I have no doubt that if Bryan Cross were pope and the CTC converts were his Cardinals, the terms for ecumenical relations would be strict, clear, logical, and above all, paradigmatic. But I am not sure that the convictions and piety of CTC are dominant among those looking for greater harmony with Protestants. Just this morning I observed in our old home news weekly a notice for a series the local Roman Catholic parish was running on understanding the church’s teaching and faith. Father Robert Barron is teaching the series and he has a website and blog named very charismatically, Word on Fire. I took a look to see what he had written in his one post about Augustine and I found this:
St. Augustine, fifth century bishop of Hippo, held that original sin had produced a massa damnata (a damned mass) of human beings, out of which God, in his inscrutable grace, has deigned to pick a few privileged souls. Thus, Augustine clearly believed that the vast majority of the human race would be damned to hell. And though it makes me uncomfortable to admit it, my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, followed Augustine in holding that a very large number of people are Hell-bound; he even taught that among the pleasures that the saints in heaven enjoy is the contemplation of the suffering of the damned!
But eventually along came Balthasar, who through the influence of Barth, found a way around such difficult teachings:
In the twentieth century, the Protestant theologian Karl Barth moved back in Origen’s direction and articulated a more or less universalist position on salvation. He maintained that the cross of Jesus had saved the world and that the church’s task was to announce this joyful truth to everyone. The Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar was a friend of Barth’s and a fellow Swiss, and he presented a somewhat Barthian teaching on this score, though he pulled back from complete universalism. Balthasar argued that, given what God has accomplished in Christ, we may reasonably hope that all people will be saved. The condemnation of apokatastasis compelled him to draw back from saying that we know all will be saved, but his keen sensitivity to the dramatic power of the cross convinced him that we may entertain the lively and realistic hope that all people will eventually be drawn into the divine love.
This lets us view Heaven as a party:
Think of God’s life as a party to which everyone is invited, and think of Hell as the sullen corner into which someone who resolutely refuses to join the fun has sadly slunk. What this image helps us to understand is that language which suggests that God “sends” people to Hell is misleading. As C.S. Lewis put it so memorably: the door that closes one into Hell (if there is anyone there) is locked from the inside not from the outside. The existence of Hell as a real possibility is a corollary of two more fundamental convictions, namely, that God is love and that human beings are free. The divine love, freely rejected, results in suffering. And yet, we may, indeed we should, hope that God’s grace will, in the end, wear down even the most recalcitrant sinner.
My suspicion is that relations with Protestants are a lot easier if Father Barron is leading the discussion instead of Bryan Cross. The loss of the threat of hell as the place where schismatics go also sure helps to grease the skids for dialogue and communion. But I am not sure it is much of a call to communion.