Just two little words in a carefully written text of the Second Vatican Council carry tremendous significance in terms of the emphasis that text was meant to convey. Two little words, so easily overlooked, add urgency to the task for evangelization, and usher in a reminder of why the task of the Church in announcing Jesus Christ is so critical.

What are these words? Simply these:

“But often….”

Perhaps you are less than amazed and wonder what they could have to do with evangelization, let alone urgency. These words occur in a critical text of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium # 16, which is often misunderstood to teach that just about everyone will be saved, baptized or not. Yet these two little words (“But often”) and the three sentences that follow set forth a critical interpretive key that is often wholly ignored by many who hold an expansive and universalist notion of salvation.

Let’s see the whole of Lumen Gentium 16 and see why these two words (which I bold in the text below) are so important:

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Savior wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention. (LG # 16)

Clearly, the text expansively sets forth a case for God’s goodness and His desire to save all people. He will regard the good will of those who, through invincible ignorance, do not come to explicit confession of Jesus. And, presuming they are sincerely seeking God and striving to live according to the dictates of conscience, God can indeed save them.

But while such a scenario is certainly possible, we ought not presume it is widespread, or even necessarily common. And, the Lumen Gentium text does NOT in fact presume that.

And this is where our two little words are critical. For having set forth the possibility of salvation apart from explicit confession of Jesus and baptism, the text then states with proper and biblical sobriety:

BUT OFTEN men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.

The majority of this sentence is a direct quote from St. Paul to the Romans who speaks more fully of the problem of human sinfulness and rebellion and how it leads many to reject God. Paul speaks of:

…the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18-23)

“Often” lacking! With this Romans text in mind, Lumen Gentium, while acknowledging Gods goodness and desire to save all, states that, “often” the necessary ingredients for this anonymous Christianity, or implicit baptism of desire, are lacking. Thus the Council goes on to urge and exhort: Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

Sadly these two little words “but often” are brushed aside by many, if not most today who hold an opinion that almost everyone will be saved and go to heaven. Never mind that this view is almost wholly opposed to massive Biblical evidence, most of it right from the mouth of Jesus Christ, who rather consistently and vividly teaches that salvation is more difficult that most of us moderns assume, going so far as to say that “many” are lost and “few” are saved (e.g. Matt 7:14).

Of course all of this non-biblical thinking and misunderstanding of Lumen Gentium has devastated evangelization, both at the worldwide level, and even more so in the home and family. Most are very blase’ about urging the faith on children, siblings and friends. Most are lukewarm in their own reception of the sacraments and the living of the faith.

I want to hand the conversation over to Ralph Martin at this point. For I am here summarizing a central point he makes in his important book: Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches. I have reviewed the book more thoroughly HERE.

Please read this book, it is absolutely essential reading for every Catholic, especially clergy and parents.

In this brief video interview Ralph Martin sets forth the basic points of his book, and among the points he mentions are those two critical words “But often.”

67 Responses

  1. Brandon Vogt says:

    Thanks for the great post, Monsignor. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that Ralph’s book is the most important contribution to the New Evangelization I’ve read, mostly because it defines the stakes at play. Ralph shows that Hell really exists and that it’s a real possibility for many people today (hence, “but often.”) And that fact is the very impetus which impels us to evangelize.

    • Repent and believe the GospeI! says:

      “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” – Proverbs 25:26
      Remember never gives way to the wicked, Fight the HHS Mandate!
      Sorry Brandon, I’m piggy back riding on your comment!

  2. Rouxfus says:

    In the Revelations given to St. Bridget of Sweden, our Lord makes plain his umbrage at those who focus on his mercy to the exclusion of His perfect justice:

    “The castle I spoke about previously is the Holy Church and the souls of Christians, which I built with my own blood and that of the saints. I cemented and joined it with my love and placed my friends and chosen men in it. The foundation is true faith, that is, to believe that I am a righteous and merciful judge.

    “Now, however, this foundation is undermined because all believe and preach that I am merciful, but almost no one preaches or believes me to be a righteous judge. They view me as an unjust judge! Unjust and unrighteous, indeed, would the judge be who, out of mercy, allowed the unrighteous to go unpunished, so that they could oppress the righteous even more! But I am a righteous and merciful judge; for I do not let even the least sin go unpunished, nor the least good go unrewarded. By the undermining of this wall’s foundation, there entered into the Holy Church people who sin without fear, who deny that I am a righteous judge, and who torment my friends as severely as those who are placed in the stocks. My friends have no joy or consolation given to them but, instead, every kind of mockery and torment are inflicted upon them as if they were possessed by the devil. When they tell the truth about me, they are rejected and accused of lying. They have a fervent desire to hear or speak the truth about me, but there is no one who listens to them or speaks the truth to them. And I, the Lord and Creator of all things, am being blasphemed and rejected, for they say: ‘We do not know if he is God and, if he is God, we do not care!’ They overthrow my banner and trample it under their feet calling out: ‘Why did he suffer? What benefit is it to us? If he wants to satisfy our lust and will, it is enough for us. He may keep his kingdom and heaven!’ I want to go into them, but they say: ‘We would rather die before giving up our own will!’

    “Behold, my bride, what kind of people they are! I made them, and could destroy and damn them with a word if I wanted to. How bold and arrogant they are toward me! But because of the prayers of my Mother and of all the saints, I am still so merciful and patient that I will send them the words of my mouth and offer them my mercy. If they want to accept it, I will be appeased. Otherwise, they will come to know my justice and be publicly humiliated like thieves in front of all angels and men, and be judged by every one of them. For just as the men who are hanged on gallows are devoured by ravens, they will also be devoured by demons, yet not die. Just as those who are punished in the stocks have no rest, they too, will have pain and bitterness all around them. The most burning river will flow into their mouths, but their bellies will not be filled, and their punishment will be renewed each day. 
    But my friends will be redeemed and consoled by the words that come from my mouth. They will see my justice joined with my mercy. I will clothe them in the weapons of my love and make them so strong that the adversaries of the faith will fall back like filth and feel ashamed for all eternity when they see my justice. Yes, they will surely be ashamed for having abused my patience.”

    Fearful message.

  3. Rouxfus says:

    In a 20th century apparition to St. Faustina in her convent in Poland, our Lord echoes what he told St. Bridget above, though He seems to have mellowed a bit. No torrents of burning rivers down the gullet here but His anger, when pricked, manifests as something which may be even more frightful—he leaves us alone, and gives us what we want (which is not Him…):

    “Tell sinners that no one shall escape My Hand; if they run away from My Merciful Heart, they will fall into My Just Hands. Tell sinners that I am always waiting for them, that I listen intently to the beating of their heart… When will it beat for Me? Write that I am speaking to them through their remorse of conscience, through their failures and sufferings, through thunderstorms, through the voice of the Church. And if they bring all My graces to naught, I begin to be angry with them, leaving them alone and giving them what they want” (Diary 1728).

    Please don’t let that happen to me, Lord. Please give me the grace to bring the graces you give me to fruition, that is, to your glory.

  4. Maggie Goff says:

    Thank you so much. I have to say I was very confused about this. So wonderful to have a source like this, and to know where to look. I’ve ordered the book. I don’t know what we’d do without you. :)

  5. KJ Larusen says:

    In order to evangelize, people must know exactly what the Church teaches, which I think is in somewhat doubt these days. Perfect example–at the Al Smith Dinner–that charity dinner right before the election, both Ryan (pro-life) and Biden (pro-choice), Cardinal Dolan suggested that both were Catholics in good standing (http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/civility-in-the-city). And has anyone notice that Pelosi and Sebelius have not be excommunicated? Yes, we have the Catechism that says that abortion (and contraception and divorce, among other thigns are sins. Those are words on paper. But we have a hierarchy and laity that don’t seem to quite believe that–unless of course they have to pay for someone’s else’s contraception via the HHS mandate, but even then, I’m not so sure a good hunk of the laity cares or not.

    I myself am a convert. But honestly, I ask myself sometimes: why did I join? This isn’t the Church I thought it was. Kind of hard to evangelize under such conditions.

    • Oh please, not politics. No, please give us a break. At least consider that the pastoral problem you articulate here was also exhibited by Jesus who dined with some pretty unsavory folks and was often found in strange company. I am not saying to simply approve of all pastoral outreaches without qualification, but only to offer that perhaps pastoral strategies involve some tension and also prudential judgements. I don’t think it is absolutely clear that the dinner was dismissive of distinctions as you argue. If that was the case are we also saying there is no difference between a Mormon and a Catholic? Since Mr. Romney was served dinner too.

      Any way, I am NOT going any further with this thread. You free to respond, but I have said my peace but I would encourage you KJ not to ask why you joined a Church that dialogues with sinners, even eats with them. Perhaps the time for “Al Smith Dinners” is over, but that is a pastoral strategic and prudential decisions about which there are different views at least in terms of Biblical models which often depict the Lord in strange company.

      • KJ Larusen says:

        Respectfully, Msgr. Pope–I am not asking why I joined a Church that talks to sinners and dines with “pretty unsavory folks.” The question that needs answering before I think any real progress in Evangelizing can be done is “What does the Church believe?” And that’s the problem. I am not convinced the people in the Church are united in some pretty crucial topics in this day and age.

        Actually, the fact that “but often” (or “very often” as Gene says) is even being discussed would tend to make that point as well. Clearly, there are people within the Church who don’t think it is really that important to be baptised, belong the Church, etc. in order to be saved.

        • Mark says:

          KJ —

          You are exactly right in saying that “people must know exactly what the Church teaches, which I think is in somewhat doubt these days.” Those of us in the Church — bishops, priests, AND laity — all need to find better ways to proclaim, articulate, and explain the truths of the Faith so as to overcome the many erroneous understandings that people have. And that mission is indeed made much more difficult by scandal, by high-profile people misleading people as to what the Church professes. But it cannot seriously be said that the Church has not been active and vocal with respect to the truth of marriage, human sexuality, and the sanctity of human life, that the Church has been merely a paper tiger. To be sure, it is because the Church has been such a rock-solid Mother and Teacher that some seek to marginalize and oppress the Church.

          With respect to the problem of scandal though, of people causing confusion with respect to what the Church teaches, sometimes knowingly and purposely so, we need to keep in mind exactly what the Church is. The Church is not a social club, civic association, or cultural community. That is why — in the interests of knowing exactly what the Church teaches, which is in doubt these days — we should cringe whenever we hear the phrase “Catholic in good standing,” as if the Church were merely a club with rules for membership.

          On Sunday, we celebrated Christ the King, but as Cardinal Wuerl points out in his recent book Seek First the Kingdom, “Jesus promised a kingdom, but he gave the world . . . me! And you. And about a billion others who are very much like you and me, with all our faults and failures and human limitations.” (p. 28) Yes, the Church here on earth is populated with imperfect, fallible, morally confused sinners. There is still a need to keep the confessionals open, not only for the Bidens and Pelosis and Ryans of the world, but for me and you, so we should not be so quick to shove people out the door for failing to meet some standard of “good standing” that none of us meet. That does not mean that we should simply accept the sinfulness of people in the Church, we are called to be holy and allow the Light of Christ to shine through us to others, but it does mean that we need to accept that it was Jesus Himself who called a bunch of imperfect sinners to be His Church. In fact, it is the fallen “bad Catholic” who needs the Church the most.

          We need to be holy and faithful servants, helping to prepare the soil and helping to scatter good seed, but we also need to remember that immediately after the parable of the sower, Jesus follows up with a parable about weeds that have grown in the field of wheat, and Jesus says to NOT pull up the weeds, “if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” Rather, we should wait until the harvest — the end of the age — when the wheat will be separated from the chaff and the weeds thrown in the fire. (Mt. 13, cf. Lk 3:17) Cardinal Wuerl goes on to quote St. Augustine in a homily about the threshing floor, “If you are good, you must put up with the bad; if you are bad, you must imitate the good. The fact is, on this threshing-floor grains can degenerate into chaff, and again grains can be resurrected from chaff. . . . Every day people who seemed to be good fall away and perish; and again, ones who seemed to be bad are converted and live.” (pp. 33-34)

          The response to those who scandalize, including politicians and rulers, is not to angrily demand expulsion, but to overcome them with the weapons of God — love and truth. It is through love that they can be transformed — conversion of bad Catholics should be our goal, not banishment — and it is through truth that we can overcome the errors that they spread.

          honestly, I ask myself sometimes: why did I join? This isn’t the Church I thought it was.

          I don’t know what kind of Church you thought it was before you “joined,” but it should be clear in all that the Church says and does and believes that we are a Church of the Way of the Cross. We should expect the Passion, we should expect hardship and suffering and persecution, perhaps most especially from public leaders and government rulers, just as Jesus was persecuted and eventually executed by them. However, not a few of them have been converted in history. And that should be our goal here.

          We cannot win the wars in defense of marriage, family, and life by force of arms, by imposing our will upon them or by ostracizing them. We can only win the wars by converting them, by seeking to soften their hearts of stone. And we can overcome the harmful effects of their scandalous words and conduct in opposition to Church teaching by being a beacon of light to those they would corrupt, by doing a better job in pointing out their errors, by opposing their implicit anger and hate with the stronger power of love.

          • ThomasL says:

            “but it should be clear in all that the Church says and does and believes that we are a Church of the Way of the Cross. ”

            As someone trying to find the truth, and possibly convert, I can say emphatically that it is not at all clear what the Church does and believes. About a dozen exclamations points would not begin to cover what I mean by “emphatically”.

            Not with Masses at water parks and encyclicals dealing with international bank capital ratios.

            As the above commenter mentioned Cardinal Dolan specifically, he is one of the most prominent churchmen in the country, and he does send very mixed messages. Pictures of him hobnobbing laughing with Obama–the most pro-abortion politician in Washington–don’t help people think he takes issues like abortion very seriously. When was the last time you sat around laughing and telling jokes with someone that you think advocates the murder of children? Gave speeches at his parties?

            Recently, he talked about the election offering some setbacks on abortion, religious freedom, and marriage, but on the plus side, they got the Dream act passed so that now “immigrant children” could go to college. Are you kidding me? I know the Church takes an expansive view of immigration issues, fine, but the implied equivalence here is preposterous. It is like saying, “I’m glad you’re home, I have some news. Your grandmother died, and that package you were waiting on from Amazon came in.” It isn’t just putting a bright face on things, it makes anyone think that even the highest ranking Catholics can’t tell the difference between what is essential and what is merely nice-to-have.

            As all the thousands of books on what Vatican II “really means”, and the very existence of articles like this one trying to correct masses of ambiguity and misunderstanding, indicate, (and don’t even get me started on comparing the latest CCC to the catechism from Trent) no, it isn’t clear what the Church does and believes. Not anymore, at any rate.

            • ThomasL says:

              I should add, Cardinal Dolan here I mean as an example, not as the cause of the problem. The problem of ambiguous teachers comes from having an ambiguous teaching.

              People can say one thing and do another. We all know how to deal with that. For that matter, we all do that. But we still know we should have lived up to what we said, rather than falling short of it.

              The problem I am talking about is not a Church that fails to live up to what it says, but a Church that says one thing and then says another. St. Paul wrote that deacons must not be “double-tongued”; he knew what he was talking about.

              • Rick DeLano says:

                ThomasL:

                The mere fact that we have been viscerated by the heresies of modernism is no reason at all to suppose that the Church is no longer the Church.

                You are never required to accede to heresy, not even if its promulgator wears a mitre and wields a crozier.

                Simply hold fast to the Faith once delivered.

                Never allow a poor victim of modernism to try and force you to deny a solemnly defined dogma of the Faith, by having recourse to some ambiguity taught at a level less than a solemn definition.

                Any such ambiguity must be understood in continuity with Tradition.

    • E Castle says:

      I have had the same thoughts, KJ. We converts come into the church full of zeal for obedience to the hierarchy and find beaurocrats and their syncophants, men and women who care far too much about their popularity. Many of these Emperors, despite their flowing robes and fancy language, are buck naked, and need our prayers for their souls more than anything. Looks like you touched a nerve with Msgr. Pope, who has twisted your comment to make it seem that your issue is sharing supper with sinners, rather than providing an imprimatur, in truth if not in name, to the wicked. If I remember my middle school logic correctly, that is a red herring. Point awarded to KJ. Most uncharitable, Msgr. Methinks you would not exhibit such histrionics at a comment submitted by the jolly Cardinal. KJ, I suggest you immerse yourself in the writings of the saints, rather than contemporary catholic media. You will be encouraged to see that the church has been in dark places before. It remains THE church founded by Our Lord, and He has promised to bring it through to the end.

      • Kim says:

        Please! Fellow converts, we entered a church of saints as well sinners, and the perfect church which we seek is not of this world! As converts we must not presume to feel smug and self-righteous about our “zeal”! I know it is hard to see so many people take this beautiful faith for granted, but rather than criticize, be a disciple of the JOY of this Church!

        Msgr. Pope, God bless you! Your thoughtful meditations have helped bring me to the Church!

        Kim

      • KJ Larusen says:

        Trust me: not leaving anytime soon. I was simply pointing out what I believe to be a huge barrier to evangelization–disunity or clarity in what the Church teaches.

        The easiest one to point out: contraception. If someone were to ask me about it, I would say with no hesitation it is evil and viscious. I believe it, and the Church has taught that since the beginning. I’d probably refer her to the works of Janet Smith, Fr. Anthony Zimmerman, and this other fellow who’s name escapes me right now. And then, of course, said person would ask me why her ob/gyn–a Catholic who reads at Mass (Lector), who advertises his ob/gyn services on the back of the parish bulletin and who is heading up the bishop’s fundraising committee for the schools–just prescribed for her an IUD for contraceptive purposes (as oppose to say, lessening potentially anemia causing heavy bleeding.)

        As ThomasL noted: “a Church that says one thing and then says another.” Or does another. Where the rules, whatever they are, don’t really matter. The article above is entitled “How ignoring two little words has devastated evangelization.” Isn’t ignoring those “two little words” really yet another example in a terribly long list of rules that don’t really matter? This isn’t smugness or zealotry. Simply a sad observation of fact–when the rules don’t matter, Sunday obligation is forgotten. The pews begin to empty as people are so busy–Sunday is their only day to sleep in, make homemade pancakes. My own little son, who dislikes Mass, asked if he had to go to Church when he is a grown up–special needs those he is, even he notices his own little Catholic friends don’t have to go each week–they get to stay home or do sports or whatever. When people–perhaps ThomasL?–see the rules (just a set of basic non-negotiables) don’t matter, the question may very well become, why bother?

        • ThomasL says:

          FWIW, the change in liturgy has thrown me off more than anything. I do not understand the arguments that one form is just as good as another, like it was all a matter of taste all along, and I don’t buy that changing the entire liturgy doesn’t “count” as a change in teaching on “faith and morals”. Worship is part of the faith. “The liturgy of the Church is a sure guide to her teaching.”

          I understand that the form of worship isn’t the worship. But a Church that can’t figure out any reasons why they ever did something a certain way for over 1600** years is a Church that isn’t quite sure what it is preaching. Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi.

          Is it the true Church? Maybe. I’d love to hear your thoughts as a convert.

          To the Church, I would ask, are you sure you are the true Church? If I said the same thing of myself as a true saint you’d call it presumption. Is there no such thing as presumption to a Church? You say the gates of Hell won’t prevail… be that as it may, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t meant to be a dare, an excuse to phone the whole thing in, like you alone are bowling with inflatable bumpers in the lane. So, maybe you are. Are you equally certain you are living up to it?

          We’ve got castaways out here trying to swim for it. Where are you? Why aren’t you even madder about these things than I am? What are you here for? I’m trying to figure out whether this is the Church Jesus established, and all the USCCB want to tell me about is mortgage debt forgiveness (did anyone read the Catechism of Trent, to borrow and not repay is THEFT, in what year did that suddenly change? 2008?) and DREAM acts.

          I may not be Catholic, but I am pretty sure any Church 2000 years in that is arguing whether anyone really needs its Head and Founder took a wrong turn somewhere.

          LORD have mercy on me, and all of us.

          **Consistent, though not identical since 4th century.

          • KJ Larusen says:

            ThomasL: For my part, yes, I am convinced the Catholic Church is the real deal…despite her current problems. Remember: the Jewish people were also the real deal–and they had a bad habit of going off the reservation. God would chastise them, and they’d come back. I think we are seeing much the same here–many in the hierarchy and laity have decided to take an unnecessary road trip on company time. It has happened before (Arian heresy comes to mind, but there have been other bad movements). It will correct itself, but it may take a generation or two. Why do I stay? Seriously, where else to go?

            As to the liturgy, if there is a Byzantine Catholic Church in your area, that may be a solution to the Liturgy problem at least.

            Best wishes.

          • Rick DeLano says:

            “I am pretty sure any Church 2000 years in that is arguing whether anyone really needs its Head and Founder took a wrong turn somewhere.”

            >> There is no confusion concerning this point- or any other necessary for salvation- in the heaven-protected dogmas of the Church.

            Never can be.

            Never will be.

            The confusion comes from preferring the traditions of men, to the laws of God.

            This is admittedly endemic today; but then again, it has been endemic throughout the history of the Church.

            Climb aboard the Ark.

            Time is short.

    • B Riggs says:

      I am loathe to revisit political matters, but I know from very good sources that Ms. Sebelius was called on the carpet by at least 2 of the Kansas Bishops when she was governor. I believe that they were not tolerant of her stand on abortion and relationship with abortionists. She was instructed not to receive communion. Could her harshness toward the Catholic Church in the HHS mandate be a retaliation by a woman bitter at her estrangement from the Church?

    • AnneG says:

      KJ, I’m studying Corinthians at my parish. St Paul said something very interesting in Chapter 11, that the contrast between those striving for holiness and those engaging in overt sin are in the same parishes “that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” I don’t think anything has changed in several thousand years. I just want to be in the group of the genuine. PAX

  6. Gene says:

    I am not sure why Msgr. Pope says that Lumen Gentium says “BUT often” when Mr. Martin’s book states that Lumen Gentium # 16 in the Latin says “VERY often”. Big difference.

    • It could be a translation issue. I copied the LG 16 text from the Vatican Website that I think uses the Abbot translation. The Latin text reads At saepius homines, a Maligno decepti, evanuerunt in cogitationibus suis, et commutaverunt veritatem Dei in mendacium, In Latin Saepe means often whereas, as you point out saepius would mean “more often” Perhaps “very often is too strong. All that said, I am writing to recommend Ralph Martin’s book and your point is well taken. But I also hope you can understand why I, a blogger, would quote from the Vatican site, because if I didn’t and focused too much on the “very often” someone would write to say, “Now tisk tisk, even the Vatican doesn’t agree with your strong interpretation….” In other words, there is sometimes a logic in not making the argument too strong and then having the naysayers pick at the edges. I would rather have the “Gene” s of the world say, “Msgr you haven’t made the argument strong enough!” But in the end, for my own purposes I have stuck to the Vatican posted translation. Mr. Martin, in a book length treatise is well able to navigate the linguistic nuances. In a short format I have to stick to the basic text proffered by the Vatican for brevity.

      • edracruz says:

        ‘But very often’ must be applicable then for this is very true in this generation, particularly the present American culture. The wiles of the evil one are most prevalent now because of the dictatorship of relativism. We are not allowed to talk about faith, sin and religion in the work area for this is a cause for termination. Not even accepted in family gatherings for this is passe’. How can one really evangalize? I think this why the Church chose St. Therese of Lisieux to be the saint for the third millenium ‘the little way of spiritual childhood’. This kind of evangelization is similar to what St. Francis’ preaching and to use words if necessary. People everywhere claim just being good is enough to be saved. Religion will not save anyone. I need to kneel down, my LORD so that I can declare YOUR LORDSHIP in the hearts of people I encounter in my littlest life.

        Thank you, Monsignor and Gene. GOD bless you both and all who blog here.

  7. Ginny K. Allen says:

    Been evangelizing for years. Read the Vatican II documents last week. Reading Ralph Martin’s book this week. Feeling really validated. Praise God!!! This book isn’t for everyone but EVERYONE needs to know what the main theme is.

  8. RichardC says:

    I recently advised two of my sisters, one a Quaker and the other a I-don’t-know-what, to pray, at least a little bit, everyday. That was what started me back to the Church.

  9. I Like the Church Fathers says:

    “But often” raises some troubling fundamental issues.

    For example, people who are essentially “good” but are not good enough to be saved are sentenced to a lifetime of suffering in hell. In most just societies in this world, basically good people who have committed a minor crime are not normally thrown into the same prison with hardened violent criminals who have committed violent crimes. Yet, the traditional “but often” Catholic view is that hell is home to both the essentially good but not good enough and the essentially evil. Moreover, we are informed by no less an authority than the Bible itself that hell is a more horrible place than any earthly prison. The notion that essentially “good” but not good enough people suffer this kind of eternal punishment in the afterlife is frankly difficult to square with the notion that God is a just, loving and merciful God.

    Another problem concerns the doctrine of invincible ignorance which you referred to in the post. It is possible for someone to be a truly good person [more than “good enough”], but still be sentenced to eternal damnation if he studied Catholic doctrine and was not convinced of the imperative of becoming a Catholic. Such an individual cannot claim protection under the doctrine of invincible ignorance.

    I had a talk recently with a fallen away Catholic and, although he did not specifically say so, it was clear that his main problem with the Church is that the doctrine of invincible ignorance is too restrictive and that a God who would sentence good people who are not Catholics to eternal damnation is not a just, loving God. I tried to counter his arguments as best I could with reference to the Bible, but he did not find my arguments convincing.

    As Blessed John Paul II explained so eloquently in his penultimate encyclical, Fides et Ratio, faith and reason are complimentary and are, in fact, essential to each other. But surely it strains reason to the breaking point to assert: a) that God sends basically good but not good enough people to eternal damnation AND b) that God is a just and loving God.

    I guess the fundamental questions I’m driving at are these: a) whether God truly is a just and loving God and b) what really happens in the afterlife? As a believing Catholic, I cannot believe that God is not a just and loving God. After all, “Deus caritas est”. So, perhaps our understanding of the afterlife is a bit off. Perhaps there are two possibilities for those who are good but not good enough: a) perhaps hell isn’t extremely horrible for such people and they don’t face the torments of those who are essentially evil; b) perhaps more people than we realize get a second chance in purgatory; surely, if God is truly just and loving, then people who are good but not good enough should have a second chance to perfect themselves.

    Am I way off on all of this?

    • ThomasL says:

      You ask good questions. I am going to guess many of them are addressed in this very book. However, you might also want to read Josef Pieper’s book “The Concept of Sin” which is magnificent and perhaps Lewis’s novel the “Great Divorce” and his monograph “The Problem of Pain” (the German translation of which was done by Pieper, interestingly enough).

      All of those are short, but very thoughtful, books.

    • Pam H. says:

      “Who is good but God alone?” No one is saved by his personal “goodness”, right? Because we all sin, and the smallest sin against the God who made us makes us worthy of condemnation, not because some fearsome being said so, but ACTUALLY — because we defied our PURPOSE, which was God’s. Christ had to DIE for GOOD men to be saved. All, good people and grave sinners, are saved solely by His blood – we either accept it or we don’t. (Some may accept it, when they become aware of the need for it – after death, perhaps?)

      Hell cannot be anything but extremely horrible for anyone, because hell is to be separated from God, who is ALL GOOD – meaning, there IS no good without Him.

      Someone correct me if I get something wrong here, ‘K?

    • Catharine says:

      Please remind your friend of the following (I am in the midst of something else, so do not have time to provide the exact scripture quotes): (1) God does not hate anything of what he created; (2) God did not create any person for the specific purpose of final damnation; (3) (from St. Paul, I believe) No one is denied sufficient grace.
      There are a number of points which never seem to get brought up in these discussions, and I will limit myself to two: (1) There is such a thing as final repentance (or, on the other side of the coin, final perseverance). Indeed, in view of the horrendous sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, in view of His often-dire warnings about doing everything in our power to avoid hell (found in many places in the New Testament–I believe that those who count say that Jesus warned about hell more than any other single topic)–indeed, in view fo the seriousness of the subject matter, as well as its eternity, it seems that the only possibility is that ALL those who arrive at their time of death in a condition of soul which, if continued through death, would mandate their final damnation, that these souls be granted one final chance to accept the graces necessary for salvation. St. Faustina of the Divine Mercy revelations states that Jesus told her that these souls are granted not one, but three final opportunities to repent at the point of death. Only if they reject all 3 are they damned.
      Also, vis-a-vis various comments above about Catholic bishops, priests, religious & faithful who do not take the mandate to preach the gospel to all nations seriously, etc., etc., I found myself getting completely bent out of shape just like those commentators above. I had the strangest experience: I felt that someone was communicating to me, soul-to-soul, saying, “I can do very much indeed with your prayers and suffrages for persons, and conditions in the world, but nothing whatsoever with your railing and complaining.”
      In other words, by refraining from criticizing, by refusing to get worked up to fever pitch over the evils surrounding us in the world-at-large, and instead by praying for them, by lifting them up to the Lord at Eucharistic Adoration, by doing penance for their sins, we will draw down the grace of God upon them. By criticizing and complaining, etc., however, we accomplish nothing good at all.

      • Pam H. says:

        RE “I can do very much indeed with your prayers and suffrages for persons, and conditions in the world, but nothing whatsoever with your railing and complaining.”

        I love this! Thank you!

    • Pam H. says:

      Also, re your last item b), MOST people who don’t go to hell go to purgatory, of course. The Church already teaches that non-Christians can be saved if they try to follow the laws of God, but it is through Christ that they are saved, even if they weren’t able to know Him properly in this life.

    • Alan R says:

      Dear I Like the Church Fathers,
      I am a recent convert. I have pondered in my heart about how a basically good person could be damned for eternity mainly because I have family and friends that are good and loving but are indifferent about God. I having been agnostic for most of my life was shocked to hear a family member say that I was a fanatic…but in a good way. I ran accross the writings on Grace by Garigue Lagrange (spelling?) and was shocked to find that what he wrote spoke to my heart and I was able to say “yes, this is what I have always believed but could never put into words.” I recommend it to you but I will try to put a few of the things that I took away from it in my own words.

      Through Christ, all have sufficient grace for salvation. Using the gift of prayer is vitally important in asking for the efficacious grace so that we are open to, receive, and cooperate with the Grace that saves us. In this way, all can truelly say that God is perfectly merciful because all can be saved, but prayer is necessary so that no one can stand before God and gloat that his salvation came by his own doing, or claim God to be unjust if they did not ask for the helps needed.

      How many of my friends and family ask why I believe or what led me into the Catholic Church…few. How many of them ever want to talk about the mysteries of all that is true and good and beautiful…few? How many of them pray for God’s help? How many of them truely want to hear the truth? How many of them are truelly seeking God and implore his help? How many of them do what violates thier conscionce but ignore it? I try not do be frustrated by the indifference or rejection so I pray and that helps. At this point I put my trust in God and do not question his judgement or mercy for me or anyone else.

      In my heart I believe that a heathen on an island that tries to do what is good, tries to live according to his conscence, regrets the evil that violates his conscience, tries to make things right, and seeks after god by any name and cries out to be shown the truth would either be given a revelation directly by God or God would send a missionary to tell him the truth. I believe at that point, the heathen would fall on his knees and give thanks to God that he has revealed to him what he longed for…and that is the revelation of Jesus Christ and how to worship him in spirit and truth.

      I was that heathen and I thank God for His Church which proclaims the death of our Lord until He comes again and teaches in accordance with Truth. Thanks be to God!

      Peace be with you,
      Alan R

    • ThomasL says:

      Let me take a quick stab at this, but I think you’ll find the books more comprehensive.

      1) A truly free will implies the ability to choose our own summum bonum. That can be God, or it can be ourselves.

      2) If we choose ourselves over God, we ultimately separate ourselves from God.

      3) There is an intrinsic punishment to that choice, not an extrinsic one. Say a child doesn’t do his homework. His parents could ground him (extrinsic punishment–it has nothing to do with the homework) but whether they ground him or not, his true punishment is not knowing what he would have learned had he studied. No one does that to him, he did it to himself. Hell is an intrinsic punishment to separating oneself from God.

      My homework example was trivial, but please don’t take that to mean I think hell is no big deal. Hell is more horrible than we can possibly imagine, but Jesus gave us the Way out. If we go there, we choose to go there ourselves. If you think that sounds like good news, it is, sort of, but it is also terrifying (read the Great Divorce, and Alan R’s comment here). There is a tremendous responsibility on every person to make the right choice, with all their heart, their mind, and their soul.

      • ThomasL says:

        ” A truly free will implies the ability to choose our own summum bonum.”

        To clarify, I’m not saying the ultimate good is subjective, only that our choice is ours. We can choose wrongly, in an objective sense, but our choice was sovereignly* ours to make whether we made it wrongly or rightly.

        *(ie, not reversible by any external authority, even God)

      • I Like the Church Fathers says:

        Thanks Thomas. I appreciate your references to the literature on sin. I certainly don’t deny the seriousness of sin, that people choose to separate themselves from God, etc. I also accept that relatively few will be saved.

        The problem I’m having is with the severity of the eternal punishment and how this relates to the concept of a just and loving God.

        I’m a lawyer and I often deal in hypotheticals, so here’s one:

        Let’s compare a couple of hypothetical mortal sinners. One is a suicide. In the traditional Christian view, suicide is normally an unforgiveable sin. The suicide violates one of the most important commandments and the suicidal act is viewed by the Church as a revolt against God and the natural law. There’s no opportunity for repentance before death unless there’s a time lag between the suicidal act and death, so the suicide goes to hell. In the case of this particular hypothetical suicide, he was a fairly ordinary joe. He was generally a good person but was subject to bouts of severe depression and, during one particularly bad bout, he killed himself.

        Our second hypothetical mortal sinner is not a generally good person. He has a horrible mean streak and has violently murdered several people. He is finally captured and goes to prison. While in prison, he realizes the error of his ways, genuinely repents, enters the Church and lives an exceptionally good life in prison for the rest of his days, living more like a cloistered monk than a prison inmate.

        Under the traditional Christian view, the violent murderer can go to heaven. He can even become a saint [e.g. Dismas]. The suicide, however, even though he generally lived a better life than the murderer, goes straight to hell because he killed himself in a moment of great human weakness. Is this ultimately a just outcome? If the suicide does indeed go to hell are the eternal torments he faces really as severe as those of a violent murderer who does not repent?

        As I said, these are troubling fundamental issues concerning salvation, the nature of the afterlife and the nature of God Himself.

        • ThomasL says:

          Yeah, definitely buy “The Concept of Sin” and “Death and Immortality” by Pieper. In some cases he even uses hypotheticals that are pretty similar to yours.

          I will answer a bit on my own (ie, these are not related to either book). But in the first case, true despair is a truly great sin (cf, the Sickness Unto Death by SK) that rejects both God’s creation and His mercy, like slapping Him in the face and saying, “Good effort, but pretty poor by my standards.” However, if it is “depression” in a more clinical sense, it mitigates the sin, either partially or completely. A mortal sin is done wholeheartedly. A wholehearted suicide would be a mortal sin, and though it could be repented of, if, as you say there is a flicker of time–I personally think there is–and the person makes good use of it. Someone “subject” to “bouts” of depression is almost certainly not wholehearted in their sin–it may not even be sin at all, if they are truly ill. I want to be clear I am talking straight up ancient, orthodox doctrine here, not something novel.

          You are right in the second case, the violent murderer can go to heaven. Perhaps straight there, perhaps he’ll have his tour in Purgatory to make up for the temporal component of what he did.

          All our actions will get tried eventually, but there is quite simply no one so good that Jesus is optional, “nice to have” but not essential, nor anyone so bad that Jesus’ redemption is insufficient if they’ll cling to Him for dear life.

          And that is really what it comes down to. Everyone that clings to Him makes it. He doesn’t lose His sheep. Everyone that says, “Thanks, but no thanks, I’m good,” doesn’t, because no matter how many nice, decent things they did, that isn’t what it is all about. God gave them their way out in Jesus, free and ready for the taking. If they choose something or someone else instead, God has promised that He isn’t going to come in and change their mind against their will. And for all us travelers, our time for choosing has an hourglass running down. Just like the devils cannot repent, because what they willed they willed irrevocably without reservation, our doubts and reservations get stripped away in death, and then we become irrevocable exactly what we chose to be (a scary statement).

          It’s a shame the default position starts out in sin now. That much of it isn’t our particular fault, but He *fixed* that. What more do we want Him to do? The Creator of this whole thing came down Himself and *fixed* it for us, according the the very nature of all that He had made from the beginning. The Creator became the Creature, to get us out of the jam we’d gotten ourselves in. Sin is against His nature, He can’t just call it OK and leave it at that, anymore than we can, so something Had to be done if we were to be rescued, and He answered, “I’m the One to do it,” which He did *not* have to do. We can only assume it was the best (and probably the only) way to save us. Does anyone really think He chose the second or the third best way? Whatever way you cut it, He became one of us to suffer everything that we do, and a little more besides, and lead us all on back home. To complain now is basically to say that He gave it the ole’ college try, but it just wasn’t enough to right this sinking ship. So I guess that becomes the question, what more that He hasn’t done would you have Him do?

  10. Rick DeLano says:

    It is called original sin, I Like, and the Fathers believed it.

  11. stefanie says:

    Only one word: “Yikes!”

    I’ll be sure to pick up Mr. Martin’s book…and to keep in prayer for myself and others.

  12. Nate says:

    Good questions. I think the issue boils down to the concept of mortal sin. I find some of the Orthodox ideas on what damns a person – i.e. an accumulation of sin for which a person has not repented that hardens the heart – to be more compelling than the ‘one and done’ legalism of mortal sin found in the Western Church. If true, it strikes me that, since almost every person ever born has committed mortal sin during their lives, it is just a matter of luck on the timing of your death as to whether you end up in Hell or not. And the resulting number of generally good people suffering eternal torment under such legalisms would be deeply troubling (to me at least).

  13. GABRIEL says:

    Monsignore, could you translate something into latin for me please?

    The sentence I would like translated is:

    “Help God Always”.

    Could you do that for me?

  14. Bill Foley says:

    Hopefully the following will give light on salvation and prayer.
    THE GREAT MEANS OF SALVATION AND OF PERFECTION
    By Saint Alponsus De Liguori, Doctor of the Church

    Page 1: “But I do not think that I have written a more useful work than the present, in which I speak of prayer as a necessary and certain means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces that we require for that object. If it were in my power, I would distribute a copy of it to every Catholic in the world in order to show him the absolute necessity of prayer for salvation.”

    Page 24: “In several places above quoted, and especially in his book of Sentences, he (Saint Thomas Aquinas) expressly lays it down as certain that everyone is bound to pray because—as he asserts—in no other way can the graces necessary for salvation be obtained from God except by prayer.”

    Page 30: “He who prays is certainly saved. He who prays not is certainly damned.”

    Page 45: “And let us understand that if we do not pray, we have no excuse because the grace of prayer is given to everyone.”

    Page 87: “….everyone has sufficient aid from God to enable him actually to pray ….by prayer he may obtain all other graces…. God in his goodness grants to everyone the grace of prayer, by which he is able to obtain all other graces….”

    Page 200: “Therefore all men have grace given them to pray, and by prayer to obtain the abundant grace which makes us keep the commandments.”

    Pages 214-215: “God refuses to no one the grace of prayer, whereby we may obtain his assistance to overcome every concupiscence and every temptation…. For the rest, my principal intention was to recommend to all men the use of prayer as the most powerful and necessary means of grace in order that all men should more diligently and earnestly attend to it if they wish to be saved; for many poor souls lose God’s grace, and continue to live in sin, and are finally damned, for this very reason, that they do not pray, nor have recourse to God for assistance. The worst of the matter is that so few preachers and so few confessors have any definite purpose of indoctrinating their hearers and penitents with the use of prayer, without which it is impossible to observe the law of God and to obtain perseverance in his grace….. Our whole salvation depends on prayer, and, therefore, that all writers in their books, all preachers in their sermons, and all confessors in their instructions to their penitents, should not inculcate anything more strongly than continual prayer. They should always admonish, exclaim, and continually repeat: ‘Pray, pray, never cease to pray.’ For if you pray, your salvation will be secure, but if you leave off praying, your damnation will be certain. All preachers and directors ought to do this because there is no doubt of this truth that he who prays obtains grace and is saved, but those who practice it are too few, and this is the reason why so few are saved.”

    Page 233: “St. Teresa used to say that he who neglects mental prayer needs not a devil to carry him to hell, but that he brings himself there with his own hands. And the Abbot Diocles says that ‘the man who omits mental prayer soon becomes either a beast or a devil.’”
    “Without petitions on our part, God does not grant the divine helps; and without aid from God, we cannot observe the commandments. From the absolute necessity of the prayer of petition arises the moral necessity of mental prayer; for he who neglects meditation and is distracted with worldly affairs will not know his spiritual wants, the dangers to which his salvation is exposed, the means which he must adopt in order to conquer temptations, or even the necessity of the prayer of petition for all men; thus, he will give up the practice of prayer, and by neglecting to ask God’s graces he will certainly be lost.”

    Page 234: “St. Robert Bellarmine says that for him who neglects meditation it is morally impossible to live without sin.”

    Pages 234-235: “But it is impossible for him who perseveres in mental prayer to continue in sin; he will either give up meditation or renounce sin. A good servant of God used to say that mental prayer and sin cannot exist together. And this we see by experience; they who make mental prayer rarely incur the enmity of God; and should they ever have the misfortune of falling into sin, by persevering in mental prayer they see their misery and return to God. Let a soul, says St. Teresa, be ever so negligent, if it persevere in meditation, the Lord will bring it back to the haven of salvation.”
    “All the saints have become saints by mental prayer. Mental prayer is the blessed furnace in which souls are inflamed with the divine love….. St. Catharine of Bologna used to say: ‘He who does not practice mental prayer deprives himself of the bond that unites the soul with God; hence, finding her alone, the devil will easily make her his own.’ ‘How,’ she would say, ‘can I conceive that the love of God is found in the soul that cares but little to treat with God in prayer.’”

    Pages 236-238: “St. Laurence Justinian says: ‘By the efficacy of mental prayer, temptation is banished, sadness is driven away, lost virtue is restored, fervor which has grown cold is excited, and the lovely flame of divine love is augmented.’ Hence, St. Aloysius Gonzaga has justly said that he who does not make much mental prayer will never attain a high degree of perfection.”
    “St. John Chrysostom compared mental prayer to a fountain in the middle of a garden.. . .
    But let him omit meditation, and you will find him instantly wanting in modesty of the eyes, proudly resenting every word, indevout, no longer frequenting the sacraments and the church; you will find him attached to vanity, to useless conversations, to passions, to earthly pleasures; and why? The water has failed, and, therefore, fervor has ceased…… The soul has neglected mental prayer; the garden is therefore dried up, and the miserable soul goes from bad to worse. When a soul abandons meditation, St. Chrysostom regards it not only as sick, but as dead. ‘He,’ says the holy Doctor, ‘who prays not to God, nor desires to enjoy assiduously his divine conversation, is dead…. The death of a soul is not to be prostrated before God.’”
    “The same Father says mental prayer is the root of the fruitful vine. And St. John Climacus writes that ‘prayer is a bulwark against the assault of afflictions, the spring of virtues, the procurer of graces.”

    • Alan R says:

      Bill,
      You must have posted while I was writing my comment above. In my comment, I got the author wrong about Grace and prayer that you just quoted. Thank you so much for quoting what I was searching for.
      Alan R.

  15. Justin says:

    There is a little known book that should be better known called Devotion For the Dying by Vn. Mother Mary Potter, a nun who was proclaimed “Venerable” by Blessed John Paul II. The thrust of her book was that we can obtain the graces for souls who are dying so that they may convert to the Catholic Faith, revert to the Catholic Faith, make a deathbed confession–in other words–do what it takes to be saved at the last minute. This is a very important book with a very imortant message. We should pray for those that are dying whenever we say our rosaries or whatever other devotions we have.

    God gives sufficient graces to everyone to be saved and NOTHING is outside of His Providence so we should try to trust in Him more. Say the old Act of Hope anytime you start despairing about matters of salvation be they your own or your neighbor. We should have a chaste fear of hell though and not presume, but in this we must be cautious lest we despair ourselves right out of the Church. We must always tread the middle path, the razors edge, between presumption and despair.

    Take our Lords words to heart and try not to be anxious but don’t be complacent either.

  16. Dante Aligheri says:

    To follow up with what Nate said, many Orthodox also believe that Hell and Heaven are objectively the same reality. Sinners and saints experience the same objective phenomena, the perfect love of God, in different ways. Saints, having been divinized through Word and Spirit, burn brightly in God’s consuming fire. Sinners are repulsed and continually devoured by God Himself.

    This, at least for me, seems to echo what St. John Chrysostom meant (and what could be seen in St. Faustina’s quote given in the earlier comment): “Hell is never-ending……sinners shall be brought into a never-ending suffering. As for the `being burnt altogether,’ it means this: that he does not withstand the strength of the fire…he shall not be burnt, like his works, into nothingness, but he shall continue to exist, but within that fire. He therefore considers this as his `salvation.’ For it is customary for us to say `saved in the fire,’ when referring to materials that are not totally burnt away.”

    Regarding what Nate said concerning mortal sin, I’m not sure it is that “easy” to commit mortal sin. I would think the whole point of distinguishing between them, venial and mortal, is recognizing what gravity of sin indicates a complete degradation of human nature.

    • Jim says:

      Oh, mortal sin is terribly easy to commit; terribly easy. It by far the easiest thing there is do. It’s in our nature. Take it from someone who experienced. There isn’t a commandment I haven’t violated.

    • Pam H. says:

      “I’m not sure it is that “easy” to commit mortal sin.” It is easy if you’re in the habit of committing venial sins without remorse. It’s not “easy” if you’ve a habit of trying to follow Christ.

      • Dante Aligheri says:

        I probably did not word that well. What I meant was that sometimes God’s judgment can be depicted as arbitrary as if “good” people can just walk into mortal sin as if it were a simple mistake. Mortal sin implies full intention, full knowledge that what one is doing is sinful, and involve a grave matter. Of course, habit – as Pam said – makes mortal sin “easier” to commit over time so that one’s nature is more inclined to do evil. I guess Pam expressed it better: that if someone is sincerely trying to follow and live with God to the best of his ability – that is, while not presuming arrogantly that he is morally perfect – then that is all that can be required. While one should not presume his salvation, sometimes I feel that spending life in fear of making a mistake – like Martin Luther – and inadvertently falling into damnation is often how Christianity is seen – that is, bad news over Good News. The message ought to begin with the human desire to please God and further in relationship and union with God in this life.

        • I Like the Church Fathers says:

          “sometimes I feel that spending life in fear of making a mistake – like Martin Luther – and inadvertently falling into damnation is often how Christianity is seen – that is, bad news over Good News.”

          Exactly, and this is why so many people still hate the Church today – because the Church dares to tell people in our relativist world that there are right and wrong ways of living your life. I had a talk with a non-religious person about this. She was raised in a non-religious family. She seriously likened the Church to a totalitarian state – seeking to control every aspect of a person’s life, even a person’s most private moments. I was initially floored and offended by the suggestion [after all, Benedict XVI is the polar opposite of the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot], but I soon realized that I can understand [thought not agree with] where she’s coming from.

          There has to be some balance between the bad news and the good news. Msgr. Pope has written on this [i.e. the pre-conciliar Church arguably focused too much on the bad news and then the conciliar Church arguably over corrected]. Still, it’s really hard to get the balance right.

          • Rick DeLano says:

            There is perfect balance between the bad news and the good news.

            The bad news is you were born a child of Adam.

            The good news is that Jesus Christ has come, has founded the Church, has died, has risen, and has left the medicine of immortality in the Eucharist for those translated from the condition of child of Adam to child of God, through baptism.

            Choose life.

  17. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    And I thought the two little words, “I do.” were devastating! Welcome to Pandora’s box.

  18. Mark says:

    Along with Martin’s book I would encourage a thorough study of the book Predestination by John Salza.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Dear @I Like the Church Fathers, pretty good summary.

    I guess it could simply said that even though any mortal sin does technically merit eternal punishment (original sin, dear @Rick DeLano has not so much to do here; original sin has a connection to our actual committing of sins and on the abstract quality of an unbaptized person but, apart possibly from unbaptized infants, not with the eternal fate as a consequence of a life).

    1. There is nothing in the Catholic doctrine that actually does say that hell is home to both the essentially good but not good enough and the essentially evil. It is, in your terminology (scholastically not even the Devil is “essentially evil”, but let us not go into hairsplitting, after all we know what we mean), precisely the essentially evil which Hell is there for.
    The harsh side of Catholic morals (if we may call it thus) may emphasize all along that any mortal sinner has done in itself enough to qualify as essentially evil. The lax side of Catholic morals may emphasize all along that still, in practical fact, most men are not essentially evil even though they do such things (and has authoritative support in Spe salvi 46). But we cannot – not only need not, but I really believe cannot – say that Hell is for the essentially good.

    2. I always wonder where this “invincible ignorance” theory comes from at all. I refer to the adjective. Obviously he cannot be saved through the redemption of Christ who rejects the redemption of Christ for himself. That is all that this doctrine has had to say; if you are not a Christian you need to have had some ignorance to be saved. But on what source is founded the quite heavy restriction that any degree of vincibility excludes any possibility of salvation? (I’m not supposing that such vincible ignorance goes altogether without sin.)

    In my view it is also a postulate of practical missionary reason (if you forgive the Kantian allusion) that the missionary does not endanger his heathens’ chances of salvation by exposing them to the decision.

    3. A similar observation is to be said about the need for the candidate of baptism by desire to be practically a canonizable saint. The means of salvation are way less for the unbaptized (think of our Sacraments), but it should not presumed that there is absolutely no contrition for them.

    It might be mentioned that “but often” in the passages quoted (thank you Msgr) refers to the quality of their religious thinking and acting (I simplify) and not directly to their final fate. Also the words of Our Lord in Mt 7 refer to souls falling into perdition, which need not necessarily be Hell; any mortal sin can justly be called perdition of a man, although it is a sort of perdition which God’s grace can lift the man out again of. (Words of Our Lord that do unmistakably refer to the final fate are e. g. Mt 7,23. “Many” is again interpretable, but different from zero.)

    On the other hand, if we do not know why to use missionary activity on other grounds than bettering final chances (which, indeed, must never be forgotten to be one result), we have a big problem of our own. Truth (plain and simple), receiving right now the membership in the Kingdom of Christ, receiving the fulness of the love of Christ, that being saved by the real thing is better than being saved by a merciful catch-basin created by the same real thing, merit, an (even material and political) interest to unite the world in true morals, and a thousand other things: these have to be thought of also. Ad gentes is a fine document to begin with; and much too much neglected.

    • I Like the Church Fathers says:

      Thanks for this Imrahil. I haven’t fully read Spe Salvi and Ad Gentes. I should do so.

      • Rick DeLano says:

        @Imrahil:

        “(original sin, dear @Rick DeLano has not so much to do here; original sin has a connection to our actual committing of sins”

        >> Then how can it have “not so much to do” with the question of salvation?

        “and on the abstract quality of an unbaptized person but, apart possibly from unbaptized infants, not with the eternal fate as a consequence of a life”

        >> It is an objective, not an abstract quality. Original sin renders each human person a child of Adam. It is impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven unless translated from this condition, to the condition of child of God. Since the promulgation of the Gospel, this translation cannot be effected apart from baptism or the desire for it.

        The above is solemnly defined, irreformable dogma.

        “There is nothing in the Catholic doctrine that actually does say that hell is home to both the essentially good but not good enough and the essentially evil. It is, in your terminology (scholastically not even the Devil is “essentially evil”, but let us not go into hairsplitting, after all we know what we mean), precisely the essentially evil which Hell is there for.”

        >> To the contrary. Here is exactly what Catholic *dogma* teaches concerning Hell, and those who go there:

        ““The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews, heretics, and schismatics can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire ‘which was prepared for the devil and his angels,’ (Mt. 25:41)unless before death they are joined with her; and that so important is the unity of this Ecclesiastical Body, that only those remaining within this unity can profit from the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and that they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, alms deeds, and other works of Christian piety and duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved unless they remain within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.” (Florence, Cantate Domino,1443)

        That is the Catholic Faith, solemnly defined, irreformable, true until the end of the world.

        The obfuscation and confusion attendant upon our present disaster is a lawful consequence of attempting to find a way to make it mean what it does not say, or not mean what it does.

  20. Bill Foley says:

    Wonderful article, Msgr. Pope!

    I commented earlier what St. Alphonsus wrote about mental prayer and salvation; well, it so happens that Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this saint and his teaching on prayer in his address of August 2, 2012. The following are the words of the Vicar of Christ.

    Pope Benedict XVI: Saint Alphonsus on Prayer
    August 1, 2012
    Dear brothers and sisters?
    The Joyous Embrace of God the Father.
    Today marks the liturgical memorial of St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer — the Redemptorists — patron saint of scholars and moral theology and of confessors. St. Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, straightforward style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance: In a period of great rigorism — the result of the influence of Jansenism — he recommended to confessors to administer this sacrament by revealing the joyous embrace of God the Father, who in His infinite mercy never tires of welcoming back the repentant son.
    Prayer: Necessary and Sure Means to Salvation.
    Today’s memorial offers us the occasion to consider St. Alphonsus’ teachings on prayer, which are extremely valuable and filled with spiritual inspiration. He considered his treatise, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, which dates back to 1759, to be the most useful of all his writings. In fact, he there describes prayer as “the necessary and sure means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces we need to attain it” (Introduction).
    He Who Prays is Saved.
    This sentence sums up the Alphonsian understanding of prayer. First, in saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the end to be attained: God created out of love in order to be able to give us the fullness of life; but because of sin, this goal, this abundance of life has, so to say, drifted away — we all know this — and only God’s grace can make it available. To explain this basic truth, and to enable us to understand in a straightforward way how real the risk is of man’s “being lost,” St. Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim, which states: “He who prays is saved. He who prays not is damned!” Commenting on this lapidary statement, he added: “To save one’s soul without prayer is most difficult, and even impossible … but by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy” (Chapter II, Conclusion). And he goes on to say: “If we do not pray, we have no excuse, for the grace of prayer is given to everyone … if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours, because we did not pray” (ibid.).
    We Cannot Manage Without Praying
    In saying that prayer is a necessary means, St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation in life, we cannot manage without praying, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the Lord’s door with trust, knowing that in all things He takes care of His children, of us. We are invited, therefore, not to be afraid of turning to Him and of presenting our requests to Him with trust, in the certainty of obtaining what we need.
    What Is Truly Necessary?
    Dear friends, this is the central question: What is truly necessary in my life? With St. Alphonsus I respond: “Health and all the graces we need for this” (ibid.); naturally, he means not only bodily health, but above all also that of the soul, which Jesus gives to us. More than anything else, we need His liberating presence, which truly makes our lives fully human and therefore full of joy. And it is only through prayer that we are able to welcome Him and His grace, which by enlightening us in each situation, enables us to discern the true good, and by strengthening us, makes our will effective; that is, it enables it to do the good that is known. Often we recognize the good, but we are unable to do it. Through prayer, we arrive at the point of being able to carry it out.
    Weakness and the Richness of God’s Mercy
    The Lord’s disciple knows that he is always exposed to temptation, and he never fails to ask God for help in prayer in order to conquer it. St. Alphonsus recalls the example of St. Phillip Neri—very interesting—who “used to say to God from the first moment he awoke in the morning, ‘Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee’” (III, 3). A great realist! He asks God to keep His hand upon him. We, too, in the awareness of our own weakness, should humbly ask God’s help, relying on the richness of His Mercy.
    By Prayer Obtain the Strength You Do Not Possess
    In another passage, St. Alphonsus says: “We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor” (II, 4). And in the wake of St. Augustine, he invites every Christian to not be afraid of obtaining from God, through prayer, the strength he does not possess and that he needs to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord does not withhold His help from whoever prays with humility (cf. III, 3).
    Relationship With God and Daily Prayer.
    Dear friends, St. Alphonsus reminds us that our relationship with God is essential for our lives. Without a relationship with God, our fundamental relationship is missing. And a relationship with God develops by talking with God in daily personal prayer, and by participating in the Sacraments; and so it is that this relationship can grow in us, and that the divine presence that directs our path, enlightens it and makes it secure and serene can also grow in us, even amid difficulty and danger. Thank you.

  21. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    A number of weeks ago I was invited to do an on line multi-part book review of Ralph Martin’s WILL MANY BE SAVED? You can access all 8 installments at: http://cleansingfiredor.com/series/will-many-be-saved/

    Enjoy.

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