Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dare We Hope...? -The Testimony of St. Paul


Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), shown to the right in his post-conciliar Jesuit habit, was a Swiss neo-modernist theologian and exponent of the nouvelle theologie, who was forced to leave the Society of Jesus due to his views and was even under suspicion by the Holy See during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Unfortunately, neoconservatives (perhaps due to his beautiful writing style and apparent piety) tend to think that von Balthasar was a conservative and that his thought is faithful to the deposit of Revelation.

One of his most controversial theses is in the area of eschatology. He published a famous book, Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"?: With a Short Discourse on Hell, where he argues that nothing in the deposit of faith forces us to believe that there is anyone in Hell (i.e., that Hell is empty), and consequently that we can hope for the salvation of all men (universalism).

But the sources of revelation clearly indicate the opposite. The testimony of St. Paul suffices to settle the question (for a come complete treatment of the loci theologici on this point, including the testimony of other parts of Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, etc., see Garrigou-Lagrange, OP - Predestination):

  •  “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).
  • For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5:5).
  • Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9-10).
  • For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish” (II Cor. 2:15-16). 
  • And if our gospel be also hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them” (II Cor. 4:3).

From this we can conclude that not all souls are saved, and that it has been divinely revealed (de fide).  Clearly, then, von Balthasar's thesis is false and contrary to the faith.  It is heretical, strictly speaking, or at least proxima haeresi  until the Church defines as a dogma that there are actually souls in Hell.  Unfortunately, in the mean time, neoconservatives continue to think that von Balthasar was a conservative who was faithful to the deposit of Revelation.  


Ashton said...

Thank you for a post on this important topic. Let me say immediately that I agree with your conclusions about Balthasar's theology, and the danger inherent in his position. However, I think it is more difficult to answer him than you suggest.

Balthasar would take most (if not all) of the scriptural passages you cite and state that they are intended to have conditional force: if one does such-and-such, one will not be saved. He would then say that as conditional statements they do not allow us to infer that some people have in fact been eternally lost. For example, Galatians 5 is clearly conditional in force: "they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God" means something like: "if one lives like this, one will not be saved."

(Note that I believe Balthasar would take this approach even though the sentences in question are not always conditional in grammatical form. In those cases he would probably appeal to illocutionary effects or the like, arguing such statements are intended to bring about action on our part rather than affirm the truth of a proposition.)

That said, scripture does clearly refute Balthasar. By that I meant this: the authors of scripture wrote statements which are clearly intended to affirm that some souls have been or will be lost. Here are some examples that I have found in reflecting on this issue. (I omit the well-known verses about Judas, where it states it would be better for him to have been born, for example, or states that none would be lost of the Twelve but him. Clearly the first statement in particular proves Judas was not to experience to Beatific Vision: for how could it be better for such a man not to have been born)

"And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet [...]These two were cast alive into the pool of fire, burning with brimstone." (Revelation 19.20) [St. John is speaking about the future destiny of the Antichrist. He states that he will be damned.]

"[...] the son of perdition[...]" (2 Thessalonians 2.3) [St. Paul calls Antichrist the "son of perdition," certainly implying his damnation.]

"[...] certain men are secretly entered in, (who were written of long ago unto this judgment,) [...]" (Jude 1.4) [The meaning, in context, is that some false teachers are going to be eternally destroyed. This is not conditional or rhetorical: it asserts that the destiny of particular individuals, doomed to destruction, was foreknown.]

"[...] a remnant shall be saved." (Romans 9.27) [Paul is interpreting Isaiah soteriologically. It is obvious from these words that Paul believes some people will be lost.]

"And a certain man said to him: Lord, are they few that are saved? But he said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. But when the master of the house shall be gone in, and shall shut the door, you shall begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying: Lord, open to us. And he answering, shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are." (Luke 13.23-25) [Despite Balthasar's best attempts, this verse really is stating not all will be saved. Judge for yourself.]

"Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name[...]? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity." (Matthew 7.22-23) [This is not conditional, but a prediction of how things will go at the Judgment.]

I think the above verses make Balthasar's position very difficult to defend on exegetical grounds.

Don Paco said...

Thanks for your comment, Ashton. A few remarks:

A. It is clear that at least I Cor. 6:9 is not conditional. St. Paul does not say, "if you live like this, you will not be saved." Rather, "the x will not be saved", x being a type of person (e.g., the unjust). That this is the case is even more clear in the Greek: some of the Greek words that fit in the x are the following.

-ἄδικοι, the unjust
-πόρνοι, fornicators
-εἰδωλολάτραι, idolaters
-μοιχοὶ, adulterers
-μαλακοὶ, the effeminate
-ἀρσενοκοῖται, thieves

These are nouns (or substantive participles), which signify a "person, place, or thing," and do not represent a mere condition. St. Paul is plainly telling us that these people will not be saved.

The same can be said of Ephesians 5:5.

B. In II Cor. 2:15, and again in II Cor. 4:3, St. Paul speaks unequivocally of the ἀπολλυμένοις, 'those who perish' or more literally 'the lost'. Von Balthasar would have us think (rather absurdly) that St. Paul is talking about a category of non-existent people.

C. In Gal. 5:19-21, St. Paul does say "those who do these things...". But this cannot be interpreted in a conditional sense. The Greek is: οἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντες, literally "the thus-doing shall not obtain the Kingdom of God." Again, the word is a participle, not a conditional clause; there's a complete absence of a conditional sense in the Greek.

D. Even if these texts could be interpreted in a conditional sense, are we supposed to think that none of those conditions were ever met? In other words, if St. Paul were really saying only "if you commit fornication, you will not be saved," are we to think that there are no people who commit fornication? Of course not. It is simply absurd to imagine that St. Paul ever entertained a belief in universalism. This is hardly plausible and, taking in consideration the actual belief of the Church on the matter, impossible.

E. Now, all of the above exegetical notes are somewhat beside the point. My post, like all of my posts at Ite ad Thomam, was not meant to convince neo-modernists (whose epistemology enables them to reinterpret the meaning of Scripture and dogma in a way that is contrary to the traditional interpretation of the Church), but to present a traditional positive proof from Scripture (in particular from the epistles of St. Paul, which is what I'm currently working with in my own research) for the benefit of traditional Catholics who wish to educate themselves.

I am aware that a neo-modernist such as Von Balthasar will not accept ANY positive proof and will find a way to refute it by(mis-)interpreting all the sources in a new way that is convenient to them.

Arguing about this or that dogma with a neo-modernist is in fact completely futile and something I usually try to avoid wasting my time on. The neo-modernist principle is actually irrefutable (very much like the denial of the principle of contradiction is irrefutable): once you assume it, you've disarmed yourself from every means of refuting it.

The neo-modernist principle is the following: dogma must be expressed in different language and reinterpreted in modern times in order to accommodate to the needs of the age.

If you try to refute this by citing a text of the Magisterium (e.g., Pope Pius XII's Humani generis, which explicitly condemns this principle), the neo-modernists will then employ their hermeneutical craft and will reinterpret that text in a way that makes them immune to the Pope's condemnation.

The only way neo-modernism will end, I'm afraid, is simply this: the neo-modernist generation will die out.

Francis said...

I will have to find the book and check but I do not think his argument is formulated the way it is presented here and his conclusion is too simply stated. While I could be wrong, I am sure a better account of his position is deserved here before conclusions are drawn about his position and it's supposed heresy. I also recall, in his book on Adrienne Von speyr, an account of him leaving the order that was in no way related to his writing.

Don Paco said...

I am open to corrections, but the burden of proof is on you to show that what I said is incorrect. I look forward to your follow-up post.

And while I'm at it, I wish to clarify what I meant: I believe his view is at this point proxima heresi, but that it will be formally heretical once the Church declares it to be so (although I doubt that this happens anytime soon).

Tony said...

It is also the case, as Balthasar has clearly said, that those who are so sure about the damnation of others do not include themselves in that group.

The post above is utter nonsense and full of inaccuracies:

1) There is no such thing as a "post-conciliar Jesuit habit"; the picture was taken when Balthasar was no longer a member of the Society of Jesus.

2) "Forced to leave the Society of Jesus because of his views"??? What views? This is a gratuitous lie!!! Balthasar, after a long period of discernment, and with the agreement of his superiors, left the Society of Jesus so that he could minister to the Secular Institute he co-founded with Adrienne von Speyr.

3) Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict certainly hold him in high esteem. Your piece basically says these two popes are liars.

Don Paco said...


What I said is not nonsense. You mean you disagree. But if it were nonesense (as in "a;ldjfalk;sdjfals;k") you would not have even been able to disagree. You clearly understood my meaning, and therefore it had some sense, and was not nonesense.

I, on the other hand, did not understand your first remark. Please clarify.

As to your list of remarks, here are my replies:

a) The "Jesuit habit" comment was a joke. I was just being sarcastic. The point is that priests should dress like priests, whereas Von Balthasar in the picture is not dressed like a priest. This is sadly typical of the post-Vatican II period.

b) That is what I read, but I am certainly open to correction on that point.

c) Just because I don't agree with someone does not mean that I think they are liars. I never said, or would ever wish to say, that the last two popes are liars.

No need to get all feisty. My main point is that his theology is neo-modernist and heterodox. If you want to address THAT point, which is what I'm really interested, I would be very willing to argue about it.

Francis said...

The book I had on Adrienne von Speyr is lent to someone right now so I do not have access to it but I am quite sure that it is as Tony just accounted.

"My main point is that his theology is neo-modernist and heterodox."

This was not apparent in the post. If it is your main point, please share more on this. The handful of reading I have done by him suggest nothing along these lines. Along the same line, have you read "Dare we hope"?

"...where he argues that nothing in the deposit of faith forces us to believe that there is anyone in Hell (i.e., that Hell is empty), and consequently that we can hope for the salvation of all men (universalism).

hoping for the salvation of all men is not universalism and nothing forcing us to believe there is anyone in hell does not mean it is empty only that we are not sure.

The words of St. Paul that you quote above are clear about the kind of things that do not obtain the kingdom of God but never pass this judgment finally for the repose. I know you have already addressed this but it seems to me that what follows the conclusion here is to be able to point to a particular person after their last breath and say he is in hell.

"That is what I read, but I am certainly open to correction on that point."

Where did you read this?

A story which does not carry much weight here is one shared with me by a professor of mine a while back. A priest friend of his had dinner with Cardinal Ratzinger when he was the head of the CDF. He hand the Cardinal a copy of the book and asked his opinion. Cardinal Ratzinger said that nothing in the text had been found to be unorthodox but jested that he could not confirm its orthodoxy.

Anonymous said...

Jude 1:7 sounds to actually suggest that hell is already populated:

"As Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbouring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication, and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire."

The Latin and Greek texts seem clearer.