Category Archives: Apologetics

Jehovah’s Witnesses – strategies

Jehovah witnesses are showing bible behind door. View from peephole.

“Each month Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) distribute millions of books, magazines, and pamphlets, in dozens of languages. Many of these are intended for non-Witnesses to try to convert them, but others are intended for Witnesses themselves.

One of the handbooks used by missionaries in the field is entitled Reasoning from the Scriptures. The book clearly centers around WTS (Watch Tower Society) theology, and this point is evident in part from the fact that some of the specific subjects treated in the book are identified as “Not a Bible teaching.”

The publication is intended to enable the average Witness going door-to-door to accomplish two purposes. First, it provides many Scripture references which seemingly support the WTS’s belief system. Second, it “arms” the JW with a variety of responses to statements and questions that are likely to surface in nearly any typical encounter with a non-Witness.

Some topics clearly have been selected because they concern beliefs peculiar to Witnesses. Others have been included because they are held by those of other faiths. This is especially true of Catholic doctrines. (A side note here: The Witnesses believe that all Christian denominations are demonic in origin, and they maintain Christianity as a whole went apostate—entirely abandoned the true faith—starting all the way back in the latter portion of the first century A.D. From their perspective, this alleged apostasy fulfills predictions in the New Testament. The main problem with this is that while the New Testament does speak of an apostasy, it refers to the falling away of large number of believers near the end times, not to the defection of the Church as an institution.)

Catholic doctrines discussed include apostolic succession; baptism as a sacrament bestowing grace; confession; holidays and holy days, such as Christmas, Easter, and St. Valentine’s Day; the use of images; Marian doctrines; the Mass; and purgatory. These alone constitute more than a tenth of the book and give an indication that the Witnesses see the Catholic Church as a main target.

Reasoning from the Scriptures begins with two how-to chapters, “Introductions for Use in the Field Ministry” and “How You Might Respond to Potential Conversation Stoppers.” The first gives suggested opening lines. “If the introductions you are now using seldom open the way for conversations, try some of these suggestions. When you do so, you will no doubt want to put them in your own words.”

Sample Openings

Five openings are given under the heading “Bible/ God.” The first reads this way: “Hello. I’m making just a brief call to share an important message with you. Please note what it says here in the Bible. (Read Scripture, such as Revelation 21:3-4.) What do you think about that?”

Notice the hook: “an important message.” It works for the advertising industry; why not in this context? Then come the Bible verses, followed by questions. The missionaries don’t tell their listener what to think—at least not at this point. Instead, they elicit his views. Once he gives them, it’s awkward for him to back out of the conversation.

Notice also in this example and in many of the ones that follow, JWs typically ask prospective converts for their own opinion or feeling on a theological matter. The advantage this approach has for JWs is that virtually everyone has some kind of opinion on the subject matter presented, so this approach practically guarantees that JWs can successfully engage a person in a dialogue. Once the dialogue has been established, the JW is then on his way to potentially making a convert. Fortunately for the JW, the average person fails to realize that theological or religious truth does not depend on one’s mere opinion or feeling.

Another opening line under this section is this one: “We’re encouraging folks to read their Bible. The answers that it gives to important questions often surprise people. For example: . . . (Ps. 104:5; or Dan. 2:44; or some other).” Again, here the listener is told he’ll be let in on a secret. He reads the passages, is asked his opinion, and then the Witnesses steer the conversation their way.

The leads given under the heading “Employment/ Housing” are more down-to-earth: “We’ve been talking with your neighbors about what can be done to assure that there will be employment and housing for everyone. Do you believe that it is reasonable to expect that human governments will accomplish this? . . . But there is someone who knows how to solve these problems; that is mankind’s Creator (Is. 65:21-23).”

This example shows another typical approach for Witnesses: they often target universal concerns. Who, for instance, is not worried about the future? Or living in a world free from pollution, poverty, and crime? So the “opening” for Witnesses often begins by focusing on these universal concerns, then continues by establishing a certain rapport, and finally turns to conversation that is more specifically theological in nature.

When many people in the area say, “I have my own religion,” it is recommended the missionaries use this opening: “Good morning. We are visiting all the families on your block (or, in this area), and we find that most of them have their own religion. No doubt you do too. . . . But, regardless of our religion, we are affected by many of the same problems—high cost of living, crime, illness—is that not so? . . . Do you feel that there is any real solution to these things? . . . (2 Pet. 3:13; etc.).”

Taking Cues

When many people say, “I’m busy,” this opening is used: “Hello. We’re visiting everyone in this neighborhood with an important message. No doubt you are a busy person, so I’ll be brief.” If the missionaries find themselves in a territory that is often worked by other JWs, they begin this way: “We’re making our weekly visit in the neighborhood, and we have something more to share with you about the wonderful things that God’s Kingdom will do for mankind.”

The second chapter of the Reasoning book instructs missionaries in how to “respond to potential conversation stoppers.” The reader is told that “not everyone is willing to listen, and we do not try to force them. But with discernment it is often possible to turn potential conversation stoppers into opportunities for further discussion.”

Missionaries are told not to memorize these lines, but to master them and put them in their own words. The key is sincerity. If the person who answers the door says, “I’m not interested,” the JW is to follow up with this: “May I ask, Do you mean that you are not interested in the Bible, or is it religion in general that does not interest you? I ask that because we have met many who at one time were religious but no longer go to church because they see much hypocrisy in the churches (or, they feel that religion is just another money-making business; or, they do not approve of religion’s involvement in politics; etc.). The Bible does not approve of such practices either and it provides the only basis on which we can look to the future with confidence.” Six other responses to the “I’m not interested” line are given.

Keep in mind that the JW has been well-trained and is well-versed in the “prepackaged” responses he has been taught. This fact adds to the appearance of the JW’s credibility and even his biblical “knowledge.” The reality, however, is that a given Witness has merely become adept at repeating select Bible verses and responses which he uses time and time again.

“Not Interested in Witnesses”

If the person is more specific still and says, “I’m not interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the missionaries give this kind of response: “Many folks tell us that. Have you ever wondered why people like me volunteer to make these calls even though we know that the majority of householders may not welcome us? (Give the gist of Matt. 25:31-33, explaining that a separating of people of all nations is taking place and that their response to the Kingdom message is an important factor in this. Or state the gist of Ezekiel 9:1-11, explaining that, on the basis of people’s reaction to the Kingdom message, everyone is being ‘marked’ either for preservation through the great tribulation or for destruction by God.)”

Here you see peeping out one of the Witnesses’ peculiar doctrines—they don’t believe in hell. They think the unsaved are annihilated and simply cease to exist. Only the saved will live eternally. If the person at the door says, “I have my own religion,” he should be asked, “Would you mind telling me, Does your religion teach that the time will come when people who love what is right will live on earth forever? … That is an appealing thought, isn’t it? … It is right here in the Bible (Ps. 37:29; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21:4).”

Notice again the approach: the Witness ultimately gets to a theological matter by means of an attraction to the emotions or one’s opinions (“That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?”) and not to revealed religious truth.

Also, this belief that the majority of believers will reside on a paradise Earth is another doctrine peculiar to the Witnesses. They think the saved will live forever on a regenerated Earth sometime in the future, after the wicked have been destroyed by Jehovah God at the Battle of Armageddon. But the “hook” they use is not peculiar to them.

Like Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists, though their theology is vastly better than that of the JWs, use a similar technique. On one hand, JWs argue to the truth of their position by asking, “That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?” Many people will conclude, “Yes, it is, and therefore it must be true”—illogical, perhaps, but that’s how many people think.

On the other hand, Fundamentalists will ask, “Wouldn’t you like an absolute assurance of salvation?” “Who wouldn’t?” is the reply, and, having given that reply, many people will find themselves accepting the Fundamentalists’ notion that one can have an absolute assurance of salvation (a doctrine that arises from their belief that all one needs to do to be saved is to “accept” Jesus as one’s “personal Lord and Savior”).

If the person answering the door says, “I am already well acquainted with your work” (a polite way of saying, “Get lost”), the missionaries should say: “I am very glad to hear that. Do you have a close relative or friend that is a Witness? . . . May I ask, Do you believe what we teach from the Bible, namely, that we are living in ‘the last days,’ that soon God is going to destroy the wicked, and that this earth will become a paradise in which people can live forever in perfect health among neighbors who really love one another?” Notice that once again the Witness has managed to turn around the conversation with this response and thus at least “plant seeds” in the mind of the person at the door.

The above examples show how JWs typically work when they come knocking at your door. It is evident from the Reasoning book that they are prepared for virtually every kind of response they may face. But while their “gospel” is false and their presentation is carefully prepackaged, Catholics should at least take note of the JWs’ willingness to promote what they believe. This is perhaps one lesson we can learn from them.”

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Love & truth,
Matthew

Anti-Catholic “Fake News” 2

The Myth: The Church began mandating clerical celibacy during the Middle Ages so that it could acquire the clergy’s family property.

The History Behind the Myth: Bruno of Alsace was noted for his piety. As bishop of Toul (in modern-day France), he cared deeply for his people. The abuses in the Church, especially among the clergy, pained him. When Pope Damasus II, the third German to sit on the Chair of Peter, died in 1048 after a short pontificate of only twenty-three days, Bruno of Alsace was the logical and saintly choice as his successor.

Pope St. Leo IX (r. 1049-1054) was faced with three major issues that shaped his pontificate: the protection of the Papal States from the encroaching Normans; resolution of disputes with the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines); and the reform of the Church. And the Church was indeed in desperate need of reform in the eleventh century. The practice of simony (buying or selling Church offices) was rampant, as were violations of the discipline of celibacy among clergy (deacons, priests, and bishops)

To combat these abuses, Leo IX launched one of the most comprehensive reforms in the history of the Church. To ensure its effectiveness, he did not just issue decrees from Rome and demand obedience; he went on the most significant papal road trip in history, traveling throughout Italy, Germany, and France, and holding local synods along the way. Indeed, in the five and half years of his pontificate, Leo spent only six months in the city of Rome. Leo deposed immoral and corrupt bishops, and excommunicated clergy found guilty of simony or unchastity.

Leo’s eleventh-century reform illustrates that the discipline of celibacy was highly regarded in the medieval Church, and was not instituted to enrich it with the land of the clergy. The promise of celibacy freely taken by the clergy dates to the early Church and is rooted in Christian doctrine and tradition. As a discipline (not a doctrine), celibacy has developed through the centuries. In the first three centuries of Church history there was no law prohibiting the ordination of married men, and many priests were married; however, marriage was never permitted after ordination. Moreover, all priests—married, single, or widowed—practiced sexual abstinence after ordination. Indeed, the prohibition of marriage after ordination makes sense only if sexual abstinence was demanded even of married priests. St. Paul taught that a bishop should be the “husband of one wife,” meaning that a man who remarries after the death of his wife illustrated an inability to live conjugal abstinence as required by the Church.

The first recorded Church legislation mandating clerical celibacy in the West was decreed at the Synod of Elvira in Spain around the year 300. In the East, ordination of married men continued through the centuries (and remains a practice), but from the seventh century onward only celibate monks or priests were elevated to the episcopacy. And neither the Eastern nor the Western Church has ever allowed marriage after ordination. In 385, Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) mandated celibacy for all clergy in the West.

Although most people today think of celibacy as unique to Catholicism, conjugal abstinence was required of Jewish priests during their temple duty in Jerusalem, and pagan soldiers abstained from sexual intercourse before battle. Though the early Church permitted the ordination of married men, virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven was highly regarded. Men who left the world to seek closer union with God in the desert practiced celibacy, and in monasteries throughout the world it became the norm. Nor was celibacy limited to clergy in the early Church: women, both consecrated virgins and widows, pledged celibacy out of love for God. At the time of St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), there were 3,000 virgins and widows in Constantinople.

Despite the longstanding practice of the Church, celibacy was often not lived faithfully in the early medieval Church. Pope Benedict VIII (r. 1012-1024) held a synod at Pavia where he reinforced the rule of clerical celibacy and denounced the scandal of clerical marriage. By the time of Pope Leo IX in the mid-eleventh century, unchastity among the clergy was widespread. So many priests lived openly with mistresses or practiced the abhorrent vice of homosexuality that St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) wrote The Book of Gomorrah against the sexual sins of the clergy. The eleventh-century papal reform focused on ensuring the independence of the papacy from the interference of secular rulers, and was led mostly by popes who were former monks, free from the sins of secular (diocesan) clergy. These reform popes (St. Leo IX, St. Gregory VII, Bl. Urban II) recognized that reform in terms of the Church’s freedom from external secular control could be accomplished only if reform began in the Church, hence their focus on rooting out simony and unchastity among the clergy. Urban II captured the essence of the reform movement when he wrote, “The Church shall be Catholic, chaste and free: Catholic in the faith and fellowship of the saints, chaste from all contagion of evil, and free from secular power.””

Love & truth,
Matthew

Atheism & Soul


-by Mark A. McNeil, a former Oneness Pentecostal, was received into the Catholic Church in 1999.

“In last summer’s movie, “Yesterday,” struggling musician Jack Malik finds enormous fame and fortune after he discovers that, following a global blackout, everyone in the world has forgotten about the iconic music band, the Beatles. Everyone except him, that is. His rapid-fire release of various Beatles songs, as if they were his own, brings him vast attention, esteem and praise. But he is miserable.

How can a man who has thousands of fans screaming in adulation, large sums of money, and the company of the rich and famous possibly be miserable? The answer becomes painfully obvious as the movie progresses: Unless we are at peace on the inside, the outside circumstances of our lives, even if spectacular, will not make us truly happy.

It’s an old lesson in new wrapping. Indeed, a great deal of the history of human thought and experience is represented by the movement between Jack’s interior and exterior life. Outside ourselves, using our senses, we become aware of things that have shape, mass and weight—that move around and take up space. On this inside, however, is a different realm. When Jack is forced to confront his deceptions and his guilty conscience, the pain was his alone: it could not be directly seen or felt by others. Jack successfully conceals his inner anguish for much of the movie.

The early Greek philosophers were deeply concerned with trying to figure out the world around us. Thales said it was all, at root, water. Others said it was air, or a combination of elements (earth, air, wind, and fire). Democritus said it was tiny, indestructible pieces of matter that he called “atoms.” In time, the focus shifted from the things we experience with our senses to experience itself. Plato saw the inside world and the outside world as powerful evidence of two irreducible realms—one physical, the realm of matter, and the other spiritual, the realm of forms. A long line of thinkers after him drew the same conclusion.

St. Augustine discovered the importance of this distinction while reading works from these thinkers, and wrote in his Confessions, “These books served to remind me to return to my own self.” Having long focused on trying to find God through his senses, he now turned to his own soul and found a realm very different from the material world. Accompanying the discovery of his soul was a life-changing discovery of God, who could not be reduced to anything material.

This distinction between the inside and outside aspects of our experience is not a trivial matter. Some of the most important features of lives are on the “inside” and not grasped by our senses. We cannot see each other’s thoughts, choices, or feelings, for instance. We know that others have thoughts and feelings, but we only know what they are if they are revealed to us through signs or “incarnations” of those thoughts and feelings, or if the person tells us. We might, to some degree, understand his thoughts and share his feelings, but we cannot have them—they are his alone, existing in his own interior life.

Atheist materialism has no good explanation for the interior/exterior distinction. Inevitably, atheists run into contradictions when they try to explain our mental experiences by materialistic explanations. The influential eighteenth-century philosopher, David Hume, for instance, famously denied there is any evidence that there is a self (“I”) since it cannot be directly observed with our senses. Yet he couldn’t avoid using the word “I” constantly in his writings.

Stephen Hawking, (Ed. who famously could not even IMAGINE, obstinately, imho,  anything beyond time, though physicists are required to imagine all kinds of unseeable things) the famous theoretical physicist and atheist, in The Grand Design (2010), asserted that all our experiences of moral “freedom” are just shorthand ways of referring to complex and predetermined material processes that completely explain everything we do. He did not seem to see, however, that if this is true then everything in his book is entirely the product of material processes. Whether those material processes tell us anything true about the real world cannot be known since everyone who disagrees with Hawking is thinking and saying exactly what material processes are making them think, too. Hawking (and all atheists) write as if they, and they alone, transcend material processes and judge that people who believe in God or the soul are incorrect. They make these claims while denying the existence of anything other than blind, purposeless material causes.

At a certain point, the atheist chooses to deny the reality of the spiritual world. Even beyond the serious intellectual problems raised by this move, this choice is also tragic. It is tragic because the real depth and beauty of the world cannot be discovered by reducing everything to material causation—it can only be discovered by noticing that material things are all signs that point beyond themselves. The smile and caress of a mother invites her child to discover unconditional love. A teacher’s correction of misbehavior invites the student to discover the moral law. The changing world around us invites us to consider the unchanging and eternal source of all dependent beings: God.

Let us pray that, with St. Augustine, atheists and theists alike return to the mysterious depths of their own souls and discover the material world as a vast collection of signs that point us to another realm. Through this same soul, we can reach out to the God who is the source of it all. After all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that all the ways of coming to discover God find their point of departure either in reflecting on the outer, physical world or in pondering the various signs of our inner, spiritual soul (31-32). Reflecting on the physical world, conscious that we do so as a spiritual soul, we learn that everything is speaking to us of God (Psalm 19:1-2).”

Love, and truth,
Matthew

Eucharist symbolic?


-“Última_Cena”, by Leonardo DaVinci, 1490, tempera, gesso, 460 cm (180 in) × 880 cm (350 in), Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, is a seminarian in the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City. A former lawyer, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“There are a great many intelligent Protestant Christians, well-versed in Scripture, faithfully seeking to know and follow the will of God, who have concluded that Jesus’ words about the bread and wine of the Last Supper becoming his body and blood are merely symbolic.

What if they’re right?

At first, it seems like such a revelation would be a tragedy. Receiving the Eucharist is the most intimate encounter with Jesus Christ possible this side of eternity. Suddenly to discover that this intimacy was a sham, and that what we thought was God was actually just bread, would be disheartening, to put the matter mildly. Worse, it would mean that those hours spent in adoration were something approaching idolatry rather than proper worship of God.

But the true tragedy would be greater still—it would mean that the Church has been wrong about the Eucharist from the beginning. For the earliest Christians universally believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The well-respected early Church historian J.N.D. Kelly, a Protestant, has acknowledged that “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).

Take, for example, the church at Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey. In the latter half of the first century, the apostle John had delivered a message directly from Jesus Christ to the Smyrnaeans, encouraging them in their faithfulness amidst their sufferings (Rev. 2:8-11). Shortly thereafter, a student of John’s, St. Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to this same local church on his way to be martyred in Rome early in the second century.

In his letter, Ignatius warns the Smyrnaeans to “keep aloof from” the heretical Gnostics “because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7). Notice that Ignatius doesn’t feel the need to convince his readers of the truth of the Real Presence. For him, it’s enough to say that since the Gnostics reject the Real Presence we should not even “speak of them either in private or in public.”

And this is the way that Christians approached the Eucharist throughout the first few centuries of the Church. It was not just that a theologian here or there taught the Real Presence, but that it was the Christian position on the topic. In a series of lessons given to catechumens about to enter the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminded them that “you have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the Body and the Blood of Christ” (Catechetical Lecture 22). Cyril is comfortable assuming that even those not yet baptized know enough about Christianity to realize that Christians believe in the Real Presence.

Even more telling than the many Church Fathers teaching and preaching on the Real Presence of the Eucharist is the absence of Christian leaders either rejecting this Catholic position or teaching a contrary position.

If a Baptist pastor got up on Sunday and declared that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, you could expect that there would be angry letters denouncing him as a heretic, or at least seeking to correct him. That’s because Baptists don’t believe in the Real Presence.

The fact that we don’t see this sort of outcry in the early Church is compelling evidence that the early Christians didn’t believe what modern Baptists do about the Eucharist. Rather, they were united in belief about the Real Presence in the Eucharist at a time when Christians weren’t afraid to squabble with one another over relatively smaller matters.

So why is this important? Because it means that these Protestants aren’t just saying, “I think Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are meant to be merely symbolic,” but “I think that the entire Church misunderstood one of the most basic aspects of Christianity for centuries.” Call this the “everybody got the gospel wrong” position.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18), a promise not to abandon the Church or to leave us as orphans. Specifically, Christ promised to preserve his Church by sending “the Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit, to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). How is belief in this promise compatible with the idea that the whole Church lost the true meaning of the Last Supper, and that no Christians successfully followed his instructions to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)?

To be sure, left to our own devices, you and I would get some aspects of the gospel wrong. That’s why there are so many competing Protestant denominations. But the solution to that is to turn to the Church and to have the humility to be guided, rather than trusting that our own reading of Scripture is superior to everyone else’s. This is the model laid out in Scripture itself. When the apostle Philip found an Ethiopian official reading the book of Isaiah, he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the man replied “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31). But the Protestant view undermines all of this by suggesting that the visible Church, and indeed all Christians everywhere, might be the ones in the wrong.

This isn’t just about rejecting the Church’s teaching authority, but about rejecting all of Christianity prior to a certain point in history. If you can simply throw out all of (say) pre-1517 history as heretical and off-the-mark, why not throw out all pre-2018 Christianity? What appears on the surface to be a question simply about the Eucharist or the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is really a question about whether we can trust Christ’s promise not to abandon us, leaving us to our own private theological interpretations.

What’s more, if everybody got the gospel wrong then, what makes us think that anybody has the gospel right now? If we could all be wrong on the literality of the Eucharist for centuries, why couldn’t we be wrong about the literality of the Resurrection or of any other aspect of Christian teaching? If all of Christianity can get the core message of Christianity wrong, then it seems that we simply can’t be trusted to get the basics of Christianity right. But holding that, of course, undermines our ability to trust Christianity itself.”

Love, Lord, give me faith,
Matthew

10 truths about Purgatory


-Dante’s Purgatrio, Canto 2, Katerina Machytkova, please click on the image for greater detail.


— by Valerie Schmalz, Catholic San Francisco [10.30.2013]

1. Purgatory exists: The Catechism of the Catholic Church states there are three states of the church, those who are living on earth, those who are in purgatory, and those who are in heaven with God.

2. It is not a second chance: The soul is already saved. Purgatory is a
place to pay off debts for sins that were forgiven but for which sufficient penance had not been done on earth.

3. It is not an actual place: Blessed John Paul II said in an August 4, 1999 general audience that purgatory was a state of being: “The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.” Pope Benedict XVI said in a January 12, 2011 general audience, “This is purgatory, an interior fire.”

4. Purgatory is not punishment but God’s mercy: “Few people can say they are prepared to stand before God,” says Susan Tassone, author of “Prayers, Promises, and Devotions for the Holy Souls in
Purgatory” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). “If we didn’t have purgatory
there would be very few people in heaven, because it would be heaven or hell. It is his mercy that allows us to prepare to be with Him in heaven.”

5. Our prayers for the souls in purgatory help them achieve heaven:
“The doctrine of purgatory recalls how radically we take love of
neighbor,” says Sulpician Father Gladstone Stevens, vice rector and
dean of men at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, Menlo Park. “The
obligation to pray for each other does not cease when biological life
ends. God wants us to always pray for each other, work for each other’s redemption.”

6. The souls in purgatory can intercede for those on earth but cannot pray for themselves: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 958) states: “…the church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead;…Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”

7. God does not send souls to purgatory – each soul sends itself to
purgatory: Once a soul sees itself with the light of God, it realizes it
cannot stay in his presence until all imperfections are wiped away. “The soul chooses,” Tassone says.

8. There is no fire in purgatory: But each soul is aflame with the pain of being separated from God and with the desire to be purified so it can be in the beatific vision. Each soul also feels joy knowing it will one day be with God, Father Stevens and Tassone say.

9. There is a special day and month to pray for the souls in purgatory:
November 2 or All Souls’ Day is the day set aside and November is the month in the liturgical calendar to pray especially for all the souls who are in purgatory. November 2 is called “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” but the church asks us to pray always for each other, including for the souls in purgatory.

10. Prayers for souls in purgatory always count: Pope Benedict says in his encyclical “Spe Salve” (“On Christian Hope”), regarding the souls of the dead, “…in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.””

Love, Lord, have mercy on me for I am a sinful man,
Matthew

What is Purgatory?


-“Dante kneeling before celestial helmsman”, Purgatorio, Canto 2.28, by Doré, Gustave, c.1868, engraving, The vision of Purgatory and Paradise by Dante Alighieri (London and New York: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin [1868?], please click on the image for greater detail.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.

What Happens in Purgatory?

When we die, we undergo what is called the particular, or individual, judgment. Scripture says that “it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We are judged instantly and receive our reward, for good or ill. We know at once what our final destiny will be. At the end of time, when Jesus returns, there will come the general judgment to which the Bible refers, for example, in Matthew 25:31-32: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” In this general judgment all our sins will be publicly revealed (Luke 12:2–5).

Augustine said in The City of God that “temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment” (21:13). It is between the particular and general judgments, then, that the soul is purified of the remaining consequences of sin: “I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper” (Luke 12:59).

The Catholic Church, Purgatory, and Money

One argument anti-Catholics often use to attack purgatory is the idea that the Catholic Church owes the majority of its wealth to the doctrine of purgatory. But the numbers just don’t add up.

When a Catholic requests a memorial Mass for the dead—that is, a Mass said for the benefit of someone in purgatory—it is customary to give the parish priest a stipend, on the principles that the laborer is worth his hire (Luke 10:7) and that those who preside at the altar share the altar’s offerings (1 Cor. 9:13–14). In the United States, a stipend is commonly around five dollars; but the indigent do not have to pay anything. A few people, of course, freely offer more. This money goes to the parish priest, and priests are allowed to receive only one such stipend per day. No one gets rich on five dollars a day, and certainly not the Church, which does not receive the money anyway.

But look at what happens on a Sunday. There are often hundreds of people at Mass. In a crowded parish, there may be thousands. Many families and individuals deposit five dollars or more into the collection basket; a few give much more. A parish might have four or five or six Masses on a Sunday. The total from the Sunday collections far surpasses the paltry amount received from the memorial Masses.

Is Purgatory a Catholic “Invention”?

Fundamentalists may be fond of saying the Catholic Church “invented” the doctrine of purgatory to make money, but they have difficulty saying just when. Most professional anti-Catholics—the ones who make their living attacking “Romanism”—seem to place the blame on Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned from A.D. 590 to 604.

But that hardly accounts for the request of Monica, mother of Augustine, who asked her son, in the fourth century, to remember her soul in his Masses. This would make no sense if she thought her soul would not benefit from prayers, as would be the case if she were in hell or in the full glory of heaven.

Nor does ascribing the doctrine to Gregory explain the graffiti in the catacombs, where Christians during the persecutions of the first three centuries recorded prayers for the dead. Indeed, some of the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament, like the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (both written during the second century), refer to the Christian practice of praying for the dead. Such prayers would have been offered only if Christians believed in purgatory, even if they did not use that name for it. (See Catholic Answers’ tract The Roots of Purgatory for quotations from these and other early Christian sources.)

Why No Protests?

A study of the history of doctrines indicates that Christians in the first centuries were up in arms if anyone suggested the least change in beliefs. They were extremely conservative people who tested a doctrine’s truth by asking, Was this believed by our ancestors? Was it handed on from the apostles? Surely belief in purgatory would be considered a great change, if it had not been believed from the first—so where are the records of protests?

They don’t exist. There is no hint at all, in the oldest writings available to us (or in later ones, for that matter), that “true believers” in the immediate post-apostolic years spoke of purgatory as a novel doctrine. They must have understood that the oral teaching of the apostles, what Catholics call tradition, and the Bible not only failed to contradict the doctrine, but, in fact, confirmed it.

It is no wonder, then, that those who deny the existence of purgatory tend to touch upon only briefly the history of the belief. They prefer to claim that the Bible speaks only of heaven and hell. Wrong. It speaks plainly of a third condition, commonly called the limbo of the Fathers, where the just who had died before the redemption were waiting for heaven to be opened to them. After his death and before his resurrection, Christ visited those experiencing the limbo of the Fathers and preached to them the good news that heaven would now be opened to them (1 Pet. 3:19). These people thus were not in heaven, but neither were they experiencing the torments of hell.

Some have speculated that the limbo of the Fathers is the same as purgatory. This may or may not be the case. However, even if the limbo of the Fathers is not purgatory, its existence shows that a temporary, intermediate state is not contrary to Scripture.

“Purgatory Not in Scripture”

Some Fundamentalists also charge, “The word purgatory is nowhere found in Scripture.” This is true, and yet it does not disprove the existence of purgatory or the fact that belief in it has always been part of Church teaching. The words Trinity and Incarnation aren’t in Scripture either, yet those doctrines are clearly taught in it. Likewise, Scripture teaches that purgatory exists, even if it doesn’t use that word and even if 1 Peter 3:19 refers to a place other than purgatory.

Christ refers to the sinner who “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32), suggesting that one can be freed after death of the consequences of one’s sins. Similarly, Paul tells us that, when we are judged, each man’s work will be tried. And what happens if a righteous man’s work fails the test? “He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). Now this loss, this penalty, can’t refer to consignment to hell, since no one is saved there; and heaven can’t be meant, since there is no suffering (“fire”) there. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory alone explains this passage.

Then, of course, there is the Bible’s approval of prayers for the dead: “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (2 Macc. 12:43–45). Prayers are not needed by those in heaven, and no one can help those in hell. This verse so clearly illustrates the existence of purgatory that, at the time of the Reformation, Protestants had to cut the books of the Maccabees out of their Bibles in order to avoid accepting the doctrine.

Prayers for the dead and the consequent doctrine of purgatory have been part of the true religion since before the time of Christ. Not only can we show it was practiced by the Jews of the time of the Maccabees, but it has even been retained by Orthodox Jews today, who recite a prayer known as the Mourner’s Kaddish for eleven months after the death of a loved one so that the loved one may be purified. It was not the Catholic Church that added the doctrine of purgatory. Rather, the Protestant churches rejected a doctrine that had always been believed by Jews and Christians.

Why Go to Purgatory?

Why would anyone go to purgatory? To be cleansed, for “nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]” (Rev. 21:27). Anyone who has not been completely freed of sin and its effects is, to some extent, “unclean.” Through repentance he may have gained the grace needed to be worthy of heaven, which is to say, he has been forgiven and his soul is spiritually alive. But that’s not sufficient for gaining entrance into heaven. He needs to be cleansed completely.

Fundamentalists claim, as an article in Jimmy Swaggart’s magazine, The Evangelist, put it, that “Scripture clearly reveals that all the demands of divine justice on the sinner have been completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It also reveals that Christ has totally redeemed, or purchased back, that which was lost. The advocates of purgatory (and the necessity of prayer for the dead) say, in effect, that the redemption of Christ was incomplete. . . . It has all been done for us by Jesus Christ, there is nothing to be added or done by man.”

It is entirely correct to say that Christ accomplished all of our salvation for us on the cross. But that does not settle the question of how this redemption is applied to us. Scripture reveals that it is applied to us over the course of time through, among other things, the process of sanctification through which the Christian is made holy. Sanctification involves suffering (Rom. 5:3–5), and purgatory is the final stage of sanctification that some of us need to undergo before we enter heaven. Purgatory is the final phase of Christ’s applying to us the purifying redemption that he accomplished for us by his death on the cross.

Nothing Unclean or Purged

Catholic theology takes seriously the notion that “nothing unclean shall enter heaven.” [Ed. not just covered: cleansed completely, new, to make new again, from the inside out.] From this it is inferred that a less than cleansed soul isn’t fit for heaven. It needs to be cleansed or “purged” of its remaining imperfections. Sanctification is thus not an option, something that may or may not happen before one gets into heaven. It is an absolute requirement, as Hebrews 12:14 states that we must strive “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Purgatory 3


-“Purgatory” by Sergey Tyukanov, 2007. Please click on the image for more detail.


-by Karlo Broussard

“Matthew 12:32 is often a go-to passage for Catholics when it comes to purgatory. The text reads: “Whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote that, from this passage “we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come” (Dial. 4, 39). The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses this quote as support for its definition of purgatory as an after-death “final purification of the elect” (1031). Since purgatory involves the forgiveness of unrepented venial sins (along with the purification of any remnants of past forgiven venial or mortal sins—e.g., unhealthy attachments to created goods, unpaid debt of temporal punishment), some conclude that Jesus affirms the existence of purgatory.

But some Christians don’t think this passage supports purgatory. They argue that Jesus’ use of the phrase “either in this age or in the age to come” was simply a matter of emphasis—an exaggerated expression used to convey the idea that the sin against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven. Just like we don’t take Randy Travis to mean that there are two distinct stages in which he’s going to love his beloved when he sings, “I’m gonna love you forever and ever,” so too we shouldn’t take Jesus to mean there’s a distinct “age to come” where some sins can be forgiven when he says, no forgiveness “either in this age or the age to come.”

For support, they appeal to Mark’s parallel passage: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29; emphasis added).

How can we respond?

The first thing we can say is that Mark’s version doesn’t preclude the reading of Matthew’s account in support of Purgatory. For if Jesus excludes forgiveness of the sin against the Holy Spirit in the only two states of existence where forgiveness can occur—in this life and in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment—then it would follow that the one who sins against the Holy Spirit “never has forgiveness.” The eternality of this sin would be because it can neither be forgiven in this life nor in the next. On this reading, Mark simply emphasizes the eternal nature of the sin without specifying the reason why. Matthew, on the other hand, provides a ground for why the sin can never be forgiven. Thus, Mark’s version doesn’t require that we reject purgatory based on Matthew 12:32.

“Okay,” our interlocutor might reply. “Maybe Mark 3:29 doesn’t prove that Jesus intended his phrase ‘this age or the age to come’ to be an exaggerated expression. But since that’s all we got to work with, doesn’t it seem reasonable to read Matthew 12:32 in light of Mark 3:29?”

No, it doesn’t, because Mark 3:29 is not the only relevant information that we have.

We know that Matthew’s Jewish audience already believed that some sins could be forgiven in the afterlife (cf. 2 Macc. 12:46). Given this knowledge, it doesn’t make sense that Matthew would include the saying “no forgiveness either in this age or in the age to come” if all he meant was that this sin is never forgiven. To do so without clarification seems only to reinforce the Jewish belief about sins being forgiven in the afterlife.

Since Matthew doesn’t give any sort of clarification, and he includes the saying knowing what his Jewish audience believed about sins being forgiven in the afterlife, it’s reasonable to conclude that the “age to come” in Matthew 12:32 is not merely a restatement of what Mark says in Mark 3:29 (that the sin against the Holy Spirit is never forgiven) but an extra tidbit for his Jewish audience about the afterlife.

Further, Jesus uses “the age to come” elsewhere in the gospels, and not merely for emphasis—it clearly refers to a distinct state of existence beyond this one: the afterlife.

Consider, for example, Mark 10:29-30 (see also Luke 18:30), where Jesus says those who leave house, brother, sister, mother, father, and land for his sake will receive a hundredfold return “in this time . . . and in the age to come eternal life.”

Jesus’ reference to “the age to come” is not merely a rhetorical flourish. Rather, Jesus speaks of “this time” and “the age to come” as two distinct states of existence (this life and the next), both of which consist of people receiving rewards for giving up everything for him.

Similarly, in Luke 20:34-35 Jesus speaks of “this age” as referring to this life, when men are given in marriage, and “that age” as the afterlife, when men are not given in marriage. Jesus clearly intends this distinction to be taken literally, conveying a truth about the age to come—namely, there is no marriage.

A critic might respond that an appeal to the above passages (Mark 10:30 and Luke 20:35) fails because the Greek word for “age to come” in Matthew 12:32, mellō, is not used in those passages. Rather, “the age to come” in Mark 10:30 translates the Greek phrase aiōni erchomenō and “that age” in Luke 20:35 translates aiōnos ekeinou.

This is true. But given that “this age” (Greek, toutō aiōni) in Matthew 12:32 is juxtaposed with mellonti (“the age to come”), which means “to occur at a point of time in the future which is subsequent to another event and closely related to it—to be about to,” we can conclude that Jesus has the same idea in mind as when he speaks of aiōni erchomenō in Mark 10:30 and aiōnos ekeinou in Luke 20:35. This is why the English translation of Matthew 12:32 translates the Greek as “the age to come” even though the Greek word for “age,” aiōn, is not used.

Therefore, it’s fair to read Matthew 12:32 in light of Mark 10:30 and Luke 20:35, where Jesus speaks of “the age to come” or “that age” as a reference to the afterlife. And since Jesus’ implication in Matthew 12:32 is that some sins can be forgiven in “the age to come,” or the afterlife, we have at least one aspect of purgatory confirmed by Jesus—after-death purification of unrepented venial sins.

This reading of “the age to come” as a reference to the afterlife is further supported by the fact that mellō is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to the afterlife. See, for example, Ephesians 1:21, 1 Timothy 4:8, and Hebrews 2:5, 6:5, and 13:14.

In this debate, no one disagrees with the scriptural passage that one who sins against the Holy Spirit “never has forgiveness.” But this is so because for Jesus it’s a sin that cannot be forgiven in either state of existence where sins can be forgiven—in this life (“this age”) or in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment (“the age to come”). Mark’s reference to the “eternal” nature of the sin against the Holy Spirit, therefore, doesn’t prevent the use of Matthew 12:32 in support of the Church’s doctrine of purgatory.”

Love, Lord, have mercy on me for I am a sinful man,
Matthew

The Heresy of Monism – Centering Prayer


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“The “centering prayer” movement is a relatively new phenomenon in the Church, but it has become remarkably widespread. In some areas of the U.S., for example, you will find centering prayer meetings almost as common as rosary prayer groups or Bible studies.

Notwithstanding its acceptance in some quarters, however, at its core it is incompatible with Catholic teaching for at least three reasons, among others we could consider.

First, centering prayer has as a constitutive element a monistic view of God in relation to man. Monism is the belief that there is no essential distinction between the creature and the creator.

Fr. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk who helped found the centering prayer movement in the 1970s, gives us what could be considered a textbook definition of monism when he describes in his own words what he calls “the spiritual journey.”

In this video, Fr. Keating says the essence of the spiritual life can be summed up in these three steps:

“The realization… that there is an Other, capital O.”
“To try to become the Other, still capital O.”
“The realization that there is no Other. You and the Other are one… always have been, always will be. You just think that you aren’t.”
The central problem with this “third step” can hardly be overstated. It is monism, plain and simple. Fr. Keating is not speaking of theosis, of Christians being made “partakers of the divine nature” through union with Jesus Christ, as we find revealed in 2 Peter 1:3-4. He is talking about the realization that there is no individual at all. There is only “the Other,” or God.

Now, some will object that in the first two steps, Fr. Keating acknowledges that “there is an Other” distinct from the self. And he will often present similar words in varying contexts. In fact, in what has become his manifesto on centering prayer, Open Heart, Open Mind, Fr. Keating provides:

“God and our true self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true self are the same thing.”

Notice the seeming contradiction? Just as in his video, Fr. Keating will seemingly declare plainly that there is an “Other” that is not us, but he will then say there “is no other” at all. Seems contradictory, but it’s really not. As long as we have not attained full union with God, there will be a “false self” that “thinks” it is distinct. But when we do fully attain union, all thought of self or anything other than the Absolute Being who is beyond any and all labels or “names” will be annihilated. All that remains will be the truth of the absolute “One.”

Vatican Council I rejected Fr. Keating’s monistic view, declaring in Session Three, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter 1, par. 2:

“Since He is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, He must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in Himself and from Himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides Himself which either exists or can be imagined.”

The council then declared infallibly in canon 3 of On God the Creator of all Things:

“If anyone says that the substance or essence of God and that of all things are one and the same: let him be anathema.”

Moreover, in canon 5:

“If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God… let him be anathema.”

The idea that the self and God are the same thing should eliminate centering prayer as an option for Catholics. But there is a second reason why centering prayer is incompatible with Catholic teaching: it says that the ultimate goal of the spiritual life is the “realization” that we are God.

In his book Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Keating tells us, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from him” (33). This is false.

A scrupulous person, for example, may think he is separated from God and not be. More importantly, Sacred Scripture makes it quite clear what separates us from God. Isaiah tells us that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2; see also Psalm 66:18; I John 1:8-9, etc.) The Catechism concurs:

“God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end (1037).”

“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell” (1033).”

Sin separates us from God—nothing else. But Fr. Keating says we are really never separated from God to begin with; we only “think we are.” Thus, the spiritual life is not a matter of conversion in order to become something you are not, namely, a saint in union with God. Rather, it is simply to “realize” what you always have been and always will be: God.

And this leads us to the third essential problem with centering prayer: it is outside of Catholic orthopraxy. In fact, centering prayer is not really prayer at all.

For Fr. Keating, prayer is a “journey to the true self”—the realization that we are God. And the key for this realization to occur is for the Christian to empty himself of all rational activity. He must make his mind an absolute void.

In Open Mind, Open Heart, we discover the essence of this “prayer”:

“If you are aware of no thoughts, you are aware of something and that is a thought. If at that point you can lose the awareness that you are aware of no thoughts, you will move into pure consciousness. In that state there is no consciousness of self. . . . This is what divine union is. There is no reflection of self. . . . So long as you feel united with God, it cannot be full union. So long as there is a thought, it is not full union (73-74).”

This emptying of all thought even includes thoughts of God, the word of God, and the mysteries of our redemption. Good or evil, beautiful or ugly, all thoughts must go. There is a saying in the centering prayer movement that says “ten thousand thoughts represent ten thousand opportunities to return to God,” because thought is believed to separate us from God.

A question you might be asking: “How could Christianity get mixed up with something like this?” The answer can be found just three paragraphs down from the above section of Fr. Keating’s book:

“Centering prayer is an exercise in letting go. That is all it is. It lays aside every thought. One touch of divine love enables you to take all the pleasures of the world and throw them in the wastebasket. Reflecting on spiritual communications diminishes them. The Diamond Sutra says it all: “Try to develop a mind that does not cling to anything.””

The Diamond Sutra is Buddhist, folks. The goals of centering prayer—no intellectual activity . . . no concepts . . . no words—are Buddhist. Far from the traditional Catholic understanding of prayer as a heart-to-heart dialogue or communication of the creature with his Creator, centering prayer is focused inward, with the goal of eliminating all thoughts or even thoughts of thoughts until one reaches a state where the mind is an absolute void and there is no knowledge of self or thought at all.

The Catechism expressly declares of this type of “prayer” to be erroneous:

“In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer. Some people view prayer . . . as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void (2726).”

The Catholic Christian faith is a religion of the word. To advocate movement away from the word is to advocate movement away from the Word made flesh. This is antithetical to true Catholic Christian prayer. Even though she was a great mystic, St. Teresa of Avila emphasized the essential role of the word of God and the mind in prayer: “For it to be prayer at all, the mind must take part in it” (Interior Castle, Part I, i). Pope St. John Paul II, in a homily of November 1, 1982, added:

“[St. Teresa’s teaching] is valid even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the gospel and which in practice tend to set Christ aside in the preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity. Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6).”

The intellect and will are essential to man’s nature. We can no more detach ourselves from them than we can detach ourselves from being human. Indeed, apart from the functioning of the human intellect and will, there can be no love. And we all know Jesus gave us the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

How radically different is authentic contemplative prayer from the mindless “centering prayer.” The Catechism, in paragraphs 2709-2719, says it all for Catholics. I will cite just two paragraphs here:

“Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. . . . Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him (cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 104).

Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith. . . . It participates in the “Yes” of the Son . . . and the Fiat of God’s lowly handmaid (2715-16).””

Love & truth,
Matthew

The New Paganism – Fr Joseph Ratzinger (1958)

“According to religious statistics, old Europe is still a part of the earth that is almost completely Christian. But there is hardly another case in which everyone knows as well as they do here that the statistic is false: This so-called Christian Europe for almost four hundred years has become the birthplace of a new paganism, which is growing steadily in the heart of the Church, and threatens to undermine her from within. The outward shape of the modern Church is determined essentially by the fact that, in a totally new way, she has become the Church of pagans, and is constantly becoming even more so. She is no longer, as she once was, a Church composed of pagans who have become Christians, but a Church of pagans, who still call themselves Christians, but actually have become pagans. Paganism resides today in the Church herself, and precisely that is the characteristic of the Church of our day, and that of the new paganism, so that it is a matter of a paganism in the Church, and of a Church in whose heart paganism is living.

Therefore, in this connection, one should not speak about the paganism, which in eastern atheism has already become a strong enemy against the Church, and as a new anti-christian power opposes the community of believers. Yet, when concerning this movement, one should not forget that it has its peculiarity in the fact that it is a new paganism, and therefore, a paganism that was born in the Church, and has borrowed from her the essential elements that definitely determine its outward form and its power. One should speak rather about the much more characteristic phenomenon of our time, which determines the real attack against the Christian, from the paganism within the Church herself, from the “desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be” (Mk 13:14).

The fact that today, even given an optimistic evaluation, certainly more than half of the Catholics (here we are considering only our Church) no longer “practice” their faith, should not be explained clearly in the sense that this large number of non-practicing Catholics should simply be called pagans. It is still evident that they no longer simply embrace the faith of the Church, but that they make a very subjective choice from the creed of the Church in order to shape their own world view. And there can be no doubt that most of them, from the Christian point of view, should really no longer be called believers, but that they follow, more or less, a secular philosophy.

They do indeed affirm the moral responsibility of man, but it is based on, and limited by, purely rational considerations. The ethics of N. Hartmanns, K. Jaspers, and M. Heidegger, for example, defend the more or less known convictions of many morally upright men, but they are in no sense Christians. The well-known little book published by the List-Verlag (a German publishing house — Editor’s note) entitled, What Do You Think About Christianity? can open the eyes of anyone, who has allowed himself to be deceived by the Christian façade of our contemporary public image, to the realization of how far and wide such purely rational and irreligious morality has spread. Therefore, the modern man today, when he meets someone else anywhere, can assume with some certainty that he has a baptismal certificate, but not that he has a Christian frame of mind. Therefore, he must presume as the normal state of affairs the lack of faith of his neighbor. This fact has two important consequences: On the one hand, it includes a fundamental change in the structure of the Church; and, on the other hand, it has produced an essential change of consciousness on the side of the still-believing Christians. These two phenomena will be clarified in greater detail in this lecture.

When the Church had her beginning, it rested on the spiritual decision of the individual person to believe, on the act of conversion. If one at the beginning had hoped that a community of saints would be built here on earth out of the converts, “a Church without spot or wrinkle,” then in the midst of difficulties, one must come more and more to the realization that also the convert, the Christian, remains a sinner, and that even the greatest sins could possibly take place in the Christian community. In four hundred years of conflict with “heretics” [Cathari!] the Church has had abundant knowledge about this. But if, accordingly, the Christian was not a morally perfect person, and in this sense the community of the saints always remained imperfect, still there was a fundamental agreement according to which Christians were distinguished from non-Christians, namely, faith in the grace of God which was revealed in Christ.

The Church was a community of believers, of men who had adopted a definite spiritual choice, and because of that, they distinguished themselves from all those who refused to make this choice. In the common possession of this decision, and its conviction, the true and living community of the faithful was founded, and also its certainty; and because of this, as the community of those in the state of grace, they knew that they were separated from those who closed themselves off from grace. Already in the Middle Ages, this was changed by the fact that the Church and the world were identical, and so to be a Christian fundamentally no longer meant that a person made his own decision about the faith, but it was already a political-cultural presupposition. A man contented himself with the thought that God had chosen this part of the world for himself; the Christian’s self-consciousness was at the same time a political-cultural awareness of being among the elect: God had chosen this Western world. Today, this outward identity of Church and world has remained; but the conviction that in this, that is, in the unchosen belonging to the Church, also that a certain divine favor, a heavenly redemption lies hidden, has disappeared.

The Church is like the world, a datum of our specifically Western existence, and indeed, like the definite world to which we belong, a very contingent reality. Almost no one believes seriously that eternal salvation can depend on this very contingent, cultural and political reality that we call the “Church.” For the Westerner, the Church is, for the most part, nothing more than a very accidental part of the world; through her externally remaining identity with the world, she has lost the seriousness of her claim. So it is understandable that, today, often the question will be asked very urgently whether or not the Church should again be turned into a community of conviction, in order to confer on her again her great gravity. That would mean that she rigidly abandons the still present worldly positions, in order to get rid of an apparent possession, which shows itself to be more and more dangerous, because it stands in the way of the truth.

For some time now, this question has been eagerly discussed especially in France, where the decline of a Christian conviction has progressed more than it has among us, and so the contrast between appearance and reality is felt to be much stronger. But naturally the problem is the same among us. There, the supporters of a more strict direction stand in opposition to those of a more accommodating position. The former emphasize the necessity of, once again, giving their full weight to the Sacraments, “unless one wants to fall further into the de-Christianization of Europe. It is no longer possible to continue to give the Sacraments to the persons who want to receive them only on the basis of social convention, and thoughtless tradition, and for whom the Sacraments are only empty rituals.”

Opposed to that, the supporters of a more accommodating position emphasize that one should not extinguish the glowing wick, that the request for the Sacraments [e.g., Matrimony, Baptism, Confirmation or First Communion; Burial of the Dead!] manifests even now a certain connection with the Church; one should not refuse these things to anyone, unless one wants to risk a damage that would be very hard to repair. The supporters of the strict direction show themselves here as attorneys for the community, while those of the accommodating approach come forth as advocates for the individual: they claim that the individual has a right to the Sacraments. In contrast, the supporters of the strict direction raise this objection: “If we want to bring the country back to Christianity, then it will happen only through the witness of small, zealous communities. In many places, it is probably necessary to begin all over again. Is it bad if a few individuals are rejected, but the future will be saved? Are we not a missionary country? Accordingly, why do we not use missionary methods? Now these require, first of all, strong communities, who then show themselves capable of receiving individual members.”

Finally, this discussion became so vehement that the French episcopate saw that it was necessary to intervene. So on April 3, 1951, they published a “Directory for the Administration of the Sacraments,” that in general takes a middle position. For example, with regard to Baptism, it determines that fundamentally it should be conferred on the children of non-practicing parents, if they ask for it. So it is not right simply to consider the parents to be apostates; their request for Baptism allows one at least to assume that they still have a certain kernel of religious conviction. “If, however, the prior children have not been raised in a Christian way, one can only confer Baptism, if the obligation is accepted at the proper time to send the child to be baptized to the catechism classes, and also the older children, inasmuch as this is possible.”

Some dioceses require a written commitment, and there is a special form for this. The Directory then says in particular: “Nuns, and members of Catholic Action, should be notified that they should not, in order to confer such Baptisms in all circumstances, exercise excessive pressure, which could give the impression of a lack of propriety.” This one example of Baptism shows that the Directory, in general, takes a very compassionate, or rather, a mild approach. Especially, it refuses to declare that non-practicing Catholics are simply apostates, and that means in praxis: they are not considered to be pagans, and they prefer, on the contrary, to pass judgment on each individual case.

However, this approach is not essentially different from what is still commonly done in our country. The Directory puts in the place of a pure sacramentalism, once again, an attitude of faith. Among us, one still encounters — and not only among nuns — the attitude that it would be a good thing if someone with finesse and cunning brings it about that the water of Baptism can be poured over a child. One cannot rest until the identity of “Church” and “world” is complete. In doing this, a person not only gives away the Sacraments, but he also cheapens them, and makes them worthless.

The Directory expresses very clearly that the situation is completely different: Certainly in the Sacraments, God offers His salvation to all mankind; certainly He invites all generously to come to His banquet, and the Church has the task of handing on this invitation, this open gesture of offering a place at God’s table; but the fact still remains that God does not need man, but man needs God. Men are not doing a favor for the Church, or the pastor, when they still receive the Sacraments, but the Sacrament is the favor which God confers on men. Therefore, it is not a matter of making the Sacraments difficult or easy to receive, but it has to do with having the conviction according to which a man knows and receives the grace of the Sacraments as a grace. This primacy of conviction, of faith in place of mere sacramentalism, is the very important teaching that stands behind the reasonable and prudent determinations of the French Directory. In the long run, the Church cannot avoid the need to get rid of, part by part, the appearance of her identity with the world, and once again to become what she is: the community of the faithful.

Actually, her missionary power can only increase through such external losses. Only when she ceases to be a cheap, foregone conclusion, only when she begins again to show herself as she really is, will she be able to reach the ear of the new pagans with her good news, since until now they have been subject to the illusion that they were not real pagans. Certainly such a withdrawal of external positions will involve a loss of valuable advantages, which doubtless exist because of the contemporary entanglement of the Church with civil society. This has to do with a process which is going to take place either with, or without, the approval of the Church, and concerning which she must take a stand {the attempt to preserve the Middle Ages is foolish and would be not only tactically, but also factually, wrong}. Certainly, on the other hand, this process should not be forced in an improper manner, but it will be very important to maintain that spirit of prudent moderation that is found in an ideal way in the French Directory.

All in all, in this necessary process of the de-secularization of the Church, one must keep three levels fully separated: the level of the sacramental, the level of the proclamation of the faith, and the level of the personal, human relationship between the faithful and the non-faithful. On the sacramental level, which formerly was protected by the arcana, or rule, of secrecy, is the truly inner essence of the Church. It must be freed from a certain simple confusion with the world, which gives either the impression of something magical, or reduces the sacraments to the level of being mere ceremonies {Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Burial}. It must, once again, become clear that Sacraments without faith are meaningless, and the Church here will have to abandon gradually and with great care, a type of activity, which ultimately includes a form of self-deception, and deception of others. In this matter, the more the Church brings about a self-limitation, the distinction of what is really Christian and, if necessary, becomes a small flock, to this extent will she be able, in a realistic way, to reach the second level, that is, to see clearly that her duty is the proclamation of the Gospel.

If the Sacrament is the place where the Church distinguishes itself, and must distinguish itself from the non-church, then the word is the method and way with which she carries on the open invitation to the divine banquet. Still, here one should not forget that there are two kinds of preaching: the ordinary preaching, which is a part of the Sunday liturgy, and the missionary preaching, which can be accomplished in a course of fasting and missionary sermons. The ordinary preaching, or the word proclaimed in the liturgy, can and should be relatively short, because it should not really announce new things, because its purpose is to dig deeper into the mystery of the faith, which has already, fundamentally, been accepted and affirmed. Missionary preaching should not deal with mere attitudes and individual points, but much more fundamentally present an outline of the faith, or the essential parts of it, in a way that the modern man can understand it. But here the matter to be covered cannot be spread out as far as it should be; to the extent that people cannot be reached through the word in this way, pastoral letters and public information can and should be used as much as possible.

Given these considerations, there should never be an attempt to administer a sacrament over a radio program, but it is suitable for missionary preaching. On the level of personal relations, finally, it would be very wrong, out of the self-limitation of the Church, which is required for her sacramental activity, to want to derive a sequestering of the faithful Christian over against his unbelieving fellow men. Naturally, among the faithful gradually something like the brotherhood of communicants should once again be established who, because of their common participation in the Lord’s Table in their private life, feel and know that they are bound together. This is so that in times of need, they can count on each other, and they know they really are a family community. This family community, which the Protestants have, and which attracts many people to them, can and should be sought, more and more, among the true receivers of the Sacraments.

This should have no sectarian seclusion as its result, but the Catholic should be able to be a happy man among men — a fellow man where he cannot be a fellow Christian. And I mean that in his relations with his unbelieving neighbors, he must, above all, be a human being; therefore, he should not irritate them with constant preaching and attempts to convert them. In a friendly way, he will be offering him a missionary service by giving him a religious article, when he is sick to suggest the possibility of calling a priest, or even to bring a priest to see him. He should not be just a preacher, but also in a friendly and simple way, a fellow human being who cares for others. (emphasis Ed.)

In a summary fashion as the result of this first series of thoughts, we have established this point: The Church, first of all, has undergone a structural change from a small flock to a world Church, and since the Middle Ages in the West, she has more or less been identified with the world. Today, this identity is only an appearance, which hides the true essence of the Church and the world, and to some extent hinders the Church in her necessary missionary activity. And so, either sooner or later, with or contrary to the will of the Church, according to the inner structural change, she will become externally a little flock. The Church must take into account this fact — that in the administration of the Sacraments, she proceeds more cautiously, that in her preaching, she makes a distinction between missionary preaching, and preaching to the faithful. The individual Christian will strive more earnestly for a brotherhood of Christians, and, at the same time, try to show his fellow humanity, with unbelieving fellow men around him, in a truly human and deeply Christian way.

Next to this sketchy structural change of the Church, it is also necessary to note a change of consciousness among the faithful, which is a result of the fact of the increasing paganism within the Church. For the modern Christian, it has become unthinkable that Christianity, and in particular the Catholic Church, should be the only way of salvation; therefore, the absoluteness of the Church, and with that, also the strict seriousness of her missionary claim, and, in fact, all of her demands, have become really questionable. Ignatius of Loyola requires the one making the spiritual exercises, in the meditation on the Incarnation, consider how the Trinitarian God sees that all men are falling into hell. Francis Xavier could tell the believing Mohammedans that all their piety was useless because they, whether pious or godless, whether criminals or virtuous persons, in any event were going to hell, because they did not belong to the only Church that makes a person pleasing to God. (empahsis Ed.)

Today, our humanity prevents us from holding such views. We cannot believe that the man next to us, who is an upright, charitable, and good man, will end up going to hell because he is not a practicing Catholic. The idea that all “good” men will be saved today, for the normal Christian, is just as self-evident as formerly was the conviction of the opposite. Indeed, since Bellarmine, who was one of the first to give consideration to this humanitarian desire, the theologians in many different ways have striven to explain how this saving of all “upright” persons ultimately is a salvation through the Church, but these constructions were somewhat too ingenious for them to make, and leave behind much of an impression. Practically, the admission remained that “good men” “go to heaven,” therefore, that one can be saved by morality alone; surely, this applies first of all, and is conceded to the unbelievers, while the faithful are constantly burdened with the strict system of Church requirements. (emphasis Ed.)

So being somewhat confused by this, the believer asks himself: Why can those outside the Church have it so easy, when it is made so difficult for us? He begins to think and to feel that the faith is a burden, and not a grace. In any event, he still has the impression that, ultimately, there are two ways to be saved: through the merely subjectively measured morality for those outside the Church, and for Church members. And he cannot have the feeling that he has inherited the better part; in any event, his faithfulness is grievously burdened by the establishment of a way to salvation alongside that of the Church. It is obvious that the missionary zeal of the Church has suffered grievously under this internal uncertainty.

I am trying, as an answer to this difficult question which troubles many Christians today, to point out in very short observations that there is only one way to salvation — namely, the way through Christ. But this rests primarily on the cooperation of two mutually opposed powers, on two, as it were, balance scales that together are only one scale, so that each balance scale, by itself alone, would be completely meaningless, and only has meaning as a part of the one scale of God. Indeed, this begins with the fact that God separated the people of Israel from all the other peoples of the world as the people of His choice. Should that then mean that only Israel has been chosen, and that all the other peoples have been rejected? At first it seems to appear as if this contrast of the chosen people, and the non-chosen peoples, should be considered in this static sense: as the placing next to each other of two different groups. But very soon, it becomes evident that that is not the case; for in Christ, the static placing next to each other of Jews and pagans becomes dynamic, so that now the pagans through their “not having been chosen” are changed into the chosen, but this does not mean that the choice of Israel was basically illusory, as is proved by Romans 11.

So one sees that God can choose men in two ways: directly, or through their apparent rejection. To state it more clearly: one sees clearly that God divides mankind into the “few” and the “many” — a division that occurs in the Scriptures, again and again: “The gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14); “The laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37); “Few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14); “Fear not, little flock” (Luke 12:32); Jesus gave His life as a ransom for the “many” (Mark 10:45). The opposition of Jews and pagans, of Church and non-Church, repeats this division into the few and the many. But God does not divide into the few and the many with the purpose of condemning the latter, and saving the former; also, He does not do it in order to save the many easily, and the few in a difficult way, but He makes use of the few like an Archimedean point by which He lifts the many out of their difficult situation, like a lever with which He draws them to Himself. Both have their role in salvation, which is different, but still there is only one way to achieve salvation.

One can only then understand this opposition correctly, when he comes to see that for him, the opposition of Christ and mankind lies at the root of the one and the many. That is, one sees here now very clearly the opposition: The fact is that all mankind deserves condemnation, and only the One deserves salvation. Here, something very important is visible, which is often overlooked, even though it is most decisive: the gracious nature of salvation, the fact that it is an absolutely free gift of grace; for the salvation of man consists in the fact that he is loved by God, that his life at its end finds itself in the arms of eternal love. Without that, everything would remain empty for him. Eternity without love is hell, even if otherwise nothing else happens. The salvation of man consists in being loved by God. But there is no legal claim to love. This is so even on the basis of moral goodness. Love is essentially a free act, or it is not really love. For the most part, we tend to overlook this with all moralism. Actually, no morality of the highest kind can transform the free response of love into a legal claim. Thus, salvation always remains a free grace, even apart from the reality of sin; for even the highest morality is still that of a sinner. (emphasis Ed.)  No one can honestly deny that even the best moral decisions of men, still in one way or another, even if it is subtly hidden, are infected with a certain amount of self-seeking.  Q1. So this point remains true: In the opposition between Christ, the One, and us, the many, we are unworthy of salvation, whether we are Christians or non-Christians, faithful or unbelievers, moral or immoral. No one besides Christ really “deserves” salvation.  Q2.

But even here, there occurs a wonderful exchange. Condemnation belongs to all men together, but salvation belongs to Christ alone. But in a holy exchange, the opposite takes place: He alone takes all the evil upon himself, and in this way, he makes the place of salvation free for all of us. All salvation, which can be given to men, is based on this fundamental exchange between Christ, the One, and us, the many, and it is up to the humility of faith to acknowledge this. But here, one must add the fact that according to God’s will, this fundamental exchange, this great mystery of substitution, on which all of history depends, continues itself in a complete system of representation, which has its coronation in the opposition of Church and non-Church, of the faithful and the “pagans.” This opposition of Church and non-Church does not mean a state of being next to each other, nor being opposed to each other, but of being for each other, in which both sides retain their own necessity, and their own proper function. In the continuation of the mission of Christ, the representation of the many has been committed to the few, who are the Church, and the salvation of both takes place only in their functional coordination, and their common subordination, under the great representation of Jesus Christ, which includes both groups. But if mankind in this representation by Christ, and in its continuation through the dialectic of the “few” and the “many” will be saved, then this means also that each person, above all the faithful, have their inevitable function in the whole process of the salvation of mankind.  Q3.

If men and women, indeed the greater number of persons are saved, without belonging in the full sense to the community of the faithful, so then it takes place only because the Church herself exists as the dynamic and missionary reality, because those who have been called to belong to the Church are performing their duty as the few. That means that there is the seriousness of true responsibility, and the danger of real rejection, of really being lost. Although we know that individual persons, and indeed many, are saved outwardly without the Church (yes) Q4, still we also know that the salvation of all always depends on the continuation of the opposition between the few and the many; that there is a vocation of man, concerning which he can become guilty, and that this is a guilt because of which he can be lost (and, no).

No one has the right to say: “See, others are saved without the full weight of the Catholic faith, so why not I also?” Q5. How then do you know that the full Catholic faith is not meant necessarily for you — a faith that God requires of you for reasons about which you should not try to bargain, because they belong to the things about which Jesus says: “You cannot understand them now, but you will later on” (John 13:36). Q6. So it remains true looking at modern pagans that Christ must know that their salvation lies hidden in the grace of God, on which, of course, his (the pagan’s) salvation depends, that in a look at their possible salvation he cannot dispense Himself from the seriousness of their own act of faith, and that this lack of faith must be for the pagan a strong incentive for a more complete faith, because he knows that he has been included in the representative function of Jesus Christ, on which the salvation of the world, and not just that of Christians, depends.  Q7.

In conclusion, I must clarify these ideas somewhat by a brief exegesis of two texts of Scripture, in which a point of view regarding this problem will be made known. There is, first of all, the difficult and weighty text, in which the opposition of the many and the few is expressed in an especially forceful way: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14). What does this text mean? Surely it does not say that many are condemned Q8, as one commonly tends to interpret it, but first of all that there are two forms of divine election. To put it still more precisely: It says clearly that there are two different divine acts, both of which have to do with election, without now giving us clarity whether or not both obtain their end.

But if one considers the course of salvation history, as the New Testament expresses it, then one finds this word of the Lord illustrated: From the static neighborliness of the chosen people, and the not-chosen people, there was in Christ a dynamic relationship, so that the pagans through not being chosen became the chosen ones, and then, of course, through the choice of the pagans, the Jews return back to their election. So this word can be an important teaching instrument for us. The question about the salvation of men is always falsely stated if it is posed from below, that is, as a question about how men justify themselves. The question about the salvation of men is not a question of self-justification, but one of justification through the free grace of God. It is necessary to see these things from above. There are not two ways in which men justify themselves, but two ways in which God chooses them, and these two ways of election by God are the one way of salvation of God in Christ and his Church; and this relies on the necessary dialectic of the few, and the many, and on the representative service of the few in the prolongation of Christ’s representation, or substitution.

The second text is that of the great banquet (Lk 14:16-24). This gospel is, above all, in a radical way the Good News, when it recounts that at the end, heaven will be filled with all those that one can, in one way or another, include; with people who are completely unworthy, who with regard to heaven are blind, deaf, lame, and beggars. Therefore, this is a radical act of grace, and who would wish to deny that perhaps all our modern, European pagans in this way can enter into heaven?

On the basis of this position, everyone has hope. On the other hand: The gravity of the situation remains. There is a group of those who will always be rejected. Who knows whether among these rejected Pharisees there is not perhaps someone who believed, who must be considered to be among good Catholics, but in reality was a Pharisee? On the other hand, who really knows whether among those, who do not accept the invitation, precisely those Europeans are to be found, to whom Christianity was offered, but who have rejected it? So at the same time, there remains for all both hope and a threat. In this intersection of hope and threat Q9, out of which the gravity and the great joy of being a Christian manifests itself, the contemporary Christian lives his life for the most part in the midst of the new pagans, which he, in another way, knows are placed in the same situation of hope and threat, because also for them, there is no other salvation than the One in which he believes: Jesus Christ, the Lord.”

https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/catholic-faith/the-new-pagans-and-the-church.html

Q1.  Is the non-self seeking heroic virtue?  If so, heroic virtue would not be heroic.  It would be common place.  So, I believe there is an every day, common middle of reasonable preservation without becoming entitled.

Q2.  Jesus is God.  Does God need salvation?

Q3. ?

Q4. So, there is no real need, at least on an individual level for the Church? Let the other guy bear the burden?

Q5. Why? Given what you just said?

Q6. So, free will has no place?

Q7. What about when the clock stops, which is implied in Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, etc.?

Q8. Saints on Salvation.

Q9. Methinks the good reverend is saying to the CINOs (Catholics in name only) of Europe, (or anywhere for that matter) don’t be so assured of your salvation due to your CINO status. Sinners and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you. He is, in a sense, scolding CINOs.  Imho, I think there are quicker ways for the good reverend to make his point more quickly based on Scripture.  Mt 20:1-16 and 21:31, come to mind.

Love & faith,
Matthew

The Heresy of Universalism


-by Trent Horn

“Is everyone definitely going to heaven? Are we all mistaken about hell? I will break down universalism and examines the biblical arguments that are used in support of this heresy.

‘YOU get eternal life with God! And, YOU get eternal life with God.  And, YOU, etc.” Wrong., not everybody gets eternal life with God. That would be Oprah if she was preaching universalism.

[Universalism exists] because one of the critiques of Hell, if you recall last time when I had Randall Rouser on the show, we looked at one critique of Hell, which says that, “Yes, Hell exists, but it’s not permanent and the damned are destroyed there.” That would be annihilationism. Another view of Hell is that Hell exists, but it’s more like purgatory. Hell is something where people are purified and so eventually all of the damned, at some point after death, will eventually embrace God, love God, they’ll repent of their sins and then have eternal life with God.

So, universalism is the view that all people or possibly all creatures, which may include the demons and even the devil himself, will be saved. And this is a view that you can find going far back in church history. It’s not a common one, it’s an extreme minority view in church history. You can find a few church fathers or a few ecclesial writers endorsing this view, but it’s a very small minority view. It probably goes back as far as the ecclesial writer Origen in the third century. He espoused a doctrine called apocatastasis.

So, apocatastasis means restoration, reconstitution, and it was his view that all human beings would eventually be drawn to God and all things will be reconciled to God and no one would be in Hell. People dispute a little bit over what Origen meant, because some people accused Origen of saying that even the devil would be redeemed and he would be in Heaven, I think Origen actually denied that view. But regardless of what happened, several centuries later in the sixth century, the church condemned Origen’s views and they condemned the doctrine of universalism, I think around the year 543 AD. Now, they condemned the specific view that we can know with certainty that all people will be saved. There are other variants of universalism that he will put forward, like hopeful universalism that are different in many key respects, like what Bishop Barron proposes and we’re going to talk about later here in the podcast.

So first, let’s start with the doctrine of universalism, classical universalism, that says we know for certain all people will be saved. And then we’ll move to what is called Von Balthasarian hopeful universalism, or the universalism that Bishop Barron promotes, which is based on the writings of the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

So, to go to classic universalism, there’s a recent book that just came out that I was reading through by an author that, I guess I grudgingly enjoy him. He’s an Eastern Orthodox theologian named David Bentley Hart, and he has a very eclectic writing career. The guy is legitimately smart. Like when I read through books, I normally can read through a book and I can get everything the author is saying, but one insight that Hart is very well read, is that he has an incredible vocabulary.

I mean, he had a personal library of something like 20,000 books that he eventually donated to charity or donated to university, but the guy is really well read. So, when I read through his stuff, the vocabulary he uses, every other page, I’m looking up words and normally I don’t have to do that. I think I have a decent command of vocabulary, a verbose vocabulary, if you will, but Hart will just say things that I’m like, “Okay, where is this coming from?”

Or the other thing that he does, this is the thing where it makes it grudging for me, that I like him because he’s smart. I think he puts forward decent ideas. In some areas he’s better than others, I think some of his arguments against atheism are great. He’s actually a great defender of the doctrine of divine simplicity, the idea that God is not divided into parts, but God is just infinite being itself. But there’s other things that he argues for that I think he’s comparatively weak on. He’s a big defender of socialism. I’ve critiqued him on our online magazine and he gets critiqued in my book I’m co-authoring with Catherine Bacolic called Why Catholics Can’t Be Socialist. He’s not Catholic, but he’s still espouses a Christian view saying that Christianity and socialism, Christians ought to be socialists, and so I take him to task for that in my book, though I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Hart taking me to task. I mean I might, but I would love a response from him, to this book.

Well, the book he wrote is called, let’s see here, That All Shall Be Saved, Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation.  There’s a great review of it on the Gospel Coalition website, this is a Protestant website, by Michael McClymond, and McClymond actually has written a really big treatment of the history of universalism in the church. And he comes down on the view that it’s a minority doctrine held by only a few fathers in the church, and that it’s a destructive doctrine and that it promotes, I think, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. This idea that if everyone is saved, then it really cheapens the offer of salvation, the offer of grace that God gives us.

So, McClymond reviews Hart’s book, and I love, though, what he says about Hart’s rhetoric, because one thing that’s distinctive about David Bentley Hart is his rhetoric that he uses. So, he has a wide vocabulary, but he also knows the right words to tear people apart. So, this is what McClymond says. “One cannot consider Hart’s arguments for Christian universalism apart from the ethos and pathos of his prose. Willis Jenkins speaks of Hart’s adjectival petulance, while Douglas Pharaoh calls him, ‘an intellectual pugilist who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.’ For better and for worse, Hart’s verbal pyrotechnics are as obvious as a bomb blast in a reading room. In That All Shall Be Saved, he claims that his intellectual opponents and their views are viciously vindictive, exquisitely malicious, specious reasoning, inherently incredible, morally obtuse, ostentatiously absurd, extravagant absurdities, an intoxicating atmosphere of corroborating nonsense.”

And that’s actually just a collection of insults from the first 20 pages of the book. He has all kinds of things he likes to throw at people as he goes on. And so what I want to do in this episode, though, I’m not going to go through Hart’s book bit-by-bit, I just want to use it.

That’s an introduction to the topic, because there’s really two different kinds of arguments that Universalists use. One, they’ll say, is that Hell is inherently unjust and so they’ll make philosophical arguments saying it would be unjust for someone, for God to allow someone to choose Hell or to be consigned to Hell for all eternity. And so I might address that in a future podcast, just focused on the philosophical arguments related to Hell. Instead, in this episode, I want to focus more on the biblical data, the data from divine revelation to say, “What has God told us about this?”

Because you might be thinking, “Well look, Jesus warned us about Hell. He said that people can go to Hell. The, you know, the gate is wide to destruction and narrow for those who find life. How can you get more obvious than that?” Well, universalists take a look at scripture and they do two things. One, they argue that the references to Hell are only temporary references. So, when Jesus uses adjectives like eternal, the Greek word ionian … This is similar to, you know, my discussion with Randall rouser on annihilationism. They’re talking about how it’s a punishment in the age to come, not one that necessarily lasts for an eternal duration.

But the problem I have with this, and I mentioned in my previous critique of the annihilationist, is that in Matthew 25:46, in Matthew 25, Jesus makes a parallel judgment of the sheep and the goats, the sheep that follow him, that feed the poor, clothe the naked, that follow Jesus’ teachings, they have eternal life with God. And so they have an eternal reward, they have eternal life. But then there’s a parallel with the goats who reject Jesus, who refuse to follow his commands, and they go into ionian colossan, eternal punishment.

And so ultimately though, if it’s not really eternal punishment, if it’s just life in the age to come and punishment in the age to come, then the sheep and the goats kind of end up in the same place. Because the goats, no matter how bad that purifying process is that they go through in Hell, when you compare it to the eternal, infinite happiness that awaits them in Heaven, it’s not going to be really any big deal at all. So, there’s a severe lack of justice in that result, and it doesn’t make sense of the biblical warnings that Christ gives for Hell. So, most Universalists, they try to argue Hell is just a purifying state and that all people will end up in Heaven, but that doesn’t make sense of the descriptions we have from Hell.

Now, if that were their only argument, then it would be a pretty weak position for them to run through. But the positive evidence that universalists offer is, they’ll pick Bible passages where it talks about how God desires the salvation of all people and that all people will be reconciled to God, and they’ll say, “Okay, well that shows that God is going to save all people. God wants all people to be saved.” 1st Timothy 2:4, “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

So that’s true. God wants all people to be saved. But just because God wants something, it doesn’t follow that’s going to happen. God wants me to not ever commit a sin in my life. Now, that makes sense, right? Does God want Trent Horn to sin? No, he doesn’t want me to sin. In fact, Jesus says, “Be perfect like your Heavenly father is perfect.” God wants me, from this moment going forward, to not commit a sin. Am I going to commit a sin? You bet I’m going to. In fact, James 3:2 says that we all stumble in small ways. So, there are many things that God wants, and that represents his perfect will for us, but he understands that we are not puppets on a string, we are not marionettes. And so, there are things God wants for us, but we can choose to not go along with his plan.

And one of those things is that God wants all people to be saved and the only thing that would keep that from happening is the free choice that God has given to his creatures. So what that means is, for example, for angels, angels are forever cut off from God because their decision to rebel against God before the creation of the world is fixed for all eternity. The catechism in paragraph 393 says this. It says, “It is the irrevocable character of their choice,” the angels who rebelled against God, “and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”

One of my arguments for why I believe Hell is eternal is that the damned make it eternal by continually sinning and rejecting God. They just double down on their sins and continue to wallow in them and routinely choose them over God for all eternity. And you probably know people like this who are stubborn, who are malicious, that even when they’re offered mercy and grace, they turn it down and they double down on their own sins and they find almost a sick kind of pleasure in their own sins and in their own stubbornness. And I think that that’s what Hell is, that Hell, it has a lock, but the lock is on the inside. That people choose to not unlock it, that if you took someone out of Hell and place them into Heaven, they would curse God and march right back into Hell and consider it to be better.

In fact, and to be sympathetic to David Bentley Hart, there is an Eastern view on what Hell is. I don’t believe it is compatible with the Catholic view of Hell, because if you look in the catechism in paragraphs, it’s between, I think it’s like 1035, 1033 through 1035, it says that the chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God. And so Hell, you’ll get everything you wanted in life, you’ll get yourself and you’ll be cut off from everything that is completely good in life, which is God.

A common view in Eastern Orthodox theology though of Hell, which I find really intriguing, I actually really want to believe it, but it seems to contradict what the church teaches about Hell being a separation from God. Many Eastern theologians have said that Hell is just the reaction that the damned have to God’s presence, that God’s holiness, for example, that when God’s holiness is received by different people, it is experienced in different ways. So, those who are saints in Heaven, the canonized, so the saints in Heaven who are freed from sin, they experience God as infinite bliss and it’s wonderful. The saved who are in purgatory, who are being purified of their sins, they experience God as possibly a painful kind of cleansing environment, that they see they’re moving towards the good, but it’s not a pleasant road going along the way. For them, the experience of God is kind of like the experience of going to the dentist, to use an analogy that’s helpful with children to explain what purgatory is like.

But the damned, what makes Hell Hellish is they experience God and it is just awful for them. They are in torment because they hate that goodness since they love themselves. Have you ever seen a narcissist? Somebody who is just in love with themselves, they’re always bragging about themselves. When they’re among a group of people and they’re with somebody who is objectively better than them, someone who is smarter, funnier, better looking, more accomplished, they’re always trying to one up that person and they can’t, and it just drives them crazy. And so, they don’t want to be a part of that. They don’t want to have to deal with that, it’s irritating to them. And so if that was magnified infinite fold in Hell for people to experience God, then it’s almost like there’s a kind of justice that in the afterlife everybody gets God and your temperament, how you’re fixed at death, whether your soul was fixed, oriented towards God or away God, will determine how you receive him for all eternity.

Now, just to repeat, that’s the Eastern view of Hell. I find it intriguing, but I do not think that it is compatible with the Catholic view, because the catechism in paragraph 1035 makes it very clear that Hell is eternal separation from God. Not that you receive God, but it’s just a horrible feeling because you’re not well disposed to receive him because you don’t desire that. The sin you cling to recoils at the love of God.

So, going back to Universalists, they’ll quote Bible passages like this. 1st Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” So, the Universalist says, “Okay, because of Adam, we all, every human being ended up in sin, and because of Christ, every human being will end up in Heaven.” That is not what Paul is saying here. He uses the phrase, in Christ, is a phrase that’s very specific to Pauline theology, and it refers to the saved. It refers to people who have the grace of God, who are united to Christ through baptism. It doesn’t refer to all human beings. So yes, “For as in Adam,” we all come from Adam because of biological generation, “all die,” all have original sin. So also, “In Christ,” those who are in Christ, “shall all be made alive.” All of those who are in Christ, not all human beings whatsoever.

This also explains what Paul writes in Romans 5:18. He says, “ASs one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” So the Universalist will say, “Oh, see here, it’s saying through Adam, one man’s trespass, all were condemned. And to have the symmetry through one man’s act of righteousness, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, this leads to acquittal and life for all men.” But once again, Paul is not saying that all human beings will be saved through Christ, in virtue that Christ has just died on the cross and so automatically all human beings will be saved.

He’s talking about life for all of those who are in Christ, and we know that in Romans 5:18, to sort of summarize, Romans 5:18, “One man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” It would be easy to read universalism out of that passage, but that’s not what Paul is talking about because we have to go back one verse. Remember, watch out for proof texts. You got to look at the context. A proof text without context is nothing but a pretext. I think that was the Protestant exigent D A Carson, who once said that.

In Romans 5:17 Paul says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will.” and here’s the key part, “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” So, Paul says that before Romans 5:18 and he says it’s not every human being, it’s those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. Just because something is a free gift doesn’t mean that you have to receive it. I get free gifts and free offers in the mail all the time. “Free credit card offer, here you go.” Guess what? I’m not going to receive it because I don’t want that. Now, the free offer, the free gift of God? I will cooperate with God’s grace to receive that because I see that that offers the greatest thing I could ever have. Eternal life.

Okay, so let’s summarize where we’re at. We’ve been talking about universalism. That is the view that all people, possibly all creatures will go to Heaven and that Hell is a way that they are purified and that’s how they get to Heaven. But as we see, there’s no biblical evidence for this view, and it’s contradicted by the Bible’s teachings that Hell is something that’s really bad. Hell is not a stopping point on the way to Heaven, Hell is something that you don’t want to end up to. Hell is a place of death.

That’s why the annihilationist view makes more sense than the universalist view. The annihilationist will say, “Yeah, Hell is a place where you’re lost.” Because think about when Jesus talks about the lost, “I’ve come to save the lost, come for those who are lost.” If universalism were true, then the people who go to Hell, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. They’re delayed, they’re going to be purified in Hell, and then eventually they’re going to spend an infinite amount of time with God in Heaven. So, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. The annihilationist view makes more sense because they would say the damned are lost because they are destroyed in Hell.

Now, I disagree with them because it seems clear that the descriptions of Hell are that it is a never ending place of torment for those who were separated from God, and that the eternal separation the damned endure is not one where they go out of existence and so they’re apart from God for all eternity. Like if I delete an email, I don’t say it’s eternally deleted, it’s just it’s deleted, it’s gone. No, there’s this kind of enduring separation that takes place. And so it contradicts what we have from the biblical data, what we have from the teachings of the church that Hell is a real reality, that it’s not purgative, that not everyone’s going to have … And universalism was condemned in the sixth century. You cannot hold the view as a Catholic that you know for certain all people are going to Heaven.

Now, that brings us to Bishop Barron and so I’m going to have to tease out the end of this podcast here, but don’t worry. We’re going to continue this discussion in part two episode of this week, where I want to give enough time and treatment to this topic. I guess I thought I could cover both of these in one episode, but that’s fine, we’ve got flexibility here.

So, now we’ve seen what universalism is. You can’t believe that, the view that it’s definite all people are going to go to Heaven. But what about another view? What about a view we might call hopeful universalism? That’s the view where we’re saying, “Well, we don’t know for certain all people are going to Heaven, but is it possible that no one will be lost? Is it possible that no one will end up in Hell? That Hell exists? It’s eternal, but it’s empty. No human beings end up there. Is it possible and something we should hope for that all human beings will end up in Heaven?” That would be the view called hopeful universalism espoused by the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and it’s more popularly espoused today by Bishop Robert Barron. So, that view is not the same as universalism. It is not the same.

And so there’s two questions I would ask of that view. One, is it an Orthodox view, is it a view that a faithful Catholic can hold? Does it contradict church teaching? And two, is it a prudent view? Is it a view that we ought to hold? Is it a good idea? Those are two different views, but I want to make sure I give that view the best treatment in my next article.”

Love, Lord, give me the grace to worthy of Your reward at my judgment, particular, and universal(final, last),
Matthew