How many saved? How many damned?

Courtesy of I Am Not Spartacus (and h/t to Patriactionary) comes this speech by St. Leonard of Port Maurice, the noted Catholic preacher and ascetic, on the question of how many souls are to be saved and how many damned. As St. Leonard relates, we have the testimony of Christ Himself and of many Church fathers that most souls will be damned:

But I will limit myself here to quoting Suarez. After consulting all the theologians and making a diligent study of the matter, he wrote, “The most common sentiment which is held is that, among Christians, there are more damned souls than predestined souls.”

Add the authority of the Greek and Latin Fathers to that of the theologians, and you will find that almost all of them say the same thing. This is the sentiment of Saint Theodore, Saint Basil, Saint Ephrem, and Saint John Chrysostom. What is more, according to Baronius it was a common opinion among the Greek Fathers that this truth was expressly revealed to Saint Simeon Stylites and that after this revelation, it was to secure his salvation that he decided to live standing on top of a pillar for forty years, exposed to the weather, a model of penance and holiness for everyone. Now let us consult the Latin Fathers. You will hear Saint Gregory saying clearly, “Many attain to faith, but few to the heavenly kingdom.” Saint Anselm declares, “There are few who are saved.” Saint Augustine states even more clearly, “Therefore, few are saved in comparison to those who are damned.” The most terrifying, however, is Saint Jerome. At the end of his life, in the presence of his disciples, he spoke these dreadful words: “Out of one hundred thousand people whose lives have always been bad, you will find barely one who is worthy of indulgence.”

. . .

I would not finish if I had to point out all the figures by which Holy Scripture confirms this truth; let us content ourselves with listening to the living oracle of Incarnate Wisdom. What did Our Lord answer the curious man in the Gospel who asked Him, “Lord, is it only a few to be saved?” Did He keep silence? Did He answer haltingly? Did He conceal His thought for fear of frightening the crowd? No. Questioned by only one, He addresses all of those present. He says to them: “You ask Me if there are only few who are saved?” Here is My answer: “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Who is speaking here? It is the Son of God, Eternal Truth, who on another occasion says even more clearly, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” He does not say that all are called and that out of all men, few are chosen, but that many are called; which means, as Saint Gregory explains, that out of all men, many are called to the True Faith, but out of them few are saved. Brothers, these are the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Are they clear? They are true. Tell me now if it is possible for you to have faith in your heart and not tremble.

. . .

The following narrative from Saint Vincent Ferrer will show you what you may think about it. He relates that an archdeacon in Lyons gave up his charge and retreated into a desert place to do penance, and that he died the same day and hour as Saint Bernard. After his death, he appeared to his bishop and said to him, “Know, Monsignor, that at the very hour I passed away, thirty-three thousand people also died. Out of this number, Bernard and myself went up to heaven without delay, three went to purgatory, and all the others fell into Hell.”

Our chronicles relate an even more dreadful happening. One of our brothers, well-known for his doctrine and holiness, was preaching in Germany. He represented the ugliness of the sin of impurity so forceful that a woman fell dead of sorrow in front of everyone. Then, coming back to life, she said, “When I was presented before the Tribunal of God, sixty thousand people arrived at the same time from all parts of the world; out of that number, three were saved by going to Purgatory, and all the rest were damned.”

Before disagreeing with this sentiment, I caution all my readers to exercise extraordinary caution. Contradicting generations of men holier than any now living — to say nothing of the plain language of our Lord! — is an act of monstrous hubris, not to be undertaken without very careful consideration. Their treatments of the issue should be advantaged in any consideration of it.

At any rate, reading this, I was reminded of commenter Bill’s remark that we need “lifeboats, not soapboxes.” The context for that remark, I think, was a general discussion about reactionaries’ proper attitude toward civilization — we should be trying to save not Western civilization but ourselves from Western civilization. Both of these tie in with another thought I had recently: that the work of evangelization is basically already done. The world can no longer claim ignorance of God. It has heard the Truth and rejected it. The best we can hope for now is to rid our own souls of sin — to flog and burn and slice it out of ourselves, if necessary — and to shepherd our families, to the extent we can, toward Heaven. Even in this, we are very likely to fail at least one of them.

59 thoughts on “How many saved? How many damned?

  1. I know this is off topic, but I was wondering if it would be a good idea to have a FB group for the Orthopshere, instead of page?


      • Sounds great. For example I am part of a monarchist group on FB that is mostly Orthodox, Roman Catholic, a couple Prots, and even a Confucian where we discuss a lot, and minus the Eastern Church emphasis on autocracy and Orthodox peculiarities, we and others are basically Orthosphere. Those that I know are very like-minded, educated, and trying to meet up and make formal in person groups in fact. So I thought it might be beneficial as the group and FB as a whole has helped to faciliate monarchist networking.

  2. Many are called but few are chosen – perhaps because only a few will freely choose to persevere along the hard road of penance and holiness; otherwise salvation is reduced to a mere lottery.

  3. Very nice, but knowing this should not lead the Christian into despair — that is, into believing that he is so sinful he is unworthy of salvation. God is merciful, and anyone can appeal to His mercy by way of repentance, trust in Christ and His promises, love of neighbor and a holy life (within the possibilities of our fallen nature).

    Of course, the other extreme, “I’m so awesome there’s no way God would put me in hell,” is equally wrong, and very common these days!

    • St. Leonard assures us that we have no cause for despair at the end of the sermon:

      “Brothers, I want to send all of you away comforted today. So if you ask me my sentiment on the number of those who are saved, here it is: Whether there are many or few that are saved, I say that whoever wants to be saved, will be saved; and that no one can be damned if he does not want to be. And if it is true that few are saved, it is because there are few who live well. As for the rest, compare these two opinions: the first one states that the greater number of Catholics are condemned; the second one, on the contrary, pretends that the greater number of Catholics are saved. Imagine an Angel sent by God to confirm the first opinion, coming to tell you that not only are most Catholics damned, but that of all this assembly present here, one alone will be saved. If you obey the Commandments of God, if you detest the corruption of this world, if you embrace the Cross of Jesus Christ in a spirit of penance, you will be that one alone who is saved.

      “Now imagine the same Angel returning to you and confirming the second opinion. He tells you that not only are the greater portion of Catholics saved, but that out of all this gathering, one alone will be damned and all the others saved. If after that, you continue your usuries, your vengeances, your criminal deeds, your impurities, then you will be that one alone who is damned.

      “What is the use of knowing whether few or many are saved? Saint Peter says to us, “Strive by good works to make your election sure.” When Saint Thomas Aquinas’s sister asked him what she must do to go to heaven, he said, “You will be saved if you want to be.” I say the same thing to you, and here is proof of my declaration. No one is damned unless he commits mortal sin: that is of faith. And no one commits mortal sin unless he wants to: that is an undeniable theological proposition. Therefore, no one goes to hell unless he wants to; the consequence is obvious. Does that not suffice to comfort you? Weep over past sins, make a good confession, sin no more in the future, and you will all be saved. Why torment yourself so? For it is certain that you have to commit mortal sin to go to hell, and that to commit mortal sin you must want to, and that consequently no one goes to hell unless he wants to. That is not just an opinion, it is an undeniable and very comforting truth; may God give you to understand it, and may He bless you. Amen.”

    • Following on Proph’s comment, I am reminded of the famous passage on the soul and virtue from Plato’s Apology (tr. Jowett):

      “Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this? And if the person with whom I am arguing says: Yes, but I do care; I do not depart or let him go at once; I interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater, and overvaluing the less. And this I should say to everyone whom I meet, young and old, citizen and alien, but especially to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For this is the command of God, as I would have you know; and I believe that to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private.”

      Or, as Plotinus beautifully summarizes, “Without virtue, God is only a word.” [Ennead II.9.15] (cf. Pierre Hadot, “Plotinus, or the Simplicity of Vision”, ch.5)

      Again, as per Proph’s quote from St. Leonard above, al-Ghazali also addresses in great detail the balance of fear and hope with respect to the weight of Divine judgment and mercy to be maintained in the cure of the soul. (cf. al-Ghazali, “The Book of Fear and Hope” (tr. McKane) (

  4. Is that the true meaning of the “Many are called…” quote, though? I don’t recall anyone every explaining it to me, but I always thought it was a way of underlining the different kind of obligations people have. When I think of many being called, I think of a trumpet sounding an alarm – a “call to arms”. Everyone is supposed to jump up and respond. But the one who is “chosen” doesn’t wait for the general callup – he’s the one who gets a handwritten invitation from the Commander to present himself at HQ for his assignment. He’s GOT to go, because there’s some special task waiting for him, and if he begs off, it’s much worse than if a civilian just shirks his duty. But everyone is still part of the same army, and the victory counts for the ordinary folk as much as for the officers.

  5. One popular little trick nowadays is to stand the meaning of Christ’s words on their heads, and change the “plain language” to which you refer into something much more obscure and subjective. Peter Kreeft has done a bit of work popularizing this notion that it’s possible nearly everyone is saved. In several lectures he’s given, he recites the theory that “few” has a different meaning from the divine viewpoint. Because God is a loving Father, even one soul damned to Hell is too many, and even 99.9999% of souls in Heaven is “too few.”

    This never fails to gain thunderous and enthusiastic applause from his audience, but it leaves me feeling very uneasy. To assent to that interpretation would require that I believe Christ made it His business to say the exact opposite of what he meant, so that we could only know the truth of His words many centuries later. I just don’t think the Lord came to Earth and expended all that effort in teaching us, just to trick us with slippery language that we couldn’t understand unless we saw everything from His point of view.

    • This kind of interpretation has more general problems. Imagine a text which appears, on first reading, to have a clear meaning. Imagine further that people have interpreted it according to the apparently clear meaning for centuries. Imagine further that scholars of the text have interpreted it this way for centuries also. Then, along comes some dude who claims its meaning is the exact opposite. If we accept his claim, how do we know that all the other texts with apparently clear, stable meanings don’t mean the exact opposite of what they seem to say? Without some principled method to distinguish texts which mean what they seem to say and texts which mean the opposite of what they seem to say, we pretty much have to acknowledge that we don’t know what any text says.

      And it’s not a theoretical problem, but an actual problem. Proph points (allusively) to Balthasarian universalism or near-universalism. But Extra Ecclesium Nulla Salus (and specifically the damnation of unbaptized babies, Jews, heretics, and pagans) is another such example. Also, there are prelates of the Catholic Church who claim that the Resurrection is not a historical event or that the Virginity of the Virgin Mary was not a physical, actual virginity. Etc.

  6. Origen and even St. Gregory of Nyssa speak of “Universal Reconciliation” However, the church has condemned this teaching as heresy
    “For the destruction of the last enemy must be understood in this way, not that its substance which was made by God shall perish, but that the hostile purpose and will which proceeded, not from God but from itself, will come to an end. It will be destroyed, therefore, not in the sense of ceasing to exist, but of being no longer an enemy and no longer death. For to the Almighty nothing is impossible, nor is anything beyond the reach of cure by its maker.”
    Peri Archon 3.6.5
    (trans. Marguerite Harl, Gilles Dorival, and Alain Le Boulluec. Paris, 1976, p.67)
    “the originator of evil himself will be healed” (Catechetical Orations 26. The Catechetical Oration of Gregory of Nyssa. Edited by James H. Srawley. Cambridge, 1903, p. 101).

  7. As a partial corrective to the quote in the original posting above, it may be helpful to bear the following scriptural passages in mind:

    “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” [KJV: Luke 14:23]

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [KJV: John 3:16]

    “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” [KJV: John 12:47]

    “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” [KJV: 1 Timothy 2:3-4]

    “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” [KJV: 1 Timothy 4:10]

    “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” [KJV: 2 Peter 3:9]

    Of course, other, opposing passages (many of which are mentioned in the original quote) can be brought to bear as well – if a near universal perdition is unlikely, this does not thereby necessarily imply a universal salvation or reconciliation.

    C.S. Lewis, of course, lacks the authority of the Church Fathers quoted above, but his views on the question may nevertheless be of broad interest to the present readership. One of his most insightful understandings is of Hell as self-willed, the corrupted soul formed into conformity with the condition of its exile. Various traditional eschatological teachings hold that, following death, the internal condition of the soul becomes externalized, a view that accords with various evidentiary lines regarding posthumous survival. In other words, the corrupted soul incarnately bears and subsequently manifests its own condition of Hell; as A.K. Coomaraswamy trenchantly observed in this regard “The kingdom of Hell is within you.” [cf. Coomaraswamy, “Who is Satan and Where is Hell?”] Conversely, so also, of course, is the kingdom of Heaven. In either case, the intrinsic condition of the soul conforms to its extrinsic destiny. From Lewis:

    “About Hell. All I have ever said is that the N.T. [New Testament] plainly implies the possibility of some being finally left in ‘the outer darkness.’ Whether this means (horror of horror) being left to a purely ‘mental’ existence, left with nothing at all but one’s own envy, prurience, resentment, loneliness & self conceit, or whether there is still some sort of environment, something you cd. call a world or a reality, I wd. never pretend to know. But I wouldn’t put the question in the form ‘do I believe in an ‘actual’ Hell.’ One’s own mind is actual enough. If it doesn’t seem fully actual ‘now’ that is because you can always escape from it a bit into the physical world – look out of the window, smoke a cigarette, go to sleep. But when there is nothing for you ‘but’ your own mind (no body to go to sleep, no books or landscape, nor sounds, no drugs) it will be as actual as – as – well, as a coffin is actual to a man buried alive.”
    – “Letters of C.S. Lewis”; to Arthur Greeves (13 May 1946)

    “But though freedom is real it is not infinite. Every choice reduces a little one’s freedom to choose the next time. There therefore comes a time when the creature is fully built, irrevocably attached either to God or to itself. This irrevocableness is what we call Heaven or Hell. Every conscious agent is finally committed in the long run: i.e. it rises above freedom into willed, but henceforth unalterable, union with God, or else sinks below freedom into the black fire of self-imprisonment.”
    – “Letters of C.S. Lewis”; to Joyce Pearce (20 July, 1943)

    “Though our Lord often speaks of Hell as a sentence inflicted by a tribunal, He also says elsewhere that the judgment consists in the very fact that men prefer darkness to light, and that not He, but His ‘word’, judges men. We are therefore at liberty – since the two conceptions, in the long run, mean the same thing – to think of this bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is. The characteristic of lost souls is ‘their rejection of everything that is not simply themselves.’”
    – “The Problem of Pain”

    “It’s not a question of God ‘sending’ us to Hell. In each of us there is something growing up which will of itself ‘be Hell’ unless it is nipped in the bud. The matter is serious: let us put ourselves in His hands at once – this very day, this hour.”
    – “God in the Dock”, “The Trouble With ‘X’…”

    “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘‘Thy’ will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
    – “The Great Divorce”

    “A man can’t be ‘taken’ to hell, or ‘sent’ to hell: you can only get there on your own steam.”
    – “The Dark Tower & Other Stories”, “The Dark Tower”

    “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the ‘inside’.”
    – “The Problem of Pain”

    (quotes taken from Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root (eds.), “The Quotable Lewis”; also see

    • Hell as self-willed

      Amen. That is really apt. The reason it is so plausible that Hell is bursting at the seams is that so many people actively, overtly prefer their own will to the right. Non serviam!

  8. CS Lewis remarks that the Dominical sayings are addressed to the will and not to the intellect. That is, Jesus is not addressing the quantitative question at all.

    In fact, the quantitative question is idle, unproductive and must be discouraged.

    • Amen to that, sir.

      Here is a Bible verse for us all to memorize:

      “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the works of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

      So we turn to the Holy Scriptures.

      “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119: 105).

      We need to meditate on this image. I picture someone walking through treacherous terrain by night — but he will complete his journey safely because he can see where to go. Note that his lamp does not illuminate the surrounding landscape very far. There are things he is curious about and that he cannot see clearly. But this is all right.

      Seriously, let’s keep these things in mind.

  9. The Continental Op: “How about Jews who reject Christ?”

    Jews are elder brothers to Christians. Jews bear no responsibility for Jesus and have not been rejected by God. The Pope appears before Jews to apologize to them for the faults of Christians and not to demand that the Jews convert. It is incumbent on Christianity to reject and condemn anti-Semitism, and to seek improved relations with Judaism, and the Catholic Church accepts these responsibilities. The proper Christian attitude to Jews and Judaism is one of warmth and love, but remembering that Jewish feelings are tender because of the many crimes of Christians against Jews though the ages, so an arrogant, insensitive attitude of demanding reciprocal love is inappropriate. In 2000 the Pope publicly apologized to Jews for the persecution of Jews by Catholics over the centuries, including the Holocaust. The Pope also deposited a note pleading for forgiveness in a crack of the Western Wall, in a visit to Israel, with which the Vatican has diplomatic relations. Naturally more needs to be done.

    (I try not to tell Christians what their own religion is, but this stuff is not my opinion but the words and deeds of the Popes, and in general the attitude of all the mainstream Christian churches.)

    While the Church itself does not sin, sons and daughters have, and the Church condemns. The guilt is on those sinners each alone.

    From the outside at least it seems that there would be a natural link between Jews and Hell: many, many Christians would be damned for being anti-Semites, that is adversaries of the Jews, and for failing in love and charity to their Jewish elder brothers across the centuries and in many parts of the world, and through participating in or tolerating the many crimes against them.

      • Stanley Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove (1964): “As I tried to build the detail for a scene, I found myself tossing away what seemed to me to be very truthful insights because I was afraid the audience would laugh. . . . And it was at this point I decided to treat the story as a nightmare comedy.”

        The relationship between Judaism and modern Christianity is ripe for such a comedy.

  10. @Proph – Yes it seems to be true that not many people want Heaven. Yet there is no reason for those who do want Heaven to despair (and it is a sin).

    The Gospel is, after all, *Good* news (compared with the situation which preceded it).

    There is the example of the Good Thief, there is “Seek and ye shall find’ (*shall* find), and there are the Comfortable Words of the Book of Common Prayer:


    Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him.

    Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. (St. Matthew 11.28)

    So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (St. John 3.16)

    Hear also what Saint Paul saith.

    This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 St. Timothy 1.15)

    Hear also what Saint John saith.

    If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins. (1 St. John 2.1)

    • Those are words to live by.

      Perhaps some of you experience this too: that we have been given many great truths in Scripture and sound Christian tradition — but one tends, inwardly, to nod one’s head in agreement as it were, “Yes, yes, I know that….” — and to go back to fretting over other things.

      By such inward behavior, we tend to make the Good News not so very good to us.

      But nobody needing salvation was ever fretted into the Kingdom!

  11. The world can no longer claim ignorance of God. It has heard the Truth and rejected it.

    Yes, this. Rahner, Balthasar and the cult of salvation-via-invincible-ignorance really get under my skin. If you know that the Catholic Church claims to be the one, true Church, you ain’t ignorant. And if you ain’t ignorant, you ain’t invincibly ignorant. “I know it claims that, but I disagree” is not the statement of an invincibly ignorant person.

    John Zmirak’s graphic novel is an interesting treatment of the invincible ignorance point.

    • Isn’t the “how” of the claim’s appearance relevant? Is one damned because one found the Wikipedia entry on the Catholic Church less than persuasive? Is putting down the Catechism in a bookstore with a wry look tantamount to rejecting the very words of Christ? Does one truly hear Christ’s invitation in these ways? Has invincible ignorance been annihilated in these cases? Is the claim itself — by itself, that is, regardless of situation or context — the sufficient preparation for salvation? If Catholics have failed to make the Good News available or recognizable via culture, what ethereal sort of knowledge can convey salvific weight?

      • The situation or context, today, is that the Catholic Church is the largest denomination of the largest religion on Earth. It is the oldest existing human organization, midwife and mother to humanity’s greatest cultural tradition. As Proph pointed out in the original post, the Church has already done an amazingly good job of testifying to the world. So, yes, if one’s reaction on hearing that it claims to be the one true Church of Christ is wry amusement followed by no effort to seek out its best arguments for itself, then one’s ignorance is culpable.

      • Bill,

        Then it seems to me that the best way to save souls is to ensure that as few people as possible hear of the Church’s claim in the superficial contexts that Western Civilization has prepared for postmodern man (via the Internet, for example). We ought to Crusade for invincible ignorance. What the Church has “already” done has not prevented a world-historical situation in which Proph feels that we must save ourselves from this (“already” here) civilization. We are to “shepherd our families, to the extent we can.” He thus confines effective persuasion, with respect to faith and salvation, to the smallest unit of society and the most intimate authorities and ways of knowing, hopefully supported by Church institutions. How, then, can “the world” that “can no longer claim ignorance” be co-extensive with those people on whom that world prevails as the very condition of their knowing, even those born into families without vigilant shepherds?

      • Invincible ignorance excuses man of the sin of unbelief. It does not pardon him for any of the other sins he is very likely to commit over the course of his life, and his lack of access to the sacraments (esp. confession) is almost certain to damn him once he’s committed them. Thus evangelization *really is* a moral imperative, since man is almost certainly damned without the Church’s aid. The problem is that the imperative has already been satisfied: I cannot imagine more than a few small bands of isolated natives who have not heard the Word. Everyone else has. And they have positively chosen to disbelieve it. Further engagement with the world will not be productive and is much more likely to be spiritually toxic.

      • Proph: The problem is that the imperative has already been satisfied: I cannot imagine more than a few small bands of isolated natives who have not heard the Word. Everyone else has. And they have positively chosen to disbelieve it. Further engagement with the world will not be productive and is much more likely to be spiritually toxic.

        This is what I cannot understand. The imperative has certainly not been satisfied because it was not confined to the mere approximate articulation of the Word (which approximation would be dependent for its persuasion on things other than the Word itself). The command was to “make disciples” or “teach all nations, baptizing them.”

      • You cannot baptize people against their will or make disciples of slaves. And I have a hard time, certainly, believing that most of the people in the West have no better understanding of Catholicism than what they read on the back of a book in Barnes & Noble. Even if they do, their ignorance is malicious.

      • Then it seems to me that the best way to save souls is to ensure that as few people as possible hear of the Church’s claim


        That is the subject of the graphic novel I mentioned. If you believe in a fairly generous version of salvation-by-invincible-ignorance then the “right” thing to do is to make everyone as ignorant as possible—it maximizes salvation. So, the main character in the novel is a bishop who has set himself the task of destroying the Catholic faith in order to save everyone. Everyone, that is, but himself. He, of course, has the millstone waiting for him and knows it. He calls himself a “second Christ.” He is going voluntarily to Hell in order to save, via salvation-by-invincible-ignorance, everyone else.

        Seemingly, the only way out of this is to have a narrow or non-existent version of salvation-by-invincible-ignorance or to believe in dippy universalism.

        How, then, can “the world” that “can no longer claim ignorance” be co-extensive with those people on whom that world prevails as the very condition of their knowing, even those born into families without vigilant shepherds?

        I don’t understand this question.

      • I don’t understand this question.

        Yeah, sorry about that ridiculous sentence. The question is about the possibility of the sort of knowledge by which man can assent to the Catholic Church’s “one, true” claim. As Niall points out below, that claim appears today in the same garb as the Islamic claim: they both appear as truth-claims with an archaic truth-value that is subject to our individual judgment. The one, true claim — all by itself — is not performative in the sense of Christ’s own words or his being as Word (that is, as statements, they do not enact what they announce). All the natural and historical (and in themselves insufficient) preparations for faith in Jesus Christ — man’s natural desire for God, the idea of a cosmic covenant, the sense of the sacred, etc. — have been obscured in our age (though they remain present in the Church and the Sacraments).

        Proph is arguing that those who suffer under this obscurity — including many who profess to believe — are “slaves” incapable of becoming disciples; and that we should not waste our time in persuading them because in doing so we will risk our own souls in the face of their malicious incapacity for God. Are these slaves members of the “world that can no longer claim ignorance?” Is there really nothing else at work in their ignorance other than individual and intentional malice? Are they damned for having been born under the sway of nominalism or relativism or nihilism or positivism? Is there no analysis of the “ways of knowing” that will mitigate their persistence in the sin of unbelief?

        The basic question is this: what does it mean to “hear the Word?” At what moment has one heard the Word? Is there a sufficient amount of performative Word in the basic account of the Catholic Church that most people have access to?

        Re: the graphic novel. It seems to me that it is Proph’s version of invincible ignorance that requires Catholics to keep their mouths shut whether they are doing so to protect their own families or to lift the burden of damnation from the ignorant. I’ll take “dippy universalism” over that any day.

      • No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that making disciples of nations requires that they profess faith freely. The nations have largely refused. Therefore, the work of evangelization is done. “You can’t make disciples of slaves” is simply recognition of the fact that discipleship is a voluntary endeavor: the apostles *chose* to accept Christ’s invitation, after all. There are exceptions to the general rule, of course, but by and large the world has heard the word in more or less its entirety and their response is an overwhelming “Meh” at best.

    • So, yes, if one’s reaction on hearing that it claims to be the one true Church of Christ is wry amusement followed by no effort to seek out its best arguments for itself, then one’s ignorance is culpable.

      …and therefore deserving of eternal suffering? Even on our sinful earth there is an ideal that justice must be proportionate. The idea that one could be doomed for “wry amusement” at the unproven and unprovable self- aggrandizing claims of an all- too- human institution is laughable.

      In any case, the Muslims say the same, i.e. that those who have heard and rejected their teachings have had their chance and cannot complain if they endure perpetual torment. I can easily imagine someone on an Islamic blog saying more or less the same thing as Bill does above. How is the outsider supposed to properly judge the truth claims of any religion when all he hears is that he has to listen and ask no questions, but merely obey for fear of being damned? If a man can be agnostic in the face of Islam, why should he not also be so in the face of Christianity?

      • Sure, ask questions. Ask them in the spirit of clarification and truth-seeking. I did; that’s how I became a Catholic. As far as justice is concerned, do you deny it is appropriate for a man to feel grief when he realizes, too late, that he has spurned his chance at love? Well, why should he not feel grief eternally, knowing he has spurned He who is eternal love?

        You are sorely mistaken about the nature of this blog if you think we would begrudge Muslims the certitude of faith. We have much to learn from them in this, if nothing else.

      • and therefore deserving of eternal suffering?

        You deserve to go to Hell. I deserve to go to Hell. Everyone (but Jesus and His mother) deserves to go to Hell.

        The idea that one could be doomed for “wry amusement” at the unproven and unprovable self- aggrandizing claims of an all- too- human institution is laughable

        And, someday, when I hear someone make that claim, I’ll have this nugget of wisdom you have provided me to fortify me against its falsity. Thanks!

      • In any case, the Muslims say the same, i.e. that those who have heard and rejected their teachings have had their chance and cannot complain if they endure perpetual torment.

        That’s not quite right. Moslems believe that unbelievers, regardless of whether or not they have knowledge of the Koran and Islam, are willfully disrespecting Mohammed, Islam, and Allah, and therefore deserve to die.

  12. Well, I’ll let it go in the face of the Nietzsche-Catholicism because I would just keep repeating myself, but of course the bookstore comment was just an example.

  13. If I my interject the Orthodox notion of hell as an existential state before God Himself would be helpful here I think. That the repentant are experience the love of God as bliss, as purity, and joy, whole the unrepentant and damned experience the grace of God as fire, pain, and torment.

    • Incidentally, the Orthodox vision of Hell (with which I have been loosely familiar with some time) was part of the inspiration for my diagnosis of “spiritual autism” as an inability to experience the order of being as sacred.

    • The love of God is like the sun, it can burn you to crisp or make you grow, all depending on your own approach to God.
      God’s love is eternally the same for all, we are the irregulars…

    • Well, the order of being is objectively sacred. Likewise, God and Heaven are objectively good. The modern condition and the condition of the damned in Orthodox theology is not one of objective punishment but subjective inability to experience the good for what it is. The modern experiences the order of being as an unjust prison and the damned the love of God as fire and pain.

      • Interesting, Proph. Do you think (presumably you do) that the Orthodox vision of Hell and Catholic theology are compatible? I tend to think that they are not, but I’m willing to hear you (or anyone else) argue that they are.

      • No, I’m fairly certain it’s false (and the Catholic faith requires me to profess as much, too). But it’s nevertheless an interesting idea.

      • “No, I’m fairly certain it’s false (and the Catholic faith requires me to profess as much, too). But it’s nevertheless an interesting idea.”

        Mmmh, and my Orthodox faith requires me to profess that you are wrong. Now what? 😉

  14. You deserve to go to Hell. I deserve to go to Hell. Everyone (but Jesus and His mother) deserves to go to Hell.

    Would it be wicked and impious of me to ask you to provide some sort of evidence that this is true, other than your say-so, or that of the Bible which was also written by fallible men? I am aware that I am a flawed man; I may even be in need of a good thrashing now and again; but there is no amount of harm in my life that I have committed, or am even capable of committing, that would merit the endless physical tortures so lovingly described at length by such holy men as Alphonsus Liguori. I would not wish such a fate on my worst enemy, nor even on such men as Hitler or Stalin.

    Here on Earth, the word “deserve” implies some sort of proportion between the offence and its punishment. If merely to be born (allegedly in a state of “original sin”) merits the punishment of eternal damnation, what relation does this bear to our earthly conception of justice? And before you say “ah, but God’s is the true justice”, bear in mind that this statement is meaningless when the human word “justice” is bound by its human connotations. What you should really say is, “look, we as humans really have no idea why an allegedly just and loving God would bother to create dozens of billions of people while knowing perfectly well before the beginning of time that the vast majority of them were going to be doomed to suffer eternally after death, so let’s just pretend that his plan is just so that we can win his approval and maybe, just maybe, manage to count ourselves among the lucky ones. And if anyone else objects to the cruelty of the whole idea, we’ll just tell them that the damned freely chose to be tortured for all eternity. That should do it.”

    • I’m afraid that your false premises lead to false conclusions.

      “…the Bible which was also written by fallible men.”

      The Bible was written by God. Specifically, the Holy Spirit guided fallible men in the writing of God’s word. The Bible is infallible, and the ultimate authority on every topic it addresses.

      “…there is no amount of harm in my life that I have committed, or am even capable of committing, that would merit the endless physical tortures…”

      It is due to Adam’s fall that we are all imputed with original sin. Because of this, we cannot help but sin. Simply put, sin is a lack of conformity to, or transgression of, the laws of God. Since we have broken God’s laws, we deserve to be punished. Justice means “getting what you deserve,” and we deserve punishment for our continual sinning, i.e., going against the will of God.

      “endless physical tortures”

      As a Protestant, I do not believe the extra-biblical Catholic doctrines of what Hell is. Hell is eternal separation from God, and that, in and of itself, would be torture enough.

      “Here on Earth, the word “deserve” implies some sort of proportion between the offence and its punishment.”

      Perhaps you are familiar with the phrase “For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23 continues with, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Adam, before the fall, was in the Covenant of Life, in which he would not die. Because he sinned, he broke that covenant, so he was condemned to death. So Adam got what he deserved for breaking God’ law, and so do we.

      “…his plan is just so that we can win his approval…”

      Depends on your theology. Calvinists take Romans 8:29–“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren”–to mean that God chose those whom He would save before the creation of the earth. Ephesians 1:4 says much the same thing: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” So there is nothing we can do to “win His approval,” as you put it. Rather, God the Father gave God the Son certain people to be His own: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” (John 6:39) Jesus knows who his people are: ” I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” (John 10:14)

      These passages, and more, are behind the notion of sola gratia.

      “…if anyone else objects to the cruelty of the whole idea…”

      I do not think it cruel for wrongdoers to be punished; quite the opposite. I am with Adam Smith on this one: “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.” The guilty deserve to be punished; it is just.

      Since you start with false premises, you reach false conclusions.

  15. Proph: To my knowledge, and please correct me if I am wrong, Eastern Rite Catholics are taught the same notion of hell as the Orthodox Church…

      • To my knowledge the only differences are that they submit to the Roman (as opposed to the Coptic) Pope, and Rome justifies it as basically saying the same thing as she does.

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