Thursday, December 4, 2014

Word of the Day: Apokatastasis

Apokatastasis means the belief that all will be saved. Something near to this repeatedly crops up on Fr. Robert Barron's Word on Fire blog.

Today's iteration is a meditation on the new Bill Murray movie -- which looks good -- St. Vincent. Murray plays his usual lovable rogue. An adulterer, a drunkard, and a thief. But, you see, he has some good qualities, too. He's not bad enough for Hell, but he's no saint, either. He's what Aristotle would call the incontinent man, according to the contributor, Fr. Damien Ference.

Catholicism knows what to do with people like this, he says. It's called Purgatory.

Think about this. You can revel in mortal sins, but if you're kind to dogs and visit your mother on occasion, you're not all bad. Surely Hell is out of the question.

Purgatory is becoming the routine layover for those not saintly enough for the nonstop flight to Heaven. Hell is occupied solely by a few Nazis of the absolute worst sort, and perhaps Osama bin Laden. You know, the very people our culture happens to condemn the most. (Imagine that.)

The road to Hell is narrow and few travel it. The road to Heaven is wide and nearly everybody makes it through the pearly gates, although there is a bad stretch through Purgatory.

This is quite different from the historical understanding of Heaven and Hell, as readers of this blog will know. The question is, why does Fr. Robert Barron, the Carl Sagan of Catholicism, promote this error?

The article quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Spe Salvi, which always reminds the Bear that he was a German theologian, after all.

For the great majority of people -- we may suppose -- there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate 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.

(Emphasis added.) Certainly, the tone of Catholic discussion over the last fifty years supports Fr. Barron and practical apokatastasis. Did the Church of yore overdo Hell? It would be so easy to drift along the lazy current to Paradise, secure in the knowledge the Bear managed not to be Hitler.

But, if that's all there is, life becomes a routine journey on a conveyer belt: birth, a not-too-horrible life, death, some Purgatory, then Heaven. What does that mean? Right or wrong, at least old Catholicism had some drama to it.

And it had something else: motivation. To be good. To spread the gospel. To fight for the truth.

Is it coincidental that the Church lost its supernatural motivation just as it nailed shut the door to Hell?


  1. Oh, Bear, I increasingly worry about the wide gate that leadeth to destruction, and the narrow gate that leadeth to life. If we take Jesus' words seriously, none of us can be complacent. Most of the people I know seem to firmly believe that when our loved ones die, they go directly to Heaven and begin looking down on us to see how we're progressing...not how we're progressing in virtue, but how we're progressing in feeling happy. I wonder sometimes if we in the "developed" world have become so comfortable, so insulated from desperation and suffering, that we have lost the ability to imagine Hell.

    And it's so easy for those who don't want to feel at risk of damnation to obfuscate the matter...e.g.: "The narrow gate refers to how few of us really love our neighbor. The vast majority of us choose the wide gate of indifference." (Cue Social Justice cheerleading squad.)

    On a lighter note, I love your "Carl Sagan of Catholicism" quip :-D. Remembering Johnny Carson's frequent lampooning of Sagan's "BILLions and BILLions of galaxies" line from "Cosmos", I can't help imagining Fr. Barron remarking cozily on the BILLions and BILLions of souls in Paradise :-D

    1. You may have a point. Back in the Dark Ages, life was nasty, brutish and short. In Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror she describes the fascination with death. They would picnic among the exposed and moldering bones at the cemetery. There wasn't much due process and torture with or without execution was the penalty for most crimes. People forget that our view of the world -- and the otherworld -- is as conditioned by our own times as the Medieval's was by his. We keep suffering pretty much in check in the US, and, where unavoidable, out of sight.

      I get what B16 and (to the extent their views are similar) Fr. Barron are coming from. Hell is just so terrible, without hope, going on and on forever. It seems so... disproportionate to golf-instead-of-Mass-cheated-on-Aunt Helen Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob in Hell? Seriously? Sure, maybe not Heaven right away, but come'on.

      Anyway, like so much else, I plink away at the likes of Fr. Robert Barron from Zoar Manor. The Bear has blogged his thousands, but Fr. Barron has blogged his hundreds of thousands.

    2. I've always kind of suspected that Carl Sagan delighted in repeatedly speaking of BILLIONS and BILLIONS of other worlds because doing so subtly suggested that * our * world is not all that special -- that it just might, in fact, be insignificant. And I wonder if, similarly, hypothesizing that just about EVERYONE is destined for Heaven might not impart, to some minds, a comfortable feeling that the state of the soul is, well, not that big a deal.

    3. I think you have a point Jane. I recently heard a guy say that the fact (?) that there are innumerable galaxies, etc, beyond ours is a testament to the greatness of God. He can't be boxed in. He is omnipotent....I think I side with your view of the idea of many worlds and galaxies undermining the significance of Earth and humanity.

      And, now the Holy Father has upped the ante. Now ALL of God's creatures may go to heaven, including animals. There ya go.

  2. I remember explaining to my children that if everyone was already going to heaven, there seemed to be no reason for Our Lord to bother to come, suffer, and die for us. They thought that made sense; I do also; apparently most people don't.

    1. Makes sense to me! To meditate on the Passion and stand up and say, "Oh well, that was gruesome, and so unnecessary!" is to miss the point.

  3. The question is, why does Fr. Robert Barron, the Carl Sagan of Catholicism, promote this error?

    Well, in part because he's been reading too much Balthasar, and not enough Augustine.

    The difference in tone one sees in Joseph Ratzinger is telling. He clearly admires Balthasar, and is familiar with his writings. But his intense Augustinianism produces a somewhat more sober outlook when he touches on subjects related to justification, to say nothing of the immediate prospects for the Church (which rightly saw as far back as the 60's as on course to become a good deal smaller).

    As for Fr. Barron: he's a full-time evangelist, and he's selling the faith. And it seems it's harder to sell a faith which appears to indicate that the number of the saved may be few to an affluent and complaisant society.


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