March 23, 2017

May 25, 2011


Trevin Wax on NT Wright’s latest polemic

What on earth is going on with NT Wright lately? It seems he’s becoming more and more embittered about America and Americans. So much so that he takes a perfectly reasonable and common question about eternal verities and uses it as a launching pad to hack at American culture, wealth and power and to, as an afterthought, give a notorious heretic a gentle pat like an old chum.

What drives NT Wright into these rhetorical flights of obsession? Were NT Wright a celebrity, he would be coming close very to jumping the shark. Were he a Stand Firm commenter he would have been banned long ago for compulsively inserting his favorite topic into comment threads. As an academic he’s sounding less and less scholarly and more like a grumpy old man.

Here’s Trevin Wax on Wright’s latest polemic:

Wright asks “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” in order to consider the context of the question. He implies that Americans may be asking this question because of deep-seated feelings of guilt for our economic prosperity or our nation’s foreign policy. I’m afraid this simply won’t work as an explanation. The U.K. was just as invested in the Middle Eastern conflicts as the U.S., and yet he claims he is rarely asked about hell in England.

Furthermore, the idea that only Americans are asking about hell seems reductionist. When I lived overseas, I discovered Romanians to be very interested in future judgment. Visit Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and other parts of the world where there is a strong evangelical presence and you will find people grappling with these issues. The fact that few in the UK ask Wright about hell says more about the paucity of evangelical witness in England than it does any lopsided obsession with hell in the States.

Frankly, there are other, better reasons behind the recent dustup over hell. We’re coming out of a decade or two in which some of the sharp edges of Christian doctrine have been blunted and softened. Much of American preaching has centered on practical ways to better one’s present life. Newer gospel presentations sidestep the question of hell altogether and focus instead on God’s calling us to join him in the mission life for this world now. We’ve been told that people aren’t that concerned about the life of the age to come (this, despite the number of books about heaven and hell that linger around the summit of the New York Times bestseller list).

Perhaps, the reason why the subject of eternal destiny has come roaring back is because people do indeed wonder about these things, the Bible does indeed speak to them (quite often, in fact), and people who read their Bibles regularly (evangelicals in the U.S.) can’t miss all the references to final judgment. Like Wright, we should indeed ask the question behind the question, but not if our intention is to downplay the importance of the question…more


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86 comments

It’s as though he’s in the throes of an idiot-savant-type mental disorder: On one single topic - the New Testament - he seems to exhibit unnatural brilliance; while on everything else, it’s all about Wapner and what an excellent driver he is.

[1] Posted by Greg Griffith on 5-25-2011 at 10:41 AM · [top]

Come now!  The old boy does have to deal with the EcUSA and its fallout in the Anglican Communion - notably in the CoE.  Why should he not be embittered toward Americans?  Particlualrly economically powerful subgroups of alleged Christians who act unilaterally?  Really, I think he has good reason for whis warty view of Americans.  (Granted it is very like the ABC’s warped view of the realtion of British and American ‘exit strategies’ for the Middle East in historic perspective…)

[2] Posted by dwstroudmd+ on 5-25-2011 at 11:04 AM · [top]

“The fact that few in the UK ask Wright about hell says more about the paucity of evangelical witness in England than it does any lopsided obsession with hell in the States.”

Mr Wax is not being unkind to the UK, but asking a question that +Wright himself has brought up.

In fact there are evangelicals in Britain who believe in hell and judgment (and heaven and salvation) just as much as Americans - quite a lot of them! Perhaps +Wright needs to be more aware of his own evangelicals - at times he seems almost embarrassed by them, yet they form a large part of the active *paying* membership of his own church.

[3] Posted by MichaelA on 5-25-2011 at 05:23 PM · [top]

#2 I would agree with you, except that Dr. Wright consistently has been unwilling to support the embattled conservatives in ECUSA, dismissing them right along with the rest of Americans. I used to admire him.

[4] Posted by monika on 5-25-2011 at 09:59 PM · [top]

I suppose Americans, in N.T. Wright’s condescending words, go on about hell because the Bible does.  In the words of the Bishop of Liverpool J. C. Ryles (1816-1900):
‘Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, hell is eternal. It must be eternal, or words have no meaning at all. “For ever and ever,” “everlasting,” “unquenchable,” “never-dying” all these are expressions used about hell, and expressions that cannot be explained away. It must be eternal, or the very foundations of heaven are cast down. If hell has an end, heaven has an end too. They both stand or fall together. It must be eternal, or every doctrine of the gospel is undermined. If a man may escape hell at length without faith in Christ, or sanctification of the Spirit, sin is no longer an infinite evil, and there was no such great need of Christ’s making an atonement. And where is the warrant for saying that hell can ever change a heart, or make it fit for heaven? It must be eternal, or hell would cease to be hell altogether. Give a man hope, and he will bear any thing. Grant a hope of deliverance, however distant, and hell is but a drop of water.’
from the tract Fire Fire!
Pax et Bonum!
Steve Goodman

[5] Posted by Etienne on 5-25-2011 at 10:51 PM · [top]

Rather than understanding these reflections as an ‘idee fixe’ symptomatic of imbalanced thinking I wonder whether Wright’s ‘anti-American’ critique is better understood as a critique of power by those who claim to follow Christ.  Wright’s recent lecture, given in October 2010 at Duke Divinity School: <a href= “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW-7baAbaVM”>‘Revelation and Christian Hope: Political Implication of the Revelation to John’</a>, outlines Jesus’ political method: Jesus who rules as the lamb who was slain by engaging and critiquing the authority set over us by God, by choosing non-compliance with unjust practice and by being prepared for self sacrifice.  Clearly, his New Testament expertise informs his political views, if not giving them the same authority.

The context of the video linked to this post isn’t clear, but the post is dated May 23rd.  This puts it after the US assassination of Osama bin Laden and his views on that exercise of power were published widely.  So it seems that his scholarship and world events do ground these remarks in his work as a whole.

As for Wright’s views on church-politics, I do wish there was similar clarity and exposition of Scripture to go by.  The English evangelical website most closely linked to him, Fulcrum, has been strangely silent as the Lambeth-based instruments of communion have disintegrated.  The underlying political method seems clearly stated in the most recent article on <a > same sex unions and the C of E </a>.  In the article Andrew Goddard argues

Some formal structure therefore needs to be established to enable “robust but respectful debate” in the context of deepening relationships.

.  This political method assumes that profound theological disagreement should not interfere with deepening relationships.  I would be very interested to see this point defended from Scripture.  I do think we need the fellowship of a varied body of believers to appreciate the mind of Christ, but I also see Jesus rejecting false teaching.  Not all robust debate led to those deeper relationships…

I think it is this political stance that undergird’s Wright’s preference for Communion Partners over ACNA members.  Somehow, refusing to break relationships with revisionists seems to be witnessing to Jesus’ self sacrificing commitment to redeem our fallen world.  But I wonder whether this strategy violates Jesus call to put our discipleship ahead of allegiance to family and friends. 

I would love to see a robust and respectful debate over these two preferred political methods.

[6] Posted by Canadian Hobbit on 5-25-2011 at 11:00 PM · [top]

hmmm I don’t seem to have mastered the formatting of links, I ‘ll give it one more try…

the lecture on Revelation and Christian Hope

the Fulcrum article on same sex blessings and the C of E

[7] Posted by Canadian Hobbit on 5-25-2011 at 11:08 PM · [top]

Canadian Hobbit,

+Wright’s views may well be influenced by his concern on other issues, but intelligent and educated people should be capable of drawing distinctions, don’t you think?

Part of the problem for Wright is that a large number of evangelicals don’t really know where he (or Fulcrum) stand on some of the most fundamental issues of the faith. In other words, whether Wright or Fulcrum should still be called ‘evangelical’ at all. His article on hell isn’t helping - vague at those points where he could be confirming his evangelical credentials, and specific at those points that cause concern from his fellow evangelicals.

[8] Posted by MichaelA on 5-26-2011 at 12:06 AM · [top]

There is something missing in Wax’s thoughts here.

Dwelling on hell and trying to make detailed observations about hell is very different from acknowledging hell, recognizing that it has a place in our world view and in some cases can be effective in motivating us, but also acknowledging that we can’t imagine hell in detail, or reasonably with many of our human categories concerning time and human agency, and that we should not be involving ourselves, most of the time, in lengthy discourses on hell.  Jesus spoke more frequently about hell than any Biblical figure - but nonetheless, relatively infrequently.

I’ve argued about this in a short article, American Hell.  I do think that some American Christan laypeople obsess about hell - but largely due to American Mainstream Media (think of all the references to hell and devils one finds in cartoons, for example); and not so much due to the teachings of their clergymen (who I find, in general, very good at not over-emphasizing hell; and probably, in general, mention hell less frequently than Jesus).

N.T. Wright was foolish not to provide context about the importance that hell does have; but is very right in that it should not ever be at the top of our thoughts about God and live.

I think that Rob Bell’s general premise, that hell tells us a lot about God - is simply wrong.  We simply don’t, and can’t, know enough about hell for hell to be prominent in conditioning our notion of who is.

[9] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-26-2011 at 06:01 AM · [top]

Sorry for typos, last sentence there should be:

I think that Rob Bell’s general premise, that hell tells us a lot about God - is simply wrong.  We simply don’t, and can’t, know enough about hell for hell to be prominent in conditioning our notion of who God is.

Also please note this, I think this can not be emphasized enough, and it’s likely to be lost in a lot of the debate on details:
The central premise of Rob Bell on Hell - that hell tells us a lot of God - is simply wrong.

Since the central premise is wrong, we can also imagine that much of the rest of his reflections will also be tainted by this premise - and for one reason or another, misleading.

N.T. Wright himself does not directly attack this central premise, though I think that it does more or less effectively push aside that central premise.

[10] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-26-2011 at 06:08 AM · [top]

I’m not sure if I can agree j.m.c. that hell does not tell us a lot about God…but I may be misunderstanding your point.

The “everlastingness” of hell points to:

1. God’s infinite holiness
2. The full weight of human sin
3. God’s perfect justice
4. the nature of the punishment Jesus endured on the cross

the existence of Hell provides:

1. a motive for the repentance of sinners beyond “Jesus can make your life better”...so that evangelism does not reduce to a commercial for Jesus. What do you say to the person who says that he “doesn’t need Jesus” because his life is fine. Jesus is for the weak? You say: You do need Jesus because you are a sinner, judgment is coming, and hell is eternal.

2.  a warrant for the apologetic argument for God’s justice in the face of horrific worldly evil. Did Hitler and Stalin escape justice at death? No. There will be a judgment and they will pay for their sins. All that is wrong will be put to rights.

3. a motive for our evangelistic efforts. Buddhism might make my friend happy here on earth and if there were no hell I would perhaps be content to let him remain undisturbed. But because I know Buddha will not save my friend from the wrath of God, I must not rest.

[11] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-26-2011 at 06:23 AM · [top]

Matt, I would argue:

We can profitably think about some of these things.  However, we should be reluctant to draw conclusions about God, from hell.

Those things 1-4 to which hell points ... can much more profitably be adduced from Scripture about God, in which God reveals Himself.  We should allow God’s self-revelation, primarily, to teach us these things - neither Jesus, nor the apostles, went into detailed conclusions about God based on detailed characteristics of hell.

Re. the existence of hell:

Yes, very much so, on all points!  And this is very, very general, as it should be - not detailed or specific.

But some individuals are rather “obsessed” with hell in a manner that is less than healthy.  We need to teach hell, but remember how Jesus also taught hell - and “weight” our teaching accordingly.  Saying that, I know of no American clergymen who bring up hell more than Jesus did.  I think our odd “fascination” with hell amongst many American laypeople comes from frequent mentions of hell in the mainstream media, in portrayals of Christianity - and in such things as movies and cartoons.

Questions which I particularly dislike are: “Do you think this person or that person is in / going to hell?”

Perhaps an accurate way of problematizing this question is:

“Where does hell belong in Christian discourse, and theological thinking?”

My response to this question would be:
“Let us try to pattern our discourse after that of Christ; this means that hell is only rarely brought to the forefront of discussion, and then not for long.  And that we derive our most important knowledge about God primarily from His self-revelation (of which hell is a teeny-tiny part).”

We have a tendency to think of hell as exceedingly important in conditioning our view of things, it being one of these “ultimate things.”  We tend to look upon things and judge their forms by their edges or outer parameters.  Though hell in some sense is like an outer parameter for Christians - I would suggest - this tendency of judging who God is, and what Christian life should be like, by reflection on this outer parameter - should be highly limited, in following Christ’s own example.  Christ never tells us, “hell is like ... and from this, we know that God must be like ...”

Yes, hell is “eternal” - but for us humans, this is wrapped up in human consciousness of temporality.  Is “eternal” like “billions & billions of years?”  Is hell eternal in the same sense as God Himself, or His truth and divine will?  God is not constrained by our own time experience, so our words with regard to time are limited - especially with regard to such “ultimate things.”  So I would argue - language about hell tends to be colored by the “apocalyptic” and we shouldn’t feel that we can adduce too many other things directly about hell or hell’s consequences.  We know it is utterly, utterly awful ... that we must do what we can to save God’s loved ones from it.

But the way it was sometimes described in this Rob Bell debate, tended to describe hell as if we were simply describing other “things,” or adducing judgments from it and about it as we do about other things.  Our concepts and our methodology of thinking are not the same when speaking of, e.g., the economy or about apples, and then when speaking of hell.

So an additional important question arises:

“What must we keep in mind when we are trying to speak about hell?”
e.g, How do human concepts and descriptors apply to a thing which has to do with ultimate judgment, keeping in mind that judgment is one of God’s things, and most certainly not one of our things? And is, furthermore, utterly horrid, most likely horrid beyond our imaginations?

My answer would be - we must be very, very wary when speaking of hell, realizing that we are touching upon things which we can’t begin to imagine, at the very outer edges of our conceptual thought and imagination.  It is perhaps not dissimilar from speaking about the outer edges of the cosmos, or whether time is strictly “linear.”  And: we must acknowledge that horrid as hell is, we must surround ourselves with prayer, and recognize that when our imaginations touch upon hell ... if we are not careful, we put ourselves at risk.  Imagination is in no way a “neutral” thing.  We can engage in great harm in our imaginings and our discourse.

I would thus suggest that: cartoons which deal lightly with hell - depicting persons dying and going to hell - can unwittingly cause damage to our imagination, and our general world-views - in a subtle, imperceptible manner.  Amongst other things, we are conditioned into thinking that we can actually imagine hell and that we can make meaningful statements about ultimate jugment, in addition to what God Himself has revealed.

I should perhaps add that I come to this with a background in philosophy, so the questions of, “how should we think, when thinking about [...]” are very important.

God gives us a great depth of knowledge about who He is in Scripture, His self-revelation.  These are things which in some way we can not “naturally” know - and transcend our possibility of conceptual thinking.  He gives us Scripture to feed upon Him, and His Spirit works in our minds and imaginations, in a knowledge of Him which transcends “ordinary” thinking (though “ordinary” thinking and reason remain tremendously important).  This is a great gift.  But we should not thereby conclude, with our knowledge of some things eternal, that we are thereby privileged to enter into detailed ratiocinations regarding other things which lay at the very boundaries of our cognition ... such as ultimate jugment.  Here, we must be very, very wary.

This is why I find N.T. Wright’s words so brilliant, so wise, and so apt.  Americans, please realize: he is trying to help - our media has been feeding us unhealthy images of hell for more than a century now.  We need to be aware of this and account for its effects.

[12] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-26-2011 at 07:10 AM · [top]

But jmc…I think you are missing the point that Jesus spoke of hell rather frequently…in fact hell figures prominently in most of his major discourses and many of his parables.

I certainly agree that we ought not to become obsessed with details the bible does not provide…but my 1-4 above are drawn from what the bible Does provide.

If scripture is, as you say, God’s self revelation and, of course, it is, then his revelation of hell is part and parcel of his self disclosure.

You seem to have “scripture” on one side and “hell” on the other. Scripture reveals hell. We would not know of it but for Jesus’ own preaching and teaching on it. He thought it important enough to speak of many times. If, as you say, we are to model our teaching and preaching on that of Jesus, then I would argue that the contemporary church does not speak enough about hell.

The response to Rob Bell has rectified that recently but the problem in the US and UK and elsewhere has NOT been a focus on hell…but a lack of attention to it.

[13] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-26-2011 at 07:25 AM · [top]

Matt,

I’ve mentioned above that I think we should be patterning our discourse on hell, including frequency, on Christ’s own example, so yes - in some ways, there should be more mentions of hell.

I in general would like to see hell in more American sermons (though patterned after Christ’s own example ... e.g., not dwelling on hell ... Christ mentions hell, but then continues speaking of other things, without, e.g., providing paragraphs and paragraphs of imaginitive descriptions of hell).

I would like to see a lot less of hell in American media.

I’d propose: you’re a lot more likely to find a mention of hell in a journalist’s article of a church that’s suspected of “fundamentalism,” than you are in a sermon given in that same church.

You’re a lot less likely to find a mention of hell in a sermon, than in a children’s cartoon on daytime television.

I think what you’re missing in my remarks above is the importance of thinking about adducing things about hell.  Yes, what Scripture tells us about hell is important.

Allow me to go into one of the more sickly aspects of this, in my opinion.  Rob Bell, on a Christian talk show in the UK, says: “Ok, so a guy dies when he’s 17, and hasn’t come to Christ.  So you think that for seventeen years of failing to turn to God, after seventeen million years, he’s still being punished by God in hell?”

There are so many things that are wrong with this question.  We’re asked to think about a highly specific consequence of the existence of hell, which is utterly beyond our imaginations.  Our imaginations are furthermore directed at something that is so utterly awful that it’s not unlikely that this will have an effect on the rest of our day ... or other aspects of our imagination and world view, in simply trying to ponder this.  We haven’t been directed to enter into prayer before we consider it, before our minds go to such dark places.  We’re assuming that we can somehow imagine this “guy” in hell, or have any notion of what a person in hell is like; or even personhood subject to such absence from God and other things in such conditions of hell.

We are not reminded:
1) Agency (what we do, what we are responsible for) is never a “simple” question - it is a complicated issue.  I hit your car, your car rams into the car in front of it.  Did “you” ram into that car?  When God created man - God gave man freedom and agency.  This alone is a thing which is in many ways beyond our imaginitive and conceptual grasp.
2) Our abilities to think and imagine, and everything about the world in which we do so, are suffused with God’s natural grace, ordered according to His will.  This is why we can think, talk, etc. etc..  We have no knowledge of what God’s natural grace will be like in hell.  Or what “is left over” if we are in absence of such grace.  What a person who is “in hell” is, for us, a rather meaningless thing other than what we are told in Scripture.

So first off: we need to remind ourselves of these big “context issues” here before we go plunging into a big discourse on hell, and not suddenly think about this seventeen year-old kid sitting in hell seventeen million years from now without having first brought up relevant factors in thinking of the context.

When we do, we’re not unlike Jerry Springer, asking a polarized audience what they think about a lesbian biker chick who runs over an octegenarian widow’s puppy.

My response would be simply: We simply do not know enough about “people in hell,” or hell’s temporality (though we do know in some way it is “eternal”), to make these judgment calls.  We can refer here to Christ’s words in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, that would probably be best.  But we must acknowledge that ultimate judgment is one of “God’s things” and is resistant to our attempts at speculation.

Finally, I do think we need to mention hell with some frequency, like Christ ... but we need not dwell on hell.  I think it’s the media’s portrayal of hell in news, cartoons, and mentions in movies which is most likely to stimulate an unhealthy dwelling on hell ... since here, we do not respect the general rules of discourse which should apply in dealing with hell.

Let me tell you about one of my American acquaintances.  He has a terrible anxiety about hell.  He is on medication because of it.  He reports that his greatest fear is not so much eternal punishment; what he fears more is the thought that souls in hell disappear.  I.e., “annihilationism” is his greatest fear.

I would respond: something about the way our culture, and persons around this man, have somehow engaged in talking about hell or presenting hell in a profoundly unhealthy manner.

So let us avoid speculation regarding seventeen-year-olds in hell millions of years from now; but let us be more attentive to how we speak of hell, and try to pattern that on Christ.  Otherwise, we are likely to be engaged in something likely to have very unhealthy consequences.

Very, very rarely does Jesus remind us of weeping and the gnashing of teeth or the worm that does not die (one of my favorites, and imho improperly neglected).  Most of his mentions of ultimate judgment are in passing - a part of the story, yes.  But he does not, as it were, stick our nose in there and rub it.

I would suggest that it is for the Holy Spirit to do this work, and not for us.  We should not dwell on hell in lengthy discourses; it deserves mention, and we must teach what Scripture teaches about it.  But we must be very careful as we teach, and how we “debate” it.

So in general, I would say, with regard to hell, our best bet in speaking of it is: to mention it, but then step back away from it (as does Jesus) by continuing in speaking of our earthly life in His eternal grace.  And never to dwell in it.  When we dwell in it, we are endangering ourselves in creating our own little hells to which our own minds subject themselves.  We are in danger of subjecting ourselves too much to all the worst we have thought and experienced, and our own tendencies to arrogantly judge the manner in which God Himself only can be the judge.

So all in all, I’d say what we can learn from Scripture about speaking of hell is, in general, “don’t go there - mention it, but move on, in the beautiful realm of God’s natural grace where we are gifted with human understanding.”  And (for those exceptional times that we do “go there” in discussion): do so with adequate thoughtfulness and prayer, remembering always that this is one of “God’s things,” and not one of “our things.”  Otherwise we are in danger either of spouting nonsense, or inflicting harm.

[14] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-26-2011 at 08:25 AM · [top]

RE: “Jesus who rules as the lamb who was slain by engaging and critiquing the authority set over us by God, by choosing non-compliance with unjust practice and by being prepared for self sacrifice.  Clearly, his New Testament expertise informs his political views, if not giving them the same authority.”

Now see . . . that’s my problem.  The New Testament does not speak much about “political views” so I’m not certain how or why the NT should be informing NT Wright’s “political views.”

If he is making the claim that we should take Jesus’s actions and attitudes in regards to political involvement that seems to me to be the most clunky and hideous blurring of contexts—not to say wasted pietism—like the unfortunate thesis of the “What Would Jesus Do” book.  The huge massive problem with that book is that if you take “What Would Jesus Do” as a question, then we would all quit our jobs and roam the hillsides.  Certainly there would be no opera stars [as one of the examples in that book demonstrates] since of course Jesus would never have sung opera but would rather have toured the country singing at revivals.

That is an inaccurate and theologically awful question.  None of us have Jesus’s life purpose—we are not any of us able to die for the world’s sins on a cross.  The question is “what is Jesus’s will for my life”—and that is far more difficult to figure out.  It seems clear that Jesus’s will for Wilberforce’s life was not, in fact, to eschew political power, to rule as a lamb “by engaging and critiquing the authority set over us by God,”  or to choose “non-compliance with unjust practice and by being prepared for self sacrifice.”

It seems clear that Jesus’s will for Wilberforce’s life was to strategically *seek* political power, form alliances, propagandize the country using media and many other props, and then to determinedly attempt to wield that power until he, along with his allies, overthrew slavery in England and abroad.

So if NT Wright is modeling some sort of political philosophy based on “what Jesus did” then that is deeply unfortunate and hopelessly mixed up about our roles and God’s will.

I would have to throw up my hands if I knew that to be true and that would seal once and for all how incredibly irrational, pettish, ruled by emotions, inconsistent, and muddled he is on most of the world’s events.

Perhaps he has indeed formed such a thunderously wrong and inapt theological construct for engagement in the world.  If he has, it would certainly explain much.

[15] Posted by Sarah on 5-26-2011 at 08:42 AM · [top]

Matt, I’ve considered, and tried to put this view succinctly in a posting Hell as cognitively and imaginatively resistant and repulsive: consequences for us.  I think that from the beginning actually, I’ve been rather clear that I agree with you that Jesus spoke about hell with some frequency, and that we should do the same.

Sarah, I agree that it’s rather unfortunate that N.T. Wright chose to combine these remarks with remarks on politics.  Nonetheless I’d like to hear what I take to be his general point, that “hell tells us a lot about God” is simply wrong - thereby undermining a central premise, and one of the main purposes, of Rob Bell’s book.  I’d argue that a deeper understanding of the place of hell in human cognition and theology could help bring healing in the rift between the “pro-Bell” and “anti-Bell” camps.

[16] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-26-2011 at 11:41 AM · [top]

Sorry Sarah, that should have read: “Nonetheless I’d like to hear what you have to say about what I take to be his general point”

[17] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-26-2011 at 11:43 AM · [top]

The article above by Trevin Wax doesn’t really seem to be about Bell, except indirectly. But it is all about +Wright.

[18] Posted by MichaelA on 5-26-2011 at 05:21 PM · [top]

I heard a pretty decent sermon on hell at a Presby church last Sunday.  One of the first times I have ever heard a sermon on hell in church.

[19] Posted by jamesw on 5-26-2011 at 05:49 PM · [top]

If one wishes to consider the case for a Christian universalism, I would recommend two books:

Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist
Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God

It really is a difficult and complicated matter and cannot resolved by the mere citation of biblical verses.  The universalist can also appeal to Scripture (see especially MacDonald’s book).  For a brief summary of the Christian universalist position, see this article by MacDonald.

Trevin Wax criticizes C. S. Lewis’s view that Hell is the “natural outworking of sin.”  He argues that the Lewisian position underplays God’s active role in judgment and damnation.  Apparently he wishes to reassert a more traditional position.  But there are very serious problems with the traditional construal, especially when it is presented within an Augustianian/Calvinist understanding of efficacious grace.

[20] Posted by FrKimel on 5-26-2011 at 06:25 PM · [top]

There is no “case” for universalism that cannot be refuted with “the mere citation of biblical verses”...which are quite clear on the matter and carry infinitely more power than any scholars books.

It’s not a complicated matter.

Universalism is a heresy condemned both by Rome and Geneva. There is no legitimate defense for it.

[21] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-26-2011 at 07:30 PM · [top]

Here’s the Catholic Catechism on Hell:
http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a12.htm

1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.“612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,“615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!“616

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.“617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.“618

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.“619

[22] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-26-2011 at 07:39 PM · [top]

Michael A,
I agree that +Wright’s authority as a New Testament scholar does not give his views on American policy equal authority.  I do think he asks good questions about our Western political motivations.

Sarah,

The New Testament does not speak much about “political views” so I’m not certain how or why the NT should be informing NT Wright’s “political views.”

Wright’s lecture on Revelation examines to Jesus’ handling of the religious and secular authorities during his trial in John 19.  I do think it is fair to see this as a model for Christian political behaviour.  Of course Jesus’ death was unique in the history of salvation, but we are being obdient to his call to take up our cross when we challenge the unjustly exercised authority.

And so I do not agree that looking to Jesus for a model of political engagement risks a “hideous blurring of contexts”.  I’m not sure I understand “wasted pietism”.... as pietism encourages withdrawal from secular engagements.

I agree that “What Would Jesus Do” oversimplifies the question of Christian vocation but I do not think it is a fair analogy to Wright’s work.

Interestingly the example of Wilberforce is used in Wright’s ‘Surprised by Hope’ as an example of Christian political engagement.  Seeking office represented the engagement (as opposed to pietistic withdrawal), the broad public information campaign strengthened his critique and his endurance in the face of tremendous personal cost is a model of self sacrifice.

I would have to disagree that this represents a “thunderously wrong and inapt theological construct”
His specific commentary on current events does not carry the authority of his scholarship, but his willingness to enter secular political discussions should be respected.

As for ecclesial political discussions, I wish he would be more easily engaged and I am discouraged by his lack of critique of authoritative figures: Rob Bell in this case and Rowan Williams in the larger Anglican context

[23] Posted by Canadian Hobbit on 5-27-2011 at 01:22 AM · [top]

Etienne #5 - your quote of Bishop Ryle of Liverpool -
“If hell has an end, heaven has an end too. They both stand or fall together. It must be eternal, or every doctrine of the gospel is undermined. If a man may escape hell at length without faith in Christ, or sanctification of the Spirit, sin is no longer an infinite evil, and there was no such great need of Christ’s making an atonement.”

This is an example of reasoning about hell that I find dangerous.  I thoroughly understand the wish to bolster the view that hell is eternal.  Here, he is doing so apparently because sin is “infinite evil.”  Frankly, I find the connection tenuous; I’d need to see this argument further unpacked to be able to evaluate it one way or another.

Think, however, of the consequences here.  Are those who don’t believe in an eternal hell then undermining every doctrine of the gospel?  Suppose one at some point came to the conclusion that persons in hell do, after time, fade into nothing; should they also thereby dispose with the gospel?

This is yet another example of why I think: we don’t learn “a lot” about God from the very little we know about hell - and that which we do know, we are taught more clearly and better from Scripture dealing more directly about such things, and not by inference from qualities of hell.

[24] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-27-2011 at 03:04 AM · [top]

Hi j.m.c.

No it is not dangerous. In fact it is quite biblical and though I have not read it, Ryle’s work quoted above was most likely based on at least one passage in particular in which the logic you criticise is not only possible but necessary:

“Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ [45] Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ [46] And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:44-46)

One of Bell’s chief arguments in Love Wins is that the Grk word “aion” does not mean “eternal” in the sense of a never ending state but that it rather means “epocal” or having to do with an “age” that is temporal and that comes to an end. And certainly the word “can” be used that way. But the question is, is it also used in the NT to refer to a state of being that begins in the present or at least at some point and never ends?

Bell ignores that question and spends many pages on the temporal meaning of aion calling into question the meaning of “eternal punishment”...in fact he uses the above text, Matthew 25, to do so.

Of course he does not quote the whole text (another thing Bell does throughout his book is half-quote scripture) but only the “eternal punishment” part.

The reason he half-quotes Matt 25 is because the same word, aion, used to describe punishment above is also used to describe life in the same context

So if the aion of punishment is only referring to a temporary state of being then so is the aion of life.

That’s how slimy Bell’s arguments are throughout Love wins.

But considering Matthew 25, Bishop Ryle’s statement is right on the money and quite biblically grounded:

“If hell has an end, heaven has an end too. They both stand or fall together. It must be eternal, or every doctrine of the gospel is undermined. If a man may escape hell at length without faith in Christ, or sanctification of the Spirit, sin is no longer an infinite evil, and there was no such great need of Christ’s making an atonement.”

So j.m.c, above you indicated that you agree that Hell should be spoken of as frequently as Jesus speaks of it and in the way that Jesus speaks of it. Jesus is quite clear in Matt 25 and also in those texts in which he speaks of a fire that does not end and a worm that does not die that Hell is unending—you may also want to check out Revelation 20:10.

Do you think that hell is temporary?

[25] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-27-2011 at 03:51 AM · [top]

“Are those who don’t believe in an eternal hell then undermining every doctrine of the gospel?”

Absolutely yes. If they are not teachers/preachers then they are simply in error and need to be corrected. If they hold teaching positions they are false teachers because they reject biblical revelation and should be told to recant or be defrocked.

[26] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-27-2011 at 03:54 AM · [top]

Matt,

I most certainly agree that hell is eternal, and that we should teach such.  I am inclined to agree with you also that we are undermining something important if we teach otherwise.  I haven’t read Rob Bell’s book - I have been told by friends that it is rife with hermeneutical sloppiness in support of his views.

“Are those who don’t believe in an eternal hell then undermining every doctrine of the gospel?” - they are most certainly undermining confidence in the authority of scripture, and it can be argued that they are thereby undermining the gospel.  But this is something different from undermining the doctrines of the gospel directly; some people do have problems with the authority of Scripture, and this is a problem which is very different from, e.g., having an insufficient notion of grace, or the relevance of the atonement.  I have known some who have a resounding confidence in the authority of Scripture, but to have severely deficient faith in the person of Christ as our way to God.  It’s important that we’re concise.

When we are considering the coherence of church doctrine - it is sometimes true that when one point is diminished, the rest no longer coherently stands.  Calvinists in particular are good at this kind of argumentation, and I have been blessed by their logical acumen and persistence.  But I do not believe that the eternity of hell is one of those things which, if diminished, pulls down the whole house.

If we begin adding to our doctrines in order to try to bolster them ... e.g., emphasize too much the necessity of Christians believing in eternal conscious punishment in hell ... we may be deficient in emphasizing other things, such as the objectivity of Christ - how Jesus is truly The Way, in a very real sense - and not a sort of mishmash of feelings I have about God, etc. etc..  I most definitely understand your passion for correct teaching; I think I’d tend to teach about hell simply from Scripture, and if my parishoners had difficulty, would likely move on if, e.g., they did not yet completely appreciate who Jesus Christ is.

Though I’m sure that you’d do the same, and I imagine that the people in your church are in general better educated and edified in faith than those in mine.

People in my congregation have a very vivid belief in hell, Satan, devils, etc. etc. ... I’d guess about half are from Pentecostalist background.  What they tend to lack is appreciation for who Jesus is - that the Incarnation changed everything - that we no longer relate to God as those in the Old Testament.

In my experience, those who e.g. believe in annihilationism or hold out hope for universalism, are frequently quit strong in every aspect of faith in as far as I know their faith, other than assent to these principles.

Anyways, I’d like to hear what you think about Hell as cognitively and imaginatively resistant and repulsive: consequences for us.  I’m still convinced: Hell does not tell us a lot about God - we do best learning about God from Scripture that’s clear about Him, instead of engaging in ratiocination about God based upon our speculations about the qualities of hell.

To provide a concrete example of thought which we shouldn’t engage in, here’s Bell in an interview on a Christian UK radio station:

A seventeen year old guy gets hit by a bus without having come to Christ; seventeen million years from now, is he being punished in hell by God?  Is he in hell a million years for each year of his life that he failed to turn to God?  What does that tell us about God?  [note - from my memory, not an exact quote]

My response is, simply: “No, we shouldn’t be thinking this way.  We don’t know what ‘eternal’ is except that it is not temporal like our own temporality.  We don’t know if time is strictly linear, or if simply our experience of time is linear; we don’t know if there will be anything corresponding to “years” in hell, as very likely time itself will no longer be limited in the same manner as it is here in our current existence.  It is important that we learn about God from Scripture; and not engage in such speculation regarding hell, and then allowing this to condition our thoughts about God.  God reveals Himself to us clearly; we trust Him that He is just.  I have no need of engaging in various thought experiments of who is in hell for which reasons and what this should ‘tell us about God.’”

The thought of hell should be repulsive for us.  We should not be trying to engage in thought experiments in order to determine what we think about God.

Here is an extra thought: when Jesus was on earth, and demons proclaimed His name ... He told them to shut up.  It is interesting to note how Jesus seems to not have wanted people to learn about Him from demons, even if what they said was true.  If Jesus did not want people to learn truth about Him from demons ... how much more dangerous is it for us to pretend to learn about God from hell, when our very imaginations of hell are more likely to be conditioned by our own dark fantasies and nightmares, as we are really totally unable to imagine hell, being so tied up with ultimate judgment, which is one of “God’s things”?

[27] Posted by j.m.c. on 5-27-2011 at 04:46 AM · [top]

Hi JMC,

I think we are agreeing on many things but I also think we are disagreeing. Here are the points at which I think we disagree.

1. I believe that all scripture is useful because all of it teaches us about the nature and character of God and our own nature and character. That “all” includes God’s revelation about hell—that it is eternal in the sense that it never ends.

2. To teach otherwise not only undermines biblical authority but it also denies a truth about God’s character and nature that God himself has revealed and so results in a kind of idolatrous view of God that almost always exalts a certain perception of his “love” over his other attributes of justice and holiness.

3. That, in general, is the problem with hearing and rejecting biblical revelation…it involves embracing an eclipsed partial view of God that is in the end idolatrous. So, it is not that there is this list of doctrines one must believe in order for Calvinists to agree that you are saved…which is sometimes what I think people hear. Rather, since scripture is God’s self-revelation we must resist the urge to trample over it, to impose our wish images and desires on God’s own image and, instead, in love receive from God the whole self disclosure he graciously gives us.

[28] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-27-2011 at 05:10 AM · [top]

So with the 17 year old. I agree we do not have the knowledge or authority to go beyond what is revealed. I do not know what God communicates to people in the quietness of the heart. It could be that, like Paul, Jesus came to the young man in the moments before his death and like the theif on the cross he believed. I don’t know. So it is never possible for us to say definitively that this or that person is in hell.

It is possible for us to say definitively that those who die without conscious faith in Christ will be judged in accordance with their works and be found guilty and spend eternity in hell.

We just can’t and should not ever opine about who is and who is not in hell since we do not know what God has done even up to the last moments of consciousness

[29] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-27-2011 at 05:13 AM · [top]

RE: “Wright’s lecture on Revelation examines to Jesus’ handling of the religious and secular authorities during his trial in John 19.  I do think it is fair to see this as a model for Christian political behaviour.”

Oh sure it could be “a model”—just as Christ’s rejection of corporate America and striding the dusty roads of Israel and living at his friends’ houses could be “a model.”  But isn’t Wright taking that one aspect of Jesus’s life and turning it into “the model”?  Naturally he’s taken the bit that he really really approves of and done that—which goes right to the heart of why the “WWJD” question is so very limited and narrow as to be almost useless.

RE: ” . . . his willingness to enter secular political discussions should be respected.”

I think his willingness to enter secular political discussions demonstrates incompetence and arrogance—rather like it would be if I were willing “to enter secular discussions on physics.”

As I’ve experienced first-hand when he spoke at our parish [and promptly wallowed in his ramblings on politics rather than actually what he knew about], he is extraordinarily irrational and highly emotional about that field and he’s not able to maintain the principles he so loudly touts in any sort of consistent manner at all.

Note that I don’t think there’s anything ultimately wrong with theologians opining on politics—or math, or English literature, or philosophy, or model railroad trains.  But when you demonstrate ignorance about model railroad trains—yet persist in speaking on about them, to an audience that has a few members that are longtime model train hobbyists—you look foolish and your pronouncements are astoundingly embarrassing.

[30] Posted by Sarah on 5-27-2011 at 07:08 AM · [top]

The grumpy old man comment above reminded me of “The Collected Scoldings of Bishop N.T.Wright” Dr. Mabuse’s masterful fisk of Wright’s whining and grumping at the time of the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem.  Don’t miss it!

[31] Posted by St. Nikao on 5-27-2011 at 07:59 AM · [top]

thank you St. Nikao for that link and reminder of Dr. Mabuse’s classic fisk of NT Wright’s bitter, angry, irrational response to GAFCON…that one should be in some blogging hall of fame somewhere.

[32] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-27-2011 at 08:35 AM · [top]

Wright was born in 1948.  Was he a creature of his generation?  I’m copying my comment below that I made on another thread.  No real insight, just a comment.  These people are very tiresome.

A Broad Comment— The Hippies that were 18 in 1968 were 58 in 2008, at the height of their Institutional Power.  What did their stewardship of our Institutions bring?  Well, let’s review;
Blown up Corporate Institutions
Blown up Markets
Much more dependance on Gov’t by the citizenry
Much more Gov’t interference in everyday life
Blown up State Gov’t Budgets
Blown up Religous Denominations
Blown up Abortion statistics
Blown up Divorce rates
Blown up Drug usage
Blown up crime statistics in our cities

But, hey, the pot was good, the music was good, and you know, they really stuck it the man.  Thanks alot guys.

[33] Posted by Looking for Leaders on 5-27-2011 at 08:44 AM · [top]

#20:  “There is no ‘case’ for universalism that cannot be refuted with ‘the mere citation of biblical verses’...which are quite clear on the matter and carry infinitely more power than any scholars books. It’s not a complicated matter. Universalism is a heresy condemned both by Rome and Geneva. There is no legitimate defense for it.”

It is wrong to claim that all construals of universalism are condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.  Your citation from the Catechism, Rev. Kennedy, does not support your claim.  The Catholic Church has never dogmatically asserted that Hell is populated; it has never dogmatically asserted that any specific human being has died in a state of mortal sin.  In its liturgy and offices, the Catholic Church dares to pray for the salvation of every human being, both the living and the dead.  “Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, ‘It would be better for that man if he had never been born’ (Mt 26:24),” explains Pope John Paul II, “His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation.”  The two most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner, were hopeful universalists.  They did not assert that all will necessarily be saved; but they certainly left open this possibility.  I do not dispute that over the past 2,000 years the vast majority of the Catholic Church’s bishops and theologians have been convinced that many, perhaps even most, of humanity will be ultimately damned; but this belief does not represent binding Catholic teaching.  To understand why this is so, one must understand that over the past millennium, the Catholic Church has been purifying itself of the baleful influence of St Augustine’s predestinarianism.  There was a time when Catholics were not sure whether God sincerely desires the salvation of all.  Not only were Catholics quite convinced that most human beings will be damned, but they wondered whether this was itself grounded in God’s self-restriction of his salvific will.  It has only been since the Jansenist crisis in the 17th century that Catholic theology has achieved a clarity about the universality of God’s saving desire and will for humanity. Once this clarity was achieved, it then became possible for Catholic theologians to entertain what was once, at least within an Augustinian framework, unthinkable:  the possible salvation of all.  If God truly is absolute love (and that he is so is Catholic dogma) and if it is possible for God to efficaciously bring any given human being to faith (as taught by Catholic Augustinians and Thomists), then how can we definitively declare that Hell is and will be populated?  Does God ever cease to will the good of his creatures?   

A hopeful universalism is also a respected, though minority position, within the Eastern Orthodox tradition.  The Orthodox Church prays for those in hell.  It is possible for the damned to be converted to God through the prayers of the Church.  Life after death is a dynamic not static condition.  Both St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac of Syria taught universal salvation.  Neither has been anathematized.  Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev continue this tradition within the contemporary Orthodox Church.  So while it may be the case that Geneva is quite certain that all construals of universalism are wrong, this cannot be said about either Rome or Constantinople. 

Does the Bible plainly and obviously teach that some, many, or perhaps even most human beings will be damned?  As is often the case in these matters, it all depends on one’s theological and hermeneutical preconceptions.  Calvinists are convinced that Scripture teaches absolute predestination and limited atonement, yet the large majority of Christians today disagree with this assessment; indeed, the large majority of Christians today are horrified by this teaching.  They are horrified because they believe that the gospel proclaims the universality of God’s saving love.  They find intolerable the suggestion of an inner conflict between love and justice within the eternal being of the Holy Trinity.  God is absolute love and infinite grace.  This is what it means for God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Lord Jesus Christ does not inflict eternal torment on the very sinners from whom he died on the cross.  Once one fully embraces this evangelical truth, then the Scriptures begin to read differently than as traditionally read in Augustinian and Calvinist circles.  The conviction, or at least hope, that in the end grace will triumph is not being imported into the Bible.  It’s right there in the text, if you have eyes to see.

[34] Posted by FrKimel on 5-27-2011 at 06:42 PM · [top]

Hi Fr. Kimel,

The Catechism is pretty clear as is the bible…but I suppose if you are intent on finding a way to make what you want to believe to be true then anything can be said to be fuzzy and foggy and, of course, when others insist on pointing to the clear lines that are plainly drawn you can always blame the “Calvinists.”

I will say your reasoning resembles very much the denomination you left behind.

[35] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-27-2011 at 07:33 PM · [top]

#30 I wonder, are you referring to a different example of Wright’s political musings here?

just as Christ’s rejection of corporate America and striding the dusty roads of Israel and living at his friends’ houses could be “a model.”  But isn’t Wright taking that one aspect of Jesus’s life and turning it into “the model”?

If so, I agree, there is definitely a broader Biblical witness to godly economics that Jesus’ own lifestyle.

I would continue to argue that Wright’s model of Jesus’ engagement with both secular and religious authority is worth taking seriously.  Jesus accepted the title of Lord, called us to live as agents accomplishing our king’s will, and to practice authority through service.

So…  in answer to ‘what’s going on with NT Wright lately’ I would say he is offering some very helpful Biblical models of political engagement but sadly, not applying them consistently or fairly.  The particular blind spot that concerns me is the assumption that theological disagreement that can be fairly labeled as false teaching is compatible with continuing communion.  This is not part of his model: he highlights to Jesus’ non-compliance, refusing to accept unjust beatings without protest and remaining silent rather than assuage a guilty conscience.

The analogy that comes to mind is someone may be able to build a beautiful instrument, but not be able to play it…  So rather than discarding the instrument Wright builds in his lecture on Revelation as an oversimplification, like a WWJD bracelet, I would like to refine it.  As GAFCON 2 approaches, there will be lots of opportunity for engaging with the authority currently set over Anglicans: with lucid critique, courageous non-compliance, and humility.

[36] Posted by Canadian Hobbit on 5-27-2011 at 11:45 PM · [top]

the baleful influence of St Augustine.’s predestinarianism.

It is not “baleful;” it is biblical.  Any doctrine of salvation has to take into account the Bible’s teaching on sin, what we are saved from - and Eph 2 and other passages point to the reality that we are “dead in sin,” as able to respond to grace as a corpse is to respond to pleas to get up and live.  Only when God implants spiritual life is one able to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.  God owes salvation to no one; his justice is seen in the condemnation of the guilty - and mercy without justice is not love, but sentimentality.

God chooses those whom he will bring to life and faith, for reasons that lie in himself and which we cannot discover - but if he did not revivify, a person could not have faith.

[37] Posted by AnglicanXn on 5-28-2011 at 03:25 AM · [top]

RE: “I wonder, are you referring to a different example of Wright’s political musings here?”

No—I was simply pointing out that when you or Wright say that Jesus’ handling of the religious and secular authorities during his trial could be “a model for Christian political behaviour”—anything else that Jesus did in his earthly life could be “a model for Christian [xyz] behavior” as well.

As far as what’s going on with Wright lately—I think he’s recognized that he doesn’t have any “political options” [that he wishes to pursue] with regards to the COE and the Anglican Communion [hence his retirement], he’s constructed some sort of model that will help him deal with that frustration, and he’s distracting himself from various vital issues and his and others’ failures and limitations on important matters about which he has actual responsibility, by musing about America, their nasty decisions, the evils of traditional politics, the evils of getting political power, and how wretched we all are—not to mention how bad we were to kill Osama.

It’s a fairly typical and low-level defense mechanism, and I don’t ponder it much particularly, or give any special eminence to the thinking behind how that defense mechanism plays out.  It doesn’t trouble me nearly as much as it seems to trouble others—I simply ignore what he says about most things and get to the areas where he’s competent.

[38] Posted by Sarah on 5-28-2011 at 08:35 AM · [top]

#38

anything else that Jesus did in his earthly life could be “a model for Christian [xyz] behavior” as well.

Yes,  a model on which to base current decisions can be helpful and is not an oversimplified template for repeating past actions.  I include his study in Revelations “After You Believe” as competent Biblical scholarship.  I hesitate to dismiss the making of these models for Christian action as defences against frustration, as that would seem an ad hominem attack on work that has its own merits apart from Wright’s personal political shortcomings.  I do agree that his own efforts to apply these models could be better directed within the C of E and the Communion as a whole.

[39] Posted by Canadian Hobbit on 5-28-2011 at 02:49 PM · [top]

RE: “Yes,  a model on which to base current decisions can be helpful and is not an oversimplified template for repeating past actions.”

Yeh . . . I think it rather unhelpful as I explained in comment #15.  But certainly you’re welcome to apply it to yourself.

RE: “I hesitate to dismiss the making of these models for Christian action as defences against frustration, as that would seem an ad hominem attack on work that has its own merits apart from Wright’s personal political shortcomings.”

Oh, only to those who don’t understand what an ad hominem argument is.  Ad hominem arguments are fallacies that purport to explain *why* an assertion is incorrect by linking the idea with the person, as with “he’s wrong in his assertion—he is fat.”

Calmly analyzing why someone might behave irrationally as Dr. Wright does is perfectly appropriate and is certainly not an ad hominem argument—such analysis as to the reasons for certain behaviors makes no attempt at “argument” concerning the rightness or wrongness of Wright’s assertions by pointing out reasons why he may be rabbiting off on those trails as he does.  Clearly if somebody were to say “Dr. Wright is wrong in his idea that people should model themselves after Jesus’s actions in their political activity, and we know that Dr. Wright is wrong because he is obviously frustrated over his failures over more important issues related to areas over which he has some responsibility”—then I would be the first to protest such an ad hominem argument.  But discussion and analysis of the reasons why people behave in certain ways is not making an argument—ad hominem or otherwise.  It’s simply engaging in interesting analysis [at least, interesting to some].

Of course, others may not *agree* with that analysis about why he would pursue the odd assertions about matters on which he is ignorant, and that’s understandable as well.

Some—probably more than a few at this point—will receive my analysis as to the reasons for Dr. Wright’s eccentric assertions with great interest.  Others will reject them out of hand.

I’m perfectly content either way.

[40] Posted by Sarah on 5-28-2011 at 03:19 PM · [top]

We’re coming out of a decade or two in which some of the sharp edges of Christian doctrine have been blunted and softened.

Trevin Wax is spot on with this comment. There are anecdotal horror stories of folks who have died and gone there and come back to life.I take the reality of Hell seriously and like St. Paul getting a glimpse of Heaven, I was given a glimpse of Hell thirty years ago. It bothers me to this day. I posted on Hell on May 22nd. http://sanjoaquinsoundings.blogspot.com/2011/05/hell.html.

[41] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-28-2011 at 03:56 PM · [top]

#33 Looking for Leaders,

But, hey, the pot was good, the music was good, and you know, they really stuck it the man.  Thanks alot guys.

I was born in this era (1944) There were also 58,000 deaths and 350,000 casualties of my hippie friends in Viet Nam many of whom were compelled to participate by the “The Greatest Generation” that preceded us. I hear a lot of criticism from the the generations that followed us. We could have done much better. We weren’t all hippies. God speed to those that follow.

[42] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-28-2011 at 04:13 PM · [top]

Canadian Hobbit wrote,

“Michael A, I agree that +Wright’s authority as a New Testament scholar does not give his views on American policy equal authority.”

That wasn’t what I meant. Rather I suggested that we are entitled to expect that Wright, being an intelligent and educated man, could draw distinctions between American secular policy and the beliefs of some American evangelicals, without unnecessarily conflating them.

[43] Posted by MichaelA on 5-29-2011 at 07:04 AM · [top]

1. Fr. Kimel wrote:

“Your citation from the Catechism, Rev. Kennedy, does not support your claim.  The Catholic Church has never dogmatically asserted that Hell is populated;”

I found myself scratching my head at this one. What about the Athanasian Creed?

“And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.”

And the 4th Council of the Lateran, Canon 1, or the Council of Florence, session 6, which essentially say the same thing?

“But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

2. Fr. Kimel also wrote:

“[the RCC] has never dogmatically asserted that any specific human being has died in a state of mortal sin. ...  “Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, ‘It would be better for that man if he had never been born’ (Mt 26:24),” explains Pope John Paul II, “His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation.””

This misses JPII’s point. No-one on earth knows whether another human being has ended up in heaven or hell (or, according to Roman Catholic belief, in purgatory), because we cannot truly see into a man’s heart. But JPII (as I understand him) was not suggesting that God cannot see and make a judgment. Also, JPII wasn’t suggesting that Judas wasn’t in hell, just that we here on earth don’t know whether he is or not. I am not taking up the cudgels either for or against JPII’s view at this point, just saying that we can’t read universalism into his assertion that scripture is unclear on this particular issue.

3. Fr. Kimel also wrote:

“In its liturgy and offices, the Catholic Church dares to pray for the salvation of every human being, both the living and the dead.”

So far as I am aware, the Roman Catholic Church never “dares to pray” for the soul of any person who is damned, only for those in purgatory.

I’m happy enough to go to war with the RCC on some of their doctrines, but not for doctrines that they don’t actually hold!

4. Fr. Kennnedy’s final observation appears to be right on the money:

“I will say your reasoning resembles very much the denomination you left behind.”

[44] Posted by MichaelA on 5-29-2011 at 07:58 AM · [top]

It appears that neither Rev Kennedy nor MichaelA have read much contemporary Catholic theology.  Catholics are most certainly permitted to hope and pray that God will bring all to faith and salvation.  Other Catholics may, of course, disagree with this hope; but they have no grounds to declare that this hope violates magisterial Catholic dogma.  Do you think that Pope John Paul II would have designated Hans Urs von Balthasar a cardinal of the Church if he believed that the man was a heretic?  In 1998 the Pope canonized as a saint philosopher Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).  St Teresia explicitly affirmed the possibility of universal salvation: 

All-merciful love can thus descend to everyone.  We believe that it does so.  And now, can we assume that there are souls that remain perpetually closed to such love?  As a possibility in principle, this cannot be rejected.  In reality, it can become infinitely improbably—precisely through what preparatory grace is capable of effecting in the soul. It can do no more than knock at the door, and there are souls that already open themselves to it upon hearing this unobtrusive call.  Others allow it to go unheeded.  Then it can steal its way into souls and begin to spread itself out there more and more.  The greater the area becomes that grace thus occupies in an illegitimate way, the more improbable it becomes that the soul will remain closed to it. … The more that grace wins ground from the things that had filled the soul before it, the more it repels the effects of the acts directed against it.  And to this process of displacement there are, in principle, no limits.  If all the impulses opposed to the spirit of light have been expelled from the soul, then any free decision against this has become infinitely improbable.  Then faith in the unboundedness of divine love and grace also justifies hope for the universality of salvation, although, through the possibility of resistance to grace that remains open in principle, the possibility of eternal damnation also exists.  Seen in this way, what were described earlier as limits to divine omnipotence are also canceled out again.  They exist only as long as we oppose divine and human freedom to each other and fail to consider the sphere that forms the basis of human freedom.  Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted.  The descent of grace to the human soul is a free act of divine love.  And there are no limits to how far it may extend.

Note here the affirmation of both the possibility of human damnation and the possibility of universal salvation. As Fr Zachary Hayes explains in his book Visions of a Future: A Study of Christian Eschatology

[I]t is important to recall that in the official teaching of the church, there has never been a judgment made that any particular individual is, in fact, in hell.  The church has taught that anyone who dies in the state of mortal sin goes directly to hell.  It has not, however, taught that any particular person has ever died in such a condition.  Nor has the church ever canonized the Augustinian theory of double-predestination whereby some people are predestined to hell by an eternal, divine decree.  From this we may conclude that hell is not the content of the church’s faith in the same way that heaven is, for the positive affirmation of heaven is rooted in the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus.  What is at stake here it the theological affirmation of the possibility of hell.  And this possibility is seen to be a necessary implication of the affirmation of human freedom.  If the possibility of heaven is rooted in a free act of love whereby the human person accepts and responds to the grace of God, the possibility of hell is rooted in the very same freedom.

In other words, Catholics must affirm the possibility of damnation—the gospel confronts us with the infinite seriousness of our free decisions and choices—yet Catholics may also reasonably hope and pray that God will ultimately bring all to faith and repentance.  It is quite one thing to affirm humanity’s radical freedom before God, and thus the dreadful possibility of choosing eternal alienation from the divine Creator; but it is quite another thing to pronounce, with indubitable certitude, that one or more human beings have chosen or will choose Hell.  God has not revealed this to us.  Karl Rahner succinctly sums up the Catholic position:  “We must maintain side by side and unwaveringly the truth of the omnipotence of the universal salvific will of God, the redemption of all by Christ, the duty of all men to hope for salvation and also the true possibility of eternal loss.” 
 
Michael states that the Catholic does not pray for the damned but only for those in purgatory; but this is a meaningless distinction: this side of death we do not know who, if anyone, is condemned to eternal perdition.  As far as we know, all the departed are undergoing purgatorial purification.  Hence the Catholic Church fervently prays for the salvation of all who have died:  “Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all” (Eucharistic Prayer II).  In the words of the Catechism:  “The Church prays that no one should be lost: ‘Lord, let me never be parted from you.’ If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God ‘desires all men to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him ‘all things are possible’ (Mt 19:26).” 

I refer the brethren to Balthasar’s Dare We Hope “That All Men be Saved”?.  Also see Fr Richard Neuhaus, “Will All Be Saved?” and Fr John Sachs, “Current Eschatology: Universal Salvation and the Problem of Hell.”

[45] Posted by FrKimel on 5-29-2011 at 03:40 PM · [top]

Fr Kimel – I am shocked!  There is NO WAY the Catholic Church teaches there are none on Hell, nor that it is to be hoped that none are there.

Pope JPII of Blessed Memory was the originator of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church which you and I are held to which states specifically…

1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,“615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!“616 [Note: Jesus specifically states there WILL be those so are cursed!]

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.“617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.“618
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.“619

Also, Dave Armstrong (who helped shift me from hetrodoxy) shows how JPII did NOT believe in Universal salvation, thank you very much!

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2011/04/refutation-of-robert-sungenis-charge.html

To make such a claim you align with the loony likes of Rad-Trad (almost certainly soon to be sedevacentist) Robert Sugenist of Geocentrism fame!

I will grant that no-one this side of mortality knows who is Hell and who is not, but we do NOT hope that Hell is empty.  Scripture and the Universal teaching of the Church do not give us that option.

[46] Posted by jedinovice on 5-29-2011 at 04:30 PM · [top]

Well it’s good to know that the “Catholic Church” has finally corrected that unlearned Calvinist who said: “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

Whew…nice to know we don’t have to believe that.

[47] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-29-2011 at 04:42 PM · [top]

FrKimel,
1.

Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted.

Freedom that can be outwitted is not freedom.
2.

The church has taught that anyone who dies in the state of mortal sin goes directly to hell.  It has not, however, taught that any particular person has ever died in such a condition.

Because the church has not specified an individual because it cannot, does not mean that the church doesn’t believe that individuals have died in mortal sin.
 
3. The parable of the Rich man and Lazarus told by Jesus is evidence enough for me.

[48] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-29-2011 at 04:56 PM · [top]

Fr. Kimel,

I agree that in practical terms the RCC is a very broad church indeed.

But that doesn’t mean that every different theological view held by a Roman Catholic (nor even by a Roman Catholic priest, bishop or theologian) is the view of the Roman Catholic Church.

“Michael states that the Catholic does not pray for the damned but only for those in purgatory; but this is a meaningless distinction: this side of death we do not know who, if anyone, is condemned to eternal perdition.”

It may well be meaningless TO US, and I believe you will find that that was the point JPII was making – its not a controversial one whether you are Catholic, Calvinist or Baptist. But you wrote about the objective reality of hell. Reality as God sees it, not as imperfect humans see it. The RCC may not be able to say which particular people are in hell (nor can any church) but last time I looked, it followed Jesus’ teaching that many people have and will end up there.

“As far as we know, all the departed are undergoing purgatorial purification.”

Where do you get that from? Its Fr. Kimel’s private teaching, I can’t dispute that. And I have no doubt that somewhere in the Roman Catholic Church you will find people who teach it, possibly even quite senior people. But how do you work out that it is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church?

Or do you believe that if any Roman Catholic anywhere, anytime, teaches something, that the entirety of those teachings all become the teaching of the RCC? Move over, Katherine Schori, you just aren’t in the hunt as a liberal teacher!

“I refer the brethren to Balthasar’s Dare We Hope “That All Men be Saved”?.  Also see Fr Richard Neuhaus, “Will All Be Saved?” and Fr John Sachs, “Current Eschatology: Universal Salvation and the Problem of Hell.””

Not one of whom sets RCC doctrine. Or has there been some recent change in RCC methodology that I am not aware of?

[49] Posted by MichaelA on 5-29-2011 at 05:42 PM · [top]

“The RCC may not be able to say which particular people are in hell (nor can any church) but last time I looked, it followed Jesus’ teaching that many people have and will end up there.”

And this is precisely the point.  The Catholic Church does NOT magisterially teach that “many people,” or even one people, ends up in Hell.  It simply does not.  You may, as a private opinion, believe that this is what Jesus taught; but the Catholic Church does not authoritatively and infallibly teach that this is what Jesus taught.  You may wish that it did, but it doesn’t.  The simple fact is the Catholic Church permits the hope that God in his mercy and grace will ultimately save all.  Heck, this is what the majority of Catholic theologians teach today.  I’m not talking about the “liberal dissenters.”  I’m talking about even the middle-of-the-road guys.  Neither the Pope nor the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has suggested that the Balthasarian hope (not certainty) for universal salvation violates the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church.  If I’m wrong about this, please produce documentation.  Simply quoting the Catechism will not suffice.  If you read the relevant passages closely, you will see that they do not resolve the particular question before us.  The Catholic Church is NOT authoritatively and irreformably committed to the proposition that even one human being is damned.  When John Paul II wrote that we don’t even know if Judas is damned, that was the whole point: if we don’t know if Judas if damned, we don’t know if anyone is damned.     

The teachings of Jesus about Hell may well seem obvious, clear, and conclusive to you; but they are not so obvious and conclusive to the rest of us.  I’m sorry that Catholic theologians and exegetes do not interpret the relevant New Testament passages as literalistically as you would like, but they don’t—and for very good reasons.  The majority of Catholic theologians and exegetes are both more aware of the figurative nature of apocalyptic language and are simply more confident in the power of God’s grace than you seem to be. 

How curious.

I find it curious because the whole point of Luther’s reformation was the unconditionality of the love of God.  After 400 years the Catholic Church finally got the message, but here the Stand Firm folks want to enthusiastically insist upon the limits of God’s mercy.  One gets the feeling that Hell is more real and ultimate than grace.  Well, I for one am unwilling to put any limits on the forgiveness of God. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ eternally wills the good of every human being.

[50] Posted by FrKimel on 5-29-2011 at 06:45 PM · [top]

yeh, glad that we have a gaggle of “sophisticated” theologians to tell us that, in fact, Jesus’ words are far more “mystical” than the average reader could possibly grasp.

I mean only a truly sophisticated “Catholic” theologian would be able to help the unwashed understand that when Jesus said:

“the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

he “really” meant to say that there might actually, on second thought, be “none” who enter the wide gate that leads to destruction.

Thank goodness for Jesus that he has “Catholic” editors

[51] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-29-2011 at 06:58 PM · [top]

God is such a poor communicator after all.

[52] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-29-2011 at 07:00 PM · [top]

#50. FrKimel,

I find it curious because the whole point of Luther’s reformation was the unconditionality of the love of God.

Luther said that we should fear and love God before his explanation of the commandments. Fr. Kimel, I think you are half right about Luther.

[53] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-29-2011 at 07:40 PM · [top]

RE #46:

Jedinovice, I do not know what John Paul II privately believed about the hope for universal salvation.  Dave Armstrong has not provided any evidence that JPII believed that this hope is contrary to Catholic teaching.  If JPII believed otherwise, he would not have nominated Balthasar as a cardinal nor canonized Edith Stein as a saint. 

Why do you so emphatically reject the hope of universal salvation?  It is not because the Magisterium has denounced this hope, because it has not.  It is not because the majority of Catholic theologians have denounced this hope; not only have they not denounced it, they have embraced it.  They have embraced it not because they have gone all sentimental, gooey, and modernist, but because they have become convinced, finally, of the triumphant power of the infinite grace and mercy of God. 

St Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the Church, composed a Christmas play for her sisters.  She has various angels assemble around the crib, the Angel of the Child Jesus and the Angel of the Holy Face, who sing of the infinite love of the Son of Man in anticipation of his coming suffering but also of his Resurrection and triumph.

Then there appears the Angel of the Last Judgment, armed with a sword and a pair of scales, who declares:

The day of reckoning is coming soon; this impure world will be forced to go through fire. We will see the radiance of his glory, no longer concealed beneath the features of a child; we will extol his triumph and acknowledge him as the Almighty. You will tremble; the inhabitants of the earth will not bear the wrath of this Child, who today is the God of love. He chooses suffering and demands in return only your frail heart. At the time of judgment, you will recognize his power and quake before the avenging God.


The Angel of the Holy Face speaks, requesting of the Child the promised mercy for those sinners whose conversion gives God greater joy than do the ninety-nine righteous who have no need of repentance. The Child responds:

“I will listen to your request: every soul will find forgiveness.”

The Angel of Vengeance objects:

Do you forget, Jesus, that the sinner must be punished; do you forget, in your exceeding love, that the number of the godless is endless? At the time of judgment, I want to punish the crimes, to destroy all the ungrateful; my sword is ready, well will I know how to avenge you!


The Child Jesus:

“Beautiful angel, lower your sword. It is not for you to judge the nature that I desired to set in being and to redeem. I myself am the Judge of the world, and my name is Jesus.”

I ask you, and others, to consider the consequences of denying the hope of the reconciliation of all humanity to God.  To deny this hope is to assert that the love of God has limits.  Either he does not have the power to convert souls to himself (as Augustinians, Thomists, and Calvinists insist that he does), or he withdraws his mercy after the expiration of an arbitrarily imposed time limit.  Is this what you believe?  Is this what you believe Jesus taught?

[54] Posted by FrKimel on 5-29-2011 at 07:57 PM · [top]

Beautiful, Fr. Kimel.  Thanks for sharing that piece from the Little Flower.

[55] Posted by Anglicanum on 5-29-2011 at 08:11 PM · [top]

“To deny this hope is to assert that the love of God has limits.”

Nope. It simply means accepting what Jesus said to be true in actual reality.

But then again, who can understand that guy anyway?

[56] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-29-2011 at 08:12 PM · [top]

>Jedinovice, I do not know what John Paul II privately believed about the hope for universal salvation. Dave Armstrong has not provided any evidence that JPII believed that this hope is contrary to Catholic teaching.

Then you seem to have difficulty reading plain English. I am going to be taking a “teaching English ads a foreign Language” course.  Perhaps I can help?  (Sorry, but if you don’t get it from that piece then you are not going ot get it full stop.)

>If JPII believed otherwise, he would not have nominated Balthasar as a cardinal nor canonized Edith Stein as a saint.

Or he was badly advised?  Or he recognised one error does not prevent one being a saint?  Let’s look at what he TAUGHT shall we? And we know JPII was not a liberal…

>Why do you so emphatically reject the hope of universal salvation?

Because it is soundly refuted in Scripture, has absolutely no basis in Tradition and is denied by the Magesterium – to this day thank you very much!!!  The Catachism is clear and we are bound to it!!  I mean, if I was take your approach to the teaching of the Church in regards to the Highway Code I would have been locked up for dangerous driving years ago!  There is a point where the law is the law.

>It is not because the Magisterium has denounced this hope, because it has not. It is not because the majority of Catholic theologians have denounced this hope; not only have they not denounced it, they have embraced it. They have embraced it not because they have gone all sentimental, gooey, and modernist, but because they have become convinced, finally, of the triumphant power of the infinite grace and mercy of God.

Whaaaa??!!!  Oh my, this is scary.  Look, the Catechism hasn’t changed.  Pope JPII did NOT believe Universal Salvation (and if he did privately I don’t care because that is not what counts,) he had the chance to present such a believe in the catechism that HE implemented and he didn’t.  And I do not care for liberal theologians.  For a start when people like yourself tend to speak of , “the majority of Catholic theologians” they mean Western ones who have largely bought into the zeitgeist.  I have some experience of the East where things are FAR different.  No, I care for the Universal CONSENSUS across history!  Otherwise any new idea can swat the Church back and forth.

>St Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the Church, composed a Christmas play for her sisters. She has various angels assemble around the crib, the Angel of the Child Jesus and the Angel of the Holy Face, who sing of the infinite love of the Son of Man in anticipation of his coming suffering but also of his Resurrection and triumph.
Then there appears the Angel of the Last Judgment, armed with a sword and a pair of scales, who declares:
The day of reckoning is coming soon; this impure world will be forced to go through fire. We will see the radiance of his glory, no longer concealed beneath the features of a child; we will extol his triumph and acknowledge him as the Almighty. You will tremble; the inhabitants of the earth will not bear the wrath of this Child, who today is the God of love. He chooses suffering and demands in return only your frail heart. At the time of judgment, you will recognize his power and quake before the avenging God.

The Angel of the Holy Face speaks, requesting of the Child the promised mercy for those sinners whose conversion gives God greater joy than do the ninety-nine righteous who have no need of repentance. The Child responds:
“I will listen to your request: every soul will find forgiveness.”
The Angel of Vengeance objects:
Do you forget, Jesus, that the sinner must be punished; do you forget, in your exceeding love, that the number of the godless is endless? At the time of judgment, I want to punish the crimes, to destroy all the ungrateful; my sword is ready, well will I know how to avenge you!

The Child Jesus:
“Beautiful angel, lower your sword. It is not for you to judge the nature that I desired to set in being and to redeem. I myself am the Judge of the world, and my name is Jesus.”

So what?  One doctor of the Church in Church can make a mistake.  That does not overturn every other doctor, saint and Church Father nor the clear record of scripture.  And you bring me a play which (and I speak as one trained in film writing and story structure) by the nature of the medium is a method of affirming one or two values at the expense of others because of time constraints.  A story is that, a story to convey one idea.  (Actually, two when on includes subplot.)  That is beyond a flimsy foundation to build a theological case from.

>I ask you, and others, to consider the consequences of denying the hope of the reconciliation of all humanity to God. To deny this hope is to assert that the love of God has limits.

You really do not know your own catechism! It is clear that god respects the FREE WILL of people.  We are not Calvinists.  Us Catholics hold that man’s free will is not utterly destroyed and it is respected by God.  Those who choose by the weight of the sin to turn against Him are allowed to do so.  This is not a limit on God’s love but a respect of free will.  In addition. you make the classic mistake of taking one element of God’s nature – Love – and pitching it against another – His Holiness and Justice.  Scripture is CLEAR on the matter!  Otherwise all the talk of Jesus in regards to Hell was just fanciful rhetoric.  Wide is the way that leads to destruction!!

And, if I may say so…

>I ask you, and others, to consider the consequences of denying access to the fullest physical expression of love to all regardless of age, sexuality or number.  To deny this hope is to assert that the love of God has limits.

We know how beguiling that line has been and where it has led, especially in the UK where, frankly, it looks like the Catholic Church is going to have to close it’s doors soon and go underground.

Your appeal can apply to a hundred things.

>I ask you, and others, to consider the consequences of denying the hope equal distribution to all according to need. To deny this hope is to assert that the love of God has limits.

>I ask you, and others, to consider the consequences of denying the hope of spiritual enlightenment to all, not just to theologians, to understand all things by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. To deny this hope is to assert that the love of God has limits.

>I ask you, and others, to consider the consequences of denying the hope of free chocolate for all at all times. To deny this hope is to assert that the love of God has limits.

That appeal, which also amunts to, “Has God really said…” Can also be turned on it’s head.

“I ask you, and others, to consider the consequences of denying the teaching of the Church across the ages. To deny the power of God to teach Truth and reveal reality is to assert that the power of God has limits and that He is a liar, a deceiver who has kept us in the dark for thousands of years.”

>Either he does not have the power to convert souls to himself (as Augustinians, Thomists, and Calvinists insist that he does), or he withdraws his mercy after the expiration of an arbitrarily imposed time limit.

People make a choice in this life. That choice is respected.  Numerous visionaries had have Hell shown to them and it is populated!!  You place a fanciful theory – held up with fragments of ‘evidence’ from the language that expresses Universal Hope (over Universal salvation and that is a different thing altogether) and try and make it stand up against the Universal teaching of the Church, the clear record of scripture – with Jesus’ own words (he speaks far more about Hell than Heaven!) and against the teaching of the Magisterium which is presented in the 1992 catechism. 

>Is this what you believe? Is this what you believe Jesus taught?

I do not make the rules!  “After death comes Judgement.”  I am not a Hindu or Buddhist who holds that man is born and reborn until one day they ‘get it.’  The teaching of Christ is CLEAR!  You are not only deny what Pope JPII taught, but Christ!  You EXPLICILY go against Christ. 

> Is this what you believe Jesus taught?

Yes - I believe what Jesus said!!

I am a mild mannered guy.  I am not a hellfire and brimstone kind of chap. I am very soft natured which is why I like hanging around Filipinos.  I find even my own people, the Brits, too hard and difficult to be around.  It is in my nature to seek the best and hope for mercy. But I cannot deny the nature of God’s Holiness and His Justice.  God’s love, justice and holiness are a PIECE.  Pitch one against the other and you deny His nature.

The consequences of your belief wreck havoc with the Christian faith.  If Salvation is Universal then the consequences of sin are not as Jesus said (making him a Liar,) the atonement is not needed, there is no urgency to repent and you unravel moral thinking.  You are so far in denial of the teaching of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition you are almost on a par with the Ranters in the 17th Century who ready did claim. “Since grace abounds more where there is sin – we must sin more!!”  Fer cryin’ out loud, the Catholic Church does not have time for the Protestant concept of ‘Assured Salvation’ leave alone Universal Salvation.

Read your Catechism and seek absolution fast!

[57] Posted by jedinovice on 5-30-2011 at 03:38 AM · [top]

Fr Kimel wrote:

“The Catholic Church does NOT magisterially teach that “many people,” or even one people, ends up in Hell.  It simply does not.”

Yes, it does. You can assert that black is white until you are blue in the face (!) but it won’t change reality. I am quite happy to fight with the RCC over something we disagree on, but I won’t fight over something we don’t disagree on.

“You may, as a private opinion, believe that this is what Jesus taught;”

Of course, Fr Kimel - this is what you say every time, isn’t it? Every person who disagrees with you holds a “private opinion”, even when you are the only person holding your opinion! It really is hilarious (and very predictable).

“The teachings of Jesus about Hell may well seem obvious, clear, and conclusive to you; but they are not so obvious and conclusive to the rest of us.”

Who is this “rest of us”? Don’t go converting your obscure minority views into some sort of mainstream, when they clearly are not!

“I’m sorry that Catholic theologians and exegetes do not interpret the relevant New Testament passages as literalistically as you would like, but they don’t—and for very good reasons.”

On the contrary, they interpret them exactly as I would like. They just don’t interpret them according to your private interpretation!

“The majority of Catholic theologians and exegetes are both more aware of the figurative nature of apocalyptic language and are simply more confident in the power of God’s grace than you seem to be.”

I have news for you, Fr. Kimel: the two books of the New Testament from which you quoted (1 Timothy and Matthew) are not in the Apocalypse - that is a different part of the Bible. And don’t worry about my confidence in God’s grace - I am confident that it will do exactly what Jesus said it will do, no more and no less.

“I find it curious because the whole point of Luther’s reformation was the unconditionality of the love of God.”

No, it wasn’t.

“After 400 years the Catholic Church finally got the message,...”

This is rich - I am sure BXVI will be thrilled to know that his church has been wrong since the Reformation, until a few years ago in JPII’s time, when it finally understood what Luther meant! I think I’ll just toddle over to the RC blog sites where I will be welcomed with open arms ... :o)

“One gets the feeling that Hell is more real and ultimate than grace.”

I am NOT commenting on that one!

“The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ eternally wills the good of every human being.”

I agree. So Jesus taught. He also taught that there will be many in Hell.

“Either he does not have the power to convert souls to himself (as Augustinians, Thomists, and Calvinists insist that he does), or he withdraws his mercy after the expiration of an arbitrarily imposed time limit.”

Yes, the imposed time limit is called “death”. As to being “arbitrary” - if you want to describe God’s actions in this way, go ahead, I doubt He will be concerned one way or another - He has broad shoulders.

[58] Posted by MichaelA on 5-30-2011 at 07:08 AM · [top]

It’s not often that I get described as a liberal, and certainly few of my Catholic colleagues would describe me as such.  Certainly no one ever accused Fr Richard Neuhaus as being a “liberal” or modernist within the Catholic spectrum, yet he too confessed the hope for universal salvation.  But I suppose it’s all in the view of the beholder.  Robert Sungenis has accused me of holding a view of justification by faith that is contrary to Catholic teaching.  He believes that the Lutheran/Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification contradicts both the Council of Trent and the Catechism.  I think he’s wrong, but he is entitled to his opinion. 

Regarding the Catechism, please note that the Catechism does not claim that one, some, or many human beings will most certainly be damned.  It does tell us that anyone who dies in a state of mortal sin will be damned, but it does not declare that this has actually happened or will happen.  It does assert that Hell is eternal—Satan and his minions are certainly in Hell—but it does not pronounce that one or more human beings presently share or will share this fate. 

The Catechism was composed precisely at a time when the teaching of Rahner and Balthasar on the hope for universal salvation was already well established.  The authors could have directly corrected this view and excluded it from the Catholic faith.  It did not.  That it did not is itself significant.  The Catechism, like all other authoritative documents, needs to be read contextually and historically.  At no point during the past fifty years has the Magisterium of the Catholic Church ever rebuked or disciplined a theologian (and there are many) who teach that Christians may, and indeed should, pray and hope for the salvation of every human being.  At no point has the Magisterium ever declared that such a hope is impermissible for Catholics.  If you think I am wrong, please produce the official documentation.  Internet pundits do not count. 

In his catechetical address on Hell, John Paul II states the following:

Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no”, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.

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

This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation. It is effectively reflected in the liturgical tradition of the Church, as the words of the Roman Canon attest: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family … save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen”.

The bolded sentence above reasonably reads as an acknowledgement that we may hope for the salvation of all.  Catholic traditionalists like Robert Sungenis certainly read it like that.  Given JPII’s high regard for Balthasar this is a fair inference,  I think.  This is also the opinion of a cautious theologian like Avery Cardinal Dulles.  In his essay “The Population of Hell,” Cardinal Dulles surveys the theological debate and offers this assessment:

The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die. He concedes, however, that the opposite is also possible. Since we are able to resist the grace of God, none of us is safe. We must therefore leave the question speculatively open, thinking primarily of the danger in which we ourselves stand. … This position of Balthasar seems to me to be orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in Scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive. Balthasar’s position, moreover, does not undermine a healthy fear of being lost. But the position is at least adventurous. It runs against the obvious interpretation of the words of Jesus in the New Testament and against the dominant theological opinion down through the centuries, which maintains that some, and in fact very many, are lost. …

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

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

Dulles is unsympathetic to the Balthasarian hope, but at no point does he suggest that it is heretical.  He acknowledges it as a legitimate Catholic position.  And if it is a legitimate Catholic position, then it cannot be the case that the Catholic Church has authoritatively and definitively rejected the hope of universal salvation.  The already quoted sections of the Catechism may, on first reading, seem to exclude this hope; but when read within the wider context of Catholic theology, they do not.  Perhaps at some date in the future, the Magisterium will issue a definitive ruling on this question, one way or the other; but until that day Catholics will continue to debate and argue and pray:  “Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all.”

[59] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 10:39 AM · [top]

#57: “You really do not know your own catechism! It is clear that god respects the FREE WILL of people.  We are not Calvinists.  Us Catholics hold that man’s free will is not utterly destroyed and it is respected by God.  Those who choose by the weight of the sin to turn against Him are allowed to do so.  This is not a limit on God’s love but a respect of free will.  In addition. you make the classic mistake of taking one element of God’s nature – Love – and pitching it against another – His Holiness and Justice.  Scripture is CLEAR on the matter!  Otherwise all the talk of Jesus in regards to Hell was just fanciful rhetoric.  Wide is the way that leads to destruction!!”

Jedinovice, I am sure that I can always be better instructed in the Catholic Faith; but if you are going to take this task upon yourself, you need, first, to read carefully what I have written, and, secondly, you need to read more deeply in the Catholic Faith.

It is quite true that Catholics are not Calvinists, but this statement does not do justice to the breadth and complexity of Catholic theology.  Please read up on efficacious grace and sufficient grace.  Historically, many Catholics, under the influence of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, have believed that God can by his efficacious grace infallibly move individuals to saving repentance and faith (a position similar to that held by Calvinists).  Other Catholic theologians, particularly among the Jesuits, have disputed this.  The Catholic Magisterium famously refused to decide between disputants, and so the debate continues.  All Catholic theologians affirm free will.  It’s how we construe the relationship between grace and free will that is the perplexing problem. 

Jedinovice, a thousand years ago Catholics believed that everyone who died without Holy Baptism would be damned (the only exceptions being the martyrs and perhaps catechumens).  This seems to be the position of the Council of Florence, literally interpreted.  It has the backing of many Church Fathers and Holy Scripture. 

“He that believeth and is Baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

“Jesus answered: Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” ( John 3:5)

Yet Catholic theology has slowly moved away from this hard and clear position.  The development began first with the medieval invention of limbo:  unbaptized infants may be excluded from the Beatific Vision but at least they will enjoy a natural beatitude.  And then theologians in the 19th and 20th centuries began to speculate on the possibility that even unbaptized adults might be brought into eternal salvation.  This was something quite new in Latin theology and some protested (e.g., Fr Leonard Feeney), yet eventually the Magisterium acknowledged the possibility of authentic development on this matter.  Consider the following passage from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris missio:       

The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.

For this reason the Council, after affirming the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, went on to declare that “this applies not only to Christians but to all people of good will in whose hearts grace is secretly at work. Since Christ died for everyone, and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God.”

A thousand years ago this statement would have been condemned by the Catholic Church as heretical.  Today it is acknowledged as a faithful expression of the orthodox faith.  Is it not also possible that the hope that all men may be saved might also be an authentic development of doctrine?

[60] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 11:56 AM · [top]

First…

> Robert Sungenis has accused me of holding a view of justification by faith that is contrary to Catholic teaching. He believes that the Lutheran/Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification contradicts both the Council of Trent and the Catechism.

Robert Sungenis is a loony who has gone to the other end. He does read things in a wooden fashion (and evidence edits as well.)  BUT… wooden interpretations of Papal Encyclicals is one thing.  Re-writing Christ’s own words is another!

Next…
>The Catechism was composed precisely at a time when the teaching of Rahner and Balthasar on the hope for universal salvation was already well established.

You have blown your cover with that one.  Rahner is certainly liberal and hopeless donctructinist and wanted event he Trinity struck from the faith. He is no friend to catholic theology and the Church would (and should) spend no time with him. And if you are taking Rahner seriously then you are a liberal in my book.  Which would make sense since you use their language.  Rahner denies vast amounts of the clear Catholic teaching and is, in essence, no longer a Catholic theologian. Likewie, Sugenis at the other end.

Frankly I give ‘higher criticism’ a miss and if you are in thrall to it – which you seem to be – good luck to you. I prefer thinking that the word “Egg” means “Chicken ovulation” and not “aspiration to a vague understanding of yolkhood.”

>Is it not also possible that the hope that all men may be saved might also be an authentic development of doctrine?

In a word – no.  And I think you mistake development of doctrine with innovation.  Universal Salvation rips the heart out of the Gospel and reduces Christianity to Ba’hai.  The whole atonement becomes a joke. 

Also…

>Regarding the Catechism, please note that the Catechism does not claim that one, some, or many human beings will most certainly be damned. It does tell us that anyone who dies in a state of mortal sin will be damned, but it does not declare that this has actually happened or will happen.

Oh sorry, you mean…

“1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.“617

Actually means, “No-one goes to Hell.”  Lucky I had someone as learned as you to tell me! Whoa!  Just goes to show how I cannot rely on the Catechism of tell me my faith without learned men like you to guide me! 

Oh, and…

“1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.“618

“Those who find it are few” apparently means… “Everyone finds it eventually”  Oh, glory be for those theologians who can tell us the Moon ‘tis the Sun!

And look…

1038 The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust,“623 will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.“624 Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.“625

Let’s read that again…

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.“625

But wait!  The numbers that go to Hell are…. Zero.  Which makes Jesus’ clear teaching of the ETERNAL consequences of Sin… a lie.

Forgive me oh learned one for, in my ignorance, taking Christ’s words literally and not with ‘a deeper reading.’ Oh Rahner, where were you to help me?

Look, just because the Church does not make a judgement of anyone and, thus cannot by definition figure out a percentage, does not mean vast numbers do not go there!  The Church hesitates before ascribing a number.  Fine.  In academic circles one could argue THEORETCICALLY in terms of a number zero – but that is ivory tower thinking and does not describe what is *already* known! 

Very simply.. the record of Scripture, indeed, Christ’s own words are FAR too clear to dispute with.  Indeed, if we take your approach the whole concept of salvation through Christ implodes.  (If all men are destined for Heaven who needs to save souls?)

In addition, the consensus of the Church through history is CLEAR!!!
In addition, numerous apparitions and visionaries confirm the existence of Hell with people in it!

The burden of proof is on you!!!  Not me.  The teaching of the Church is clear! And your evidence is weak at best!  It’s virtually an argument from silence.  “Is this position not allowed to be held?”  Wrong question.  You are supposed to uphold what is known and taught!

Development of doctrine in regards to Baptism is one thing (we believe in various forms of Baptism but not the non-requirement of such.)  That’s quite different to Universal Salvation. Development of doctrine in terms of forms of salvic baptism is one thing – and even then the Church insists on water baptism WHEREVER possible, even by an atheist in times of emergency – but denying the reality of Hell and it’s eternal nature is another!  That is an utter distortion of Christ’s own words which the 1992 Catechism quotes!

Besides, I get tired of ‘experts’ who have read XYZ modern theologians telling me that the teaching of the Church is not what it says. I am far from a Rad-Trad, and not given to wooden interpretations of texts.  But I get tired of being told by modern learned theologians that black is, in fact, white.  There comes a certain point where English is English and does not require interpretation. 

Eternal is Eternal.
Souls means more than one.
“Narrow is the path and FEW find it”  means few.

Oh poor me for reading these texts in English without knowledge of ‘deeper readings.’

If I cannot get my understanding of the basics of Heaven and hell, salvation and atonement, judgement and the nature of God from Holy Scripture and the Catechism of the Church, what hope for simple souls like me?  I have to rely on the pontifications of the latest modern theologian to explain what I am too dim to perceive? I mean, I am not a sola scripturist but what you present is all other ball of wax!  If the Catholic Church is to be so beholden to the pronouncement of ‘modern theologians’ then I might as well jump to Protestantism where I can have assurance that at least I can read scripture with the hope of the Holy Spirit guiding me to all truth (even if everyone else disagrees with me.)

[61] Posted by jedinovice on 5-30-2011 at 02:00 PM · [top]

This is not just about numbers in Hell, it is about people understanding the very nature of the their faith.  Frankly it’s about knowing anything about the teaching of the Church.

I do not care about Dulles, or JPII (if it can be proven he believed in Universal Salvation where I think it is clear he does not.)  I care about the Universal consensus of the Church across history and words of Christ Himself!! Is that so hard, so wrong, me, a Catholic, holding to the teaching of the Church across the ages? I don’t mean discussion about FORMS of baptism (we still do not deny the necessity) I am taking about the very ruddy nature of Heaven, Hell, Judgement and salvation!  But then, the likes of Rahner can’t even handle the expression of the Trinity so what the heck, eh?

If no-one goes to Hell there is no need for Salvation.

Indeed, the very Creeds go to pieces.
“He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead…”

Judge them for what to what?

There will ALWAYS XYZ theologian, even Cardinals who may privately postulate Universal salvation, or indeed, a hundred other ideas.  You only have to read the Lords-of-Kobol awful ‘Tablet’ to see that.  Pope JPII made it absolutely clear that, for example, that the discussion of women priests was ended!  Hasn’t stopped various liberals carrying on and, even , haha, ‘ordaining’ so called women priests. Hey, we even have a choice of 15 alternative Popes if we want to follow individual theologians.  If I had to listen to every ruddy theologian with an axe to grind I would never know anything about anything!  Once I play the game of one theologian says this, while another says that… it’ll never end.  I am not going down that rabbit trail.

Scripture is clear!!  I mean, REALLY clear!!
The Universal teaching of the Church is clear.  Really clear!
The Catechism is clear.  (If it wasn’t, it would be worthless!)

There is a point where white is white and words mean what they mean.  But, if you value the likes of Rahner then, clearly, you think words do not have clear meanings.  Which is fine but that’s the end of discussion.

AND, assuming we takes the experience of those who have had near death experience (I take them seriously for a number of reasons) we have people who have been to Heaven AND Hell and given reports! Theology must reflect reality, not explain it away!!  (That’s what atheism does.) If we believe in visions, which Paul certainly had, we have witnesses to Heaven and Hell and they report Hell is populated!

But I am not going any further on this.  For a start I have a TEFL course to prepare for and I have very limited time.  My entire future depends on it so I am not going to be side tracked by reading through 800 encyclicals to play theological games with you.  Also I know these sorts of discussion.  You will ALWAYS be able to make reference to XYZ theologian, or this bit of an encyclical here, or “this deeper reading” there and the poor, uneducated me will never be able to keep up.  Rad-Trads are horrors for that!

Carry on.  Your head be it.  Poor, unlearned me will carry on with my ignorant knowledge of the Scriptures, the Catechism (which is supposed to be clear fer cryin’ out loud or it’s pointless!) and some understanding of what Universal Salvation means in terms of ripping the creed to pieces.

If you want to prove your case (which is effectively an argument from silence) go up against someone who HAS got the encyclicals, canons, et al to go through.  Take on Dave Armstrong who argues against your position that Pope JPII held to Universal Salvation.  Since you claim JPII as an ally, join in the debate! It’s easily done. 

Prove your case by taking on a full time apologist. I am not.  You might even try Scott Hahn.  Go to it.

[Apologies to others on the thread and reading in. I don’t normally go like this. This is less a rant at Fr Kimel – though it is – and more my trying to make it clear that whoever heretical us Catholics may be  we do not believe in Universal salvation and it is NOT taught or supported by the Church, least of all Pope JPII.  I hope you all understand if I avoid playing the game of deeper readings and ‘chase the encyclical.’  I suspect you get where I am coming from.]

[62] Posted by jedinovice on 5-30-2011 at 02:01 PM · [top]

Fr. Kimel wrote:

“It’s not often that I get described as a liberal,...”

Most liberals didn’t start off describing themselves that way either, but if that is what your methodology is, then what follows is inevitable.

“The Catechism was composed precisely at a time when the teaching of Rahner and Balthasar on the hope for universal salvation was already well established.  The authors could have directly corrected this view and excluded it from the Catholic faith. …”

Silly me. One would have thought that “the Catholic faith” is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago.

“Jedinovice, a thousand years ago Catholics believed that everyone who died without Holy Baptism would be damned (the only exceptions being the martyrs and perhaps catechumens).”

I see – ALL catholics believed this? In the 11th century? And you have the hide to criticise Jedinovice for lack of knowledge! You might want to look at how widespread the practice of infant baptism actually was at that time, and work out the implications.

Let’s not forget what Jesus taught:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

“Many enter through it”. I don’t like it (naturally enough – I would prefer that I be not facing any sort of judgment at all) but the words are plain.

Yet Fr. Kimel tells us that, until there is a specific curial endorsement of Jesus’ words, we don’t have to believe them!

Its funny that I don’t recall any Pope claiming that, rather the opposite…

[63] Posted by MichaelA on 5-30-2011 at 05:18 PM · [top]

#60. FrKimel,
Universal salvation sounds a lot like Satan’s lie to Eve. “Thou will not surely die.” (Gen. 3:4). What do you say to all of the Christians beginning with Stephen and Christian missionaries martyred for proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ? You have made their sacrifice and the sacrifice of Christ Himself to no effect. With universal salvation, you have diminished both the love of God and the freedom He gave humans to reject Him. Why would God save us against our will? If we are not free to reject Him then we are not free. I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross that all men would have the opportunity for salvation but it is a bridge too far to say that all will be saved. Many are invited to the banquet but not all come. (Matt:22).

[64] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-30-2011 at 05:44 PM · [top]

#63:  “I see – ALL catholics believed this? In the 11th century? And you have the hide to criticise Jedinovice for lack of knowledge! You might want to look at how widespread the practice of infant baptism actually was at that time, and work out the implications.”

Infant damnation was the dominant belief in the Western Church for hundreds of years.  St Anselm expresses the mind of the Latin Church of his time:  “For they even receive everlasting torments, who never sinned by their own will. And hence it is written, ‘Even the infant of a single day is not pure in His sight upon earth.’”  This belief in infant damnation may be traced back to the fifth century.  Thus the 418 Council of Carthage:

It has been decided likewise that if anyone says that for this reason the Lord said: “In my house there are many mansions”: that it might be understood that in the kingdom of heaven there will be some middle place or some place anywhere where happy infants live who departed from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema. For when the Lord says: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God” [John 3:5], what Catholic will doubt that he will be a partner of the devil who has not deserved to be a coheir of Christ? For he who lacks the right part will without doubt run into the left.

This was the firm conviction of St Augustine and of Latin theologians who followed him.

There is nothing controversial about this, at least not historically.  For centuries and centuries, Latin Christianity was committed to the absolute salvific necessity of Holy Baptism, excepting baptism by blood (martyrs) and baptism by desire (catechumens).  Until the medieval invention of Limbo, therefore, the Latin Church believed that unbaptized infants were damned.  As Austrian theologian Johannes Schwarz observes:  “Historically, the doctrinal alternative to limbo never was infant salvation, but a stricter Augustinian interpretation assigning also pain of sense to the state of the children.”  (Further documentation will be provided on request.)  Now what you, as a non-Catholic, want to do with this piece of theological history I honestly do not care.  But this is a dogmatic fact that Catholic theologians have to deal with:  for hundreds of years Western Christians were convinced that infants who died without having been baptized went to hell: no one can enter into the kingdom of heaven who has not been regenerated by water and Holy Spirit.  Limbo was introduced as a merciful mitigation of the penalty due to original sin. 

Michael, I really have had enough of your insults.  To the best of my ability, I have attempted to present the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, with specific reference to the hope (not guarantee) of universal salvation.  It is clear to me that you are not well acquainted enough with Catholic theology to have an informed opinion about what the Catholic Church teaches about hell or universal salvation or infant salvation or whatever.

[65] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 06:18 PM · [top]

#64:  “Universal salvation sounds a lot like Satan’s lie to Eve. “Thou will not surely die.” (Gen. 3:4). What do you say to all of the Christians beginning with Stephen and Christian missionaries martyred for proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ? You have made their sacrifice and the sacrifice of Christ Himself to no effect. With universal salvation, you have diminished both the love of God and the freedom He gave humans to reject Him. Why would God save us against our will? If we are not free to reject Him then we are not free. I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross that all men would have the opportunity for salvation but it is a bridge too far to say that all will be saved. Many are invited to the banquet but not all come. (Matt:22).”

Fr Dale, does God save us against our will?  If you are an Augustinian or Calvninist, then the answer is yes:  by the regeneration of the Spirit, God gives us a new heart that truly and freely loves and believes him; by his irresistible grace God brings us to faith and repentance.  If you don’t believe this, then I suggest that you argue it out with Rev Kennedy and his fellow Calvinists. 

If you are an Arminian in your understanding of grace (as most Anglicans are), then I suggest that you should find Calvinism as heretical as you find the hope of universal salvation to be.  Yet for some strange reason, evangelical Christians are willing to “forgive” Calvinists for their determinism but are unwilling to forgive universalists, even soft universalists like myself, for their hope in the salvation of all.  Don’t you find this curious? 

In any case, I have never stated that we are not free to reject God.  Please re-read all of my comments. 

Is the Incarnation and Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ in any way diminished if it should result in the glorious result of universal salvation?

[66] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 06:36 PM · [top]

#66. FrKimel,

If you are an Arminian in your understanding of grace (as most Anglicans are), then I suggest that you should find Calvinism as heretical as you find the hope of universal salvation to be.

That is a great insight. I do not believe in universal salvation or limited atonement.

[67] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-30-2011 at 07:00 PM · [top]

“Fr Dale, does God save us against our will?  If you are an Augustinian or Calvninist, then the answer is yes”

heh. Someone has obviously not read his primary sources.

[68] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-30-2011 at 07:10 PM · [top]

Fr Dale, you may find of interest this piece by Thomas Talbott:  Universalism, Calvinism and Arminianism.

[69] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 07:12 PM · [top]

What a strange mystery:

“Yet for some strange reason, evangelical Christians are willing to “forgive” Calvinists for their determinism but are unwilling to forgive universalists, even soft universalists like myself, for their hope in the salvation of all.  Don’t you find this curious?”

Hmmm…what could explain this conundrum?

Let me give it a stab

1. Calvinists are not “determinists”

2. universalism is a heresy.

Knot untied

: )

[70] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-30-2011 at 07:17 PM · [top]

#68:  “Someone has obviously not read his primary sources.”

That’s a silly thing to say.  I have read the primary sources, both Augustine and Calvin.  Augustinian predestinarianism is predicated on the power of God to efficaciously and infallibly bring hostile sinners to faith, repentance, and ultimately, final salvation.  The sinner who is dead in his sins does not ask to be given a new heart (that would be semi-Pelagianism); by God’s gratuitous action he is given a new heart by which he freely gives himself to God in faith.  Augustinianism, including its Calvinist variants, insists that God’s deterministic activity is compatible with free will.

[71] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 07:33 PM · [top]

If you have read them you have not understood them. Neither Augustine nor Calvin would ever say, “God saves us against our will.”

God saves us through our will.

[72] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-30-2011 at 07:37 PM · [top]

FrKimel:

A thousand years ago this statement [of Pope John Paul II] would have been condemned by the Catholic Church as heretical. Today it is acknowledged as a faithful expression of the orthodox faith.

If it was once possible for the Roman Church to condemn as a heresy a point of view that is in fact “a faithful expression of the orthodox faith,” then why should we have confidence in her ability to distinguish between the two?

[73] Posted by episcopalienated on 5-30-2011 at 07:41 PM · [top]

#73: “If it was once possible for the Roman Church to condemn as a heresy a point of view that is in fact “a faithful expression of the orthodox faith,” then why should we have confidence in her ability to distinguish between the two?”

That’s a valid question, but I am not trying to argue for Catholicism over against Protestantism.  Throughout this thread I have simply been trying to clearly state what the Catholic Church does and does not authoritatively teach about hell and universal salvation.

[74] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 07:46 PM · [top]

#72:  “If you have read them you have not understood them. Neither Augustine nor Calvin would ever say, “God saves us against our will.”  God saves us through our will.”

Of course.  But this does not mean that, from an Augustinian or Calvinist perspective, our free decision for God is not divinely determined.  If Calvinists did not believe this, there would never have been an Arminian/Calvinist controversy.  Surely you are not suggesting that Calvinists are synergists?  The folks at monergism.com will really be surprised to learn this.

[75] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 07:58 PM · [top]

Glad that you mentioned that bit about “our free decision…” because you kinda forgot that when you wrote:

“does God save us against our will?  If you are an Augustinian or Calvninist, then the answer is yes”

When, in fact, as you now admit, the answer is “no”.

[76] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-30-2011 at 08:04 PM · [top]

#75. FrKimel,
Never debate a Calvinist. They believe they are destined to win.

[77] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-30-2011 at 09:49 PM · [top]

RE: “Never debate a Calvinist.”

Particularly if you aren’t able to even articulate what they believe from their own official documents.


Signed,

The non-Calvinist who doesn’t appreciate sloppy, imprecise language and hopes that it doesn’t demonstrate sloppy, imprecise thinking

[78] Posted by Sarah on 5-30-2011 at 09:56 PM · [top]

Rev. Kennedy, do we not want to say that in the Augustinian understanding God saves us both against and with our will?  Against our will, in that prior our assent and without our permission, God regenerates us by the Spirit and converts us from hostility to God to openness to God.  With and through our will, in that our decision for God is truly our decision, freely exercised in the compatibilist sense.  I’m sure that every Augustinian, Thomist, or Calvinist philosopher will want to state, nuance, and qualify the matter in his own way; but all will agree on the fundamental point, namely, saving faith originates in the sovereign action of God. 

I don’t want to take the thread into a debate on predestination and monergism.  Why don’t we save that for another day.  But I would like to draw folks attention to the three propositions formulated by Thomas Talbott:

(1) It is God’s redemptive purpose for the world (and therefore his will) to reconcile all sinners to himself;

(2) It is within God’s power to achieve his redemptive purpose for the world;

(3) Some sinners will never be reconciled to God, and God will therefore either consign them to a place of eternal punishment, from which there will be no hope of escape, or put them out of existence altogether.

The Calvinist affirms #2 and #3 but rejects #1.  The Arminian affirms #1 and #3 but rejects #2.  The universalist affirms #1 and #2 but rejects #3.  Presumably each group must regard the other two as heretical.  But for reasons I do not understand, Calvinists and Arminians are eager to live together in the evangelical tent, while condemning the universalists as heretics.

[79] Posted by FrKimel on 5-30-2011 at 11:07 PM · [top]

Fr Kimel at #65,

Thank you for *partly* clarifying your error in #60. There you stated, “a thousand years ago Catholics believed that everyone who died without Holy Baptism would be damned” which is of course not true. Some Catholics believed it, including several influential theologians, and some didn’t. 

Anyway, after I pointed out your error, you then modified it to “Infant damnation was the dominant belief in the Western Church for hundreds of years.” Yes, you are getting a bit closer with “dominant”. But even that is not really accurate – “influential”, “significant”, sure.

You then inform us: “St Anselm expresses the mind of the Latin Church of his time” – no, he didn’t. He was an Archbishop of Canterbury, and he had some influence outside of England, but your sweeping assertion cannot be justified. You are conflating the high regard in which Anselm was later held in Rome, due to his championing of papal power in England, with his influence as a theologian at the time.  In any case, we are discussing his views on infant damnation, and there is no evidence that Anselm was “expressing the mind of the Latin Church” in relation to that particular passage.

You follow this with some citations from the 5th century – I am really not sure what they have to do with the 11th century. 

“For centuries and centuries, Latin Christianity was committed to the absolute salvific necessity of Holy Baptism, excepting baptism by blood (martyrs) and baptism by desire (catechumens).”

No, it wasn’t. It was an influential belief, but by no means universally held.

In any case, my query was not about “centuries and centuries” (whichever ones you might mean) but about your assertion that “a thousand years ago Catholics believed that everyone who died without Holy Baptism would be damned”.

“Until the medieval invention of Limbo, therefore, the Latin Church believed that unbaptized infants were damned.”

As best we can tell, the concept of Limbo was invented in the 13th century because the idea of infant damnation was starting to gain wider acceptance among theologians.

“But this is a dogmatic fact that Catholic theologians have to deal with:”

I agree that you are asserting it dogmatically. However that doesn’t make it a fact!

“Michael, I really have had enough of your insults.”

I’m sorry to hear that.

“To the best of my ability, I have attempted to present the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, with specific reference to the hope (not guarantee) of universal salvation.”

No, you haven’t. If that had been your point, you would not have generated the adverse reaction which you have managed to elicit from Roman Catholics and Protestants. Rather, you informed us that the Roman Catholic Church does not teach that even a single person will necessarily be in hell. This is obviously untrue, and clearly contrary to the plain words of our Lord:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. [Matthew 7: 13-14]

Fr. Kimel finally wrote:

“It is clear to me that you are not well acquainted enough with Catholic theology to have an informed opinion about what the Catholic Church teaches about hell or universal salvation or infant salvation or whatever.”

I agree – you aren’t!

[80] Posted by MichaelA on 5-31-2011 at 01:13 AM · [top]

Hi Fr. Kimel

“Against our will, in that prior our assent and without our permission, God regenerates us by the Spirit and converts us from hostility to God to openness to God.”

“Yes”, we do not seek God and are by nature children of wrath so we must be regenerated or reborn. And yes, contrary to your original quip to which I objected above, God does not drag us to heaven “against our will”. He draws us through our will to Christ. Or as Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

Thank you for, again, clarifying your misstatement above.

Re:

“(1) It is God’s redemptive purpose for the world (and therefore his will) to reconcile all sinners to himself;

(2) It is within God’s power to achieve his redemptive purpose for the world;

(3) Some sinners will never be reconciled to God, and God will therefore either consign them to a place of eternal punishment, from which there will be no hope of escape, or put them out of existence altogether.

The Calvinist affirms #2 and #3 but rejects #1.  The Arminian affirms #1 and #3 but rejects #2.  The universalist affirms #1 and #2 but rejects #3.  Presumably each group must regard the other two as heretical.  But for reasons I do not understand, Calvinists and Arminians are eager to live together in the evangelical tent, while condemning the universalists as heretics.”

Right, because rejecting (3) is a heresy (as is annihilation ism by the way)

[81] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-31-2011 at 04:14 AM · [top]

Quoting John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Catechism and citing the traditions of the See of Rome cannot serve as reliable and credible proofs in a theological discussion, when there are so many glaring proofs of Rome’s fallibility and spiritual error.

Several examples:

- Marcial Maciel:
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/may/17/father-maciel/
http://mujeresmas.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/maciel_papa-juan-pablo-2.jpg
http://www.bestofneworleans.com/imager/father-maciel-accepts-the-blessing-of-pope-john-paul-ii/b/original/1327458/2d0d/cover_story-4.jpg

- The Roman church and its affirmation of Islam - Pope John Paul kissing the Koran
and helping to author [url=“http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/841.htm
“]Roman Catholic Church Catechism, section 841[/url] in which lends credibility to Islam (a religion that was invented by Mohammed to conquer both Judaism and Christianity, that opposes Christianity).  CCC 841 promotes the notion that Islam is an Abrahamic faith, which shows a lack of spiritual discernment and is a dangerous doctrine for both Muslims and Christians.

- Other unbiblical doctrines, theologies, traditions, and practices such as the immaculate conception, assumption and sinlessness of Mary.  One of these doctrines owes its proof for a place in RC dogma to a pope’s dream. 

- The presumption of primacy, including the dubious extrabiblical claim that Peter was the first pope in Rome, the presumption of authority over the whole of Christendom…even Eastern Orthodoxy.

[82] Posted by St. Nikao on 5-31-2011 at 10:35 AM · [top]

Yes, St Nikao, we all know us Catholics are all heretics, deluded and possible the spawn of Satan but, just for once, this is one heresy we have NOT embraced.

That’s the point. 

Don’t worry, there are plenty of heresies we hold to so no shortage for your attention!

[83] Posted by jedinovice on 5-31-2011 at 10:41 AM · [top]

Let’s not turn this into a debate between Catholics and evangelicals. There are plenty of threads for that. Here we are discussing something about which Rome and protestants agree. Let’s not pick a fight where unnecessary.

[84] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-31-2011 at 10:47 AM · [top]

sub

[85] Posted by SpongJohn SquarePantheist on 5-31-2011 at 12:12 PM · [top]

Subscribe (again).  I sure wish the unsubscribe link in the email notifications was put at the bottom of the email instead of the top.  I can’t number all the times I have clicked ont he unsubscribe link when I all I wanted to do is to be taken to the discussion thread.  Apparently an old priest can’t learn new tricks.  smile

[86] Posted by FrKimel on 6-2-2011 at 08:55 AM · [top]

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