The admirable Father Robert Barron has recently come under attack by the energetic Michael Voris, who -- among other things -- produces a series videos under the title of "The Vortex": in which he proposes to expose "lies and falsehoods." The equally energetic and voluble Catholic writer Mark Shea recently posted something on this, sparking lots of commentary. It started with Father Barron offering some meandering comments about whether we might hope for all human beings to be saved in the end; then Mr. Voris attacked that "wrong" claim with his Vortex; and then Mr. Shea decided Mr. Voris's criticisms were a "smear" of Father Barron.
Well, I think that's too strong. I think Mr. Shea heard more in what Mr. Voris said, than he actually said; just as I think Mr. Voris heard more in Father Barron's comments than were there.*
So I think I'll disturb this hornets' nest and see what happens!
In seeing the discussion that ensued at Mr. Shea's site, it's clear that people get worked up--and like both Mr. Voris and Mr. Shea seem to have done, they don't quite get what others are saying. For example, many people seem to take Father Barron as either (a) denying hell exists or (b) claiming that everyone will, in fact, be saved, or (c), that hell is "empty." As far as I could tell, he said none of those things.
What I heard him say was that it's possible that God will find a way to touch every human heart, and convert each one.
Which means that people (like Mr. Voris) who assert he's wrong, are saying, no, it's not possible God will do that. Which strikes me as simply wrong.
Let's be clear here. No one but God knows how many will, on Judgment Day, end up in heaven or in hell. But I think is fundamentally mistaken to deny even the possibility of God saving all human beings.
Now, I think many are arguing against this possibility because they don't understand what they are arguing against. They seem to think that if you allow for the possibility of God's saving plan being so hugely successful, that it either invalidates sources of Divine Revelation, or else it means going to heaven is easy. But neither is true, if you think about it.
Suppose I were an advanced English teacher, and I told you everyone in my class passed. Does that somehow prove passing was easy? No, of course not.
Suppose I also told you that, at the beginning of the year, I warned those students of their grave peril of flunking. I really laid it on. And I wasn't exaggerating: they really were in danger of failure.
So now that I have told you they all passed, is there a logical inconsistency here? What is it?
It seems to me the explanation is easy:
1. They were on the road to academic doom.
2. I warned them in vivid terms.
3. They took it to heart.
4. I worked hard to prod and pull them, giving them help every step of the way.
5. It all combined to produce a change of heart and destiny.
6. They all passed.
Please: show me the problem here?
In the case of salvation, of course, it's not about "passing a course" but about repentance and faith. And what many will argue is that Divine Revelation--Scripture and Tradition--has already told us that some human beings (the fallen angels are a separate matter) will certainly be damned.
And, ultimately, the debate comes down to that question: does anything in Divine Revelation assert this unequivocally?
I would say that there are a lot of passages taken that way that need not be. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man or the parable of the sheep and the goats. Note well, I said "need not be." They can be taken that way; you may be correct in taking them that way; but that's not the same as saying anyone must take them that way.
How else would anyone take them? As a warning: this terrible doom is hanging over your head, and you actually are headed for it...unless you repent.
Someone might ask, but if all human beings end up making it to heaven, what was hell for?
Well, first, for the devil and his fellow fallen angels. It is fairly clear they cannot be saved.
And that means hell is real, and not an empty threat.
At any rate, let me repeat myself. I have no idea of whether few or many will, ultimately, be saved. I will admit that there are some passages of Scripture that make it hard to suppose there won't at least be some human beings in hell. Judas Iscariot, for one, and there are others.
That said, all I would argue for is the possibility of all human beings being saved -- not certainty. And just as with the English class example I gave, a highly successful outcome -- even an entirely successful one -- does not mean the outcome was ever a sure thing, or even an easy thing.
Even if you believe that quite a lot of people end up being damned -- which is very possible -- I don't know how anyone can simply rule out the alternative scenario: few, or even none, are damned. Again, I said, "rule out."
Let's put it this way. Do you pray the Rosary? Do you add the "Fatima Prayer"? What does it say:
"O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy."
See that? "Lead all souls to heaven." Are we praying for something that Scripture tells us is impossible? Why do that? We don't pray for the salvation of the damned angels. That is impossible.
And lest you say, that's just one prayer: I would suggest listening closely at Mass. Many of our prayers in Mass express the hope of salvation for all sinners, all the wayward. We pray for these things rather solemnly every Good Friday.
Hell is real. Everyone, but for the grace of God, is in grave danger of hell. Only grace can save us--both in the offering of salvation, and in prompting our response to the invitation, and in assisting us in the ongoing conversion, and in completing our purification in purgatory.
We have free will. We can choose to reject the invitation. It seems many have. But I can't see anyone's heart, or know what transpires between a soul and God, at that last moment. I do know how far God will go to save sinners: pretty far indeed.
So hell might be crowded; but for the grace of God it will be. But it might not be, thanks to God's work.
Why is it wrong to hope God is hugely successful? And how can one hope for what is impossible?
*Update: It didn't take long for what I described in this prior paragraph, to happen again! My first commenter on this post thinks I said something I did not say. How many times must I say this? No one (but God) knows who or how many will be saved; thus, no one, including me, can say whether everyone will be saved.
I'm raising a much narrower question: is it even possible for all human beings to be saved.
If you don't understand the distinction, say so, and we'll go into that, OK!