The Most High has gifted the devil with a permanent place from which to hate, revile, spit at, and rage against God and the entirety of His Good Creation, especially Man, for all eternity, and to continue to do as much harm to himself and to others as he can.
But Hell, and the devil himself, are inconceivable within the pagan wisdom; for the pagan wisdom proposed that whatever is not-God, is ultimately non-being: ultimately, whatever is not-God disappears; in fact, it is devoured, annihilated.
But that didn't happen to the devil. And it won't happen to us, either.
The devil, and Hell itself, ought to be an immense theological problem for traditional Catholic theologies. We are not Manichees. There are not two gods, one good, one evil. Therefore, for traditional Catholic theologies, the classic pagan problem of the One and Many arises. The language deployed, "God 'permits' [the devil and his works]" is true, as far it goes: God certainly permits the devil, his works, and the existence of Hell. But that language merely avoids the deeper issue. The terrible pagan monad is not so readily domesticated.
Someday, we must ask the schools how they might square the dictum, "Error has no rights," with the fact that God gives the Prince of Error not only the 'right' to exist forever, but also the 'right' and the power to actively interfere, for ill, in human affairs, and to actively tempt us to our eternal damnation. That is a powerful amount of 'right' for Error to possess.
The word, "right," may confuse modern ears. In [ST II-II, q.58, a.1], St. Thomas says that "Justice is a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will." ("Justitae est habitus secundum quam aliquis constanti et perpetua voluntate ius suum unicuique tribuit.")
God is just. Is God, by a constant and perpetual will, granting the devil existence, and the power to do ill, and the power to seduce man to eternal death, as a matter of what God owes the devil, as a matter of justice?
Or we may have read accounts whereby God is 'using' the devil, 'allowing' the devil to do his evil work, that some good purpose may arise. For many, the example of Job has come readily to mind: God allows Job to be 'tested'. Indeed, our Lord Himself was at least twice 'tested'; once in the desert, once at Gethsemane.
The tradition can be read as finding an association between freedom, and a battle or struggle, in which one confronts suffering and evil. Victory is attained by the historical and ongoing recognition of one's dependence on the Father, not by 'patience' (Job continually complained, and in Gethsemane, our Lord beseeched), nor by the immediate removal of the evil, let alone the immediate extinguishing of it. Even in the desert, the devil did not die; he merely left.
We note that the propter peccatum theologies, which rely on a supposition of juridical punishment finally satisfied by the innocent Lamb of God, cannot apply to Job. Job was indeed blessed at the end of his trial, and he was innocent before his trials began, but Job was not being juridically punished at all, either for his (non-existent) crimes, or by proxy, for the crimes of anyone else; and no men at all were rescued by Job's suffering from any punishment they deserved.
We enter a bramble bush, the moment we suppose that the existence of Hell and of the devil is fully accounted for by some notion of justice as juridical punishment. The devil seems not to care a whit that "Error has no rights."
Suppose the schools have not clarified the idea sufficiently. But neither do the more modern developments. Suppose a more modern claim: that 'error' is an abstraction; that 'rights' inhere in subjects, not in abstractions; and therefore "that only they who obey [the Lord's] commands and who possess His truth and His justice have true rights." [Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani. Church and State: some present problems in the light of the teaching of Pope Pius XII. American Ecclesiastical Review, May 1953, 321-334.]
Yet the various 'rights' of the devil perforce refute this more modern phraseology also. The devil has existence, a place, a voice, and power to do great ill. If the very Father of Lies cannot be said to possess 'true rights', he certainly possesses many... somethings.
Or this: "A right is a claim, ultimately coming from God, to have, to do, or to call for something. God surely gives no one a claim to be wrong." [ Fr. William Most. Consistent Doctrine on Religious Liberty. ]
One would think that existence is a 'something'. But apparently, literally being the Evil One and yet existing eternally, is not a claim to have something. Being able to set one's face against God and to rage against Him forever is not a claim to have something. Having the ability to lie for all eternity -- and to lie effectively, in many instances -- is not a "true right," for true rights exist only for those who profess the Truth. Possessing unimaginable power to tempt us to eternal damnation, and using that power, is not exercising a claim to be able do something, and therefore, is not a 'right'. Or so we are told.
The devil exists, forever; Hell exists, forever. The very Prince of Error, Lying himself, has claims to eternal existence, to the power to rage against God forever, and to the power to tempt us all to eternal death; or if he does not have 'claims' to these conditions and powers, he certainly has them, at any rate. If Error has no 'rights', whether as an abstraction or personally, then perhaps the devil has no rights; but he does have a powerful lot of... somethings, that indisputably are given to him by God.
Pointing this out is mostly an exercise, with two purposes: first, to throw cold water on any idea that "Error has no rights" is a valid axiom within moral theology, some immediately-applicable generalization; and second, to observe that no self-respecting Deus Unus would ever allow such things as Hell and the devil. A true Deus Unus would never 'permit' either Hell or the devil, for any reason whatever.
The Deus Unus is radically incompatible with the very existence of Hell, let alone with the eternal existence, and the considerable powers, of the devil; not even the Angelic Doctor can do more than paper over this insolubility. The God of the Monad brooks no rivals; the pagans knew this, and they knew it long before we apparently chose to disremember it.
And before proceeding, let us state it plainly here: the very existence of Hell and the devil calls into severe question, if it does not simply refute, any claim that "Error has no rights" is, or could ever be, an axiom of moral theology; and this undoubtedly has large implications for moral theology, but these are beyond the scope of the present essay -- well beyond it.
Covenantal moral theologies must also remember that sin has no 'explanation'. We may infer things about sin only indirectly, with reference to the sinless Lord of history:
It is of the first importance here to keep in view that sin is always what Karl Barth well named "the impossible possibility." We are dealing with an unplumbable, entirely baffling and, in fact, inapproachable mystery, the mystery of iniquity which, inasmuch as it is a flat rejection of reality and of truth, has no intelligibility, can have no explanation, and can support no theological inquiry. The concern of the theology of Original Sin is not to explain the inexplicable, but to propose an integration of the biblical data bearing upon it. These of course concern the second Adam, not the first, of whom we know nothing except that which is revealed in Christ, that he is in some manner a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14). [ CT III ]
By extension, only by the light of Christ may we infer the outlines of what is left of Lucifer. The Light of the World shines even into the devil's darkness, but no light emerges; the devil's darkness grasps it not. Yet in this way, while the mystery of iniquity remains inapproachable, we may at least then observe some of the outlines of the patterns in which the devil's darkness refuses to grasp the Light.
The existence of both Hell and the devil are bound up in the mystery of iniquity; and the mystery of iniquity is strict theological mystery, inapproachable, insoluble, precisely because its metaphysical prior is our strict inability to comprehend why God loves us in the first place.
Put differently, the facts: that there is a permanent differentiation between beings who refuse to grasp the Light, and the Light; and that God will not eradicate those who resist Him, those who are so utterly not-Him, those who will ignore and despise Him forever; are both a terrible warning, and an indication of how shallow is our understanding of free responsibility, and of the covenantal reality we are freely offered and may freely and decisively refuse.
The old words say that God 'permits' this, and as we have acknowledged, that is certainly true, as far as it goes; but the old words are wrong, they cannot be right, when they tell us why: so that a greater good may be brought about. Only a Deus Unus, the god of the Monad, will (eventually) subsume all evil into good, and that is what these old words tell us; but that is not our God, that is not how He works, that is not what He does.
These new words are terrible indeed: God will not eventually turn all evil into good, let alone 'an even greater' good; there is no 'Plan' in which He will ever do this. The permanent existence of Hell and the devil prove this beyond refutation. Only a god of the Monad would eventually annihilate all evil, or at least transform it into good; and that is nor our God.
God certainly does not give up; He "routes around" evil; but that is a far cry from any hint that evil causes good, or that God 'permits' evil in order to 'bring about' a greater good. An old lady in a walker gets brutally whacked on the head by a thug: that is a fact that does not go away, no matter what happens next. The old words are so familiar that we fail to remember that the existence of the evil was not wiped out, whatever happens next.
It all comes back to the god of the Monad, who simply will not allow anything not-god, let alone evil, in his house. This god will make all evil go away, or will subsume all evil into a 'greater good', at least eventually. But that is not our God: there the devil remains, there Hell remains.
Does it scandalize us that, even at the end of time, even after the Last Judgment, there will remain a gaping hole in the fabric of reality? that beauty will not be everywhere? that Truth will remain resisted? that goodness will not be universal, even then? For we already know these things.
Covenantal moral theologies are not permitted to allow any satisfaction we take in the eternal punishment of the devil to obscure the fact of a substantial reality that will never be monadic, or unopposed. Life with God -- with the true God given us through the Son and with the Holy Spirit -- is not ever going to be a blissful, all-encompassing stasis, in which we are all melded into The One.
All the battles will be won after the Last Judgment, "when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power." [1 Cor 15:24] But wounds in the very tissue of existence will remain, just as the Son of God even now bears the marks of His Passion, and always will.
Even in Heaven, while the sting is gone, not all will be healed; it will not be 'perfect' in the way the Greeks conceived of perfection; not only is the Greek way false, contrary to the facts, but also, that way leads to madness, to the dissolution of all reason; for we follow Christ, Reason Himself, not 'reason' as we fantasize it for ourselves. Pray that we in our cunning do not make our pet fallen 'reason' unable to be corrected by the plain workings of the Lord of Hosts.
We cannot seem to get in our heads that Time is not the Universal Solvent of the Real, and that in Heaven we will meet and be happy with the Risen but yet crucified Lord. Pace the Angelic Doctor, in Heaven, even regarding our Lord Himself, the perfect Man, even our Lord's appearance will not be that of a 'perfectly' intact 33-year-old man -- as if the Cross never happened. In Heaven, His wounds will be honored, the Cross will be honored, His Passion will be honored -- not expunged from the record, made not to be.
How can this be Beauty? How can this be Truth? How can this be Good? How can this be Unity? How can this be eternal Happiness? Even after the End of Ends, Evil will still exist. The Greeks would laugh in scorn, or call us Dualists. We cannot 'answer', exactly; for that would be to accept the false terms, the monadic givens forced on us within that jibe; our sole response must be to simply point to the wounds on the perfect body of the Lord of History.
Well-meaning theologians of our day cannot imagine substantial reality with wounds in it, and Heaven with so many lost; so they hope for a Hell with only the devil in it. That may be nice to hope, and it may give us a way not to think about the still-underlying mystery of iniquity, but it does not resolve it; for Hell, and the devil, still exist.
Thus, covenantal moral theologies can readily affirm, along with the vast majority of the Church's theologians throughout the years, that the words of Jesus regarding Hell and the damned do not require obscure interpretation, with one development; for the second most remarkable thing about Hell is that, when our time comes, if we go there, we go of our own free will. For in the New Covenant, our freedom really is that decisive, and that potentially deadly.
And here, covenantal moral theologies must account not only for parables such as that of the sheep and the goats, in which the Son of man says to the goats, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" [Mt 25:41], but also for Jesus saying from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." [Lk 23:34] And we propose that Jesus Himself provided the reconciling parable in the story now known as The Prodigal Son.
Yes, the Lord will 'cast us down' into Hell -- in the same way that the father of the Prodigal Son [Lk 15:11-32] cast him down, into his own, freely-chosen degradation. The Prodigal Son said to his father (in effect) "I wish you were dead, so I could have what I want." Then he grabbed what he could from his father, repudiated any further relationship between them -- made his father dead to him -- and walked away.
Hell is not the 'fate' of the damned, exactly: a 'fate' is something imposed, not something chosen. Hell is God's final gift, for those who desire God's gifts to stop. For we who choose Hell, Hell is the last gift God will ever give us, for that will be exactly what we want -- no more 'gifts', forever, from He Whom we despise, and wish were dead. This is part of the strict meaning of our covenantal freedom, which is ex nihilo sui et subjecti. In the following, I have put in bold print what is, for our purposes here, the decisive phrase, "or in reception":
The Catholic faith is a free intellectual response to a free revelatory Event; neither the Event nor the response can be subsumed to any necessity whatever, whether in God or in man, nor can we furnish any antecedent account of the prior possibility of the Event or of the response: both are given ex nihilo sui et subjecti, and in their free unity they constitute the a priori of all theology. Further, there is in the freedom of this a priori nothing random or arbitrary: the Event is at once the revelation and the reality of the ultimate Verum, the objective relation of the Trinity to the Good Creation, and the response to it is the worship which is faith, the free appropriation of the free revelation. Only the category of gift, of grace, is adequate to this freedom, and that only when the notion of gift is freed of all connotation of do ut des.
The Catholic faith thus invokes a theology of the ex nihilo, of gift; this is the subject matter of all the theological discussion of grace and nature and of the natural and the supernatural. Such language has the single purpose of safeguarding the two correlative and inseparable aspects of the gift: its freedom, whether in donation or in reception, and its radical truth, its fundamental intelligibility, both as revelation and as faith-affirmation.
[CT, p. 119]
Saint Paul quotes one of the sayings that was already being sung in his day, which is a profound key to the whole mystery:
The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful -- for he cannot deny himself. [2 Tim 2:11-13]
He will give us no more gifts, if that is what we want. The horrifying truth of our covenantal freedom is that the saying, "if we deny him, he will deny us," [2 Tim 2:12] gives the meaning of "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire." [Mt 25:41]
But He will not devour us. He will not annihilate us. He just -- won't bother us, ever again. We will go, of our own free will, to the place of the devil, where we will be permanently free from Him and from all further of His gifts. The Lord Jesus is dead -- to the damned -- forever. As we know Him, so we have Him. When our time comes, if we truly wish to deny Him, then as His last gift, He will give us exactly what we want.
And this may speak to the distinction the tradition makes between the "eternal punishment" of Hell, which God will remit from confessed and repentant sinners, and a "temporal punishment" that may still be owed. A covenantal moral theology would thus not innovate on the point, but develop it; for a sin is called personally 'mortal' precisely and only when we know what we're doing, when we know with some clarity that we are rejecting God, and deliberately sin, anyway.
The development might go something like this: first, removing a juridical theological quagmire in which God may "remit" a sentence of "eternal punishment."
For we must ask, on what basis may the "remission" occur? And the answer is, on the basis that we had a true change of heart, and asked God to forgive us, whether in formal Confession or, if a priest is not available before our death, in a sincere act of Contrition. Then the Lord will run to meet us on the road, and with His whole heart affirm our renewed wish to be near Him and with Him.
Hence a juridical theological mechanism adds (one might say, encrusts) a layer of theological speculation onto the reality of eternal punishment, to the existence of Hell, but adds nothing to the facts. As we know Him, so we have Him. If we wish to be with Him, He will run to meet us. If we deny Him, He will deny us. And He gives us the freedom, the power, to wish Him dead in a decisive act, to want nothing more to do with Him, and to walk away and live with the pigs forever.
Here we take note of a dogmatic term of art, if we may speak of dogma as having terms of art: "immediately after" death, we go to Heaven (or Purgatory first), or Hell.
This "immediately" is a strictly dogmatic category; it cannot be interpreted naively, because only from the perspective of we who remain locked in fallen time is there an "immediately" after death that we may comprehend; but the dead, as dead, are already far beyond time as merely fallen. Their "immediately" is not the same as our "immediately." We cannot and we must not conflate the two meanings; they are entirely separate. "Immediately after" death can only be understood within the Eucharistic Event, if it is to be understood at all.
In much the same way that we now speak of both Edenic time and of "the beginning," as belonging to the primordial, having a meaning distinct from that available to us in fallen time, we speak of an "immediately after" death, or "the moment" of death, in which souls may make the kind of free choice that in this fallen world is available to them only sacramentally.
We have previously developed the concept of the Edenic-like choice that is available to all souls at their personal judgment: at 'the moment' of death, all men are now enfolded in the death of the Lord Jesus, the only death that remains, for He has defeated death. And in that 'moment', they are given a choice, of which the choice of the first Adam and the first Eve is the antetype: to choose covenantal existence and its responsibilities, or to refuse it forever.
Hence we must prescind from any meaning of "immediate" which we could know on earth, and speak of an "immediately after" death, or "the moment" of death, in which souls become as Adam and Eve, and more than Adam and Eve, and freely make their decisive and eternal choice for life or death before the Lord Jesus.
And in that 'moment', He will give us what we want.
In the same previously-cited essay, we have invoked the parable of the laborers who receive the full day's wage at the very last hour of the day [Mt 20:1-16]: we who may labor all our lives, receive what is promised. Are we envious because He is generous? Our wish to prorate the rewards of Heaven may be misplaced.
And He is so generous -- so dangerously generous -- that He really will give us what we want. The souls in Hell wish to make God dead to them; and so He gives them what they want. And by that act, they also make themselves permanently dead to us. And this is why the souls of the damned are in communion with no one: at their request, they have forsworn any relation to Jesus the Lord, and to the New Covenant in His blood, forevermore.
They spit on Him, they abjure Him forever. Therefore, no covenantal relation of any kind is ever again possible for them, for our sole communion is in the blood of Christ.
The souls of the damned are truly lonely -- finally and completely autonomous -- for that, being what they desired, becomes part of our Lord's last gift to them.
For us on earth, all communion is Eucharistic, mediated, sacramental, ecclesial, thus both intensely personal and joyfully multi-personal; we are one both with Him and with each other solely as we eat the One Bread, and not otherwise.
Long sacramental tradition honors this mystery in our "baptismal name;" we only receive our truly personal name -- we only become truly personal -- when we are baptized into His death, and simultaneously into His ecclesia. And since only as we eat the One Bread are we one, then upon our baptism, we are not only finally ourselves, though still in signo, but also, we are one, but not melded into one another, nor do we become Him.
The metaphor of the 'lonely soul' conveys the completely erroneous idea that our joining with the Lord can be immediate, and solitary. Far from it; Catholic mysticism is perforce sacramental, mediated, ecclesial, not 'individual' as autonomous, as non-Eucharistic, as immediate and solitary.
We should remember that the Prodigal Son wanted his father dead to him, wanted his brother, his family, dead to him; he claimed that he did not need that relation, whether to his father or to his family; by his actions he said that in fact, such relation was holding him back, preventing him from going... where he wanted to go.
In Hell, all the souls are lonely. They have refused the cup of salvation, the medicine of immortality, forever. They will never eat the One Bread again. they have spit it out, and therefore, they can never be one with each other.
Thus there is no solidarity of the damned. In what is left of their reality, everything about substantial human reality is inverted: the 'final resting place' of each one of the damned is necessitated, lonely, time-less, unrelated, and utterly apart both from the Lord Jesus and from His bride. (That this state might look like 'heaven' to some, and be thought to be 'reality', even 'sanity' by them, we leave for a little later).
Thus between us and them "a great chasm has been fixed." [Lk 16:26] At their choice, even God has withdrawn Himself from them, forever: "... if we deny him, he also will deny us." [2 Tim 2:12] As His last gift, He will give up all further giving to them.
The damned have no power whatever to hurt us or to affect us in any way, for in forswearing God, they perforce also forswear any possible relation to us. To us, the damned have descended into something that is nothing, and yet is worse than nothingness. They are truly dead, unutterably dead, mutely and silently and finally dead. They are dead beyond all recourse, though they exist in Hell.
The damned are disfigured, no longer recognizable as human, for they have repudiated their essential human nature, which is their share of the great covenant between the Lord and His Bride, and they will not see it again.
Hence, they are ugly beyond our imagining; of their own choice, they live among the pigs. They exist in a realm far lower and more repellent than anything we could ever recognize or even imagine as life.
And yet, they are not dead. What do we call this 'life' that they still live, unrecognizable, disfigured, ugly beyond our imaginations; in communion with no one; by their free choice, forever unable to receive gifts from He who is mighty, Who could have done great things for them? What do we call this 'life' that the damned have called upon themselves?
They have wished to be decisively, forever, permanently, beyond the reach of Jesus the Lord, wholly disjunct from the New Covenant of life in His Cross and death. They have rejected their essential human nature, which is the Covenant of the One Flesh between the Bridegroom and His bride in His blood. They have forsworn the responsibilities of covenantal existence. They have repudiated their essential indigence before the Most High, in favor of... whatever it is which is apart from that.
For there is... something... apart from that. It is horrible, painful, and permanent. We call it eternal punishment, perpetual torment, unceasing fire; but there are no adequate words for the 'life' of those in Hell.
We tend to trivialize the great destruction wrought by the Fall, though only the death of the Lord Himself rescues us from it. Can we even imagine how much worse Hell must be, a 'place' permanently beyond the reach even of the death of the Lord?
Motions of bodies in time can be decisive, can have eternal consequence: we know this first and foremost in the reality of Holy Mass. The grace of Christ, the death of Christ, all of salvation history, is our surety that historical choices matter.
A modern consciousness, aware of traditional theology's view of Hell as fundamentally juridical, imposed as eternal punishment for not being in the state of grace at the moment of death (whether deliberately or indeliberately), might "dare to hope" that none are in Hell.
Or perhaps we moderns are no longer so certain of the abiding wrath of God, and so much more certain of the power of His overwhelming and eternal love, such that we might find it reasonable to "dare to hope" that none are in Hell.
Or perhaps we moderns are merely squeamish, and accordingly, we reject a concept of punishment analogous to the suffering we may undergo, or inflict, on earth, but continuing forever; and in this way too, we might "dare to hope" that none are in Hell.
But surely, a modern consciousness, brought up even more firmly within the myth of autonomous rationality, can readily imagine more than a few souls freely despising God, and freely -- even contemptuously -- making a binding choice to have God not bother them, ever again.
Can we imagine souls who have willingly so disfigured themselves on earth, that the beauty of their substantial human nature in the One Flesh of the Covenant in the blood of the Lord, looks like ugliness to them?
Can we imagine souls who, on earth, so little feared God, that repentance for their actions is a joke to them, and that contempt for the crucified and Risen Lord is second nature to them now?
The questions answer themselves; for we need not imagine such souls; we can readily recognize these tendencies in ourselves. We have denied Him, ourselves; we have at times made ourselves ugly; we have shown our own contempt for Him; we have, perhaps once and more than once, made Him dead to us.
We ought to be struck by how easy it would be -- not to be to be 'cast down' to Hell as an imposition -- but deliberately (yet, unlike the Prodigal Son, this time decisively), wanting Our Father in heaven to be dead to us, wanting to murder His Son when He arrives at the vineyard, and simply walking away both from Him and from our family forever.
We are confronted with the fact that we can and do refuse His gifts, but how are we able to do so? Solvitur amublando, we resolve the mystery of how we walk away by walking away; but affirming that we can indeed walk away even from any possibility of further gifts in the New Covenant in His blood, already begins to locate us within the Catholic faith.
For as Fr. Keefe reminded us on many occasions, any "natural law" apart from the Eucharistic Event is either the law of the cage or of the jungle: there are no other alternatives. There is nowhere outside of the Eucharist we can go to find "free will;" thus, the mystery of decisive sin is wholly bound within the prior mystery that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.
We are not constrained by immutable chains to inhabit a moral theology within which Hell seems a fundamentally juridical, therefore imposed, punishment, on account of which we could "dare to hope" that none are there. Once we abandon that theology of damnation (which, despite its long use, is only a theology), the ridiculousness of "daring to hope" is manifest at once. For it is easy, very easy, to imagine many souls, at the moment of their deaths, wanting God to stop bothering them, ever again.
Must we really "dare to hope" that God takes no one seriously? Once the dependence on the former theologies are removed, that is the entirety of "daring to hope." We may certainly pray, with the Church, that none will be lost.
But the Church professes that the devil is already lost; Hell exists, and is inhabited, and it will exist and be inhabited even after the end of time; this is a reality that cannot be ignored, even in a prayer that "none" will be lost. Indeed, the idea of "daring to hope" was never intended to be theology. It is merely a theological critique, opposed to the former -- and yes, manifestly insufficient -- theologies of Hell.
There are good things to say about a juridical metaphor as applied to moral theology. Setting aside for the moment consideration of the temporal punishment we may owe by our sin, Heaven certainly is a reward, and Hell is certainly a punishment; and self-delusional (or flat lying) words of "love" are not enough to merit the reward: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven...." [Mt 7:21]
There is a test of the veracity of love: taking up the responsibilities of covenantal existence: "If you love me, keep my commandments." [Jn 14:15] With the tradition, covenantal moral theologies propose that all our pretty lies will perish under the gaze of the Just Judge, at the moment of our personal judgment; we will know then, without the possibility of prevarication, whether we love Him or despise Him.
Yet the tradition is careful to make a very marked distinction between the "eternal punishment" due to sin, and the "temporal punishment" that also may be owed because of sin. Any and all merit from our good deeds is radically insufficient to the reward of Heaven; and despite any good deeds we may have done on earth, a single non serviam, if decisive in us, will be decisive at our personal judgment,
This caution in the tradition is warranted. As has just been shown, and however apt a juridical metaphor may be with regard to the temporal punishment we owe by our sin, an extension of the juridical metaphor to "eternal punishment" is unavailing; it encrusts the reality rather than uncovering it, it obscures the facts rather than reveals them.
"If we deny him, he also will deny us" [2 Tim 2:12] is a far more certain way to think about Hell, than a metaphor of a wrathful yet somehow also merciful God who definitely requires eternal satisfaction for mortal sin, but who also definitely doesn't require that at all, if we're sorry.
"If we deny him, he also will deny us" provides us with a steadier look at Hell; but is not Hell then even more frightening, with our gaze steadier upon it? God is generous; our trouble is, that He is unspeakably, terrifyingly generous. For He will take us seriously. He will never devour us. If we hate Him that much, He will give us Hell; as His last gift to us, He will not bother us ever again, if that is what we want.
In this essay, we have glimpsed a substantial reality, and a Heaven, that utterly transcends -- that refutes -- 'perfection' as the Greeks would have it. Heaven is alive, it moves, it is not stasis; it is time-full, not time-less; it is not monadic but is instead trinitarian and multi-personal; ecclesial, not autonomous and lonely; it does not swallow us, but makes us simultaneously more one and more personal than we can ever imagine; it is free, not necessitated or imposed, and therefore, Hell and the devil will continue to exist even after the Last Judgment; and Heaven is, by far, more physical than any Greek could ever stomach -- for He, the Lord Jesus, the Lord of History, is not spiritual as immaterial but spiritual as resurrected, as also is His bride and Mother.
We have also treated of our terrifying freedom; of God's exceedingly dangerous generosity; of a Lord Who takes us very seriously indeed, and Who will give life or death, as we choose; and of eternal punishment -- Hell -- as God's very last gift to those who wish to be rid of Him forever.
Regarding the temporal punishment we owe for our sins, whether on earth or in Purgatory, a treatment of those matters within a covenantal moral theology must await a day (if it ever comes) when sufficient understanding is given.
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