Surely this can’t be right
It’s a Friday in Lent and Pete (not his real name, because he’s not a real person) is out to dinner with his wife at the local pub which caters to the Catholic crowd with Lenten Friday night fish fries. This pub also serves the most excellent burgers around…such as to die for, as his wife, being a committed carnivore herself, likes to tell her friends. But being good Catholics, they’ve come for the frixum pisces in conformity with the Church’s prohibition against eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
Pete and Mary (also a fictitious name for a nonexistent person) are loving, caring, generous human beings devoted to the Church and doing their best to obey her teachings and cooperate with God’s grace in doing good works. They are the kind of Catholics whom others emulate and who would be expected to require the briefest of stays in Purgatory. “Exemplary” is the adjective often applied to their lives.
As the couple waits for the server to take their order, menus unopened on the table, a group of businessmen next to them is served theirs. “To die for” all around. Man, those burgers look good…and smell even better, Pete thinks to himself. And before long he has rationalized the gastronomical act of disobedience he is about to take and orders the Rancho Cucamega burger with the BBQ sauce and crispy onion strips. He never quite understood the rationale behind this particular prohibition, and he’ll be going to confession tomorrow anyway, he reassures himself.
But there would be no tomorrow for Pete, for just as he is swallowing the last delicious, meaty morsel he feels a sudden, stabbing pain in his chest, face plants into his ketchupy fries, and expires on the way to the hospital from a massive heart attack.
According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, Pete will actually be skipping Purgatory all together because he’s going straight to Hell. All his good deeds count for naught because his final deed was in willing disobedience to the Church’s commandment. Does this make any sense at all?
So that’s what I want to ask Catholics this week. How would you defend your doctrine of salvation that makes this scenario possible? Even if you don’t think eating meat on a Lenten Friday is a mortal sin, one could easily imagine any number of similar scenarios involving one final mortal sin negating a lifetime of good works. But my scenario is not frivolous or contrived because Catholic Answers Live senior apologist Jimmy Akin has said, “In terms of eating meat on Fridays, the reason that that has been regarded as potentially a mortal sin is because it involves the grave matter of disobeying the Church when it makes a solemn commandment….An individual infraction or an individual deviation from the Church’s requirements may not be grave, but if you just say, well I’m just not going to follow the Church’s penitential requirements, I just don’t care, then that IS grave matter.” http://www.catholic.com/sites/default/files/audio/radioshows/ca160614b.mp3.
Would anyone like to take this on? How do you think Jimmy Akin would defend it?
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We can’t know who is in hell and who is not in hell. This is a teaching of the Catholic Church. So it’s one thing to create a scenario and contemplate what might happen, but we can’t say for certain in any individual case. The Church as not even pronounced Judas as being in hell. We just don’t know what goes in in somebody’s heart or mind in the final moments of their life.
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Do you deny that it’s also a teaching of the Church that dying with just one unconfessed (to a priest) mortal sin on your soul can result in your being eternally separated from God in Hell?
You’re close, but we must include an important concept. In principle, if somebody dies in a state of mortal sin, then they go to hell. But if they make an act of perfect contrition before they die, then “the guilt and eternal punishment due to grave sin [are removed] even before sacramental absolution.” When that happens, the person is no longer in a state of mortal sin even without going to a priest.
I don’t see how the possibility of them making an act of perfect contrition makes my hypothetical scenario less possible nor less ridiculous.
I don’t understand your statement here. In what way does making a perfect act of contrition make your hypothetical scenario of somebody going to hell less possible?
My point is, whether or not someone is able to escape hell by making a perfect act of contrition, this scenario is possible, which demonstrates the absurdity of the Catholic Church’s doctrine of salvation. Do you deny that such a scenario is possible?
I don’t deny it, and it doesn’t sound absurd to me. All of that man’s good works don’t obligate God to provide salvation to him. If he did not make a perfect act of contrition, he died in a state of rebellion against Christ’s bride. That is a bad place to be.
“Christ’s bride” being the Catholic Church, I presume. So instead of a loving, merciful God and Savior promising us eternal life when we simply put our faith and trust in him, as it says repeatedly throughout the Gospel of John and the epistles, he looks to see if our last deed was in rebellion to an earthly magisterium with dubious claims to authority before determine our eternal destination?
God is loving and merciful, to be sure. But he doesn’t owe us salvation and no amount of our good deeds can impose an obligation on God for it.
It sounds like where we really disagree is whether or not we have “eternal security.” Since that debate has been raging for centuries, I doubt we will settle it here.
I only wanted to make the point that the scenario you gave left out an important detail: the ability to make an act of perfect contrition before death.
Your point is taken, and I agree that God isn’t obligated to recompense us with salvation for our good deeds. But he is obligated to keep his promises, like this one: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24
If anyone is actually trying to follow Christ in the Catholic Church, they will not do this. Anyone who is generally following God can still lapse into mortal sin before they die and go to hell. Also, to go to confession, one must actually be sorry and intend not to sin again. So, yes, Pete’s soul is in mortal peril.
I can turn this around with your Sola Fide doctrine. According to the evangelical belief, if I understand it rightly, everyone who is not Christian, regardless of whether they have been preached the gospel or not, is damned (this is in opposition to the Catholic Church’s stance on invincible ignorance). Now, imagine some Aztec before the time of Columbus in whom the grace of God is clearly working and he does many good deeds. Now, he is a philosopher and knows that there must be a good and loving Deity or pantheon, much different from what his culture teaches. He does not know nor guess that that God became man, but were he to live to see the conquistadors come to America, he would quickly convert to Christendom. He therefore goes to Tenochtitlán and contrives a plan to save a number of the victims who are going to be sacrificed to the gods, but is caught in the process he is shot by an arrow and falls dead. Does this man, along with all of his countrymen for over a millennium in which they had never heard the gospel, go to hell?
“If anyone is actually trying to follow Christ in the Catholic Church, they will not do this. Anyone who is generally following God can still lapse into mortal sin before they die and go to hell.”
These two sentences contradict each other. Unless you meant something other than what they appear to say.
And I wrote a 3-part series addressing your challenge, beginning here: https://caroline-smith.com/2020/01/14/what-about-the-unreached-2/
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Thank you. That was not particularly clear. What I meant is that a Catholic who is actually truly striving to follow God won’t fall into mortal sin. “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) However, one can give up following God close to his death (as this Pete did), and still be damned. There are worse sacrifices to than not eating meat one day.
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That verse doesn’t teach that only those who are free from “mortal sin” at their death will be saved. And the view that a man or woman can live an exemplary life and yet one act of disobedience can undo it all and send him to hell opposes the Gospel in a huge way. That’s not “good news.” That’s bad news.
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I never said that particular verse proved anything. However, it was by one act of disobedience that Adam and Eve lost Paradise. It’s hard for us, humans, to see how much sin offends God.