On the Eternity of Hell

The following numbered paragraphs were originally a response to a post by Dr. Larry Chap on his blog, but Chapp removed the response twice, later claiming that “You called Balthasar a heretic” and he wasn’t going to permit that sort of thing on his blog. But I didn’t call anyone a heretic, nor do I hold that Stein or Balthasar are heretics, only that Stein put forth a position which Balthasar approved of, which is demonstrably “false and even heretical” (see below). A heretic is one who obstinately persists in a view contrary to Catholic teaching. It’s a canonical censure. In other words, if a canonical court were to call into question Stein’s writing [or Balthasar’s approval thereof], show her what to recant of, and she still persisted in her view, then she’d be a heretic. That obviously didn’t happen.

Now, if you want to discuss any of the points below, let’s do it!

1. There is no magisterial certainty that any particular soul is in Hell.

2. There is magisterial certainty that Hell exists and that it is eternal. There is also magisterial certainty that those who die in a state of mortal sin go immediately to Hell. “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035). Many other magisterial passages could be cited.

These are infallible claims of the Magisterium, consistently held and definitive. They will never be repealed. Theological speculation, which I for one welcome, must be guided by these dogmatic facts and never contradict them to avoid heresy.

3. Apocatastasis (universalism) was condemned by the universal Magisterium in the 6th Century at the Second Council of Constantinople. Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Clement of Alexandria, who appear to have held to some form of universalism, lived in the 4th Century (see Apocatastasis | Catholic Answers ). This means their views on the matter, while materially heretical, were not formally heretical (heretical as such), as they did not obstinately persist in a view contrary to the Church’s definitive teaching.

4. Balthasar cites a passage from St. Edith Stein “which expresses most exactly the position that I have tried to develop in these short chapters [of Dare We Hope]” (218). In the passage, Stein argues that “merciful love,” i.e., “grace” descends into Hell to make as it were a continuous offer to the damned, such that it “can become infinitely improbable” that persons in Hell will not at some point accept the offer of mercy and be saved (219). She proposes, and Balthasar with her, that while many men do not respond to grace in this life – “we still do not know if the decisive hour might not come for all of these somewhere in the next world, and that faith can tell us that this is the case” (DWH, 219).

But we do know; we have magisterial certainty. The judgment of Hell is eternal. The decisive “hour” of judgment is at the point of death and not a second afterward. This proposal by Stein (approved by Balthasar) is therefore false and even heretical. I say this as a fan of both figures, but truth is truth.

5. While I think Ralph Martin butchers Lumen Gentium 16 and Balthasar in his book, Will Many Be Saved?, he does, imo, a commendable job of theological research in this article: Balthasar-and-Speyr-First-Steps-in-a-Discernment-of-Spirits_Angelicum-2_2014-x-Martin-Article.pdf (renewalministries.net) Martin raises some red flags at the end regarding the work between Balthasar and von Speyr (I’ve been a fan of hers too) that are difficult to dismiss.

6. While no one, including Martin, would dispute that one can attain moral righteousness, even sanctity, apart from a (perfectly licit although not magisterially certain) belief that many souls populate “eternal fire,’ it is very much in dispute that the real threat of eternal fire doesn’t have a positive impact on a great many souls. Take, for example, Milos Yillanpois’ recent conversion to Catholicism (and a radical conversion at that). He says in the following video that if it wasn’t for Michael Voris’ discussion with him on the matter it could have been another 10 years before he converted. If he lives that long. And it wasn’t b/c Voris was the first Catholic to demonstrate the truths of the faith to him. Presumably, it was because Voris spoke to him about the perils of dying in sin. See (111) Vortex — Milo Does Vortex – YouTube

I can cite my own life too; while I may or may not have converted without the impact of this teaching, it is very much the case that I pray and fast a lot more b/c I thirst for souls in danger of Hell than I would if I thought everyone, in the end, made it to Heaven. No question. If you told your students that everyone will, in the end, get an “A”, no matter how they perform, do you really think that all of them would perform just as well? Of course not. Not close.

But of course we shouldn’t even need such examples, b/c God himself testifies to eternal damnation in public revelation and many saints have experienced voyages to the same (see Fatima, St. John Bosco, St. Faustina, etc.). And then there’s the rest of the tradition where almost every saint that ever put pen to paper talks about the dangers of Hell. Why? if not for the reason that doing so helps people grow in holiness and avoid damnation.

So, yes, Martin makes a great point – the near eclipse of this teaching in recent decades is not helping the New Evangelization in the least. We need to recover the real likelihood that far too many souls go to Hell – which in turn should persuade us to pray and (exercise the virtue of) hope that all men be saved. (Otherwise, why bother?)