damnation

Eternal Damnation? – II

Eternal Damnation? – II posted in Eleison Comments on May 25, 2013

It is idle to pretend that any of us human beings can fathom the mystery of one single soul’s damnation, let alone that of the majority of human beings that live and die, but there are certain things that can be said which make it easier to accept that there is a mystery beyond our human possibility of knowing.

The key to the mystery is surely the infinite greatness, or the limitlessness, of God. If he is infinite, then to offend him is to commit an offence which is in a certain way limitless. But the only way for a finite human being to suffer infinitely is for the suffering to have no limit or end in time. Therefore there is a certain proportion between any grave offence committed against God, and an eternal punishment.

As for the infinity or limitlessness of God, it is not too difficult for our reason to grasp it in the abstract. Effects exist all around us which require a cause. But a chain of causes can no more go on for ever than an endless series of links in a chain can hang without a ceiling-hook. So there must exist a First Cause, which we call God. But if this First Cause were composite, or put together out of parts, then whoever or whatever put it together would have to have been prior to the First Cause – impossible. Therefore God is in no way composite, he can only be simple and pure Existence. But existence is not by itself, as such, limited. Any limits on God’s being would have to have been put on him by a prior limiter, again impossible. Therefore the First Cause has no limits to his being, God is infinite existence.

In the concrete however, it is not so easy to get our minds around the infinity of God. Our human minds are working all day long on, with and from limited or finite creatures. Only when we turn our hearts and minds to God are we thinking of the infinite. Hence the common difficulty of prayer, because we can only think of what is limitless goodness by thinking of some limited goodness around us and then thinking away the limits. For instance God is as beautiful as a sunset, only infinitely more so.

It follows that the more we allow ourselves to be immersed in daily living, the less chance have our minds and hearts of grasping who or what is the God behind all the limited beings that make up our daily living. Contrariwise, the more we turn our minds and hearts to the knowing and loving of the unlimited Goodness necessarily behind all the limited good things of our daily lives, the better the access we will have to the mystery of God’s infinite goodness and to the corresponding mystery of the ingratitude of so many of his human creatures.

Therefore to lessen – without remotely fathoming – the mystery of souls’ eternal damnation, I need to follow St Dominic’s example, and to pray. That does not mean fooling myself that God is right when he is in reality wrong. It means my getting to the truth, namely that he is right, and that I – am wrong!

St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises greatly help to turn heart and mind to God. A Saint prayed along these lines: “O love, thou art not loved. Would that thou wert loved. Give me only to love thee as thou needest to be loved, and then do with me what thou wilt.”

Kyrie eleison.

Eternal Damnation? – I

Eternal Damnation? – I posted in Eleison Comments on May 18, 2013

A reader has raised once more a classic problem that has arisen a few times, directly or indirectly, in these “Comments,” but it is so serious that it deserves to be treated again on its own. He writes: “I find it difficult to be the Catholic I want to be because of the doctrine of eternal damnation. I cannot seem to accept the idea that a soul could be tormented ceaselessly for all eternity. It’s just too horrible. There has to be some Catholic doctrine that it’s not so cut and dried.” In brief, how can even one soul be justly condemned to an eternity of frightful torment?

Notice that in a cave one can still visit in Segovia in Spain, a great Saint like St Dominic spent a night agonising in prayer over this question. But let us lay down immediately that there can be no question of putting Almighty God in the dock, as though he either deserves to be condemned or needs to be acquitted. If his Church teaches, as it does, that one mortal sin can condemn a soul to eternal hellfire, and if I disagree, then it is I that am wrong, and not his Church. Why am I wrong?

For either or both of two connected reasons. Either I do not grasp the greatness and goodness of God, which it is easy to do, because my little mind is finite and God is infinite. Or I do not grasp the seriousness of sin, which it is also easy to do, because sin primarily offends God, only secondarily myself and only in third place my neighbour. So if I fail to grasp the greatness of the God offended by sin, naturally I will not grasp the seriousness of sin.

The question then becomes, has the great and good God given to every human being that ever lived sufficient means during its short life on earth of knowing that he exists, that he can be offended, what basically offends him and how serious it is to offend him? The answer can only be affirmative on all four headings.

* I do not need supernatural faith to know the existence of God. Upright reason alone tells that behind all the good things in a man’s life is a Supremely Good Being. Reason twisted out of true by pride or darkened by sin may not tell of this Being, but any twisting and darkening are my fault, not God’s, and they deserve a punishment proportionate to all of the goodness which I have experienced in this life and which it was “inexcusable” of me (Rom. I, 20) not to ascribe to God. * The reality of free-will is an everyday experience, and every one of us has the natural light of conscience to tell us that we owe worship to the Supreme Being, and that to refuse that worship is to offend him. Such is the First Commandment, and it does not need faith to be known. * Natural conscience also tells me of the other nine Commandments, which merely spell out the natural law, and it also tells me that to break them offends not only my neighbour but also, and even primarily, the Supreme Being. * And lastly, the cleaner my conscience is, the more clearly it tells me how serious it is to offend Him. The problem is that we are all sinners, and any sin helps to darken our conscience. But our sin is our own fault, not God’s, and he is entirely just to punish us for how we darken our minds.

Alright, one may object, then all men are given in this life to know enough of God to deserve punishment after this life in proportion to how much they have offended him. But how can any mere man offend him so seriously that a punishment eternal and unimaginable is just? Let next week’s “Comments” attempt to approach a mystery which is as deep in a way as God is deep.

Kyrie eleison.

Free-will Valued

Free-will Valued posted in Eleison Comments on August 11, 2012

Concerning the drama of souls falling into Hell (and many choose to do so – Mt.VII, 13; XXII, 14), a reader raises a classic problem which can be framed briefly as follows. Either God wants souls to be damned, or he doesn’t. If he does want it, he is cruel. If he does not want it, yet it still happens, then he is not omnipotent. Then is he cruel, or is he not omnipotent? Which?

Let us establish immediately that God sends no soul to Hell. Every one of the many souls damned sent itself to Hell by the series of choices that it made freely during its time on earth. God gave to it life, time and free-will, and also any number of natural helps and supernatural graces to persuade it to choose to go to Heaven, but if it refused, then God let it have what it wanted, namely an eternity without him. And that loss of God, for a soul made by God only to possess God, is by far its cruellest suffering in Hell. Thus God wished that the soul might choose Heaven (“He will have all men to be saved” – I Tim. II, 4), but he wanted to allow the evil of its choosing Hell in order to bring out of that evil a greater good.

Notice the use made here of the two English words, “wish” and “want.” To “want” something is more full-blooded than merely to “wish” it. Thus a family father may well not wish his son to suffer harsh experience in life, but in view of all the circumstances he can want to let him suffer because he knows that that is the only way his son will learn. Similarly in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father did not wish to let his younger son leave home and squander his heritage, but he wanted to let him do so because that is what the father in fact did, and good did come of it – the return home of the son, now repentant, a sadder but wiser young man.

In the same way God wishes on the one hand all souls to be saved, because that is what he created them for, and that is why he died for all of them on the Cross, where one large part of his suffering lay precisely in his knowing how many souls would not choose to profit by their Redemption to be saved. Such a God can in no way be considered or called cruel! On the other hand God does not want all souls to be saved unless they also want it, because if he did, they would all be saved, because he is all-powerful, or omnipotent. But, given all the circumstances, that would mean in effect overriding the free choice of those who, left to themselves, would choose not to be saved, and that would mean trampling on their free-will. Now just see how passionately men themselves value their free-will, when you see how they dislike being given orders or like being independent. They know that their free-will is the proof that they are not just animals or robots. So God too prefers his Heaven to be populated with men and not just with animals or robots, and that is why he does not want all men to be saved unless they also want it.

Yet God does not want souls to be damned, because that again would be cruelty on his part. He only wants to allow them to be damned, in view of the circumstances that souls will thus have the eternity of their own choice, and he will have a Heaven of human beings and not just animals or robots.

Thus his wish to save all souls means that he is by no means cruel, while the damnation of many souls proves on his part not a lack of omnipotence, but a choice to value his creatures’ free-will, and the infinite delight that he takes in rewarding with Heaven souls that have chosen to love him on earth.

Mother of God, now and in the hour of my death, help me to love your Son and to choose Heaven!

Kyrie eleison.

Few Elect?

Few Elect? posted in Eleison Comments on January 22, 2011

Why is it so seemingly difficult to save one’s soul? Why – as we are told – are relatively few souls saved in comparison with the number of souls damned? Since God wishes for all souls to be saved (I Tim.II, 4), why did he not make it somewhat easier, as he surely could have done?

The swift and simple answer is that it is not that difficult to save one’s soul. Part of the agony of souls in Hell is their clear knowledge of how easily they could have avoided damnation. Damned non-Catholics might say, “I knew there was something to Catholicism, but I chose never to go into the question because I could see ahead that I would have to change my way of life.” (Winston Churchill once said that every man runs into the truth at some time in his life, but most men turn the other way.) Damned Catholics might say, “God gave me the Faith, and I knew that all I needed was to make a good confession, but I reckoned it was more convenient to put it off, and so I died in my sins . . .” Every soul in Hell knows that it is there by its own fault, by its own choice. God is not to be blamed. In fact looking back on their lives on earth, they see clearly how much he did to try to stop them from throwing themselves into Hell, but they freely chose their own fate, and God respected that choice . . . However, let us delve a little deeper.

Being infinitely good, infinitely generous and infinitely happy, God chose – he was in no way obliged – to create beings that would be capable of sharing in his happiness. Since he is pure spirit (Jn. IV, 24), such beings would have to be spiritual and not just material, such as animal, vegetable or mineral. Hence the creation of angels with no matter in them at all, and men, with a spiritual soul in a material body. But that very spirit by which angels and men are capable of sharing in divine happiness necessarily includes reason and free-will, indeed it is by the free-will freely choosing God that it deserves to share in his happiness. But how could that choice of God be truly free if there was no alternative to choose that would turn away from God? What merit does a boy have in choosing to buy a volume of Shakespeare if there is only Shakespeare for sale in the bookstore? And if the bad alternative exists, and if the free-will is real and not just a pretence, how are there not going to be angels or men who will choose what is not good?

The question may still be asked, how can God have foreseen to allow the majority of souls (Mt.VII, 13–14; XX, 16) to incur the terrible punishment of refusing his love? Answer, the more terrible Hell is, the more certain it is that to every man alive God offers grace and light and strength enough to avoid it, but, as St Thomas Aquinas explains, the majority of men prefer the present and known joys of the senses to the future and unknown joys of Paradise. Then why did God attach such strong pleasures to the senses? Partly no doubt to ensure that parents would have children to populate his Heaven, but also surely to make all the more meritorious any human being’s putting the pursuit of pleasure in this life beneath the true delights of the next life, which are ours for the wanting! We need only want them violently enough (Mt.XI, 12)!

God is no mediocre God, and to souls loving him he wishes to offer no mediocre Paradise.

Kyrie eleison.

Assisi-Ism – No!

Assisi-Ism – No! posted in Eleison Comments on January 8, 2011

Some people are still afraid that Archbishop Lefebvre’s Society of St Pius X is on the way to a bad agreement with Benedict XVI’s Rome, but by the Pope’s Assisi-ism amongst other things, one might say that Benedict XVI himself is doing his best to prevent any such occurrence.

Six days ago he argued in theory that the world’s “great religions” can constitute “an important factor of the peace and unity of mankind.” Five days ago he announced in practice that in October of this year he will go “as a pilgrim” to Assisi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Prayer Meeting of World Religions held there by Pope John-Paul II in 1986. But the theory of all “great world religions” contributing to world peace was absolutely rejected by Archbishop Lefebvre, and the practice of the 1986 Prayer Meeting in Assisi he condemned as a flagrant violation of the First Commandment, which, coming from the Vicar of Christ, constituted a scandal unheard of in all the history of the Church. Only the fear of too much repetition being counter-productive might have stopped him from castigating this latest piece of Assisi-ism.

However, the Archbishop did recognize that all too few Catholics then grasped the enormity of the scandal. This is because the whole modern world marginalizes God, brackets out the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, makes religion a matter of free choice and turns Catholic Tradition into a mere question of sensibility or feeling. Infecting even the Popes, this way of thinking has become so normal all around us that every one of us is threatened. Let us get back to basics:—

All being requires a First Cause. That Cause, to be the First, must be Being Itself, which must be all-perfect being, because any second god, to differ from the First, would have to have some perfection lacking to the First. So the true God can only be one. This one true God took human nature once, and only once, in the divine Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who proved his divinity by a quantity and quality of miracles that have accompanied no other man ever, but have accompanied his Church ever since: the Roman Catholic Church. Membership of that Church is by faith and is open to all men. If they believe, that is the indispensable start of their eternal salvation. If they refuse to believe, they are on their way to eternal damnation (Mk. XVI, 16).

Therefore if by their past and future Assisi events, Popes John-Paul II and Benedict XVI have encouraged souls to think that Catholicism is not the one and only way to a happy eternity, but merely one amongst many other promoters (even if it is the best) of mankind’s “peace and unity” in this life, it follows that both Popes have facilitated the dreadful damnation of countless souls in the next life. Rather than have any part in such a betrayal, Archbishop Lefebvre preferred to be scorned, rejected, despised, marginalized, silenced, “excommunicated,” you name it.

There is a price to be paid for holding to the Truth. How many Catholics are ready to pay it?

Kyrie eleison.