Category Archives: Doctrine

The “Savage Forest” – Dante’ Alighieri, the Divine Comedy, & the disordered soul


-by Br Irenaeus Dunlevy, OP

“A windswept forest on a cloud-covered night creaks, cracks, and moans, sending chills up and down the spine. Trees waving and wagging on their upward path have elbowed for the brightest spot in the sun. They’re intertwined. When the wind blows, they rub, and a humanlike agony echos through the woods.

The 13th-century poet Dante Alighieri begins his famed supernatural epic, The Divine Comedy, with such an eerie scene. Yet, how did he end up in this ‘savage forest’? He writes,

“I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.”

Before Dante’s journey spirals into the depths of hell, climbs the steep slope of purgatory, and soars into the luminous heights of heaven, he stands confused, lost, and alone. He questions, “How did I get here?” Unsure of the answer, he is sure of one thing: he’s on the wrong path.

It’s familiar, becoming lost, making a wrong turn, missing an exit, or simply gawking at a strange setting. Depicting this familiar irritation, Dante probes a deeper tragedy, something more problematic than being in the wrong locale. Dante is on the wrong path of life. Abandoning the true way, he has abandoned the road to happiness.

The ‘savage forest’ describes Dante’s disordered soul. The gnarly branches are his own vices chafing in the wind of vain pursuits. Pride, vanity, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth, and lust compete for their own desired objects: praise, honor, vengeance, pleasure, money, and material possessions. All of these drag him down and pull him off the path to true happiness.

What’s more, Dante perceptively connects slumber with veering off the true way. Following our passions and disordered desires resembles sleeping; we’re not really thinking. Our wounded souls struggle to know the truth, to desire what is truly good, to overcome what is difficult, and to resist that quick fix of pleasure. These wounds invert our humanity in such a way that the lower parts of ourselves influence the higher parts. Reason can become like a distracted ticket agent, admitting any action without a discerning judgment. Put another way, letting the passions rule our lives is like letting a toddler rule the household.

The true path that Dante longs for is anything but the result of slumber. Christ rose from the sleep of death to new life. You might say, “One has to be awake to be saved.” (ed. #WOKE) This salvation is living with vitality, while living according to vice is not living at all.

The vices are usually called the seven deadly sins, which lead to slumberous folly. In contrast, the life of salvation and grace manifests itself in the seven lively virtues. Faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance seek their own desired objects: truth, eternal happiness, the good, the right course of action, equity, self-mastery, and the balanced enjoyment of pleasure. Far from the gray and gloom of the “savage forest,’ the new life of grace and virtue resembles a garden of various flowers and fruits.

At the beginning of his journey, a lost and dull Dante rambles into a gray, shadowy scene. Yet, at the end of his journey, a found and illuminated Dante beholds a vision of variegated color he struggles to express. Beholding God, he writes,

“Here vigor failed the lofty fantasy:

But now was turning my desire and will

Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

Passing from vice to virtue, Dante’s journey begins in an enclosed, shadowy forest and ends with the unfathomable vision of God, the source of all light, love, beauty, and reality. Far from a slumberous vision, Dante becomes fully awake and fully alive.”

Love & His joy, only He can provide,
Matthew

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: No Salvation Outside the Church – Reply to Pastor Bill Keller


-by Dave Armstrong
originally 4/23/08

“Catholics think that Protestants are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ by virtue of baptism.

[Pastor Keller’s words will be in bold, hereafter. I was responding to his article, so he wasn’t “there” personally, to respond]

***

I have rebuked and rejected the extremists who made the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church and that you are not even saved unless you are part of that church.

Every Christian group believes that it has the truest theology, or else it would hardly have a reason for existence. The Catholic claim that there is only one true Church is simply hearkening back to the views of the Church fathers and, indeed, of the Bible itself, that knows nothing of denominations.

There is a lot of misunderstanding, however, about our claim that no one is saved apart from the Catholic Church. We do not believe that every person has to necessarily be a formal member of the Catholic Church to be saved. We think that if a person fully understands what the Catholic Church teaches, and rejects it, then they cannot be saved, but many do not understand our teachings, and we believe that God takes that into consideration.

The Catholic Church thinks that Protestants are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ by virtue of baptism, and that many graces are available within Protestantism, leading possibly even to salvation, if a person is unacquainted with Catholic teachings.

The Bible teaches that the church (ekklesia) is a body of Believers. The true church according to Scriptures is made up of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and hold the Bible to be God’s inspired, inerrant Word, representing Absolute Truth and our final authority in all matters.

This is not true. The Bible is a supreme authority, yes, but it has to be interpreted in line with the Church. That is seen in many biblical examples; most notably the Jerusalem Council, recorded in Acts 15. The Church also includes sinners in its ranks, and has visible elements by which it can be identified.

It was nearly 400 years AD before what we know of today as the Roman Catholic Church emerged.

Hardly. We see clear signs of Catholic doctrines such as the Real presence in the Eucharist, bishops, a centralized hierarchy centered in Rome, baptismal regeneration, the communion of saints, Mariology, and so forth, from a very early period. Doctrines had to develop more fully, sure, but that is true of all Christian doctrines, so that the Trinity was more fully developed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ).

What makes a true Christian church is faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to the Bible as God’s Word.

And what does that Bible teach? That is the question. What does one do when two or more of these churches disagree with each other on doctrine? The NT knows nothing of doctrinal relativism. There was one truth, period. So the trick is to determine where that lies. The Church Fathers always appealed to history and apostolic succession tracing back the true Catholic doctrine and opposing those who could not trace their doctrines back to the apostles: like the Arians (precursors of today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny that Jesus is God). The Arians appealed to Bible alone because they couldn’t follow their heresy back to the beginning. It began in the 4th century.

So for Pope Benedict to state that all non-Roman Catholic churches are not true churches is a lie and not what the Bible teaches.

All we are doing is saying that the Bible teaches that there is but one “Church” and that we claim to be that Church. If someone wishes to argue that denominationalism and more than one Church can be found in the Bible, then let them make that argument. I contend that it cannot be done. Nor can a solely invisible Church be found in the Bible. The first thing to determine, then, is the nature of the Church. Then one has to figure out if this entity “The Church” exists and how to identify it.

Most troubling, however, is the Pope’s claim that salvation is only achieved through the Roman Catholic Church. I hate to give the Pope a Theology 101 lesson, but there is only one way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Period!

We agree with Protestants that salvation comes through Christ alone through grace alone. God uses the Church and human instruments to convey that salvation to men. The two are not mutually exclusive.

NO CHURCH CAN SAVE YOU!

We do not claim that the Catholic Church is the ultimate cause or origin of salvation. That is God alone. We are saying that God uses His own Church: that He set up by His own will, as His instrument in salvation, because human beings are not isolated individuals, with no connection to each other.

This notion that being part of a church can save you is not only anti-Biblical, it is pure blasphemy! In essence, what Pope Benedict is saying is that anyone outside of the Roman Catholic Church is not saved! That is not what the Bible teaches and is the type of statement I would expect out of a cult leader, not the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics!

Nor is it what we teach. It is the Calvinist view that consigns people to hell solely because of an accident of birth, or never having heard the gospel message of Jesus Christ. We say only that whoever is saved is so in part because of the aid of the Catholic Church, whether they are aware of it or not, not that they will be damned if they are not formally a member of the Catholic Church.

It appears now that the Pope doesn’t even know how to be saved and I wonder if he is trusting Jesus by faith or his church for his own salvation?

No Catholic trusts the “Church” for his or her salvation. We simply believe that there is such a thing as a visible, historical Church, with apostolic succession, that has authority, and which can bind its members to believe certain things, and require them to reject heretical, false doctrines, and that this is clearly taught in the Bible.

I find it very troubling that the Pope would seek to placate those who are following the false religion of Islam to the depths of hell, yet has no problem telling Bible-believing Christians who have put their faith in Jesus Christ that unless they are part of the Roman Catholic Church they are not saved!

Ecumenism, apologetics and evangelism are all distinct and important tasks, but they are not mutually exclusive. We live in a world with others who do not believe as we do. This conflict causes wars and much misery. So, while not watering down our own beliefs, it is good and worthwhile to build bridges with others insofar as we can do so without forsaking our own beliefs and principles. The pope, as a hugely important world figure, does all these things.

The very reaction of Catholic critics proves this, because we get misery no matter what we do. If we claim there is one Church through which we can be saved, we’re accused of being narrow and dogmatic. But if we are ecumenical and reach out to Muslims as much as we can, then we are accused of forsaking the same gospel that we assert in connection with the one true Church and One True Doctrine. We can’t win for losing. In effect, unless we are Protestants, we’ll always be roundly condemned.

Nothing is more divisive than the unbiblical doctrine of denominationalism. True unity will only come through doctrinal unity, not a touchy-feely, “least common denominator” brand of low-church Protestantism. That has never brought about an end of division; only a weakening of orthodox Christian doctrine.

No Protestant denomination can be traced in historical continuity all the way back to the apostles. The Methodists derived from the Anglicans, who derived from the lustfulness of Henry VIII and his desire to break off of the Catholic Church for the reason of wanting to divorce his wife. Hardly a biblical origin . . . The Assemblies of God are only a little more than a century old, derived from the holiness movement of the 19th century, that was an offshoot of Methodism. The Baptists began with the Anabaptists in the 16th century. The Catholic Church began with Jesus commissioning Peter as the first pope in Matthew 16, and the infallible Church Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

There is no comparison. No Protestant denomination can demonstrate that it is in line with the consensus of the Fathers and the Bible. Eastern Orthodox is the only viable alternative to Catholicism, and we consider the Orthodox very close to us, and indeed, a “sister” Church.

The critical point is that while each group of churches or denominations have their own unique differences in regard to different doctrinal issues, what makes them Christian churches are the foundational element of the Christian faith.

The Bible nowhere sanctions doctrinal contradictions. There is “one Lord, one baptism, one faith” (-Eph 4:5).”

Love,
Matthew

Will the saved rejoice in the sufferings of the damned? – ST., Suppl., Q. 94

SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, SUPPLEMENT

Question 94. The relations of the saints towards the damned

Article 1. Whether the blessed in heaven will see the sufferings of the damned?

Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed in heaven will not see the sufferings of the damned. For the damned are more cut off from the blessed than wayfarers. But the blessed do not see the deeds of wayfarers: wherefore a gloss on Isaiah 63:16, “Abraham hath not known us,” says: “The dead, even the saints, know not what the living, even their own children, are doing” [St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis xiii, xv]. Much less therefore do they see the sufferings of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, perfection of vision depends on the perfection of the visible object: wherefore the Philosopher says (Ethic. x, 4) that “the most perfect operation of the sense of sight is when the sense is most disposed with reference to the most beautiful of the objects which fall under the sight.” Therefore, on the other hand, any deformity in the visible object redounds to the imperfection of the sight. But there will be no imperfection in the blessed. Therefore they will not see the sufferings of the damned wherein there is extreme deformity.

On the contrary, It is written (Isaiah 66:24): “They shall go out and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me”; and a gloss says: “The elect will go out by understanding or seeing manifestly, so that they may be urged the more to praise God.”

I answer that, Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

Reply to Objection 1. This gloss speaks of what the departed saints are able to do by nature: for it is not necessary that they should know by natural knowledge all that happens to the living. But the saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens both to wayfarers and to the damned. Hence Gregory says (Moral. xii) that Job’s words (14:21), “‘Whether his children come to honour or dishonour, he shall not understand,’ do not apply to the souls of the saints, because since they possess the glory of God within them, we cannot believe that external things are unknown to them.” [Concerning this Reply, Cf. I:89:8].

Reply to Objection 2. Although the beauty of the thing seen conduces to the perfection of vision, there may be deformity of the thing seen without imperfection of vision: because the images of things whereby the soul knows contraries are not themselves contrary. Wherefore also God Who has most perfect knowledge sees all things, beautiful and deformed.

Article 2. Whether the blessed pity the unhappiness of the damned?
Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed pity the unhappiness of the damned. For pity proceeds from charity [Cf. II-II:30]; and charity will be most perfect in the blessed. Therefore they will most especially pity the sufferings of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, the blessed will never be so far from taking pity as God is. Yet in a sense God compassionates our afflictions, wherefore He is said to be merciful.

On the contrary, Whoever pities another shares somewhat in his unhappiness. But the blessed cannot share in any unhappiness. Therefore they do not pity the afflictions of the damned.

I answer that, Mercy or compassion may be in a person in two ways: first by way of passion, secondly by way of choice. In the blessed there will be no passion in the lower powers except as a result of the reason’s choice. Hence compassion or mercy will not be in them, except by the choice of reason. Now mercy or compassion comes of the reason’s choice when a person wishes another’s evil to be dispelled: wherefore in those things which, in accordance with reason, we do not wish to be dispelled, we have no such compassion. But so long as sinners are in this world they are in such a state that without prejudice to the Divine justice they can be taken away from a state of unhappiness and sin to a state of happiness. Consequently it is possible to have compassion on them both by the choice of the will—in which sense God, the angels and the blessed are said to pity them by desiring their salvation—and by passion, in which way they are pitied by the good men who are in the state of wayfarers. But in the future state it will be impossible for them to be taken away from their unhappiness: and consequently it will not be possible to pity their sufferings according to right reason. Therefore the blessed in glory will have no pity on the damned.

Reply to Objection 1. Charity is the principle of pity when it is possible for us out of charity to wish the cessation of a person’s unhappiness. But the saints cannot desire this for the damned, since it would be contrary to Divine justice. Consequently the argument does not prove.

Reply to Objection 2. God is said to be merciful, in so far as He succors those whom it is befitting to be released from their afflictions in accordance with the order of wisdom and justice: not as though He pitied the damned except perhaps in punishing them less than they deserve.

Article 3. Whether the blessed rejoice in the punishment of the wicked?

Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed do not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. For rejoicing in another’s evil pertains to hatred. But there will be no hatred in the blessed. Therefore they will not rejoice in the unhappiness of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, the blessed in heaven will be in the highest degree conformed to God. Now God does not rejoice in our afflictions. Therefore neither will the blessed rejoice in the afflictions of the damned.

Objection 3. Further, that which is blameworthy in a wayfarer has no place whatever in a comprehensor. Now it is most reprehensible in a wayfarer to take pleasure in the pains of others, and most praiseworthy to grieve for them. Therefore the blessed nowise rejoice in the punishment of the damned.

On the contrary, It is written (Psalm 57:11): “The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge.”

Further, it is written (Isaiah 56:24): “They shall satiate [Douay: ‘They shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh.’] the sight of all flesh.” Now satiety denotes refreshment of the mind. Therefore the blessed will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked.

I answer that, A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.

Reply to Objection 1. To rejoice in another’s evil as such belongs to hatred, but not to rejoice in another’s evil by reason of something annexed to it. Thus a person sometimes rejoices in his own evil as when we rejoice in our own afflictions, as helping us to merit life: “My brethren, count it all joy when you shall fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2).

Reply to Objection 2. Although God rejoices not in punishments as such, He rejoices in them as being ordered by His justice.

Reply to Objection 3. It is not praiseworthy in a wayfarer to rejoice in another’s afflictions as such: yet it is praiseworthy if he rejoice in them as having something annexed. However it is not the same with a wayfarer as with a comprehensor, because in a wayfarer the passions often forestall the judgment of reason, and yet sometimes such passions are praiseworthy, as indicating the good disposition of the mind, as in the case of shame pity and repentance for evil: whereas in a comprehensor there can be no passion but such as follows the judgment of reason.

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Particular Judgment

On Jesus’ terms, alone, ever. Never ours. Praise Him!!!!

Mt 12:36

“…there is always the terrifying possibility that God will give us or permit us to have exactly what we ask for; in a way, that is what our particular judgment will be. You will stand before the throne of the Judge, and He will look at your life and discover what you truly, in your heart of hearts, have desired: God or something else. If you have accepted God’s grace and by that grace have desired God, you will be welcomed into His presence to see Him face to face, and find in that vision joy beyond joy. And if you rejected grace and do not desire God, He will grant that desire also and cast you out of His presence, where the burning absence of Him Who is every man’s fulfillment is the worst torment of hell.

Every Catholic knows this, or should, even if we don’t often put it into words so harsh.”


Br Hyacinth Grub, OP

1. It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this 
the judgment.1 It is of faith, that immediately after death 
we shall be judged according to our works in this life. 
And it is also of faith, that upon this judgment will de- 
pend our eternal salvation or perdition. Imagine your- 
self to be in your agony, and to have only a short time 
to live. Think that in a short time you would then have 
to appear before Jesus Christ to give an account of your 
whole life. Alas! how alarming would the sight of your 
sins then be to you! 
Jesus, my Redeemer! pardon me, I beseech You, be- 
fore You judge me. I know that I have many times 
[34] already deserved to be sentenced to eternal death. 
No, I desire not to present myself guilty before You, but 
penitent and pardoned. O my sovereign good! I am 
grievously sorry for having offended You, 

2. O God! what will be the anguish of the soul when 
it shall first behold Jesus Christ as its judge, and behold 
Him terrible in His wrath? It will then see how much 
He has suffered for its sake; it will see what great 
mercies He has exercised towards it, and what powerful 
means He has bestowed upon it for the attainment of 
salvation; then will it also see the greatness of eternal 
goods, and the vileness of earthly pleasures, which have 
wrought its ruin; it will then see all these things, but to 
no purpose, because then there will be no more time to 
correct its past errors; what shall have then been done 
will be irrevocable. Before the judgment seat of God, 
no nobility, nor dignity, nor riches will be considered; 
our works alone will be weighed there. 
Grant, O Jesus! that when I first behold You I may 
see You appeased; and, for this end, grant me the grace 
to weep, during the remainder of my life, over the evil 
which I have done in turning my back upon You, to 
follow my own sinful caprices. No, I desire never more 
to offend You. I love You and desire to love You 
forever. 

3. What contentment will that Christian enjoy at the 
hour of death who has left the world to give himself to 
God; who has denied his senses all unlawful gratifica- 
tions: and who, if he has on some occasions been negligent, 
has at last been wise enough afterwards to do worthy 
penance for it! On the other hand, what anguish will 
that Christian experience who has continually relapsed 
into the same vices, and at last finds himself at the point 
of death! Then will he exclaim: “Alas! in a few moments 
I must appear before Jesus as my judge, and I have not 
as yet even begun to change my life! I have many times 
[35] promised to do so, but I have not done it; and now, in 
a short time, what will become of me?” 

Ah, my Jesus and my judge! I give You thanks for 
the patience with which You have until now waited for 
me. How many times have I myself written my own 
eternal condemnation . Since You have thus waited to 
pardon me, reject me not, now prostrate at Your feet. 
Receive me into Your favor through the merits of Your 
bitter Passion. I am sorry, my sovereign good! for hav- 
ing despised You. I love You above all things. I de- 
sire never more to forsake You. O Mary! recommend 
me to Your Son Jesus, and do not abandon me. 
St Alphonsus Liguouri

1 “Statutum est hominibus semel mori; post hoc autem, judicium.” 
Heb. 9. 27. 

Love & salvation,
Matthew

Gender?

“Before retiring to bed on a Tuesday night in the Vatican, Saint John Paul II prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the following words from Saint Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1

Long after others in the papal apartment were asleep, a noise awoke his secretary, Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, who left his room to investigate. His room was adjacent to the Holy Father’s, but he noticed that the sounds were not coming from the Pope’s room, but from his chapel. Although late-night prayer was not uncommon for John Paul, Dziwisz peered in to be certain that everything was all right.

The sight was typical: John Paul immersed in contemplation alone before the tabernacle. The Pope usually spoke to God with very simple words, and often prayed during adoration like Jesus did in Gethsemane, talking with his Father. 2 This night, Dziwisz noticed that John Paul indeed seemed troubled. The disturbance he overheard was the Pope speaking aloud to God, asking repeatedly, “Dlaczego? Dlaczego?” (“ Why? Why?”). Out of reverence, the monsignor backed away from the chapel and returned to his room for the night.

John Paul celebrated Mass the next morning, but was unusually reserved during breakfast afterward. The Pope’s typical jovial and engaging demeanor toward the sisters and guests was subdued. Instead of asking questions and conversing about an endless variety of topics, he was recollected and withdrawn. He ate no breakfast, and drank a cup of tea. 3

That afternoon would be an important one: During his Wednesday audience, John Paul was preparing to announce the establishment of two ministries in the Church that would address the problems facing families in the modern world. 4 One of these, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, would become the main teaching arm of the Theology of the Body. 5

On his way to deliver his message, the Holy Father rode in the Popemobile across Saint Peter’s Square. As he was blessing children and greeting the crowds, gunshots from a Turkish assassin rang out. An ambulance rushed the Pope in his bloodstained cassock to the hospital, where he narrowly escaped death.

Had God given him a premonition of his suffering the night before? The answer to that question will likely remain a mystery known only to John Paul.

Was there a link between his suffering and his efforts to build up marriage and the family? This he affirmed, saying, “Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in Saint Peter’s Square.” 6 He added, “Precisely because the family is threatened, the family is being attacked. So the Pope must be attacked. The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared, the third millennium of families. . . .” 7

…While camping at the World Youth Day vigil in Kraków, I spoke with a young woman who was preparing to enter her first year of college at a prestigious university in California. She pulled her phone out of her backpack and showed me where her online college application required her to check the appropriate box to indicate her gender.

There were eighteen boxes to choose from.

I read through the litany of genders, and noticed that two were missing: male and female. (Facebook— which invites its users to identify as one of more than fifty genders— at least offers them the possibility of choosing to be male or female.) The university application, however, did allow the incoming students to choose “cis-male” or “cis-female,” which means that the biological sex one was “assigned” at birth aligns with the gender one chooses for one’s identity.

While some seek to expand upon the number of genders and create a spectrum of options, the ultimate goal of gender theory is not diversity. After all, diversity requires objective differences. The goal is to erase the sexual difference, and thus to eliminate the meaning of the body.

Where is this coming from? The Second Vatican Council prophesied our culture’s sexual identity crisis by stating, “When God is forgotten . . . the creature itself grows unintelligible.” 8 Although the Theology of the Body was written before many of the modern ideas of gender theory became popular, it was ahead of its time in offering a clear answer for them— and for many other key issues about sexuality and the body.

What is the Theology of the Body?

The Theology of the Body is the popular title given to 135 reflections written by Saint John Paul II. As a cardinal in Poland, he (Karol Wojtyła) planned to publish them as a book titled Man and Woman He Created Them. 9 Before this could happen, he was elected pope, and instead delivered the content in 129 Wednesday Audiences during the first five years of his pontificate.

The thousands of vacationers and pilgrims who gathered to see the Holy Father at these audiences had no idea that the Pope’s biographer would later describe the Theology of the Body as a “theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” 10

What could be so explosive about a Polish bishop’s theological reflections on the body? To answer this, consider how the human body has been viewed throughout history. Thousands of years ago, Gnostics and Platonists believed that a person’s true self was different from his or her body. One Gnostic sect, the Manicheans, believed that man’s destiny was to set his spiritual essence free from the pollution of matter. Because the body was material, it was not only inferior, but evil. In fact, it was considered a sin for a woman to give birth because she was bringing more matter into existence! Centuries later, puritanism considered the body to be a threat to one’s soul. Meanwhile, the philosopher René Descartes proposed that the soul is like a ghost trapped in a machine.

All these views about the body have one element of truth in common: Our bodies and souls aren’t in harmony. However, the body is not unimportant compared to the soul. Nor is the body something we “have,” or something that encumbers our soul. We are our bodies, and our bodies reveal us. However, our current state is not the way God created us in the beginning. The discord that exists within man is the result of original sin. 11

While some individuals devalued the body and cared only for the soul, others fell into the opposite mistake. Atheists and materialist philosophers argued that the human person is nothing more than his or her body: There is no soul, and the body has no meaning.

Although these ideas might seem like debates reserved for philosophers and theologians, consider what happens when entire cultures accept these misguided notions of what it means to be human. If man has a body but no spiritual dimension, what distinguishes him from other animals? Why should he act differently or be treated differently? On the other hand, if a person’s true identity is found in his spirit alone, then man’s view of himself becomes uprooted from any objective reality. Truth would then be defined by a person’s feelings. As a result, masculinity and femininity would be viewed as social constructs, not realities created by God. But if masculinity and femininity don’t exist, then what becomes of marriage and the family?

Because there has been so much confusion about the meaning of the human body, John Paul set out to present a total vision of man that would include man’s origin, history, and destiny. Instead of arguing from the outside in, offering people a litany of rules, he invited them to seek the truth about reality by reflecting on their own human experience. The writings of Saint John of the Cross played a key role in shaping John Paul’s style of thinking. His philosophical studies on of Max Scheler and other phenomenologists further sharpened his ability to observe human experience. John Paul doesn’t begin by explaining what man ought to do, but by explaining who man is. In the Pope’s mind, people will know how to live if they know who they are.

It has been said that rules without a relationship creates rebellion. This is true with parents and children, and it’s especially true with the relationship between God and humanity. John Paul knew that laws don’t change hearts. When people view morality as a rigid list of imposed regulations, they might temporarily behave themselves out of guilt or fear, but they often abandon the faith. The Pope understood the futility of this approach, and knew that a fresh re-presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics was overdue.

What the modern world needed was not just a defense of the Church’s teachings, but rather an unveiling of God’s original plan for the beauty of human love. Culture needed something that wasn’t simply intellectually convincing or morally upright, but rather something that corresponded to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Unfortunately, many have grown deaf to these yearnings and hear only the urges of the body. But no matter how numb one might be to the deepest aspirations of the soul, everyone can relate to the ache of solitude, the experience of shame, and the desire for communion. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul explored these experiences and more, to reveal how God’s plan for humanity is stamped not only into our hearts, but also into our bodies.

When people discover the Theology of the Body, they often exclaim that they’ve never heard anything like it before. This is because many people learned about sexuality in a religious framework that focused only on what is forbidden and permitted. Others learned about it through the lens of modern sex education, which reduces one’s sexuality to biology and sensuality. This might count as “sex ed,” but it’s not a true education in human sexuality. 12

Properly speaking, “sex” is not something people do. Sex is who we are as male and female persons. The Theology of the Body reminds us of this broader meaning and offers compelling answers to questions such as: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? How should I live? It delves into delicate questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics, but does so while inviting people to rediscover the meaning of life. Through it, one realizes that modern man’s sexual confusion is not caused because the world glorifies sexuality, but because the world fails to see its glory.

For those who have disregarded the Church’s teaching on human sexuality because it seems out of touch with the modern world, the Theology of the Body offers a fresh perspective. Its insights are not pious reflections offered by a theologian who was isolated from the daily struggles of married life. On the contrary, they are the result of decades of personal interactions between a remarkable saint and the countless young adults and married couples that he accompanied through their vocations. These couples attest that although John Paul had a great ability to preach, he had an even greater ability to listen.

The Theology of the Body comes from the heart of a saint who listened intently not only to others but also to the God who could provide meaning to their lives. He was no stranger to suffering, living under Nazi and Communist regimes and having lost his family by the age of twenty. While such trials might lead some to abandon their faith, John Paul’s was forged by them, as he sought answers to the deepest questions about life’s meaning.

John Paul also possessed a staggering intellect, and according to his secretary, spent three hours each day reading. 13 Although he was dedicated to the intellectual life, John Paul’s prayer life took priority. His colleagues attest that he seemed to be continually absorbed in prayer, as can be seen from the fact that he considered the busy Paris Metro to be “a superb place for contemplation.” 14

His greatest devotion, however, was to the Blessed Sacrament. He never omitted his Holy Hour on Thursdays, even while traveling internationally. If the organizers of his trips didn’t make room for it in his schedule, he would make time and simply arrive an hour late to their program. When his assistants attempted to convince him to decrease the amount of time spent in this devotion, he refused, saying, “No, it keeps me.” 15 He knew that apostolic mission derives its strength from life in God. 16 It is from this man’s heart, mind, and soul that the Church has been given a tremendous gift: the Theology of the Body.

Structure

The Theology of the Body is comprised of two parts. The first focuses on three passages from Scripture, or “words” of Christ. In it, John Paul examined the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. 17 Then he reflects upon the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount, in particular those concerning committing adultery in one’s heart. 18 Finally, he turns to Christ’s words regarding the resurrection of the body. 19 By means of these reflections, he explains the redemption of the body. If fact, in his final catechesis, he describes the content of the whole work as “the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.” 20

The Theology of the Body is thoroughly biblical— as can be seen by the fact that the Pope draws from forty-six books and more than a thousand Scripture citations. However, among all of the passages he quotes, the three mentioned above are his focus. He compares them to the panels of a triptych, which is a work of sacred art consisting of three panels, or parts. When the three images are displayed together, they present a fuller understanding of a topic of theology (in this case, the human person).

The three parts of John Paul’s triptych are original, historical, and eschatological man. Original man is who God created man to be in the beginning, before the dawn of sin. Historical man refers to the current state of humanity, burdened by original sin but redeemed by Christ. “Eschatological” has its roots in the Greek word for “end,” eschaton, and refers to the glorified state of man in heaven. Together, these three epochs of human history form what John Paul called an “adequate anthropology”— an understanding of what it means to be a human person.

In the first part of the Theology of the Body, John Paul used the above three “words” of Christ to explain man’s call to live out “the spousal meaning of the body.” This phrase is the heart of the Theology of the Body. It means that the human body has “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and— through this gift— fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” 21 (This gift of self can be expressed not only through marriage, but also through celibacy for the kingdom of God.)

In the second part of the Theology of the Body, the Pope analyzed “The Sacrament” which is the “great sign” of Christ’s love for the Church and the love between a husband and wife. He explained what the gift of self means in terms of the “language of the body,” and how men and women are called to live it out, especially as it relates to building their families.”

-Evert, Jason (2017-12-06). Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 63-102, 109-239). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, His will is perfect,
Matthew

1 Peter 5: 8.
2 Mieczysław Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference, Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016.
3 Interview with Father Andrew Swietochowski, July 31, 2017.
4 The Pontifical Council for the Family and the International Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.
5 Diane Montagna, “Online Exclusive: What John Paul II Intended to Say the Day He Was Shot,” Aleteia, May 7, 2016.
6 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 164.
7 Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, May 29, 1994.
8 Gaudium et Spes, 36.
9 Other proposed titles included “Human Love in the Divine Plan” or “The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage.”
10 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper, 2001), 343.
11 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2516 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).
12 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
13 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
14 George Weigel, City of Saints (New York: Image, 2015), 232.
15 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
16 Pope John Paul II, Master in the Faith 2, Rome: December 14, 1990.
17 Matt. 19: 8; Mark 10: 6– 9.
18 Matt. 5: 28.
19 Matt. 22: 30; Mark 12: 25; Luke
20: 35– 36. 20 TOB 133: 2.
21 Theology of the Body 15: 1; 32: 1, 3.

Who cares?

“Intellectually serious Catholics need to come to terms with (basic theological questions)…(As Catholics, we need to speak about the faith in a) coherent and serene way, but also as people who are intellectually happy. Theology is never reducible to the utilitarian function of apologetics. Theology is about happiness. Happiness is as much in the intellect as in the heart, and it stems from understanding the truth about ultimate things, and being headed in the right direction, being oriented existentially. We derive our moral stability in large part from having a perspective on the world that is realistic and profound. Happiness for Aristotle is unimpeded activity. The highest, most vivifying thing we can do is contemplate the truth. So understanding God deeply and rightly in light of revelation gives the intellect unimpeded activity and liveliness about what is most ultimate. It also gives us the stability of seeing things in perspective, and a peace that cannot be diminished even in the midst of the trials and travails of life. What grim stoicism and utilitarian efficacy cannot deliver, the work of theology can: the serenity of rest in God Himself.

The idea of leaving our intellect behind to become spiritual is very strange and inhuman. However, it is a view that is very widespread, sometimes in conservative Christian circles, but more often in liberal Protestant and Catholic spheres. The vulgar commonplace form is the saying “I’m spiritual but not religious(SBNR).” The idea is that dogma constricts, and that religious practices blind us to the fact that God is larger than our conceptions and rituals. Spiritual people transcend the limits of dogma, creed, and regulation to live on a higher plane of spiritual awareness or a unity with God and others that is beyond all concepts. In fact, that is a very anti-intellectual viewpoint, marked by a latent despair of finding the truth about God.

But what about the counter-charge? Don’t religious intellectuals simply seek to trap God within the constraint of their manmade systems? It is true that our conceptual knowledge is partial and that the mystery of God is not reducible to our partial knowledge of God’s mystery. But we only aim rightly at God in and through our real knowledge of God, and this does entail language, concepts, thinking, and acting in ways that integrate us into the life of the Church. In other words, to live spiritually for God we need to make right use of dogma and theology. The early twentieth-century Catholic Modernist movement claimed that profound religious experience always transcends dogmas and relativizes them. This idea is based, however, on a superficial notion of mystery. Religious experience does not take place merely in our conceptions of the truth (as if holding to Church dogmas were somehow a sufficiently spiritual act), but it also does not take place by transcending conceptions either (as if giving up dogmas of faith were a super-spiritual act of mental asceticism). The goal, in fact, is to pass through the dogmas to the mystery that they signify, and to find God in and through the true teachings of scripture and tradition. Dogma is the guardian of mystery. It alerts us to its presence, and orients us toward God in constructive ways.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Locations 936-958). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

The requirement of love


Not all “church ladies” will be saved. Only the ones who love.

“But mere external membership is not enough to be saved. Perseverance in charity is necessary for a Catholic to be saved…A number of commentators point out the significance of no longer only defining membership in terms of the external criteria but now also emphasizing the importance of the life of the Spirit and charity, the interior union with the Trinity.”

-Martin, Ralph. Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (p. 25). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

“…(They are) not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, (do) not persevere in charity. (They remain) indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in (their) heart.”(12*) All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.(13*)

(12*) Cfr. S. Augustinus, Bapt. c. Donat. V, 28, 39; PL 43, 197: Certe manifestum est, id quod dicitur, in Ecdesia intus et foris, in corde, non in corpore cogitandum. Cfr. ib., III, 19, 26: col. 152; V, 18, 24: col. 189; In Io. Tr. 61, 2: PL 35, 1800, et alibi saepe.
(13*) Cfr. Lc. 12, 48: Omni autem, cui multum datum est, multum quaeretur ab eo. Cfr. etiam Mt. 5, 19-20; 7, 21-22; 25 41-46; Iac., 2, 14.

(Lumen Gentium 14)

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Ultimate despair

I am reading the above book, which examines, in what some might call “excruciating detail”, the last three sentences of Lumen Gentium 16. In these last three sentences, the fathers of Vatican II try to thread the needle of not denying God’s ability to save whomsoever He chooses, by whatsoever means He chooses, even though Mt 18:18; and yet not abrogate the more pressing prerogative of Mk 16:15/16. It is a fascinating and well written example of how the Church discerns, debates, discusses, argues, and interprets its meaning and mission, and the details of the will of the One Who founded her, in, for, and with the public, baptized or not so.

At the very end of the next to last sentence of Lumen Gentium 16 is a phrasing I have found fascinating: “ultimate despair”. As in, those who have either not heard the good news, or those who have refused to accept it. “…they are exposed to ultimate despair.” And, how many situations of “ultimate despair” we can think of!!!!

But, then we read Romans 8, and are, literally, saved, in every way, but assuredly from “ultimate despair”.

Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary. . . .
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak He makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint. (Is 40:28-31)

The Church is masterful in her liturgy. We began this month of November remembering those who have preceded us in faith, and dedicated this month to the benefit of the holy souls in purgatory. The readings have become more apocalyptic, reminding us of the end to come, even as the prior liturgical year ends before us, until the Solemnity of Christ the King, and His ultimate triumph over all His enemies, whom He puts beneath His feet. Then, with a whisper, the flicker of a candle, in the cold and the darkness, hope. He comes to a broken, suffering world, again. “Sneaking behind enemy lines” as it has been phrased, as a peasant child, a nothing, a no one, a nobody. Humility often camouflages divine power. Works every time! A fresh new beginning, restoring the innocence and the youth dissipated.

Love & His hope,
Matthew

The population of hell


-Hell, Hortus deliciarum, 1179 AD

As the liturgical year closes, and the readings turn decidedly more apocalyptic, I thought excerpts from this essay by His Emminence Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, (1918-2008) might be appropriate.

“Sometimes the complaint is heard that no one preaches about hell any longer. The subject of hell, if not attractive, is at least fascinating, as any reader of Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost can testify. Equally fascinating, and decidedly more pressing, is the question of how many of us may be expected to go there when we die.

As we know from the gospels, Jesus spoke many times about hell. Throughout his preaching, he holds forth two and only two final possibilities for human existence: the one being everlasting happiness in the presence of God, the other everlasting torment in the absence of God. He describes the fate of the damned under a great variety of metaphors: everlasting fire, outer darkness, tormenting thirst, a gnawing worm, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus indicates that some will be condemned. The Son of man says to the goats: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). In the Gospel of John, which says comparatively little about hell, Jesus is quoted as saying: “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Father’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

The apostles, understandably concerned, asked: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Without directly answering their question Jesus replied: “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). In the parallel passage from Matthew, Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). In a parable immediately following this exchange, Jesus speaks of those who try to come to the marriage feast, but are told: “Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. There you will weep and gnash your teeth” (Luke 13:27-28). In another parable, that of the wedding guest who is cast out for not wearing the proper attire, Jesus declares: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Taken in their obvious meaning, passages such as these give the impression that there is a hell, and that many go there; more, in fact, than are saved.

The New Testament does not tell us in so many words that any particular person is in hell. But several statements about Judas can hardly be interpreted otherwise. Jesus says that he has kept all those whom the Father has given Him except the son of perdition (John 17:12). At another point Jesus calls Judas a devil (John 6:70), and yet again says of him: “It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21). If Judas were among the saved, these statements could hardly be true. Many saints and doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have taken it as a revealed truth that Judas was reprobated. Some of the Fathers place the name of Nero in the same select company, but they do not give long lists of names, as Dante would do.

References to punishment after death in the remainder of the New Testament simply confirm the teaching of the Gospels. In the Book of Acts Paul says that those ordained to eternal life have believed his preaching, whereas those who disbelieved it have judged themselves unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46-48). Peter’s First Letter puts the question: “If the righteous man is scarcely to be saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). The Book of Revelation teaches that there is a fiery pit where Satan and those who follow him will be tormented forever. It states at one point: “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

The testimony of Paul is complex. In his First Letter to the Thessalonians he speaks of the coming divine judgment, in which Jesus will inflict vengeance “upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). In his epistle to the Romans Paul says that the impenitent Jews are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). In writing to the Corinthians he distinguishes between those who are being saved by the gospel and those who are perishing because of their failure to accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18). In a variety of texts he gives lists of sins that will exclude people from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-6). And he tells the Philippians: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Some passages in the letters of Paul lend themselves to a more optimistic interpretation, but they can hardly be used to prove that salvation is universal. In Romans 8:19-21 Paul predicts that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” but the text seems to refer to the world of nature; it does not say that all human beings will achieve the glorious liberty in question. In 1 Corinthians 15:28 Paul speaks of all things being ultimately subjected to Christ, but he does not imply that subjection means salvation. He presumably means that the demonic powers will ultimately be defeated. In Philippians 2:9-10 he predicts that eventually every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue confess Him. But this need not mean a confession that proceeds from love. In the Gospels the devils proclaim that Jesus is the Holy One of God, but they are not saved by recognizing the fact.

Equally unavailing, in my opinion, are appeals to passages that say that God’s plan is to reconcile all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:19-20). Although this is surely God’s intent, He does not override the freedom that enables men and women to resist His holy will. The same may be said of the statement that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Paul is apparently seeking to stimulate the apostolic zeal of missionaries who will bring the saving truth of Christ to all who do not yet believe. The absolute necessity of faith for salvation is a constant theme in the writings of Paul. I see no reason, then, for ranking Paul among the universalists.

The constant teaching of the Catholic Church supports the idea that there are two classes: the saved and the damned. Three general councils of the Church (Lyons I, 1245; Lyons II, 1274; and Florence, 1439) and Pope Benedict XII’s bull Benedictus Deus (1336) have taught that everyone who dies in a state of mortal sin goes immediately to suffer the eternal punishments of hell. This belief has perdured without question in the Catholic Church to this day, and is repeated almost verbatim in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ( CCC §1022, 1035). Several local councils in the Middle Ages, without apparently intending to define the point, state in passing that some have actually died in a state of sin and been punished by eternal damnation.

The relative numbers of the elect and the damned are not treated in any Church documents, but have been a subject of discussion among theologians. Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost. In Book 21 of his City of God he rebuts first the idea that all human beings are saved, then that all the baptized are saved, then that all baptized Catholics are saved, and finally that all baptized Catholics who persevere in the faith are saved. He seems to limit salvation to baptized believers who refrain from serious sin or who, after sinning, repent and are reconciled with God.

The great Scholastics of the Middle Ages are not more sanguine. Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small. Since our human nature is fallen, and since eternal blessedness is a gift far beyond the powers and merits of every created nature, it is to be expected that most human beings fall short of achieving that goal.

The leading theologians of the baroque period follow suit. Francisco Suarez, in his treatise on predestination, puts the question squarely: How many are saved? Relying on the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Gregory, he proposes the following estimation. If the question is asked about all men living between the creation and the end of the world, the number of the reprobate certainly exceeds that of the elect. This is to be expected because God was not rightly known before the coming of Christ, and even since that time many remain in darkness. If the term “Christian” is taken to include heretics, schismatics, and baptized apostates, it would still appear that most are damned. But if the question is put about those who die in the Catholic Church, Suarez submits his opinion that the majority are saved, since many die before they can sin mortally, and many others are fortified by the sacraments.

Suarez is relatively optimistic in comparison with other Catholic theologians of his day. Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, for example, were convinced that most of the human race is lost.

Several studies published by Catholics early in the twentieth century concluded that there was a virtual consensus among the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic theologians of later ages to the effect that the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell. Even if this consensus be granted, however, it is not binding, because the theologians did not claim that their opinion was revealed, or that to take the opposite view was heretical. Nor is the opinion that most people attain salvation contradicted by authoritative Church teaching.

Mention should here be made of a minority opinion among some of the Greek Fathers. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa sometimes speak as though in the end all will be saved. Origen, the most prominent representative of this view, is generally reported as teaching that at the end of time, the damned, now repentant and purified, will take part in the universal restoration of all things (apokatastasis). Three centuries after Origen’s death his views on this and several other topics were condemned by a local council of Constantinople convened by the Emperor Justinian in a.d. 563. Even in his lifetime, however, Origen claimed that his adversaries had misunderstood or misrepresented him. A number of distinguished scholars down through the centuries have defended his orthodoxy on the fate of the damned. The doctrine of the eternity of hell has been firmly in place at least since the seventh century, and is not subject to debate in the Catholic Church.

About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation. Some examples may be illustrative.

In a “reverie” circulated among friends but not published until after his death, the philosopher Jacques Maritain included what he called a “conjectural essay” on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, although eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape from pain. In response to the prayers of the saints, he imagines, God may miraculously convert their wills, so that from hating Him they come to love Him. After being pardoned, they will then be delivered from the pain of sense and placed in a kind of limbo. They will still be technically in hell, since they will lack the beatific vision, but they will enjoy a kind of natural felicity, like that of infants who die without baptism. At the end, he speculates, even Satan will be converted, and the fiery inferno, while it continues to exist, will have no spirits to afflict. This, as Maritain acknowledged, is a bold conjecture, since it has no support in Scripture or tradition, and contradicts the usual understanding of texts such as the parable of the Last Judgment scene of Matthew. But the theory has the advantage of showing how the Blood of Christ might obtain mercy for all spiritual creatures, even those eternally in hell.

Karl Rahner, another representative of the more liberal trend, holds for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost. The discourses of Jesus on the subject appear to be admonitory rather than predictive. Their aim is to persuade his hearers to pursue the better and safer path by alerting them to the danger of eternal perdition. While allowing for the real possibility of eternal damnation, says Rahner, we must simultaneously maintain “the truth of the omnipotence of the universal salvific will of God, the redemption of all by Christ, the duty of men to hope for salvation.” Rahner therefore believes that universal salvation is a possibility.

The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die. He concedes, however, that the opposite is also possible. Since we are able to resist the grace of God, none of us is safe. We must therefore leave the question speculatively open, thinking primarily of the danger in which we ourselves stand.

At one point in his book Balthasar incorporates a long quotation from Edith Stein, now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who defends a position very like Balthasar’s. Since God’s all-merciful love, she says, descends upon everyone, it is probable that this love produces transforming effects in their lives. To the extent that people open themselves to that love, they enter into the realm of redemption. On this ground Stein finds it possible to hope that God’s omnipotent love finds ways of, so to speak, outwitting human resistance. Balthasar says that he agrees with Stein.

This position of Balthasar seems to me to be orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in Scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive. Balthasar’s position, moreover, does not undermine a healthy fear of being lost. But the position is at least adventurous. It runs against the obvious interpretation of the words of Jesus in the New Testament and against the dominant theological opinion down through the centuries, which maintains that some, and in fact very many, are lost.

The conviction of earlier theologians that relatively few are saved rests, I suspect, partly on the assumption that faith in Christ, baptism, and adherence to the Church are necessary conditions for salvation. The first two of these conditions are clearly set forth in the New Testament, and the third has been taught by many saints, councils, popes, and theologians. But these conditions can be interpreted more broadly than one might suspect. In recent centuries it has become common to speak of implicit faith, baptism “by desire,” and membership in the “soul” of the Church, or membership in voto (“by desire”). Vatican II declares that all people, even those who have never heard of Christ, receive enough grace to make their salvation possible.

The Church continues to insist that explicit faith, reception of the sacraments, and obedience to the Church are the ordinary means to salvation. Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors (1864) accordingly condemned the proposition: “We should at least have good hopes for the eternal salvation of those who are in no way in the true Church of Christ.” Pius XII in his encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ ( Mystici Corporis , 1943) taught that even those who are united to the Church by bonds of implicit desire—a state that can by no means be taken for granted—still lack many precious means that are available in the Church and therefore “cannot be sure of their salvation.” Vatican II said that anyone who knows that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ and refuses to enter her cannot be saved. If we accept these teachings, we will find it unlikely that everyone fulfills the conditions for salvation.

Pope John Paul II in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope mentions the theory of Balthasar. After putting the question whether a loving God can allow any human being to be condemned to eternal torment, he replies: “And yet the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matthew 25:46).” As justification for this assessment the Pope puts the rhetorical question: Can God, Who is ultimate justice, tolerate terrible crimes and let them go unpunished? Final punishment would seem to be necessary to reestablish the moral equilibrium in the complex history of humanity.

In a General Audience talk of July 28, 1999, the Pope seems to have shifted his position, adopting in effect that of Balthasar. According to the English version of the text he said:

“Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no,” which marks the (human) creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus Who lived His life with a “yes” to God.

Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell—and even less the improper use of biblical images—must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God Who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)”

The last sentence refers to the hope of Christians for their own salvation and cannot be used to support any theory of universal salvation. But the preceding sentence indicates at least an openness to the opinion that we may hope for the salvation of all…

…They (modern theologians) grant that it is probable that some or even many do go there (hell), but they assert, on the ground that God is capable of bringing any sinner to repentance, that we have a right to hope and pray that all will be saved. The fact that something is highly improbable need not prevent us from hoping and praying that it will happen. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church , “In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4)” ( CCC §1821). At another point the Catechism declares: “The Church prays that no one should be lost” ( CCC §1058).

One might ask at this point whether there has been any shift in Catholic theology on the matter. The answer appears to be yes, although the shift is not as dramatic as some imagine. The earlier pessimism was based on the unwarranted assumption that explicit Christian faith is absolutely necessary for salvation. This assumption has been corrected, particularly at Vatican II. There has also been a healthy reaction against the type of preaching that revels in depicting the sufferings of the damned in the most lurid possible light. An example would be the fictional sermon on hell that James Joyce recounts in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This kind of preaching fosters an image of God as an unloving and cruel tyrant, and in some cases leads to a complete denial of hell or even to atheism.

Today a kind of thoughtless optimism is the more prevalent error. Quite apart from what theologians teach, popular piety has become saccharine. Unable to grasp the rationale for eternal punishment, many Christians take it almost for granted that everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved. The Mass for the Dead has turned into a Mass of the Resurrection, which sometimes seems to celebrate not so much the resurrection of the Lord as the salvation of the deceased, without any reference to sin and punishment. More education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God Who, as Jesus taught, can punish soul and body together in hell (cf. Matthew 10:28).

The search for numbers in the demography of hell is futile. God in His wisdom has seen fit not to disclose any statistics. Several sayings of Jesus in the Gospels give the impression that the majority are lost. Paul, without denying the likelihood that some sinners will die without sufficient repentance, teaches that the grace of Christ is more powerful than sin: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Passages such as these permit us to hope that very many, if not all, will be saved.

All told, it is good that God has left us without exact information. If we knew that virtually everybody would be damned, we would be tempted to despair. If we knew that all, or nearly all, are saved, we might become presumptuous. If we knew that some fixed percent, say fifty, would be saved, we would be caught in an unholy rivalry. We would rejoice in every sign that others were among the lost, since our own chances of election would thereby be increased. Such a competitive spirit would hardly be compatible with the gospel. (Ed. Humans? React irrationally? PUHLEASE!!!) 🙂

We are forbidden to seek our own salvation in a selfish and egotistical way. We are keepers of our brothers and sisters. The more we work for their salvation, the more of God’s favor we can expect for ourselves. Those of us who believe and make use of the means that God has provided for the forgiveness of sins and the reform of life have no reason to fear. We can be sure that Christ, Who died on the Cross for us, will not fail to give us the grace we need. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and that if we persevere in that love, nothing whatever can separate us from Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-39). That is all the assurance we can have, and it should be enough.”
https://www.firstthings.com/article/2003/05/the-population-of-hell

Love, with great faith in His love & mercy. To Whom else shall we go? Never deny what God can do, for you, for me, for the most manifest of sinners. His mercy is beyond our comprehension/understanding, as is His might!!! 🙂
Matthew

What is Heaven?

“The famous evangelist Billy Graham once visited a small town to preach at the local church. Before he went to the church he needed to mail a letter back home, so he went looking for the post office. He pulled his car over to the side of the road and asked a boy walking his dog where it was and the boy politely answered.

Mr. Graham then invited the boy to attend the church where he’d be preaching. He said, “You can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven.” The boy simply replied, “I don’t think I’ll be there. You don’t even know your way to the post office!”

What Is Heaven Like?

“How do I get to heaven?” is one of the most important questions a person can ask. But what do we mean by the word “heaven?”

In some cases, the Bible uses the word “heaven” to refer to the sky, or to the place of the sun, stars, and moon. This is seen in passages like Psalm 19:1, which says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” Other times, “heaven” refers to the place where God dwells, as in the Lord’s Prayer, where we address “Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). Finally, “heaven” is used to refer to the eternal dwelling place of those who love God. St. Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20, NIV).

Many people imagine this heaven to be a place in the clouds where saints and angels play harps for all eternity. But while the Bible does use earthly imagery like wedding feasts to describe heaven, the Catechism says, “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description” (CCC 1027). Paul, quoting the promises given to the prophet Isaiah, said, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Our inexact knowledge of heaven does not mean that we are ignorant of heaven in general. According to Pope St. John Paul II, “The ‘heaven’ or ‘happiness’ in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.” In heaven we won’t be angels; we will be reunited with our bodies and will experience both spiritual and physical joy in the presence of God. The Catechism teaches us, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024).”

Love, eager to join you in the Kingdom!! Pray for me!
Matthew