Monday, June 24, 2013

The Most Significant Book Of The Last Three Decades

I picked the last three decades only because I'm not as certain if I go back any further. It's not that I actually know of a more significant book.

It's called Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization by Dr. Ralph Martin. You probably haven't heard of it. That's ok. It's still that big of a deal.


First, because of who wrote it. Ralph Martin is a guy that you might see on EWTN. He is thoroughly mainstream and doesn't have any of the "baggage" that so many Catholics might associate with the SSPX or even the FSSP or Opus Dei. He's also a big figure in the charismatic renewal. There's no way that this guy can be painted with the "traditionalist" brush or slandered with any of the other epithets that might be readily hurled against somebody just because they go to a Latin Mass.

Given the subject matter, he needs that kind of background to be taken seriously. It's sad, but it's true.

Second, the aforementioned subject matter. Far too many Catholics these days have a somewhat nausea-inducing view of salvation. "Soft universalism" is the term in Martin's book. Basically, there is a radical view that almost everyone is going to heaven. Except maybe Hitler and Ted Bundy, but that's about it. Everybody else probably makes it. Sure, this is contrary to Scripture, the Magisterium, most of the Church Fathers, all of the Doctors of the Church, and pretty much every approved apparition and private revelation on record, but that's not good enough for some people. "Vatican II says..." is all people really care about on this subject. Martin takes these folks at their word and examines exactly what the Council says. It's an unpopular method of exegesis, using far too much common sense, but it makes for some interesting conclusions.

As you can probably guess, his findings paint a bit more serious picture than what you typically hear.

This is staggeringly important and yet a message that is greeted by almost unanimous apathy in the modern pew. The Church's primary mission is to save souls. This is the lost message. It doesn't do a poor man much good if you feed him and give him shelter if he just winds up in hell for eternity.

How controversial is this? Take a look at this post from Rorate. Note the embedded link where you see that reviews of Will Many Be Saved? are being edited or deleted entirely. Mark Brumley, a regular on Catholic Answers is responsible for some of this censorship. This should tell you something.

The book itself is fairly short, only 208 pages. Throw in another 80 or so pages of appendices and endnotes, and you've still got a very densely packed work. Martin makes the most of it, giving a pretty whirlwind history of the dogma that outside of the Church, there is no salvation. Part of me wishes he'd spent a little more time on the dogma's patristic roots to drive home exactly how revolutionary the "soft universalism" is. Frankly, a lot of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are downright pessimistic about salvation, including their own prospects. That can be forgiven, though. It's clear from the get-go that the current view is a novelty, so there isn't much of a need to harp on it. After all, the book's focus is on what Vatican II said.

The middle section of the book is primarily devoted to the text of Lumen Gentium 16, what it actually says, and what Scripture says. This might seem weird, but in the book's overall structure, it's not. On a side note, despite my point above for more of a historical overview, I think the author chose wisely in not harping on references from the Magisterium or Tradition for his hermeneutical cues. Too many Catholics won't care. Most still have a respect for the Bible, I think, so that's where Martin really makes his bones, especially when he starts to wind things down.

Winding things down means dealing with the theologians who he believes are mostly responsible for the naive optimism that has destroyed the post-conciliar missionary drive, namely Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Let me get this out of the way. I've stated before that I have little use for Rahner. I don't think genius and incomprehensibility are the same thing. What is discernible from his writings is problematic to say the least. Frankly, I've never bought into the "anonymous Christian" bit because [A] it relies on something that Rahner made up (the supernatural existential) and [B] it bears little resemblance to what we know from the Magisterium about what man is and why he is that way.

Von Balthasar is a different story. I actually like a good bit of his stuff. His work on the theology of beauty has some stunning insights, for example. On other items, he's completely cracked in the head. His view of Christ's descent is just plain blasphemous. One other thing that always bothered me was his idea of hell and that we can hope that it's empty. The weird thing is that when he talks about this, especially in his book Dare We Hope?, he doesn't treat it as just "hope." More like "certainty."

If anything, Martin deserves major props for taking on these two, since they are viewed with reverence that would make the medievals' respect for Aquinas pale in comparison.

What he winds up showing is that Rahner's views are based on fantasy, while Balthasar's are the products of sentimentality and the latter's weird fascination with the visions of Dr. Adrienne von Speyr. To his credit, Martin keeps the discussion on Scripture and how even the two rogue theologians admit that they are battling against not only the weight of the Magisterium but also the words of Christ Himself.

I need to point out as well Martin's excellent description of Rahner and Balthasar's attitudes towards those who disagree with them. It is fairly typical of the dissenting modern theologian. If you don't go along with the dissent, you are either mean or just a moron. There's a reason Rahner ridiculed "Denziger theology." It actually, you know, started with what the Church teaches. Balthasar accused people who thought a soul might go to hell of being unable to love truly. Consider all the saints he just insulted with such remarks.

It's also demonstrated that none of these wacky views are promoted by Vatican II in any way. They are fabrications. It's a good showing by Martin, and I very much wish I could see a response from the opposing camp.

The conclusion of the book is a simple call for real evangelization. It's a shocking thing to the modern ear, but somebody had to say it. Given the polarization of the Church, Martin is the only sort of guy who could pull it off and get any kind of audience to listen to him. An FSSP priest would be playing to an echo chamber. Here, at least, there's a shot of getting to the wider Catholic demographic.

It's not perfect. I think he could have hammered on Ad Gentes 7 a LOT more. I disagree with some nitpicking theological points and extrapolations, such as suggesting that Spe Salvi 45-47 somehow contributed to the universalist current. These are minor details and do not, in any way, detract from the overall magnificent effort.

Every Catholic should read this book. Seriously. We need to all reflect on how serious salvation is and how many folks far wiser and holier than ourselves feared for their souls. What are we doing to help tend the vineyard? Are we helping at all? Or are we contributing to the destruction of those around us by being content to let the Truth be suppressed or silenced?


Mark of the Vineyard said...

«Given the subject matter, he needs that kind of background to be taken seriously. It's sad, but it's true.»

Our parish in CCR-oriented. Last week, when attending an "Evangelization cell" meeting and refering that our daughter's Baptism had been according to the EF, one of the CCR ladies (in her late 50's) asked if we were Roman Catholics X-D

vscs said...

Oh man, I want to tear my ears out when I hear the term 'extraordinary form.'

Anonymous said...

Mark of the Vineyard, What an illustration of the state of the wider Church. Very sad.

Popin' Ain't Easy, Thanks. I look forward to reading the book.

Anonymous said...

VSCS, At least it's not as consonant as Novus Ordo.

Anonymous said...

dissonant I meant.

Throwback said...

I'm not a big fan of "Novus Ordo" either. I usually work with the term "Pauline Mass."