Things I Don’t Get

Things I Don’t Get December 12, 2012

Here is a perfectly orthodox explanation of the Church’s doctrine of hell by Fr. Robert Barron.

Compared with the whole “Hell went out with Vatican II” or “Sophisticated Christians now understand that hell was a medieval fear tactic” or sundry other attempts to say “Ain’t no such thang” what sticks out for me is simply that Fr. Barron affirms both the reality and eternity of hell. The only thing he doesn’t do–and with good reason in my view–is offer an opinion on how many–or if any–will go there.

And because of this, there is, I gather a Controversy.

I’ve never understood this.

There is, to be sure, a very dangerous presumption of Universalism among a lot of Catholics. The average Catholic tends to talk as though it’s automatic heaven for everybody except maybe Hitler or a pedophile priest somewhere. Partly that springs from a psychological habit of not presuming to judge others. Partly it springs from a conviction that, at the end of the day, most people are pretty good and the whole “need of salvation” thing is good for religious types and specially devoted folk, but as long as we keep our noses clean and pay our taxes, we’re pretty much a shoo-in. That mentality needs killin’ bad since the testimony of the Tradition is that the crucifixion not only is the payment for our sin, but a demonstration of what our species, apart from grace, really does. What is homo sapiens? Homo sapiens is the species that does *that* to God when he gets his hands on him. We really are quite vile apart from grace. And that means you, bub. You’re not a nice person. Neither am I. Without the fifty bazillion helps and supports of grace, you would be a disgusting thing indeed. And even with those helps and supports, God has his hands full keeping you out of trouble. You and I are, in the most cosmic sense of the word, jerks. So heaven is not a shoo-in and you need to get off your fat butt and cooperate with grace because you could still lose this battle of life, close your heart forever and wind up losing everything you ever desired most deeply.

That’s the warning of hell. The problem is, there is another sort of person: the one who is pretty sure he knows that there are lots of people in hell and (just between you and me) who quite a number of them are. The problem is simply this: we know no such thing. We don’t know the end of the story. So we are allowed neither presumption nor despair. We are only allowed hope. Fr. Barron seems to me to strike just that balance. He does not preach universalism. His whole point is that hell is a real possibility and he clearly warns of it. What he does not do is indulge the speculation about who or how many go there. That’s God’s job.

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  • Mercury

    I kind of asked this before, but: if Church teaching is thy we cannot do any good on our own, that is, of our own natural abilities, but that all the good we do comes from grace, does this men’s that even when mortal sinners do good (and sometimes do marvelous acts of charity), or when those outside te Faith do good, that is God providing them with the grace to do so (“actual grace” I think)?

    So this is why most people we know who commit all the popular mortal sins (and most of us at some time in our lives)are not totally and completely depraved? But then again, I always thought the Fall did not *totally* corrupt us, either.

    Anyway, when God sees good in us, or when we are told to withhold judgment because we may not see te hidden goodness in someone, is God really only seeing Himself in us? If the only thing we contribute is sin (since every good deed, every good thought, every virtue is a pure gift from God), then I don’t really see what the point of it all is – what can God possibly see in us, if the only good in us is Himself?

    Also, theologically, how does it work out when we ask God to have mercy on someone who died a sinner, but was to our eyes at least, a “good person” – obviously God played a part in that person’s life somehow.

    It’s all confusing and I’m all over the map!

    I too, wonder what all this fuss is about. I think some people really really like the idea of almost everyone going to hell.

    • “…if Church teaching is thy we cannot do any good on our own, that is, of our own natural abilities, but that all the good we do comes from grace….”

      *Is* this Church teaching? It sounds more like old fashioned Total Depravity.

      And it would seem very careless of the Church to fail to note that, if of our own natural abilities we can do good, nevertheless our own natural abilities are a free gift from God.

      “If the only thing we contribute is sin (since every good deed, every good thought, every virtue is a pure gift from God), then I don’t really see what the point of it all is – what can God possibly see in us, if the only good in us is Himself?”

      Let’s try the contrary: Suppose we do contribute good. What follows from that? Where, after all, do we come from? Again, where do our natural abilities come from?

      And yet, “God saw that it was good.” The goodness of creation — including the goodness that the Church teaches remains in fallen men — comes from God, but it is not God. God sees, not Himself, but His image and likeness, in us, even if that image has been restored through a grace supplemental to the grace of creation.

      • My understanding – and I’m open to correction from those more knowledgeable than I — is that we are incapable by our own power of any good meriting salvation, not that we are incapable of any good whatsoever. So even the most upright person on earth, lacking the grace of Jesus Christ, does not deserve heaven.

        However, because everything that exists is good so far as it fulfills its nature, and because the will is pretty much defined as an attraction to the good, everybody everywhere is at least trying to do good, and often succeeding. Even a despicable sinner like yours truly. It’s just that this good is not the kind or amount of good needed to gain eternal beatitude with God.

        This is because God’s forgiveness and redemption is a gift, not something that can be demanded in exchange or in justice.

        If I insulted you, your mother, and your favorite sports team, there is no quantity of cash that I could offer you that would make you forgive me, or welcome me back into friendship with you. That doesn’t mean my works wouldn’t be profitable in themselves. I could still earn money; it’s just that the money is no good for repairing our friendship.

        Note that, if our friendship is repaired, the money can contribute to building our friendship. I can buy you a beer. But my money is still no good unless you give me the gift of forgiveness and restoration. And all the beers I could buy you won’t make you forgive me.

        The same is true of all our works with relation to God. Our first parents did more than insult him; they disrupted his work of creation, damaged it beyond our ability to repair, and we’ve continued the tradition with our own personal sins, including the murder of his Son. We cannot demand forgiveness, or through our own goodness repair the damage that has been done. Our words and deeds cannot be undone. But that does not mean that there is no good left in our works; simply that our works cannot accomplish the kind of good that is most needed.

        I hope I’m both clear and orthodox here. Please correct me if I’m off base.

        • Mercury

          Wow. That’s really well said.

        • Rosemarie


          That sounds about right. All human beings are capable of natural good works, but those will not buy salvation for us because grace is a gift. Natural good works may be pleasing to God on some level, but they cannot save anyone.

          “If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, First Canon on Justification)

          Once we have sanctifying grace in our souls, we can commit salutary acts with God’s help which contribute to our ongoing justification. It is not just we who commit these acts, but also God in and through us.

          “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” (Canon XXIV)

      • Mercury

        Thanks, Tom. Good points.

  • antigon

    ‘[Fr. Barron’s] whole point is that hell is a real possibility and he clearly warns of it. What he does not do is indulge the speculation about who or how many go there. That’s God’s job.’

    And the Troll’s…

    • Mark Shea

      Well, the Troll has a special dispensation.

  • Thinkling

    There is indeed a manufactured controversy about Hell and the likelihood of Salvation which is more about some folks doing some tribalistic freebasing. About the only significant point involved is that in an earlier Fr Barron video in the same vein, he infeliciously described those who disagree with a speculation in a papal encyclical in a way which could be read as comparing that to a LCWR/DignityUSA/FrMcBrien dissent from e.g. the operative part of Humanae Vitae. I really cannot fathom the idea that he sees a moral equivalence there, this is just a wording issue that could stand some clarification from Fr. Barron, but otherwise let’s all take the pitchforks home.

    As Fr. Longenecker has said, having legitimate hope (the theological virtue, not naive wishful thinking) that most may find Salvation, and legitimate recognnition that most are in danger of not doing so, are not in contradiction. Indeed one could make the Chestertonian argument that if there is no danger (Universalism) or complete danger to the point of uber-Calvinism, then having hope makes no sense at all. Only if there is danger, is having hope coherent.

    • Fr. Barron more or less accused Ralph Martin of dissent, just for saying that clarification was required on some points of Spe Salvi where the Pope said, “For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God.”

      Fr. Barron was using this very provisional statement of the Holy Father to paint Martin as a dissenter for upholding the constant teaching of the Church that Hell is a real danger. Martin was not saying that most people go to Hell, or making any claim about the relative numbers in Heaven and Hell. He was just upholding the teaching of the Church that it is crucial to evangelize those who do not know Christ.

      However, Fr. Barron gleans from that brief quote from Spe Salvi the following certainty, “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.”

      Fr. Barron is way off in that statement, in my opinion. To say that Pope Benedict XVI “declared” anything with the quoted statement is ludicrous, in my opinion, and to compare Martin to a liberal theologian is equally ludicrous. To me, Martin is exactly right that clarification is needed on that. “We may suppose” certainly does not mean that “we must suppose.”

  • ppeter

    The problem seems to be that Fr Barron accuses an author, whose book was endorsed by Cardinal George, of dissenting against Spe Salvi’s authoritative teaching (according to Fr Barron) that the vast majority of people end up in heaven.
    While Fr Barron accuses the author of being a dissenter like those who reject the teaching of Humanae Vitae, the author in question claims that, despite the unfortunately provocative title of his recent book, he has engaged in no speculation about the relative number of the saved and the lost. He claims rather to correct a misinterpretation of the teaching of the Council about the frequency with which people put themselves in grave danger of hell (LG 16).
    Hope I’m not damned as a troll for clarifying this…

  • ivan_the_mad

    I remember at university arguing with a friend about the existence of the devil. My friend asserted that the devil was merely evil personified. We went to a priest that we knew, an excellent Jesuit, and asked him if the devil really existed. I still remember the priest’s response verbatim: “Oh, absolutely! And you imperil your soul by believing otherwise!” This was a powerful witness for good to my friend. Thank God for our priests!

  • If you like Fr. Barron on Hell, you may like Professor Ratzinger on Hell. Click my name if interested.

  • Fr. Barron did not accuse Ralph Martin of disssent. He just disagreed with his conclusions. He had a different opinion and backed it up. Often times throughout church history their have been disagreements on certain theological issues not dogmatically defined by the church. This is an issue in which you can have differenting opinions and still be considered right with the church. Just becasuse He disagrees with Ralph Martin does not mean that he has called him a dissenter. Just as i’m sure that Mark S does not think everyone a dissenter when he disagrees with them on a certain point.

    • Mark,
      I don’t know if you read my post above, but he did compare Martin to a “liberal theologian saying the same thing about Paul VI’s teaching on artificial contraception.” To say that Benedict XVI’s statement at issue in Spe Salvi equates to Humanae Vitae is ludicrous. The central point in Humanae Vitae was artificial contraception and he declared the following:

      “We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

      Comparing that statement with Pope Benedict XVI’s statement that “For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God.” , it is evident that the comparison is not an apt one. Just because both statements were made in encyclicals does not mean that both statements are of equal doctrinal weight….not even close.

      • ppeter

        Thank you. That’s thorough, balanced and fair.
        Fr Barron and Dr Martin both have a right to their opinions, but he nobody has a right to mix apples and oranges.

  • “But the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Pope John XXIII, Ad Petri cathedram.

  • Subsistent

    Well does Mr. Shea commend Fr. Barron for not speculating about who or how many go to hell. But let’s not go to the opposite extreme of not taking seriously the text in Revelation 7:9 read on All Saints Day: “… and lo, a GREAT MULTITUDE WHICH NO MAN COULD NUMBER, kai idou, okhlos polus hon arithmēsai auton oudeis edunato”. And let’s not pooh-pooh the conservative Thomist theologian Cardinal Charles Journet’s “deep conviction—not indeed that the gate is not broad or the road wide that leads on to perdition (Matt 7:13), but purely on account of the prayer of Jesus—of the greater number 0f the elect.” (In his book *What is Dogma*?, at the end of Chap. III.)
    And let’s consider seriously the Thomist essayist Jacques Maritain’s refutation (in ̂̂̂§ 8 of “À propos de l’Église du Ciel”, in his book *Approches sans entraves*, Englished as *Untrammeled Approaches*) of Aquinas’s own view here, together with Maritain’s avowal: “I’m persuaded that the idea of the greater number of the elect [l’idée du plus grand nombre des élus] is imposing itself and will impose itself more and more in Christian consciousness [à la conscience chrétienne].”

  • JB

    “Subsistent”, you have cited part of Rev 7:9, apparently as an implied indication that multitudes will go to Hell. However, Rev 7:9 refers not to the damned, but to the saved. (Never mind your Greek translations, the Vatican acknowledges this English translation as Divinely inspired):

    Rev 7:9-10: After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice:
    “Salvation comes from* our God, who is seated on the throne,
    and from the Lamb.”

    • JB

      PS, unless I misunderstood “Subsistent’s” emphasis. If so I apologise in advance.

      In any case, the implication of Rev 7 is that multitudes will be saved, and its mention that “no man could number” the saved accords with Father Barron’s lesson. Combining those facts with our Church’s essential qualities of Hope and Charity, the present indications are for us to hope and believe that all Human souls might be saved in the end. Meanwhile the possibilty of eternal damnation remains true for all of us, but then the essence of our Hope is NOT in some kind of “chance” that God might save us – because that’s not a chance, that’s God’s Promise – but rather, the only limitation on our Hope is within ourselves, under our own free wills to choose to despair, and/or to choose to remain fixed in rebellion against God.

      In sum, the choice is ours.

      HOWever, it also remains true that sin tends to become habitual, which is why we need constantly to repent of our sins. One Exorcist – in my opinion a very reasonable and common-sensical one – Father Fortea, has written in his book “Interview With An Exorcist”, a very practical common-sense warning about how we can go to Hell in the long run even if we start out not wanting to: His analogy of sin is drug addiction; you don’t start out being a drug addict, but after a while you become addicted, just like one becomes addicted to one’s sins, becoming less willing to repent until one becomes unable – unable because unwilling. And the consquent suffering and regret, of drug addiction OR (far worse) of hardened sin, does not change one’s fixed will in that condition.

    • Subsistent

      I’m happy to make clear that like “RB”, I too was taking the Scripture as referring to the multitudes that will be saved, not lost; and I welcome these further citations of Revelation.

      • The fact that a great multitude will be saved does not mean anything as far as the comparative numbers that will be saved or not saved. We simply do not know. We must evangelize precisely because, regardless of the relative numbers that go there, Hell is a real danger, and the graces provided by Christ through the Church is the only way we have been given to snatch souls away from that danger.

        Teresa of Avila, and the seers of Fatima, in conformity with the constant teaching of the Church and most Fathers and Doctors, saw a multitude of souls falling into Hell. This, too, tells us nothing about the relative numbers, but as with the Gospel reading yesterday, even ONE sheep falling into Hell is too many. There is no such thing as an acceptable loss with Christians.

        • Subsistent

          Well, altho hell is certainly within my power if I finally decide to go there, nevertheless, Maritain is, I think, well within his rights in asserting (in the same essay I’ve cited) that if there be “perhaps a great multitide in hell, une grande foule aux enfers”, there’s “surely a much greater multitude in paradise, il y a sûrement une bien plus grande foule en Paradis.”

          • He’s within his rights, certainly. Between the mysterious interplay of God’s will to save all, and our free will to choose our own path, it is not unreasonable nor heretical to place emphasis on God’s side of the equation.

            Does that mean it is necessarily correct? No. St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, and Our Lady of Fatima, to name just a few luminaries, are not to be casually tossed aside. I actually think the danger of Hell is greater today, when people are much more inclined to presumption.

        • Subsistent

          To say that “even ONE sheep falling into Hell is too many” expresses a laudable charity toward each of our fellow humans. But does such wording obscure the fact that, strictly speaking, no one ever FALLS into hell, but rather, freely and deliberately chooses to go there?
          As for visionaries’ visions of people falling into hell, let’s remember Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s commentary in Pope John Paul II’s document (dated May 13, 2000) on the message of Fatima, commentary indicating that the images which the Fatima seers and/or other seers saw of hell, etc., were by no means photographic representations, but were only symbolic, influenced largely by the seers’ own mental images, derived perhaps from “holy pictures” they had seen.

          • Regarding the visions of Hell of Teresa, the Fatima seers, etc. not being photographic representations, certainly that is true. But if the point of the visions (that of many souls going into Hell) was itself not real, then what exactly was real about the vision? It’s like Adam and Eve eating the fruit. You can say that they didn’t really eat a fruit, but the reality behind the symbol/myth (that we turned away from God) is still real.

            • Subsistent

              No doubt the point of the vision was real. For more on what that real point was, see Cardinal Ratziner’s commentary, which begins about halfway down the web page, available on the Vatican’s website by choosing Roman Curia, then Congregations, then Doctrine of the Faith, then Doctrinal Documents. Next, scroll down backward in time to 2000, then to Documents regarding “The Message of Fatima”, June 26, 2000. Bingo!

              • I checked it out, but I didn’t see anything that indicated that the fall of souls into Hell was not real. It did say that the deeper meaning was to underscore the urgency of faith, conversion, penance, etc. but I’m not sure what the urgency is, if in fact, very few or none actually do end up in Hell.

                • Subsistent

                  Seems to me that the urgency is that, however few other humans may end up in hell, I myself will end up there (with demons pushing me around, to boot) if I don’t beneficently love others as well as myself in accord with God’s commands (and at the same stroke, in accord with my own deepest God-given inclinations).

                  • I’m not sure I follow you. Are you riffing on the “to whom much is given, much will be required” theme? Anyway, I think we’re basically on the same page. Hell is real, and we can’t presume that anyone will or will not go there, including ourselves. Therefore, for our own good as well as others, we have to love others to the best of our ability (which includes sharing the truth with them in a wise and prudent way.)

                    • Subsistent

                      Well, in speaking of “my own deepest God-given inclinations”, I was alluding to what Aquinas (in Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 22) calls the “essential direction or order of the [human] will”, with which a good moral (or supra-moral) choice is in accord, and a bad choice in disaccord. This, BTW, is one way those in a state of mortal sin are interiorly conflicted, and those in hell unhappy: by their own deepest essential inclination, they want what’s truly good, but by their own free option, they DON’T want this.

                    • “This, BTW, is one way those in a state of mortal sin are interiorly conflicted, and those in hell unhappy: by their own deepest essential inclination, they want what’s truly good, but by their own free option, they DON’T want this.”

                      Like Socrates’s tyrants in the Gorgias, who do what they think is best, but don’t do what they want.

          • Regarding your other point, that of falling vs. having chosen it ourselves, I’d view it as similar to drug addiction. We’ve fallen into it AND we have chosen it ourselves. Would drug addicts still have chosen it, had they known exactly where the sum of many choices would lead them? Perhaps not, but they chose it just the same.

      • Subsistent

        Not “RB” but “JB”. (Duh!)

  • Mark: The controversy has little to do that with that older video. It surrounds a new wave of discussion about Ralph’s book, “Will Many Be Saved?” In his critique of the book, Fr. Barron compared Ralph’s request for more clarification on the Pope’s remark to a dissenter of Humanae Vitae–“precisely analogous” in his words.

    • Mark Shea

      Ah! I get it.

  • Sherry Weddell


    I’ve read Ralph Martin’s book – which Fr. Barron was responding to – and Ralph’s primary point was the a common ignoring of the last part of Lumen Gentium 16, under the influence of certain interpretations of von Balthazar and Rahner, has been understood to provide the theological basis for the de facto culture of univeralism which is held, unquestioning, by 98% of all the American Catholics I’ve ever dealt with and which has helped to gut the Church’s evangelizing and missionary practice. Ralph is simply pointing out how critical that missing part of LG 16 is (let me quote the whole context):

    “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.”

    Martin’s point is that while you certainly can be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ or access to his Church, it is very difficult to persist in that path without the normal supports instituted for human beings (Scripture, the Church, the sacraments, Christian community, communion of saints, etc.) and there are forces that act against us – the world, the flesh, Satan. The result is that “often” human beings fail to respond to and follow persistently whatever grace they have been given WITHOUT access to the fulness of the means of grace. Hence, it remains critical that we make every effort to offer the normal means of grace to every human being rather than presuming that since almost everyone will be saved anyway, that it doesn’t matter.

    Fr. Barron responded that essentially, believing that most or almost all will be saved actually fuels evangelism. (Plus all that other commenters here have noted. He did, mysteriously, imply that Martin’s mild comment about the Pope’s essentially speculative passage was the equivalent of dissenting to Humanae Vitae. It seems most unlike Fr. Barron.)

    • Mark Shea

      Is there some other video people are referring to? Cuz he says nothing like this in this video.

    • Subsistent

      Why does Ms. Weddell seem to base the impetus of evangelization on fear of hell more than on eagerness to communicate the “good news of great joy” of which the angel spoke to the shepherd’s at Our Lord’s birth — that unless I myself freely choose otherwise thru obstinacy in sin, I’ll one day be absolutely, perfectly happy forever?

      • Aren’t those just two sides of the same coin?

      • Sherry Weddell

        Huh? Could be because I DON”T “base the impetus of evangelization on fear of hell more than on eagerness to communicate the “good news of great joy”. I have to assume that you haven’t read my book on evangelism: Forming Intentional Disciples, or ever heard me speak on the topic or you wouldn’t imagine such a thing.

        First of all, I was talking about Ralph Martin’s thesis in his book – and what I know are some of his concerns from private conversations with him on the topic.

        Speaking for myself, let’s just says there is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon between what we have going right now in nearly every parish and diocese in America that I’ve worked in (over 40% of all dioceses) – a near total silence about even the POSSIBILITY of eternal loss and what you seem to think I was talking about : the extreme of being more focused upon hell than on eagerness to share the good news.

        Both/and, folks. Both realities/possibilities are part of the Biblical picture, of our Lord’s teaching on the subject, of the teaching of the Church, the doctors and saints throughout the centuries. The exact and delicate relationship between the two is what we are wrestling with here.

        • Subsistent

          Seems to me, an important reason why preachers don’t preach more on the serious and concrete possibility of hell — permanent separation from intimacy with the divine — is because it’s obvious to anyone with his head on straight. Why should I be raised to such intimacy if I don’t want to be? What if I want to have “done it my way” (H/T Frank Sinatra), my head “bloody but unbowed”?
          My point is that while hell’s real possibility is an essential part of Catholic teaching, it’s a part that’s accessible to human reason even unaided by public revelation from On High. So why should preachers belabor the obvious?

          • Subsistent

            Footnote: “My head is bloody, but unbowed.” is a line in a poem by one William Ernest Henley, titled *Invictus*.

          • Sherry Weddell

            Because, it is anything but obvious to post-modern, 21st century Catholics, almost none of whom believe in hell as a real possible destination for themselves and anyone they care about. Really. Post-moderns aren’t much into reason anyway and they deeply distrust “meta-narratives” – that is universal truths that apply to everyone, especially when pronounced by authority figures. They trust their own experience and intuition and that of people they care about.

            They never hear anyone else talk about hell or preach meaningfully about hell. 50 years of silence means that even raising the topic is unbelievable. I’ve watched zealous leaders and evangelists in our seminars come completely unglued when one of our presenters hinted at the possibility of eternal loss. It had never dawned upon them that it was a real possibility.

            • Subsistent

              Well, if those Catholics who don’t “believe in hell as a real possible destination for themselves and anyone they care about … aren’t much into reason anyway and they deeply distrust … universal truths that apply to everyone, especially when pronounced by authority figures” — if this is so, then how effective in convincing them of hell’s real possibility for themselves is repetition of assertions of that possibility by such authority figures in preaching or catechizing? (After all, they already hear clear references to final perdition in actual Scripture readings from the New Testament in the Sunday liturgies.)

              • dominic1955

                Well, isn’t that part of preaching-convincing? You don’t stop preaching a truth because people do not want to hear it. For around 50 years we have stopped hearing hard truths in many pulpits, and unsuprisingly, people stopped even having any real belief that they might be held accountable some day.

                Here’s where the “meeting people where they are at” comes in-part of the new way of evangelizing will be convincing people of the error of the “infallibility” of personal experience, intuition, emotion etc. Not preaching on hell (in a way that takes what I just said into account) is a grand way of getting people out of their rut…

  • If you like Fr. Barron on Hell, you may like Professor Ratzinger on Hell.

  • Sherry Weddell

    I would suggest that everyone who is really interested in the topic actually read Martin’s book, rather than depending upon what you pick up in comboxes. It was his STD thesis and contains extensive material on the Church’s discussion of this issue through the centuries, a chapter on theological interpretation of Lumen Gentium 16 and the Scriptural passages that underly LG 16, and a chapter each on Rahner and Balthazar’s work and how (for different reasons) their work has been used to support the de facto culture of universalism.

    • Totally agree, Sherry. It’s such an important book–in my view, the most significant piece of New Evangelization scholarship. Every serious student of theology should engage it. I read it cover to cover and found it very persuasive, but I’m sad that it’s been reduced, for many, to one tangential footnote.

    • ppeter

      Thanks, Sherry, for your level-headed approach to this controversy.
      Love your book!

  • dominic1955

    I think, over all, this is a tempest in a tea kettle but that just shows us we need to be careful of what we say and how we say it-myself included.

    “One of the most theologically accomplished popes in history…” Not that Pope Benedict XVI isn’t a very intelligent theologian, but I feel a little eye roll coming on when people dispense profluvium about very recent pontiffs to try to bolster their opinions. There are lots of “theologically accomplished” popes, and I would bet they would not agree that many are saved if we could ask them. In fact, some of them write to the contrary. Now what? Are they trumped by the fact that they said something at an earlier point in time and are now dead? I think there has been far too much “now-ism” in theological and pastoral discussion.

    “…writing at a very high level of authority…” Yes, an encyclical isn’t the pope’s late night musings but he doesn’t do what Fr. Baron says he does next.

    “…has declared that we oughtn’t to hold that Hell is densely populated.” No, sorry, actually he didn’t “declare”. I know popes are not held to a precise formula to make infallible declarations, but I liked it in the old days when they sure acted like it and threw a formula out there when they were really meaning it as something that folks have to hold to be Catholic. I had a funny thought come to mind, “With the full Apostolic authority vested in St. Peter and his successors, I suppose, I wonder, I propose that we can hold that most people will be saved. Let those with the temerity to question this musing of ours know they incur the wrath of Sts. Peter and Paul, then again maybe not because that is kind of harsh. There may be consequences, but then again maybe not! Interpret that as you will, all things to the contrary notwithstanding.”

    “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.”-That is the money quote and it is patently ridiculous. If we wanted to get technical, what the Pope said in Spe Salvi makes it clear that one can hold to the opinion that very many are saved without stepping outside the bonds of faith as much of the tradition has held that few will be saved but neither has been defined so both are open propositions that can be debated. That is a far cry from something you must hold to otherwise you’ve excommunicated yourself and thus not at all like dissenting from Humanae vitae (and Casti conubii, lest we forget) and the constant teaching of the Church on the proper ends of marriage and sex.

  • Can anybody comment on Fr. Barron’s video and how you would fit it in with Purgatory? I do not say that this would be a hard or an easy job, just one that Fr. seems to have overlooked in the seven minutes of the recording.

    • Balin

      Father Barron makes reference to Purgatory in his article regarding Mr. Martin’s point of view: “…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.”

      This reference to Purgatory that Father Barron cites is actually a footnote from Mr. Martin’s book that the author isn’t too enamored with because it contradicts his thesis.

      What I would like to see clarified by the legions who subscribe to the many are in Hell position is how the belief that many are in Hell excludes the willingness to have a reasonable hope that all may be saved. One can reasonably hope all will be saved while believing and/or understanding that it might not and/or probably will not happen. We can reasonably hope that all may be saved and Hell can still be crowded. They are not mutually exclusive. The fact that they are so adamant that the only true position is that Hell must and needs be crowded and we need not have any reasonable hope that it may be otherwise is very disturbing. To refuse to reasonably hope that all will be saved and refuse to admit that this reasonable hope is Catholic says more about the holder of this view than it says about the view itself.

      And to the Hell is crowded crowd who are so fond of quoting private revelations as near-dogma, please explain why the Jesus Prayer from Fatima was given to us and yet is never mentioned by them in this debate.

      The Jesus Prayer and the Pope’s quote; Two great tastes that go great together. Yet distasteful to the Hell is crowded crowd. There’s no accounting for taste I suppose.

      • There, you did it too. Don’t look too carefully at what the purification of Purgatory is. It might let you realize that this is all straining over gnats.

  • Rebecca

    It’s ridiculous to say that we don’t know if anyone is in hell. All of the saints, the apparitions and let’s not forget JESUS say that there are people in hell. Why would Jesus warn and warn and say flat out that the way is narrow and FEW PEOPLE FIND IT??? It’s things like this that make people indifferent and apathetic, because people like Fr. Barron and you make them think that there isn’t any reason not to be. Jesus knows human nature better than you. And He thought it was for the best to warn and warn and warn people about hell. Not act like it was all gonna be ok. If you want to imitate Jesus you should talk about the great danger of hell A LOT like he did. He was the one who warned about hell the most and you should follow his lead.

    • Mark Shea

      Saying “we do not know if anyone is in hell” is not the same as saying “it’s all gonna be okay”. I have warned countless times about the dangers of hell. Recall my refusal to vote for candidates who advocate sin worthy of the everlasting fires of hell. When I did that, I was told I was a fussy perfectionist and that advocacy of mortal sin–when done by a Republican–was a minor peccadillo. Indeed, I was told I had a moral *obligation* to support people advocating mortal sin.

      Now, suddenly, we’re worried about hell?

    • Subsistent

      “Rebecca” is indeed in illustrious company — Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Jansenius — in assuming that Jesus actually answered the disciples’ question whether those saved were many or few. Some very early Christians likewise assumed that Jesus answered Peter’s question whether John would suffer a violent death such as Jesus had just finished predicting Peter would. So the last chapter of John’s gospel is at pains to point out that Jesus did NOT answer Peter’s question, but turned it to what Peter himself should do: “*Do thou* [imperative mode] follow me, *su* moi akolouthei.”
      Likewise Jesus told his disciples what they themselves should do: Follow “the path less traveled by” (H/T Robert Frost) to heaven, not the road leading on to perdition which most persons were taking here on earth. (Christopher Columbus was en route to India. Did he get there?) So, the way I (among others) figure, Our Lord didn’t answer the question about the comparative number of those ultimately saved vs. lost — any more than he answered the disciples’ question (Acts 1:6) “Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

  • Elmwood

    I read an Orthodox bishop explain that hell is really the fire of God’s love or divine energies. In this way, like Fr. Barron has explained so well, hell is a state and not a place. This would also explain why purgatory is understood as a fire as well. But, I’m not sure the church teaches that we are to believe that nobody is in hell, rather that there are certainly souls there but we do not know which souls are. Can anyone say that Judas is not there? He most likely is, along with Hitler and Stalin and John Wayne Gacy among others.

    • What can be said about Judas is that it is not your job to judge the matter. That seat at the banquet of God is reserved for another. You should not have attempted to sit so high.

  • absconde_me

    The fate of the soul seems to be of paramount importance to Jesus, indicating that there is reason for grave concern. What should trouble “the Church” i.e., those baptized, seems less “what of those that haven’t heard the gospel?” and more “what of us?” We know what is right and wrong…and yet what are we living by? If 80% of baptized Catholics don’t even bother to worship on Sunday, that’s something to fear, to be sure. God’s judgment is but a day, but his mercy endures forever. But what does his judgment portend for us? It makes me tremble…