Monday, April 21, 2014
IS THERE ANYONE IN HEAVEN? YES, DEFINITIVELY! IS THERE ANYONE IN HELL? MAYBE YES, MAYBE NO, NOT SO DEFINTIVELY
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?