Annihilationism and Pope Francis

Just under two years ago, I wrote A vision of hell in which I discussed. I also brought up the subject of Annihilationism in Christian Humanism in the summer of 2016. It would appear that Pope Francis is a partisan of this idea when we read Do Pope Francis and Archbishop Paglia Believe Hell Does Not Exist? I came across this latter article in the small hours of this night whilst undergoing a little insomnia when I looked up a couple of things on my smartphone. I noted it and find it easier to read through on my computer.

People are saying all sorts of things about Pope Francis. For the traditionalists and conservatives, he is heretical like John XXII in the fourteenth century, though the subject is not exactly the same. In some ways, his beliefs and teachings resemble Joachim of Flore and the various movements in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that fell victim to the rigours of the Inquisition. Recently, he has vindicated Luther, which does not seem to be entirely wrong. Luther was a very angry man in the face of corruption and superstition over things like indulgences. Churchmen wanted a monopoly of the same thing: salvation, a way out of the fear of death. Now, we read (from the above link):

Pope Francis, preceded in this [view] by John XXIII and Paul VI, but, with a more revolutionary force with respect to ecclesial theology, has abolished the places where, after death, souls must go: Hell, Purgatory, Paradise. Two thousand years of theology have been based on this kind of afterlife, which even the Gospels confirm. However, it is with some attention to the theme of Grace — that is in part due to the letters of Saint Paul (to the Corinthians and the Romans) and partly even more so to Augustine of Hippo. All souls are endowed with Grace, and so they are born perfectly innocent and they remain so unless they take the path of evil. If they are aware of it and do not repent even at the moment of death, they are condemned. Pope Francis, I repeat, has abolished the places of eternal dwelling in the afterlife of souls. The thesis held by him is that the souls dominated by evil and not repentant cease to exist while those who are redeemed from evil will be assumed into beatitude, contemplating God. This is the thesis of Francis and also of Paglia.

The Pope is also on record:

And in 2015, Pope Francis was again quoted by Scalfari: “What happens to that lost soul? Will it be punished? And how? The response of Francis is distinct and clear: there is no punishment, but the annihilation of that soul.”

Many atheists do not fear death, but are quite indifferent to the notion of ceasing to exist except in the memories of other people still living. Only the notion of being alive and being tortured would bring fear and susceptibility to being controlled. But, is this what it’s all about? One big problem is knowing where the borderline exists between this soul that will go down the cosmic plughole and never be heard from again, and that soul who was a mediocre person – not evil like Hitler or some serial killer – who goes to the same happiness as a saint. With this kind of tampering, the coherence of traditional Catholic teaching as a whole goes out of the window. What’s it all for if it isn’t a load of bunk? The majority of people in the western world believe exactly that, and churches are as useless as they are harmful. Is Pope Francis aware of this?

Is he a partisan of “cheap grace”? There are arguments for annihilationism, as seen in the above Wikipedia link on this word. I think I would see more light in reading Nietzsche and what he really means by nothingness or the antithesis of metaphysics and ontology. It is a dangerous undertaking, and we encounter the dark thoughts of Wagner’s rendering of German pagan mythology and the use the Nazis made of it. It is possible that some souls are so nihilistic and evil that they become what they are – nothing. If you think about it for any amount of time, the thought is terrifying, just as frightening as the idea of being roasted on a spit and tortured by demons for all eternity amidst the fires.

Francis not only disregards his own Catholic tradition but also the various apocryphal views of the afterlife. Most of those with knowledge of this affirm, like some of the great world religions, the existence of something that is multi-layered between our earthly existence to the highest degree of perfection and divine light. Francis minimises it like some of the “proto-protestants”, and standard Catholic teaching only knows heaven, purgatory and hell (and limbo for unbaptised infants). I tend to imagine a kind of “multiverse” with points of “communication” that can be imagined by comparing this whole with the range of radio frequencies, only one of which can be listened to at a time on a radio set. They all exist at the same time, but experience is confined to one at a time. This notion opens up the idea of a reality that is far beyond our understanding.

Is Francis some kind of medieval heresiarch or the rationalist for whom Christianity is no more than cheap moralism and the good order of society? A good Jesuit confuses everything and makes himself inscrutable! Perhaps he is a puppet in the hand of someone like George Soros, in it for the money, but that is a little conspiracy theorist and risky. Is he a cynic, an evil man, a fool is someone else’s hands or what?

Perhaps Francis wants to be rid of intellectual certitude given by studying and teaching from authority. Is there no certitude of anything? Is everything transcendent and beyond our rational understanding? Again I think of the Spirituals, the Dulcinites, the Fraticelli and the various other gangs of bandits in the hills and towns of Italy in the worst days of the Avignon schism. I have to admit that I am once again reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. We all fear fundamentalism, whether it is Christian or Islamic, and we are all conscious that established religion has done incalculable harm to humanity in the name of monotheism. Christians would reply that atheists are worse, as with Nazism and Communism. To me, it is just the worst of human nature.

What Pope Francis is doing is very dangerous, reducing the Church to cheap grace and moral relativism. I have yet to discern whether he is going the same way as the Anglican Communion and most generic liberal protestants. Perhaps he won’t have time before the pendulum swings back to hard-line conservatism at the next Conclave. I don’t really care about the Roman establishment and the whole basket of crabs, but rather about the millions of ordinary people who are likely to turn to atheism once their balloon is burst!

* * *

An interesting addition to this posting is a link to the Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister’s The Showstopper For a Jesuit Pope: To Beatify Pascal, the Archenemy. Quite apart from the absurd possibility of his canonising Blaise Pascal, we see this:

“Sometimes in my interviewers I have noted – even in those who say they are very far from the faith – great intelligence and erudition. And even, in some cases, the capacity to let themselves be touched by the ‘touch’ of Pascal. This moves me, and I treasure it greatly.”

The first is in reality more a confirmation than a revelation. It is his affectionate esteem for Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the newspaper “la Repubblica.” He is, in fact, the interviewer “very far from the faith” to whom Francis is referring.

The two meet once or twice a year, at Santa Marta, and it is almost always the pope who invites his friend. The conversation takes place without Scalfari recording any of it. And in the following days he publishes an account, adhering to the following criteria as he explained once to the Foreign Press of Rome, reporting these words that he said to the pope at the end of the first conversation:

“I will reconstruct the account of the dialogue in such a way that it can be understood by all. Some things you have said to me I will not report. And some of the things I will attribute to you, you did not say them, but I will put them there so that the reader may understand who you are.”

The effect of this liberty of transcription is that Scalfari has confidently attributed to Francis not a few “revolutions,” the latest of which is the abolition of hell, purgatory, and heaven. Without the pope ever having felt it his duty to correct or deny anything.

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28 Responses to Annihilationism and Pope Francis

  1. J.D. says:

    The afterlife is a mystery, and personally I find it dangerous to step too far out of the bounds of orthodoxy regarding what happens after death. Personally I believe in heaven, hell and an intermediate state between both where our prayers have an effect on our brothers who have fallen asleep in the Lord, but I try not to delve too deeply into the mechanics or details of it. I pray for the dead but don’t think about it beyond that.

    Since the beginning both Eastern and Western Christians have believed in this stuff so it’s well attested.

    I’m somewhat dismayed by Francis. While I no longer consider myself a Roman Catholic I am saddened that such a large, ancient institution has become so farcical. It’s sad really.

    Honestly I think de facto the RCC is already basically like the Canterbury Communion, with open heterodoxy the norm in practice even if technically it is frowned upon in official documents like the catechism.

    The Achilles Heel in Catholicism is the papacy. Like you suggest the pendulum swings from hetetodoxy to orthodoxy based on who happens to be on the chair of Peter. The conservative Catholic fantasy that the Pope is the guardian of the Faith simply flies in the face of history and reality. Even should there be a new Pius X or whatever there is always a Francis around the corner.

    If we want to be coherent we must at least try to stay within the bounds of orthodoxy even if we must guard against becoming fundamentalist fanatics that try to strip the mystery out of things. This isn’t easy, although one way to do it is to stick to the Traditions that we know are ancient such as the liturgy, the breviary, the hymns, the works of the fathers and saints. These things are like the fence that keeps us safe from the wolves.

    • Nice reflection, JD, I think it is safe to say that Pope Francis is formally heretical in this and other matters. Paul VI and John Paul II went nowhere near this far. Some Roman Catholics will speculate about whether he has tacitly abdicated (sedevacantism). To me, the question is irrelevant because the doctrine of papal infallibility is bunk.

      Why would he bother about celebrating Mass for the dead, any more than John XXII canonising saints, because of the soul having to wait until the general Judgement? There are souls needing our prayers, just like we need theirs. According to some, our life on earth is a part of hell, but that is speculation – and there are good and beautiful things in this world.

      The point of a damned soul receiving justice for an evil life is that he remains conscious and able to suffer. If you don’t exist any more, then you don’t receive justice for your evil! I conceive of the possibility that hell might have an end, perhaps at the Parousia and some point beyond that if we use the analogy of time, which will no longer be a part of things. Perhaps Hitler and co. are not completely beyond hope if they pay their sins to the last penny. Who knows? I give some heed here to Origen.

      What +Francis is doing is to make Catholicism a load of bunk for rational and pious people. How far is it from going exactly the way of the American Episcopal Church and now the Church of England? There are as few English people going to Anglican churches as Roman Catholics in France. It’s finished.

      Perhaps the next Pope will be even worse. Benedict XVI isn’t quite dead yet! What a bloody mess!

      You, I and most readers of this blog will try to carry on as best as possible, in the face of increasing criticism from atheists and naysayers who tell us that Christianity was false from the beginning or has outlived its usefulness. Islam is an ideal religion for post-modern deconstructionism. You shut down your rational faculties and pray, pay and obey! That is happening until something stops it.

      We may be useless as pastors and missionaries to large numbers of people. Then we just stick to our teaching ministries and contemplative life, and be faithful. Just keep calm and carry on, as our ancestors were told to do during World War II.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Dr. Hickson writes, “Scalfari, who has become a favorite interviewer of Pope Francis, is the atheist founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, known for his unconventional method of reconstructing interviews from memory, rather than using direct quotations. (Although Scalfari’s recounting of the pope’s more controversial words have thus often been dismissed by members of the Catholic press as unreliable, the pope’s insistence in continuing to seek out Scalfari for candid interviews and on-the-record discussions should put to rest any claim that he has been misrepresented.)”

    I can’t see how anyone could fail to doubt the reliability of Scalfari’s method and results. So, I don’t see we can reject out of hand the possibility “that he has been misrepresented.” That “he still has not publicly denied” things attributed to him in such accounts of conversations, and his “insistence in continuing to seek out Scalfari” or to submit to his repeated requests or whatever, are bizarre facts, as is his general disinclination to clarify things appearing in official writings in his name – and to (allow the Vatican to) publish recordings, transcriptions, and translations of the whole of his public homiletic ‘little talks’ during the morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. Bizarre facts for which various possible and plausible explanations are offered, without dispelling our ignorance of just what is going on. All very frustrating and disquieting in ways not obviously fruitful (in contrast to the sorts of enigmatic utterances which can set people thinking to their good).

  3. Dale says:

    It would appear that His Holiness’s most recent forage into the public eye is indeed problematic. His support for universal salvation has pushed his Church to an extreme. If God’s mercy will end in the final salvation of all (even nice atheists so it appears), this would insinuate that the whole sacramental/ecclesial system only exists to uphold the power and prestige of institutional religion. Why have any Sacraments? Why baptise? why attend the Mass and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, since they have no efficacy? They are only empty rituals that exist make us feel better about ourselves. Why did Christ offer himself on the Cross for our salvation and His Body and Blood for our continuing edification? Why?

    The effect upon the theology of Christology is impaired as well. Why would God even bother to send his Son for our salvation, since salvation is already in the bag as it were? The whole history of salvation from the time of the covenant with the Hebrews until the Crucifixion serves no purpose, it is only a story for small children.

    J.D. has mentioned one of the real issues with modern Roman Catholicism is, at least since Vatican I, that the Pope’s personal infallibility means that the whole witness of Rome is simply a personal opinion of a given individual at a certain place and time; and can change with the change of the individual. I often find that most Roman Catholics, and this includes well-educated members of their clergy, often have to do theological hair-splitting in their attempt to re-explain the actual proclamation of the document of infallibility where it is freely admitted that the Pope’s infallibility is not dependent upon the consent of the Church; and that the Pope’s infallibility is a personal charisma. They have tried to get around the problem by inventing the so-called Magisterium, which is not mentioned in Vatican I. What is this? Infallibility by bureaucracy? Or that his infallibility only kicks in on questions of faith and morals (as if this is some type of limitation), yet anyone with any form of imagination, knows that all issues are concerned in some way with faith and morals (according to the present Pope even a fence around one’s home is a moral question).

    With the continued stacking of the College of Cardinals with Pope Francis’s appointments, it is almost assured that the next Pope will continue the redefinition of Roman Catholicism far into the future. And this projectile appears to far more resemble that of Canterbury than any of the ancient Patriarchates of Orthodoxy. Ancient Patriarchates to whom Rome has long only given lip service anyway.

    They have happily, and without a backward glance, destroyed their own apostolical liturgical traditions; now their only tradition is their super-star Pope.

  4. Stephen K says:

    What Pope Francis is doing is very dangerous, reducing the Church to cheap grace and moral relativism

    I don’t see this. I think he is trying to break the totalitarian mindset that wants to impose yokes on people with a dogmatic superstructure-in-formaldehyde. I do not think grace (i.e. God-power; God-life) is cheap because it comes without a condition of fear and slavery. After all, if you think God loves us all, like a father and mother, then it’s unconditional.
    I think the idea that God’s love is unconditional is better and more consonant with the Gospel than the idea that God’s love is conditional on you adopting a particular creedal and liturgical paradigm.
    Is he a cynic, an evil man, a fool in someone else’s hands or what?

    Well, this is one way of lazily damning him, asking a lot of negative questions, as if they are the only alternatives. What about Is he an idealist, a saint, a wise man, or what?
    See how the outlook can be so easily changed?

    Francis not only disregards his own Catholic tradition but also the various apocryphal views of the afterlife.

    This may be true. So what? Maybe he is right. Maybe the Catholic Tradition and the various apocryphal views of the afterlife are wrong or at least uncompelling. After all, none of us know anything of the after-death, though we may believe or hope for much!

    Recently, he has vindicated Luther, which does not seem to be entirely wrong.

    This sounds right enough since I think none of us are entirely right or wrong.

    The afterlife is a mystery, and personally I find it dangerous to step too far out of the bounds of orthodoxy regarding what happens after death.

    What about The afterlife is a mystery, and personally I find it dangerous to rely on anything that purports to be an orthodoxy regarding what happens after death.?

    The conservative Catholic fantasy that the Pope is the guardian of the Faith simply flies in the face of history and reality.

    I agree with this sentiment but I do not think it describes the religious reality: conservative Catholics are not ultramontanists but as Protestant as the 16th century reformers: they pick and choose their Popes: their criterion is their own preference.

    If we want to be coherent we must at least try to stay within the bounds of orthodoxy …..
    Setting aside the dubious claim that an orthodoxy is a good thing, it is also disputable that only orthodoxy, or a version of it, can be coherent or help us to be.
    What +Francis is doing is to make Catholicism a load of bunk for rational and pious people.

    I think this is only true if it is read in this way: that he is making the “Catholicism” of history, i.e. the arrogant, self-satisfied, totalitarian, imperialistic, sole claimant to the legacy of Christ, a load of bunk to rational (i.e. careful independent thinking) people. To anyone who wants the traditional Catholic religiosity, theology and ecclesiastical system to remain and prevail, I don’t think he is having any effect. People will want what they want: we are all wilful and protesting.

    You, I and most readers of this blog will try to carry on as best as possible, in the face of increasing criticism from atheists and naysayers who tell us that Christianity was false from the beginning or has outlived its usefulness. Islam is an ideal religion for post-modern deconstructionism. You shut down your rational faculties and pray, pay and obey!

    This is an honest personal opinion I wouldn’t myself hold to the extent that I don’t myself agree with its implicit proposition that shutting down one’s rational faculties and praying, paying and obeying is something applying only to non-Christians. I think this has applied spectacularly to all the Christian traditions, particularly the Catholic Church under whatever banner.

    Even the word “Catholic” gives the game away: “universal” – for everyone. Individual moral and creedal autonomy cannot co-exist with the concept of a “Catholic” religion. I have often wondered about the predilection or desire of so many people to claim they are “Catholic” when they are so obviously expressing an idiosyncratic and personal preference.

    I do not myself think there is anything wrong with being idiosyncratic and autonomous. Indeed I think it is a healthy sign. But historical Catholicism is not about that: anyone claiming to be Catholic – and lots of us do at various times – is seeking a title of conformity, uniformity, that runs counter to the very notion of an ipsissimal relation with a God.

    If God’s mercy will end in the final salvation of all … this would insinuate that the whole sacramental/ecclesial system only exists to uphold the power and prestige of institutional religion. Why have any Sacraments? ….. They are only empty rituals that exist make us feel better about ourselves. Why did Christ offer himself on the Cross for our salvation and His Body and Blood for our continuing edification?

    Dale hits the nail on the head again, as usual. Why indeed? I personally think that the whole sacramental/ecclesial system only exists to uphold the power and prestige of institutional religion, the priestly caste and power brokers. I do think sacraments are rituals that can make us feel better about ourselves, and that is not such a bad thing, because feeling better about ourselves can help us be kind to each other and avoid committing suicide etc. But that does not mean that we should feel confined to sacraments that require priests and an hieratic caste. Nature, God’s creation is all around us with sacraments and sacramentals in abundance. People, animals, many things, can be sources of grace, if our hearts and eyes and ears are open to them.

    I often find that most Roman Catholics, and this includes well-educated members of their clergy, often have to do theological hair-splitting in their attempt to re-explain the actual proclamation of the document of infallibility where it is freely admitted that the Pope’s infallibility is not dependent upon the consent of the Church; and that the Pope’s infallibility is a personal charisma. They have tried to get around the problem by inventing the so-called Magisterium, which is not mentioned in Vatican I. What is this? Infallibility by bureaucracy? Or that his infallibility only kicks in on questions of faith and morals (as if this is some type of limitation), yet anyone with any form of imagination, knows that all issues are concerned in some way with faith and morals (according to the present Pope even a fence around one’s home is a moral question).
    I am in complete agreement with Dale about this (stupid) idea called infallibility. No-one, no corporate body, can be or claim such a thing with credibility. But I would again stress that deep down, few people really believe in such a thing because most can never find a Pope with whom they totally agree or consider totally correct! It is, and I daresay, mostly always has been, a theory that was made penally obligatory and empirically undemonstrable.

    And this perhaps brings me to a final point I believe: that any religious idea that comes with a penalty is antithetical to the spiritual process of personal discovery of God.

    The above are personal opinions and beliefs: we all have our own. God will reveal to everyone with a heart to receive.

    • Thank you, Stephen, for these profound reflections. They imply a choice we all have to make that lies somewhere between the “conservative” position and Nietzsche. When I evoke the latter, I try to convey the idea of this soul seeking some truth away from Christianity or belief in God at the expense of his own sanity rather than the caricatures about him. There is a possibility that the Pope is being misrepresented, but he does not give correctives and goes back again and again to the same journalist (who happens to be an atheist).

      I have the impression that Francis is trying to deconstruct in order to bring in something new. What will be the result? Most of us will find our way without him and manage very well. I think the time has come for big institutional Churches to close down, as they are doing, so that attempts may be made to found small and authentic Christian communities based on freedom and the values of the Gospel, or that Christianity be abandoned in favour of Islam, globalism or whatever.

    • Dale says:

      Stephen, I agree with Fr Anthony that your reflections are indeed profound; well argued, and presented like a true gentleman. But, that does not necessarily mean that I agree with all that you have written.

      I am perhaps most troubled by this statement of yours: “I think he [Pope Francis] is trying to break the totalitarian mindset that wants to impose yokes on people with a dogmatic superstructure-in-formaldehyde.” My own understanding of the growth of papal supremacy, is that Pope Francis is not breaking with totalitarianism, but is actually strengthening the personal authority of the person of the Pope. He may be leading people away from an imposed yoke of dogmaticism, but is replacing it with a papolatry that may even be worse, and far more centralised. Until Vatican I, Roman Catholicism still had numerous checks and balances against totalitarian dictatorship; but the movement away from such checks and balances, such as tradition, liturgy etc. which were outside of the personal control of the Pope have been destroyed; now all is within his power, indeed for the Pope the Church is me. All that is now left of today’s Roman Church is belief in the person of the Pope and this has taken upon itself all of the aura of an aging rock-star. Personally, I find this very dangerous. Everything, including the appointments of all bishops and leaders is in the hands of the Pope, and there exists no method of protesting any of his decisions or even a method of questioning his growing authority.

      I recently viewed videos of the Pope’s visit to Brazil, the fanatical devotion of the crowds was, for me, sickening. Our Lord and Saviour could walk the streets and no one would notice, but the Pope? The only thing I can compare it to is the reaction of the crowds to Hitler’s visit to Nuremberg in 1934. I cannot believe that this is better than the ancient tradition of faith and Sacrament.

      • ed pacht says:

        Dale, believe it or not, this time I’m entirely in agreement with you. I was favorably impressed with Francis at first (though with some reservations) but have become increasingly uncomfortable as his reign has developed. What I see is an intense concentration on, not just the papal office, but on the Pope’s own person, and a serious attempt to undo the decentralization that has developed since V2 (one of the more positive developments from that Council), along with the modernist hatred of stability and Tradition. The problem with the papacy has always been the possibility that one man could be seen as above the law, both in praxis and in theology. Francis shows every sign of believing this to be reality.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I don’t know if this is the best place to mention it, but I found this post very interesting, and thought I would pass it on:

    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-the-reformation-should-make-you-more-catholic

    An Anglican objection to Rome I have met in both John Donne and C.S. Lewis – so perhaps it is a commonplace – is that one seems uncircumspectly to commit oneself in principle to possible future innovations, in embracing infallible authority as adumbrated.

    This article by Fred Sanders accents to my mind how distinctly Hooker’s Laws was part of a ‘battle’ among self-conscious scions of the Reformation(s) to be ‘more catholic’, taking ‘Calvinists’ to task (to borrow Calvin’s words) for distorting the “ancient form of the church” and further “flagitiously mangl[ing]” it, themselves (whatever their – good – intentions).

    • Dale says:

      David, In 1951 C.S. Lewis wrote “to a Lady” the following reasons why he would never consider joining the Roman Catholic Church (one suspects that this is why The Ordinariates do not consider Lewis part of their Anglican Patrimony):

      “The question for me (naturally) is not ‘Why should I not be a Roman Catholic’ but ‘Why should I?’ But I don’t like discussing such matters, because it emphasises differences and endangers charity. By the time I had really explained my objection to certain doctrines which differentiate you from us (and also in my opinion from the Apostolic and even the Medieval Church), you would like me less.”
      (Letters of C.S. Lewis, Harcout p. 230)

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thanks – I’d forgotten that passage! I think he’s generally very interesting in his discussions with St. Giovanni Calabria (in Latin! – though I have only really read the translation of his old pupil and friend, the late Martin Moynihan, with occasional forays into the Latin).

      • Stephen K says:

        A good anecdote, Dale, and insightful of Lewis. And, on this question of being “Catholic”, it is often helpful to step outside one’s native or accustomed paradigm to scrutinise afresh what it might possibly mean. Here is an opinion piece that looks at the issue from a focus on the concept of the ‘church’. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/10/31/4758217.htm

        If I may draw attention to just a couple of extracts I see as thought-provoking and helpful in feeling less dependent on the notion of “being ‘Catholic’” (whatever that may represent for us):

        The Protestant response …… was to offer a new vision of what it meant to be a “Christian church” that removed any necessity for institutional continuity with the medieval church. …..the all-important thing was continuity with the apostolic teaching.

        and

        …….institutional continuity was not sufficient to guarantee intellectual fidelity

        and

        One of the most distinctive and energizing features of Protestantism is its commitment to an agenda of self-examination and self-criticism, often summed up in the slogan ecclesia semper reformanda………..….. John Henry Newman pointed out many years ago, one of the greatest theological paradoxes is that we must change if we are to stay the same.

        As I said before, we take a step or two to one side or to the other, and what a different world we may see.

      • I have two main issues with Protestantism, at least how it was in Europe from the 16th century until about the 19th. One is that these breakaways on account of institutional corruption developed their own authoritarianism, inquisitions and priest hunters. They killed and tortured people as much as the Roman and Avignon papacies ever did and as much as radical forms of Islam do today. The other is minimalism or reductionism, Scripture alone, faith alone, etc. You are free to interpret Scripture however you want provided that you don’t come up with an “incorrect” interpretation. In other words, Protestantism hatched out of the egg laid by the real “accretions” of Roman / Avignon corruption.

        Now there is the modern American version of Evangelicalism and mega-churches. The compulsion involved is no longer political or by means of torture, it is by the same means used by commercial advertisers and mass media. If that’s all there was in the way of Christianity, I might be a “home alone” Christian (whatever that would mean) or embrace secular humanism or some eastern religion!

        Can you have a liturgical and sacramental expression on the basis of Protestantism (no authority other than a “democratic” or “congregationalist” community with an ordained priest)? What would be the notion of the Church? Is that the definition of Anglo (Anglican) – Catholicism? Is there a key to finding unity between low-church Anglicans and high-church Anglicans on the basis of a common ecclesiology and theological vision? So, far, one lot tells the other that it is wrong and has to change. Secular atheists tell us all that we have to change and give up all belief and be good materialists. Who can tell who is right, when one person is as inscrutable to the other as the bottom of the sea or God Himself?

        So I think we can only be kind to each other and respect the diversity that no one can do anything about.

      • Stephen K says:

        So I think we can only be kind to each other and respect the diversity that no one can do anything about.
        Exactly.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        In the article linked, Professor McGrath curiously fails to attend to the Orthodox, in speaking of “Continuity with the apostles [being] safeguarded by historical institutional continuity, transmitted by the laying on of hands, passed down from one generation of the successors of the apostles to the next” in distinction from “the all-important thing [being] continuity with the apostolic teaching” – and to historical attention to the Orthodox, such as that of the Lutheran Tübingen delegation to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Jeremias II, in 1573.

        He quotes John Calvin quoting Matthew 18:20 from the 1559 edition of the Institutes (IV.i.9), but one might observe Hooker’s apparently approving quotation, “‘Where but three are, and they of the laity also (saith Tertullian), yet there is a Church'” (Exortation on Chastity, 7) about which he continues, “that is to say, a Christian assembly. But a Church, as we are now to understand it, is a Society; that is, a number of men belonging unto some Christian fellowship, the place and limits whereof are certain” (Laws, III.i.14). He is more ample and subtle in his further discussion than Professor McGrath, and interestingly observes, of Calvin’s Geneva, “This device I see not how the wisest at that time living could have bettered, if we duly consider what the present estate of Geneva did then require. For their bishop and his clergy being […] departed; to choose in his room any other bishop, had been a thing altogether impossible” (Laws, Preface, 4) – seeming, among other things, to imply the mere fact of inescapable “institutional continuity” in some very real sense, and the variety of ways, better or worse, more or less wise, one can deal with that fact.

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    It is worth noting that the Holy Father’s homily at the Mass today commemorating the Cardinals and Bishops who departed this life in the past year does not sound ‘annihilationist’:

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/homilies/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20171103_omelia-suffragio-defunti.html

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20171103_omelia-suffragio-defunti.html

    • Well, it’s obvious that Eugenio Scalfari, editor of La Repubblica is not doing the Pope a service, even though Papa Francesco keeps going back for more according to Sandro Magister. Cognitive dissonance indeed! Perhaps Cardinals and Bishops are never unrepentant sinners when they die, and therefore haven’t gone down the plughole but need our prayers if they are not yet in heaven. Perhaps he has something different to say depending on the circumstances whether chatting with the anti-clerical press or pandering to sentimental piety. Such behaviour is not unknown with Jesuits or indeed with any of us. I can’t make him out!

  7. Peter S says:

    Hello and thanks for the thought provoking blog post about annihilationism. I have read on your blog that you sympathise with the universalist view. I tend to agree but wondered how you would reconcile this belief with the fact the majority of Christians have believed in an eternal hell, not to mention multiple churches’ list of saints that claim to have actually had visions of hell and purgatory.

    • I am inclined to have some sympathy with the ideas of the likes of Origen, that hell might be very “long”, but would not be eternal. What is eternity? A category outside the time that governs us all in this world? It is all mysterious. I have entertained thoughts about “selective” annihilation, that the being of evil souls would pass from existence to non-existence. That position is held by a number of historical thinkers. It would solve the problem of time / eternity. But none of us knows and the teaching of the Churches seems incomplete. I don’t have opinions cast in stone, and I go from the principle of justice – unless of course there is nothing after death for any of us – which would require Christianity being given a new purpose: “social justice” or doing something about global warming or something just as boring….

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I would mention (for any who have not yet encountered it) Fr. Aidan Kimel’s blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy, where a lot of attention is devoted to evidence of (especially) Patristic thought in favour of apokatastasis/ ‘universalism’.

      An interesting readable academic book concerned with recent centuries is, D.P. Walker, The Decline of Hell (1964).

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I don’t know if this is the likeliest place to mention it, but I just encountered an enthusiastic review of what sounds an interesting book that came out last year (with a little Q & A with the author at the end):

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/04/catholic-enlightenment-forgotten-history.html

  9. Mark Elmer Scott says:

    Universal Audience of Ultimate Truth for Salvation

    Ultimately all ethics depends on individual consideration, mandated in Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbor as yourself,” also found in Confucius Analects 12:2, Buddhist Udana Vagna 5:1 and Matthew 7:1. Consistency is the hobgoblin of limited minds as God and Truth are incomprehensible (Isaiah 40:25) and dogma and ideology are idolatry which detracts from evidence based realism. This is why the only answer can be a question. All creativity and science is divine (1 Cor 3:5-9). Jesus opposed traditionalist Sadducees and fundamentalist Pharisees but embraced syncretic Samaritans. Jesus was nothing if not anticlerical “Do as they say, not as they do” (Mt 23:1). Isn’t it odd the fundamentalists quote scripture by number as if lawyers? Meek means tranquil, not humble. Meekness is devoid of the passion of just war which divides and obfuscates. (Jer 17:9, Eph 2:3)

    Hades (Sheol) was a holding place from which Jesus freed us, not a banishment. “gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn”. (Matthew 3:12 ) There is no purgatory, burning is into oblivion. “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 ) Today! Saints intecede! If Jesus told us to be like the children (Matt 18:3) how could he believe them to have Original Sin? Mary CHOSE, by Free Will, to be sinless and surrendered herself to the service of God, as God long awaited. Luther said “Mary is rightly called not only the mother of the man, but also the Mother of God” (24:107) and “There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know.” (10:268). God lived in the Temple (Exodus 36:8) so as Mary bore God she replaced the Temple which was destroyed when she rose exactly on Tisha B’Av, the original lent of eating only fish because fish survived Noah’s flood.

    God is beyond time and reason, not being limited by the dimensions that govern our world (Isaiah 57:15). God’s perspective on time is far different from man (Psalm 102:12, 24-27). God sees all of eternity’s past and eternity’s future, hence free will and predestination do not contradict. Since He is the Alpha AND the Omega, there can be no historical progression which is satanic anthropolatry. Parable of Talents (Matt 25:14-30) confirms the glory of capitalism over slothful envy of socialism. Parable of Warehouse is about being obsessed with what we have so we stop living. Superachievers aren’t concerned with accumulation but with constant achievement, seeking to ever use their gifts to the fullest (Calvin Institutes 3.7.5). James 2:14-18,26 shows that while faith is the essential prerquisite, you cannot escape the need for works as well. Half the planet worships to the Psalms of David so stop renaming them as your own hymnals. A Republic of Judges was preferred by God over the Reign of Kings. (1 Sam 8:6-18) The clothing and responsibilities of the Cohens (chief priests) resembles the early bishops (overseers) and of rabbis with the pastors (presbyters, elders). Paul’s word for fornication meant prostitution instead. Paul’s word for masturbation meant malady. Paul’s word for sycophant meant slander. Magog meant Mongol. Jesus came to fulfill not repeal the Law (Matt 5:17) as Pharisees were condemned because they syncretized vindictive Roman natural law over Jubilee redemptory Deuteronomy law. Moneychangers were racist about Roman coins. Redemptory confession is from 2 Chron 7:14 and Resurrection from Dan 12:2, Ezek 37:12-17, and Isaiah 26:19. Forgiveness is found in Isaiah 33:24, Isaiah 55:7, Jeremiah 3:22, Numbers 14,15, Leviticus 6,19,2 Samuel 14:14. Jesus used the lunar calendar, so why do you use the calendar of those that slew him and stole his religion.

    • I have allowed this rather rambling comment which I have just found in my spam folder. The corresponding e-mail address is on moderated status until I feel a little more confident. I believe in freedom of speech but not in proselytism (I don’t know whether this is the intention). There are references to Calvinism and “There is no purgatory”, which is something we can discuss if the concept simply has another name. I am sceptical but we will see…

      • Dale says:

        Stephen, I give you credit. Not only did you read it all, you even attempted an analysis and understand what the point of it all was.

        I did not even try to read it.

      • I suspect this is fundamentalist spam, so I moderated the e-mail address so that I can decide what this commenter publishes or not. I have seen enough “Christian” junk on the internet, YouTube and spam comments. I don’t blame you for not wading through it.

    • Stephen K says:

      Well, I found this an interesting show-bag of statements! I guess we probably each might find different ones of merit or value, or otherwise. The first thing I was struck, though, by, was the statement Isn’t it odd the fundamentalists quote scripture by number as if lawyers?. Isn’t that what the writer does? (If so, is Mark saying he is a fundamentalist?)

      The other thing that the piece brings home to me is how easy it is for us all to say anything about matters of personal religious faith using emphatic “is-es”, as if what we say is a fact and not an opinion. I have to keep reminding myself that when it concerns such things, especially things about which I do not think I can possibly know or on which I do not think I should assume anyone or everyone else should agree with me, like what happens after death, what I think can only ever be, I think, a temporary or ‘working’ hypothesis. In that case, it strikes me that a lot – not all – of discussion about what happens after death, whether Hell or Purgatory or even Heaven exist, and if so, about their nature, is bound to be futile if it purports to be about imposing a particular view. The idea of Hell seems to be an element in forming just one understanding of justice and its application, namely, akin to the idea of karma, ‘what you sow you shall reap’ etc, and just one way of understanding why some bad people don’t seem to get their just deserts in earthly life.

      So, since we seem to be in the realm of opinion, I might venture to say that I found some of Mark’s claims dubious. The list below is not an exhaustive one:

      God is beyond time and reason, not being limited by the dimensions that govern our world. I prefer to accept that God is such a mystery that it is unsafe to say much at all about (Him), or to accept that various ways of understanding God, monotheism, whether Unitarian or Trinitarian, panentheism etc encompass or articulate some useful concepts that can be helpful in understanding the moral life.

      Since He is the Alpha AND the Omega, there can be no historical progression which is satanic anthropolatry. What does this mean? What is he attacking?

      Parable of Talents confirms the glory of capitalism over slothful envy of socialism. I’m afraid I regard this as an example of facile political exegesis. The Parable of the Talents has exercised the understanding of many theologians, exegetes and struggling believers over centuries, and deserves a more considered understanding in my view.

      Half the planet worships to the Psalms of David so stop renaming them as your own hymnals. Setting aside the question whether or not it is true that ‘half the planet worships to the Psalms of David’, what mischief is he trying to rectify here?

      Jesus used the lunar calendar, so why do you use the calendar of those that slew him and stole his religion. I found myself asking the same question, what is the harm in using a solar calendar?

      The more I think about it, the subject of the Last Things raises more questions than answers, which might explain why meditation on them was often enjoined or why they were so often made the subject of Art.

      • Stephen K says:

        What is ineffable and yearned for can only be expressed in art and poetry and no longer in terms of epistemology
        An exact, and beautifully and concisely expressed, articulation of what I meant.

      • I found this piece in my spam folder, and took precautions in case it is one of those pieces of fundamentalist junk from the kind of character who takes pleasure in predicting the end of the world because he “knows” he will be “raptured” in the nick of time before the really nasty stuff starts. All that because he said the right words and got saved / born again. The matter was reasonably relevant to the subject of the posting concerning the Pope and his alleged opinion about hell. I was also taken with the signs of some theological reflection even if the commenter might be a Calvinist, fundamentalist, etc. He might write again and be clearer about where he is coming from.

        I some of my own articles, I see a comparison between Christian biblical / traditional teachings and the visible spectrum of light. There is far much more of a truth to seek or aspire to than what some Christians believe they possess. Human consciousness is more than our senses and rational faculties which can be so easily deceived by illusion. Indeed, what happens after death is a mystery, the biggest mystery, and existing teachings can only be analogies whether found in the Scriptures or the traditions of other word religions like Hinduism or ancient Gnosticism. Modern quantum theory seems to give interesting ideas. I don’t know if they can be scientifically verified. Perhaps human consciousness after bodily death is reduced to probabilities and potential until otherwise “assigned” by the universal consciousness (which we call God) but which is also everything. I am open-minded in regard to pan-en-theism. Consciousness is greater than the “matter” we perceive with our senses, the materialist “foundational truth”.

        If the commenter wants to make himself clearer, he is welcome to explain things on this level playing field. This blog isn’t of itself a church, just a blog and a forum of discussion.

        I agree with your take on this fellow’s final paragraph with his statements and claimed biblical references. I find that quite “fishy” but I keep an open mind to more original thinking from him.

        I appreciate your (Stephen K’s) final paragraph in the context of the criticism of foundationalism (God or self-awareness) by the German Romantics of the 1790’s. What is ineffable and yearned for can only be expressed in art and poetry and no longer in terms of epistemology.

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