Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Reality of Hell, Part 2
We continue this week with the Pastor Column series on Hell. The Lord’s teachings with regard to the reality of Hell certainly are difficult, especially given today’s cultural and social climate. Some of the most difficult questions that arise relate to Hell’s eternity and how to reconcile its existence with the reality that God is loving and rich in mercy.
This series presents teachings about this uncomfortable yet necessary aspect of what we believe as Catholic Christians. They borrow considerably from a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC: Msgr. Charles Pope.
3. Do the souls in Hell repent of what they have done? No, not directly. After death, repentance in the formal sense is not possible. However, Saint Thomas Aquinas makes an important distinction:
A person may repent of sin in two ways: in one way directly, in another way indirectly. He repents of a sin directly who hates sin as such: and he repents indirectly who hates it on account of something connected with it, for instance punishment or something of that kind. Accordingly, the wicked will not repent of their sins directly, because consent in the malice of sin will remain in them; but they will repent indirectly, inasmuch as they will suffer from the punishment inflicted on them for sin. (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 2)
This explains the “wailing and grinding of teeth” of which the Lord frequently speaks insofar as it indicates the lament of the damned. They do not lament their choice to sin without repenting but for the consequences. In the Lord’s Parable of Lazarus, the rich man in Hell laments his suffering but expresses no regret over the way he treated the poor man Lazarus. Indeed, he still sees Lazarus as a kind of errand-boy, who should fetch him water and warn his brothers. In a certain sense, the rich man cannot repent; his character is now quickened and his choices are fixed forever.
4. Is eternal punishment just? Yes. Many people who might otherwise accept God’s punishment of sinners are still dismayed that Hell is eternal. Why should one be punished eternally for sins that were committed over a brief time span, perhaps in just a moment? The punishment does not seem to fit the crime. But This logic assumes that the eternal nature of Hell is intrinsic to the punishment, but it is not; rather, Hell is eternal because repentance is no longer available after death. A decision for or against God and the values of His Kingdom becomes forever fixed. That is because, at this point, our personal human will is fixed and obstinate, and the repentance that unlocks mercy will never be forthcoming. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches:
[A]s [Saint John] Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii) “death is to men what their fall was to the angels.” Now after their fall the angels could not be restored [Cf. I:64:2]. Therefore, neither can man after death; and thus the punishment of the damned will have no end…. [So] just as the demons are obstinate in wickedness and therefore have to be punished for ever, so too are the souls of men who die without charity, since “death is to men what their fall was to the angels,” as Damascene says (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 99, art 3).
5. Do the souls in Hell hate God? No, not directly. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches:
The appetite is moved by good or evil apprehended. Now God is apprehended in two ways, namely in Himself, as by the blessed, who see Him in His essence; and in His effects, as by us and by the damned. Since, then, He is goodness by His essence, He cannot in Himself be displeasing to any will; wherefore whoever sees Him in His essence cannot hate Him. On the other hand, some of His effects are displeasing to the will in so far as they are opposed to any one: and accordingly a person may hate God not in Himself, but by reason of His effects. Therefore, the damned, perceiving God in His punishment, which is the effect of His justice, hate Him, even as they hate the punishment inflicted on them. (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 5)
~ Fr. Lewis
on Saturday, October 17 at 2:00PM