What is grace, and how exactly does grace “work”? I don’t want to suggest to anyone that I have the full answer, but over the last few years, Pope Francis’ theology has reminded the Church, in important ways, about what grace actually is and what it is not. When I say, “Pope Francis’ theology,” I am primarily referring to the way Pope Francis prioritizes Mercy, the essential, most foundational proclamation of the Christian faith. Pope Francis writes in Misericordia et misera:

Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible.

Francis’ teachings have made clear that whatever we think about the relationship between our good actions and the work of God, God’s grace always come first.  In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis insists many times that grace is indeed “first”: God “always takes the initiative.” Quoting St. John Chrysostom, he writes, “God pours into us the very source of all his gifts even before we enter into battle.” Later, he says:

The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority that nothing human can demand, merit or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace: “Even the desire to be cleansed comes about in us through the outpouring and working of the Holy Spirit”.

Pope Francis often refers to a quote from Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. There, Benedict wrote:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

In other words, grace exists prior to any “choice” or “idea.” Our faith is the result, first and foremost, of meeting the crucified Christ, discovering him, or encountering him already present in our lives. Francis also writes in Misericordia et misera, “Love is the first act whereby God makes himself known to us and comes to meet us.” Before we can even think of it or choose to accept it, God, through his abundant mercy, has given his adopted children his grace which exists in us as a “participation in the Divine Nature,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas does not mean this to say that we choose to participate in the Divinity, but rather our human nature participates in the divine nature, through a “certain regeneration or re-creation,” and this is grace. God chooses us, re-creates us in the image of his Son, and makes this grace efficacious in our lives.

Despite the lofty language, this has remarkably practical ramifications. If grace is a “participation in the Divine Nature,” then in important ways, everything we need to be holy is already present, if at first only in seed form. The life of holiness is not about searching out material things for a way to be happy and fulfilled, but rather turning to God in the depths of our heart in prayer. It means stripping away all that we build up in ourselves, be it our ego or pride or vanity, to find the only sure foundation, Jesus Christ. St. Paul’s formulation in Galatians 2:20 is best: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

In his systematic theology, Aquinas continues to discuss grace by writing, “Grace is the principle of meritorious works through the medium of virtues.” On this basis, we can say that grace makes possible a life of holiness that was not possible before. But “makes possible” is not strong enough. We might say “enables” or “empowers,” but these words are too anthropocentric. If grace is a participation in the nature of God, then it’s best to say that God is actively drawing us into the fullness of his divine life. God does so by moving us, by his grace, to love.

Another way of getting at Aquinas’ insight is asking, “Why do we do what we do?” The life of grace requires that we respond with, as John said, “We love because he first loved us.” The first of the Psalms paints a similarly beautiful image of a tree planted by running waters, whose leaves never drop and which bears fruit in season. The life of grace is like this tree which thrives on the waters of God’s love and mercy. In this analogy, the waters are the principle of the tree’s fruitful life, just as grace is the principle of our life of holiness.

Nothing that is truly loving happens outside God’s plan of redemption for his adopted children, which he is actively working to accomplish in the world. It is necessary to return to this over and over again, lest our faith get muddled by our own personal philosophies. We often get it wrong.

Pelagianism is a very common heresy today, not in the sense that Christians hold the heresy intentionally or obstinately, but many people adopt Pelagian concepts into their thinking without realizing that they are deviations from the Christian faith. Summarized plainly, Pelagianism is the belief that God’s grace does not come “first.”

Pelagianism manifests itself in various ways. There is the belief that if “one just tries hard enough,” then one can become perfect. Or, there is the belief that holiness comes only through our own personal effort, apart from God’s active help. Francis’ insights in Gaudete et Exsultate hit home. He explains that we often erroneously imagine grace as something that is added to the human will, which is itself “pure, perfect, all-powerful.” When we sin, therefore, it can seem like grace has failed or that God is distant from us, when the truth is that he is closer than ever in his mercy.

While Pelagianism might exalt the will, there are also schools of thought that de-emphasize the significance of the human will. Some have an idea that grace takes our sins and covers them up, making them appear to God as good. They seem to believe that grace is some sort of “gap-filler,” that fills the space between perpetually sinful selves and God’s perfection. There are some schools of thought such as quietism, that find no value in the human will at all. Other philosophies can tempt us to think that our goal in life is simply to try hard enough since perfection is forever beyond our reach. We might see grace as some wiggle room that God gives us, permitting us to sin and to avoid reforming our lives without losing our heavenly reward.

I think it’s helpful to understand that grace can’t be packaged into units. We can’t say, “I earn two units of grace when I pray the rosary.” It seems kind of silly to say things like this but, even in my own life, I can remember times thinking about “receiving grace” like it was an expendable power-up in a video game. In my past,  I sometimes thought I didn’t need grace at the present moment, but believing that I might really need grace in the future, I would “stockpile” grace or charge my “grace batteries” through prayer or good works. In truth, the grace-filled life never ceases to turn to God. Francis writes in Gaudete et Exsultate: “[G]reatness of spirit is manifested in simple everyday realities.”

Here are some other helpful rules of thumb about grace that I have learned over the years:

Grace is not God acting in place of us. Grace does not require that we act to receive it.

Grace does not control us. Grace is not under our control.

Grace does not make us perfect all at once. Grace is not compatible with the status quo.

Grace is not a magical force without an identifiable source. Grace is not something we can fully understand.

Grace does not need our permission to be present. We cannot do anything truly good without grace.

Finally, Francis has one more insight worth mentioning. God draws each of us to himself in a unique, personal way. Francis points out that while we are each called to be a saint, every saint’s path is different. In principle, grace is one participation in the Divine life shared by all those whom God has called to be his children, but each of us experiences grace differently, according to our human nature, our limitations, our unique gifts, and our earthly needs. The result is a rich diversity of living out personal holiness. Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium,

Differences between persons and communities can sometimes prove uncomfortable, but the Holy Spirit, who is the source of that diversity, can bring forth something good from all things and turn it into an attractive means of evangelization.

In Francis’ vision, discovering or rediscovering the grace of God in our lives can be a remarkable source of joy that propels us forward. We live in holiness when we turn to God in our hearts and listen to his words, which guide our steps, encourage us, and console us. This is the grace-filled life.  And yet, we often frustrate God’s grace by refusing to listen to him. Instead of turning to God and relying on his grace, we grow prideful, guaranteeing that we will fail to live as we ought. Let us pray that we continue to recall God’s gift of himself to each of us so that we may live out holy lives in gratitude for God’s boundless mercy.

 

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  1. Avatar Peter Aiello says:

    Whatever grace is, it does not come from our own efforts. It comes from humility towards God which is actually the surrender of our own efforts (1Peter 5:5-7 and James 4:5-10). This humility brings the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us, which can then mediate the salvation graces from the Father into us. He doesn’t do this from a distance. Then He can work (Gr.energeo) within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
    The effect of the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit which contains peace and strength (Galatians 5:22-23). It also contains agape love which motivates us to good works.
    Because our human will has been weakened by the law of sin, we are too weak to act meritoriously and effectively without the Spirit (Romans 7:14 thru 8:2). It also gives us a supernatural discernment which is the mind of Christ (1Corinthians 2:9-16).
    All of this enables us to be partakers of the divine nature (2Peter 1:4). The Greek word behind the word “partakers” is ‘koionos’, which is defined as ‘a partner, associate, comrade, or companion’. The Holy Spirit is called the ‘comforter’ in John 14:16. The Greek word behind it is ‘parakletos’ which is defined as ‘summoned, called to one’s side, esp. called to one’s aid’.
    I think that this is how grace works.

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      Peter, I am constantly wavering between agreeing and disagreeing with you. I agree with the very first sentence. That’s what my article was about.

      I’m not sure what the second means. Humility is the “surrender of our own efforts”? What do you mean by this exactly?

      In your third sentence, you say, “humility brings the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us,” which seems to me reversed from an authentic Catholic expression of grace. The Spirit bestows humility, we don’t call the Spirit by our humility…

      Just some thoughts. Thanks!

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        I believe that there are two different kinds of humility. 1Peter 5:5-7 describes vertical humility towards God, which is the casting of our care to God, which is the surrender of our own efforts to God. This then brings us the Spirit and grace to bestow horizontal humility towards others, however it’s defined.
        I equate most grace with the Spirit of Christ. God does draw us to Himself and His Son prior to receiving the Spirit of His Son. This drawing is a grace from God, but it is not part of the graces that come to us through the Spirit of Christ after it is within us. These graces are on a whole different level.
        This is how I’ve processed it.

  2. Avatar Anne Lastman says:

    Grace, like true forgiveness, is not a human initiative but divine initiative entering our soul and energising it which in turn makes the whole body shine. We have no teal words to describe Grace because we are using human language to describe a divine reality.
    With grace a light shines from the eyes and is visible and is almost tangible.
    We have all heard the comment “she/he” glowed as she spoke. The glow is grace
    Grace makes the eyes, face, heart shine.
    Grace is not visible but its effects are.

  3. Avatar chris dorf says:

    Regarding this subject I immediately recall to mind certain Gospel accounts:
    –the Roman centurian of whom Jesus said ” I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith”; –the woman with the hemmorage He said ““Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.””;
    –to Zacchaeus, senior tax collectors and a wealthy man: ” ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’
    And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham;
    — the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
    –“What do you want me to do for you?” He replied, “Lord, please let me see.” Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.

    Thanks for writing this.

  4. Avatar Manuel Dauvin says:

    So grace does not control us. ..nor is it controlled by us and without it we can do no good work. Since we are very familiar with the performance of works that can be called good it stands to reason that we could at least discern the point at which grace touches the good act. Is it in the act’s intention? If I tend to a sick person because I want them to get better or because they are Christ is have different in these actions? Is grace a disposition? The little way disposes one to make nearly all acts no matter how small “good gracefilled acts”? Very interesting exploration. Thanks.

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      I think grace “touches” our souls in a variety of ways. Aquinas has an extended discussion on grace and makes lots of distinctions in grace based on how we experience it. Sometimes grace is God acting upon us, sometimes grace is a help to us. Grace can heal and purify, but it also sanctifies and raises up. The short is that, whatever “good” you think you are doing or good you are thinking, it is because of God’s grace that this is possible.

      • Avatar Anne Lastman says:

        Thanks Daniel but if I were to ask you what does grace, mercy, even forgiveness look like. We cannot answer because these are divine gifts, or even initiatives. His way of communicating with us.
        We try and interpret His language by being able to see the effects.
        We are using our human thinking snd human language to explain but like St Paul we can only remain speechless.

      • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

        You’re totally right, of course. I think the images painted in Scripture can help but the exact ways this all works and how exactly God’s life permeates through to our love is not known. As I mentioned in the article, I do love the image of a tree planted by running waters.

  5. Avatar carn says:

    “Pelagianism is a very common heresy today, not in the sense that Christians hold the heresy intentionally or obstinately, but many people adopt Pelagian concepts into their thinking without realizing that they are deviations from the Christian faith. Summarized plainly, Pelagianism is the belief that God’s grace does not come “first.”

    Pelagianism manifests itself in various ways. There is the belief that if “one just tries hard enough,” then one can become perfect. Or, there is the belief that holiness comes only through our own personal effort, apart from God’s active help.”

    I am still at loss by what powers of mind people can claim as a fact that “Pelagianism is a common heresy” today, if today the heresy consist of “many people adopt Pelagian concepts into their thinking without realizing”.

    E.g. presume someone who ignored God so far, gets aware about God, about God’s grace, about the immense gift he is offered and given. That someone realizes, that due to God’s grace there is a path to holiness opened before him; what is then a true statement?

    That if the person responds the right way, e.g. “The life of grace requires that we respond with, as John said, “We love because he first loved us.”” that thereby the person walks along that path and might one day be holy or at least get close to.

    So the person needs in that situation do something so that holiness can happen.

    How might that person put that into words?

    If i now try hard enough [unsaid: to respond to God’s grace in the way i should] then i might become holy (=perfect) [unsaid: thanks to God first encountering me with his grace, without which all my attempts at holiness would be futile].

    So while from the outside it seems to us that the person only mutters a “If i now try hard enough then i might become holy” and so to say “gets to work” and we might based on the articles classification of such a sentence as a sign of Pelagianism conclude that the person is one of the many today-Pelagians,

    we would be completely wrong.

    And we could not notice unless we talked to that person to understand the thought process behind the person saying the seemingly pelagian sentence.

    But if we have problems to identify from the outside such internal non-conscious Pelagianism, how can one then know for sure, that there are many such Pelagians?

    Also in light of the issue, that many good people out there just respond the right way to God, without ever putting it theologically correctly into words and thereby potentially using words themselves to describe what they do in a way that theologically looks questionable.

    E.g. interviewing the good Samaritian might not result in him theologically correctly noting that he responded to God’s grace when helping the injured man, but might result in him saying something like “Good people help the needy and i try to be a good person, so i decided to help him”, which then one could construe into a sign of internal pelagianism.

    I really do not get, where these certainty about “many” comes from.

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      Carn, Admittedly, I have no idea what people actually believe. All I know is what I believed and what others have told me that they believed, which leads me to think it’s a pervasive problem, even if there are no surveys to justify this belief. There were elements of my education that led to this belief, which also leads me to believe that other people with similar education also struggle with it. “Many” doesn’t have to be “most.” Even if 5% of Catholics struggled with it, it would still be a significant problem. My guesstimate is that the number is higher than that.

  6. Avatar jong says:

    Grace is first defined and described by Archangel Gabriel when he saw the state of soul of Mama Mary, it was “full of grace”. Now, if we study Mariology we can grasp the meaning of grace as Mary lived in the grace of God.
    Mary is the Mediatrix of all Graces and all the graces that Jesus merited at the Foot of the Cross is in the hands of the Theotokos.
    The “another Advocate” and the “Spirit of Truth” is a person. And this is a profound mystery. If Jesus the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was the First Advocate and came in the form of slave, the Holy Spirit also was sent in a lower form to become the “another Advocate”and “Spirit of Truth” this is related to the Spirit of Created Wisdom in Proverbs8:22. But there is a problem, Jesus was Incarnated and dwell among us.The Holy Spirit needed also a flesh not to dwell among us but to indwelt in us. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
    St.John gospel describes the Spirit of Truth and stated it has no authority on its own and cannot speak on its own. But it will take the role of a comforter,teacher, can prophesy and most esp. will testify on the Truth about who Jesue is from “womb to tomb”.
    How can this be, if the Holy Spirit is also co-equal with God.
    How can this mystery be fathom?
    St.Liguori and St.Kolbe grasp the mystery behind this and if we knew how the mystical union between the Holy Spirit and Mama Mary unfolds then we can understand the meaning of grace.
    When the subject is supernatural, human will cannot understand it.We need Wisdom like King Solomon had pleaded God to give him.
    Then the meaning of grace according to the mind of God can now be understood perfectly because the Spirit of Truth will be our teacher.
    The Church defined all the doctrines according to the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
    What Im driving at is, “grace” has two form.First is the mercy of God which is free and we called it “sanctifying grace” and then, the other one is called “actual grace”. This one is not free as even Jesus humanity must acquire it too in Luke2:52. All of us must acquire wisdom & grace to follow the Will of God.
    Actual grace is what Mary merited by living a life of humility and obedience to God’s commandments.It takes ten years for Mary to become full of grace thru a life of prayer starting in the Temple when she was three years old.
    While Jesus in the Mystery of Finding Jesus at the Temple, Jesus was already twelve years old and not yet full of grace, he still have to live a life of humility and obedience to St.Joseph and Mary.
    So, actual grace if we want to understand it, we must study the life of the Holy Family..A good reference will be Ven.Mary of Agreda and Blessed Emmerich.
    But ofcourse the short cut to gain wisdom and grace was taught by St.Montfort.
    All I know, is one cannot understand the meaning of grace unless one soul Consecrate his/her life to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. All the souls who become pious,martyrs and saints are all devoted to Mary.
    Because it is God who made the Holy Decree that all graces that Jesus merited that was sanctified by the Holy Spirit will all pass thru the Hands of Mary.
    As evident in St.John the Baptist, Mama Mary’s presence becomes the “channel” of sanctifying grace” by the mere sound of her voice.
    Mama Mary is our “another Advocate”(St.Liguori). and Mama Mary’s mystical union or quasi-incarnate had taken the role as the “Spirit of Truth” (St.Kolbe), and lastly Mary is the Mediatrix of All Graces.(St.Montfort)

    “O Mama Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

  7. Avatar Ashpenaz says:

    This is why I’m a universalist–God wants me in Heaven with Him forever, and there’s nothing I can do to stop him. If I could with my human free will reject God, that means I am more powerful than God. And if I’m more powerful than God, why do I need God? If my free will determines my place in the Afterlife, then God is not All-Powerful. If He has to damn me if I sin and save me if I repent, then I’m the one calling the shots. I sin–I force Him to reject. I repent–I force Him to accept. I can play this game of manipulating God as long as I live, and if I go to Hell, it’s because my free will defeated God. And I force God to lose–my free will forces God to submit to an imperfect universe. As long as He is forced to keep me alive in Hell, I am stopping Him from having the universe he wants! Think of all those souls falling like snowflakes into the Abyss, each snowflake having more power than God!

    I believe that God is stronger than I am, that He can, as St. Edith Stein says, “outwit” my will and bring me to him. I am with St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese, and St. Gregory of Nyssa who believe that in the end, whatever our choices, God will draw us to Him, and we will freely and gladly give Him our Love. I love the passage from Spe Salvi where Pope Benedict describes all of us under the loving, merciful gaze of Jesus.

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      I hope my article didn’t give the impression that our free-will is something holy and perfect that either “uses” grace or does not, and our fate is determined on the basis of this decision. Our fate is determined, in a way, by God who, per the motto of Francis’ papacy, has mercy on us and chooses us. “Miserando atque eligendo”. At the same time, this grace does not overpower our will in the sense that God “conquers” us or destroys our unique humanness. No, he chooses, has mercy, and raises us up, purifying our souls and sanctifying them. By his actions, he makes us truly ourselves and so much more. But such is the power of sin that even despite God’s free gift of love and mercy, some still reject it in this life. Admittedly, I don’t know what happens after death and I do hope, with reason, that God saves all human beings. But Matthew 25 and other passages certainly don’t give us much room to speculate that we can tempt God by our sins to save us in spite of our rejection of his love and mercy.

      Still, I think you’re on to something… That in whatever way God can reach us, he will do so. I know that God does not give up on those who are lost. He said so himself.

    • Avatar carn says:

      “God wants me in Heaven with Him forever, and there’s nothing I can do to stop him.”

      Presuming that you believe in the creed, namely:
      “and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
      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 God the Father Almighty;
      from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

      what was that fuss about, if we are all saved anyway?

      Why not just a short notice: “Hey boys and girls and anything in between or around that, i’m the big boss and call the shots ALWAYS (that is a real ALWAYS, not one those pseudo-always, for which there is in truth some exception) and therefore I will ensure you all have a nice afterlife; so just enjoy the show, while your on earth, see you ALL (just to make sure, that is a real ALL, not one of the pseudo-ones) in heaven; Cheers, the big boss aka your heavenly father/mother/etc.”?

      And why spend time on judging the living and the dead, if the “sentence” is in each case always “eternal bliss”?

      Seems like a colossal waste of time; and while some of it might sound like fun or at least a good prank, the part about suffering and crucification was in practice probably less jolly than in some blasphemic comedy films.

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        The purpose is to burn away all our sin in the Lake of Fire and restore the universe to God’s original creation.

      • Avatar carn says:

        Then we would at least temporarily “calling the shots” by forcing Him through our rejection to go through “that fuss”. We sin – and force Him to do “that fuss”.

        Then He he still would not be all-powerful by the definition you seem to use, cause temporarily our strength would be greater.

        Besides: I think that the definition of all-powerful you use might be faulty; and that “keep alife in Hell” might also have philosophical errors beneath; but too complex to sort that out.

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        I don’t think God uses extortion to get us to love Him. He’s not like a domestic abuser who says, “Love me, or I’ll beat you up!” The choice to love God or burn in Hell forever is not a free choice. Like any other suitor, God doesn’t threaten us if we don’t love Him. He offers Himself, and if we don’t love Him, He takes His lumps, like everyone else. Like we accept the decision of the person we love, God accepts our decision with grace. Otherwise, how could it be a free choice? If God says, “Choose what you want,” then punishes us for our choice, He’s not really giving a choice. Would a father say, “You can have whatever kind of bicycle you want, but if you choose a mountain bike, I’ll kick you out of the house!”

        God doesn’t punish us for our free choices–we punish ourselves when we don’t choose what we really want. Our punishment is believing we want something other than God. God is willing to wait until we realize that we loved Him all along, like any great love story.

      • Avatar jong says:

        carn
        You are deeply mistaken, God will not force us and violate our given freewill.
        Heaven or hell is our own choosing.
        As C.S Lewis had said “the door of hell is lock in the inside”
        God always knocks at the door of our heart but its up to us to open the door on Him.
        Remember St.JP2 words “open wide the door to Christ”. This is the meaning of God’s Mercy as the Vatican II redefined the Dogma of outside the Church there is no salvation.Yes, the Fulness of Salvation can only be found in the Church founded by Christ but since the Mercy of God is infinite it transcends the boundary of the Church defuned Dogma.
        As Mama Mary teaches us in Fatima prayer “O my Jesus forgive us our sins,save us from the fires of hell and lead ALL SOULS into Heaven especially those MOST IN NEED of thy mercy.”
        When God created our soul, God desires that our soul follow His Will for us to merit the glory that awaits us in Heaven.Remember the Mercy of God is called ‘grace we dont deserve” its a free gift as we are all sinners and dont deserve grace. But for us to enter Heaven in the glorious presence of God, who exist in Love we need to live a life following His Greatest commandments on love.
        As scriptures states we will not be judge by the perfection of our faith but we will be judge according to our works…The greatest of all this is love and not perfection of faith.
        So, all who have goodwill eventhough they dont have perfection of faith in Christ are People of God too, why?
        Because they bear the image of God which is love.
        I repeat when God created a soul, God breath on it Divine Life, and when God gives life it is forever. God is Love, and all the things that God creates, He created out of love and so if there is hatred in our hearts no matter how small we cannot enter God’s Kingdom of Love. And since its impossible for us to be perfect in realistic sense the Mercy of God was given to us.No one can enter Heaven without experiencing the Mercy of God.
        But since God cannot contradict God’s Justice that nothing defiled shall enter Heaven, the merciful love of God was extended in purgatory for the majority of the soul who have not attained perfection of love. If our hearts is not yet on fire on earth like the Sacred Heart of Jesus & Immacute Heart of Mary, then it needs to be enkindle in the fire of purgatory to be purified.
        There are few like St.Paul who was able to reach perfection by crucifying his flesh as he boldly acclaimed in the end “it is no longer I who lives.but Jesus.”
        How did St.Paul overcome the stain in our soul which is called concupiscence?
        He lived a Eucharistic Life, his flesh and blood was turn into Christ own flesh & blood.St.Paul was transformed into a new creation..
        Read CCC1000 to know why the Eucharist is so important for us to wash away the stain in our soul for us to be worthy of going straight to Heaven. Wisdom1:4 is the answer why St.Paul knowledge is supernatural in nature.
        My Jesus mercy.

      • Avatar carn says:

        “You are deeply mistaken, God will not force us and violate our given freewill.
        Heaven or hell is our own choosing.”

        There maybe was a misunderstanding; i just argued from what i perceived to be Ashpenaz position – that all are saved, cause allmightiness does not allow for anything else – to point towards in my opinion potential contradictions in his position.

        “from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

        That judgement might be eternally negative for some of us and of course also for me.

    • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

      Ashpenaz,

      You (and/or anyone) being free to say “no” to God, even in an eternal sense, does not mean that you (and/or anyone) are more powerful than God. He wants us to *freely* say yes to Him. What does love even mean, if it is not given freely? Love that is not given freely is not love at all.

      Moreover, if God brought even one person into Heaven (or into Purgatory, and then to Heaven) to be with Him, *against that person’s own wishes*, then God would not be the supreme Lover of human beings and our eternal souls, but rather, the supreme Violator of them. I would not want to worship, and certainly could not love in any way, a God who would force me to be with Him eternally, against my own choices and decisions.

      The Church has classified universalism as a heresy for many reasons, but one of the chief ones is that it does not accurately describe the character of God. He doesn’t despotically force to us to turn away from sin and choose Him in a moment-by-moment way in this life. Nor does He despotically force us to be with Him for eternity. That would be violation rather than love, and He loves us, as He does all things, perfectly.

      • Avatar M. says:

        Christopher, thank you, and I agree. I ask God to help my unbelief. Christopher Can I ask you a question that has been bothering me some time, and I am struggling with it, I also ask for your prayers on it. The question is this, that if God allows hell to exist as a place for those who choose not to be with Him, it doesn’t seem like much of a “choice.” So I struggle. If the choice was between say, a neutral place, or a nice enough place, and eternal bliss with God, then- I can see, that it is a real choice. But if the choice is between being tortured for all eternity, and bliss with God forever- it seems to take the choice/free will away. I will appreciate very much any insight, as I wish to think with the church on the matter of hell, but it is a huge stumbling block in my relationship with the Lord.

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        M.,

        I will definitely pray for you about this struggle. I have struggled, at times, with the doctrine of Hell too.

        What has helped me is gradually coming to the view, which I believe is completely in line with Catholic teaching, that what makes Heaven, Heaven, is that *God is there, and we will be face-to-face with Him, lovingly, eternally*. That is the greatest joy and bliss of Heaven– being with God eternally. In the same vein, what makes Hell, Hell, is not any draconian kind of torture chamber, as we think of torture in this life, but rather, Hell is Hell because it is being *separated from God for eternity*.

        Now, it may seem logically counter-intuitive that anyone would actually *choose* Hell– that is, to be separated from God for eternity. However, there are people who *at least claim* that they want nothing to do with God. There are people who claim that if the true God is the God of the Bible, they can never worship Him. Some people, in fact, actually claim to hate the God of the Bible. That is obviously not the way to be with God for eternity.

        How culpable are these people, ultimately, for their seeming rejection of God? I don’t know. I wouldn’t claim to know, because I don’t know them as God knows them. I hope and pray that their “rejection” of God is due to an honest misunderstanding of Him, or due to other factors that may reduce their culpability and allow them to go to Purgatory, and, eventually, to Heaven.

        I should say that I don’t take it for granted that *I, myself*, will definitely not go to Hell. There are certain serious sins with which I mightily struggle– and some, I don’t struggle with nearly *enough* but find myself giving in to their lure repeatedly. I do *want* to be with God in Heaven, though, so when I fall, I keep getting back up again, going to confession, and striving to follow Him, with the empowerment of His grace.

      • Avatar M. says:

        Thank you Christopher! How do you explain the writing of saints, Fatima, even scripture itself etc. which seem often to describe a Hell in terms of a fiery torture chamber? Now I know a loving God wouldn’t create a torture chamber- but I can see that it could be allowed to exist as His absence would not be a very nice place. It scares me and gets in the way of developing this relationship of trust I desire to have with God. I can’t reconcile it in my mind, and nothing seems to help much.

      • Avatar carn says:

        “In the same vein, what makes Hell, Hell, is not any draconian kind of torture chamber, as we think of torture in this life, but rather, Hell is Hell because it is being *separated from God for eternity*.”

        And in what way might, what man will do when left for eternity with just his sin and pride as guidance to interact with himself, differ from “any draconian kind of torture chamber”?

        You see in this world what man does to man even although God is not absent.

        Maybe the usual “draconian kind of torture chambers” we can imagine are a funny if little rough theme-park-ride compared to what man will do to man without God but an eternity left for devising more and more cruelty and revenge.

      • Avatar carn says:

        Maybe this hypothetical – cause i think actually contrary to Church doctrine – crazy idea of mine about how hell might come into being (i do not believe this; its just something that crossed my mind as an interesting idea) can help:

        Hell after all is supposedly eternal punishment.

        There are people who claim that mankind is on the verge (meaning in the next 50-200 years) of grasping quasi-immortality on his own (meaning that as long as nobody intentionally kills you and as long as no great accident happens like an 10km+ impact, you will not die).

        The technical/medical means how that might/might not work are irrelevant.

        Just presume that mankind manages to do that (and someone handles the potential overcrowding) problem. And mankind continues on its path to more and more rejecting God and religion.

        So more and more publicly and privately people say that the world would be better off without God and without his pesky followers (who actually are so irrational to be against the sensible tools contraception and abortion to handle the overcrowding problem caused by longer life spans). Again and again they say this. In public. When running for president (in the recent Australian election the left-of-center candidate effectively challenged the right-of-center to call out Christianity for being false about rejection of homosexual sex).

        When being president. So when being the elected spokesperson for a country.

        One nation after another.

        Then maybe God will say one day: “Okay; i’ll get it; from now on, i will never ever interfere in any way in your world anymore.” and as last act of direct intervention collects the last few faithful (in a way that does not cause notice, cause that again would be interference).

        And leaves mankind to itself. Totally.

        Then due to the “blessing” of technology man can “enjoy” the life on earth as it is and will be in total absence of God with man fully believing that no God exist and happy that his last followers finally died out.

        With only man, his intellect and his pride determine how that eternal life looks like.

        Or in other words: in this crazy idea, man will live forever more without ever clearly realizing that he entered hell and it will last forever.

        (That of course is contra Church teaching, as it would skip that judgement part; but i mean it as an idea to understand how in principle hell might exist forever without God doing much, except heeding the “polite” requests to leave man alone)

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        Universalism doesn’t teach that God violates our free will. It teaches that, in the end, we will all gladly and freely give ourselves over to the only One we can love–God. What the Lake of Fire does is remove everything that keeps us from using our free will in the way God designed. Once all the impediments have been burned away (and for Hitler and Pol Pot that might take billions of years), we are then absolutely free to choose our heart’s desire, which is God. This is what St. Gregory of Nyssa thought, anyway–and I’m with him! 🙂 Also, look at Pope Benedict’s Spe Salvi on this topic.

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        Ashpenaz,

        One serious issue with the kind of universalism that you describe is that *we finite, fallible, non-omniscient human beings* can’t possibly know what all human beings will freely choose to do, whether in the end, at the time of death, or moment-by-moment, day by day, in this life. How can we possibly know what each and every person in this world will choose to do, at his/her/their deaths, regarding God?

        God is love, and He is merciful, and He showers us with grace, which cleanses us from our sins and empowers us to turn away from sin and follow Him. If we refuse and refuse to accept His love, mercy, and grace, though, and we obstinately close our hearts to Him for all of our earthly lives, then it is the clear teaching of the Bible that it is the destiny of human being to die once, and then, to face judgment. God knows each person in this world, and He knows each one’s personal level of culpability (or not!) for his/her sins. He will not judge anyone unjustly.

        Consider this question. If universalism is definitely true, then why does Jesus tell us not to fear men who can harm the body, but raher, to fear the living God who can cast both body and soul into Hell for eternity?

    • Avatar Lazarus says:

      But what does it say about the origin of evil? If Satan couldn’t become evil through his free will, then either God made Him evil or God is evil, which is impossible. If we could not choose evil, Eve could never have been tempted, the whole point of trials or temptations is nullified. But if we could choose evil, wouldn’t we deserve to go to hell with the fallen angels who chose evil?

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        Yes, we deserve to be thrown into the Lake of Fire–until our sins are burned away. There is nothing in the Old or New Testament which suggests punishment lasts forever. Look at the translation of the word “aion.” God’s punishment is restorative, not retributive, and, like human justice, it ends when the sentence is up. All the laws in the OT had a specific penalty, and when that penalty was paid, the criminal was free. Yes, we will all pay the last penny for all the sins we’ve committed, but then we will be let out of prison. The solution to choosing evil is repenting and turning around, not endless fire. God wants us to return, not burn.

      • Avatar Lazarus says:

        What’s the difference between hell and purgatory to you?

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        I will refer that question to Pope Benedict! 🙂 I find the section on this subject in Spe Salvi (par. 45–47) to be the best discussion I’ve read. What do you think of that passage?

  8. Avatar Ashpenaz says:

    Karl Rahner teaches that we can’t freely say “No” to God. Our only truly free choice is a “Yes” to God. A “No” is always mitigated by factors which inhibit our free will, so we can never be culpable for a “No.” God will ultimately burn away those mitigating factors, and we will give the only truly free answer we can give–“Yes.” Grace doesn’t overpower us–it makes us free to respond as we truly want to respond. Our “Yes” is entirely free and uncoerced–because grace has removed all the impediments to our will.

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      I don’t know enough about Rahner’s theology…. How does this explain original sin? It would seem like Adam and Eve had absolutely no impediments to loving God.

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        Julian of Norwich talks about original sin this way–we were happily in the presence of God, and He sent us out to run an errand. Along the way, we fell into a pit. We didn’t rebel, we didn’t defiantly assert our own will–we fell into darkness and couldn’t get out. God, in His mercy, sent His son into the pit to find us and bring us out.

        “We see our sin, because we see our failure to be the rightful Adam; but the Son of God fell into the pit with us in order that there might be a rightful Adam, an All-Man alive with justice and love, that we could become. The practical implications of this are clear:

        And if we by our blindness and our wretchedness any time fall, we should readily rise, knowing the sweet touching of grace, and with all our will amend us upon the teaching of Holy Church, according as the sin is grievous, and go forthwith to God in love; and neither, on the one side, fall over low, inclining to despair, nor, on the other side, be over-reckless, as if we made no matter of it; but nakedly acknowledge our feebleness, finding that we may not stand a twinkling of an eye but by Keeping of grace, and reverently cleave to God, on Him only trusting.

        God has always loved All-Man, and our individual sins are but our individual failures to be All-Man in his love of God, the fracturing of Adam; but All-Man does not at any point stop being the loving Servant of God, because Christ became All-Man with us and keeps the unity of Adam.”

        http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2013/08/julian-of-norwich-on-fall-of-adam.html

      • Avatar jong says:

        Rahner’s, Yves Congar, Hans Urs Balthasar, and the other two theologians was inspired by God to teach the Universal Salvation ahead of Vatican II. Its like a typology of Old Testament so that when Vatican II was convened to define the People of God to promote Ecumenism and Interfaith. The foundation were already finished.
        You are correct, Adam & Eve says No.While Eve was beguiled therefore not really a willful sin as Satan touch her that violates her freewill. Adam was not touch by Satan and his disobedience is willful and deliberate in a way Eve committed only venial sin at first instance while Adam committed mortal sin exercising his freewill un impede..
        Satan offer wisdom to Eve to reach Theosis in a form of short cut and death enters paradise.
        Now,, Mama Mary is offering a short cut to Wisdom by St.Montfort way of Total Consecration.

      • Avatar Manuel Dauvin says:

        Vatican II did not teach universal salvation in the sense that certain theologians have “dated to hour that all be saved”. The council merely clarified the boundaries of the “Church” within which salvation is possible. The descent to the dead after the resurrection implies that all those who “through no fault of their own” did not know the gospel have access to the grace of salvation in so far as Christ has given them the grace to follow their conscience.
        We are not meant to judge any persons interior disposition. We can get to heaven without having to damn anyone.

      • Avatar Manuel Dauvin says:

        Wish there was an “edit comment” option. “Dated to hour”=dare to hope

      • Avatar jong says:

        St.JP2 said “Do not be afraid, open wide the door to Christ”.

        Fatima Prayer and Divine Mercy Devotion is imploring us to pray to all souls and especially those most in need, meaning those who dont have access or the means of the fullness of salvation that can only be found in the Catholic Church.
        Salvation of those soul outside the Church are very much connected to all the Catholic faithful who will heed the call to offer prayers and sacrifices for their conversiom.
        If conversion to Catholic faith is not possible then, the Church still seek merciful graces for all souls outside the church to become People of God thru act of goodwill within their faith which they belong..Meaning all souls will be reach out by the Mercy of God emanating from the life of prayers and sacrifices of the Whole Catholic Church, all those outside the church are not really separated from the Catholic Church but they can be reach by the Mercy of God thru the Church.
        The Mercy of God transcends the boundaries of the Catholic Church when it comes to the salvation of souls, even the Dogma outsiide the Church there is no salvation must be conform and understood in the light of God’s Infinite Mercy.
        So, that in effect all of God created souls were not deprived of merciful graces up to their last breath.
        The only reason that one souls goes to hell is no longer the fault of the Church but the soul chooses to reject the Mercy of God thru varied means the Church had been able to offer.
        The mystety behind the Mercy of God, is Mama Mary.’s role as Mother of all the redeemed. If a soul rejected the Mother of Mercy or the Queen of Mercy then he will be lost as the Holy Rosary is invoking Mama Mary’s merciful intervention at the hour of death.
        Mama Mary’s presence on all souls at the hour of death is akways there to help the souls seek the Mercy of God personified in the role of Mary as Queen of Mercy.
        St.Liguori expounded this teaching in his book Glories of Mary, where the Mercy of God was given to Mama Mary to didpense on all souls.

  9. Avatar M. says:

    Universalism condemned by the Church, Trust the church. We may “dare to hope” that all will be saved, but we absolutely mustn’t presume definitively that all will be saved! Trust the church.

    • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

      Where is universalism condemned by the Church?

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        Origen is considered to be a very helpful spiritual writer, in many ways, in the Church, but he is not a Church Father, largely, due to his embrace of universalism. The current Catechism (as with all previous Catechisms of the Church) teaches that Hell is still a sober reality– a radical result of man’s freedom to say “yes” or “no” to God.

      • Avatar M. says:

        Ashpenaz, I believe as early as the second council of Constantinople, and ever since then, as Christopher says..

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        My form of universalism is rooted in the thought of St. Gregory of Nyssa who has never been condemned by the Church.

      • Avatar M. says:

        Good to know. I can’t comment as I am not familiar with his writings.

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        M.,

        I’m responding to your reply for me about Hell from many comments above, because there was no “reply” button there for me to click. (That is the one feature of this site that I really don’t like! When it’s not possible to reply directly below another reply, it makes following ongoing discussions here much more difficult!)

        As far as the descriptions of Hell from many Saints, Fatima, etc. that appear to describe Hell as a literal torture chamber, don’t get me wrong– I am firmly convinced that being in Hell for eternity would actually be *at least as bad as, and possibly, far worse than* than being in a physical torture chamber for eternity. I think that the Saints understand this, and therefore, what they have been allowed to “see” of Hell is likely a very accurate picture of the interminable horror and despair of Hell.

        To be completely cut off from God is to be completely cut off from the Source of all goodness, all hope, all beauty, and all tenderness. It must be an unimaginably dark and brutal experience, and for eternity, at that!– *but* for anyone who is in that experience, he or she has, tragically, *freely chosen it* by obstinately closing his or her heart to God *up to the very last possible point*.

        I know that it can very hard to think about Hell and not get caught up in one’s emotions, because Hell is as fearsome as any reality could possibly be, but try to consider the following question, from a purely logical standpoint– if one has freely chosen, to the last possible point, to completely close one’s mind, heart, and soul to the only living God, who is the Source of all good, all beauty, all hope, and all tenderness, then, logically speaking, how could the result of that terrible, but free, choice be *anything other than* an eternity of brutality, despair, and hopelessness?

        It is incredibly tragic to *even think* of anyone going to Hell, but if a person completely rejects God and freely chooses a consistent life of darkness over one of light, and does so to the last possible point, then it would actually be unloving for God to “force” eternal life with Him upon that person– because the person *actually does not want* eternal life with God. God respects that person’s own wishes, as terrible as those wishes are, and allows him or her to go away, into eternity, forever separated from Him.

        It is terrible, almost unspeakable, that anyone would freely choose such an eternity of darkness, hopeless, despair, and brutality– but if anyone does, in fact, choose it, God respects that awful and fearsome choice, because for God to do otherwise would be the most supreme violation of human freedom that could ever be committed, and God is a Divine Lover, not a rapist. He woos us, He lovingly appeals to us, He graciously gives us chance after chance after chance to accept His love and mercy, but He will not *force* anyone to be with Him eternally who does not want to do so.

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        Ashpenaz,

        I wrote a lengthy second reply to you, on the subject of your form of universalism, above. Maybe your reply to that reply is caught up in moderation.

        The New Testament speaks of Hell in terms that imply a terrible eternity which can and will be consciously experienced, for anyone who makes that almost unspeakable choice. Revelation 14:9-11 does not imply annihilationism in the least, nor does it lead one to the conclusion of universalism. “The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever” does not sound at all like mere annihilation, and it also doesn’t sound like everyone will be saved and with God in the end.

        I wish that everyone *would be* saved and with God for eternity! I wish, fervently, that everyone would make that choice! I don’t want anyone, anyone at all, to be in Hell! (This includes some family members and beloved friends. It’s not an abstract matter for me at all.) The New Testament strongly indicates that some *do not* choose to be with God eternally though, and for 2,000 years, the Church has taught the sobering reality of an eternal, consciously experienced Hell (of being separated from God) for those who choose it.

  10. Avatar Ashpenaz says:

    To quote Pope St. JPII: Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. (General Audience of July 28, 1999)

    The Church does not teach that anyone is in Hell, only that it exists as a possibility.

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      You have misquoted JPII. “Damnation remains a real possibility, but it is not granted to us, without special divine revelation, to know which human beings are effectively involved in it.” Why did you add “whether,” which adds a new dimension to this statement that JPII arguably did not intend?

      • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

        I see now that the original quotation included “whether or” but this was edited out when included in the official AAS. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/are-there-souls-in-hell-right-now I apologize for the question as your quotation makes more sense now, but certainly the quotation officially recorded in the AAS is the one that we should use going forward.

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        How about this?

        Man as “willed” by God, as “chosen” by him from eternity and called, destined for grace and glory – this is “each” man, “the most concrete” man, “the most real”; this is man in all the fullness of the mystery in which he has become a sharer in Jesus Christ, the mystery in which each one of the four thousand million human beings living on our planet has become a sharer from the moment he is conceived beneath the heart of his mother. (Redemptor Hominis, Article 13)

        This man is the way for the Church – a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk – because man – every man without any exception whatever – has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man – with each man without any exception whatever – Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it: “Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides man”-each man and every man- “with the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme calling.” (Article 14)

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all. (Eucharistic Prayer II)

        If there is anyone currently in Hell, then this prayer is impossible: the Church is asking us to pray a lie.

      • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

        Are you sure that’s the right version? I can’t verify that language, sorry…

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        I haven’t been involved in this discussion, but in Revelation 20:12-15 it says:
        [12] And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
        [13] And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
        [14] And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
        [15] And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
        The word ‘hell’ in verses 13 and 14 is ‘hades’, and not the lake of fire.

      • Avatar carn says:

        @Daniel Amiri:
        This:
        “Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all.”

        looks like a defective translation of the words used in Germany:

        https://www.katholisch.de/glaube/unser-glaube/der-messfahrplan-wie-lauft-ein-gottesdienst

        (“schedule” for mass – how does it take place) (katholisch.de is funded mainly be German bishops and claims to be sort of official publication of the Church in Germany; and of course i heard the words often enough myself)

        Under “Hochgebet”:
        “Gedenke unserer Brüder und Schwestern, die entschlafen sind in der Hoffnung, dass sie auferstehen. Nimm sie und alle, die in deiner Gnade aus dieser Welt geschieden sind, in dein Reich auf, wo sie dich schauen von Angesicht zu Angesicht. Vater, erbarme dich über uns alle,”

        That would be:
        “Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all, who departed in your mercy, into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all,”

        It excludes at least those departing with not confessed mortal sin who also did not offer mentally a perfect act of contrition before dying.

        Of course the verbatim translation does not fit the English version
        https://www.servingmass.com/eucharistic-prayer-ii.html
        “Remember also our brothers and sisters
        who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection,
        and all who have died in your mercy:
        welcome them into the light of your face.”

        It is always fine to see how there is really now problem to have mass in different languages with creative interpretations in between.

        Cause of course it cannot happen, that someone bases his hope of salvation upon the only partial wording of some creative translation.

        And here in Germany we are so tolerant, it cannot even be excluded that there aren’t some priests regularly attempting to celebrate mass and only saying:
        “Gedenke unserer Brüder und Schwestern, die entschlafen sind in der Hoffnung, dass sie auferstehen. Nimm sie und alle, die aus dieser Welt geschieden sind, in dein Reich auf, wo sie dich schauen von Angesicht zu Angesicht. Vater, erbarme dich über uns alle,”

        That is BTW way the reason, while i so often stick with single words and sentences and even check various translations of papal documents in different languages.

        Leave out three words and suddenly it borders on heresy; put them back in and it is fine.

    • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

      Ashpenaz,

      The Church does not make formal declarations that a specific person is in Hell, as she *does* canonize specific people, thereby making formal declarations that those people are in Heaven. With that said, the Church has taught, for 2,000 years, that Hell exists, that it is possible for people to go there under certain conditions, and that, for any people who *do* go there, they consciously suffer the reality of eternal separation from God. From St. Peter to Pope Francis, all of the Popes have taught these truths.

      In the New Testament, Jesus explicitly exhorts His listeners not to fear man, who can harm the body but not the soul, but rather, to fear the living God, who can cast both body and soul into Hell. His exhortation makes so sense at all if universalism can be known, in this life, to be true. If there is no actual danger of any of us going to Hell for eternity, then Jesus spent a lot of time warning people about something that can never actually happen. There is no logical reason why He would do so. Jesus is God incarnate in human flesh, and God does not tell lies, whether about Hell or anything else.

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        I meant to type, “His (Christ’s) exhortation makes *no* sense at all, if universalism can be known, in this life, to be true.”

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        Jesus is warning us about having to spend billions of years in the Lake of Fire having our sins burned away. He’s not saying that the punishment will last forever. It’s better to get rid of your sins now, through repentance, than have to get rid of them the longer (but not everlasting) and much more painful way. Yes, people will be thrown into Hell, and they will wail and gnash their teeth, but it will end once they have paid the last penny. Then, they can take their newly-washed robes into the New Jerusalem.

        As Pope Francis says in AL 297, “No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.”

        BTW, I would argue that Pope St. JPII, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis teach universalism based on the documents of Vatican II.

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        From the Eucharistic Prayer IV:

        Remember also
        those who have died in the peace of your Christ
        and all the dead,
        whose faith you alone have known.
        To all of us, your children,
        grant, O merciful Father,
        that we may enter into a heavenly inheritance
        with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
        with blessed Joseph, her Spouse
        and with your Apostles and Saints in your kingdom.
        There, with the whole of creation,
        freed from the corruption of sin and death,
        may we glorify you through Christ our Lord,
        through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.

        It would seem that this prayer would be a lie if there is now a single person in everlasting torment. If death is destroyed, how can anyone suffer a second death? If the whole creation is freed from corruption and death, where is Hell and the people supposedly in it?

      • Avatar carn says:

        Did you consider the difference between hoping for something, which is nonetheless unlikely at best?

        When a plane starting is consumed by a fireball due to something igniting all the fuel in the tanks, there would be no lie involved if a Christian watching prayed to God to shelter all passengers from being injured, even if the Christian’s eyes tell him clearly, that the prospect for anyone much less all passengers surviving is zero.

        And the firefighters going out would also cling to the hope that they can do something, even if they know for certain that it is unlikely to even find identifiable remains.

        All the prayers you cited and claimed that they are a lie if not all are saved, are no lie, cause they are just like that prayer of the Christian looking at that fireball and still clinging to hope.

        Hoping is not lying.

        (And yes, maybe the Christian should better offer prayer for their souls; but there is nothing wrong in praying for the passenger’s survival)

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        If a single person, even Hitler, has already been condemned to everlasting torment, then this prayer is impossible–the whole creation cannot ever be freed from corruption and death.

      • Avatar carn says:

        @Ashpenaz:

        “this prayer is impossible”

        Why?

        The prayer even interpreted the most how you want it understood
        just expresses the hope that all humans will be saved.

        Not that they will be.

        “has already been condemned to everlasting torment”

        Take care not to presume that God is bound to time; while Hitler died 74 years ago and according to our timeline his fate is set in stone one way or another; but it might still be that before God he is just now or even in something that looks from our limited approach to time look like the future will be offered his last chance to repent and that therefore prayers for Hitler’s soul are not senseless due to him already passing 74 years ago.

        Don’t bet your salvation upon the conclusions you arrive at by presuming that you understand the workings of a mind allpowerful and allknowing well enough.

        (though i must admit, that somebody else should do that praying for Hitler’s soul, cause i would not be good at that)

        Besides:

        “has already been condemned to everlasting torment”

        We profess in the creed that the final judgement is a future event; so according to the creed the condemnation to everlasting torment is an event of the future in our understanding of time and accordingly from our point of view nobody has yet been condemned to everlasting torment.

        (Though the odds seem to be stacked against Hitler)

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        Ashpenaz,

        We finite, non-omniscient human beings pray all the time for things which we earnestly hope for, but which we csn’t know for certain will happen. Of course, we pray that all people will be with God in Heaven! This is a genuine, sincere prayer of *our hopes* for them, but it is not a prayer of certain knowledge of their eternal state.

        Actually, if we already had certain knowledge that everyone would be in Heaven, and that no one would go to Hell, then there would be no logical reason to *even pray* (as the priest does in the Eucharistic prayer) that all the departed would be drawn into the light of of His presence.

        Both Scripture and Tradition have always taught (and still teach) that God is rich in mercy and is very willing to forgive us for any sin, but *by His explicit design and testimony in Scripture*, His forgiveness and mercy toward us are inextricably bound up with our being willing admit that we have sinned, and that we are repentant. What if a person is simply never willing to admit that he or she has sinned and needs to truly repent? You claim that all will repent and embrace God’s love in the end. How do you, not being omniscient, actually know that to be true?

        You have claimed that whenever a person sins, that person supposedly isn’t choosing what he or she really wants. I have to disagree, at least in my own case at times. I know, for a fact, that there are certain sins that I sometimes choose over obeying God, because at those moments, I actually want the dark, evil pleasure of those sins *more than I want to obey God*. You can’t tell me that I’m not choosing what I really want at those times, because I know that (God, help me!) in those moments, I *am* choosing what I at least temporarily want, and that is to turn away from God and choose sin.

        Pope Francis believes and teaches what the Catechism teaches– that Hell is both *self-chosen and eternal.* He has clearly, repeatedly warned about the danger of obstinately unrepentant, prideful sinners going to Hell and being eternally separated from God. As just one example, he gave a speech in Italy where he implored Mafia members to repent and turn to God, so that they would not go to Hell. From the National Catholic Reporter: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/signs-times/pope-francis-and-hell

        No Pope has ever taught that all people will definitely be saved and with God in eternity, whether the early Popes or the most recent ones. Redemption has been *provided* by Christ, and Christ *has redeemed* all people by His perfect Sacrifice, but His work of redemption is not synonymous with peoples’ acceptance of it. Even that perfect gift can still be refused by those who think that they don’t need it. I am reminded of a certain public figure who openly said, a few years ago, that he has never asked God for forgiveness for *any sin*, because in this person’s own words, he believes that he has never done anything that would *need* to be forgiven. What if a person dies in that state, faces God, and and still maintains that kind of pride? How do you know that this is not possible?

        Jesus says of Judas that it would have been better for him if he had never been born. Does this statement indicate universalism? Revelation 14:9-11, speaking of Hell, says that “the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever.” How will that smoke rise forever and ever, if any possible torment is only temporary, and all will saved in the end?

      • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

        The same was said about Sodom, but if you visit Sodom today, there’s no smoke. The smoke of their torment will rise “unto the age of the ages,” (a better translation from the Greek) which is a really long time, but not forever.

        Again, I hope you will read par. 45-48 in Spe Salvi and let us know what you think.

        Where does Pope Francis say Hell is eternal, or unending?

  11. Avatar M. says:

    Please understand that I am a person who by act of the will accepts everything the church teaches, including hell. But that said I have many questions that occur to my mind, that, say-so, can be a source of temptation to disbelief. I am looking for some kind of answers that satisfy to some extent at least, the questions that pop in and disturb me.

    How does one reconcile the idea of eternal hell with the idea of free will? If I did not ask to be made, then by the act of making me, one could say that God “didn’t respect my free will.” (May He forgive me if this is any sort of blasphemy, I do not intend!) But these questions remain and torment. So If I did not ask to be made, I did not have a say, so you can say God made me for Himself. Here I am, whether or not I want to be. It seems unfair then, to me, that I being here without any choice in the the matter, could then be left to alone to choose eternal torture away from the one who willed me into being? If I am made for God, and there is no happiness for me outside of relationship with Him, where is my free will? I can choose…to be miserable and tormented for all eternity- just because say, my will is too weak to choose the good? And my will is darkened, and my intellect. So my capacity to choose the good is severely compromised, I am blind, but expected still to find the door? I find this doctrine of hell very distressing and can’t make sense of it in a way that my brain and mind and heart can be at peace with. Any more help from friends at WPI is greatly appreciated. I have been asking Holy Spirit to help me out with this one. Help me to get it in a way that helps me love God, not distrust and be terrified of Him?

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      The short answer is that God chooses and saves. If you are baptized, you have entered into a relationship with God and become his adopted child, in a way. You may hope in eternal life forever with God!

      Separately, “Free will” is often misunderstood. We can choose, but we often choose poorly. Our life on Earth, having been chosen by God, is growing and learning to rely on his grace andercy progressively more, to abandon our will to the will of the Father.

    • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

      M.,

      I strongly believe, with my foundation being in both Scrupture and Tradition, that the fear you are being tormented by is *not* from God. God is love. God is your (and my) perfect, loving Father. The Father sent Jesus into this world for us, and Jesus gave His life for us as the Perfect Sacrifice for sin. God does not want you to be afraid to trust Him.

      It is Satan who wants us (all of us!) to distrust God! God never wants that for anyone. A fear that leaves us terrified and reluctant, or unable, to draw close to God, is *not of God and not from God*. Resist that fear. I will pray for for you resist it. That fear is not based on the actual, true character of God. It is Satan who whispers (so to speak) the pernicious suggestion to believe inaccurate things about God. Satan is the accuser of our souls who wants us to despair, not God. God never wants us to live in cowering fear or despair. He made us to live in the eternal joy and peace that come only from Him– and we can have at least a very real and abiding *foretaste* of that eternal joy and peace while still in this life! This is Catholic truth to which both Scripture and the Saints testify.

      Concerning your fears of going to Hell– in order to for a person to go to Hell, it takes much more than a “weak will.” The authors of the New Testament give us very vivid portraits of themselves as often weak-willed persons who sin, sometimes terribly, but then, get back up again, by grace, and pursue God.

      You describe yourself as being “blind, but still expected to find the door.” The door is Christ, and you are not blind to Him, my friend in Christ! That cannot be the case, for if it *were* the case, you would not even be here at WPI, writing about God and your struggle to draw close to Him! 🙂 The fact that you are here is evidence of your desire to follow God and be close to Him. Yes, our spiritual view is darkened by sin, but if we have any desire to obey God at all (even just the desire *to desire* to obey Him!), we are not blind, and God does not expect us to find the door to Him without any help from Him. The door is Christ, and His grace is an empowerment *to* that door and *through* it (Him) and to *remain* in His love.

      The choice to reject God, eternally, and go to Hell, is not a choice that is simply made by weak-willed people who know they are weak and who still desire to love God and follow Him. Hell is a choice made by those who have truly, obstinately, closed their hearts to God in an irrevocable way. I have seen no evidence, from anything you have written in your comments here, that you want to be in Hell. I’ve seen *much* evidence, though, that you earnestly want to be with God in Heaven– and that earnest, sincere desire is a *huge part* of actually getting there! God loves you, and He wants you to draw close to Him!

      (Yes, Scripture states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it isn’t referring to the kind of cowering fear that leaves us afraid to draw close to God. The Biblical fear of the Lord is more like awe and very great respect, not abject terror.)

  12. Avatar Christopher Lake says:

    Ashpenaz,

    I apologize for the gap in my replies; I have been sick for several days and am finally starting to feel better. You asked me, in a comment above, where Pope Francis says that Hell is eternal. In this National Catholic Reporter article (the same one that I linked to in my previous reply to you, also above), the Pope clearly describes Hell as being “far away from God for eternity.” In context, he is speaking of Mafia members and exhorting them to repent and turn to God, so that they won’t go to Hell for eternity: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/signs-times/pope-francis-and-hell

    About Benedict XVI, he clearly taught, during his time as Pope, that people can choose Hell irrevocably, and that this choice for forever. In paragraph 45 of “Spe Salvi,” one finds these words:

    “With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell[37]. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are[38].”

    Right after this, in paragraph 46, Benedict also states:

    46. “Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God’s judgement according to each person’s particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast. ”

    Now, in context, Benedict is clearly referring to Purgatory (not Hell) when he speaks, above, of passing through fire to become fully open to receiving God. It is clear that he is referring to Purgatory, *precisely because* he speculates that is possible that the “great majority” of people may not go directly to Heaven, *or* make the tragic choice of Hell, but rather, they may pass through a purifying fire which leaves them fully open to God. This is what the Church teaches as *Purgatory, not Hell*. In paragraphs 47 and 48, it remains clear that he is referring to Purgatory, because he speaks of souls receiving possible consolation from our prayers while in this state. There is no consolation in Hell.

    Benedict never states, in “Spe Salvi” or anywhere else, that no one goes to Hell. He speculates that it is *possible* that the great majority of people do not go either to Hell *or* directly to Heaven, but rather, to Purgatory. He clearly leaves open the free choice, though, for at least some people to choose the eternal reality of Hell, because both Scripture and Tradition *teach it to be a free choice*.

  13. Avatar Ashpenaz says:

    Both Francis and Benedict discuss Hell as a possibility, not a certain outcome. Given the laws of quantum mechanics, I could possibly flap my arms and fly to the moon–but it’s not going to happen. Separating myself from God would mean separating myself from my source of being. It would be like pulling each of my atoms out of the Higgs field one-by-one (difficult mainly because there is no space outside of the Higgs field)–you can create a set of equations showing it’s possible, but it’s not going to happen.

    • Avatar Lazurus says:

      We don’t know who is in hell, but that doesn’t mean that there is no hell. Why did the Church bother to distinguish purgatory from hell if hell doesn’t exit?

      I’m not sure if you believe that anyone can choose evil, because evil and hell are related. Hell was created for devils, who have chosen evil and promote evil so humans choose evil and can’t enter heaven. The bible declares peace to men of good will. Do you believe that people can choose evil, despite emotional and psychological factors? What emotional and psychological factors tempted the fallen angels? Even the angels had the ability to choose evil.

    • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

      Ashpenaz,

      You stated, above, that “both Francis and Benedict discuss Hell as a possibility, not a certain outcome.” Yes, this is right– they both discuss and agree that it is *possible* for people to go to Hell. They also both agree that going to Hell is *for eternity*.

      Both Pope Francis and Benedict XVI have publicly affirmed, repeatedly, what the Catechism teaches– that Hell is eternal, and that it is self-chosen. In this article, Pope Francis very clearly states that Hell consists of being “far away from the Lord for eternity.” https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/signs-times/pope-francis-and-hell

      By contrast, you state that it is actually *not possible* for people to go to Hell for eternity– apparently because, in your view, Hell is not eternal, but something closer to a temporary state in which we are cleansed and purified of anything within us that might keep us from completely accepting and embracing God. However, the Church *already teaches* that such a temporary state exists, and that state is Purgatory, *not* Hell.

      The Catechism does not teach that Hell is temporary, but rather, eternal. It also teaches that it is possible for people to go to Hell through their own free decision(s). Pope Francis teaches this, and Benedict XVI also taught it as Pope, because, simply, it is official Catholic teaching. The Catechism states on Hell:

      IV. Hell

      1033 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.”610 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.611 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.”

      1034 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.612 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”613 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”614

      1035 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, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”615 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

      1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”616

      Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”617

      1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;618 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:619

      Father, accept this offering

      from your whole family.

      Grant us your peace in this life,

      save us from final damnation,

      and count us among those you have chosen.620

  14. Avatar Ashpenaz says:

    Of course people can choose evil, and people will be punished for that choice in the Lake of Fire unless they repent in this life. The punishment will exactly match the crime and last long enough to completely destroy the sin–unto the age of the ages. Once the sin has been burned away by the purifying fire, then the person will get a new name written in the Book of Life and be free to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem.

    • Avatar Lazurus says:

      Why would you say sin is bad? Because of the negative consequences it has on others or because it is choosing evil with the will?

      What is the crime being punished exactly? What if beings just say they are sorry, not because they hate evil and reject it for good but rather because they hate being punished? What exactly is God punishing, and how is that different from what men punish? What can God know with certainty that men cannot?

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