Monday, December 9, 2019

November 12th, Adult Ed Series, City of God, Session 14 of 16, Hell

In this series, which has extended several months, we consider one of the greatest works of theology - St Augustine's City of God.  In this session, we review Book XXI - Hell and the Punishment of the Damned.

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The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 14, The Hell of the Damned

The gods of the nations are demons. (Ps 95)
Glorious things are said of thee, o City of God! (Ps 86)

Note on schedule: We come to the conclusion of the book with St Augustine’s discussion of the Day of Judgment, Hell and Heaven, the Resurrection of the body, and the New Heavens and New Earth. We conclude our course at the end of November.

I. Whether to treat first of hell or of heaven
A. Scripture sometimes first speaks of hell and then heaven, other times of heaven and then hell. St Augustine deals first with hell because it is in some ways more mysterious that their non-glorified bodies should exist forever in a living death, than that the glorified bodies of the saints should continue forever in glory.

B. Preliminary notes about whether heaven/hell is a “place” and whether the joys/pains are material or spiritual. Both are essentially spiritual realities and thus are not bound in a “place” in the same way as our life on earth – however, we must recognize that there is and will be a physical aspect of heaven and hell.

II. That the pains of hell are of both the soul and the body
[note: St Augustine speaks at length about many different legends/mysteries of the natural world. In many ways, his examples are not particularly helpful.]

A. Fire: The bodies of the damned will be punished by fire. Further, even the soul can be punished by fire (even before the resurrection, and also in the case of the demons) by being bound to the flames in a way that humbles them.

B. Worm: St Thomas Aquinas asserts that the worm is to be understood metaphorically, referring to the gnawing of conscience which torments the souls of the damned. It is not a true physical worm, because no animal other than men will be raised, neither will any other animal be re-created at the end of time.

C. Tears: Ordinary weeping will not be present in the resurrection of the damned, because those bodily functions will no longer operate. However, as a disturbance of the eyes and head, there will be this torment.

D. Darkness: There will be some amount of dim light to allow the damned to see certain images that bring them anguish, but Hell is said to be in darkness as being a dark place in which the sense of sight is deprived of its powers.

E. Where is hell? Many of the Church Fathers believe that hell is beneath the earth (or in the center of the earth); however, St Augustine and St Thomas as well as many others are not wholly decided on this point. What is essential is to maintain that hell will be a physical place after the resurrection, and even now it is more probable to assert that the souls of the damned are “in a place” insofar as they are suffering by material fire, even though the reality of hell for the soul is essentially not a place but a spiritual punishment.

IV. That the pains of hell are eternal
A. Scripture clearly speaks of hell as eternal.

B. Although a sin takes only a small amount of time to commit, the offense against God deserves an eternal punishment. Indeed, this is common to all punishments.

C. The souls of the damned are set irrevocably against God. This is the nature of the soul, that when it is separated from the body it is hardened in its disposition forever. The damned cannot repent because of the nature of the soul, nor do they want to repent because they are filled with hatred, nor would God allow them to repent because they are punished forever.

V. Justice and Mercy in God
A. From Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno 3 – “Through me you pass into the city of woe: / Through me you pass into eternal pain: / Through me among the people lost for aye. / Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd: / To rear me was the task of power divine, / Supremest wisdom, and primeval love. / Before me things create were none, save things / Eternal, and eternal I endure. / All hope abandon ye who enter here”

B. Fr Lacordaire: “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. […] Love is not a farce. It is God’s love which punishes, God’s crucified love. Love is life or death. And if that love is God’s love, then love is either eternal life or eternal death.”


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