Question about Pessimism in the Early Church


I was wanting to discuss about the attitudes of the Early church to those of today. I use the word “pessimistic” in the title, although I am not sure that is the word I am looking for. To use some examples of what I mean:

  • Many Early Church fathers & Saints (Augustine comes to mind) were extremely anti-sex, even so far as to say that even in marriage any form of sexual union was sinful no matter what. Today meanwhile such a negative view has been disowned by the church

  • Many Early Church fathers & Saints in the past on how they believed that extremely few people would be saved ( Today the Church of course still teaches the idea of Hell, although it would seem today we more take the attitude God does the most he can to try and bring people to him

  • Many Early Church fathers & Saints would hate anybody of any dissent (, encouraging authorities to do anything necessary, even death, to those who deviated from the their idea of Catholicism, much less those of another religion (Hypatia of Alexandria as one example) Also one Pope wrote a bull on how since the American Indians were non-Catholic, that it was just to enslave them ( In today’s time we believe in religious liberty, Ecumenism, and while we still proclaim our Church to be the sole recipient of truth from God, we still hope that others come to our Church through free will, and if not then we hope that others may be saved through invincible ignorance and Grace from God

  • Many Early Church fathers & Saints said that unbaptized children go straight to Hell, and that it was God’s intention that souls who had no choice in the matter would still suffer regardless ( Today we still accept the idea of Baptism as a necessity though we also know believe that God judges according to our understanding and that he also can prescribes Grace if he so wishes

So here is what I am wondering about: What were the cultural and social conditions at the time that caused many of the Church fathers and some Saints to have what today would be considered very harsh and legalistic viewpoints? Some Traditionalists today would argue that we have become “soft” and committed heresies by no longer having the attitude that those in the past did: Would you agree with that, or would you say that we have become more wise, or perhaps that both their viewpoints in their day and age are just as valid as ours? Also while it would seem from writings from those times that viewpoints like these were common among the Church doctors, were such viewpoints common among the normal citizens like us? After all it is not like they had as much easy access to writings like we do today, and I doubt even many Bishops back then were capable of reading writings written by the early church doctors and saints.


Aside from a less developed moral theology than we have now in both the Church and greater society at the time those things were said, I don’t know. I could offer some ideas- just to take one example, Thomas Moore, who is infallibly declared to be a Saint in Heaven, yet we know that during his reign as Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII, he had heretics burned to death. Many of us today would look at that and say it makes him a monster, but the problem with that analysis is that we’re judging St. Thomas Moore by 21st century moral sensitivities, which is a double standard and thus unfair. As Michelle Arnold noted in one of her answers to a poster in the Ask an Apologist Forum just the other day:

" St. Thomas More should be judged by the standards of his time, not by the sensitivities of our own. In his time, spreading heresy was considered to be an even worse crime than murder because, while murder killed the body, heresy could destroy an immortal soul. In his official capacity as chancellor of England, More enforced the anti-heresy laws, just as we would expect an attorney general to enforce anti-murder laws today. Since, in his day, heresy was considered a capital crime and the death penalty was within the purview of the state, More was not wrong to enforce the death penalty, anymore than a judge today would be wrong to sentence to death someone whose case met the qualifications for doing so.

In the centuries since, both the Church and state have developed their respective understandings of when the death penalty should be levied. We now understand that while formal and deliberate heresy may still qualify as a mortal sin, neither the Church nor the state should seek the death penalty to punish it. I have no doubt that were St. Thomas More alive today, he would submit to the Church and state’s respective authorities in the matter. That’s what saints do."

Also, I would urge you to step back and reconsider the things you read on the website you linked to. Its supports Jansenism, a heresy that was officially condemned by the Catholic Church. Even more troubling, it has links to Nazi propaganda. Like a lot of anti-Catholic fundamentalist websites, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of those quotes were yanked out of context.


Or take what you said here, for example:

That link has New Testament quotes like the following to try and make its argument that “very few” will be saved:

“Lord, are there few that are saved? But he said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. St. Luke 13:23-24”

Or this: “For many are called but few are chosen. St. Mark 20:16”

These quotes from Our Lord, in and of themselves, do not give us numerical figures as to how many will be saved and how many lost. First of all, the terms “many” and “few” are relative to the totality of all human beings that ever have lived, are living now, and ever will live.

But no one living knows the answer as to exactly how many people that is, so all we’re left with is what the creator of this webpage originally set forth as their premise, that “very few” will be saved. Kind of makes you wonder what the person’s point is, beyond the idea that we should strive mightily for our salvation, which we already knew.

But the deeper problem here is that we don’t know what actual number of saved individuals Our Lord is designating as “few” and what He is designating as “many.” One of us might stand back and go, oh well, I’d say “few” sounds about like 10% of all people who ever live get saved. Fair enough, but can that person say that they know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that their consideration of what’s “few” lines up with the Lord’s? I sure wouldn’t pretend to have that kind of knowledge.

Obviously, anyone is free to correct or contradict me on my argument, but personally I see room for an interpretation that says Our Lord was expressing God’s supreme sadness that any **one at all **would not be saved, thus making any number of lost individuals “many” and those saved “few.”


Basically you simply need to ignore and stay away from this site and all like it. If you’d bothered to look around the site you’d have seen that it is NOT in line with orthodox Catholic teaching. It calls our current pope and his recent predecessors heretics and spews the usual anti-Vatican II garbage etc. The site claims the papacy is vacant right now…
NO, this is the worst kind of anti Catholic site…it tries to present itself as a Catholic site, yet it is far from it.

St. Augustine against sex!!! He was very much in favor of sex…even more than he should have been…he had a son out of wedlock before he came home to Holy Mother Church and became one of the greatest minds the Church has known.


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