Heaven, Hell, C.S. Lewis, and Hans Urs von Balthasar

Father Joseph Fessio, Vivian Dudro, and Joseph Pearce discuss Michael Barber’s  Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know.

"The Last Judgment" (1467-71) a triptych attributed to Flemish painter Hans Memling. [Wikipedia]

This partial transcript is from the FORMED Book Club discussion of Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know by Michael Barber, July 8, 2019. Participants were Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., founder and editor of Ignatius Press; Vivian Dudro, senior editor at Ignatius Press; and the author Joseph Pearce, who edits titles produced jointly by Ignatius Press and the Augustine Institute.

Click here to see the full discussion, or watch the embedded video at the bottom of this page. And click here to visit the FORMED Book Club.

Father Fessio: I think there’s somewhere in C.S. Lewis, where he puts forth the idea that there is kind of a conscious choice we make which leads to our own destruction as persons, where we kind of become unpersons in hell, not that we are annihilated but that there is a kind of disintegration.

On that topic, someone who reflected a lot on hell and on Christ’s descent into hell was Hans Urs von Balthasar. When I was at the Rigi, which is a little mountain in Switzerland where the Johannes Gemeinschaft, the community von Balthasar founded, has a little cabin, I was reading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In mentioning it to Balthasar—here is this great theologian who had read just about everything that can be read—he said, “That is the greatest book on heaven and hell that’s been written.”

In The Great Divorce a bus goes from hell to the outskirts of heaven, in this kind of purgatory. It’s the opportunity for these people to come on in or not. In one scene George MacDonald pleads with this fellow, “Accept the mercy.”

“I don’t want any bloody mercy,” the man says.

“Oh, yes, accept the bloody mercy,” MacDonald replies.

Somewhere in the book there’s this classic statement: At the end of time there will be those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

Yes, if you’re in hell it’s because you’ve chosen to be there, but the interesting thing is that hell at the beginning of the book is described as this place where everyone is moving farther and farther apart because no one wants to be near anybody. It’s solitude, it’s being on your own [in the vastness of space].

Yet when the bus goes up to heaven they find out it’s just a little crack in, you know, the land. But it’s infinitesimal so that there’s something. And for heaven Lewis has this beautiful image, which he admits he got from someone else, that everything is heavier than on earth. When you’re trying to walk on the grass, it punches your feet. You put your hand in the water and it gets bruised because water is like rock-solid. Raindrops or dewdrops are like big blocks. So Lewis is trying to make the point that heaven is more real, more solid, more concrete, heavier, weightier than earth, and that therefore hell is less.

Joseph Pearce: What Lewis is all about is, this life is the Shadowlands and what’s to come in heaven is more real. But if we take the alternative choice? If Christ is the more fully human person and in becoming more like Christ we become more fully ourselves as human beings, then if we refuse that, we become less fully human.

I love your distinction between annihilation, which is ceasing to be, and disintegration, where we are no longer the integrated whole that we were meant to be but where we actually start to fragment because our own ego cannot hold it together.

Father Fessio: Just as Paul tells us that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the mind of man what is laid up for us, that is to say, we cannot imagine the glories of heaven. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15, around verse 30, he says some people are asking what the body will be like in heaven. We all ask that, right? And Paul says that’s a stupid question, and he begins to explain why it’s a stupid question. And just as we cannot grasp or comprehend with our images and our experiences what heaven will be like, likewise with hell.

All our images of hell point to something which is a mystery beyond our full comprehension. Now you can say the images are metaphorical, but as Lewis also mentions, in his book Miracles, because something is metaphorical does not mean it’s meaningless. To say hell is not really fire does not mean it’s not going to hurt. It’s worse than fire.

Vivian Dudro: You mentioned von Balthasar. In his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”?, he quotes from The Great Divorce.

Father Fessio: OK. Let’s get to that.

In chapter eight of Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know, which is titled “Not Inevitable”, meaning salvation is not inevitable, the author speaks a couple of times about who is in hell. He makes these statements. On page 124, he says that “the New Testament authors indicate that in the end not all will be saved.” On page 125: “Although it has been indicated that God ‘desires all men to be saved’, numerous passages indicate that not all will be.” And here, a little later on 125, he says that Jesus makes the point that there will be individuals who are not saved.

In this chapter Michael Barber explicitly refers to Hans Urs von Balthasar and his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Will Be Saved”?

Vivian: And our revised version has a wonderful foreword by Bishop Barron.

Father Fessio: Balthasar is famous for being accused of saying that hell is empty and that we are assured that all men will be saved. I think it’s very important to make the distinction Balthasar does.

Balthasar says explicitly that there are two strands of New Testament texts. There are clearly strands which talk about eternal damnation. Jesus says that the way is narrow to salvation and few choose it while the way to hell is broad and many are on it. With respect to Judas, he says that it would have been better had he never been born. But there’s never any statement that Jesus makes that says we know that some will not be saved and we know the proportion or how many. On the other hand, in the New Testament there’s a series of verses: “I will draw all flesh to myself “, God desires, God wills, “that all men be saved”. That’s in First Timothy, I think.

So you’ve got these two strands of text, one of which clearly shows that hell is a reality in itself and a possibility for each of us and another which asks us to hope for and pray for the salvation of all men. How do we synthesize that? Balthasar’s point is you can’t synthesize it; you shouldn’t synthesize it.

The problem is, that if we’re going to say we’re sure there’s a large number who are damned, it’s always the other people, you know, and thank God that we’re not in that number. Whereas Balthasar says that we have to hope for the salvation of every single human being, especially ourselves; and if we have a fear of damnation for any one, the primary person we should fear for is ourselves. So he is opposed to the certainty that some are damned, and he makes it clear that the Church has never dogmatically said that any particular person is in hell, so we don’t want to have that certainty that some are in hell. At the same time, we cannot have the certainty that we will go to heaven or that anybody is in heaven, except the canonized saints. We have to live in this time of hope, to hope for the whole human race and for ourselves that Christ’s redeeming sacrifice will be effective in us.

It’s a legitimate debate. Certainly Michael Barber has on his side many great theologians, starting with Augustine, who was the one who basically began this idea of a kind of a sociological discussion of who is in hell and who is not. And there’s Dante, of course.

But on the other side you have great theologians also. There’s Gregory of Nyssa, Origen. And there are modern theologians like Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict), who would side with Balthasar. So it’s a worthwhile debate.

Whatever side one comes down on, existentially we all have to fear for the salvation of our souls. Let’s not make fear our only motive for loving God and not sinning, but let’s not take it away either. Hey, Joseph, you’ve taught classes; I’ve taught classes. Take away the final exams and what happens? People don’t study. Love of learning, that’s a great motivation. Fear of failing, that helps too.

Joseph Pearce: And I would say, by way of keeping the controversy rolling here, that’s because the possibility of failure exists. If they were going to pass the exam anyway, failure would no longer be very scary.

I’m certainly not opposed to the von Balthasar/ Ratzinger position–I don’t like to be opposed to anything that Cardinal Ratzinger says, quite frankly. But there are two things I would like to say. First of all, I think it’s very intriguing and interesting, now you mention it, I hadn’t really thought about it before, that the Church does canonize those that it says dogmatically and

definitively are in heaven but has never canonized those that it says dogmatically and definitively are in hell, and that’s actually very intriguing.

We do have presumably the assurance that there are souls in the hell or spirits in hell because Satan’s there and the demons are there, so it’s not as if hell is uninhabited. The argument is about whether it’s inhabited by human souls.

Father Fessio: Yes, it’s a very important point. Hell does exist, and Satan and the fallen angels are there. And Balthasar has explicitly repudiated what they call apokatastasis, which is an idea that in the end, the final end, hell will be emptied and we’ll all be in heaven, and that’s been repudiated by the Church and rejected by all the people I’ve mentioned.

Vivian, do have something to say?

Vivian Dudro: First I want to say that the only reason Father and I are bringing this up is because Michael Barber does in his book Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know.

And he explicitly takes issue with von Balthasar’s book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? When I get in this conversation with people, I like to say that you could rename von Balthasar’s book Dare We Hope That God’s Desire Will Be Fulfilled? Because it’s God’s desire that all he creates comes into a consummate love with him. That is his desire, so dare we hope that this desire will be fulfilled?

I was speaking to Father earlier about an analogy for different kinds of works.

Joseph, maybe you’ll appreciate this. Different works are different things; we use the expression apples and oranges. Hans Urs von Balthasar writes as if he were a man walking through a garden after a butterfly. He’s not really trying to pin it down; he’s trying to follow it wherever it might go, and there might be contradictory things at the same time, and it’s all a mystery, and he’s just kind of following wherever it leads. And then you get some of these trained theologians, and they’re more like the guy in the garden who wants to get the butterfly in a net and pin it on a board and start measuring its wingspan. These are two very different ways of understanding the butterfly. And I think that’s a helpful analogy when we sometimes compare different sorts of authors.

Joseph Pearce: I like that. I think it was Keats or one of the Romantic poets who said that we kill when we dissect, that you have to want to know the life of thing but not to know it so well that you are killing it in the process.

Father Fessio: Actually he said it more poetically. He said we murder to dissect.

Joseph Pearce: OK. Thank you. Who was it?

Father Fessio: I think it was T.S. Eliot. (For the actual poet and verse, see below.)

Vivian Dudro: The point is, that the truth is a really big thing. You’re a champion of paradoxes, Joseph. There are often these seemingly contradictory things. In Scripture itself we get these seeming contradictions between hell and the fear of hell on one hand and this desire of God for all to be saved on the other hand. And how do you put these things together? We really can’t.

Joseph Pearce: It’s important to distinguish, as Balthasar does and Ratzinger does, that an apparent contradiction, in other words a paradox, is not the same thing as a contradiction. Faith and reason is a paradox. Faith is, by necessity, something you don’t know for certain; reason is something by which we know something for certain or the things that we can apprehend certainly. Holding faith and reason together is paradox.

Vivian: We’ve been raving about this book in every session, haven’t we? About how wonderful it is and how much we’ve all learned from it. And in this chapter Father and I both came up against its limits, right? There’s limits to what we really can apprehend and express, and it’s okay to be reminded that those limits are there, and that’s not to disparage the work that’s been done here.

Father Fessio: In fact, it points out one of the great strengths of this book, namely, it’s very scriptural. But in this particular case, the author will take Scripture and he’ll say, well I’ve quoted this already, but he says that the “New Testament authors indicate that in the end not all will be saved.” But that’s not true. They don’t say not all will be saved. I mean, there are some threats– if this happens, that happens; or, if you’re in this group, you’re lost. But it doesn’t say that not all will be saved. He quotes the passage from Timothy here, that says God desires that all men will be saved, but he says that it doesn’t really mean that God’s will is that all be saved.

Vivian Dudro: Barber emphasizes over and over, and we’ve emphasized in these meetings, that if there is anyone in hell, he chose to go there; he refused the offer of God’s love and mercy. So back to The Great Divorce, I mean how long is it going to last that these people are offered to get on the bus and check out heaven and decide to accept mercy or not? Lewis doesn’t say. Who knows how long this could go on?

Joseph Pearce: I think the problem is that the process of disintegration is something which is ongoing. To use what happened to Gollum [in The Lord of the Rings] as a verb, we can Gollumize ourselves through our pride so that we cease to be rational. Gollum is no longer a rational creature. He made choices when he was rational which compromised his reason.

Vivian Dudro: That’s right. So that’s why we should all be in fear and trembling about receiving these invitations from God and heeding them while we have time to do it. And that’s the point Barber is ultimately making through the whole book–that it’s God’s grace, it’s God’s invitation to enter into his life, but we do have the freedom not to.

Father Fessio: Amen, sister.

——–

Note: Father Fessio later looked up the poem that linked dissection with murder. It is “The Tables Turned” by William Wordsworth. Here is the relevant verse:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Video of discussion between Father Fessio, Vivian Dudro, and Joseph Pearce:


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29 Comments

  1. Many today say

    “If God is so hateful and wrathful, then I want nothing to do with him.”

    So in the context of a wrathful God of the Old Testament, how do we as Christians explain the ever lasting punishment of Hell, as given within the Gospels, to none believers.

    ”All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven to men”

    My understand of these words, are that, when one deliberately destroys the potential of the soul, by persistently denying the Truth (light/grace/living water) of the Holy Spirit, who prompts the heart to flourish and grow spiritually, it would eventual result in that person, been able to call evil good, and good evil.

    Many cultures throughout the ages have believed in Heaven and Hell and it could be said that this belief is innately known; as we hide in the bushes so to say, to cover our nakedness (Sinfulness/evil) before God (Goodness)

    Any individual, who deliberately separates the intellect from the heart, receives a cold dry light, the product of which is an intellect, free from the normal constraints of conscience, as self-will rules. Because the light is cold, its deliberate application via free Will upon the heart/soul, has a drying effect, resulting in that soul/heart been devoid of true love and compassion, a self-contained dwelling place of Spiritual Desolation.

    This given personal revelation, relates to Hell as described by Jesus in the parable of the Lazarus at the rich man’s gate.

    Many years ago, before I knew what the early Greeks did know (Sibyl)#

    Speck of light, in darkest night
    Opening eye orange sky
    A universe in a grain of sand but opened on whose command?
    Wide waste land of orange clay, continual day
    No shrub, tree or hill, total still
    Horizon racing to the eye, empty land and sky
    Then black speck so far away drawn back for display
    A woman dressed in shabby black seen from the back
    Walking with purpose to nowhere, further into the orange glare
    Now her frame fills the eye wide as the widest sky
    Turning a dried out corpse every part intact
    Groaning, “Why have you brought me back?”
    Obduracy, holding back despair, nowhere to go but on ward into the orange glow
    In desolation she did stand, a soul contained within her own land
    Whom she spoke to I do not know, but me she did not see
    In sadness I left her ‘orange’ sky with the closing of the eye
    Knowing that she would never die

    #Sibyl. “Any of a number of women, believed to be oracles or prophetesses, devotees of Apollo. One of the most famous was the Sibyl of Came. Apollo asked her to be his lover in return he offered her anything she would like, she accepted his gift and asked for as many years as a pile of sweeping contained grains of dust. The grains numbered a thousand. Unfortunately she did not ask for eternal youth. She changed her
    mind about becoming Apollo’s mistress and continued to age. She finally became
    so old that she hung from the ceiling of her cave, in a bottle all shrivelled up, and when the children asked her what she wanted most she replied, “I want to die”

    Please consider continuing via the link

    http://www.catholicethos.net/god-old-testament-hateful-wrathful/#comment-205

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Good points and discussion ; pertinent esp. in our times, when it comes to antilife issues too, in the misuse of seeming compassion , fostering instead , lack of
    trust in God , thus sin of presumption . Trusting enough , in The Author of life that if He chose to plan and create a life, one has to expect and trust that He would also help overcome the fears against same . Such presumption can manifest as lies that the child is going to be in heaven any way , that those who choose to not trust in Him too are also going to find enough trust magically , to truly take in the magnitude of the arrogance and repent , for His mercy to reach in .
    Exorcists instead warn how such choices invite in the death spirits of fears and despair that can manifest in varied ways . One such related area could be , blinding or hardening persons from not seeing the need to ask for the trust that if He chose to make one as male or female , He as Father , can also grant the strength to live in that identity and its roles and responsibilities .
    Our Lord taking on human nature , to make up for our own many occasions of lack of that trust ,in The Father , Bl.Mother too, showing the heroic trust , esp. in The Passion , many saints too , including St.Faustina , chosen to be the first saint of this century, in the theme of ‘Jesus , I trust in Thee ‘ , who had an abundance of mystical experiences too , in her short 33 years of life , no fear around demons or from departed souls visiting her , asking for prayers .
    The mystery of heaven too, such as in the promises ( Revelation ) as to how the men who are virgins/ priests , who also know the song ( ?the authority of the Sacraments ) would accompany The Lamb, wherever He goes – a Lord who created the whole universe from a tiny particle , we would not imagine what all that might entail , St.Faustina too mentioning how there is ‘ another heaven’ for priests – a deeper experience of love and holiness may be .
    May the prayers of all of heaven be there for us all , to deliver and protects us
    all , our families and generations , in The Precious Blood , consecrating us all to The Father , in and with The Lord , to ever grow closer to Him .

  3. Then he WILL say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was … a stranger and you did not welcome me …
    – Matthew 25:41-43

    Not only do we have it on the word of Christ Himself that some will be damned, but the innocent blood of two-billion strangers the world refused to make welcome, “legally” murdered in our times before they saw the light of day, cries out to God. We haven’t used the political freedom we still possess to bring this mass murder to an end, and the Church doesn’t even make clear that voting for candidates of the political party that ferociously defends and promotes this diabolical murder of innocent children is a mortal sin.

    Yes, some will burn in Hell for ignoring the plight of Christ in the least of His brothers and sisters. How many?

    Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
    – Matthew 7:13-14

  4. Admission of Hell is an act of faith. Great minds [and ourselves] speculate. “Faith is by necessity uncertain, reason apprehends with certitude” (Pierce). Faith addresses the spiritual and intransigent reason the physical and transient. Except when reason reaches the intellect’s apprehension of principles of existence that transcend the physical such as the existence of God. The certitude there, when subject and predicate are apprehended in one act of knowing [De Anima 430a 10-23] surpasses that initially given by the senses, which is why Aquinas says the only absolute truth is the existence of God [and why he tells Catherine of Siena she is nothing and that he is]. Faith addresses the spiritual a level of knowledge that surpasses the physical. And why The Apostle says faith is evidence of things unseen, knowledge of what we hope for (2 Cor 5:7). We can be assured that eternal Hell or eternal happiness does not rest upon doubt. Discussion by the participants is excellent, important considering current questioning of Hell’s existence. Personally my tendency is toward Bishop Barron’s hope that somehow God’s merciful love will seep into and extinguish hell. Wishful thinking aside whatever Hell may be Fr Fessio apparently has it right. As dreadful as that may be the suffering is worse, “To say hell is not really fire does not mean it’s not going to hurt. It’s worse than fire”. If anything in this discussion is sobering it’s that. God who is infinitely good we may safely assume resists implacable evil with ultimate wrath. Finally we are called by Christ to become as children, meaning humility and trust in matters that are beyond the scope of our intellect. To live by faith in his words as revealed in the Gospels.

    • I wish to add for clarity that the first principle of all knowledge is sensible perception of the physical world, which is not acquired by reason but known intuitively, that is subject and predicate are apprehended simultaneously. The principles drawn by reason that transcend the physical world are permanent and surpass the transient nature of the physical world. From these principles we acquire reasoned knowledge of the existence of God as noted by The Apostle in Rm 1. That knowledge is evident in the nature of things and its denial is culpable. Indicating why The Apostle faults the Roman gentiles for their unbelief. Whereas belief in Jesus as the Son of God is not acquired by reason but known by faith. Similarly we are condemned if we refuse to believe Jesus is the Son of God because that revealed knowledge is evident to the human intellect due to inherent prescient knowledge written in Man’s heart. Faith in Christ is necessarily certain knowledge subject to the will of Man to give consent. It is here that we willingly decide to accept or refuse what is positively revealed. Salvation or condemnation then is a free choice [liberum arbitrium] based on an irrefutable truth. Likewise belief in Heaven and Hell are revealed truths spoken to us by the Word of God who neither deceives nor can be deceived (Catholic Catechism).

      • To elaborate an important truth further that irrefutable truth is as Ellen Gaffney has correctly alluded to is, that God is pure love and cannot be rejected. That truth revealed by the Father in Christ’s Passion and Resurrection compels Man to conscientiously decide, Man who by nature identifies good and in Christ’s saving act does in fact apprehend the supreme good. Consent or refusal of what conscience tells us determines whether we are saved. Theologians refer to prevenient grace an Arminian doctrine though initially held by the Latin Church that God initially moves Man toward the good in this instance Christ. Although Man by nature inherently possesses the natural law and historically is capable of good, faith in Christ warrant’s that gift of grace enabling fallen Man to embrace this essential truth. All as said by some is a grace and is as the Apostle John holds God who has first loved us.

  5. As Lewis also wrote: “There has been a great deal of soft soap talked about God for the last hundred years. That is not what I am offering. You can cut all that out.” Von Balthasar’s wishful thinking hope is “weaponized ambiguity” in order to surreptitiously teach a universalist soteriology. Does God desire all to be saved? Yes. But He also desires that no one sins, that no one reject His love. But He has also given us freedom and responsibility as rational creatures made in His image. Jesus warns us to follow the narrow way or be lost to the fires of Gehenna. Was he just manipulating us with some kind of psychological threat? By promoting this very dubious nonsense of hoping that it may all be an illusion and a sort of ruse to make us think an eternal Hell is a real possibility so that we will be “good” is blasphemy. Could our “freedom”, then, be without the capability of any real consequences? Could God in the end simply veto our decisions? Then Free Will is an illusion and God a cruel manipulator. And this theory is supposed to help us see God as Love? What exactly is love then? What is freedom and responsibility then? Are good and evil and suffering meaningless? Where is Justice and merit? Why struggle with the moral life and against “evil”? Chasing butterflies may be romantic and fun, but it won’t bring you home.

  6. Our Lady of Fatima mentioned clearly that more souls go to Hell because they have no one to sacrifice and pray for them, and other direct statements.

  7. Les compagnies d’assurance peuvent calculer combien il y aura de morsures de chiens environ à New York l’année prochaine. Elles ne peuvent dire quels chiens mordront, ni quelles personnes seront mordues. Si on applique cette analogie à la question de l’enfer, on peut dire qu’il peut y avoir des personnes qui vont en enfer même si on ne sait pas qui y va.
    En ce qui concerne Benoît XVI, on peut lire dans Spe Salvi: “La grâce n’exclut pas la justice. Elle ne change pas le tort en droit. Ce n’est pas une éponge qui efface tout, de sorte que tout ce qui s’est fait sur la terre finisse par avoir toujours la même valeur. Par exemple, dans son roman « Les frères Karamazov », Dostoïevski a protesté avec raison contre une telle typologie du ciel et de la grâce. À la fin, au banquet éternel, les méchants ne siégeront pas indistinctement à table à côté des victimes, comme si rien ne s’était passé.” Benoît XVI cite ensuite Platon sur le jugement des âmes.

  8. I believe that the discussion of whether or not hell exists or if it might be emptied one day is one of the great victories of the devil in our time. God certainly knew that this debate would be taking place now. That is why, in my opinion, the children of Fatima, Saint Faustina, and the alleged seers of Medjugorje have all been shown hell. I believe it was Saint Faustina who said that one thing she noticed was that a lot of the people in hell were people that didn’t believe in hell while they lived. Nobody will be able to say to our Lord “I wasn’t told”. We all have been warned numerous times.

  9. Was it St Thomas who stated that God is Pure LOVE, and it seems to me that he said we cannot reject pure LOVE — That when we sin, we are attached to an apparent love. Having studied Child Development in the Poverty of Chicago, and seeing the Crime that goes along with these conditions, it should bother anyone of us to think their crimes are deliberate means of rejecting God’s commandments. In China, children are SCRIPTED from early years to consider us Evil. Are they accountable? When I taught Confirmation Class, I asked one Student who stayed behind in Class: “What do you and your high school classmates believe? She said that they Believe in an Angry God, who was about ready to blow up the World. A Charismatic Priest that was Close to St John Paul told our group that our church has not instilled in our children — that our God is a Personal God who loves each of us, and Forgives us our TRESPASSES.

  10. The so-called “two strands” do not contradict each other- of course Jesus “ draws” all to salvation but man chooses.

  11. Our imaginations fall short. . .

    but what if heaven is a moment of continuous delight, ever new, and always totally transparent to one another with the Communion of Saints (said Pope St. John Paul II: “mutual intersubjectivity” and anything but a boring duration);

    and then what if hell is to be, sort of (as in: to NOT be), left out, as in self-annihilated, all the way to and through the (originally-created) core, and yet self-aware in a totally opaque and blackened sort of way—the “feeling” of endlessly falling and at an ever-accelerating pace, forever—the hollow backside of a mysterious and decisively disbelieved, and rejected “’world’ without end.”

    Perhaps fallen-ness and Redemption are not simple matters. It is not that we fall into sin, but that we fall sinfully. Whittaker Chambers showed the starry night to his young son, and attempted an explanation this way:

    “I want him to remember that God Who is a God of Love is also the God of a world that includes the atom bomb and virus, the minds that contrived and use or those that suffer them, and that the problem of good and evil is not more simple than the immensity of worlds. I want him to understand that evil is not something that can be condescended to, waved aside or smiled away, for it is not merely an uninvited guest, but lies coiled in foro interno [that is] at home with good within ourselves. Evil can only be fought. . . .I want him to know that it is his soul, and his soul alone, that makes it possible for him to bear, without dying of his own mortality, the faint light of Hercules’ fifty thousand suns” (Witness, 1952).

  12. You say only those who affirmatively choose hell will go there? Please explain the judgment of the nations (sheep and goats) and the parable of the ten virgins. Our Lord makes it clear that some who want in will be surprised to find themselves excluded.

    • BXVI: I am not sure who your comment is directed at but I will give you my understanding of the parable of the Ten Virgins.

      An act of perfect contrition can take place at any time if the heart is moved to do so, no matter what the state of that heart may be before His inviolate Word (Will)
      In the parable of ten virgins or in other words the wise and the foolish, it is fair to say that the general consensus on this parable is ‘be prepared stay awake’ but we all slumber because we are all vessels (Lamp holders) made of clay.

      All those who have heard the inviolate Word/Will/Truth of God and acknowledged it within the heart have had the divine spark ignited within them, as the essence of this spark is Truth. When this happens our pure (virgin) journey commences as we now have the light (Lamp) to follow His on-going Light/Way/Path of spiritual transformation, that is a humble heart that eventually mirror’s His compassionate heart.

      As an analogy we could say that the oil is His redeeming grace and the container that holds that grace is a humble heart as only humility can draw upon the oil because only humility can ‘continually’ trim (Reignite) the smouldering wick (Will).
      Midnight relates to that moment in the journey through life when we enter into a new day (reality) via death.

      We all have slumbered (Some more than others), but the prudent in their purity of intent own their negligence (Sin) before Him and continually trim/renew the wick and when death comes they will always be ready to greet the bridegroom.

      Sadly the imprudent whose lamps presumably had long smouldered, now at this crucial moment in time realise that their lamps have gone out. They never bought into the on-going reality of the need of creating a contrite heart (Container) of humility, the only vessel that can continually contain His Divine Mercy.

      When we look at the good thief (Who was ‘entangled in a sinful situation’) upon the cross we can see/deduce that he was already aware of the goodness of God “this man has done nothing wrong” the divine spark within him had been ignited at some time before the Crucifixion and held in a heart of humility that is one of self-awareness of his state before God, as he now publicly acknowledges in truth the reality of his own heart (Trims the wick) and embraces before us the ‘Truth’ the essence of Love, as Divine Mercy (Grace) was then given to him unreservedly.

      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      • “An act of perfect contrition can take place at any time if the heart is moved to do so, no matter what the state of that heart may be before His inviolate Word (Will).”

        Not after the moment of death (or after Christ’s return in glory), which is the point. The good thief converted / repented before he died. Scripture is clear that there will be those who are shocked to face the judgment of exclusion from heaven, but that it will be too late to change their fate since they did not convert or repent before the moment of death. In a sense, these people “chose” hell by their actions before death but it seems clear (to me, at least) that the moment after their death many if not all of these people will realize they have made a terrible, terrible mistake that it is too late to rectify. They will beg to be allowed into heaven but will be told “Depart from me” and “I never knew you.” They will beg for mercy but will be told that the time for mercy has passed and that the judgment imposed upon them is both just and irreversible. I reject the notion that those in hell are satisfied with their choice and are only being given what they want. They are being given what they deserve, but they will desperately want to avoid the sentence of eternal punishment. That’s just my take on it.

        • Thank you for your comment BXVI. Yes I agree that “many will be shocked and beg for mercy” as my post states “Sadly the imprudent whose lamps presumably had long smouldered, now at this crucial moment in time realise that their lamps have gone out. They never bought into the on-going reality of the need of creating a contrite heart (Container) of humility, the only vessel that can continually contain His Divine Mercy” and this is reflected in a passage by St Augustine from the Divine Office. The quote says:

          “Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon. But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticize, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others.”

          You say “They are being given what they deserve” that may be so, may God have mercy on me a sinner

          kevin your brother
          In Christ

    • BXVI I’m not aware to whom you address this valid question to. I wish to take the liberty to respond. The most significant error affecting Catholics and all Christians is in fact those who assent to Christ’s revelation Nominally and Presume they are saved. Presumption is widespread many Catholics as one pastor described view their religion as a ‘hobby’, a lack of interior commitment. For priests Christ warns, Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? (Mt 7:22). Presumption for clergy assumes fulfilling external duties while morally duplicitous is fine. The absence of charity that costs [Lord when did I see you naked and not clothe you? Mt 25:31], the unwillingness to pray and suffer for the conversion of sinners affects all of us. Many will seek entrance but few are chosen (Lk 13:22). This was obviously an important issue for you to raise in our discussion of Heaven and Hell. Post Vat II errant theology taught a laxity regarding divine judgement, Christ perceived as entirely benevolent as if benevolence includes accommodation of evil behavior, lack of serious commitment to practice charity, neglect of a sacramental life, selective adherence to Church Magisterial teaching. Today many priests neglect preaching pedagogically reaffirming the faith and instead provide flowery anecdotes and Love sans substance. The dilemma is widespread, universal in scope and bishops who have the obligation to instruct their priests to convey the true faith neglect doing so out their own lack of commitment and or fear of opposition. That is reflected by the Pontiff’s freewheeling apostasy and the silence of so many bishops.

      • Father – My point is that I think Scripture is clear that there will be those who are shocked to face the judgment of exclusion from heaven, but that it will be too late to change their fate since they did not convert or repent before the moment of death. In a sense, these people “chose” hell by their actions before death but it seems clear to me that the moment after their death many if not all of these people will realize they have made a terrible, terrible mistake that it is too late to rectify. They will beg to be allowed into heaven but will be told “Depart from me” and “I never knew you.” They will beg for mercy but will be told that the time for mercy has passed and that the judgment imposed upon them is both just and irreversible.

        • BXVI I’ve always held to what you say in your comment. Except for a glimmer of hope from the mouths of two great saints Catherine of Siena and Faustina Marie Kowalska. Catherine in her Dialogues alleges God says at the moment of death and judgment of the condemned if the condemned pleads for mercy expressing sorrow for their offenses they will be forgiven, if simply out of fear they will be condemned. St Faustina in her Diary stated something similar that God will give a the person opportunity at the moment of death to repent. I hope they’re correct. She adds many sinners are condemned because no one prays for their conversion. All of us must live every moment of our lives in preparation especially by acts of mercy prayer and sacrifice, willingness to suffer for reparation.

  13. I love and esteem Ignatius Press, but remain puzzled by its determination to push von Balthasar’s thesis that Hell may well be emptier and all saved. It’s essentially speculative Barthian Universalism, no matter how long Frs Fessio and Barron discuss it. If you can explain away Jesus’ quite clear warnings on this subject, how on earth can you get too upset at Fr Jim Martin’s dismissal of Pauline passages on homosexuality or advocacy for adjusting rhetoric? In both cases, there is a desire to make God’s ways conform to how we’d like to perceive Him. Meanwhile scripture seems pretty plain on both topics.

  14. Fr. Fessio continually makes the outlandish claim that the New Testament authors did not definitively assert that in the end some will be lost for eternity. Any plain reading of the texts refutes this preposterous claim. We have on one side the continual witness of the Scripture and Tradition of the Church affirming the reality of hell and the damned, and we have people such as von Balthasar, Fr. Fessio, Bishop Barron (who claims to truly respect Aquinas!!!) etc. questioning this teaching. I’ll put my belief in the continual witness of the Church and its defenders such as Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

  15. Jesus says that Judas should never had been born. Think about this. All-knowing God says this. He creates souls and desires they be in heaven. He does not desire a person to be in hell. If he created the soul of Judas and says that he should never had been born, that would indicate that Judas’ soul is not in heaven because it would not make sense. Jesus knows hell is horrible and he desires that no one be there. So Judas’ soul must be in hell. It is the only way for Jesus statement to make sense to me. Does this logic make sense?

    • The Church has never presumed to officially declare that any particular person is in hell. However, this seems to be pretty clear:

      MT 26:24
      The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

      Here’s the thing: this sentence simply cannot be said of someone whose ultimate destination is to be with God in heaven forever. Jesus said, in effect, that his betrayer Judas would go to hell.

  16. The Church has never presumed to officially declare that any particular person is in hell. However, this seems to be pretty clear:

    MT 26:24
    The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

    Here’s the thing: this sentence simply cannot be said of someone whose ultimate destination is to be with God in heaven forever. Jesus said, in effect, that his betrayer Judas would go to hell.

    So, to state that we may “reasonably” hope that all men be saved requires one to deny the straightforward words of Jesus that it would be better for Judas that he had not been born.

  17. I hope that God is as merciful as we are told. If Judas had not betrayed Jesus, what would have happen? How would Jesus had died for our sins to be able to be forgiven? I am a sinner as Judas was and as a sinner I betray my Lord. How can I excuse myself from being judged as Judas was? Please explain to me if as sinners we do not betray Jesus with our sins.

  18. I hope that God is as merciful as we are told. If Judas had not betrayed Jesus, what would have happen? How would Jesus had died for our sins to be able to be forgiven? I am a sinner as Judas was and as a sinner I betray my Lord. How can I excuse myself from being judged as Judas was? Please explain to me if as sinners we do not betray Jesus with our sins. I have never said this before.

  19. Discussion about hell , a needed topic , in our times , when the ‘right ‘ to have fun and more fun is what is pushed for in many lives, including for the little ones .
    Thank God that there is also the Divine Mercy devotion – ‘ Jesus , I trust in Thee ‘ that You would deliver me , those entrusted for my prayers , from the spirits of despair and pride and all related spirits ,to trust in Your power and love and holiness , by letting us share in Your Spirit ..to choose in accordance , in thought , word and deed , trusting that You forgive for every occasion , when we chose not to trust in You ..
    Amazingly, what our Lord says about Judas are also words of Job and even of Prophet Jeremiah , in the midst of their trials , wishing they were not born ..
    every child , every parent too, in the midst of anger , if they fall into moments of bitterness , about life , its relationships ..
    St.Faustina mentions that the mystical aspect of The Passion was done at The Last Super , only the physical aspect remained there after – thus His words about the 3 days too .
    Would it be that , our Lord , taking on our sinfulness , was doing so /praying for and on behalf of Judas too , along with such moments in lives of others all through history , to thus garner the trusting strength in The Spirit , to counter the related spirits of despair and pride …
    Interesting too,how those words bring a groaning into our hearts- ‘O my Lord ..’ thus sharing a bit of His own , with The Spirit , for all its good ..
    Came across a good homily and mention of the book , on the topic , by Rev.FR.Chris Alar , on EWTN yest , how the yoke that our Lord gives us is well
    fitting for each of us , helping us to be more united to Him, that there can also be yokes that are not of Him ..
    http://motherofhealinglove.org/pro-life/divine-mercy-suicide/

    True, we do not know where Judas is ..yet , we can stay in trusting humility –
    ‘ have mercy on us and the whole world ‘..
    adding to all the other mysteries and the related awe –
    such as how He has the power to make this little earth to move on its orbit , at 18 miles per second !
    Jesus , I trust in Thee .

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