By Sean Flanagan
The Ralph Martin title question is hardly rhetorical – it burns to the very heart of the issue of Salvation and the urgency that should be at the heart of the admonition of Jesus to his disciples : “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, and behold I will be with you unto the consummation of the world”.
Indeed reading Ralph Martin’s book was a shocking ‘eye-opener’ for me a lay Catholic ‘busy with many things,’- like Martha, not the least of which is looking to my bond as a Catholic father and grandfather, but also trying to live the faith, and to be an Evangelist in the marketplace with all of the limitations imposed by our radical secular society.
While I do a lot of spiritual reading and try to keep myself abreast of things Catholic, I do not have time (nor probably the intellectual grasp) to read any of the theological tomes of Carl Rahner or Hans Urs Von Balthusar, to name a couple of those (protagonists?) whose writings are the basis of Ralph Martin’s excellent book on a central question of Salvation - a question that most of us pre-fifties Catholics could spit out the answer at the drop of a tome!
We all owe Dr. Martin a debt of gratitude for taking the time and the challenge to address the confusing speculations and assertions of these two eminent Theologians - VonBalthusar and Rahner. And he writes it all in lucid and charitable prose, without any of the angst that I felt reading the lofty speculations about ‘what was really meant’ by various scripture passages, that I, (in my blessed innocence) thought they meant simply what was said. Apparently many, many, of us cradle Catholic types may have been misled! Or perhaps we simply see by God’s grace, with the innocence of a child, believing exactly what Our Father has told us! Was Daddy lying to us?
Perhaps you detect a little sarcasm though I don’t mean to be snide, since these good men, Theologians, gave their lives in the service of our Holy Church, but I could not help but think of the Secular comparison of our current situation here in the USA, with those who are doing their level best to re-write the Constitution of the United States of America to bring it more in line and update it, with modern “Progress”. A progress none the less, that happens to dovetail with their liberal political ideology.
Can it be that these two ‘Progressive’ Theologians honestly pursued the idea that Universal Salvation might in fact a have been a real probability in the “mind of God”? Well it surely seems more than a ‘possibility’ based on Rahner’s Theory of the “Anonymous Christian” and the views advanced by VonBalthasur’s theory of the legitimacy of “Universal Salvation” – Apokatastasis.
Now Fr. Rahner and Fr. VonBalthasur did not agree with each other on all these deep questions on the “real wishes of God” regarding the ‘Human Enterprise,’ and from the reading of Ralph Martin’s account there was much sneering and sarcasm back and forth, in their comments on each other’s “speculations.”
If the concept of Hell, referred to countless times in the New Testament is in danger of redundancy I do hope that these two eminent Theologians had also considered a Biblical update on the eschatological modifications that would also be required, quite apart from “the whole silly Missionary work that’s been afoot for two thousand years”! One has to wonder whatever Jesus could have meant when He said to his disciples “go ye therefore and teach all nations and - - - - -“ Well of course our Dear Lord did have a lot on His plate and he did have some rough days before He departed, and was probably confused!!!!
It would appear to me as a simple uneducated (in theology) Catholic man (Father and Grandfather) that it simply “knocks me for a loop,” that the idea of even publishing these speculations/theories under the aegis of ‘Catholic Authority’ was/is - not only dangerous, but thoughtless and mischievous. They are virtually toxic emanations when released into the “biosphere,” given the reach, depth and facility for manipulation in our media-saturated, anti-Catholic world. It is the equivalent of suggesting – “that in view of the sexual anarchy of the past 40 years and the enshrining in law of homosexuality including Homosexual marriage, that it might be reasonable for the Church to now consider rescinding the 6th and 9th commandments!” Which in effect suggests, that since Hell may well be empty – a little whoop-dee-doo and pitti-patti, heh! heh!, - ye know what I mean - can’t be all that serious !
Who knows to what degree these speculations, well known in ecclesiastical circles, (and perhaps viewed by some scholars as potentially auguring a more reasonable approach than the ‘horrid concept’ of eternal damnation) have been responsible for much of the priestly scandals and the now overwhelmingly embedded secular reality of moral relativism!!!!
Of the many brief review commentaries (Jacket-blurb) used, – about 17 in all, some instructive, some quite telling: Those making commentaries are 4 Cardinals, 2 Archbishops, 1 Bishop, 4 Priest-Professors, 2 Deacons, 3 Lay Theologians and One Catholic Layman – for a total of 17. The only comments that address the heart of the matter and the whole point of Ralph Martin’s Book about the significant undermining of the Evangelical Mission of the Church are by a Deacon and a Catholic layman!
That simply parallels the common experience of orthodox Catholic laymen and women who take seriously the call to be evangelists: Two out of seventeen – approx. 12% of Orthodox Catholics are willing to be critical of those charged with managing “The Barque of Peter,” the others it seems, close ranks.
I rest my case.
PS. After my initial reading of Ralph Martin’s Book. I jotted my thoughts inside the fly leaf and I offer them to you for further consideration:
Conclusion: Why not as a simple and practical matter for the ordinary lay Catholic, who believes fully in the “inerrant word of God” and the historical accuracy and truth of ‘The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus’, and the assurances and promises of sacred scripture of an - “Eternal Life beyond time and place and mystery”- in the presence of our Trinitarian God and Father?
Then allow that He will be the final Loving Arbiter, since the whole matter/issue of culpability - with the myriad subjective factors that colors every soul’s view of life – both Christian believers, non-Christians and even Atheists. The mystery of existence is still a mystery for all, even though for believers in Jesus Christ and His teachings, Jesus has given us assurances that make the mystery and promise an anticipated joy, rather than a road block, hiding perhaps darkness, and unthinkable oblivion as the soul undoubtedly continues on its journey. These things are obviously beyond earthly discernment for us, and for all who have lived before us, and are so obviously beyond our discernment.
Our work as His followers despite all the human limitations and our “feet of clay” is to “Go Forth and Spread the Good News” and be as He was, to the degree possible – “a man for others.”
The only earthly resolution to the mystery is found in the Faith that there is a God who will not leave us orphans, nor will he force us to believe, which would be to deny our great gift of free-will. For His Followers-then and now, speculation on –“is there a God” ended. In the 2,000 year interval nothing has altered – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday to-day and forever."
Know then thyself
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The Proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the skeptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance his reason such,
Whether he thinks to little, or too much:
Sole judge of truth in endless error hurl’d:
The glory jest and riddle of the world
All that we feel of it begins and ends
In the small circle of our foes and friends
Alike or when, or where they shone or shine,
Or on the Rubicon, or on the Rhine.
A wits a feather, and a chief a rod;
An honest man’s the noblest work of God.