The Pope and the Press

The Times reports:

Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, the Pope has said.

Addressing a parish gathering in a northern suburb of Rome, Benedict XVI said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to “admit blame and promise to sin no more”, they risked “eternal damnation — the Inferno”.

Hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more”, he said.

Here’s the homily (in Italian). But guess what? It appears to have only that one statement about hell. Nothing more. Must be a slow news day.

The more interesting questions–what is the nature of hell, and what does “eternal” mean–aren’t dealt with in the homily or the articles. And if it is “eternal” in the sense of God punishing the damned for ever and ever for a short human life’s worth of sin, then is this proportionate? Is this just? Does this not then make evil an eternal reality that God will never be able to cleanse the universe from? These are some interesting questions that he doesn’t get around to discussing in this homily. He did deal with some of them in Eschatology.

6 thoughts on “The Pope and the Press

  1. Before it’s all over, to make the Catholic (or Christian) faith coherent and influential, we’ll have to bring back hell.

  2. Bill,

    Have you read the depiction of Hell by the three children of Fatima? Pretty intense.

    Also, Father Reynolds would also include the Sistine Chapel- Last Judgement mural. That is pretty intense as well.


  3. As regards the eternity of hell, I am of the understanding (after having read Eschatology among other works) that this eternity is a consequence of the eternal gift of existence which God grants to us and which he will not take away.

    If, after our alloted time on earth, we cannot decide to be with God on his own terms, then we will never make that decision–thus the irrevocablity of damnation.

    Is God the source of those burning fires of Hell? Or is it rather the denizens thereof? Petty selfishness, cramped and roiling to get half a millimeter above the next soul, to get smashed down by one slightly stronger. I hope I never understand misery on that scale–it’s clear enough here on earth.

  4. Re-reading Ratzinger’s Eschatology on this point, I’m surprised by the brevity of his discussion–just a little over three pages of text.

    Hell exists, and its punishments are eternal, is the sum of the dogmatic content. This is articulated against the hopes of apokatastasis, the final reconciliation of all with God hoped for by Origen.

    The idea of a definitive self-exclusion from God rests in human freedom to choose to be apart from God.

  5. I re-read the short few pages to which you refer, and I was somewhat surprised to see a rather Balthasarian emphasis on Christ’s suffering in Hell.

    Compare this with the way Chist has always been depicted in the Harrowing of Hell: as being covered in Glory. I don’t understand the basis for claiming a “full kenosis” of Christ’s divinity, or the claim that he decended into hell as a suffering victim–on the Cross he said “It is finished.” How much more suffereing happens after “It is finished”? (And I say this as a fan of Balthasar.)

    On the other hand, I liked Ratzinger’s emphasis on the freedom of the gift, “Heaven reposes upon freedom, and so leaves to the damned the right to will their own damnation.” (Ratzinger, Eschatology p. 216)

  6. That’s an interesting point. I pulled out Introduction to Christianity to see how he covers it there. He describes hell (p. 300) as “a loneliness that the word love can no longer penetrate and that therefore indicates the exposed nature of existence in itself.”

    “This article [of the Creed] thus asserts that Christ strode through the gate of our final lonelinesss, that in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he (p. 301).”

    So, looking again at Eschatology (p. 216), Christ “descends into Hell and suffers it in all its emptiness”–connecting that with what he said before, the suffering that Christ there endured was that loneliness, that sense of abandonment (as in his cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”). We are to join Christ into that descent into darkness, the “dark night of the soul,” and thus draw “near to the Lord’s radiance” (p. 217).

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