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Saints of the last two centuries whose existence is in doubt

Saints of the last two centuries whose existence is in doubt

Saint Peter the Aleut, or Chukagnak, was supposed to have been a man from Kodiak forced to labor for the Russian-American Company and brought to California. According to his colleague Kyglaia, in 1815, Chukagnak was tortured to death by a Spanish mission priest because he refused to become a Catholic. He is venerated as a saint by at least some parts of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The story has been endlessly disputed.

Are there more recent saints (i.e. since 1815) of established religions whose very existence is in doubt?


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Arishtanemi, also called Neminatha, the 22nd of the 24 Tirthankaras (“Ford-maker,” i.e., saviour) of Jainism, a traditional religion of India.

While the last two Tirthanakaras may be considered historical personages, Arishtanemi is a legendary figure. Said to have lived 84,000 years before the coming of the next Tirthankara, Parshvanatha, he is believed to have been the contemporary and cousin of the Hindu god Krishna. Legend holds that on his wedding day, Arishtanemi heard the cries of animals being slaughtered for the marriage feast and immediately renounced the world. The name Arishtanemi (“the rim [nemi] of whose wheel is unhurt [arishta]”) is attributed to a dream his mother had before he was born in which she saw a wheel of black jewels. In paintings of the Shvetambara sect, Arishtanemi always appears black (in paintings of the Digambara sect, he is blue). His symbol is the conch. According to Jain belief, he attained moksha (release from earthly existence) on the Girnar Hills in Kathiawar (in western India), which has become a place of pilgrimage for Jains.

Thoughts on Interfaith Relations

President Gordon B. Hinckley has consistently advocated dialogue and mutual respect in interfaith relations. He has admonished members of the Church to cultivate “a spirit of affirmative gratitude” for those of differing religious, political, and philosophical persuasions, adding that “we do not in any way have to compromise our theology” in the process. He gave this counsel: “Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.” 1

President Hinckley’s emphasis on building interfaith understanding is rooted in fundamental gospel principles—humility, charity, respect for eternal truth, and recognition of God’s love for all mankind—taught by Jesus Christ and by ancient and modern prophets. The Savior repeatedly affirmed Heavenly Father’s boundless concern for the well-being of each of His sons and daughters, as in the parable of the lost sheep (see Luke 15). In the parable of the good Samaritan, He taught that one of the keys to true discipleship is to treat others kindly and compassionately in spite of political, racial, or religious differences (see Luke 10:25–37). He denounced intolerance and rivalry among religious groups and the tendency to extol one’s own virtues and deprecate the spiritual status of others. Addressing a parable to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others,” Jesus condemned the pride of the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are” and commended the humility of the publican who implored, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (see Luke 18:9–14).

The Book of Mormon teaches that Heavenly Father “is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in … and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37 see also 1 Ne. 1:14). Because of this love for His children of all nations, the Lord has provided spiritual light to guide and enrich their lives. Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed that God “is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.” 2

Elder B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) of the Seventy also spoke on this doctrine: “While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.” 3

The Prophet Joseph Smith often expounded on this theme of the universality of God’s love and the related need to remain open to all available sources of divine light and knowledge. “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism,’” he said, “is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” 4 The Prophet exhorted Church members to “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them.” 5

Church leaders continually have encouraged members to foster amicable relations with people of other faiths by acknowledging the spiritual truth they possess, emphasizing the similarities in belief and lifestyle, and teaching us to disagree agreeably. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on this theme to members and nonmembers during an area conference in Tahiti: “Keep all the truth and all the good that you have. Do not abandon any sound or proper principle. Do not forsake any standard of the past which is good, righteous, and true. Every truth found in every church in all the world we believe. But we also say this to all men—Come and take the added light and truth that God has restored in our day. The more truth we have, the greater is our joy here and now the more truth we receive, the greater is our reward in eternity.” 6

During October 1991 general conference, President Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the peoples of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all mankind.” 7

Likewise, Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted a public statement issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 1992, calling upon “all people everywhere to re-commit themselves to the time-honored ideals of tolerance and mutual respect. We sincerely believe that as we acknowledge one another with consideration and compassion we will discover that we can all peacefully coexist despite our deepest differences.” He then added: “That pronouncement is a contemporary confirmation of the Prophet Joseph’s earlier entreaty for tolerance. Unitedly we may respond. Together we may stand, intolerant of transgression but tolerant of neighbors with differences they hold sacred. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are all children of God.” 8

II. The character of our fellowship

He says three things about the character of our fellowship.

A. First, he says it is personal

look at the last part of verse 3. It is with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. God is not a distant entity, unknowable and implacable. He is personal. He is a person who knows and can be known. There are those who say that because God is transcendent, or beyond us, that we cannot know Him. But I like what Francis Schafer says. He says while we cannot know God completely we can know Him truly. Schafer makes that point that while we know other humans truly we do not know them fully.

Part of the wonder of the incarnation was that God became one of us so that we could know Him and that He could reveal Himself to us in a way we would understand. So when we talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this is what we mean: To know Him and to be known by Him. Our fellowship with God is personal.

But when we are in fellowship with God, we are also to be in fellowship, through His Spirit, with His people. It is important that we not overlook this element of what John is saying. Look in the first part of verse three. It is only by knowing Jesus that you can have fellowship with the saints.

Contrary to what the Gnostics were teaching, there was no secret knowledge that would put you in fellowship with God or His people. If you had His Spirit then you were in fellowship with Him and with others who had His Spirit.

It is important for us to realize that those who hold solid theology should live it out in practical ways. What scripture is saying here, and the point John will make throughout this book is that if you really have fellowship with God, you will be in right relationship with God's people.

The great shame of the church today is that we have so many church members who never come to church. Church members for whom fellowship with God's people is not only seen as optional, but for many is seen as a non-essential. Don't miss this point. Look at verse 7, if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another . . .

God's plan for His people is for them to be in fellowship with Him and with one another. In fact, John tells us in his gospel, chapter 13 that it by this that all men will know we are His disciples that we have love one for another.

Our fellowship is personal, both with God and with His people.

But secondly, look at verse 4 where the apostle tells us that our fellowship with God is peaceful.

B. Secondly, it is peaceful

That your joy may be made complete. The completion of joy is peace. And our fellowship with God brings us peace, both with God and with God's people.

The Gnostics, like others before them, sought to use religion to control others. They had an elaborate scheme of secret knowledge one had to know in order to climb the spiritual ladder. Their fellowship was sectarian, exclusive and elitist. John says that our fellowship with God and His people is not like this. It is not dependent upon the capricious whims of other humans. It is not dependent upon our ability to know this or to memorize that, it is based upon the certainty that Jesus came in the flesh, gave His life for us and rose from the dead. If we place our trust in Him we can be in fellowship with Him and His called out ones, the Church. Instead of consternation it brings communion, it brings peace instead of panic. Our fellowship with God and His people is to be peaceful.

But not only is our fellowship personal and peaceful, notice with me in verse 5 where John says that our fellowship is pervasive.

C. Third, it is pervasive

God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

This is an important statement. Contrary to the Gnostic philosophy, which said that Jesus could not have come in the flesh, John says not only did Jesus come in the flesh but that He is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

In saying this he is not only contradicting Gnostic philosophy, but is also taking a stab at the way the Gnostics lived. Because they believed that all matter was evil, many of them claimed that they could do anything they wanted in the flesh, because flesh was, after all evil. So long as they did not affect their spirits they saw no problem with all manner of sin.

Consider how this truth runs in the fact of post modernism which says there is no absolute truth. John is saying that God is absolutely light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He is making an absolute statement about the nature of God. Contrary to what others may say God is light and in Him is no darkness whatsoever.

That having been said, if you have fellowship with Him you will not walk in darkness but will walk in the light as He is in the light. In other words, fellowship with God means that there has been a substantive and sustained change in the way you live.

There were then, like today, many who claim to be in fellowship with God, but whose lives do not reflect a change of any kind. To those John says, "If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth."

Those who truly have fellowship with God are readily noticeable by the change in their lives. Those who claim to be in fellowship with Him and continue to walk in darkness, who continue to live like the rest of the world, they are liars and do not practice the truth.

The fellowship we have with God is pervasive, changing us at a core level and manifesting itself in every facet of our lives.

So we have seen the Certainty of our fellowship and the Character of our fellowship, but there is one final thing John says here. Look at verses 8-10 . . . where he speaks to the condition of our fellowship.

Baptism of Desire: Its Origin and Abandonment in the Thought of Saint Augustine

This article will focus on the question of explicit baptism of desire — as it was understood by most western doctors of the Church from the time of Saint Augustine (+430) until Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (+1787), the last declared theological doctor who wrote in favor of its saving efficacy. The subject matter will deal specifically with the origin of the theological speculation, as given by Saint Augustine in one of his early doctrinal letters, and then move on to prove from authoritative testimony that the African doctor reversed his opinion in his later anti-Pelagian writing.

Go Ye, Preach the Gospel to Every Creature, and Baptize

I wish to preface the following with an affirmation of the extreme importance of this issue in that the conversion of non-Christians to the Catholic Faith, in our day, is no longer considered a mission necessary for their salvation. The mandate of our Savior to “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16), has been supplanted by a new gospel of salvation by sincerity through invincible ignorance. It is my intention to restore at least an appreciation for the zeal of the holy missionaries that went forth to convert the nations to Christ and to baptize the pagans and infidels who accepted the good news that is the gospel. These missionaries, whose exemplar since the sixteenth century is Saint Francis Xavier, were not distracted by any speculation about a baptism of desire. Xavier baptized several hundred thousand pagans with his own hand. Biographers write that there were so many catechumens waiting to be baptized that assistants had to help him to lift his arm to perform the rite. Saint Francis Xavier never wrote a word about baptism of desire. Rather, he wrote these words from the Far East hoping to reach students aspiring for degrees: “How I would like to go to the universities of Paris and the Sorbonne and address many men who are richer in learning than in zeal, to let them know the great number of souls who, because of their neglect, are deprived of grace and are apt to go to hell. There are millions of nonbelievers who would become Christian if there were missionaries.” Was this missioner, considered the greatest after Saint Paul, misinformed?

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus Can’t Possibly Mean What It Says! This Doctrine is Too Hard! Who Can Hear it?

Among traditional Catholics who oppose the doctrinal cause of Saint Benedict Center, the vast majority maintain that their opposition is over Father Feeney’s rejection of baptism of desire. This has not always been the case, but it has become so more in the past twenty to thirty years. Prior to that, it was the defined doctrine itself, No salvation outside the Church, which disturbed those whom Brother Francis, in his treatise, The Dogma of Faith Defended, called “right-wing liberals.” These are the theologians who believed in the infallible authority of the Church, but were embarrassed over the literal sense of the doctrine. “God is all-merciful,” they stressed, “most men, surely, will be saved.”

In their efforts to drain the thrice-defined dogma of its literal sense, these overly optimistic theologians insisted that the dogma needed to be “interpreted” according to the sense of the living ordinary magisterium of our time. Even Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, postulated that what extra ecclesiam nulla salus really meant was that there is no salvation without the Church:

“The doctrine of the Church also recognizes implicit baptism of desire. This consists in doing the will of God. God knows all men and He knows that amongst Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and in the whole of humanity there are men of good will. They receive the grace of baptism without knowing it, but in an effective way. In this way they become part of the Church. The error consists in thinking that they are saved by their religion. They are saved in their religion but not by it. . . .” (Open Letter to Confused Catholics)

Then, too, there are those theologians (mostly connected with the SSPX) who insist that what extra ecclesiam nulla salus really means is that that the only thing necessary for salvation is to die in the state of grace, and this rebirth is not limited for its accomplishment to the visible means of grace provided by the visible Church because God, they say, is not bound by His sacraments. (I will address this last opinion at the end of this article where I briefly cover the teaching of the Council of Trent on justification.)

These re-formulations of the dogma have been even further eviscerated by more liberal elements to a redaction devoid of any challenge: “No one can be saved outside the Catholic Church who knows that the Catholic Church is the true Church but refuses to enter it.” Many priests and theologians draw this inference, rightly or wrongly, from a passage in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation” (#16).

Accordingly, the class of people who cannot be saved, if they die in the bad state that they are in, has been reduced to the rare and hardly identifiable set of obstinants who know the Catholic Church is the true Church, but refuse to enter it. The belief in the possibility of salvation for those who die with only an implicit desire for baptism and for those who die invincibly ignorant of the truths necessary to be believed for salvation, is now capable of accommodating all who are sincere in their erroneous beliefs and try to live whatever a good life means for them.

What are we to do then as members of the Church Militant? Provide a softer cushion for those outside the Church by inventing loopholes to the salvation doctrine or, rather, ought we not to affirm the clear infallible teaching, using whatever words seem appropriate for the occasion, lest we give false hope to our neighbor? I can think of no greater offense against charity than to tell a non-Catholic that he can be saved without converting to the true Church and/or without being baptized. In a recent Ad Rem, March 16, 2011, Brother André dealt with this theme of true charity and our obligation to challenge those outside the Church, with whatever gifts of noble persuasion we have, to enter the one ark of salvation.

Before I present the theological points that follow, which may appear in some places overly-academic, I want to stress what Father Feeney and Brother Francis repeatedly emphasized: God is in charge. He is all-powerful and all merciful. It is He, through His Son, the Word, who “enlightens all men that come into this world” (John 1:19) and who “will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). This is His holy will and, with this paternal will, sufficient grace is given to all men to be saved.

“Behold the hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear” (Isaias 59:1).

Saint Paul says the same in his Letter to the Ephesians who were once idolaters and who now lived in the light of the Gospel: “To everyone of us is given grace, according to the measure of the giving of Christ” (4:2).

Brother Francis was inspired to put it this way in the late 1940s with his challenging article “Sentimental Theology”:

The Catholic Church does not proclaim the exclusive salvation of one race or one class of people, but invites every man to the great joy of being united with Christ in the communion of saints.

The Catholic truth is not a sad story for which we need to apologize it is a proclamation of the greatest good news that could ever be told. No matter how sternly its message is phrased, it is still the one and only hope in the world. Only love and security can afford to be severe. When we say that outside the Church there is no salvation, we are also and at the same time announcing that inside the Church there is salvation. The world already knows the sad part of our story, because the world finds no salvation in the world. The Church does not have to tell the unbelievers that they are in sin and in despair they know that in the depth of their hearts. What is new to the world in the Christian story is that, through Mary, the gates of heaven are opened, and that we are invited to become brothers of Jesus in the Eternal Kingdom of God. This is not a story which can be told with the subdued and hesitant voice of sentimental theology.

Baptism of Desire

Baptism of desire is the belief that a catechumen, or an unbaptized believer awaiting baptism, could be saved if he died unexpectedly prior to receiving the sacrament, provided that he had an ardent desire to be baptized, along with the true Faith and perfect sorrow for his sins. Two fathers are commonly offered as authorities who proposed this belief: Saints Augustine and Ambrose. I will first write about Saint Augustine, then Saint Ambrose, then, lastly, Saint Bernard who raised the issue again in the twelfth century, citing the two early fathers as authorities. After this, I will return to Saint Augustine to provide the evidence that he recanted his once-held speculation concerning baptism of desire.

Saint Augustine’s First Speculation

It is in one of his seven books that he wrote against the Donatists that we first find Augustine speculating on this question. He first picked up the pen to refute the Donatists, in their schism and heresy, in 391, after his ordination as a priest and before he was consecrated a bishop. So, the following quote is from his earlier days as a Catholic theologian, perhaps shortly after his episcopal consecration: “That the place of baptism can sometimes assuredly be taken by suffering, the Blessed Cyprian takes as no mean proof the words addressed to the thief who was not baptized. . . . In considering which again and again, I find that not only suffering for the Name of Christ can make up for the lack of baptism, but also the Faith and conversion of heart, if it happens that lack of time prevents the celebration of the sacrament of baptism.” And, a few sentences later in the same book, “Baptism is ministered invisibly to one whom not contempt of religion but death excludes.” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Bk. IV, Chap. 22, Rouet de Journel, Enchiridion Patristicum # 1630)

Early on in his writings, Augustine laid great emphasis on the natural power of the will under the influence of actual graces but, as yet, unaided by sanctifying grace. Later, in his battle against the Pelagians, he put all the emphasis on grace, which no man can merit. Even the most virtuous of unbaptized believers, he would later argue, could not merit the gift of grace that comes with the sacrament. God will call whom He will. More on this further on. For now, I would like to quote from Augustine the Theologian by Eugene Teselle, where the author makes a most revealing insight that could explain why the African doctor favored a baptism in desire, at least at one point after his conversion: “Augustine asserts that nothing is more within the power of the will than the will itself, so that whoever wishes to love rightly and honorably, can achieve it simply by willing it the velle is already the habere.” (Teselle cites Augustine’s De Libero Arbitrio. I, 12, 26, & 13, 29 as a source for his assertion.)

Saint Gregory Nazianzen’s Contrary Opinion

Saint Gregory Nazianzen, an eastern father and doctor of the Church, wrote in opposition to this theorizing about the efficacy of a catechumen’s desire for baptism. After demonstrating four different states of conviction possible in a catechumen, he says, concerning the most ardent of them, that they are neither worthy of punishment nor glory, but still they are at a loss. I only need to quote his conclusion as regards the latter in terms of the salvific efficacy of their will:

“If you were able to judge a man who intends to commit murder solely by his intention and without any act of murder, then you could likewise reckon as baptized one who desired baptism. But, since you cannot do the former, how can you do the latter? If you prefer, we will put it this way: If, in your opinion, desire has equal power with actual baptism, then make the same judgment in regard to glory. You would then be satisfied to desire glory, as though that longing itself were glory. Do you suffer any damage by not attaining the actual glory, as long as you have a desire for it? I cannot see it!” (Oration on Divine Light, XL, #23)

Whoever it was that Saint Gregory was contending with, we know that it could not have been Saint Augustine. Saint Gregory died in 389, only two years after Augustine’s conversion.

More on Saint Augustine

What Saint Augustine expressed about baptism of desire in his treatise against the Donatists was not his conviction when he wrote his commentary on the Gospel of Saint John. Therein, he states that “no matter what progress a catechumen may make, he still carries the burden of iniquity, and it is not taken away until he has been baptized.” (Chapter 13, Tract 7) Again, Father van der Meer, in his book, Augustine the Bishop, cites a like passage from the doctor: “How many rascals are saved by being baptized on their deathbeds? And how many sincere catechumens die unbaptized and are lost forever” (Page 150). Note here that Augustine was not referring to hesitant catechumens who presumptuously put off their baptism, but to “sincere catechumens.”

Moreover, when Saint Augustine speculated about baptism of desire he offered no authority for his view, as he did with Saint Cyprian in favoring baptism of blood. But, beginning with Saint Bernard, those western doctors who opined in favor of baptism of desire usually cite both Saint Augustine and Saint Ambrose as their authorities. Saint Thomas Aquinas is a perfect example.

Saint Ambrose’s Actual Teaching on Baptism

It would seem that, at least with Saint Ambrose, there should be a question here, especially when considering his definitive writing on the subject. Father Jacques Paul Migne (+ 1875) seems to think so. One of the great, if not the greatest authority on patristic teaching, he doesn’t see a warrant for this optimism in the writings of the doctor from Milan: “From among the Catholic Fathers perhaps no one insists more than Ambrose on the absolute necessity of receiving Baptism, in various places, but especially in Book II De Abraham Sermon 2 In Psalm. and the book De Mysteriis.” (Migne, Patrologia Latina 16, 394, translated in Nicene Fathers, Vol. 10, p. 319)

Writing about the sacrament of baptism in his book, De Mysteriis, Ambrose affirms: “One is the Baptism which the Church administers: the Baptism of water and the Holy Ghost, with which catechumens need to be baptized . . . Nor does the mystery of regeneration exist at all without water, for ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom.’ Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, with which he also signs himself but, unless he be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, he cannot receive remission of his sins nor the gift of spiritual grace.” (4,4: 4,20 Patrologia Latina, 16, 394)

The Imperial Catechumen and the Eulogy

Saint Ambrose was the bishop to whom Saint Augustine came for knowledge, under the inspiration of actual grace, while studying in Milan. The holy bishop also regenerated him in Christ. If Saint Ambrose held such a view on baptism of desire, surely Augustine would have cited him as an authority. What is offered by Saint Thomas (and Saint Bernard implicitly) as proof that the Bishop of Milan believed in baptism of desire is his oration in 393 at the funeral of the young Emperor Valentinian II, who was a catechumen, recently converted from Arian influences.

The western Emperor, at the time of his death, was dealing with a rebellion within his ranks led by a pagan general, named Eugenius, and Arbogast, the Count of Vienne. Eugenius wanted to outlaw Christianity in the West and restore Roman paganism. When Valentinian, through the efforts of Theodosius, Catholic Emperor of the East, requested Bishop Ambrose to come to Vienne and baptize him, Eugenius revolted and had the Emperor assassinated in his quarters. Ambrose was deeply pained and delivered a hopeful eulogy at the funeral in which he compared the deceased catechumen to a “martyr,” slain for the Faith, and “baptized in his own blood.” He said nothing about a baptism of desire, but merely asked the faithful not to grieve over the fact that Valentinian died before he could baptize him. Then, he asked the question: “Did he not obtain the grace which he desired? Did he not obtain what he asked for?” And then he concludes, “Certainly, because he asked for it, he obtained it.” This could easily be an expression of hope that, knowing the danger he was in, the Emperor asked someone to baptize him secretly. Or, it could also mean that the royal catechumen received the grace of salvation because he died a martyr for Christ. Ambrose, apparently, had no proof of the former supposition, for he never mentioned it publicly, but he did have hope that Valentinian’s holy resolve was the cause of his being killed by this murderous usurper who hated the Faith. And that is part of the qualification for martyrdom, along with true repentance for sin. This is what the saint prayed as he ended the eulogy:

“Grant, therefore, to Thy servant the gift of Thy grace which he never rejected, who on the day before his death refused to restore the privileges of the temples although he was pressed by those whom he could well have feared. A crowd of pagans was present, the Senate entreated, but he was not afraid to displease men so long as he pleased Thee alone in Christ. He who had Thy Spirit, how has he not received Thy grace? Or, if the fact disturbs you that the mysteries have not been solemnly celebrated, then you should realize that not even martyrs are crowned if they are catechumens, for they are not crowned if they are not initiated. But if they are washed in their own blood, his piety also and his desire have washed him.” (De Consolatione in obitu Valentiniani, 51-54 = PL 16, 1374-75. Translated by Roy J. Deferrari, Ph.D., in Funeral Orations by St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Ambrose, pp. 287-288)

The translation is not the problem here. The last two sentences, which seem contradictory, are exactly accurate from the Latin of Migne’s Patrologia Latina. In the next to the last sentence Saint Ambrose says “that not even martyrs are crowned if they are catechumens, for they are not crowned if they are not initiated.” Does he mean that they are saved, but not crowned? Then, in the last sentence, he says that “if they [martyrs] are washed in their own blood, his piety also and his desire have washed him.” I cannot understand what the holy doctor is affirming or denying in these sentences. Perhaps something is missing from the original transcription itself.

Father Joseph Pfeiffer of the SSPX, in his article “The Three Baptisms” (The Angelus, March 1998), asserts that Saint Augustine heard the eulogy of Valentinian and, consequently, that is why the African doctor believed in baptism of desire.

“One would think, however,” writes Father Pfeiffer, “from reading some of the recent works of the followers of Fr. Feeney that the doctrine of the baptism of desire was held as an obscure opinion amongst some misguided Catholic theologians and saints —saints who got it wrong in deference to Saint Thomas, who believed the doctrine only in deference to Saint Augustine, who held it because he once heard a sermon of Saint Ambrose, “On the Death of Valentinian” . . . Are we to assume that Mr. Hutchinson and like-minded followers of Fr. Feeney have a better understanding of Ambrose than Augustine, his own disciple, who was baptized by the same Ambrose?”

Four quick points: 1) No one supportive of Saint Benedict Center would venture to assume that they would know the mind of Saint Ambrose better than Saint Augustine. That is absurd. 2) As I already noted, if the doctor from Milan intended to identify himself with the speculation concerning baptism of desire, Augustine would have cited his authority, especially if, as Father Pfeiffer assumes, he was “his disciple.” 3) There is no mention of Saint Ambrose’s eulogy for Valentinian in Saint Augustine’s writings, nor are there any known letters of correspondence between them. 4) Saint Augustine began his work against the Pelagians after the death of Saint Ambrose (+397). Again, it would seem likely that in changing his opinion on baptism of desire when confronting the anti-sacramentalism of the Pelagians, he would respectfully at least have made reference to Bishop Ambrose’s alleged contrary view.

Who are the Hosts of Doctors Before Aquinas Who Taught Baptism of Desire?

Saint Cyprian?

From the time of Saint Augustine to that of Saint Bernard (+1153) in the twelfth century, I could discover no doctor of the Church who affirmed a belief in baptism of desire. Father Pfeiffer asserts in his article that there are “a host of other saints and Doctors before and after Aquinas,” who taught baptism of desire. “After Aquinas?” Granted. “Before?” With Augustine’s recantation (full text supplied later on), I do not know of any, other than Saint Bernard.

Rev. Father Jean Marc Rulleau in his booklet, Baptism of Desire: A Patristic Commentary, attempts to defend the same point as Father Pfeiffer concerning the fathers’ approval of baptism of desire, but he provides only the flimsiest of evidence from the fathers. He maintains that Saint Cyprian (+258) believed in baptism of desire — not for catechumens (Cyprian does not raise that question), but for those converts who he thought were invalidly baptized in a heretical sect. The question Cyprian raised was this: if they converted and were received into the Church without being re-baptized, could they be saved? He believed that they could be saved.

I agree with Father Rulleau that this opinion could be translated into a baptism of desire. In any event, the historical fact is that Saint Cyprian refused to accept Pope Stephen’s correction (including the threat of excommunication in case of non-compliance) of his teaching concerning the invalidity of baptisms in heretical sects that used the correct matter and form. He even summoned a council at Carthage in 256 to gather the support of a synod of African bishops. The decision of that council, to which Cyprian acquiesced, was that the question of re-baptizing converted heretics was a disciplinary issue reserved for the local bishop. In this, he had what appears to be the support of the eastern Catholic bishops whom he had also solicited. In a letter he wrote to one Jubaianus, the bishop of Carthage explained that he makes no laws for others, but retains his own liberty. (Epp. lxx, lxxi, lxxii) Then, again, in a later letter to one Pompeius, to whom he sent his work, De Bono Patientiae, he is virulent in his attack on Pope’s Stephen’s orthodoxy. Pompeius had asked for a copy of Stephen’s decree. “As you read it,” Cyprian writes, “you will note his error more and more clearly: in approving the baptism of all the heresies, he has heaped into his own breast the sins of all of them a fine tradition indeed! What blindness of mind, what depravity!” (See New Advent’s 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia on Saint Cyprian.) In the end, after the martyrdom of Saint Cyprian and under the pontificate of Pope Sixtus II, the Church in Carthage fell in line with the pope.

Point being: If the Bishop of Carthage was wrong on the bigger question, speaking and writing in ignorant opposition to the apostolic tradition (and, be it noted, following the opinion of the heretic Tertullian on the subject) and questioning the pope’s authority, are we to hold that he was correctly handing on traditional teaching on a subsidiary issue related to the original error? Reading the insulting language Cyprian employs against the pope in his letter to Pompeius one can understand why Saint Augustine, with great respect and prudence, would say over a century later, in his treatise De Baptismo, that Bishop Cyprian had atoned for his “excess” by his martyrdom.

Father Francois Laisney, in a letter written to me in 1999 on this issue, labored much to convince me that Saint Cyprian favored baptism of desire. Regarding those converted heretics who were received back into the Church by the western bishops and the head of the Church himself without being rebaptized, he proved his point. But these converts were in a different category than catechumens — after all, they were accepted as members of the Church by the pope, and Cyprian himself, at least in council, was not denying the pope the right to admit these converts without rebaptizing them. Remember, in the previously-cited letter to Jubaianus he was arguing that this decision should be left to each individual bishop. His contention, therefore, if one looks at the logic of the actual argument and not his excessive vitriol, was not that the “deposit of faith” was being compromised by Pope Stephen, but that, for certainty sake, when the validity of heretical baptisms was questionable (as it was in his mind) the matter fell to one of discipline. To quote Saint Cyprian: “God is powerful in His mercy to give forgiveness also to those who were admitted into the Church in simplicity [of heart] and who died in the Church and not to separate them from the gifts of the Church” (Letter to Jubaianus, n. 23, Patrologia Latina 3, 1125). I put the emphasis on “died in the Church” to prove my point. If Saint Cyprian definitely believed that the Faith itself was being compromised, and that to accept the validity of heretical baptisms was itself “heretical,” then he would not have said that the deceased converts, who were not rebaptized, “died in the Church.” If Fathers Rulleau and Laisney wish to believe that Saint Cyprian was transmitting an apostolic tradition concerning baptism of desire, fine but they certainly should not insist that fellow Catholics are obligated to believe that. They should also take note that Saint Augustine did not cite Cyprian as an authority when he first proposed baptism of desire as his own personal opinion.

All the Fathers From the First Centuries Favored Baptism of Desire? Untrue

With just two fathers of the Church (seemingly so, in the case of Saint Ambrose) favoring baptism of desire for pious catechumens who died before baptism, Father Rulleau asserts that “all the Fathers” from the “first centuries” favored baptism of desire. Yet, in his own treatise, he cites several, like Cyril of Jerusalem, who “seem” opposed to baptism of desire. Father Francois Laisney will not even go that far. For him, as he expressed it in the letter he wrote to me in 1999, no matter how much a father insists on “no exceptions except unbaptized martyrs,” unless they explicitly reject baptism of desire, one cannot say they were opposed to it. And even if a father did explicitly oppose it, as did Saint Gregory Nazianzen, they, Father Laisney and others, will not accept the literalness of the rejection. I am surprised that, in his treatise, Father Rulleau does not quote from Saint Gregory Nazianzen who, as you read above, could not have been more specific in his rejection of baptism of desire. Saint Benedict Center has provided that quotation in numerous of its publications, but I can only assume Father Rulleau was unaware of it or he would have cited it. Here is what Rulleau writes in his study:

“Martyrdom can be spiritual, in the sense that salvation can be achieved by a purely interior conversion. This baptism of desire makes up for the want of sacramental baptism. Baptism is thus received “in voto.” The existence of this mode of salvation is a truth taught by the Magisterium of the Church and held from the first centuries by all the Fathers. No Catholic theologian has contested it. . . .”

Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur (What is gratuitously asserted, is gratuitously denied). Baptism of desire was not “held from the first centuries by all the Fathers,” nor is it the teaching of “the Magisterium of the Church.”

The Letters of Popes Innocent II and Innocent III

The second contention, regarding the Magisterium, is the subject for another article. Suffice it to say that neither of the two popes, Innocent II and Innocent III, whom Father Rulleau cites in favor of baptism of desire, were issuing a decree for the universal Church. They had written personal letters, invoking, yes, a doctrinal matter, but in response to two particular disciplinary questions. The one attributed to Innocent II in Denzinger’s Enchiridion, written to the bishop of Cremona, Italy, is attributed rather to Innocent III in a canon law book, The Corpus of Canon Law, published in 1881 in Freidberg. The question involved offering Masses for a deceased priest who, it was discovered afterwards, had no record of being baptized. The pope gave permission for it. The other letter, also attributed to Innocent III, is so theologically novel that I really doubt that Father Rulleau would himself subscribe to it. I find it incredible that a bishop would even ask the question that is proposed, which was whether or not a Jew who attempted to baptize himself when he was in danger of death should be “re-baptized” after his recovery to health?

How is it that a presumably educated shepherd of the Church — this is a bishop, after all — Bishop Berthold of Germany in this case, could ask such a question? And the pope’s answer, as we have it from the Enchiridion, is more than problematic its uncritical gratuitousness could have led to other Jews doing the same when near death, or catechumens holding off baptism until near death and then doing a self-baptism. The letter attributed to Pope Innocent says that if the Jew died after his attempted self-baptism he would have “flown straight to heaven.” Is this the “teaching of the Magisterium” Father Rulleau is offering in his favor? I see no reason why either of these papal letters should have been included in Denzinger’s Enchiridion, which was originally intended to be, after all, a collection of supreme magisterial teaching (first published with only 128 documents in 1854) hence its full title, as given by its compiler, Father Heinrich Joseph Dominicus Denzinger: Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum (Collection of symbols [i.e., creeds] and definitions).

Let us note, however, regarding Innocent III, that Saint Thomas Aquinas had to cite another error of his in the Summa wherein the pope was shown to have held that Christ consecrated by His divine power without words: “ ‘In good sooth it can be said that Christ accomplished this sacrament by His Divine power, and subsequently expressed the form under which those who came after were to consecrate.’ But in opposition to this view are the words of the Gospel in which it is said that Christ ‘blessed,’ and this blessing was effected by certain words. Accordingly those words of Innocent are to be considered as expressing an opinion, rather than determining the point’” (Summa, III, Q. 78, Art. 1, reply to objection 1).

The Book of Sentences and Saint Bernard

Citing the authorities of Saints Augustine and Ambrose, Baptism of desire is promoted by Bishop Peter Lombard in his great work, written near the end of the twelfth century, The Four Books of Sentences, which text Saint Thomas studied and commented upon a century later. (Book IV, Part II) The Sentences would continue to be the theology textbook for all Catholic universities until the Summa Theologica gradually replaced it in the seventeenth century. Until that time, for almost five centuries, it was a standard requirement for a theology degree to write a commentary of the famous Sentences. Peter Lombard had taught in Paris at the Cathedral University of Notre Dame, at about the same time the Sorbonne was being founded. Interesting in this connection is that Lombard, the great Master of the Sentences, studied under Peter Abelard, who rejected the idea of a baptism of desire, and Hugh of St. Victor, who opted in favor of it, before he began teaching in Paris. Both of these men were renowned intellectual giants of the twelfth century: the latter crowned his theological acumen with a holy life, while the former, a master dialectician, was plagued by a remorseful conscience for a good part of his life and, finally, was moved to spend his last days as a penitent in the monastery of Cluny.

In a letter to Master Hugh, who had asked for his opinion about the question of baptism of desire, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153) also cited the two fathers, Ambrose and Augustine, as his authorities in favoring it. But he clearly spoke of it as a matter of opinion:

“We adduce only the opinions and words of the fathers and not our own for we are not wiser than our fathers. . . . Believe me, it will be difficult to separate me from these two pillars, by which I refer to Augustine and Ambrose. I confess that with them I am either right or wrong in believing that people can be saved by faith alone and the desire to receive the sacrament, even if untimely death or some insuperable force keep them from fulfilling their pious desire.” (my italic)

Peter Abelard

In his Theologia Christiana Peter Abelard specifically rejected baptism of desire (2, Patrologia Latina 178, 1205), arguing that the speculation on the subject offered by Saint Ambrose in the Valentinian eulogy contradicted the fathers. Not this, but certain other of Abelard’s propositions were condemned in 1141 at the Council of Sens, which was presided over by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. And, although Master Lombard disagreed with Abelard on several of his propositions, he always held him in high esteem, and the former’s Four Books of Sentences were heavily influenced by the scriptural commentary of the latter, which lay heavily on the literal, historical, and grammatical sense. When one looks at this scenario, it appears likely that Hugh of St. Victor read Abelard’s specific rejection of baptism of desire in his Theologia Christiana, and, noting that his friend Peter Lombard was teaching in favor of it, he was prompted to write to Saint Bernard for his opinion.

Concerning Abelard and his denial of baptism of desire, I could not express any reason nearly as insightful and poignant as that of Dr. Robert Hickson: “[T]he keen mind of Abelard saw grave troubles and violations of the Law of Non-Contradiction, IF one were temerariously trying to find exceptional substitutes for the Sacrament of Baptism in the realm of ‘Intention’ or ‘Desire’ or in the dubious, if not presumptuous, ‘hope of PERFECT Contrition’ — not a very good or certain foundation for one’s attainment of Vita Aeterna.”

Another thing must be added in Abelard’s favor, who, following the teaching of Saint Anselm, he took issue with Saint Augustine’s opinion that the essence of inherited original sin is concupiscence of the flesh. Anselm taught that original sin is not concupiscence but the absence of original justice however, oddly enough, he agreed with Augustine that unbaptized infants would share in the positive punishments of hell in the most minimal way. Abelard accepted Anselm’s teaching on original sin being the deprivation of sanctifying grace at conception, but he rejected the idea of positive punishment of sense for those who die in original sin only in fact, he was one of the first to do so, as also did Saint Thomas Aquinas a century later.

The Catholic Encyclopedia: “After enjoying several centuries of undisputed supremacy, St. Augustine’s teaching on original sin was first successfully challenged by St. Anselm, who maintained that it was not concupiscence, but the privation of original justice, that constituted the essence of inherited sin. On the special question, however, of the punishment of original sin after death, St. Anselm was at one with St. Augustine in holding that unbaptized infants share in the positive sufferings of the damned and Abelard was the first to rebel against the severity of the Augustinian tradition on this point” (Vol. 9, “Limbo,” p. 257).

Fifth Century Theological Manual: De Ecclesiasticis Dogmatibus

In addition to these influences on the early schoolmen in Paris, there was the question, current at the time, as to the authorship of a fifth century theological manual, which specifically denied baptism of desire. It was De Ecclesiasticis Dogmatibus. In chapter 74 we find the curious profession: “We believe that only the baptized are on the road of salvation. We believe that no catechumen has life everlasting, although he has died in good works, excepting martyrdom, in which all the sacred elements (sacraments) of Baptism are contained.” It was commonly believed, until the thirteenth century, that Saint Augustine was the author of this theological work. Saint Thomas (+1274) challenged the belief in his Commentary on the first chapter of Matthew (Catena Aurea). The Angelic Doctor denied Augustine’s authorship, attributing the work, rather, to a semi-Pelagian named Gennadius of Marseilles. But, on the other hand, when Peter Lombard was composing his Book of Sentences, he referred to the work as Augustine’s in several places. (Lib. II, dist. 35, cap. “Quocirca” Lib. III, dist. 1, cap. “Diligenter” Lib IV, dist. 12, cap. “Institutum.”)

Finally, before I bring to light an extremely important discovery regarding Saint Augustine’s view on this point, I raise the question again: If there were any fathers other than Augustine and Ambrose for Saint Bernard to cite as authorities for his opinion, would he not have mentioned them? As I said before, I was unable to discover any doctors who argued in favor of a baptism in desire during the seven hundred years from Saint Augustine to Saint Bernard. It is true, however, that fathers and doctors, both in the East and the West, who spoke or wrote on the issue of unbaptized martyrs, granted an exception for the necessity of receiving the sacrament, but none, as far as I could discover, allowed for any other exceptions.

Testimony of Three Theologians

Before supplying Saint Augustine’s retractions I will quote three modern theologians to demonstrate the lack of unanimity among the fathers who raised the question directly or indirectly concerning baptism of desire: Fathers William A. Jurgens, Bernard Otten, S.J., and Karl Rahner, S.J.

Father Jurgens: “If there were not a constant tradition in the Fathers that the Gospel message of ‘Unless a man be born again . . . etc.’ is to be taken absolutely, it would be easy to say that Our Savior simply did not see fit to mention the obvious exceptions of invincible ignorance and physical impossibility. But the tradition in fact is there, and it is likely enough to be so constant as to constitute revelation.” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3, pp. 14-15, footnote 31, my italics)

Next, Rev. Bernard Otten, S.J., one-time professor of both Dogmatic Theology and the History of Dogma at the University of St. Louis, Missouri, in his Manual of the History of Dogma wrote: “Baptism of water, although ordinarily necessary for salvation, may be supplied by martyrdom, and under certain conditions also by the baptism of desire. The former was universally admitted, but the latter was apparently denied by Chrysostom and Cyril of Jerusalem.” (Vol. I, pg 351) Abbot Jerome Theisen, O.S.B., in his book, The Ultimate Church and the Promise of Salvation, affirms the same of Saint Gregory Nazianzen and adds Saint Basil as being opposed to the speculation.

“. . . we have to admit . . . that the testimony of the Fathers, with regard to the possibility of salvation for someone outside the Church, is very weak. Certainly even the ancient Church knew that the grace of God can be found also outside the Church and even before Faith. But the view that such divine grace can lead man to his final salvation without leading him first into the visible Church, is something, at any rate, which met with very little approval in the ancient Church. For, with reference to the optimistic views on the salvation of catechumens as found in many of the Fathers, it must be noted that such a candidate for baptism was regarded in some sense or other as already ‘Christianus,’ and also that certain Fathers, such as Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa deny altogether the justifying power of love or of the desire for baptism. Hence it will be impossible to speak of a consensus dogmaticus in the early Church regarding the possibility of salvation for the non-baptized, and especially for someone who is not even a catechumen. In fact, even St. Augustine, in his last (anti-pelagian) period, no longer maintained the possibility of a baptism by desire.” (Rahner, Karl, Theological Investigations, Volume II, Man in the Church, translated by Karl H. Kruger, pp.40, 41, 57)

Rahner might also have included others among the fathers who denied the possibility of salvation for the unbaptized catechumen who died before receiving the sacrament.

Historical Testimony: Saint Augustine’s Recantation of Baptism of Desire

The following extracts are taken from Fritz Hoffman’s work, Das Kirchenbegrifft des hl Augustinus. (Saint Augustine’s Concept of the Church, Fritz Hoffmann, 2. Part, 2. Chapter, The relation of the Mystical Body of Christ to the Visible Catholic Church) They were translated from German by Dr. Leonard Maluf, S.S.L, S.T.D., who once was a translator for L’Osservatore Romano and now translates for a Biblical journal called Dei Verbum. The German author uses these passages to demonstrate that, in his anti-Pelagian writings, Saint Augustine recanted his earlier opinion on the saving efficacy of baptism of desire. I will leave the Latin text in italics for those who wish to check Dr. Maluf’s English translation (in brackets) from the Latin citations of Dr. Hoffman.

The Concept of the Church in St. Augustine, Fritz Hoffmann:

“[p. 464, c] Over against the efforts of the Pelagians, and their African following, to locate, and thus to secure, the salvation of human beings in their own free choice, Augustine’s efforts went ever more in the direction of grounding salvation and the certainty of salvation entirely in God and in the sacramental, saving mediation of the Church as given by God. Just as belonging to the corpus Adam and therewith to the massa damnata rests on the objective fact of human birth, so belonging to the Corpus Christi rests on the no-less objective reality of sacramental rebirth operante gratia spirituali, quae data est per secundum hominem, qui est Christus (Aug. ep. 187, 31) [under the influence of the spiritual grace which is given through the second man, who is Christ.] The ecclesiastical teacher was convinced of the all-powerful will of God for the salvation of man, of the supernatural and grace character of Christianity, and of the powerlessness of any ethical striving that remains in the sphere of the purely human.

“Nowhere could Augustine bring this conviction to stronger expression than in the way he attached Christian rebirth, justification, and grace ever more exclusively to the outward sacramental [p. 465] signs of salvation, thereby insuring against all human inadequacy. This represents the end-point of a development, which at an earlier time had already led from an over-stress on the subjective side of justification, to an equal ordering of sacrament and conversion and finally to elevating sacrament over conversion. In order to exclude any possibility of self-redemption on the part of human beings, Augustine came out strongly for the indispensable necessity for salvation of the two primary sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist: Just as for the pre-Christian era, faith in the mediator was necessary, so for the Christian era the reception of the sacraments of faith is also necessary by a necessity of means (necessitate medii). Without this sacramental reception there is no liberation from original sin or from personal sins: Animas non liberat sive ab originalibus sive a propriis peccatis nisi in ecclesia Christi baptismus Christi (de Nat. et orig. an. 1, 13, 16 cf. ibid. 4, 11, 16) [It is only Christ’s baptism, in the Church of Christ, that frees from both original sin and from personal sins]. Whoever denies this necessity empties the cross of Christ, whose honor Augustine wishes to champion, of its value: Evacuatur autem (scil. crux Christi) si aliquo modo praeter illius sacramentum ad iustitiam vitamque aeternam pervenire posse dicatur (Aug. de nat. et grat. 7. 7). [Whoever thinks that one can arrive at justification and eternal life in any other way than through the sacrament of the cross of Christ empties it of value].

“ ‘Crucem Christi evacuare’ and ‘baptismum evacuare’ thus mean one and the same thing for the ecclesiastical teacher: Gratiam Christi simul oppugnant (scil. Manichaei et Pelagiani), baptismum eius simul evacuant carnem eius simul exhonorant (c. duas ep. Pel. 2, 2, 3) [They (the Manicheans and the Pelagians) at once assail the grace of Christ, empty his baptism of value, and dishonor his flesh.] Punic linguistic usage well expresses the absolute necessity of Baptism (immediately following which even underage children were regularly given the Eucharist): “In a happy turn of phrase, Punic Christians call Baptism simply ‘salvation’ and the sacrament of the Body of Christ ‘life.’ Where could this come from if not from an old, in my opinion, even apostolic tradition, according to which Christians hold fast to the belief that outside Baptism and the participation in the Lord’s table no human being can attain either to God’s kingdom or to salvation and eternal life” (Aug. de pecc. mer. et rem 1, 24, 34).

“To one who held such a strict view, even the doctrine of baptism of desire must have already seemed scandalous. [p. 466] Augustine did not hesitate to withdraw from his earlier opinion on this topic [see pp. 381 ff. of Hoffman’s book]. Even on the subject of the good thief, whom he had earlier thought of as the classic example of baptism of desire, he would now prefer to assume that the man was perhaps baptized after all, or that his death could be viewed as a kind of martyrdom. (Aug. Retr. 2, 18 [Knöll 2, 44, 3] de nat. et orig. an 1, 9, 11 3, 9, 12) So, too, he now considers even a good catechumen who dies before Baptism as lost, whereas a bad man, who (naturally not without inner conversion) is baptized just before death, is saved: Quare iste adductus est a gubernatione Dei, ut baptizaretur ille autem cum bene catechumenus vixerit, subita ruina mortuus est et ad baptismum non pervenit? Ille autem cum scelerate vixerit, cum luxuriosus, cum moechus, cum scenicus, cum venator aegrotavit, baptizatus est, discessit,… Peccatum in eo deletum est? Quaere merita! Non invenies nisi poenam. Quaere gratiam: O altitudo divitiarum! (de nat. et orig. an p. 27, 6) [Why is it that the latter (the evil man) was led by divine providence to be baptized, while the former died by sudden catastrophe, although he lived well as a catechumen, without arriving at baptism? (Why is it that) the evil man although he had lived the life of a villain, although he displayed the weaknesses of the wanton, of an adulterer, of a stage artist, of a hunter, was nevertheless baptized before he died, … and his sins were wiped out? If you are looking for what people properly deserve, you will find only punishment. If you are looking for grace: O the depths of the riches of God…!]

“[Augustine] [pages 466-467] would even go so far as to say that since the time of Christ there has not been one predestined person who has not received baptism before his death: Absit enim, ut praedestinatus ad vitam sine sacramento mediatoris finire permittatur hanc vitam (Aug. c. Julianum. 5, 4, 14) [Perish the thought that a person predestined to eternal life could be allowed to end this life without the sacrament of the mediator] to wish to assume that people whom God has predestined, could be whisked off by death before being baptized amounts to setting a power over God which prevents him from carrying out what he had intended. An eos et ipse praedestinat baptizari et ipse quod praedestinavit non sinit fieri? (Aug. de nat. et orig. an. 2, 9, 13). [Is it possible that (God) himself predestines people to be baptized and then he himself does not allow to happen what he has predestined?] But in another sense too, the heightened sacramentalism shows itself with Augustine in this period: While earlier the forgiveness of sins appears simply as the effect of Baptism, against the Pelagian narrowing of the baptismal effect to the remission of sins, he now also stresses the communication of new, positive vital forces which he had previously attributed to the moral efforts of human beings supported by grace, without bringing them into direct causal [p. 468] relationship with the sacrament. It is now Baptism itself that gives the disciple the necessary grace for the victorious struggle against passion, according to de Gen. ad litt. 10, 14, 25.”

Skipping now to the bottom of page 472, Hoffman concludes: “It has thus been shown that the Pelagian controversy, which caused the ecclesiastical teacher to look for as objective a basis for salvation as possible, drove Augustine toward a sacramentalism that was foreign to his way of thinking in his youth, and even well into his time as bishop, and that was capable of strengthening him still further in his belief in the necessity of the visible Church for salvation.”

As I stated at the start, this article is focused on the issue of baptism of desire in its origins. Concerning baptism of blood, Saint Augustine continued to believe, as did Saint Cyprian, that an unbaptized martyr went straight to heaven. While not every father of the Church identified with this belief, there is none that I am aware of who wrote anything contrary to it. Baptism of desire, on the other hand, owes its formal genesis to Saint Augustine, as is clear from the passage already quoted from his Fourth Book against the Donatists: “In considering which again and again, I find [that] also the Faith and conversion of heart, if it happens that lack of time prevents the celebration of the sacrament of baptism,” can make up for the lack of baptism. The fact that he recanted this opinion would remove the foundation stone of the argument from the authority of the fathers concerning baptism of desire.

Conception in Justice and Rebirth in the Body of Christ

Lastly, in another letter, to a Bishop Simplicianus, that he wrote against the Pelagians, the great African Doctor compared the desire of a catechumen to a certain conception, awaiting birth in the sacrament: “But the grace of faith in some is such that it is insufficient for obtaining the kingdom of heaven, as in the catechumens and in Cornelius himself before he was incorporated into the Church by receiving the sacraments in others, the grace of faith is such as to make them the body of Christ and the holy temple of God. As the Apostle says: ‘know you not, that you are the holy temple of God’ (1 Cor. 3:16) and also the Lord Himself: ‘Unless a man be born of water and the Holy Ghost, he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ Therefore, the beginnings of faith have a certain similarity to conceptions, for in order to attain life eternal, it is not enough to be conceived, but one must be born. And none of these is without the grace of the mercy of God, because when works are good, they follow that grace, as was said, they do not precede it.”

A Word About Trent

I did not raise the issue of the teaching of the Council of Trent, although the Council is usually brought up by writers who oppose Saint Benedict Center’s position. Because it is so often cited to this purpose, I insert a brief excursus here, even though it is not directly relevant to my thesis. That august synod, in its Decree on Justification, defined that the state of justification can only be conferred by the sacrament of baptism in re or in voto — in actual reception or in vowed intent to receive. (Session VI, c. IV) The state of justification is the state of sanctifying grace. The Council did not define that a catechumen, unbaptized but justified, could be saved if he died in that state. This question, as a hypothetical possibility, was not raised at the Council. Some have argued that our position on baptism of desire is, nevertheless, condemned by Trent in the same Session, chapter sixteen, where the Council teaches that nothing further is needed for the justified to enter heaven than to maintain the state of grace. However, it is with regard to the baptized that the Council taught that the maintaining of the state of sanctifying grace after baptism, or after regaining it in confession, is all that is absolutely necessary for salvation.

First, I will quote from Session six, chapter IX, which precedes and introduces the material treated in the following chapters:

“For even as no pious person ought to doubt of the mercy of God, of the merit of Christ, and of the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments, even so each one, when he regards himself, and his own weakness and indisposition, may have fear and apprehension touching his own grace seeing that no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.” (my italics)

The Council fathers are teaching here that the pious should never doubt the mercy of God, or the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments. Clearly, in this chapter, and in chapters XIV, XV, and XVI of the same Session, it is the members of the Church who are being addressed, i.e., the baptized. At the moment of baptism, the initiate knows with absolute certitude, if he has approached the sacrament with faith and at least attrition for his sins, that all of his sins are washed away and the temporal punishment due them. Afterwards, however, as he works out his faith in daily trials, he ought to be confident that he has the grace of God and not doubt it, if he has not sinned mortally. And, if he falls into sin, and confesses with sorrow and firm purpose of amendment, he ought to be confident in God’s forgiveness and mercy. Yet this confidence, the Council affirms, holy and right as it is, falls short of the certitude that comes in believing the revealed truths, which are the object of the theological virtue of Faith.

Catechumens, on the other hand, no matter how pious, cannot have this confidence that they are in God’s grace. True, they should firmly believe and hope in God’s mercy and providence, but they would be presumptuous to assume that, prior to baptism, their sins are forgiven.

And again, in Session Six, chapter XVI, where the Council was addressing the grace received in baptism, or regained after confession, the teaching is more to the point:

“Before men, therefore, who have been justified in this manner [through baptism or confession] — whether they have preserved uninterruptedly the grace received, or whether they have recovered it when lost — are to be set the words of the Apostle: Abound in every good work, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord for God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in his name and, do not lose your confidence, which hath a great reward. And, for this cause, life eternal is to be proposed to those working well unto the end, and hoping in God, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Jesus Christ, and as a reward which is according to the promise of God Himself, to be faithfully rendered to their good works and merits. For this is that crown of justice which the Apostle declared was, after his fight and course, laid up for him, to be rendered to him by the just judge, and not only to him, but also to all that love his coming. For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified, as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches, and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God, we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace: seeing that Christ, our Saviour, saith: ‘If any one shall drink of the water that I will give him, he shall not thirst for ever but it shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting.’ ” (my italics)

Saint Augustine taught, as is clear from this article’s epigram, that the providence of God would see to it that a justified catechumen would be baptized before death. God alone, in any event, knows which of those, with a votum for baptism and perfect contrition, He has justified. The Church can only assume, as the arm of Christ, the Principal Agent in baptism, that all are in need of receiving the sacramentin order to not only have all sin forgiven and abolished, but to be a member of the Church, the Body of Christ. Anticipating the rejoinder that no one is lost who dies in the state of grace, let me just affirm that I agree. Not only that I agree, but that I submit to this truth as I would a dogma of Faith. The Church, however, allows the faithful the freedom to believe that the providence of God will see to it that every person dying in the state of grace will also be baptized. This preserves the literal sense of Christ’s teaching in John 3:5: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” and His apostolic mandate to preach and baptize all nations in Mark 16: 15-16.

Summary of Points

I will end with this summation:

1. I have not found any father of the Church who taught that there was an apostolic tradition favoring a saving efficacy of a baptism of desire. If anyone can supply me with quotes indicating otherwise, I will correct my assertion.

2. Saint Ambrose’s eulogy for the slain Emperor Valentinian is easily capable of interpretations other than baptism of desire.

3. There is no speculation concerning baptism of desire in Saint Ambrose’s definitive writing on the sacraments, as in De Mysteriis.

4. Saint Gregory Nazianzen, eastern doctor of the Church, explicitly rejected the idea of a baptism in desire.

5. Saint Augustine was the only father of the Church, whom I could discover, to speculate specifically about the saving efficacy of baptism of desire. I invite correction if I am wrong.

6. Saint Augustine recanted his earlier position on this subject in his later anti-Pelagian writings.

7. From the time of Saint Augustine’s anti-Donatist writings in the 390s, until the twelfth century, I was unable to find any doctor of the Church who wrote in favor of a baptism of desire. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) was the first. Again, I would be happy to receive correction.

8. Saint Bernard used the authorities of Saints Augustine and Ambrose to support his position. Had he had more information on their more mature or more definitive positions on the absolute necessity of the sacrament of baptism, then, I believe that this great saint would not have cited either of “these two pillars” as an authority favoring baptism of desire. Furthermore, had he considered the opinion as part of apostolic tradition would he have qualified his support by saying “with them I am either right or wrong”?

9. Father Laisney also made the point in his 1999 letter that baptism of blood is the most perfect form of baptism of desire. Therefore, if Saint Benedict Center admits unanimity among those fathers and doctors who have spoken about baptism of blood, then, implicitly, SBC is admitting that there is, for unbaptized martyrs, a perfect baptism of desire. This is certainly a valid point. However, again, I do not think it takes into proper consideration the dogma of the particular providence of God and the “fulfillment of all justice” in sacramental baptism. For this reason did Saint Paul instruct the Philippians to always be confident: “God who has begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). In my 1999 open letter to Father Laisney, I devoted five pages out of eighty-nine to just this issue however, it will have to be left alone for a future article. Suffice it for now to end with a postulate offered by Father Sylvester J. Hunter, S.J., in his Outlines of Dogmatic Theology:

We have seen that in certain cases the existence of this unanimous consent can be inferred even where few writers have treated of the matter, and we must carefully distinguish between the witness of the Fathers to the tradition that they have received, and their judgment as critics, on points as to which, they have received no tradition. In the former case their unanimous consent is decisive in the latter it is possible for more recent criticism to have discovered reasons for adopting a different view. (page 223)

Saints of the last two centuries whose existence is in doubt - History

London is a world itself, and its records embrace a world history. (Garwood viii)


The origins of London slums date back to the mid eighteenth century, when the population of London, or the &ldquoGreat Wen,&rdquo as William Cobbett called it, began to grow at an unprecedented rate. In the last decade of the nineteenth century London's population expanded to four million, which spurred a high demand for cheap housing. London slums arose initially as a result of rapid population growth and industrialisation. They became notorious for overcrowding, unsanitary and squalid living conditions. Most well-off Victorians were ignorant or pretended to be ignorant of the subhuman slum life, and many, who heard about it, believed that the slums were the outcome of laziness, sin and vice of the lower classes. However, a number of socially conscious writers, social investigators, moral reformers, preachers and journalists, who sought solution to this urban malady in the second half of the nineteenth century, argued convincingly that the growth of slums was caused by poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and homelessness.

The Slums of East London

Two of Phil May's depictions of life in the East End: East End Loafers and A Street-Row in the East End .

The most notorious slum areas were situated in East London, which was often called "darkest London," a terra incognita for respectable citizens. However, slums also existed in other parts of London, e.g. St. Giles and Clerkenwell in central London, the Devil's Acre near Westminster Abbey, Jacob's Island in Bermondsey, on the south bank of the Thames River, the Mint in Southwark, and Pottery Lane in Notting Hill.

In the last decades of the Victorian era East London was inhabited predominantly by the working classes, which consisted of native English population, Irish immigrants, many of whom lived in extreme poverty, and immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, mostly poor Russian, Polish and German Jews, who found shelter in great numbers in Whitechapel and the adjoining areas of St. George’s-in-the-East and Mile End.


Two views of Whitechapel by Joseph Pennell: An East End Factory and Whitechapel Shops .

Whitechapel was the hub of the Victorian East End. By the end of the seventeenth century it was a relatively prosperous district. However, some of its areas began to deteriorate in the mid eighteenth century, and in the second half of the nineteenth century they became overcrowded and crime infested.

Whitechapel from the 1849 Illustrated London News .

Many poor families lived crammed in single-room accommodations without sanitation and proper ventilation. There were also over 200 common lodging houses which provided shelter for some 8000 homeless and destitute people per night. Margaret Harkness, a social researcher and writer, rented a room in Whitechapel in order to make direct observations of degraded slum life. She described the South Grove workhouse in her slum novel, In Darkest London :

The Whitechapel Union is a model workhouse that is to say, it is the Poor Law incarnate in stone and brick. The men are not allowed to smoke in it, not even when they are in their dotage the young women never taste tea, and the old ones may not indulge in a cup during the long afternoons, only at half-past six o'clock morning and night, when they receive a small hunch of bread with butter scraped over the surface, and a mug of that beverage which is so dear to their hearts as well as their stomachs. The young people never go out, never see a visitor, and the old ones only get one holiday in the month. Then the aged paupers may be seen skipping like lambkins outside the doors of the Bastile, while they jabber to their friends and relations. A little gruel morning and night, meat twice a week, that is the food of the grown-up people, seasoned with hard work and prison discipline. Doubtless this Bastile offers no premium to idle and improvident habits but what shall we say of the woman, or man, maimed by misfortune, who must come there or die in the street? Why should old people be punished for their existence? [143]

Whitechapel was the venue of murders committed in the late 1880s on several women by the anonymous serial killer, called Jack the Ripper, who probably lived in the environs of Flower and Dean Street. The national press, which reported in great detail the Whitechapel murders, also revealed to the reading public the appalling deprivation and dire poverty of the East London slum dwellers. As a result, the London County Council tried to get rid of the worst slums by introducing several slum clearance programmes, but by the end of the nineteenth century few housing schemes for the poor were implemented. Jack London, who explored the living conditions of the poor in Whitechapel for six weeks in 1902, was astounded by the misery and overcrowding of the Whitechapel slums. He wrote a book about its miserable inhabitants and gave it the title The People of the Abyss .


Spitalfields, which received its name from St. Mary's Spittel (hospital) for lepers, had been once inhabited by prosperous French Huguenot silk weavers, but in the early 19th century their descendants were reduced to a deplorable condition due to the competition of the Manchester textile factories and the area began to deteriorate into crime-infested slums. The spacious and handsome Huguenot houses were divided up into tiny dwellings which were rented by poor families of labourers, who sought employment in the nearby docks.

Three of Leonard Raven-Hill's depictions of life in the East End: A Corner in Petticoat Lane , The Hooligans , and A 'Schnorrer' (Beggar) of the Ghetto" .

In the second half of the nineteenth century Spitalfields became home for Dutch and German Jews, and later for masses of poor Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants. Brick Lane, which passes through Spitalfields, was inhabited in the 1880s mostly by Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. By the early 1890s a number of shuls (synagogues) and chevrots (small places of worship) had been opened in Spitalfields and the neighbouring areas. The Jews' Temporary Shelter was created in 1886 at Leman Street for new immigrants arriving in London from Eastern Europe.

Many philanthropic institutions were active in Spitalfields in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1860, Fr. Daniel Gilbert and the Sisters of Mercy opened a night refuge for destitute women and children in Providence Row. The American banker and philanthropist, George Peabody, created a foundation, which built the first improved dwellings for the &ldquoartisans and labouring poor of London&rdquo in Commercial Street in 1864. However, all these ventures were inadequate for the improvement of the living conditions of the poor. Arthur Morrison described the Brick Lane slums and its environs in The Palace Journal as places of darkness where &ldquohuman vermin&rdquo lived:

Black and noisome, the road sticky with slime, and palsied houses, rotten from chimney to cellar, leaning together, apparently by the mere coherence of their ingrained corruption. Dark, silent, uneasy shadows passing and crossing – human vermin in this reeking sink, like goblin exhalations from all that is noxious around. Women with sunken, black-rimmed eyes, whose pallid faces appear and vanish by the light of an occasional gas lamp, and look so like ill-covered skulls that we start at their stare. [1023]

Bethnal Green

Bethnal Green was a place of small-scale manufacturing and shabby working-class housing. The local major employer was Allen & Hanbury's, one of the biggest factories in the East End, which produced pharmaceutical and medical goods. In the last three decades of the nineteenth century, it became an area of extreme poverty and overcrowded slums. In 1884, Keble College, Oxford University, established Oxford House Settlement in Bethnal Green as part of its philanthropic activity, which consisted in providing religious, social and educational work as well as healthy recreation among the poor of East London. The Settlement housed a boy's club, gym and library. Working-class inhabitants could listen to lectures, Bible readings and concerts. The residents of Oxford House were socially-conscious members of the upper classes who wanted to get acquainted with the sordid living conditions of the poor and, simultaneously, establish better cross-class relationships based on Christian brotherhood and benevolence.

The Old Nichol

The Old Nichol, situated between High Street, Shoreditch, and Bethnal Green, was regarded as the worst slum of the East End. It consisted of 20 narrow streets containing 730 dilapidated terraced houses which were inhabited by some 6,000 people. The London County Council (LCC) decided to clear the Old Nichol slums in the 1890s, and the first council housing development in Britain, called the Boundary Estate, was built in its place shortly before 1900. The deplorable conditions of the Old Nichol were immortalised by Arthur Morrison in his slum novel, The Child of the Jago .


In the late Victorian era London's East End became a popular destination for slumming, a new phenomenon which emerged in the 1880s on an unprecedented scale. For some slumming was a peculiar form of tourism motivated by curiosity, excitement and thrill, others were motivated by moral, religious and altruistic reasons. The economic, social and cultural deprivation of slum dwellers attracted in the second half of the nineteenth century the attention of various groups of the middle- and upper-classes, which included philanthropists, religious missionaries, charity workers, social investigators, writers, and also rich people seeking disrespectable amusements. As early as in 1884, The New York Times published an article about slumming which spread from London to New York.

Slumming commenced in London […] with a curiosity to see the sights, and when it became fashionable to go 'slumming' ladies and gentlemen were induced to don common clothes and go out in the highways and byways to see people of whom they had heard, but of whom they were as ignorant as if they were inhabitants of a strange country. [September 14, 1884 ]

In the 1880s and 1890s a great number of middle- and upper-class women and men were involved in charity and social work, particularly in the East End slums. The national press covered widely shocking and sensational news from the slums. Anxiety and curiosity about slums could be heard in many public debates to that extent that, as Seth Koven writes:

By the 1890s, London guidebooks such as the Baedeker’s not only directed visitors to shops, monuments, and churches but also mapped excursions to world renowned philanthropic institutions located in notorious slum districts such as Whitechapel and Shoreditch. [1]

In fact, for a considerable number of Victorian gentlemen and ladies slumming was a form of illicit urban tourism. They visited the most deprived streets of the East End in pursuit of the 'guilty pleasures' associated with the immoral slum dwellers. Upper-class slummers sometimes spent in disguise a night or more in poor boarding houses seeking to experience taboo intimacies with the members of the lower classes. Their cross-class sexual fellowships contributed to diminishing class barriers and reshaping gender relations at the turn of the nineteenth century.

However, slumming was not only limited to odd amusement. In the last two decades of the Victorian era a rising number of missionaries, social relief workers and investigators, politicians, journalists and fiction writers as well as middle-class ‘do-gooders’ and philanthropists made frequent visits to the East End slums to see how the poor lived. A number of gentlemen and lady slummers decided to take up temporary residence in the East End in order to collect data on the nature and extent of poverty and deprivation. Some slummers were disguised in underclass drags in order to transgress class boundaries and mix freely with the poverty stricken inhabitants of the slums. Written or oral accounts of their first-hand observations arose public conscience and motivation to provide slum welfare programmes, and prompted political demands for slum reform.

The last two decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the upsurge of public inquiry into the causes and extent of poverty in Britain. Some of the most outstanding late Victorian slummers were Princess Alice of Hesse, the third child of Queen Victoria Lord Salisbury, and his sons, William and Hugh, who resided temporarily in Oxford House, Bethnal Green William Gladstone, and his daughter Helen, who lived in the south London slums as head of the Women's University Settlement. (Koven 10) Even Queen Victoria visited the East End to open the People’s Palace in Mile End Road in 1887.

Benevolent middle- and upper-class women went to slums for a variety of purposes. They volunteered in parish charities, worked as nurses and teachers and some of them conducted sociological studies. Such women as Annie Besant, Lady Constance Battersea, Helen Bosanquet, Clara Collet, Emma Cons, Octavia Hill, Margaret Harkness, Beatrice Potter (Webb), and Ella Pycroft explored some of London’s most notorious rookeries, and their eye-witness reports gradually changed the public opinion about the causes of poverty and squalor. By the turn of the nineteenth century thousands of men and women were involved in social work and philanthropy in London slums.

Slum Exploration Literature

In the second half of the nineteenth century, London slums attracted the attention of journalists and social researchers, who described them as areas of extreme poverty, degradation, crime and violence, and called for an immediate public action to improve the living and sanitary conditions of the working classes. &ldquoSlums ceased to be regarded as a disease in themselves and gradually came to be viewed as a symptom of a much larger social ill.&rdquo (Wohl 223) A number of contemporary accounts about subhuman life in the slums aroused public concern. Some of them helped prepare the subsequent slum reform and clearance legislations.

Out of a great number of publications that dealt with London slums, mention should be made of Hector Gavin's Sanitary Ramblings: Being Sketches and Illustrations of Bethnal Green (1848), Henry Mayhew's London Labour and London Poor (1851), John Garwood's The Million-People City (1853), John Hollinghead's Ragged London (1861), J. Ewing Ritchie's The Night Side of London (1861), James Greenwood's The Seven Curses of London (1869) and The Wilds of London (1874), Adolphe Smith's Street Life in London (1877), Andrew Mearns' The Bitter Cry of Outcast London (1883), George Sims' How the Poor Live (1883), Henry King's Savage London (1888), Walter Besant's East London (1899), Charles Booth's monumental report, Life and Labour of the People in London (17 volumes, 1889–1903), and B. S. Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life (1901). All these reports are valuable social documents which provide background information about the deplorable slum conditions in late Victorian London. They are available in an electronic form on the Internet.


There is little doubt that late Victorian slums were the consequence of the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of the country, which led to a more dramatic spatial separation between the rich and the poor, known as the two-nation divide, with incomparably different lifestyles and living standards. Slumming, which became a way of getting immersed in slum culture, contributed to the development of public awareness that slum conditions were not providential and deviant, but rather afflicted by the economy and circumstances, and could be improved by an adequate economic, social and cultural policy.

Related Material

References and Further Reading

Ackroyd, Peter. London: The Biography . London: Vintage: London, 2001.

Chadwick, Edwin. Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain . 1842. Ed. & Intro. M.W. Flinn. Edinburgh: University Press, 1965.

Chesney, Kellow. The Anti-society: An Account of the Victorian Underworld . Boston: Gambit, 1970.

Cobbett, William. Rural Rides . London: Published by William Cobbett, 1830.

Dyos, H. J. and D. A. Reeder. &ldquoSlums and Suburbs,&rdquo The Victorian City, ed. H. J. Dyos, and M. Wolff, 1:359-86. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973. ___. &ldquoThe Slums of Victorian London, &rdquo Victorian Studies , 11, 1 (1967) 5-40.

Koven, Seth. Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London . Princeton University Press, 2004.

Gordon, Michael R. Alias Jack the Ripper: Beyond the Usual Whitechapel Suspects . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.

Garwood, John. The Million-Peopled City or, One Half of the People of London Made Known to the Other Half. . London: Wertheim and Macintosh, 1853.

Haggard, Robert F. The Persistence of Victorian Liberalism: The Politics of Social Reform in Britain, 1870-1900 . Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Harkness, Margaret. In Darkest London . Cambridge: Black Apollo Press, 2003.

Kellow Chesney, The Victorian Underworld . Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1970.

Lees, L. H. Exiles of Erin: Irish Migrants in Victorian London . Manchester: Manchester UP, 1979.

London, Jack. The People of the Abyss in: London: Novels and Social Writings . New York: The Library of America, 1982, also available from Project Gutenberg.

Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor . 4 vols. 1861-2. Intro. John D. Rosenberg. New York: Dover Publications, 1968.

Morrison, Arthur. &ldquoWhitechapel,&rdquo The Palace Journal , April 24, 1889 also available at: http://www.library.qmul.ac.uk/sites.

Olsen, Donald J. The Growth of Victorian London . New York: Holmes & Meier 1976.

Porter, Roy. London: A Social History . Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Ross, Ellen, ed. Slum Travelers: Ladies and London Poverty, 1860-1920 . Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

Ross, Ellen. &ldquoSlum Journeys: Ladies and London Poverty 1860-1940,&rdquo in: Alan Mayne and Tim Murray, eds. The Archaeology of Urban Landscapes: Explorations in Slumland . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Scotland, Nigel. Squires in the Slums: Settlements and Missions in Late Victorian Britain . London. I.B. Tauris & Co., 2007.

Stedman Jones, G. Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society . Oxford: Peregrine Penguin Edition, 1984. &ldquoSlumming In This Town. A Fashionable London Mania Reaches New York. Slumming Parties To Be The Rage This Winter, &rdquo The New York Times , September 14, 1884.

Wohl, Anthony S. The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London . New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2009.

___. Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain . Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1983.

Yellling, J. A. Slums and Slum Clearance in Victorian London . London: Allen & Unwin, 1986.


Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992.

Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of Religion of Israel, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1973.

William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the History of Ancient Israel, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2001.

– – . Who Were the Ancient Israelites and Where Did They Come From?, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003.

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Richard A. Freund, Digging through the Bible: Modern Archaeology and the Ancient Bible, Plymouth, U.K.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.

Simon Goldhill, The Temple of Jerusalem, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, Kabbalah and Exodus, London: Rider, 1980.

Hershel Shanks, et al., The Rise of Ancient Israel, Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992.

D. Winton Thomas, ed., Archaeology and Old Testament Study, Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1967.


  1. R. I. Moore, The Birth of Popular Heresy (London, 1975) The Origins of European Dissent (London, 1977) and The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250 (Oxford, 1987 2nd edn, 2007).Back to (1)
  2. Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R. I. Moore, ed. M. Frassetto (Leiden and Boston, 2006).Back to (2)
  3. Moore’s summary in a review, H-France Review, 12, 44 (2012), 1.Back to (3)
  4. In ‘Text and context’ on the website, and ‘The war among the scholars’, War on Heresy, pp. 332–6.Back to (4)
  5. A. P. Evans and W. Wakefield, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (New York, NY, 1969).Back to (5)
  6. Inventer l’hérésie?, ed. Monique Zerner (Nice, 1998).Back to (6)
  7. U. Brunn, Des contestataires aux ‘Cathares’ (Paris, 2006).Back to (17)
  8. Hilbert Chiu, The Intellectual Origins of Medieval Dualism (Sydney, 2009).Back to (8)
  9. Mark Pegg, ‘Questions about questions: Toulouse 609 and the Great Inquisition of 1245–1246’, in Trials and Treatises: Texts on heresy and Inquisition, ed. Peter Biller and Caterina Bruschi (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 111–25.Back to (9)

Saints of the last two centuries whose existence is in doubt - History

The Old Testament and Its Authors

People, Places, Events and Terms To Know:

Ancient Israelite religion
Old Testament
Ancient Hebrew Scriptures
Babylonian Captivity
First Temple

Composite Texts
Jahweh (JHWH)
Judea (Judah)
(Fall of) Israel

Realms of Existence
Priestly Blessing
Do Ut Des
Asherah (Asherah)

I. Introduction: The Bible and the Babylonian Captivity

Ancient Israelite religion is a form of worship not practiced anywhere in the world today. For instance, the animal sacrifices so central among the rituals outlined in the Old Testament—if the habit can be broken, it would be better to call these texts ancient Hebrew scriptures—cannot now take place in the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Bible says they must occur. That building no longer exists.

Standing in the place of the ancient Israelites' belief system are three very different major religions today: modern Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which are extensions of that age-old faith but none its exact representation. Thus, the theology and devotional practices of the Hebrews who lived during the first millennium BCE are discernible primarily in and through the Old Testament, the principal record of ancient Israelite religion. To this, however, may now be added some recovered history, provided mostly by the archaeological discovery of evidence pertaining to early Hebrew civilization.

Over the course of the last two centuries, historians have carefully scrutinized the Old Testament and their investigations have shed important light on its nature and origins, in at least three respects:

• CHRONOLOGY. First, by close examination of the Hebrew text, scholars have produced compelling evidence that these ancient scriptures are, in fact, a collation of texts written over the course of hundreds of years. Some parts were composed perhaps as early as 1200 BCE, while others did not reach the form in which we have them until 200 BCE.

• ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN LITERATURE. Second, we now understand that the Old Testament was not written in a vacuum but is, in fact, the only surviving remnant of a large corpus of ancient texts spanning millennia and coming from all corners of the ancient Near East. This literature originally included the written records of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Egyptians and—especially relevant to the study of Hebrew language and culture—the Canaanites who were the ancient Israelites' close neighbors in the land of Canaan. With the recovery and decipherment of Mesopotamian, Canaanite and other texts from antiquity has come a new understanding of the Bible in its historical context.

• LOST WORKS. Finally, from references found in the Bible itself to chronicles and writings which no longer exist, it is clear that there was at one time a much larger body of Hebrew writings now lost. In other words, the documents now enshrined as "Old Testament books" are merely those works which somehow survived destruction and were passed down to us across the ages. That is, the Bible almost certainly falls far short of the total body of literature written in ancient Israel and, as we must do with so many other ancient civilizations, it is imperative always to remember how fragmentary the evidence is upon which we build any conclusion about biblical scripture.

The real question is, then, why we have the books we do when others vanished. There's no obvious answer, though some are clearly wrong. For instance, these works cannot have been selected for content, style or authorship because the Bible entails a wide array of topics, ranging from creation stories (Genesis) to historical chronicles (First and Second Kings) to law codes (Leviticus) to wisdom literature (Proverbs) to genealogies (Numbers) to hymns (Psalms) to romances (Ruth) to heroic epics (Daniel) and even erotic poetry (Song of Songs). Moreover, the literary style of the Hebrew Bible varies as well, from image-based poetry to no-nonsense prose. And because these works were written over a long period of time, it's impossible for them to have had a single author. All in all, if the Old Testament is anything, it's an anthology.

What, then, was the selective force which brought all this disparate material together and packaged it as a single work? The pressure that drove the Hebrews to assemble such dissimilar writings into one collection—and in the process also lose a number of texts—must have been very great, arguably cataclysmic. That force alone reduces the number of possible events in the recorded history of Israel to a limited number of crises, catastrophes which caused such stress and turmoil that a textual holocaust of this magnitude could have occurred. And of those few critical junctures, one clearly stands out, both in terms of its ferocity and its timing, a trauma that later came to be known as the Babylonian Captivity (586-537 BCE).

In the late 590's and early 580's BCE, the Hebrews made a decision they would quickly come to regret. They sided with the Egyptians, who were attempting to cast out their Babylonian overlords, and in doing so the Hebrews incurred the wrath of the powerful King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar (r. 605-562 BCE). When the Jews betrayed him as he was leading his army through Judea into Egypt, the Babylonian monarch turned back in fury on them and ordered the siege of their capital city Jerusalem. Hebrew forces proved no match for the mighty army of Babylon and Jerusalem fell, turning this assault into the wholesale destruction of the Jewish state. During the sack, the city was despoiled and its holy precinct razed, spelling the end of the First Temple, as it came to be called in the wake of its destruction.

But before Nebuchadnezzar's men could reduce it to rubble and march the surviving Israelites into slavery in Babylon, someone—or perhaps some group of people—salvaged certain sacred texts from the Temple's library archives. Although these documents hardly represented all of Hebrew scripture, and almost certainly nowhere near a majority of it, they preserved at least a portion of the culture's literary heritage. Without this death-defying rescue mission, it's unlikely we would have Genesis or any of the early books of the Bible—or if we did, certainly not in the form they are now.

The next fifty years—the so-called Babylonian Captivity—were so trying on Hebrew life and culture that they might well have witnessed the utter collapse and extermination of Hebrew civilization. However, from the ashes of destruction and displacement arose a new spirit, a new nation and, most important, a new religion. No longer centered on the physical structure of the Temple itself and the regimen of sacrifices mandated there, the ancient Israelite religion was now to be housed in the heart of each worshiper, focusing more on intention than ritual, that is, the observation of morality rather than the performance of ceremony.

With that, detailed study of the surviving scriptures and careful analysis of the Hebrew text verbatim—the words themselves that made up the Old Testament were now seen as "immutable," that is, sacred and unchangeable—became a matter of supreme importance among the ancient Israelites. When the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon and finally allowed the Jews to return to the Holy Lands, their religion had come to be text-based in a way it hadn't been before and probably never would have, had the Babylonian Captivity never occurred. But it was also a religion built on a literary corpus riddled with gaps and missing key scriptures for which there was all but no hope of salvation.

While neither we nor the ancient Israelites who lived in the wake of the Babylonian Captivity have ever had access to all that was lost amidst the destruction of the First Temple, reconstruction of early Hebrew culture and theology is possible, at least in part, through close examination of biblical scripture aided by archaeological investigation of the remains of both ancient Israelite civilization and the general Near Eastern cultural matrix in which it evolved. Archaeologists have, in fact, recovered a number of new texts dating to very early times and, though none are biblical scriptures as such, the documentary remains of other civilizations inhabiting ancient Canaan and its vicinity have shed much light on the language and history informing the Old Testament. Despite how few and broken they are, these rare and fractured "recovered histories" tell a tale that's veritably biblical in scope and message, reminding us that great truths and true greatness can be found even in the smallest of trinkets rescued from ancient garbage.

II. The Texts of the Bible: J, E, P, D

The last century and a half of biblical scholarship has witnessed a growing consensus among experts that several distinct voices speak through the Bible. Although the names of the original authors lying behind the various personas visible in biblical scripture are now lost to us, their differing interests and views on life ring out clearly through their words. It is readily apparent, for instance, that the first five books of the Bible, the so-called Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), are actually a patchwork of what were once different texts that were later sewn together into a semi-cohesive narrative. The Hebrew "rhapsodes" (see Section 3) who stitched together this quilt are a mystery at present, though it's all but certain they were connected in some way with the Temple priesthood during the period following the Babylonian Captivity. Indeed, a strong interest in centralizing ancient Israelite religion in Jerusalem runs throughout the Pentateuch, an attitude traceable to the Jerusalem priesthood during its entire history.

The result was a composite text—meaning that its components were originally composed as separate works whose authors did not necessarily intend them to be read together—and because they were written undoubtedly over the course of centuries, it's impossible to date them firmly. Moreover, there's a real possibility they were assembled and revised several times before reaching us in the state we have them. Indeed, only when one part of the Bible references another directly can we speak with any assurance about dates of composition, for only then is it certain that one text predates another. So, for instance, when the Book of Lamentations cites the Book of Job, it's clear that the former, or the version of that passage handed down to us, was composed later. But even this provides only a relative chronology, not absolute dating. To set the composition of various parts of the Bible at specific moments in time exceeds the grasp of modern scholarship, except in a very few instances (see below, Deuteronomy).

"Composite" also implies texts that don't always cohere fully and sometimes exhibit "weak joins" (see Section 3). A good example of this comes at the very beginning of the Bible. Careful scrutiny of the opening chapters of Genesis shows two distinct versions of creation. Genesis 1:1-2:3 focuses on how God created man ("in his own image"), while the second narrative which follows immediately thereafter (Genesis 2:4) elaborates what He used ("the dust of the ear "). While these are clearly not incompatible stories, the attitude each demonstrates toward what matters about creation—that is, where their varying emphases lie—is quite distinct. And that's exactly the point. As a composite text, the Bible interweaves analogous narratives drawn from discrete texts which originally had different themes, approaches that didn't so much contradict as complement and balance each other.

The name given today to one such "author" of the Bible, that is, one of the voices or, better, schools of thought visible in the Pentateuch, is J. So called because this text refers to God as Jahweh (or Yahweh), J carries with it a unique outlook on the divine. The name Jahweh—JHWH in ancient Hebrew, a language which was originally written using consonants only—derives from the Hebrew verb "to be," and implies something along the lines of "he causes to exist" or "he always exists." Jahweh is the name revealed to Moses when he encounters God at the burning bush in Exodus (3:2).

J also stands for "Judean," since its author looks at life and culture from the perspective of the southern half of the Holy Lands, Judea (or Judah). The prominence of places in Judea is a clear feature of J's style. J also displays overtones of bias against those Hebrews who lived in Israel proper, the northern counterpart to Judea in Palestine.

Though scholars dispute its chronology, J appears to be the oldest of the sources of the Bible, dating back possibly as far as the tenth century (ca. 900 BCE). Some evidence suggests a date of composition around the time of Solomon who is usually seen to have reigned from 940-900 BCE. But if so, later hands have intruded upon J and reworked it, adding prophesies of things to come centuries down the road, events the author—or authors—of J simply couldn't have foreseen. All in all, J is both old and very old, having undergone revision several times before being written down in the form we have it.

The vision of God in J is fairly simple. He tends to appear, speak and leave, with relatively few discussions, explanations or angels in attendance. Also, he is called by several names, among others, "God of my father" (Genesis 32:9)—"father" here refers to Abraham—a patriotic, family-oriented designation attesting well to J's primitivity.

This stands in stark contrast to other authors preserved in the Bible, whose complex theologies and attention to the international scene leave an impression of cosmopolitan sophistication. J, to the contrary, exhibits language much less elaborate, at least by comparison, reveling in puns and exciting narratives, hardly the tone typical of priests or bureaucrats. Inhabiting what one scholar calls an "uncluttered world," J is in many ways the Herodotus of Hebrew culture.

As such, J provides some of the best reading in the Bible. Many of the most well-known and best beloved biblical stories come from J—Adam and Eve, Joseph, Moses, Exodus, the Burning Bush, to name but a few—or at least one version of those stories goes back to J, since Joseph's and Moses' histories, in particular, are retold several times in the Bible, each time somewhat differently.

Finally, if any general theme emerges from J, it is that the Hebrews will someday triumph in glory over all other peoples, clear evidence that the author of J did not know about the Fall of Israel in 722 BCE to the Assyrians, much less the far more disastrous Babylonian Captivity that followed a century later. And like its counterparts in Greek culture, J also presumes that study of the past leads to the explanation of things in the author's world. So, for instance, the story of the Tower of Babel serves to explain why there were different languages in the ancient world. Likewise, the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah explicate the topography of the Holy Lands. This optimism, especially the view that history teaches important and comprehensible lessons, combined with a ready zeal to tell a good tale, characterizes the authorship of J and distinguishes it from other sources that contributed to the Hebrew Bible.

E, also called the "Elohist," has a voice quite distinct from J but equal in clarity and probably close in age, too. E stands for Elohim, the name for God most often used by this author. Elohim is a variation on the Semitic root *el- meaning "god," a word-base seen in place names like Beth-el, "House of God," and the Arabic name for the principal deity in Islam, Allah. E also refers to Ephraim, another name for Israel where the text most likely originated.

In E, manifestations of God tend to be more complicated than in J. In addition to operating through angels and dreams as channels of communication, God discourses with humans more often and at greater length. However, that E involves sophisticated features such as these doesn't necessarily imply that it's later than J—linear evolution involving steady progress forward isn't the only, or even the best, model for history of this sort—besides, at various junctures, J seems to be responding to E, as if the author of J had E in mind when he wrote. The truth is E and J were most likely contemporaneous in both composition and development. What distinguishes them is not time but perspective, that is, different views of God, history and especially geography, in this case, north versus south.

But the northerners—commonly referred to as "Israelites" in contrast to their southern brethren known as "Judeans"—were ultimately the losers in the greater concourse of events in the ancient Near East. As the Assyrians rose to supremacy and perpetrated their infamous savagery across the known world, Israel which was closer to them than Judea caught the brunt of their wrath first. Conquered, despoiled and displaced, the northern Hebrews lost their homeland, heritage and ultimately their claim on history, too. This is because in the confusion following the northerners' fall the version of the past they embraced, their take on what-really-happened, had to be entrusted to their sibling rivals in Judea, and as the Bible's poor relative, its first lost tribe, the Israelites' vision of history fared poorly in the quilting process that formed the Pentateuch. E, in the end, got considerably less press and stage time than J.

Nevertheless, ancient and important histories find a home in E. In particular, it includes evidence of the cultural exchange between the Hebrews and their close relatives and neighbors, the Canaanites whose main cities lay nearer Israel than Judea and thus made a greater impact on northern as opposed to southern Hebrew culture. For instance, the name of the principal Canaanite deity is El ("God"), a name used for God in the Bible several times, especially in those parts of Genesis which derive from E.

However, in the Canaanite religious tradition as early as 1200 BCE, El was displaced by another god, his son Ba'al ("Lord") who stole center stage from his father and eventually became the principal deity of the Canaanites. That timing coincides remarkably well with the use of El as a name for the Hebrew God in E. In other words, El was what the central god was called in early Canaanite culture, a world which the northern Hebrews shared intimately with their immediate neighbors, and so "El" was used as the name of their principal god, too.

This would seem to confirm the antiquity of E's text, whose author would probably not have employed this name after the thirteenth century BCE when El was beginning to be displaced by Ba'al and was losing visibility in the local religion. Of course, as some scholars note, the use of the name El could also be a later fabrication added into certain Hebrew texts to give them the false ring of being genuinely ancient, in the same way that using "thou" and "thee" can make modern English seem archaic. But "El" is so pervasive and deeply entrenched as a name used by E that the evidence seems to point toward its authenticity, and thus the genuine antiquity of E.

C. P, or the Priestly Tradition

If E and J can be hard to discriminate at times, among the easier voices to identify in the Pentateuch is P, which stands for "the priestly tradition" and whose author views history from the vantage point of the cultic sector of Hebrew society. As can be expected of one trained in the Temple, P describes ritual in detail, but rarely explains the reasons behind the practice. This part of the Bible is responsible, for instance, for the injunction to circumcise male babies, but nothing in biblical text ever says why it's necessary to do so. It is clearly not a rite of passage since it's performed on infants and never associated with the bar mitzvah, the Jewish ritual inducting a teenage male into manhood. Instead, whatever purpose circumcision was seen to serve—and there must have been one originally—it's left unstated, perhaps because the author himself didn't know, inasmuch as he was a functionary and not a formulator of policy, without any direct insight into the reasoning underlying the regulations he recorded and enforced.

This is seen even more clearly in the litany of laws found in Leviticus, that complex "forest of detail" designed to ensure the purity of Hebrew society through a multitude of dietary, sexual and other restrictions. One scholar calls them a "jungle of lists and rules." While many of these laws may seem at first glance haphazard—why can one eat locusts but not lobsters?—close investigation reveals a significant pattern in what is and isn't permitted.

According to one scholar, the principle guiding this code of behavior is the ancient Israelites' perception that the world is divided into "realms of existence": land, sea and sky. As the by-products of God's creation, these divisions were seen to be inviolate and thus should never be confused. So, when God says "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear" (Genesis 1:9), it seems very clear that it is His will for these divisions to remain unbreached.

Logic dictates, then, that those creatures which appear to span different realms must live in defiance of God's discrimination and should not be ingested since they behave contrary to holy creation. Lobsters, for instance, have no scales or fins, few of the sorts of things most sea creatures do and are obviously designed for moving though water. Instead, lobsters sport legs which are clearly an apparatus designed for life on land. Thus, endowed with a body type which apparently transgresses God's natural boundaries, they were pronounced abominations (Lev. 11:9-13). Likewise, many birds of prey walk on legs but can fly too, and because of that are also forbidden fruit (Lev. 11:13-19).

The same logic extends into other spheres of life. A taboo against straddling "realms of existence" helps explain the commandment not to wear garments made of wool mixed with linen and to sow a field with different types of seed (Lev. 19:19). These activities involve the blending of things which are ostensibly discrete in nature as well.

A similar code of conduct governs sexual behavior. A holy man cannot, for instance, have sex with a woman who is menstruating (Lev. 15:19), since that would entail the mixing of blood and semen, fluids which according to P's logic should never commingle. Nor can a high priest marry a widow, divorced woman or prostitute (Lev. 21:14), because in doing so he would cause his seed to be joined in the same organ with that of other men, and the structure of God's divisible universe seems to suggest different men's semen ought not to mix. From the same logic comes the injunction against male homosexuality (Lev. 18:22, 20:13). It's interesting to note that Leviticus includes no such injunction against same-sex activity amidst women, presumably because behavior of this sort does not, at least on the surface, involve the conjunction of immiscible fluids.

P, however, underlies more than Leviticus and its myriad laws. According to many scholars, it's responsible for nothing less than the opening lines of the Bible—"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"—and the subsequent verses running through Genesis 2:3, up to "And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it." The stress on the holiness of the Sabbath is paralleled later at some length in Leviticus 23, a stretch of text which is clearly P's handiwork.

P also, no doubt, provided the original stories of the Great Flood and God's subsequent covenant with Noah (Gen. 9), also the later covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17) as well as the construction of the desert tabernacle in direct symmetry with the architecture of the so-called "First Temple" in Jerusalem (Ex. 25-27). Also from P comes God's promise issued on Mount Sinai of an enduring priesthood who will oversee the performance of rituals, thus ensuring the purity of the Hebrew people once they arrive in the promised land (Ex. 28-30).

Finally, among P's many contributions to the Bible must be the protracted genealogies which add some tedious reading to the Pentateuch—as one Biblical scholar has been heard to say, "Priests can be pretty boring!"—and include with that the gruesome descriptions of pustulous wounds found in Leviticus 13. Who cares about white hairs inside a boil, except a priest dedicated to maintaining the purity of society at large! Thus, focused on regulations and conduct and the proper way to assess and deal with "imperfections" of the body, be it personal or politic, it seems safe to assume that the author of P lived in a world where the Temple and its officiators were firmly entrenched as part of the Hebrew community.

More than that, however, it's also reasonable to suppose that the need to write down so many laws in such meticulous detail presumes a challenge of some sort to the authority of the priesthood. For that reason, many scholars look again to the Babylonian Captivity, when the Hebrews were cut away from their Temple and its rituals, for in this age the very existence of the priests was threatened. It is not unnatural to expect them to counter this threat by laying down the letter of the law.

Thus, P is conventionally dated to some time after Cyrus' restoration of the Hebrews to Jerusalem in the 530's BCE, more often in the next century, making it one of the more recent voices in the Pentateuch, much later than J and E. Indeed, it seems to pull from and meld both those early texts—which presupposes both had already been set down—for instance, P refers to God as Elohim until the appellation JHWH is revealed to Moses, after which it uses that name.

That assumption rested comfortably in the minds of many scholars of the modern age, until a small silver scroll was discovered on which was inscribed the famous Priestly Blessing from Numbers (6:24-26)—it begins "May the Lord bless you and keep you . . ."—this prayer clearly came from P. It was also obvious that this scroll had been engraved before 600 BCE—the style of the writing on it guaranteed so much—which meant that at least this much of P belonged to an age preceding the Babylonian Captivity. Suddenly, confining the composition of P to a single century was not as simple as some had once asserted.

The inescapable conclusion was that, like the other texts which were woven together to create the Pentateuch, P underwent considerable evolution. If some parts were much older than it was previously supposed, the same, no doubt, was also true of P's essential thrust, the importance of determining and following God's specific laws. Thus, P and the Temple Priesthood had far deeper roots in the scriptures than it had seemed at first glance. Or to put it in more biblical terms, "And on the eighth day, God created bureaucracy."

The last and latest of the sources underlying the Pentateuch is D, a text seen almost exclusively in Deuteronomy—few scholars today, for instance, would situate any of D in Genesis—it is, instead, the work of a compiler assembling different histories but speaking with a clear purpose and perspective, that is, the view from the ruins of a state under siege. Over and over, D stresses that the sins of the Hebrews will stir God's wrath and land them one day in bondage. Framed as prophesies from former Biblical greats like Samuel, Joshua and even Moses, the words of D revolve around the errors of the past and the hope of future redemption.

D's voice is also one of the best educated and most eloquent in the Bible, as one might expect of an author who could look back over centuries of scripture and forge a style that met the demands of a Hebrew readership still deeply entrenched in its own history and culture but at the same time more sophisticated and wiser about the world at large. Fully articulated speeches, such as Moses' which opens Deuteronomy, for the first time find a home in the Bible. The haranguing orator with fond dreams of improving his people through the beauty of the spoken word is a type evidenced in many an urbanized and advanced civilization, but certainly nowhere better than in D.

Another theme which resonates throughout Deuteronomy, revealing a different dream its author cherished fondly, is the primary importance of the First Temple in ancient Jewish life. The notion that Jerusalem should serve not only as the center of religious life for all Hebrew people but as the only valid site to worship God is, in effect, a denunciation of other religious practices. Indeed, modern archaeological research has confirmed that there were ceremonies being held in honor of Jahweh outside Jerusalem at this time (see below). And because other evidence suggests that the notion of the First Temple's exclusive priority developed fairly late in the evolution of Hebrew theology, D is uniquely datable.

At 2 Kings 22, the Old Testament recounts the unexpected discovery of an ancient law text dug up accidentally when workers were refurbishing the Temple. According to the Bible, this long-lost legal code was brought to Josiah, the King of Judea at the time (r. ca. 640-625 BCE). When he read it, he was aghast to see commandments forbidding certain religious practices, rituals which had once been employed by the Israelites, the Judeans' erstwhile brethren whose state the Assyrians had obliterated a century before. And along with the prediction and explication of Israel's demise came the promise of a new path to salvation, one—rest assured!—God approved of more certainly. It foretold that, as long as Josiah avoided the mistakes of his long-lost northern kin: ". . . thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace, and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place." (2 Kings 23:20). The Judeans, the southern Hebrews, did indeed witness a modest if short-lived prosperity during Josiah's reign, so it must have looked as if the times confirmed the divine protection this buried book had proffered.

Though riddled with invented history, this story probably stems from a real historical event, the writing of Deuteronomy which was disguised as the book's "discovery and publication" and recorded as such in Second Kings. The tale it told of sin and salvation surely resonated among the later Hebrews, especially those who had survived Nebuchadnezzar's siege of 586 which gave the work new life—and perhaps a few new words as well—along with a position of prominence in biblical scripture, its fourth-place finish in the Pentateuch sweepstakes. If this is so, as with none of the other texts which have been quilted together to create the first five books of the Old Testament, we can set D in a particular time and place in the past, indeed put it into the hands of a specific type of personality with distinct views and goals, making it unprecedentedly "historical."

III. Text and the Formation of Ancient Israelite Religion

From close study of the texts constituting the Pentateuch it's also possible to create a rough sketch of how monotheism formed in ancient Israelite culture. Beginning with an initial period in which nomadic patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob wandered in search of a homeland, the Hebrews first embraced God as a local deity of sorts initially dubbed "God of my father" or "El," the nomenclature found in the most ancient of biblical scriptures. These primordial documents also refer to Him as El-elyom ("God on High"), El-shaddai ("God of the Mountains"), El-roi ("God Visible") and El-olam ("God Everlasting"). Wherever these names are seen, there is never any mention of God as the only divine being in the universe rather, he is affiliated with the family of Abraham almost exclusively and bound to the land and prosperity he promises them.

In the period after these early patriarchs, there is evidence that a monotheistic perspective had started to evolve in ancient Israelite culture. Embracing a type of worship modern scholars call henotheism ("the belief in one god," i.e. among many), the Hebrews who followed in Abraham's wake began for the first time to put all trust in a single deity without disavowing the existence of others. This form of proto-monotheism underlies the statement made in the First Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Careful scrutiny of the wording here shows that, while asserting that God is clearly predominant, which by definition makes all other divinities secondary in importance, the first commandment also implicitly acknowledges that other gods do, in fact, exist. Jephthah all but admits so much when he says to the King of the Moabites: "Wilt thou not possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?" (Judges 11:24). In other words, recognizing that Chemosh can benefit the Moabites just as God does the Israelites entails a limited view of the deity, inconsistent with monotheism in the strictest sense of the word.

In the age of Moses and the subsequent period of the Judges, the vision of God as sole deity continued to expand. Although still the special protector of his favored people, the tribes of Israel, God's presence has begun to be felt more widely, especially after he made covenants with the Israelites as a nation. And surely, the revelation of a new name for him—Jahweh—also helped to open the door to a much broader vision of the deity, and along with that a different sort of relationship with his chosen people. As worship was seen no longer to be just a matter of praying for favors from God, a kind of exchange system arose in which He was said to grant requests in return for good behavior. Taken this way, the Ten Commandments function as not only a set of laws but as a bargain of sorts, where moral conduct is traded for prosperity.

After the Age of Judges, henotheism took yet another step closer to monotheism. Called monolatry ("single worship"), this encompassed a view in which a foreign god is still recognized as a traditional presence but is deemed essentially irrelevant, at least as a divinity wielding any real power. In the words of Hosea (13:4): "Thou shalt know no god but me." This broadening perspective on God conforms well with what we know of the period historically. By the Age of the Two Kingdoms (ca. 900-722 BCE), ancient Israelite religion had developed a fairly sophisticated bureaucracy overseeing holy sites, rituals and the preservation of its own history. By now a fixture on the Hebrew cultural landscape, the First Temple was gaining in prominence, too, and more complicated social institutions demanded a more elaborate theology.

By the time of the Babylonian Captivity, fully developed monotheism was clearly underway. Though traces can be seen back as far as 750 BCE, definitive assertions of monotheistic ideology are found most often among the later voices sewn into the patchwork of texts constituting the Bible. For instance, bold declarations that God is the sole divinity in the universe emerge regularly in the text of Deutero-Isaiah ("Second Isaiah"), originally a separate work from the first thirty-nine chapters of the Book of Isaiah. Written by a different author and subsequently appended onto the end of an earlier Book of Isaiah, this later text puts the following words into the mouth of God (Isaiah 44:6-8):

I am the first and I am the last beside me there is no god. . . . Is there any god beside me? There is no other rock I know not one.

Here, at last, is a complete and articulate statement of monotheism.

Thus, emerging from a period of trauma and turmoil, the Jewish world transformed itself, as indeed did the whole human sphere. For this is the same age when Confucius and Buddha revolutionized life in Asia, when Ionian philosophers and Athenian dramatists were reshaping Western views on thought and art, when Herodotus wrote his Histories and democracy and representative governments first appeared almost simultaneously in Athens and Rome. Clearly, there was revolution, the stirring of change in the air. God, government and history were born anew all across the globe. What a time it must have been to be alive!

IV. Conclusion: Israel and Canaan

To say, then, that the heady days of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE saw dramatic change and set the stage for the modern world could hardly be condemned as overstatement, but it would be untrue to claim this revolution was swift or easy. The forward-thinking factions within these civilizations which we look back on as heralding our age—those monotheists and philosophers and history-makers who to us characterize this time—were generally not met, at least not at first, with universal cheers and admiration. Perplexed by the novelties swirling around them, many initially rejected the radical notions of the avant-garde in favor of older, more traditional perspectives on life. These people, the "conservatives" of their day, resisted re-assessments of their ancestors' world view, and their protestations against change, though muted by later generations who adopted the innovations which the revolutionaries promoted, can like the voices of women and other minorities be heard amidst the crash and rattle of new ideas, if one attends closely and carefully to the data.

For instance, the monotheism preached from the Temple, the "rap" of ancient Jerusalem in its Hebrew heyday, clearly did not sit well on every Israelite ear. To begin with, by the standards of most ancient theological thinking it made little sense that God at times refused to favor his "chosen" people but instead let Babylonians carry them off into exile. When a person prays and sacrifices to a god the way that deity demands, simple minds believe the divinity ought to give help in return. Otherwise, what's the point of praying, sacrificing, being "chosen"? To many in antiquity, such a failure to respond in kind was an open invitation to begin looking around for a more collaborative presence in heaven, one who understands, as the ancient Romans explained to their gods, do ut des, "I give in order that you give."

Jeremiads, the constant tirades found in the Bible against those who have lapsed into the adoration of Ba'al—or whatever idol was at that moment topping the celestial pop-charts—show how often such "conservative" thinking won over the common people of ancient Israel. After all, Hebrew culture was rooted in polytheistic soil and constantly exposed to peoples who worshipped gods, sometimes by the hundreds. The sort of thinking which arises naturally from a world seen to accommodate many different deities was, in fact, the status quo at that time and place.

To the contrary, monotheism, while it's our norm, was the unnatural element in the ancient Israelites' universe. This anomaly not only helps to explain its slow growth in antiquity but shows with abundant clarity how foreign and difficult such a concept really was for the people of early Israel to embrace. Who should accept only one god, when there is obviously so much diversity in the world—the plurality of the universe all but begs for a corresponding pantheon—so why not hedge your bets with a golden calf, maybe two? To put all your money in one theological collection plate must have seemed to many an unwise wager, especially when there were Babylonian swords pressing at your throat.

The full implications of the biblical prophets' countless warnings not to relapse into the temptations of some sort of idol or other, the Bible never clarifies. Instead, it gives us only one side of the picture, the Temple's abhorrence of such behaviors. The reason that many presumably sensible Israelites engaged in such practices, we have been left to imagine for ourselves, that is, until recently.

Something which, in particular, set many of the Old Testament prophets off on a long and frothy jeremiad is a thing that was called an asherah. Biblical commentaries tell us this was "a sacred post or tree next to an altar," but it isn't clear why this item enraged the prophets so much that they regularly ordered asherahs throughout ancient Israel to be uprooted, especially those outside of Jerusalem. Didn't they like trees? But Abraham had planted a tree to conclude a pact (Genesis 21:32-3). What's so bad about asherahs?

Texts recently recovered through archaeological investigation show that in some cases we should capitalize the first letter of the word asherah because to many of the ancient Israelites' neighbors it was a proper name. Asherah, it turns out, was the principal goddess in the polytheistic traditions of the Hebrews' close relatives in Palestine, the Canaanites. No less than the wife of El, her divinity was often symbolized by a tree or staff placed near pagan altars in her honor. That explains Jeremiah's detestation of asherahs whose presence represented, at least to him, traditional polytheism.

In confirmation of all this, archaeologists working in Israel have bought to light an artifact which clarifies just how fraught with tension this whole situation must have been. On this small sacrificial offering is scrawled a simple inscription: "Blessed by Jahweh, and his wife Asherah." Written in Hebrew clearly by an Israelite of some sort, this simple oblation entails a crude attempt to compliment Jahweh by linking him with the popular goddess Asherah. That is, the worshiper who left it for the Hebrew God was trying, against the wishes of the Jerusalem priesthood, to usurp the principal Canaanite god El's wife and give her to his deity Jahweh—that both gods could be called "El" must have aided considerably in this wife-napping—which goes to show only that the evolution of monotheism in Israel followed anything but a simple or straightforward path.

Instead, the monotheists' bumpy, murky, slow and hard-fought victory came only over the course of centuries and against the will of more than a few within their population. It demonstrates not only how bitter was the battle for the heart of the Hebrew people in those days but also, for all its apparent differences, how deeply rooted ancient Israelite religion was in the polytheistic world surrounding it. Reading around and behind the Old Testament provides a new dimension to our understanding of its message and the struggle it took to forge a monotheistic religion, both inside and outside of Israel.

With this, we can see how essentially modern the ancient world was, how tragically at home they would feel amidst our battles over evolution, school prayer, gay marriage and all that constitutes moral behavior. But most modern of all is the way careful analysis of the Old Testament and the ancient world shows how they fought, just as we do, over their vision of the past, which they reconfigured when necessary to suit their needs, their regrets, their hopes for the future.

Opiate of the Theologians

N ot until the nineteenth century did any Christian body make universal salvation its official teaching. The first to do so, the Universalist Church, later merged with another to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. Within the mainstream churches, medieval and early-modern universalists led a subterranean, catacomb existence&mdashisolated figures, often concealing their views&mdashwhile Christendom in all its major branches preached hell no less than heaven. Following Origen’s lead, universalists preserved a covert gospel, withheld from the masses, who needed hellfire to scare them straight, while a tiny cadre of religious intellectuals saw themselves as the only ones fit to know the truth. Dogmatic universalism&mdashthe notion that God must save all human beings&mdashwas for centuries not a public tradition but an esoteric one.

During the first half of the twentieth century, overt expressions of universalism were rare among acknowledged church teachers, with the exception of certain Russian thinkers such as Sergius Bulgakov. In the 1940s, Jacques Maritain confided to a notebook his private thoughts regarding a larger hope of salvation, and Emil Brunner affirmed without fear of contradiction that apokatastasis (universal restoration) is “a doctrine which the Church as a whole has recognized as a heresy.” At mid-century, Catholic theology showed no sign of changing. Yet something shifted during the 1950s and 1960s: Karl Barth’s affirmation of universal election in Church Dogmatics allowed universalism to come out of the shadows. Hans Urs von Balthasar acknowledged Origen’s influence and that of “Barth’s doctrine of election, that brilliant overcoming of ­Calvin.” In the 1970s and 1980s, Catholics discussed “anonymous Christians” and “the unchurched,” while Evangelicals pondered “the ­unevangelized.” Yet the Catholic-Evangelical pivot to inclusivism would prove to be merely a stepping-stone. By century’s end, the earlier debates over inclusivism had become passé, and the new arena of controversy was universalism, either in a hopeful, Balthasarian vein, which seeks to affirm the possibility of universal salvation, or in an assertive, Moltmannian version, which makes it a divine imperative. Among today’s young Christian theologians, Balthasarian tentativeness is fast yielding to ever more strident affirmations of the necessity of salvation for all&mdashas in David ­Bentley Hart’s recent book, That All Shall Be Saved.

Hart charges those who believe in an eternal hell with “moral imbecility.” The language of rude dismissal was something of a guilty pleasure when he deployed it against the “New Atheists” more than a decade ago. Now he is denouncing Dante and every­one else who sustains the age-old tradition of the Church. By his reckoning, their view of God should evoke in us “only a kind of remote, vacuous loathing.” So much for Augustine, Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Aquinas, Pascal, Newman, Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Pope Benedict XVI&mdashnot to mention innumerable canonized saints of the Church, the great majority of ancient Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Syriac writers, and such Protestant luminaries as Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin, Hooker, and Edwards. Oddly, Hart now sounds very much like Richard Dawkins. No less than the aging atheist, Hart finds the two-thousand-year Christian tradition not just unbelievable but repugnant and inhuman.

Not only at odds with the tradition, dogmatic universalists who insist that all must be saved have always struggled to support their views with Christian Scripture. Many have chosen simply to ignore the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation, adopting a biblical canon-within-the-canon. Others have created a Pauline canon-within-the-canon, insisting that certain verses point toward universal salvation (1 Cor. 15:28), whereas others plainly do not (2 Thess. 1:9). Perhaps the foremost Pauline scholar alive today, N. T. Wright, has said that the Pauline texts do not support universalism. Certain passages in the Gospels seem to exclude salvation for all: “And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23–24). “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14). “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction [i.e., Judas Iscariot]” (John 17:12).

Universalists apply microscopic analysis to individual verses or even to single words (for instance, ­aionios), while they often miss the larger themes woven through the whole of the Bible (for instance, the “two ways” motif, in which differing ways of life lead to differing outcomes). Psalm 1 states that the righteous person will be blessed by God, while “the wicked will not stand in the judgment.” In ­Isaiah 1:19–20, the prophet declares: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword.” Neither passage speaks of heaven or hell, but these early texts suggest different outcomes for different groups. The Son of Man’s separation of “sheep” from “goats,” and their consignment respectively to “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:31–46), should not be read in isolation but should be interpreted canonically.

The Books of Exodus and Revelation suggest another biblical theme that is missing from the universalist repertoire: Evil does not always yield to suasion but sometimes must be overcome by divine power. Pharaoh is not finally persuaded but crushed by ­Yahweh’s might. So, too, the Beast, the Devil, and the False Prophet are not dissuaded from evil but are seized and cast into the lake of fire. In such cases, the exertion of God’s power to defeat evil is a good and not an evil thing. The heavenly saints cry “Alleluia!” when the monstrous wickedness of Babylon is fully and finally brought to an end. Finally, we must consider the biblical portrayal of Satan. Scripture never represents the fallen angels as persuadable in any sense, and they are never commanded to repent. The demons represent a limiting case of the creaturely will that recalcitrantly rejects God, and so they end up in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). The Christian churches, in their formal liturgies, pray hopefully for the salvation of abandoned sinners but never, it seems, pray for Lucifer. It appears, then, quite certain that some intelligent creatures are finally damned.

H ow, then, has the historically stigmatized and exegetically questionable theology of universalism come to occupy so prominent a place in Christian thinking in recent decades? The biblical texts remain unchanged, almost two millennia of church tradition continue as before, and scholars today don’t know Greek any better than their forebears. Why, then, do many Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars now read Scripture and tradition universalistically?

Sensing a shift in Catholic thinking on eschatology, Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote about a decade ago:

Cardinal Dulles, I believe, was correct in pointing toward the Zeitgeist. Pierre Manent, in his First Things essay on “Human Unity Real and Imagined” (October 2012), excoriated a “religion of humanity” and asserted that “every epoch has its secular religion, a perverse imitation of Christianity that takes part of the Christian proposition and diverts it toward this world.” Twenty-first-century Christian universalism may be interpreted as a form of this religion of humanity, minimizing humanity’s ineradicable spiritual divisions and annexing the biblical God to a secular affirmation of total human solidarity. The liberté, égalité, fraternité of the Jacobins here finds an eschatological construal. Universalism is a world built on theory. It tells us how the world should be, how the world must be, and so how it actually is. Universalism is not merely an affirmation of the age-old teaching that Christ died for all on the cross. It imagines a world where every heart receives the glad news gladly. Universalism admits that the first-century Jesus was crucified, but it insists that the twenty-first-century Jesus will be crowned by the crowd. Universalism is the Gospel narrative frozen at the moment of the triumphal entry, when everyone stands in solidarity applauding Jesus.

A little more than a century ago, a largely forgotten group of prerevolutionary Russian thinkers pursued a project known as “God-Building” (bogostroitel’stvo). These writers were socialists who&mdashunlike Lenin&mdashviewed religion not as an intractable foe but as a potential ally in the quest for human solidarity. Anatoly Lunacharsky claimed that “the true Social Democrat is the most deeply religious of all human beings.” Yet an obstacle prevented the marriage of religion with socialism, namely, the particularity and parochialism of the Christian God. “God-Building” was necessary because the Russian Orthodox God was simply too narrow. One character in Maxim Gorky’s novel Mother (1906) gave voice to the “God-Builders” as follows: “We have got to change our God. . . . It is necessary . . . to invent a new faith it is necessary to create a God for all.” This last phrase&mdash“to create a God for all”&mdashmight almost serve as a general slogan for twenty-first-century Christian universalism. As I hope to show, the recent arguments favoring universalism have not only distanced themselves from traditional accounts of the afterlife, but have also&mdashto a surprising degree&mdashmoved away from a traditional Christian doctrine of God.

My claim that contemporary Christian universalism is affiliated with a religion of humanity finds support in several pieces of evidence: the universalists’ lack of interest in heaven itself, their erasure of eschatological tension, their excessive rational confidence, and their reconstruction of the doctrine of God in this-worldly terms.

Most universalist authors today are concerned to proclaim that everyone gets into heaven but not actually to describe heaven. Heaven means enjoyment, and everyone must have a share. Hart asserts: “There is no way in which persons can be saved as persons except in and with all other persons.” The horizontal dimension of everyone-all-together eclipses the vertical dimension of saints-in-union-with-God. Jürgen Moltmann’s universalism in The Coming of God underscores the final reconciliation between perpetrators and victims. Recall, by way of contrast, how Aquinas lovingly lingered over the saints’ vision of God, how his great mind expatiated in the thought of the creatures’ everlasting enjoyment of God’s fathomless goodness. For universalists, the central focus is not the enjoyment of God but the fact of final human solidarity. The universalists’ heaven seems to me like a concert to which everyone gets a free ticket, though no one is quite sure who will be playing the music.

Perhaps universalists so seldom speak of the heavenly enjoyment of God because the topic raises ­uncomfortable questions about the earthly process of preparation for heaven. Through pain, difficulty, disappointment, and loss, believers in God are ­gradually&mdashin the words of C. S. Lewis&mdash“learning to want God for His own sake.” For “human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. . . . There is but one good that is God.” Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory” treats the joys of heaven as the culmination of many little choices made in the here-and-now. Those who learn to enjoy God on earth receive the reward of an immeasurably greater enjoyment of God in heaven. Universalist theology, in contrast to Lewis and the tradition he embodied, lacks a ­spirituality of self-denial or an ethic of readiness to explain why our temporal choices matter eternally and how we need to prepare ourselves to enter God’s holy presence. The spiritual shallowness of universalism is thus as apparent as its theological deficiency. The eschaton reduced to universal human happiness falls short of the God-centered biblical and catholic heaven.

The kingdom of God, as biblical scholars say, is already but not yet. Yet in important respects the universalist kingdom is realized here and now. Regarding the universalist-ish author Rob Bell, the late Edward T. Oakes observed that his “central thesis [is that] Heaven and hell are already present on earth, and Christians are specifically called to spread the ­reality of God’s heaven to the hellish realities of earth.” Bell’s endeavor in Love Wins was not only to universalize but to immanentize heaven.

T oday’s universalist theology immanen­tizes Christian knowing by diminishing the eschatological tension between the now and the not yet. The Apostle Paul wrote that we know in part and see through a glass darkly. Hart labors under no such limitations: He fully knows the eschaton, transparently perceives it, and declares with assurance what will certainly happen. Hart thus affirms a total luminosity of human eschatological understanding, banishing all shadows of doubt regarding God’s future ways and works. This trait marks Hart not as Catholic or Orthodox but as an Enlightenment thinker. Apophatic reserve evaporates.

How differently the Church’s acknowledged mystics approached the theme of heaven and hell. According to Denys Turner and Bernard McGinn, ­Julian of Norwich has been often, but wrongly, read as a universalist. Interpreted in the context of her other statements, Julian’s famous phrase that “all shall be well” did not mean that “all shall be saved,” but instead it was her affirmation of the ultimate rightness of God’s ways. It was a statement made in faith, shot through with epistemic and eschatological tension, since she did not presume to be able to state exactly how it is that finally “all shall be well.”

To observe the link between universalism and rationalism, one only needs to consider the developments of the last two or three centuries. The theological devolution of modern universalism into Unitarianism was not an accident. Once human reasoning had deconstructed the divine mysteries of election and eschaton, it applied its tender mercies to the Trinity and Incarnation as well. ­Unitarian-universalist rationalism spread like a virus, infecting the sinus, the lungs, the circulatory system, and then the whole body of Christian theology. No election, no hell, no atonement, no divine Son, no divine Spirit, and no Trinity&mdashall that remained was moral uplift and human solidarity, or, as one wit put it, the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Neighborhood of Boston. As one saying went, the universalists thought God was too good to damn them, while the unitarians thought they were too good to be damned. Here was an early version of the religion of humanity: deity and humanity reconstructed on a model of total divine-human and human-human solidarity, minus the mystery of the Incarnation.

Lest readers imagine that Unitarian-universalist theology is a historical footnote, they might pause to consider Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ (2019). Author of some forty-five books and mentor to Oprah and Bono, Rohr sets out in his latest work to distinguish a purportedly more universal and spiritual “Christ” from the narrow, particularistic, and human “Jesus.” At the event that Rohr calls “Resurrection,” the “Christ” at last broke free from “Jesus”: The body of Jesus exploded into light particles that diffused throughout the cosmos. Rohr’s Easter evangel is not that “he is risen” but that “he is vanished.” In place of a message centering on the human and historical Jesus, Rohr propounds a “first incarnation” that occurred at the Big Bang. He writes that “Christ is a name for . . . every ‘thing’ in the universe,” and that “God loves things by becoming them.” For half a year this book has remained the #1 best-selling work on Christology at Amazon. Unitarian-universalism exists far outside the denomination that bears its name.

Contemporary universalist “God-­building” seeks to update the Christian doctrine of God and to replace it with a “God for all.” To effect this transition, a number of contemporary theologians have propounded a new form of divine-human solidarity by attributing to God the division, conflict, and drama that are characteristic of creaturely existence. They imagine a primal drama, a crisis in the inner life of God, played out most often in the Father-Son relation. All sin, evil, death, hell, and separation are absorbed into God’s own being and thereby banished forever. A final solidarity then unites all creatures with one another and their Creator. This new, universalist God feels our pain in a way that the old, particularist God could not. The new divine-human solidarity is a solidarity-in-suffering. Yet more remarkably, for certain theologians it is a solidarity-in-weakness. God does not merely empathize with weakness but experiences it. Moltmann wrote: “If Christ is weak and humble on earth, then God is weak and humble in heaven.”

In 1974 Karl Rahner lamented what was already becoming evident:

P atristic and medieval tradition&mdashfor the most part followed by the Protestant reformers as well&mdashtaught that suffering and death were properly ascribed to God the Son because of, and only because of, the human nature that the Son freely assumed. This incarnational teaching requires a distinction of the divine and human natures in Christ. Yet, in what Paul ­Molnar calls “historicized Christology,” an eternalizing of Christ’s humanity and temporalizing of Christ’s divinity effaces this distinction.

In The Crucified God, Moltmann asserted that “only if all disaster, forsakenness by God, absolute death, the infinite curse of damnation and sinking into nothingness is in God himself, is community with this God [the source of] eternal salvation.” Hans Urs von Balthasar argued that Jesus in his descent to hell underwent the “second death” that the Book of Revelation reserves for those finally rejected by God. Balthasar’s Mysterium Paschale states that “it is ­really God [in Christ] who takes upon himself what is, at all events, opposed to God and eternally rejected by God.” In this view, in order to reconcile the world to himself, God first must reconcile himself to himself. As Bruce Marshall has noted, in such views “the unity of God is in the final analysis a temporal event” and “[a] reconciliation of the divine Persons across the abyss of evil, death, and nothingness.” Conceived in Hegelian terms, God as Trinity appears as the climax of a drama of alienation and reconciliation, and properly exists only at the final stage. This dramatic understanding of God manifested itself over some eighteen centuries, not in mainstream Christian teaching, but among gnostic, kabbalistic, and Western esoteric authors (the Cathars, the Christian Cabalists, the Philadelphians in Germany and England, the Martinists in France, the Freemasons and Böhmists in Russia, and so on). Esoteric Jewish and Islamic thinkers provided arguments for universalism resembling those employed by Christian esotericists.

Contemporary Christian theology poses not only the question, “Are all persons finally saved?” but the even more foundational question, “Who is God?” Contemporary universalist theologians do not simply replace traditional eschatology with salvation for all, while retaining the rest of the tradition. To revise eschatology, one must revise the other Christian ­doctrines too.

Universalists are less concerned with all men’s being united to God than with all men’s being united to each other. God is joined to man on human terms. Heaven is where people go to meet one another rather than to meet their Maker. We observe this above all in the universalists’ idea of a God who is imperiled by sin and evil and must struggle against it in his own being. Heaven is an outcome of God’s own internal struggle, making God&mdashin the contemporary jargon&mdash“relatable” to human beings, who have to deal with their own daily struggles.

My patristics teacher, Rowan Greer, reserved Augustine’s City of God to the end of his semester overview of early Christian theology&mdashthe professor’s final thoughts, on final things, on the final day. Hearing his stark words depicting Augustine’s irrevocable chasm between the saints in heaven and the damned in hell, one knew where his theological sympathies lay. His voice and body shuddered when he mentioned the eternal duality of heaven and hell, as if to say, “It can’t be.” From long hours of reading universalist authors, I have come to believe that universalist theologizing might be an intellectual expression of just that sort of shudder&mdashmore instinct than argument, more revulsion than ratiocination. When David Bentley Hart and Robin Parry tell how they became convinced universalists, moral repugnance and aesthetic distaste bubble below the surface. Hell is horrible and ugly, and so they don’t believe in it.

O ne of the most shocking passages in all of Christian literature has to be the section of City of God where Augustine speaks of the resurrected human flesh that suffers the fires of hell but is not consumed by them&mdashan infernal rendition of Moses’s bush that burns without burning up. The horror of this passage has often deflected readers from other, more important themes in City of God. It is easy to miss that ­Augustine’s afterlife is of a piece with the earthly life. Human disharmony and duality did not arrive on the planet because a capricious God showed up at the end of the world and arbitrarily decided to cleave a harmonious earthly community in two. Duality began the moment that Cain raised his hand to murder his brother Abel. And so it has been ever since. In City of God, Augustine recounts the conflicts between the descendants of Cain and those of Seth, between ­Israel and the Gentiles, and between the Church and its ­persecutors&mdashsummed up in a single, overriding contrast between “the city of man” and “the city of God.”

If someone were to ask me why I embrace a particularistic view of salvation and a dualistic eschatology rather than a religion of solidarity, my answer must be not only “Because this is what the Bible teaches” and “Because church teaching confirms it,” but also “Because I have eyes to see.” I don’t need to hypothesize a world in which human pride and stubbornness cause people to turn away from God’s gracious offer of mercy in Jesus Christ. This is the world I live in. This is what I see happening every day. This is what I read in the news. It is also what I am told by the Church: Jesus was crucified. Perfect love appeared in history&mdashand observe what man did in response. In contrast to the particularist, the universalist must hypothesize a state of affairs in which, as Rob Bell says, “everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy . . . of God’s presence.” This imagining not just of a heaven, but of men and a world that no one has ever seen, leads me to a definite conclusion. Universalism is hopefulness run amok, the opiate of the theologians.

Michael McClymond is professor of modern Christianity at Saint Louis University. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism.

Watch the video: 19th Century: Intro lecture (December 2021).