I was very pleased last week to get a copy of Ralph Martin’s new book Will Many Be Saved? The subtitle of the book is What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization.

As the title suggests Ralph Martin explores the modern struggles related to evangelization, showing how many of these difficulties are related to the flawed interpretation of The Second Vatican Council. Critical to the question is the understanding of the Council document Lumen Gentium, in particular L.G. # 16 which deals with the possibility of those who have not explicitly accepted Christ, being saved.

We have discussed before on this blog that one of the chief problems of our modern age is that very few consider the teaching on a hell to be a practical reality. Most today simply presume that the vast majority of people on the planet will be saved, ultimately, no matter what.  I have argued, that this position is not only only non-biblical, but it also offends against human freedom by rendering our decisions ultimately meaningless, in terms of our destiny.

The practical universal salvation of souls held by most today is ultimately rooted in the dismissal of the biblical teaching of judgment and Hell as simply untenable to modern thought. “How could an all-loving God send anyone to Hell?” goes the modern thinking. Never mind that no one spoke of hell more than Jesus Christ, and no one warned of judgement  more vividly than He, who is love itself. The fact is, most Catholics feel very comfortable, and very confident, in simply dismissing Hell is a plausible reality for the vast majority of the human family.

This particular blog is not the place for me to once again defend the Biblical teaching. I have done that elsewhere here, for example here: Hell Has to Be.

In this post I simply want to acknowledge the publication of what I think is an important work, wherein Ralph Martin ponders the relationship between the almost dogmatic insistence that everyone is saved, and the falling off of missionary work and evangelical zeal among Christians.

Martin states the nature of the problem early in his book, where he says

One reason why evangelization may be stymied is that there seems to be in the minds of many Catholics, and other Christians as well, a lack of conviction that being a Christian is really necessary in order to be saved. If it is not really necessary to become a Christian in order to be saved, why bother to evangelize?… But, of course, this lack of conviction finds a certain basis in the Church’s own teaching. The Church definitively teaches that it is possible for non-Christians to be saved without hearing the gospel or coming to explicit faith in Christ. There is a certain tension between the call to evangelize and the acknowledgment that conversion to Christ and to the Church is not absolutely necessary in order to be saved. John Paul II acknowledges this tension in his encyclical on mission….[and] says “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind, and the necessity of the Church for salvation” (Page 5).

Martin goes on to say,

We must attempt to focus on one obstacle to a response to the call to evangelization, namely, a certain doctrinal ignorance or confusion about what exactly the Church is teaching about the possibility of salvation outside the visible bounds of the Church, or of Christianity. It is because evangelization is so essential to the fundamental identity of the church, particularly at this moment when the whole church is being called to a “new evangelization,” that establishing doctrinal clarity in this area is of great importance. (P. 6).

Martin then focuses on Lumen Gentium # 16 wherein the Council Fathers ponder how those who do not explicitly confess Christ, or have not fully heard the Gospel can still be saved. Of itself, the text of the Council strikes a delicate balance between the hope for their salvation, and the absolute necessity of the Church to announce the Gospel to everyone and summon them to faith. But as with most things, we have not only the text to consider, but also how the text was interpreted and applied. In the climate both preceding, and especially after the Council, the delicate balance struck by the text was not always maintained.

In a very helpful analysis Ralph Martin shows how the Council statement was rooted in Sacred Scripture and in the proper doctrinal development of the Church. But he also shows how the Council’s statement interacted with theological trends of the time. For example, Karl Rahner’s notion of “Anonymous Christians” and Balthasar’s influential treatise “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?” Martin also includes reflections on the psychological and anthropological skepticism that arose in the 20th century that human beings were even capable of definitively saying no to God.

All of these trends and influences have contributed, fairly or unfairly to an interpretation of Church teaching that lost the delicate balance between a well-founded hope of God’s mercy in judgment, and of the urgency to proclaim the Gospel, since without this many may well be lost.

As a pastor, I am glad that Ralph Martin has written this book, and in the context of the thorough background he provides, is willing to call the question, and wonder aloud if perhaps we have lost proper balance and need to develop a new pastoral strategy. The strategy should include a healthy respect for the realities of death, judgment, heaven, and hell, the importance of faith, and human decisions, and a hopeful looking to God’s mercy, which also includes His respect for human choice and freedom.

Indeed, as Martin notes the Church must recover the boldness of apostolic preaching, and be less vague about the eternal consequences of a believing and obeying, or not believing and not obeying. He also argues that an unwise silence from the Church should end, and that the Church’s role of providing prophetic warning to individuals and to the culture. For both individuals and the wider culture do not appear to be seeking God,  are not trying to do his will, live in rebellion and immorality, and seem to have lost any sense that there will be consequences for this.

Martin’s book is well attested by a large number of our current bishops to include Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Francis Cardinal George, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Peter Cardinal Turkson, Archbishop Augustine and Di Noia, and others.

On a personal note, I want to say that I am personally indebted to Ralph Martin for the important work he did back in the early 1980s in bringing to light the very serious departure from doctrinal truth that was taking place at that time in many Catholic universities and seminaries. He wrote a magnificent treatise describing the nature of the problem, its historical background, in its then current dimensions in a book entitled Crisis of Truth.

I must say that that book was a critical light for me in what I think were some very dark days for the Church. I have related before on this blog of the grave conditions that prevailed in seminary back in the early and mid-80s, and Martin’s book Crisis of Truth helped me understand where those problems came from, and where true Church teaching lay. Thank God, I think most of the problems in the seminaries have been cleaned up, but I have to give credit to brave souls like Ralph Martin were willing to speak the truth in love in those days.

In this current work, Will Many Be Saved?,  as he was in Crisis of Truth, Martin is fair, never unduly critical, but very clear. It will be essential for us, going forward, to regain a healthy and balanced understanding of the solidly Biblical truths related to death, judgment, heaven, and hell. God is rich in mercy, but our decisions do build and point ultimately to our eternal destiny. In a time often in denial about consequences, Ralph Martin’s Will Many Be Saved? is a call to balance and sobriety.

Here’s a biblical story that reminds us that some sins are very serious matters:

58 Responses

  1. Peter Wolczuk says:

    “skepticism that arose in the 20th century that human beings were even capable of definitively saying no to God.” Seems, to me when considering the context, like a case of constructing a conclusion from facts which may be real but only fit where they touch and, that don’t touch in too many places. All to produce what denial oriented people want the researchers to find. Sort of like researchers giving in to demands that they find a way to “prove” what someone wants the truth to be instead of telling them what the truth is.
    “The strategy should include a healthy respect for the realities of death, judgment, heaven, and hell, the importance of faith, and human decisions, and a hopeful looking to God’s mercy, which also includes His respect for human choice and freedom.” This seems fair enough with a good chance of achieving balance but, the rest of the article indicates that many are taking a leap from being hopeful of God’s mercy to being presumptuous of His mercy.
    Throughout my life I’ve often heard an application of this from back sliding Catholics and from people who were raised in the Catholic faith. Only recently have I heard of a dangerous presumption here; namely that one could sin all they want then just go to confession and be absolved.
    In living a dysfunctional lifestyle for 30 years I tended to keep my fellowship limited to people who shared the same, or similar, dysfunctions so that none of us would endanger each others’ denial. Looking back I suspect that those who were taught this about the Sacrament of Reconciliation learned it from adults who lived the same false comfort and who hung out with other adults who also held to that false comfort. Then I asked my Farher Confessor and received a very startling, yet refreshing to me, answer about presumption.
    So, being raised among a small group who shared a belief the children could hardly help but take on a belief that the Catholic faith validated this presumption of His mercy. When one only knows the tiny minority who hold to a false belief then, this could look like the belief of the majority of the laity and even, perhaps, the Church.
    In dysfunctional families dangerous topics were just not talked about so the clergy may not have noticed just how significant the small group had become. Or that such group members were incapable of taking sin (and damnation) seriously. So, the growing desire for a faith that assures us that Salvation is inevitable feeds upon the confusion of this false message.
    Perhaps the Church should work to make people aware of the dangers of presuming God’s mercy, especially in communities where hope is lacking and any escape from reality is attractive. Don’t want to scare people away with guilt manipulation but, perhaps a firm and loving statement that confession is not (and has never officially been regarded as being) about wilfully breaking the rules then getting off the hook by saying, “I’m sorry” and then doing it again.
    It just may help some to find a way out of this confusion.

    • Peter Wolczuk says:

      In the proof readings, prior to submission of the response, I missed an unclear statement; “Only recently have I heard of a dangerous presumption here”
      I meant that it is only recently that I’ve heard the word “presumtive” applied to this.

  2. Anne says:

    “The greater part of men choose to be damned rather than to love Almighty God.” St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church

    “The number of the saved is as few as the number of grapes left after the vinepickers have passed.” Cure of Ars

    “Those who are saved are in the minority.” Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church

    “I do not think many priests are saved, but those who perish are far more numerous.” Saint John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church

    • CS says:

      “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.” Psalm 22:27

      “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” –Matthew 18:14

      “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” –Luke.3:6

      “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” –John 12:32

      “I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God…” –Romans 8:38-39

      “The following early Fathers of the Church are said to have taught that all will finally be saved.

      · Pantaenus; Clement of Alexandria; Origen; Athanasius; Didymus the Blind; Macarius of Egypt; Gregory Thaumaturgus; Ambrose; Ephraim; John Chrysostum; Gregory of Nyssa; Gregory of Nazianzus; Jerome of Bethlehem; Evagrius Ponticus; Titus of Bastra; Asterius of Amasea; Cyril; Methodius of Tyre; Pamphilius Eusibius; Hillary of Poitiers; Victorinus; Macrina the Younger; Dionysius the Areopagite; John Cassian; Maximus the Confessor; Proclus of Constantinople; Peter Chrysologus; Diodorus of Tarsus; Stephen bar Sudaili.”

      • Brad says:

        John 12:32 is heartbreaking beautiful.

        By the way did anyone else catch for the first time yesterday the prophesy of the pierced Sacred Heart in Proverbs 21:1?

      • Mouse says:

        We have to look at all of the New Testament, not just those lines that support our preferred view. You are ignoring a vast number of other passages. For example:

        “There is no other name by which man can be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

        “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.” (words of Jesus Himself in Mark 16:16)

        “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” (1 John 2:23)

        “He who has the Son has life. He who has not the Son, has not life.” (1 John 5:13)

        “For by grace you are saved through faith” (Eph 2:8)

        “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.” (Rom 10:9-10)

        “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

        “’What shall we do?’… ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you.’” (St Peter to the crowd in Acts 2:37-38)

        “I have become all things to all men, so as to save at least some.” (St Paul – 1 Cor 9:22)

        Not to mention Jesus’ repeated warnings about the “unquenchable fire”!

        I won’t take on the idea of “assurance of salvation” for professed Christians here, but there are numerous passages ignored by teachers of this doctrine, which is often a form of presumption.

        There is a mystery here– we have to be careful not to reject the possibility of God’s mercy for those who are invincibly ignorant, but we also cannot presume that everyone is saved. (We do know that at least some people from all nations/races will be saved, because that is prophesied in Scripture – “men from every race and nation” but it doesn’t say every single person.

        Reading the whole of the New Testament, and looking at the example of Christ and the Apostles, you cannot support the presumption that every single human being is saved. And why would Jesus speak about hell if it were not a real possibility? It makes a mockery of his teaching to assume that there is no hell, or that no one will ever go there. He told us that at the end the “sheep” will be separated from the “goats” and the goats go into the eternal fire. If there were no goats, and no fire, He would not have said this.

        The apostles obviously considered it utterly imperative that everyone repent and believe in Christ. They spent all their time doing that, and they were martyred as a result. Never do they say “You say you’ve heard the Gospel but you don’t want to follow Christ? That’s ok. You can be saved anyway.”

        God desires all to be saved, but he does not force us against our will. Each person has to “appropriate” the gift. It’s a free gift, but you have to accept it and be faithful to it. I’m not talking here about people who never heard the Gospel. I’m talking about the normal situation of people who have heard the Gospel and either reject it or don’t care (which is a form of rejection). Jesus indeed paid the penalty for everyone, but it is possible for a person not to accept that gift.

        One last point: About the Church Fathers: I’m curious, where did you get this list? I don’t believe it is accurate. But in any case…what a Church Father may have said, or even a group of them says, is not necessarily the same thing as what the Church teaches. Theologians make mistakes. And sometimes theologians hold an opinion before the Magisterium makes a decision on an issue. After a magisterial decision has been clearly enunciated on an issue that perhaps is debated, any theologian who contradicts the decision is stepping outside the Faith. There is a principle that if ALL of those who are (truly) Church Fathers agreed on something, you can’t contradict that – but that is not the case on this point.

      • Pete says:

        I’m sorry, CS, but I see absolutely nothing in the verses you quote that guarantees that I will be saved. I do see that God loves me, no matter what I do (or don’t do); but nothing (anywhere else in the Bible, or in Church teaching) even hints that I cannot (do not have the ability to) choose to reject salvation. I certainly honor the early Fathers, but while they got things rolling along, they are not the final end-all-and-be-all of Church teaching (personally, I would add a few names to the roll call of Fathers – not just “early”).

      • Marcus says:

        “When I am lifted up I will draw all man to myself.”

        Jesus did not say that all will respond positively to the drawing.

        “I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God…” –Romans 8:38-39

        This is true. Even those in hell are still loved by God. But for those in hell, God’s love is painful.

  3. Shin says:

    In this time of confusion all the more we need to mortify our understandings and listen to the saints, rather than relying on human reasoning..

    What the saints have to say about how many will be saved, is what we find in Holy Scripture, and in the revelations given to the saints by Our Lord as well.

    The saved are few.

    This is what saint after saint has said. (c.f. http://saintsquotes.net/Selection%20-%20Fewness.html)

    The reason Christ came to us, the reason for the Holy Sacrifice and the priesthood — what is it, but for the sake of the salvation of men?

    Men must desire to give up sin and embrace Christ. And looking around at the world, we see how few truly do, especially now that there is no longer Christian society or Christendom.

  4. VistaNow says:

    With this said, I don’t want to be a people of probable possibility passing through life incognito to the presence of Jesus and his church or just not believing in judgment and Heaven and Hell, but rather to ask God for his mercy now to do whatever he tells me. Some are thinking …He believes everything the Church teaches, but I say “you believe whatever the world teaches” don’t think one goes very far that way. So I say to myself get up and go the savior is awaiting

  5. Ben says:

    In addition to reconsidering what the Second Vatican Council truly intended about salvation, it seems that these days are bringing a reconsideration of another element of the Council: what religious liberty truly means. The recent papal trip to Lebanon seems brought out even more strongly a theme that has been a consistent message of Pope Benedict: the advocacy and promotion of violence is NOT a legitimate element of religion, and respect for religious freedom does not require us to accept aggressive religious fundamentalism, on the contrary, it requires us to reject and oppose this type of religious fundamentalism as a distortion of true religion.

  6. TaylorKH says:

    This is true and a very good point Pastor Pope. Isn’t the situation analogous to the chain-smoker who refuses to quite smoking or the alcholic who refuses to stop abusing alcohol? The smoker’s lungs rot and the alcoholic’s body becomes pickled to the point that no medical care can stop the damage and ultimate destiny – premature and painful death.

    Aren’t our souls susceptible to chronic sin in a similar way? Sin when not confessed and absolved, like a tar, collects – stratifies – fills our hearts and snuffs or dissolves the eternal life-giving flame or weak embers in our hearts. If the tar stays in layer upon layer and hardens, our hearts become like non-porous rock to the point that nothing good can enter and exist therein. We become lifeless through and through. Like a fossil, the appearance of a living thing remains, but it is thoroughly lifeless. And so if the human soul does not die, it remains in this state of irreversible, recalcitrant emptiness.

    But many who presume to be saved can say so because they “feel” happy in their sins? Perhaps ones who “feel” saved but are not able to “know” they are saved are in danger of going to Hell? Doesn’t the smoker “feel” good when he smokes? Doesn’t the alcoholic “feel” good when he drinks? “Feels good. Hmmm. Must be good then.” But they are killing themselves? Does the “heart” feel good when it is cloaked in the dark, cool tar of sin? Perhaps it is so when God is not present to offer a contrast – that contrast which moves one to confess and heal?

    How does one “know” that he or she is saved?

  7. Liam Ronan says:

    Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Divine Mercy and Refuge of Sinners pray for us and save your sinful children!

  8. stefanie says:

    “Most today simply presume that the vast majority of people on the planet will be saved, ultimately, no matter what. I have argued, that this position is not only only non-biblical, but it also offends against human freedom by rendering our decisions ultimately meaningless, in terms of our destiny.”

    Thank you for this reminder, Monsignor. Sometimes we tend to emphasis God’s gift of ‘free will’ but not the fact that our ‘free will’ IS the difference between eternal life and eternal death. There are some in the Church (catechists and clergy) who would sugar-coat this. From experience with my own students, I’ve learned to be more bold about proclaiming the dark end of ‘choosing unwisely’…but it is very hard to do. Especially when they walk away from the opportunity of actual baptism — believing that perhaps the baptism of desire will cover them should they die ‘unbaptized.’ The world (and others in the Church) gives ‘easy outs’ that are hard to override. I’ve had spouses and sponsors openly challenge me about this during and after our RCIA classes because ‘this wasn’t what I was taught at my Catholic university’ — and ‘how dare you use threats’ and ‘Jesus was kind and loving…He wouldn’t condemn someone who wasn’t baptized to hell.’

    Am I wrong to teach that 1. when Jesus died on the cross, He saved everyone who had ever been born — for all time– giving everyone the ability to be saved from eternal death and 2. using our free will, we still must choose to ACCEPT that salvation from Jesus through being baptized (by water, desire, or blood) in order to have eternal life and 3. we can “lose” our salvation by our unconfessed sinful actions?

    • K. Louise says:

      To the one who is given much, much is required. If we are given the opportunity to be baptized, knowing it is God’s gate to the sacraments, and say no, we are saying no to God and no to many graces that could bring us closer to Him. This opportunity is not given to all. Think of the millions in China who have never heard of Jesus. Think of the aborted babies who will never be baptized.

  9. Nick says:

    I think the confusion stems from a confusion of Baptism. Some people think Baptism is unnecessary, they forget that God can baptized souls at the hour of day via baptism of desire. Hence they think conversion is unnecessary, they forget we must pray for the conversion of sinners – especially of the dying. There is no Baptism without prayer!

  10. Randy says:

    I thought in his last interview book Pope Benedict said that the trend away from escatelogical preaching over the last few decades was a bad thing. That preachers should not just talk about the gospel as the source of present joy but also frequently mention the heaven and hell aspect of salvation.

    I can’t give you a page number because I just listened to excepts of the book on CD but it was in there.

  11. Larry B. says:

    The main point here seems to be that one has to be christian, in order to be saved. I have to tell you I do not agree with that at all. I understand what the catholic church teaches, but it makes no sense at all. You can believe in God but not believe that Christ is God. If you were raised Jewish you would be taught that there is one God, the torah teaches that god is not man, and there is no other. There is no way they will accept Jesus a man, is God. Yet, they still believe in the same God Jesus talked about, his father, there is no one good but him. You could throw a hundred scriptures at me and I could grow a hundred back both trying to prove the point. Nothing would change. Add this teaching to the Catholics teaching that unless one agrees with everything the church teaches you cannot get to heaven. It is no wonder people leave the church. God calls us into being not to become stagnant but to think and grow, to learn. I for one will never bow down to one man, the pope, who has the final say in what I am allowed to believe.

    • No, your very first sentence is wrong from the git-go. It is precisely the tension between the Church teaching that non-Christians CAN be saved, and the necessity of proclaiming the gospel in order to spread salvation that causes the struggle to find balance. It think you’re missing the entire point.

      • Larry B. says:

        I am confused.. “One reason why evangelization may be stymied is that there seems to be in the minds of many Catholics, and other Christians as well, a lack of conviction that being a Christian is really necessary in order to be saved. If it is not really necessary to become a Christian in order to be saved, why bother to evangelize?”. Is Christianity something other than the belief that Christ is god? If you do not believe that Christ is god then you are not Christian. I already believe non Christians can be saved or go to heaven. I believe Muslims can get to heaven, Buddhist, Jews, baptist etc. I believe it is how you live your life, not the letter of the law of the catholic religion.

        • Orthodoxy is in the balance, not in picking one thing and tossing out the other.

          • Peter Wolczuk says:

            “I understand what the catholic church teaches, but it makes no sense at all.”
            Quality theology, or anything else in the same category, does not make sense in our (worldly and imperfect) understanding of sense.
            Of all our knowledge that’s designed to “make sense” science is, perhaps, the most meticulous about researching and checking conclusions yet, the knowledge of science is mostly called theories. These theories are so designated because diligent effort has failed to disprove them; and not because they’ve been proven. Even now, established theories are upset and replaced.
            I suppose that the most advanced Windows© program wouldn’t make sense to an earthworm, whose sense is closer to ours than ours is to God’s.

        • CD says:

          How one “lives their life” also includes what one does with the Good News/Evangelium. Jesus says that those who believe in Him will not perish but that those who do not believe in Him are already condemned. Does that answer your question?

      • B Riggs says:

        I think that the statement the “non-Christians CAN be saved” hinges on the word “can.” We hold in hope to the possibility of salvation without Christianity, but we are not assured of this salvation for anyone. Since becoming Catholic 10 years ago, I have been astounded at the lack of urgency in the Church to bring people into the faith. My former denomination was relentless in evangelistic efforts in true concern for the souls in the world. Catholics seem to have no such compassion for those who desperately need Christ both in this world and the next.

    • Christine Niles says:

      “There is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved.”–Pope Innocent III, ex cathedra, (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, infallible declaration)

      “We declare, say , define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Pope Boniface VIII, (Unam Sanctam, 1302, infallible declaration).

  12. CS says:

    Father if I do good because I am sure that I am going to receive a reward or avoid a punishment, then surely this is a good thing. But if I do good out of love for he who is Love, not for any reward or to avoid any punishment, then how much greater is the merit in my action?

    I believe the truth of the matter is in this. Gradually, over 2000 years, the Church has purified herself of the pre-Christian other-sacrificing mindset that would appeal to divine vengeance to save us (always towards the wicked heathen mind you, never towards ourselves). We have shed our sky gods who mark our sins up in the sky and stand over us in wrath filled judgment. Instead we are invited to receive and to become like, insofar as we are able, God himself who is love. Fear of eternal damnation is an incredibly powerful motivator, and so it is entirely possible that evangelistic zeal has waned. God would weep over this for at least two principle reasons: i) because people were only preaching out of fear that they might be smited and counted with the damned ii) that they have preached only to save them from themselves rather than to be invited into being with he who is being. There is still merit in preaching fear from fear, Jesus clearly says that this is at least the beginning of faith, but it is not the whole gospel. We must, with God, truly will the salvation of ALL, even as they fail to live up to the rigid precepts we set for ourselves. We can see the logic of the pure man: “I work so hard for God and even I worry about my salvation, how can they, the godless heathens who do not even give one iota of thought to his law and his love be saved?” The answer is through his love and mercy. Let us not be like the elder brother who is agonized by the salvation of the prodigal son.

    • You sound like you have moved beyond Scripture. Further your “sky-gods” reference is a term used by atheists. I am not the elder brother and will not wear your label. Be careful Craig that your have not invented your own religion. It cannot save you.

      • CS says:

        I am confident and hopeful that I’m preaching Christ and him crucified, but you are right Father, not my place (or station) to judge you doing your job. Please accept my apology. My flippant remarks about ‘sky-gods’ is merely an attempt to gesture at the importance of the historical context in the interpretation of Scripture. You and I would strongly agree that the historical context came far too much to dominate Scripture studies, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong entirely in practice, or unhelpful in shedding light on understanding some difficult problems of interpretation. I doubt very much I’ve invented anything, where else would I go, He has the words of eternal life!

  13. Gerald Reiner says:

    1 No one goes to hell accidently
    2 God does not send anyone to hell; people go there because they choose to be there
    3 Obviously one does not need to be a Christian, before death, to go to heaven or Moses would not be there.
    4 Since God’s will is that all men be saved, most will be. With the devil’s force of 1/3 of the angels against the 2/3 of the others, the Blessed Virgin Mary, 11 of the apostles, the prophets, patriarchs, and saints – I am betting on the forces of light and goodness not the forces of darkness and evil.
    5 Evangelization is quite necessary both for the sanctity of the evengelizers and for the opportunity it gives the recipient to not only be saved but to increase in whatever graces they have at present.
    6 If one believes in truth and justice (major attributes of God) but does not believe in a Creator God, is one really an atheist? Do not blind men touching the elephant implicitly accept the creature’s existence?

    • Regarding number 2 in your list, there is a certain sense in which it is right. However, the Biblical texts do present God as an active agent in Judgement and in the consignment to Hell. It’s hard to argue denotatively that God sends no one when the Biblical texts have Jesus say “Depart from ye accursed” That said, it is clear enough to me that there is a kind of ratification by God going on in Judgement about the fundamental choice of the damned to dwell apart from the Kingdom.

      • Gerald Reiner says:

        According to one exorcist, who said something like,”Go back to hell which God has prepared for you”, the devil’s reply was something like,”You are very stupid, God did not create hell, we did.” It is clear that God’s justice does prevail, but could it be that He allows one to go to hell, perhaps without pushing one there?

        • Peter Wolczuk says:

          “God did not create hell, we did.”
          devils have been known to lie.
          The belief of satan meting out torment in hell, mainly in folklore, is pretty close to the pagan Greek tartarus and not scripture.

  14. Dan Buckley says:

    The following is from the letter of the Holy Officw in the matter of Fr. Feeney: But it must not be thought that any kind of desire of entering the Church suffices that one may be saved. It is necessary that the desire by which one is related to the Church be animated by perfect charity. Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a person has supernatural faith: “For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Council of Trent declares (Session VI, chap. 8): “Faith is the beginning of man’s salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and attain to the fellowship of His children” (Denzinger, n. 801).
    Please note the need for “PERFECT charity” something to which every Christian must aspire with the help of the sacraments. Considering my own need for the sacraments,especialy the sacrament of the Eucharist, I find it hard to fathom the development of “pefect” charity outside the Church and the help of the sacraments, but God’s graces are God’s business and His alone.

  15. Bob says:

    While the church’s teaching that those who have never heard of the gospel can be saved is very conforting, it does bring to mind a question that has always puzzled me. Why would God have created so many peoples, cultures, and civilizations in certain times and places that prevented them from even hearing of the gospel?

  16. RichardC says:

    It is utterly beyond me how many will be saved. Neat video, especially well chosen images, imo.

  17. Todd Flowerday says:

    I have a hard enough time cooperating with my own possibility of salvation. I’m not any sort of an expert on whether or not my sister and brother human beings will be saved in numbers small or great. To an extent it’s none of my business, and hardly appropriate to speculate, as it affects my salvation not one iota.

    I have a hope that all people will be saved, not because I think all of their sins should be wiped away by a generous God setting aside all penalties. I would hope all the earth would be saved because my experience of Christ has been such a positive for my existence, and naturally, I would like the seventy billion people who have ever lived to feel the same way.

    For myself, I find it unseemly to speculate on the damned. I don’t plan to be one of them. I’m not in charge of the Last Judgment. I do my best to give a good Christian example to all, and to urge people into the Church.

    “Will many be saved?” It’s not my decision, but I’m going to hope and work as if the answer is “Yes, very many.”

  18. JohnR says:

    St. Faustina was one who was permitted to visit hell. She said that the majority of those there, were ones who did not believe in hell. She described a scene in which a vast crown of people were laughing and dancing along a wide sunlit road and at the end of this road was a precipice which all fell into, straight into hell. There was also a narrow bramble strewn path, along which, a few picked and stumbled their way. At the end of this path was a broad sunny upland which, when reached, caused this few to forget their struggles along the narrow path and to rejoice in the happy outcome.

  19. Nate says:


    What is your opinion of River of Fire by Dr. Kalomiros?

  20. wife of many years with many children says:

    Please save me from my ignorance if I am wrong…
    People who obsess on the “letter of the law” worry me. They remind me of that pompous fellow who stood in the temple and said “Thank God I’m not like that sinner back there because I do X.Y, and Z. It makes me uncomfortable to find myself not agreeing with heavyweights like the Cure of Ars or Aquinas, but then again Aquinas also mulled over the idea that the female fetus receives her soul later than the male, and in the fourth month no less!(no I’m not an angry feminist!) Perhaps their brushes with the grandeur of God, became an impediment to understanding The Divine Mercy. Imnsho, the people who preach hell and brimstone are a little off. They rant and rail about outward forms, but you hardly hear about them getting their hands dirty by serving the poor, or doing works of mercy. Mother Teresa said: “They go to God” as she anointed her dying charges with water from the river Ganges, (which was sacred in their Hindu faith). I admit it, my understanding of God comes from my own instincts about love, and what draws me to THE LOVE, not from extensive theological investigation. St Teresa of Avila said that almost nobody goes straight to heaven, and yes, that was a shock to my touchy, feel-y Catholic childhood, but I can comprehend why this must be so. I just can’t believe in a God that damns the vast majority to an eternity in hell, anymore than I would want to banish my own difficult children to permanent exile for their selfish offenses. Some say that the pain and exile of purgatory can be hell-like for some, while for others it seems they are already in the “outskirts” of glory. For now, or until I can be convinced otherwise, the God I love, and serve with devotion rather than anxiety; the God who has our hairs counted, and knows when a sparrow falls, is like a mother who suffers and paces when her children are out after dark. He will reach out to save the one who has even just the smallest trace of good will in his or her heart.

    • But of course you’re argument is really with Jesus who taught and spoke more about Hell than anyone and who directly said that “few” found heaven. I think your conversation really has to be with him not the people you dismiss in your rather haughty tone.

      • Liam Ronan says:

        Well said, Monsignor. Jesus also said at Matthew 5:18 ” For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
        People who do not take care to observe the “letter of the law” should have a serious rethink.

    • wife of many years with many children says:

      I have suffered a lot from scrupulosity in my life. I have suffered at the hands of those who preach Hell, but have little warmth in their human hearts. I used the example of women dressing “immodestly” because I have often felt shocked to see some of the virulent replies of men toward women in Catholic com boxes. It has always struck me as a transference of guilt, when there is that much anger, instead of compassion. Msgr., I am also taken aback that after being forthcoming about my lack of theological training, you changed “Imho” to “Imnsho”, and let me sign my name to it. I have no problem with what Jesus said. Do I believe that Hell exists? Yes. I believe what Jesus preached about. People can become so deformed by selfishness, and PRIDE that they are incapable of any love whatsoever. I also believe that St. Paul says about the language of angels, and clanging gongs is cause for serious consideration, especially if one tends toward a more Pharisaical way of thinking about life. I really hope I’m not haughty. I don’t have anything to be haughty about. While I consider myself conservative, and read only orthodox materials, perhaps I am perceived as liberal in that I believe love, and patient kindness is the best medicine for those mired in immoral lives. I know a lot of people like this, and always thank God that I had a pretty good Catholic childhood, compared to many of them. The reason why I commented on this post is that I have read many things on your blog, that I have considered “spot on”. I thought you could clarify (considering some of the comments as well) that you don’t actually believe that most people go to hell. I thought that perhaps the word for Hell and purgatory might be the same in ancient languages. Your *anger* and name calling took me by surprise. Maybe that actually *was* the answer to what troubled me.

      • K. Louise says:

        Why does God allow us to learn of other people’s sins? And the sins of our difficult children? So we can make reparation for them and help them reach Heaven.

      • Christine Niles says:

        God does not “send” anyone to hell. People choose to go there of their own free will. If people spend their whole lives not desiring God and living apart from Him, God only ratifies their decision on death. In the meantime, as long as we have breath in our lungs, God chases after us like a lovesick lover, giving us chance after chance to repent and return to Him. But the truth is that MANY (indeed, most) freely reject His love.

        I recommend you read the sermon on fewness of the saved by St. Leonard of Pt. Maurice.


        ‘For many are called, but few chosen.’–Mark 20:16

        ‘A multitude of souls fall into the depths of Hell, and it is of the faith that all who die in mortal sin are condemned for ever and ever. According to statistics, approximately 80,000 persons die every day. How many of these will die in mortal sin, and how many will be condemned! For, as their lives have been, so also will be their end.’–St. Anthony Mary Claret

        ‘Not all, nor even a majority, are saved. . . They are indeed many, if regarded by themselves, but they are few in comparison with the far larger number of those who shall be punished with the devil.’–St. Augustine

        ‘The number of the elect is so small – so small – that were we to know how small it is, we should faint away with grief.’–St. Louis Marie de Montfort

  21. JohnR says:

    Jesus did not mention hell when he spoke about the ability to enter heaven in the words:-“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven”
    Now, at the end of this world there will only be two places for all souls and they are heaven and hell. Anyone who is not in the one place will just have to be in the other! There is no inbetween. Purgatory will cease to exist. So what can one make of that?!
    In my humble opinion, getting to heaven is not easy….but getting to hell is!
    Consider the angels. When Lucifer led his revolt in the kingdom of heaven, those who sided with him went straight to hell. Those who sided with Michael stayed where they were. There was no purgatory for the angels. It was one place or the other. We are told that hell was made specifically for Lucifer and his angels.

    • wife of many years with many children says:

      John, I’m no expert but I have read that the the sins of the angels that fell was far greater than the sin of Adam and Eve because of their superior understanding of God.

  22. Peter Wolczuk says:

    As to how many can be, or will be, saved – I don’t know. However when the disciples wondered if anyone could be saved, considering the requirements they were told that with God all things are possible.
    Matthew 19:26 Mark 10:27 Luke 18:27
    Here we have, possible implied for none on the one hand and, possible in all on the other.
    Seems paradoxical but, who among us can understand Godly logic; if logic is even and appropriate word?

  23. […] Charles Pope took “A look at an important new book by Ralph Martin” (Will Many Be Saved?) for the Archdiocese of Washington […]

  24. Rachel says:

    I don’t think it’s for us to know if, or how many go “here” or there “there.” I think we should “hope” as Balthasar suggests, but hope without action is presumption. So, I think even Balthasar’s thesis of hope should, if properly read in the context of our faith, crush despair and the cynicism of self-righteousness, vanquish the indifference of presumption, and inspire an active engagement and labor to bring the Good News to all whom we hope will be saved through the mercy of God and our own poor efforts. Yes to the New Evangelization! And to the “old” evangelization!

    Indifferently believing that everyone will “be just fine” in the end could be deadly. If that is an excuse to not work for the salvation of souls, it is lazy, sinful, and cruel, because we are abandoning people to the misery of their sin, rather than helping the Lord save and redeem them as He desires. I am troubled when Christians don’t acknowledge that living apart from Christ is enslaving, harmful and damaging to souls of those afflicted by sin, as if it’s really “not all that bad” to be separated from one’s Creator.

    Some people might not even know their own misery, because they’ve never known anything different – in other words, they don’t know how to hope, because no one has taught them – they may not know the happiness and freedom they’re missing out on, unless someone witnesses to them and prays for them. When we live with Christ, we have a “light burden” and an “easy yoke.” That is His Promise, and He is faithful. Not so for those living apart from Christ and apart from his path to redemption, they do not have a light burden or an easy yoke, but the heavy yoke of sin and slavery… and what are we doing about it?

    As for prophecies that suggest the eternal condemnation of some number of souls, and which warn us of possible and real dangers:

    1 Corinthians 13:8
    “Love never fails. If there are prophecies they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

    Considering Jesus’ words now:

    Matthew 7: 13-14
    “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”

    And who deserves the just condemnation if they do not find the narrow gate? Frighteningly, it may be us, who were called “to be a light to the nations.” God doesn’t call us so we can feel self-satisfied. He calls us to do His work.

    Why are we called?

    Isaiah 42:6-7
    “I, the Lord, have called you [Why?] for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations [Why did He grasp us by the hand?], To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

    That’s why!

    Let’s bring em’ all into the fold. :)

  25. […] out there is Msgr. Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.  This week one post struck me: Will Many Be Saved? A look at an important new book by Ralph Martin.  Not only is his post really good, but Martin’s book sounds like an interesting and […]

  26. […] Will Many Be Saved? A look at an important new book by Ralph MartinI was very pleased last week to get a copy of Ralph Martin’s new book Will Many Be Saved? The subtitle of the book is What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization.  As the title suggests Ralph Martin explores the modern struggles related to evangelization, showing how many of these difficulties are related to the flawed interpretation of The Second Vatican Council. Critical to the question is the understanding of the Council document Lumen Gentium, in particular L.G. # 16 which deals with the possibility of those who have not explicitly accepted Christ, being saved.…more […]

  27. Christine Niles says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for discussing hell so frankly. It’s a topic that needs to be discussed more by our clergy, and I am grateful you have done so forthrightly. You do a great service to souls by speaking about this, and even if it makes people uncomfortable and people resist (as I see some have in this comments thread), we need to hear far more about hell, and about the necessity of conforming our lives to Christ’s teachings in order to avoid eternal separation from God. God bless you.

  28. Mark says:

    Good review. I will get this book. One thing to nor\te regarding LG #16 is that it does not say that non-Christians WILL BE saved, it simply says that non-Christians MAY BE saved. In fact, I think a careful reading of LG #16 implies that the reason why so many non-Christians are drawn to obey their Creator is because of the sufficient grace that God gives people as a means of preparation to hearing the Gospel. God has a plan of redemption through Christ and it is his desire that people hear the preaching of the Gospel. Even if we hold to a high view of predestination of the elect to salvation it is very important to understand that God does not only predestine the “end” of something, he also predestines the “means” of getting to the predestined end.

    Therefore, even those of us who have a high view of predestination and election still realize the necessity for evangelization and missionary work because it through our witness, teaching, and preaching that those who have been prepared to hear the Gospel will in fact hear the Gospel.

  29. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    Here is the link to an on line multi-part book review of WILL MANY BE SAVED?


  30. Joyce Lenardson says:

    My understanding and belief is a bad confession ( insincere) the sin wouldn’t be gone . Also in order to enter heaven we must die in the state of grace. If there is forgiven sin, unpaid for you must pay for it in purgatory. If we want to take more precautions to save our immortal soul then love and wear the Blessed Brown Scapular and say the Rosary. Our Lady has been merciful in giving it to to us, we should take advantage of it. I see here by some people some quotes taken out of contexts giving it an incorrect meaning. Listen to the Saint’s! The Blessed Mother promises if we do as she says she will see to it we die a holy death. The Rosary & Scapular!

  31. jude says:

    Death ,Judgement,Heaven and Hell last four words of the catholic church .Every man who is a believing catholic must ponder on these words everyday of his life.

  32. Thomas Choe says:

    The result of final judgement is entirely up to Jesus our Lord. Only God knows how many non-Christians outside the Church may be saved. Being a Christian, though, our part is the trusting; it is God to accomplish the results. We have to also firmly fbelieve that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life ( John 14:6) and the truth will set us free ( John 8:32). As Pope mentioned in his recent speech at the World Asia Meeting in Korea, Prayer, Eucharist and Work for others/poor are three things, Catholics are expected to practice in their every day lives.

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