Vatican Notes & Quotes

Pope's Catechesis on Hell Irks Evangelicals

THE WASHINGTON POST, Aug. 17-Pope John Paul II's recent description of hell as a “state of mind” rather than a physical place “is turning into a serious theological sore point between Catholics and American Protestant evangelicals,” according to religion writer Hanna Rosin.

“The Pope was describing … what Catholics consider the core essence of hell: knowledge that you failed to choose salvation in God. But to Protestant fundamentalists in America, who prefer the physical burning pit described in the Bible, any suggestion that hell is simply an abstraction is a dangerous, even blasphemous notion,” said Rosin.

Evangelical leaders, Rosin said, accused the Pope of “soft selling hell,” as R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptists Theological Seminary in Louisville, put it.

“My concern here is the temptation to make hell a state of mind, to psychologize hell,” said Mohler. “As attractive as that may be to the modern mind, that is not the hell of the Bible. Jesus himself spoke of hell as a lake of fire, where the worms would not die and the fire would not be quenched. It's all very graphic.”

Rosin said artists, writers and theologians have tried to “mentally transport Christians to a miserable place called hell as a sure deterrent to sin. Early Christians tried to locate hell as a spot on the sun or a comet, but most used their imagination to keep alive the image of a Gothic torture chamber.”

Lately though, that image is fading, say evangelicals, as modern Americans focus less on the wages of sin and more on the uplifting message of self-help, reported Rosin.

She added that while “70% of Americans say they believe in heaven, only 50% believe in hell, and very few think they might be headed there.”

Rosin quoted John Paul extensively in the article but mischaracterized Catholic teaching this way: “The Pope's discourse reflected more his tendency toward philosophical abstraction than new Catholic ‘discovery.’ Catholic teaching does not deny that hell may be a geographical spot where God will banish sinners but considers that concept merely a visual aid based on scant biblical references.”

Papal ‘Crescendo’ Not Without Risks

KNIGHT RIDDER, Aug. 16- “Pope John Paul II, world traveler, has saved his most ambitious pilgrimage for the climax of his 21-year pontificate,” wrote the wire service's David Crumm in an analysis of the plan that he described “a series of walks through the chapters of the Bible.”

“His plan already is being praised by some as a brilliant spiritual symbol of hope and reconciliation — and is being criticized by others who say it could embarrass political leaders and inflame long-smoldering tensions among religious groups,” said Crumm.

“I have already received letters from both Jewish and Arab leadership in one way welcoming this trip, and in another way, they're concerned for the Holy Father,” said Detroit's Cardinal Adam Maida.

“He has made it clear that he regards the year 2000 and this pilgrimage as the crescendo of his papacy,” said Crumm, paraphrasing an adviser to the American Catholic bishops.

If the Pope fulfills his hope to visit Iraq, protocol would require a meeting with President Saddam Hussein, who is shunned by most of the international community. The Pope also plans to visit Jerusalem, a “flashpoint in Arab-Israeli relations for decades,” said Crumm.

The journalist points to the Pope's own words, contained in a June 29 letter announcing his plans, as proof of his determination to visit the troubled region: “Spiritually, I am already on this journey, since even to go just in thought to those places means in a way to read anew the Gospel itself.”