Rorate Caeli

Balthasar's hope is hopeless

Dante and Virgil
Monument to Dante, Trent
[O]n so many issues regarding his “hope,” Balthasar is misleading, in error, and reckless. First, the fact is that any unrepented mortal sin entails eternal damnation. We are not damned only for sheer malice. We are not damned only for identifying ourselves with a “no”. If someone simply wants to have one romping time in fornication, and forgets about John the Baptist, and dies, one has merited eternal damnation in hell. In rejecting optimistic fundamental option theories, John Paul II rejects Balthasar’s notion of the necessary condition for damnation (see Veritatis splendor, art. 68; but this teaching belongs to the entire tradition).

Second, the Rahnerian reduction of the texts regarding the future, like Rahner’s reduction of the texts regarding the origins of the human race, are a species of modernism. Compare Rahner’s reading of the future and the past as solely a reflection on present religious experience (i.e., that of the sacred writer) with the holy teaching of Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi, a text well worth re-reading. We might add: These texts are “minatory” (i.e. warnings) because they are predictive. Just read the Epistle of Jude. The men of Sodom serve as a warning presently by undergoing torment of eternal punishment.

What of those universalist texts? The tradition – from Damascene to Aquinas to the 1950s – read these texts according to the distinction between God’s will antecedently considered and consequently considered. We can consider what God wills to man as object of his love – salvation. We can consider what God wills to man as having responded or not responded to his love – salvation or damnation. The distinction is no doubt subtle, but it does not play fast and loose with either set of texts. Rather, it recognizes that God wills that all be saved and supplies the grace sufficient to realize this outcome, and it recognizes that not all will in fact avail themselves of this grace. There are many Catholic views on predestination, but these basics are accepted by all. Peer into the matter more deeply, and one discovers that the Magisterium accepts that God reprobates some: He permits some to fall. (Some is a logical category, meaning there are some – not necessarily, and probably not, few – that God permits to fall.)

Third, sin is not “a reality” as Balthasar makes out. It is not a “thing” that can “exist by itself as a pure negation”. That is simply nonsense. Take any sinful action and examine it: You will find that it has positive physical aspects (a knife, blood, a hand, etc.) but that it lacks due order (the man was innocent, the one who killed was not appointed by lawful authority, etc.). It is the lack of due order or reference to a due end that constitutes the evil. Also note that God creates all things or he does not. To say he does not is false, heretical, and blasphemous. But if evil is an “existing thing,” then God creates it. And this is abhorrent. Finally, we simply note that what exists, insofar as it exists, is good. If Balthasar was speaking “phenomenologically,” why did he stress that sin is a reality? It’s kind of like him saying that God changes but doesn’t change. Which is it? (How long will you hobble on one leg, and then the other? You cannot serve two masters. Metaphor is not proper analogy. Let your yes be yes. Anything more....)

And as for the related claim that Jesus took on our sins themselves – not simply the punishment due to them – here we have Balthasar coming very close to supporting, if not outright supporting, the notion of penal substitution. Perhaps Balthasar avoids claiming the Christ truly became guilty, thus freeing himself from Luther’s blasphemy on this matter. But his assertion that Christ takes on damnation itself cannot square with the truth of hell. Hell is a place of sinful alienation, a place of aversion from the divine good. Christ cannot become averse to the divine good.

Thanks to Dr. Christopher Malloy for providing us with the main excerpts of his thoughts on "Balthasar’s Delirious Hope that All be Saved".