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Hell is eternal. St Alphonsus matter mostly. Good article below... Essay XXXII Contents Essay XXXIV ESSAY XXXIII ETERNAL PUNISHMENT by Rev. J. P. Arendzen, D.D., Ph.D., M.A. I. INTRODUCTORY 1.…More
Hell is eternal.

St Alphonsus matter mostly.
Good article below...






by Rev. J. P. Arendzen, D.D., Ph.D., M.A.


1. Punishment

Punishment is pain justly inflicted in consequence of evil done. It is purely medicinal if its sole purpose is to bring the evil-doer to repentance and to enable him to undo the evil wrought. It is purely retributive or avenging if its purpose is to vindicate and restore the glory and honor of one who has been offended by the evil deed, and thus, to restore the balance of justice by placing the evil-doer in an evil plight on account of the evil done.

2. Retributive punishment

Punishments on earth are, or ought to be, chiefly of a mixed character, partly curative, partly retributive. The punishment of hell is purely retributive. It has no medicinal purpose for the sinner undergoing it, though it has also a preventative purpose, by being a deterrent to others.

The righteousness of retributive justice is almost instinctively admitted by every reasonable person. When misdeeds entail no suffering for the offender, when crimes pass unpunished—the wicked prosper and the good succumb—there arises in every human soul the irresistible conviction that something is lacking, something wrong in the arrangement of the universe; also that such wrong cannot last for ever, and that in the end it must go well with the just and ill with the evil-doer.

This profound conviction is based on the idea that sin and suffering are correlatives; I mean that every sin committed necessarily entails the liability to a corresponding punishment, so that the balance of justice may be maintained. It is true that repentance obtains forgiveness. But repentance itself contains the will to make satisfaction, and satisfaction is a punishment which the sinner voluntarily inflicts upon himself in consequence of his sin, in order that the great Orderer of the universe may not inflict punishment, which has already been voluntarily endured.

Were, however, no evil consequence to follow the disobedience of an unrepentant sinner, man might rightly accuse the Supreme Guardian of the world of failing to vindicate the law of holiness, and might conclude that no holy intelligence was directing and controlling the order of created things. In strictly technical language, God wills the order of this universe, and must necessarily continue to will it, as long as it exists, for to maintain its existence is to will its order. Now the sinner rebels against this order. He cannot indeed disturb it objectively, for God’s will is sovereign and omnipotent, but he can pervert his own will and commit an act contrary to his final end, by adhering inordinately to an object of desire and enjoyment. If the order of the universe is to be maintained, the sinner’s will must of necessity be contravened and thwarted in the same measure as he himself has contravened and thwarted the due order by God established. Now all thwarting of the will is sorrow, and if in consequence of sin, such sorrow is punishment.

3. Its connection with sin

Punishment, therefore, must follow sin as its shadow. Punishment is the counterpoise of sin, demanded by intrinsic necessity to restore the balance of righteousness. As water seeks its own level, so punishment succeeds sin. Sufferings may be self-inflicted, as when we do penance; or inflicted by God, and then they are called punishment.

Retributive justice, therefore, is in itself the maintenance of order. It is properly called avenging or retributive justice in the case of divine punishments, because God, who maintains the order of the universe, is a personal God, not an abstract force, and all the laws of the universe are enacted by his personal will. The sinner, therefore, not only attempts to break the objective order of the universe in which he lives, but he offends the personal God who created him. The sinner by his deed—as far as in him lies—deprives God of the honor due to him in the obedience of all created wills and their gratitude for the benefit of their own existence. Divine punishments, therefore, vindicate God’s glory and in themselves are a manifestation of God’s holiness.

When thinking of an avenging God we must eliminate from our mind any idea that God desires or thirsts to be satiated with the sight of suffering. God desires or thirsts for nothing. No sin, however great, can lessen God’s happiness. No sinner can hurt God. God is not injured as we are injured on earth, smarting under the pain of the insult. Hence it is not a question of God paying the sinner back in his own coin—for every hurt received a hurt inflicted. God in punishing can have only one motive: his own infinite holiness and nothing else whatever.

Eternal punishment is the everlasting separation of God from the sinner, because the sinner continues to reject him; it is the allowing creatures to torment the sinner, because he has turned to creatures instead of to God as his ultimate end. This punishment is everlasting, not because God can never be satiated with the sight of the sinner’s pain, but because the sinner abides by his final choice, preferring a created good to God, and can no longer change his mind. He is eternally punished because he is eternally in the state of sin.


A. The Pain of Loss

1. Loss of the Beatific Vision

As in many minds the word hell stands merely for some confused idea of endless horror and misery, without any precise conception of its nature and what the Catholic Church teaches concerning it, we must needs begin with a simple exposition of what the Church means by hell.

What, then, is hell?

It is primarily the permanent deprivation of the Beatific Vision, inflicted on those who die in mortal sin.

Unbaptized children and unbaptized adults who were so mentally defective as to be incapable of choosing between good and evil will after life also lack the Beatific Vision. Such privation of Beatific Vision, when merely the consequence of original sin, is, however, seldom designated in English by the word “hell,” though in Latin the technical term “infernum” is sometimes used for it. In this essay we are not discussing the state of unbaptized infants or mental defectives, we are dealing exclusively with the punishment of those who die guilty of personal mortal sin, a punishment which primarily consists in the penal deprivation of the Beatific Vision.

The Beatific Vision is the sight of God face to face. This supernatural state of final bliss is studied in the essay on Heaven (Essay xxxv), the reading of which will contribute much to a fuller understanding of what is here written on hell.

Here we can consider the Beatific Vision only negatively, because its punitive absence constitutes the very essence of eternal damnation.

The natural end of man would have been to know God indirectly through his creatures, and to love him with a love corresponding to such knowledge. For such natural end man, as a matter of fact, was never destined. God gave him only a supernatural end, which is the direct sight of God without any intermediary, the vision which the Scriptures aptly describe as “face to face.”

2. The chief punishment of hell

To have lost hit end through one’s own fault constitutes the very nature of hell. It is called damnation, from the Latin word damnum, which means simply “loss.” It is the Great Loss. It is a loss which nothing can replace. The supernatural end of man having been lost by actual sin, no other end or purpose of a lower or natural kind can be attained. The sinner who loses the Beatific Vision loses his all, for his soul, though endowed with never-ending existence, will never attain the end or purpose to which none the less it must by the force of his nature eternally tend. It is the final and never-ceasing frustration of the craving of an immortal being.

In one sense one might speak of it as an infinite loss. For the object lost is God himself—God as the object of human knowledge and love. On the other hand, the loss is subjectively and strictly speaking not infinite. The pain of loss depends on the realization of the value of the thing lost. Even on earth two people may lose an object of intrinsically the same value and feel the loss unequally. All the damned los God, yet the punishment of all, however great, will not be equal, for the loss of God will mean more to one than to another.

It is sometimes said that the damned at the judgment will for a moment see God and then be deprived of his sight for ever. This is, however, an incorrect way of speaking. Once God is seen face to face, the soul will love him eternally; once the Beatific Vision is granted, it will never be withdrawn. Though this particular expression, therefore, is incorrect, still it is prompted by a true idea. Unless the soul were granted a deeper and greater realization of what God is than it had possessed on earth, the loss of the immediate vision of God would mean but little to it. Some flash of light must pierce the darkened mind, revealing to it the awful greatness and beauty of God at least in some indirect way in order that it may realize what it has lost. For us on earth God always remains something unseen and, as it were, abstract. He is the Great Unknown, at the back of universe, he is its maker and its maintainer, therefore all creation proclaims him indeed, but at the same time hides him from our sight. His very existence is only an inference, a valid inference, a spontaneous inference of reason, but still only a conclusion. He is not in himself an object of mental sight. We understand that he must contain within himself all perfections of the universe, but in a higher, more eminent way. We know God indeed also by revelation, he stands revealed in Jesus Christ, but even this revelation is not direct sight. The Apostles saw Christ’s manhood, not his Godhead, and what they have told us reveals the …
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