Category Archives: Hell

Hell: God is unjust?


-by Karlo Broussard

“For many people, the Catholic doctrine of hell serves as an obstacle to belief in God. They think an all-good God wouldn’t allow someone he loves to experience everlasting torment. And they think the permanent nature of hell’s punishment is incompatible with a just God.

A recent caller on Catholic Answers Live asked, “Given that we have a finite life with limited information to make our decisions, how is an infinite punishment not infinitely disproportionate? Shouldn’t the punishment be proportional to the transgression?”

St. Thomas Aquinas put this question in the form of an objection:

“It would seem that an eternal punishment is not inflicted on sinners by divine justice. For the punishment should not exceed the fault: “According to the measure of the sin shall the measure also of the stripes be” (Deut. 25:2). Now fault is temporal. Therefore the punishment should not be eternal (Summa Theologiae, suppl. III:99:1).”

So, does the eternity of hell make God an unjust, vengeful tyrant? Here are some reasons why the answer is no.

A different law of gravity

First, the objection falsely assumes that a punishment has to be equal or proportionate to a fault as to the amount of duration. If the duration of punishment had to correspond to the duration of an offense, then it would be unjust to give a murderer a prison sentence any longer than the time it took for the murderer to kill his victim.

But that’s absurd. As the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Boedder writes, “[T]ime cannot be the standard by which punishment is to be determined” (Natural Theology, 340; Kindle edition).

The measure of the punishment due for sin is the gravity of the fault. According to Aquinas, “[T]he measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished” (ST, suppl.III:99:1). In other words, it is the internal wickedness of an offense that is the measure of expiation for it.

The highest high of moral disorders

The free and willful rejection of God—what the Catholic Church calls a “mortal sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1855) or, as the apostle John calls it, “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16; Douay Rheims)—reasonably calls for permanent exclusion from the presence of God.

As Aquinas points out in the supplement to the third part of the Summa Theologiae, the gravity of an offense is determined according to the dignity of the person sinned against. For example, punishment for striking the president of the United States is going to be greater than punishment for striking a fellow citizen in bar brawl.

Since God is ipsum esse subsistens (subsistent being itself), He is infinite in dignity and majesty. Therefore, His right to obedience from His reasonable creatures is absolute and infinite. There is no right that can be stricter and every other right is based on it.

A willful violation of this right, which is what a mortal sin is, is the most severe offense a human being can commit. Boedder explains it this way: “A willful violation . . . of this right implies a malice which opposes itself to the foundation of all orders” (NT, 340).

Since the rejection of God’s absolute right to our obedience, worship, and love is a moral disorder of the highest degree, it deserves a penalty of the highest degree. Everlasting punishment seems to fit the bill.

Alternatives that don’t register on the justice monitor

A second reason why the unending punishment of hell is just is because the alternatives are unreasonable. If permanent punishment is not the answer, then there can only be two other options: temporary punishment or annihilation—the act by which God stops willing someone into existence. But neither one of these alternatives coheres with the nature of mortal sin in relation to God.

Consider temporary punishment. Perhaps the soul receives an intense dose of punishment and then enters heaven upon being relieved of it. This would be an injustice. For example, let’s say I find out that my twelve-year-old son ditched school and went to a party with his older teen friends and got drunk and smoked a few jays (this is merely hypothetical, mind you).

I punish him by saying, “Son, you’ve been a bad boy, and as a result you’re going to stay in your room for ten minutes. But when that time is up, pack your bags because we’ve got tickets to spend the weekend at Legoland.” (He loves Legos). How does this register on your justice monitor? My guess is that it doesn’t rate very high—especially if my son refuses to apologize for his misconduct. The duration of the punishment is much too small relative to the reward he is given.

Similarly, a temporary stint in hell—no matter how long the term—is much too small of a punishment relative to the everlasting happiness of heaven. It would be unjust for God to give heaven as a reward to a person that committed the most grievous offense of all, the permanent rejection of God’s absolute right to obedience, worship, and love.

Annihilation is also an unreasonable alternative. How could a person experience the punishment justice demands for permanently rejecting God if he were annihilated? The gravity of violating God’s absolute right would be reduced to nothingness if there were no punishment for it, Justice would not be served.

Furthermore, it would violate God’s wisdom to annihilate the soul. Why would he create a soul with an immortal nature only to thwart it? Moreover, Aquinas argues that because God’s power is manifest in preserving things in existence, to take a soul out of being would hinder that manifestation (Summa, I:104:4).

The reasonableness of a permanent commitment

A third reason the unending nature of hell is justified is that it’s befitting to reason that an individual make a permanent choice for or against God at death. And if a permanent choice against God, then a permanent punishment.

We know from divine Revelation that there is no repentance after death: “[I]t is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The time of preparation for man’s last end comes to an end at the moment of death.

This is reasonable within the logic of love. Love demands a permanent commitment to the beloved. For example, would it be true love if a man says to his bride on the altar, “I’ll commit to you for only ten years, and then after that, we can go our separate ways?” Of course not! We value loving relationships that involve a choice to commit one way or the other—a commitment unto death.  [Editor: even better if you don’t know what you’re getting into!!!  It’s too easy when the going is rough to abandon one’s commitment.  Metaphorically, if a soldier under fire throws away his gun and says “I quit!”  Let the marriage jokes regarding a combat metaphor ensue.  Remember, there are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church: baptism. eucharist. confirmation. reconciliation. anointing of the sick. holy orders and martyrdom.  I know, I know.  I’m in trouble, AGAIN!] 😉

Similarly, the loving relationship that God has created us for demands that we at some point in time make a definitive choice to love Him or not. According to divine Revelation, that moment is death (Heb. 9:27).

The permanency of our choice at death can also be argued for in light of the nature of choice by an incorporeal being. Such a topic, however, goes beyond the scope of this article. For a great explanation of Aquinas’s thought on this topic, see Edward Feser’s online article “How to Go to Hell.”

If a person makes his choice against God at the moment of death, then his choice to not love God remains forever—the perversity of the will is forever determined. Therefore, the punishment for such perversion is eternal as well.

This is why the Catechism defines hell as the “definitive self-exclusion from God” (CCC 1033). This is also the reason why the Church teaches that if a person dies in a state of mortal sin, hell will be his lot (see CCC 1033, 1035).

The sinner who rejects God at the moment of death gets what they wanted—namely, separation from God. This unending separation is the “eternal punishment” (CCC 1472), because the individual will forever lack the fulfillment and satisfaction that only God can give a creature of a rational and spiritual nature (CCC 1035).

The flip side is reasonable

Finally, we can see the reasonableness of the unending punishment of hell by seeing the reasonableness of the reverse side of the issue—the unending reward of heaven. Aquinas writes:

As reward is to merit, so is punishment to guilt. Now, according to divine justice, an eternal reward is due to temporal merit: “Every one who seeth the Son and believeth in Him hath [Vulg.: ‘that everyone . . . may have’] life everlasting.” Therefore according to divine justice, an everlasting punishment is due to temporal guilt (Summa, Suppl. III:99:1).

Just as it is not contrary to God’s justice to give a permanent and everlasting reward for a temporal act of charity, so too it’s not contrary to God’s justice to give a permanent and everlasting punishment for a temporal act of evil.

Conclusion

Hell is not a pleasant place to think about. It’s something that we’re all repulsed by—especially those who use it to object to God’s justice. But there is no reason why such repulsion should lead us to reject God. It should lead us to reject hell; not to deny its existence but to do what we can to stay out of it.”

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us. Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.
-Litany of the saints
Matthew

Is eternal punishment in Hell just?


-half panel, The Crucifixion & The Last Judgment, Jan van Eyck, ca. 1440–1441, oil on canvas, transferred from wood, 22 1/4 × 7 2/3 in, 56.5 × 19.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


-by Karlo Broussard

The Eternity of Hell

Okay, someone may concede that punishment in general is not inconsistent with God’s goodness.

“But,” they’ll say, “eternal punishment? Doesn’t that seem unjust, since eternal punishment would be disproportionate to the sin that’s committed only in a small moment of time?”

Here are a few ways we can respond.

First, the objection assumes that a punishment has to be equal or proportionate to a fault as to the amount of duration. But this is false. If the duration of punishment had to correspond to the duration of an offense, then it would be unjust to give a murderer a prison sentence any longer than the time it took for the murderer to kill his victim.

But that’s absurd. As the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Boedder writes, “[T]ime cannot be the standard by which punishment is to be determined” (Natural Theology, 340).

The measure of the punishment due for sin is the gravity of the fault. Aquinas explains, “The measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished” (Summa Theologiae suppl. III:99:1).

In other words, it is the internal wickedness of an offense that is the measure of expiation for it.

Now, as Aquinas points out in several places within his writings, the gravity of an offense is determined by the dignity of the person sinned against. For example, punishment for striking the president of the United States is going to be greater than punishment for striking a fellow citizen in bar brawl.

Since God is ipsum esse subsistens (subsistent being itself), he is infinite in dignity and majesty. Therefore, his right to obedience from his reasonable creatures is absolute and infinite. There is no right that can be stricter and every other right is based on it.

A willful violation of this right, which is what a mortal sin is, is the most severe offense a human being can commit. Boedder explains it this way: “A willful violation . . . of this right implies a malice which opposes itself to the foundation of all orders” (Natural Theology, 340).

For Aquinas, it is an offense that is “in a certain respect infinite” (Compendium Theologiae, 183). And because it is infinite in a certain respect, Aquinas concludes, “a punishment that is in a certain respect infinite is duly attached to it.”

But, as Aquinas points out, such a punishment can’t be infinite in intensity because no creature can be infinite in this way. Therefore, Aquinas concludes, “[A] punishment that is infinite in duration is rightly inflicted for mortal sin.”

Now, it’s important to note that for Aquinas an infinite duration of punishment can be just only if the sinner no longer has the ability to repent and will the good. Well, the sinner after death no longer has the ability to repent, since the soul can no longer change what it has chosen as its ultimate end after death. Therefore, we can conclude with Aquinas that the infinite duration of punishment in hell is just.

The Alternatives Don’t Work

Another way that we can respond to the “Eternal Punishment is Unjust” objection is to see the alternatives to eternal punishment, temporary punishment or annihilation, don’t stand up to the scrutiny of reason.

Consider temporary punishment. Perhaps the soul receives an intense dose of punishment and then enters heaven upon being relieved of it. This would be an injustice. For example, let’s say I find out that my fourteen-year-old son ditched school and went to a party with his older teen friends and got drunk and smoked a joint (this is merely hypothetical, mind you).

Suppose further that I punish him by saying, “Son, you’ve been a bad boy, and as a result you’re going to stay in your room for ten minutes. But when that time is up, pack your bags because we’ve got tickets to spend the weekend at Disney Land and visit the new Star Wars Land.” (He loves Star Wars).

How does this register on your justice monitor?

My guess is that it doesn’t rate very high—especially if my son refuses to apologize for his misconduct. The duration of the punishment is much too small relative to the reward he is given.

Similarly, a temporary stint in hell—no matter how long the term—is much too small of a punishment relative to the everlasting happiness of heaven. It would be unjust for God to give heaven as a reward to a person that committed the most grievous offense of all, the permanent rejection of God’s absolute right to obedience, worship, and love.

Annihilation is also an unreasonable alternative.

How could a person experience the punishment justice demands for permanently rejecting God if he were annihilated? The gravity of violating God’s absolute right would be reduced to nothingness if there were no punishment for it. Justice would not be served.

Furthermore, it would violate God’s wisdom to annihilate the human soul.

Why would he create a human soul with an immortal nature only to thwart it?”

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Ghosts & Demons


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

Question: Is it sinful to want to learn more about ghosts and demons?

Answer: Learning about ghosts and demons is part of our Catholic Faith. The key is not becoming unduly curious about or preoccupied with either, especially demons.

Ghosts are disembodied human beings, something we all become at death. Praying for the repose of the faithful departed and others who have died is a good thing. In addition, asking the prayerful intercession of the saints is also a good thing.

What is not good is seeking out communication with the dead, e.g., through séances. This is an example of divination, which is strictly prohibited (see CCC 2117-19). These are the problematic activities people often have in mind re: learning about ghosts, not praying for the dead, learning about the saints or asking for their intercession.

Demons are fallen angels and thus pure spirits who have irrevocably chosen against God and His people. They are powerful and malevolent, and we must not make ourselves vulnerable to their nefarious machinations.

Rather, we must be wary of their activity and resist them as Sts. James and Peter counsel (Jas. 4:7-8; 1 Pet. 5:6-10). In that light, it’s good to know ourselves and our weaknesses, and how the devil operates in general in trying to lead us away from God, and how he might try to tempt us in particular.

At the same time, we must not become preoccupied with either ghosts or demons. Instead, our minds, as St. Paul reminds us, should be focused on that which is good (Phil. 4:8).”

Love,
Matthew

Hell


(Ed. THAT is scary. Run away from any human who says that. That is not an offer of love. That is a lie. Born out of some pathological unsatisfied sinful need. Satan is the Prince of Lies. Secondly, consider the source, outside of the demonic origin of that statement. A sinful human, even a demonically possessed one, or just pyschopathic one is lying when they say they can do that as a consequence of some failure of action on the part of another. Then, consider God. When God speaks, it happens. God has merely to think it. It happens. Consider the loving, merciful Creator of everything, Who created out of pure love. We bring nothing to God by our existence. God brings everything to us by our existence. God lives in perfect beatitude. God needs nothing. Desires nothing, least of all us or our love. We OWE God, not the reverse. We OWE God because He brought us into being and maintains us in being by His very thought. If God stopped thinking about us, even for an instant, poof! No creation. The fact we remain in existence is proof of God’s perpetual love. Indifference, poof! To be separated from God, now, in an existential way, is Hell. To be separated from God, source of all hope, all light, all goodness, all life, all beatitude, etc. eternally is the very definition of Hell.

How do we know Hell, or Heaven for that matter, exist?  Jesus.  Mt 25:31-46.  Lk 16:19-31.  God will give you what you ask for. If it’s eternity without Him, well…)

“‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are My ways unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?” -Ezek 18:29


-by Karlo Broussard

“Obviously, the meme is meant to express the alleged incompatibility between the Christian doctrine of hell and its belief that God is all-good. How can God be all-good and all-loving, so the argument goes, and at the same time will that someone experience eternal torment?

There are two possible reasons why someone might think that God and hell are incompatible. One is that punishment itself is a bad thing. And if that were the case, then surely an all-good God wouldn’t punish someone.

The other possible hang-up is the eternal nature of hell.

They may say, “Okay, I can accept punishment as consistent with God’s goodness, but I can’t accept eternal punishment. That seems unjust and therefore contrary to God’s goodness.”

There are two objections here, so let’s deal with each in turn.

Let’s take the first objection from punishment.

Privation as natural punishment

Our first line of response is that the punishment of hell is primarily the privation of the ultimate joy that every human being longs for, which is a natural consequence that flows from a person’s rejection of God as their ultimate end, the source of all joy (see CCC 1057).

As St. Augustine taught, our hearts are made for God and they are restless until they rest in Him (The Confessions, book 1).

If a person chooses to separate himself from God for eternity, the state of restlessness or misery (Ed. euphemism) is simply a natural consequence. The torment follows from the way God has made human nature.

Consider these two scenarios.

Suppose a father tells his son, “If you want to go to the movies, then you have to clean your room,” and the son chooses not to clean his room. The result of his choice is that he doesn’t get to go to the movies. He throws a fit. His “pain,” the deprivation of not seeing a movie, is a consequence of his choice. But notice that the connection between the consequence and the choice is not natural. The father imposes it.

Contrast this with the scenario of an individual who intentionally puts a plastic bag over his head and is asphyxiated. The painful effect of death is a natural consequence of stopping his supply of oxygen. It belongs to his nature that he needs oxygen to live. If he doesn’t have oxygen, then he doesn’t have life.  (Ed.  Good example, however, when religious discussions start throwing around the word “natures”, check your philosophy.  It means so much more, metaphysically, then we mean when we say “it’s all natural!”  Distant cousins in meaning, but not the same.  There’s more to it.  Mr. Broussard is providing the non-philotechnical kiddie example.)

Similarly, it belongs to human nature for a person to be united to God in order to have complete and perfect happiness. If he’s not united to God, then no happiness and only misery.

Why would it be contrary to God’s goodness to allow human nature to function according to the design He created? If God decides to create something with a particular nature, then it belongs to his goodness to treat that thing according to its nature.

God made humans to be in union with Him for an eternity (Ed. out of love, never necessity). Therefore, if anyone chooses to reject such union (free will) and end up separated from God for an eternity, which is the essence of hell (CCC 1033), his misery would be the natural result given his nature. And there is nothing contrary to God’s goodness to allow nature, free will,  to take its course-whether it takes it  in beatitude with God in Heaven or misery without Him in hell.”

Love,
Matthew