Monday, 19 March 2012

HELL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS BY VERY REV. FRANCIS J. RIPLEY Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society pt 3

If God is in hell, it ceases to be hell; His presence must aleviate the pains of the damned; therefore is not all you have been saying so far contradicted?   No; God's, presence in hell is merely physical. The fact that two people are in the same room does not mean that they have anything in common. Do you believe that a good and loving father wishes to torment his children for ever?   I do not. If God wanted to do that He would not have become man to save us from hell. A child can turn against its father; the damned in hell have turned against God. They have refused His mercy. Is not that mercy without limit?  Could not God have prevented souls refusing it? Why does He not do so?   Yes, God's mercy is without limit. Absolutely speaking God could force His creatures to accept His mercy. But in order to do that He would have to take away their free will. That would mean, at the behest of evil, repudiating His own plan for mankind. He would be subjecting Himself to evil. Wilful sinners would triumph in the end. It is not mercy to allow men to think that evil will not have due retribution. Does not the doctrine of hell make God like the man who sends a shipload of people out to sea knowing that some of them will certaintly be lost?   No; your comparison is faulty. You should add that the owner of the ship saw that it was seaworthy, made the first journey himself, put on board a captain who could not make a mistake, gave everybody strict instructions as to what to do and promised to be with them at all times to help them do it, and kept his promise. You will admit that God is not bound to create certain souls; if He knew they would be damned why does He create them?   We have already proved that hell is a fact. It is part of the plan of an infinitely wise, good and powerful God. Therefore it must be the best for His purposes. Who are we to dictate to Him? If we find it hard to reconcile certain facts we must blame our limited knowledge not God's infinite wisdom. God saw the whole plan. He permits evil only for the sake of good. But how can there be good in creating somebody who is going to be damned?   The very fact of his damnation means that he is a terrible witness of the justice of God. Suppose God refrained from creating those He knew would reject all He has done to help them save their souls, He would be subjecting Himself to evil. Moreover, He would also be preventing the existence of their descendants, amongst whom might be great saints. Are we to presume that all the ancestors of all the saints saved their souls? You are asking God to regulate His plans according to what He foresees would be Satan's success. That is surely unreasonable. Do all mortal sins deserve hell?   Yes; they are essentially the complete turning away from goodness and the acceptance of evil. Anything less than that is not mortal sin. Is it just that a man who dies without repenting after committing his first mortal sin should go to hell for ever whereas another person escapes hell by a death-bed repentance after a life of serious sin?   It is just. God is justice. He cannot be unjust. Remember that nobody goes to hell unless he deliberately and knowingly chooses grave evil in preference to God; he thereby rejects infinite love. Both the persons in your question were offered enough grace to save their souls; one rejected it, the other accepted it. Nobody but the sinner is to blame if he dies in mortal sin. God has surely given us enough warnings. Do you not find it hard to believe that just one mortal sin means damnation for ever?  No; because I am taught it by an infallible Church. Apart from that, I can see that this life is our time of trial. We come to the end of it having chosen deliberately good or evil. It seems perfectly reasonable that if we have made such a choice we should abide by it. If a man rejects God he chooses separation from God, and that is the essence of hell. Must there always be freedom, deliberation and enough knowledge to commit the kind of sin for which one can go to hell?   Yes—full deliberation and sufficient knowledge. If, for example, an insane man kills another, he would not go to hell for it.  Do you deny that the R.C. religon is based largely on fear?   Yes, I do. It is based on faith, hope and charity; nevertheless the Bible insists that "The fear of God is all wisdom" (Ecclus. 19:18). The fear of God is the fear of sons; it is a dread of offending the God who is worthy of all love, a fear of being separated from Him by sin. Are not R.C. churches filled many times every Sunday because the priests are careful to "keep the hell-fires burning"?   I hope not. I hope our people attend Mass because they love the Mass. We have an old saying : "It is the Mass that matters." At least they go from a sense of duty. But I would not blame unduly those who go to church because of a wholesome fear of hell. It is better to go for that motive than not to go at all. It ill becomes those who never go to church to blame those who do. Would not R.C. priests be wiser to follow the example of Christ and lead men by love rather than force them by the fear of hell?   Every priest is urged to follow Christ's example. Every priest indeed believes that in virtue of his mission and his orders he is another Christ. But in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Christ mentioned hell half a dozen times. What Christ taught about hell the Church teaches about hell and only that. The Church does not add to the teaching of Christ nor take away from it. It is my experience that sermons on hell are quite rare in our churches, perhaps too infrequent. Would not the R.C. Church be more popular and make more converts by teaching the love of God more than the fear of hell?   To say yes or no to that would be pointless. For twenty centuries the R.C. Church has taught just what her Founder Christ taught. She does not court popularity in any way opposed to Christ's teaching. She teaches what He taught about love—"It is the first and the greatest Commandment"—and about hell. Christ, the greatest of lovers, emphasised the fact of hell firmly and frequently. Do you suggest that His Church ought to do less? The Catholic Church tries to love good and hate evil as God does. His love of good is infinite; so is His hatred of evil. They must be. God loves all men with infinite love : He wills all men to be saved. But some men return His love unwanted. It is only through His love that they exist at all. God is love and goodness; He cares infinitely for all His creatures longing for each one to achieve its purpose and hating proportionately all that opposes that purpose. The due reward of good is heaven; the due reward of evil is hell. God's infinite love of good postulates infinite hatred of evil. Heaven is the counterpart in eternity of good in time; hell is the counterpart in eternity of evil in time. Could not the R.C. Church's insistence on hell be due to wrong translation of the Bible?   No. The word hell is not a faulty translation. Modern usage restricts it to the meaning we have given it in these pages. Is not death sufficient punishment for sin as the Bible says "the wages of sin is death"?   Christ did not think so. He revealed many things about the lot of the damned. "Death", in your quotation, is better understood as referring to spiritual death. Do all the damned suffer equally?   No. "God will render to every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27). May I be a Catholic if I believe in hell but a hell that will not last for ever?   No, you may not. The Church has defined, as we have seen, that hell is eternal. We can never understand the eternity of hell but we accept it humbly on God's authority. There can be no conflict between hell, its nature or its eternity and the infinite attributes of God. Would it not be more sensible to believe that instead of insisting on eternity of punishment for sinners God is satisfied with a token satisfaction?   You are mixed up. Only those souls go to hell who die unrepentant, having rejected the grace of repentance. God has given them sufficient grace to save their souls; maybe it was the grace of repentance; always it was the grace to overcome temptation to sin: "God is faithful and will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which you are able but will with temptation make issue that you may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13) Through adequate contrition and confession the sinner's soul is washed in Christ's Precious Blood. On the other hand the unrepentant sinner has insisted on rebelling in a grave matter against the order God has willed for His creation. His will thwarts God's will: if God's order for creation is to be restored the sinner's will must be thwarted in the same measure as he has contravened the order established by God. That contravening of the sinner's will is punishment. It must follow sin as a shadow. It is sin's counterpoise; intrinsic necessity demands it to restore the balance of righteousness. Just retribution is simply the maintenance of order. It is also the vindication of the glory of the God who has been wronged by sin, and a manifestation of His holiness. Do you maintain that sin hurts God and that He has, so to speak, to "get His own back"?   No; God cannot be hurt. He can be offended and deprived of the honour due to Him. God has only one motive in punishing and that is His own infinite holiness. Are there devils in hell with pitchforks and other nasty instruments of cruelty?   There are certainly devils in hell, but the use of such instruments is the result of letting the imagination run riot. Nevertheless, the devils can afflict the damned. Their very nearness is one of the horrors of hell. They, being fallen angels, are mightier than the damned humans. The latter by yielding to the devils' temptations have chosen them as masters in place of God for ever. They are doomed to everlasting submission to the masters they have chosen. Are there time and change in hell?   No. "Time shall be no longer" (Apoc. 10:6). The damned, like the saved, have come to their final state of changelessness. May we pray that the damned will suffer a mitigation of their torment?   No. St Thomas Aquinas wrote: "The damned in hell are outside the bond of charity, by which the works of the living extend to the dead; they have actually come to the terminus of their life, receiving the ultimate requital for what they deserve, even as the saints, who are in their final home." It seems that in creating hell and damning souls God has done what is eternally useless. Do you not agree that according to the R.C. Church He is keeping in being an eternal evil and admitting His own failure?   No. Hell is not useless. Many people have been deterred from sin because God has told us about it. The saints in heaven must rejoice because they have been saved from hell. It is surely not evil that everyone should be rewarded according to his works. It is surely not evil that men should have free will and decide their own eternal destiny. Hell is not evil in itself. God remains infinite though some men reject Him. Hell is the logical outcome of God's plan. If His plan were frustrated and thwarted, if He had been forced to change it, He would have failed. We must believe that His plan is the best for the purpose He had in view. God would be defeated if souls could go to heaven even though they did not love Him perfectly, if He were forced after a time to release them from hell. Those damned in hell glorify God in His justice which simply withholds His favour from those who refuse to acknowledge it. Is hell a mystery?   Yes. It is concerned with infinite realities and a finite mind cannot comprehend the infinite. But please do not think of hell and damnation without thinking of all that God has done to save the souls of men whom He has created. "Greater love than this, no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13)