One hell of a prayer…

…and a novel argument against the Balthasarian thesis (BT) that it is consonant with the Catholic faith that, in a word, “Hell is empty.” Unam Sanctam has recently provided extensive evidence–biblical/theological, pietistical, magisterial, and exegetical–that such a hope is, at best, only verbally consonant with the BT. (By “verbally consonant” I mean that, given Catholic assumptions, the words themselves are not incoherent.) However, the point of contention is that we have a “reasonable” (and robust) hope that hell turn out to be empty.

In May 2003 Cdl. Dulles wrote a characteristically superb treatment of the debate. Even so, I myself am not clear if Balthasar intended to limit his thesis to human souls (BTh), or to any beings whatsoever (BT*). I have seen evidence for both claims. Simply to be sporting, therefore, I will assume that he meant (BT*) that we can hope that even Satan and the fallen angels will not end up in hell.

Enter the insight I had the week before last: No theologumenon accords with the Catholic faith if it does not accord with the Mass. The Mass is the immune system of the Faith. It is the everlasting bulwark against error, sin, and death. As Cdl. Ottaviani said of the Tridentine canons, “[They] provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery.” So what does the liturgical voice of the Church say about Hell?

Recall that Leo XIII, after receiving a mystical vision, ordered that the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel be recited at the end of all low Masses.

“Saint Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell, Satan and all the other evil spirits, who prowl throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

For nearly a century, the Church has prayed for the population of hell to include the devils, if no one else. My point is simple: it is absurd to claim that the popes would unite to the liturgy, and order the faithful to pray, something–namely, the damnation of Satan and the demons–which is not consonant with the Faith. Conversely, were BT* consonant with Catholicism, the Church would not have prayed for hell to be populated by “Satan and all the other evil spirits.”

Rather than trying to write a long, subtle argument about this, I will leave it there and welcome your responses.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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13 Responses to One hell of a prayer…

  1. Brock Fowler says:

    This is what seems to never have occurred to modern theologians and bishops: write clearly and unambiguously.

    Just a thought…since our God is not a God of confusion…

  2. ErnstThalmann says:

    Why it is impossible to make a comment on this piece without doing so as a reply to someone else’s comment to it utterly escapes me but such is what one encounters.

    The question of the orthodoxy of von Balthasar’s hope in the universal salvation of mankind is best discussed by those most familiar with his theology. Edward Oakes, S.J, sadly now dead, is one such. In service to this idea, I’ve provided two links to articles in the journal, First Things, in which an exhaustive disputation of the question occurred. I think you will find the discussion enlarging. I have limited time, but a similar review of relevant articles in Communio, International Catholic Review, would be even more rewarding. I’ll let Fr. Oakes speak for me as he has so well in the past on so many questions concerning von Balthasar’s enormous corpus:

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  4. ErnstThalmann says:

    I think it would be safe to say that an attack on the orthodoxy of Hans Urs von Balthasar is an attack on Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both of whom held him in the highest regard both as a Catholic and an intellectual. While the links in my earlier comment introduced both a polemic against and an apology for von Balthasar, the link below will explain perhaps the issue in question apart from any first hand back and forth.

  5. Claudio says:

    From the Revised Version Standard Catholic Edition

    Matthew 7:21-23
    21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

    Luke 13:23-24
    23 And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

    The above 2 passages are pretty compelling that some will be damned. The passages are straight from the mouth of our Lord. I don’t know how the above 2 passages could be interpreted to allow for the hope that all will be saved and not do great violence to the plain meaning of the passages. The above passages are not part of some parable where you could argue that they should be taken figuratively. Also the second passage involves a direct question on how many will be saved and the Lord’s response is a far cry from an answer that would give us hope that all can be saved. If anything, the answer is in the opposite direction that many will be damned. I have yet to read anyone who supports Balthasar on his hope of for universal salvation even attempt to provide an explanation on how the above passages can be reconciled with having a hope that all men will be saved.

  6. Two other things have always struck me as odd about Balthasar’s claim:

    1) If hell is ultimately empty, then why would God have created it in the first place? Recall Matthew 25:

    “31 And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. 32 And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. 34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. … 41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.

    That’s a PROPHECY, from the Lord Himself, of the final judgment, and it explicitly states that the Judge SHALL condemn some humans to Hell ALONG WITH the Devil and the demons. I just… I don’t even… I can’t…. O_o

    2) When Christ “descended to the dead” and liberated the pre-Incarnation saints from Hades, unless He liberated every single soul in Hades, there would have to be at least one soul left in Hades, destined for Hell. I find zero evidence that the Church has ever taught that Christ liberated ALL the souls by descending to the dead.

    I explored this issues over five years ago in some depth, though I admit that I have not read Balthasar’s book on the topic. After my initial readings, I felt that, while the idea can be defended by a lot of clever moves, and has a lot of moral intuition behind it, it just seems so alien to the ordinary magisterium and the sensus fidelium that I don’t think it’s worth getting too excited about. I mean, just because it hasn’t been condemned doesn’t mean it’s sustainably authentic Catholic teaching. And even if Balthasar has been lauded by the past two popes, it doesn’t follow that every aspect of his theology is equally commendable.

  7. ErnstThalmann says:

    Claudio & Codg,

    Are the two of you clear on precisely what it is that von Balthasar asserts? It wouldn’t seem so. And it doesn’t help if one hasn’t read the source material. I have, and feel that the link I provided above, if digested, would clear up any false impressions. Here’s are the relevant passages reprinted for your convenience.

    “In his book Dare We Hope “That all Men be Saved”? Balthasar draws attention to two series of passages in the New Testament that pertain to judgment and damnation. The first series speaks of individuals being condemned to eternal torment. Those who have rejected Christ are accountable for their actions and they will be cast into “the outer darkness,” or “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:30ff.; see also Mt 5:22,29; 8:12; 10:28; 2 Pet 2:4-10; 3:7; Rev 19:20f.). The second series of texts speaks of God’s desire, and ability, to save all mankind. “God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Anticipating his suffering and death, Jesus proclaims, “Now is the judgment of this world,…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:31). “God has consigned all men to disobedience that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32; see also 2 Pet 3:9; Titus 2:11; Rom 5:14-21; Eph 1:10; Col 1:20).

    A harmonious synthesis between these two series of texts is not possible. A universalist theology, which knows with certainty that all will be saved, invalidates the numerous passages in Scripture which speak of judgment and eternal damnation as the consequence of sin. Likewise a theology which knows in advance a double outcome of judgment cannot take seriously the universal salvific will of God as expressed in 1 Timothy 2:4 and elsewhere. Against those theologies which claim to know in advance and with certainty the final outcome of God’s judgement, Balthasar defends the mystery of hope. The same God who reserves judgment for himself has placed himself in solidarity with the sinner even to the point of death and God-forsakenness. Balthasar cites approvingly the following text from Hermann-Josef Lauter: “Will it really be all men who allow themselves to be reconciled? No theology or prophecy can answer this question. But love hopes all things (1 Cor 13:7). It cannot do otherwise than to hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such unlimited hope is, from the Christian standpoint, not only permitted but commanded”

  8. ErnstThalmann says:

    You know, the more I reflect on the comments of Claudio and Codg, the more I’m convinced that any problem you may be experiencing in grasping von Balthasar’s thinking on this question can be traced to initial presuppositions about the reason for the Incarnation. I’d venture that the two of you are died-in-the-wool Thomists in this respect, imagining that God incarnated solely to save man from sin. There is an alternative vision, you know, that of John Duns Scotus which was embraced by von Balthasar and which sees God as having incarnated whether or not man sinned. The implications of this difference are enormous and quite important to this discussion – or as its turning out, monologue. Your response is solicited.

  9. Flambeaux says:

    That latter vision is certainly the consistent teaching in the East, both Catholic and Orthodox. It has, as you note, far-reaching implications but it is, nonetheless, a Catholic understanding although one that hasn’t been heard in much of the post-Counter-Reformation West.

  10. ErnstThalmann says:

    In the post Counter-Refornation West, the position of St. Thomas reigned supreme among both Catholics and Reformers, igniting the endless unresolved debates about predestination that persisted until the time of Karl Barth. It is only with Barth, von Balthasar and a few others others that these problems were surpassed in the 20th century, in no small measure thanks to the abandonment of the Thomistic model. The most cogent account I’ve read of these developments is found in Edward J. Oakes, S.J., Pattern Of Redemption. But I suspect that our friends Codg and Claudio are thoroughly caught up in the teeth of these Thomistic presuppositions abandoned though they were by the most influential Catholic theologians in the years immediately preceding Vatican II. Such a vision makes von Balthasar’s hope difficult if not impossible to appreciate.

  11. Claudio says:

    You are giving me way too much credit on my knowledge of Thomistic theology. I am simply going by the plain meaning of the scriptural passages that I cited. In regards to your point about scriptural passages that seem to be in contradiction (i.e. 1 Timothy 2:4), I think they can be reconciled with the passages that I cited. I would argue that given the language and context of passages Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 13:23-24, a literal interpretation is the most logical one. While a symbolic interpretation is the most logical for 1 Timothy 2:4. because there is no “desire” in God. To desire something is to lack something. God lacks nothing. So the symbolic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 is that God does not damn souls because he wants to but because man makes that choice for himself and God respects that choice.

  12. ErnstThalmann says:

    “I would argue that given the language and context of passages Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 13:23-24, a literal interpretation is the most logical one. While a symbolic interpretation is the most logical for 1 Timothy 2:4. because there is no “desire” in God. To desire something is to lack something. God lacks nothing. So the symbolic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 is that God does not damn souls because he wants to but because man makes that choice for himself and God respects that choice.”

    Oh my, Claudio, no desire in God? Why would we ever refer to the “will of God” in that case? To say that to desire something means to lack something and that God lacks nothing, therefore He has no desire, is to describe the inert God of the philosophers, not the living God of Jesus Christ. We believe in a Trinitarian God, you know, not a theistic God, or some two-dimensional, amorphous clump of divinity at a distance from us off in space somewhere. Perhaps as you claim, I have given you too much credit in associating your opinion with the theological tradition that arose out of St. Thomas’s vision of the reason for the Incarnation. As I’ve mentioned, there is more than one theological tradition that speaks to this question, another being that of John Duns Scotus, and that is the one found most attractive to von Balthasar. But the initial charge brought against von Balthasar in this piece of Codg’s is that he violates tradition. I most certainly hope that that mistaken view now can be set aside based on the actual – not some imagined – assertion of von Balthasar’s. And I hope that you’ll come to see that God’s relationship to us in Christ is a dynamic one with a genuine personal dimension, not something sterile and uninvolved. In any case, every blessing.

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