Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Geach on Hell

Let’s take another trip into the philosophical and theological gold mine that is Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil, and this time consider his chapter on Hell.  At first I wondered whether it was appropriate to close out the year with a post on a subject so grim and unpleasant.  But on second thought it occurred to me that it is an ideal topic.  What better preparation for forming New Year’s resolutions than a reminder of where we are all headed if we do not repent of whatever sins we remain attached to?

I’ve written on this subject many times and will not repeat here everything I’ve said before.  (See the links below.)  The aim of this post is not to present a general exposition and defense of the doctrine of Hell, but simply to consider what Geach had to say about it.

Geach had no patience for humbug, and he begins by clearing away some of it:

We cannot be Christians, followers of Christ, we cannot even know what it is to be a Christian, unless the Gospels give at least an approximately correct account of Christ’s teaching.  And if the Gospel account is even approximately correct, then it is perfectly clear that according to that teaching many men are irretrievably lost.  Men like McTaggart and Bertrand Russell have noticed this aspect of Christ’s teaching and decided that Christianity is incredible; they have thus paid Christ the minimal honour of observing what he has said and taking it seriously – an honour denied him by those who use their own fancy about the ‘spirit’ of Christ’s teaching as a means of deciding what Christ must have said or meant.  It is less clear, I admit, that the fate of the lost according to that teaching is to be endless misery rather than ultimate destruction.  But universalism is not a live option for a Christian.  (pp. 123-24)

Now, I disagree with Geach’s remark that it is less clear from Christ’s teaching whether it is endless misery or ultimate destruction that is the fate of the wicked.  (I think Christ clearly meant the former.)  I also disagree with Geach’s view (which he goes on to express in this chapter) that the possibility of damnation, and indeed of any afterlife at all, are matters we can know about only from special divine revelation rather than via philosophical argument.  These are topics I address in those earlier posts.  But I think Geach is absolutely correct that universalism cannot possibly be reconciled with what the Gospels tell us Christ actually said.  I have discussed the overwhelming textual evidence elsewhere. 

Geach notes a couple of important lessons to be drawn from the fact that Christianity clearly teaches the doctrine of Hell.  For one thing, this fact poses a serious difficulty for one common skeptical objection against the Faith:

Christianity is often supposed to be a matter of wishful thinking; but the accusation can scarcely hold good against a Christian who firmly accepts the dogma of Hell, and believes that he and those he loves, just as they may die of cancer, are in jeopardy of Hell.  (p. 134)

For another thing, if the dogma of Hell really were a wicked doctrine (as universalists maintain), then, as Geach argues (following McTaggart, who made the same point for very different, skeptical reasons) we could have no good grounds for believing a purported divine revelation that teaches this dogma (pp. 134-36).  For example, it would be quite ridiculous to hold that the Bible really is divinely inspired, but then go on to say that it teaches a doctrine (the dogma of Hell) that is evil and must be rejected.  For if scripture is wrong about something that important, why trust anything else it says?  Its inclusion of the doctrine of Hell would in that case entail either that the deity who inspired it is evil and thus cannot be trusted; or (to add a little to what Geach says) that not all of scripture really is divinely inspired after all – in which case, why suppose the rest of it really is?

Though Geach does not make the connection, there is a clear similarity here to the argument we saw him give elsewhere in the book to the effect that theological modernism is self-defeating.  It is no wonder that universalists try to pull off the trick of simultaneously straining hard to pretend to see their doctrine in scripture, while shutting their eyes tight lest they see the doctrine of Hell that is clearly taught there.  Frankly to acknowledge what scripture actually says would require them to give up Christianity altogether.  (Nor is it surprising that these purportedly more pacific souls are typically so nasty to those who disagree with them – gaslighting puts a strain on those doing it no less than on those subjected to it.)

Geach makes an interesting related point against the claim that anyone is predestined to Hell:

[This] would make God directly responsible for the lies men tell in the same way as for the utterances of his holy Prophets, and thus the revelational basis of the belief is wholly destroyed.  (p. 136)

In other words, if everything we do is strictly necessitated by God, then he is the author of lies in the same way in which he is the author of purported truths.  So how could we tell which are which, in matters we can know about only through revelation from him?  (To offer an analogy – mine, not Geach’s – suppose someone who communicated to you only via email not only sent you emails with messages he said were true, but also caused you to get emails, purportedly from other people, with messages you knew to be false.  Why would you believe the first set of emails if you knew he was also behind the second set?)  In Geach’s view, “predestinarian theories like those of Jonathan Edwards” are thus self-defeating in the way he elsewhere argues that modernism is (p. 136).

With the mainstream Christian tradition, Geach holds that damnation is not inevitable full stop, but rather is inevitable only given choices that we freely make.  Still, it is inevitable given those choices.  “God does allow men to sin; and misery is the natural, not the arbitrarily inflicted, consequence of sin to the sinner” (p. 138).  But wouldn’t it be pointless for God to create a world in which some people end up never fulfilling the purpose for which they were made, even if this is a result of their own folly?

No, this would not be pointless.  Geach compares such people to non-human living things that are destroyed (say, by being eaten by other living things) and therefore do not fulfill their own individual purpose, but nevertheless still fulfill larger purposes within the natural order as a whole (such as providing sustenance to the animals that eat them).  He writes:

Wicked men, who by their own choice fail to achieve their chief end, nevertheless have their place in the Divine order of things… But we must here imagine that a chisel volunteers to be used to hack the wood, in the fatuous malicious belief that the carver is thus enabled to do harm to the wood.  Extreme villainy is the necessary means to produce such virtue as that of Thomas More or Maksymilian Kolbe: necessary, because the virtue is exercised in reaction to the villainy, the villainy is the subject-matter of the virtue.  God allows the villainy in order to have the virtue. (p. 126)

Now, as I have argued elsewhere (following Aquinas), repentance after death is metaphysically impossible.  The damned will forever be miserable, but precisely because they will forever choose the evil that generates and merits this misery.  Precisely because this misery is merited, though, Geach argues that their continued existence after death serves a larger purpose no less than their existence in this life does:

In this life this wickedness serves to perfect the virtue of God’s friends; hereafter, the misery that comes from their evil will serves for the praise of God’s justice.  God has never promised to make all men happy: on the contrary, as Butler argued in the Analogy, the lesson that a man may by his own foolish choice do himself irreparable harm is written in this world in letters that he who runs may read.  Immortality accompanied by vice is, as Aristotle said, the greatest of misfortunes. (p. 138)

Now, some will object that it would make the saved miserable to know that their damned loved ones, or indeed anyone damned, is suffering.  But here there is a failure of imagination.  People too often imagine the weak but not altogether contemptible creatures so many human beings are, with their good aspects alongside their defects, struggling to be better but repeatedly failing.  Then they imagine such a person suffering forever, and the punishment seems disproportionate to the failings.  But as I discussed in another post, that is the wrong way to think about the matter.  If one can imagine the state of a damned soul at all, it would be better to think, to a first approximation, of the sort of person who stubbornly refuses even to try to reform certain bad behavior, even when his loved ones gently plead with him to do so and even when he knows that it is hurting him. 

If you have ever known such a person, you know that it is very difficult to feel sorry for him, or at least to feel sorry for him with respect to what he suffers as a result of such willfulness.  One thinks: “If you simply insist on acting that way despite knowing what it is doing to you, you deserve what you get!”  Now, the person who is damned is, after death, reduced to that sort of person, and to nothing more than that sort of person.  Whatever residual possibility for good there was prior to death drops away, leaving only the impenitent core.  Geach writes:

People say rather lightly that they could not bear for a damned soul to be punished unendingly; but someone confronted with the damned would find it impossible to wish that things so evil should be happy – particularly when the misery is seen as the direct and natural consequence of the guilt.  At best they could wish that such a thing should no longer be; that such guilt and misery should no longer defile the world.  (p. 139)

More on that last point in a moment.  First let me note an interesting suggestion Geach makes about the nature of the pains of sense that will torment the damned.  In an earlier post we looked at what Geach has to say about original sin, and about the manner in which nature has been damaged by the Fall.  In this life, God permits sinful human beings to abuse the things that make up the natural order, as they do when they use these things to serve their corrupt purposes.  But in the next life, Geach proposes, God will no longer allow this (p. 146).  The damned will seek to use the objects comprising the natural world for evil ends, but will find that they are unable to do so.  In this way they will be endlessly frustrated and tormented by a redeemed natural order.  (To appeal to an analogy that is obviously mine rather than Geach’s, think of the damned on the model of those in the Marvel movies who are unable to pick up Thor’s hammer, despite its being to all appearances just one medium-sized object alongside all the others – the reason being, not that they lack physical strength, but rather that they are not worthy.)

As to the duration of the punishment of the damned, Geach tentatively offers a couple of speculative scenarios.  One of them involves a branching timeline scenario with which I am not sympathetic given my own views about the nature of time, and I will leave that to one side.  The other goes like this:

Imagine a man condemned to work out for ever the decimal expansion of π: a dreadful fate for many of us to imagine.  He would always have a new digit to work out, however far he got, so his task would never end.  But if he worked out the first digit in half an hour, the second in a quarter of an hour, and so on, his speed of calculation doubling each time, then if he started at two o’clock no digit would remain to be calculated after three o’clock. (pp. 148-49)

While this is physically impossible, Geach allows, he thinks it is not logically impossible, and that a resurrected person could be freed from the mere physical impossibility.  But then, he continues:

So an unending series of miseries could be fitted into a finite time-stretch.  In that case, a man condemned to Hell might look forward to a series of miserable experiences of which he could say with truth ‘This will never end’; and nevertheless one day the Saints might be able to say of him and of all the damned ‘Thank God that’s over.’ (p. 149)

The scenario is certainly intriguing.  But here too I’m skeptical.  If we think of these ever shorter stretches of time within the hour as all actually existing, then it seems we face Zeno-type paradoxes.  If, to avoid those, we take an Aristotelian approach of regarding the ever shorter stretches as existing only potentially within the hour, then we don’t have the actually infinite collection of miseries Geach posits.  Hence, it seems to me, Geach’s proposal to avoid making Hell a non-stopper is a non-starter.

Related posts:

How to go to hell

Does God damn you?

Why not annihilation?

A Hartless God?

No hell, no heaven

Hart, hell, and heresy

No urgency without hell

Scripture and the Fathers contra universalism

Popes, creeds, councils and catechisms contra universalism


  1. Good post, Dr. Feser, but i still can't say that i'am convinced of the augustinian-thomist predestination. Now, please pardon my rant:

    "Wicked men, who by their own choice fail to achieve their chief end, nevertheless have their place in the Divine order of things… But we must here imagine that a chisel volunteers to be used to hack the wood, in the fatuous malicious belief that the carver is thus enabled to do harm to the wood. Extreme villainy is the necessary means to produce such virtue as that of Thomas More or Maksymilian Kolbe: necessary, because the virtue is exercised in reaction to the villainy, the villainy is the subject-matter of the virtue. God allows the villainy in order to have the virtue. (p. 126)"

    Correct. But them again it is a feature of this view that, contra molinism, God grace can't really be refused. Take king Herod, for instance, could not Our Lord allow his acts of villainy on his life and them change his heart, like, 3 seconds before his dead in a way that no one sees but still results in a conversion? The molinist would say "nah", but the thomist, as i understand, would say "sure He can".

    But if God can have the wicked doing the useful wicked things and them save they, why not do it? Like St. Thomas, Peter responds that the wicked damnation is useful in showing God justice. Okay, fine, but is prefering to show His justice rather that save these guys what the God we find on the christian faith would do? Does it fit with the parable of the lost sheep or with Our Lord lamenting for the future destruction of Jerusalem and other cities that rejected Him or with He sending Our Lady several times to pretty much beg us to try to save sinners with our prayers and penitences?

    I don't say that this would be evil or unjust, i understand that no one has a right to grace. I also don't say that it violates our free will, the thomist seems to me to get it better that the molinist, as a Fr. Dominic Legge interview made me saw. What i'am asking is: is it "in-character" for God to act that way?

    If you could help out, Professor, that would be great. It seems that thomism is right and clearly it was(and is) believed by people with way more love for God that i have, so i can just have a kinda of block here, but it still does not make much sense to me.

    1. God expects to be taken seriously. If someone does not take Him seriously, that man will serve as an eternal example of why that's an eternally bad attitude to have.

    2. @Tim

      You mean something a bit like that?,what%20is%20common%20to%20man.

      Because that is a interesting take, i do use this passage a lot when reading the Bible. Neat point.

    3. But if God can have the wicked doing the useful wicked things and them save they, why not do it? Like St. Thomas, Peter responds that the wicked damnation is useful in showing God justice. Okay, fine, but is prefering to show His justice rather that save these guys what the God we find on the christian faith would do?

      Talmid, I think we have to be a little cautious here. While we can claim to recognize "the just" and "the good" on our own, we quite often get it muddled, and without revelation we would tend to stay muddled. Just as an example, regarding self-care vs. love of others: there are few pre-Christian philosophers who extolled the love of ALL others, even to the extent of giving up your own goods for their welfare, INCLUDING for your enemies. But this is the call of true charity.

      I think that what God was telling Job, in asking "where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?" is that God's plan is not clearly explained in full, certainly not by the natural order. It takes revelation for man to really get a glimpse of The Plan, and even then, God explicitly chose NOT to reveal the whole of it. Then, we have to accept that we simply don't know how all the parts fit into The Plan to make it all excellent, the whole just gloriously good and beautiful. And thus we have to take it on faith that God does indeed fit the whole Plan together for good.

      But "taking it on faith" implies, if anything, that we receive as given the parts that HAVE been revealed. To reject part of the revealed truth because we don't see how it fits with other parts of the revealed truth is to reject the point that God has not revealed everything yet. It is like looking at 500 pieces of a 1000 piece puzzle, and throwing out 100 of the 500 pieces you DO have, because you can't see how those 100 can be made to FIT with the other 400. We have to take it on faith that those 100 pieces can be fit in - and that God revealed them for a reason relating to the whole, not just the other 400 pieces.

    4. That is a good point also, Tony. I see thomistic predestination as the superior view intellectualy and i do see very smart and, well, saintly, agreeing in it, so there is reasons to trusting that this works out.

      You guys did gave me a lot to think about.

  2. Hell exists and that's the end of it.

    That's about all that needs to be said on the "philosophical" front.

    Now, back here in the real world, a good starting (and adequate finishing) place for thinking about hell is the famous St. Leonard of Port Maurice account:

    "The following narrative from Saint Vincent Ferrer will show you what you may think about it. He relates that an archdeacon in Lyons gave up his charge and retreated into a desert place to do penance, and that he died the same day and hour as Saint Bernard. After his death, he appeared to his bishop and said to him, "Know, Monsignor, that at the very hour I passed away, thirty-three thousand people also died. Out of this number, Bernard and myself went up to heaven without delay, three went to purgatory, and all the others fell into Hell."

  3. I have been pondering hell lately and the claim made by some Thomists that it is better that the damned continue to exist, because being is better than non-being.
    Now, I am not sure that the existence of the damned is good for the damned, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the existence of the damned can't be a good thing for others, perhaps for the saved. So, perhaps the Thomist argument works after all.

  4. I agree that the gospels don’t allow for universalism. However it’s worth pointing out that the universalists don’t deny hell, they just see it as a temporary place/process of purification. This is a more common interpretation in the EO church, and goes back to several of the church fathers. Many saints have had a hope that this is true, driven surely by love, but scripture is clear enough, and it doesn’t help people living in darkness to tell them it doesn’t matter.

    In terms of the endless torment versus destruction, I think scripture is clear about the “second death” in that it’s a final death. People get very confused about the use of “death” in scripture - they tend to use a modern physicalist reading where it’s always physical death. This causes the ridiculous interpretations of Genesis where there is no physical death until the fall. Jesus came to reconcile us from the fall, but that clearly doesn’t involve preventing us from physically dying.

    This is similar to the misunderstandings of predestination, where we don’t have free will. Scripture is unmistakably clear that god has given us free will, and that everything depends on our choices. The fact that we need his grace to succeed is not relevant, because if we truly ask, we receive. Yes from god’s perspective outside of time, he knows who chooses him before we know what we choose. In this it’s best to do our part to choose well, and gently encourage others to choose well (such as by example), rather than to spend too long trying to judge god on whether he gave everyone a fair chance. Discernment should make it clear that we should trust god until we have even the first inkling of how to weigh such a thing, which we will certainly not be able to do with the limited view we have in this life.

    1. Please capitalize God and His pronouns.

      In a world without original sin, The Just would have be assumed into heaven at the end of their lives. Because of original sin, we only see this in Jesus and Mary.

    2. @Tim There are many fossils of Homo Sapiens dating from well before Adam’s time. Truth cannot contradict truth, so I can’t agree with your view. The ‘death’ that cane with the fall, that comes from sin, is clearly a spiritual death. It is described well by Eriugena’s fifth mode of non-being.

      With regards capitalisation, there is only one god, but god is not his name. I certainly don’t mean to cause offence, but there are plenty of people who have no respect for Him and yet capitalise pronouns and nouns for Him. He asks for a contrite heart, not capitalisation.

  5. Excellent post dear Edward!
    I perfectly follow and adhere to your reasoning in your Geach's analysis.
    As far as I am concerned, a roomful Hell, is the ontological guarantee that Love is founded on an act of true Freewill: like it is impossible to God to create something ontologically contradictory, so it is impossible to create loving beings without the actual freedom not to love.
    Excellent to recall us these things of the end of the days in this end of the year 2021.

  6. My concern about Hell is not so much that there could never be any who would be so evil that they would never repent and so could never be redeemed. That's pretty easy to imagine. One example is those atheists who make a big deal out of the argument that if God wanted everyone to believe in Him He should have given more evidence. It's quite easy to imagine those sorts of atheists standing for judgement and still insisting that the blame for their lack of belief is God's, not theirs, and refusing to ever waver from that stance, and so never being able to repent. But there are two concerns that I think are valid wrt Hell:

    1) More of a concern from atheists, the question of whether anyone would deserve eternal torment for that sort of evil, even the most evil people, if we consider the torment to literally be or to be the equivalent of eternally burning in the flames of Hell.

    2) What about people who are flawed but not evil (most of us)? We should be able to repent of our sins, but might need some time to work out the last few kinks in our morality and wouldn't be able to enjoy heaven until we do. To argue that no one can be redeemed after death leaves these people in, ahem, limbo.

    I think for the former you are suggesting here that Hell might be less a direct and physical sort of torture, and more a mental misery of a frustration of desires. The evil want to keep doing the things that were evil and keep getting frustrated in their attempts, which leaves them in eternal misery, a misery that they cannot escape because they will never give up their evil desires. But then isn't there room for people who are attached to similar desires to be placed in the same world, but to eventually realize the futility of those desires and legitimately repent of them? Or is your comment about the evil only having their evil desires a comment that after judgement the minority traits are stripped away leaving only the majority ones, so that if someone is mostly good the evil is stripped away leaving only the good but if someone is mostly evil the good is stripped away and only the evil remains?

    (BTW, a good analogical view of a Hell where the denizens are trapped by their own desires that they cannot escape is the "Heroes of Hell" series/world, where various ambitious historical figures -- like Caesar, Alexander, Marc Anthony, and Machiavelli -- are "trapped" in Hell but are locked into their own desires and personalities and personal relations, and so keep trying to take over and conquer, but can never do it because a) they're competing with other ambitious people and b) because Satan will always rule it no matter what. In such a Hell we could easily see why their own flawed characters keep them there and why they would end up miserable by being unable to achieve their flawed desires, but would have room for some to realize it and find some kind of repentance as well, finding a home for those too flawed for Heaven but who could overcome those flaws and escape permanent misery).

  7. "At first I wondered whether it was appropriate to close out the year with a post on a subject so grim and unpleasant. But on second thought it occurred to me that it is an ideal topic."

    LOL. That was funny. But yeah, it's always good to remind ourselves from hell. Thanks for the awesome post, Ed!

    May God bless you, my good man!

  8. Some casual rumination follows.

    These discussions concerning the existence or non existence of a Hell, may seem to some to be a quaint kind of inside baseball; discussions of interest only to retrograde minds still under the spell of obsolete worldviews. Or at best, a lesser facet of the general theodicy theme. But they raise important questions as to the nature of reality and what it would mean to say that reality is real ... and not a fraud, or game, or set of propositions subject to an ever-changing whimsy.

    I also think in line with what I take to be the tenor of professor Feser's remarks, that for a Christian to coherently approach the matter he must do so - astonishingly enough - as a man who takes the scriptures at more or less face value as a starting point.

    One can then deduce, infer and speculate all one likes, but must do so always recognizing where the extrapolations become rather thin and uncertain.

    All the talk of the "Goodness" of God as it relates to the impossibility of a Hell, or the negation of damnation - i.e., absolute miserific alienation - through the power of "Love™", seems to me to partake of the same errors of imagination, the same projections, the same sloppy readings of Scripture which infect discussions on the "nature" of God himself. But ...

    "[M]y thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

    Man of course, according to the account, is made in some degree to the image and likeness of God, rather than the converse:
    "Men make gods in their own image; those of the Ethiopians are black and snub-nosed ..."

    I then, personally think that if we are going to do a little speculation, it might do to get a few first principles firmly out in the open so as to ensure that we are - as Feser and every legitimate philosopher is always pointing out - at least conscious of the presuppositions we bring to our analysis.

    And one of the biggest errors men commonly make when starting from the text to more free explorations is the same one which Feser has repeatedly pointed out creeps in in the context of classical theism versus more humanist projections of God.

    So I think that viewing the question of the possibility of Hell and damnation from the initial heights of classical theism and the theodicy question, as shaped by scriptural considerations, is the way to go about it.

    After all, "what's love got to do with it?" insofar as we view "love", anyway.

    As the old catechism said, "God is all good, and can neither deceive nor be deceived". Consider the implications of that seriously for a moment as a conditioning first principle. Then calmly and honestly consider what it would entail to make a reality that was really "real", and not a shape shifting realm of shadows and confusion; but a reality established with real limits and boundaries which can be publicly known, and objectively encountered, and which are logically entailed by the very notion of anything discrete or defined or enduring, at all. The kind of reality made, let's say, by a serious God, who has said what he has said, and made what he has made.

    Why should he hypothetically then annihilate any of it just because something else which he has made and has given its independence and freedom to do so, decided to take a stand against him? Where is the need?

    It - that which is in opposition - can continue to exist in helpless and vehement oppisition ... Elsewhere, in a nowhere baked in the heat of its own frustrated unrelenting rage.

    "Well go ahead then, and please yourself if you are bound and determined", as my Wyoming grandmother used to say.

    And then see where spite and unreasoning willfullness ultimately gets you ....

  9. Thank you for this post Dr. Feser, and Merry Christmas!
    A few questions, if you have the time (if there’s too much to unpack here, I certainly understand!):

    1. On the matter of hell and predestination, the Hyper-Calvinist would argue that it makes no sense to say that some men aren’t predestinated for hell, i.e. by God electing SOME MEN for Heaven, He effectively DOES NOT elect others for Heaven. What would be the Thomistic response to that?

    2. Is it true to say that “God loves everyone”? Certainly, it seems clear that God loves all creation by even sustaining its existence. But, is it true to say that God “loves” (viz. in an affectionate manner) all people? A few common points by (again) the Hyper-Calvinists are Romans 9 (viz. “Esau have I hated”), and the very existence of Hell itself. I’ve heard them ask questions to the effect of “Does God love the people in Hell, and, if so, will He love them for all eternity?”

    3. Finally, combining some of the parts of questions 1 and 2, what do you make of the argument that the fires of Hell are “actually God’s love” tormenting the unrepentant sinner? I’ve come across this argument before, and, while it may seem to help those who struggle with the concept of eternal torment, it doesn’t seem to take into account things like the resurrection of our bodies, and the torment of fire after the Final Judgment.

    I think I’ve asked more than enough here! Thanks again for the post, and if the questions are a bit lengthy to be responded to, that’s obviously fine. However, does anyone else wish to discuss these points? I’d be interested to hear some input!
    Blessings and Merry Christmas to all!

    1. Hello Adam,

      1. There is a real difference between positively predestining someone to hell and refraining from predestining someone for heaven. As an analogy, suppose you warned a friend repeatedly not to put his hand into a fire. Not only that, but you made it harder for him to touch the fire, helped him pull his hand out whenever he did so, and healed him as well. Yet, despite your best efforts, your friend continued to put his hand in the fire, and you eventually stop helping him remove it. On the other hand, suppose that you warned your friend not to touch the fire, while at exactly the same time you grabbed his wrist and forced his hand into the flames, overpowering him so that he could not resist. The first example is the Thomist view. The second is the Calvinist view. Though in both cases your friend ends up in the fire, the differences should be apparent.

      2. God does not love everyone in an affectionate manner because God does not have affections, except in an analogous way. Aquinas defines love as "willing the good of the other." This is the sense in which God loves us, as willing our good. This remains true for those in hell.

      3. Given the above definition of love, I'm not sure what it would mean to say that God's love torments the unrepentant sinner. The Catholic Church teaches that "the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God," which comes through man's evil and not God's love. I know it's not your argument, of course, so I won't comment too much.

      Peaceful days,


    2. Thanks Jordan for the thoughtful answers!
      Regarding #3, I believe the argument essentially goes as follows: God is infinite. Therefore, there is nowhere that He is NOT present. So, in THAT sense, it’s argued that complete escape from God is impossible. However, the damned having died w/ their souls & wills fixed w/ the effects of mortal sin, they experience the intensity of God’s love as fiery torment, rather than the bliss of the Beatific Vision.
      Now, do I buy into that argument? No, not really. It is indeed a (somewhat) common position, viz. God’s love being what truly constitutes “hellfire”. I guess in that sense, the argument is that the fire is not corporeal, but essentially metaphorical for the intense pain. (Again, I don’t believe this, but I think that’s basically what’s argued).

    3. 3 does look a bit similar with Dr. Feser idea that the damned want to pervert the order of things but can't. They are seeing things fixed, with not the defects the have in this life, and this piss they off.

      Of course, Jordan is right that God is not present to they as He is to the saved, for the beatific vision is not the type of thing that one can see and say "man, that sucks". It is literaly Pure Goodness on front of you!

  10. "And if the Gospel account is even approximately correct, then it is perfectly clear that according to that teaching many men are irretrievably lost."

    A very, very weird thing to say, considering that a lot of early Christians, Church Fathers and Saints (including Greek-speaking Fathers) were universalists.

    1. No, it's a very, very accurate thing to say, and (contra what has become stock universalist gaslighting) there were not a lot of early Christians, Church Fathers and Saints who were universalists. See the post "Scripture and the Fathers contra universalism" linked to at the end of the original post.

  11. It's interesting to read this article from Dr Feser. Of course the Doctrine of Hell as St Augustine imagined it won the political battle of his day, and it has been stock-in-trade for Catholics ever since. But there is now a concerted campaign from theologians to rid Christianity of the traditionalist Augustinian notion of Hell, at least in Evangelical circles, by far the largest of Christian groups in the US and Britain. SEE HERE

    "An extensive article describing traditional, annihilationist, and universalist views that are discussed in British and American Evangelicalism. The traditional view is associated with Augustine, the annihilationist view with Irenaeus, and the universalist view with Origen. The article likewise cites polling about the declining popularity of the doctrine of hell."

    In many ways the campaign to re-engineer the traditionalist notion of Hell is set out in this Cambridge Paper. The Editorial Group for this paper includes: Denis Alexander PhD, John Coffey PhD, Caroline Eade MA, Julian Rivers PhD, Paul Mills PhD, Michael Schluter PhD, Christopher Townsend MA, Christopher Watkin PhD, and Margaret Wilson BA DipTh.

    The Wall Street Journal had a very interesting paper on the Catholic notion of Hell, with a view it seems a doctrine that is ripe for change:

    In March 2018, Pope Francis allegedly denied the existence of Hell and the endless suffering of the damned in a private talk with his friend Eugenio Scalfari, a left-wing journalist, who published his account of their conversation in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The response to Scalfari’s article was immediate and explosive. How could the pope deny such a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church? The New Testament is clear on this doctrine. God created Hell for Satan and the rebel angels, but there was plenty of room to torture with fire and brimstone everyone who had rejected Jesus Christ as the Son of God: “This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Revelations 20:14). For their part, Vatican officials denied that Scalfari represented the pope’s views about Hell accurately, dismissing the journalist’s article as “the fruit of his reconstruction.”

    If true, Francis’ doubts about the existence of Hell would continue the reconsideration of the afterlife begun with much less fanfare by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. In 2007, Pope Benedict quietly abolished the concept of Limbo, the otherworldly destination of babies who die before their baptism. The report of the Vatican Theological Commission on Limbo was hopeful that God would, in fact, save unbaptized babies rather than have them linger for eternity on the threshold of Hell, as Catholics had believed for centuries. The shuttering of Limbo was a victory for those who believe that God’s mercy and love should trump his terrible judgment. Is it time, then, for the Catholic Church to foreclose on Hell as well?"

    There is movement at the station. We live in very interesting times.

    1. If dogmatic Councils have been agreeing with Augustine for 18 centuries, I believe we can safely conclude that the Holy Ghost spoke best through him.

    2. It is aways annoying that secular journalists seems to understand catholicism as "whatever the current pope believes", but Pope Francis does believe in hell:

      Going by the journalists criteria, hell is going to stay.

    3. Couple of things Tim:
      1]. Augustine died mid 5th-century, so 1800 centuries is a stretch by some couple hundred years.

      2] G.K.Chesterton, one of the Catholic faithful, "sought to discomfort non-religious folk by saying 'there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don't know it'. He is wrong: there are three kinds of people; people who accept dogmas and know it, people who accept dogmas and don't know it, and those who know a dogma when it barks, when it bites, and when it should be put down." A.C. Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

  12. Feser says,

    "Geach had no patience for humbug, and he begins by clearing away some of it ..."

    Feser, then quoting Geach, writes

    "And if the Gospel account is even approximately correct, then it is perfectly clear that according to that teaching many men are irretrievably lost."

    Unknown, commenting on Geach's quoted assertion says:

    "A very, very weird thing to say, considering that a lot of early Christians, Church Fathers and Saints (including Greek-speaking Fathers) were universalists."

    But Feser, in commenting on Geach's justification for saying what Geach said, had remarked:

    "... Geach is absolutely correct that universalism cannot possibly be reconciled with what the Gospels tell us Christ actually said."

    Gospels, one imagines, such as this:

    "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. ... he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    So exactly what was Origin's rationale for asserting a form of universalism? Was he quoting those scriptures in order to stake his claim?

    Is, " ... many men are irretrievably lost ...", really "A very, very weird thing to say ..." ?

    Not since about 500 A.D., among those purporting to be real Christians, it seems. Nor, according to the actual Scripture writers centuries before that.

    As for me, I would be perfectly happy if universalism were true. Imagine a proposition wherein I could mock the universalists themselves, run roughshod over the weak, laugh at the marginalized and their comical braying, grind the faces of the annoying poor, sell adulterated penicillin to childrens' hospitals, and satisfyingly lash out against the authorities at will ( by any means necessary! And free of income tax, old man! ), and still enjoy that good old beatific vision.

    Why, that would be even better than there being no God and no punishment. Because, you could enjoy all the self-realizing and glorifying war and profiteering and violence you cared to, and still have eternal joy: and not merely be content with escaping punishment through a consciousness ending dirt bath.

    What's not to like about all that?

    Trouble is, if the Scriptures are true, then universalism is not. And even if they are not true, universalism is not consistent with them; which makes universalism seem all that much more pathetic, in an odd, but rather profound, sort of way.

  13. Further to my earlier contribution to the debate, THIS is another excellent treatise on the Doctrine of Hell set out by the renowned David Bentley Hart.

    There is definitely a very wide and global movement in Christian theology and apologetics challenging the traditionalist approach to Hell being a state of eternal psychological suffering and mental damnation. And that can only be a good thing overall. So all those commenters above who see the Traditionalist Doctrine of Hell as deeply and fundamentally problematic would do well to openly and robustly challenge what is increasingly becoming an unsustainable and utterly indefensible concept at a morally, ethically, socially and virtuous level.

    As Bentley Hart notes so eruditely:
    "Now, to me it seems obvious — if chiefly at an intuitive level — that this story is more than sufficient evidence of the spiritual squalor of the traditional concept of an eternal hell."

    As unlikely as it is that I would agree with much of what Hart believes, this statement is one of the most profoundly eloquent and insightful observations that one could make. And one with which I am in complete agreement.

    1. I have not encountered any Thomist or Thomist follower who considers David Bentley Hart a safe guide.

    2. Nor even helpful.

      Nor who would consider the praise of DBH's position by an outspoken anti- Christian to constitute a reason for Christians to take that position seriously.

    3. Tony, what you have written misses the point.
      It's not me who wrote the treatise. You seem to forget D B Hart is as every bit a rusted-on Jesus-loving Christian [with a capital 'C'] as one could get. By any objective observation of his cause for and call to Christianity there is not one who could fault his path through the Pearly Gates past a smiling, welcoming Peter to sit at the right hand of God.

      So not to take him seriously simply demonstrates how Catholicism is just as miserably tribal as every other form of Christianity is to its adherents, even though they all pray to the same God, to the same Jesus, read the exact same Bible and believe the exact same mythos about the God-man at the centre of it all.
      There is something rotten in the State of Denmark, as Shakespeare would have written.

      And I think you are right. It isn't very helpful to what you believe because what you believe cannot be helped. Such a metastatic belief can only be excised, not remedied, not ameliorated.

    4. @ Papalinton,

      If you were as wise as your 'friendly' pose pretends you wouldn't make the activist comments you make, dependent as they are on circular reasoning.

      That anyone who thinks and doesn't agree with you from the start (a la circularity) finds your gaslighting interesting rather than objectionable is laughable.

      You are not even close to wise enough to teach here. You could 'get wise' and seek for truth outside of yourself, but I suspect that for you it would be difficult.

      I pray that mighty Jesus, meek and humble, inspires in you the thought that you are invited to choose to step off the path to Hell.

      Tom Cohoe

    5. Sorry to be such a disappointment to you, Tom. I know it must seem as if I am launching an attack on your person by challenging the foundations of your particular belief system. But I am not. Most importantly my role is to share with you that there is indeed an alternative world view that better reflects the actual nature of human existence on this planet. And that this world view has no need for an inexplicable netherworld of ghosts, gods, angels, devils, disembodied agentive spirits, and malign sprites, to give it meaning. Such a world view is even more epistemologically profound, transcendent and secularly spiritual, without any need to believe my Mum and Dad are up in heaven waiting for me to join them for eternity.

    6. @ Papalinton,

      "that better reflects the actual nature of human existence on this planet"

      The actual nature according to _you_, which makes it an unfounded claim.

      I will not return your predictable personal mockery. Your mockery of the Church, however, betrays your self important hostility to Christianity ... and that you are no friend to Christians.

      God, Who created and Who sustains all, I ask you in the name of Your Most Blessed Son, Jesus Christ, to inspire Papalinton with an understanding of his facetious nature.

      Tom Cohoe

      I guess that you can't handle the language of Christianity and are thereby blocked from trying to understand the logic that it signifies.

    7. @ Papalinton,

      "Most importantly"

      I wonder from whom you were assigned this role of greatest importance. From yourself, of course. Self assigned self importance.


      God help you.

      Tom Cohoe

    8. "without any need to believe my Mum and Dad are up in heaven waiting for me to join them for eternity"

      I mean, Dr. Feser point on this post is exactly that perhaps neither we should believe in that. it depends on the Mum and Dad...

    9. You seem to forget D B Hart is as every bit a rusted-on Jesus-loving Christian [with a capital 'C'] as one could get. By any objective observation of his cause for and call to Christianity there is not one who could fault his path through the Pearly Gates past a smiling, welcoming Peter to sit at the right hand of God.

      Good gravy, what blathering nonsense.

      Unless you are claiming that he is a verifiable saint in his behavior and thinking, this is nothing but bilge-water. And I assure you that even among those who like his various theological flavors of opinions, there are many who DO NOT think his behavior is that of a saint.

      And the whole comment shows us why it would be silly to accept the opinion of a committed anti-christian what it is to be a good Christian ("with a capital C").

  14. Regarding the book cover used to illustrate this column: The movie Damnation Alley was not so good; the novel by Roger Zelazny was much, much better; the original novella (by Zelazny) was great, the best. Recommended reading when you have time to get through the entire thing at one sitting.

  15. From DBH: "the spiritual squalor of the traditional concept of an eternal hell."

    I was thinking about what "spiritual squalor" would be--perhaps a sort of a moral slum, a spiritual mudpit. And then it occurred to me that, according to Gnostics and various other heretics, genuine Christians have always been dwelling in this condition of "spiritual squalor" and lack of "enlightenment." Didn't Gnostics label Christians as something like "the mud people"?

    So perhaps it is not quite the put-down it is supposed to be. Perhaps it is simply a label to recognize, acknowledge, and ignore, as we pass along the path of genuine Christianity.

  16. The temptation is always to consider oneself being "like God": a god can only be good or, in the worst case, being the one who defines what is (his) goodness. Universalism is simply a version of this pretense to be god: it is not possible for a god to end up in hell, obviously claiming that God cannot send even a single person to hell as that would be such a bad thing.

    As Catholics of sure faith, we cannot adhere to these statements, obviously, as they are a material apostasy, the God being only One.

    The understanding of the false "problem" of predestination to Hell, cannot make the economy of considering two things aside the fact that the Original Sin is per se a sufficient reason to condemn us to death: firstly one has to consider correctly the doctrine of Election as O.L.J.C. taught us so many times in His Good Novel, and the Church Herself during 20 centuries or so, which is not the Election of the human nature itself, but only of concrete and specific human beings; secondly, we must never forget a key point which is believed true and is part of the sensus fidei fidelium: the Holy Spirit is permanently present in the conscience of each human being to inspire them to take the most holy decision, i.e. never ever during his life a human being is left alone, moreover, we know that the more difficult is a situation the more divine help (though per definition always respectful of his identity) will be provided. Who sins, ultimately, he does it against the Holy Spirit who constantly inspired him not to do so and we all know that this can never be forgiven.

    We are never left alone in this battleground, and who looses, looses because he deserves it: there are no extenuating circumstances when God Himself takes always active part in the battle for the Good.

  17. Hi Craig [@ 6.43PM]
    The 'spiritual squalor' that DBH is taking about here is what is being understood now, today, by so many Christians (and in ever increasing numbers) who have come to the realisation [a veritable slowly cascading theological and philosophic light-bulb moment] that the Augustine tradition of defining Hell as eternal physical and mental torture is nothing more than a product of misperceived speculation of the late iron-age mind; little more than nonsense and largely an obscenity.

    As are other religious traditions today, the concept of Hell being one, are now more than ever being subjected to withering intellectual, ontological and epistemological scrutiny and are found to be unmitigatedly wanting.
    That's not me saying it. It's Christians among themselves that are voicing such disquietude about these hoary and problematic chestnuts.

    And they represent genuine Christianity.

  18. Hi Ed,

    Happy New Year! I'll keep my comments brief.

    1. I completely agree with you that Scripture provides no support for the universalist view that all will be saved. That said, there is very little Scriptural support for the doctrine that the wicked are tormented everlastingly, either. I've read your article, "Scripture and the Fathers contra universalism," but I must urge you to read Bart Ehrman's "Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife" (Oneworld, 2020; paperback, 2021). I can't summarize the whole book here, but Ehrman makes a strong case that Luke's Gospel is the only book of the Bible which teaches that wicked people will suffer forever in Hell. The predominant view in the New Testament (and in the book of Daniel) is that the wicked are annihilated: everlasting destruction is their fate. The fire of Hell never stops burning, but it totally consumes what it burns. In the book of Revelation, the wicked are tortured until their final destruction on Judgement Day: only the Devil, the Beast and the prophet are tortured forever. At the same time, Ehrman seems to think Jesus envisaged only a minority of humans being saved; most take the broad and easy path that leads to destruction (i.e. annihilation). In Matthew 25, the righteous go to eternal life, while the wicked suffer the opposite fate: the eternal punishment of death. As for the Old Testament, Alan Segal, the late scholar of Judaism, bluntly declares: "There are no any notions of hell and heaven that we can identify in the Hebrew Bible, no obvious judgment and punishment for sinners nor beatific reward for the virtuous." Or as Pope John Paul II put it in his General Audience (28 July 1999): "In the Old Testament ... it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness..., a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb 7:9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God."

    I'm not saying Ehrman's exegesis is right. What I am saying is that we should stop pretending that there is a single, Biblical view of what happens when you die. There isn't. Different books of the Bible provide different answers.

    2. From the mid-second century onwards, the majority of Church Fathers held that the wicked are punished in everlasting hell-fire. However, as Avery Cardinal Dulles points out in his article, "The Population of Hell," a minority of Greek Fathers thought differently: "Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa sometimes speak as though in the end all will be saved." Dulles' article is judiciously balanced, and he argues that while the Church teaches that Hell is a real possibility, it does not teach that anyone actually goes there; hence we are permitted to hope that all will be saved. However, speculation about the population of Hell is futile.

    If both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches permit their members to hope that all will be saved, then we are already a long way from the bleak view of the Church Fathers (who generally held that most humans were damned) - and from the plain meaning of the New Testament. Make of that what you will.

    3. I have to say I have little time for arguments purporting to show that at the moment of death, the will is locked onto the final end that it chooses (God or itself), making it impossible to change. The argument presupposes that humans are capable of engaging in non-discursive reasoning, without the aid of either memory or imagination (both of which are bodily powers). I find such a view unintelligible. Moreover, God is certainly capable of providing departed spirits with the memories and images they require in order to reason properly, if He so wishes. Thus we cannot conclude that death freezes the will. Cheers.

  19. I have heard that Private Revelation teaches that many thousands go to Hell for each person who goes to Heaven. Is this true?

  20. Papalinton December 30, 2021 at 5:35 PM, said,

    As Bentley Hart notes so eruditely:
    "Now, to me it seems obvious — if chiefly at an intuitive level — that this story is more than sufficient evidence of the spiritual squalor of the traditional concept of an eternal hell."

    At least it is a strange use in the context of an "intuitive" pronouncement ... n'est-ce pas?

    Which means, I think, what I think it means.

  21. The concept of hell itself in no way contradicts Christian doctrine. But the way it is employed in evangelizing surely is. Too many Christians run around trying to coerce unbelievers with threats of eternal damnation. It's wrong, and especially for children, traumatizing. Healthier it is to induce people with the good, the true, and the beautiful (which are all the same thing). Certainly, if you reject those then you'll face consequences. But who would want to?

    1. "But the way it is employed in evangelizing surely is."

      What is or is not best in evangelizing is a prudential matter, depending on many factors. Fire and brimstone talk can work wonders in the right circumstances, as fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so saith Scriptures.

  22. Dear Ed,
    So you say that repentance after death is "metaphysically impossible?" That is contradicted by your Feb.25 2021 blog on atheist philosopher Quentin Smith.

    Commenting on his death you wrote,"My earnest prayer for this man from whose work I have profited,is that through DIVINE GRACE (emphasis mine) is that he now comes to know divine eternity more perfectly than any one of us could in this life."
    I absolutely agree with what you said about Smith (whom I knew), but if atheism is a mortal sin, how is he saved from damnation if repentance after death is "metaphysically impossible?"

    1. There is no contradiction. The hope was that divine grace will have done it's work prior to death. And we don't know with certainty what goes on in a person's mind in his last moments.

    2. As the Catechism (2282)says of those who commit suicide, which implies THERE IS redemption after death, "By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance." Does not the Catechism contradict what you wrote?

    3. "Does not the Catechism contradict what you wrote?" Not at all. See my response to your follow-up comment below.

  23. Peter Kreeft, who is not a universalist, once told me that when we take Christ's warning about many being lost as demographics, rather than the language of a father, we get needlessly trapped in the assumption that Satan wins more souls in the end than Christ does. If a good father loses one of his ten children in war, the nine saved are too few.

  24. Maybe there is no contradiction, but the hope that divine grace would have done its work prior to death does not advance our understanding one jot away from rank speculation. The hope of divine grace has no more explanatory power than does rank speculation.

  25. I meant 2283 of the Catechism, which clearly states there can be repentance after death.

    1. That passage of the Catechism says no such thing, and if it had said it it would be contradicting what it says in 1021:

      "Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament... repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith."

      What is said in 2283 about those who commit suicide is in part predicated on what is said immediately before in 2282, viz. that "grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide." That would entail that one of the conditions for mortal sin is not present. And the possibility of repentance that is referred to in 2283 has to do with repentance that would occur before death (even if only a moment before).

    2. I remember someone in the audience of a talk you gave for the thomistic institute on the will (where you did touch on the issue of a choice being made immediately after death as something you build on GLG). The questioner, if I remember correctly, made some sort of comment about the possibility of one more chance to choose immediately after death being an allowed theological opinion.

      Would you say the Catholic church allows that scenario? I've seen Larry Chapp say that we should not identify death with the biological aspect we could open up room

    3. Hi Callum,

      I remember that Q and A exchange, though not all the details. What I came away with from it is that I hadn't stated things carefully enough in the talk.

      I don't think the scenario you refer to is defensible, and I think the Catechism makes that clear, e.g. from the passage quoted above and from passages like 393 (which states that "there is no repentance for men after death"). I haven't read what Chapp says, but the proposal you refer to for redefining death seems a real stretch, to say the least.

  26. There is an interval between the moment a person dies and moment the soul departs the body. In that interval, there is that possibility of salvation. Fr Charles Pope expounded on that subject in Our Sunday Visitor in response to a question on that section of the Catechism.

    1. I haven't read what Pope says, so I can't comment on his views. But see my remarks above. This is wishful thinking. Death just is the departure of the soul from the body. So how can there be such an "interval"?

    2. I will quote from Msgr.Pope
      "Even in some sudden forms of suicide like gunshot, there are likely some moments prior to the soul's full departing the body when one may repent. Dying has some mysterious aspects related to the soul's full departure to the judgment seat of Christ. It is to these mysteries that the Catechism refers. The same could be said to those who die suddenly. There may be some moments after physical death but prior to the soul's departure where repentance is possible."

      My uncle was a battlefield chaplain during the Vietnam war. He annointed even those who were obviously dead because, as he told me, he trusted in "the infinite mercy of God."

    3. If that quote is accurate, then Msgr. Pope may not actually hold the view that was attributed to him in your previous comment. To say that there may be "some moments prior to the soul's full departing the body when one may repent" does not imply that one may repent after death, because until the soul has departed from the body, death has not actually occurred.

      To be sure, the meaning of the later reference to "some moments after physical death but prior to the soul's departure" is not as obvious. But I would assume that what he means is that even if the standard medical criteria would indicate that someone has died, there may be cases where the soul has not departed (in which case, strictly speaking, death has not actually yet occurred).

      In any event, if someone is simply dead, full stop, with no qualification, then it follows that the soul has departed the body. And at that point no repentance is possible.

    4. @Edward Feser

      Judaism teaches that God has 13 attributes by which he rules the universe. These 13 attributes are drawn out from Exodus 34:6-7. The first attribute is this: "The Lord forgives the sinner before he sins."

      So even before the suicidal man commits sin, God forgives him.

    5. The quote is accurate. It's from Our Sunday Visitor in 2018. I think we are now essentially in agreement. Happy New Year to you.

    6. @ Infinite_Growth

      " 'The Lord forgives the sinner before he sins.' "

      If Catholicism adopted everything that "Judaism teaches" the Catholic Church would not exist. Exodus 34: 6 - 7 does not say that sins are forgiven before they are committed. The essential true sorrow for sin and repentence is omitted. I believe that Judaism probably also teaches that repentence and sorrow are essential for forgiveness.

      That would make your comment, citing the Bible incorrectly, misleading at best.

      Tom Cohoe

  27. I've read the NT and I cannot find the part where Jesus talks about "hell". And no, gehanna is not hell, it's a place in Israel.

    1. That's cute, but "hell" is just the term that came to be a convenient way to refer to what Christ says about some being lost forever, their punishment being everlasting, etc. -- all of which is explicitly there in the NT. (See the references collected in my post "Scripture and the Fathers contra universalism," linked to at the end of the original post.) So whether the word "hell" appears in the NT is neither here nor there. What matters is that the substantive teaching that that word is a label for is there.

    2. Thank you, and, wow, I think I needed that. I think your post you linked has changed my mind. Obviously I was not paying enough attention, and along the way maybe read some poor exposition on the subject. I have held this belief for a while now, this is quite a jolt.

  28. The main problem I see in the Thomistic argument for the eternity of Hell is this point:

    "The damned will forever be miserable, but precisely because they will forever choose the evil that generates and merits this misery."

    The entire argumentation, in this post and all the others on the topic, follows perfectly *if* we assume that after death the will becomes immutable due to the departed having no matter anymore with which to change and, in resurrection, due to gaining a body that perfectly agrees with their inner disposition, so their will proceeds immutable even in this new corporeal state.

    The problem is that this assumption seems arbitrary. A previous argument seems to be missing, one for why God *necessarily* made reality such that a departed soul doesn't retain a baseline irreducibly and inalienable materiality that'd allow them at least a very tiny possibility of changing their will.

    Without this the principle of immutability, while logically consistent, makes the entire reasoning seem to be held together by a contingent factor: that God chose to make the will of departed souls immutable by means of making sure they had not mutability potential in them simply because He wanted to make things this way. And this, in turn, brings back all the non-Christian moral arguments against the justice of eternal damnation, except that moved one layer up, so to speak.

    It'd be interesting if Dr. Feser could develop this specific point in a post -- or maybe point me to a post in which he already did so if I missed it.

    Disclaimer: as usual when I comment I'd like to point out I'm not Christian, I'm Buddhist. But I do find Dr. Feser's posts fascinating, and really enjoy learning more about Neo-Scholastic philosophy through them. :)

    1. --"The problem is that this assumption seems arbitrary. A previous argument seems to be missing, one for why God *necessarily* made reality such that a departed soul doesn't retain a baseline irreducibly and inalienable materiality that'd allow them at least a very tiny possibility of changing their will."--

      It's an interesting point, but it cuts both ways.

      If those in hell could choose good and be released from hell, it seems it would likewise be possible for those in heaven to choose evil and fall into hell. Salvation on an ongoing basis would never be assured.

    2. Eternity is outside of time so making choices is not possible for humans in eternity, as it is part of human nature to operate in time. The damned, then, experience an eternal timeless moment and are stuck experiencing their final choice with no possibility of change. Just what this changeless experience is, it is at least the absence of God, for Whom we were created and Whom we truly desire. I do not know whether there is a sacred tradition on levels of Hell etc.

      Those who are blessed to experience the Beatific Vision in eternity are also 'stuck' in a timeless moment, but it is not a closed down moment as with the damned (perhaps Hit ler, at his most evil self-willed expression expressed something like 'If I burn in Hell for this choice in life, I don't care because by my own light it is what I choose to do', so He is experiencing the eternal moment of fire that He chose - perhaps). The eternal moment of Beatific Vision is, on the other hand, an opened up moment of experiencing every possible moment of true joy for that particular person, cleansed, of course, of all false ideas of joy entertained during life in our present world. This cleansing would not include the freely chosen, freely unreversed, refusal of association with God.

      Nope. Once we have passed through the portal of death, choices of time bound human nature are not possible. We get what we choose.

      At least this is the way I see it.

      Tom Cohoe

    3. @Justin: That also depends. For example, we can speculate, fictionally if you will, about a scenario in which something like this happens:

      a) The default is for a tiny bit of materiality to be retained by the departed, not out of necessity, but because God is merciful enough. That amount might be arbitrarily close to zero, that is, "epsilon", in the mathematical sense of the absolutely smallest amount greater than zero that isn't exactly zero, equivalent to "0.00000...infinitely-many-zeroes...00001" (the "dx" and "dy" of calculus).

      b) That tiny amount may "burn out" by, to inaccurately use an Orthodox term, the Divine Light, when salvation happens. Purgatory might be understood as the completion of this burning out.

      c) Those saved are thus freed of that epsilon of materiality, making their salvation irreversible.

      d) Those not saved have technically zero chance of salvation, since in absolute terms epsilon *is* zero at any finite scale. And yet, over infinite time it isn't.

      e) If they do, they enter the "burning it out" phase, and eventually are in Heaven, freed of that materiality they had by grace retained.

      f) Meanwhile, for all practical intents and purposes, they're eternally condemned, and may very well stay that way given the likelihood of zero.

      This is but one scheme I can imagine, which is why I said the original assumption feels contingent to me, and thus would require a further argument sedimenting its absolute necessity.

    4. Alexander, Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. As a Catholic, I have had similar questions. But I also have tried to develop epistemic humility towards what I regard as divine revelation. As Vito says below, when we are trying to untangle the mysteries of time and eternity, grace and freedom, etc., we are trying to punch so far above our weight that it's possibly ridiculous. I am not trying to naively retreat into mysterianism - philosophy was instrumental in my own conversion to Christianity. But there comes a point when reason must either throw up its hands or lay down its arms.

    5. Justin, my issue with this argument is that it seems to assume a freedom of indifference, and that a will, once in full possession of the perfect good that it by nature desires, *could* conceivably turn from that good. I do not think that's possible, and I don't think Aquinas did, either.

      But the same does not necessarily hold for evil, which is always irrational and against contrary to the nature of the will. The eternity of such a perversion has to be something more along the lines of what Dr. Feser is saying.

    6. @Tom: That may be a solution to this specific point, but it generates another similar question, on why God would chose to make things so that the departed aren't allowed to experience time anymore.

      If it's by necessity that departed souls cannot experience time anymore, there needs to be an argument showing the necessity of time being inaccessible to them even if it were by grace.

      If it's contingent, then something similar to my speculation above might apply, except that instead, or in addition, to an epsilon of materiality, the condemned might retain, also by grace, a baseline temporality going for them. This might even be construed, in the Aquinian sense of the maximization of misery, as a means for them to more effectively experience that misery -- they don't get to have the exclusive-to-the-saved experience of eternity, being stuck in mere time to suffer in perpetuity.

      In other words, this argument basically moves the problem one additional layer up, but doesn't really answer the question of the necessity, or not, of things being this way.

    7. @ Alexander Gieg,

      "In other words, this argument basically moves the problem one additional layer up, but doesn't really answer the question of the necessity, or not, of things being this way."

      Yeah? What if it's not possible to answer this question?

      Tom Cohoe

    8. @Tom: Then the entire argument, all of its conclusions and corollaries, becomes contingent on the validity of the assumed premise.

      That isn't per se a problem, but, considering the set "views on the afterlife argued for by Catholic philosophers qua Catholic views", it'd decrease the likelihood of Dr. Feser's own, while increasing the likelihoods of the alternatives he criticizes.

      His might remain the most likely though, I'm not really qualified to evaluate this.

    9. @ Alexander Gieg,

      You are making assumptions of your own. For example, you have not really answered my question without assuming that it is possible for finite minds to analyze the Infinite Mind at all. Metaphysicians acknowledge that they can't do this, that there are unbridgeable gaps in what we can learn by reasoning about reality from our sensory inputs, which unbridgeable gaps we call 'mysteries'. You cannot even understand (and neither can I) what is potentially expressed in an infinite sequence of unbiased random binary digits, and, because I have particularly defined it, this can be nothing more than an image of God, for every definition is a limit - and yet this is minimally defined.

      You talk about "set views on the afterlife ...", to which I must reply with several questions:

      1. Do you actually know what these set views are?

      2. Do you know what sacred tradition is?

      3. Have you heard of divine revelation? And if you have, have you considered that if God proceeded to somehow reveal everything, our finite minds could not comprehend it all any more than we could comprehend the infinite unbiased random sequence image I mentioned above. If the information is equivalent to energy theorem is correct, the random sequence image of God would be infinite heat and would destroy anyone exposed directly to it. Thus to face God directly (without being united to him) is to die.

      Tom Cohoe

    10. @Tom:

      a) "Metaphysicians acknowledge that they can't do this"

      That depends on the philosophical school such a Metaphysician follows, as the axioms assumed by different schools vary. Scholastic Metaphysicians do as you say, while others don't.

      I myself tend more towards Meontology than Ontology, so I don't think in terms of infinite minds except in an apophatic manner. But I appreciate learning the different ways Ontologically-oriented Metaphysicians do that, including, evidently, Neoscholastic ones.

      b) "Do you actually know what these set views [on the afterlife] are?"

      I believe I do, as I've read about several of them, both from within and without Christian thought, some more in depth, some less. Although, evidently, I don't know all of them.

      c) "Do you know what sacred tradition is?"

      Yes, but as a gentile I evaluate arguments provided by a tradition's authority chain as assumptions, and their conclusions more as logically valid or invalid "assuming that..." than as true or false.

      d) "Have you heard of divine revelation?"

      Yes. I know Aquina's argument, on his commentary to Boethius, on how Metaphysics, although first on the order of philosophical knowledge, comes second to revealed theology, as revealed theology provides the conclusions of fully developed reasonings we don't and cannot have access to, and these conclusions, in turn, provides the axiomatic premises for Metaphysical reasoning as second theology.

      This is an extremely clever way to connect the different modes of knowledge, and it's certainly valid (in the sense I provided in "c", above).

      e) You may consider my question, thus, as concerning the boundary between first and second theologies.

      Am I to understand, then, that the point I questioned about pertains to first theology, that is, that Neoscholastic thought doesn't have access to the underlying proof, and thus it assumes that unknown proof's conclusion in an axiomatic manner, proceeding from there?

    11. @Alexander Gieg:

      "The default is for a tiny bit of materiality to be retained by the departed, not out of necessity, but because God is merciful enough. That amount might be arbitrarily close to zero, that is, "epsilon", in the mathematical sense of the absolutely smallest amount greater than zero that isn't exactly zero, equivalent to "0.00000...infinitely-many-zeroes...00001" (the "dx" and "dy" of calculus)."

      Quibbling, because that is my middle name, there is no such thing as "absolutely smallest amount greater than zero that isn't exactly zero". There isn't and there can't be (subject to some fairly minimal hypothesis).

      For starters, the real line has the Archimedean property so any positive number smaller than all 1/n, for n natural is necessarily 0.

      The next observation is to note that it is possible to construct *extensions* of the real line that violate the Archimedean property and have positive, non-zero elements smaller than all 1/n for all natural n, called "infinitesimals" for more or less obvious reasons. These still are *not* "absolutely smallest amount greater than zero that isn't exactly zero". There is a famous undergraduate book doing Calculus this way (whose name I already forgot) that sidesteps most of the logical machinery (ultraproducts, reflection principles, etc.) needed to actually construct such things and just presents an axiomatics. And non-Archimedean analysis is a field of its own.

    12. @grodrigues: True, but if we refuse infinitesimals as positively descriptive, we must similarly refuse infinities as positively descriptive, which leaves us with an apophatic definition: "different from that which has boundaries."

    13. @Alexander Gieg,

      "the boundary between first and second theologies"

      I really do not understand what you mean by that. To me, insisting that axioms come before absolute truth is just a denial that there is such a thing as absolute truth, the existence of which we can know with what our senses reveal to our minds before we try to cursively express anything about it at all.

      You may not see this, but your arguments seem vague to me. They lack precise definitions and have a sense of being contrived to oppose Thomistic reasoning to me. This may not be fair, but I don't see any of it as causing me to say, "Oh, there's a contradiction in Thomistic theology", rather than thinking that it is just trying to avoid seeing that there is not a contradiction in Thomistic theology.

      Not that Thomistic theology is perfect, but, in fact, it teaches, in a very organized way what has been Christian tradition from the beginning.

      Look out and watch the wind blowing through a field of wheat. Saying that nothing of absolute truth can be perceived in it is like saying, "but the wind blowing through the wheat has a contradiction in it because ... epsilontics, field extensions, the point at infinity, Cristoffel symbols, etc ... and nothing, in fact has been shown to be false about what my senses reveal to my mind.

      I do not know whether or not you would recognize it, but that last argument is metaphysics right out of the Bible (around Romans 1:20).

      Watching the wind waving through a field of wheat is so transcendently beautiful that it reveals transcendent truth to any mind willing to receive it.

      Tom Cohoe

      PS - There are descriptions of nature in the Old Testament (eg, in Job) in which the words themselves are transcendently beautiful (we may call this, perhaps, poetry - the cursive revelation of beauty).

    14. @Tom:

      a) "I really do not understand what you mean by that."

      This paper may help clarify what I'm referring to:

      * Kielbasa, J. "What is First? Metaphysics as Prima Philosophia and Ultima Scientia in the Works of Thomas Aquinas." Philosophia 41, 635–648 (2013).

      b) "(...) your arguments seem (...) contrived to oppose Thomistic reasoning (...) there is not a contradiction in Thomistic theology."

      I don't think there's a contradiction in either Thomistic theology or philosophy.

      c) "Thomistic theology (...) teaches, in a very organized way what has been Christian tradition from the beginning."

      Yes, evidently, but I'm not Christian, so the alignment between Christian tradition and Thomistic philosophy doesn't play a particularly strong role in how I approach it. I look at Thomistic philosophy as a philosophical system, to be considered by itself on its own merits as a philosophy.

      That doesn't mean the point itself isn't relevant. If, at some point, I convert into Christianity, this alignment would indeed come to the forefront and become *very* relevant. For now, though, that still isn't the case for me.

      d) "(...) and nothing, in fact has been shown to be false about what my senses reveal to my mind."

      This is somewhat off-topic, but scientific research shows a broad range of sensorial perceptions that are factually wrong, and thus require extensive rational work to be either corrected or, when its correction isn't possible, conformed with.

      The paradigmatic example of such an error is about what's moving, the Earth or the skies. Our senses falsely tell us it's the skies that move and that the Earth, excluding the occasional earthquake, is pretty much fixed in place. This false sensorial perception cannot be corrected, so we're left conforming ourselves to the fact we cannot stop perceiving this falsely, and must compensate this defective perception by means of our rational faculties.

      That's why understanding the precise source of the premises axiomatically adopted by philosophical systems is important, as at least on some occasions what seems evident, or even self-evident, actually isn't.

    15. @ Alexander Gieg,

      You cannot rigorously axiomatize thinking and thereby escape well formed questions that cannot be decided from within the axiomatized system, with a finite defined set of rules of inference and a finite set of premises, even if it contains a set of propositions denoted as true, at least if you have axiomatized arithmetic as part of the system ( Goedel - not sure if I expressed that correctly or completely, but I have studied it, and "oe" is correct in his name if you don't use the non-English umlaut). It would not be very difficult to conclude that we can come to truth by other means than with cursive verbal thought or symbol manipulation. I hold that not only can we, we must.

      I cannot see the use of psychology type proofs that our senses can be fooled. First, only a fool would think that they cannot, and second, I have little use for the pretense of psychology to be a wise discipline. If I cannot learn truth through my senses, much less could I learn it through sensing the words of others. I think it's kind of funny that someone might take a position that "you can't trust your senses except when they sense me telling you what to believe", which reminds me to say that all of mathematics, science, and logic uses symbols ultimately defined in simple words, or else they are arm waving affairs dependent upon a "leap" of extremely non-rigorous ,"understanding", long the territory of flim flam artists and others of similar ilk.

      It is all rather funny don't you think?

      I can't read Polish so I didn't get much out of that Polish priest trying to prove that Aquinas is circular (I could get at least that that's what he is really trying to do).

      Again, funny stuff.

      Really, go outside and watch the behavior of the natural world. If you can see how it is awesome (way beyond fascinating here), I can give you some reasoning about how axiomatic systems cannot explain it, beyond the simplest phenomena, and even there, just as how you say our senses are fooled, so is our science. This awesomeness is everywhere all the time, but is far more noticeable where human imposition of order is minimal and where the effects approach causing fear or terror than if it is calm (if they kill you, OTOH, you will not be able to report back). You have to use your senses directly, not through reading.

      Tom Cohoe

      PS - I haven't checked this very well for errors or good expression because it is time for me to say the Rosary with my wife. - TC

    16. @Tom:

      The paper is in English, maybe your browser is misconfigured. Try the PDF instead:

    17. @ Alexander Gieg,

      Ok, here is a quotation from the paper:

      "It is [...] confirmed that – due to the rank of metaphysics’ subject matter – it deserves the position of the first philosophy, prevailing over other sciences (altior omnibus scientiis), despite the fact that in the order of knowledge assimilation it follows after all other sciences (posteriatur post omnes scientias), inter alia due to the fact that grasping the causes of existence must be preceded by knowledge of existence itself."

      (The ellipsis just removes the word 'also' so that the sentence stands by itself).

      This is a statement of Avicenna's defense of the primacy of metaphysics. It is also pretty much the same idea I expressed when I cited Romans 1:20 as a metaphysical argument in the Bible - "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead".

      Everything we know or believe we know comes first through our sensory input. Our sensory input comes before cursive thought. Even a scientist looking at numbers on a dial senses that there is something there before he thinks about it. Particle physicists search for a "resonance" and suspect one before they think about it. This is the prior "knowledge of existence [of something] itself". It is awareness through the senses. But that there can even be a science of this awareness is metaphysical primacy. Animals can be aware - no thought involved - of the same things we experience, but they cannot make a science of it, because they lack the metaphysics of ontology that is possible in human minds. In this way, metaphysics is prior.

      There is no circularity in that.

      The interesting thing about experiencing as in Romans 1:20, and as in going out and experiencing, as I suggested, is that if you are willing to be awed by plain experience, then that the awesome effects you experience are of _something_ that science cannot explain is supported by science itself.

      I would be happy to show you this.

      Tom Cohoe

    18. @Tom:

      a) "There is no circularity in that."

      I know there is no circularity, but that wasn't my point.

      To recap: for Aquinas, as I understand his argument in his commentary to Boethius, there are fundamentally two metaphysics/theologies:

      * A first theology, known to God alone, which proceeds from premises only God can know about Himself, and reach a list of conclusions. A small handful of these conclusions God provides us via revelations.

      * A second theology (second from God's perspective), which for us doubles as the prime metaphysics (prime for us). This second theology/first metaphysics reaches conclusions using as its own premises a combination of our own natural knowledge plus divine revelations, that is, plus the conclusions of God's own exclusive first theology that He provided us.

      It's a little bit more complicated than that, as one may split the second one in a few subitems (natural theology, revealed theology, natural ontology etc.), but the general idea remains.

      That's the basis for my question. So, given that basis, this is my question:

      Given the above distinction between first and second theology in Aquinas's philosophy, the concept that the souls of the departed in general, and of the condemned in particular, are completely devoid of matter:

      i) Is it a conclusion from first theology, that is, it's a revealed truth from God Himself, which thus *must* be adopted as an unquestionable premise in any and all metaphysical reasonings from the second theology/prime metaphysics onwards?

      ii) Or is it a tentative premise adopted by second theology/prime metaphysics from another source, such as, e.g., from natural theology, thus keeping open the possibility that departed souls may retain some materiality?

      I'm not asking anything more or less than this. My other comments circle around possible further arguments arising from alternative "ii" being the case.

      b) "I would be happy to show you this."

      Thanks, but there's no need to. I actually already have those experiences aplenty myself.

    19. @Alexander Gieg,

      "My other comments circle around possible further arguments [...]"

      I think I answered already, but it is possible to chop plain things into artificial categories and proceed with 'further arguments' at great length.

      Suppose, for example, you tell me you had a grapefruit at breakfast. That is plain and simple, but I want to argue so I say, "Isn't it possible that you gave your little brother a segment of the grapefruit so that you really had only part of a grapefruit?" You say, "I don't have a little brother." I say, "The term 'little brother' also includes your neighbor's child, whom you could think of as your 'little brother' so it would still be possible you gave your little brother, in this sense, a piece of the grapefruit, so it is possible you only had part of a grapefruit." You say, "I don't think of my neighbor's child as my little brother." I say, "Isn't it possible that you perceive your neighbor's child as you would perceive a little brother, but you have not consciously recognized this simple perception as a thing like thinking of your neighbor's child as ... only had part of a grapefruit?"


      God reveals _everything_ to us, whether it is scripture, metaphysical first principals, the sensory awarenesses that are the first principals of science, that guided by metaphysical principals become intellectualized as general principals of a particular science.

      This "chopping up" is artificial and provides a method for argument that really makes no more plain sense than drawing out argument about grapefruit for breakfast.

      You can always doubt and nothing anyone else says can cause you to not doubt. It is always your choice.

      In the same sense that doubt about theological explanations can go on for a long time, doubt can always be raised about the general body of science that we entertain today. One could argue on and on that there are no general bodies of science beyond speculation. You can't logically derive a general conclusion from a bunch of supporting particular examples. You cannot prove that scientific prediction that has worked heretofore will work tomorrow. You cannot prove that everything that has gone into the formation of a general conclusion was not decreed by God to make it look like the general conclusion is true. How does the conservation of momentum continue to be something we hold to be true, when instead of saying, "this is a counterexample, COM is false", every time it appears to be violated, we look instead for something (a new, otherwise indetectable, particle kicked off where the sensible tracks sum up to an apparent non conservation of momentum).

      Finally, science itself, through the principle that the components of classical states cannot exist simultaneously, without inherent uncertainty, coupled with amplification, supports that the randomness ( unpredictability via any finite algorithm) that visibly exists in our sensible world means that _something_ invisible operates in our sensible world that guides itIt makes a difference in our livesA tornado can hit or miss a vulnetable town.

      Our senses show us this visible randomness in the waving of wheat stalks in the wind.

      I am not really able to make sense of what you are asking except as a kind of avoidance freely willed by you. I cannot make you accept that infinity is a positive thing in the intellect. I cannot prove anything to you. You cannot prove anything to me. I cannot make you accept that anti-theism is not what Aquinas and Aristotle, for good reason, called "speculative science".

      We seem to be talking past each other.


      Tom Cohoe

    20. @Tom:

      "We seem to be talking past each other."

      Well, from my perspective you're defending a kind of anti-intellectualism, which seems odd given you're also supportive of Scholasticism.

    21. @ Alexander Gieg,

      Sensitive dependance on initial conditions. That's what I meant by "amplification", but I couldn't recall the phrase at the time.

      This is anti-intellectual?

      Ok. If you say so.

      Tom Cohoe

    22. @Tom:

      I refer to what I perceive as strawmen such as, for one example, these sentences:

      "(...) it is possible to chop plain things into artificial categories and proceed with 'further arguments' at great length. (...) This 'chopping up' is artificial and provides a method for argument that really makes no more plain sense than drawing out argument about grapefruit for breakfast."

      If I ask a specific question about a philosophical system, from within its own categories, and explore corollaries, and the other person answer by going out on multiple divergent tangents, and keeps doing that despite my trying to bring them back on-topic, my most charitable interpretation is either that the person doesn't actually want to think systematically about that topic in particular or, a little less charitably, that they refuse the very process of systematic philosophical analysis.

      If you think this is an inaccurate characterization, I'd suggest we move into a proper disputatio, that is:

      a) Disputant A states a position X;

      b) Disputant B, before stating their own position, opinion, or criticism about what A said, first explains X in their own words, asking A that's what they truly meant;

      c) Disputant A then either agrees that disputant B understood X correctly or, if not, explains X in a better way;

      d) The process goes back and forth until A is sufficiently satisfied that B understood A's position X well enough;

      e) Once B hears they understood X correctly, then they provide their own assessment of the subject-matter, stating their own position Y, which must include an analysis/assessment of the stronger, core points made by A in their position X;

      f) Roles then reverse, with A's turn to explain in their own words B's position Y, the same back and forth procedure being followed until B becomes sufficiently satisfied that A understood B's position Y well enough;

      g) Once A hears they understood B's position Y correctly, it's A turn again to provide their own assessment of the subject-matter complete with an analysis/assessment of B's position Y, then ether accepting Y, or providing a revised version of position X that takes into position Y's stronger, core points, or even a new position Z that encompasses and surpasses both X and Y's stronger, core points;

      h) This process proceeds in this way until both A and B reach a final agreement, or are both in full agreement about the irreducible points of divergence in their mutual though, both now knowing in depth what the other thinks and why.

      This procedure works extremely well as long as both disputants take it seriously and don't mind the time investment required.

    23. @Alexander Gieg,

      "multiple divergent tangents"

      Have you never heard of a tangent space? I thought you knew all about general relativity. A tangent, or a tangent space, which multiple diverse tangents would create is a good way to investigate a single point in the general manifold, or to investigate a region in the manifold whose smallest single dimension is less than the largest delta_x smaller than what can be measured or assumed. While very poorly stated, I am talking about boundaries of a region that is treated as linear and small enough that real non linearity can be ignored.

      You were interested in boundaries you said? Ha-ha-ha? More strawmen?

      As I said, we are talking past each other.

      My answer to your question actually _is_ in the things I've said to you. I believe that knowledge is one and divisions into categories is artificial. My "strawman" was a concrete (easy to understand) example of how creating categories allows dispute that is a waste of time but which provides an occupation and it keeps people busy.

      Here is another example for you to call a strawman. I wish to study the properties of the numbers from 100 to 200, and I wish to assert that these numbers cannot be added. Any time you go outside the boundaries above and below, I get to say you've gone off on a tangent strawman.

      Ha-ha-ha? Therefore I'm not a philosopher, a metaphysician, a theologian, an Aquinist (an Aristotelian)?

      In the end, your diagnosis is unimportant.

      Don't get me wrong. I have enjoyed talking to you. OTOH your idea of formal dispute (where you set the terms of reference) sounds like H*ll on wheels. It would amplify disagreement and misunderstanding. This kind of thing needs a panel of judges, not something I want (who would pick the panel). On what forum would this take place. For me, when the number of comments on this site reaches several hundred it becomes painfully difficult to use. As well, Ed probably does not want / would not allow a forever dispute on his blog.

      On the other other hand, an _informal_ dialogue by private email is ideal for two people talking past each other endlessly.

      No, this is actually funny. There is a story about two relatively famous physicists who argued privately about something _for decades_. Then, by some accident of conversation, they discovered that they were using different definitions for an important term and had been talking past each other for all those years. This story appeared on Peter Woit's blog (Not Even Wrong) but I have looked for it several times and have not been able to find it again. I think he deleted a lot of stuff after he went (too) politically correct.

      So if you want to talk by email, I'm open to it. We could have a lot of fun and even find ourselves _not_ talking past each other from time to time.

      Tom Cohoe

    24. @ Alexander Gieg,

      PS - I forgot to say that you have also ignored a lot of things I have said but we needn't come to blows over it. Do you think this kind of talk is simple? It should be, but it isn't.

      Tom Cohoe

    25. @Tom:

      a) "I believe that knowledge is one and divisions into categories is artificial."

      Well, I go in the opposite direction, and see careful categorization as the way to build valid knowledge.

      For instance, I see two basic categories at play here: on the one hand, Aquinas thought; on the other hand, your thought. Yours may be interesting and even true, but at the moment I'm more interested in Aquinas's.

      b) "I wish to study the properties of the numbers from 100 to 200, and I wish to assert that these numbers cannot be added. Any time you go outside the boundaries above and below, I get to say you've gone off on a tangent strawman."

      I'll exemplify what I mean.

      As I see it, were I to follow the same procedure I perceive you as taking, I'd pick this one sentence of yours, then began talking about:

      * How that forms a ring, which is a valid mathematical construct;

      * Mention how rings are used in CPUs for arithmetic;

      * Vaguely generalize from that towards neural networks and AI;

      * Then generalize even more vaguely towards how AI may show how the human mind truly works.

      And on, and on, and on... all of which might be interesting to talk about, but has no relation whatsoever with the question on whether the concept of souls as purely immaterial is primarily grounded on first or second theology as these categories are defined by Aquinas.

      That's the reason I haven't commented on most of what you wrote: because those points aren't related to Aquinas's philosophy. That's also the reason I'm not adding my *own* perceptions etc. to the conversation, as I'm not interested, at the moment, in my own ideas either.

      c) "OTOH your idea of formal dispute (where you set the terms of reference) sounds like H*ll on wheels."

      It isn't my idea, it's the method used for writing Summas, which in turn is a more general take on Platonic dialogues. It was also the way medieval philosophers argued publicly to make sure both were being fully honest about the other's ideas.

      d) "So if you want to talk by email, I'm open to it. We could have a lot of fun and even find ourselves _not_ talking past each other from time to time."

      Sure, that's fine for me. My e-mail is

    26. @ Alexander Gieg,

      I will give a one sentence reply to each of your points and say no more about it on this Geach thread:

      a) You cannot meaningfully categorize things symbolically, even if including as symbols words or groups of words, without first having something non-symbolic to categorize.

      b) A ring has two binary operations for each of which any two elements of the ring must be able to combine to give an element of the ring [van der Waerden, "Algebra", 7th edition, page 32], so the restricted study is not a ring, but even if it were, it would not address my point, which is that the artifice of restricting a study to just a portion of the whole can cause false conclusions to be drawn about the properties of the whole - but this exercise is a just an illustrative metaphor anyway for what can go wrong when you insist on breaking a whole into parts.

      c) But the "examination committees" of the scholastics would be conducted in the metaphysics as developed by Aristotle and his contemporaries, which is not the "new" metaphysics you claim to use, which is a total break - and your particular application of this new metaphysics seems to violate the law of parsimony (William of Ockham) - it complicates a sufficient simpler explanation.

      d) I will send you an email to which you can reply establishing an email connection. You get the last word on this site.

      It seems that we agree on nothing - an excellent beginning!

      Tom Cohoe

  29. Dear Alexander,
    I do not wish to assume Dr. Feser's answer, but I guess that your "feeling" of arbitrariness comes from your personal conception of time which, most probably, does not fit with the Aquinas' one.
    I hope this hint helps.
    Happy New Year 2022.

  30. Interesting way to start off the new year. But then, it has been a couple of interesting years.

    Edward Feser says,

    To say that there may be "some moments prior to the soul's full departing the body when one may repent" does not imply that one may repent after death, because until the soul has departed from the body, death has not actually occurred."

    Well, it's not philosophy per se, nor even strict reasoning, but one could, if one wished, advert to certain passages in private revelations which the authorities of the Catholic Church have deemed acceptable for believers to consider ... whatever it is that that implies.

    And one of those, is that of the Polish nun Faustina; who, in her extensive diaries recorded - much in line with current medicine - that under normal circumstances complete death takes a few minutes even after the cessation of all signs of life, and that in such a transitional state, a will not fully hardened may yet turn away from its conceits and resentments and hostilities, etc. Getting however, in that case, not an instant beatitude, but rather a ticket to a purgation process.

    Then too, there are those famous or infamous depending on how you look at it, NDE accounts, which are many and highly varied.

    But, if one does wish to push the boundaries and look even further afield than Scriptural text and 1500 years of interpretation for addiruonal grist for the speculation mill, then why stop short? One might just as well in that case look into some of those NDE reports people have given.

    And if you are going to, as so many here have done, look at Christ's words in Scripture and say, " Yeah, but ...", it hardly seems problematical to review some of the more startling accounts which do seem perfectly compatible with traditional scriptural understandings.

    What is most remarkable to me in these accounts is:
    1, the subject's complete intellectual acceptance of their moral judgment as being fair and irrefutable
    2, the sense of absolute finality and immutability if and once the process is complete
    3, The experience that there are basically two realms of experience left to the being: existence in the light or in the darkness
    4, The complete absorbtion of the individuals in the prospect of "going to their true home" and their complete lack of concern about how they can enjoy "heaven" if others do not. Though, all these "returnees" so to speak, do have deep concerns for those still living whom they have left behind and who they feel obligations toward.

    There would be a fifth point which has impressed me with regard to the experiences of the irreligious who often seem to " come back" reflecting a particular encounter - which brings to mind a certain passage in Scripture. And it is worth noting with regard to that passage what it precisely says as well as what it does not say,

    "Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. ”

    Maybe Bishop Barron should have uttered that phrase instead of jibber jabber about privileged ways of salvation.

    The hypothetical but absolute "sovereignty of God" (as Calvinists like to say) sometimes can be construed as cutting generously too, if he sees it as warranted.

    Anyway, among the many nut cases, are those who do seem both sane and profoundly emotionally affected by what they think they have experienced and who they think have encountered.

    The variations at the extremes are too many to discuss, and my interest in these in particular is limited. But there are surprising commonalities and admissions in many of the authentic seeming of them.

    Of course, what it authentically, is or was, is another matter altogether.

  31. This is an insightful comment on the assumed immutability of the soul after death. On this matter, we face, other than the promises and hints found in scripture, nothing but mystery that is impenetrable by human reasoning. Why pretend that we “know” more? It is one thing to use the ancient philosophers to explore theological questions and quite another to create a theology of the soul from them, which is what I think is at work here. As a Roman Catholic, I don’t want to take a sola scriptura position on this matter, but greater epistemological modesty should inform our efforts in speaking of final things. I can’t help feeling that there is a certain naiveté behind all of this talk of the afterlife, however much it is draped in luxuriant concepts and subtle distinctions.

  32. Ed, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on DBH's article The obscenity of belief in an eternal hell. I know he makes you salty and is no doubt one of the gaslighters you had in mind, but I think he makes some very compelling points, especially on the freedom of the will in the last 8 paragraphs.

  33. About this point:

    "The scenario is certainly intriguing. But here too I'm skeptical. If we think of these ever shorter stretches of time within the hour as all actually existing, then it seems we face Zeno-type paradoxes."

    Interestingly, something like this does happen in Physics. A black hole's boundary is called an "event horizon" because it splits causality in two, with two distinct, fully calculable, physically consistent metrics, which shows exactly the kind of process Gears seems to have in mind, albeit in reverse.

    Imagine a person falling into a black hole. There are two perspectives on what happens in this case: that of the person, and that of observers outside it.

    From the perspective of the person falling in, things proceed in a quite unremarkable way other than gravity increasing as they move further down towards the center. The math shows they simply keep falling in and, after a finite, calculable time, they reach the center and get crushed.

    From the perspective of external observers the person falling in begins to move slower, and slower, and slower, until they get stuck riiiight besides the even horizon, at which point their time stops, rendering them frozen in time, never *ever* entering the black hole. The math shows they get stuck in this situation forever. If a future observer trillions elevated to a power of trillions of years from now were to look at that spot, they'd see the falling person still stuck at that spot, absolutely no change at all, their time stopped.

    What Gears is saying is similar to what an hypothetical "white hole" would look like. From the perspective of someone being ejected from it, it'd take infinite time to cross the boundary and to leave it. For external observers, though, that'd happen in a very finite amount of time.

    This kind of "causally-divorced dual metrics that seem contradictory but work in practice" plays into the speculation I provided in my earlier reply to Justin.

  34. The damned souls, I think, are much like the Ringwraiths, the Nine servants of Sauron and the ring, so utterly corrupted that their humanity has been disfigured, irreversibly disfigured. Human nature is not destroyed, but in a way they are no longer humans, but ghosts, shadows and wraiths.

    Spiritual treatises often portray the damned as souls in agony, crying for help, lamenting the loss of heaven, and their sinful, unrepentant lives. It is awful to think that this soul will remain in hell unto the ages of ages. But, of course, this is only a literary device. If a man in hell could for a fleeting moment lament his loss and remember with affection his life on earth, his parents and his home, he would not be beyond help, beyond redemption. We have a tendency to think about a damned soul as an homo viator phisically present in Hell, and we can not bear to think he will be there forever. But that is indeed a lack of imagination. There is nothing left in the hearts of the damned, but bitterness, fear and a despair full of hate.

  35. Nobody deserves heaven.
    Nobody deserves hell.
    God is allmighty.
    God is love.
    God wills that everybody shall be saved.

    1. When you get four out of five sentences right, you'd think you'd come closer to a valid argument. But a sound argument requires ALL of its propositions to be true.

    2. How smart thou art ...

  36. "And if the Gospel account is even approximately correct, then it is perfectly clear that according to that teaching many men are irretrievably lost."

    If it were perfectly clear, then one wonders how there came to be universalists in the first place.. It's not as though they don't also have their biblical prooftexts, so Geach here is making an unwarranted assumption. If it were as simple as quoting a few isolated Bible verses - a rather crude, fundamentalist, and un-Catholic method of settling theological disputes - then it is mystifying as to how some of the most learned biblical exegetes and Christian theologians across the centuries, sensitive to both tradition and the dictates of orthodoxy (or who are its pillars and formulators, as in the case of Gregory Nyssen), have held to or sympathized with universalism in some form.

    I say "Geach's" and not the "Catholic Church's," because it isn't the Catholic Church's dogmatic position that "many men are irretrievably lost." That's Geach's personal gloss. In light of the fact that the Church has not declared that a single soul is in hell, then to assert that all may or, indeed, will be saved is as licit a theologoumenon as assertions that many or most may or will be forever lost. Nothing has been formally defined here, but there is a clear magisterial trajectory toward universalism. The hope that all men be saved is asserted in the Catechism, invoked in several important prayers, and found in numerous saints, theologians, poets, mystics, and popes (not as numerous, it is true, as those who espouse the opposite view; but then, this was the case with beliefs like the Immaculate Conception at times before it became a dogma, at least among Dominicans and Thomists), all of which amounts to a de jure if not a de facto universalism.

    I must also comment on the prima facie absurdity of St. Leonard's claim (yes, saints are not immune from making absurd claims), cited by someone above, that a mere five people out of 33,000 who died on a given day went to heaven. With those odds, to turn a familiar critique of universalism on its head, why bother to evangelize? Why procreate? Why get out of bed in the morning? When you do the math (as though such a thing were appropriate to do in this case!), it comes out to a 0.015% chance of being saved and, hence, over a 99% chance of being eternally damned. The whole notion of the Gospel being "good news" then becomes a farce, a sick joke, and a desiccated husk of neurotic scrupulosity. On such a view, as Schopenhauer says, "it looks as if the Blessed Lord had created the world for the benefit of the Devil!" I don't doubt Leonard's personal sanctity, nor that of other saints who affirm similar things, but I am not obliged to go along with his demographic speculations on the afterlife.

    At best they are pedagogical, suitable to a time and place and audience long since passed. As Chesterton says, "To hope for all souls is imperative; and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable. It is tenable, but it is not specially favourable to activity or progress." More universalists might be known to us were it not for the alleged pastoral and other dangers of being too loose-lipped about it. Better to catechize the peasant with a hammer. I would assume that it is partly for this reason that Schuon places the traditional doctrine of hell within the exoteric sphere. One might then regard it as a form of Plato's Noble Lie, but it needn't be, for universalists can accept the real possibility of an eternal hell and yet regard it as infinitely improbable, to use Edith Stein's phrase, that anyone should go there, or else regard the scriptural and magisterial references to it as purely admonitory rather than predictive in their intent by the Holy Spirit, which is a possible and plausible reading.

    1. @Anonymous: "One might (...) regard the scriptural and magisterial references to it as purely admonitory rather than predictive in their intent by the Holy Spirit"

      I like the way some Orthodox authors I read work this with the concept of the "divine light". I'm not sure this is what the Orthodox Church as such teaches, but I've found it referred more than once, so it well might be.

      According that idea, departed souls are basically nude before God's pure energies, without the dampening matter provides, and as such experience them directly.

      Those who aligned themselves with His will in life then get to experience this Light as loving warmth, embraced by it.

      Those, in contrast, who have aligned themselves opposite His will get, thus in rejection of Him, get to experience it as a burning fire, for no matter how much they want to shield away from that Light, they cannot, since there's nowhere to hide from it as it pervades all of reality.

      From this perspective, Heaven and Hell aren't different places, although they can be thought of as such, but more distinct ways to find oneself positioned before the God's same Light.

      Now, evidently the Orthodox authors I read say that once you're before that Divine Light your choice of embracing it and thus experiencing as warm love, or rejecting it and thus experiencing it as burning fire, is definite and unchangeable.

      But, at first glance at least, it seems this take is more prone to the possibility of some (and eventually all) of those experiencing it as burning fire to eventually also choosing to experience it as loving warmth. At which point, to run things through a Buddhist metaphor, they'd notice they always did, they were just too stubborn to recognize it as such.