"Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but when he has once chosen, he ought not to change, except for most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in his director."

St Philip Neri

* * *

"Does our conduct correspond with our Faith?"

The Cure D'Ars

* * *

"Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it."

St Philip Neri

* * *

 

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.

 
  LIFE EVERLASTING
   

By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP

 

 PART 3 : HELL (cont)

 

15. ETERNAL HELL AND DIVINE PERFECTIONS

 
Objection has often been made that perpetuity of suffering, perpetuity of divine punishments, is opposed to the perfection of divine justice, because suffering should be proportioned to faults. If sin lasts only a moment, how shall it merit eternal punishment? Further, punishments, which should vary with the sins punished, would be equal, because all would be eternal. Finally, all punishment would be much greater than the joy found in the sin.

St. Thomas [239] answers: "Suffering is proportioned, not to the duration of sin, but to its gravity. A deed of assassination, which lasts a few minutes, merits death or life imprisonment. A momentary act of betrayal merits permanent exile. But mortal sin has a gravity without measure. Further, it remains as a habitual disorder, in itself irreparable, which merits punishment without end." [240]

Secondly, inequality in punishment remains. Though equal in duration, pains are eternally proportioned to their gravity.

Thirdly, punishment is proportioned, not to the false joy found in sin, but to the offense against God.

The objection continues: But, if what religion tells us is true, then divine justice demands the annihilation of the sinner, whose ingratitude cancels the benefit of existence.

Divine revelation alone can enlighten us here. Revelation says, not that the damned are to be annihilated, but that they are to be punished eternally. God could of course annihilate, but He does not. What He created, He also preserves. He raises the body to life. Further, if every mortal sin were punished by annihilation, all sins would be equally punished. St. Thomas says: "He that sins against God who gives him existence merits indeed to lose that existence. Nevertheless, if we consider the disorder, more or less grave, of the fault committed, and then the affliction due to it, we find that the proper punishment is not the loss of existence, because this is presupposed for merit or demerit, and therefore is not to be corrupted by the disorder of sin." [241]

Let us listen to these admirable words of Father Lacordaire: "The obstinate sinner wishes his own annihilation, because annihilation would deliver him from God, the just judge. God would be thus constrained to undo what He has done, and that which He has made to last forever. The universe is not meant to perish. Shall, then, a soul perish simply because it does not wish to acknowledge God? No. A soul, the most precious work of the Creator, will live on forever. You can soil that soul, but you cannot destroy it. God, whose justice you have challenged, turns even lost souls into images of His law, into heralds of His justice." [242]

The Origenists maintained that the eternity of suffering is opposed to infinite mercy, always ready to pardon.

Let us listen to St. Thomas' reply. "God in Himself is mercy without bounds, but this mercy is regulated by wisdom, which forbids mercy to demons and to demonized men. Yet even on these mercy is still exercised, not to put an end to their sufferings, but to punish them less than their merits demand." [243]

Again: "If mercy were not mingled with justice, the damned would suffer still more. All God's ways are mercy and justice. Certain souls exalt God's mercy, others manifest His justice. And justice enters in the second place, when divine mercy has been scorned. Even then it intervenes, not to remove the suffering, but to render it less heavy and painful. [244]

Further, this objection supposes that the damned implore the mercy of God and cannot obtain it. The truth is that the condemned soul does not ask pardon, judges always according to its culpable inclination. The only road to God is that of humility and obedience, and such a soul, proud and obstinate, refuses this road.

But, insists the unbeliever, God cannot will suffering for its own sake, because it is an evil. And if He wills it as correction, the pain inflicted should not be eternal, it should have an end. And suffering, since it is not founded on the nature of things, is accidental, and hence should not be eternal.

The Angelic Doctor [245] examines also this objection. Medicinal suffering ordained for the correction of those who are guilty, is indeed temporary. But death and lifelong imprisonment are punitive sufferings, not meant for the correction of him who is thus punished. They become medicinal, indeed, but only for others, who are thus turned away from crime. In this sense hell has saved many souls. The fear of hell is the beginning of wisdom. [246]

An objection: Pain, being contrary to nature, cannot be eternal. St. Thomas answers: "Pain is contrary to the soul's nature, but it is in harmony with the soul as soiled by unrepented mortal sin. As this sin, being a permanent disorder, lasts forever, the pain due to the sin will also last forever." [247]

St. Thomas [248] proceeds: Eternal punishment manifests God's inalienable right to be loved above all else. God, good and merciful, has His delight, not in the suffering of the damned, but in His own unequaled goodness. The elect, beholding the radiance of God's supreme justice, are thereby led to thank Him for their own salvation. "God, [249] willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, that He might show the riches of His glory in the vessels of mercy which He hath prepared unto glory." [250]

Infinite goodness is the source both of mercy and of justice: of mercy, because it is essentially self-communicative, of justice, because it has an inalienable right to be loved by all creatures.

What created hell? God's justice, God's power, God's wisdom, God's love. Such is Dante's inscription on the gate of hell:

Through me the way into the doleful City, through me the way into the pain eternal, through me the way to people lost to pity. Justice did move Creator mine supernal, made me that power divine by evil hated, wisdom supreme and first love sempiternal. [251]

Let Lacordaire conclude: "Had justice alone created the abyss, there might be remedy. But it is love, the first love sempiternal, which made hell. This it is which banishes hope. Were I condemned by justice, I might flee to love. But if I am condemned by love, whither can I turn?

"Such is the fate of the damned. Love, that gave His blood for them -- this Love, this same Love, must now curse them.

"Just think! 'Tis God who came down to you, who took on your own nature, who spoke your language, healed your wounds, raised your dead to life. 'Tis God who died for you on a cross. And shall you still be permitted to blaspheme and mock, to enjoy to the full your voluptuousness? No. Deceive not yourselves: love is not a farce. It is God's love which punishes, God's crucified love. It is not justice that is without mercy it is love. Love is life or death. And if that love is God's love, then love is either eternal life or eternal death." [252]
 

 
 

   
 
239. Supplementum, q. 99, a.1 ad 1.
340. Ia IIae, q. 87, a. 3, 5, 6. Note the replies to the objections.
341. Supplementum, q. 99, a. 1 ad 6.
342. Conferences in Notre Dame, 72nd conference.
343. Supplementum, q. 99, a. 2 ad 1.
344. Ia, q. 21, a.4.
345. Supplementum, q. 99, a.1 ad 3 et 4.
346. IIa IIae, q. 19, a. 7. "Servile fear is like an external principle of wisdom, because fear of punishment keeps us from sin. Filial fear is the beginning of wisdom, because it is the first effect of wisdom." Cf. Ia IIae, q. 87, a.3 ad 2.
347. Supplementum, loc. cit., ad 5.
348. Ibid., ad 4.
349. Rom. 9:22.
350.
Cf. Ia, q.23, a.5 ad 3.
351. Inferno, canto 3.
252. Conferences in Notre Dame, 72nd conference, in
fine.