Defending the Faith from the Faithful

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, November 6

Well-known evangelist Father Barron, in discussing Hell, hopes and prays for universal salvation, stating that we cannot positively know that any human person is in Hell. Catholic commentator Michael Voris, in a video entitled simply “Fr. Barron is Wrong”, volunteers a brutish retort. After disregarding the Church’s silence on the issue as meaningless, Voris argues that many souls must be in Hell and to hope otherwise is naïve and erroneous. Voris appeals to scripture, Fatima, and ultimately questions the entire priesthood and Fr. Barron’s own vocation if no one is in Hell.

I find Voris’ response and the crowd that has come to cheer him on disturbing. What is so disturbing to me is not his belief that some must, seemingly of necessity, go to Hell as part of the Divine Plan but that Voris is so compelled to defend the Church from such faithful Catholics as Fr. Barron, to the point of defaming him. I believe, as I think Fr. Barron does, that in all probability someone is in Hell; Voris is probably correct in his assertion that souls will indeed be damned to eternal torment but like Fr. Barron I hope for everyone’s salvation. Despite Voris’ many counter-arguments, no matter how strong they may be, Fr. Barron’s beliefs regarding Heaven and Hell are in no way heretical, in no way contradict Church doctrine, and do not lead souls into sin. Instead, as he tends to do in his work, Fr. Barron enlightens and builds up others towards Heaven. He warns of the very real danger of Hell, explains how even this dark concept is a manifestation of God’s love and mercy, and, in hoping for universal salvation, places no limits on God’s mercy.

The Church, while condemning the heresy of universalism that everyone will be saved, which disregards free will and our ability to reject God, in her wisdom, has never posited that anyone is in Hell or condemned the possibility that everyone can be saved. The Church, like us, simply cannot know who will be saved. Voris, however, states that the Church is silent because it has no authority on the subject and that to appeal to the Church’s silence as license to employ our own rational judgment is wrong. I find such a stance incomprehensibly absurd, especially in light of Voris’ subsequent quoting of scripture to attack Fr. Barron and to confirm that there are human souls in Hell. I must ask, however, how can Voris possess the authority to interpret scripture in answering the question “who’s in Hell?” but not the Church? I am hesitant to personally interpret scripture, especially in condemnation of a fellow Catholic. Instead, in trying to be docile to the Truth and not be misled by my own shortsightedness, I must turn to the Church for guidance. Because the Church has not declared anyone to be in Hell in light of these scripture passages I can only consider that a possible interpretation but not one possessing definitive, doctrinal authority.

The Church teaches that there is no hope of salvation apart from Christ and those who reject His bride reject Him. In no way does it follow, however, that some must of necessity then be damned to Hell as we know the heart of no man at the moment of his death. Again, we can put no limits on God’s mercy and every man, even in his final moment, may repent, accept Christ, and be saved.

We really should get out of the practice of shooting those closest to us. As Catholic author and blogger Mark Shea notes, “The exasperating thing about Voris’ consistent method is that he targets, not heretics or enemies of the Faith, but innocent people, disobedient to no precept of Holy Church, and dissenting from no doctrine of Holy Church, and then maliciously smears them with the suggestion (and in this case the flat declaration), that they are believing, living (and in Barron’s case) teaching error.” (Mark also addresses the question of who’s in Hell)

We may find the hope of an empty Hell foolish in its improbability or even impossible in light of our own understanding of scripture or private revelation like Fatima. Such hope, however, in no way contradicts our Catholic belief, nor does it detract from the Truth. In fact, such hope in salvation and trust in God’s mercy seems invaluable to the salvation of many. Why are we striking at the heel of the Church when we should be striking at the head of actual heresies? We must stop trying to “defend” our faith against fellow faithful Catholics and instead turn our energy towards real dangers. Our world keeps them in ample supply without us having to resort to condemning the “naivety” of Catholics next door.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.

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20 thoughts on “Defending the Faith from the Faithful

    • Thank you for the comment. When I have the time I’ll be happy to read Msgr. Charles Pope’s article in full. Just to be clear, my intent with this post is not to prove Fr. Barron’s theory or to uncover Voris’ as false but to illustrate that we as Catholics can disagree on certain topics without anyone being a heretic or an enemy of the church. I would remind anyone reading that Fr. Barron’s conclusion is that we must hope and pray for everyone’s salvation. In fact, we pray for everyone’s salvation in the liturgy and even the Fatima prayer says “lead all souls to heaven.”

      While there is a strong tradition that there are souls definitely damned to Hell it is not unanimous and despite Biblical references to damnation the church has wisely refrained from making any such judgement even though interpretation of scripture is very much within her authority despite Voris’ claims to the contrary.

      Ultimately, I think it most likely that there are numerous souls in Hell who, even in their final moment rejected God and his love, but I still hope and pray for the salvation of all.

    • Thanks again for the link. I read Msgr. Pope’s article and found it to be one of the better commentaries on the subject. However, I’m concerned that he may (with no intention to do so I’m sure) misrepresent Fr. Barron’s position when he likens it to the “modern notion that Hell is a remote possibility, and a sentence likely incurred by only a very tiny number” and contrasts it with Pope Benedict’s “supposition” that the great majority of people end up eventually in heaven. A sloppy analysis of Fr. Barron’s particularly nuanced position may yield such an impression and perhaps that is Msgr. Pope’s concern but I believe a rigorous, honest examination should yield no such confusion. Fr. Barron’s stated position, in which he rejects universalism and states that we cannot know who is in Hell or how many but must hope and pray for the salvation of all as charity demands, shares far more ground with Pope Benedict’s supposition than with the modern trend to marginalize Hell.

  1. Thanks for this post, I saw you link to it from UnamSanctamCatholicam. I just have a few thoughts. On the surface, it may seem that Voris is making a big deal out of nothing, but I think his instinct is right in this case, regardless of whether we like his rhetoric. The basic sense for what part of the world will enter into Heaven is both given to us by scripture and tradition and but also informs our understanding of the relationship of the Church and the world, other religions, and the necessity of the Church. Just because Balthasar’s position is not heresy and it does not directly lead souls into sin does not mean it does not have huge consequences. The Church has only survived by being incredibly careful and clear in its doctrine; to play with an idea this foreign to the Church’s traditional understanding seems to me to be dangerous. And Balthasar himself knew it was foreign (he specifically mentions Augustine, Gregory the Great, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Anselm, Newman, and others). We should be wary of any theological novelty, particularly when it is tied up with other important theological issues as this one is. But, I still have a sense that this is a very tricky issue, and I’ll certainly need to read up a lot more on it. Anyways, my main concern with this whole debate wasn’t so much the issue itself as the assumption behind Mark Shea’s response. I made a post about it over at my blog if you’re interested: http://thegodinthecave.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/magisterialism/

    God bless,
    Carl

    • Carl,

      Thank you for your clearly thought out response to this, your blog post was thought provoking. Personally, I’m trying to fully understand what it means to be faithful to the Church and docile to the Truth. For the sake of full disclosure (if my posts on this blog don’t give me away already) my views currently align with Shea much more than they do with Voris.

      On this topic of magisterialism, I have a problem (or at least a need for further clarification) with your position. Who am I, or any individual Catholic, supposed to trust if not the current Magisterium? I do not have the charism, authority, or education to interpret previous Church Councils (particular the difficult teachings), let alone Sacred Scripture. And I seriously hesitate to trust anyone who’s not the current pope or Magisterium to interpret them for me. Folks like Voris who claim to know the “truth” when it comes to Church teachings or Scriptural interpretation (particular when their position opposes or directly attacks those of ordained priests, bishops, and popes), frankly, scare the hell out of me – even if their position is correct. Why? Because even greats like St. Thomas Aquinas get things wrong (and I trust him just a tad more than Voris or Barron). It is only in the bosom of Mother Church that I find absolute truth statements comforting because She is the only person given that authority, She is the only person I can trust. I would rather “play-it-safe” by being hyper-magisterial than to inadvertently follow a false teacher.

      Please share your thoughts to this. Thank you.
      Christ’s Peace,

      -Paul

      • Hi Paul, thanks for your reply. We’re in a good place here, as I always say that all I am trying to do is to think with the mind of the Church. Boniface’s second post makes the case fairly well I think: http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2013/11/hell-and-sensus-fidelium.html
        The problem I see with a sort of hyper-magisterialism is that it does not do justice to the Church’s tradition, because we think that all of tradition must be interpreted through the light of the current pope. It sort of reduces the tradition to the exact statements (or in this case, lack thereof) made by the current pontiff (which is certainly part of it), while reducing the emphasis on thinking with the mind of the Church. You are right in fearing some sort of protestant tendency in this. I only recently joined the Catholic Church and I am all too aware of where private interpretation can lead us. However, I would insist that this isn’t private interpretation. It is the way your mind is formed when you read the fathers, saints, and doctors of the Church; it is a sort of Christian intuition for the truth. Sure, the present magisterium has not condemned the notion; but the whole mind and heart of the Church is against it (the sensus fidelium, as Boniface argues in the blog post mentioned above). So, the Church has not spoken against it in the person of the present context, but I would say the broad witness of the whole Body of Christ through all the centuries is enough witness that we need.

        One more point, and this is only somewhat related. What were Catholics to do during the Arian crisis? When so much of the hierarchy had been corrupt? For the early Church, “What does the magisterium say?” was equivalent to “What do the bishops say?” I think the nature of that crisis, particularly in that it also corrupted the majority of Churchmen, makes for an interesting thought experiment for us Catholics. It seems at first that to be a Catholic then would have required private judgment. But of course this cannot be. Instead, it must be said that the apostolic faith of the Church was their norm, which was not what was being taught by their bishops. So, there is no contradiction between thinking with the mind of the Church and not resting entirely on the present magisterium to enable one to do this. In fact, sometimes being Catholic actually requires this.

        One final point, just as today’s magisterium speaks for itself and does not require (usually…hopefully) interpretation, neither does the magisterium of the past. In fact, I would say in the past it has been far more clear. So, we do not descend into private interpretation when we read old church councils or encyclicals. They are just as much a living magisterium for us as the current pontiff and bishops’ teachings. The current pope does not teach the entirety of the Faith and all its logical consequences as pope, because it would be impossible. Instead, he offers small small additions, corrections, or refinements to what has already been received. That body of Tradition should be our guide.

        I would love to hear your thoughts, though I don’t think I explained my own particularly well.

        Carl

        • Thanks for the comments, Carl. Like Paul mentions above, what disturbs me is not Voris’ belief but his claim to positively know what the church has made no claim on. I cannot assert either positively or negatively to the question, “who’s in Hell?” I simply don’t know so all I will do is hope and pray for everyone’s salvation and make no claim in either direction. This seems to be Fr. Barron’s and Shea’s response, too.

          As far as tradition is concerned, I agree that our Catholic tradition leans heavily in the direction that Hell is not empty and that perhaps even most may go there; I think it is prudent to also give that tradition heavy consideration and be cautious in suggesting anything that may be contrary to it. Universalism, that we know that all will be saved, defied that tradition and the church and was declared a heresy. However, there is precedent in tradition to hope and to pray for all people’s salvation and I believe that that is what charity demands of us. Summa has an article mentioning some Eastern saints who consider the possibility that all men may be saved: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summa/2013/11/against-hope-in-damnation/
          It’s also common to pray for the salvation of all men. Also, while personal revelation at Fatima showed souls burning in Hell the Blessed Virgin Mary also instructed us to pray, “lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.”

          I believe that in all probability there are souls in Hell but that at the same time we must put no limit on God’s mercy and must therefore hope and pray for everyone’s salvation.

          Christian

    • Carl,

      I just finished reading your article which you so kindly shared. I appreciate your thoughts on the issue and you gave me much to contemplate. I was especially glad when I read your challenge to Catholics to “cooperate as brothers with important disagreements rather than tribal warlords locked in generational feuds”. That is precisely the end of this article. I wanted to reveal the error of treating differing Catholics as enemies to war against and point out that we can try to resolve important disagreements as brothers and sisters without belittling the issues at stake. In fact, I believe that charity demands such fraternity in these disputes. I think that too many Catholics have fallen into the trap of tribalism, defending “their team” and attacking the other “team”, all at the expense of the Church and the virtues we are called to embody. So thank you for the thought-out, respectful response. It will also make admitting I was wrong much easier should it come to that, ;-).

      God bless,
      Christian

      • Hi Christian, thanks for replying. I think there are two dangers possible during dialogue between movements within the Church today. The first is to treat each other as enemies, as we’ve already said. The second, though, is to pretend no important differences exist just because the various positions are allowed within the Church. Traditional and conservative Catholics do have very deep differences, not to the core of the Faith obviously, but differences that will manifest themselves in the life of the Church and therefore the salvation of souls. I think GK Chesterton would serve as a good model for us all, because he combined both a complete appreciation for the importance of the Truth and a joy in addressing his intellectual foes. One of the things I’m trying to do with that blog is to make the “traditionalist” case with all the conviction the movement has ever had about the gravity of the issues, yet at the same time without descending into polemics.

        Carl

        • Pax et Bonum Carl,

          When you read that our Lord called the Pharisees “whited sepulchres” or St. John the Baptist proclaiming grave sinners to be “brooding vipers,” how do you view this?
          Is it rude and lacking in tact or charity, or is it not fitting to those who sought to kill our Lord and to oppose Him?

          Jesus said those who are not with Him are against Him and urged us, even prayed before his disciples to the Father that we might be one, “with no divisions/schisms amongst us” (as St. Paul reiterated).

          Polemics is rooted in the idea of war, and we are indeed at war with error and untruth and with all that opposes Christ and His one Catholic Church.
          So while this doesn’t mean we need to be rude…I’m not sure what is wrong with polemics or how this would be any kind of descent?

          Would you agree that those who are not in unison with Holy Mother Church are actually enemies insofar as they contradict the truth and espouse error? Regardless of whether or not they are doing in maliciously…(which does factor into how we speak to them)

          God Bless

          • Hi Tyler, I actually have no problem with polemics. The use of polemics by Jesus and the saints certainly justify its use. He came not to bring peace but the sword. My only point is that polemics, in this specific case, between traditional and more mainstream Catholics is unnecessary and unhelpful. If polemics becomes the main tone of argument, it loses all its force; it can only be used on rare occasion. An extraordinarily peaceful man will have more force in his rare righteous anger than a constantly harsh man will. To use polemics when talking to well-intentioned Catholics who are just trying to be loyal to the magisterium as they understand it seems to be a counter-productive method. That was all that I intended by my comment. Of course, error, on the other hand, should be exposed insofar as we have the power and duty to expose it.

            Carl

            • Pax et Bonum,

              Your comments are then well met.
              I agree that I am not a particular fan of the recurring use of the same tone of voice by Mr. Voris in every Vortex episode.
              It is, I will say, somewhat uniquely his style…but as I mention in my blog post about the situation, I often wish for more substance than just the recurring Voris intonation time and time again…

              That being said, I think he – more often than not – is calling out important issues when nobody else will. His accusations against the likes of EWTN et al. are badly needed.

              The Church is in a grave crisis, and anyone who says otherwise is either confused, misled or downright malevolent.

              God Bless,
              Tyler

              • Hi Tyler, I’m glad we agree. And actually just realized that my comment to which you originally responded may have seemed like it was aimed at Voris, but it’s not. In fact, I originally posted here to defend his right to make the argument he was making. Moreover, I thought his video was pretty cool and collected, especially compared to some of the reaction against it. Here’s my original article on the topic:
                http://thegodinthecave.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/magisterialism/

                I would appreciate any thoughts you have.

  2. I know the discussion may be stale by now, so I will certainly understand if you prefer not to reengage on the subject, but if you are interested in pursuing the matter further in the calm and reasonable manner you have demonstrated thus far, I would be honored to hear your thoughts in response to just a few points, if I may:

    1. The Balthasarian argument premises the absolute silence of the Church on the issue, does it not? I don’t recall ever having seen even a follower of Balthsar quote an actual text either of Scripture or of the Magisterium which says or even implies that all men might actually be saved. Have I missed anything here?

    2. The Council of Trent says, in the decree on Justification: “Although Christ died for all, yet not all receive the benefit of his death, but only those to whom the merits of his passion are communicated” (cap. 3). This seems to include a positive statement to the effect that “not all” receive the benefit of Christ’s death, which is the same as saying “some do not” receive the benefit of Christ’s death. Does this not clearly imply that some men are not saved?

    3. Thus, not only could the above text serve as the starting point for a positive argument against the Balthasarian position, but it could also serve to disprove a key premise of the Balthasarian argument.

    4. In the absence of any text positively supporting the Balthasarian position, what is the motive for holding to it?

  3. Pingback: The Church Militant: Born to Struggle | The Porch
  4. You wrote “The Church … has never … condemned the possibility that everyone can be saved.”

    Oh yes she has. See #17 of Blessed Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors.

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