An Overview of Heresy in the Church Today: Part Two Salvation Theology

Universalism

On one extreme, we have Catholics who claim that we may “reasonably hope” that “perhaps” all human person will eventually go to Heaven. This claim directly contradicts the teaching of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that many souls go to Hell to be punished forever. It also contradicts the teaching of several Ecumenical Councils which imply that some human souls go to Hell.

Second Council of Constantinople: “If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema.” [Denzinger 211]

Council of Trent: “Truly, even though He died for all, yet not all receive the benefit of His death, but only those to whom the merit of His passion is communicated.” [Decree on Justification, Chapter III]

The chief benefit of the death of Christ is eternal salvation. The Council of Trent infallibly taught that “not all” receive that benefit, and therefore, we must hold that not all human persons are saved.

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.”

Those who say “perhaps” all are saved and that we may “reasonably hope” that no human persons are sent to Hell are contradicting the infallible teaching that the General Resurrection includes the reprobate in Hell, and that these reprobate souls, having been given a resurrected body, will next be sent to “perpetual” (i.e. eternal) punishment with the devil.

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.”

If no human persons are sent to Hell, then there can be no unequal pains. So the “reasonable hope” that all are saved contradicts the infallible teaching of yet another Ecumenical Council.

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 promise of the Lord Jesus Christ of eternal punishment for those who die in final impenitence would be a false promise if no human persons are sent to Hell.

Proponents of this heresy include Bishop Robert Barron of Word on Fire, and various Catholic bloggers, like Mark Shea, and online commentators.

Mitigated Feeneyism

Fr. Leonard Feeney proposed that, since the time of Christ, only persons baptized with water will be saved. This error continues today in a new form, in which the other types of baptism — desire, blood — are greatly restricted, such that few if any souls are saved in that manner.

When speaking of unbaptized prenatals, infants, and young children, it is a grave error to say that they can only be saved by a baptism of water. Essentially, that claim is Feeneyism applied to the very young.

A similar error is the claim that only baptized Christians are children of God. The Council of Trent infallibly taught that those who enter the state of grace by a baptism of desire are also children of God by supernatural adoption.

The Invited Guests and the Three Forms of Baptism

[Luke]
{14:15} When someone sitting at table with him had heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is he who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.”
{14:16} So he said to him: “A certain man prepared a great feast, and he invited many.
{14:17} And he sent his servant, at the hour of the feast, to tell the invited to come; for now everything was ready.
{14:18} And at once they all began to make excuses. The first said to him: ‘I bought a farm, and I need to go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’
{14:19} And another said: ‘I bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to examine them. I ask you to excuse me.’
{14:20} And another said, ‘I have taken a wife, and therefore I am not able to go.’
{14:21} And returning, the servant reported these things to his lord. Then the father of the family, becoming angry, said to his servant: ‘Go out quickly into the streets and neighborhoods of the city. And lead here the poor, and the disabled, and the blind, and the lame.’
{14:22} And the servant said: ‘It has been done, just as you ordered, lord, and there is still room.’
{14:23} And the lord said to the servant: ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel them to enter, so that my house may be filled.
{14:24} For I tell you, that none of those men who were invited will taste of my feast.’ ”

This parable teaches us about the universal salvific will of God. All persons are offered salvation, but not all persons are saved, due to free will. They choose lesser goods or apparent goods over and above the path of salvation.

I interpret the different types of guests as representing the three types of baptism (water, desire, blood). The invited guests are those who are formally baptized with water. But when the father of the family says that no invited guests will taste of the feast, the meaning is not that all the baptized are lost, but rather that many baptized persons end up losing their gift of salvation.

Are only persons baptized with water saved? No. For the father orders that the poor, disabled, blind, and lame also be lead into the feast. This represents persons who enter the state of grace by a baptism of desire. They are poor in spirit. Their blindness is that of invincible ignorance. They have encountered various obstacles to formal baptism, as if they were disabled or lame. Or they suffer in cooperation with grace from literal poverty, disabilities, and other misfortunes. They enter the state of grace by means of the Beatitudes.

But then the servant says there is still more room in the feast. The universal salvific will of God desires even more persons to enter Heaven. And so the Lord says that some souls will even be compelled, figuratively, to enter the feast. This represents the baptism of blood. The classic example of a baptism of blood is the catechumenate martyr, who is compelled in the sense that he does not choose to be martyred, he merely accepts it rather than deny the faith.

But I understand the baptism of blood to be much more extensive, so as to fulfill the universal salvific will of God. All prenatals, infants, and young children who die at that age, without a baptism of water, receive a baptism of blood. They are compelled in the sense that they are given the gift of salvation without any decision on their part.

The three forms of baptism are also a reflection of the three persons of the Trinity. And this, again, indicates the extensiveness of all three forms in saving souls. The baptism of desire and the baptism of blood are not rare or uncommon. Each is full, so that the feast of heaven may be full.

Other Errors

It is an error to say that atheists cannot be saved, unless they convert to belief in God. The principle here is that an objective mortal sin is not always an actual mortal sin. Some persons might have a sincere but mistaken conscience on the existence of God. If they also love their neighbor, they can enter the state of grace by a baptism of desire. They can repent from any actual mortal sins by means of implicit perfect contrition (motivated by love of neighbor). So they can die in the state of grace.

It is a similar error to say that those whose lives include unrepentant objective mortal sin cannot be saved, unless they repent. It is possible for a human person, led astray by sinful secular society or by individuals, to be mistaken about the morality of many different types of sin. As in the case of the atheist, a person may have a sincere but mistaken conscience on a range of different acts, which the Church rightly condemns as grave sin. Love of neighbor and perhaps also love of God can still lead these persons to Heaven.

It is true that someone who is in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin can repent in the last moment of life. However, a lifetime of unrepentant exceedingly wicked sins only very rarely allows the person to repent in such a manner. A Saint can repent from a lifetime of occasional venial sins with a single sigh. But a wicked person who has never repented would, in the vast majority of cases, continue in the same failure to repent through that last moment of life. A person with a great number of grave sins on his conscience would ordinarily need many hours or days to consider the gravity of those sins and thoroughly repent, so as to enter the state of grace.

A unique and grave set of errors on salvation theology is proposed by Jimmy Akin. I’ve refuted those errors here: Catholic Soteriology versus Semi-Calvinism

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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23 Responses to An Overview of Heresy in the Church Today: Part Two Salvation Theology

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    What is your take on these statistics, of the astronomical unlikelihood of reaching Heaven.
    https://www.olrl.org/snt_docs/fewness.shtml
    Was St. Leonard of Port Maurice a true Saint?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Saints from past centuries sometimes held that few are saved, based on the words of our Lord. But the Magisterium is greater than the insights of the Saints. Over time, the Magisterium has clarified the ways that non-Christians can be saved, the ways that persons guilty of objectively grave sins can be save, and it has become clear that most persons are saved. Most go to Heaven by way of Purgatory, and only few go directly to Heaven. The words of Jesus can be taken as asserting both that few go directly to Heaven, and that the way to salvation is not easy.

      Yes, St. Leonard of Port Maurice is a Catholic Saint.

    • Marco says:

      @Ron

      I have always wondered how the faithful who were taught those horrifying doctrines were able to continue living. Living while believing that you, your loved ones and practically every person you meet is doomed to eternal suffering is ALREADY HELL, a LIVING HELL, in this life.

      It’s nearly spiritual and psychological torture.

    • Marco says:

      @Tom

      That alleged revelation is utter unreliable (to put it mildly, because if it were up to me i would use different words).

      I mean

      “Know, Monsignor, that at the very hour I passed away, thirty-three thousand people also died. Out of this number, Bernard and myself went up to heaven without delay, three went to purgatory, and all the others fell into Hell.””

      Thirty-three thousand people passed away in ONE hour, right? Now, let’s look at how many people died today http://www.worldometers.info

      All of this, with a human population which now exceeds 7.6 billions people.
      Now, St. Leonard of Port Maurice was born in 1676, and died in 1751. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that his sermon dates back to 1750 (as human population was continuously growing). In 1750 there were 720 millions people on this earth http://worldhistorysite.com/population.html

      You can draw your own conclusions.

      The thought of how many people must have suffered because of those horrifying doctrines makes me sick.

    • Marco says:

      “utter unreliable”

      Utterly, sorry.

    • Marco says:

      @Tom

      I made a little mistake, since that number (5 saved out of 33.000) referred to the time of Saint Bernard, that is, 1153 (when he died).

      But this further solidifies my point, since there were even less people on earth during that period.

  2. doctormaniax says:

    Dear Ron,
    I have a short question for you.
    As you correctly say, the affirmation of universalism is a heresy, even in its mitigated form of a “hope” that everybody will be saved. Now, I understand the preoccupations of those who state this heresy – the very idea that anyone is doomed to hell is frightening, it is like judging other people, or desiring their damnation.
    I wonder if I may propose a different take on the issue: personally, I don’t hope for the salvation of everybody on Earth, but I hope for the salvation of every and each individual person I meet or know of – and of course, even for the dead ones. I always keep in mind that there is hell, that many will go there, but this way of thinking keeps me afar from being judgmental, and even helps me focus on the conversation of another person or category through my prayer. After all, this is what we do at the Prayers of the Faithful or at the Solemn Collects on Good Friday.
    I think that my understanding isn’t any more a heresy and is very positive approach to life.
    What do you think?

    • Ron Conte says:

      You are correct. The universal salvific will of God seeks the salvation of each person and hopes for it. What is prohibited is to hope that all will be saved, since God has taught us that not all will be saved.

  3. Jonathan says:

    To be saved one must possess both supernatural faith and charity.

    The CCC defines faith as,

    “Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.” (CCC 1814)

    The author of Hebrews writes that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6).

    The theological virtue of faith, absolutely necessary for salvation, must be actual. The one who has faith firmly believes in whatever God has revealed to him, is firmly disposed to believe in whatever God should reveal later, and humbly submits to divinely instituted authority in whatever doctrines are beyond his understanding or learning.

    I don’t see how so-called “implicit faith” can really be faith at all unless there is at least some explicit doctrine that is held firmly on divine authority. There must at least be belief in God, if not under that name, and a firm determination to adhere to whatever else is revealed by that authority.

    • Ron Conte says:

      That a baptism of desire can be implicit is established in Church teaching. For example, before Christ, how could anyone explicitly desire baptism? They could only implicitly desire it. And they could only implicitly have faith in Christ, before he was made known in a hidden way in the Jewish faith, and openly in the Christian faith. So this progression in salvation history proves that faith can be implicit.

      Someone can love their neighbor and have faith in all the transcendent goods of this life: truth, love, justice, mercy, etc. That would qualify as implicit faith, even if the person mistakenly did not believe in God.

  4. Jonathan says:

    It is not sufficient that a supposed atheist/agnostic should believe in divine benevolence and wisdom under some form, but this must be accepted as an insight revealed by God (under whatever name He is recognized) and accompanied by a firm resolve to adhere to whatever else should be so revealed. Only a supernatural divine faith suffices, not a mere human conviction, no matter how strong.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Those are your assertions; they are not the assertions of the Church. Jesus said that the Centurion had greater faith than in all of Israel. The Centurion was a Roman soldier, not a Jew, nor a disciple of Christ. So his faith was implicit, and his love of his servant was from the theological virtue, as it was a selfless love. There are other passages in the Gospels and some magisterial teachings that indicate faith need not be explicit. See my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone.

  5. Jonathan says:

    I’m not arguing against implicit faith, what I’m saying is that faith must be actual.

    There must at least be belief in God, if not under that name, some other name such as the Good, the Absolute, the One, etc., and a firm determination to adhere to whatever else is revealed by that authority.

    A pure atheists or agnostic certainly cannot be saved.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Faith is not a mere human opinion or strong conviction that a proposition is true. Supernatural faith entails believing in something because of the authority of the source of the revelation. I believe X because Y (God or the Church) proposes X for my belief.

    If one does not believe X on account of the authority Y, then one does not have supernatural faith.

    • Ron Conte says:

      That is too simplistic and narrow a definition. Christ found faith in the Centurion and in the woman of Canaan. Christ taught that those are saved who feed the hungry and help the needy (Mt 25). Yet they did not realize that their deeds for the needy had that religious meaning of being done for Christ: “Lord, when have we see you hungry, and fed you….?”

  7. Jonathan says:

    The previous comment did not attempt to define faith, but merely an essential component of it.

    Only persons who believe on account of the authority of the source of revelation have faith. Without accepting this authority, one cannot have supernatural faith.

  8. Jonathan says:

    “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid” (Titus 3:10).

    Premise 1: Without faith it is impossible to please God (cf. Heb 11:6)

    Premise 2: Faith excludes doubt.

    Premise 3: The certainty of faith exceeds any level of human certainty (e.g., moral or metaphysical certainty), since it has God as its source.

    Premise 4: An atheist can’t have this level of certainty regarding any proposition unless he accepts it as a revelation given to him by God (under whatever name He is recognized)

    Conclusion: Therefore, an atheist will not be saved unless he accepts some sort of divine being.

    • Ron Conte says:

      2. “I do believe. Help my unbelief” So faith can exist with some doubt, in fallen sinners who are imperfect. Similarly, love excludes sin, but poor fallen sinners can have the virtue of love and still sin venially.
      3. We can believe by faith what we also understand by reason. The whole moral law is open to reason and yet also revealed as a matter of faith. So human certitude and the knowledge of faith overlap somewhat.
      4. Faith is not merely a certitude about the propositions taught by Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium. It is a theological virtue, which is present in baptized infants, despite their lack of certitude and belief in the truths of faith.
      Therefore, an atheist can have love, faith, and hope, with faith being implicit in that he has faith in the transcendent goods of this life, which are of God: love, justice, mercy, truth, etc.

  9. Jonathan says:

    In his commentary on St. Thomas’s Summa Theologiae, Brian Davies writes,

    “Aquinas thinks of faith in fairly precise terms. He takes it to be assent to the articles of faith referred to in 1a,1. For him, faith is explicit belief in a series of propositions, ones that he takes to be suitably formulated in the Apostle’s Creed and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (2a2ae,1,6–9). “The contents of Christian faith,” he observes, “are said to be set forth into articles in the sense that they are divided into several parts having an interconnection” (2a2ae,1,6).
    ….
    To have faith, thinks Aquinas, is to believe and trust God as revealing to us all that we need to know to achieve beatitude. The object of faith is “the first truth,” which is nothing other than God (2a2ae,1,1).
    ….
    Faith is not just a vague approval of what is proclaimed by the articles of faith. Nor is it just a matter of acting well. Faith involves believing in the one is obliged to believe explicitly in its primary tenets, i.e. the articles of faith” (2a2ae,2,5).
    ….
    Salvation depends on holding explicitly to the articles of faith (2a2ae, 2,7 and 8).”
    (Brian Davies, Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae: A Guide and Commentary, pp. 230-237)

    (2) St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, Instructions for the People, Complete
    Works, trans. Fr. Eugene Grimm, vol. 15 (New York: Benziger Brothers,
    1890), 369:

    “The cause or motive, then, which imposes on me the obligation to
    believe the truths of faith is, because God, the infallible Truth, has
    revealed them, and because the Church proposes them to my belief. So we
    should make out a rule of faith in this way: “My God, because Thou, who art
    the infallible truth, hast revealed to the Church the truths of faith, I
    believe all the Church proposes to my belief.”

    This Church it is that teaches us, through her ministers, the truths
    that we are to believe. Thus, St. Augustine says, “I would not believe the
    Gospel, were I not moved by the authority of the Church [Against the
    Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus § 5].”

    (3) Fr. Michael Müller writes,

    “to have the true faith [is] to believe God, speaking through the
    Catholic Church” and “Faith … to be truly divine and saving, must be
    based upon the divine Authority of God as invested in the Roman Catholic
    Church”

    “The good Catholic silences every objection to his faith by saying: ‘The
    Son of God, Jesus Christ, has revealed it to us by his Church, and we have
    no more questions to ask.'”
    (The Catholic Dogma: Extra Ecclesiam Nullus Omnino Salvatur, Chapter V,
    Part II, §6 (Hartford, CT: Catholic Authors Press, 2007, 178-179

    • Ron Conte says:

      There is nothing wrong with these quotes and their assertions. However, they are not the whole story. None of these sources address the question: implicit faith in God via faith in the things that are of God, such as love, truth, justice, mercy, etc. Faith in these things is implicitly faith in God. A person who loves his neighbor selflessly implicitly loves God. A person who has faith in the things that are of God, has faith in God implicitly. A person who is sorrowful for his sins out of love of neighbor has implicit perfect contrition. A person who does not desire baptism explicitly, may desire baptism implicitly. That the explicit versions of these things are better is clear. However, nothing in Church teaching excludes the idea that an atheist may be saved as previously discussed.

  10. Jonathan says:

    “So faith can exist with some doubt,”

    Those who have saving faith suppress all doubt because of the authority of God.

    “So human certitude and the knowledge of faith overlap somewhat.”

    We can also know that God exists with metaphysical certitude, but this does not imply one has saving faith. In fact, we can know quite a bit about God and his attributes, the existence of an immaterial soul, etc.

    “Faith is not merely a certitude about the propositions taught by Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium. It is a theological virtue, which is present in baptized infants, despite their lack of certitude and belief in the truths of faith.”

    This is somewhat of a red herring, since Faith has been historically understood to refer to the contents of the Christian faith, which is what I was referring to.

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