Probability Of Salvation Made (Almost…) Easy

Garrigou-Lagrange in action..

Garrigou-Lagrange in action..

One of the differences a Southern European notices with the Anglo-Saxon attitude is the different approach to hell. In this respect, Anglo-Saxons tend in my experience to belong either to the extreme “hell is probably empty” (heretical) faction, or else to tend towards a Puritanical view of a general carnage which only a few manage to escape. 

In Southern Europe we traditionally had a different approach, thinking rather that whilst the matter of salvation is serious, the fear of The Lord, the nearness to the Sacraments and a loving trust in the Blessed Virgin’s help would help, in the end, very many to avoid the worst. This is, I think, the reason why Catholic societies are seen as too rigid and hypocritically harsh from Anglo-Saxon liberals, whilst they are considered scandalous places full of sinners who just don’t care and are left alone by a permissive and corrupted Church from the Protestants and it is, in fact, reported the young JH Newman was utterly scandalised at the immorality he saw in Rome, an environment which was, at least for the working classes (as made immortal by the sonnets of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli) rather different from the environment he was accustomed to. 

This is seen also, I dare say, in the matter of, let us call it so, the salvation numbers, often seen with great pessimism in colder climates and generally seen in a more relaxed way by the, well, more relaxed Catholic cultures (this is another thing I always notice in Northern European: they tend to seem always strangely tense at some level…).  

I have been wondering for a while whether this different attitude is something merely cultural, or whether it would be shared by prominent theologians of the recent past; obviously from times above suspicion, then what happened after V II is not even worth being googled.  

On the excellent Ite ad Thomam blog we find a very interesting excerpt from the great Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who interestingly enough echoes the perception of Christian societies in which I grew up. In short: it was widely believed the majority of even adult Catholics should manage to scrape through with the help of “their saints in Paradise”; the Proddies were thought to be already in non indifferent trouble; and the Heathens in serious trouble. 

It would, therefore, seem if one is a Catholic grown in a Catholic country and accustomed to all the Catholic way of life, one should be fine in the end, obtaining the grace of final repentance. 

There are, though, differences to consider: the society in which I grew up (and which was probably already in some state of decomposition compared to Garrigou-Lagrange’s one) basically did not contemplate the idea of not belonging to the Church, and non-baptism was virtually non-existent among those who weren’t, say, Jews. You see that also in the language, where “Christian” is used a synonymous for “person”, and “baptism name”  means “first name”. Therefore, their sunny, Italian/French/Spaniard/Portuguese optimism was based on a society completely taken over by a broadly Catholic culture, and formed in a world where truly even atheists would share most of the Church’s values, and would be often either ashamed of not believing, or not desirous of telling they aren’t. Who knows how many “last-minute efforts” were crowned with success in such an environment…

What the very same Garrigou-Lagrange would say of the Italy, or France of today is more difficult to discern: whilst still largely present in those countries, traditional Catholic values progressively lose grip, as they have been transmitted more by parents than by priests for now 50 years; parents who are now dying, and dying clearly without the success a motivated professional clergy would have had. In the meantime, Atheists have become angrier, and even Catholics less Catholic; many churchgoers of today probably understand much less of Christianity than most agnostics of 100 years ago; which made the agnostic more likely to be recovered in his old age than the modern “catholics” more likely to turn to Kabbalah, or New Age wannabe spirituality…    

I doubt our theologian would be so optimistic if he visited those countries today. He would probably restrict his optimistic assumption to certain strata of the population, rather than generically talking of “adult Catholics”. Say, how many millions adults Catholics do not care that their children are baptised? What would our great man say of their salvation prospects?  

Which question leads us very neatly to the last point of this post: Vatican II with all its opening to the world has aggiornato Catholic Europe so much, that in it nowadays many more are at grave risk of damnation than in pre-V II times. So much so, that Countries once solidly in the hand of Catholicism are now growing a generation of unbaptised, religiously indifferent people to whom Christian values are at the most object for examination, and then approval or rejection according to personal convictions. It will not be long before the chances of salvation of the majority of them will not be bigger than if they had been born in a Protestant Country. 

I wouldn’t want to be the member of the clergy, no matter how high his position, who dies having actively contributed to all this.







Posted on January 23, 2013, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Mundabor,
    you write: “It will not be long before the chances of salvation of the majority of them will not be bigger than if they had been born in a Protestant Country. ”
    If they will be as good as that! Even in a protestant country many of the basic tenets of Christianity are intact, even though some, of course, are denied. The traditional protestant usually knows his Bible quite well (though he misunderstands some parts of it), and he believes and fears God. He has, therefore, at least the beginning of wisdom. In the new society we see developing today, that is not the case anymore. It may be a quasi-protestant society – but even its protestantism is a sorry caricature of the still recognizably Christian heresies of Luther, Calvin etc. Sometimes I feel that Luther would have gone to Rome on his knees to beg forgiveness for his acts if he could have seen what would be done is his name in our century…;)

    Regarding the probability of salvation, in the end, the most important thing is to know that salvation is both possible and not assured. Everything else is speculation not strictly necessary, even if helpful. I have to agree about the mentalities involved, though. From what I can see in my country, it is very difficult to get people to understand both that hell is not empty and that heaven is not the country of the very few elect, but in principle attainable by everyone.
    Most Christians I know do not believe in hell, except as a symbol of extreme evil, which they define almost exclusively as “Hitler and possibly Stalin”. If they believe in hell at all, they will most probably say it is not “a place” but “a concept” – and nobody can really “go” to a concept. But say one gets them to understand that a traditional Catholic believes hell is a (kind of) place, though not in the same material sense as New York, there being more than one kind of reality (you can not travel to heaven or hell by train… ;)).
    In this case they will accuse the Catholic of extremism: Oh yes, you believe only you and your small, narrow minded circle of traditionalists will be saved? To which the obvious answer is twofold: First, no, I do not believe being a traditional Catholic will save you by itself. You still have to repent and believe which is an internal act not visible from the outside and not compelled by grace. Not all Catholics will be saved, but it does help very much. Second, yes, I do believe the Catholic Church is the one and only Church founded by Christ for our salvation and that she – and she alone – has been given the tools necessary for our salvation. A protestant and even a heathen can be saved, but if it happens, it will be in spite of his religion and not because of it. The relatively simple statement that believing and practicing Catholics will probably, not certainly, attain salvation, Protestants and non-Christians probably not, but they have a decent chance if they follow the light given to them to the utmost and trust in God’s grace to supply the rest they could not reasonably have known given the circumstances of their life, appears to be too complex for the sophisticated mind of the “de-educated” modern, especially the “tense, northern” one.
    For some time, especially shortly after my conversion, I, too, have been of the opinion that hardly anyone can be saved, because our sins are so enormous and so few are willing to repent, even among Catholics who still go to Mass. Here, I believe, one can see the “northern” and “tense” mentality at work again that you describe so aptly. It is a great grace and providence that God has raised up mediterranean peoples with their mediterranean mentalities to keep safe the Faith – in Rome, not in London or Berlin. Have you ever noticed that all the destructive modern ideologies come from northern Europe or from atheist French philosophers? What would they have done with the sanity of the traditional Faith? Another sign that God knows what he’s doing…;)

    • You are absolutely right, Catocon,

      my comparison to Protestant countries refers rather to today’s situation, where we see that in most (once) Protestant countries the majority of people simply do not care, and properly intended Christianity is limited to a minority. The easiness with which in countries like Germany civil partnerships have gone through Parliament is, I think, enlightening.

      I read once a comparison with the barque of peter and the swimming Protestants. I think it was Ronald Knox. I might write about this.


    • catocon,

      I’d dare to say the mediterranean mentality is the fruit of their societies being so deeply influenced by Catholicism. From anecdotical evidence it seems to me, for example, Bavaria isn’t different from Italy. I’d say what makes a big difference is whether a catholic grew up in a country where Catholicism is, so to speak, in the tap water or a country where Catholics are a minority, influenced by the rigid Protestants on one side and the “do not judge” wannabe Christians on the other.

      I might be wrong of course, then in countries like Italy you can’t say where being Italian ends and being Catholic begins in these matters. But this seems to me evidence of my position.


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