Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Are You Saved?

(Preface: the Rad Trad is not a universalist)

There has been some resurgence of interest in a video, posted below, by one Fr. Robert Barron about the population of hell. Fr. Barron gives an enthusiastic reaction to the writings of mid-20th century writers who resurrected interest in Origen's "restoration" (apokastasis) view, that all creation, including all persons, will be restored to a proper relationship with God.

Origen and Fr. Barron clearly fall opposite the view of the consensus of Western Doctors such as Ss. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, whose view of Original Sin began with the thesis that all the world is damned, but God, in His kindness, plucks a few persons out of the eternal stir fry. St. Leonard of Port Maurice recounts a tale in his famous sermon on the subject of a man who died at the same moment as 30,000 other people, five of which were saved (0.017%); the Rad Trad personally finds this number absurd given how high infant mortality rates were prior to the 20th century. The Council of Florence (Cantate Domino) and Boniface VIII (Unam Sanctam) certainly attempted to limit the number saved to a minute figure.

The Eastern Fathers have a more varied view on the matter. St. John Chrysostom certainly thought a very small number would be saved ("Out of this thickly populated city with its thousands of inhabitants not one hundred people will be saved. I even doubt whether there will be as many as that!"). Ss. Isaac of Syria and Gregory of Nyssa thought all would be saved. Does it have to be all or nothing?

Given the presence of a convent of Feeneyites in the Rad Trad's area, the Rad Trad actually finds himself defending universalism as a hypothesis (as opposed to a "reasonable hope"). Saints in the earlier days of the faith found no trouble reconciling universal salvation with Christ's words on Hell and the damned. Sometimes the meaning of things Our Lord said becomes obscure in translation. For instance a Greek priest once told the Rad Trad the "The King of Heaven is upon you" has a stronger meaning in the original, almost saying "The Kingdom of Heaven is immanently accessible to you here on earth." The Rad Trad, not a believer in universal salvation himself, does think that, if constructed along orthodox lines, the salvation of all can be a reasonable idea. Promoting it to a hope—an expectation for God—asks too much.

What frustrates the Rad Trad when he does occasionally defend the viability of this thesis is that those who advance it today do not do so on orthodox grounds. Origen was probably condemned unjustly at the Fifth Ecumenical Council three centuries after he died. He was the first "theologian" in the modern sense of the word and was bound to err on many matters, given that he was treading new territory. He did not have the opportunity to hear the Church adjudicate concerning his novel doctrines and adjust them accordingly. His restoration theory, which informed his views on salvation, were what brought about his condemnation centuries later and yet that is precisely what interests Fr. Barron and others in the modern day. The presentation of this view is supported by vague notions of "mercy" as the expense of justice, almost as to say that God is a giant marshmallow. This contrasts sharply with St. Gregory of Nyssa's view that people will be saved because the soul belongs to God, but that many souls will have to undergo a painful purification from their sins and the passions of the world to be worthy of Heaven. In this sense Gregory's views differ from those of Origen, although the Orthodox are not very wild about either one. Whereas Gregory's view maintains God's mercy and justice, the more modern view, rooted in Origen, overlooks or eschews justice in favor of mercy alone.

Is everyone saved? Is nearly no one saved? The Rad Trad thinks the honest, humble answer is "We don't know who or how many are saved." And given that we do not know, we Catholics would do well to take special care for our own souls and an interest in the souls of others. That is the evangelical call.


  1. Here is a long quote to consider on the subject.

    From the encyclical, Spe Savli, by Pope Benedict XVI

    45. With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell[37]. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are[38].

    46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. 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. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.


  2. I agree that the best answer is 'we don't know', and I maintain there will be plenty of HUGE surprises come Judgement Day, in both directions. I also know with certainty that I do not rank among the 0.017% of the holiest souls, and that contemplation of that number easily could lead to despair. The reality of Hell is very stark to me, from the Bible and Church teachings, as well as some strange experiences. We are allowed to desire the salvation of all -- otherwise, why would the Fatima prayer ask "lead all souls to Heaven ..."? But to think that God is, as you say, 'a giant marshmallow', who ignores the lack of repentance of many, is just absurd. Every single soul is engaged In a high-stakes drama ending in salvation or damnation, even if they are unaware of it.

  3. Awesome video! I have always thought the condemnation of apokatastasis ruled out that we may hope that all will be saved, but Fr. Barron was saying that when apokatastasis was condemned, it was that we can be sure all will be saved. Is this correct? Also, since Jesus says that He will seperate the sheep from the goats and the goats "will" enter into hell, how can we reasonably hope that all will be saved in light of this? This is an issue that fascinates me but is one I've wrestled with for a while.

    1. I think it is too far to be "sure" all are saved, although I do think it is a reasonable theory IF properly constructed according to orthodox teaching (as some saints and beati have done over the years). Origen, and many who promote universal salvation today, promote the idea based on Origenistic pretenses which were condemned.

      The Eastern theologians have a rather broad spectrum of views on how many are saved. The Latin Church, from Augustine onward, has a very pessimistic history on the matter (although there were some universalists in the Middle Ages, a time we are told was dark).

      My conclusion is that we just do not know. It is a true mystery.