Day for Day

As I looked at Deborah Gyapong’s article of yesterday – So, who is following this Michael Voris, Fr. Robert Barron controversy over hell?, this prompted me to look at an old article I had written on this subject. Hell and Salvation. It turns out that my article of last year was published on today’s date, the 5th of November. I assure you that Guy Fawkes had nothing to do with it, since I am an Old Peterite and we don’t burn old boys, even those who conspired to commit High Treason. He was not burned at the stake but hanged drawn and quartered, also a nasty way to go!

We can argue about this subject, and no one alive really knows. Speculations about an empty hell – well, maybe… I have the idea that it is more likely that hell is really a kind of “purgatory” in degrees, and no soul in it is totally without any hope of passing from there to the light. The idea that hell is eternal and therefore uncreated would seem to attribute a shadow side to God himself. Ultimately, it is a mystery. The Gnostics had another way of explaining it all, above all the origin of evil. Orthodox Christianity another still.

Like Deborah, “I have no doubt about the existence of hell, or of demonic powers, or of the bondage of sin and death“. These are all facts within the scope of our earthly experience. However, eternity is not, except by way of image and analogy. Like Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa, I prefer to believe that even the unhappiest soul is not without hope, that even the Devil himself, for all the evil and sin he has committed, may in the end find forgiveness and redemption through Christ.

* * *

Just one final reflection:

I am certainly criticised for questioning the eternity of hell or the absolute impossibility of the conversion of a soul who has already passed over. I have no claim to any special insight into this mystery that escapes us all. I would add the reflection that the doctrine of hell is the one factor that has justified pogroms, ethnic cleansing and the Inquisition in history. The idea is saving people from hell is the one thing that has given a reason behind the use of torture and barbaric methods of execution.

Doctrinal debates are possible on this subject, but they are all ultimately vain and pointless.

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8 Responses to Day for Day

  1. Michael Frost says:

    Universalism has been condemned as a heresy by the Church for a very long time. EO, RCs, and all the magisterial Reformers condemn it officially. It is an old heresy that periodically pops up either in time or with certain new groups. But the Church rejects the error.

    No one likes to think about the reality of an eternal Hell. An Eastern thought is that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside, by those there, not from the outside by God. It is their proper home, where they belong, and where they want to remain. Dante picks this up when the newly damned freely and willingly tell Minos their sins, allowing him to adjudicate their place in Hell (the imagery of him wrapping his tail around the damned is chilling); the damned know they belong there and don’t resist. They accept the reality of where their lack of repentence has led them and have no desire to leave. Their major thought is of their legacy on earth.

    The key for all of us is to repent and to believe in and trust the promises of Jesus Christ, our mediator and reconciler. What should scare the hell out of all of us is our love of sin, our willingness to overlook our own favorite sin & to focus on the sins of others, and our unwillingness to repent. Many who say Lord…

    • Initium sapientiæ timor Domini – there are various types of fear, between humbling ourselves before the transcendent or servile fear, or terror faced with an enemy.

      For as long as men use hell and fear to control people to their own ends, the notion itself is discredited. If our motivation is fear rather than love of truth, beauty and all the other transcendentals attributed to God, then the “new” atheists and the French revolutionaries were right.

      I do believe that there will be justice for our sins. The orientals call it karma. You reap what you sow. That is terrifying enough – but there is always hope. I believe there is a hell, and some may be in it for aeons, but I do believe that no one or nothing is without hope. That is the difference for those for whom Christianity is only an illusion to be grown out of – and those for whom it is the Way, the Life and the Truth.

      • ed pacht says:

        Universalism (as I understand it) is an assertion that all WILL be saved. There’s reason that American Universalism as a denomination arose among orthodox, and even extreme, Calvinists by the minor adjustment of declaring that ALL have been elected to salvation. But where is free will in either side of this equation? What if a man or a demon or Satan himself does not desire Heaven? Does not universalism then make Heaven itself into an unwilling bondage, at least for some? I don’t remember who, but someone has expressed an opinion that Hell could actually be ones presence in Heaven against ones will – an awareness of an eternal existence in the presence of a God one abhors. That is indeed a chilling thought.

        Universalism in the sense of irresistible predetermination would then seem to me to deserve being considered heretical.

        However, I am unconvinced that we are bound to believe that free will ends with death, or that Jesus “preached to the souls in prison” with no expectation that His invitation could be heeded. Is it necessary to believe that He has ceased giving that call? I like to think that repentance is not beyond possibility for those who have died. I sincerely hope that to be the case as there are many I have loved who died unbelieving. I still pray for them and hope to know them on the other side.

        I do believe the safest course in matters of this sort is to admit that we don’t and can’t know any of the answers to these questions, and trust it all into the hands of a loving God who alone knows what is really best.

      • Michael Frost says:

        ed, Luke 16:19-31 seems pretty clear in no uncertain words of our Lord:

        “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'” (ESV, v. 26)

        Key words include “great chasm”, “fixed” and “none”. And note how the Rich Man could see Abraham from Hades while he was in torment (verses 22-23). He even had real genuine concern for his five brothers and their need to repent.

        If this isn’t the most chilling description of our absolute need to repent and what happens in the failure to do same…

      • Michael Frost says:

        ed, An equalling chilling work is 2 Esdras, esp. 7:36-105. The ancient scribes hated it so much that they removed it! Most likely because of its clear discussion that no one can intercede on behalf of the dead (verses 102-105). Scholars believe this work may have been written around 83 AD. So it gives us a glimpse into late Jewish thought as well as possibly the influence of early Christian thought.

        Anyone expecting to be saved after death is asking for the impossible. Those arguing in favor of post-death salvation are going up against some very formidible thinkers indeed. Pretty much every major Christian thinker: Chrysostom, Augustine, Photius, Aquinas, Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Bucer, Calvin, Cranmer, Wesley, etc.

        Give me the Ecumenical Council that agrees with you? Or name me patristic fathers of great repute who agree with you? Or any of the great medieval RC scholastics? Or magisterial Reformers? When so many agree for so long…

      • Sorry to be facetious, but I can’t help thinking of Robert Burns’ Holy Willie and the baby gnashing its gums! 😉 Or yet the fire-breathing preacher on about gnashing of teeth being asked – “What happens if we ain’t got no teeth?” – The preacher responds – “Teeth will be provided!

        My thinking is that if hell is eternal, it is part of God, and therefore God is not sinless or there is a God above the imperfect God or the Demiurge as in Gnostic belief. Anyway, I’m not going into it now, nor have I any desire to research it.

        Perhaps there’s no afterlife and that’ll be the end of it… 🙂

        Just one thing to add in the light of the article Did God Command Genocide? – it seems to me that there are several ways of explaining the God of the Old Testament: the sayings of the Old Testament are to be interpreted allegorically, the Old Testament should be rejected by Christianity as in the Marcionist heresy or the God of the Old Testament was not the true God but an inferior “emanation” called the Demiurge by the Gnostics.

        I think that, out of these three possibilities (there are certainly more), I would go more for Origen’s allegorial, tropological, etc. approach and consider changes in the use of language. Therefore hell is not God’s Auschwitz but rather something to be understood in an allegorical way, as for the distinction of “eternal” and “for a bloody long time”, what seems like eternity but not without the slightest glimmer of hope.

  2. Neil Hailstone says:

    I would like to try to comment on this. Reading the 2012 article there is much with which I agree.

    I like other Anglican Catholics of my acquaintance believe in the existence of Purgatory but not in the sense of departed people being tortured. Readers will know the medieval beliefs about this doctrine and will have seen assorted depictions of it in various art forms.

    Hell of course being worse and involving eternal active torture. I cannot accept the concept of a place of endless torture. Surely this makes Almighty God a physchopathic tyrant.rather than the Lord revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures.
    My own belief on Purgatory, a common view among both priests and laity in my circles, is a place of further cleansing,preparation and enlightenment leading on to greater things.

    Hell I believe exists. Our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed this. I would associate myself with the thinking in the article that even in that place would exist some grounds for hope.

    I deplore the activities of ‘Fire and Brimstone’ fundamentalists of various factions who would appear to relish the concept of never ending and painful damnation. I further disagree with those who take it upon themselves to decide here and now who exactly is destined for hell.

    I agree with what was written about a ‘Graded continuum’

    I think above all that we should have a sense of peace about these eternal matters. St Paul tells us that he received forgiveness because his awful sins were committed in ignorance and unbelief.

    Further that he was an example of the Love and Mercy of God despite his sins of murdering and persecuting Christians and great blasphemies.There are so many other scriptures one could refer to. Of the forgiveness of sins I have no doubt. As regards the exact circumstances of the after life I like most people cannot describe the detail with accuracy.

    This I know; I will see my much loved son who departed this life in 2000 aged 16 with faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

  3. James Morgan says:

    For another view of hell and universal salvation, google Alexander Kalomiros and “The River of Fire”. I think you will find this interesting. [Link] Too long and too complex to quote it in this note.

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