefly takes up the question of our eternal destiny. Benedict leads into the conversation by discussing the theological development of the doctrine of Purgatory, but notes that even for those who go into this intermediate state, our "life-choice" becomes definitive at the moment of death. We will quote the next sections, paragraphs 45 and 46, at length:

46. With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.

46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

The section in question is Benedict's comments about "the great majority of people" who remain fundamentally open to God and, after the Judgement and the fires of Purgatory, may take their place "at the table of the eternal marriage feast." Fr. Barron apparently equates Benedict's hope for "the great majority of people" with Balthasar's hope of universal salvation.

There are several things that can be said.

For one thing, Benedict does not agree that we can hope that all will be saved because this hope he expresses is not about all humanity universally but about "the great majority of people"; this may seem like a minor distinction, but it is enough to distinguish Fr. Barron from Benedict, since, returning to introductory logic, even one less than "All" is "Some." Benedict does not express hope that "all" will be saved because he specifically states that he is referring to a "majority" not a totality.

But this is a mere logical sophism. Let's get to the real problem. The real issue is that Benedict is not talking about our ultimate, eternal destiny for much of this passage, but rather the characteristics of human life that go on to shape our eternal destiny. The pope is talking about the disposition of people while they are still alive and on this earth. This is easily missed because the section begins with a comment on the definitive state of our soul at death; but Benedict in fact establishes this point by working backward to look at the variety of forms our response to God can take during this life. This is clear from several points:

  • He speaks of the state of our soul being the product of "the course of an entire life"
  • In speaking of the saints, he says they are "fully open to their neighbours" and that they experience union with God "even now", comments that would not make sense if he was speaking of the afterlife.
  • These saints are on a "journey towards God", something that would terminate in the next life when we are no longer viators but comprehensors.
  • He speaks of realities we know "from experience" "in human life".
  • He talks about our deeds of good and evil "In the concrete choices of life."

All this makes it clear that the pope's foregoing comments about those who are on the way to Hell, those on the way to Heaven, and those whose end is indeterminate (as far as we are concerned) are all referring to the state of our souls in this life. What he appears to be saying is this: In this life, there are people whose rejection of God is so complete that, from a human point of view, reconciliation with God and the truth seems impossible. These people are on the path to Hell, and history has given us ample examples of such people. Similarly, there are saintly individuals on this earth whose love of God is so intense that "even now" they experience a foretaste of the beatific vision. Such people, from our point of view, are on the path to heaven. Nevertheless, the remains a great majority of people whose final destiny, from our point of view, is indeterminate. They remain fundamentally open to good, but through a series of compromises with evil, their disposition to goodness has been severely weakened. The pope then asks what will become of such people on judgment day, which leads into a conversation about the afterlife.

Ultimately, the message is that there are few humans who are irredeemably evil or blamelessly good. Most fall somewhere in the middle. This is all we can draw from the pope's statements.

But let us go further, because Ralph Martin notes in his book that this passage is in need of further clarification, and I agree with him here. Let us look at the fundamental difficulty of the passage.

The biggest problem, in my opinion, is whether the pope is speaking of all human beings or all Christians. The passage can be read either way. For example, at the beginning, he says "For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God", which seems to be a reference to all humanity. But then, in the very same paragraph, he uses this language:

"Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death."

He is speaking of "each person's particular circumstances", but says also that the "each person" and "us" he is referring to are those who live the "Christian life" and whose identity is "built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ." He then says that death does not deprive us of hope only to the extent that "we have stood firm on this foundation." So, in these passages, Benedict seems to be speaking only of Christians in particular. The language in paragraph 46 moves from "the great majority of people" to those living the "Christian life" without any interruption, leaving us to speculate on the identity of "the great majority of people."

If the pope meant to indicate that he was speaking about all humanity, specifying those whose lives are built on "a common foundation: Jesus Christ" is a bizarre way to do so. Martin is correct in stating this passage needs further clarification.

If the pope did mean to refer only to Christians, then he is doing nothing than engaging in the age-old speculation of whether or not most Christians would be saved, which is a legitimate topic of discussion. If he was talking about all humanity in general, then the explanation we offered above would be the most appropriate understanding of the pope's words.

Fr. Barron's accusation that the clarification of Spe Salvi sought by Ralph Martin is equivalent to the dissent of modernist theologians against Humanae Vitae is unfair. As we have seen above, there is an ambiguity in Spe Salvi 45-46 regarding whether Benedict is referring to the entirety of humanity or simply of the Christian people. Martin seeks a legitimate clarification of what is an admittedly confusing passage, which is completely different from those who challenge the authority of Humanae Vitae. In the case of Martin, he seeks a clearer explanation of the content of Spe Salvi; in the case of Humanae Vitae, the dissenting theologians understand the content plainly but deny its authority, which is entirely different. Fr. Barron ought to know the distinction.

To sum up the basics of the last four articles in this series: It is not consonant with Christian tradition to "hope" that Hell is empty. Of course we do not want people to go to Hell, but it is not a matter of what we will. As Benedict says in Spe Salvi, history presents us with too many examples of nefarious evil to realistically cherish this hope. Remember, people have free will, and many choose to reject God; to suggest that we can hope nobody goes to Hell is a denial of the reality of free will - as if men who had definitively rejected God will simply have their wills countermanded by God in opposition to their freedom. This is why Christian Tradition and Magisterial teaching (Syllabus of Errors) have presumed that some people at least are in Hell and hence there is no justification for hoping it is empty.

Furthermore, the Christian sensus fidelium attests to this, as Catholic piety throughout the ages not only presumed that real people were actually in Hell, but that fear of Hell was an effective motivation to right living. This is how Christians have always understood revelation, and attempts to introduce other interpretations of the data of revelation fundamentally undermine the universal Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, appealing to the tendentious argument that the whole edifice of Christian tradition can be discarded because something has not been formally defined. Attempts to enlist Benedict XVI's encyclical Spe Salvi to prove the Balthasarian theory further run aground due to ambiguities in the text of the document as well as the fact that Spe Salvi 45-46 is not saying what Fr. Barron suggests it says.

I hope you have enjoyed the last month of posts on this important topic. Hopefully people will continue to question this problematic theory and reveal Balthasar for the unorthodox theologian he was.

Previous Articles in this Series

Fr. Barron, Mark Shea and Balthasar are Wrong
Hell and the Sensus Fidelium
Balthasar and Denial of the Ordinary Magisterium


Balthasar's Denial of the Beatific Vision in Christ

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Balthasar and Denial of the Ordinary Magisterium

Last time, we looked at the concept of a populated Hell as an assumption of the sensus fidelium of the Church throughout history. In this post, I propose that the Balthasarian theory that we can have a realistic hope that no human beings wind up in Hell as a denial of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, or at least a denial of the binding nature of that Magisterium.

The ordinary Magisterium of the Church of course consists in the non-extraordinary teachings of the popes and the bishops in union with him and constitutes the ordinary means by which the people of God are taught. But let us not forget that this definition does not represent the fullness of the ordinary Magisterium. The ordinary Magisterium speaks in the teaching of the popes, but first and foremost it speaks in the simple proclamation of Scripture itself, which part of the ordinary Magisterium since the exposition of the Sacred Scriptures is the heart of theology and the normative means by which the faithful become familiarized with the teachings of our Lord.

Now note that the one common thread in the Balthasarian-Barronesque theories of hope for an empty Hell is a simple denial of the plain text of Scripture, which states in multitudes of passages not only that Hell is real, but that real people will wind up there. The Balthasarians will retort that these particular passages have never been infallibly defined to mean that anybody is in Hell, as if the Church hasn't defined a matter, then it is a freely debatable matter of opinion.

But this is a denial of the binding nature of the ordinary Magisterium. It would be like saying that whether or not the meek will inherit the earth is an open question, since the Church has not defined that they will. "I mean Jesus said it, but what are we Protestants? We can't just use our private interpretation that "will" means "will" and then go around calling people who deny it heretics."

This is, of course, absurd. Jesus said that "the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Matt. 7:14). Few (people) find the gate and/or way that leads to life. Period. That's dogma. And whatever "few" means, it cannot mean "all" in this context where it is contrasted again the many that follow the other road. To accept the Balthasarian-Barron thesis means that few must mean all, and we must accept the absurd position that this is somehow debatable because the Church has never formally defined that few means few.

The Balthasarian "hope Hell is empty" thesis represents a complete denial of the binding nature of the Church's ordinary Magisterium and leaves us with an approach to biblical exegesis that is in practice no different than Protestantism.

Many thanks to my some-time co-blogger Anselm who pointed this argument out to me.

We will conclude this series next time with an examination of Benedict XVI's teaching in Spe Salvi which Father Barron quoted in support of his comments.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Hell and the Sensus Fidelium

After having voice some initial objections to the "we can have good hope that there is nobody in Hell" theory, today I wanted to go on to look at the question from the point of view of the sensus fidelium of the Christian people, which deals with the Catholic "instinct" rather than with definitions and declarations. But, speaking of definitions, it could be argued that if the lack of any definitive Church statement that anybody is in Hell constitutes a real argument that it may be empty, then by similar logic, the decrees of canonization and the prayers of the Mass would signify that nobody is in Heaven except our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and the canonized saints. After all, the Church has never offered "definitions" about anybody else.

I am being a bit facetious here. It could always be counter-argued that silence in the scriptures implies salvation, not damnation, but then again, that is begging the question, since that premise ("silence implies salvation") is exactly what is not proven.

But I digress. The teaching of the sensus fidelium of the laity is explained in Lumen Gentium 12, where it states:

"The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name. The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority..."

As far as I can tell, this is the first statement of the Magisterium where this concept is explicitly affirmed, but the teaching was commonly held and taught by Catholic theologians since at least the mid-19th century. Ludwig Ott mentions it, for example, in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. It was often referred to as the passive infallibility of the Ecclesia discens (the learning Church) in contrast to the active infallibility of the Ecclesia docens (the teaching Church). This is the sensus fidelium of Lumen Gentium. It constitutes a kind of "instinct" of the Catholic people. By virtue of the sensus fidelium, the faithful, in obedience to their pastors, are guided in the development of their traditions and intuitions, a kind of holy instinct exercised over a period of history. The notion is much abused now, such to suggest that we could positively establish what Catholic teaching is by means of opinion polls. Benedict XVI commented on this false opinion of the sensus fidelium - see here.

What does the Catholic sensus fidelium say about the idea of Hell throughout the entirety of Church history? There is no fast and easy way to answer this, for when we look at the sensus fidelium, we are not asking what the Church has taught, not looking for lists of definitions from the Councils or citations from Denziger. Instead of asking what the Church teaches, we are asking how the faithful have understood Church teaching. Essentially, we are looking at how culture has appropriated Christian truth. Thus, we are looking at things like artistic depictions of the mysteries of the faith, architectural designs, poetry and literature, popular devotions, and any other popular expressions or interpretations of the faith. Looking at all these expressions of faith collectively, and stretched out over the centuries, we can establish a fairly clear picture of the Church's sensus fidelium on a particular point of faith.

Eastern Iconography

In the Greek monastic tradition, it was understood that the wayward monk or careless layperson was in constant danger of being dragged off to Hell if they gave in to the temptations of the flesh. In the famous "Ladder of Divine Ascent" icon (12th century), monks who were insufficiently careful with the state of their soul are depicted being dragged off the ladder to heaven by demons with hooks and dragged down to Hell:

If this is the case with monks who were insufficiently careful with the state of their soul, what would be the lot of the sinning or wayward lay person? The instruction the viewer is supposed to take away from this image is that the way to salvation is difficult and it is easy to fall away; and, that falling away means being dragged to Hell. In other words, we have here a visual representation of our Lord's words that "Broad is the path that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it" (cf. Matt. 7:23). It also demonstrates that by this teaching, the Greeks understood that going to Hell was a very real danger, even for those reputed to be very holy.

In this Polish icon of the Last Judgment, we see a theme that we will see more of: Hell as a gaping mouthed monster swallowing the souls of sinners who flow into the mouth of the underworld through the "broad path":

Note the depiction of the torments of the damned in the dark area immediately to the left of the mouth of Hell. Again, the presumption is that Hell will have some human population.

In Illuminated Manuscripts

Moving to the west during the high medieval period, some of the most vivid depictions of the mysteries of the faith come from the vibrant illustrations of monastic illuminated manuscripts. Many such illustrations survive, many depicting images of Hell populated with human beings. Here is a particularly colorful illustration from around the year 1180:

In a later manuscript from Cleves around 1400, Hell is depicted as a gaping mouth swallowing up sinners. Note the demons at the lower left wheeling a basket load of damned sinners to dump into the frightening maw of the beast. This theme of Hell as a giant mouth grinding sinners was common in later medieval art.

It is worth noting that this particular picture was found in a Breviary used by lay persons. That is, this frightening image was meant to be contemplated as one prayer the Divine Office. Clearly, the lesson is meant to be hortatory - this could be you if you aren't careful.

One more example. In a Tuscan manuscript illustration that is doubly-offensive to the politically correct, a group of homosexuals is depicted walking with abandon along the path to Hell. The illustrations date from 1327-28. The text contains a version of Dante's Inferno detailing the punishments that await Sodomites:

Not only is it inferred that Hell will be populated, but a particular class of sinners is singled out as especially meriting Hell by their unnatural acts. Medieval man clearly understood Hell to be populated by human occupants in addition to the demons.

Last Judgment Depictions on Gothic Tympanum

With the 12th and 13th centuries, western Europe saw the rise and expansion of Gothic architecture. Pope Benedict XVI once called the Gothic cathedrals "Bibles in stone" and noted that in their resplendent artistic depictions, theology, art and daily life all come together to "reveal a synthesis of faith and art, harmoniously expressed through the universal and captivating language of beauty" (source).

One common feature in most Gothic cathedrals was the portal, the great door through which the faithful entered. In the high middle ages, it was common for the portals to feature depictions of the Last Judgment, usually above the door on a semi-circular surface called a tympanum. The purpose of depicting the Last Judgment on the portal was to call the faithful to recollect themselves before entering Mass; they were about to approach the altar of the Lord - was their soul sufficiently pure? They were about to enter to worship the eyes of the King and Judge before whom all secrets are laid bare, who would one day judge all men, sending some to heaven, some to damnation. Therefore, before entering Mass, one ought to recollect themselves and examine their conscience.

In this first picture, we see the tympanum above the portal of Notre Dame cathedral. At the center we see Christ seated as the Judge. Below on the left (our Lord's right hand), we see the blessed in the charge of an angel about to be led off to eternal life. On the right (our Lord's left), we see the damned in the charge of a demon, who has bound them all with a rope and is about to lead them off to damnation.

A similar portal from Bourges Cathedral in central France. Again, at the right hand of Christ we see the righteous, and at Christ's left the damned in the company of the demons being led off to damnation.

Both depictions, as well as numerous other Gothic portals, call to mind the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, in which our Lord says to those on His left, "Depart from me, ye accursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (cf. Matt. 25:41). Being that the purpose of the portal was to encourage the worshiper to recollect his mind and examine his conscience prior to Mass, the implication is that the portal images of judgment were meant to lead the worshiper to consider that this fearsome judgment could be his real fate if his life was not sufficiently pure and his conscience not sufficiently clean. In the portals, art meets praxis, leading the observer to contemplate his eternal destiny.

Other Literature

Earlier we mentioned Dante's Inferno. It has been stated in the past, most notably by Dorothy Sayers in her masterful introduction to the Divine Comedy, that no medieval literature so perfectly reflected the medieval mind as Dante's Divine Comedy. The whole structure of the Comedy presupposes a Hell in which sinners experience God's justice in punishment for their unrepentance. Far from being troubled about the idea of human beings in Hell, Dante sees it as a manifestation of the justice of God. In Canto III of the Inferno, the inscription upon the Gates of Hell reads:

Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love

Thus, far from being tormented in their conscience about how God could let anybody go to Hell, or about how the presence of sinners in Hell would mean that God and Christ "lost", Dante, and with him the whole medieval tradition, see a profound justice in the fact - not the hypothesis - but the fact of human damnation.

We could further cite the 15th century Biblia Pauperum, "The Bible of the Poor", a very unique picture-book of Germanic origin depicting the Bible completely in pictures with very brief Latin captions. In the Biblia Pauperum's depiction of the Last Judgment, the damned are taken to Hell by a demon who binds them with a cord and drags them off to perdition. Note that, as this book was meant for the illiterate, it's purpose was not scholarly but hortatory. The faithful are supposed to contemplate this reality and amend their lives in light of it, precisely because it is implied that this could happen to them.

Mystery Plays

Medieval piety was nourished by theatrical presentations. Passion Plays depicted the last week of the life of our Lord; Mystery Plays depicted some mystery of the Faith or taught a moral lesson, sometimes using allegory. A very common theme in medieval Mystery Plays was the Day of Judgment, in which the just were depicted being carried away to Heaven, while the damned were dragged away to Hell by actors dressed as demons, usually to a hidden chamber under the stage or make-shift monster head representing the gates of Hell.

These plays were meant to inspire morality in the people, and fear of a real possibility of damnation was a clear part of this message. Again, the warning, 'This could be you.' These plays continued right up into the early modern period and occasionally still take place in certain areas of Europe.

Renaissance Art

During the Renaissance, multiple works were composed which depicted the pains of Hell, many of them at the behest of clerics or even popes. The most famous, of course, being Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel illustration of the Last Judgment, which Cardinals are meant to contemplate as they select the successor to Peter.

Above is a close up of the damned being ferried into Hell by the classical figure of Charon. Can we imagine anything more offensive than to suggest that a depiction of the damned be carried to Hell on the wall of the Sistine Chapel is not an extremely powerful argument that the Church does in fact assume that there are people in Hell? Especially given that this image was requested by the pope himself?

What the People Thought

The sensus fidelium of the Christian people, from the earliest days of Christianity on up, was clearly that not only was Hell a real place, but that there was a real danger that one could wind up there; not only this, but that it was in fact easy to wind up there, and that this was a particular danger to those who were careless about their salvation. In all this it was simply presumed that Hell had a human population, that real folks ended up in Hell.

And if people believed this, it was no surprise. It is easily deduced from the Bible. Hagiographies, such as the Golden Legend of Jacob de Voraigne were replete with stories of people going to Hell, souls in Hell appearing in visions to warn people against making the same bad choices, visions of the torments of Hell, etc.

The spiritual books consumed by the more literate and pious classes contained the same message. Thomas a Kempis, whose famous Imitation of Christ has been the most popular Christian spiritual book other than the Bible, frequently asked the sinner to contemplate the pains and duration of Hell. In a famous passage he writes:

"Persons shall be punished most for those sins in which they have offended most. The slothful will be pricked with red hot spikes; the gluttons will be tormented with great hunger and thirst. The lovers of luxury and dissipation will be immersed in sulphur and burning pitch and the envious will wail and howl like mad dogs. No sin will be without its proper punishment...One hours of pain there will be more grievous than a hundred years spent in rigorous penance here. There is no rest or comfort for the damned. At least here we have periods of rest from work and the consolations of our friends...

And if you can endure so little pain now, how will you stand everlasting torments? If you lose your patience over a small suffering now, what will the fires of hell do hereafter? You cannot have two heavens: it is impossible to enjoy yourself here and afterward to reign with Christ." (Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 24).

Such passages are legion in devotional books of the late medieval and early modern periods. The hortatory value of such passages consists precisely in that the reader is invited to contemplate the pains of Hell as a very real possibility for their own soul. The knowledge that one's own soul can actually wind up in a state of eternal torment provides the impetus to do penance and cling to Christ. Note that the moral force of such arguments is drained considerably if the possibility of a soul winding up in Hell is not a real one.

Theological studies and popular sermons alike took for granted that people went to Hell. Both St. Thomas' Summa and his Compendium of Theology contain numerous passages on Hell, why its punishments are eternal, how the souls there suffer pain, of what nature is the "fire" that torments damned souls. St. Alphonsus Ligouri has many famous sermons on the pains of the damned and the nature of the punishments of Hell, as do many other saints, all of which were meant to be understood by the people as exhortations to avoid what was a real possibility - eternal damnation - and it was assumed that many others had already not managed to avoid it.

We must note an important distinction here: Christian sensus fidelium does not simply say it is really possible for someone to wind up in Hell; Balthasarians admit this as well. The sensus fidelium presumes that there are in fact already people in Hell, and that it is inevitable that people will wind up in Hell. In other words, Christians tradition views it as an impossibility that Hell is empty.

The truth is bound up with teaching, and teaching with learning. The Balthasarian can always retort that none of the evidence we have brought forward here are 'official Church teaching'. True. But there is more than the Church teaching; there is the Ecclesia discens, the Church learning, which reveals to us how the Catholic people, animated by the Holy Spirit and led by God, have understood and amalgamated the truths that the Church has taught them. In this case, the sensus fidelium of the Catholic people on the real presence of human beings in Hell is so weighty and universal as to render any arguments to the contrary entirely impotent.

The sensus fidelium is bound up with the development of doctrine and Christian Tradition. If the Balthasarian-Fr. Barron theorem is true, then all of these centuries of artistic, architectural and literary development, in fact the whole instinct of the Christian people, is without purpose. Our traditions are meaningless, and we might as well not even speak of a sensus fidelium or en ecclesia discens at all, because clearly the common understanding of the Christian people will have given way to the novelties of "experts."

To sum it up, Balthasar and Fr. Barron say it is "possible" that Hell is empty. The sensus fidelium presumes it is inevitable that Hell will not be empty; it is impossible for Hell to be empty. Balthasar says it is possible; the Catholic instinct says it is impossible.

Next time, we will examine the Fr. Barron-Balthasar empty hell theory as a denial of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Fr. Barron and Mark Shea and Balthasar are Wrong

Michael Voris recently came out with a video entitled simply "Fr. Barron is Wrong", challenging the popular priest-evangelist on his repeated statements in favor of the theory proposed by the late Hans Urs von Balthasar in Dare We Hope? that it is acceptable for Christian to have good hope that Hell may be empty. Voris rightly notes that Christ Himself says some souls will definitely go to Hell on numerous occasions, and that the Church's alleged "silence" on the definitive presence of anyone in Hell is not due to any support for the empty-hell theory, but due to the fact that the definitive presence of any one soul in Hell is not part of Divine Revelation and therefore outside the pale of the Church's competence to define. Therefore, the fact that the Church has never "proclaimed" anyone in Hell provides no rationale whatsoever for asserting that Hell is empty.

At this point Mark Shea jumped in and accused Voris of smearing Fr. Barron wrongly with his "poison." It is not my intention here to comment on the antagonism between Voris and Shea; I am more interested in Shea's comments that the Fr. Barron-Balthasar "Empty Hell" theory is "perfectly within the pale of orthodox speculation" and that "at the end of the day, that’s all you have: two schools of opinion–both of which are allowed by the Church." Thus, the Balthasarian "Empty Hell" theory is granted a legitimate place on the spectrum of legitimate opinions upon which Catholics can disagree in good conscience, and the traditional opinion that people do in fact go to Hell is also placed on the spectrum as another legitimate "option."

This defense of Fr. Barron and Balthasar apparently goes back to Shea's position that Tradition itself has two "irreconcilable" aspects of the question of Hell that leave the issue fraught with a certain "tension", which I contest but will leave off for the time being. 

I am more interested in Shea's comments about "two schools of opinion-both of which are allowed by the Church." This is what I object to. Balthasar's "Empty Hell" theory is absolutely not a legitimate position on the Catholic spectrum, nor is the belief that some people actually go to Hell just one of various "schools of opinion." According to Fr. Barron, Shea, and Balthasar, even though it is heresy to say that we know that Hell is empty, it is not heresy to suggest that we can have a good hope that Hell is empty. How Fr. Barron and others can assert this is beyond me, since even this proposition is condemned as a heresy by Bl. Pius IX. Let us recall the Syllabus of Errors, number 17, in which the following proposition is condemned:

"Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ." -- Encyclical "Quanto conficiamur," Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

This is precisely what Fr. Barron and Balthasar assert, and what Mark Shea says is "perfectly within the pale of orthodox speculation." Fr. Barron says we can at least have a good hope that everyone makes it to heaven, and yet Pius IX specifically condemns this opinion. Not only proclaiming knowledge of universal salvation, but even allowing "good hope" to so much as be "entertained" is condemned. Period.

Our Lord teaches as much when He says, "Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in through it." (Matt. 7:13). He does not suggest that there are many for whom it is possible that they go to destruction but do not actually go; He says "many there are who go through it." Many means many. Many does not mean "nobody."

In discussions about this topic by apologists pushing the Balthasarian opinion, I seldom see any reference to Luke 13, when Jesus is asked the question point blank, "Lord, are only few people going to be saved?" to which Christ responds, "Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able." (v.23-24). You see that? Many shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. This is not the realm of the hypothetical.

Revelation 20:15 is cited by Voris in his video, which says, "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire." Again, this is not presented as a hypothetical, but as a real vision of the situation at the Last Judgment. It could be countered that it only says that people not in the book of life get cast into the pool of fire, but does not imply that anyone was actually in this unfortunate position. We do know at least, however, that two individuals will be damned: the Beast and the False Prophet: "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Rev. 20:10).

Furthermore, if nobody was actually thrown into the pool of fire, how would John have this knowledge that anyone whose name was not in the book would be thrown in the pool of fire? To put it another way: Suppose I say, "I was uptown yesterday, and I saw the police were ticketing everybody who weren't wearing seat belts." Then suppose you ask, "So how many people got ticketed?" and I say, "Oh, nobody" wouldn't you be utterly confused? The basic grammar of the statement "I saw the police were ticketing everybody who weren't wearing seat belts" implies an action completed in the past, not some hypothetical. This demonstrates the kind of contortions one has to put the Scriptures through to deny the obvious fact that some people will wind up eternally damned.

We could also cite Lumen Gentium 16, which says, "Some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature", the Church fosters the missions with care and attention."

Note that LG 16 says that "there are" some who wind up dying in final despair without God, and then goes on to cite this as one of the reasons for the urgency of the Great Commission, which is in accord with Tradition: the Gospel must be preached in order to save souls from Hell.

Fr. Barron and Shea both assert that the Empty Hell theory of Balthasar seems to be taught by Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi. Having just completed a very thorough study of the late pontiff's encyclical, I dispute this fact, but that is for another post. But it is sufficient to say that, if we are reading the Magisterium in continuity with itself, Spe Salvi can simply not mean what Fr. Barron and Shea suggest, otherwise Benedict XVI contradicts Pius IX.

The "Empty Hell" theory is not one of many legitimate "schools of thought." It is a novelty, toyed with early on by Origen and then virtually abandoned until the modern era. The amount of legerdemain and re interpretive manipulation one has to do to Scripture, Magisterial teaching, history and tradition in order to breathe life into the theories of Fr. Barron and Balthasar on this question is appalling. The evidence in favor of the traditional teaching that there are people in Hell outweighs Balthasar and Fr. Barron's positions as a tidal wave overwhelms a sand castle. That this novelty is being defended by some as a legitimate position within the pale of orthodoxy is sad, especially in light of Syllabus of Errors number 17 which explicitly condemns it. It should also be noted, in case one wants to write off Voris, that very respected mainstream priests and theologians also consider Fr. Barron's opinions very troubling, such as Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington (see here) as well as Dr. Scott Hahn, who once stated that Balthasar's theory was absolutely without merit.

I'm not anti-Mark Shea. His book, By What Authority? helped bring me to the Church. But, as Voris said of Fr. Barron, Mark Shea is simply wrong here. I'm not "attacking" him, not "smearing" him, not calling him a heretic. I am just saying he is simply wrong.

Being that we are entering that period of the liturgical year when the readings direct our minds towards the Last Things, for the remainder of November all my posts will relate to this question of Hell, its reality, eternal duration, and the Church's Tradition on this important subject. Next time, I will examine the definitive presence of damned souls in Hell throughout Christian Tradition as established by the Christian sensus fidelium.