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Written Word > Articles & Commentaries > March 2011 > Is Hell Crowded or Empty? A Catholic Perspective
Current rating: 3.8 (11 ratings)
Thank you, Fr. Barron for your perspective. Am I right that it doesn't counteract Bell's universalist position in a big way?
4/2/2011 1:06:27 AM
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Emerging Catholic
This topic is very close to me - I live and operate in both "Emerging" (like Bell) and Catholic (like Fr. Barron) circles.

Fr. Barron, thank you for handling this topic with grace and insight, as always. I especially respect that you can "admit" a point of tension with your hero. I hope we see some in the "Emerging" camp so eloquently and adequately voice the tension that one of our own heroes is exposing.
4/3/2011 8:56:34 AM
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BT Beard
Dear Father
Please explain how your article can be consistent with The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1035? Clearly, not a few people die in a state of mortal sin (Hitler and Stalin come to mind). I am not trying to be disrespectful. Rather this is a sincere question Thank you
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."617 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.
4/3/2011 4:53:44 PM
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I'M puzzled like you BT Beard because the Catholic Church does not treat this subject lightly. Something for us to think about is Hell is mentioned more in the New Testament than Heaven is. In my opinion Satan would like for us to think we don't have Hell to worry about. He does come to lie, steal , and destroy.
4/4/2011 6:29:47 PM
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Thank you for the intellect of your article, but it continues the controversy with no real answers from the Church. Additionally, even more conflicting is the paradox between an all loving Father and a vindictive overlord who has nothing better to do than send souls to be tortured for eternity. I wish there were more priests such as you to guide the impressionable minds of curious youth.

As a devout Catholic in my youth, I was terrified of God rather than seeing Him as Love. This was perpetuated by the shepherds upon whom Jesus apparently bestowed the trust of his entire ministry on earth and Kingdom of Heaven. The Hell I was taught was more than a sick and twisted cautionary tale; it was sold as fact and utilized as a weapon in an *****nal to bend will and mold actions.

The Logos does not make it so that a Hell for cruel punishment can exist and where the "saved" gaze upon as a source of entertainment. Hell, if anything, implies an existence outside of God's love and a rejection of His grace. It is despair and loss of hope, fueled by misinterpretation of His word with confused dogma.

I too am a fan of the Doctors of the Church, but unfortunately they suffered from the same condition as do we all: the human condition. God is perfect and we are not, and to speak for Him as law does ride the edge of the blasphemous. We can only try to understand that He is a force of Love and Creator of this wondrous Earth and Universe which should be looked upon with awe as to the intelligence behind it and the purpose for creating it. He is the Divine and Immortal and we are the mortal creatures upon which he has bestowed His love so that we have a choice to live with that love or turn away from it. It is not a sick and twisted prison camp where we must bend to the rules of fascist and totalitarian psychopath who enjoys pain and provides punishments if we stray from the rules: even if by circumstance of birth and ignorance of His existence.

If I have learned anything, it is that God always has his door open and we are always welcome to come back “home”. Even after all the trials and tribulations of this mortal existence, whether through purposeful action or naïve approach, He is always there to welcome us, not torture us.
4/7/2011 3:43:09 PM
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Fr. Pieter
It is hard to reconcile the emptiness of Hell with Jesus' words in Matthew 7:13-14. The way that leads to destruction is wide and there are many who walk on it.

The Christian must hold onto the mystery of God's infinite love and His Justice. We must hold onto both God's mercy and Jesus' words about the existence of hell with people really heading there.

Hence the need to evangelize and call others, and ourselves, to faith and repentance.

Origen, Balthasar, and Rob Bell only hold onto the first part of the mystery.
4/11/2011 9:24:13 AM
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I am not a Catholic, but I am a regenerated, (born-again) reformed follower of Jesus Christ. I must say I agree with BT, Isabel, and Hopeful: your article provides an excellent historical perspective on universalist doctrine in Church history but it fails to champion the Biblical perspective on Hell. I must agree with Fr. Pieter, in Matthew 7, Jesus makes clear that FEW will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but many will suffer eternal punishment in Hell.

Matt 7:13-14
"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."

John the Baptist also preaches a message of repentance versus damnation in Matthew 3. He says that when Jesus coimes he will shield his remnant of spiritual Israel, the Church, from the wrath of the Father, which will consume the wicked. The "trees that bear bad fruit" and the "chaff" (two metaphors for the same people) will be destroyed.

Matthew 3:10-12
"Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Also important for those of us who are not Biblical scholars are the following verses, where Jesus warns his Church to be on guard for false prophets who salt their false teaching with just enough truth to make it palatable.

Matt 7:15-16a
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits."

I agree 100% with Fr. Pieter; if no one is going to Hell, then there is no need to proclaim the Gospel of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. But... if Hell is real like Jesus said it is, then we should echo the words of his first public sermon in Mark 1.

Mark 1:15
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

In all honesty, the opinions of theologians and philosophers can offer some great perspective on Holy Scripture, but let us not place the opinions of men above the Truth of the divine Word. Let's get back to basics: teach the Bible, teach what God's Word actually says, and we will see Biblical literacy rates rise. In turn, we will see a Church that actually knows what it believes about God because it knows what God has said about Himself, rather than what men say about Him.
4/30/2011 12:41:19 AM
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If God is love and honors our free will, then He cannot force us to worship, obey, or turn towards Him. Even though He is long-suffering that ALL should come to repentance, those that are recalcitrant in the rejection of His forgiveness and power to overcome sin will eventually seal their own doom. This principle is illustrated in the Psalms when “the wicked fall into the pit they have dug.” The following texts also clarify this point by telling us that God’s wrath really is giving sinners up to their own ways and has to remove His protection:

2 Chronicles 30:6-8 “And do not be like your fathers and your brethren, who trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, so that He gave them up to desolation, as you see.”

Ezekiel 20: 24-26 ““Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live; …”

Acts 7:41-43 “Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘ Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness,O house of Israel?”

Romans 1:18-32 “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, …”; “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. …”; “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, …”

Psalm 81:11-13 “But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels. Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!”

Job 4:8 “Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble, reap the same.”

Galatians 6:7,8 “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

Ezekiel 33:11 "Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

What more can God do in saving sinners than getting their attention any way possible and begging them to follow His ways?

However, it is NOT true that the soul or spirit is immortal! Only God has immortality. Any immortality that humans will possess in the future (1 Corinthians 15:50-57) is derived from the life-giver. In fact, the very first lie in the Bible is "You will not surely die." But God had said "Dieing you will die." [In Hebrew, you will be truly dead.]

Many men have died for others and for great causes, but only one has died as sinners will die in hell. God brought the second death forward in time so that ALL could see what it means to be eternally separated from the source of life. Christ was made to be sin for us. He was lifted up just as Moses lifted up the serpent. Christ died on the cross bearing ALL the sins of ALL humanity and was even treated as if He was the advesary - the one who started the rebellion in heaven and continues it here on earth. Christ cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” God the father did NOT kill His son, but rather "gave up" His son showing to all mankind and the universe the depth of His love to sinners!

Our God of love will NOT burn sinners for all eternity! How could a God of love and free will give the message "Love me or I will burn you"? We certainly did not win, nor do we keep our spouses using that strategy! And how could a God of love burn you or I (if we ultimately reject His love) for all eternity, right next to the devil who started it all, deceived 1/3 of the heavenly host, and has been causing the whole world to sin for at least 6,000 years?

Would God who said "You shall not kill", then kill the wicked? Isn't this the message "love me or I'll torture you"? No, The righteous proclaim at Christ's 2nd Coming, "This is our God, we have waited for Him and He will save us."; while the wicked cry for the rocks and mountains to cover them. The righteous show that their consciences are free from the guilt of sin; while the wicked cannot bear to look upon His glory.

The final "hell fire" will be when God fully reveals His love to all. That glory, which is described as a "consuming fire" throughout the Bible, will not harm the righteous; but it will destroy the sin that sinners have clung to. They will burn until there is nothing more to burn. Then will be true the texts:

1 Corinthians 15:55 "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Revelation 20:14 "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."

Malachi 4:1-3 “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.”

Even death itself will be burned up! Heaven itself would become a hell if I knew that God was burning my friends and/or relatives for eternity. This is the concept and character of God that the devil has portrayed, and most of the world believes the lie!

Revelation 21:4 "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
5/2/2011 1:49:23 PM
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Kevin Hurst
Great post, Fr. Barron. I was wondering how von Balthazar would have dealt with a passage like John 17:12 which talks about the "Son of Perdition." This seems to be a reference to Judas. Is this a prophecy that Judas is headed toward eternal destruction?
5/14/2011 6:34:01 PM
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joyce crain
Fr. Pieter's comments seem to me to be most balanced and true to complete Catholic and biblical teachings. There is indeed a mystery here which the human mind cannot fully solve; Von Balthasar, Rob Bell, and (I'm sad to say)Fr. Barron are making the mistake in this area of wanting to say satisfactory things (with good intentions, no doubt) about something which we must allow to be mysterious, and very powerfully so.
5/16/2011 10:37:29 AM
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All this talk of "free will"; I have to ask, will there be free will in heaven? Or is it taken away, lest some eventually choose against God and fall? Hey, it happened to Lucifer!
8/15/2011 12:56:42 PM
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Romans 9:13-23 makes it clear that people do got to Hell. St. Peter and St. Jude say the same in the Bible as well
10/17/2011 11:29:30 PM
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Anold Ziwocha
Thank you Fr. Barron for such an interesting intellectual insight.God is Love and truly this love goes even to the extent of sending his Son to save us all.Such love even draw sinners to repent,for example St Paul.clearly God wishes & needs everyone to be saved.isn't it why God created us in the first place so that we can share his divine life?It is love which will always remain in the end.So I think people need to be made aware of the everlasting love and mercy of God rather than knowing if anyone is in hell.if God was to reveal that answer to us what would it mean to our purpose in life?does it mean its ok to do bad coz God wil always save you in the end? 'NO'
11/21/2011 3:38:40 AM
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I agree that Christ in the bible does show many many people heading straight into Hell. Also read about Saint Faustina's vision of people partying and laughing and falling straight off a cliff into Hell. She even visited Hell and saw many people there and then Christ ordered her to write about it. I think Fr Pieter is closer to the truth, not that God sends us to Hell; some people dont want to be in Heaven; they are free to reject God and they do.
1/19/2012 11:16:38 AM
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Christine Niles
Fr. Barron,
I'm afraid Our Lord would disagree with your overly optimistic view on hell.

"[F]or the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.

How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few."--Matthew 7:13-14
8/16/2012 5:32:13 PM
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