Monday, April 21, 2014


That great reporter and writer, John Allen, who, thank God, wizened up to the fact that he worked for a ridiculous so-called "c"atholic newspaper, I mean rag, called the National Chismatic Reporter (NCR) and finally got a job at a reputable newspaper once owned by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, has a good article on the two popes being canonized next Sunday, Mercy Sunday but also a very good comment on the existence of anyone being in hell (of course there is a hell and there is Lucifer there and the other fallen angels, but are there any human beings there?).

You can read his full article by pressing HERE.

But for the purposes of this post, this is the part of John Allen's Boston Globe essay that I want to focus upon:

Is Hell empty?
It’s customary that the homily for the Vatican’s Good Friday service is delivered by the Preacher of the Papal Household, who is by Church law the only person allowed to preach to the pope. Since 1753 the role has been restricted to a member of the Capuchin Franciscan religious order, and it’s been held since 1980 by Italian Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. (His last name, by the way, means “sing the Mass.”)

Cantalamessa is involved in the Catholic charismatic movement and is a member of the Catholic delegation for dialogue with Pentecostals. In past years he’s used his platform to make some bold statements, including a 2006 recommendation to Pope Benedict XVI that he declare a day of prayer and fasting to express repentance for sexual abuse committed by clergy and solidarity with victims.
Given that history, ears tend to perk up when Cantalamessa speaks.

This time around, the Capuchin didn’t directly address any hot-button issues in the Church, though he did say that Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is repeated whenever “a minister of God is unfaithful to his state in life.”

Instead the homily was a reflection on Judas Iscariot, arguing that his betrayal of Christ for 30 pieces of silver is emblematic of the corrupting effect of money. In that context, Cantalamessa denounced the drug trade, the mafia, political corruption, the manufacture and sale of arms, and even the sale of human organs taken from children as examples of sin motivated by greed.

From a doctrinal point of view, Cantalamessa’s most interesting comment came in a brief meditation on Judas’s eternal destiny. He said it’s legitimate to hope that in his final moments Judas repented and was saved. More broadly, Cantalamessa hinted that it’s legitimate to have the same hope for everybody, meaning to hope that while Hell is real, it’s also basically empty.

“The Church assures us that a man or a woman proclaimed a saint is experiencing eternal blessedness,” Cantalamessa said. “But it does not itself know for certain that any particular person is in Hell.”

The comment is noteworthy given that the idea of an “empty Hell” has been a matter of controversy in Catholic theological circles. 

In general, conservative theologians insist that although the Church has never pronounced definitively that any specific person is damned, both the Bible and the Fathers of the Church took it for granted that there are plenty of unrepentant sinners in Hell. 

For instance, Cardinal Avery Dulles argued in a 2008 essay shortly before his death that the language of Scripture about Judas “could hardly be true” if he were really among the saved, and asserted that belief in an empty Hell reflects a “thoughtless optimism” characteristic of the modern age.

“Quite apart from what theologians teach, popular piety has become saccharine. Unable to grasp the rationale for eternal punishment, many Christians take it almost for granted that everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved,” Dulles wrote. “More education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God who, as Jesus taught, can punish soul and body together in Hell.”

To be sure, a homily by the Preacher of the Papal Household hardly qualifies as a dogmatic declaration, and in any event Cantalamessa’s brief reference wasn’t intended as a careful theological assertion.

At a minimum, however, the fact that he said it out loud, and that the Vatican newspaper published it, indicates that hope for an empty Hell is not viewed as utterly out of bounds in Rome.


I can see both sides of this issue, that of Cardinal Dulles and Father Cantalamessa. I would teach both but always teaching that we really don't know definitively if no one is in hell. Of course, as Cantalamessa points out, there is no process in the Church similar to the canonization process to determine sainthood, meaning a candidate for sainthood is actually in heaven and infallibly declared to be so, to determine if any human being is actually in hell, not even Judas who would be a good candidate for such a process to determine if it is so or not.

I'm not sure from reading John Allen's essay if Cantalamessa points out that no one is in hell precisely because of the Paschal Mystery and only because of it. Would he make the conjecture that if Christ had not died for us poor miserable sinners, that we would all be in hell after death? If not, then Cantalamessa would be undercutting the whole purpose of salvation history beginning after Adam and Eve's fall. Why even be Catholic if there is no chance of hell?

I think Cardinal Dulles comments are more cogent and actually more orthodox.  “More education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God who, as Jesus taught, can punish soul and body together in Hell.”

Cantalamessa and I would unfortunately also place myself in this school of thought in which I was formed, is of the 1970's type of theology which Cardinal Dulles decries:   “Quite apart from what theologians teach, popular piety has become saccharine. Unable to grasp the rationale for eternal punishment, many Christians take it almost for granted that everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved,” Dulles wrote.

Dulles final point and a final one it is needs to be stated again:  “More education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God who, as Jesus taught, can punish soul and body together in Hell.”

What do you think about anyone in hell and who are the candidates?


Gene said...

Creeping universalism. Everybody is saved, ain't Jesus great, now pass the bong...

rcg said...

This is very dangerous. Lucifer, the beautiful Great Angel, saw God in all His majesty through eternity. Brilliant and powerful beyond our imagining is in Hell. He does not recant. He persists. Satanic reasoning eclipses anything we can muster, yet he persists in his blasphemy and rebellion. If that being can persist in denial, why not the lowly man, Judas?

The reason is that wetend to treat forgiveness as a kind of negotiation. To our infinite peril.

Who are we to judge? No one at all. But we better stop averting our gaze from the sin of ourselves, friends, and kin. We commit sin willfully and hold the Get Put of Hell card in our pocket for the last possible moment. We think we can trick or command God to forgive us. Even Satan is not that smart, and he knows it.

rcg said...

By the way, the only candidate for Hell I can assure to you is me.

Donn said...

I was taught it is a mortal sin to judge a person by saying they are in hell. Are you encouraging us to commit mortal sin, Father?

Anonymous said...

This particular article by John Allen is (uncharacterically) utterly nonsensical. Fr. Cantalamessa statement

“The Church assures us that a man or a woman proclaimed a saint is experiencing eternal blessedness,” Cantalamessa said. “But it does not itself know for certain that any particular person is in Hell.”

is simply a plain statement of fact. It is not news, it has no doctrinal implication whatsoever.

For all we know, there zillions of people in Hell (as Christ himself implies) but we certainly don't and surely never will know that any particular person is there--until the moment when we find ourselves there. So what? Is this worth writing an article--or a post--about?

John Nolan said...

Judas did repent and returned the thirty pieces of silver. But he then hanged himself, which accounts for his assumed damnation.

By the way, I wonder how many parishes exchanged the 'sign of peace' this last Maundy Thursday? In both the pre- and post-1955 liturgy the 'kiss of peace' is omitted in the Solemn Mass on this day because of the traitor's kiss. The London Oratory observed this (Ordinary Form).

James said...

This is a very tricky issue! Let's adopt the most liberal and ecumenical stance possible, and assume that only those who actively reject religion in all its forms will end up in hell. That, apparently, is around 2% of the world's current population.

Given that the world's current population is 7 billion, and assuming that there are at least 15 dead people for every one living, that would result in a total hell population of around 2.24 billion.

But given that atheists were presumably rarer in earlier periods, that figure is probably way too large. On the other hand, these calculations assume that the world's half a million scientologists are heaven-bound, which seems pretty unlikely (and makes hell seem attractive).

So perhaps hell just contains Hitler and Stalin (let's hope they don't get on).

Anonymous said...

Well, there is the troublesome passage in Luke 16:19-31, concerning the exchange between the rich man and Lazarus. It is hard to explain away the "great chasm" between those in anguish and the blessed. Why does Jesus mention Hell over 45 times if it is empty? For that matter, Paul's statement, "work out your own salvation in fear and trembling", does not make sense, nor does our Catholic faith if salvation eventually comes to everyone. Balderdash.

Carol H. said...

We know that less people enter Heaven than those who are not permitted to enter (Many are called, but few are chosen; enter through the narrow gate; the brides and the lamp oil... etc). If Fr. Cantalamessa want's us to meditate on the possibility of an empty hell, does he think God has created somewhere else to go?

Rood Screen said...

We know that Satan and the demons are in Hell, and that everyone who freely and knowingly violates the Decalogue without later repentance joins them there.

Since there's nothing we can do for those lost souls in Hell, there's no point identifying individuals who've gone there. Rather, we should spend our days trying to save souls through evangelization, and applying indulgences for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Anon friend said...

rcg, I am with you--I am one of the surest candidates for hell. Just praying for His Divine Mercy to get me into Purgatory...

rcg said...

Actually, the idea of Purgatory, as horrible as it will be, is a comfort of sorts and a price I hope I allowed to pay.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty amazing how many of y'all pretend that you KNOW stuff that you don't really have a clue about...that NOBODY has a clue about. It's like you were there when it happened.

The home made humility is mighty nice too.

George said...

While there are elements of Theology that are impossible to understand through human reason alone, Hell, though not as difficult to understand, is for many the most difficult to accept.
Scripture, Doctors of the Church,saints and blesseds have all discoursed on Hell and it's reality.Teresa of Avila, through the grace of God, had a personal experience of Hell which affected her greatly.
Hell is mentioned many times in Scripture. The reality of Hell is magesterial teaching.

As great as the effects on our existence from the fall of Adam are, the effects of the fallen Angels, being of a higher nature and order and closer to God, were much greater and resulted in this place we call Hell.
Gravity serves many a good purpose but if you jump off of a high structure, it will end in your death. If you jump off of a high structure (spiritually speaking, through serious sin and without final repentance) you will fall into Hell. It is you choice.

Purgatory saves many, but not all. We will come to realize (if we haven't already) that purgatory is a greatblessing from God. Without it's existence, where would most of us end up?

Gene said...

If we believe and trust Holy Scripture and the Magisterium, then Hell is a reality. We cannot define it or make confident statements regarding who might be there, because that would be to presume upon God's inscrutable will and judgement. It would also amount to placing limits upon God's mercy and, certainly, no sinner among us would be wise to do that.

All, and I mean every damned one of them, human ethical systems break down at the problem of evil. There is simply no philosophical ethic that can deal with it adequately. The only true justice, the only true "right" or "good," or "fitting" must be theological and Christological. Christ and Paul, and John tell us that things will be put right and that evil will suffer the consequences of God's holiness and righteous might in historical time and through transcendent or supra-natural Divine events.

Universalism, a very popular theological stance in our narcissistic, feel-good culture, does not deal with the problem of evil, denies the clear teachings of Holy Scripture, and is theo-illogical, if you will. It diminishes Christ's suffering and sacrifice (I know, I know, the "Calvinist" universalists argue that it highlights and makes it more glorious. That is bull.), and dismisses the consequences of evil.
The existential humanist theologians (which is most of the modern issue) internalize evil and suffering, view it as the struggle for authenticity and self-realization, and view Hell as the reality of the already given. Nice.

So we must, at the very least, accept and believe Christ's teachings on hell and damnation as very strong warnings that there will be eternal, just, and painful consequences for the unrepentant and the unbelievers. This simply does not fit the modern mind-set, which makes our situation even more precarious.

Finally, there is the "annihilation" school of thought, which says that Hell is total nothingness or that God simply abolishes the evil person's soul into oblivion. This eternal separation from Christ is Hell. However, separation is not separation without the anguish of awareness. So, this seems to me to be an existential, faux Augustinian effort at letting evil off the hook. Anyway, 'tis best to trust God's judgement while believing in it in fear and trembling.

Rood Screen said...


"We cannot...make confident statements regarding who might be there..." I think I see your point, but the Church does say things like, "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." (Lumen Gentium 14)

Gene said...

No disagreement there, JBS.

Православный физик said...

Hell exists, people are in it, we don't know who (not that it matters, our prayers won't help them anyway), we should pray to for the graces and then cooperate with the graces to avoid hell. No theology degree required :D

George said...

About saints:

The canonization of saints, which is a solemn dogmatic definition, is also considered by
theologians to be infallible.

Canonization decrees the public cultus of the Universal Church to the saints. Benedict XIV enumerated seven acts as constituting this official cultus. (1). All Christians are commanded to regard them as, and call them, saints. (2). They are invoked in the public prayers of the Church, and it is forbidden any longer to pray for them. (3). Churches and altars may be dedicated to God in their honour. (4). Mass is offered and Divine Office recited in their honour, and though this Mass may not be prescribed for the universal Church, but only for one or more dioceses, yet it may be said, as a votive Mass, anywhere throughout the Church. (5). Feast days are assigned to them. (6). Their images are depicted with the aureole or other attributes of sanctity. (7). Their relics are publicly honoured.

Canonization is the final and irreformable judgment of the Church, and therefore we are bound, as her dutiful children, to believe that saints duly canonized are in heaven. (We don't have their believe the private revelations however).

Rood Screen said...

Well said, Joe Potillor.