"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."

R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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"Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.


By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP


 PART 3 : HELL (cont)



We have seen the progress in revelation on the doctrine of the sufferings in hell. According to many theologians it is very probable that only the souls of obstinate and inveterate sinners go into hell. "The Lord," says St. Peter, "dealeth patiently for your sake." [231]

We must first consider the reasons for sufferings after death, then those for an eternity of pain in hell.

First of all, the justice of God demands that sins which have not been expiated in this life be punished in the other. As sovereign Judge of the living and the dead, God owes it to Himself to render to each one according to his works. This is often affirmed in Scripture. [232] Further, as sovereign Legislator, Ruler, and Remunerator of human society, God must add to His laws an efficacious sanction.

St. Thomas [233] argues thus: One who rises up unjustly against justly established order must be repressed by the ruler, by the same prince, who has given the order, since he also must watch over its maintenance. Here we find extended to the moral and social order the natural law of action and reaction which repairs the damage caused. He who freely acts against conscience merits the remorse from that conscience. He who acts against the social order merits sufferings at the hand of the magistrate who is guardian of that order. He who acts against the divine law must be punished by the divine Legislator. One and the same principle runs through all these orders.

Plato in one of his most beautiful dialogues, the Gorgias, says that the greatest evil which could befall a criminal would be to go unpunished. If he knew his own happiness he would say to the judges: "I have committed this crime: inflict on me the punishment I have merited: only by voluntary acceptance of this pain can I re-enter into the order of justice which I have violated." This sublime view is perfectly realized in the supernatural order, both in the tribunal of penance and in purgatory, in which souls are happy to pay their debt to divine justice, to expiate in fullest measure the wrong they have done.

Thus we explain suffering in the world. But why should these pains be eternal?

First of all, we admit that this eternity of suffering cannot be demonstrated apodictically. Why? Because it is a revealed mystery, a mystery of justice which is the consequence of a mystery of iniquity, namely, of mortal sin that remains without repentance. Now the mysteries of iniquity and wickedness, and their consequences, are more obscure than the mysteries of grace. They are obscure, not only to us, but even in themselves. The mysteries of grace in themselves are very luminous. They are obscure only by reason of our feebleness of spirit, which resembles the eye of the owl in the presence of the sun. On the contrary, the mysteries of iniquity are obscure in themselves, not only for us. And final impenitence, of which hell is a consequence, is the darkest of all mysteries. Just as we cannot demonstrate apodictically either the possibility or the existence of the Holy Trinity, of the redemptive Incarnation, of eternal life, so similarly we are unable to demonstrate apodictically the eternity of the sufferings in hell.

Nevertheless, though we cannot give apodictic reasons for this truth, we can still find reasons of appropriateness, reasons which are deep and fertile. To illustrate: the sides of a polygon inscribed in a circle may be multiplied indefinitely though they never coalesce with the circumference.

The chief reasons of appropriateness for the eternity of these sufferings are thus given by St. Thomas. [234] Mortal sin without repentance is an irreparable disorder, an offense with an immeasurable gravity. Sin merits punishment because it upsets an order justly established. As long as this disorder lasts, the sinner merits the punishment due to the sin which caused the disorder. Disorder is irreparable if the vital principle of order has been violated. The eye cannot be cured if the principle of sight has been destroyed. No organism is curable if it has been mortally wounded. But mortal sin turns man from God, his last end, and robs him of grace, the principle and germ of eternal life. Hence the disorder in this case is irreparable,
and must therefore of its nature last forever. By special mercy God sometimes converts the sinner before death, but if the sinner resists and dies in final impenitence, mortal sin remains as a habitual disorder which can have no end. Hence it merits punishments which have no end.

A second reason is founded on the nature of mortal sin. Mortal sin, as offense against God, has a gravity that is unmeasured, since it denies to God the infinite dignity of being our last end and our sovereign good, to whom the sinner prefers a finite good. He loves himself more than he loves God, though the Most High is infinitely better than he. [235]

Offense is more grave as the dignity of the offended person is higher. It is more grave to insult a magistrate, or a bishop, than to offend the first man we meet in the street. But the dignity of the sovereign good is infinite. Mortal sin, which denies to God this supreme dignity, has therefore a gravity without limits, which can be repaired only by the love of the Son of God, the theandric act of a divine incarnate person. But if the immense benefit, the redemptive Incarnation, is unrecognized and scorned, as happens in mortal sin without repentance, then the sinner merits, for offense of a gravity without measure, also punishment without measure. This punishment is the privation of God, of infinite good, a suffering, a pain, which is itself infinite in its duration. [236] Anyone with such sin on his soul has definitively turned away from God, has deprived himself of God eternally.

As regards the disordered love of finite good preferred to God, it merits the pain of sense, a pain which is finite, being the privation of finite good. But, according to revelation, this pain too will last eternally, because the sinner is fixed and settled on this wretched good. He remains captive to his sin, and judges always according to his evil inclination. He is like a man who jumps into a well. His act, as foreseen, is eternal, leaving no hope of escape.

We must add a third reason. We said above that God, sovereign Legislator, and judge of the living and the dead, owes it to Himself to give to His laws an efficacious sanction. God cannot allow Himself to be scorned with impunity. Now if the pains of hell were not eternal, the obstinate sinner could persevere in his revolt, since no adequate sanction would repress his pride. His rebellion, we may say, would have the last word, would be the triumph of iniquity. To quote Father Monsabre: "If we deny to the moral order an eternity of suffering, we obscure the notion of good and evil, which becomes clear only under the light of this dogma." [237]

Finally, if beatitude, the recompense of the just, is eternal, it is surely right that the suffering due to obstinate malice should also be eternal. One is the recompense for merit, the other the punishment for demerit. As eternal mercy shines forth on one side, so the splendor of eternal justice shines on the other. St. Paul says: "What if God willing to show His wrath (or to avenge His justice) and to make His power known, endured (or permitted) with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He has prepared unto glory?" [238] Since justice, like mercy, is infinite, each demands to be manifested in a duration without limit.

Such, then, are the principal reasons of congruity for this revealed dogma. These arguments differ from an ordinary argument of probability, which may be false. Reasons of congruity for a revealed mystery are true, but they are not apodictic or demonstrative. They tend toward the truth, which they incline us to admit, but they do not show it absolutely. Thus a polygon inscribed in a circle, when its sides are multiplied, tends continually to identify itself with the circumference, but never becomes completely identified. Thus also, sufficient grace, which gives the proximate power to perform a salutary act, approaches efficacious grace which makes us do this act, but it is never identified with it. Thus, too, the certitude of hope is a certitude of tendency. It approaches the certitude of salvation, but is never perfectly identified with it, apart from a special revelation, and apart from the assurance given by particular judgment to souls in purgatory. We see by the precision of these terms that theology is a true branch of knowledge.

Theology reaches sure conclusions, but does not reach the evidence whereon these conclusions rest. Why? Because the theologian does not have here on earth evidence of his principles, that is, of the articles of faith. His theology is a subalternated branch of knowledge, subordinated to the knowledge which God has, just as optics is subalternated to geometry. Only the theologian who sees God face to face will have evidence of the principles of theology, and consequently also evidence on certain conclusions of his science. Thus, to illustrate, a man who knows optics practically, may in studying geometry see the evidence for his conclusions, which were heretofore obscure. Theology is thus a true science, a true branch of knowledge, but here below it remains in an imperfect state.


230. St. Thomas has treated this question in many places. Note especially Ia IIae, q.87, a. 1,, 3-7; IIIa, q.86, a.4; Supplementum, q.99, a.1; Contra Gentes, Bk. III, chaps. 144, 145; Bk. IV, chap. 95.
231. II Pet. 3:9.
232. Ecclus. 16:15; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6.
233. Ia IIae, q.87, a.1.
234. Ibid., a. 3, 4.
235. Ia IIae, q. 87, a.4; IIIa, q.1, a.2 ad 2; Supplementum, q.99, a.1.
236. It cannot be thus in its intensity, because the creature is not capable of such infinity.
237. Conferences in Notre Dame, 1889, Conference 98.
238. Rom. 9:22.