The “Empty Hell” theory is not one of many legitimate “schools of thought.” It is a novelty, toyed with early on by Origen and then virtually abandoned until the modern era. The amount of legerdemain and re interpretive manipulation one has to do to Scripture, Magisterial teaching, history and tradition in order to breathe life into the theories of Fr. Barron and Balthasar on this question is appalling. The evidence in favor of the traditional teaching that there are people in Hell outweighs Balthasar and Fr. Barron’s positions as a tidal wave overwhelms a sand castle. That this novelty is being defended by some as a legitimate position within the pale of orthodoxy is sad, especially in light of Syllabus of Errors number 17 which explicitly condemns it. It should also be noted, in case one wants to write off Voris, that very respected mainstream priests and theologians also consider Fr. Barron’s opinions very troubling, such as Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington (see here) as well as Dr. Scott Hahn, who once stated that Balthasar’s theory was absolutely without merit. (Source)
Not sure if any of you have been following up on the dust-up over Voris’s latest video. Squeaker covered it here. Mark Shea has responded here. Personally, I really don’t care about the dissing match going on between Mark Shea and Michael Voris over the issue, but I am really interested in making sure the TRVTH, as Mark Shea likes to refer to it, gets out. (As an aside, Mark has to separate his friendship from Fr. Barron and stick to the issue. Just because Fr. Barron is a friend, doesn’t mean what he is expounding is correct or that he cannot be challenged vigorously.)
After all the bluster is cleared away and the chest-pounding is finished, the fact is that the Hopey Dopey position doesn’t have a lot of evidence to support its views. Here is the round up:
1) The traditional teaching based upon two millennium of church teaching is that hell is indeed populated with human souls. We get that from the Gospels, the Doctors of the Church, the Saints, and the Popes. We also get it confirmed by approved apparitions like Fatima and personal accounts from the Saints themselves who visited there. I won’t bore you all with the details. The evidence is simply overwhelming.
2) The modern approach to this question has…well…nothing really except Urs Von Balthasar’s book, Dare We Hope? Before Von Balthasar and the “new theologians” i.e. Rahner, Maritain, etc., twentieth century theologians, there wasn’t much to draw on. In fact, you’d have to go back to Origen to find anything remotely similar. And the Church condemned Origen’s belief in universal salvation, in any case.
The Scriptures teach that indeed hell is populated with human souls. That’s a fact. True, we don’t know which human souls are there (or will be there), when all is said and done, but we do know there will be sheep on the right and goats on the left….as Jesus said there would be. Under the modernist proposition, there are no goats. Jesus won’t be saying anything at all to the Left because the Left just isn’t there anymore. It was all a gag. One big hypothetical “gotcha”. Everyone is a sheep. Everyone gets a gold star. Everyone’s a gold medalist.
But, let us think about this for a moment. Both sides of this question agree that we may pray for anyone and we might hope that any individual, however despicable and evil, might repent and go to heaven. It doesn’t matter what evil the person is committing or has committed. Redemption is for everyone. And everyone has a chance at salvation. So far so good, right? Let’s up the ante now. Let us say, we increase the number to 100 people. Can I hope for the salvation of 100 people that I happen to know? Is that OK? Yes it would be. A thousand? Yes. A million? Yes. A billion? Yes…..Everyone throughout time? Er…wait a minute, had did that happen? Where precisely is the cutoff off ? One-third? Two-thirds?
Well, here is how this works. One may indeed hope for the salvation of everyone ***as individuals***, but one is not permitted to hope for the salvation of everyone collectively – not because this interpretation is “mean” or uncharitable but because this is not what Divine Revelation teaches.
Salvation is a personal experience. We are not saved as a collective or as a group or even in entirety. We are saved as persons created in Jesus’ image. That means that you can honestly say you are hoping for the salvation of every individual as individuals, so everyone in that sense, is included in your hope for salvation.
If every single person who has lived and will live were all before you, you could say to ALL of them: “I hope you will be saved”, provided you are speaking to them individually. You could speak to each one of them personally, and you could go through the trillions of souls – one by one – and say to each one of them, “I hope you are saved.” That would be perfectly fine. At the end of it, you would have hoped that “all” are saved, and it would be perfectly orthodox to do that.
But it is not possible to address all the souls at once and say, “I hope you are all saved” because the subject is no longer the individual but the collective. And therein lies the error of the Hopey Dopey position: it does not treat the issue of salvation as it is (individual judgement), but transforms it into something which it is not (collective judgement). It then asks the question about hope in the salvation of all, based on the false theological proposition of collective salvation. But there is no such thing as collective salvation. There is no salvation by group.
Addendum: Good treatment of the subject by Cardinal Avery Dulles here. Another problem which I considered mentioning in my blog post and is mentioned in the article above is that Balthasar’s position basically renders free will only a theory. For, if everyone can get saved and does get saved in fact, then free will really never existed for all intents and purposes. It’s a theology that goes with our times: all of the benefits and none of the consequences. Everyone gets to be a porn star.