Sunday, December 17, 2017

Is hell empty?

According to Bishop Barron:

This isn't official Catholic teaching as of yet. And it may not become official Catholic teaching. In general, when Rome changes course, there's a softening up process. But this has been in the works for some time:

 Von Balthasar was John-Paul II's favorite theologian, which is why he made him a cardinal. To my knowledge, hopeful universalism is gaining ground in Catholic circles, although it's largely underground at this time.

Even if it's not official teaching, it's no longer treated as heresy. Catholic prelates in good standing can openly promote it. It's now an acceptable option in Catholic theology. 

We need to stop and consider what a radical departure from traditional Catholic theology this represents. In a nutshell, traditional Catholic theology follows this basic narrative: due to original sin, humans are born damned. Born in a state of mortal sin. Infant baptism changes your condition from a state of mortal sin to a state of grace. However, you can, at any time, relapse to a damnable state of mortal sin. Therefore, a lifelong maintenance program of absolution and communion is required to keep you in a state of grace. Even that's not a sure thing. It just raises the odds that you're still in state of grace. Then, on your deathbed, you receive last rites to make it more likely that you will die in a state of grace. But there's no assurance of salvation this side of the grave.

Universalism can't be grafted onto that framework. Rather, universalism represents a drastic paradigm-shift. If universalism is true, then the sacramental system is superfluous. Salvation is independent of baptism, absolution, communion, and last rites. The sacrificial system doesn't even make salvation more likely if everyone is heavenbound regardless. 

In addition, in traditional Catholic theology, valid sacraments require a valid priesthood. On top of that is the cult of the saints, with the intercession of Mary as paramount. 

But if universalism is true, then the priesthood is superfluous. So at one stroke, universalism nullifies the rationale for the Catholic sacramental and sacerdotal system. That's an immense relict of a defunct paradigm. And the cult of the saints suffers the same fate. 

In addition, this takes the sting out of denunciations against abortion. If universalism is true, then everyone who performs an abortion or facilitates an abortion is going to heaven. 

Consider all the nonconformists who were tortured for "soul-murder". Yet now there's no such thing. Sorry about that! Don't take it personally! 

Finally, consider Bishop Barron's statement that:

Therefore, if there are any people in Hell (and the church has never obliged us to believe that any human is in that state)...

Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell.

This invites complete theological skepticism. The church of Rome, throughout the centuries, has assiduously cultivated belief in damnation. It milked the fear of hell as a powerful disincentive to motivate Catholics to throw themselves at the mercy of Mother Church, because there was no salvation outside the Church. Saving grace was confined to the sacraments. 

To say this was never official teaching, and is probably false, means the Catholic church constantly fostered a false impression. It said and did things that were bound to deceive the faithful. It did nothing to correct that misconception until beginning in the late 20C. How can you trust anything the Catholic church says? 

And this isn't a theological quibble. The afterlife is central to the nature of religion. This life is brief, wracked by suffering and injustice. Religion is fundamentally about taking the long-range view. What happens to you when you die? Do you pass into oblivion? Will you be punished? Will there be a reversal of fortunes? Will things get better or worse? Will you be reunited with your loved ones? 

If, indeed, the church of Rome has never taken an official position on this position, then Catholicism is derelict. This is the most important issue is all of religion. If the Catholic church refuses to take a stand one way or the other, but plays coy and plays it safe by remaining noncommittal, then it doesn't even claim to know the answer to the one question that any religion worth its salt must be competent to answer. Why would any rational person look to Rome if it can't give a straight answer to that question? 


  1. I wonder if the motivation for the new view is that the older one harmed ecumenical and intereligious dialogue.

  2. A devastating analysis. One which gets to the heart of the utter absurdity and bankruptcy of the self-proclaimed 'One True Church'. If the 'One True Church' cannot speak in unity on this, the most fundamental of issues concerning man, his state, his fate, then, as Steve says, why would *any* rational person take this ludicrous outfit seriously?

  3. Yeah, the authority claims of the Roman Catholic hierarchy are self-proclaimed and unbiblical.