Steve Long and the Moral Object – 2

Let’s follow up on Steve Long’s critique of recent moral thinkers on the moral object.

Basically, some recent thinkers will contend that the object of the act is what I find attractive about my action. Example. What I find attractive in the golf course when I wield a club is the swing, the hitting of the ball by swinging. I don’t do this so as to ruin the turf. But it sometimes (often?) happens I do ruin the turf. That would be a side effect. But I only choose / intend the swing qua hitting the ball.

So far, fine.

Problems come, however, when this notion runs rough-shod over the intrinsic order of cause-effect discernible in nature. Say it is evident that such-and-such a dose of pain killers will kill anyone to whom it is administered. Then, intelligently to administer that dose to anyone must be to kill them. There is no other intelligent description of the act. There is no other intelligent way of committing that act. Granted, some people are out of their minds. They might be sick with horror over their loved one’s pain. Say he is screaming constantly. So, they stick the needle and administer the deadly dose of pain killer. But that person is acting from sick emotion. Out of his mind. Not acting intelligently.

I am focussing and saying: Let’s look at the act intelligently done. My contention – following Long – is that precisely because the act is known to all to be the lethal administration of pain-killer that the one moral object that this act can constitute, the one direct action that this constitutes, is killing. The doctor of course does not will death for death’s sake. But this is the means he chooses, directly, to obtain the further goal, the cessation of pain.

Craniotomy is another one. What mother would possibly disagree that the crushing of the skull is simply the “reshaping of the skull to fit the child through the canal”? To crush the baby’s skull immediately causes death. This is the immediate, per se effect of the physical act. Hence, intelligently to commit the act just is intentionally to kill. One might be out of one’s mind. But that is a different story.

New scenario. Say my son is lodged in a narrow cave. On the far side of him is a nuclear bomb that will totally annihilate the planet. All I have to do is push the ‘off’ button. All I have is a sharp knife. The only possible way to get to the button is to dismember my son. How should I look at this situation?

Well, the new morality says: I can propose to myself “the reshaping of these limbs such that space is opened up for me to get to the bomb and save the planet.”

But the old morality – which is ever ancient and ever new – says that to do so is in fact hideously to murder my son so as to achieve the good end of saving the planet. The old morality says: In this awful case, you can’t do anything harmful to your son. Never harm. The old physician’s adage. So, you must suffer. You must take up your cross and suffer.

But back to the new morality. I suppose they would go further. I suppose they would say: SINCE the ‘object’ is what you find attractive about the act, then the ‘murdering act’ in fact becomes simply the reshaping of the parts and removal of physical matter. And for what end? To save a planet with 10 billion people. Then they would say, “But it is unfortunate your son dies. Is it ‘proportionate’? Heck yes: Because 999,999,999,999 others are saved.”

But the old morality just looks at the act straight in the eye and asks its perp: “You know, don’t you, that you have just committed an evil deed, so that good may come. Can you seriously say that you did not? Is the order in nature so far beneath your intelligence that you can run rough shod over it, shaping as you will, under the narrative description you choose? And where will this stop?”

In fact, how can it stop at the conclusion: “This act is permissible”? It cannot. For the proportion of lives is so drastic that the new morality has to go on and say that dismembering the child is what one ought to do.

Trent vs. Luther

Sin is really sin, regardless of whether you commit it before or after you have come to know Christ. And God hates the sin; in fact, so far as the substance of the deed is concerned, every sin is mortal. It is not mortal for the believer; but this is on account of Christ the Propitiator, who expiated it by His death. As for the person who does not believe in Christ, not only are all his sins mortal, but even his good works are sins, in accordance with the statement (Rom 14:23): ‘Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.’ Therefore it is a pernicious error when the sophists distinguish among sins on the basis of the substance of the deed rather than on the basis of the persons. A believer’s sin is the same sin and sin just as great as that of the unbeliever. To the believer, however, it is forgiven and not imputed, while to the unbeliever it is retained and imputed. To the former it is venial; to the latter mortal. This is not because of a difference between the sins, as though the believer’s sin were smaller and the unbeliever’s larger, but because of a difference between the persons. For the believer knows that his sin is forgiven him on account of Christ, who expiated it by His death. Even though he has sin and commits sin, he remains godly. On the other hand, when the unbeliever commits sin, he remains ungodly. This is the wisdom and the comfort of those who are truly godly, that even if they have sins and commit sins, they know that because of their faith in Christ these are not imputed to them.[1]

Thus we abide in a humility that is not fictitious or monastic but authentic, because of the filth and the faults that cling to our flesh; if God wanted to judge severely, we would deserve eternal punishment on account of these.[2]

If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin. TRENT, SESSION V, CANON 5.

If anyone says that in every good work the just man sins at least venially,[126] or, what is more intolerable, mortally, and hence merits eternal punishment, and that he is not damned for this reason only, because God does not impute these works into damnation, let him be anathema. TRENT SESSION 6, CANON 25


[1] LW 27:76.

[2] LW 27:86.

The Real Sensus Fidelium Speaks in ITALY

Theologians have stressed the “sense of the faithful” (sensus fidelium) since the Second Vatican Council.

Often, they use this concept to wear away at Tradition, to alter dogmas and venerable liturgical traditions. They use the concept as though it were sociological. “What are the people saying? That’s the ‘sense of the faithful.'” So, surveys are conducted, views examined.

This very approach – taking surveys – handled in this sociological way can be very disturbing. If handled in some other way, it can be wonderful. The Marian definitions in the past two centuries were preceded by a test of the ‘sensus fidelium’ conducted in such a way as not to subject the faith to the opinions of the masses but in such a way as to determine whether it was opportune to define or not. That was wonderful. But the sociologists among ecclesiologists nowadays often use this survey approach to subject the faith to the individual believers, taken collectively. “Should we do away with the perpetual virginity? Should we do away with the ‘prohibition’ on condoms? Should we stop insisting the Holy Spirit proceeds filioque?”

This is disastrous.

But you can’t prevent the true stones of truth from speaking out. You cannot prevent – not forever – the truth of nature from crying out to heaven.

The faithful, and even nature herself in her rational agents, have spoken their voice. The sociologists themselves cannot ignore it. Italy has spoken. The people know that the True Family is the real family. That other forms of family are not “participations” of the family but deviations from it, perversions. It is false to analogize the perversion of the very essence of something with a refracted share in it. As Pius XI taught, false unions are not diminished participations; they are not like red and yellow of the rainbow. They are erasures of color, black spots, blindnesses.

This voice of nature and the voice of the ‘sensus fidelium’ is in harmony with the ancient wisdom – which is Ever New – of the Church. Truth is ever new. Because truth is not an artifact. Truth is Now. It is Being. It is Reality. Make it go away, and you will find yourself aging, on the way to corruption, fading, averse, perverse, in the dark, cast in shadows – miserable! Come to the Truth, all you labor and are weary, blundering in perversions and lies; deceiving and deceived; He shall set your soul to peace, gathering the pieces of shard your moral ruin has caused you.

Italy has spoken; Truth has spoken in Italy; and no one, No One, can hide it under a Bushel:

Luther and the Saints

What Luther Says What Saints Say
“We would perhaps have disregarded corruption [i.e., our own sin] and been pleased with our evil unless this other evil, which is wrath [i.e., the punishment threatened by divine anger], had refused to indulge our foolishness and had resisted it with terror and the danger of hell and death, so that we have but little peace in our wickedness. Plainly wrath is a greater evil for us than corruption, for we hate punishment more than guilt.”[1] “It is characteristic of the virtuous to flee from moral wrong because of its very nature and not because of threatened punishment. But it is characteristic of the wicked to flee from moral wrong because of threatened punishment.” Thomas Aquinas, On Evil, 1.5, ad 11
“Hence, just as wrath is a greater evil than the corruption of sin, so grace is a greater good than that health of righteousness which we have said comes from faith. Everyone would prefer – if that were possible – to be without the health of righteousness [internal holiness, truly loving God] rather than [without] the grace of God [i.e., the favor whereby he does not punish the guilty], for peace and the remission of sins are properly attributed to the grace of God, while healing from corruption is ascribed to faith.”[2]


“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 Jn 4:18).

[1] Martin Luther, Against Latomus (LW 32:224 [WA 8.104.17–21]). See the whole discussion (LW 32:223–27 [WA 8.103.35–106.28]).

[2] Martin Luther, Against Latomus (LW 32:227 [WA 8.106.4–20]).

Some Men are Not Saved

Classical logic holds that the negation of a universal affirmative immediately implies the affirmation of a particular negative.

If “not all will go to the game,” then “some will not go to the game.”

Now, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 7:21). Jesus is negating the universal affirmative. Thus, he is immediately implying the affirmation of the particular negative.

Thus, a logically equivalent expression is: “Some are not saved.”

And Jesus is speaking of men.

For classical logicians, we gather from knowledge outside the statements that “humans exist.” The statement, that is, is simply about existing human beings. Thus, the ultimate yield is: “There are some men who are such that they will not be saved.”

Symbolic logicians contend that the affirmation of a particular (negative or affirmative) constitutes an existential claim.

So, it seems on the count of either logic, that Jesus affirms that some men are damned.

Steve Long and the Moral Object

I have been reading Steven Long of late. His account of the moral object seems urgent to consider.

In a moral act, the first thing we must consider is the “what it is” you are doing. The object of the act. Are you murdering or are you feeding someone? Etc.

Those who know, know that this is one very difficult topic.

One of Long’s crucial points, though, is lost on many, including many good Catholics. It is this: That the natural order of cause and effect in the sub-rational world already indicates certain truths about certain possible actions for our choice. This inherent order in certain natural lines of causality cannot be ‘ignored’ when I choose to act. Indeed, to choose intelligently to act requires adverting to these ordered structures. And these ordered structures determine the character of the actions which a rational agent proposes to commit.

Case in point. Say a given doss of pain-killer is known medically certainly to be lethal. Well, then, to choose to administer this doss is to choose death. Period. Of course, the doctor or relative will say to himself, “I only want the pain-killing side of the act. I don’t want the death-dealing side of it.” Ah, but you know that it does deal death. And you are to act intelligently. This is the kind of action the natural course of which necessarily entails death. (Let necessary = medically known sufficiently to cause, except in rarest of cases or miracles.) Then, for any intelligent agent to choose to administer it just is to choose death. One cannot – in GNOSTIC fashion – then claim that one interiorly (spiritually) only desires a certain aspect of this natural (merely material, he claims) act. If  one were to justify the action by saying that one only chooses the act under its desirability, one would be acting in Gnostic fashion. It would be the “intentionalist” fallacy. That my intention can – in the face of a naturally known telelogical order of a certain action – bypass this order and find some other reason for the appetibility of the act. That my intention finds what is appetible and chooses it only thus. This is what Long calls “intentionalism.”

Its effects are absolutely dire, and contrary to Catholic moral tradition. Another example is craniotomy. This is the crushing of a baby’s skull to save the mother’s life when otherwise both will die.

Remember: We must never do evil that good may come. Even if I only kill one little babe to stop WWIII, nonetheless, I would sin evilly in doing so. All good Catholics grant this basic point.

But those who confuse the moral object can’t see straight on craniotomy. How do they tackle it? They do this: They say that the doctor chooses the “reshaping” of the skull. He doesn’t choose the death. Only the reshaping, so it can fit the birth canal so he can save the mother.

Long’s counter: But crushing the skull necessarily entails death. Hence, to choose this action intelligently just is to choose death. And if the object is rational and innocent, then to choose its death is murder. But if you opt for intentionalism, you can wipe away this very serious, long approved condemnation of craniotomy. You can wipe it away with your good intention. Which now comes to supposedly “specify” the act and – voila! – you turn murder into salvation. This really is a vile consequence of a gnosticizing theory.

The order impressed in nature does not enslave us. It gets us going and serves as the partial determination – in some cases crucial determination – of the kinds of actions that are morally good.

Long’s tome on the subject is The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act. Long is a good friend, a compassionate soul, and a brilliant theologian / philosopher.

I highly recommend this text.


The post is small but the issue massive.

Theology ought to be study of GOD.

However, very often, it ends up being the study of … the study of God. That is, it is simply the study of Augustine’s thought or Aquinas’s thought or Newman’s thought or Balthasar’s thought or O’Collins’s thought or Rahner’s thought, etc.

Now, it is important to study the work of great theologians. In fact, we can’t get off the ground by ourselves, unless one is of some rare species I have not seen.

But this fact SHOULD mean that we must study TRADITION above all. And not with an eye to the ‘opinion of the great theologian qua his / her opinion’. Rather, with an eye to contact with the RES, REALITY. Namely, with an eye to right thought about Uncreated Being and Created beings.

At the hands of modernists, however, we reflect on this or that theology qua the opinion of this or that person. Hence, we foreground the historical context. Then, we highlight the differences among the various approaches. Now we are looking at pupils, at the eyes of theologians and not at what they looked at. In fact, we show ourselves rebels against them. We are betraying them. For they looked at the real. And we are looking at them.

But see what next happens. The differences are pondered with great and serious worry. Worry so deep that we begin to wonder whether there is any truth. Is there any truth out there? Or is it just me and my looking at another’s looking? O the depth of my own blindness, the unsearchable uncertainty of my own mind, unstable and wayward. Nothing is true, no not one thing. All err. Their vision is blindness.

After the confusion sets in, students are ready for the next step. It may be offered by the professor or by the culture at large. “Life is short, death is certain; eat, drink and be merry.”

If there is no point or end, then certainly sex cannot have a point or end. Ergo, sex for sex’s sake. Musing for musing’s sake. Discussing for discussing’s sake. In short, the death of the mind followed by the banality of endlessness.

All this from a theology course? Of course not. Still, this foregrounding of perspective – this perspectivism – is indeed one strongly nailed iron affixing the lid of your coffin to the walls of your death.

Should Any Catholic Praise Luther?

We praise someone who fundamentally deserves praise. No one is without fault, and no one without some merit. But only those are worthy of praise who fundamentally deserve praise, whose pith and marrow is good.

Now, Luther certainly saw some things in the Church as evil that were evil. No one can say that his vision was totally corrupted. But was his vision fundamentally worthy of praise? We must, of course, distinguish contemporary Lutherans from Luther. Here, we are interested in the founder, in the foundation he laid.

What should be the matter upon which we judge this case? Luther’s own texts, of course.

So, in this post, we will cite Luther at length in one of his key contributions. Granted, this key contribution he did not continue explicitly to lay out. However, he never retracted it. In another post, we can lay out the theses he continued explicitly to hold.

In reading the below, ask yourself these questions: Could a saint utter the words below? Could a holy man write the following? Could a true lover of God, one in the state of grace, write the following?

First Thesis of Luther. For Luther, Divine Foreknowledge means that there is No Contingency, and that means that there is No Freedom. This thesis he lays down, so he asserts, to protect God’s foreknowledge so as to protect his promise so as to protect our confidence in salvation by faith alone. Indeed, here we see the connection between this foundation and the explicit teaching of his that endures and which will be treated in a future post. The connection: If future events are contingent, God’s promise is not as trustworthy as we need it to be. Hence, future events are not contingent.

For Luther, there is either grace or freedom (Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, from Luther’s Works vol. 33, p. 126; hereafter, LW 33:126). There is either freedom or Christ (LW 33:279).

(Regarding Pharaoh), Luther writes: “If there had been any flexibility or freedom of choice in Pharaoh, which could have turned either way, God would not have been able so certainly to predict his hardening. Since, however, the Giver of the promise is one who can neither be mistaken nor tell a lie, it was necessarily and most certainly bound to come about that Pharaoh should be hardened; which would not be the case unless the hardening were entirely beyond the capacity of man and within the power of God alone” (LW 33:183).


If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas necessarily became a traitor, and it was not in the power of Judas or ay creature to do differently or to change his will, though he did what he did willingly and not under compulsion, but that act of will was a work of God, which he set in motion by his omnipotence, like everything else” (LW 33:185).



It is not in our power to change, much less to resist, his will, which wants us hardened and by which we are forced to be hardened, whether we like it or not” (LW 33:187).


“I admit that the question is difficult, and indeed impossible, if you wish to maintain at the same time both God’s foreknowledge and man’s freedom. What could be more difficult, nay more impossible, than to insist that contradictories or contraries are not opposed, or to find a number that was at the same time both ten and nine?…. Paul is thus putting a check on the ungodly, who are offended by this very plain speaking when they gather from it that the divine will is fulfilled by necessity on our part, and that very definitely nothing of freedom or free choice remains for them, but everything depends on the will of God alone…. Not that any injustice is done to us, since God owes us nothing, has received nothing from us, and has promised us nothing but what suits his will and pleasure” (LW 33:188).


“God’s foreknowledge and omnipotence are diametrically opposed to our free choice” (LW 33:189).


“Here, then, is something fundamentally necessary and salutary for a Christian, to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that he foresees and purposes and does all things by his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. Here is a thunderbolt by which free choice is completely prostrated and shattered…” (Bondage [LW 33:37]).

Luther presents as his evidence that God is unchanging. So, he concludes, is God’s will. So far, so good. But from these he deduces that therefore, nothing is contingent. Again,

“From this it follows irrefutably that everything we do, everything that happens, even if it seems to us to happen mutably and contingently, happens in fact nonetheless necessarily and immutably, if you have regard to the will of God” (Bondage [LW 33:37f]).

What have real saints said about this thesis? Well, St. Thomas More labelled Luther’s thesis on absolute determination to be:


AMEN to St. Thomas More. How can we contradict St. Thomas More here? Should we, out of human respect and errant versions of ecumenism, lose our theological heads, not in service of martyrdom, but rather in praise of such execrable doctrine? 

Let us continue the citations.

For Luther, the thesis of absolute determinism is necessary in order to Protect Faith’s Certainty. No faith is possible unless one already “knows” that because God wills all things, nothing is contingent (LW 33:42).

“For if you doubt or disdain to know that God foreknows all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe his promises and place a sure trust and reliance on them? For when he promises anything, you ought to be certain that he knows and is able and willing to perform what he promises; otherwise, you will regard him as neither truthful nor faithful, and that is impiety and a denial of the Most High God. But how will you be certain and sure unless you know that he knows and wills and will do what he promises, certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily?” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, LW 33:42)

Now, this reason for humility is utterly false, since it contradicts Catholic Dogma. But St. Bernard said that giving false reasons for humility is in fact pride. Hence, Luther also takes one of the steps of pride in contending that this thesis Benefits Humility.

Luther recognizes that the notion of absolute determinism seems to make God utterly evil and perverse. Instead, then, of rejecting it as blasphemous and fideistic, he embraces it as lifting up Faith and Revelation, since it is so contrary to all reason:

“This is the highest degree of faith, to believe him merciful when he saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable, so that he seems, according to Erasmus, to delight in the torments of the wretched and to be worthy of hatred rather than of love” (LW 33:62f).

Luther’s own words are the evidence. This is the testimony of his own mouth. Let the honest and decent reader judge the case.

Before the bar of every rational and decent person, does Luther not convict himself of utter inhumanity?

Before the bar of all that is reasonable in moral exhortation – from parental to educational to civil and criminal, does he not convict himself of a crime against all law? Is he, therefore, anarchical?

Before the bar of Catholic Dogma, supreme criterion on earth of what we know is and is not part of and/or in harmony with the Deposit of Faith, does he not convict himself of heresy?

Before the God whom we ought to honor, to whom we ought to ascribe only what is good and true and fitting, does he not convict himself of great blasphemies, greater even than the Gnostics who first attempted to ruin the Church? For the Gnostics distinguished two gods, one good and one evil. Does not Luther add to the evil by subtracting from the number of Gods, folding that Evil, which all right reason and right faith and common decency vomit out as execrable, into the one God?

Indeed, DOES NOT ALL OF MODERN THOUGHT — which, incidentally, is not entirely corrupt, though it is by and large no friend of Christ — REJECT SUCH VILE THOUGHT? If we, then, accept what is good and decent in Modernity – as it rebels against fideism and voluntaristic notions of God and absurd notions of justification and divine predetermination and the destruction of all legitimate autonomy of man – must we not therefore reject this foundational thesis of Luther? Finally, does this predetermination to evil harmonize with the errant notion of a mercy shorn of justice, so popular these days?

Balthasar’s Delirious Hope that All be Saved

Hans Urs von Balthasar’s work has been gaining steady influence in the Church. Whoever reads his work must be impressed by his erudition and the vast sweep of his vision. And indeed he has many insights and has pioneered a way of doing theology that ought to be taken up in many of its respects, the criticisms here notwithstanding.

However, his work smacks of contradiction to the faith of the Church on a number of key points. And in other matters he has been wildly reckless. One topic on which he has been both utterly reckless and also – by any sober estimation – at odds with elements of the faith of the Church is on his hope that all may be saved.

I must summarize his argument and position here. The presentation could of course be developed more fully – but then again, so could the criticisms to follow.

Balthasar argues, to begin, that since we may hope – regarding each person – that he may be saved, we may hope that all persons may be saved. The argument seems logical (unless you have studied logic): If I may hope for each man that he can be saved, I may hope that the whole lot of men can be saved.

He further contends that this hope is not contradicted by any teaching of revelation or the Magisterium, for, he contends, the Magisterium has never declared that anyone is in hell, much less pronounced on any individual.

Of course, the ready critic will immediately bring up a terrible text such as Matthew 25 – where the sheep go off to eternal life and the goats are sent into the fires of hell. Balthasar has a quick response (Dare We Hope, 21ff; Theo-Drama V, 316ff). First, he allies himself with a favorite theological antagonist of his – Karl Rahner. Rahner found a way to “demythologize” such plain texts by way of Heideggerian existentials. (Too bad for the chaps who can’t read Being and Time – they wear themselves out to no purpose. Poor Francis Xavier. Perhaps he could have enjoyed some espresso on the beach.) Back to Balthasar – who, after all, did chastise Rahner, and quite rightly, for his undue optimism and the mechanical automatism of the supernatural existential. Yes, back to Balthasar. He calls on Rahner’s “demythologizing” or rather “de-apocalypticizing”, according to which texts such as Mt 25 are not at all predictive. The texts are not “advanced reports,” they cynically maintain. The texts are only warnings.

Second, Balthasar counters texts such as Mt 25 with texts such as 1 Tim 2:3f which indicate God’s will that all be saved. Thus, there are, he observes, two sets of texts. Balthasar then takes shelter behind some historical critical work. (Once again, since the conclusion favors him on this occasion, he makes friends with those whom he often elsewhere lambasts.) That work, Balthasar contends, suggests that the two sets of texts cluster in two different phases of the Christian self-understanding. The harsh set of texts (Mt 25) clusters around the pre-Easter message of Jesus. The texts regarding God’s universal mercy cluster around the post-Easter Jesus. Hence, Balthasar contends, the harsh set does not adequately represent the scope of hope we may place in Christ’s redeeming act. But the second set does.

At this point, the facile critic denounces Balthasar as a “universalist”. He is not so foolish – at least on this point. Or, at least not on this score! For other lines of his thought do entail universalism, despite his pleas that he is no universalist. (He pleas, that is, that he is unsure of the outcome, which hangs in the balance.) Here, Balthasar simply contends that the two sets of texts cannot be gathered into a higher “system” of unity. Thus, we are left to submit ourselves to the two sets, recognizing that we are all “under judgment”. We cannot know the outcome for our own lives, let alone that of any other person. But we know we are threatened with judgment and promised mercy. How will we live in response? Thus, Balthasar says that he is not pronouncing any certain outcome. Rather, he is holding out the “hope” that all might be saved at last.

We ought, next, take a look at what he understands to be the mechanism of salvation. For Balthasar, that mechanism is this: Jesus Christ takes on our sins. Not just our punishment for sin but our waywardness, our very sins. Balthasar tries to walk as far with Luther and Calvin – with Barth! – as he thinks he can. He does part with Luther, who claimed that Christ became sin itself. However, Balthasar mirrors Luther in a number of respects in this regard. He holds with Barth and Calvin, and seemingly Luther, that Jesus experienced damnation on our behalf. The manifold agony on the Cross was apparently not enough, though our Lord said it was enough. No, our Lord had to suffer damnation on top of it. Be that as it may, Christ accomplishes our redemption by “removing” our sin from us and “letting it be” by itself. How can “sin” be “removed” from a man and “let be”? What is sin, such that it can be removed? Balthasar submits, sin is “a reality” (Dare We Hope, 137; Mysterium Paschale, 173; Theo-Drama V, 314). Balthasar thereby rejects the traditional notion of sin as a privation of a due good in human action, as this privation regards what is owed to God. Nope – it is a reality! I.e., a really existing thing? Well, it must be, since, Balthasar alleges, Christ removes this reality from the sinner and “lets it be” by itself. What remains is saved. If there is any ounce of good will in you, then you will be saved. If you love puppies in New York, and rescue them, you have something non-malicious about you. Clearly, he who loves puppies, or daffodils, in New York, must not be perfectly malicious. The only way that you the sinner can be damned is if you identify yourself with that horrific, malicious sin that is the pure “non serviam”. Only if you identify yourself with that shrieking horror of sin can you be damned. (I am reminded of Munch’s The Scream.) And if you do not manage this act of total identification with your absolute “no”, then you will be saved. (Poor St. Monica, worrying herself about the eternal loss of Augustine. Surely he had some affection for his lover? And for Adeodatus? Monica need not have shed those tears.)

And what is hell, for Balthasar? It is just that “sin itself, existing in its own ‘Non Serviam.’” Pure Evil, as it were, created by Christ’s redeeming act.

In his many horned approach to this issue, Balthasar also examines what it means for hell to be without end. He allows himself to contradict himself – in the same text. For at one point he says that we must admit that hell is eternal. But at another point considers the idea that its infinity is one of intensity and not necessarily one of duration. The pain seems like it shall be without end but it may actually come to an end. This is to liken hell to Purgatory (TD V, 314). It is unlikely, he adds, that anyone will forever choose to be isolated from Christ’s redeem act. After all, Christ went down to the damned, he says (Theological Explorations IV, 421f, 462f; DWH 26, 178 Wainrwright, Cambridge Companion, 124). And Christ cannot allow the damned sinner to remain forever unrepentant (TD V, 277, 284, 303f, 307, 311-13). At some point, the (damned) sinner will crack open, capitulate. If this happens, hell shall have been of infinite intensity, not of infinite duration (See TD V, 298-314).

Finally, Balthasar examines the infinite love of God. If God infinitely loves man, then what would He do were man not to repent? What would God do? His love would have been thwarted, frustrated, in vain. With these lines of thought, Balthasar retracts his earlier avowal that the outcome is not certain.

Alright – so much for the summary. There are some positive aspects to his thought. For one, unlike the optimists who follow Rahner, he takes hell as a threat rather seriously. Second, he encourages the Christian to enter into redemptive suffering as much and as deeply as possible for others. (This is the single greatest point in his reflections – and one worth taking home. We are called as Christians to pray for one another, to intercede for one another, to take on suffering that grace may fall from heaven on a hardened sinner. Personal holiness and concern for neighbor – for every neighbor – go hand in hand. This call is evident in Balthasar’s work, and it is one good reason that good people find his theology attractive. However, it should be noted that this good encouragement is not something that requires one to hold Balthasar’s thesis. Rather, it is separable and already taught by the Tradition.) Third, he states that God predestines no one to go to hell. This is a truism, but in some contexts it is important to remind people of this.


But on so many issues regarding his “hope,” Balthasar is misleading, in error, and reckless. First, the fact is that any unrepented mortal sin entails eternal damnation. We are not damned only for sheer malice. We are not damned only for identifying ourselves with a “no”. If someone simply wants to have one romping time in fornication, and forgets about John the Baptist, and dies, one has merited eternal damnation in hell. In rejecting optimistic fundamental option theories, John Paul II rejects Balthasar’s notion of the necessary condition for damnation (see Veritatis splendor, art. 68; but this teaching belongs to the entire tradition).

Second, the Rahnerian reduction of the texts regarding the future, like Rahner’s reduction of the texts regarding the origins of the human race, are a species of modernism. Compare Rahner’s reading of the future and the past as solely a reflection on present religious experience (i.e., that of the sacred writer) with the holy teaching of Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi, a text well worth re-reading. We might add: These texts are “minatory” (i.e. warnings) because they are predictive. Just read the Epistle of Jude. The men of Sodom serve as a warning presently by undergoing torment of eternal punishment.

What of those universalist texts? The tradition – from Damascene to Aquinas to the 1950’s – read these texts according to the distinction between God’s will antecedently considered and consequently considered. We can consider what God wills to man as object of his love – salvation. We can consider what God wills to man as having responded or not responded to his love – salvation or damnation. The distinction is no doubt subtle, but it does not play fast and loose with either set of texts. Rather, it recognizes that God wills that all be saved and supplies the grace sufficient to realize this outcome, and it recognizes that not all will in fact avail themselves of this grace. There are many Catholic views on predestination, but these basics are accepted by all. Peer into the matter more deeply, and one discovers that the Magisterium accepts that God reprobates some: He permits some to fall. (Some is a logical category, meaning there are some – not necessarily, and probably not, few – that God permits to fall.)

Third, sin is not “a reality” as Balthasar makes out. It is not a “thing” that can “exist by itself as a pure negation”. That is simply nonsense. Take any sinful action and examine it: You will find that it has positive physical aspects (a knife, blood, a hand, etc.) but that it lacks due order (the man was innocent, the one who killed was not appointed by lawful authority, etc.). It is the lack of due order or reference to a due end that constitutes the evil. Also note that God creates all things or he does not. To say he does not is false, heretical, and blasphemous. But if evil is an “existing thing,” then God creates it. And this is abhorrent. Finally, we simply note that what exists, insofar as it exists, is good. If Balthasar was speaking “phenomenologically,” why did he stress that sin is a reality? It’s kind of like his saying that God changes but doesn’t change, that he is in time but not in time. Which is it? (How long will you hobble on one leg, and then the other? You cannot serve two masters. Metaphor is not proper analogy. Let your yes be yes. Anything more….)

And as for the related claim that Jesus took on our sins themselves – not simply the punishment due to them – here we have Balthasar coming very close to supporting, if not outright supporting, the notion of penal substitution. Perhaps Balthasar avoids claiming the Christ truly became guilty, thus freeing himself from Luther’s blasphemy on this matter. But his assertion that Christ takes on damnation itself cannot square with the truth of hell. Hell is a place of sinful alienation, a place of aversion from the divine good. Christ cannot become averse to the divine good. (On this topic, see Thomas Joseph White, “Jesus’ Cry on the Cross and His Beatific Vision” Nova et Vetera 5 (2007): 573-581.) The Catholic view regarding Christ’s act is that it was atonement, a vicarious act of satisfaction. By his loving obedience, Christ offered the Father a satisfaction sufficient for the forgiveness of infinitely many persons. Thus, he died for all. However, one must receive the fruit of this redemption by being justified in order to benefit from it.

Fourth, Balthasar’s logical inference is invalid. We cannot put more in the conclusion than is present in the premises. We cannot argue from a particular statement (each man) to a universal statement (all men). It is true that every man in Dallas has a chance of going to the season opener next Fall. But not all can go. The stadium has limited seating! Thus, Balthasar’s logic is flawed.

But someone will object that God’s stadium has unlimited seating. How true. But the logic was flawed nonetheless. That is the precise point being made here. The earlier point about the God’s will considered antecedently and consequently addresses this issue of the stadium: God permits some to fall.

But what of the fact that the Magisterium has not declared any particular person to be in hell? The Magisterium has no business making such a declaration. And our ignorance regarding specific individuals is not tantamount to ignorance regarding hell’s population.

So, what of the alleged fact that Magisterium has not declared whether or not “anyone” is in hell? This fact is fiction. The Church teaches that demons are in hell. And demons are persons too. All of Balthasar’s fretting about what God is going to do if a single person is recalcitrant and won’t go to heaven should be applied to his relation to these demons also. For the fact is, they are damned. Nor does the Church pray for them. Nor should anyone pray for them. It would be contrary to God’s will, a sign of a deeply mistaken mind or of a rebellious will. But Truth says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” A fortiori the spiritually double dead – the demonic agents.

But what about human persons? Well, on this point, there are some considerations that may well yield the conclusion that Balthasar overreached in claiming that revelation and the Magisterium have never asserted that any human person is in hell. Exegesis is of course fraught with contention. However, we could point to Jude, as I indicated above:

“Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe (tou;V mh; pisteuvsantas ajpwvlesen). And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomor’rah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example (πρόκεινται δει̃γμα) by undergoing a punishment (πυρὸς αι̉ωνίου δίκην ύπέχουσαι) of eternal fire.”

The men of Sodom are serving as an example, undergoing punishment of hell. Of course, there is the frequently cited text regarding Judas: better had ne not been born. As Ralph Martin asks, in his excellent book Will Many Be Saved?, how can the text be true unless Judas is damned? But let us move on to the Magisterium. Consider this text:

“Omnipotent God wishes all men without exception to be saved [1 Tim 2:4] although not all will be saved. However, that certain ones are saved, is the gift of the one who saves; that certain ones perish, however, is the deserved punishment of those who perish” (Quiersy Council, A.D. 853, see DS 623).

Again, consider this text:

“But although Christ died for all, yet not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only to whom the merit of his passion is communicated” (Trent, VI, chap. 3; DS 1523). See also D # 717b.

Again, consider this text, happily relevant again in the new English Translation of the Novus Ordo:

“The additional words for you and for many are taken, some from Matthew, some from Luke, but were joined together by the Catholic church under the guidance of the Spirit of God. They serve to declare the fruit and advantage of His Passion. For if we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed His blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race. When therefore (our Lord) said: For you, he meant either those who were present, or those chosen from among the Jewish people , such as were, with the exception of Judas, the disciples with whom He was speaking. When He added, And for many, He wished to be understood to mean the remainder of the elect from among the Jews or Gentiles. With reason, therefore, were the words for all not used, as in this place the fruits of the Passion are alone spoken of, and to the elect only did His Passion bring the fruit of salvation.” Catechism of the Council of Trent, Section on the Eucharist

The glorious 1962 Missal of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church — always teaching us — also has this prayer, relevant for the fate of Judas:

Collect for Good Friday Office (Also said on Maundy Thursday, as Collect at the Mass):

“O God, from whom Judas received the punishment of his guilt, and the thief the reward of his confession: grant unto us the full fruit of Thy clemency; that even as in His Passion our Lord Jesus Christ gave to each retribution according to his merits, so having cleared away our former guilt, He may bestow on us the grace of his Resurrection, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”

Consider this as well: The following is a proposition of Zanini de Solcia which was rejected by Pius II in 1459: “That all Christians are to be saved”. D – only found in old edition # 717b.

These texts appear – on all counts – to indicate that there will be a twofold division of mankind, the saved and the damned. And, as Ralph Martin contends, the constant Tradition understands the Scriptures and these creedal formulations to indicate a twofold outcome, and one in which the damned will be many in number.

As for Balthasar’s hope that God’s love will undercut the ability of the sinner to persevere in sin (TD V, 284), the Magisterium in the person of Clement XI rejects the following proposition of Paschasius Quesnel:

“When God wishes to save a soul, at whatever time and at whatever place, the undoubted effect follows the Will of God”. And “When God wishes to save a soul and touches it with the interior hand of His grace, no human will resists him” (DS 2412f). We could add Trent’s condemnation of irresistible grace as well. (But of course, Balthasar will contend that the grace is resistible, just that it won’t be resisted, that it is practically impossible for it to be resisted, that Christ will wait until the rebel gets tired of rebellion, etc. On these issues, see Thomas Joseph White, “Von Balthasar and Journet on the Universal Possibility of Salvation and the Twofold Will of God,” Nova et Vetera 4 [2006]: 633-666.)

Finally, I add a proposition condemned by Bl. Pius IX: “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” (Condemned proposition #17).

We could add, in this regard, that the unspeakably vast majority of saints concur with these statements. That Origen seems to have gone astray on this issue is a different matter. He wrote before the Church taught. And he took some subtle positions – he debated with himself. Gregory of Nyssa is one of the few who explicitly held the hope that all men might eventually convert to God. But Augustine, Thomas, Bonaventure, Catherine, Teresa, Damascene, Chrysostom, Anselm, Don Bosco, et alia, all considered that hell will be packed with human beings.

And what about the children at Fatima?

Or what about this momentous quote from St. Faustina:

“These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners” (Diary of St. Faustina, 741)?

Fifth, Balthasar paints a false notion of hell’s infinite duration. Essentially, he morphs its infinity of duration into an infinity of intensity. Thereby, he hopes to release some who are already in hell. This is like converting it into Purgatory. In some texts, he seems to want to unchain the demons too. But as I have stated, hell is already populated with demons, and these are damned forever. I conclude with Canon 9 of II Constantinople: “If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.”