September 20, 2005
Ch. XXXI. Q. 167. How do we know that the punishment of the finally impenitent is endless?
WE KNOW that the punishment of the finally impenitent is endless because (a.) the Church and the Scriptures so teach: (b.) The irremediableness of the sinful state of the damned involves irremediable misery: (c.) Both the justice and the mercy of God require the permanent exclusion of the damned from heaven.1
2. The Athanasian Creed says that, they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. The Church prays in the Litany for our deliverance from "everlasting damnation," and in many of her prayers either alludes to or implies the endless punishment of obstinate sinners (cf. Collects for the 4th. and 13th. Sunday after Trinity: Certain phrases in the Offices for Visitation of the Sick; Burial of the dead; Family Prayers; and the Consecration of a Church. And note especially the language addressed to Persons under sentence of death, touching "an endless and unchangeable state" to be entered upon after death).
3. Catholic consent as to the teaching of Holy Scripture on future punishment throws the burden of proof upon those who deny that the New Testament teaches its endlessness. This consent is the more noteworthy since it exists in the face of a priori presumptions to the contrary and the natural disinclination of men to accept such teaching. The New Testament speaks of the worm which dieth not, and of a time when there can be no repentance and no forgiveness, and when the door will be shut.2 Our Lord expressly declares the everlastingness of hell punishment, using the same word, aiwviov to describe the duration respectively of punishment and of heavenly life.3 If He did not describe one as endless, neither did He so describe the other. It is true that the term aiwviov does not signify endlessness in every connection, but it does signify as long a duration as the subject to which it is applied is capable of. The endless existence of obstinate souls, therefore, requires the endlessness of their KiAxoiv aiwviov. There is, in fact, no other Greek term which could have been so fittingly employed to signify endlessness of the punishment of the wicked. Then too it is declared that it had been better for Judas if he had never been born4, which would not have been true if he was finally to be saved.5
4. Perfect freedom and immutability of character and purpose are consistently combined in God, and belong to His eternal being. A similar combination of free agency with unalterableness of character and moral attitude will undoubtedly be found in men in the world to come. It is a fact which can be verified that a man's character becomes less and less capable of change as it matures. His freedom remains, but his character becomes fixed for good or evil and determines unalterably both his personal attitude towards what he considers to be righteous, and his conduct so far as it signifies that attitude. The end of probation is the end of man's opportunity to determine the lines along which his character and conduct shall crystalize. If the result is iniquity, the judgment which says "let him that is filthy be filthy still"6 is no arbitrary fiat, but the revelation of a condition of things for which man himself is responsible, and which can be repaired only when God ceases to rule His universe in harmony with moral law—i.e. never (cf. Q. 159. 3, 4).7
5. This truth helps us to answer several objections to the doctrine of everlasting punishment. (a.) The apparent injustice of punishing a few sins of short, duration with endless misery disappears with the thought that these sins are punished for what they signify in the sinner rather than for themselves merely. The sinner is punished according to deeds which pass away, but on account of a sinful state and personal attitude which has not been and never will be remedied. The penalty is as lasting as the evil which causes it: (b.) Chastisement is often a means of external grace (Q. 137. 3), being inflicted by God for discipline, with deliverance from evil in prospect8; but experience shows that as the temper of any person hardens the remedial quality of chastisement disappears in his case, and the penal quality alone remains. Such must be the state of hell.
6. The mystery of evil is unfathomable, but its difficulty arises from the existence of evil in the first instance, rather than from its continuance. The commission of one momentary sin is as difficult to reconcile with the truths of Divine holiness and omnipotence as the permanent continuance of sin and its consequences. Every act of the creature, in relation to Grod, has an eternal aspect. The Divine will, however, is never thwarted. Every sinful act has a twofold relation to the creature's design and to the Divine purpose. The creature's sinful design recoils upon himself, while the righteous purpose of God is fulfilled in spite of and by means of the creature's sin without being contaminated by it. How this can be—even in hell—we cannot understand. But we must believe that it is so (Q. 77).
7. The mercy of God is not shortened in hell, which is the least miserable place possible for its inhabitants. For men of vicious tastes to live in heaven would involve more fearful misery than the life to which they are doomed. The dispensation of hell, attended by misery though it be, is a dispensation of mercy as well as of justice, for the sight of God is more than sinful creatures can bear.9
1 Pusey's What is of Faith as to Ev. Pun.: University Sermons, Vol. III. Ser. I: Pearson on the Creed, XII. 685-691: S. Thos., 111. sup. 100. 1-3: Forbes' N. Creed, 316-322: Oxford House Papers, 1st Series, pp. 125 et seq.: Catholic Papers, pp. Iv-lviii: Notes and Questions from Pusey, pp. 32-39: Hodges' Syst. Theol., Vol. III. 868-880: Goulburn's Everlasting Punishment: Maclear's Introd. to the Creeds, 288-292.
2 S. Matt. XII. 31, 32: XXV. 10: Mark III. 29: IX. 43-48: Luke III. 17: XVI. 26: John III. 30: II. Thess. I. 9
3 Matt. XXV. 41, 46
4 Matt. XXVI. 24
5 A.H. Strong's Syst. Theol., 592-594: Oxenham's Catholic Eschatology, 113, 114.
6 Rev. XXII. 11
7 S. Thos., III. sup. 98 vel 99. 1, 2: Forbes, 322: MacColl's Christianity in Relation to Science, 168.
8 Heb. XII. 5-11
9 Heb. X. 31
Posted by Trevor at September 20, 2005 11:50 PM