Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Living in hope

The British Jesuit journal of spirituality, The Way, has a new issue out, and though I'm no longer a subsctiber, they usually have one article that's free for all to read. The free article this month was on the subject of universal salvation. ..... Road Narrows at the Vatican? Did Christ Die ‘For Many’ or ‘For All’? by Wolfgang Beinert, professor of dogmatic theology and doctrinal history at the University of Regensburg, Germany. I've pasted some of his article below and you can download the whole article from the July 2009 issue, Found in Translation, at The Way.

I've posted a lot here about universal salvation, and many theologians I admire seem to believe in it, from Keith Ward and Marilyn McCord Adams to Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner. Not everyone believes in universal salvation of course - Ignatius didn't, I'm sure, and even CS Lewis seems to have believed that God "allows" people to go to hell of their own free will.

I think the person I've been trying most to convince with all my posts about universal salvation is me, fearing I'll be cast into the outer darkness. But Kant felt that if you imagined the very highest good, that would be God, that God can't disappoint. And lately I've been trying something new - to trust that God really is as good as I hope he is, that God wouldn't let anybody end up in hell, even if they'd already pre-booked a room and were looking forward to it, not even me.

Anyway, here's part of the article mentioned above ....


Road Narrows at the Vatican? Did Christ Die ‘For Many’ or ‘For All’?
by Wolfgang Beinert

In 2006 a note, dated 17 OCTOBER, was delivered to the presidents of bishops’ conferences from Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Liturgical Congregation. It said that the Congregation was writing, on the Pope’s instructions, to the following effect: by 2008, in all new translations of the Missal, the words spoken over the chalice in the institution narrative, pro multis, should no longer be translated as ‘for all’, but as ‘for many’ .......

This last point raises a fundamental question concerning the basic teachings of the Christian religion: who can hope for final salvation? Did Christ die on the cross for all people, or only for some? Have we resurrected Augustine’s teachings according to which humanity is a massa damnata, condemned to Hell collectively, with only a few being picked out for mercy? Is the Roman Catholic Church once again to be presented as the ‘only source of holiness’, even though it has distanced itself from this understanding since 1854, and particularly clearly in the last Council? Or is there finally a ‘universal reconciliation’—in Greek apokatastasis—as Origen maintained in the early Church? (Long after his death, Origen was condemned by the Church for this opinion.) Will absolutely everybody get to heaven—even Hitler, Himmler, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein?

Such questions are far from abstract and academic. They always involve asking ‘What about me? What chance do I have?’ Countless people suffer indescribably under the threat that they might be destined for eternal damnation ..... Arinze writes ‘at [the Pope’s] direction’. Is this only a standard formula, or is it meant literally? According to his own statement, Joseph Ratzinger’s Eschatology, published shortly before he became Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, and printed in a new edition in 2007, is one of his most important works. In it he discusses the teaching of Origen on universal salvation (a teaching which is also to be found in Buddhism). This, he concludes, does not follow ‘from the biblical witness …. The irrevocable takes place, and that includes ... eternal destruction.’ This conclusion is surprising, since Ratzinger’s close theological friend Hans Urs von Balthasar thought quite differently and was very sympathetic towards Origen .......

The real significance of the debate set in motion by the letter lies in its dogmatic background. It concerns God’s saving power and humanity’s hope for salvation ..... It may well be that God wills the salvation of all people in Christ—but does God put this will into effect? Many theologians, including one as eminent as Hans Urs von Balthasar, incline to an unqualified yes. Others, such as Joseph Ratzinger, cast doubt. They fear, paradoxical though this may sound, for human freedom if God is so free as to bestow salvation on all people. What happens if creatures, with full knowledge and complete consent, refuse God’s salvation for themselves? If God were free to force it on them all the same, God would take away their humanity with this freedom. So God must leave them free to go to hell .......

The reality of God’s infinite freedom, the existence of limited human freedoms: these seem to be in conflict, in competition. Resolution comes from God’s side, so the scriptures imply—a resolution that occurs only because God suffers this conflict within Godself ..... the descent of the one who was God and human into the realm of death—death here understood as complete inability to communicate, not being able to express oneself at all, not being able to want anything any more. The reality of salvation derives, then, from God’s subjection to humanity’s ‘no’. Yet, even as human will prevails against God’s will, God’s will prevails against human will—not because of God’s superior power, but because of God’s suffering. This is possible because God’s infinity, with its ‘yes’, is greater than the provisionality of any creaturely ‘no’, any creaturely refusal. Hans Urs von Balthasar sees here, with justification, a mitigation of the doctrine of the two possible outcomes of judgment, so that ‘hope outweighs fear’.

Once again: these are speculations, not conclusions that can be absolutely proven. But, if we can take von Balthasar as an authority, they are certainly well grounded theologically. Moreover, these speculations also affect our understanding of the Eucharist, and still more of the Eucharistic assembly. We live in hope precisely when we celebrate the Eucharist, the ‘sacrifice of reconciliation’. The Eucharist is addressed not to ‘many’ but to ‘all’. Why should we not be allowed to include this in what we profess when we celebrate? Sometimes God’s ways seem like wide streets. They should be left open .......



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