Cardinal Pell: Last Things

It’s a little ironic that Cardinal Pell publishes an article titled “Last Things” in a magazine called “First Things.” But he has some interesting reflections on a topic we seldom hear about: the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.


Thank you for that, @JimG. It’s good to see that Cardinal Pell is now fully back in action. His brief essay in First Things is characteristically concise, succinct, and a compelling read.

One short phrase, in particular, caught my attention. When Cardinal Pell writes this, is it his intention that his readers should understand his words in their literal sense, or is he taking a sly dig at certain unnamed theologians? When a doctrine has been “substantially developed,” could that perhaps mean, in plain English, that it has been overturned and replaced by a different doctrine? Or, if not, what process, exactly, has it undergone? This is the context:

• The Council of Trent, in its 1547 Decree on Justification, seems to rule out the possibility that everyone will be saved eventually: “Although ‘He died for all’ (2 Cor. 5:15), not all, however, receive the benefit of His death, but only those to whom the merit of his Passion is communicated.” But the discussion of the number of those saved was transformed by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, that "those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God.” The doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church” was thereby substantially developed.


I see “development” as simply being a deeper understanding. We were given the full truth in the Deposit of Faith, but it has taken us considerable time to gain a deeper understanding of much of it, and there are likely more insights left to mine. It is like discovering a new planet. We have the whole planet within our grasp, but it takes time and skills to study and understand all of its components and features.

We have continued to name new Doctors of the Church for centuries since the Middle Ages. All the Doctors of the Church lived after the end of public revelation, so they could not and did not add anything to the deposit of faith. All of them made significant contribution to Church theology in some way, which is why they were named Doctors. In many cases they substantially developed particular Church teachings or traditions, sometimes resulting in new declared dogmas. The dogma material obviously wasn’t just invented in the 19th century; it was there all along, but was developed by Doctors and theologians.


Yes, that phrase, substantially developed, also caught my attention.

This article is timely as we approach the end of the liturgical year. The Sunday Gospel readings (and several of weekdays as well) speak clearly of death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

I especially enjoyed Cardinal Pell’s recollections of his own thinking as it changed over time.


I think that the doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church” has been clarified to mean that one does not necessarily need to be a formal member of the Church to benefit from the Church’s access to the grace of Christ’s salvific sacrifice. Rather I take the doctrine to mean that anyone who is saved, is saved by beng connected in some way to the Catholic Church, even though they may not realize it. The connection may be incomplete and may be spiritual rather than physical.
Cardinal Pell still did not reach a firm conclusion, though, on the matter of whether most will be saved or most will be lost.


Unlike St Augustine, who reached the conclusion that most will be lost.


And St Thomas Aquinas… and Ignatius… and Liguori… and…


Isn’t the stance of Vatican 2 inferred by Romans 2:12-16, and Romans 1:20? I suppose it is reasonable to look at the statement “no salvation outside the church “ as JimG suggested…

So V2 may have clarified the church’s true position, for the phrase “no salvation outside the church “ seems to convey a hopeless finality. When we know what we mean, but our words convey an opposite meaning to our audience, it’s definitely time for us to clarify.

If I had cancer, and there were two treatment plans, and one was 100% effective, and the other possibly could cure me but had yielded vague and undefined results, I know which way I’d choose. If I were advising somebody which way to choose, I might use the words, “look, there’s no other option than this one option.”

A beautiful, gentle, pastoral piece by Pell! I hope many read it.

Yes but as Pell points out it was like the clarifying made things toooo muddy.


This is why you find friends of Cardinal Pell on both sides of the Catholic ‘divide’. He is not ‘rigid’ in the modern sense. He did contribute to the anti Francis book that Cardinal Burke wrote at the beginning of Francis pontificate but he just isn’t anti Francis like them. Francis has great respect for Catholics who are open to the Spirit like Pope Benedict, another who has been faithful to each pontificate and open to growing. Even St Augustine re examined his body of work at the age of 72 and wrote ‘Retractions’ to reflect his growth in knowledge and wisdom. Rigidity is a curse on the soul but too many are prepared to destroy others faith by it.


I know, Jen7. “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”…

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:18-19‬

As the above passage suggests, there are those ready to spin and misinterpret everything we say and everything we do. Yet we must speak truth despite the cacophony of lies and despite our own missteps.

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Well-said. And in the age of the “likes” and “followers” we must remember these count for little & are fickle as the wind. The estimation of God is our rule.

A very appropriate article for this month of the Holy Souls, much to think and pray about .

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Can I ask where in Church documents does it say that public revelation has ended?

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, Section 2,
Number 66.

Forgive me, I’m still figuring out my new iPad and I don’t know how to copy and paste yet.

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CCC 66 “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.


Thanks! Hopefully that answers those who were wondering about the official teaching regarding the ‘end of public revelation.”


I don’t get the contrast between Vatican II and Trent on this point. Trent teaches the truth of “the desire thereof” sufficing in place of the sacraments (Session 7, Canon 4), which is the underlying truth behind Vatican II’s explanation. Neither teaches universalism.

Trent emphasizes the absolute need for faith to be saved. The Church still teaches this (see CCC 161). The passage cited from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium could have been clearer on this (Vatican II is clearer elsewhere, such as in Ad Gentes), but the relevant footnote cited for it is crystal clear on the need for faith (the Holy Office Letter from the Boston heresy case which states: “Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a person has supernatural faith.”)

Vatican II simply is describing the manner in which such individuals are brought to faith: they “sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”

A counter-reformation Doctor of the Church, fully imbued with the “spirit of Trent,” put it this way:

St. Robert Bellarmine, De Gratis et Libero Arbitrio, lib. 2, cap. 8

For the pagans to whom the Gospel has not yet been preached, can know from His creatures that God exists; then they can be stimulated by God, through His prevenient grace, to believe in God, that He exists and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him: and from such faith, they can be inspired, under the guidance and help of God, to pray and give alms and in this way obtain from God a still greater light of faith, which God will communicate to them, either by Himself or through angels or through men.

Pope Francis taught the same thing nearly 500 years later:

Lumen Fidei 35

Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith…Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love.

In any event, none of this tells us how many are saved or not. There may be many with an upright conscience seeking God or there may be few (FWIW–and it should be worth a whole lot–Christ says “many are called, but few are chosen”).

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When I read articles and posts on this debate (will many or few be saved), I cannot help think the fruitlessness and quite frankly the pointlessness of it. I think people who dwell on this topic tend to get sidetracked on the most important task at hand: learning what one must do to achieve salvation and learning what one must avoid doing to avoid eternal damnation — and then sharing this knowledge and wisdom to others.

I think believing that either many will be saved or a only a relatively few will be saved tends to color one’s behavior in a negative way in regards to spreading the Good News to others and in their own efforts to be transformed by the grace of God into saints.

I think it’s simply better not to believe in either viewpoint but instead just accept the Church’s teaching that we will all face the day of judgement and some of us will be saved and that sadly some us will end up damned. Therefore, the focus should be on learning what one needs to do to stay on the narrow path to salvation.

(And a point of clarification: even though the path to salvation might be narrow, that doesn’t necessarily imply that only a few will be saved. It could end being that the narrow path to salvation is packed with faithful disciples working their way slowly up to salvation. :slight_smile: )

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“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

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