Category Archives: Heresy

Excommunicating the Queen


-Elizabeth Tudor, please click on the image for greater detail.

Although excommunication has a softer tone now, and is interpreted as medicinal, currently, it was not always so.  It was always hoped the impenitent would return to the faith in true sorrow and penance, but if not, for a monarch, especially at the time of Elizabeth I, it absolved all her subjects from allegiance to her and her laws.  It also excommunicated all those who did obey the monarch’s laws and commands.

Excommunication is a great disgrace to Catholics. An excommunicated person was not to be dealt with, as it was believed that they were unchristian and would go to hell. Even until as recently as 1983, shunning was at least on the books, the tolerati, with whom the faithful were allowed some measure of social or business interaction, and the vitandi, literally, “to be avoided”. the faithful were not to associate with them “except in the case of husband and wife, parents, children, servants, subjects”, and in general unless there was some reasonable excusing cause.


-by Steve Weidenkopf


-Mary Tudor

“The day, long feared by Catholics, had arrived. Beloved Queen Mary’s five-year reign ended with her death while she was hearing Mass on November 17, 1558.

The daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon proved a brave ruler, who deemed it God’s will to see the Catholic Faith openly practiced in the kingdom once more. Although her father, in order to be free of his wife, had taken the initial step of controlling the Church in England, the crown did not embrace heretical doctrine until the rule of her half-brother Edward VI (son of Henry and Jane Seymour).

Edward’s reign marked the expunging of the Faith and the use of force and penalties to impose the Protestant heresy on the Catholic people of England. But Edward was a sickly boy and his reign ended after six years. The men at the royal court responsible for implementing Protestant teaching and worship on the people, chief among them Thomas Cranmer, were brought to justice under Mary’s reign.

The Catholic Church flourished during the time of the beloved queen (the later moniker “bloody” associated with her name, applied by Protestant historians, is a travesty of charity) but fear always lurked behind the scenes. The queen was not married when she assumed the throne at the age of thirty-seven, but that was soon remedied with nuptials to Prince Philip of Spain. Sadly, the union produced no heir, which fueled the fear that Mary’s Protestant half-sister Elizabeth Tudor (daughter of King Henry and Anne Boleyn) would assume the throne upon Mary’s death.

English Catholics believed the legitimate heir to the English crown was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (r. 1542–1567) because of her Catholic faith and relationship to the Tudor line (she was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister). However, political intrigue, not the least of which was the religious revolution in Scotland unleashed by the Protestant revolutionary, John Knox, prevented Mary Stuart from assuming the English throne.

Raised Protestant, Elizabeth spent much of her forty-five years upon the throne violently suppressing the Catholic Faith in England. One of the longest reigning monarchs in English history, Elizabeth is widely known as “Good Queen Bess”—a strong, independent, intelligent “Virgin Queen” who led her people into an era of unprecedented prosperity and represented the strong Protestantism of her people.

This narrative is, as Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc aptly described, “a monstrous scaffolding of poisonous nonsense.” In reality, Elizabeth was a figurehead monarch controlled behind the scenes by powerful men, who had been enriched by the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries under Henry and had an economic incentive to prevent the permanent restoration of the Catholic Faith in England.

English Catholics during the time of Elizabeth suffered greatly under the first state-sanctioned persecution of the Catholic Church since the Roman Empire. The first salvos in a long legislative campaign to eradicate the Catholic faith in England began in 1559, when Elizabeth was declared the Chief Governor of all Spiritual and Ecclesiastical Affairs in England by the Act of Supremacy, which required all clergy and university professors to take an oath of loyalty to her as head of the Church. Refusal to take the oath resulted in confiscation of property, imprisonment, and the possibility of the death penalty.

Another piece of legislation, the Act of Uniformity, restored Protestant worship in England and required every citizen to attend Church of England services; refusal to do so was punished by heavy fines. This legislation also declared it a crime to believe the pope is the head of the Church in England. Other anti-Catholic legislation passed during Elizabeth’s reign included a law that made conversion to the Catholic Faith a treasonous act punishable by death. When Jesuit missionaries arrived in the embattled nation to minister to the underground Church, laws were passed making it a criminal offense (aiding and abetting rebellion) to harbor or assist a Jesuit priest.

The attack on the Church in Elizabethan England required a response, especially if the Faith was to survive, even underground. William Cardinal Allen soon recognized the need for Englishmen to be trained abroad for the priesthood and then sent back to England, so in 1568 he established a seminary across the Channel in Douai (now part of France) known as the English College. Once ordained, the seminary’s graduates would return home clandestinely to care for the persecuted faithful.

One such priest, Cuthbert Mayne (1544–1577), [Ed. a former Anglican priest who had converted to Catholicism] arrived secretly in England on April 24, 1576. He ministered to the underground Church for just over a year until he was arrested on June 8, 1577 and sentenced to death. He was given the opportunity to save his life by recanting his Catholic faith by swearing on a Bible that Elizabeth was the head of the Church. Fr. Mayne took the Bible made the sign of the cross and said, “The Queen never was, nor is, nor ever shall be the head of the Church!” He was executed in the horrific manner of being hanged, drawn, and quartered and was the first of many martyred priests in Elizabethan England.

The popes had watched with great concern the persecution of the Church and supported efforts to minister to the underground Catholics in England. Eventually, one pope believed it was time for a radical response.


-Pope St Pius V, please click on the image for greater detail.

Upon his election to the papacy, Michele Cardinal Ghislieri took the name Pius V. Racked by the Protestant Revolution throughout Europe, the Church needed a vigorous response. Although the Catholic Reformation had begun under his predecessors, it was Pope St. Pius V (r. 1566–1572) who implemented the great Reform and set the Church on the path of restoration and recovery. A holy Dominican and former head of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Rome, Pius was resolute in providing relief to the embattled Catholics in England. Elizabeth had been on the throne for twelve years and the efforts of previous pontiffs working with secular rulers to alleviate the sufferings of English Catholics had proved lacking. So, Pius V decided it was time to excommunicate the queen and call for her overthrow.

On April 27, 1570, Pius promulgated the bull Regnans in Excelsis, in which the “pretended queen of England and the servant of crime” was excommunicated for embracing the “errors of heretics.” The bull outlined the persecution of Catholics under Elizabeth and declared her deposed. All loyalty due her as monarch was revoked. Pius hoped the bull would spark a revolt in England and lead to Elizabeth’s overthrow.

This was not the first time a pontiff had excommunicated a secular ruler and called for a revolution. As with many previous examples, however, this effort failed to achieve its goal and even backfired. It was exploited by Elizabeth and her advisors, chiefly William Cecil (1520–1598), as “proof” that one could not be both Catholic and a loyal Englishman. During the following thirty-three years of Elizabeth’s reign, the Church saw six more pontificates. She continued her bloody persecution of Catholics in England, but the Faith would persevere as a result of the blood of the martyrs.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Scientism

“Versions of scientism have been present in Western thinking for centuries, but our contemporary form has clear roots in the logical positivism of A.J. Ayer and his ideological allies in the Vienna Circle of the 1920s and 1930s. These theorists defended the view that the meaningfulness of a proposition is a function of that proposition’s verifiability or at least falsifiability. That is to say, a claim is meaningful if and only if its truth or falsity can be determined through empirical observation. Thus, the assertions that five hundred people attended a lecture I gave last month or that the earth revolves around the sun are meaningful statements, precisely because observation could either confirm or deny them. Religious propositions, however, such as “God exists,” “God’s will is being realized in this situation,” or “the soul shall live forever,” are not so much false (though Ayer and his colleagues think they are false) but meaningless, no more than expressions of the feelings and hopes of those who articulate them. One accordingly might smile at them or frown at them disapprovingly, but one would never endeavor to argue about them.

Now, problems with this scientistic or positivistic method abound, but the most fundamental difficulty is that the entire program rests squarely upon a contradiction. The principle is that the only meaningful statements are those that can be confirmed through empirical observation and experimentation; and yet, that very principle is not confirmable in such a manner. Where or how does one observe or experimentally verify the assertion that meaningfulness is reducible to that which can be observed through the senses? In point of fact, scientism itself is not scientific but rather philosophical, for it is a rational intuition regarding the epistemological order. Fair enough—but the one thing you are not permitted to accomplish through a philosophical proposal is to exclude philosophical proposals from the category of meaningfulness! Logical positivism, and its contemporary cousin scientism, cut off the branch on which they are sitting; or, to shift the metaphor, they are quite obviously hoisted on their own petard.

A second crucial problem with this proposal is that it stands athwart the practically universal consensus that there are indeed nonscientific paths to knowledge. Who can seriously doubt that philosophy, literature, drama, poetry, painting, and mysticism are not only uplifting and entertaining but also truth-bearing? Hamlet provides no real insight into human psychology and motivation? Dante’s Divine Comedy conveys no truths about politics, art, sin, or religious aspiration? The Waste Land tells us nothing intellectually substantive about the human heart? Plato’s dialogues shed no real light on ethics, justice, and the good life? One would have to be extremely narrow-minded to think so.

I should like to linger with the example of Plato for a moment. The man who effectively founded the discipline of philosophy in the West understood, as did many other sages and mystics of both the East and West, the beguiling quality of what is given to sense experience. What we can see, touch, taste, hear, and experience directly is so immediately and indisputably there that we can remain completely under its spell. Mind you, Plato did not think that the sensible order is unreal. But he did indeed intuit that there are dimensions of reality that are greater, richer, and more abiding. And he further realized that, in order to gain access to that realm, one must go through a sort of intellectual and spiritual training, or if I might state it more bluntly, a discipline by which one is wrenched away from one’s preoccupation with the physical and the sensual. Pierre Hadot pointed out that Plato was proposing not so much a doctrine (though a set of teachings can be distilled from his writings) but rather a bios or an entire way of life,14 something akin to monasticism. The famous dialogues are literary records of the process.

Central to Plato’s discipline was conversation, the asking and answering of questions, designed to tease all the participants into a consciousness of the abiding things that lie behind and beyond immediate experience. The literary device that best delineates this progressive illumination is the allegory of the cave15 found in book seven of the Republic. Everyone who has passed through a Philosophy 101 course undoubtedly remembers the main points of the story. A group of prisoners are chained deep inside a cave, compelled by their bonds to face the wall of the cavern on which flicker shadows cast by puppets, which are manipulated by people whom the prisoners cannot see. One of the captives manages to free himself. He turns around and sees the extraordinarily substantive objects, which are the source of the two-dimensional shades that he had taken to be the whole of reality. In time, he wanders past the puppets and makes his way to the mouth of the cave. Venturing outside, he is first overwhelmed by the brightness of the sunlight, but as his eyes adjust, he sees the people, trees, animals, and objects of which the puppets within the cave, he realizes, are but simulacra. Finally, he catches a fleeting glimpse of the sun, in whose light those splendid things appear.

This compelling little tale—which has been mimicked from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Fahrenheit 451 and The Matrix—is the account of a hero’s journey from limited to unrestricted consciousness, from a preoccupation with the immediate to a consideration of the eternal. The flickering shadows and the insubstantial puppets represent the world of sense experience. What subsists in space and time—what can be verified through the senses—is necessarily fleeting, evanescent. Plants, animals, human beings, subatomic particles, and even the stars and planets all come into being and pass out of being. However, a philosophically disciplined conversation discloses that these passing realities are conditioned by a formal dimension of being, represented by the substantive objects and figures outside the cave. Followed all the way to the end, the philosophical quest conduces toward the knowledge of the absolute source from which even the formal feature of being comes—namely, the Good itself—symbolized by the overwhelming beauty of the sun.

Obviously, the spelling out of this process would take us far beyond the purview of this book and into the full complexity of Plato’s philosophy. But I might give some flavor of the Platonic approach with one simple example. When a person comes to grasp a mathematical truth, say that 2+3=5, she has, in a very real sense, stepped into another world. As mentioned, everything in sense experience is fleeting, and therefore our knowledge of this realm is extremely limited, unsure, and time-conditioned. It is indeed like watching shadows flicker on a wall. But two and three equal five anytime, anywhere, and in any possible world. To see two things juxtaposed with three things so as to form a conglomerate of five is something any animal could do; but to grasp the principle that two and three are five is to enter a qualitatively higher realm of existence and thought. The commonness of the experience—any first grader can have it—should not blind us to the surpassing significance of it. It is like stepping out of a cave into the light. And the mathematical, for Plato, is but the first step on the way toward properly philosophical perception of the structuring elements of reality.

Plato’s best-known pupil, Aristotle, followed the dialogic discipline and came to these deeper perceptions, though he expressed the progress more prosaically than his master. In his mature writings, Aristotle would speak of three different degrees of knowledge: physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. The first studies matter in motion; the second explores numeric and geometrical abstractions; and the third looks into “being as being”—that is to say, the elements that make something not only material or mobile but existent. Aristotle doesn’t despise physics for a moment (in fact, it could be credibly argued that he is the father of the discipline), but he insists that the mind pushes past what physics can deliver. As a young man, he had experienced the intoxication of escaping from the cave, and he had no interest in limiting himself to that narrow space.

All of which brings me back to scientism. I reverence the sciences and I benefit daily from the technologies that they’ve made possible. Moreover, my life has quite literally been saved at least twice by medical interventions that would have been unthinkable before the rise of the modern physical sciences. But even the most advanced, complex, and practically beneficial science is, in Platonic terms, a gazing at shadows on the wall of the cave. It is a useful and beautiful exercise of the mind indeed, but it is a concentration on reality at a relatively low level of intensity. I rarely agree with the well-known atheist Bertrand Russell, but I have always resonated with his comment that mathematics is one of the doors to mysticism and religion. Though he meant that in a reductive and dismissive way, I would affirm its veracity in the Platonic sense: the understanding of a mathematical truth is a first step out of mere sensuality and toward the properly transcendent. The contemporary philosopher Charles Taylor speaks of the “buffered self”16 as one of the marks of our secular, post-religious culture. By this he means a self sealed off from any contact with the transcendent. Scientism is the official philosophy of the buffered self. Blowing some holes in that barrier and letting in some light is a propaedeutic to having a real argument about religion.”

-Barron, Robert. Arguing Religion: A Bishop Speaks at Facebook and Google (pp. 18-26). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

14 a bios or an entire way of life: See Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold I. Davidson (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1995).
15 the allegory of the cave: Plato, Republic, trans. G.M.A. Grube, rev. by C.D.C. Reeve (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), 186-191.
16 the “buffered self”: See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

Easter: liberal theology is as empty as the tomb


-by Trent Horn

“In a 2009 speech given at an atheistic conference, Daniel Dennett coined the term “deepity” to refer to statements that seem profound at first glance but upon closer examination turn out to be trivially true at best (“Love is just a word”) or just nonsense (“Have faith in faith”). Some atheists say theology is just a bunch of “deepities,” but this is like saying meaningless “junk philosophy” shows all of philosophy is worthless.

Indeed, you can find “junk theology” that disparages good theology in the New York Times’ recent interview with Serene Jones (2019), a Protestant minister and president of Union Theological Seminary. Here are a few of her “deepities”:

  • “[The] empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.”
  • “Living a life of love is driven by the simple fact that love is true.”
  • “The message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death.”

When I hear this kind of talk, I think of the episode of the Simpsons where Rev. Lovejoy is selling ice cream flavors such as “Blessed Virgin Berry” and “Command-mint.” He then offers Lisa “Unitarian ice cream” and hands her an empty bowl. Lisa remarks, “There’s nothing here,” to which Lovejoy responds, “Exactly.” Unitarians who have “no shared creed” are just one example of theologies that sound lofty and good but are without any support beyond mere sentimentalism.

A good way to expose the emptiness of these “deepities” is to ask some simple questions: How is love stronger than death? What makes love “true”? In doing this, you can show that the person is just dressing up secular, hopeful thinking with religious language.

I also notice adherents of liberal theology often defend their position by casting traditional concepts of God and faith as being for simpletons. However, their hasty dismissals often reveal their own simplistic grasp of theology. For example, Jones says, “Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.”

I expect this misrepresentation of the Trinity from village atheists, but not from a “Christian” minister who should understand that God became man to freely offer himself as a sacrifice of love that outweighs the evil of our sins.

Jones also says Christians who are “obsessed” with the Resurrection have a “wobbly faith.” She writes, “What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.” Tell that to St. Paul who declared, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Jones tries to defend her assertion about the unimportance of the Resurrection by saying, “the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves.”

It’s true the shorter ending of Mark does not contain an appearance of the resurrected Jesus, but it certainly contains a resurrection account because the young man at the tomb tells the women, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7, emphasis added).

This leads to another good question to ask: How is a non-miraculous Christianity any different than morally upright atheism?

Jones says hell doesn’t exist; it is the reality we create when we “reject love,” and Easter represents “love triumphing over suffering.” But you can be an atheist who puts hope in love and patiently endures suffering, so why even bother being a Christian? Indeed, when the interviewer asks if he’s a Christian even though he denies Jesus’ miracles, Jones answers, “Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister.”

Now, Jones might say her theology isn’t equivalent to atheism because she believes in God, but her God is so limited and disinterested in human affairs that he might as well be nonexistent.

For example, Jones says she doesn’t worship an all-powerful, all-knowing God because that’s a product of “Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology” (even though Greco-Roman deities were limited in power, knowledge, and goodness). She also claims God doesn’t answer prayers and instead of “controlling the world” he merely “invites” us into love, justice, and mercy.

This God might as well be a self-help book you pick up every few months for advice. In fact, for some liberal theologians, God is merely a projection of human ideals and isn’t real in any meaningful sense of the word.

John Dominic Crossan, one of the world’s most famous New Testament scholars, was once asked, “During the Jurassic age, when there were no human beings, did God exist?” Crossan responded, “Meaningless question” and went on to say that God doesn’t exist apart from faith. But with this understanding of God, it’s not surprising that places like the United Church of Canada have a minister who is a self-professed atheist. One of her books’ titles perfectly summarizes the essence of liberal theology: With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe.

It’s true that practicing virtue will make you happy, but that’s because God made us to be virtuous people, and we are happy when we live according to the nature he gave us. But St. Paul strikes the deathblow to both secular and Christian liberalism that relies on virtue alone for salvation: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:14-15).

Our Easter joy is not found in something meaningless such as “hope in hope” or “faith in faith.” It is grounded in the fact of Christ’s Resurrection. Indeed, that is the only fact that explains the advent of Christianity in an ancient world that didn’t build religions around platitudes. The only reason the disciples did not think their rabbi was just another failed messiah like all the others was because he proved he was not a failure to them three days after his crucifixion.

Through it, we have true hope that God will deliver us from sin we cannot conquer on our own and raise us to new life, both in our souls in this life and in our bodies in the next. God proved “love is stronger than death,” not through humanistic sentiment but through glorious triumph. As Christ himself declared, “I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18).”

Love, & Easter Joy!!!
Matthew

Sep 16 – St Cyprian of Carthage (200/210-258 AD)- Bishop, Martyr, Father of the Church


-Head Reliquary (has his actual head, or parts of it inside) of Saint Cyprian in the St. Kornelius chapel of the abbey church of Kornelimünster Abbey in Kornelimünster

Cyprian is important in the development of Christian thought and practice in the third century, especially in northern Africa.

Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus, was born into a rich pagan family of Carthage sometime during the early third century. His father was a senator.  His original name was Thascius; he took the additional name Caecilius in memory of the priest to whom he owed his conversion. Before his conversion, he was a leading member of a legal fraternity in Carthage, an orator, a “pleader in the courts”, and a teacher of rhetoric. After a “dissipated youth”, Cyprian was baptized when he was thirty-five years old, c. 245 AD. After his baptism, he gave away a portion of his wealth to the poor of Carthage, as befitted a man of his status.

Highly educated, a famous orator, he became a Christian as an adult. He distributed his goods to the poor, and amazed his fellow citizens by making a vow of chastity before his baptism. Within two years he had been ordained a priest and was chosen, against his will, as Bishop of Carthage.

In the early days of his conversion he wrote an Epistola ad Donatum de gratia Dei and the Testimoniorum Libri III that adhere closely to the models of Tertullian, who influenced his style and thinking. Cyprian described his own conversion and baptism in the following words:

“When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me… I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins… But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly.”

Contested election as bishop of Carthage

Not long after his baptism he was ordained a deacon, and soon afterwards a priest. Some time between July 248 and April 249 he was elected bishop of Carthage, a popular choice among the poor who remembered his patronage as demonstrating good equestrian style. However his rapid rise did not meet with the approval of senior members of the clergy in Carthage, an opposition which did not disappear during his episcopate.

Not long afterward, the entire community was put to an unwanted test. Christians in North Africa had not suffered persecution for many years; the Church was assured and lax. Early in 250 the “Decian persecution” began. The Emperor Decius issued an edict, the text of which is lost, ordering sacrifices to the gods to be made throughout the Empire. Jews were specifically exempted from this requirement. Cyprian chose to go into hiding rather than face potential execution. While some clergy saw this decision as a sign of cowardice, Cyprian defended himself saying he had fled in order not to leave the faithful without a shepherd during the persecution, and that his decision to continue to lead them, although from a distance, was in accordance with divine will. Moreover, he pointed to the actions of the Apostles and Jesus Himself: “And therefore the Lord commanded us in the persecution to depart and to flee; and both taught that this should be done, and Himself did it. For as the crown is given by the condescension of God, and cannot be received unless the hour comes for accepting it, whoever abiding in Christ departs for a while does not deny his faith, but waits for the time…”

Lapsi

Cyprian complained that the peace the Church had enjoyed had weakened the spirit of many Christians and had opened the door to converts who did not have the true spirit of faith. When the Decian persecution began, many Christians easily abandoned the Church. It was their reinstatement that caused the great controversies of the third century, and helped the Church progress in its understanding of the Sacrament of Penance.

The persecution was especially severe at Carthage, according to Church sources. Many Christians fell away, and were thereafter referred to as “Lapsi” (the fallen).  The majority had obtained signed statements (libelli) certifying that they had sacrificed to the Roman gods in order to avoid persecution or confiscation of property. In some cases Christians had actually sacrificed, whether under torture or otherwise. Cyprian found these libellatici especially cowardly, and demanded that they and the rest of the lapsi undergo public penance before being re-admitted to the Church.

Novatus, a priest who had opposed Cyprian’s election, set himself up in Cyprian’s absence (he had fled to a hiding place from which to direct the Church—bringing criticism on himself) and received back all apostates without imposing any canonical penance. Ultimately he was condemned. Cyprian held a middle course, holding that those who had actually sacrificed to idols could receive Communion only at death, whereas those who had only bought certificates saying they had sacrificed could be admitted after a more or less lengthy period of penance. Even this was relaxed during a new persecution.

However, in Cyprian’s absence, some priests disregarded his wishes by readmitting the lapsed to communion with little or no public penance. Some of the lapsi presented a second libellus purported to bear the signature of some martyr or confessor who, it was held, had the spiritual prestige to reaffirm individual Christians. This system was not limited to Carthage, but on a wider front by its charismatic nature it clearly constituted a challenge to institutional authority in the Church, in particular to that of the bishop. Hundreds or even thousands of lapsi were re-admitted this way, against the express wishes of Cyprian and the majority of the Carthaginian clergy, who insisted upon earnest repentance.

A schism then broke out in Carthage, as the laxist party, led largely by the priests who had opposed Cyprian’s election, attempted to block measures taken by him during his period of absence. After fourteen months, Cyprian returned to the diocese and in letters addressed to the other North African bishops defended having left his post. After issuing a tract, “De lapsis,” (On the Fallen) he convoked a council of North African bishops at Carthage to consider the treatment of the lapsed, and the apparent schism of Felicissimus (251 AD). Cyprian took a middle course between the followers of Novatus of Carthage who were in favor of welcoming back all with little or no penance, and Novatian of Rome who would not allow any of those who had lapsed to be reconciled. The council in the main sided with Cyprian and condemned Felicissimus, though no acts of this council survive.

The schism continued as the laxists elected a certain Fortunatus as bishop in opposition to Cyprian. At the same time, the rigorist party in Rome, who refused reconciliation to any of the lapsed, elected Novatian as bishop of Rome, in opposition to Pope Cornelius. The Novatianists also secured the election of a certain Maximus as a rival bishop of their own at Carthage. Cyprian now found himself wedged between laxists and rigorists, but the polarization highlighted the firm but moderate position adopted by Cyprian and strengthened his influence, wearing down the numbers of his opponents. Moreover, his dedication during the time of a great plague and famine gained him still further popular support.

Cyprian comforted his brethren by writing his De mortalitate, and in his De eleemosynis exhorted them to active charity towards the poor, setting a personal example. He defended Christianity and the Christians in the apologia Ad Demetrianum, directed against a certain Demetrius, in which he countered pagan claims that Christians were the cause of the public calamities.

Persecution under Valerian

During a plague in Carthage, Cyprian urged Christians to help everyone, including their enemies and persecutors.

A friend of Pope Cornelius, Cyprian opposed the following pope, Stephen. He and the other African bishops would not recognize the validity of baptism conferred by heretics and schismatics. This was not the universal view of the Church, but Cyprian was not intimidated even by Stephen’s threat of excommunication.

He was exiled by the emperor and then recalled for trial. He refused to leave the city, insisting that his people should have the witness of his martyrdom.

At the end of 256 AD a new persecution of the Christians broke out under Emperor Valerian, and Pope Sixtus II was executed in Rome.

In Africa, Cyprian prepared his people for the expected edict of persecution by his De exhortatione martyrii, and himself set an example when he was brought before the Roman proconsul Aspasius Paternus (August 30, 257). He refused to sacrifice to the pagan deities and firmly professed Christ.

The proconsul banished him to Curubis, modern Korba, whence, to the best of his ability, he comforted his flock and his banished clergy. In a vision he believed he saw his approaching fate. When a year had passed he was recalled and kept practically a prisoner in his own villa, in expectation of severe measures after a new and more stringent imperial edict arrived, in which Christian writers subsequently claimed it demanded the execution of all Christian clerics.

On September 13, 258, Cyprian was imprisoned on the orders of the new proconsul, Galerius Maximus. The public examination of Cyprian by Galerius Maximus, on 14 September 258 has been preserved:

“Galerius Maximus: “Are you Thascius Cyprianus?” Cyprian: “I am.” Galerius: “The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites.” Cyprian: “I refuse.” Galerius: “Take heed for yourself.” Cyprian: “Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed.” Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: “You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors … have endeavoured in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood.” He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: “It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword.” Cyprian: “Thanks be to God.””

The execution was carried out at once in an open place near the city. A vast multitude followed Cyprian on his last journey. He removed his garments without assistance, knelt down, and prayed. After he blindfolded himself, he was beheaded by the sword. The body was interred by Christians near the place of execution.

Cyprian was a mixture of kindness and courage, vigor and steadiness. He was cheerful and serious, so that people did not know whether to love or respect him more. He waxed warm during the baptismal controversy; his feelings must have concerned him, for it was at this time that he wrote his treatise on patience. Saint Augustine remarks that Cyprian atoned for his anger by his glorious martyrdom.

Love,
Matthew

The Black Death & the Protestant Revolution

“The arrival of the Black Death in Christendom — perhaps the most destructive pandemic in world history, which killed, by very reliable estimates, about half the population of Europe. In some areas the death toll may have been as high as 80 percent.

“It was a visitation upon a scale so enormous as to strike a blow at medieval society which might have dissolved it — and nearly did dissolve it. . . . In some places towns and villages sank never to rise again. . . . You may trace its effects even today in the half-finished buildings which were stopped dead and their completion never undertaken.”22

It’s no wonder many Catholics believed that Pestilence, the first of St. John’s Four Horsemen, had made his prophesied appearance (see Rev. 6).

One of the cruelest ironies about the Black Death is the way it contributed so heavily to the deterioration of the clergy. In what way? Imagine the workload for a priest: confessions, last rites, comfort to survivors, and Christian burial (when possible) from sunup to sundown for weeks, months, years on end. And though science did not yet know what caused the Black Death, everyone knew very well by common sense alone that whoever spent time around the plague usually died from it sooner or later. So the clergy who took the sacraments into the plague zones were spiritually akin to the firemen who ran toward the Twin Towers on 9/11 while everyone else was running away. The faithful bishop, the loyal priest, the dutiful deacon all ministered as long as they could, and then died. The cowards and deserters fled and survived — to become practically the whole clergy in the post plague years. No wonder the fifteenth century was such a dumpster fire.

As a direct result of this factor, the Faith itself got lost somewhere along the way — or adulterated, at any rate, by a nasty tincture of superstition. The plague shut down churches and monasteries, all the places where the real Christian Faith was meant to be taught (and had been for a long time, despite individual lapses).

Many of the clergy ordained to replace the fallen became “Mass priests” — priests, that is, who literally did nothing but recite the Mass because they had no training and did not know how to preach. Deprived of solid doctrine this way, the laity took on bad doctrines, often spread by teachers who were simply ignorant. Sub-Christian notions crept back in and distorted Catholic teaching.

The Church’s perfectly sound traditions about the correct use of sacramentals, for instance, were allowed to mix with leftovers from Europe’s recently dead pagan past. Sacred medals became charms; relics were confused with rabbit’s feet. In a disaster area like this, with no time to spare for jumping through moral or theological hoops, quick cures were needed — so the Church became a source for magic pills, not spiritual salvation. Doctors and theologians kept the true teaching on the books, to be sure, but popular extravagances happened far away from the universities. “For instance,” as Belloc writes,

the doctrine of the Invocation of Saints is clear; but towards the end of the Middle Ages you get men robbing one shrine to enrich another. The doctrine of the use of Masses is clear, and especially their use for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory; but the superstition that a Mass in this place was efficacious, and in that was not — the superstition which confuses mechanical repetition with spiritual force grew as the Middle Ages declined.23

Somewhat akin to this are the many fantastic legends about the saints and the early Church that grew up during these years, based, in many cases, on few, if any, historical facts. Most of them were perhaps harmless — saints who never existed, shrines built at the sites of miracles that never happened — harmless, that is, until they came to be confused with the actual tenets of the Faith. Laypeople lost the ability to distinguish between actual Sacred Tradition and tradition with a small t (i.e., just old, oft-repeated stories, many times nothing but wives’ tales). Worse, both sets of ideas came to be held with the same tenacity — leaving the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord in the same category with St. George’s dragon.

And then, a few decades later, when some Lollard or Lutheran came along, bringing proofs against the “Donation of Constantine” or the “False Decretals,” many a vulnerable papist joined the Protestants in their Bible-only beliefs, convinced that they had now seen the folly of “man-made” Christianity.

When the Black Death began to subside in the late 1300s, some measure of order was restored. Why, afterward, weren’t efforts made to sort through these fables and false documents? There were — but only after the Protestant revolt. Before then, there was simply too little incentive to overcome the inertia. And here, of course, is where the bad shepherds returned big time. Too much money was being generated by this point, money the Church had come to depend on. The best example is the most famous: the sale of indulgences, against which Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses.”

-Bennett, Rod. Bad Shepherds: The Dark Years in Which the Faithful Thrived While Bishops Did the Devil’s Work . (c) 2018 Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition. Location: 874-913

Love,
Matthew

22 Hilaire Belloc, The Crisis of Civilization (Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 1992), 89.
23 Ibid., 81.

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

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

Jul 19 – St Macrina the Younger (330-19 Jul 379 AD) – sister of Sts Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great & Gregory Nazianzus

Her father arranged for her to marry but her fiancé died before the wedding. After having been betrothed to her fiancé, Macrina did not believe it was appropriate to marry another man, but saw Christ as her eternal bridegroom.  Instead, she devoted herself to her religion, becoming a nun.

When all her siblings had grown, including Sts Basil the Great & St Gregory Nazianzus, and left the parental home, Saint Macrina convinced her mother, Saint Emilia, to leave the world, to set their slaves free, and to settle in a women’s monastery. Several of their servants followed their example. Having taken monastic vows, they lived together as one family, they prayed together, they worked together, they possessed everything in common, and in this manner of life nothing distinguished one from another.

After the death of her mother, Saint Macrina guided the sisters of the monastery. She enjoyed the deep respect of all who knew her. Strictness towards herself and temperance in everything were characteristic of the saint all her life. She slept on boards and had no possessions. Saint Macrina was granted the gift of wonderworking. There was an instance (told by the sisters of the monastery to Saint Gregory of Nyssa after the death of Saint Macrina), when she healed a girl of an eye-affliction. Through the prayers of the saint, there was no shortage of wheat at her monastery in times of famine.

Macrina had a profound influence upon her brothers and her mother with her adherence to an ascetic ideal. Her brother Gregory of Nyssa wrote a work entitled Life of Macrina in which he describes her sanctity throughout her life. Macrina lived a chaste and humble life, devoting her time to prayer and the spiritual education of her younger brother, Peter. Gregory presents her as one who consciously rejected all Classical education, choosing instead devoted study of Scripture and other sacred writings.

In 379, Macrina died at her family’s estate in Pontus, which with the help of her younger brother Peter she had turned into a monastery and convent. Gregory of Nyssa composed a “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” (peri psyches kai anastaseos), entitled ta Makrinia (P.G. XLVI, 12 sq.), to commemorate Macrina, in which Gregory purports to describe the conversation he had with Macrina on her deathbed, in a literary form modelled on Plato’s Phaedo. Even on her deathbed, Macrina continued to live a life of sanctity, as she refused a bed, and instead chose to lie on the ground.

Saint Macrina is significant in that her brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, was able to set standards for being a holy Early Christian woman. He believed that virginity reflected the “radiant purity of God.”

Universalism

Universalists, including Hosea Ballou and J. W. Hanson, claim Macrina as a Universalist in her teachings, citing works which they believe demonstrate Macrina’s belief that the wicked would all eventually confess Christ.

Troparion — Tone 8

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother, / For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. / By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away, / But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. / Therefore your spirit, O Holy Mother Macrina, rejoices with the Angels!

Love & faith,
Matthew

Hopeful Universalism? – St Macrina the Younger (330 – 19 Jul 379 AD) – sister of Sts Gregory of Nyssa & Basil the Great

-by Rt. Rev., Matthew Gunter, 8th Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Episcopal Church in Northeast WI

“Today is the feast day of Macrina (330-379), older sister and theological/spiritual mentor of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most formative theologians and leaders of the early Church. Both of these great theologians pointed to their sister as their mentor in the faith. She was the theologian behind the theologians. Another brother, Peter of Sebaste, also became a bishop and saint.

In his book, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Gregory recounts a dialogue with Macrina in which he asks his sister and teacher a series of questions about the nature of the soul and the resurrection and related things. It might be that Gregory uses Macrina as a literary device to convey his own thoughts similar to the way Plato sometimes uses Socrates in his dialogues. Or maybe this really conveys things he learned directly from Macrina. In any event his respect for her is clear. Towards the end of On the Soul and the Resurrection, Macrina says this:

“To evaluate the way a person has lived, the judge would need to examine all these factors: how he endured suffering, dishonor, disease, old age, maturity, youth, wealth, and poverty; how through each of these situations he ran the course of the life allotted to him either well or badly; and whether he became able to receive many good things or many evil things in a long lifetime or did not reach even the beginning of either good or evil, ceasing to live when his mind was not yet fully developed. But when God brings our nature back to the first state of man by the resurrection, it would be pointless to mention such matters and to suppose that the power of God is hindered from this goal by such obstructions.

He has one goal: when the whole fullness of our nature has been perfected in each man, some straightway even in this life purified from evil, others healed hereafter through fire for the appropriate length of time, and others ignorant of the experience equally of good and of evil in the life here, God intends to set before everyone the participation of the good things in Him, which the Scripture says eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor thought attained.

This is nothing else, according to my judgment, but to be in God Himself; for the good which is beyond hearing, sight, and heart would be that very thing which surpasses everything. But the difference between a life of virtue and a life of wickedness will appear hereafter chiefly in allowing us to participate earlier or later in the blessedness which we hope for. The duration of the healing process will undoubtedly be in proportion to the measure of evil which has entered each person. This process of healing the soul would consist of cleansing it from evil. This cannot be accomplished without pain, as we have discussed previously.”
– On the Soul and the Resurrection, pp. 115-116

Note that Macrina and Gregory are not soft on the reality of death and judgment – this cannot accomplished without pain. We will be judged. There is reason to bear in mind the “Time of Scrutiny” (Sirach 18:20). There is still good reason to take our own piety with utmost seriousness and to invite others to participate now in “the blessedness which we hope for.”

They do seem, however, to understand The Judgment as having more to do with purgation and healing than final eternal punishment and torture. It is unclear whether or not they believed it is possible that some souls might hold out eternally against blessedness. But, they seem convinced that God, in His relentless love, will never give up on anyone – even beyond death and forever.

This hopeful universalism is quite different from an “all-y, all-y in come free” complacent universalism. Macrina and Gregory are not alone in expressing some version of this. One could add Isaac the Syrian (7th century), Maximos the Confessor (7th century), Frederick Denison Maurice (19th century), C. S. Lewis (20th century), Karl Barth (20th century), Hans Urs von Balthasar (20th century), and many others…”

Love & faith,
Matthew

Hopeful Universalism?


-by Trent Horn

“We are talking about universalism, a doctrine that was considered to be a heresy, that is a heresy, something that was condemned in 543 AD by the church because it teaches that we can know with certainty that every single human being or possibly every creature, including the devil himself, will be saved. It goes all the way back to the ecclesial writer origin of the third century, with his defense of what he called “Apocatastasis,” or universal reconciliation, reconstituting or restoration to God. This idea that all things will be all in God, everyone shall be saved. And so many of these Universalists, you see them pop up throughout church history and there’s a few prominent ones today. I talked about David Bentley Hart in the previous episode, he wrote this book, “That All Shall Be Saved.” He’s an Eastern Orthodox Theologian, there is even some Catholic theologians that lean towards this view, even though they really shouldn’t.

Among evangelicals, probably the most famous evangelical to argue about this is Robin Parry, I believe that’s his real name. He wrote under a pen name, George McDonald, for the longest time because he has a controversial view and he chose to write under a pen name. But Robin Parry I believe is his real name and he shows up in a great anthology put out by Zondervan. If you want to learn more about how people disagree about particular doctrines, which is more common you see in the Protestant world than in the Catholic world, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Counterpoint or Multiple Views series. I have a few of them in my office and they’re great for me to see the different views people have on specific issues and be able to see people’s arguments and counter-arguments very quickly and efficiently.

So for example, I’m working on a Trent tracks right now called, “Hell Be Damned,” and it’s about arguments against hell. We’ve covered that a little bit here on the podcast and we’ll cover more of it today because Universalism is a response to the doctrine of hell, the idea that people might be separated from God for all eternity and endure eternal conscious torment because of that. So Zondervan has a really great series on all different kinds of issues, on biblical inspiration, interpretation, moral issues, theological issues. And for example, there is… And Catholics get on the game too. There is an anthology, I’m looking around my office to see if I can find it. I know it’s here. It’s on the role of faith and works. And Michael Barber, friend of the apostolic, great guy, great Catholic scripture scholar, is in that anthology on the role of faith and works and he puts forward the Catholic view about how works integrates with faith along with Protestants who defend the traditional sola fide by faith alone view and some Protestants who take the really radical view that your works have nothing to do with your salvation.

There are Protestants who believe that once you’re saved, you could become an atheistic serial killer and you couldn’t lose your salvation. Now, you may not get a bunch of rewards when you get to heaven. Your tickets to redeem at the heavenly gift shop are going to be pretty zero, but you still won’t be in hell and you’ll still have eternal life with God. So that is one that boggles the mind that I’ve actually covered in length in my book, “The Case for Catholicism,” available through Ignatius Press if you want to check that out.

So when people ask me, “Trent, what do you think about once saved, always saved or eternal security?” I say to them, “What do you mean by that? Because there’s two different ways of looking at it.” You could have, like in my debate with James White back in 2017, the view that you can’t lose your salvation but if you, a Christian, become an atheistic serial killer and never repent, that only proves you weren’t saved in the first place, which I think has a bunch of logical holes in it when you really start to think about it, nobody could ever really know that they’re saved. I don’t understand that view and I think that comes out well and my debate with James White. But then the other view is like what Charles Stanley and I think Robert Wilkins is another person who defends this view among Protestants. They say, “Yeah, once you’re saved, can’t ever be undone,” which really doesn’t make sense to me when you look at what the Bible teaches about the possibility of losing salvation.

I bring that up because it’s great to see in this series and one of them is actually on hell. And so this one has annihilationism, well, has a traditional view of hell that many Protestants and Catholics share, eternal separation from God that a person is aware of. Other views, it has the annihilationist view, the view that I discussed with Randal Rauser several months ago, that hell is real, people go there. It’s forever, but only in the sense that the damned are destroyed in hell.

Then the other view would be Universalism, that would be the idea that, well, some people go to hell, but you don’t stay there forever. We talked about that in the previous episode. I love one of the contributors to that anthology, John Stott, who’s an Annihilationist says that Universalism represents the triumph of hope over exegesis. That you really, really want something good to be true that just flies in the face of all the biblical evidence thrown at you, as well as for Catholics the magisterial evidence where the church teaches, it’s very clear, that hell exists and it is eternal and people who die in a state of mortal sin go there. So where do you go from there with Universalism?

Well, there’s this other view and that would be Hopeful Universalism. What is that? Hopeful Universalism espoused by Bishop Barron, though it draws its roots mostly from Hans Urs von Balthasar’s two books he wrote in the late 1980s that were eventually compiled together into one book that’s called, “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved.” So what do Bishop Barron and von Balthasar believe about Hopeful Universalism and how do we contrast that with regular Universalism that the church condemns? So I’ll fill you in a bit more about von Balthasar then I’ll let Bishop Barron explain it in his own words from a video he posted several years ago.


So basically von Balthasar was a Swiss Theologian and he had a lot of interaction with Protestant Theologians like Carl Bart, who denied some fundamental aspects of Christian belief. And von Balthasar didn’t go that far, but he tried to find a compromise or a halfway ground, especially in understanding the relationship between salvation and hell and whether universal salvation was possible. He’s held in very high standing among Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict the 16th. He was elevated to being a Cardinal, but he died two days before receiving his red hat.

Now some people say, I mean, what does that mean he died two days before getting his red hat? Some people say, “Well, that’s so he couldn’t spread his heretical beliefs as a Cardinal.” Well, if there really were heretical beliefs, I have a hard time thinking Pope Saint John Paul II would have elevated him to being a Prince of the Church if that were the case. Rather, Fr. Hugh Barbour, the chaplain here at Catholic Answers, offers a funny commentary on that, that Hans Urs von Balthasar died just a few days before Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who started the SSPX schism. Not, the schism has been lifted, but the society of Saint Pius the 10th, he illegally consecrated several bishops without the permission of the Pope. And he was planning on doing this and what Fr. Hugh said is that Hans Urs von Balthasar apparently prayed that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre would die before he would engage in a schismatic act, like ordaining bishops without the Pope’s approval.

And so it could just be a kind of divine irony that God says, “You prayed that Archbishop Lefebvre would go to heaven before he would do this. Mr. von Balthasar, maybe you would like to go to heaven instead.” And so he died a few days before that happened.

So the point of von Balthasar’s position is that hell is a real possibility for people. In fact, I’m going to let Bishop Barron explain Carl Bart’s Universalism and then von Balthasar’s Hopeful Universalism and then I’ll extract more of the differences between the two.

Now come up to the 20th century, the great Protestant Theologian, Carl Bart, one of the most influential of the modern theologians. He stakes out a position, not all that dissimilar from Origins or Rob Bell’s. It’s pretty much a Universalist position that in the cross of Jesus, all people are saved and the church’s job is to announce this good news to the world. Now, one of his colleagues, a fellow Swiss and a friend of his was Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Catholic theologian. Balthasar took in a good deal of the Bartian spirit, I think reacted against this Augustinian and Thomistic rather dark view on hell. Balthasar said this, “We may reasonably hope that all people will be saved.” You see, what he’s doing is he’s pulling back from Bart and Origin and from a complete Apocatastasis position that we know all people will be saved. No, no, we don’t know that. But we may reasonably hope that all people will be saved. Why? Because of the dramatic thing that God did through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

So to pull this back, to make sure we understand here what Bishop Barron and von Balthasar are saying, you go back to the words of von Balthasar, he does not say everybody’s definitely going to heaven. In his book, he writes, “We stand completely and utterly under judgment and have no right, nor is it possible for us to peer in advance at the Judge’s cards,” i.e., God’s verdict, which is really something that he does per se, but we do through our own freely chosen actions. Whether we choose to spend eternity with God or not. But here’s the thing, if Universalism were true, all of the Judge’s cards, the verdicts of people’s eternal destinies, it would all be the same basically. At the very least, would either be you’re going to haven now or going to haven later after you get purified in hell. That is not what von Balthasar is saying that everybody’s going.

But what he and Bishop Barron seem to be saying, here’s what von Balthasar, how he puts it, “Love hopes all things. It cannot do otherwise than to hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such unlimited hope is, from the Christian standpoint, not only permitted but commanded.”

And this is how Bishop Barron puts it, he doesn’t go as far as von Balthasar in many respects, this is how he puts it, or at least that’s the FAQ on his website, “Bishop Barron is convinced we have a reasonable hope that all will be saved, but the first step in assessing and critiquing an argument is to understand the terms as its proponent is using them. It’s important to know how he’s using those two words in this context. First, he means reasonable in the sense that we have good reasons to ground our hope, namely the cross and resurrection of Jesus and his divine mercy. Bishop Barron isn’t making any sort of probabilistic judgment as if to say reasonable means, very likely, or quite probable. Second, we should recognize hope to mean a deep desire and longing tied to love for the salvation of all people, but without knowing all will be saved, thinking all we saved or even expecting all will be saved.”

So there is a sense in which I wholeheartedly agree with von Balthasar and Bishop Barron. There is a sense in which we all should, but the key here to make that agreement is making a distinction between two things, it’s very important for you to take away from the discussion of Hopeful Universalism. There is a difference between hoping that anyone will be saved and hoping that everyone will be saved. So it makes sense, everyone should agree with this. I think even someone who thinks that most people are going to hell. The church has a wide variety of views about how many people end up in hell, that hasn’t been clearly defined. It has been clearly defined that there is a hell, it is eternal, but what percentage of the human family will be there? The church hasn’t explicitly said. There has been a tradition what Bishop Barron first tune his video, is the dark view of Thomas and Augustan, that the majority of human beings will end up in hell.

But here’s the funny thing when you think about that, well, it’s actually not funny hell is not a funny thing. Here’s the interesting thing when you think about that, it could be true. Both of these statements could be true that the majority of human beings are in hell and the majority of human beings are not in hell based on the time you make that statement. Because it could be the case, when Augustan was writing or St. Thomas Aquinas was writing, that the vast majority of human beings rejected God, or the world was still shrouded in pagan darkness and they never came to know God regardless of how God revealed himself, even if it wasn’t through the gospel, but it was through nature and through conscience. It could even be the case today, that maybe up to this point, a large percentage or the majority of human beings are damned.

But we have to remember what if the human race continues for another 1,000 years, or 10,000 years, or 30,000 years? We’d not only populate new planets, we’d populate new dimensions. We can travel to parallel universes within what God has created. Who knows what could happen in 10,000 years? You never know. But it could be the case that by that point, let’s say the gospel, we see a surge in Evangelism and a new Renaissance in the church. It could be the case further down in the future that so many people are saved and go to heaven it actually counterbalances this dark age the church dealt with for its first few thousand years of its existence. So I don’t know, I’m always trying to think of the big picture with these things. So sometimes it’s helpful to move our perspective up and remember us in the present, it’s a very, very, very tiny perspective for us to be in.

Now, what do I think though, of Hopeful Universalism as Bishop Barron espouses it and von Balthasar espouses it? Well, I would say I’m not a big fan of the term reasonable hope because even though it’s defined in the FAQ, on Word on Fire website, that’s not really how most people take the term to me. I know it’s how Bishop Barron does, and that’s fine. But if I say, “I have a reasonable hope that I’m going to pass my class,” usually take that to me and I’ve got at least a 50% shot, even a 30% shot. I’ve got something significant, but that’s not what he’s saying about hell. And that’s not what von Balthasar is saying. Well, I don’t know. von Balthasar is pretty strong. He quotes Edith Stein as saying that it’s infinitely improbable that someone would end up in hell. And Bishop Barron says he’s not going to go that far.

So I think a better term to use is not a reasonable hope all men will be saved, but a rational hope all men will be saved. For example, if I buy a lottery ticket, I don’t have a reasonable hope that I’m going to win the lottery. There is a small, tiny, tiny outside chance I could win. I don’t say I have a reasonable hope I’m going to win, but I have a rational hope I’m going to win because I have a ticket and it’s within the realm of possibility. If I said, if I was at home, “Do you think you’re going to win the lottery?” And I said, “Well, I didn’t buy a ticket, but the winning ticket might magically appear on my coffee stand out of thin air. I’m hoping for that,” that would not be a rational hope. That would be an irrational hope.

So I think, to be more charitable to Bishop Barron’s position, to make it more defensible, you could say, “All right, one could have a rational hope that it’s not irrational to believe that God would make it the case that everyone went to heaven.” I don’t think von Balthasar and Bishop Barron would say that the people who go to hell will be purified and end up in heaven. The von Balthasarian position rather is that no one ever ends up dying in a state of mortal sin and so no one ever ends up in hell. Now, when I hear that to me, I say, “Well that sounds incredibly unlikely,” but once again, it’s just the same as me saying, “I could win the lottery.” Yeah, that’s incredibly unlikely, but given that we desire the salvation of all people and if we love all people, is it okay for us to hope for an incredibly unlikely outcome that is for the good of all human beings?

I would say yes provided that we’re not hoping for something that’s impossible. So that’s the trick here. When it comes to Hopeful Universalism, if the church teaches not only that hell exists and that it’s eternal, but that certain individuals are in hell or that the church teaches, it is impossible for it to be the case all people are going to go to heaven. Then we couldn’t have Hopeful Universalism is a viable belief system or a permitted theological opinion any more than you could hope that it turns out original sin was all just a dream and it never really happened, and I wake up and it turns out Patrick Duffy on Dallas was actually alive and the whole thing was a dream. All you TV aficionados, you’ll know what I mean with that terrible retcon on Dallas. You know, Patrick Duffy wakes up like it was all a dream. No, we can’t hope for that because original sin did happen. We have to deal with the consequences of it.

So what does the church teach on this matter? Does the church teach there are individuals in hell and so it’s impossible, even on the remote, crazy outside chance, 10 million to one, it’s impossible for all human beings to have ended up in heaven? Well, Avery Cardinal Dulles, who is a very Orthodox thinker, somebody that I trust, he says, “This Dare We Hope position of Balthasar seems to me to be Orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive.” So minatory would be that they’re a warning. It’s kind of like when Jonah went to the Nineveh and said, “In three more days, four more days or whatever, 40 days Nineveh shall be destroyed.” But Nineveh ended up not being destroyed. So the prophecy was really more of a warning that if you don’t listen to me, this is what’s going to happen.

So the defenders of the von Balthasarian position would say that Matthew 25, when Jesus is talking about people going to hell, being in hell, that the gate is wide to destruction, the road to life is narrow. That these are warnings rather than predictions. Now you might say, “Well, how can you believe that? That’s got a contradict with what the church teaches because Jesus clearly teaches here in scripture that there are people going to be in hell. It’s just the plain meaning of the passage.” Well, here’s the thing. What we believe as Catholics does not derive directly from what we consider to be the plain meaning of a biblical passage. For example, the church has no official teaching on what hell is like, but Jesus certainly does teach in scripture, he uses analogies or descriptions to talk about hell being a place of fire, being a place where the worms die not. But the church doesn’t have an official position on whether hell is constituted with literal fire or not. The church doesn’t weigh in on it.

That maybe something that’s affirmed in scripture, but just because scripture says something, we always have to go about interpreting it too. And when it comes to interpreting scripture, the church gives us guidance on being able to interpret, especially guardrails of scripture cannot say this, like Jesus is not God. It can say this, Jesus is God, fully man, fully God. And then there are other areas where there can be multiple interpretations of something where the church has not officially weighed in on it, such as the meanings of certain parables or passages. There’s a lot of things in scripture have multiple meanings to them.

Even when Jesus said, which I think is one of the clearest arguments that somebody is in hell in Matthew 26, 24 Jesus said of Judas, “It’s better for him to never been born.” To me, what I take that as just the intuitive reading of that passage is that Judas was lost. He was lost, he is condemned and it’s better for him to have never been born because if he were born, even if he sinned grievously, he would still end up in heaven, but the church doesn’t have an official position on either that passage or the fate of Judas himself.

And there is a possibility, I’ve read some biblical scholarship on this, that when Jesus says, “It would be better for him to have never been born,” he’s using a Hebrew Semitism, an expression or hyperbolic way of speaking saying if you betray the son of man, that’s a terrible thing for you to do. You’re going to be facing a lot of fires of purgatory for what you’re doing here. It’s really, really bad. Just like it would be better for them to have had a millstone tied around their neck than to have caused one these little ones to stumble. Now, as I said, I think that is a minority interpretation of what the passage probably means. But for me, when I look to see what scripture says, I want to go back and see what does the church teach on that. Because 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “The church is the pillar and foundation of truth.”

So in order to answer the question, if von Balthasar and Hopeful Universalism is a permitted theological opinion we’d have to see, has the church ever definitively taught, has it ever taught that there are individuals in hell? Or that universal salvation is an impossibility? And I’ve gone to the citations and I haven’t found them. There’s one from the First Lateran Council that says that, “Jesus will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and the elect, all of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear. So as to receive according to their desserts, whether these be good or bad.” This profession of faith from the First Lateran Council, I would say, it could only allude to maybe the possibility there are definitely people at that time who were in hell. It doesn’t state it explicitly.

The fact that it uses language like there are the reprobate and the elect, and you know the damned or the saved basically, these are two classes of people or sets, but one of the sets could be empty. It’d be like if I was a teacher and I told my class, “Listen to me, tomorrow when we all come to school the punctual will be given their rewards and the truant, i.e. the people who don’t show up, will be punished.” But it could be the case there are no people in the truant class. Now I personally, I don’t think that. I think that even if this is a permitted theological opinion, it’s not one that I endorse because I still think there’s a heavy amount of evidence against it. I think it’s fine, once again, to hope for the salvation of anybody. Even Judas, we should pray that any person, that’s why we always pray for someone who dies. We don’t say, “We know…”

Some people say, “Well, the church prays for the salvation of everyone.” Yeah, in a sense. We always pray for the dead because we don’t have infallible knowledge what the state of their soul is, so we pray for anybody even if they died, apparently, totally unrepentant. The fact is God delights in repentance, he does not delight in the death of the wicked and we’re not privy to that. So we say, “Well, Lord help him. Lord help me at the hour of my death,” and we pray for that. We would want people pray for that for us, we pray for that for others. But once again, hoping for the salvation of anyone is not the same thing as hoping for the salvation of everyone. You definitely should hope for anybody’s salvation, but everyone, that seems to be a very, very distant remote possibility for me. Even if this is a permitted theological opinion.

Now other evidence would be Benedict the 12th, set in the 14th century, “Furthermore, we define that,” which is evidence of infallible teaching, “According to the general plan of God, the souls of those dying in actual mortal sin descend to hell soon after death.” And the defender of the von Balthasarian view could say “Right, but it could be the case that no one ever dies in mortal sin.” Once again, I think that’s unlikely, but we don’t have an explicit teaching from the church saying that there definitely are people who die in mortal sin and go to hell.

So just to summarize, when I look at the magisterial teaching, what we see from the Pope’s and magisterial documents from ecumenical councils, I agree with Avery Cardinal Dulles that the position Bishop Barron holds, it does not contradict what the church teaches because the church has never definitively taught that any particular person, even Judas, is in hell. And so for me, I would take that to show that this Hopeful Universalism he espouses would be a permitted theological opinion. And the church allows for lots of those. For example, let’s take predestination and free will. The church says in paragraph 600 of the catechism, “You got to believe God has a plan for us. He predestine people to salvation,” but we’re not puppets. We can freely choose to reject God’s plan. Predestination and free will, you got to believe in both, but how do they work together?

The church has an answer to that question, you can hold the Thomists’ view of that predestination, the Molinists view of predestination, or maybe your own view as long as it holds to the bare minimum standards of what we believe about predestination and free will. So when it comes to hell, you have to believe in the bare minimum that hell exists. It’s a real possibility and it is eternal in nature. It’s not a path to heaven, it’s not a path to annihilation. But aside from that, you could hold the von Balthasar position, as Bishop Barron does, it doesn’t contradict any church teaching. But just because you can hold something, it doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

And as a separate question as they note on the FAQ that there’s a difference between a view being Orthodox and it being prudent. I mean, you can believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. The church doesn’t have a teaching on the age of the earth. I don’t think that you should because that contradicts all the scientific evidence we have. Much the same way, I’m very concerned about the von Balthasar position of Hopeful Universalism, I just don’t see what benefit it holds. I don’t see how it benefits us in Evangelism if we hold out this possibility that all people can be saved.

That’s not the same thing as saying the possibility of non-Christians being saved. I don’t think that hurts Evangelism because if someone believed, if you never heard who Jesus was and you were automatically going to hell because you were born in the wrong century, I think a lot of people would give up their belief in a good God if God would damn someone because that person happened to be born in the wrong time and place, not because the person ever rejected God’s offer of salvation. Even if it was presented to him or her under a very basic, minimal terms such as through nature and through conscience. But this view, I don’t see how it’s that helpful. Some people may say, “Well, it shows God’s love that he’ll go to any length to save us, and he loves us,” and I don’t doubt that. It’s good to show God desires the salvation of anyone, as I’ve mentioned earlier.

But it seems to subtly reinforce the view that it would be unloving of God for him to allow somebody to go to hell. God will be perfectly loving if he offered salvation and there are people who spend eternity with God and people who do not do that. Hell does not contradict the love of God, something we’ll probably have to explore in a future lecture.

So to summarize, I think that the view is a permissible one to hold. It hasn’t been contradicted by the official teaching of the church, but I think the probability of it being true is extremely low. So it’s not one that I want to bank on, I have serious prudential aversions to holding or promoting this view. And that’s something that we, as Catholics, can reasonably disagree about. But people have asked me what do I think about this, that is what I think.”

Love & faith,
Matthew