Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – eternal condemnation

"No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!" (Amoris laetitia, n. 297). The theologians note that a reading that interprets the text to mean that "no human being can or will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell" would be contrary to Sacred Scripture and Church doctrine.

Read straightforwardly in context, what does this text actually mean?

(1) The entire context, before and after this quotation, is treating of how the Church is called to deal with persons in situation of weakness or imperfection. "The Church's way… has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement… The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour our the balm of God's mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. (AL, 296) "The Bride of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of  God who goes out to everyone without exception." (AL 309, quoting Misericordiae Vultus, 11 April 2015)

(2) Consequently, the obvious meaning of the affirmation "No one can be condemned for ever" is that the Church cannot condemn for ever, so as to exclude any from God's mercy who seek it. This statement has nothing to do with condemnation by God, whether in this life or afterwards.

(3) The more difficult interpretative issue concerns the basis for the Church's obligation to show mercy towards all: "No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel" Taken out of context, one might somewhat plausibly think that the "logic of the Gospel" is that no one is ever condemned for ever by God, that the reason why the Church cannot condemn anyone for ever, is that God does not condemn anyone for ever.

However, since the Church, in the respect in which it is being addressed in Amoris laetitia, only has authority over persons in this life, the relevant justification for the Church not to condemn anyone forever in this life, is that God does not condemn anyone for ever in this life, but rather extends mercy to all persons to the extent that they are open to receiving mercy and seek it. There is, consequently, no particular reason to read a stronger position on mercy or condemnation by God into this text.

This is confirmed by the various particular statements fleshing out the logic of the Gospel, the way of Jesus, in the section titled "The logic of pastoral mercy":

"The Bride of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of  God who goes out to everyone without exception” (Bull Misericordiae Vultus 12, 11 April 2015). She knows that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of  the ninety-nine. He loves them all….We are called to show mercy because mercy was first shown to us (ibid, 9)… although it is quite true that concern must be shown for the integrity of  the Church’s moral teaching, special care should always be shown to emphasize and encourage the highest and most central values of  the Gospel, particularly the primacy of  charity as a response to the completely gratuitous offer of  God’s love. At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of  its concrete meaning and real significance.

God's and Jesus's mercy are put forth as exemplars of the Church's mercy in that Jesus "goes out to everyone without exception", shows mercy prior to any goodness on our part ("God shows his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." [Rom 5:8]), not because we are good, but because he loves us. None of this in any way denies or suggests that it is impossible for someone to persevere in rejecting God's mercy unto and after death, and so to exclude themselves from it. So also, there is no real reason to read such a denial of the possibility of hell into "that is not the logic of the Gospel."

(4) That said, Amoris laetitia in these section on the logic of pastoral mercy does give the impression that, de facto, it is always possible to integrate persons with a desire to live within the Church into the community. For example, speaking of one who "wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches", while it is granted that "this is a case of  something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17)", it is also said that "even for that person there can be some way of  taking part in the life of  community."

The document is silent on the possibility that a person, while desiring to be part of the Catholic Church, may reject or act in contradiction to what constitutes its life to such a degree that it is necessary to disallow taking part in the life of the community for so long as the person persists in that rejection — which would not be, on the Church's part, banning those persons from participation in its life "forever", but only so long as those conditions remain. While the Church's willingness and desire to show mercy and mediate the mercy of God should not be conditioned by the desire for and openness to mercy of sinful human beings, that it actually show mercy in a given form, that a person actually be able to take part in the life of the church community, is conditioned in various ways by the persons. "You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.'" (1 Cor 5:11,13). This silence of Amoris laetitia may be the result of a certain naivety or excessive optimism, the assumption that, when persons desire to share in the Church's life, there will always be some fitting way for them to do so. Or, it may be that the Pope believes that the tendency is much more to excess on the part of disallowing participation in the life of the ecclesial community than to excess on the part of allowing it, and so considers it more prudent not to mention the fact that it may be necessary in some cases to disallow participation in the Church's life so long as certain conditions remain.

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