Against C.S. Lewis’s Idea of Hell

Modern theology has become a dreadfully soft, sentimental affair. I suppose the remote causes lie in the Enlightenment reaction to the polemics following the Protestant Reformation, and that more proximate causes can be found in the 20th century dialectical dance between liberalism and totalitarianism, the rise of pop-psychology etc.

Nowhere does this softness manifest itself more than in modern theologian’s attitude towards Hell. A great many post-WWII theologians are complete universalists, but even those who try to stay within the bounds of the orthodox faith, and consider themselves superior to the fads of the times, become all pussyfooted and mealy-mouthed when the subject of Hell comes up.

Take our mutual friend C.S. Lewis. He was surely one of the least modernist of 20th century Protestants, but compare the picture of Hell that he gives in (say) The Great Divorce to the picture that one gets in Dante or in the Suplementum to Summa, and the contrast is amazing.

The picture of Hell that Lewis paints is one where the damned have to have be as near as possible totally depraved. The grumbling lady has to have become such that her whole self has been as near as possible eaten away by grumbling. If there is any little bit of authentic good left in her she can still be saved, as George MacDonald’s soul puts it:

If there is a real woman—even the least trace of one—still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.

Paolo and Francesca could hardly be damned in this picture, but it is one that has  great plausibility in modern eyes. There are intimations of it in Faust II, in the onion story in The Brothers Karamazov and so on. Echoes of it are everywhere even in magisterial teaching. There seems to be a similar conception behind the account of Hell in Spe Salvi 45. But I’ll leave the interpretation of Spe Salvi for another time (it has to be read in the light of other Magisterial statements), and turn to what’s wrong with Lewis’s position. “The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing.” So nearly is the key expression here. As Lewis well, knows pure evil is impossible; for something to be at all it must have some good, however twisted and perverted by evil it is. The reply to one of the objections in the article in the Supplementum on whether there is a Purgatory uses that truth to show why Lewis’s picture is wrong.

The objection (2) is that charity is to heaven what mortal sin is to hell, but those who die in mortal sin go to hell immediately, therefore those who die in charity ought to go to heaven immediately without first suffering in Purgatory. Here is the reply:

Evil has not a perfect cause, but results from each single defect: whereas good arises from one perfect cause, as Dionysius asserts [Div. Nom. iv, 4]. Hence each defect is an obstacle to the perfection of good; while not every good hinders some consummation of evil, since there is never evil without some good. Consequently venial sin prevents one who has charity from obtaining the perfect good, namely eternal life, until he be cleansed; whereas mortal sin cannot be hindered by some conjoined good from bringing a man forthwith to the extreme of evils.

This is almost (though not quite) the opposite of Lewis’s picture. In Lewis’s picture almost any little bit of good is enough to get someone saved, whereas they have to be quasi perfectly depraved to go to hell. Here a single mortal sin is enough to damn someone despite all the good they have in them. And this follows simply from the what-it-was-to-be of good and evil. Good is determination to one. Evil being some defect in that determination is quasi-infinite. This is the principle on which combination locks are made; there is only one way of getting the combination right, but practically unlimited ways of getting it wrong. And the sad thing is that one only needs a single number off for the whole combination to be useless. The key to the lock of eternal life is conformity to the Son of God through the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Now any single mortal sin, as the practical negation of God, is sufficient to destroy those virtues in the soul, and thus a man can be damned for a single mortal sin even if he is otherwise full of goodness. On the other hand someone who dies in a state of grace, but in whom supernatural virtue has not completely determined his whole being to the image of Christ must first be entirely cleansed in Purgatory before being admitted to Heaven.

25 thoughts on “Against C.S. Lewis’s Idea of Hell

  1. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    Though (it seems to me) that that famous line undersells the diverseness of good here-below—since God ordained a hierarchy whose whole was better, in some sense, than the mere sum of its parts (“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”)—I’ve always thought that it gets quite nicely at the fact that fundamentally the good _is_, as you say, determination to one. An illustration of this is, perhaps, the fact that in mathematics several different proofs of the same problem may differ in their argument, yet are all still “ordered to one” insofar as there all arrive at the one correct answer. (E.g. that the squares of the 2 sides of a right triangle are equal to the square of the hypotenuse has been shown through an amazing variety of proofs.)

    Hell isn’t a very popular topic these days, but it has been on my mind lately as I’ve been thinking over various objections to capital punishment: the doctrine of eternal damnation is a difficulty with the “New Natural Law” crowd’s argument against capital punishment from dignity, and a difficulty that I have never seen adequately explained. And, of course, Hell (and capital punishment) only can be justified at the cosmological (or societal) level—seen from the internal view of the damned, “their deceitfulness is in vain” as the Psalmist says.

    It all comes back to the common-good!


  2. I think you are so right that it all comes down to a denial of the primacy of the common good. The primacy of the common good suffuses Dante, but is absent in Lewis. In the brilliant last chapter to ‘The Problem of Pain’ Lewis comes at some points quite close–there is some fantastic stuff on the communicability of beatitude–but it is mixed up with a kind of personalism’.


  3. Just wondering: clearly the distinction St. Thomas makes between good and evil, the one having a perfect cause and the other not, applies to the consideration of what will merit heaven or hell; but should we assume that the state of those who merit heaven or hell is quite the same as that of those who have not only merited, but actually received, their reward? In the latter case, whether the reward be heaven or hell, the picture seems to me to be nearly beyond what we we can now fathom. St. John says as much about heaven; is it not perhaps true also about hell?

    The Psalm Joel quotes seems entirely relevant: of those who are in a state of mortal sin, but still redeemable, it might be said that “their deceitfulness is vain.” But of those who are definitively damned, and know it, that statement seems to me to acquire a meaning of a much deeper (and much more frightening) sort. Satan could not continue to do his infernal work if he did not quite nearly make an internal contradiction of his very own person — to which Christ’s words, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand,” seem most of all to apply. Won’t that be true of all the damned? Will they not, in a way, end by turning themselves against God in a way that obliges them to be thoroughly (so to speak) self-deceptive, precisely regarding who they are? Wouldn’t the contrary view amount to supposing that they could still repent of their sin?

    The story of Francesca and Paolo has in this regard always struck me as poetically moving but theologically very unsatisfying. But maybe I am wrong. I do think the opinion you are proposing is less disturbing — but that doesn’t, of course, prove it’s right. What do you think?


  4. I should speak cautiously on these things, since I know that many ‘courteous souls’ (to use Charles Williams’s expression), much more attuned to divine things than mine, disagree with me here.

    But it does seem to me that all the accounts of judgement that we have in the Gospel’s seem to support reading ‘their deceitfulness is in vain’ to mean precisely that they are no-longer deceived about who they are, but that they see what they are and have neither excuse nor repentance: “and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

    Why does it not follow that the damned can repent? James Chastek has a very thoughtful reflection on this that I’m not sure what to think of exactly:

    Here’s a snip:

    To see the pain we caused our neighbors is only to see how we offended the second greatest commandment. It remains to see our offenses from the perspective of God himself. No matter how much our neighbors loved us or were involved with us, it was still a finite love and involvement. They were not loving us always, and infinitely. Who could survive the vision of giving this sort of offense? The saint who committed the smallest of venial sins, once in his life, couldn’t stand such a judgment. We would require a total dependence on God in order to survive this last vision of judgment. So what if we don’t wake in the presence of God? That is, it seems to me, to be trapped in infinite torture. Hatred, irrationality, and burning.


  5. Pingback: Christopher Hollis on Hell « Sancrucensis

  6. I see it must be true, of course, that the last judgment will consist in the first place of God revealing his Love, and revealing to us, in consequence, the truth about ourselves. But “to no longer be deceived about who one is” seems to involve more than is perhaps apparent at first. I am supposing that the state of the damned involves an irrevocable turning away from God’s love; that is, that it is not only God rejecting the soul for past sins, but in effect a continued state of voluntary sin — the creature turning away from God, in other words –, made worse by the fact of the sin now being irrevocable. Such a turning away from God seems all the greater if it happens after the judgment, when the truth has been revealed; and I am thinking that, as with all sin, it must involve a voluntary self-deception.

    So it appears to me that there must be a consummation of love in the moment of the last judgment for those whom the bridegroom receives, and that there must be something which is the reverse of this in the others. I am thinking that this must be the opposite of love … hatred.

    Satan, evidently, perpetuates his own sin even now, as he tries to thwart God’s Providence. I am supposing that all the damned would do likewise, to some extent. But perhaps it is different after the final judgment?


  7. Hmm I’m beginning to see your point. All sin involves a certain at least some kind of self-deception, so the irrepentance of the damned would seem to argue a certain amount of self-deception.

    I suppose that must be right, I don’t see why it would have to be “thoroughly” self-deceptive. Even Satan’s own self-deception seems very subtle. De Koninck (following J. of St. Th. I think) says Satan’s error is “purely practical”.

    The interesting thing about Chastek’s account is that what he makes eternal precisely the “moment” of irrational rage that follows on on the realization that one has no excuse, one’s deceptions is in vain: I’m quite confident that this will be a terrible and even unbearable humiliation. I suspect the company we find ourselves in during the moment of judgment will make all the difference. Should we suffer the judgment in the presence of the angels, we could see them seeing us and still loving us, which could make the vision bearable. We could accept the vision and it could pass. But what if we awake in the presence of the demons? Then what? We could only look at the rolling vision of our life and burn with rage. We would respond to the judgment irrationally. Since everyone around us would see right through our justifications, our only response could be sheer spleen, screaming, and mockery. This act would trap us in our judgment and leave us incapable of moving beyond it. We would remain fixed and trapped irrevocably in that moment of sheer hatred.

    That seems to me a fairly convincing description of a purely practical error. The irrational rage is not based on any speculative deception about who one is and where one’s true good lies. And yet there is no reason why the one suffering that judgement eternally should not be in many accidental ways good.


    • Mr. Collins,

      In keeping with what P. Edmund raised, I’m not sure I follow your account, though I very much see the tension between the necessity of self-deception in sin, and the fact that God’s love is revealed to all.

      But what do you make of St. Paul’s text in Philippians: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”? (Philippians 2:10). Mustn’t this be read as saying that at the final judgment even the damned will recognize Christ as Lord? Though the puzzle of how people can choose against the good remains, isn’t a principle part of the horror of hell the fact that the damned have knowledge of their own forsakenness?

      “Their deception was in vain” can obviously be taken in many ways—it was in vain because God brought about the greater good and the wicked were unable to thwart His will; it was in vain because God cannot be deceived; it was in vain because the truth will be laid bare finally at the last judgment. But isn’t it also in vain because ultimately (when it was too late) the wicked no longer deceive themselves? That is, my very tentative “solution,” is that the reprobate deceive themselves here on Earth, and only after the Final Judgment do they see the truth. Yet at the same time, the conclusion remains inescapable that they must persist somehow in their sin and hence also in their self-delusion. These are fairly chilling thoughts, and I don’t know what to make of them. There seems to be some support for this position in St. Thomas, but also, perhaps more support for the contrary position. I don’t see any-place that he directly deals with this question.

      Joel Feil


      • A sentence got left out. The “solution” for which there is some support in Thomas but also some texts that point the other way–is that the will is hardened after death, so that in the damned it no longer obeys the intellect at all. Thus, if the fall weakens our will (i.e. our appetites and desires are no longer obedient to our mind), and heaven perfects it, then hell must be the final consumation of the fall. Therefore, in Hell, the will is disobedient and one remains trapped in one’s sin.

        This is all very tentative, and I don’t propose it as a final solution, or even something I have thought all the way out. Just as an idea that I’ve been mulling over.

        Joel Feil


  8. Your post moved me to return to a draft blog post I’d had in mind to write for a while, on two views of the everlastingness of hell. The explanation that a single major defect is sufficient in order to make something bad seems to be, taken alone, inadequate to explain the perpetuity of hell, as indeed, you don’t attempt to explain in this post. For if a person is bad, but not radically bad, then they will be actually bad, in accordance with that principle, but will still be good in potency, since the original tendency of the will toward goodness will remain, and this will be able to unfold to the whole perfection of goodness. This is manifestly true in this life. One is unable to point to anyone in this life who is or was not good in potency.

    But if the person who dies is not already radically bad, or does not become radically bad in the process of death, and thus become lacking in a real potency for good, then it seems that the principal punishment for the mortal sin committed in this life is that God withdraws his movement of that creature towards good, even that movement towards good to which the creature would of itself be open. Thus, while in this life God gives his grace to everyone who is open to receiving it, after death God does not give his grace to sinners in the measure in which they are open to receiving it, but infinitely less. Despite some support in the tradition for this position, it seems to me to be not unproblematic.

    Regarding the possibility that a person who dies in mortal sin could become radically bad in the process of death, I’m not sure that Dante and Lewis differ much. Both present those in hell as reduced to their sin, or perpetually fixed in their sin. It is not at all clear, however, that Lewis thinks that this fixation in sin is something that would have been manifest in this life, or would have been fully actual in this life.

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  9. That’s very helpful, and it has clarified some things in my own mind. The “middle” position that you mention (that the sinner becomes “radically” bad in the moment of death) is the position that Mr Collins argued for, and the reason you give for having to take one of those three is the reason he gives for taking the middle one. Unlike you though, Mr Collins shows how truly paradoxical this position is. The encounter with God’s love lays all the cards on the table, showing the damned the whole truth about themselves, but simultaneously eliciting in them a kind of heroic self-contradiction of self-deception. (Am I being fair to your position, Mr Collins?) That position doesn’t seem convincing to me.

    I’m not sure that I see the force of your argument against the hardening of the heart position. The way you put it seems to gloss over the gratuity of grace. Surely the truly mysterious thing is not the eternity of damnation, but the fact that not everyone is damned, as St Augustine says: “the whole mass of the human race is condemned; for he who at first gave entrance to sin has been punished with all his posterity who were in him as in a root, so that no one is exempt from this just and due punishment, unless delivered by mercy and undeserved grace; and the human race is so apportioned that in some is displayed the efficacy of merciful grace, in the rest the efficacy of just retribution.” (Civ. Dei. XXI, 12) As Joel says, what makes Augustine’s teaching intelligible is the primacy of the common good.

    On the Dante-Lewis contrast: perhaps there is something to what you say, but in Dante the fixation in sin-as-punishment of the damned leaves them still very human, capable of bewailing the ills of Florence etc., whereas Lewis speaks of it as being an almost total annihilation–in The Problem of Pain he writes: “If souls can be destroyed, must there not be a state of having been a human soul? And is not that, perhaps, the state which is equally well described as torment, destruction, and privation? You will remember that in the parable, the saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell, is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is ‘remains’. To be a complete man means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God: to have been a man – to be an ex-man or ‘damned ghost’ – would presumably mean to consist of a will utterly centred in it’s self and passions utterly uncontrolled by the will. It is, of course, impossible to imagine what the consciousness of such a creature – already a loose congeries of mutually antagonistic sins rather than a sinner – would be like.”


    • At no point in time is it a matter of justice that a person receive grace when he is open to it, it is a matter of God’s generosity. Given that this generosity is very frequently said to extend even to those damned, punishing them less than they deserve, I am hesitant to explain the lack of grace in the damned in comparison with those in mortal sin in this life by God’s being less generous, and prefer to explain it by the condition of the damned.

      The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about both temporal and eternal punishment, “These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin” (n. 1472). This does not prove, but suggests that the inability of the damned to convert is not due to a withholding of grace, to which the damned would otherwise be susceptible, as a punishment for sins in this life — but that for one reason or another they are simply no longer susceptible to grace.

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      • Well, perhaps you’re right. I suppose what makes me resist is the worry that this will lead to saying things such as what Lewis says at the very end of the ch. on Hell in The Problem of Pain about damnation being a “defeat of omnipotence”:

        Finally, it is objected that the ultimate loss of a single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call miracle: for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity. I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.

        On Augustine’s view it’s clear that one can’t say that. On yours it is at least a little less clear why one wouldn’t.


      • Yes, to call damnation a “defeat of omnipotence” is certainly problematic, as is the position of those who would insist that God does all that he could possibly do to ensure the salvation of and prevent the damnation of each individual.

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        • “is the position of those who would insist that God does all that he could possibly do to ensure the salvation of and prevent the damnation of each individual.”

          This is one of the few places I’ve heard someone say that this _should not_ be insisted. Put yourself in the shoes of the sinner for whom God is _not_ doing all He could possibly do. Who, then, can that sinner hope to, in the matter of seeking Good and recognizing and turning from the evil path? Himself?


          • The sinner can and should turn to God, who gives the sinner far more than enough graces to turn from sin and embrace what is truly good, to love God and his neighbor. God’s abundant grace is more than sufficient grounds for hope.
            There is an enormous gap between “doing little or nothing” for a sinner and “doing all that is within the power of divine omnipotence” to save a person. Imagine what even an angel, with its limited power, could do for a hardened sinner, if God’s providence permitted it. He could give the sinner total amnesia, so that he retained no memories and no habits, good or bad, transport him to a loving family that would raise him in the christian faith and teach him to confess his sins and to ask forgiveness for them. While a person deprived of all bad habits and ways of thinking and transferred to a good and loving home would not be guaranteed to accept the good news of the Gospel of Christ, the likelihood would be far greater than that of his conversion without this intervention. And when he then made an act of charity, or when he received sacramental absolution, he would be forgiven all the sins he had previously committed, and which he had entirely forgotten.
            This is just one example, which doesn’t even require divine omnipotence. There are many more and even more effective things God could do to convert sinners, which are however not part of his divine providence, which preserves the order of nature and only rarely does miracles aside from that order.


          • For a while I considered Fr. Joseph’s comment, that if God (or some lesser angel) wanted to save a person ‘all that much’, He could knock that person over the head to give him amnesia, place them in a Catholic family, and have them brought up according to the truths of the faith, to be a workable reductio ad absurdum.

            On the other hand, it occurred to me that this reductio itself comes from absurd premises. Erasing someone’s memory does not amount to saving them, it amounts to destroying them, unless you pick a definition of “them” that does not actually include any element of the actual person. The hypothetical lesser angel willing to resort to salvation-via-amnesia displays just an attitude towards people, that sees them as interchangeable blank slates which can be filled with plus or minus elements. Personality traits, individuality, and all that just get in the way — toss all that clutter and baggage out and start over! This is not just contrary to particular love for a person; it amounts to hatred for them, a statement that God should repent of His creation. God, on the other hand, wants (or doesn’t want, if you want to argue that) to save individual people as they are, flaws and all. A flaw is not yet a sin, and the whole problem of having flaws would become a non-issue if in my life I would manage to rely on the perfect God as the load-bearing element, rather than the imperfect me. Which comes back to the question, if God doesn’t particularly want to save me, what could I, the pitiful worm, ever do that would make Him change his mind on that? It is all very well to say I should make every effort to repent and confess… to someone… but absent a notion that God may be working on my behalf where I am not able to do so, I cannot even hope to navigate basic questions like the Great Schism: is God Catholic or Orthodox? To what extent does He care? Is my intellect sufficient to unravel the 1000 years of Church history behind that particular squabble without falling into self-deception along the way?

            (On a discussion we had on a later post, I recall having Newman’s advice recommended to me; but that is intelligible to me because I assume precisely the ‘modernist’ CS Lewis synthesis on Hell and judgment, wherein God wants to save everyone, and it is only His covenant to do so without violating our often-perverse free wills that might ever prevent Him from doing just that. In that context, then, if I do not have a perfect idea of God, I will be doing the best I can do if I direct my assent towards the best idea of God that I happen to have; Newman’s words have perfect sense.

            On the other hand, I can discern another synthesis which basically treats the unbaptized as raw material; lumps of play-doh which, because they possess no real or lasting sort of virtue, from themselves or from God, are basically interchangeable — if one does not make it to the Church, some other one will. Well and fine for those who can only ever remember being in the Church, but that approach has zero advice in it for me. Maybe this view has a fine antiquity; but it still seems to miss the fact that God is in the business of saving people rather than units of humanity.)

            What is more, salvation-via-amnesia is absurd because it does not solve the problem of the earlier sins, only lawyers its way out of them in a bizarre (if hypothetical) abuse of the Church discipline on confessions. Very well, says the Church, a penitent is off the hook for mortal sins that he has somehow forgot about — because we cannot lay burdens on him that he cannot in principle bear. But that is not an invitation for the penitent to escape his previous life by administering amnesiac drugs. The proper response to that particular mercy is not to continue failing to remember, but to make every effort _to_ remember, come back, and make a more perfect confession.

            Finally, in order for the person after-amnesia and the person pre-amnesia to end up constituting the same person, there would still need to be a reckoning; the amnesia would have to be temporary at best. Whether the memory is restored before death or after death, there is a decision point there — you say that the later person might be given a good Catholic upbringing, but is that upbringing strong enough to sway the earlier person when it comes to a direct comparison of the two memories? If there is not such reckoning, there would in fact be two different people — would they not have to be resurrected separately, and judged separately? Or does the earlier person undergo the total oblivion that an atheist puts his hopes in, simply because the matter that makes up his body was used by a different person for a while?


  10. My impression was always that the impossibility of repentance was based, at least in part, on the condition of the soul at death. While not becoming an angel (and in fact lacking a quiddity in the strict sense) it nevertheless is a separated “substance” and so the only question is if its will is set at the last moment of its earthly life or the first moment of its separated life, that is, if the decision that fixes it in a single state is made looking backwards at ones earthly life or forwards at ones separated life. Cajetan argues somewhere for the latter position, though the sober consensus is against him (as the tree falls, so it lies, etc.)

    On this account, there seems to be a logical impossibility of actualizing any good that might be potential in the soul, simply because no such potency can exist. There is no possibility for what can’t be actualized. God could not give the grace of repentance to a separated soul because it is not the sort of subject that can repent, and this is a metaphysical statement about its nature as opposed to being a moral statement about its incorrigibility. One would still need to account for some sort of change in the separated soul in order to account for the Church Suffering (it’s hard to see how purgatory does not involve some sort of actualization of a potential moral good). But I’m intrigued by the possibilities it opens up for theology, since it seems to introduce a difference in genus between the move from sin to grace and from grace to perfect sanctity.

    Ratzinger will have none of this, of course, and I suspect his response would be typical of Contemporary theology. He is right to point out that it is ridiculous to think that death makes man an angel, and so comparing the sep. soul and an angel is either a category mistake or an ad hoc declaration to solve a problem by fiat. This is a pretty powerful critique against anyone who would argue that impenitence follows the state of the soul in separation. In order to speak to the critique, we need some articulation of what sort of duration the separated soul has, that is, what sort of operation this duration is measuring. There are difficulties with any extant account of duration, since all of them are describe the operations of various natures, while the separated soul does not have a nature in the sense of a complete essence. Again, it’s not a quiddity. The sep. soul is not in time (no body) it is not in the aevum (which is proper to the angels) and it is obviously not measured by the absolute immobility of the divine eternity. Some sort of Participation-in-a-duration account seems like the simplest avenue, but it’s not at all clear to me how one would flesh it out, or if revelation gives us the principles to do so.


    • Aquinas does suggest that the possibility of alteration of will is connected to the soul’s union to the body, and so the separate soul’s will is immutable. However, it is not clear to me that he says this except by the way, as a means of explaining the fact of immutability (from good to bad or bad to good) that is handed down in Scripture and Tradition. I don’t recall much use of this line of thinking in the fathers. My impression is that it mostly begins with the scholastics.

      Some further notes on this account. This account would not, of itself, explain why the soul remains immutable (incorrigible, in the case of the bad soul), when reunited to the body in the resurrection. This incorrigibility could of course be explained in various ways, including, say, being caused a hatred that arises from self-love reacting to just punishment.

      Also, it seems reasonable to question whether the separated soul CAN be frozen in a state essentially related to the division caused by various inordinate passions, or whether the “freezing” also involves a determination to one side, the way a frozen pin, top, or man for that matter, which becomes immobile falls to one side or the other. I wonder, though a man in this life can turn away from God without having an alternative specific and determinate final end (e.g., when a man sins for the sake of pleasure, he does not necessary thereby make pleasure his final last end, to which he orders everything else), whether in death he cannot but order himself determinately to some determinate final end, whether that be himself, his power or autonomy, his satisfaction (pleasure), or God. If this is so, it might give an answer to the other difficulty, why the soul remains immutable when reunited to the body.


    • It is interesting that in Summa Contra Gentiles IV, ch. 92-95, Aquinas argues that the blessed souls cannot turn from good to evil, because the possibility of that would be opposed to beatitude, because, seeing God, there could be no cause for their turning away for him, etc., and that the damned cannot turn from evil to good because that would either mean their punishment is not eternal or that someone with a good will would be punished eternally, because the very disorder of will is a punishment, because the souls of the damned are totally excluded from all grace, and because they have some end, to which they relate as the blessed relate to their end, immovably.

      In ch. 95 Aquinas makes a general argument that any separated soul is immovable with respect to its last end, because it requires the body in order to change. I am somewhat inclined to think, from the fact that he does not at all allude to this in speaking about heaven or hell, that this argument is in a sense a secondary argument.


      • I think you’re right Joseph, about the arguments from the soul needing the body for change being secondary arguments. The arguments you allude to from SCG are more concerned with final causes, whereas this is more concerned with means and material causes.


  11. Hmm. That’s interesting. On this account what would explain the continued incorrigibility of the damned after the general resurrection? Is it precisely the experience of being an unambiguously bad separated soul that makes the for the radical corruption for which Mr Collins has been arguing?


  12. Well, just as I don’t have a very clear idea about the mode of duration of the separated soul, I have even less of an idea of the mode of duration for the glorified body. It’s not clear to me that they could not be explained by a similar principle, though the initial evidence would give strong arguments against doing so. Christ was really with us for 40 days, and not just in the same way that, say, Gabriel might have appeared to Mary for 30 seconds (or however much time it took). This certain seems to suggest that the glorified body is a temporal being, though this is not clear. No account of time (I’m thinking both Aristotle’s and Einstein’s) would know quite what to do with a subject that could move instantaneously or be wherever it thought itself, and there are some suggestions that Christ was capable of this. But here again, it’s not clear that Scripture gives us the principles to solve the question.

    And at any rate, the old Medieval accounts of time are in great disrepair. As far as anyone can tell, here is no one primum mobile, and this was crucial for giving an account of temporal duration. Again, Collins might be right that, though motion is some act of a potential, it’s not the act of the potential that Thomists have come to think it is (there is, for example, the very thorny problem that change in place does not reduce to some first place- at least not place as an immobile container… and how could place move? What would change of place be?) Without this, we don’t have a very solid point of departure to move to the aevum or eternity; and it is only after we get this that we could move on to a treatment of the imperfect duration of the separated substances. Our fellow alum Rob Gauvin used to argue with me that time had to be incorporated into the definition of place – in which case (he didn’t say this, but it follows) very little of the old accounts of time can stand. The first motion (by all accounts) is the change in place, and so if time is incorporated into this, time becomes prior to motion, or at least separable from it.

    In general, though, the question about hell does challenge us to raise the question whether the foundation for incorrigibility is ontological or moral.


  13. It strikes me that, particularly in light of theology in which God and Heaven are outside of time as we understand it, a lot of the above difficulties in accounting for the state of the blessed and damned proceed from the assumption that a human being dies, enters Eternity and is judged solely as the person they are at the moment of death. So, under that model, if I sin mortally, and then die, I enter Hell; if I sin mortally and receive absolution of my sins, and then die, I enter Purgatory, most likely.

    However, if we look at a human being from outside time, he appears to be a complex entity with extension in time as well as space. We can point to his various temporal parts: this is him at five years of age; this is him in adulthood; this is his old age. Thus there has to be some kind of integration of these various temporal parts, and whatever Good they manifested, into a single person; if I am saved, I will be about as much who I was when I was five years old as who I am now, or who I will be in ten years’ time. If I am saved, I will be able to perceive the entirety of my being and how its parts relate; and how it is completed and given purpose by its relation to God.

    From this eternal standpoint, sin clearly fractures the essential unity of the human being. Not only do I set myself against God when I sin, but my temporal parts are put into war against one another; I betray my earlier self and its aspirations, I betray my later self who will bear the consequences of my sin on my behalf. I deny these earlier and later selves their reality, in favour of asserting myself to be some other loathsome thing, opposed to what God created when He created me at all my various ages.

    When I sin, in one way or another, for all my life; when the ages of my soul are at war with one another, and cohere only imperfectly; it is clear that only God can judge if there is a true self that remains, that He would see fit to create, and who that true self is.

    This seems to be the only way I can make sense of certain things a man can endure in time, in light of immortality of the soul. Forgetfulness, dementia; multiple personality disorders and brain injuries that produce involuntary changes of personality. All of those seem to be able to destroy a man and change him into another; the earlier man, then, he will never appear before the Judgment, to be damned or justified, only the later man will appear.

    But of course this view only makes it inescapable to ask this question; it does not answer the issue. If the man at twenty years old damns himself by his own actions, what does that say about the Eternal (atemporal fate) of the same man in childhood? Could they really face the Judgment, not separately, but as separate parts of the same whole (just as human beings are judged as separate parts of the whole of humanity)?

    So, this view goes against a basic assumption of how sin and judgment operates, which is that the later person entirely supersedes and destroys the earlier person, for better or for worse; when Judgment comes, only the later person _exists_ to be judged. I suppose that makes my speculation entirely problematic, but I have not found a good discussion of Catholic theology or (say) Thomism that justifies or argues the Catholic assumption, which I could use to address these issues for myself.


  14. Pingback: Links R & C 8 | Sancrucensis

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