Temporal accommodation in light of eternal damnation

This decision for or against Jesus Christ represents an apocalyptic crisis for each one of us in our souls. And that Gospel-centric crisis is often ignored in the Church today.

(Image: Zoltan Tasi/Unsplash.com)

Hell is often depicted in Christian art as a place of unspeakable physical torments where the unrepentant sinner receives his or her just punishments for various moral perfidies and offenses against the law of God. And much of that art is grounded in various biblical images of the infernal regions as a place of unquenchable fire and of the all-consuming worm that never dies (Mk 9:43, 47-49). It is portrayed as a place of a divinely imposed exile where the sinner is condemned to an outer darkness (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), far from the precincts of Heaven.

Furthermore, damnation is envisioned as something that comes upon the clueless sinner by surprise. It is a recompense for not taking the call to conversion seriously and for squandering their time on earth in frivolous and presumptuous living, as in the days of Noah (Mt 24:37-39), where right up to the moment of judgment people were unaware of the disaster about to befall them.

In the famous metaphor of the sheep and goats (Mt 25:31ff), for example, Jesus gives us an image of judgment day as a divine referendum on whether or not I treated the “least among us” with charity. And in the narrative those who are damned are nonplussed by the accusations and filled with indignation at the charge that they failed to love Christ in their failure to love their neighbor. “Wait, what? Who is here? The Bridegroom?? Doh! Murphy’s Law in action!”; “Hang on just a second… I didn’t do what, Lord? To whom? You? When? What?” However, nonplussed or not, they are consigned to perdition.

There is also the startling parable of the marriage feast (Mt 22:1ff; Lk 14:15-24), in which even those who do respond to the invitation of the master but who show up without a wedding garment, are cast into “the outer darkness.” A similar sternness is found in the parable of the unwise or “foolish” virgins who did not keep enough oil in their lamps and are then caught short when the bridegroom arrives (Mt 25:1ff). Once again we see how perdition is depicted as something unexpected and surprising in its suddenness.

My point in citing these examples of the Dominical statements on judgment is to throw a bit of cold water on the popular idea, championed by C.S. Lewis and others, that the “gates of Hell are locked from the inside.” In this view, Hell is not a place of divine punishment so much as it is a state of self-exile on the part of the sinner who chooses for all eternity to reject the divine offer of love. I too subscribe to some version of this “self-exile” motif since, after all, if Hell is merely a place of divine punishments for my crimes then it should not be eternal since at some point the penal recompense for my misdeeds should run its course and end at some terminal juncture.

So the notion of damnation as a kind of eternal decision on the part of the unrepentant sinner to reject God seems to me to be the only viable way to maintain the notion of Hell as eternal. Nor have I ever put much stock in the argument that Hell is eternal because our sins, though finite in origin and nature, offend an infinite God. In such a scenario, God acts more like the wounded petty aristocrat, who inflicts the death penalty on a peasant who stole an apple off of one his three hundred fruit trees, rather than a just and loving Father. Punishments must fit the crime and should not be wedded to antiquated notions of social standing.

However, all that said, the danger of all self-exile theories is that they can lead to the very presumptuous insouciance that Christ warns us against so often in the Gospels. “Surely,” we assure ourselves, “I would never willingly choose to turn away from God for all eternity!” I might say to myself, “I know I have sins and I know I am not always what God wants me to be, but I am basically a good person and I know I would never choose self-exile from God!” The net effect of all of this self-justifying deflection is a failure to see the eschatological moment at hand, to see the provocation and the “crisis” that the Gospel places before us as the condition for admittance into the King’s banquet.

And it also has the effect of blunting our own awareness of the many ways we choose every day to turn away from this crisis of provocation and into a foretaste of Hell through my constant deflection of the decision for or against Christ. It lends itself easily to co-optation into the therapeutic understanding of the modern self, with its inward focus on the reality-constructing action of the imperious “I”. In such an approach, not even judgment day is really something that “happens to me” in a theo-dramatic encounter with God wherein I am judged based on my inaction toward the least among us.

In other words, even judgment is my own action and damnation is just my self-judgment. There is obviously an element of truth in this insight. But divorced from judgment as an encounter with God who is “Other” it can quickly descend into an overly psychologized understanding of things.

Finally, there is the added problem—pesky in its annoying intrusion into our theorizing—that the motif of Hell as a form of self-exile has little to no grounding in Scripture. For example, the King says to the goats, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). Nowhere do I see a show of hands from the accursed signaling their desire to willingly toss themselves into Satan’s flaming mosh pit.

Obviously, none of the imagery can be taken literalistically, and it is possible to reconcile the self-exile motif with the more Scriptural notion of an “imposed” Divine judgment. But the essential message of Christ in the New Testament is persistent and consistent: I am placing before you two ways, one of which leads to life and the other that leads to death. And a studied neutrality toward that choice is itself a choice. There is no avoiding it.

This theology of the “two ways” has deep roots in the Old Testament with its construal of the Law as life giving, and its rejection as death dealing. And in the New Testament the two ways are linked to the acceptance or rejection of Christ, who is the incarnational presence of God himself and therefore is the intrusion of the Kingdom into our time and history. This decision for or against Christ represents an apocalyptic crisis for each one of us in our souls. What is hidden will be revealed (apocalypse as unveiling) and this revelation will either issue forth into repentance and life or into rejection and death.

What I am claiming is that the language of Christ with regard to salvation and damnation is neither predictive in the sense of a strict eschatological census—the “wide” and “narrow” paths and all that—nor is it merely admonitory as in, “You kids be careful, because if you aren’t you may end up in Hell.” Rather, his language is crisis language, decisional language, and as such constitutes the establishment of the Gospel as a pedagogy of provocation calling us to that determinative choice known as “faith”. It is the apex and fulfillment of all prophecy in the old covenant.

The two ways converge on Christ—and the time for decision is now.

People speak endlessly today about the “crisis” in the Church. But I would submit to you that the nature of this crisis is that it actually represents the denial of the true crisis that is the Gospel as such. In many ways modernity itself can be defined as the cultural manifestation of the rejection of crisis and its replacement with the cult of bourgeois well-being. In other words, the vertical dimension of the Gospel as the irruption into our lives of a supernatural provocation that demands a choice of decisive importance (what Hans Urs von Balthasar called the “Ernstfall”) is precisely what is denied in practice in so many quarters of the Western Church as it rushes headlong into its modus vivendi with modernity’s therapeutic flattening of all things: “Behold, I make all things old again.”

The philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called this the Church’s refusal of her eschatological edge, of her refusal of crisis, of the “messianic time” in which we now live. We have gone from sojourner citizens to mere citizens, very much at home and complacent with remaining right where we are.

And this is why the accommodationist Church of today is so toxic to the soul. She does not recognize the true hour of her visitation. Indeed, she recognizes no “hour” at all; there is no crisis and therefore no decision. Our modern churches look like the cul-de-sacs that inspired them and are designed to blunt the force of any such hour or crisis. We must wake from this slumber before it is too late. Because the Bridegroom will arrive when we least expect it and our oil lamps have been taken from us entirely, as somehow contrary to the spirit of aggiornamento.

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About Larry Chapp 41 Articles
Dr. Larry Chapp is a retired professor of theology. He taught for twenty years at DeSales University near Allentown, Pennsylvania. He now owns and manages, with his wife, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in Harveys Lake, Pennsylvania. Dr. Chapp received his doctorate from Fordham University in 1994 with a specialization in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. He can be visited online at "Gaudium et Spes 22".


  1. “So, the notion of damnation as a kind of eternal decision on the part of the unrepentant sinner to reject God seems to me to be the only viable way to maintain the notion of Hell as eternal

    Many cultures throughout the ages have believed in Heaven and Hell and it could be said that this belief is innately known; as we hide in the bushes so to say, to cover our nakedness (Sinfulness/evil) before God (Goodness). The teaching given by Jesus Christ on Hell induces righteous fear, which is the beginning of Wisdom. So, yes, Hell is real, but thankfully only God decides and knows who goes there.

    ”All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven to men”

    My understanding of these words is that, when one deliberately destroys the potential of the soul, by persistently denying the Truth (light/grace/living water) of the Holy Spirit, who prompts the heart to flourish and grow spiritually, it would eventually result in that person, being able to call evil good and good evil.

    Any individual, who deliberately separates the intellect from the heart, receives a cold dry light, the product of which is an intellect free from the normal constraints of a conscience, as self-will rules. Because the light is dry its deliberate application via free Will upon the heart/soul, has a drying effect, resulting in a cold soul/heart one devoid of true love and compassion, a self-contained dwelling place of Spiritual Desolation.

    This given personal revelation relates to Hell as described by Jesus in the parable of the Lazarus at the rich man’s gate.

    Many years ago, before I knew what the early Greeks did know (Sibyl*)
    Speck of light, in darkest night
    Opening eye orange sky
    A universe in a grain of sand but opened on whose command?
    Wide wasteland of orange clay, continual day
    No shrub, tree, or hill, total still
    Horizon racing to the eye, empty land, and sky
    Then black speck so far away was drawn back for display
    A woman dressed in shabby black, seen from the back
    Walking with purpose, to nowhere, further into the orange glare
    Now her frame fills the eye wide as the widest sky
    Turning, a dried-out corpse every part intact
    Groaning, “Why have you brought me back?”
    Obduracy, holding back despair, nowhere to go but onward into the orange glow
    In desolation, she did stand, a soul contained within her own land
    Whom she spoke to I do not know, but me she did not see
    In sadness, I left her ‘orange’ sky with the closing of the eye
    Knowing that she would never die

    #Sibyl. “Any of a number of women, believed to be oracles or prophetesses, devotees of Apollo. One of the most famous was the Sibyl of Came. Apollo asked her to be his lover in return he offered her anything she would like, she accepted his gift and asked for as many years as a pile of sweeping contained grains of dust. The grains numbered a thousand. Unfortunately, she did not ask for eternal youth. She changed her
    mind about becoming Apollo’s mistress and continued to age. She finally became
    so old that she hung from the ceiling of her cave, in a bottle all shriveled up, and when the children
    (Mankind because that is what we are) asked her what she wanted most she replied, “I want to die”

    It seems that the message about Sibyl as I see it is that she was a woman of great intelligence and gave her heart (hand, love,) to Apollo, light to the intellect, and music to the soul. The light is a cold light and the music dry, it kills the heart, it’s the same music (song), that the Sirens capture men’s hearts with, and ensnares them forever, drying out their bones (inner self) as it dried out poor Sybil’s heart. Sybil is now in a bottle; she can still see the cold/dry light. The King of the weeds holds her aloft under the roof of the underworld. No water (Love) can reach her now. He looks at her with a smile, the smile of Aphrodite, another soul has been captured/lost

    As I now further reflect upon Sibyl’s “question “Why have you brought me back? I pray that the answer for this particular Sybil is a given opportunity to turn back and retrace her steps out of a self-made Hell which is also applicable to all living Sybils, now today.

    From the article “Indeed, she recognizes no “hour” at all; there is no crisis and therefore no decision

    To Repent (Truly change direction) as called for in the parable of the Lazarus at the rich man’s gate. Which reflects a self-sufficient heart one that bathes in the worldly pleasurable egotistical dry light of the intellect, unperturbed by the reality of itself and those around him, and in doing so becomes one of those dried out leaves eventually to be scatted by the Wind.

    Please consider continuing via the link see all Posts.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Yes Hell exists and is eternal !
    Prayer,Repentance of one’s sins with will control not to sin again is essential to be saved and also face the coming apocalyptic events……..

    Queen and Mother of the Last Times
    Snatch us out of the clutches of Evil 😈

  3. For all his erudition, the author does not understand Matthew 25 at all. The “least ones”, like the Judge’s “brethren”, refers to Christians and only to Christians. Jesus is identifying with his own followers and with no one else. The contemporary mis-exegesis of Matthew 25 has done a lot to undermine the authentic gospel in our church today. Less theologizing and more textual study would go a long way towards correcting this.

    • Dear G. Poulin, What you write is surely not a fair crit. of this article.

      Matthew 25:32 et seq. sinks your view that this is only about Jesus’ disciples

      “ALL the nations will be assembled before Him (The Son of Man) and He will separate people from one another as shepherds separate sheep from goats.” . . . . . . . This is the culmination of our universe’s history: I call it ‘Ethical Dialysis’* – total eternal demulsification of the conflation of good and evil that we face in this world.

      * see ‘Ethical Encounter Theology’ – free on web.

      Take care. Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

      • Sorry. I’m more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. Theological word salads are not to my taste. What I like to do is look at the words that the speaker or writer used, and ask : what did these words mean to the people who used them and heard them at the time they were used? Do that, and a completely different meaning emerges. Theologically driven exegesis, on the other hand, is bad exegesis. Almost by definition.

      • I think Poulin is correct. The least of my brethren is the least of his followers, eg. Christians. So whoever does the corporal work of mercy to a Christian does it to Christ.

        Its similar to another passage (Matthew 10:42). And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

        Christ is always the centre.

  4. Christ didn’t say that the rich man hurt the poor beggar Lazarus. The rich man ends up in flames because he lived as though what was happening to Lazarus wasn’t happening. Inaction, like actions, speak louder than words.

    The rich man, as he came and went from his fine home, loudly proclaimed that the plight of the beggar didn’t matter as he quietly walked past hungry Lazarus every day as the dogs licked the poor man’s sores.

    Thousands of babies were murdered this week, many of them minutes from our homes. What do our actions and inaction regarding this reality proclaim to the world? That the lives of those babies matter? Or that they don’t really matter? What do our actions and inaction proclaim to heaven about the state of our souls?

    The thing to remember about life is that it inevitably ends, and we then find that we have spent it loudly proclaiming where have chosen to spend the next.

    • None of that is actually in the text of the parable; all of it is being supplied by the theological imagination. There is no indication in the text that Dives is being punished for anything he did to Lazarus or failed to do for Lazarus. Lazarus is in the story to symbolize Virtue, as a contrast to the rich man who symbolizes Vice. The lesson of the story is that vice will be punished and virtue rewarded, and that once the judgment has been made it can’t be altered. In other words, the story is about the things that Abraham and Dives actually discuss, and not about the alleged relationship of Dives and Lazarus. Again, we need more textual study and less theologizing in the Church.

      • Dear G. Poulin, my apologies, again, but I think what you say is wrong.

        Dives was one of six Jewish brothers who lived in luxury on their property. Every day they and their family members passed a fellow Jew, the slowly dying Lazarus, not even giving him the scraps from their table – truly an act of contempt to a suffering fellow human.

        Are we able to see that this is about real life, far more than symbolic philosophy?

        It directly contrasts with the account of that Samaritan (supposedly an enemy of all Jews) who showed practical and persevering love for a Jew, who he saw was in the direst need and being ignored by fellow Jews.

        The greatest damage that has been wreaked on the life-saving truths of the eternal New Testament is what has been inflicted by clever clergy falsely teaching that the numerous historical truths and moral examples given us by the Apostles are merely symbolic.

        In Australia, we greatly celebrate Saint Mary MacKillop, a truly anointed Aussie lady who bore enormous fruit in Christ, to the glory of God. At one stage she was opposed and persecuted (even excommunicated) by her fellow Catholics. She and her homeless religious sisters were provided with cottages to live in rent-free, by Emmanuel Solomon, a prominent Jewish merchant. Protestants, such as Robert and Johanna Barr-Smith also provided generously for Mary and her religious sisters.

        The lesson is that it is never what we claim to be, nor what we symbolically believe or affirm, genuine faith always comes down to what we ACTUALLY do, amidst the very variable situations that face us each day.

        More potently: the lesson is that many who do not call themselves Catholic or even Christian show themselves to be filled with Christ’s presence, by the actual love they show to others and thence their glorification of God.

        Jesus has taught us that the reverse is true. How many ‘believers’ who call: “Lord, Lord, . . .” to Jesus Christ are actually on their way to hell?

        Take care. Always in the merciful love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

        • Where does it say that Lazarus was ignored? Where does it say that he didn’t receive those scraps that he longed for? You are reading all of that into the text, because that is what you’ve been trained to do. You are seeing what you expect to see rather than what is actually there. If Dives is being punished for his treatment of Lazarus, why on earth does no one mention this in the scene in the afterlife? Abraham doesn’t mention it. Lazarus doesn’t mention it. Dives himself never brings it up. Instead, they talk about something else entirely. My point is that the parable is about the things that they actually do talk about, and not about the things you think they ought to be talking about. Again, Catholics need to spend more time and effort examining what the Scriptural text actually says, and less time wandering off into theological speculation. That’s a bad habit, and it needs to change.

      • There is nothing in the story that tells us why or how Lazarus is virtuous. We surmise that he was because we see him sitting next to Abraham after his death. It was probably a shock to people of the time to hear that a beggar covered in sores could spend his afterlife in the company of Abraham. Abraham comments on it like this: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” This doesn’t tell us anything about Lazarus’ virtues, only that his life was hard.

  5. Dear Larry,

    What a gift this article is to the whole Church, both Catholic and non-Catholic. You have faithfully represented King Jesus Christ’s severest exhortation to us all, with great clarity.

    John 15 verses 2 and 6 face us with exactly the same exhortation.

    Yet, all with a great cosmic purpose, shown in John 15:5 – so that we would make our total life intention to ‘stay in Christ, with Christ in us’, guaranteeing we will bear much good fruit, showing that we are true disciples of Christ, who are one with Him in giving glory to The Father.

    Science has shown us a plethora of truly astonishing features of physical and biological reality, yet it is (necessarily) silent about the telos of all of that vast and sophisticated complexity.

    As your fine article shows, Jesus has no doubt that this universe’s ultimate purpose is to give birth to human beings, able to choose to hear, follow, love, & obey His perfect way, and so, ‘ideoentheistically’ share in His glorification of The Father.

    It is ‘idioentheism’ – that is being individually filled with Christ and living in Him – that enables us to bear much good fruit and thus escape the pruning shears!

    There’s more about this perspective in ‘Ethical Ontology Harmonizes Science, Revelation & Human Lives’, free on the web.

    As well as understanding the eternal severity of what faces every human being, with the joyful realization we can avoid that by living no longer for ourselves but for Christ Jesus, we are also helped by a worldview capable of explaining why things had to be that way.

    Thanks again for your key article, Larry, and for evoking these thoughts.

    Ever in the love of King Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

  6. “There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death, and great is the difference between them” Didache (The Teaching of the Apostles) 1:1

  7. In your last three paragraphs, you absolutely nail it, Dr. Chapp.

    Thanks for the reminder that this world is not necessarily meant to be a smorgasbord of pleasures and delights.

  8. Hell is a place of self-exile [for] the sinner who chooses for all eternity to reject the offer of love (Chapp). Consistent with faith and reason with reservations.
    “The Gospel [is] a pedagogy of provocation calling us to that determinative choice known as faith”. Faith, “a supernatural provocation that demands a choice of decisive importance [what Hans Urs von Balthasar called the Ernstfall]”.
    What’s said doesn’t differ with the fundamental option. For Rahner a fundamental option is an act of human self-realization, a transcendental human response to God’s offer of grace.
    Dr Chapp’s overview of eternal damnation, while superficially correct, distances the reader from the stark realities of revelation [not to be taken literalistically, as in a literalistic manner means nothing other than not to be taken literally]. As such indicating ambivalence. There really isn’t any obvious rationale to exclude the literal interpretation, unless we engage in form geschichte, and a degree of demythology the myth fiery Gehenna.
    Summarizing it appears Dr Chapp’s benevolent attempt to avoid temporal accommodation does engage in that blunting the cutting edge of Christ’s quite stark words. If I may suggest, although Chapp may be correct neither is the more literal understanding less reasonably correct – faith, in the revealed Word must constantly be weighed against simple belief and our human tendency to soften its vivacity.

    • If Hell is eternal for one mishap, it doesn’t appeal to justice and the expiration of sentence [Chapp’s muse]. It’s the apparent response of many raised below by meiron.
      We tend to forget we’re referring to an incomprehensible God whose goodness and justice infinitely exceed our capacity both in value and comprehension. The divinely inspired Psalmist quotes God accusing ourselves as being unfair, that we should object to his condemnation of an obedient man who sins dies and is condemned, whereas the sinful man who turns to God on his deathbed is saved. The man as God says who has lived the good life, ‘tasted’ it but sins at the end in effect rejects good for evil despite long acquaintance with good. In fact which is all the more indicative of predilection. What God is saying through the Psalmist that knowledge of the good and sincere embrace is what saves us regardless of the moment in time.
      If we decide to reject God for whatever reason we embrace evil, that which is in absolute polarity [distance only figurative since it is in apposition by essence] to God. We cannot surrender our immortal nature, but we can lose all grace by a conscious decision to commit grave sin. And it’s usually the case that most who are subject to condemnation live a life of sinful self indulgence. Added is our tendency to anthropomorphize God rather than accept what he reveals for our salvation. Many instead find false comfort in musing. Christ who reveals the Father in his fullness does not use misleading exaggerations, he does not deceive.

      • Reviewing Chapp’s article I reach the same opinion as he does that the condemned sinner has made a form of irrevocable decision,”So the notion of damnation as a kind of eternal decision on the part of the unrepentant sinner to reject God seems to me to be the only viable way to maintain the notion of Hell as eternal” (Dr Chapp). I cited the Psalms on the man who has lived a just life, “tasted it, but sins at the end in effect rejects good for evil despite long acquaintance with good. In fact which is all the more indicative of predilection”. The text is instead found in Ezekiel,
        “But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die” (Ezekiel 18:24). What we tend to perceive as unfair doesn’t take account of the graces God has given now refused in an apparent “kind of eternal decision” (Chapp).

    • “For Rahner a fundamental option is an act of human self-realization, a transcendental human response to God’s offer of grace.”
      Or, not quite such a response to the Other?

      Ratzinger interpreted Rahner apparently differently. For consideration, he (Ratzinger) saw Rahner’s self-realization as a too-much exaggerated kind of freedom and transcendence, an action “appropriate to the absolute Spirit–to God–but not to man” [….]

      Some fragments:
      “Rahner … says that ‘salvation history is coexistent with the totality of human history [….] For Rahner, man is, in fact, self-transcendent being; hence the God-man can be deduced as the true Savior of mankind in terms of man’s own being: the Incarnation of God is the highest instance of the ontological fulfillment of human reality, the successful, perfect instance of transcendence [….] Ultimately, then, a synthesis that combines being and history [!] in a single, compelling logic of the understanding [!] becomes, by the universality of its claim, a philosophy of necessity, even though this necessity is then explained as a process of freedom [….]

      “This means, in turn, that man does not find salvation in a reflective finding of himself but in the being-taken-out-of-himself that goes beyond reflection—not in continuing to be himself, but in going out from himself”[….] Such a philosophy of freedom and love is, at the same time, a philosophy of conversion [!], of going out from oneself, of transformation [….which] has its foundation in the mystery of God, which is freedom and which, therefore, calls each individual [!] by name that is known to no other” (“Faith and History,” in Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius, 1987).

      • Yes. I’ve researched Rahner on the transcendental dimension of the Option. He perceived an interior self realization rather than external toward Christ, finding interiorly the structure for spirituality and freedom, freedom “to decide freely on particular acts and aims, but also by means of these, to determine ourselves totally as persons, and not merely in any particular area of behavior” (Dr Mark Latkovic The Fundamental Option). Rahner wandered into an esoteric personalistic vision in which we are free from the strictures of external regulations fully knowledgeable of our liceity. Rahner’s Das Dynamische in der Kirche 1954 describes his transcendental religiosity.

      • Peter. I should elaborate further on the general concept of the Fundamental Option and why I reference it to Dr Chapp. Most common opinion is that regardless of sins it suffices for salvation that our overall efforts are toward God’s revelation in Christ. As we explore Rahner in greater depth we find that he submits that as the ground for this commonly held opinion. For example, “to decide freely on particular acts and aims, but also by means of these, to determine ourselves totally as persons, and not merely in any particular area of behavior”. Dr Chapp finds [independently] logical coherence in this stating, “if Hell is merely a place of divine punishments for my crimes then it should not be eternal” [questioned by meiron below].
        Although, I agree on face value your questioning of my description of the Option is logical.

    • Sorry, Dear Fr Peter Morello, what you have written does not glorify God in Christ as Dr Larry Crabb’s article does so convincingly. May be wrong, but aren’t your words showing an obscurantist Freemason influence . . ?

      Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from Marty

      • Who is Dr Crabb? You make allegations without citing the texts. Unprofessional judgmentalism. Can you actually give a description of obscurantist Freemason influence? And what texts indicate that?

        • If, here, I apply Ratzinger correctly, “Interpretation must justify itself before the Word and lead back to it not leave it behind”; it would be obscurantist to defend Rahner too closely and skip noticing that he “drew” on a lot and it went everywhere. It wouldn’t be too far off to see the same type of activity in de Chardin.

          My quotation is from Ratzinger’s The Nature and Mission of Theology, Pt. 2, Chap. 2., Pt. 2b., “Theology and theologies”.

          • Perhaps, Elias, criticism is directed at a misunderstanding, the impression that I’m defending Rahner, whereas the opposite is the case.
            Karl Rahner SJ and the German school of Hegelian phenomenology finds it’s continuation in Josef Fuchs SJ and his treatise Natural Law, soteriological love of the Redeemer v natural law of the creator Word [as if we could separate them].

          • No misunderstanding. No criticism. Just appreciation. You do a lot of sharing here thank you. And even if I could keep up with you I doubt I’d have the range. So in the marathon cycle races -if I may- they have teams and I would be one of the fellows handling the refreshment junction running alongside the bike until that part was finished and you could be on your way again with no setback. Something like that.

            I didn’t for a second put you with Rahner.

        • My apologies dear Fr Peter, if my discernment of soul-ties was wrong. Only the Lord Jesus gets it right every time!

          Of course, I meant Dr Larry Chapp, not Dr Larry Crabb. Unsure how his name came up (automatic IT ‘editing’?). Googled and found Dr Crabb was a wonderful convert to Christ (born in Evanston, Illinois, United States, in 1944. During graduate school he experienced a period of deep skepticism before being evangelized by Francis Schaeffer and CS Lewis. His renewed spiritual passion convinced him that Christianity had a role to play in clinical psychology. For decades, Dr Crabb played a major role in the spiritual formation & psychological healing of numerous Christians; and he seems to have published many very influential books.)

          Maybe the misnaming was an intervention by The Holy Spirit, on our behalf? So, I’m planning to access read the works of Dr Larry Crabb.

          As always, dear Fr Peter, thanks so much for the conversation; and, everything of the best in the love of King Jesus; with blessings from marty

          • Thanks Dr Rice. Just a friendly spat, a means of examining different viewpoints. Dr Crabb may have been a Freudian slip, or inspired.

  9. If “obviously none of the imagery can be taken literalistically,” then to hell with it (h/t F.O). But, seriously, if you are referring to the imagery Our Lord uses with regard to hell, where do you get off? Was you there, Charlie?

  10. Thank you for this inciteful, and insightful, article. The hermeneutical key to the Gospels is Jesus Christ, who proceeds from the Father, together with the Father and the shared love of Father and Son, the Holy Spirit, among us now, continuously. God loves us so much as to let us judge ourselves, and this is the “judging of the living and the dead” of the Creed. Judgment is Crisis. We know that crisis derives from the Greek, kritein, to judge. We are continually in a crisis, a judgment, illative, of heart, felt, known, or not. This is a crisis of faith, hope, and love with ourselves and our neighbors and all of God’s gift of creation. Balthasar is best known to me, personally in my life, as a spiritual director, one who accompanies us through Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. The Gospel Crisis in this light, should one be able with the Holy Spirit. is a pilgrimage from The First Principle and Foundation, on to the deeply circumcising meditations of the First Week, and into the Second Week proclamation of the Kingdom, daring further into the Passion of the Third Week, on onto Decision. This the direction for all of us, the crowd, the turba: “convocata turba cum discipulis suis dixit eis, ‘Si quis vult me sequi, denegit semet ipsum et tollat crucem suam et sequatur me.'” (Mc 8.34) The Vulgate very faithfully retains the Semitic waw-consecutive, for the text critics among us, to concatenate our spirit, and decision / election by God of us, with kenotic action. Denying self, whoever we are, quis, for others, and taking up one’s cross, wherever, obviam implied, are bracketed in Psalmic unity with following Him, conforming to Christ as ultimate Gestalt. This is the Gospel Crisis, the Gospel Inference, the Gospel Life, the accumulated eschatoi of the Logos, as we await and pray, and practice, ad oriente, the Eschaton of Him. Here is Balthasar on the shift in emphasis from us to God in the First Principle and Foundation:

    “…Ignatius, in his “Principle and Foundation”, fixes on the ‘praise, reverence and service of God’ as man’s end and subordinates everything else, the contemplation of God and one’s own happiness, to this end. Once this is accepted, human nature, even when it is elevated by grace, cannot act as the guide for man in his praise, reverence and service of God; ultimately such guidance can only come from God and the revelation of his will. Therefore Ignatius builds his whole spirituality upon the concept of election; that is, upon God’s election, accomplished in eternal freedom, which is [revealed and] offered to man to elect for himself [with and after him].

    von Balthasar, Hans Urs. Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises: An Anthology (pp. 59-60). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

    • Nice comment, dear Bill. I’d only want to add that HUvB makes it all sound pretty painful!

      Basically, he’s saying The Apocalypse is always NOW; so, choose NOW! That’s authentic to Christ’s teachings, alright. But is it supposed to be as gloomily onerous as HUvB posits?

      Jesus (and Paul & John) make it so much more joyful by assuring us that He lives in us as we lovingly obey Him; and, that The Father comes to dwell in us as well; and, The Holy Spirit anoints us with power & love & a sound mind; and, that Christ’s Shalom is ours, now & forever, passing all human expectations.

      Tasting this, we gradually get to know that: “God is unshakably, unbreakably, unbeatably GOOD!”; and so become filled with a joy the world can never give us. See, the author of Hebrews 12:2 telling us our King Jesus endured the severe humiliation of the cross for the sake of the joy that would be His.

      I’ve a sense this joy is of a higher magnitude than what is afforded by endorphins!

      In our theologizing, let’s never diminish the spiritual joy of it all! Praise God!

      Always in the merciful grace of Jesus Christ; love & blessings from marty

  11. ‘… if Hell is merely a place of divine punishments for my crimes then it should not be eternal…”

    ‘If’ is one small word packing one big contingency. Only God is omniscient. Adam and Eve, after their sin which opened their eyes to a new type of knowing, probably also hoped for a result different from the one God had warned against but then gave them to experience. Scripture talks to us today, and at Matthew 25:41, Jesus claims that He will send goats into ‘eternal fire.’ Thus ergo sequitur. Do we dare discount The Words of The Word?

    God’s being and goodness are infinite. Man cannot comprehend let alone judge the sense of injustice with which sin offends God’s eternal being. Nor can man comprehend what IS just judgment for an offense against such a God. That is why we should cling, convert, pray at all times, and conform to the only One known to have survived the judgment following death. Our logic in reasoning when our punishment should end, where it should take place, and how severe its torment, is not His.

  12. G. Poulin,
    Didn’t we just a day ago have this conversation?

    Careful reading of scripture shows who are the brothers of Jesus, the least. All men are potential disciples but are not yet in actual fact His disciples.

    Our first and most compelling concern, as Christians, is to care for other Christians. The brothers and sisters of Jesus, according to Him, are those who do the will of our Father. The will of the Father and obedience to it is shown by the Son.

    The Son claimed that we have no life within us unless we eat His flesh.

    So Ratzinger theologically reasons on “Christian Brotherhood.” We are proximal and actual brothers the nearer we are related to/through/with/by God’s Eucharistic Body. For those who do not believe in His Real Presence, are those our brothers? Neighbors sure. Brothers? No. Though they go by the name of ‘Catholic,’ will God know them when they will cry, “Lord, Lord, we fed you.” (to the dogs, perhaps)

    • If we already had this conversation, I’ve forgotten it. I’m old, and I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, never mind what I said a couple of days ago. But I seem to recall agreeing with someone who said that not all men are our brothers.

  13. AND YES. The last three paragraphs should be FIRST as the truth of which they speak is stark and terribly frightening. Not tenderly tendered with tenderness, as Francis so tendered his idea of God just the other day.

  14. We have a life to live and a life to give. Anything we do or say that is not in absolute obedience to God, is sin. Adam and Eve (humanity) still defying God by taking the Word of God not seriously enough. Christ dwells in you, you cannot cheat. We judge ourselves by our own finite limited comprehension, instead of the two-edged-cut clear Word of God. Saints, martyrs, illuminate the way; Christ says, I am the Way. Christ offers redemption and salvation; Mary says listen to Him! The devil kept his angelic faculties and his cunning malice is incredible. The devil does not sleep! We are the drowsy ones. We have the antidote: the Blood of Christ and LOVE!

    • Dear Edith, this is good; though never forget we don’t (and could never) do it on our own. The resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ comes to dwell in all who sincerely desire to obey His commands and witness to His Good News.

      In summary: “With Jesus Christ, everything; without Jesus Christ, nothing!”

      Ever in the love of The Lamb; all the best from marty

  15. Regarding the consequential finality that can come with a single sin, Chapp alerts us to our sometimes “failure to see the eschatological moment at hand.”

    We might be reminded of how such a moment, in even some trivial infraction, was clearly identified and admitted to God in “the Confessions of St. Augustine.” Swept along by the group, Augustine stole not a million dollars, but a much lesser number of pears. He writes:

    “We took great loads of the fruit from it [the tree], not for our own eating, but rather to throw it to the pigs; even if we did eat a little of it, we did this to do what pleased us for the reason that it was forbidden [!][….] Behold, now let my heart tell you what it looked for there, that I should be evil without purpose [!] and that there should be no cause for my evil but evil itself [!]. Foul was the evil, and I loved it [!]. I loved to go down to death” (Bk 2, Ch. 4:9).

      • He took “great loads” from the trees, it wasn’t but a few pear. Actually he was elaborating the same point about his other excess: “It was foul and I loved it.” Johannes you miss a lot. Augustine had good guidance and wasn’t merely acting on his own initiative or toward an abstract purpose.

      • Elias, one does well to show evidence that one has actually read the book one pretends to critique (The Confessions).

        Most well-known is his line: “Oh, Master, make me chaste and celibate – but not yet!” (Bk 8, Ch 7:17). Or this, “My lovers of old, trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities, held me back. They plucked at my fleshly garment, and they whispered softly: ‘Do you cast us off?’ and ‘From that moment we shall no more be with you forever and ever!’ and again, ‘From that moment no longer will this thing and that be allowed to you, forever and ever!'[….]” (Bk 8, Ch 11:26).

        The lines that converted Augustine on the spot were not about tree-grown fruit, but these “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in strife and envying; but put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences” (Bk 8, Ch 12: 29/Romans 13:13).

        Augustine lived with an unnamed women for thirteen years, and after finally breaking loose, fell in with another for two years.

        The real question might be whether Augustine abandoned a common-law wife (!), but it is apparent that while she was devoted to him, he never regarded himself as permanently devoted to her. Not a marriage, not even under Roman Law. Somewhere in his Confessions Augustine remarks that the memories pulled at him long afterward, and had to be and were resisted for the rest of his life.

  16. Love creates a bonding in any relationship in which it exists. It only exists when one reaches out and welcomes the other unconditionally. For us, it came into existence in the Garden when God gave Adam the tenets of religion – love God and love all of creation. It was paradise then. However, when our first parents sinned, they placed an obstacle, a permanent barrier, between God and man. “You will certainly dies.” They had ruined the relationship. Death, chaos and confusion followed and, thanks to God’s enemy, things went from bad to worse. Yes, the slippery slope had been established.
    However, out of love for us, our Father had planned our redemption. And what a redemption! He promised to welcome us into his realm as his children, with sin forgiven and remembered no more. This means that the barrier separating us from God would be lifted. And we know how and when that was achieved. And by whom? The unblemished lamb needed for the sacrifice was none other than the Son of God, who was absolutely one with the Father. It was only by maintaining that Oneness right up to the bitter end on the cross that Jesus was able to completely “do the Father’s will”. Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, had reconciled the human soul to God.
    However, to make the graces or promises contained in the New Covenant that Jesus ushered in available to us, our one and only Redeemer established his unique family – the Church. Every child of Adam’s who is baptized into this Church is mystically One with Jesus. Because of this oneness we too are reconciled to God. It is only in Jesus, with Jesus and through Jesus. If we maintain this oneness with Jesus all the way through our earthly life, we will continue to be with our Lord in his Church in the heavenly realm. Those who refuse to be in this union will miss out.
    There is more I can say about the opportunities people are given to know the Lord, and about the eternity element, but that I will leave that for another time.

  17. Someone said that “Hell is the glory of God as experienced by those who reject it.” We are created in God’s image and God is total mutual self-giving. Anyone who refuses to join in this mutual self-giving is rejecting what he is. There is nothing outside of God, and having to exist through eternity in God’s self-giving while rejecting it is certain to be agonizing. God knows our hearts and can distinguish between those who reject sharing His life, and those who fall short, even terribly short in trying to do so.
    St. Teresa of Avila, in her vision of hell, described the externals and she also described the state of the soul as “tearing itself apart.” That would fit with what I wrote about rejecting what we are as being created in God’s image.

    • Dear Sister Gabriella, this is full of Gospel reality; though let’s never forget we don’t (and could never) do it on our own. The resurrected & ascended Jesus Christ comes to dwell in all who sincerely desire to obey His commands and who witness to His soul-saving Good News. As He taught St Martha: “Just one thing is needed!”

      In summary: “With Jesus Christ, everything; without Jesus Christ, nothing!”

      Ever in the love of The Lamb; all the best from marty

  18. It has been said of Rahner that he is the theologian that most expresses “the post-VATICAN II spirit”. This is said in an affirmative sense. I accept the assertion made but in a negative sense.

    What Rahner does is de-mystery faith. Briefly, it can be seen in how his idea of mystagogy closely relates to “adventure of life” that is the universal experience. He insists it is not universalist.

    Rahner’s problems begin in the philosophic level -not theologic. Or you might say, with some poetic license, anthropology posing as theology. I can make an outline.

    – contra Rahner’s “transcendental man”, it is God who is transcendent Whom man experiences present both in creation and in Revelation

    – contra Rahner’s “pneumatology”, God’s communication of Himself is in a dynamic with man and not in a static “transfinalization”

    – contra Rahner’s “fundamental option”, Rahner’s concepts make a progression of mystifications for a homogeneity that is always becoming /in the future

    – contra Rahner’s “Absolute Mystery”, God is personal in being and in communication so that there is no such thing as “anonymous Christian”.

    People “who have never heard the Gospel” CAN be saved; and, of such who are saved, it WILL be in Christ. Putting a self-negating label on it is utterly outside the bounds of all meaningful discourse.

    • Thanks, dear Elias, for these insightful and thought-provoking observations.

      This is the sort of down-to-earth, iconoclastic dialectic that the Church has lacked due to so much mindless ‘worship’ of heavyweight theologians.

      Keep up the valuable work, friend in Christ.

      Ever in the love of The Lamb; blessings from marty

      • Dr. Rice, there is no boast for me here, it’s what I received; and the thanks would go to those that allowed me to come to the teaching and were themselves example.

        I am concerned about something, which is, the profile at THE CONVERSATION of a Martin James Rice outlines a mission toward a “worldview”, that would/could be similar to what I have criticized for Rahner. I do not know if you are he; and the details of “STEPS” aren’t entirely explained there for me to be able to distinguish properly what it fully entails.

        “Worldview” has many types or patterns or expressions or thought systems or paradigms. WIKIPEDIA has an article on it. One of the problematic ambiguities with the 4 “generic” principles put out in Evangelii Gaudium, is precisely their likeness to “worldview” not admitted as “worldview”.


        • Hi, dear Elias,

          The excellent article by Dr Larry Chapp elucidates the Apostolic New Testament witness to the very real existence of an eternal hell, as the destiny of those whose soul intention is to disobey and mock God. Not that God hates them in return but simply that Heaven would not be heavenly for God’s large family if inveterate rebels were included. And, yes, God could forcefully change them but, only by over-riding their free will. However, God deeply respects our humanity and is not willing to dehumanize any person. There are no zombies in God’s Realm. Praise God!!!

          With worldviews: you’ve opened a different topic, Elias. It embraces all of physical, biological, human, & spiritual reality. We all have a worldview, whether we are aware of it or not. For some it’s founded on material things, for some on power and status, for others on money & possessions, for some its their marriage or family or friends; for others their ethnicity or gender; for many it is their nation; others found their worldview on false gods or deceitful spirits; for nihilists its nothingness; some are, sadly, obsessed by alcohol or drugs or gambling, etc.

          The cornerstone of my worldview is God-With-Us, King Jesus Christ, creator, sustainer, self-giving Redeemer, Only-Begotten-Son of God, Second Person of The Holy Trinity of God, anointer with The Holy Spirit of God, Lamb of God, and (amazingly undeservedly) my best friend. Jesus perfectly represent the omnibenevolent and omnicompetent character of The Father. I have an intimate relationship with Him through the Church, by my anointing with The Holy Spirit, and – in considerable detail – through a lifetime of study, prayer and meditation in His miraculous New Testament.

          In today’s world some of us are called to concatenate our founding worldview allegiance with the realities of physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, history, sociology, commerce, and politics, into a coherent worldview. No easy task!

          My baby steps towards that goal have been summarized in a conference paper that’s free on the web. Simply google: “Ethical Ontology Harmonizes Science, Revelation and Human Lives”. Among its many references to eminent worldview researchers, you could find some humble efforts by me that attempt to thoroughly Christianize the entire worldview project. The most detailed account is found in: “Ethical Encounter Theology”, free to download from Griffith University.

          You may not have time for that but if you’d like to communicate more about worldview studies, please feel free to email me on: m.rice@griffith.edu.au.

          Take care & always in the merciful love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

          • Dr. Rice, these further comments you provide allow me to decide that I will not take up the conversation with you beyond here. I consider worldview ideas either heretical or slipping into the heretical; and you’ve told me enough. I will not be contacting you by email. I do not offer mine. Maybe one day our paths might cross in the social forum, momentarily. Or could be that they will at some time bring back the Inquisition and I would end up visiting you in your unfortunate prison, to urge you to separate yourself from some ideology or another in the foregoing taints, or out of them, through which you had gotten diverted.

  19. Dear friend Elias,

    From what you have written (May 24th 2022) I’d be ecstatically honored to be in your Inquisition prison, together with Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Most Blessed Mother Mary, Saints Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, Mark, James major, James minor, Luke, Jude, Barnabas, St Mary Magdalene, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, St Mary Mackillop, St Pope John Paul II, and so many others who I admire, all of whom believe in and witness to a comprehensive Christian worldview.

    Am so sad that your words indicate you subscribe to cancel culture rather than to our communication culture. Yet, life is a learning experience and while there’s life there’s hope. My offer to you will remain open, Elias.

    Ever in the grace & mercy of King Jesus Christ; love & blessings from marty

  20. “the motif of Hell as a form of self-exile has little to no grounding in Scripture. …the essential message of Christ in the New Testament is persistent and consistent: I am placing before you two ways, one of which leads to life and the other that leads to death. And a studied neutrality toward that choice is itself a choice. There is no avoiding it.”

    Great piece. So much discussion tries to evade the obvious meaning of the text as we try to make it fit with out own finite idea of what is just.

    An excellent essay on the historical context remains http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2006/ppread_hellinbible_july06.asp

  21. Thanks, Brother Kevin,

    Much prefer the first half of your comment; not so much the second half . . !

    Our faith in the omnibenevolence and omnicompetence of God in Christ Jesus is surely sufficient to enable us to see that as the Divine Judge of us all and of everything, Jesus is the only person who is capable of justly deciding whether to send us to an eternal future, in Heaven, or in hell.

    As in the worship song: “You’ve got the whole world in Your hands . .” It should be enough for us to know that whatever He decides is perfectly good and totally effective in reconciling the balance sheet of all the good and evil that humans have been involved with in this world.

    Listening to Jesus Christ, following Him, and totally trusting Him with our eternity, confers a peace and joy beyond all things.

  22. [I too subscribe to some version of this “self-exile” motif since, after all, if Hell is merely a place of divine punishments for my crimes then it should not be eternal since at some point the penal recompense for my misdeeds should run its course and end at some terminal juncture.]

    I don’t buy it. I can’t pinpoint why (probably I’m not smart enough) but this theory of permanent self-exile seems to me to arrogate to ourselves the judgment that will be the exclusive province of Our Lord. We find it harsh, even cruel, so we rationalize that he could never do such a thing and we appropriate the judgment that rightfully is his (and which Scripture clearly says is his) to wicked ourselves. No, I don’t think we judge ourselves. Jesus Christ will be our judge.

    Jesus is quite clear that some will be shocked to find themselves on the outside looking in, begging to be admitted, but will be eternally shut out. See, Parable of the Ten Virgins; the Sheep and the Goats; “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord; etc. etc. The Scriptural motif of shock and surprise at being excluded at the Last Day is simply too overwhelming, in my view, to be set aside in favor of a view that there will be no surprises, hell is eternal self-exclusion, and those who go there will do so voluntarily.

    2. Also, what qualifies you (or me) to decide that “the penal recompense for [our] misdeeds should run its course and end at some terminal juncture?” That, of course, is based on human logic. But someone, somewhere, said that our brains are as that of a robin compared to what we will “know” in heaven, let alone in comparison to the God of the Universe. Perhaps the better course, given our limited capacity to “know,” is to take Scripture at its plain meaning and simply admit that our understanding of this mystery is limited?

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