Mark Shea promotes Heresy on Salvation and Hell

Mark Shea’s clearly stated position, found in multiple posts, is that we can and should hope that all human persons are saved and that no human persons suffer eternal punishment in Hell. He asserts that, in all probability, some human persons are sent to Hell. But he also asserts a clear possibility that no human persons will suffer eternal Hellfire. Shea’s position is abject heresy, directly contradicted by the clear and definitive teachings of the Magisterium.

Shea condemns universalism, which positively asserts that all human persons will necessarily be saved. But he claims that his position is substantially different: the hope and possibility that all are saved, without the certitude that all are saved. In A Hell of an Argument, Mark Shea rejects universalism, which he describes as the certitude or presumption that all are saved. But he claims that his position is different, since it is based on hope, rather than certitude: “My position merely involves taking the Church seriously when she prays, as she always has, for the salvation of all, both in the liturgy and in her popular piety….”

I answer that there are two ways to hope for the salvation of all.

First, as the Church does, we can hope that each person enter the state of grace, by some form of baptism, and either never depart from that state by actual mortal sin, or at least repent from any and all actual mortal sins. We hold this hope for each person, since God offers salvation to all human persons. But we also know, and the Church does in fact definitively teach, that not all persons who are offered salvation actually obtain salvation. Some human persons are condemned to eternal punishment in Hell (as I will prove below).

Second, some persons, including Mark Shea, hope that all human persons will eventually reach Heaven and none will suffer eternal punishment in Hell. This hope differs from the first type. For the first type of hope is based on the universal offer of salvation. But this second type of hope proposes that the offer is always accepted. It is essentially a hope that the teachings of Jesus and His Church on Hell are false. It is a hope against justice and against truth.

Now this hope (that all human persons will be saved and none will be sent to Hell) is just as heretical as the stated certitude that all are saved. For formal heresy consists in EITHER the obstinate denial OR the obstinate doubt of a formal dogma (a teaching of the Magisterium to be believed with divine and catholic faith).

“Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith”

Take any heresy, and change the wording from certitude to “hope” (or to “perhaps”) and it remains a heresy. It is heresy to claim that Jesus certainly is not God. It is still heresy to say “we can and should hope” that Jesus is not God. It is heresy to say that in all probability Jesus is God, but perhaps not, or we hope not. The same distinction (or lack thereof) applies to the dogma of transubstantiation. It is heresy to say that the substance of bread does not change into the substance of Christ’s body. It is still heretical to say that it probably does, but perhaps not, or we hope not. To hope and pray contrary to a dogma of the Church is abject heresy, and is never in accord with right reason. It is false to call such an obstinate doubt a “reasonable hope”.

In defense of his position, Shea claims (for example in A Reader has a Question about Hell) that the Church has never taught that any human persons are sent to Hell. He repeats this claim again and again, but he offers no proof. Below is my proof that the Magisterium has definitively repeatedly taught that some human persons do suffer eternal punishment in Hell.

Fourth Lateran Council: “He will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and to the elect. All of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear, so as to receive according to their deserts, whether these be good or bad; for the latter perpetual punishment with the devil, for the former eternal glory with Christ.”

The Magisterium infallibly teaches that Christ will render to each person according to his works “both to the reprobate and to the elect”. This dogma necessarily implies that some human persons will be reprobate, that is to say, condemned to Hell. Mark Shea hopes that this dogma is false, and that Christ will not render anything to the reprobate, sincere there will be none.

The same Council also taught that the Resurrection includes good and bad persons, and these latter will suffer “perpetual punishment with the devil”. And since the Council speaks of a resurrection “with their own bodies”, we cannot propose that the reprobate include only devils. Mark Shea hopes and prays that this teaching of an Ecumenical Council is false, and that no human persons who rise will suffer perpetual punishment with the devil. It is hope versus dogma. It is essentially a hope that the teachings of Jesus Christ through His Church are lies.

Council of Florence: “Thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good shall go into eternal life, but those who have done evil shall go into eternal fire.”

The Council of Florence taught the same dogma, that the resurrection includes those who have done good and those who have done evil, and the latter are punished with eternal fire. Shea’s position is incompatible with this dogma. Is he ignorant of the teaching of all these Councils? Or is he just so arrogant that he thinks he understands the Faith better than the infallible Magisterium of the Church?

Fifth Lateran Council: the Lord “promises eternal rewards and eternal punishments to those who will be judged according to the merits of their life” [Session 8]

The Fifth Lateran Council taught the same dogma, unequivocally stating that the Lord Jesus “promises” both eternal rewards and eternal punishments. Mark Shea thinks it is entirely possible that Jesus’ promise of eternal punishment is an empty promise.

This infallible teaching of several Ecumenical Councils is firmly based on Sacred Scripture:

{24:15} having a hope in God, which these others themselves also expect, that there will be a future resurrection of the just and the unjust.

Mark Shea hopes that this teaching of Sacred Scripture is false, for he thinks that perhaps everyone who is resurrected is just.

{20:13} And the sea gave up the dead who were in it. And death and Hell gave up their dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
{20:14} And Hell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death.
{20:15} And whoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the pool of fire.

Mark Shea hopes and prays that this teaching of Sacred Scripture is false, and that Hell will not give up “their dead”, since he thinks that Hell perhaps contains no dead human persons.

Council of Florence: “But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

Two Ecumenical Councils (Lyons II, Florence) infallibly taught this same doctrine, that those who die in actual mortal sin and those who die in original sin alone are sent to Hell to be punished, but with unequal pains. Mark Shea hopes and prays that this teaching is false, for he thinks that perhaps no one dies and is sent to Hell. And how can there be unequal pains for those who die in actual mortal sin versus original sin alone, when no human persons, in either case, are sent to Hell? Human persons have original sin, and devils do not, so this teaching cannot be applied solely to devils.

If no human persons are sent to Hell, then the above dogmatic teaching of two Ecumenical Councils would be null and void, and utterly false. If no human persons are in Hell, then there are not unequal punishments for some versus others.

Council of Trent: “But although Christ died for all, yet not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only to whom the merit of His passion is communicated.” [Decree on Justification, chap 3]

The Council of Trent infallibly taught that not everyone receives the benefit of Christ’s salvific death on the Cross. And what is that benefit that some, but not all, receive? It is eternal life in Heaven.

Mark Shea’s position is necessarily unequivocally contrary to the above infallible teaching of the Council of Trent, and multiple other Ecumenical Councils. Therefore, his position is heresy, and he is guilty of publicly promoting heresy.

Shea’s position is also contrary to many passage of Sacred Scripture. See my previous post for some examples: May we reasonably hope that all will be saved?

In addition, there are many non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium, which are contrary to Shea’s position:

Council of Quiersy: “because all are not redeemed by the mystery of His passion” [Denzinger 319]

Council of Valence III: “In the condemnation, however, of those who are to be lost, the evil which they have deserved precedes the just judgment of God…. in regard to evil men, however, we believe that God foreknew their malice, because it is from them, but that He did not predestine it, because it is not from Him. (We believe) that God, who sees all things, foreknew and predestined that their evil deserved the punishment which followed, because He is just” [Denzinger 322]. The Council of Valence III went on to repeatedly assert that not all human persons are saved. [Denzinger 323ff].

Pope Pius II condemned the proposition: “That all Christians are to be saved.” [Denzinger 717b]

Pope Clement XI condemned a series of errors, including the assertion that “All whom God wishes to save through Christ, are infallibly saved,” and the assertion that grace cannot fail to save all whom God wills, despite obstinate sin [Denzinger 1380, cf. 1360-65].

The Roman Catholic Magisterium and Sacred Scripture as well, teach that Hell is not empty, and that some human persons are in fact sent to Hell. Therefore, we may not hope and pray that no human persons are sent to Hell, or that Hell is empty, or any similar expression. The Church prays for the salvation of each person, since the offer of salvation is universal. But we may not hope that the offer is universally accepted. For such a hope is directly contrary to the teachings of Ecumenical Councils and Sacred Scripture.

It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that some souls are condemned to Hell, and that all these unjust souls are resurrected, along with the just souls in Purgatory and Heaven, on the last day. It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that the benefits of Christ’s passion and death are not received by all human persons. It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that some souls die in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin, and other souls die in a state of original sin alone, and both are punished eternally in Hell, but with unequal pains.

Mark Shea refuses to accept these dogmatic teachings, which are to be believed with divine and catholic faith, and he publicly teaches the contrary.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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