The Personalist Project

To help prepare the faithful for the new translation of the mass, our parish priests have lately taken some time out of their homilies each week to read part of an official document (I don't know where they got it) explaining what the most significant changes are, and why they were made.

The section read this week included a change made to the words of institution:

The previous translation of the Mass referred to Jesus' blood having redemptive value "for all." The new translation replaces the words "for all" with "for many."

"For many" is apparently closer to the Latin text of the mass, and also in greater continuity with the Tradition. More importantly, it

…remains closer to Jesus' actual words of institution in scripture. "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be poured out on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." (MT 26:28) 

I can't really comment on the theological and scriptural justifications for this change. What strikes me about it is how much emphasis it places on human freedom. God destined all of us for salvation, but even He—Infinite Love, coupled with Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Power—cannot save us without our free cooperation. This awesome and dreadful truth, somewhat "lost" in the previous translation, is now front and center: 

The new translation points to the reality that while Jesus died for all, not everyone chooses to accept this gift. Each individual must choose to welcome the gift of salvation in Christ and live according to that grace, so they may be among "the many" who are described in the text.

The change also reminded me of the controversy some years back surrounding Hans Urs von Balthasar's book, Dare We Hope 'That All Men Be Saved'?  In it Balthasar suggested that Hell might, after all is said and done, turn out to be empty. This is not something we could know in advance (to think that would be heresy); but it would be something for which we may, and perhaps must, hope.

I found Balthasar's view in somewhat compelling. (I mean theoretically compelling, not just practically attractive.) How else could we maintain God's infinite Love and Mercy and Providence? On the other hand, besides the fact that Balthasar's view seemed to fly in the face of Tradition, it also tended to undermine the reality and ultimate significance of human choice.

I would like to know if the new translation was partly inspired by a desire to put an end to these "Balthasarian" speculations.

P.S. Members might like to listen, in this connection, to the two podcasts on "The Problem of Hell". In these, Michael Healy tries to show how the existence of hell can be compatible with God's mercy.

Comments (8)

Bill Drennen

#1, Nov 18, 2011 1:17pm

I guess the question is just how long does our freedom last.

Cann freedom be lost to soul in hell such that they no longer have the power to change their choice? Certianly this has been the traditional understanding. Bothe Dante and C.S. Lewis see this to be the case. As we are in the realm of the unknown perhaps here in these story writers, imagination may point to the truth. Do we not also think, again from tradition, that the angels choice is more immediate such that when they fell the consequence was immediately eternal wheras with men our choice is in time?

Jules van Schaijik

#2, Nov 18, 2011 3:49pm

Bill Drennen, Nov. 18 at 1:17pm

I guess the question is just how long does our freedom last.

Can freedom be lost to souls in hell such that they no longer have the power to change their choice?

I've always thought this to be a dogmatic truth: that there is no hope for those in hell and no fear for those in heaven. But perhaps I am mistaken? If not, I suppose that Balthasar means that we dare hope that no-one ever goes to hell in the first place.

I'm not sure if that makes a big difference.

Nice to hear from you Bill.  Do you still have that nice beer-bottle picture to add to your profile?  

Teresa Manidis

#3, Nov 19, 2011 5:55pm

In reference to your specific points, I make so bold as to quote from my recent essay, 'The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs':

'In any concept of God that includes free will – as ours has done from its very inception – there exists the possibility of rejecting our Creator.  Only if we are unthinking automans, only if our choices and decisions mean nothing, can we be ‘saved’ against our will. God is omnipotent, and He could have forced us to know Him, and forced us to love Him, and forced us to serve Him – but He didn’t.  We come to Him freely, or not at all; and if we truly wish and freely choose to distance ourselves, eternally, from God, He allows us that awful freedom.  

So, while the church has always taught that Christ’s Sacrifice on the cross was sufficient (that is to say, enough) for ‘all’ (since, compared to the infinite mercy of God, the sins of man are no more than a ‘live coal in the sea’), because of free will, the redemption will only ever be efficacious (that is, it will only ever apply) to ‘many.’' 

Jules van Schaijik

#4, Nov 20, 2011 11:44am

Wish I had you way with words, Teresa. That's well said.

I'd like to add, though, that God doesn't just have a "take it or leave it" attitude. As if He doesn't really care. He does care, and He really really wants us to love Him. That is why the problem of hell is so acute. Its not just that we are able to reject Him, but that when we do so, we thwart His dearest wish.

P.S. Did you write the article specifically in response to the new translation?

Teresa Manidis

#5, Nov 20, 2011 1:04pm

Thank you, Jules, for the compliment.  And, yes, 'Dwarfs' was written specifically as a response to that.

I whole-heartedly agree with your sentiments about God's Love - 'He does care, and He really, really wants us to love Him.'  That is simply, but well put.  God loved me into existence, and He has surrounded me with a palpable love all of my life - and the thought that I could, despite that, despite everything we have meant to each other, I, a 'profitless sinner,' could still break that bond, could reject Him, even now, after everything we've been through together - that is hard to grasp, that is hard to accept; the coward in me wants to say, 'No, no, don't give me this awful freedom.  Take my free will from me now, lest, one day, I do this crazy thing and separate myself from You and your (nearly) inescapable Love.' But God's Love is so immense, so free, so beyond my limited understanding of that word, that even while wrapped in His embrace, to that particular prayer He says, 'No.'

Gregory Borse

#6, Nov 20, 2011 9:44pm

Well, there is that entire "harrowing of hell" business--which I believe in.  And if we understand that for God, as for a Bear, it's always Now, there is no reason to believe that Christ's appearance in the Underworld was reserved only for the Righteous Pagans who lived before Christ, but nonetheless found their way to an authentic belief in God through the God-given gift of natural Reason (sorry for all the upper-case words).  Balthussar's hope, then, is not misplaced.  My mother used to remind me to pray for the conversion of St. Augustine along the same lines . . . .

Jules van Schaijik

#7, Nov 20, 2011 10:44pm

Hmm. I can't quite follow you here. Your mother wanted you to pray for St. Augstine?

It's probably the wine. I'm trying some local Arizona variety.

Gregory Borse

#8, Nov 20, 2011 11:02pm

Well--there's your first mistake ("Arizona" and "wine" and "local" don't probably belong in the same sentence . . .).  Yes--my mother encouraged me to pray for the conversion of St. Augustine:  her reasoning--since God is outside time, there was no reason to believe that our prayers for anything were delimited to our chronological experience of time as human beings.  Hence, it made perfect sense to her that our praying for anything was always "in God's time" and not in ours. . . .Makes mysterious sense to me.  She never encouraged me, however, to pray for the impossible.  So, I wasn't allowed, for instance, to pray that Adam and Eve never fell from the Garden; nor against Judas' betrayal of Christ (though I was given room to pray for his true repentence prior to his own death, regardless of the circumstances).


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