Fr. Barron endorses universalist hope

If you haven’t heard, here’s Father Barron endorsing Balthasarian universalism, and here’s Michael Voris criticizing him (h/t Mark Shea, who’s criticizing Voris criticizing Barron here, on the ground that Voris is a mean ol’ doodie-head).

Fr. Barron’s position isn’t overly convincing, amounting to essentially “God did this really great thing for us, so clearly he really really really wants us to be saved,” though I imagine his position could be fleshed out more convincingly in a book-length exposition. He also offers a pretty reductive view of the historical debate on it, overemphasizing both the importance and value of Origen’s contribution, denigrating the contribution of Augustine and Aquinas (they’re so very dark!), and ignoring the many Church fathers and prominent theologians in between who agreed with the latter position, including Sts. Theodore, Basil, Ephrem, John Chrysostom, Gregory, Anselm, and Jerome, to say nothing of the (yes, technically non-binding) many private revelations in the post-Apostolic age, including the children at Fatima, St. John Bosco, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mary Faustina Kowalska, et al. A plain reading of Scripture supports it — when asked by one man if few were saved, Christ answers in the affirmative, albeit in a way that suggests the speculation itself is unprofitable and should be avoided; and, of course, if Hell is empty, then Christ’s constant exhortations to avoid it seem profoundly useless. “But we don’t know if any particular person is in Hell!” cries the universalist sympathizer, his nose poking over the top of the latest Rahner anthology. Which might be a good argument if the anti-universalist position consisted of rattling off a laundry list of damned souls with theological certainty; but there’s a big gulf between lots of people are in Hell and I know exactly who is in Hell.

A second thought: in an earlier post, I had speculated about the Church’s tendency, especially in the postconciliar age, to fixate on the least pernicious and least pervasive evil and dedicate so much of its energy to rooting it out. So, for instance, Pope Francis tells us we must stop talking about sin and instead proclaim its treatment, mercy, even though virtually no one anywhere talks about sin anymore. Likewise, today, nearly no one believes in Hell and so few people (so often including this wretched sinner) take it seriously, yet we continue to hear baseless theological speculation about how “reasonable” it is that Hell might be empty, against the near-unanimous witness of Scripture and the saints. And this as we begin preparing for Advent, a penitential season where our minds turn once again to the contemplation of the Four Last Things! Add “timing” to the list of things the Church just can’t seem to get right.

Go check out the comments at Shea’s blog, by the way, for a good example of the kind of absurd linguistic waterboarding necessary to make the universalist position even minimally tenable. You’ll also see plenty examples of the new Pharisaism — i.e., accusing other people of old Pharisaism — endemic to those poor souls mired in the twin fever swamps of German existentialism and “pastoral” “psychology.”

32 thoughts on “Fr. Barron endorses universalist hope

  1. The whole issue becomes more complicated when we look at it from the standpoint of a doctrine that considers separately the Particular Judgment and the Final Judgment. In this case, the Particular Judgment may be quite strict (the Orthodox tollhouse view, for instance, has the soul judged with the participation of both Heaven and Hell, with the devils seeking every excuse to condemn the soul, no matter how trivial), whereas in the Final Judgment, God alone judges, and it is at least reasonable to suppose that He will try His utmost to include every soul that has a possible place in eternity. How many that will turn out to be, is explicitly not revealed.

      • Interestingly, not that I know of. The details are attested mostly by personal visions, and it is endorsed by various Saints, and seems to be peculiar to Orthodoxy, kind of like how only Catholics have Marian apparitions. (The only NT quote I’ve seen cited in connection with this is Jesus’ quote that “the prince of this world is coming, and hath nothing in me”, which is used to bolster the assertion that the demons (who, in Orthodox thought, inhabit either the atmosphere or the visible reaches of space) have some kind of judging authority over souls that pass by them.)

        Even more strangely, the general framework of the soul having to pass through a series of gates and trials on the way to Heaven is actually older than the New Testament (being similar to Babylonian conceptions of the afterlife), and seems to have been adapted into Church tradition, partly for the same ‘pastoral purposes’.

        (which is why the tollhouses are commonly criticized as a ‘Gnostic’ idea, since the Gnostics had their own version where, instead of judging the soul’s sins, the demons have merely to be conquered by the right incantations).

        I invoked it mostly as a common model in which the Particular and Last Judgments would have an obvious reason to give different verdicts for some people.

      • Some, though of course Scripture is supported by Tradition, more than vice-versa. Scripture speaks of a judgment immediately after death, and also of a general judgment on Doomsday. It mentions that the devil and his bands of rebel sprites are “princes of the power of the air,” and speaks of the journey after death as a matter of ascending or descending. I read a Billy Graham book, interestingly, which spoke of the soul’s last struggle, rising through the air to God, accosted by these spirits.

        Interstingly, the Tradition is not only Eastern. Even if Western sources do not have the developed system of tollhouses, the story of the soul’s ascent through the air whilst being accused and attacked by demons, and guarded by angels, is common – especially early on. One of the signs of great Saints, is that they ascend unimpeded, usually thronged by angels (see Columba of Iona, Benedict, Scholastica, etc.). One saint who died just a bit before his time, St. Furseus, had to suffer impertinent accusations over the merest trivialities the demons could still find against him – an accusing demon brought the flaming soul of a sinful tailor out of hell and threw it at the saint, because he once patronized his business! He was returned to his body and lived a while longer, coming, one presumes, to a better end after repenting more fully of even the littlest things.

  2. “when asked by one man if few were saved, Christ answers in the affirmative, albeit in a way that suggests the speculation itself is unprofitable and should be avoided”

    Then the speculations to the relative populations of heaven and hell SHOULD be avoided.

    CS Lewis remarks that the dominical sayings are directed to the conscience and the will and NOT to be intellect. Thus, Jesus is telling individual men to avoid hell, and he is not going to satisfy curiosity about relative populations.

    • Yes, I generally agree. We should not be speculating about it out of idle curiosity. But it can be useful, even for pastoral reasons, to point out that the consensus of history suggests that Hell is bursting at the seams, especially if this instills in us a healthy fear of the Lord and plants the seeds of repentance and conversion.

    • It is no longer speculation. The Scriptures and Tradition are clear that few are saved, and the Church has explicitly condemned the following propositions (at least twice, since the cited condemnations, already solidly magisterial and traditional, are renewed in Quanta Cura with great solemnity):

      15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true. — Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862; Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

      16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation. — Encyclical “Qui pluribus,” Nov. 9, 1846.

      17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ. — Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

  3. Proph,
    Stop writing ledes for Fox News, traditionalist edition. Do you know why Fox News exists? Do you serve the same master? Why point to people you think are wrong? There is nothing wrong with righteous anger, but there is alot wrong with indulging one’s capacity for anger frivolously, and counting it as righteousness.

    On the topic of the post, we are diminished by engaging people who are either too stupid to see the tendency of the modern church or are complicit in its continuing degradation. But that is not the last word on the topic of universalism. There’s only one man that I know of who makes a case for universalism worth pondering, and that is George MacDonald. His love for God, and his indignation at the failure of imagination required to assume that divine mercy must be comprehensible to us, who don’t see that on the evidence we already have it must be stranger than we can fathom, and it does not, and will never, compromise with ANY sin, all of this was born of a Calvinism that would drive the damnationists crying into the arms of the nearest universalist. (I imagine that the beauty of this one soul and its fruit is a large part of the reason God allowed the Reformation in the first place.) If you’re going to rail against universalism, at least choose a target worth the time.

    I suggest that it is not worth railing against. This “absolutely crucial question” is no such thing. Both answers, when one identifies with them and invests energy in arguing for them, lead to there own sins (pride for the damnationist, relativism for the universalist). As with so many distractions, the only way to win is not to play. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

  4. As far as I can recall, I was wholly innocent of the existence of Fr Barron before this post. I prefer Earnest Angley re-runs. Or is he still on?

      • I would not feel comfortable commenting on the topic of the post, but I will say that the “Catholicism” series is insidious. Productions like that seem almost deliberately aimed at preventing Catholics from learning anything from the painful experiences & follies of modernity.

        According to the film Our Lord’s mission is to subvert tradition rather than complete it, to turn the given order of things upside down rather than renew and heal it. (Barron actually dwells upon the word “subversive” for some time, and clearly sees this as a term of praise.) Per the logic of Barron’s narrative St. Augustine lied when he wrote “City of God”, because the pagans who blamed Christianity for the destruction of Roman society were right on the money. Which is fine, because Barron clearly detests Rome as much as any deconstructionist academic nemesis of the Dead White Male Patriarchy: The Crucifixion represents, if I remember Barron’s words, “Christ versus Caesar, mano-y-mano.”

        Good rule of thumb: Never trust anybody who tries to justify the Faith by claiming it inspired Gandhi.

      • It is disappointing to hear these assessments of Fr. Barron. My previous impression of him was that he was sound, but this was based on favorable impressions expressed of him by people of whom I had a favorable impression, not my actual direct encounter with his teaching. I’ve only ever listened to a few of his movie reviews (he does quite a few of these and posts them on Youtube) and I had not paid much attention even to his mode in these because I almost never watch contemporary flicks.

        Our diocesan weekly periodical had begun publishing syndicated columns of his. Considering that customarily the highest use we have found for this periodical is starter fuel for our charcoal chimney, I was encouraged by the appearance of these columns, though I confess I still have yet to read even one of them before combustion time. Perhaps his columns are an improvement, but there is really no getting around what a mess we are in as regarding the propagation of the Faith. Yes, it’s not as though I didn’t recognize this before, but it seems that even the faintest glimmers of hope are being extinguished.

        Still, let’s practice hope as though it were a bad habit.

      • “Good rule of thumb: Never trust anybody who tries to justify the Faith by claiming it inspired Gandhi.”

        Its a good rule of thumb for Hindus to never trust a Christian who claims Christianity inspired Gandhi (always in an effort to subvert and convert us).

        Gandhi was inspired by his own indigenous tradition of Vaishnavism and the local Jain influences. As well as just his conscience as a human being.

  5. While there are some “universals” common amongst humans on our planet. There is no such thing as “universalism”.

  6. Neo-Caths seem very intent upon promoting universalism to further their political ends. In one of his latest columns Weigel asserts that “Evangelical Catholics” like him “have to” make common cause with Protestants/Mormons for the “cause of freedom.” This tactic is such complete and utter folly.

  7. I agree with Gabriel Kummant. Stop reading Mark Shea. He is a vile little man.

    I read the linked Shea post and much of the comment thread. I watched the Michael Voris video Shea is critiquing. Voris says that Fr Barron is “wrong” about Universalism and then argues against Universalism. That’s it. There is nothing objectionable in Voris’s video presentation.

    EDIT: And now I’ve watched Fr Barron. He makes virtually no arguments in nine long minutes of talking. He recounts a brief history of views on the population of Hell, sharing with us his emotional reactions to the various positions. Just terrible.

    Shea calls Voris a “demagogue” who is trying to “gin up a mob” against Barron. That “Voris has maliciously smeared an innocent person.” He intervenes copiously in the comment thread to oppose defenders of Voris, but says nothing as his fans falsely and repeatedly claim that Voris accused Barron of heresy. Totally gross.

    • In fairness, I don’t read Mark Shea; the link was forwarded to me by a friend. I think this is my second time visiting his blog, and I did after all mock his outrage in the header.

      What *is* his angle, anyway? He seems to have a reputation for being kinda crotchety but it also seems his ire is uniquely directed toward traditionalists. Real CAF type, I’m guessing?

      • OK, mea culpa. Yes, he is usually civil to people to his left but rarely civil to people to his right. He is a neo-con with extra added nasty. I read him for a few months a couple of years ago.

    • I used to read Mark Shea pretty regularly, but I eventually came to find the reward not worth the annoyance. It doesn’t bother me that I disagree with him from time to time. It’s mostly that the man seems incapable of fairly describing the beliefs of others. Making fun of opponents’ beliefs by deliberate exaggeration and mischaracterization is briefly amusing (in an unwholesome way), but he doesn’t seem to operate in any other mode. Thus, every debate is framed as a contest between Obama/Moloch/abortion-worshipping liberals and “the thing that used to be conservatism”/”the rubber-hose right” at rival ludicrous extremes, while Shea speaks for common sense and the Church. It’s ironic that in the current context he’s pushing a broad-tent position (in his usual belligerent way), since there is little sense on his blog that some issues are genuinely difficult and that people might be non-culpably wrong for subtle reasons (or that Shea himself might be wrong–but in excessive self-confidence he’s no worse than me or most other bloggers).

  8. It doesn’t take long for Mark Shea’s mask of faux-Chestertonian bonhomie to slip and reveal the bully beneath. I remember when he mercilessly bullied a lady Catholic blogger who had the audacity to disagree with him on a certain point.

  9. Lords prayer says ‘forgive us as we forgive others’ – we find it difficult, but at times possible – but by logic if we are required to forgive others without judgement then it will be ‘normal’ in heaven. one will be in this amazing place, very aware of weakness of/during mortality on our part and the glory of God all around. Would it be possible to say other than ‘please forgive me’?

    Also we are told to forgive our brother seventy times seven: Jesus will not accuse us, he will be our advocate. But speculation with title ‘universalism’ is philosophical and misses sensibility of our religious condition. .


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