Friday, March 30, 2018

No hell, no heaven

As Aquinas teaches, Christ did not die to save the fallen angels, because they cannot be saved.  They cannot be saved because their wills are locked on to evil.  It is impossible for them to repent.  It is impossible for them to repent because they are incorporeal, and thus lack the bodily preconditions for the changeability of the will’s basic orientation toward either good or evil.  An angel makes this basic choice once and for all upon its creation.  It is because we are corporeal that Christ can save us.  But he can do so only while we are still in the flesh.  Upon death, the soul is divorced from the body and thus, like an angel, becomes locked on to a basic orientation toward either good or evil.  If it is not saved before death, it cannot be saved.  It’s game over.  I explained the reasons for all this in a post on the metaphysics of damnation.
Now, there is an exact parallel with the condition of the saved.  They cannot be unsaved, and for the same reason.  Their wills are locked on to good.  It is impossible for them, after death, ever to fall away again into evil.  You might say that that just is heaven, or what is fundamental to heaven.  It is the impossibility of ever doing evil.  It involves rewards beyond that, of course, but the rewards follow upon the fact that you are forever safe in only ever willing good, and thus can be forever worthy of such rewards.  
The parallel is so exact that you cannot deny hell without denying heaven.  As Aquinas writes:

It was Origen's opinion [Peri Archon i. 6] that every will of the creature can by reason of free-will be inclined to good and evil; with the exception of the soul of Christ on account of the union of the Word.  Such a statement deprives angels and saints of true beatitude, because everlasting stability is of the very nature of true beatitude; hence it is termed “life everlasting.”

If the wills of the damned could change after death, then so too could the wills of the saved.  Thus, they wouldn’t truly be saved any more than the former would truly be damned.  They would forever be in danger of falling again into evil and facing punishment for doing so.  The travails and instability of this life would never end.  Hence, no hell, no heaven either.

But doesn’t the parallel break down insofar as God could simply annihilate the damned souls while preserving those that are saved?  No, and for two reasons.  First, as I have argued elsewhere, there is a sense in which the damned perpetually choose to continue existing insofar as their will is locked, upon death, on a certain (evil) way of being, rather than on non-being.  God gives everyone what he wants.  It’s just that what the saved perpetually want is a way of being that is good and what the damned perpetually want is a way of being that is evil.

Second, there are consequences to getting what we want.  It is often said that we damn ourselves, and that is true.  But that is only part of the story, and as I have argued elsewhere, there is also a sense in which God really does damn us.  For good and evil choices merit, respectively, rewards and punishments, so that just as someone who perpetually chooses good perpetually merits rewards, so too do those who perpetually will evil perpetually merit punishments.  And in both cases, God ensures that this is exactly what they get.  Again, the parallel between heaven and hell is exact.

This is just cold, hard metaphysical reality, and has nothing to do with what the defender of the doctrine of hell wants.  Suppose there’s a fork in the road, the right side of which leads safely home and the left side of which leads to a yawning chasm.  Suppose I veer left and you warn me to turn back before I drive off the cliff and meet a fiery end.  It would be extremely bizarre if I responded to this friendly advice by accusing you of wanting me to die in such a crash, and insisted that if you really cared about me you would tell me that the left road too leads home, or at least will lead only to a minor and temporary inconvenience (a roadblock, say) rather than to death.  The truth, of course, is that you want me not to be harmed and that that is precisely why you are warning me, and that if you were to tell me that a left turn would not lead to a fiery death you would be deceiving me and putting me in grave danger. 

But blaming the messenger in this irrational way is precisely the reaction of many critics of the doctrine of hell.  They accuse the defender of the doctrine of lacking mercy, and of wanting people to be damned.  This is delusional, and as with the motorist who ignores all warnings and keeps speeding toward the cliff, it is a delusion that only increases the danger of calamity.  But in neither case can the delusion last.  The soul in danger, like the motorist in danger, will, one way or the other, realize eventually that the warnings were accurate.  The only question is whether he finds out the easy way or the hard way. 

Related posts:


  1. Couple of questions:

    1. No living Christian is actually incapable of willing evil. So if upon death a Christian becomes the type of being that is incapable of willing evil, he has undergone a tremendous change, even though he does not have a body. So why is this initial non-corporeal change possible, but all further non-corporeal changes impossible?

    2. Christianity preaches the resurrection of the dead, which entails the conjoining of the spirit with a physical form. Why can't the soul undergo change when it is again conjoined to a physical form post-resurrection?

    3. How exactly do we know that only physical things can change? What are the independent arguments for this?

    (I'll take references to other articles or books as an answer to this; not expecting anyone to defend such a claim in the combox.)

    1. Matter is, at bottom, simply the potential to take on form. Without any potential things cannot change. So, change requires matter (except perhaps the change from non-existence to existence).

      If something immaterial were to "change" the only thing that could possibly "change" would be its form and if you "change" something's form, it becomes an entirely new thing. In reality, the old thing is obliterated and you have some other new thing which replaces it.

    2. I understand that matter is A basis for change but what's the justification for thinking it's the ONLY basis for change? (Again, looking to be referred to the arguments, not asking anyone to defend such a big principle here.)

      For example, I can envision an immaterial mind going through a succession of thoughts. Such a mind would be undergoing change, despite lacking any physical components. From your response, I assume you would say this isn't one mind going through a change but rather two different entities (or as many different entities as there were thoughts). But I don't see the motivation to see it that way.

    3. My take on this question is that a spirit without material body can change, but because its central spiritual essence is immutable, any new attributes acquired in basic consciousness and superadded to the essence participate in the immutability and are irreversible, while more peripheral aspects of consciousness are more remote from the central principle of the essence, and therefore can change. So purgatory is possible but a basic change of mind from good to evil is not.

      In this life our central principle is matter-plus-spirit and not spirit only, and matter imposes its changeability on spirit, so basic change of consciousness including reversal of good or evil will is possible.

      So could a resurrected person change their mind? Here the factor of spirit-dominance comes in. According to 1 Corinthians 15 the resurrected glorified body is a spiritual body, not in the sense of non-fleshly but in the sense that the spirit dominates the body rather than vice versa.

      On earth the matter of the gametes comes first, then the soul is infused; so matter sets the background conditions for spirit. As a result in this life we have matter dominance where matter imposes itself on the spirit. The mind sometimes can't act if the brain is injured; the mind loses consciousness when the body is fatigued etc. And matter imposes its basic changeability on spirit so that our will can change from good to evil.

      With the resurrection it is different. the disembodied spirit comes first and the body is united to it, so spirit sets the boundary conditions for matter, the reverse of what happens when we are conceived. So the resurrected life is spirit-dominant, not matter-dominant. The spirit imposes its attributes on matter so that e.g. the body is immortal like the spirit is, and the moral qualities of the spirit are reflected in the body (resurrected persons are beautiful, the damned are ugly). Because there is no matter-dominance, matter does not impose its basic mutability on spirit and so the will of the blessed for good or evil remains unchangeable as in the intermediate state.

      Incidentally if the soul had pre-existed or we had lived before, then our present existence would be spirit-dominant, so we would be physically immortal and good people would be beautiful, bad people would be ugly etc. Also our spirit in the pre-existence would have acquired irreversible basic consciousness and on account of spirit-dominance would be unable to lose this. So our willing of good or evil in the pre-existence would be irreversible and there is no way we would be unable to remember our previous life, since our basic memory of this would be irreversible too.
      Of course we can't remember our previous life so it seems we did not have one. But I have gone off at a tangent.



    4. Sorry, I meant the will of the blessed or damned for good or evil remains unchangeable as in the intermediate state.


    5. Sorry when I said "the will of the blessed for good or evil remains unchangeable as in the intermediate state" I meant "the will of the blessed for good and the damned for evil".


    6. Sorry when I said "the will of the blessed for good or evil remains unchangeable as in the intermediate state" that should be "the will of the blessed for good or the damned for evil", referring to the basic choice of good or evil.

      Sorry if this comment/correction appears in multiple forms but at the time of writing it doesn't look like my amendment is getting through. This will be my last attempt.


    7. "I can envision an immaterial mind going through a succession of thoughts."

      That's just the thing, a purely immaterial mind doesn't go through a succession of thoughts.

    8. @ Chad
      Why can't the soul undergo change when it is again conjoined to a physical form post-resurrection?

      Our bodies in the resurrection are going to be spiritual bodies and the principle of mind over matter will be much more natural and evident. Spiritual bodies are much more attuned to the will; hence if you have a bad will your being body isn't going to provide grounds to allow you to change. Christ himself says he will be like the angels and we know that the angels are incapable of repentance.

    9. Another error in my post: when I said "resurrected persons are beautiful, the damned are ugly" I meant "resurrected just persons"


    10. @John McClymont: So could a resurrected person change their mind? Here the factor of spirit-dominance comes in. According to 1 Corinthians 15 the resurrected glorified body is a spiritual body, not in the sense of non-fleshly but in the sense that the spirit dominates the body rather than vice versa.

      What about Lazarus' body, are you assuming it was a "spiritual body" as well, so that he was incapable of changing his basic orientation?

      Also, is Dr. Feser arguing that as a matter of metaphysical necessity it's impossible for God to put a disembodied soul in an ordinary material body that would allow it to change its orientation, or is the idea just that God chooses not to do this? The latter would suggest that the argument that God has to damn some people to an eternity in hell in order to grant others an eternity in heaven doesn't really work, not unless additional arguments are given as to why it would contradict some aspect of God's nature to re-corporealize the souls in hell without doing the same to the souls in heaven.

    11. "That's just the thing, a purely immaterial mind doesn't go through a succession of thoughts."

      Then what's the point of it?

    12. Responses to Feser,

      Eternal hell as God’s metaphysical straight jacket

  2. One more question: if souls cannot change post death, what is the purpose/function of Purgatory?

    1. That is an interesting question. I'll add that I recently re-read Dante's Divine Comedy. Dante was a great poet, but after re-reading him, I'm not at all convinced he was a great philosopher. He certainly read and deeplly admired Aquinas, but I'm not sure he really absorbed him. Many of Dante's philosophical positions are just bizarre from a A-T point of view.

    2. I'm sure you've answered this before, but is your name a GK Chesterton reference?


    3. The purpose of Purgatory is to heal/expiate sin/ pay up the temporal punishment not paid on earth. Those in purgatory are destined for heaven.

    4. @ Caiman Cotton "Those in purgatory are destined for heaven."
      So you cannot sin in Purgatory? You cannot blame God for creating such a pointless and worthless place? And if Jesus died for our sins, as a sacrificial Lamb, then why do we need to pay for our sins as well?

  3. There was a paper you linked to in a previous post on hell called 'Justice and goodness of hell' which supplemented your posts well. The idea of retributive justice is difficult for many in today's world (including myself). I do think the Thomistic responce is the only coherent position on eternal conscious torment. But then I'm not clear on what the Eastern Orthodox view is.

    As it stands, I'm split between hell and annihilationism.

    1. One very helpful way of viewing Hell would be as just a state of shame.

      On this view, the damned don't suffer any eternal torment whatsoever, not even sorrow, only eternal shame proportionate to the sins they commited during this life.

      This is a far more compelling view of Hell than the "traditional" fire-and-brimstone view, which arguably even Aquinas didn't believe.

      The reason why Aquinas may not himself even have believed the fiery torture version is because he had an Aristotelian cosmology, and as such his view of Hell was most likely where the damned were forced to follow the whims of pure elemental fire which was chaotic, thus perpetually locking them as servants to something less noble and lower than themselves.

    2. As for the Eastern Orthodox view of Hell, one very popular view of Hell is that the torments aren't actual fire, but the love of God which the souls in Hell reject.

      In this view, Heaven and Hell would be basically the same, both being states where the soul is sorrounded by the fiery love of God, but the saved and damned experience it differently; the saved positively, the damned negatively.

  4. "But doesn’t the parallel break down insofar as God could simply annihilate the damned souls while preserving those that are saved? No, and for two reasons."

    Another possible reason is that God desires everyone to be as close to Himself as possible. For some (Satan, for example), mere continued existence is as close as they will get to the God Who is Being itself. "Everything is good insofar as it [truly] exists," and continued existence might be their only remaining participation in the goodness of God.

    Annihilation would thus push them a final step further away from God--a push God would not be willing to enact.

  5. Also, thoughts on the pope's recent supposed comments on hell?

    More seriously, the official Roman Catholic teaching on the subject of hell is that of eternal torment. Despite this, some have suggested that it is theologoumena rather than dogma, similar to the understanding of hell in Eastern Orthodoxy, where universalism and conditionalism (CI) are both possible options. Fr. Robert Wild is a conditionalist Roman Catholic who advocates for considering both conditionalism and universalism as possibilities for Roman Catholics. He argues that conditionalism is the best understanding both biblically and philosophically, and that CI was likely the most widely held belief among the earliest Christians.

    1. Why would Pope Francis deny Hell to Scalfari & yet in public preach about Hell and going to Hell?
      QUOTEs from Pope Francis on Hell.

      "I remember as a child, when we went to catechism we were taught four things: death, judgment, hell or glory. After the judgment there is this possibility. ‘But Father, this is to frighten us…’ ‘No, this is the truth because if you do not take care of your heart, because the Lord is with you and (if) you always live estranged from the Lord, perhaps there is the danger, the danger of continuing to live estranged in this way from the Lord for eternity.’ And this is a terrible thing!"

      "This life that you live will not give you joy or happiness. Convert, there is time before you finish up in hell, which is what awaits unless you change path. You have a father and a mother – think of them and convert."

      Denis Prager on the Pope

      Last week Pope Francis warned Italy’s Mafia leaders that if they continue their evil ways, they will go to hell.

      Hooray for the pope! More power to him for threatening evil people with hell.

      I had begun to despair that in my lifetime I would hear such talk from mainstream Christian or Jewish leaders. For the past two generations, God has rarely been depicted as judging and punishing.

      More Pope Francis on Hell.

      "This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29).

      As a fourth example, the Holy Father, in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2017 to canonize Francisco and Jacinta Marto on the 100th anniversary of the first of six Marian apparitions there, stated that the Blessed Virgin Mary “foresaw and warned us of the risk of hell where a godless life that profanes Him in his creatures will lead...”

      This is FAKE NEWS. The Pope CLEARLY believes in Hell Besides why does the Pope NEED to disavow Scalifari claims when he contradicts them in public? If Scalifari claimed the late Billy Graham denied the deity of Christ based on Billy's numerous public statements to the contrary would you believe him & would he need to deny it?

      You can criticize a lot about Pope Francis and maybe even attribute real doctrinal errors or mistakes (i.e. Death Penalty) but this nonsense is a pure lie!

    2. Two brief points:

      1. The allegations made by Scalfari that Pope Francis believes in annihilationism are not new. He has been making them for a few years, now:

      Scalfari is infamous for not taking notes during his interviews. But if he has a past record of misrepresenting the Pope on a matter of doctrine, then it is nothing short of astonishing that Pope Francis would consent to being interviewed by him again and again, on such matters. Doesn't make sense to me.

      The Pope made some interesting remarks in a general audience, dated 11 October 2017:

      "If we remain united with Jesus, the cold of difficult moments does not paralyze us; and if even the whole world preached against hope, if it said that the future would bring only dark clouds, a Christian knows that in that same future there will be Christ’s return. No one knows when this will take place, but the thought that at the end of our history there will be Merciful Jesus suffices in order to have faith and not to curse life. Everything will be saved. Everything."


      In the text distributed to the journalists accredited to the Holy See, this last word, “everything,” was emphasized in boldface.


      2. I have a question for Ed. In your latest book, "Five Proofs of the Existence of God," you write that God "knows everything – including the present and the future – precisely by virtue of being its cause” (2017, p. 214), and you compare God’s knowledge to “an author's knowledge of the characters and events of the story he has come up with” (2017, p. 212). You add that "it is in a single, timeless act that God causes to exist everything that has been and will be. And it is in knowing himself as so acting that God knows everything that is, has been and will be. His knowledge of the world is a consequence of his self-knowledge." (2017, p. 212)

      So now I ask you: does God know wicked people's choices by causing them? Yes or no?

    3. He causes them insofar as they are being, and he does not cause them insofar as they have privation of being. It is we who "cause" the privation in our sinning, because we detract from the good that God would otherwise have brought about. But our "causing" is analogous, not univocal, because by sin we do not cause actuality but privation.

    4. Tony

      There is no such thing as "privation of being" Being is existence. To say that there is being and non-being is reifying nothing.


      "Does God know wicked people's choices by causing them?" Yes.

      Consider this: "An angel makes this basic choice once and for all upon its creation." Now this choice is either a change or it isn't.
      If it is change, then this contradicts the claim that Angels cannot change, unless the claim is that immatreial beings can only change once, which is absurd.
      If the choice is not a change, then whatever "basic choice" there is in an Angel, is created in the Angel (by God).

    5. So in other words, God causes the propositional content of our wicked thoughts, the visual content of our wicked fantasies, and the physical/psychological content of our wicked actions? All of these contents are positive, and not mere privations.

    6. FYI:

      Here's John Allen's defense of Pope Francis in "Crux" magazine:

    7. @ Vincent
      But evil is an accidental possibility of otherwise in-themselves good things.

      Sex/sexuality, for instance, is not an evil thing - far from it, particularly in the case of man and woman because we are made in the image of God. Certainly human sexuality has a special goodness and is willed by God. The problem is inordinate or misdirected desires that can effectively enslave us.

      Consider also that concepts in an of themselves are morally neutral. Book, runs, wall, humanity, clouds, etc., are in themselves morally neutral and neither truth nor falsity attaches to them as such. It's only when they are wrongly combined that truth or falsity attaches and it's similar with evil desires and evil deeds. God does not need to directly will or cause moral evil as such: what he causes and wills is always good, which is why evil cannot triumph over him and why he is always bringing good even out of evil. God wills and causes e.g. that a man exist and that he have freedom and a limited self-autonomy; he does not directly will or cause that the man do evil with those gifts (life/existence, freedom).

      Again, consider the following: "an innocent," "taking," "a man," life." These things are at least morally neutral or sometimes obviously naturally good if anything. But now let's combine: a man taking an innocent life. Now we see something that we say is evil. But what is evil here? "Taking?" I certainly hope not, otherwise when I am taking my dog for a walk or taking my jacket along with me in case it gets cold at night then I am necessarily doing something evil.

  6. I think a lot of people get hung up on the punishments of the damned. As if God has a chip on his shoulder and has to punish the damned to make himself feel better. But if the damned aren't punished in order to boost God's ego, and they certainly are not punished to reform their souls, why are they punished? My thoughts are simply that they choose their own punishment in a way a drug addict chooses his own torment. C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce and Tolkien's LOTR are good allegories for this phenomenon. Another punishment, I suspect, is that God will not cow-tow to certain requests of the damned. For example, the Devil desires people to worship him, and God will not do this. That in a sense is a punishment. Similarly, a rapist who especially loves to prey on innocent and holy women will be punished as God will not give the rapist that satisfaction in hell. So in addition to the punishment of worshipping that which is inferior to God (and thus insufficient for eternal satisfaction), the damned worship things and activities that they cannot in principle have (assuming God is just and will not satiate evil appetites to the detriment of the righteous).

    As for annihilation, I feel like the theory of "evil as privation" and the convertibility of goodness and being is not compatible with God's mercy and annihilation. If all being is good, and evil is a privation of good, then all creatures, even the Devil, are better off existing than non-existing. I think that is why Christ said of Judah, "It would be better if he had never been BORN" rather than "It would be better if he had never EXISTED". That is to say, a miscarried baby would have been better off than Judas.

    Those are my two fallible cents, anyway.

    1. Your comment made me remember the saying that some people can't tolerate God tormenting the damned, annihilating, or forgiving them (how icky to have repentant and redeemed murderers and rapists in heaven). Some people don't want God to win, do they?

  7. Since the subject of this post is the soul, may I ask you Dr. Feser:

    What would a Thomist say about cryogenics?

    Many people are having their own dead bodies frozen solid after death in hopes that their bodies may be revived by future advancements in science.

    If this were possible, what would this mean for the soul?

    If the soul is locked onto good or evil after death, what would it mean for a dead body to be revived and have it's soul back? Does this mean God creates a new soul to inform the revived dead body? If so, wouldn't this be unfitting seeing how the new rational soul would have a body with memories that belonged to another soul?

    And if God somehow keeps the soul in stasis due to foreknowledge of revival through cryogenics, then someone may ask the question why God doesn't keep all souls in stasis as well.


    1. I would think that in the case of someone who was cryogenically frozen, if there is a possibility of revival, then the person is not dead yet and thus the soul has not separated from the body. If the person is past the point of no return, you can safely say he is dead for good.

    2. And are frozen human zygotes souls on ice?

    3. Hmm, I think it would be good to distinguish between clinical death, and "real death." A person is clinically dead when he has no vital signs, but the person is only "really dead" when it is impossible, not only in practice but in principle, to resuscitate him apart from a Divine intervention.
      So for those who can be resuscitated, their souls are still united to their bodies, and hence they are not permanently fixed on good or evil. The rest are fixed on one or the other, but will not "return from the dead."

    4. @Grace and Rust,

      Are you suggesting that, if science were to later find ways to revive cryogenically frozen dead human, that this would be then regarded as a type of clinical death, rather than complete death?

      What about those who aren't just clinically dead, but whose body was decaying for a few days before their bodies were cryogenically frozen? Would their revival be explained by positing that their souls were still somehow united to their bodies and that if the body were to decay even more than that, the soul would really be seperated and thus revival would no longer be possible?

      What if we found a way to, say, use traces of dead DNA found on dead bodies to produce new cells that have the DNA of that dead body and were to coat the bones with muscle, and were then to add organs until we had a dead body with fresh new cells, and were then to bring the person back to life by rejuvenating it's bodily flesh and brain?

      If that body had a rational soul, what would we say then?

      Did God just create a new rational soul to enform that revived new body, like he does with cloned humans? If so, wouldn't this be unfitting seeing how a new rational soul would have the body and memories that belonged to a completely different soul?

      And if God brings back the original soul to the body, how would this be accomplished? The soul would presumably have made it's final choice for good or evil, so it would seem we would expect these newly enformed bodies to perpetually act good or bad depending on the choice their soul made after leaving the body.

      And if the soul doesn't act with perpetual goodness or evil, how would we explain that? Does God somehow keep the soul in stasis so that it doesn't make a choice, because he foresaw it would be cryogenically frozen and revived? If so, how does this happen? And if God can do it to souls he foresees would be revived, why not to other souls, especially those who will end up being damned so as to save them from damnation?

      These are the main important questions I have about this problem.

    5. @Scott Lynch,

      But the scenario here is that the person really is dead and even has decayed a bit, and his body is cryogenically frozen.

      Some think that, considering all of the advancement of science has made in medicine, we will be able to revive those who are truly dead but who are frozen a few days after death in some way.

      If this really does happen, and there are some ways in which it could (taking DNA from the dead body cells and finding the specific genetic code to reverse aging and start the cellular factory all over again by introducing new chemicals, or even replacing the whole body with new cells and preserving the memories so as to revive it back completely), then this would require an explanation in terms of hylemorphism.

      If the matter of the body goes through substantial change via death, and then the body is tinkered with such that the process of life is started again in that piece of matter, and the revived being would also be rational, it seems we have both matter being enformed with a sensory soul and rational soul.

      If the revived body has a rational soul, there are only 2 ways in which that could be explained. Either God creates a new soul to embody that revived body, or he brings the dead soul back to the body. If it's a new soul, then this would seem unfitting since we would have a completely new soul possessing the memories and traits that belonged to a completely different soul, and would likely make the new soul think it was someone who it wasn't. If it's the same soul, this could only be accomplished if God either keeps the dead soul in stasis so that it hasn't made a final definitive choice on good or evil, or if God just brings a damned or saved soul back after it has made it's decision.

      Both ways above would be objected to by asking "Why doesn't God just keep every soul, especially the damned, in stasis? Why doesn't he just bring back all damned souls to their body until they choose good? Wouldn't the damned and saved souls also continue choosing their respective choice of good and evil perpetually while in the body as well?"

  8. Dr. Feser, you say:

    "so that just as someone who perpetually chooses good perpetually merits rewards, so too do those who perpetually will evil perpetually merit punishments. "

    Does this mean that the saved will perpetually be showered with new rewards, which they merit because they always choose the good?

    But this implies the saved can merit additional heavenly reward in their saved state, which they cannot do according to Catholic teaching. Unless you're not implying that when you say the above.

  9. In A-T, what, precisely, prevents God's mercy from providing the damned corporeality and thus matter of the kind that'd provide them another round of choices, and then another, and another, and another, all the while "fishing out" those who manage to eventually chose good for then to become unchangeable?

    This way those who keep choosing evil even though they have the (repeated) option of choosing good would enjoy their eternal torment, while those who have any chance whatsoever of doing different given a long, long time, would have the opportunity afforded them.

    I know you said elsewhere that God gives departed human souls bodies according their wills, hence for the already saved bodies apt for eternal beatitude, and to the already damned bodies apt for eternal suffering, but that seems to be a contrived solution to the above alternative. If giving that soul there a billion, a trillion or whatever years of added time to chose had a 1% chance of landing her among the saved, but actively opts to not do that, that'd seem to violate pretty heavily the Biblical verses that state He wants all to be saved. He'd be absolutely respecting the ill, distorted, maddened will of a broken mind so as to not give them the one remedy He has infinitely quantities to provide.

    And, as reasoned above, it isn't as if doing so would prevent those who are indeed irredeemable no matter how many option were given them from going on suffering for eternity.

    1. The reunification with the body is connected with the cross.

      If we use the examples brought up in the comments recently,there really are people who will always be impenitent, and they will in fact just grow in bitterness and evil during such a process.

      It is also true that God may save people by means we are not privy to... then again purgatory is the way most of this 'sorting' will occur.

      1 John 2:17

    2. I agree. It looks like...

      THOMISM ADMITS ETERNAL DAMNATION IS A METAPHYSICAL QUESTION, NOT A MORAL/FREE WILL QUESTION. God Himself pulls the plug on possible future repentance and salvation. To a Thomist philosopher like Edward Fezer, eternal damnation is a matter of metaphysics, not free will. The Thomist believes only corporeal physical beings can repent, but incorporeal beings remain stuck eternally in either good or evil mode. Of course that simply begs the question of why God can’t grant corporeal bodies to the damned, bodies like they once had, in order to make future change possible.

    3. Alexander,

      The point in your last paragraph seems difficult to reconcile with the doctrine of a new heaven and earth after a final judgment, since it looks like it would allow it to be delayed indefinitely, and perhaps forever, by creaturely obstinacy.

      Even if there were some way around this, I think you move too quickly to the assumption that this would be more merciful; given that God in some way wants all to be saved, there is no reason to think that this is the only criterion by which God would evaluate eschatological options. One may be said to want things in a lot of different ways.

    4. And might not the damned become even worse, so that their dying when they do is a mercy to them?

  10. The main issue here is the metaphysical requirements for change.

  11. "It would be extremely bizarre if I responded to this friendly advice by accusing you of wanting me to die in such a crash"

    Reminds me of the Hiroshima bombing arguments in which anti-bombers were accused (after first being accused of moral preening of course) of wanting the deaths of thousands of soldiers from the "inevitable" land invasion.

  12. I usually agree with Aquinas and Feser, but this is where we part ways. There are a lot of holes in the doctrine of hell and damnation. Why can't the incorporeal beings change their minds? After all, if they can make a "basic decision" upon creation once, why not make the same kind of decision later on? There's also the fact that eternal damnation is grossly disproportional to any kind of moral choice that one can make during life or any crime that one can commit. Our most basic moral intuition suggests that punishment must be adequately proportional to the crime. There's also the matter of infant deaths. What are we going to do with those souls that died while being babies? Send them directly to Heaven? Well then what's the point of this life to begin with? If not that, then are they just destroyed? That also seems monstrous. The only feasible answer is reincarnation, and then kicks in Hick's soul-making theodicy.

    At the end of the day, Universalism is for me.

    1. Have you read the links in the post?

    2. I take in, then, you reject eternal bliss along with eternal damnation, since eternal bliss is disproportional to any moral choice we might make in this life as much as eternal damnation is.

      The answer to your question about babies is the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). You are in this world and may choose for or against Christ. That's the hand you've been dealt and the deal God has made with you. A dead infant may go straight to heaven. What's that to you? Cannot God be generous with His Mercy?

    3. What denomination of Christian are you?

    4. No, because there is no moral intuition that says happiness should be payed for, and you are silly to suggest it. A loving parent wants his child to live happily for as long as possible.

      What's that to me? Because that negates the necessity of being born in the world. If God can take some directly into Heaven, why bother creating the world at all? Just start us all in Heaven.

    5. Even if a child goes straight to heaven they are an incomplete substance until the resurrection of the body, regardless of where they end up (I posit heaven). A deprivation of a lifetime of potential growth and an incompleteness until the resurrection. Important when considering abortion.

    6. Sorry, it's not silly at all. God does not owe us eternal happiness. The idea that He does may be at the center of the sin of pride. Actually I used to think this way - it's the characteristic sin of our time - until I finally understood it for the sin it is.

      Your loving parent who mistakenly thinks being a good father means handing out unearned rewards to his child will soon find he is raising an egotistical monster. Fortunately for our kids my wife and I did not fall for this.

    7. It is also important when considering design of the world and how many infants die before birth, which is on nobody but God. The only way natural infant mortality can be justified from the point of view of soul-making is if no soul is wasted and gets reborn as many times as needed to give a human being a chance to experience life in full.

      I know of no way to reconcile going straight to Heaven with soul-making, which is an implicit point of Aristotelian ethics.

      No, Heaven has got to be here -- this world has got to be the best possible world under construction, where we are the builders, and where we get sent repeatedly till the work is finished. If Aquinas disagrees with me, that's fine, he does not have to be right about everything.

    8. A creator is responsible for his creation. I absolutely do owe it to my daughter to provide her a roof over her head. This "God doesn't see us anything" position is just a typical excuse old conservative Christians like to come up with in order to avoid having to defend their beliefs on the moral grounds. If God simply creates us and throws us into the world for us to fend for ourselves, then there is no point in talking about some kind of grand plan or the necessity of Jesus's sacrifice. It's hypocrisy.

    9. @David T.,

      "Sorry, it's not silly at all. God does not owe us eternal happiness. The idea that He does may be at the center of the sin of pride. "

      I'm pretty sure universalists aren't just arguing that God owes everyone eternal happiness.

      Rather, they argue that, since God has gone to such extreme lengths to give us eternal life, it seems reasonable to ask why that sacrifice doesn't save anyone, since it seems fitting that God also save anyone.

      In other words, if God is gonna be so gratuitous as to give us eternal life, why not gratuitous enough to save everyone?

      Universalists also make the argument that it would be very beautiful and aesthetically fitting for all humans to be saved, or even the demons in what is called the apokatastasis.

      The appeal there is basically that since Christians appeal to fittingenss and even aesthetic goodness to make arguments in favour of the Incarnation, Resurrection, creatio ex nihilo and so forth, it is reasonable to use such an approach for universalism.

      It's simply not about supposing that salvation were owed us at all, although some may have that as a motivation in the background.

    10. To whom is the creator responsible for his creation? Us? Some moral law that is prior and superior to Him? I think you will find yourself impaled on the horns of Euthyphro's Dilemma with this opinion.

      Yes, you do owe it to your daughter to provide a roof over her head, because you are not the author of her life but it has been given to you as a gift from God, and to Him you are responsible for how you respond to that gift. In pre-Christian Rome, parents felt no such responsibility. Unwanted children were literally thrown in the dump.

      Your relationship to your daughter is only analogously related to God's relationship to us. God can demand that a father sacrifice his son to Him, as he did to Abraham. That shocks us, but only because we view God as a subject of the moral law as we are, rather than the source of the moral law itself.

    11. "because you are not the author of her life but it has been given to you as a gift from God"

      Whence human free will in this case?

  13. I always like blogger Bonald's observation:

    "Who would I send to hell if I were God? Would I really throw someone in hell just for missing Sunday Mass? Imagining oneself in the place of the Almighty is never a useful exercise, but since everyone is implicitly doing it when they talk about God seeming “cruel”, let’s do it anyway. I myself respond very differently to sins of weakness as opposed to sins of outright defiance. I have nothing but pity for cowards, and I feel no anger but great sympathy for people who engage in sexual sins in a proverbial moment of weakness. That faggot in the CDF who’s demanding the Church alter her teaching to accommodate his vice is obviously a different case–a man satanically defiant against God and His law. On the other hand, torturing him for eternity does feel extreme. So does torturing for eternity the fellow who skipped Church, or even the adulterers. Then again, I wouldn’t even torture for eternity with fire child molesters or serial killers, or for that matter even any of history’s great perpetrators of genocide. Punish them severely, sure, but hell just seems in excess of what anyone could deserve for a mere one lifetime of wickedness.

    Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God?
    No, I feel that way because I lack His justice, His understanding of the severity of sin. My inclination for an empty hell is a defect of my imagination, not something to be proud of. Certainly not something to boast of before the Almighty."

    To which add neither is the boundless, groundless wishful thinking.

    1. @Scott W.

      The main problem, or at least the major problem, people have with the doctrine of Hell is that it supposes some type of eternal torture as the punishment.

      Not only is this not necessary, but arguably it is completely false.

      Hell is much better understood as shame; that is, shame for the sins one has commited, which are insults to the honor of God as the greatest good. As such, the punishment of damnation, when understood under the lense of shame and exile, is much easier to understand than the punishment of torture or torment.

      I would wager that we could even perhaps convince average people who usually can't understand why God would punish people for eternity would be much more privy to not only accept Hell as a doctrine but even think it actually just, especially considering how the above view of Hell just mentioned directly ties the shame experienced in Hell to the sins one has commited in life in a way that is completely reasonable.

    2. Well, just imagine how you would feel knowing that you are excluded from the supernatural fulfillment of your nature, or power, glory and honor, and left to the merely finite and your evil desires. How bored and ashamed you would be, yet to stubborn to seek him.

    3. While shame is an important element of the nature of suffering as a result of sin, I don't think it can be the totality, or even the primary element. According to many sources, the primary element of the suffering is the apprehension of the permanent loss of God, and one's own responsibility for it: "I did THIS to myself!" I think that this comes before shame because it recognizes an evil to be suffered even if there were never any other person in creation but myself: I am disgusted by myself. Shame adds on top the realization that everyone else will apprehend my disgustingness; it requires considering how I appear before others.

      While physical suffering is difficult to speak to in specifics because we are uncertain to what extent the descriptions throughout the Bible are primarily metaphorical, we are on solid ground to believe that there will (or at least can) in fact be serious physical suffering. If for no other reason than this: the body and the soul are united, what makes the body ill affects the soul, and what makes the soul ill affects the body. Mental illness often attends upon physical disorders (chemical imbalances, which is why treating mental illness with chemicals is sometimes effective), and physical illness often follows from mental illness. Unless there were to be a miraculous intervention, a state of permanent turmoil in the soul due to loss of God (and active hatred of him) and intense shame before others could not but result in physical disorders of some sort. There is no particular reason to think God would intervene so as to prevent such physical manifestations - illness - of the spiritual suffering, rather the opposite. The only thing that God would (presumably) be doing is to prevent such illness leading (again) to death and separation of body and soul. Indeed, a way one might describe hell is that it is a CONSTANT STATE of the body being in so much disorder that it WOULD result in death if only death were possible: an ongoing dying that never stops in actual death. Rather puts meat on references to "death" in hell:

      But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

      Perhaps the "fire" of hell is entirely a metaphor for the suffering of being constantly in the state of "would otherwise be dying" but never actually completing it? I don't insist on it. I only insist that we have no firm reason to insist that hell does not include physical suffering.

    4. @Tony,

      "I don't think it can be the totality, or even the primary element. According to many sources, the primary element of the suffering is the apprehension of the permanent loss of God, and one's own responsibility for it: "I did THIS to myself!" I think that this comes before shame because it recognizes an evil to be suffered even if there were never any other person in creation but myself: I am disgusted by myself. "

      I agree.

      "Shame adds on top the realization that everyone else will apprehend my disgustingness; it requires considering how I appear before others.

      Not necessarily before others, but mostly before God. This is similar to the view that Heaven and Hell are the same place, but reacted to differently by the damned.

      So it's not necessarily shame brought about by others knowing about it, but by the soul knowing what it has done when compared to God.

      " we are on solid ground to believe that there will (or at least can) in fact be serious physical suffering. If for no other reason than this: the body and the soul are united, what makes the body ill affects the soul, and what makes the soul ill affects the body. "

      Not necessarily. Shame even in this life does not lead to anything that could be describe as serious physical torment, or at least not in most cases.

      " I don't insist on it. I only insist that we have no firm reason to insist that hell does not include physical suffering."

      The shame would be proportionate to the sins one has commited in one's life, and some will be smaller offenders and others, so it's easy to see how the shame will not affect others with physical suffering. Lewis's image of the damned running away as far as possible from God and each other provides a fitting image of a changing state of shame, since it's a greater shame to be in the presence of others than it is to be alone with the shame.

      IIRC, some theologians in the pre-Vatican 2 era were even allowed to speculate that the punishments in Hell would gradually get smaller and lessen, though never to the point of stopping.

  14. David Bayless

    your objection is not a problem at all.

    Who goes to hell?

    ". Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell"
    CCC 1035

    What conditions must together be met for a sin to be mortal?

    1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

  15. No matter how many arguments I encounter for any particular side of these issues (which souls are saved, who goes to hell, is there a hell, etc), as a Catholic I am always returning to the words in the brief formula that was supplied by Our Lady at Fatima, and which is usually incorporated as an oft-repeated Rosary recitation: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.”

    Now, it strikes me that such a prayer is asking us to request that ALL souls be led to salvation — not just some. In which case, I would never consider that our Lady would deceive us by supplying us with such a prayer — which actually contains such a hope — if it were not indeed possible.

    It would then seem that, through our aspirations and free will in this matter, by offering such prayer, it might supercede many of the above questions.

  16. There are many odd replies to this issue above.

    It is perfectly legitimate to hope that everyone is saved, but theologically it isn't orthodox to believe there is no Hell.

    Where a lot of the negative comments above go wrong is they are attacking the theological doctrine itself rather than Edward Feser's metaphysical analysis of the consequences of the doctrine.

    There may in fact be other legitimate metaphysical or theological understanding in fact.

    What I don't get is why people are raising weird objections such as the claim reincarnation would be more merciful and people would 'somehow' repent.

  17. Annihilation is arguably far more terrifying than eternal punishment: it's the great unknown but not in the positive sense but in the other direction and extreme. The fact we don't think annihilation is worse than eternal punishment just goes to show how awful the consequences of sin and the fall are and have been.

    Take the example given by Saint Augustine of the fact that most peoples and nations have preferred to endure slavery and subjugation rather than death; or that criminals will serve out life sentences in prison rather than kill themselves. I think it proportion to our lacking a zest and zeal for life we are more comfortable in the idea of being annihilated than suffering (and hence it seems more "merciful"). But this is wrong: there is nothing more abhorrent to us than non-being; indeed, pain and suffering are just limited forms of non-being or lacking being/form.

    I remember when I first read the Iliad and was struck by the amazing zest for living the Greeks had that animates that work: for all the chaos, confusion and fatalism that was the pagan Greek ancient world, they had in spite of it again this almost zeal for living (later on this would be reapplied from more vain and vainglorious things to increasingly a philosophical zeal for moral living/virtue/happiness).

    I can tell you, if you had told the ancient Greeks (or world generally) that absolute annihilation was a form of mercy, I think they would have been quite surprised.

    1. Yes, but have you considered that many Romans and Japanese would rather choose suicide than dishonor?

      Also, after endless eons of punishment or endless remorse, might one not begin to desire eternal rest? Not sure how many people in concentration camps or Gulags preferred suicide or simply gave up exerting themselves to preserve their daily health and well being and chose to perish from self neglect. But I assume some did. Maybe hell and annihilation can be viewed as a combo, that is if damnationism is what one truly finds reasonable and just. I don’t. But I can see how punishment in hell could be easily complimented with annihilationism. That was also a theme in the novel Only Begotten Daughter.

      Lastly, yes, non-existence is frightening. Even Paul mentioned death as an enemy. And I suspect that many converts to various religions likewise fear death even more so than threats of divine judgment, which is one reason for staying in a religious fold rather than becoming an atheist.

      Ernest Becker said that we create meaning as a defense mechanism against death and annihilation. We are all terrified of oblivion, as well we should be. Repression of that terror is a necessary tool toward the continuance of life. Hence we are all busy building "immortality projects," hoping to leave something behind, either in the way of offspring, our work, our creations, or leaping the religion bandwagon and having our faith boosted by being around others who believe with us that the road goes on forever and the party never ends. 

      "The real world is simply too terrible to admit. It tells man that he is a small trembling animal who will someday decay and die. Culture changes all of this,makes man seem important,vital to the universe. Immortal in some ways." 
      ― Ernest Becker

      Personally, I like to think there's something more to life, I prefer to think that way. I don't like the idea of suffering and dying, sleeping eternally. But then, cockroaches don't like to be crushed, all living things will swim, run and fly their damnedest to escape becoming prey. One wonders what they know or think of death or just how instinctual the reaction is even in humans.

      Apologists for Christianity and/or the Bible all remind me of the same thing. The literature of a Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, Christian Scientist and an Evangelical strike me as the same, people desperately seeking to prove to others that they themselves are not crazy to believe that they alone know the true interpretation of a collection of ancient writings, and that they alone know that they truly are the ones going to inherit eternal life.

  18. A friend offered the following in response to the above (note, I'm not sure if he read more than I quoted with was the opening paragraph): "I’m not sure the Church has pronounced dogmatically on this question. There are ‘universal salvation’ proponents even in the Church. The author’s emphatic thinking on the subject (“It’s game over”) I regard with suspicion. There is, for example, such a thing in Catholic theology as baptismus flaminis (the baptism of desire). It also seems to ignore the fact that Christians pray for those who have died, beseeching God to forgive them for their failings (which may include their invincible or even their cultivated ignorance). Something of a mystery, then. Hope and pray and live for your own salvation and don’t presume to tell God how much – or whether – he pays workers hired late to the field."
    Any thoughts?

    1. Universal salvation is not proscribed by orthodoxy, if it only means that hell is real but no men are in it. We get into heresy with the denial of the reality of hell altogether. Then it is game over - Christianity makes no sense in that case, because then there was nothing for Christ to save us from, universally or otherwise.

      We pray for the dead because they may be in purgatory and our prayers may help expiate there sins. Those in heaven don't need our prayers and those in hell can't use them. But everyone in purgatory is ultimately destined for heaven. On death our ultimate destination is fixed.

    2. @David T.,

      "Universal salvation is not proscribed by orthodoxy,"

      In the context of the rest of the sentence, you must have meant "not prohibited" rather than "not proscribed", right?

    3. There is, for example, such a thing in Catholic theology as baptismus flaminis (the baptism of desire). It also seems to ignore the fact that Christians pray for those who have died, beseeching God to forgive them for their failings (which may include their invincible or even their cultivated ignorance). Something of a mystery, then. Hope and pray and live for your own salvation and don’t presume to tell God how much – or whether – he pays workers hired late to the field."

      As David suggests, praying for the dead presumes that they can be affected by our prayers, which is certainly true of those in Purgatory, and not of those in hell. We do not presume ANY person we know went to hell, because we just don't know. Given that lack of certainty, we can pray for any (human) person.

      But not only can we affect a person who died and is in Purgatory, God is outside of time and if we pray now for a person who OTHERWISE would have died in the state of mortal sin, God can employ our prayers in order to merit for him a change of heart and conversion before death so that he does NOT die in the state of mortal sin.

      Moreover, there is a veil of ignorance and uncertainty about the amount of time that goes on before a person's physical body fails, and when the soul is in judgment before God: even for a person with his head chopped off, is his death and appearing before God instantaneous? We don't know. If there is a small amount of time (even, say, 1 second), is that enough time for a person to REALIZE "I am now going to die" and have a change of heart? Again, we don't know. It is possible (with grace) that God can produce a change even in a hardened criminal, in the short time between the physical action that will produce death, and the actual judgment before God. Therefore, we can pray for anyone in the hope that God will through grace produce in them a state in which they can be saved.

      It is, therefore, not wrong to pray for any human person, but a good thing. But this is different from a position that God WILL in fact save every human being from hell.

    4. The position that God WILL IN FACT save everyone at a minimum seems to defy many biblical passages, such as St. Paul's comment about "working out our salvation in fear and trembling", for if God saves everyone, there need be no fear he does not save me.

      More fundamentally, there is something odd about the notion that for each person, salvation is contingent, but that it just so happens that God has worked out that in ALL of these contingent cases (all 40 or 100 billion or more) cases of human beings, they ALL "just happen" to be saved. That kind of unanimity seems to require a cause that is not contingent, but necessary. Now, I admit that the word I used here is "seems", rather than a more definitive one like "must be", because it is complex. But one thing we cannot readily say is this: "No, no, it remains contingent, and God really could let some (or many) go to hell, he just happens to decide, in each person's case, 'yes, I will save this one too.' " The reason we cannot say this is that whatever REASON we have to say it becomes a REASON that applies always and everywhere, and this is the sort of basis for something no longer being contingent but necessary. In other words, even if God MIGHT really save everyone, WE could never assert it based on what we know, we could only propose it as a possibility, no more. In other words, hell is a REAL option for each person (until death), and the biblical passages that speak of hell must not be misinterpreted so as to create what is understood as a firm and certain conclusion that God saves everyone.

    5. @JoeD: "Proscribed" means "prohibited". It is the opposite of "Prescribed".

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. So is death necessary for corporeal beings?
    Otherwise, their wills do not get locked onto the good or the evil. So, to lock the wills onto the good or the evil, there must be a period of separation of soul and body i.e death.

    So, death is not punishment for sin but an actual necessity for heaven for corporeal beings?

  21. So is death necessary for corporeal beings?

    We do not know what would have been in store if Adam and Eve had never sinned. But in their original condition, they were immortal - they were not destined for death. It may be that God would interpose an alteration in their life so that they would pass from earthly life to heavenly in an instant without death as such. Doing so, however, would indeed cement their souls in the state of grace and love of God, without sin. There is no chance to sin in heaven.

    1. The immortality of Adam and Eve would have been something superadded to their nature as a rational animal, not intrinsic to their nature. They lost immortality as a secondary result of losing original innocence.

    2. No chance of sin in heaven? Then what happened to Satan?

    3. There is no chance for sin in heaven, yet by keeping wicked souls in a state of damnation forever, a state in which they continue to hate God and thus sin, God actually keeps sin and death going forever rather than destroying them, as the Cross was intended to do.

  22. I am sorry this does not make sense. As a Muslim and believer in God, I applaud the gift Ed has of giving proofs for God and also his works on consciousness.

    However, this issue of damnation does not make sense.

    I don't know if hell is eternal but it might be and of course God knows best.

    I agree that some people might be punished forever because they are such that God knows that they would continue to be choose to be evil if they could.

    But it does not make sense to say that God creating this being with the ability to make choices to change but not this being and so on.

    God is just and an eternal hell can be just if those in it are such that they would choose to be evil overall for eternity.

    However, this idea of damnation does not work.

    It cannot be predicated on what type of being someone is put in since the type of being is outside of their control.

    Peace to all

    1. I think you've slightly misread the piece. The angels *did* choose good or evil, they were not made such that they could not make that choice. The point Feser is advancing is that, being purely immaterial beings, they could not *change* their minds or dispositions after the fact, because mutability (the ability to change) is part of matter, which angels do not possess.

    2. Kaltrop

      How were the angels not made such that thye could not make that choice?
      They were made immaterial, weren't they?
      So, they were made unchangeable, yet they somehow managed to change from a "neutral" mind to an evil one.
      That seems absurd to me.

    3. Thanks Kaltrop for your comment but no, I did not misread it. I realize that Ed is saying that the angels did choose good or evil.

      My point is that it is not equality for one individual X to be able to change his choice because he are made of an substance that is mutable and but that individual Z cannot change his choice because he is made of an immutable substance.

      God would not be do that since He is perfectly just and All-Knowing and All-Good.

    4. Angels and rational animals are not the in the same sense equal metaphysically speaking. God acts justly towards a being according to its nature, not contrary to it.

    5. Daredevil, I don't think you are understanding. The idea of "according to its nature" can mean more than one can mean according to how good that being's heart can mean it's biological or physical nature. This is a mixup of two totally incompatible's goodness or evilness is distinct from one's physical nature. One should only be judged by something that is due to his/her own will. What type of creature one is outside of his/her control.

      Thus, it is not equal for one person to be given multiple chances to become good and another person only has one chance holding all else equal.

      This simply cannot be. God is all good and all just and perfect.

  23. During our lives we are never locked fully onto good or evil. How is it, that when we die we supposedly become fixed on one or the other? Wouldn't we have to make a choice to embrace either pole, post-death? Wouldn't there then be a change from having a mixed will to having a fixed will?

    I just don't see how change can only be possible while we're alive and yet when we die we are fixed in a state that we are never in while we are alive. When does this change occur?


    1. As a result of our state of being in an atemporal and incomplete substantial state.

      Of course in theory God could in fact circumvent this default for the incomplete human.

    2. I'm still confused. If death locks us into whatever our current position is, then why wouldn't we be locked into a mixed disposition?

  24. “If the wills of the damned could change after death, then so too could the wills of the saved.”
    This depends very much on how it is meant. If we’re speaking of a mere logical possibility, then sure, but it is not contradictory to say that a certain will can change at the level of logical possibility, while denying that it can change in actual practice. Let’s suppose that the reason why the saved remain saved is not because they cannot do otherwise, but because they have every conceivable reason to not do otherwise. What if they possess unhindered rational freedom and therefore are not psychologically capable of choosing anything other than the good? If we suppose that the will is fundamentally oriented towards that which the mind apprehends as good, this would imply that when God is fully known the will is set and that a will that has not yet fully known God cannot be.

    -Louis B.

  25. Okay, so supposing this is true, what am I supposed to do? I have to sincerely believe in the truth of the teachings of the Catholic Church or I'm screwed?

    1. How about turning to Christ first? Your sincerity in believing in the truth of the teachings of the CC might develop more gradually after that initial step.

      For me, the transition was different--virtually overnight. I was a Christian for many, many years before I suddenly realized that the Catholic Church was right.

    2. How? See, this is the bit you guys don't get. It is not within my power to believe any of the teachings at all. I've uttered doubter's prayers asking Jesus to come into my heart, and I've even attended a couple of church services. And, of course, I have read carefully through the books of Edward Feser and Richard Swinburne and some other writers. None of this gives me any inclination to think any of it is true. So yeah. I'm a bit stuck, aren't I? What would Edward Feser's recommended course of action for me be to reduce the risk of hell?

    3. Why are you praying doubter's prayers if you have no inclination to think any of it true? Why would you be trying to reduce the risk of hell if you don't have any inclination to think there is a hell? Nothing in what you've said makes any rational sense.

    4. Rupert

      If Christianity is true, it will remain a live option to you and you will one day come to believe that it really does describe the world as it actually is.
      There is nothing 'hopeful' about that. If you keep an open mind about evrything and you end up not believing that Christianity really does describe the world as it actually is, then the conclusion is simple and inevitable: Christianity is not true.
      In other words, if you truly seek truth, you cannot possibly risk hell.

      Whatever you do, do not allow fear of hell distract you from seeking truth.

  26. Thanks David. Brandon, I'm not trying to reduce the risk of hell, it was a "sake of argument" question. And I've only said doubter's prayers a couple of times in my life and it was really just for the sake of saying I tried.

    1. Then neither point seems to be particularly relevant to the matter; you aren't from your perspective missing out on anything.

    2. Rupert, it is not a true prayer if you do it just to be able to say "I tried." It is a sham of a prayer.
      I know that many recommend unbelievers to say this kind of prayer. I myself have recommended it. But an unbeliever prayer is a lot easier said than done. It is crucial to remind the advisee of the need to repent, which, of course, implies the sincere resolution to change your way of life if it is not in accordance with the will of God. Some changes are very very difficult to make and, therefore, they are really tough objects for a sincere resolution against them. This difficulty is somehow mollified by the knowledge that God knows our weakness and knows our heart. He knows if our resolve is sincere, and He knows that we will very likely fall again. He made sure that there is enough grace for us to be forgiven indefinitely while there is a breath of life in our bodies. In other words, to be very doubtful about our prospects to stick to our resolution in no way detracts from its sincerity.
      Until recently I thought is was all, but then it down on me that there is something a lot more difficult to change than mere behavior: our minds. Anybody who hasn't submitted to a divine authority will very likely have very strong convictions about right and wrong. During a conversation with a friend who is very committed politically, and who is moderately interested in the Catholic faith, it suddenly downed on me how difficult it would be for him to change his mind about the legality of abortion! The thought alone that anybody could tell him that he cannot vote for a candidate who discriminates against and betrays the unborn by protecting those who kill them, would be enough to incense him in such a fit of rage that, absent any supernatural intervention, I doubt he will ever get anywhere close to converting.
      We cannot make an honest prayer to God asking for the gift of faith if we put conditions to that faith. Someone who says, "I will never recognize that homosexual acts are sinful" cannot possibly be sincere in asking God for faith. It would be as though a child who wants to make a deal with his parents: "I will obey you in anything, but I will set the rules of my own behavior, outside of which your commands will be of no consequence."
      Hope this helps.

  27. Yes, exactly, it's just that Edward Feser set forth his views about hell and I found myself feeling mildly curious about what course of action he would recommend to me to reduce the risk of hell.

  28. Question: If Aquinas argues that our ultimate destinies are set at death because the will of someone without a body is locked into place, how does he then square that with the General Resurrection?

    Both the blessed and the damned will once again have bodies at that point, so there must be something else that would prevent their wills from deviating afterward.

    1. Yes, I don't think that is a very good argument either. It is, rather, the utter absence of time that makes change impossible. Death is the threshold between time and eternity. Time is a constant succession of infinite moments. Eternity is timelessness, that is, there is no succession of moments, but just one unending present. To change one's mind, at least two moments are needed, for two minds cannot be held simultaneously. That's why angels cannot repent: because they were created in eternity. We were created within time I believe precisely because a large number of moments will allow us a large number of changes between sin and repentance, with the hope that, the last moment will catch us in a moment of repentance. Once we die, time is up. The one never ending present of eternity resumes, and our will becomes eternally fixed, just in the state it was when we breathed our last.

  29. I think God gives to every to human soul, at least to the souls of persons who aren’t totally corrupted and evil, a “Good Thief” kind of experience, when the end of life is approaching, maybe even in the very last moments of his life (since we know that instant death, even in incidents, is very rare, and even when the person looks dead, the soul has not departed from the body yet).

    I mean a moment of “clarity” so to speak, where the person knows that that this is the moment where eternal destiny is decided.

    Maybe not a full-fledged meeting with Jesus, what i have in mind is a moment of major clarity.

    Let me quote Saint Faustina

    “God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly it seems as if everything were lost. But it is not so. The soul illuminated by a ray of God’s POWERFUL FINAL GRACE turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy! … Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that INTERIOR VIVID MOMENT , so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God (Diary, 1698).

    That’s what i meant. A Grace more powerful than others (it makes sense since that is the moment where there can be no more forgiveness if you refuse it) which allows people to be saved, even though it’s predictable that a very corrupt soul would refuse it.

    That’s what i mean with the “Good thief” moment.

    There are records of people visited on the deathbed by Jesus in the last moments of life, even great sinners, but i’m not saying that’s the way Jesus acts everytime.

    But a very powerful final Grace, which nontheless still allows us to retain our power to refuse it, it’s another thing, and i see no reasons to believe that Saint Faustina was wrong about this.

    Saint Faustina even says, in chapter 1698

    “But – horror!- there are also souls who VOLUNTARILY AND CONSCIOUSLY reject and scorn this Grace! Altough a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that INTERIOR VIVID MOMENT, so that IF THE SOUL IS WILLING, It has the possibility of returning to God. But sometimes the OBDURACY in souls is so great that CONSCIOUSLY THEY CHOOSE HELL; they [thus] make useless all the prayers that other souls offer to them and even the efforts of God Himself”.


  30. I don't understand why Imagination is a purely corporeal faculty i.e. something that purely incorporeal spiritual beings like angels or deceased souls do not have. Can anyone supply a link to where Dr Feser (or similar) explains this?
    I understand (I think) that the source material for the imagination is sensation, for example visual images recalled and recombined in the imagination in new ways. But that's the raw material, not the faculty itself. If we have memories after death (but before resurrection) why don't we retain the ability to imagine? It's always seemed to me that creativity is primarily a function of the imagination, and God created everything, but if God is immaterial how could he imagine/create?

    Poorly stated question I'm sure :-)

  31. dimwoo, I suspect that part of the issue is just exactly what we mean by "imagination". If I recall Aristotle correctly, (no guarantees), he uses the term expressly for the faculty of presenting to the mind phantasms like those of sense: sights and sounds and smells etc. This faculty would also seem to be in play when one "talks to oneself", i.e. when we imagine saying something. But there are other faculties very closely allied with this kind of imagining which are NOT simply those of sense-type phantasm, for the faculties by which we understand the meanings of the words we are using when we say something "to ourselves" is not merely imagination. So also the faculty by which we go through induction, and also the faculty of intuition, wherein we make a leap to link ideas that we had not previously linked. These may EMPLOY the sense-based imagination, but they are not strictly the same faculty. I strongly suspect that the intuition is critically at play for us humans when we invent or create. Because these are at the level of ideas, they are not merely sense-level activities that phantasms are.

  32. Thank you for your reply, Tony!
    If I read you correctly you are saying that imagination in its most basic form is simple 'mind phantasms', but that higher forms of imaginative, creative and intuitive functions, working in concert with the intellect, would come under the same immaterial category as intellect. That would seem to me to be correct - we are surely just more than dry logic-choppers.

    But the test for immaterial or spiritual faculties does seem to specifically relate to abstract concepts, because they cannot be adequately represented by images/signs/symbols stored within the brain. That sounds to me like it means pure reasoning e.g. logic, mathematics, philosophy. I'm not sure that what we might call humanity's greatest creative achievements - poetry, myth, music, art, literature - are in that category.

    I'm coming at this from the angle of people like Chesterton and Tolkien and more broadly the romantics, Goethe and Coleridge, who saw the Imagination as an alternative faculty for discovering truth equally as powerful as reason. Tolkien for example described himself as a "sub-creator" driven to create worlds by his maker:

    "Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker."

    If God is the creative force par excellence, then why does Dr Feser's version of the immaterial human soul post-death seem so cold and dry? (This may be a failure of MY imagination...)

    1. but that higher forms of imaginative, creative and intuitive functions, working in concert with the intellect, would come under the same immaterial category as intellect...

      But the test for immaterial or spiritual faculties does seem to specifically relate to abstract concepts, because they cannot be adequately represented by images/signs/symbols stored within the brain. That sounds to me like it means pure reasoning e.g. logic, mathematics, philosophy. I'm not sure that what we might call humanity's greatest creative achievements - poetry, myth, music, art, literature - are in that category.

      Well, I would propose it differently. When you talk about "imaginative, creative, and intuitive functions", I would suggest that these are actually hybrid activities that require both sense-based and "pure" intellective-based operations, working together. Take composing a poem: surely the FEEL of the words and sounds being employed must go on alongside the semantic CONTENT of the words being employed to make poetry. Even Jabberwocky, which hangs so much on the sounds, interweaves sound-level and semantic-content level "value" in the words used in a most elaborate way. Surely the nonsense word bandersnatch requires for its success its incorporation of "snatch" within, leaning thus on semantic content as well as meter and rhyme.

      I would suggest though, that most of what you are demanding is attention to other faculties than those of the exterior senses, imagination, or intellect, i.e. "interior senses" such as (a) the estimative faculty, by which a man would note how much difference there is between one note and another one octave higher; and (b) the vis cogitativa which, by which he would compare the two notes and grasp not only the distance between the notes but also the (qualified) sameness of them both being a "C" note. St. Thomas, if I understand him correctly, calls the vis cogitative a "sense" faculty (of the internal sort), but it is interesting in that it is ONLY found in man and seems (in its other operations) singularly critical to intellection, because it is necessary to the formation of concepts from particulars sensed.

      I myself wonder whether it might be by nature an intrinsically hybrid faculty that actually operates on both the physical and the intellective planes. That's a weird idea and not something Thomas allowed for, but I think it would sort of account for the fact that neither the end product of poetry or music-making, nor the process, are much susceptible to purely intellectual analysis that "makes sense" of them in a satisfactory way. (Nobody has ever provided a solid, repeatable account for why one piece of music is fantastic and another just hum-drum, before going ahead and hearing them and just plain finding out how they sound.)

    2. But even in the arena of mathematics, anyone who has tried it can recall the odd intuitive feeling of "maybe this will prove it" to get from the "given" to the "to prove" proposition. It is certainly logic-driven to actually go through the steps and establish the proof, make it fully manifest. But the initial feeling of "let's try this" is not logic, at least not simply. It is a different thing, which LEADS you to apply logic in a certain definite direction. (And besides, sometimes when you "try this" it turns out to be wrong, which you establish by logic). I would say that the intuitive leap at the moment you think "maybe X would work" is certainly a faculty dependent on the semantic content of the terms of the math at issue.

      I'm not sure that what we might call humanity's greatest creative achievements - poetry, myth, music, art, literature

      While I would not belittle these in the least bit, I would add to the list: there are in science and math sometimes certain additions to "man's works" that are so profound, elegant, and worthwhile that they qualify. Archimedes "eureka" moment is a small example; the technique of mathematical induction; the concept of the limit in calculus; the insight to depart from absolute space and time by Einstein in relativity. These too fit as examples of man's greatest achievements. Yet they dependedm, every one of them, not only on the discursive reason, but on the ability to leap forward, an ability we have not yet been able to subject to direct examination - just like we have not been able to subject "making music" to direct examination and analysis.

  33. This comment is for JesseM further up the page: for some reason I can't open the reply box at the proper place directly.

    JesseM had said:
    What about Lazarus' body, are you assuming it was a "spiritual body" as well, so that he was incapable of changing his basic orientation?

    Also, is Dr. Feser arguing that as a matter of metaphysical necessity it's impossible for God to put a disembodied soul in an ordinary material body that would allow it to change its orientation, or is the idea just that God chooses not to do this?


    I think resurrections to earthly or mortal life, like Lazarus', involve only "clinical death" or loss of vital signs, and do not involve the real departure of the soul from the body. So Lazarus' soul did not leave his body when he was buried but was unconscious, and his first resurrection wasn't in a spiritual body. If it was, Lazarus couldn't have died again, which he did.

    With regard to whether God cannot or will not cause a soul to be returned to a body in a matter-dominant condition - I would say a body cannot be united to a pre-existing spirit without assimilation of the body to the spirit or vice versa or both. If the body is assimilated to the spirit we have spirit-dominance and the basic will for good or evil cannot change.

    Since the body in the tomb is corrupted, any attempt to assimilate the disembodied soul to the corrupted body rather than vice versa would in my view result in the soul corrupting or perishing.

    And if God kept the body from rotting, and assimilated the disembodied soul to this incorrupt body, this would be a miracle, and God would not be obliged to do this because our natural rights do not extend to miraculous favours. Our natural rights are just that - natural rights - and do not extend to the supernatural. So no human has a "right to a miracle" no matter how much suffering the miracle would spare them.

    Thus even if God can return the disembodied soul to mortal life the fact that this return to mortality was miraculous or not natural would mean God had no duty to adopt this arrangement.

    I am speaking here of a return to mortal life in the same body. Return to mortal life in a different mortal body (reincarnation) is impossible in A-T because the soul as form of the body is attuned not only to the human species but to the particular individual body and can't incarnate elsewhere.


    1. I had said "no human has a right to a miracle". I had in mind ordinary people and a natural right to a miracle. It occurs to me Jesus as Son of God would have a right to receive miraculous favours; but this would not be a natural human right but would be related to his divine nature and the union of his humanity with God.

      I think also if you are in heaven then any desire you have is gratified so if you pray for a miraculous favour it will be granted. This right however would be supernatural and not due in natural justice. Heaven itself cannot be earned by natural justice alone but requires grace.


  34. So a good person who rejects religion as a whole due to lack of evidence is somehow locked onto "evil" when, after death, they are presented with evidence that would have convinced them of God's existence before death and the only difference to that person is belief or not? Seems a bit harsh, no?

    1. Look at what Saint Faustina said (she was blessed with numerous apparitions of our Lord), if might help


  35. Speaking of hell...can prayers for the damned benefit them in some way (I know that they will never get out of hell...I was thinking if prayers can help lessen their punishment)?