Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh hell

Ralph Martin, who was invited to serve as an official consultant at the October Synod on the New Evangelization in Rome, has also just published a book that is apparently creating quite a stir in the Catholic world. In his book, entitled Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization(Eerdmans, 2012), Martin examines the documents of Vatican II, particularly Lumen Gentium 16, in light of the Magisterial tradition and Scripture, and argues that the recent tendency (reinforced by the writings of Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar) to ignore the real possibility of damnation and to assume that most everyone is going to heaven is baseless.

John Lamont, who in 2004 wrote an article entitled "Why the Second Vatican Council was a Good Thing and Is More Important Than Ever," wrote a second article three years later, entitled "What was Wrong with Vatican II" (New Blackfriars, Vol. 88, 2007). In the latter article, Lamont basically concludes that the problem is not so much with anything that is stated in the Conciliar documents, but rather what was left unsaid. What was critically omitted, he suggests, was any unmissable statement, let alone elaboration, of the rationale for evangelization. In other words, the question left unanswered was: "Why evangelize?" The answer, of course, is that the world needs to hear and respond to the Gospel of Christ and His Church because of the very real possibility otherwise, as we put it in the Act of Contrition, of the "loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell."

What Martin points out, however, is that there are three sentences at the end of Lumen Gentium 16 that in fact do provide the needed rationale. They read as follows:
But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
The Council fathers were quoting here from the clear statements of St. Paul in Rm. 1:28-29 and the Evangelist St. Mark in Mk. 16:16.

For much too long we have been subjected to a regime of catechetical ambiguity and theological double-speak. Enough. Yes, Virginia, there is a Hell. If we had any compassion as Christians, Francis Schaeffer used to say, we should all be wanting to share the Gospel of salvation with others ceaselessly. The Gospel, in other words, is one starving beggar telling another starving beggar where to find bread.

But from the responses Martin has received in some quarters, one would think he had called for the return of the Spanish Inquisition and the canonization of Tomas de Torquemada. Even the celebrated Fr. Robert Barron, whose good work one might justly admire in almost every other respect, bent over backwards in his article, "How Many Are Saved?" (CNA, December 3, 2012), searching for a way to deflect the magnitude of this threat of Hell. He cites what he identifies as precedents for the notion of universal salvation that appear to be present in the writings of Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Maximus the Confessor. He refers to the writings of Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, as well as the Pope's remarks in "Spe Salvi" (45-47). He adopts the now almost standard "liberal" interpretation of Lumen Gentium, and concludes by treating the matter at issue as though it were a debate over the moot point concerning the number of people of Hell:
It seems to me that Pope Benedict’s position – affirming the reality of Hell but seriously questioning whether that the vast majority of human beings end up there – is the most tenable and actually the most evangelically promising.
"Evangelically promising"??? But isn't this precisely the problem with the collapse of Catholic missions and the virtual disappearance of Confession lines today? Most Catholics are so oblivious to the reality of Hell they no longer "dread the loss of Heaven or the pains of Hell" either for themselves, their own families, or anyone else. What happened to the passion for lost souls that animated men like St. Francis Xavier, who dropped everything and hazarded travelling across the globe to win Catholic converts?

Ralph Martin's written response to Fr. Barron can be found here: "Comments by Dr. Ralph Martin on Fr. Robert Barron’s Review of Will Many Be Saved?" (Renewal Ministries, December 7, 2012).

Below is a video, entitled "The strait and narrow path of the new evangelization," in which Martin summarizes the thesis of his book:

There will doubtless be fallout from more than one side on this issue, especially in light of the continued mixed-messages one hears. Another of my colleagues told me today that he was offended by the way Michael Voris, in this connection, raises the question whether Protestants can be saved. My own thought is that I am more concerned at the moment with whether vast numbers of sacramentalized pagans who call themselves "Catholics" can be saved. Perhaps a better way for Voris to have formulated the issue would have been to ask whether there is any other Gospel than that passed down to us through the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church by which we may be saved; and the answer to that question is no.

And, yes, one very good reason to care about these issues is that there is a Hell, and it's possible for us to go there. Nobody in the New Testament speaks more frequently and consistently about this dread fact of "everlasting punishment" and the "fires of Hell" and the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" than -- you guessed it -- "Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild" (Mt.10:28; 13:41-42; 22:13; 25:41,46; Mk. 9:44; Lk. 12:5; 16:19-31; etc.). And, yes, this possibility of our going to Hell is the question to which Christ and His Church and His Gospel are the answer. Too long have we heard vague chatter about God's love and how, somehow or other, "Christ is the answer," while nobody seems to have stopped long enough to ask: "What is the question?"


bill bannon said...

Christ gave seemingly contradictory proportions in this area of how many are saved.
A. many perish: Christ says how few are on the path to life and how many are on the broad road to destruction.
B. equal amounts saved and perish: Christ talks of the perfectly equal number of wise and foolish virgins (5 each) who hear the arrival of their master with the wise virgins having oil for their lanterns and the foolish not having oil....but each group is identical in number.
C. the replacement of the few Jews as the people of God by the many gentiles after Christ and throughout history in the visible line as Augustine said with the OT prophecy..." Japheth shall be enlarged in the tents of Shem."

So Christ Himself left a three part riddle and warned us not to judge lest we be judged. And let's not blame Rahner and Von Balthasar only... when in fact these last two Popes said we couldn't be sure where Judas is while both Augustine and Chrysostom rightly said he was in hell. If you can't place Judas in hell, you can't imagine yourself there either. Judas is in hell as is Jezebel and Herod from Acts 12. I know from scripture and outside scripture I can't know of anyone...even Pablo Escobar or Hitler because they could have been insane in God's judgement. But Jezebel and Herod died horribly via God's agency within scripture and then were both eaten by dogs/ worms respectively...that tells me damnation. Christ uses past tense prophecy as to Judas and Justin Martyr said that past tense prophecy in scripture is certain as opposed to conditional....praying to His Father prior to Judas actually completing the betrayal in the Garden or committing suicide later, Christ says, "Those whom thou gavest me I guarded and not
one of them perished except the son of perdition". Isaiah similarly predicts Christ in the past tense 53:4 "
But he was pierced for our offenses."

Bottom line....the topic is about us not about us looking at others. Judas is about us as a possible we should avoid for us. Whatever the proportions of the saved and lost in the long run, in any given century you still don't know what only God knows...the proportions
for your century.

Charles said...

Great comment, Bill Bannon. I always appreciate comments from which I can learn something.

bill bannon said...

You're welcome.

JM said...

I encourage everyone to read Baron's "defense." It is stunning in its non-starter status.

He essentially affirms Martin's research en toto, and then says, "It don't matter since the present Pope disagrees with him."

The present Pope, God bless him, also was a key architect of the V2 reforms that have been blight as well as blessing on the Church. And having read most of R/BXVIs books, I'd politely point out to kissers-up like Baron (and alas, how else do you describe his approach and the current accompanying cult of pope worship, appealing to the 'living Tradition' versus simply received Tradition?) that Ratzinger has never, ever marshaled a theological argument in any of his corpus with the devastatingly extensive support and vigor Martin displays.

If people wonder why the SSPX stays away, here is why: it was never supposed to be THE POPE SAYS. It was and is always TRADITION says. And the Pope is to be the servant and guardian of Tradition. In theory, it is a physical impossibility for him to make an ex cathedra claim that contradicts the Deposit he guards. But beyond such pronouncements, he is not infallible.

When JPII and Benedict talk about the Hell seeming a difficult if impossible thing to reconcile with God's benevolence, they are talking in the face of the Church's Tradition. I know Hell makes it hard for Fr. Baron to seem reasonable when he is a guest on FOX News or counseling parish soccer moms. Then again, so sould the slaughter of the First Born or the scenes in Revelation. John and Paul VI seem like the first Pope who really wanted the Church to be 'liked.' It was a bad, bad idea when they began indulging it, and it has gotten to be a far worse idea now.

Newman had it right: we can interpret away, but the few can never mean the many, unless we decide our words will have no credibility. NO WONDER advocates for women priests and gay marriage will not quiet. If the Church forever has been wrong on the corwdedness of Hell, really, what could she be right about?

In my decidedly curmudgeonly opinion.


Anonymous Bosch said...

The "first Pope who really wanted the Church to be 'liked.'"

I've never heard it put quite that way, but it stands to the facts.

I like it!

JFM said...

I meant, "the first POPES who wanted the Church to be liked." Prior to that, it was a given that the Church's message would give fits to the world. Now we are most upset when the Church's message simply does not fit that of the world's... I simply do not get the European and brow-beaten orientation that seems doggedly determined to make Christianity seem so reasonable and acceptable and keenly aware of its own past hypocrisies. Its like those so operating only partially believe we are really right or something. Like they know we are stuck with Genesis, the OT, and the Church as family, but would really rather be drinking beer and playing mock United Nations parlor games with the Modernists.

Tantumblogo said...

In response to Fr. Barron's incredible review of Dr. Martin's book, I wrote this:

I'm a layman, I may have gotten some things wrong, but I believe very strongly that the denial of the reality of hell and the fact that people - perhaps quite a few people - wind up there has played a very large role in the collapse of the Faith. Many people can only be motivated by threat of some dire consequence. If all are saved, if the homicidal muslim is as likely to be saved as the devout Catholic, why bother? I am afraid that is a calculation millions of Catholics have made.

Thus, this denial of hell could be playing a part in more souls damning themselves. It is thus pernicious and highly destructive. I pray more souls become aware of the traditional belief of the Church on this matter and the counsel of most Saints.

God bless you!

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Mr. Bannon. I can't with your personal exegesis as it is opposed to Catholic Tradition. I have not read any Traditional exegesis which claims either that Jesus seemingly gave contradictory messages (Allah contradicts his own self in the Koran - it is called abrogation - but not the One True God) or that Jesus talked abut the perfectly equal number as you understand.

These two links may be helpful.

SAs regards Salvation,here is a famous sermon by Saint Lawrence

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Lest we forget, a withering attack on Balthazar's universalist apostasies has already been written by Alyssa Lyra Pitstick. Even the reliable old V2 plugger Aidan Nichols could not dismiss it with the usual avuncular condescension he reserves for works of a traditionalist bent. "Light in Darkness" was a very effective demolition of a very decrepit edifice, and an auspicious debut for a young, indisputably Catholic theologian.

Following the publication of this work, which was developed from her doctoral dissertation at "
the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelicum”) in Rome," Pitstick became "an independent scholar open to institutional affiliation." (quotations from her website,

She has finally achieved said affiliation -- with Hope College, an institution associated with the Reformed Church of America and the Heidelberg Catechism -- where she teaches courses in Catholicism as a kind of academic expatriate.

Intramural Jim Crow within the One True Church -- astounding! Pop theologian Scott Hahn should have such troubles!

Well, God bless her, and may her teaching of the faith remain staunch and unyielding in its missionary setting.

But see what happens to Catholic spines of insufficient flexibility in the age of ecumenism, outreach, theological pluralism, customized covenants, and panchristian palsy-walsyism. They are cast outside of the nouvelles' great garden of accomodation.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Rumor has it that Pitstick is looking to leave Hope College. I would love to see her at Sacred Heart Major Seminary!