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Hell and Damnation



This essay addresses the unpleasant question of the fate of those who die estranged from God.

I take it as clear from the general testimony of the New Testament, in accordance with Natural Justice, that wickedness will not go unpunished after death and that virtue will be rewarded. The main point at issue here is the extent of the punishment facing sinners. A secondary point is whether any of the punishment of sin is extrinsic: imposed by positive diktat by God, or whether it is all intrinsic: resulting unavoidably from the reflexive effects of sin upon the sinner who commits it. Traditionally, this question has been discussed of in terms of a Purgatory of finite duration for those who die as friends of God, and a Hell of infinite duration for those who die estranged from Him, though C.S. Lewis for one has tried to merge these concepts without violating what he saw as the underlying theological principles [C.S. Lewis "The Great Divorce"]. It is generally accepted that there is no mention of Purgatory in the New Testament [but see 1Cor 3:13-15]; and certainly not in the Gospels, [but see Mt 5:25-26; 18:23-35,  Lk 12:57-59].

Crime and Punishment

Six rationales for "punishment" can be distinguished:
  1. Psychiatric engineering : wickedness is a medical condition

  2. The idea being to train the offender (as with Pavlov's dogs) to cease his/her offensive behaviour.
  3. Ethical Reformation : wickedness is a mental condition

  4. The idea being to raise the consciousness of the offender so that they perceive the injustice of
    their past actions and will not repeat their offence.
  5. Retribution or Vengeance

  6. The idea being to make the offender suffer to "even the score" with his/her victims.
  7. Restitution

  8. The idea being that the offender repairs the damage done by his/her offence.
  9. Restraint

  10. The idea being to deprive the offender of any opportunity to re-offend, even if (s)he wishes to.
  11. Deterrence

  12. The idea being to "make an example" of the offender, so that the prospect of offending becomes
    unattractive to another offender.
Each forms a criterion that can be used to judge the severity of punishment fit for a particular offence. They are not equivalent.
As the criterion is varied, so does the severity of punishment: sometimes dramatically. So, if "restraint" is the criterion and there is no possible opportunity for any re-offense (perhaps because every German Jew, Gypsy and Homosexual; Bosnian Muslim or Turkish Armenian has successfully been killed), then the punishment should be identically none: no matter the heinousness of the original act! Similarly, if "reformation" is the criterion and either the offender has repented of his/her mis-behaviour, or is judged to be psycopathic and so irreformable! Similarly if "deterrence" is the criterion and there is no-one to deter.

It is possible that some of these criteria might be combined to constitute a multi-dimensional programme for determining the severity and character of a regime of punishment.

The Hound of Heaven

There is no doubt in my mind but that God does everything that He can to induce, persuade and seduce each of his creatures to a life of justice and peace: of wholeness, sanity and holiness. This is what is meant by the dogma that all people receive sufficient grace to be saved: "God for His part did not create men for ruin, but for life and joy" [Origen: Commentary on Matthew]. It is less clear to me that God is always successful. It seems to me that there are limits beyond which any attempt at seduction on the part of the lover (here God) becomes a violation of the integrity of the beloved (here the sinner). Unless God's grace is to overwhelm and so subvert the will of the sinner (as Calvin taught it does in the case of those predestined to glory), there remains always the possibility that the sinner will foolishly refuse the importuning of Love, and perhaps do so absolutely and definitively. This amounts to incurable insanity. It is a truly horrid concept, and one that all but those of a most arid nature will find repellent. Sadly, unpleasantness does not imply invalidity. Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Plagues and Genocides are unpleasant. Regretably, they occur. Note however, that the horror in this concept lies in the character and consequences of decisions and actions of the sinner, not in any Divine Condemnation.

The Prodigal Son

Clearly, if someone repents of sin there is no reason to punish them further [Lk 15:18-24]. They may still require painful healing; they may still have some kind of debt to discharge; but there is nothing to be gained from their suffering over and above the very minimum that cannot be avoided: which might be nothing whatsoever. The doctrine of eternal punishment for those (wo)men who die in mortal sin has scriptural foundation in one or two verse(s) in the Gospels, one verse from St Paul (which however talks of destruction, not punishment) and (arguably) one verse from the Apocalypse. The idea that those sinners who die unrepentant suffer punitively for ever implies that it is constitutionally impossible for them to repent after their particular judgement.

As a Platonist, I am inclined to the view that the only - or at least paramount - rationale for punishment is reformation.

.... if anyone asserts that it is just to render to every man his due, and if he understands by this, that what is due on the part of the just man is injury to his enemies, and assisstance to his friends, the assertion is that of an unwise man. For the doctrine is untrue, because we have discovered that in no instance is it just to injure anybody.
[Plato: "The Republic"]
On the other hand, consider some offence that brings great reward to the offender, and little or no harm to others: as long as only a few people commit it; but catastrophe to society if many people commit it. Something along the lines of atmospheric pollution due to the burning of coal, might serve as a concrete example: though it is deficient. It would seem then necessary to have draconian penalties in place in order to deter such behaviour, even though the harm done by each individual was negligible. This is because it is vital to impress the true marginal cost of the act in question on each individual perpetrator. The flaw in this example is that the penalty could be viewed as reformatory: intended to impress upon the felon the extreme gravity of his/her own act, and the deterrent aspect entirely accidental. Clearly, whenever there is a prospect of being corrected by punishment if one is caught, this is a deterrence to committing the offence: or at least an incentive to take care to avoid being apprehended!

Another example, where extremely severe penalties might be justified as a deterrence is the matter of homosexuality. Clearly, if everyone were always to refrain from hetero-gender sexual intercourse, then the great disaster of extinction would befall humanity. It therefore might seem reasonable to deter individuals from homo-gender sexual intercourse in order to avoid the catastrophe of human extinction by the breakdown of family life. This prescription necessarily presumes that:

Saint Thomas Aquinas himself acknowledges the vapidity of such a position.

The Pains of Hell-fire

"Consequently whoever is saved is saved by fire, so that the fire may melt and dissolve any admixture the man has of the leaden element, so that all may become good gold, or it is said that the gold of that land which the saints shall possess is good. As the furnace tests the gold, so trial tests righteous men. All then must come to the fire, all must come to the furnace. For the Lord sits and refines and purifies the sons of Judah. And when we come there, if a man bring many good works and some small mixture of wickedness, this small item is dissolved and purged away like lead by the fire, and all that is left is pure gold. The more a man brings there of lead, the more he suffers burning, that the lead may be fully melted, so that even if there be little gold it may still be left in purity. But if a man comes there all of lead, in his case there occurs what is written, He is drowned in the depths, like lead in the mighty waters. But it is a long matter to attempt detailed exposition. These few remarks are sufficient."
[Origen: Sixth Homily on Exodus, in "Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies of Origen", p 202
translator: R.B. Tollinton]

".... in the Alexandrine fathers .... Fire is usually regarded as remedial and purifying, rarely, if ever, merely retributory and punitive. It is a spiritual agency .... consuming what is better consumed, testing human deeds and characters. By our sins we kindle such fire for ourselves, yet it illuminates as well as burns and is throughout one of God's many agencies for good." [Footnote, ibid]

The Particular Judgement

The moment of death is decisive regarding salvation or damnation simply because it is, by definition, the transition between mortal life, with its uncertainties and opportunity for the exercise of Free Will; and Eternal Life, which involves intimate union with God, even "divinization": a coming to participate in the Divine Nature, itself [II Pet 1:4]. I also suppose, that the "particular judgement" at the moment of death involves a review of the whole of one's life: with every decision and action having its own proper weight. I do not suppose that the significance of a life-time of loving faithfulness towards God and neighbour would be wiped out by some last momentary lapse that would (of itself) seem to the outside observer to be "mortally sinful". I suppose that God will, in effect, grant the soul one last chance to repent. While a last minute (sincere) repentance is certainly sufficient to obtain Eternal Life, it must be very difficult for a habitual and obdurate sinner to repent, even when clearly shown the gravity of his offences by God. I have myself seen how difficult it can be for someone to admit that they are at fault and instead dig themselves deeper and deeper into a mire of self-justification. We should all be wary of personal complacency.

Why Eternal Punishment?

Hell is a permanent condition simply because it is a self-reinforcing choice. No-one with a "spark of goodness" chooses to go to Hell, for this signifies a concerted rejection of God's gracious offer of friendship. Part of making such a choice is a rejection of any possibility of a change of belief about God's nature and attitude towards Him. Hence, Hell is a permanent state. God could not intervene to reform this choice without doing violence to the Free Will of the sinner. The presumption is that God will have done all that is possible and proper and (technically: sufficient) to prevent such a decision being made and that for some reason this was not enough (technically: efficient). The sinner bound for Hell is not open to any degree of persuasion or seduction. The "Hound of Heaven" may pursue the lost sheep relentlessly, but it will not pay any attention to the call to return to the safety of the sheep-fold.

What fraction of Humanity is Damned?

It is difficult to say what proportion of humanity makes such a choice. My liberal English instincts (I fear tainted by the over optimism of Pelagius) are to think the best of everyone and to presume that few folk would settle down into such a terribly negative, conceited, callous and antipathetic attitude. On the contrary, Jesus warns that "the gate to the destruction is wide, and the way is easy, and many are those that enter by it" [Mt 7:13]. He does so in the context of a discussion of how good can be discerned from bad, especially good from bad disciples. Equivalently, the Church warns that mortal sin is a very real and present danger for Her members, and that any significant and purposeful deviation from justice brings one's relationship with God into question. Prayer, devotions and even the exercise of charismatic gifts (such as healing and prophecy and exorcism) are of no account whatever. They are the trappings of religion only [II Tim 3:5]. Only those who live justly and "do the will of" God are citizens of The Kingdom [Matt 7:21-23]. The speculative teachings of liberal theologians that the only mortal sin is a derogation from "the fundamental option for God" has been solidly (though not infallibly) condemned by the Magisterium.

The Teaching of Jesus

The vast majority of references are due to St Matthew. It is important to try and forget what one expects Jesus to be saying when looking at what He actually does say, to avoid prejudicing ones conclusions. It is also important to distinguish between what was meant to be taken literally and what was used as a literary device, especially hyperbole.

The particular testimony of St John

The Beloved Apostle records very little of what Jesus may have had to say on the subject.  He does record Jesus saying that: From these three texts it is clear that John sees two options before (wo)mankind. These are Eternal Life and something else. This second alternative is variously described as "no life", "judgement" and "the wrath of God", however it is not clear what it is. "No life" would suggest annihilation, "judgement" is ambiguous and "God's wrath" is figurative, and in any case is linked to annihilation. It is clear from the text taken from the Sixth Chapter of John's Gospel that Jesus was accustomed to use hyperbole. No serious commentator would suggest that a newly baptized person who had yet to receive Holy Communion "has no life in them", so Jesus must have meant something along the lines of  "if you refuse to eat my flesh and drink my blood you show that you are not my friend".

The particular testimony of St Luke

On two occasions, St Luke records Jesus as cautioning his listeners that the complacent will lose what they think they have [Lk 8:18; 19:26] or "receive a severe beating" [Lk 12:47]. He also has Jesus teaching: In the story of Lazarus, Jesus speaks of  the rich man "in Hades, being in torment ...  in anguish" and separated from Abraham and Lazarus by "a great chasm ..... fixed in order that those who would pass" over in either way be prevented from doing so [Lk 16:22-26]. However, this is a parable and the details are not necessarily to be taken at face value. Elsewhere, Jesus seems to commend Usury!

St Luke also records a few teachings in common with the other synoptics, which I will cover next.

The specifically Lukan spin on this topic is one of the extravagant leniency, liberality and forbearance of God: in conformity with the teaching of the Wisdom literature of the Deuterocanon.

The general testimony of the Synoptics

All three synoptics record Jesus' warning that: Luke and Matthew record Jesus' warning that: Mark and Matthew record Jesus' warning that It is notable that none of these texts are definitive.

The particular testimony of St Matthew

St Matthew records Jesus as saying a lot about our present subject.

The Teaching of St Paul

The texts to be considered are:
"....the judgement of God rightly falls upon those who do such things ..... do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgement will be revealed. For He will render to every man according to his works; to those who by patience and well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil .... but glory and honour and peace for every one who does good."[Rom 2:2-10]

"....the end of these things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin .... the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus Our Lord."[Rom 6:21-23]

"....each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and that fire will test, what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation  survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only through fire."[1Cor 3:13-15]

".... they shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might." [2Thes 1:9]

The Apostle teaches that human mortality is the consequence of estrangement from God: sin [Rom 6:23].

As I have argued elsewhere, the only thing wrong with life is death. If life was un-ending then there would be no need to look for a purpose for life beyond the joy of simply existing itself. This is, after all, the only purpose that God has or needs!

St Paul tells us that, in accordance with His benevolence towards (wo)mankind, God graciously grants Eternal Life beyond death to all [Rom 6:23 cf Jn 5:29]. He does not withhold the possibility of hope from anyone. Moreover, in His kindness, He gives everyone sufficient opportunity, incentive and encouragement (grace) to repent [Rom 2:4 cf Mat 19:26, Lk 6:35-36].

However, for immortality to be a joyful and pleasant experience: for un-ending life to be truly abundant and eternal life, it is necessary for the individual to be psychologically and ethically healthy. This is what is meant by being sanctified [Rom 6:22 cf Mt 18:3]. For those who are holy, i.e. saints, the experience of Eternal Life is one of "glory, honour and peace" [Rom 2:10]. For those who are psychologically and ethically diseased, i.e. sinners, it is one of "tribulation and distress" [Rom 2:9].

Many sinners are capable of reform after death and their particular judgement [1Cor 3:15, cf Rom 2:8-9, Lk 12:47]. For these there is a transient experience of "tribulation and distress" as they adjust to a life of justice and peace, experiencing the painful destruction of the cancer of concupiscence that lurks within their hearts [1Cor 3:15 cf Lk 19:26, Mt 5:25-26; 7:13; 13:41-42]. This process is called Purgatory. Others may be irreformable, even given God's best efforts at seduction short of coercion: psychological rape [Mt 12:31-32]. These necessarily suffer the self-destructive effects of their own disordered appetites and inclinations in perpetuity [2Thes 1:9 cf Mt 25:46, Jn 3:36].

Commented Extracts from the Catholic Encyclopaedia [1910]

The general tenor of what follows is most unsatisfactory. It is almost as if the author personally delights in the prospect of the eternal punishment of unrepentant  sinners. This delight is certainly not shared with God, who we are specifically told in Scripture has no delight in the death or punishment of sinners, but wishes all to be saved.
Hell, in theological usage, is a place of punishment after death. Theologians distinguish four meanings of the term hell:
  1. Hell in the strict sense, or the place of punishment for the damned, be they demons or men;
  2. the limbo of infants (limbus parvulorum), where those who die in original sin alone, and without personal mortal sin, are confined and undergo some kind of punishment;
  3. the limbo of the Fathers (limbus patrum), in which the souls of the just who died before Christ awaited their admission to heaven; for in the meantime heaven was closed against them in punishment for the sin of Adam;
  4. purgatory, where the just, who die in venial sin or  who still owe a debt of temporal punishment for sin, are cleansed by suffering before their admission to heaven.
The present article treats only of hell in the strict sense of the term.

The Latin Infernus, the Greek Hades, and the Hebrew Sheol correspond to the English word Hell. Infernus is derived from the root "in"; hence it designates a place within and below the earth. Hades, formed from the root fid, to see, and a privative, denotes an invisible, hidden, and dark place. The derivation of Sheol is doubtful. In the Old Testament Sheol is used quite in general to designate the kingdom of the dead, of the good [Gen 37:35] as well as of the bad [Num 16:30].

In the New Testament the term Gehenna is used in preference to Hades. Gehenna is the Hebrew gê-hinnom [Neh 11:30], or the longer form gê-ben-hinnom [Josh 15:8], and  gê-benê-hinnom [2Kings 23:10] "valley of the son(s) of Hinnom". The Valley of Hinnom is south of Jerusalem and is now called Wadi er-rababi. It was notorious as the scene of the horrible worship of Moloch. For this reason it was defiled by Josiah [2Kings 23:10], cursed by Jeremiah [Jer 7:31-33], and held in abomination by the Jews, who used the name of this valley to designate the abode of the damned. Christ adopted this usage of the term.

Some have been of the opinion that hell is everywhere, that the damned are at liberty to roam about in the entire universe, but that they carry their punishment with them. The adherents of this doctrine were called Ubiquists, or Ubiquitarians. However, this opinion is universally and deservedly rejected; for it is more in keeping with their state of punishment that the damned be limited in their movements and confined to a definite place.

The idea that Hell is a spatial neighbourhood within the Cosmos of conventional spacetime is naive.
Moreover, if hell is a real fire, it cannot be everywhere, especially after the consummation of the world, when heaven and earth shall have been made anew.
The concept of "real fire" has not been explicated, and yet a deduction is made from its presumed constitution!
As to its locality all kinds of conjectures have been made. The Bible seems to indicate that hell is within the earth, for it describes hell as an abyss to which the wicked descend. No cogent reason has been advanced for accepting a metaphorical interpretation in preference to the most natural meaning of the words of Scripture. Hence theologians generally accept the opinion that hell is really within the earth. The Church has decided nothing on this subject; hence we may say hell is a definite place; but where it is, we do not know.
The idea that Hell is a place within the Earth is naive in the extreme.
The existence of hell is proved first of all from the Bible. Wherever Christ and the Apostles speak of hell they presuppose the knowledge of its existence. Also the Fathers, from the very earliest times, are unanimous in teaching that the wicked will be punished after death. The Church professes her faith in the Athanasian Creed: "They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire". The Church has repeatedly defined this truth, e.g. by decree of the Union Council of Florence: "the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments".
Of course, this is not quite an infallible definition, as will be seen on inspection of the original text. Moreover, reference to hell might always be figurative. The existence of a place of punishment rather than a process is not in any way established by the argument here adduced. However, the difference between place and process is not, in my view, particularly significant.
If we abstract from the eternity of its punishment, the existence of hell can be demonstrated even by the light of mere reason. In His sanctity and justice as well as in His wisdom, God must avenge the violation of the moral order in such wise as to preserve, at least in general, some proportion between the gravity of sin and the severity of punishment.
There is simply no truth in this statement. God "must" do no such thing! He might be thought entitled to do so in the abstract, but it is entirely contrary to his character, which is always to have mercy! What would constrain Him to do so? The testimony of Scripture is hugely against this assertion.

"The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? .... Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die .... Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live."
[from Ezekiel 18:20-32]

But it is evident from experience that God does not always do this on earth; therefore He will inflict punishment after death.
I agree that unrepented sin has dire consequences. To this extent the argument put forward here is true. The real question is why some people (seem) to escape any warning or corrective punishment for their sins before death, when such experiences might have led them to repentance. To a degree, this is the flip side of the "Problem of Pain", but still it seems odd that some perpetrators of injustice avoid any suffering or setback.
Moreover, if all men were fully convinced that the sinner need fear no kind of punishment after death, moral and social order would be seriously menaced. This, however, Divine wisdom cannot permit.
Arguing from what might be good for "social order" to what God "cannot permit" is to make God the creature of the State, whereas the exact converse is the case!
Again, if there were no retribution beyond that which takes place before our eyes here on earth, we should have to consider God extremely indifferent to good and evil, and we could in no way account for His justice and holiness.
This does not follow. What is really important is that those who suffer are recompensed for their pain. It is not strictly necessary that the wicked are positively punished, only that their victims are comforted, compensated and vindicated. It is not right to imply that justice implies or is characterized by retribution. Sometimes, as we have just read in Ezekiel, it is just to be merciful!
Nor can it be said: the wicked will be punished, but not by any positive infliction: for either death will be the end of their existence, or, forfeiting the rich reward of the good, they will enjoy some lesser degree of happiness. These are arbitrary and vain subterfuges, unsupported by any sound reason; positive punishment is the natural recompense of evil.
This is, manifestly, itself an "arbitrary and vain subterfuge, unsupported by any sound reason". The use of the word "natural" shows its vacuity. Evil, because it is evil, always harms its perpetrator, not just some intended target. If it doesn't do so, then it isn't evil. However, this is not via an extrinsic infliction of positive punishment, but rather as an intrinsic and unavoidable consequence: "The wages of sin is death" [Rom 6:23].
Besides, due proportion between demerit and punishment would be rendered impossible by an indiscriminate annihilation of all the wicked.
This much is true. Let the punishment fit the crime: no more than "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".
And finally, if men knew that their sins would not be followed by sufferings, the mere threat of annihilation at the moment of death, and still less the prospect of a somewhat lower degree of beatitude, would not suffice to deter them from sin.
How not so? Why not so?
Furthermore, reason easily understands that in the next life the just will be made happy as a reward of their virtue. But the punishment of evil is the natural counterpart of the reward of virtue.
Note the use of the word natural again.
Hence, there will also be punishment for sin in the next life.
I agree with the conclusion (except that I don't think that what the author describes as punishment is properly so called), though I repudiate most of the argumentation here supposed to establish it. As I have already said: evil always harms its perpetrator. If it doesn't do so, then it isn't evil. However, this is not via an extrinsic infliction of positive punishment, but rather as an intrinsic and unavoidable consequence.
Many admit the existence of hell, but deny the eternity of its punishment. Universalists teach that in the end all the damned, at least all human souls, will attain beatitude (apokatastasis ton panton, restitutio omnium, according to Origen). This was a tenet of the Origenists and the Misericordes of whom St. Augustine speaks [De Civ. Dei, XXI, xviii].
It is doubtful to speak of "all". How can one know this? Nevertheless, the sentiment is pius and charitable: unlike the tone of this article!
Among Catholics, Hirscher and Schell have recently expressed the opinion that those who do not die in the state of grace can still be converted after death if they are not too wicked and impenitent.
Good for them! Nevertheless, I tend to the view that all is settled (though not fully worked out) at the particular judgement, at the moment of death.
The Holy Bible is quite explicit in teaching the eternity of the pains of hell. The torments of the damned shall last forever and ever [Apoc 14:11; 19:3; 20:10]. They are everlasting just as are the joys of heaven [Matt 25: 46].
I have already conceded that this verse from Matthew's account of Jesus' parable of the Sheep and Goats is decisive. Still, it is not clear who suffer such eternal punishment, why they do so, nor how severe it is.
The objections adduced from Scripture against this doctrine are so meaningless that they are not worth while discussing in detail.
The conceited tone of the author is breath-taking!
The teaching of the fathers is not less clear and decisive. It is true that Origen fell into error on this point; but precisely for this error he was condemned by the Church. Gregory of Nyssa seems to have favoured the errors of Origen, but the suspicions that have been cast on some passages of Gregory of Nazianzus and Jerome are decidedly without justification.
The leads here provided would be worthy of pursuit!
The Church professes her faith in the eternity of the pains of hell in clear terms in the Athanasian Creed, in many authentic doctrinal decisions, and in countless passages of her liturgy; she never prays for the damned.

How, then, can the Church pray in the Offertory of the Mass for the dead: "Libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu"? Many think the Church uses these words to designate purgatory.

As do I, because it refers to "all the souls of the departed faithful".
They can be explained more readily, however, if we take into consideration the peculiar spirit of the Church's liturgy; sometimes she refers her prayers not to the time at which they are said, but to the time for which they are said. Thus the offertory in question is referred to the moment when the soul is about to leave the body, although it is actually said some time after that moment; and as if he were actually at the death-beds of the faithful, the priest implores God to preserve their souls from hell. But whichever explanation be preferred, this much remains certain, that in saying that offertory the Church intends to implore only those graces which the soul is still capable of receiving, namely, the grace of a happy death or the release from purgatory.
This is special pleading! The fact that the Church never prays for the damned cannot be used to establish that the damned suffer for eternity when this axiom is itself used to interpret a most significant prayer that might otherwise be taken to be a prayer for the damned!
But what is the attitude of mere reason towards this doctrine? Just as God must appoint some fixed term for the time of trial, after which the just will enter into the secure possession of a happiness that can never again be lost in all eternity....
.... so it is likewise appropriate ....
It is remarkable that "must" has changed into "appropriate"!
.... that after the expiration of that term the wicked will be cut off from all hope of conversion and happiness.
For the malice of men cannot compel God to prolong the appointed time of probation and to grant them again and again, without end, the power of deciding their lot for eternity. Any obligation to act in this manner would be unworthy of God, because it would make Him dependent on the caprice of human malice ....
I agree with this premise, but the issue is not that God be compelled by anything: but only by His own kindness, hence the conclusion does not follow.
would rob His threats in great part of their efficacy, and would offer the amplest scope and the strongest incentive to human presumption.
While I accept that presumption is wrong, and itself seriously sinful, God is notorious for patiently allowing all sorts of presumption.
God has actually appointed the end of this present life, or the moment of death, as the term of man's probation.
I accept that the particular judgement, at the moment of death, is crucial in deciding a (wo)man's eternal destiny. I do not accept that God extrinsically, actually, positively or arbitrarily appointed it as such. I believe that it is so because anyone entering into the beatific vision can no longer choose to do wrong, having effective episteme of what is good. Once one has been granted the beatific vision, there is no losing it!
For in that moment there takes place in our life an essential and momentous change; from the state of union with the body the soul passes into a life apart. No other sharply defined instant of our life is of like importance.
Not even the resurrection?
Hence we must conclude that death is the end of our probation; for it is meet that our trial should terminate at a moment of our existence so prominent and significant as to be easily perceived by every man. Accordingly, it is the belief of all people that eternal retribution is dealt out immediately after death.
I doubt this very much!
This conviction of mankind is an additional proof of our thesis.
This is all pretty specious.
We admit that God might have extended the time of trial beyond death; however, had He done so, He would have permitted man to know about it, and would have made corresponding provision for the maintenance of moral order in this life.
Telling God what He would or wouldn't do is a dangerous game!
We may further admit that it is not intrinsically impossible for God to annihilate the sinner after some definite amount of punishment; but this would be less in conformity with the nature of man's immortal soul; and, secondly, we know of no fact that might give us any right to suppose God will act in such a manner.
Other, I suppose, than various statements of Jesus and St Paul. Excuse the irony.
The objection is made that there is no proportion between the brief moment of sin and an eternal punishment. But why not? We certainly admit a proportion between a momentary good deed and its eternal reward, not, it is true, a proportion of duration, but a proportion between the law and its appropriate sanction. Again, sin is an offence against the infinite authority of God, and the sinner is in some way aware of this, though but imperfectly. Accordingly there is in sin an approximation to infinite malice which deserves an eternal punishment. Finally, it must be remembered that, although the act of sinning is brief, the guilt of sin remains forever; for in the next life the sinner never turns away from his sin by a sincere conversion.
More specious reasoning!
It is further objected that the sole object of punishment must be to reform the evil-doer.
But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men's sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist, and has loathing for none of the things that thou has made, for though wouldst not have made anything if thou hadst hated it .... Thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living. For thy immortal spirit is in all things. Therefore thou dost correct little by little those who trespass, and dost remind and warn them of the things wherein they sin, that they may be freed from wickedness, and put their trust in thee, O Lord. [from Wis 11:23-12:2]
This is not true. Besides punishments inflicted for correction, there are also punishments for the satisfaction of justice.
I believe that God does not impose any extrinsic punishment to "satisfy justice". All such suffering is intrinsic, resulting from the unavoidable effect of wickedness on its perpetrator: the wrath stored up for himself by a sinner [Rom 2:2-10]. In the case of terminal impenitence, this intrinsic suffering becomes Hell. God may well impose additional punishment so as "correct little by little those who trespass". So whereas the article envisages that "punishments for the satisfaction of justice" are added on to those "inflicted for correction", in fact this is not so, and the opposite may be the case - excuse my Platonism!
But justice demands that whoever departs from the right way in his search for happiness shall not find his happiness, but lose it.
Justice doesn't demand anything of the kind! If someone departs from the path that in fact does lead to happiness then it is inevitable that they will not obtain it, by definition. There is no such thing as an illegal short cut or wrong way to happiness. If someone were to find a way (which someone else evaluates to be an alternative way) that did in fact lead to their happiness, than that way is right for them! Of course, Jesus says that He is The Way and that no one attains the Father except via the Son, so all ways must in some profound sense lead to the One Gateway of the Sheepfold.
The eternity of the pains of hell responds to this demand for justice.
This is entirely dependent on the unspoken premise that the damned cannot repent.
And, besides, the fear of hell does really deter many from sin; and thus, in as far as it is threatened by God, eternal punishment also serves for the reform of morals.
The image of God here portrayed is simply sub-Christian. God is a seducer of sinners to their own good, not a police officer, pedagogue, excruciator, moral-rapist or terrorist!
But if God threatens man with the pains of hell, He must also carry out His threat if man does not heed it by avoiding sin.
Not true, even in the author's own terms, all that is necessary is that the threat is credible: not that in fact it is acted upon!
For solving other objections it should be noted: God is not only infinitely good, He is infinitely wise, just, and holy.
As if these three further attributes could be destinguished at base from "goodness"!
No one is cast into hell unless he has fully and entirely deserved it.
This is a crucial statement which the author seems to be hardly conscious of having made! Who does fully deserve eternal punishment in Hell and how do they come to do so?
The sinner perseveres forever in his evil disposition.
Why? How? This statement also is crucial, and must be established and explained: not just asserted.
We must not consider the eternal punishment of hell as a series of separate of distinct terms of punishment, as if God were forever again and again pronouncing a new sentence and inflicting new penalties, and as if He could never satisfy His desire of vengeance.
Especially as we have just read in Ezekiel that God has no desire for vengeance whatsoever!
"I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live." [Ezek 18:32]
Hell is, especially in the eyes of God, one and indivisible in its entirety; it is but one sentence and one penalty. We may represent to ourselves a punishment of indescribable intensity as in a certain sense the equivalent of an eternal punishment; this may help us to see better how God permits the sinner to fall into hell: how a man who sets at naught all Divine warnings, who fails to profit by all the patient forbearance God has shown him, and who in wanton disobedience is absolutely bent on rushing into eternal punishment, can be finally permitted by God's just indignation to fall into hell.
This is a very interesting turn of language. When pushed, the author admits that God doesn't consign anyone to Hell, but rather "permits the sinner to fall" there themselves, of their own folly, insane volition and febrile choice. Of course, such a "permission" can have nothing to do with "just indignation". It has much to do with a sorrowful acknowledgement of the unavoidable.
The damned are confirmed in evil; every act of their will is evil and inspired by hatred of God. This is the common teaching of theology. In hell the separation from the sanctifying power of Divine love is complete.
How and Why? This would seem to be the conclusion as well as the premise! If the only reason that the damned cannot repent is that they are damned, then why damn them in the first place? It would be far better that they be encouraged or seduced into repentance!
"I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live." [Ezek 18:32]
The damned, then, can never choose between acting out of love of God and virtue, and acting out of hatred of God. The last and the real cause of their impenitence is the state of sin which they freely chose as their portion on earth and in which they passed, unconverted, into the next life and into that state of permanence (status termini) by nature due to rational creatures, and to an unchangeable attitude of mind.
I find the final part of the lengthy last sentence impenetrable. Judging by its place in the text as a whole, it should be an explanation as to why it is the fault of the damned that they are damned, in other words the answer to my earlier "How and Why?" However, its obtuseness defeats me. I suspect that the author is aware of the problem and is embarrassed by the fact that he has no clear answer to it.
Quite in consonance with their final state, God grants them only such co-operation as corresponds to the attitude which they freely chose as their own in this life. God is not responsible for the reprobate's material sins of hate, because by granting His co-operation in their sinful acts as well as by refusing them every incitement to good, He acts quite in accordance with the nature of their state. Therefore their sins are no more imputable to God than are the blasphemies of a man in the state of total intoxication, although they are not uttered without Divine assistance.
This is all well and good. But God doesn't generally act in this way. God is benevolent and desirous that all be saved. Why should He suddenly start acting in such a cold and callous manner? One can almost hear the author of this article replying "Because His patience has come to an end." I can only respond that such an idea is blasphemous.
The reprobate carries in himself the primary cause of impenitence; it is the guilt of sin which he committed on earth and with which he passed into eternity. The proximate cause of impenitence in hell is God's refusal of every grace and every impulse for good. It would not be intrinsically impossible for God to move the damned to repentance; yet such a course would be out of keeping with the state of final reprobation.
This is monstrous! If God could legitimately "move the damned to repentance", what rational motive could exist that He should not do so, given that it is God's will that all be saved?
The opinion that the Divine refusal of all grace and of every incitement to good is the proximate cause of impenitence, is upheld by many theologians. Nevertheless others defend the opinion that the damned are only morally incapable of good; they have the physical power, but the difficulties in their way are so great that they can never be surmounted. The damned can never divert their attention from their frightful torments, and at the same time they know that all hope is lost to them. Hence despair and hatred of God, their just Judge, is almost inevitable, and even the slightest good impulse becomes morally impossible. The Church has not decided this question.
This latter position, or some other akin to it, is indefinitely to be preferred! As far as can understand the position is identical to that popularized by C.S. Lewis in "The Great Divorce". I believe along with Lewis that those who are eternally damned are so because they have got themselves into such a terrible state of psychopathic conceit and self-deception that all attempts to help them are wrongly construed as threats and so rejected out of hand. See also the poem "The Miller" ["The Singer", Calvin Miller]. Only by an act of total domination and personality de-construction on the part of God [cf the fate of "Talon" in the SF TV series "Farscape"] could this state of affairs be over-turned: and this would be a basic violation of their independence. In the last analysis, those who have not reached this nadir of self-desecration [cf the fate of Lord Kevin Landwaster in Steven Donaldson's "Unbeliever" books] are saveable; though with much loss, as St Paul puts it [1Cor 3:15].
The poena damni, or pain of loss, consists in the loss of the beatific vision and in so complete a separation of all the powers of the soul from God that it cannot find in Him even the least peace and rest. It is accompanied by the loss of all supernatural gifts, e.g. the loss of faith.
Strange that St James says that "even the demons believe" [Jas 2:19].
The pain of loss is not the mere absence of superior bliss, but it is also a most intense positive pain. The utter void of the soul made for the enjoyment of infinite truth and infinite goodness causes the reprobate immeasurable anguish. Their consciousness that God, on Whom they entirely depend, is their enemy forever is overwhelming. Their consciousness of having by their own deliberate folly forfeited the highest blessings for transitory and delusive pleasures humiliates and depresses them beyond measure.
These two consciousnesses both imply faith, for the propositions that they relate to are not accessible to the unaided light of human reason. On the other hand, if they had episteme of either of these propositions they would certainly repent of their sins and so be saved!
The desire for happiness inherent in their very nature, wholly unsatisfied and no longer able to find any compensation for the loss of God in delusive pleasure, renders them utterly miserable. Moreover, they are well aware that  God is infinitely happy, and hence their hatred and their impotent desire to injure Him fills them with extreme bitterness. And the same is true with regard to their hatred of all the friends of God who enjoy the bliss of heaven.
This is, of course, contrary to a simple reading of the story of Lazarus [Lk 19:24,27-28]. I presume that this signifies more that one should be wary of taking all aspects of such a story or parable literally rather than that one should entertain the idea that the damned might have a sincere concern for the welfare of others.
The pain of loss is the very core of eternal punishment. If the damned beheld God face to face, hell itself, notwithstanding its fire, would be a kind of heaven. Had they but some union with God even if not precisely the union of the beatific vision, hell would no longer be hell, but a kind of purgatory. And yet the pain of loss is but the natural consequence of that aversion from God which lies in the nature of every mortal sin.
This is all well and good, so long as then "sins" such as "Missing Mass" or "Artificial Contraception" or "countenancing the idea of female priests" or "dissenting from noninfallible papal teaching" or "sex outside marriage" are not then elevated to the status of "mortal". If every mortal sin involves an aversion from God, then sins of frailty that in fact do not do so cannot ever be mortal!

I suppose, that the "particular judgement" at the moment of death involves a review of the whole of one's life; with every decision and action having its own proper weight. I do not suppose that the significance of a life-time of loving faithfulness towards God and neighbour would be wiped out by some last momentary lapse that would (of itself) seem to the outside observer to be "mortally sinful". I suppose that God will surely grant the soul one last chance to repent. While a last minute (sincere) repentance is certainly sufficient to obtain Eternal Life, it must be very difficult for a habitual and obdurate sinner to repent, even when shown the gravity of his offences by God.

The poena sensus, or pain of sense, consists in the torment of fire so frequently mentioned in the Holy Bible. According to the greater number of theologians the term fire denotes a material fire, and so a real fire.
Of course, few of them had any idea of what "material fire" is, thinking it to be one of the four alchemical elements, rather than a transitory process necessarily involving the combustion of a fuel. So, whatever they thought was pretty meaningless.
However, from Catharinus (d. 1553) to our times there have never been wanting theologians who interpret the Scriptural term fire metaphorically, as denoting an incorporeal fire; and the Church has not censured their opinion. Some few of the Fathers also thought of a metaphorical explanation.

It is urged: How can a material fire torment demons, or human souls before the resurrection of the body?

Indeed, and justly.
But, if our soul is so joined to the body as to be keenly sensitive to the pain of fire,
It isn't.
The language "the soul" is "joined" to "the body", savours of dualistic heresy.
It is the body that is sensitive to pain, not the soul. The sould experiences it through the body's sensitivity.
When a person suffers extreme burns, they cease to experience any pain: because their nerve endings have been destroyed!
why should the omnipotent God be unable to bind even pure spirits to some material substance in such a manner that they suffer a torment more or less similar to the pain of fire which the soul can feel on earth?
This would be a pre-resurrection re-incarnation of some kind?
It is quite superfluous to add that the nature of hell-fire is different from that of our ordinary fire; for instance, it continues to burn without the need of a continually renewed supply of fuel. How are we to form a conception of that fire in detail remains quite undetermined; we merely know that it is corporeal.
But apparently have no idea what is meant by the "noise" (I cannot even say word) corporeal!

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