Hell and Evangelization

Recently Ralph Martin has published what appears to be an important book entitled, Will Many be Saved? The majority of Martin’s book is spent arguing that we need to stop assuming that most people will be saved, and indeed Augustine and Aquinas would probably agree with him. The last chapter of the book argues that the Church needs restore a little hellfire and brimstone, as it were, into its preaching in order to successfully evangelize. He explains that thanks in part to the overly optimistic perspectives of influential theological giants like Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Catholics have lost their missionary zeal because they seem to assume that most will end up in heaven anyway. Thus, fear of hell needs to be restored both among believers and unbelievers alike so that we can again remember from what Christ claims to save us.

Fr. Robert Barron has responded to Martin from his own Balthasarian-Ratzingerian perspective. He writes,

I found his central argument undermined by one of his own footnotes. In a note buried on page 284 of his text, Martin cites some “remarks” of Pope Benedict XVI that have contributed, in his judgment, to confusion on the point in question. He is referring to observations in sections 45-47 of the Pope’s 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi, which can be summarized as follows. There are a relative handful of truly wicked people in whom the love of God and neighbor has been totally extinguished through sin, and there are a relative handful of people whose lives are utterly pure, completely given over to the demands of love.

Those latter few will proceed, upon death, directly to Heaven, and those former few will, upon death, enter the state that the Church calls Hell. But the Pope concludes that “the great majority of people” who, though sinners, still retain a fundamental ordering to God, can and will be brought to Heaven after the necessary purification of Purgatory. Martin knows that the Pope stands athwart the position that he has taken throughout his study, for he says casually enough, “The argument of this book would suggest a need for clarification.”

Obviously, there is no easy answer to the question of who or how many will be saved, but one of the most theologically accomplished popes in history, writing at a very high level of authority, has declared that we oughtn’t to hold that Hell is densely populated. To write this off as “remarks” that require “clarification” is precisely analogous to a liberal theologian saying the same thing about Paul VI’s teaching on artificial contraception in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

It seems to me that Pope Benedict’s position — affirming the reality of Hell but seriously questioning whether that the vast majority of human beings end up there — is the most tenable and actually the most evangelically promising

For the moment though, I’m not as interested in the doctrinal question as in the pastoral question, and I tend to agree with the Pope and Fr. Barron and to disagree with Martin. While it is clear that an effort to restore a certain “holy fear” could be done well, the thought of any attempt to do so in the present social climate makes of me think of Kierkegaard’s allegory of the clown and the burning city cited by Ratzinger in Intro to Christianity. For our purposes we could compare the modern theologian attempting to restore a fear of hell and damnation to a clown who is part of a traveling circus. The circus caught fire, and the clown, in full clown garb, left for the nearby village to warn them of the impending danger and to ask for help. But the villagers took his warning to be a clever piece of advertising and responded with laughter rather than sending help to douse the flames. Ultimately the entire circus and most of the village was burnt to the ground. It is difficult to conceive of an evangelist warning people of the dangers of refusing to accept Christ getting a much better response.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Any preaching of the Gospel that does not include the possibility of judgment is certainly a false Gospel and bears little similarity to Jesus’ own preaching, but perhaps there is another way of communicating the urgency of evangelization and totality of the Gospel that goes with it without using fear as the agency of urgency.

Frankly I think Benedict may have some suggestions for us, but I’ll save that for next post. What do you all think?

(Note: Check out D.L. Jones’ post for more info on the doctrinal conversation.)

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  • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

    It’s called “the Good News,” not the bad news!

    When people today spread an idea, a meme, a subculture, a new band or TV show, etc…it’s usually because they really like it, because they really think it’s cool, because it really makes them happy.

    When you feel really enthusiastic about introducing someone to people you know, it’s usually because you really like them and are super-enthused to share them with everyone.

    If people are just worried about judgment rather than loving Christ so much that they want people to know Him, because they believe it will enrich their lives, that people who know Him will be similarly excited…then what’s the point? To convince people they have a problem just in order to let us have the answer to solving it? That seems stupid, even evil.

    As a recovering hell-oholic, I can say that an emphasis like that is not of God. Christ’s most damnatory preaching was directed at the Pharisees, not the Sinners. If anyone needs to remember Hell, it isn’t the heathen or the sinner, it’s the self-righteous; but their very problem, usually, is that they assume that message isn’t for them…

    • brettsalkeld

      Well said.

    • http://giftofself.blogspot.com/ Joshua B

      Thanks for this. How many of us don’t even really what Christian joy is? How many of us have communicated (with words or, more likely, otherwise) that the Gospel is a burden or…something else, but not joy and salvation. Woe to we to have failed in this regard.

  • Dante Aligheri

    Actually, “A Sinner,” I never really thought about that fact that Jesus’ “worst” words are nearly always in front of the Pharisees or the Apostles and not often sinners. Now that I think about it, it’s true that these lines are often more directed at smug, false self-righteousness. Thanks for that thought.

    So-called “fire and brimstone” preaching only works when the Last Things are firmly established in the cultural milieu so that instead of just shrugging off the homily as a mere scare tactic about some nonexistent bogeyman the listener knows that these states are real. Therefore, the message would not be “The Faith is scary” – causing people to run away – but “repent.” Now, I agree that God must be (at least to us in this world) “scary” because life is scary – at least on this side of things (as C.S. Lewis also said). However, people are not driven to repentance by Hell like they used to be. They conclude – in a pluralistic religious market and therapeutic culture – they have better things to do than listen about some non-existent threat.

    This is why I firmly believe an Eastern Orthodox approach to soteriology would be so helpful to the West. At least according to some (but not all), Hell and Heaven are same place both in the presence of God – sinners repulsed and pained by the fire of God’s love and saints immersed joyfully in the love of God. I’ve always found that an interesting idea.

    On the same note, however, I think the East would benefit from the more “Antiochian” Christology of the West (without sacrificing their emphasis on His divinity).

    Just my thought on the matter..

    • dominic1955

      The problem is, we cannot really group ourselves or anyone else into the “sinner” camp as opposed to the “pharisee” camp, or younger brother and elder brother. Seems to me we can be both, or one or the other at different times. Assuming folks are noble savages or prostitutes with hearts of gold is no less denigrating and demeaning than assuming they are future divine BBQ fodder. Thus, the condemnation retains full force.

      That said, I agree with Dante that “fire and brimstone” preaching is counter productive in a culture that does not have a clue about the Last Things or much of Catholicism at all. Were I a priest in your average suburbanite parish, I’d focus on basic catechesis. Once you got them properly educated, then you can give some more focus on the need to repent and what awaits those who do not. Going all St. Leonard of Port Maurice on your parish would make you the clown nowaday. Not that he was wrong, but suburban Americans circa 2012 aren’t Italians circa 1750. Our people are more like the pagans, and I would guess they didn’t make converts out of the pagans by telling them of the Final Judgment-that is something that follows the initial catechesis.

      As to urgency, I do not see how we can pooh-pooh the need for baptism and salvation. That was what took St. Francis Xavier around the world. We know that *we* aren’t the ones doing the saving, but the Lord gave us the Great Commission.

      • trellis smith

        Sounds like the old bait and switch.

  • Robert L.

    “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

    The vast majority of our Catholic Church Saints, Doctors and classical Catholic theologians are unanimously in favor of a small number of those who will be saved. A bunch of quotations can be found here:


    This fact does not enter into contradiction with the Gospel – which is not about “bad news” or “good news”. The Gospel is just about how to get saved: for those who WANT to get saved, the Gospel is about “good news”, but for those who do not WANT to get saved, it is about “bad news”.

    Definitively, this is just a theological hypothesis, but Our Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, expresses the same opinion:

    “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14)”.

    As many saints have mentioned, it is easily to understand WHY is so: because the mortal sin is – for many people, including “Catholics” – their “daily bread”. Think just about contraception: almost all adult Catholics are using condoms and contraceptives. Many bishops, priests, lay people reject – practically speaking – basic moral teachings. I know personally Catholics who use contraceptives and, at the same time, they receive the Holy Communion without any fear, without any hesitation. And this seems to be a generally, common, attitude.

    At the same time I agree with you that it is difficult to talk about such issues like hell and judgment. Personally speaking, I think that nowadays we – as Catholics – have to be silent in the front of all those who do not want to listen the truth. Mainly, we have to live based on this holy axiom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs of Solomon, 1:7). Our Lord himself strengthened this axiom by saying: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). As Saint John Chrysostom and other Saints mention when interpreting this passage, that ONE who is the only one who can put us in hell is God himself. Maybe it is a good idea to try to recover the real ethos of the Gospel – it is not neither an optimistic book nor a pessimistic one: just realistic and very plain when it is about sinners like us.

  • http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/ crystal

    People who don’t believe in God in the first place won’t feel threatened by hell. People who are agnostic might feel threatened enough to join up, but I don’t see how the fear of eternal punishment could cause anyone to love and respect God. I find the parts of the gospels where Jesus talks about eternal punishment to be so creepy that I have to tell myself he didn’t really say them.

  • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

    It is recorded that, here in Asia, the “pagans” were delighted by the Gospels and their accounts of Christ’s life, as well as the promise of Heaven, but then they asked their great evangelist of the Indies, Xavier, “What about our ancestors–our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles? Will they be with us?” and Xavier supposedly replied, because he, too, had had his faith coloured by the dismal theology of the Reformation and the Counter-Reform, “Well, I regret to tell you that they are burning in Hell.” When the various tribes of “pagans” heard that, they declared, “Well, we’re not interested in your ‘heaven,; then, because we want to be with our ancestors.”

    What’s encouraging about the great saint, however, is that it is recorded by his eavesdropping servant that he went into his haphazardly contrived chapel and berated his God exactly as Teresa of Avila had been wont to do: “It is to Your everlasting disgrace, O Lord, that you waited so long before you sent me to rescue these wonderful, good people from Hell’s fire!” Xavier knew, then–despite his vile theology–that such a non-universalist, exclusionary God is NO GOD AT ALL.

    • dominic1955

      That is not what he meant and you know it. Laying aside the fact that he could have handled it more adroitly, he was lamenting the fact that they were mired in their own false conceptions-i.e. he who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy of Me. Choosing anything (ancestors included) over God is the height of folly.

      Of course, he went on to baptise thousands upon thousands so they must not all have choosen so unwisely.

      • digbydolben

        “Choosen [sic.] so unwisely,” was not to choose unwisely according to their own, ancient concept of what an appropriate “reward” in some kind of afterlife would be.
        Do you know ANYTHING about Asian religions or culture? Xavier and the Jesuits who followed him to India and China certainly did, and they made everything about Christian theological concepts more palatable for Asians until they were overruled by the Vatican.
        And Lacouture, one of his biographers, stresses that that is EXACTLY “what he meant”–that, like St. Teresa, like King David–he could become quite angry with God–that, unlike some Protestantized American Catholics–he did NOT treat God as someone who wasn’t a real “Person,” with whom he couldn’t have a relationship.

        • dominic1955

          First, an apology is in order. I forgot you lived in the Far East and alone have the Unfettered Accurate View of All Reality. I should go back to stuffing my uncultured face with McDonalds and watch NASCAR.

          Chosen (many thanks for deigning to put the [sic] in there!) unwisely according to Catholic teaching on EENS, and of course that is what I meant.

          Do I know anything about Asian religions or culture? I think you already think you know the answer to that. All I know about Asia is what I read from the paper placemats down at Jade Emperor Chop Suey and from portrayals of Asians in old movies, like the Mandarin cook on McClintock.

          The Chinese Rites Controversy is more complicated that you make it sound like, but we should just let that slide.

          Lacouture is a rambling French leftist who also wrote biographies of luminaries like Ho Chi Mihn. Biographer or not, I cannot trust him to know what St. Francis Xavier “meant”. If Francis Xavier *really* thought God was “non-universalist non-exclusionary” he would never have been made a Saint. Saints and all of us “wrestle with God” all the time, no problem there.

        • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com digbydolben

          dominic1955, your estimation of what I think of you is entirely correct.

        • dominic1955

          Excellent, then we are in agreement concerning what we think of each other.

  • B Riggs

    To discover upon death that there is no hell and God mercifully saves everyone would be a pleasant surprise. To discover upon death that Jesus’ words about hell were true and that many end up there as a result of our reluctance to warn them would be a horrific disaster. Would it be better to err somewhat on the side of caution?

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      Thank you, Blaise Pascal.

      • B Riggs

        I find that the classic wager fits many situations, this being one of them.

        • dominic1955

          Seems totally reasonable. Why would we assume that all are saved or most and get lax about the whole issue? What is the worst that happens when we get out there to preach and baptize? People find Christ? Pastorally speaking, if done right, I think this is the way to go. We do have to acknowlege that our eternal states start here and now-be it heaven or hell but that is also no reason to downplay the eternal reality of it once folks are ready.

  • brettsalkeld

    The only way to talk about hell to this generation is to help them find their own experience of it, identify with it, and witness to liberation from it that we and others have experienced in this life. A hell that does not begin until death, that is a mere function of punishment only extrinsically and arbitrarily connecting with this life, is meaningless. There are millions of (living) people who have been liberated from hell by the Gospel. Those people are the best evangelists.

    I believe in hell as an eternal reality/possibility, but such a reality has no content that makes any sense without a recognition of the hell many people live in every day.

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      “I believe in hell as an eternal reality/possibility, but such a reality has no content that makes any sense without a recognition of the hell many people live in every day.”

      Well said, Brett. The obverse of that is the only way to make sense of the fact that Jesus reportedly said that many alive today (that is, then) would see the coming of the Kingdom in their lifetimes, without his having just been wrong. Both heaven and hell are potentially available here and now. We choose one, or the other. If we choose badly, I see no reason to think that it will be even worse after death; it just won’t end.

    • Jordan

      re: brettsalkeld [December 12, 2012 1:03 pm]: Excellent point. I’m currently reading Mao: the Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Chairman Mao was a vicious psychopath who killed tens of millions of Chinese in order to create a Stalinist superstate for his own self-aggrandizement. It’s extremely important to focus not just on pelvic issues and the temporal rights of the Church, but real human exploitation in our world. In the grand scheme, miles and miles of moral culpability stretch between eating a hamburger on Friday and starving millions of Chinese in order to meet a grain quota for East Germany.

      I often wonder if those who obsess whether or not their neighbor is using the Pill or a condom are really focusing on these relatively minor issues in order to forget the very real and brutal suffering in the human condition.

      • dominic1955

        The reverse is also often true-projecting to the general of the culpability of the “suffering of the human condition” can be a convenient escape from personal culpability of whatever pet sin a person might indulge in.

        It is true, there is a big difference but trivializing one does not thereby put more focus on the other. What is the root of sin (back in the day) of eating meat on Friday? The Church made that law and bound all Catholics to observe it. Outside of being invincibly ignorant of that command, one that circumvents it flagrantly disobeys the Church in an area of competency that the Church clearly has authority over.

    • Knab Knob

      Right! Heaven and Hell should be thought of less in terms of “after-life” as if they are a state in the future, and more in terms of Eternity. And eternity is the eternal Present, it is the final meaning of our lives, our story, as a whole, when they end and thus our selves leave time, and our lives then exist seen “all at once” (in 4D spacetime; for only consciousness defines what is “now”) like a story after you finish the book. If there is damnation, it must be something people are living now (but which hopefully will not be the “final word” on their story before death, before “the book closes”) and if there is salvation it is in attaining (and persevering) in the good life, the heavenly life, now, at least in the sense of tending towards an asymptote, not some carrot being held in front of us for “after” death (though death is the culminating moment).

      • rwatson79

        Yes: the world is always ending, the task is to die with it and in the dying to be always all of yourself. De Caussade imagines the spiritual life in this kind of shape, I think – in fact, makes reference to lives as books and stories.

      • http://giftofself.blogspot.com/ Joshua B

        I like the 4D image Knab Knob. Good thoughts.

    • http://giftofself.blogspot.com/ Joshua B

      Thanks, Brett. This is helpful for what I am trying to think through.

  • Chris Sullivan

    It’s worth remembering that not once in the Greek New Testament is the word “hell” used.

    The original Greek is either “hades” (Hebrew Sheol), the place of all the dead, good and bad; or “Gehenna”, the name of a smouldering rubbish tip outside Jerusalem (ie it’s imagery). Once (1 Peter ) a word is used which means a place where the demons were thought to be locked up.

    The narrow gate and path may be rarely found by man in this life (ie membership of and active participation in the Church), but Aquinas and Vatican II taught that God is not limited by his sacraments (the Church); God has many other and efficacious means to save souls, primarily by spiritually healing them (healing being a central focus of Christ’s ministry).

    I tend to agree that the allegory of the clown and the burning city would apply to those who glibly try to “evangelise” by means of hellfire and brimstone. The Gospel is the good news and ought to be preached as the good news.

    God Bless

  • Agellius

    So, what about Matthew 7:13-14? It seems pretty clear to me.

  • Chris Sullivan

    I don’t think that Matthew 7:13-14 is really a proof text for the number of people who will be saved. It’s more an invitation to search for the real path (which is not always obvious and which poses a serious challenge to self interest) and to follow it despite it’s difficulties. The patristic fathers on this passage, as quoted by Aquinas in his Golden Chain, are quite helpful:


    God Bless

    • Robert L.

      It seems that the number (or, at least, the percentage) is implied. For instance, Saint John Chrysostom thinks so:

      “What do you think? How many of the inhabitants of this city may perhaps be saved? What I am about to tell you is very terrible, yet I will not conceal it from you. Out of this thickly populated city with its thousands of inhabitants not one hundred people will be saved. I even doubt whether there will be as many as that!”


      I would like to know what do you think about the fact that almost all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church think exactly like Saint John Chrysostom.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Here’s the good news, really good news. Ancient institutions like the RC Church do change over time, and on some of its most dearly held tendencies-cum-doctrines. The quote from Benedict, which I did not know of particularly, is proof. There is progress, yes, progress. For I think there is a mountain of evidence that the RC church held quite otherwise for a long time. Or better put, it allowed 99.9% of popular piety to assume the exact opposite. And thus the need for God’s indulgence. need one even mention the fact that this was a proximate cause of the Reformation?? Think Tetzel’s clink.

    On a more serious note, when one reads of Mao having killed 50 million of his countrymen, we should not kid ourselves that there is real evil in the world. The curious thing is it almost never takes the form of what most in religious circles assume it will. They imagine some sort of flamboyance of evil, because they imagine hell as hot and passionate somehow. Rather true evil is ice cold. Beyond human care. If you want to be truly savvy with recognizing evil, do not look for passion, but for vacancy. It is not so much privatio boni, and a lack of humanity.

    • Dante Aligheri

      Evil certainly is deceptive and lifeless, something which cuts through each one of us and, therefore, not something we can easily detect. But is not the frigidity the ultimate “privatio boni” and the ultimate sense of lacking?

      This is why the Inferno depicts the lowest bowels of Hell with sinners utterly frozen – caught within an Aristotelian universe where sin drags everything down to the lowest point in the cosmos possible and farthest away from God.

      Also, I’m not sure the Bible depicts evil as such as fiery and passionate. On the contrary, the wrath of God is fiery and passionate because He is fiery and passionate. Hell is not the domain of evil but the “place/state” where evil is punished, the prison of the Satan and not his “home.”

      To be sure, however, Christianity has, unfortunately, adopted the Hell as the fortress of evil image from Milton’s masterpiece (and other popular imagery) – making the devil more autonomous than he ought to be perceived, especially after redemption has been accomplished.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        But, I thought that evil had no real existence; that evil is only the absence of the Good? That being the case, everything and everybody, every thought and every act that isn’t “Good,” is, by definition, “Evil.” Therefore, if we want to be honest, we are afloat on a sea of evil–it is the very air we breath; it is present to us always and everywhere in any situation that is not orchestrated proactively by Love.

        • Dante Aligheri

          As far as I can tell, I think we’re actually both saying the same thing – that evil is the privation of good and without existence, pulling everything into non-existence.

          However, I would not say we are in a sea of evil. On the contrary, I think we are in a Sea of Goodness which we call God.

          Every thought and act is an action of a being which is fundamentally good. An evil thought is a distortion of the purpose of thought; however, even Hitler was a good being in sense that God loved him into existence. The evil in Hitler is a tragedy and a farce of the good within Adolf Hitler – a tragedy which he refused to end and now exists before God’s terrible glory with, forever (as we all will).

          I guess what I’m trying to say that Goodness never was, is, or will be under threat by evil and God always has the upper hand. Even evil – though not willed by God – is, in the long run, “orchestrated proactively by Love” – towards the End of all things. Jesus held unquestioned authority even over demons, after all.

          Maybe I’m reading too much into the image, though, because in a different sense what you say is equally true.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          My friend, you have a sort of genius. Your comment, and the somersault that dominic was thereby embroiled into, was a thing of beauty. Whether the “sea” of good, or evil, somebody, some dog of God, is lost without a paddle. LOL

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      “The banality of evil” — Yes.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ Dante — I think that what you speak of is the ideal; what I speak of is this fallen world’s prevailing dilemma. In that sense, yes, we both speak of this same thing.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    You have raised a number of critical issues on evil and hell, and it just so happens that I have gone on about them before in these pages, and thus am reluctant to survey them again from point of view. But let me it is a shot, trying to do it in a new way for sake of this discussion. Let’s put it this way, if Catholicism’s theology were more based on your namesake’s masterpiece, instead of the mental gymnastics of Thomism, well all of Western history might have gone more smoothly. Unfortunately, privatio boniis what we got, and it lead to very wan dialectics in really dealing with the active nature of evil in the world. In the hothouse world of the Roman Catholic clergy, it specifically lead to the apparently now ingrown inability to really deal with personal evil in that same clergy as an active psychological vortex, and instead got lobbed off by convenient notions of forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong. I think that Christian notions of forgiveness per se are very important. But in combination with the incredible metaphyscial far-fetchedness of privatio boni, it has led this same Church to believe that once its sins are confessed and acknowledged that, well, the case is closed. In the real world, it is doesn’t work that way. And the sandals that bedevil this Church prove it practically. It is simply a mammoth evidence of the power of ideas for good or ill, that privatio boni has turned into a de facto “monopoly” Get Out of Jail (hell) Free card.

    AS to hot or cold for evil, I am afraid that ultimately Western metaphysics is just infantile compared with the ancient Chinese. The notions of evil Chi in terms of hot or cold is very complicated and interesting. And I can only recommend the work of the great scholar of Chinese medicine Pere Larre (a Jesuit!!) who laid all these matters bare in such a brilliant way.

    • Dante Aligheri

      Well, I agree that many have abused the privatio boni concept. However, St. Augustine created it, and he was certainly not a universalist. If all existence is good because God made it, evil could only be “no-thing.” At the same time, this can trivialize evil potentially if people lose a sense at how tragic the loss of being is.

      As for the idea that forgiveness obtained through confession is the end of the story that is unfortunately prevalent, I think this has more to do with the unfortunate rise of forensic justification theology over divinization and sanctification which involve gradual and constant struggle and reformation towards holiness. Maybe the Irish model of confession would alleviate that.

      I am intrigued by your reference to a Chinese Taoist (?) concept of evil. I know I ought to read the book to get a whole picture, but could you summarize it?

      Thank you.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        Well first as to the ancient Chinese notion of evil, etc. No I can’t summarize it. It is far too complex for a blog, and opens too many traps for the Western mind. But you sound to me like this is not your first rodeo, so find a steed that runs through those Daoist fields.

        What in the world can the Irish model of anything in Catholicism contribute.?? Some of the worst aspects come from that side of things, and I should know, I come from an Irish Catholic family.

        it is not about the “loss of being”. It is about the fact that evil violates others. “Loss of being” sounds like some sort of ontological muscle atrophy. Something that a medicine with a name like Spritix would solve. It is really about the potent and sharp aggression that evil entails. Such aggression can only be unlearned gradually. It will NOT be reduced by sacramental means. Period. It is a matter of habit. God’s forgiveness is there as a mystery for all of us, and the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. And it is fine in the Catholic realm that a sacrament embodies that mystery. But the RC notion on these moral issues is a labyrinthine quicksand which has– by massive evidence of history!!- allowed a lot of bad people to get away with being bad people. Either they change, or look eternally complicit in my book. And that goes double for the laiity that supports them.

  • Robert L.

    I have found an English web page where anyone can read some quotations from many Fathers of the Church, Saints and Doctors of the Church related with this topic. Here it is:


    I would like very, very much to know – if possible – what do you think about the fact that none of these sacred persons used to went of that way of the so called “positive thinking”. Where they pessimistic? Or just realistic? Is someone like Saint Alphonsus Mary of Liguori wrong?

    “The greater number of men still say to God: Lord we will not serve Thee; we would rather be slaves of the devil, and condemned to Hell, than be Thy servants. Alas! The greatest number, my Jesus – we may say nearly all – not only do not love Thee, but offend Thee and despise Thee. How many countries there are in which there are scarcely any Catholics, and all the rest either infidels or heretics! And all of them are certainly on the way to being lost.” (St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori)

    Or think about Fatima’ seers:

    “Taking into account the behaviour of mankind, only a small part of the human race will be saved.” (Lucy of Fatima)

    “So many people are going to die, and almost all of them are going to Hell! So many people falling into hell!” (Jacinta of Fatima)

    • Dante Aligheri

      I do not discount what you say nor do I discount the real danger of damnation. However, their testimony must be balanced with:

      Bl. Julian of Norwich
      Bl. John of Ruysbroeck
      St. Ephrem the Syrian
      St. Isaac of Nineveh
      St. Gregory Nazianzus
      St. Gregory of Nyssa
      St. Seraphim of Sarov (?)


      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        Matthew 22:

        [11] And the king went in to see the guests: and he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment. [12] And he saith to him: Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? But he was silent. [13] Then the king said to the waiters: Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [14] For many are called, but few are chosen.

        • Dante Aligheri

          Well, I know this is going to not going to sound the best since this really ought to be the first recourse for any thoughts on this topic, but I really don’t know where to go from here.

          Like you said in your earlier post in response to Brett, Hell is not an external punishment per se but the full realization (which is clouded in this mixture of goodness and evil in the world) of what one has created with his life – no better and no worse, that dreary city in Lewis’ Great Divorce. The question of numbers is out of our concern – not, of course, regarding our santification or that of our neighbors whom we serve – but in the ultimate sense.

          All we can do is trust that God is good, merciful and just.

          I may just watch where the thread goes for a while.

    • Chris Sullivan

      How many countries there are in which there are scarcely any Catholics, and all the rest either infidels or heretics! And all of them are certainly on the way to being lost.”

      On the way to being lost is quite a different thing to being damned to Hell. One notes with gratitude the significant differences between what Vatican II taught on the possibility of non Catholics being saved to those of Ligouri.

      “Taking into account the behaviour of mankind, only a small part of the human race will be saved.”

      Fortunately there is a whole lot more to “take into account” than merely the behaviour of mankind.

      The infinite good merits of Christ’s sacrifice and the infinite healing and loving power of almighty God.

      The human propensity to damn ones enemies and perceived gross sinners is one of the less holy factors in religion.

      God Bless

  • http://giftofself.blogspot.com/ Joshua B

    For those of you debating the history of the doctrinal question, Dulles’ article from a few years ago may be helpful, but I repeat, that is not my primary concern here, and I don’t intend to get tangled up in that discussion right now.

    I am more interested in the pastoral/evangelical question. Thanks for all your contributions and comments. If you have more to add, I’d like to try to keep the topic focused.

  • Robert L.

    Definitively, the main problem related with all these discussions about hell IS NOT the number of the saved or of the damned people. In other words, it is not about a sort of mathematical equation. Any strong statement – even though made by Saints and Doctors like Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Alphonsus – is just a hypothesis. The main problem it is a pastoral one, indeed: how can an evangelist or a catechist help people to amend their lives? How is possible to help someone to get converted? This is – and always remains – the main question. But if we search through classical Catholic authors who were recognized like personalities who helped many, many people to get converted, we discover that they used to talk a lot about the five last things: death, particular judgment, universal judgment, hell and heaven. Just re-read the sermons (here you can find four wonderful volumes with many of them: http://jesusmarie.free.fr/jean_marie_vianney_cure_d_ars.html ) of Saint Jean Marie Vianney who is the patron of the confessors: he dared to talk a lot about these five essential realities. And no one can say that people rejected him an his teachings because of this… on contrary, thousands of conversions happened. I do not imply that those conversions happened JUST because Saint Jean Marie sermons about hell… but, definitively, hell (as heaven) is one of the best way to help people to re-discover the first step to holiness – which is FEAR of GOD. And I am not talking about anxiety or something like that: just about a sacred fear when confronted with the mystery of eternal life and of the otherworld. That is why, I think, we have to re-discover – with great caution – such issues. How can be possible to live in a Catholic parish and to NEVER hear some good teachings about heaven, hell or eternal life? How is possible to attend all the masses and to never listen a sermon about the DIRECT consequences of any mortal sin – which is the eternal punishment? I can say – based on my personal experience as a Catechist and a Theology professor – that people are really touched when these otherworldly realities are presented as real. Is actors interpret characters and plays as their content is true, I think that we fight against our tendency to “play” our faith as it is something untrue or, at least, doubtful…

  • Robert L.

    By the way: the so called “subjective theory of hell” favored by Father Barron and alii IT IS NOT Church doctrine. It is just a theological hypothesis. Even though the Church does not reject this interpretation (which has some true in it, I think), the objective existence of hell is strongly stated and defended by almost all Saints and Doctors of the Church. In the encyclical “Benedictus Deus” of Pope Benedict XII is clearly stated that “according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately after death and there suffer the pain of hell”. This text clearly implies a distinction between the earthly life (even a “helish” one because of grave sins) and the afterlife punishment of hell. The Council of Trent (quoted n the Catechism of the Catholic Church) mentions the existence and reality of hell, too: “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.” (art. 1035). So, even though the damnation is related with the free (subjective) will of any people who chooses to reject God and His love, hell is more than a simple subjective reality… But I accept that here we are discussing on the ground of theological speculations. Actually, the main point in any evangelical attempt is not the teaching about “how crowded the hell is”, but the teaching about the reality of hell (together of the reality of heaven, too). If we really believe that God is “Creator of Heaven and Earth”, we have to talk plainly and clear about these heavenly realities. In my opinion any historical approach has to help the increasing of our faith based on the models of real heroes (i.e. Saints and Doctors) of Catholic Faith.

    • http://giftofself.blogspot.com/ Joshua B


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I can’t speak with too much authority on Barron’s view, but Pope Benedict’s view is like his, and while his view is certainly subjective or “personal”, it is not so to the exclusion of the objective existence of Hell. He affirms that very clearly, I think, in Eschatology as well as in Spe Salvi.

      Although I am probably not as well versed as you seem to be in the history of some of this and of the examples of some of the saints, I do have some awareness of their lives and the models they set for us. I suppose, for me, and I think for the pope as well, they ke difference between what many of them (certainly Vianney and Liguori) did and what is prudent now has to do with the rapid secularization of culture and society. We are now living in a world which is in some ways more like the world encountered by Christians pre-Constantine than the one engaged by Vianney and Liguori. This requires a different approach to evangelization methinks.

  • http://giftofself.blogspot.com/ Joshua B

    Further, I think Brett’s comment above sheds light on the necessary relation between the subjective and objective realities of hell.

    The only way to talk about hell to this generation is to help them find their own experience of it, identify with it, and witness to liberation from it that we and others have experienced in this life. A hell that does not begin until death, that is a mere function of punishment only extrinsically and arbitrarily connecting with this life, is meaningless. There are millions of (living) people who have been liberated from hell by the Gospel. Those people are the best evangelists.
    I believe in hell as an eternal reality/possibility, but such a reality has no content that makes any sense without a recognition of the hell many people live in every day.

    The “de-mythologization” of society has made it very difficult for people to accept the exist of hell and satan and difficult for them perceive discussion their as anything other than fear-mongering or childish fantasy. Evangelization has to find a way of meeting people where they are, in their own experience of hell, and witnessing to them a life lived in liberation of that hell.

    • dominic1955

      I think this itself is a problem in the pastoral field-we are dealing with individuals, not society. There is nothing new under the sun, what St. John Vianney walked into was like a microcosm of a pre-Constantinian world or our “post-Christian” world. He knew he had to deal with sinners, and he knew he was the first. He spoke to their experience, their struggles, etc. but not by watering down anything or altering anything. He witnessed a life liberated from sin and witnessed that they needed to do the same. The good starts here, but ultimately, on that great day of wrath and mourning, even the just shall tremble unsure. There is a hell, and it isn’t just our little experience of “hell (sic)”.

      “Meeting people where they are” has become such a cliche and in some areas an excuse for not doing anything. Hell (and heaven) certainly begin here, but religion is not just didactic moralizing and self-help sessions. Meeting people where they are speaks to the sin and struggles they find themselves in, but it does no good to kowtow to the Bultmannian heresy as a given. At root, what is “de-mythologization” but the same stinking pride we’ve always been afflicted by? Do we really think that we are the first generation to pooh-pooh the super- (and preter-…) natural? To think of the Devil and his minions as some horned dudes in red thights with pitchforks?

      Thus, I think we need a good helping of both-as we always have. We can fall into the ditch from either side, people these days ignore “fire ‘n brimstone” preachers as ignorant rubes from movies about Prohibition or the South but I think we run the risk of being ignored as just another kind of self-help guru peddling snake oil and liberation from alien ghosts if we lean to heavily on the other emphasis.

  • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

    An extremely clever and sophisticated Belle Epoque Jesuit who was a friend of Marcel Proust once told that great writer that, although he was required by Church dogma to believe that Hell did indeed exist, that he was NOT required by the teaching authority of his superiors in either his order or the Magisterium to believe that anyone was in it, and that, therefore, he refused to believer that anyone was.

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