The eccentricity of God

I feel for the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Don’t you? All his life he has given obedience to his father, yet he has to stand by and watch his perfectly awful brother, who has broken every rule in the book, celebrated with the sacrifice of a fatted calf. And the reason: “this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

It looks mightily to me as if God is something of an eccentric: he is actually rather fond of sinners. He goes around looking for them so that he can have the pleasure of forgiving them and showing mercy.

St Paul tells us how this started: “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

Today we have a new apostle of God’s mercy. Pope Francis has said many things, but he so often returns to this theme. He tells us that we are likely to get tired of asking for forgiveness long before God tires of giving it.

If we look for a personal motivation in this perhaps it lies in Francis’s own experience. When he led the Argentinian Jesuits, he had a reputation as a staunch conservative. He was opposed to liberation theology, and appeared to be altogether too friendly to the military junta. But his later experience as a bishop and archbishop converted him to his apostolate of the poor – to the wonder of those who had known his old self. Quite simply he had repented and changed direction. So he has experienced the mercy of God at first hand.

Of course this is no surprise to us. We are aware of the emphasis that the Gospels put on forgiveness, and we remember, from the Our Father, that our willingness to forgive is a condition of receiving God’s forgiveness.

But I now detect a change of attitude within myself towards sin. The idea, which many of us older ones experienced in our youth, that God might catch us out by allowing a bus to cross our path while we happened to be in a ‘state of mortal sin’ is simply wrong. God will go to the ends of the earth, indeed to the ends of eternity, to ensure that we get to Heaven. He has paid too high a price by far to allow his work to be wasted. As the old saying has it: “Betwixt the stirrup and the ground is mercy sought and mercy found.”

Yet this is not a reason for complacency. We are reminded that we do not know the place nor the hour when we will face judgment. Rather, our knowledge of God’s infinite extension of mercy to us calls all the more for a loving response to his goodness.

I remember from many years ago an occasion when one of my children behaved very badly. And he appeared to be stuck in his defiance. I found myself being ready to accept even the slightest sign that he was sorry, so anxious was I to forgive him and restore our real relationship. And God can do better than me.

If we are weak, and continually fall back in little things, and sometimes in big things, perhaps we should remember how the Lord spoke to St Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” and Paul concluded “…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” The one prayer which God answers with full heart is: give me the grace of repentance. No sooner said than done.

([I base my description of Pope Francis’s change of heart on the Tablet summary of Pope Francis: Untying the knot by Paul Vallely. (10 & 17 August.])

You may see a very different point of view, expressed by Fr Dwight Longeneker (Will many be saved?) at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/08/will-many-be-saved.html
Contributed by Singalong.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Pope Francis, Quentin queries, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to The eccentricity of God

  1. Peter D. Wilson says:

    I have a theory that many will be damned because, faced with the unutterable brilliance of divine light, they cannot bear it and prefer the dark. There they will suffer the torments of frustration as beings created essentially for the company of God yet denying themselves the fulfilment of that purpose, but to them, those torments would be more merciful than the alternative.
    Any thoughts?

  2. Brian Hamill says:

    There is perhaps the greatest paradox in this matter – dare one say greatest ‘mystery’. On the one hand, God so loves each of us that if one person refuses his love, the whole of creation is a failure. On the other hand, the God so loves each one of us that if one person accepts his love, the whole of creation is a success. It is interesting to note that the Church only ever deals with the eternal destiny of those who have accepted God’s love, via the canonisation process. The Church knows full well that the destiny of those who have apparently rejected his love lies not in their hands and knowledge, but in God’s alone. I recall once being told by priest when in Primary School that on the law of averages half of us his listeners were going to hell. Now that really is not only a heresy, it is a blasphemy – and spiritual child-abuse. He was personally, by the way, a very nice man… I would suggest that anyone who does not fully hope and pray that all are saved, including oneself, has missed the heart of the Jesus’s message.

  3. Singalong says:

    Mentioning this article, does not mean that I subscribe to its views. I would prefer not to do so, and to believe that God`s mercy is overflowing to the extent of universalism. In some ways, I do not know what to think, but probably the key is in the wish to repent, as Quentin says, and the certainty that God will respond immediately and fully to the slightest move towards Him, again, as Quentin says, as we do to our erring children, and anticipate their return.

    Sin and rejection of God is a dreadful evil to be balanced against the mercy of God and the need for our redemption, so how do we steer the right course between despair and presumption?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong.
      This is probably a childish way of seeing things, but I am constantly daily saying sorry to Jesus,and kicking Satan in the face. As we get older I think these things come naturally and we know straight away by our inner conscience.Just the like Parable of the gem stone being shone up on the mill stone (if that is right I seem to remember without looking it up) .Tuning up ones conscience in other words.
      That maybe my presumption.but I prefer it to despair.

  4. milliganp says:

    Despite hoping all will be saved, I’m with C S Lewis’s description in The Great Divorce; we have free will and the option to reject God. C S Lewis’s characters would hate to be in heaven, free will should allow them that choice.

    • tim says:

      “C. S. Lewis: Revelation, Conversion and Apologetics” (Brazier and Holmes, 2012) quotes Peter Kreeft:
      “…during a theological conference in the mid-1990’s …Father Fessio got up and proposed that we issue a joint statement of theological agreement among all the historic, orthodox branches of Christendom saying that what united us was ‘Scripture, the Apostle’s Creed, the first six ecumenical councils and the collected works of C. S. Lewis’. The proposal was universally cheered.”

  5. Brendan says:

    It seems to me that right now our Western logic of equating expected reward with every good action needs to be seriously re-evaluated in Chritian living generally in the economy of our lies. Pope Emeritus Benedict explains quite convincingly the ” washing of the feet and confession of sin ” using the RSV of Saint Johns Gospel – ” He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet “( 13:10). – ( in his 2nd Vol. of ” Jesus of Nazareth – from the entrance to Jerusalem To the Resurrection.)
    Benedict explains this quite obviously as being ” bathed ” as an inscription into ” tablefellowship with the Lord.” Yet our Christian living needs constantly to be cleansed by this ” washing of feet “. He goes on to quote fthe First Letter of John : – ” If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say we have not sinned , we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1:8-10).
    It is clear that only Divine Grace can saves us from ourselves, for as The Pope Emeritus says , ” .. even the baptised remain sinners , they need confession of sins , ” which cleanses us from all unrighteousness “.
    Accepting Our Lords truism as the basis of our Christian living , Pope Francis I believe, is basing eventual ” completion ” of this ” fellowship ” with the Lord on Divine Providence only, directly related to the Parable in Holy Scripture of the Labourer deserving his reward. In short God’s logic is that he is not concerned how one gets to heaven – only that one ARRIVES there !
    ” There is more joy amongst the angels in heaven etc……. “. This of course is countercultural to present Western thinking which for long has infiltrated and I believe, it is not too strong a word to say it has corrupted Christian sphere of life in our society.
    Does anyone feel like me that we have barely scratched the surface of the ‘ New Evangelisation ” as laid out post- Vatican 2. – starting with our own lives ? Our present Holy Father is surely pointing the way , as a good shephard does !

  6. RAHNER says:

    It must be obvious that the notion of sin as the breaking of a rule or law issued by a sort of cosmic scoutmaster is bankrupt and will have to be replaced by the idea of sin as something that destroys or inhibits human nature and that requires transformation, growth and healing.

    • tim says:

      Sounds orthodox. St Paul wrote letters along those lines. But it leaves open the questions of what kinds of behaviour require this treatment, and particularly whether it can ultimately fail and what happens if it does – which is the concern of the current discussion.

  7. Michael Horsnall says:

    “…If we are weak, and continually fall back in little things, and sometimes in big things, perhaps we should remember how the Lord spoke to St Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” and Paul concluded “…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” The one prayer which God answers with full heart is: give me the grace of repentance. No sooner said than done…”

    I like this Quentin. Any man who fancies himself strong before God is a complete idiot, ST Therese of Liseux is very good on this.

  8. Vincent says:

    I have re-read the Longeneker review, to which we have a link, and I must say it continues to concern me.
    I think of my friend Donald (not his name) whom I have known for 10 years. He is in his 70s, was educated by the Jesuits, has been married twice, and lapsed many years ago. I do not know his reason for lapsing but nowadays he does not believe in God.
    However I notice that, whenever a mutual friend of ours is ill, it is Don who immediately goes into action to see what help he can give. He has a special interest in the subject of modern slavery, which he has studied, and takes every opportunity to publicise as a continuing evil in modern society. We often talk about religion, and I notice that his views are moderate, and he shows considerable respect for my opinion. To the best of my knowledge, he is a good man; it is not false humility but observation which leads me to suspect that he is a better person than me.
    I do not know the state of his soul of course but, when I read in the undoubtedly correct quotes in Longeneker of the literal tortures of Hell, and reflect that they will be imposed for all eternity, I find myself apparently faced by a God whose punishments make the modern slave master positively clement and restrained in his activities.
    This God has apparently made a human race (with all the characteristics which he has given them) whom he knows will overpopulate his Hell throughout an agonising eternity. As was said of Judas, it was better if they had never been born. For them creation was not a gift but a sentence to the endless torture chamber.
    I understand how a person who freely refuses to love God or man, disqualifies himself from Heaven. It’s a logical outcome. But I take the view that the scriptural description is expressed in the terms of the time, and we are obliged to interpret through our own understanding of merit, punishment and justice. Were I not to do so, I think I would join Don in his view that no reasonable person could believe in the goodness of a God like that.

    • Brian Hamill says:

      Vincent,

      This is a very good story and highlights the issue well. Fundamentally I have no wish to live forever with the God dear Logenecker portrays. I am not a universalist in the sense that I discount the possibility of my sending myself to Hell, whatever that means. If I know I can go to Hell then I am not in practice a universalist since the possible can become the actual. However, as a father, I find it difficult to imagine that God loves my children less than I do, ‘evil as I am’. If heaven without them would be hell for me, how much more would it be for the God, who loved them into being? As a friend of mine once said with reference to ‘the world’, ‘There is not much faith out there but an enormous fountain of love’, and, as the Fathers said, ‘Where love is, there is the Spirit, and where there is the Spirit, there is the Church’, anonymous or not.

    • Advocatus Diaboli says:

      I make it a principle always to disagree with Vincent. And there’s no exception here. Longenecker’s review is truly brave because it states, without fear or favour, what the Catholic Church really believes, but tries to conceal,.

      I notice that Longenecker has been, perhaps still is, a chaplain to a school. I trust that he leaves the little ones shaking in fear at the real possibility, even likelihood, that they will end up in Hell. When they grow up most of them will sensibly leave this medieval, cruel, Catholic Church and regain their sanity. I hope he will not do so however because this is exactly what Professor Dawkins means when he calls Catholic education a form of child abuse.

      Of course Vincent believes that one can “interpret” a way out of this. Right again, one can interpret a way out of anything. – but it’s wishful thinking to hold that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said and emphasised.

      • Brian Hamill says:

        ‘….what the Catholic Church really believes…’ Dear, dear, dear! Has the Devil himself fallen into the category of those who think that the Caholic Church is capable of belief of anything? Only persons are capable of belief and the proper object of belief is not any old proposition but a person, in the case of the Christian that means Jesus. It is also worth noting that Jesus on the cross forgave and welcomed the repentant thief into Paradise. His reply to the unrepentant thief was silence, not the curse of Matthew 25. Perhaps Jesus learnt something during his passion…

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        I don’t see how the words of Jesus on the broad and narrow ways, if authentic, can bear any reasonable interpretation but that most people are on the road to perdition, whether through conscious choice or by negligence. Whether they reach that terminus may be another matter. They cannot be forcibly plucked off the road without violation of free will, but we may hope that most will be persuaded somehow to change track, if only at the last moment. For some, however, the “beatific” vision may be so horrendous that any alternative is preferable, and for them, I suppose, damnation is the more merciful fate.

      • milliganp says:

        Please excuse a possible misuse of humour. I had to perform the funeral of the elderly member of the Goan community some years ago. His wife told me that he hated Mass and would slip out of the back of church and go to a local bar while the rest of the family attended. She felt to have a solemn requiem would be out of character and so we had a simple cremation service, much to the annoyance of members of the extended family. In my homily I noted his dislike for the formalities of religion and noted that John’s apocalyptic vision of heaven seemed to describe a very formal high mass which he might find uncomfortable and ended with the hope that God might provide a place of comfort nearby for those who found the vision overwhelming.
        On a more serious note, given Christ’s obvious compassion and mercy, it might be reasonable that many of his references to the difficulty of reaching heaven were to warn against complacency and encourage positive virtue rather that to condemn fallen behaviour. We need to remember the words from his passion, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”, these could be read as words of universal absolution for the sins of mankind.

  9. mike Horsnall says:

    “…..On a more serious note, given Christ’s obvious compassion and mercy, it might be reasonable that many of his references to the difficulty of reaching heaven were to warn against complacency and encourage positive virtue rather that to condemn fallen behaviour. We need to remember the words from his passion, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”, these could be read as words of universal absolution for the sins of mankind….”

    Yes this is true. I’ve just come from Saturday mass in my local prison and can strongly echo the above sentiment. It is good to remember that the words we read and tend to judge with were inspired by the Father of all mercy who is not blind to the condition of men.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I was thinking ‘maybe Judas did not think that Jesus would have been condemned to death,just judged and set free,as it was the crowd that condemned Him.in the end’.
      Someone made a comment in an earlier post that Jesus knew His Crucifixion would happen,and knew Judas would be the one, so he will have been redeemed too! Perhaps hanging himself was not a good idea.He could have served his punishment on earth
      I do believe in Hell as Our Lady at Fatima showed the children an image,but it may not have been Hell only where souls could go if no one prayed for them.We pray that no one will end up there.
      However where does the Devil live and his angels. They believe in God but hate Him. That’.s the difference between those that love Him.. Baptism saves us, we are assured of eternal Life, but what about non Christians? They must have the same assurance of the Cross of Jesus.even if they don’t believe He is God and hate the Church.and Christians.

  10. Michael Horsnall says:

    “…..I don’t see how the words of Jesus on the broad and narrow ways, if authentic, can bear any reasonable interpretation but that most people are on the road to perdition, whether through conscious choice or by negligence….”

    Hmmmm, don’t think I’d be very happy, believing like that I mean.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Michael – I don’t rejoice in it myself, but disliking the inference is no reason for rejecting it.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Mike.I may be interpreting wrongly but if those people who are evil hated God so much it most probably would be their hell if they had to spend eternity in Heaven.A special room for the damned.! With a window.!!!!

      • Michael Horsnall says:

        Peter, its not a matter of that. Read Isaiah for example:
        ‘Come all you who are weary and heavy laden and you shall find rest for your souls..”

        There are many one line statements in the bible. Jesus’ sayings in the New Testament of course were not direct quotes but basically notes for sermons written by others. A single sentence or two is not enough to base a view of eternity on. A close read of the psalms for example would tend to say that the writer was confident of God’s mercy despite the many wrongs of himself and of his people. Ezekiel too speaks of a God, as Rahner notes, more interested in transformation than annihilation or eternal torture. We do not know the meaning of any short statements in the bible-Gospels included- without reference to the whole book and the broader magisterium. I think you would have to look quite hard to find too many contemporary theologians committed to the view that the vast majority of the human population is headed for perdition-unless of course by ‘perdition’ you mean some kind of purifying purgatory not having punishment as its central theme…do you?

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Michael – “… unless of course by ‘perdition’ you mean some kind of purifying purgatory not having punishment as its central theme…do you?”
        No, I don’t. I do believe that God will respect the choice of those (however few or many) who, given the most complete possible understanding of what God offers, decide against it. The doctrine of free will requires no less. Moreover, I don’t think any of us can be absolutely sure, before reaching that moment, of making the contrary decision.

      • Brian Hamill says:

        It is worth commenting that free will is not the ability to say equally ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but fundamentally the ability to ‘yes’ to God. The ‘no’ is an aberration.

    • milliganp says:

      It is said that, on his deathbed, Stalin waved his fist at God; could that be seen as a sign of faith or defiance? I don’t like the idea of all being saved because it makes effort seemingly pointless, but that might be a condemnable position.

    • tim says:

      Peter does go on to say that they may turn round.
      This is all heavy stuff, and to add to it we have the Gospel about the ‘narrow gate’ read to us today. Do you think Our Lord tended to exaggerate? ‘faith moving mountains’, ‘mustard seeds’, ‘camels and eyes of needles’ and so on? Can this legitimately be seen as (in some degree) rhetoric? Maybe we should go back to the parables (at least here it’s easier to put congenial meanings on some of them). The Prodigal Son is encouraging. But it requires repentance – the son has to return home, even if he’s greeted from a long way off. Still, the character of the elder son in that story is something of a comfort (at least to those of us who, like me, are not currently notorious sinners but are mean, lazy or small-minded). He does not get thrown out, just mildly reproved. And there is ‘more joy in heaven over the one who repents, than the 99 who need no repentance’. That can (possibly) be read as indicating that loss is rare. Most sheep do not stray. And only one among a crowd of wedding guests failed to dress for the occasion. Against that, the wise and foolish virgins are equally divided. In sum, I don’t think we should – or can – make statistical forecasts of the percentage of people to be expected to go to Hell. We should have in mind only that Hell is a possibility – for ourselves, for those we love and for everyone.

      • Michael Horsnall says:

        Tim:
        Do you think Our Lord tended to exaggerate? ‘faith moving mountains’, ‘mustard seeds’, ‘camels and eyes of needles’ and so on?..”

        I’ve been pondering this for years and have to come up with a resounding ‘yes!’
        When we speak we speak for effect to drive home a point. We use hyperbole, we make metaphor and we exaggerate. It could be argued that Jesus was speaking from out of his Divine nature on some occasions and not on others so that some statements were line on line authoritive and others just a man teaching a crowd and trying to get his point across. For instance I am convinced that when Jesus hauled Peter up from out of the waves and said ‘Oh you of little faith’ I am convinced he must have said it with a grin on his faith and never intended that particular line to be used as a stick with which to berate the weak by stern and grim faced pastors ! A whole can of worms I know and yet another example of why we need a magisterium.

  11. John Candido says:

    I think that we don’t give the notion that God is omniscient and all merciful much time in this topic. The more society knows about human beings, the more respect and care is given to others as a result. Of course this is not automatic, but at least it is potentially available for people to treat others with the respect and care that they deserve.

    The same can be said of God, however God is already there with complete knowledge, having created us out of nothing and allowed us to evolve to our present state. Right and wrong can be a dichotomous concept in the sense of a complete understanding of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, as it applies to human beings and the context that they find themselves.

    • Michael Horsnall says:

      John:
      “. The more society knows about human beings, the more respect and care is given to others as a result. ..”

      Yes. This seems to accord with the way God says in todays scripture something like ‘go
      away from me I don’t know where you are from’. I think Gods mercy is wide to the point of being infinite-and our understanding of it grows in history. But it must be possible that there is an outcome for the vehement and knowing refusal of God. I don’t know about you but when I am, like some dumb brute, forced by my conscience to accept the selfish nature of a course of action undertaken or intended-then I am pretty definitely miserable for awhile. If you write up that feeling of remorse big enough then I guess it could be described as a consuming fire-in the fires of that remorse for eternity is a place I seriously wouldn’t want to be. I also liked St Josephs point that the Devil and his angels have to live somewhere…and I wouldn’t much want to know their address from thee inside!!

    • tim says:

      John Candido says:
      (August 25, 2013 at 9:14 am …)
      John, your first paragraph seems to me spot on, but I can’t make out what the final sentence of that post means. Would you like to explain further?

      • John Candido says:

        ‘Right and wrong can be a dichotomous concept in the sense of a complete understanding of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, as it applies to human beings and the context that they find themselves.’

        My apologies Tim for not replying in a timelier manner to your question, as WordPress cannot get on top of their technical issues. All posts to SecondSight are not conveniently sent to my inbox, I have to go looking for each and every reply, either under ‘Recent Comments’, on the right-hand side of the front page, or by manually looking at each post in a topic.

        What I am trying to say is that as knowledge about humans increase every year, societies have a greater comprehension of why people think and behave a certain way. An increased understanding about human psychology may or may not lead us to determine less culpability for a person who has broken moral or civil law. However, the bottom line is that all societies will at least have a better explanation for ‘strange’ or ‘aberrant’ or ‘illegal’ behaviour, moving forwards through time.

        ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ are dichotomous concepts. In order for any society to have any semblance of order, there must be clear distinctions between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. What one age considers ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is usually a little different to another age. Therefore the boundaries of what is considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ moves a little, from one age to another.

        Science will probably never reach the end point of our understanding of human thought and behaviour. I think that that is a reasonable assumption. Despite this, as we move closer to a full understanding of human beings; possessing greater insight about people allows us to apply a fuller appreciation of a multitude of relevant factors that have a bearing on behaviour. The genetic predisposition of people, their experience of life since birth, and the specific context within which behaviour is observed, play significantly in our estimation of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. How society judges behaviour in 1700 AD, is significantly different to how it estimates it in 2000 AD, or 2700 AD for that matter.

  12. Vincent says:

    In our discussion of who gets saved, I find it helpful to check on the key points:
    1. We know that it is possible for anyone to refuse eternal life through their own free refusal to love
    2. How many or what proportion of people fail is an irrelevant question. The number is exactly the number of people who choose to refuse love.
    3 There is no point in speculating about the degree of misery these people receive. God’s justice demands that it can be no more than proportionate to their degree of guilt.
    4 To speak of an eternity of Hell is to use human language. ‘Eternity’ is a description of time in human language. We can give no meaning to this when time itself has no meaning.
    5 We know that God has gone to the furthest extremes to save people and that he will continue to do so.
    6 We must understand Jesus’s description of the pains of Hell in terms of the understanding of the people to whom he spoke. It is enough for us to see that the refusal to love is an absolute disaster – an absolute betrayal of the whole purpose for which we were created.

    • tim says:

      Vincent – very sound. I shall be much comforted if AD continues to disagree with you on principle.

      • John Candido says:

        ‘Right and wrong can be a dichotomous concept in the sense of a complete understanding of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, as it applies to human beings and the context that they find themselves.’

        My apologies Tim for not replying in a timelier manner to your question, as WordPress cannot get on top of their technical issues. All posts to SecondSight are not conveniently sent to my inbox, I have to go looking for each and every reply, either under ‘Recent Comments’, on the right-hand side of the front page, or by manually looking at each post in a topic.

        What I am trying to say is that as knowledge about humans increase every year, societies have a greater comprehension of why people think and behave a certain way. An increased understanding about human psychology may or may not lead us to determine less culpability for a person who has broken moral or civil law. However, the bottom line is that all societies will at least have a better explanation for ‘strange’ or ‘aberrant’ or ‘illegal’ behaviour, moving forwards through time.

        ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ are dichotomous concepts. In order for any society to have any semblance of order, there must be clear distinctions between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. What one age considers ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is usually a little different to another age. Therefore the boundaries of what is considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ moves a little, from one age to another.

        Science will probably never reach the end point of our understanding of human thought and behaviour. I think that that is a reasonable assumption. Despite this, as we move closer to a full understanding of human beings; possessing greater insight about people allows us to apply a fuller appreciation of a multitude of relevant factors that have a bearing on behaviour. The genetic predisposition of people, their experience of life since birth, and the specific context within which behaviour is observed, play significantly in our estimation of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. How society judges behaviour in 1700 AD, is significantly different to how it estimates it in 2000 AD, or 2700 AD for that matter.

  13. Michael Horsnall says:

    St Joseph:
    “Mike.I may be interpreting wrongly but if those people who are evil hated God so much it most probably would be their hell if they had to spend eternity in Heaven. A special room for the damned.! With a window.!!!!”

    Ha ha !! that’s brilliant!!!…and eucharist on room service!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike, that reminds me in the Book of Revelation The seer eats the small scroll-‘Take it and eat it: it will turn your stomach sour,but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey’ So I took it out of the angel’s hand and swallowed it : it was as sweet as honey in my mouth,but when I had eaten it my stomach turned sour’
      .
      The wicked will then know what they have missed!.
      Probably nothing to do with that -just a thought!!

  14. Brian Hamill says:

    Could one say that God never takes No for an answer? This would imply that the concept of eternity is not the same for the saved as for the damned. Perhaps to enter eternity one’s choice has to be counter-signed by the Eternal One and he will only countersign a ‘Yes’. His refusal to take No for an answer would mean that those who say No are constantly and continually and continuously being asked to revise their choice – forever. This is perpetuity rather than eternity.

    • stormdog1 says:

      We also have to consider the resurrection of the body on the last day.
      This to me places a different concept on eternity.
      Will we be on Earth? Our bodies will be in the same Glorified body as Jesus,so do we eat?We suppose it will be like the Garden of Eden as we seem to see it.
      Will be be naked (I doubt it) Will there be places to buy clothes-will everything be free-no work-just lazing about -will we have wings.I expect we will be satisfied and want for nothing so there will be no need for anything’ It is mind boggling really.
      Eyes had not seen nor ear heard the wonders that God has prepared for those that love Him. What a mystery. Who would want to miss that!.

  15. Geordie says:

    On the occasion when the apostles asked Our Lord, “Who then will be saved?” He replied “With God all things are possible”.
    God is ineffable and our idea of God will inevitably fall infinitely short of the reality. Even the Sciptures are inadequate; not because they are are false but because they are trying to explain an Infinite Being to finite minds. It is not possible.
    This is where Faith comes in. Faith goes beyond the human ability to reason. Read Fr Ronald Rolheiser’s article in the Catholic Herald dated 19th July 2013.

    Hell is a reality but who goes there and for how long is beyond us. I can only judge myself and my conclusions are probably way off the mark.
    What I can certainly see in the here and now, is that hell is created on earth by the evil we do and the good we fail to do.

    • Singalong says:

      Geordie, “the good we fail to do”

      I wonder what does the Church think now about those Catholics and other Christians who lead good, devout and charitable lives, but who do not cooperate with some special grace or calling offerred by Christ, like the rich young man who walked away, sad, because he had many possessions which he did not want to give up?

  16. Iona says:

    St. Monica prayed for years that her son Augustine would become a Christian – which he eventually did. (Someone said to her “A child of these tears cannot be lost”). It seems to me that Heaven could not be Heaven for anyone who was aware that any of the people he/she loved during their lives on earth could not and would not reach Heaven. In turn this suggests that loving and praying for someone who on the face of things rejects God, will have the effect of ensuring that person’s eventual salvation.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona
      St Monica prayed for years that her son Augustine would become a Christian.
      I often wonder if he had become converted to a good man would she have been happy.
      When I was young before my teenage years I used to think that we were here to try and convert others as Catholics were the only one to be saved..I know my parents never told me that or my grandmother.Just something I got into my head.
      So thinking about St Monica and her prayers for St Augustine were heard more as he became a Saint.I wonder how she would have felt if he had not become a Christian.
      The Sunday Message Bulletin today and the Gospel -someone asks Jesus to put a number on who will be saved,but he answers that this is the wrong question. The real question is ‘not how many’ but how?
      I used to think that when Jesus died on the Cross He opened the gates of Heaven and closed the gates to hell-I think that is why I thought we had to be Catholics, then on to thinking we had to be Christians.He showed us the Way So now I believe it has to be the narrow Gate to follow Jesus, As today’s Gospel says How we can understand that is only our own life as individuals.
      However if we are not to judge others ‘how doe we evangelize’ ..

  17. claret says:

    I think I am correct in stating that the Catholic Church has never declared that any person who has died is in hell but on the other hand has declared that saints are in heaven and of course has a dogma about Mary’s assumption into heaven.
    Hell therefore may be an empty place . Wasn’t even Satan cast down to earth ? Heaven is well populated.
    Quite a few posters contributing to this topic write of the Divine nature of Jesus whilst he was on earth. This is a contradiction of him being true man. Another subject for discussion, although it may have been debated before now on here.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Claret.
      Of course the Catholic Church has never declared that any person who has died is in hell.. How could it?. It may teach that there is one as the ;Gospels; that Jesus taught, and mentioned it many many times.. We know there is a living hell here on earth.and Satan is around.
      I don’t see how Jesus’s Divine nature is a contradiction to His humanity.He is born of a woman, Incarnate of our Blessed Virgin, God as the 2nd person.of the Blessed Trinity..Two natures.in one person taking on our humanity as we take on His image in our soul.. If we live by that Image Then we have every Hope not to end up in hell only to our home in Heaven.
      I know you know all that.
      These things when I was a child was called Mysteries and as I asked questions my mother told me not to try and understand and know the mind of God However we do look for answers to our faith but it would not be faith if the Lord answered them all.
      But we do sometimes get little glimmers of the Truth.which give us Hope.That is the Holy Spirit working in our soul, as Jesus said, not to worry, the Comforter will tell us what to say. So we Hope it is Him Who is speaking…

  18. John Candido says:

    I have stumbled on a fantastic religious resource called ‘Religious Tolerance’ at http://www.religioustolerance.org . Absolutely wonderful!

    • John Nolan says:

      JC, I can see why this site is right up your street! It’s been around since 1995, and the only belief the editors appear to have in common is an abasement before the god of Political Correctness (which ironically is taken to such extremes in Canada as to generate its own forms of quite startling intolerance).

      One point – it is claimed that the BBC adopted the CE/BCE date classification in September 2011. This particular method has been used in Biblical studies for over 50 years out of deference to Jewish scholars, but has not found favour with most British historians. Some people at the BBC, including the high-profile presenter Jeremy Paxman, had started using it on their own initiative, but it was never Corporation policy, and seems now to be discouraged. I don’t particularly object to it, since most people nowadays don’t even know what AD stands for, and think there was a year zero between 1BC and AD1. Historians often refer to “the third century of the Christian era” which just happens to accord with the abbreviation.

      • John Candido says:

        Beware of the current incumbent in the Vatican John Nolan. He is coming to get you! I do believe that Francis is coming to get ultra-conservatives like you. Seriously though, I think that Francis will be a sea change for the Catholic Church. As I said earlier, he will go down in history as one of the most astute reforming Popes in history. Of course my predictions do run the risk of being completely or half wrong. On the other hand, I am really confident that the hopes of thinking liberals, moderates, and conservatives will be surprised by him.

  19. Michael Horsnall says:

    “Quite a few posters contributing to this topic write of the Divine nature of Jesus whilst he was on earth. This is a contradiction of him being true man. Another subject for discussion, although it may have been debated before now on here…”

    Can of worms yes, contradiction no.

  20. Michael Horsnall says:

    On the subject of twin natures operating it might be helpful for anyone to google in “Theandric operations” You might need an hour and a strong coffee but it does make fascinating reading.I personally think it is a subject worth dwelling on a bit:
    “The Fathers and theologians of the Church use the expression “theandric operations.” What does this mean? ……..as used by Catholics it means primarily those actions in which both his human nature and his divine nature took part. So when Christ worked a miracle his action was strictly theandric. His divine nature was the principal cause of the miracle, while his humanity co operated as an instrument. In a wider sense all the human actions of Christ may be called theandric, i.e. both human and divine, divine……..It is for this reason that the theologians point out that the human acts of our Redeemer, though they are finite from a physical point of view, are nevertheless of infinite dignity since they are the acts of God himself……”
    The Teaching of The Catholic Church: A summary of Catholic Doctrine GD Smith p386
    Burns&Oates.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike.
      On the Cross Jesus asked His Father to forgive them!. In the Garden He said ‘Father not my will but thine. He says the :Lords prayer as Our Father. When He rose from the dead He said to Mary of Magdala ‘Do not cling to me now me now I have not yet ascended to my Father. That must have been His Father He was speaking to- as Himself as Man.
      I often wonder where Jesus went when He was 3 days in the Tomb-we say in the Apostles Creed still ‘He descended into Hell’. I was told as as child He did that to let the people free to enter Heaven as He opened the Gates., then handed the Keys to St Peter.But perhaps it was Hell to Him, His death. on the Cross. Then I often wondered where .Moses and Elijah were while they were waiting for Jesus’s Resurrection, as they were with Him on the mountain. The Fathers Son was always in Heaven as God the 2nd Person before He became Man as I always understood it.Consubstantial with the Father (one substance)
      These questions I don’t think about now as there is no answers, unless someone on the blog can do so.
      I don.t think young people learn this any more at school I may be wrong .I did not go to a Catholic school only for a short time I had to find things out for myself or ask my mother and grandmother.

    • Brian Hamill says:

      The key distinction which I think should be made is between the value of Jesus’ actions and the power employed in them. His divine nature gave all his actions an infinite dignity; but he only ever used the power which was available to his human nature to complete them. This applies even to his miracles since all his miracles had been performed previously by prophets of the Old Testament. His resurrection is an exception, but was this a miracle he performed, or was it performed on him by the Father? Some say that at his Transfiguration Jesus showed forth his divinity. Not necessarily; it could be said that he showed forth the glory of his, and ultimately our, humanity as being made in the image and likeness of God. He had no ‘divine switch’ which he turned on when he wanted to. That would be unworthy of the mystery of the incarnation, and would be valid inside a pagan theology rather than a Christian one.

      • Michael Horsnall says:

        Brian,
        As far as I can see the enquiry that is ” theandrics” has concerned itself, over the hundreds of years, not with a ‘switch’ but to understand the way the two natures of Christ were able to operate and co operate together IN SPITE of there being no switch and in spite of remaining separate natures. This is the whole point is it not-reason is entitled to try and fathom the mystery that was Christ even though it cannot. I am strongly convinced by now that it is faith building to ponder these questions at length in order that we may better understand ourselves as brothers of Christ. In a sense we too are composed of twin natures though one has been as it were grafted on through baptism when our souls become sacred, thus we have the ‘flesh’ and the ‘spirit’ The more we ponder the nature of Christ through lectio divina, through contemplation, through use of the reason, through use of the imagination as in the exercises of Loyola, the more we try and simply imitate Him.. then the more we come into the inheritance meant for us. The point you make about the prophets is interesting. Moses too come to that. Certainly there are signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit,.. but none of those men claimed to BE God did they?

  21. John Nolan says:

    What do we mean by “the poor”? Is it a relative or an absolute term? I’m extremely poor by comparison with the ‘celebrities’ of this world, but as rich as Croesus compared with most people in the Third World. When the “slum priests”, both Catholic and Anglican, evangelized the urban poor in the 19th century it was not because they thought that poverty somehow conveyed sanctity, but because it gave rise to immorality, drunkenness and indifference to religion (and this applied also to Irish immigrants whom the Oratorians tried desperately to reconcile with their Catholic roots).

    The Tablet’s take on most things is usually perverse, and to expect much of what is unlikely to be a long pontificate smacks of desperation. When Francis realizes that being pope is not the same as being a Jesuit superior, and finds a Merry del Val to advise him, he will grow into the role.

  22. claret says:

    Before leaving the subject of the two natures of Christ perhaps Quentin can raise it as a separate issue for the blog.
    My understanding of Catholic teaching is that Jesus divested himself entirely of his divine nature while on earth. God became man.

    • Quentin says:

      I would have to think how we could usefully frame this important subject so that we could discuss it constructively. It is well known that defining what the Hypostatic Union is, and what it isn’t, engaged the Church for much of the first millennium. We are dependent on the Church’s teaching here since human reason can only go so far. Questions 464 to 478 in the Catechism give us a good outline. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think beyond this, or reflect on how we understand it. But without having studied these with some care, and using them as a starting point, we could well get lost in a maze.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Jesus was accused of blasphemy when He forgave sins,I think He was being obedient to His Father when He asked Him to forgive them for what they are doing to,; Him;!
        Perhaps it shows us the same example when we forgive others we ought to ask God to forgive them as well and show that we really mean it from our hearts and not think ; I forgive you, but wait till you meet God He will sort you out!

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Quentin,
        Yes thats very true. If you start out on that line you have to keep your eye on the ball! As you probablyknow thee are many problems with simply saying that Jesus divested himeslf entirely of his divine nature while on earth-not least that , if he became only man then nothing he did had significance for eternity. But it is a knotty subject.

  23. St.Joseph says:

    Mike.
    What about the Holy Spirit in all this,the 3rd Person in one God..
    Looking at the amount of knowledge in the CCC- on the Holy Spirit that would probably be a discussion on SS.Therefore perhaps giving some Light on the subject.

  24. ionzone says:

    “I make it a principle always to disagree with Vincent.”

    That’s not rational behaviour.

    “I notice that Longenecker has been, perhaps still is, a chaplain to a school. I trust that he leaves the little ones shaking in fear at the real possibility, even likelihood, that they will end up in Hell.”

    I have never known anyone to do this. Quite the reverse in fact, people outside the church have a nasty habit of telling their kids that they should be terrified of God and anyone who believes in him. Tell me, do atheists still terrify their kids with tales of the eeeeeeeevil Church that they inherited from the Protestants? I’m sure though that when most of them grow up they will realise that the stories you guys tell

    “this is exactly what Professor Dawkins means when he calls Catholic education a form of child abuse.”

    No, what Dawkins meant was that he doesn’t consider child rape particularly bad. He certainly cannot mean what you say because a quick glance at the relevant studies shows that Christians, particularly Catholics, have a much reduced risk of suicide and a generally increased sense of happiness and well-being. Though if he does believe this it is likely because of the one or two unsubstantiated anecdotes he ‘cites’ in his book to back the idea up. Frankly I am amazed that he hasn’t been keel-hauled by every major child abuse support charity and victim for even suggesting the idea that raping children is somehow less objectionable than telling them there is a God who loves them so dearly that he gave his only son for them and that their granny is now in Heaven. Which is how Catholic kids tend to be brought up.

    • ionzone says:

      “I’m sure though that when most of them grow up they will realise that the stories you guys tell” are ancient, pathetically petty, and mostly rumour. Is how I meant to finish that.

    • Advocatus Diaboli says:

      It is I think unwise to claim that you know what Dawkins meant. Here is what he said at a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth:
      “”I’m in favour of children learning about religion and its role in history. What I’m passionately against is indoctrination. That is wicked, that is evil, that is child abuse.”
      Interpret that as you wish, it looks fairly clear to me.

  25. Singalong says:

    I wonder does Richard Dawkins think it is possible or wise to bring children up in a vacuum, with no certainties to give them any security as they grow up.

  26. mike Horsnall says:

    No of course its not clear in fact its foggy as a lake in autumn. What, precisely, is ‘indoctrination’?
    What, precisely, is it that is ‘wicked’ and ‘evil’? What precisely does ‘child abuse mean in this context? This turn of speech is simple scaremongering. What is actually being said here as a sub text is something like this:

    ” I’m a fair minded liberal sort of a guy as opposed to priests and other weirdo’s who fill kids with mind numbing lies which are also deeply psychologically scarring…I don’t mind that we teach religious history because its helpful to understand how all this mess got started-but we should root out all these weird sicko’s in our schools. .shouldn’t we? ?”

    …I’m surprised Dawkins didn’t pick up a stone and head off for the nearest Catholic owned shop window with all those nice Lib dems marching behind him, chucking their pebbles and howling about humanism and badgers… like a tribe of philosophers pillaging a village.

  27. Iona says:

    I understand Richard Dawkins is very good on birds (his area of expertise).

    • Vincent says:

      I am concerned that we have not dealt well with Advocatus Diaboli’s recent contribution.
      First, we tell him that Dawkins’s views do not extend to suggesting that early religious training is child abuse. Two minutes with Google would have confirmed that AD was right.

      Second we suggest, by implication, that because Dawkins has expertise in birds, his views on other matters can be ignored.

      Let’s try again. No doubt different strands of Islamic belief are taught to children. But imagine a strand which teaches that women are very much second rate, that they should not have education, that they must always defer to men.

      We might perhaps feel here that their teachers were taking advantage of their power position to inculcate these views at an early age. We know that young children have virtually no defence against firm teaching by their parents or by religious authorities. I think this might well be considered a form of abuse. We might perhaps avoid the phrase “child abuse” because of its emotional connotations, but that might be our verdict.

      Dawkins presumably believes much the same about Christian beliefs. So let’s try to give AD serious answers,

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Sorry Vincent I disagree. Even the venerable and astonishingly forgiving Rowan Williams suggested awhile ago in a Times article that perhaps Mr Dawkins should confine his observations to Science since theology was clearly not his strong suit! Unless Mr Dawkins was able to come up with specific and precise examples of his evil, wicked ,abuse then I will continue to view his contributions as unhelpful hyperbole-I used a bit myself for fun earlier and you found it lacking – I find Mr Dawkins speeches, and his books, generally equally lacking. AD tends to pounce on such stuff easily.

      • Vincent says:

        Mike, it’s not like you to miss the point. If Professor Dawkins had made a comment to this effect on the blog, it would have been quite in order to have asked him to give us further details. AD was simply quoting the Dawkins view. We can’t expect AD to speak for him.
        In fact Dawkins would, I imagine, say that he saw it as an abuse to use parent/teacher power to influence (indoctrinate?) a child according to a set of lifestyle beliefs for which there is no empirical evidence. There is no need to give an example, the alleged abuse is what actually happens. We might say that it is the parent/teacher duty to educate a child according to our beliefs and values. In which case what is sauce for the Catholic is sauce for the Muslim — or the devil-worshipper — or whatever.
        It’s a good point. It needs answering. We can’t just push it away by saying, incorrectly, that it’s a misquote, or suggest, in a vaguely mocking way, that he does not have the competence to express his views.

  28. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, I would beware of making too much of cardinal Bergoglio’s “change of direction”, just as far too much was made of Ratzinger’s alleged change from liberal to conservative in 1968. I think time and experience are bound to modify anyone’s point of view, unless he is narrow-minded to the point of bigotry. And since when was doctrinal and liturgical conservatism and a rejection of the more extreme aspects of liberation theology occasion for repentance?

    Oscar Romero was also originally thought of as being friendly to the regime (most bishops try to get on with the civil authorities) but experience on the ground led to a shift on his part as well.

    • Quentin says:

      I quite agree, John, that it’s too early to give a verdict on Pope Francis. Pontificates tend to be better evaluated through the hindsight of history. But I do not think that this means that we should not react and respond to what he is saying right now. If we find it to be good, we should say so. And contrarywise.

  29. mike Horsnall says:

    Vincent, I can be surprisingly dim at times you know!!!!

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