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.