A Priest who doesn't believe in hell? Unfortunately, I'm no longer surprised. However, HE may be surprised after his death!
By Mark Lambert
The Apostle's Creed is rightly considered to be a faithful summary of the apostles' teaching. It is the ancient baptismal symbol of the Church of Rome.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, 184.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
Often today priests and bishops refuse and avoid talking about the truths of the faith, especially controversial ideas which may appear antithetical to modern secular ears. They seem paralysed by fear and, when I have spoken at length to them about these issues, they tend to talk about "unity" trumping the need for clarity. In other words, it is more important to pretend that everyone agrees and gets on than to actually agree and get on.
You wouldn't think it was difficult, we have a creed. Is it too much to expect our priests and bishops to believe that creed?
Of course confronting issues means that you have to have a difficult conversation and might, in an extreme case, even lose a pastor who refuses to recant his error.
Can you imagine any other example of an organisation where the very people engaged (in this case sacredly ordained) to hold and teach the principles of the organisation are allowed to actively engage in promoting ideas which contradict those principles?
Do you think this doesn't go on? OK here's an example from about 3 miles up the road from me from this Sunday's Parish newsletter:
We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather... all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!" The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, which is described (in quotes) as "eternal fire." — CCC 1033.
If you were studying theology you would know that a denial of the doctrine of hell leads straight to a number of serious errors: you think Christianity is about creating some kind of earthly utopia. This is the sin of the Fall, the first error of Adam & Eve. It is not up to us to determine the fate of the earth, it is up to us to cooperate with God's grace. If you believe that you have to create an earthly utopia our priests then tend to become a kind of social worker. Both of these errors are clearly evident in Fr Fox's message to his flock above. When hell is ignored then so is sin, because simply put, if there’s no serious chance of going to hell, then sin doesn't really have any serious consequence beyond this life. If there's no sin, there's no real need for the sacrament of confession — because, put simply, what exactly would you be confessing? And additionally, why would you be confessing it?
If the sacrament of confession is unneeded, deemed not a necessity, then there's no real reason to worry all that much about people in a state of mortal sin receiving Holy Communion, or for that fact, even non-Catholics. In fact, since the disposition of one's soul is an immaterial consideration, then it also follows that the teaching that the Blessed Sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ really, truly and substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine doesn't really matter that much.
After all, if the point of reception of Holy Communion is to join one's self to Our Blessed Lord to increase in sanctity and prepare for full communion with Him in the next life — well, if Hell is not a serious consideration, then it doesn't really matter what state our souls are in, because, after all, there's no serious everlasting consequences for living in sin.
And if the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion are not all that serious, then it naturally follows that the priesthood, which is how these sacraments are conferred on the laity, isn't all that important either.
Fr Fox tries to pretend that Jesus is talking about a rubbish dump. But there are a number of different Hebrew and Greek words which are translated as "Hell" in most English-language Bibles. These words include "Sheol" in the Hebrew Bible, and "Hades" in the New Testament Greek. "Gehenna" in the New Testament is described as a place where both soul and body could be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) in "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43). The word is translated as either "Hell" or "Hell fire" in many English versions of the NT. As Fr Fox states, Gehenna was a physical location outside the city walls where they burned rubbish and where lepers and outcasts were sent, hence the weeping and gnashing of teeth. However, in Mark 9:43 Jesus speaks of a person going to "hell [gehenna], where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' " Jesus is referring to the maggots that live in the corpses on the rubbish dump. When all the flesh is consumed, the maggots die. Jesus is saying, however, that the spiritual decomposition of hell never ends, and that is why 'their worm does not die.'
In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says, "Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Is He talking about a rubbish dump here? He is speaking to disciples, some of whom will eventually be tortured, sawn in half, flayed and burned alive. Yet, he says, that is a picnic compared to hell. Clearly, for Jesus hell was a real place, since he said that after judgment day people would experience it in their bodies. Hell is a place not only of physical but also of spiritual misery.
Jesus constantly depicted hell as painful fire and "outer darkness" (Matt 25:30; cf. Jude 6,7,13) a place of unimaginably terrible misery and unhappiness. If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth. In Matthew, chapter seven, Jesus says, “Broad and wide is the way that’s leading to destruction. Many are traveling that way. Narrow is the door that leads to life, difficult is the road, and few there are who are finding it.” Now, Jesus didn’t say this because he was happy about the situation. He didn’t say it because this is how it has to be. But when you look out on the world as it is, many, many people are not honoring God. They’re not believing in Jesus. They’re not living righteous lives. Preaching the Gospel means calling people to repentance, it means delivering an urgent warning for them to change their lives!
Fr Paul is falling into trap. The idea of hell is implausible to people because, today, no one feels guilt: there is no sin. The disease of relativism means that people think that they have their own truth based on their feelings. There is no objective right or wrong, so how can there be punishment? Also, almost no one knows anyone (including themselves) that seem to be bad enough to merit hell. To the contemporary mind, hell is unfair. How can a just God meter out infinite punishment for comparably minor, finite false steps? Perhaps a lack of formation means that Fr Paul does not know an answer to this question, so he rejects it and instead tries to come up with an alternative theory which is more suitable to his way of thinking. This is an approach warned about clearly in Humani generis:
some today, as in apostolic times, desirous of novelty, and fearing to be considered ignorant of recent scientific findings, try to withdraw themselves from the sacred Teaching Authority and are accordingly in danger of gradually departing from revealed truth and of drawing others along with them into error. (no. 10)Further, in Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church it states in n.16:
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.
On the other hand, a soul that has decided to center its life on God and his glory moves toward increasing joy and wholeness. We can see both of these 'trajectories' even in this life. But if, as the Bible teaches, our souls will go on forever, then just imagine where these two kinds of souls will be in a billion years. Hell is simply one's freely chosen path going on forever. We wanted to get away from God, and God, in his infinite justice, sends us where we wanted to go.
In the parable of Luke 16:19ff, Jesus tells us of a rich man who goes to hell and who is now in torment and horrible thirst because of the fire (v.24) But there are interesting insights into what is going on in his soul. He urges Abraham to send a messenger to go and warn his still-living brothers about the reality of hell. Commentators have pointed out that this is not a gesture of compassion, but rather an effort at blame-shifting. He is saying that he did not have a chance, he did not have adequate information to avoid hell. That is clearly his point, because Abraham says forcefully that people in this life have been well-informed through the Scriptures. It is intriguing to find exactly what we would expect-even knowing he is in hell and knowing God has sent him there, he is deeply in denial, angry at God, unable to admit that it was a just decision, wishing he could be less miserable (v.24) but in no way willing to repent or seek the presence of God.
I believe one of the reasons the Bible tells us about hell is so it can act like 'smelling salts' about the true danger and seriousness of even minor sins. It is, I think, true that only stressing the symbols of hell (fire and darkness) in preaching rather than going into what the symbols refer to (eternal, spiritual decomposition) actually prevents modern people from finding hell a deterrent. C.S. Lewis puts it like this:
Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others . . . but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.I think this helps us to see that hell is a) perfectly fair and just, and b) something that we might be headed for if we don't change. If we really want skeptics and non-believers to be properly motivated by hell, we cannot simply repeat over and over that 'hell is a place of fire.' We must go deeper into the realities that the Biblical images represent. When we do so, we will find that even secular people can be affected.
We run from the presence of God and therefore God actively gives us up to our desire (Romans 1:24, 26.) Hell is therefore a prison in which the doors are first locked from the inside by us and therefore are locked from the outside by God (Luke 16:26.) Every indication is that those doors continue to stay forever barred from the inside. Though every knee and tongue in hell knows that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11,) no one can seek or want that Lordship without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3.This is why we can say that no one goes to hell who does not choose both to go and to stay there. What could be more fair than that?