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.


District Attorney said...

An objection, "Few people there are who find it [by their own means], but maybe God leads everyone else there." And, "They enter through the broad gate, but that doesn't mean God lets them fulfill it."

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, district attorney, that's not what the scripture says and you are just adding stuff to it that isn't there.

Good post. I look forward to the next one!

Anonymous said...

District Attorney, the first interpretation cannot be because no one (not few people) finds God by their own means; anyone who finds him does so because God leads them.

District Attorney said...


You're absolutely right. I'm "adding." That is, I'm adding an interpretation, or something that might, possibly, follow from the statement.


You're getting Jansenist on me!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Unless you're just playing devil's advocate, you're completely missing the point of this post. Aside from the other scriptural data and the sensus fidelium, as adumbrated in the two previous posts, there is no orthodox footing for your specious eisegesis *because the ordinary magisterium* has never espoused such a teaching. Since there are dogmatic reasons to heed the OM, it follows that there are dogmatic reasons to heed the OM's reading of the passages to which you appeal.

Unknown said...

It doesn't follow from the statement though. There isn't anything that would lead us to add those interpretations into that scripture. Just read what it says and accept it. Reading scripture isn't a contest to see who can interpret all of it to their own tastes, hopes, wishes and dreams.
I agree with cave.

Anonymous said...

District Attorney,
The first part of what I said is simply a rejection of pelagianism or semi-pelagianism.
The second part of what I said is that constant teaching of scripture, Augustine, Aquinas, and the writings of the saints. While Molina would disagree, it certainly is not Jansenism; rather, it is the main body of Catholic tradition.


Boniface said...

District Attorney,

Let's play this out a little bit.

First, as someone mentioned above, it is not valid to simply say "Here's a plausible interpretation." If it is not consonant with the Church's tradition and the understanding of the sensus fidelium, such interpretations are thereby not plausible. And your interpretation isn't.

Second, you're interpretation implicates our Lord of making a very broad mental reservation, which would be problematic. Imagine if I break a window. Then someone asks me, "Did you break that window?" and I respond, "No, I did not break that window," but what I really mean is, "No I did not break that window with a bat." This is a broad mental reservation that most moral theologians consider a form of lying. Our Lord, in saying, "few" when in reality He meant "everybody" would be making such a reservation which most would find unacceptable in the mouth of our Lord.

Third, as others have pointed out, nobody is saved "on their own"; everybody is saved by God's grace. We also have to keep in mind that the Scriptures specifically say not only that few are saved, but that God chooses few.

"Many are called, but few are chosen", Matt. 22:14.

I just don't think your theory is reasonable given history, tradition, and scriptural exegesis.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

back when I was young DA referred to a type of haircut; that aside, Hear Jesus;

Luke 19:26,27 But I say to you, that to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: and from him that hath not, even that which he hath, shall be taken from him. But as for those my enemies, who would not have me reign over them, bring them hither, and kill them before me.

Anselm said...

I second what thegodinthe cave said. It is a formally condemned pelagian (or at least semi-pelagian) idea to say that anyone can find the way of salvation by their own means. Since Christ is not a pelagian he cannot have meant "few find the way by their own means." Cf. Council of Orange II, 529, esp. can. 4-5.

Also Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, can. 3: "If anyone says that without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without His help, man can believe, hope, love or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him, let him be anathema."