Who deserves to be in hell?

Apologists nowadays usually avoid the question and just say that unrepentant sinners simply can’t enjoy beatitude.  It’s logically impossible.  The impression left is that God would like to send everyone to heaven but those who refuse to repent just make it impossible for Him.  He doesn’t want to punish, but His hands are tied.  He’s off the hook.  I think the main point here is true:  embracing sin makes it impossible to enjoy the vision of God, not just as a matter of divine decree, but by logical necessity.  It’s not clear how well this works as a defense for God, though, since the will to repent is itself a divine gift, and we very quickly find ourselves in deep waters, with either Pelagius or Calvin waiting for us at every turn.

I would not like to speak exclusively like this, though, for this sort of talk is not that of Our Lord, or Saint Paul, or the Fathers of the Church.  They were all quite comfortable saying that God, at least by his consequent will, wills the punishment of sinners.  He does so because He is just, and they deserve it–no other argument needed.  We also should be comfortable in this, because to reduce sin to a sort of disease or misfortune is to rob moral life of its seriousness; it fails to do justice to the reality of our freedom.  We have not only interests, but also duties.  God is not solely interested in our happiness.  He responds to us as free agents, with approval and disapproval, reward and punishment.

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

Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God?

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

70 Responses

  1. Everyone deserves to be in Hell.

  2. ^^^^

    DrBill’s comment. The people who worry that those in Hell don’t deserve to be there do so because they reject the fact that everyone deserves to be there. It is only by the grace of God that some are spared.

  3. This post provides a profoundly true insight. I have tried to share similar thoughts before, on Bruce Charlton’s site, for example. Most modern men cannot bring themselves to it. May God help us to avoid what we know we fail to understand.

  4. Some of the Fathers, notably St Isaac of Syria and St Maximus the Confessor, teach that the final coming of Christ will be the judgment of all men. His very presence will be the judgment.

    For those who love the Lord, His Presence will be infinite joy, paradise and eternal life. For those who hate the Lord, the same Presence will be infinite torture, hell and eternal death.

    According to these Fathers, the “fire” that will consume sinners at the coming of the Kingdom of God is the same “fire” that will shine with splendour in the saints. It is the “fire” of God’s love; the “fire” of God Himself who is Love. “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) who “dwells in unapproachable light.” (I Tim 6:16) For those who love God and who love all creation in Him, the “consuming fire” of God will be radiant bliss and unspeakable delight. For those who do not love God, and who do not love at all, this same consuming fire” will be the cause of their “weeping” and their “gnashing of teeth.”

    This seems to have been the common teaching of the Desert Fathers. Its great advantage is that it avoids anthropomorphism and does full justice to the Divine aseity.

  5. Could you define “consequent will?”

    The old catechism defined hell as physical torture.

  6. positive-willed reprobation of classical Calvinism never seemed right to me.

  7. we very quickly find ourselves in deep waters, with either Pelagius or Calvin waiting for us at every turn.

    Indeed, the whole “you only go to Hell if you want to” is just the Pelagian heresy repackaged. Added to it is what is called the “Fundamental Option” view of mortal sin. To wit: you can only commit a truly mortal sin by doing a gravely evil act but formally announcing before or during its commision something to the effect of, “I being of sound mind and body and fully aware of the sinfulness and gravity of this act, hereby do this act in utter defiance of God.”

    This of course is nonsense, which Cardinal Arinze addressed: https://youtu.be/uQ8CDmXYugw

  8. Over my head, as usual.
    Check that: as always.
    I’m with you on sins of weakness, and would be reluctant to punish them eternally.
    I would have no problem eternally punishing the impenitent. And I read that the infinite goodness of God is what demands the eternal, i.e. infinite punishment of sin, not the gravity of the sin itself. Punching Mother Teresa is less sinful than punching Sony Barger. Punching Jesus is infinitely sinful.
    “Whom” not “who.” 😉

  9. @Bonald – Obviously I think you are wrong! – and the difference arises, as usual, due to different axioms.

    “the will to repent is itself a divine gift,” – Not if free will/ agency is really-real – if repentance is an uncaused cause.

    ” Imagining oneself in the place of the almighty is never a useful exercise,”

    Totally disagree, this is essential to Christians – almost a definition of why Jesus taught and why he was so concerned that his teaching be recorded accurately. .

    We know *a lot* about God, everything we need to know, because of Jesus who showed and told us a lot; and because of the Holy Ghost who keeps on telling us (if we we ask and listen). We know, for example, that God is Love – and far more loving than us, and that the two great commandments are about love. Nothing in those two vital commandments about that abstraction called ‘justice’.

    “Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God? No, I feel that way because I lack His justice, ”

    God is our loving Father – he is an ideal of a loving Father. God is always *at least* as good as we are – and if it seems He is less loving than we are, then we have made a mistake somewhere. If we, at our best, wouldn’t do something to our beloved children – then neither would God.

    We are God’s children, he loves us all, how he treats us is always compatible with this love. I thik introducing the abstraction of justice is seldom helpful, usually confuses the issue – we do not really have ‘justice’ in families, or if we do, it is not legalistic – and we *are* talking about a family.

    To deny this is to covertly embrace the other major monotheism where Good is God, God is incomprehensible, to be feared etc. The fact that this mistake has been made by many Christians in the past does not mean that we should also make the same mistake.

  10. Bruce C.

    Jesus seems to make this mistake a lot. He even insists that people go to hell for sins of omission.

  11. Bruce Charlton wrote, “the will to repent is itself a divine gift,” – Not if free will/ agency is really-real – if repentance is an uncaused cause

    But the Council of Orange, condemning the Pelagain heresy, says, “If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

    Also, “If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism — if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

    Pelagianism is the great heresy of our age.

  12. @Bonald

    My belief is that historical Christianity never properly sorted this out, and the arguments that became standard were never very convincing – probably because they never needed to be.

    Until recently, ancient times pretty much every other religion was harsher than Christianity — so the anomalously un-loving parts of standard Christianity were not really exposed, or their arguments tested.

    But since about 1800, people began to notice and more universalistic versions of Heaven and Hell began to be proposed as more compatible with the general tenor of the Gospels; and secular modernity has (cynically) picked-up on this critique because it is so effective, and because the standard Christian responses are so feeble and unconvincing (or else do more harm than good to the cause).

    The traditional theological rationale for Hell has not been convincing for many generations, and it sounds ever less convincing. The only people that really sound to me as if they believe it in their hearts are the kind of legalistic Christians whose hearts seem least Christian (I don’t count you as one of these!).

    Of course the traditional argument can be reasserted, as part of a total theological ‘package’ that taken as a whole is fine; but it always was, and remains, a weak link in Classical Theology.

  13. “Of course the traditional argument can be reasserted, as part of a total theological ‘package”

    Starting with the Fall and its consequences. Thus, the Concil of Orange, in its first canon declares, “If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was “changed for the worse” through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20); and, “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?” (Rom. 6:126); and, “For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19).

    This, taken with the teaching of many of the Fathers that heaven and hell are individual reactions to the same Ultimate Reality (For those who love the Lord, His Presence will be infinite joy, paradise and eternal life. For those who hate the Lord, the same Presence will be infinite torture, hell and eternal death) makes the traditional doctrine all but inevitable.

  14. Dr. Charlton…

    If nothing else, you and I can at least agree on a belief in The Perfect Father… That the patriarchs of the West must aim at becoming perfect fathers.

  15. @Bruce

    Yes Bruce, everyone in the world before 1800, including Jesus Christ himself, was just too stupid to understand what God is really like. But now we know better because the modern circus freaks have told us so. I must admit, I didn’t completely understand what ISE was on about when he called you a racing modernist, now I get it.

  16. AR…

    Dr. Charlton a “raving modernist?” That’s nonsensical. One who believes in The Perfect Father CANNOT BE EQUAL to one who “believes” in no “father” at all.

  17. Is it possible that Bruce C’s mistake is in assuming that God is everyone’s father? We are (as Christians) adopted children of God, right? And only such insofar as we are in Christ. If we are not in Christ, why would we expect God to seem like a loving father to us?

    Bruce C. your way of thinking is very appealing but I cannot believe that scripture is that poorly translated or that poorly handed down.

  18. Actually Bruce, Dr. Charlton’s metaphysical position is a co-eternal soul with God. So this would probably fall under your idea of God as adopting “us” and not actually creating “us.” The metaphysical position that Dr. Charlton holds is one where our “free will” must be free of God’s Creation and thus our souls are actually co-eternal AND TRULY free.

    Dr. Charlton, feel free to make any corrections.

  19. In other words, if God has created our souls then we cannot have a truly free will. Our souls must be co-eternal with God to have true free will. I disagree, but I can’t peg such the thought of a “raving modernist.”

  20. @Bruce

    I don’t think that’s it. God loves everyone, and there will be Christians damned to Hell. So his error goes deeper than that.


    Bruce C is a raving modernist because he thinks we’ve acquired some new special understanding in the last two hundred years that everyone in history before has been completely oblivious to. And of course, the metaphysics he adheres to (I think your description is accurate) is itself very hypermodernist, asserting that our existence and choices are completely independent of God, “radical autonomy” as you would say.

  21. ArkansasReactionary,

    What about Immaculate Conception? Always there but never clearly understood until relatively recently. Hypermodernist?

  22. You said it yourself. The Immaculate Conception was always there but not completely understood until recently. Bruce’s idea that Hell doesn’t exist not only has no support in premodern Christianity, but is in fact directly contrary to dogmas of the faith.

  23. @Bonald – the facts of salvation and damnation are the facts (mostly unknown to us) – but both CS Lewis and Charles Williams understood that we do best to understand salvation as a universal ‘offer’-with- conditions (namely repentance of all sins, and that this is efficacious due to the saving work of Jesus Christ) – and that, therefore, in a very literal sense, *damnation is chosen*.

    This is not a theoretical choice – but an actual choice, made by people much like ourselves – and almost certainly a choice made by more people now than ever before in human history.

    And those who choose damnation have their reasons, which seem good to themselves – as illustrated in Lewis’s Great Divorce

    and Williams’s Descent into Hell


  24. Bruce Charlton

    It is certainly true that men are damned through their own free will, for God is not the author of sin.

    But to claim that anyone chooses by his own free will to be saved is the Pelagian heresy, condemned by the Council of Orange: “If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

    The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44)

  25. This election stuff makes my head explode.

    God initially moves us through grace but this grace is not irresistible – we still have command of our will – we can resist grace. Is this initial movement through grace given to everyone – so that all who fail have resisted and, in a sense, chosen Hell?

    Or are some obviously not given this initial movement through grace because they’re not even exposed to the gospel – and, active or passive, this is God’s will?

  26. Everyone is given sufficient grace for salvation, such that they can choose salvation. But only the elect are given efficacious grace, such that they actually do choose salvation.

  27. MPS,

    What Molinists, I think, would argue against your position is not that it is possible to choose by his own free will to be saved; but, that one must cooperate with God’s freely given grace in order to be saved and that it is impossible for a person to be given an efficacious grace that cannot be resisted and to still talk about that person as having a will that is free.


    I have trouble with this formulation. If the question of whether one will choose salvation lies in the different nature of the graces given, then how can one talk about a choice even having occurred in the person?

  28. Kevin Nowell

    St Thomas tells us – and it is really obvious – that “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” (ST Ia, q. 20, a. 3)

    Thus, Ps 134:6 says, “Whatsoever the Lord pleased He hath done, in heaven, in earth.” And the Council of Toucy (PL, CXXVI, 123) adds: “For nothing is done in heaven or on earth, except what God either graciously does Himself or permits to be done, in His justice.”

    No good, here and now, in this man rather than in another, comes about unless God Himself graciously wills and accomplishes it, and no evil, here and now, in this man rather than another, comes about unless God Himself justly permits it to be done. Nevertheless, God does not command the impossible, and grants even to those who do not actually observe His commandments the power of observing them.

    But those who observe His commandments are better than others and would not keep them in fact, had not God from eternity efficaciously decreed that they should keep them. Thus, they are more beloved and assisted by Him than others, although God does not command the impossible of the others.

  29. > Everyone is given sufficient grace for salvation, such that they can choose salvation. But only the elect are given efficacious grace, such that they actually do choose salvation.

    If I’m reading this right (and it agrees with everything else I’ve read on the topic), those given sufficient grace never do choose salvation. Again, I think it would be clearer if we started calling it “insufficient grace”. I’m tempted to ask God not to send me sufficient grace, since all it does is increase my culpability and land me deeper in hell.

    Limbo, on the other hand, sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Eternal natural happiness, chatting with Plato and Euclid…it’s too bad I’ve already missed that boat and found myself in a much higher stakes game.

  30. Why else would God will a greater good to one than to another but due to his divine foreknowledge how they would freely choose to use their allotted portion of goodness? Any other reason would be arbitrary and unfair, but God cannot be unfair, we know him to be perfectly just.

    You write “But those who observe His commandments are better than others and would not keep them in fact, had not God from eternity efficaciously decreed that they should keep them”.

    The Council of Trent declared that “while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, man himself neither does absolutely nothing while receiving that inspiration, since he can also reject it, nor yet is he able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in His sight”.

    If a man can reject grace, then it is impossible that he has received an irresistible efficacious grace. The reason one grace is sufficient and another efficacious lies not in the nature of the grace received but in the nature of the man’s divinely foreknown free response to that grace.

  31. That’s the Molinist view Kevin? That sound more like what’s in JP’s CCC. Probably being a raving modernist but I like that one better.

  32. @Bonald

    Calling it insufficient grace would be a misnomer, because it is sufficient for them to choose salvation. That they don’t is their own fault.

    And if you were unbaptized you would be more likely to end up in the hell of damnation, so the “stakes” are only higher in the good direction. Also, while there are differing opinions about this, Aquinas himself did not believe adults could go to limbo, because God demands of everyone with free will that they choose salvation, which is why he provides them all with sufficient grace, because he cannot blame us for failing to do what is impossible.


    You seem to be suffering from two errors, the idea that. Equality is demanded by Justice, and voluntarism. As to the first, I will simply ask you why you believe this to be the case. As to the second, in the Thomist view, intellect is superior to will, and free will consists of having a will which seeks goods at the direction of the intellect, as opposed to animals which seek goods without the direction of intellect.

    It is good to submit will to intellect believes to be the highest good, and it is bad to submit intellect to will and apprehend as highest good what the will wants to do. So when God gives efficacious grace, the will submits to intellect, when he does not, the intellect submits to will. In either case, the choice is free because the intellect and the will are in final agreement regarding the good to be pursued.

  33. “The reason one grace is sufficient and another efficacious lies not in the nature of the grace received but in the nature of the man’s divinely foreknown free response to that grace.”

    That is the Molinist position; difficult to reconcile with the gratuity of grace. For Augustinians and Thomists, God’s foreknowledge is simply knowledge of His own will, which solves all the logical problems around counter-factual hypotheticals.

    Of course, a man is free to resist grace, but as St Augustine never tires of insisting, “in acting we necessarily follow what gives us most pleasure” My free will means that, when I call into the pub, I can order Lagavulin or Crème de menthe. The fact that I am particularly partial to the Islay malts and that my gorge rises at the very thought of mint liqueur in no way diminishes my freedom; I simply choose what I prefer.
    As Pascal puts it, “Finding his chiefest joy in the God who charms him, his soul is drawn towards Him infallibly, but of its own accord, by a motion perfectly free, spontaneous, love-impelled; so that it would be its torment and punishment to be separated from Him. Not but that the person has always the power of forsaking his God, and that he may not actually forsake Him, provided he choose to do it. But how could he choose such a course, seeing that the will always inclines to that which is most agreeable to it.” This is pure St Augustine and is perfectly compatible with Trent.

  34. “That is the Molinist position; difficult to reconcile with the gratuity of grace”
    It seems like the Molinist position is still entirely dependent on the gratuitous grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit in-dwelling in the believer, in the grace of the sacraments, etc. MPS, I don’t understand how your statement can be true.
    “Of course, a man is free to resist grace, but as St Augustine never tires of insisting, “in acting we necessarily follow what gives us most pleasure”
    That doesn’t seem true either. People can’t choose crosses to bear? Crosses give pain, not pleasure.

  35. “That doesn’t seem true either. People can’t choose crosses to bear? Crosses give pain, not pleasure.”
    St Augustine would not deny that we can choose painful or disagreeable means to attain a delectable end (Nor would Vergil, nor would Lucretius) – Otherwise, no one would visit a dentist.

  36. […] also wonders Who deserves to be in hell? He looks at the modern apologetic approach of “absolving” God of sending sinners to […]

  37. Still having trouble distinguishing between Thomist predestination and Calvinism. There seems to be a difference in terms but almost no practical difference (positively willed reprobation isn’t a practical difference).

    In theory all can be saved because God sends sufficient grace but all won’t be because God only sends some efficacious grace and efficacious grace isn’t merely God’s foreknowledge but God’s foreknowledge of his own will. How then, does my cooperation with grace even exist as a meaningful phenomenon? What is the point of Paul warning me not to sin at the risk of hell fire? Why shouldn’t one have sex with the undergraduate or steal the candy bar (if he wants to do these things) since his desire and ability to do this would indicate that he hasn’t been sent efficacious grace.

    For whatever reason, I find the positive-will/permissive-will distinction more useful. I assume it is more in line with Molinist thought.

  38. @Bruce

    One should refrain from doing evil because it is wrong and will send one to Hell.

    The difference between Calvinism and Thomism is that Calvinists believe in positive reprobation and deny free will.

  39. AR,

    Ok, but I still don’t see how there’s room for my cooperation with salvation if it’s simply a function of whether or not God chooses to send efficacious grace.

    P.s. I am sorry if I’m being dense.

  40. Legalist Christianity has more nested if/then/else statements than the source code to Microsoft Excel. No thanks.

  41. Legalist Christian theology is complicated but the basics for average believers aren’t. Theology is for theologians and armchair internet theologians.

  42. @Bruce

    If God gives you efficacious grace, then you will freely choose to be saved.


    Statements descriptive of reality often have lots of if/then/else statements. Statements that don’t are often the products of people’s imagination. And reality is what it is whether or not you like it.

  43. I’m Catholic and not conflicted about it, but whenever I see somebody who seems to have read up on the Thomist teaching on predestination, I get annoyed. Either they don’t really understand and are lying about it because they are weird, or it is so subtle a thing that I can’t believe understanding it is at all critical to salvation. Divine simplicity indeed. It’s rationalism in theology.

    The Buddhists say even a true word that breeds attachment is false, and even a false word that brings enlightenment is true. Theologians, amateur and otherwise, should think on that idea before expounding on this particular subject.

    This is directed at the comments, not the original post, which is a model of the humility we should attempt to bring to such matters.

  44. “It’s rationalism in theology.”

    Well it’s certainly very logical – does a great job tying up loose ends I’m sure. Of course, the same could be said for John Calvin’s theology.

    I assume that if I become Catholic I am free to believe Molinism and not Thomism since neither has de fide status.

  45. AR,

    “If God gives you efficacious grace, then you will freely choose to be saved.”

    I once covered basic logic in a course at a crummy community college – my only qualification here. Also, I suck at programming. That said….

    If my choice is dependent on God sending efficacious grace then I don’t see how it’s a choice in any meaningful way. Your if/then statement above does not seem compatible with grace being a necessary but insufficient condition. It seems that if there’s any room for choice, grace must be a necessary but insufficient condition. That and “you will” does not seem compatible with me exercising my will.

    Isn’t the Pelagian heresy the “without grace” heresy not the “grace necessary but insufficient” heresy?

  46. There’s a Lewis quote that I can’t find right now to the effect that he didn’t become Catholic because he would be consenting not only to what the Catholic Church DOES teach but everything that the Catholic Church WILL teach. It’s easy for me to ignore the “will teach” part because I’m always learning new things about what the Church does teach. For example, I didn’t know I had to believe that unbaptized babies burn in Hell. Doesn’t scandalize me but it’s yet another teaching I have to convince myself I can consent to.

  47. @gkummant

    Perhaps you shouldn’t listen to the Buddhists. Their little syaings like that are blatantly absurd.

    And of course, understanding Thomism is not necessary for salvation.


    Let’s approach this from the other way. What is free will?

  48. I’ve never thought about that question before so I’ll have to guess at a definition:

    The ability of a sentient, self-aware being to make a decision when his mind is unimpeded by coercion or impaired reason.

    Of course all sorts of things I’ve read at some point probably affected that definition.

  49. I’d say that a free will is one that is not in any way deterministic. Assuming one had perfect knowledge of everything about a person and a particular choice that person is confronted with, one could still not predict with perfect certainty what the choice that person would make. Then and only then can a will be said to be free.

  50. But that doesn’t seem applicable to God because God can, at a minimum, foresee what we’ll choose. A being in the eternal present doesn’t really predict or postdict anything.

  51. Yes I agree.

  52. @Bruce

    Ok. Then Thomism is not contrary to free will. A person who is a member of the elect will choose salvation without being coerced and while having the full use of their reason. A person who is not a member of the elect will reject salvation without being coerced and while having the full use of of their reason.


    Well by that definition, no one, including God himself, has free will.

  53. AR…

    Free will is a divine experience.

  54. A determined will is not an unfree will anymore than a free will will do anything. Conceptually, a truly free will is determined towards Perfection, ie., objective Supremacy.

  55. Thomists define will as a rational appetitie. Aristotle, one recalls, prefers to speak of the practical intellect, the intellect directed to action.

    Every volition presupposes an end, and the notion of an end implies the notion of goodness. The goodness may be either virtuous, useful, or delectable good, but it must always be desirable.

    It follows that the will wills evil only in so far as it finds it to be an apparent good.

    The will is not determinately fixed toward one type of good; the formal object of the will is the good—and goodness can inform any finite object, but to widely varying degrees, and in different ways.

  56. AR,

    So God sends efficacious grace only to those he foresees will choose salvation or only to those he forewills choose salvation?

    Is it a matter of God foreseeing it such that you’d say of “course God wouldn’t send efficacious grace to those He knows won’t choose it.”

  57. “choose to use it” I guess I mean.

  58. @Bruce

    Forewills. He chose in the beginning certain people to be among the elect. They will choose, while have the full use of reason and not under coercion, to be saved. The others will choose, while having the full use of reason and not under coercion, not to be saved.

  59. That’s the attitude that annoys the hell out of me. If He chose the elect and the damned, then they didn’t choose. If you’re are going to employ rationalism in your theology, at least be consistent and coherent.

    I have no problem accepting that there are things we can’t know or understand. All that we really need to know is what God wants of us, and that is hard but fairly simple. But when you have this double talk, or people claiming still-born babies are burning in hell for eternity, a guy can begin to wonder why he should accept these people are reliable sources on the subject of God’s will.

    Out of curiosity, I thought I’d check what Zippy thinks of Thomist predestination and free will, because I’ve always found him to be a straight talker who will clarify for anybody who asks him to in the comments. And I found not a word about predestination, and a few tangential mentions of free will that I suspect the amateur theologians in this thread would declare Pelagian.

  60. AR, Is there a beginning for God? I thought God dwelt in the eternal present.

    Gabe Ruth, the Church does not teach infallibly that stillborn babies burn in hell. It teaches that those without original sin washed go to hell. Bill has made what he sees a straightforward inference from that. Where I’m at (this minute) is that doctrine develops and there could be a clarifiying pronouncement on this in the future.

  61. @Gabe

    God chooses the left. He does not choose the damned. And both groups choose their respective fate. There’s no contradiction there.

    And I’m frankly not sure what that but about Zippy is about.


    By beginning I meant logically not chronologically.

  62. I was going to write a comment with my thoughts on all this, but I realized I’d already written it on my own.

    And, in particular,

    “Judging people is God’s prerogative only. It is fairly clear that between ‘even a cup of cold water will not go unrewarded’ and ‘the one who calls his brother a fool is liable to hell-fire’, we do not really have an inkling of what would be the deciding factor for any particular person.”

  63. Gah! I expected that post to include an underlined link, not for WordPress and Tumblr to engage in some weird cross-site embedding nonsense. Well, it’s up to Bonald to decide if that comment was cosmetically acceptable, or if it should be moderated.

  64. Gabe Ruth:

    Out of curiosity, I thought I’d check what Zippy thinks of Thomist predestination and free will, …

    I expect you didn’t find much, because I don’t really have strong views on subjects like this. I tend to write either when I am convinced that I understand a subject well, or I’ll write in a manner which makes it clear that I’m just feeling my way along the floor in the dark when that is the case. I also try not to just repeat what others are already saying — I’lI try to say something when I think I have something to add to the discussion other than affirmation of what (some) people already know. At least that is the ‘ldeal’ toward which I aim — how well I succeed when it comes to particular subjects is up to others to judge.

    Moral theology I tend to find rather straightforward, because it pertains to us and our concrete actions. The OP gets into deeper theological waters. It may be a personal flaw, but I have a hard time getting ‘worked up’ over things like predestination, free will, etc for several reasons.

    One reason is that there are so many mysterious things about life and reality that I would go crazy if I weren’t comfortable living with all sorts of mysteries I cannot solve and don’t expect to solve. This is the case in everyday experience, let alone in theological ‘deep waters’.

    Another though is that given the Divine Attributes of the God we know and trust (in Whom we have faith) – actually infinite goodness, love, justice, mercy, knowledge, power, etc at least analogical to what we understand those things to mean – given that background, it doesn’t really matter whether or not I personally have a ‘solution’ to various ‘deeper’ theological dilemmas. I am (or, more accurately, I know that I should be) confident that God’s ‘solution’ surpasses anything I could possibly come up with even if I were a perfected version of myself let alone the fallen version of myself which actually exists. I trust (or ideally should trust) that His solutions are infinitely just, infinitely merciful, infinitely loving, infinitely good, etc.

    He already loves all of the people and things that I love, but in an infinitely more perfect manner. What more could I possibly ask for?

    So the ‘deep water’ theological problems just don’t impress themselves upon me in the same way that questions of moral theology do. I can’t really say if that is because of personal flaws or because of (at least an orientation toward, if not always successful achievement of) trust in the veracity of the Divine Attributes. It may be just provincialism: the ‘problems’ that interest me are the ones which affect how we should behave every day, and the ‘big picture’ I leave to Providence. Perhaps my calling is to be a theological garbage collector, so that is the sort of thing which I find satisfying. Other folks can work on building the halls of Heaven; but someone has to take out the trash.

    If I take the Divine Attributes seriously then these dilemmas don’t really matter — I can’t really get worked up about them. People think of “Hell” as a singular common experience, but that is actually contrary to tradition. If “Hell” refers to any and all eternal states ‘outside’ of the Beatific Vision, then maybe unbaptized infants in a state of eternal natural bliss (“Limbo” as a ‘room in Hell’) is most fitting. Or maybe not — maybe this is just scrabbling around on the floor in the dark without even shadows on the cave wall to give us the barest hint of what we are actually talking about. If I can’t ‘solve’ the dilemmas that is OK, because someone who can and will is in charge.

    Aquinas famously had a visionary experience near the end of his life, after which he characterized all that he had written before as meaningless and stopped working on his written corpus. That doesn’t mean that we all should just ideally toss all of Thomistic philosophy overboard and make a contemplative ascent of Mt. Carmel — we’ve all got our own walks to walk and they can be radically different from each other without making any one of them ‘wrong’. But it is true that even St. Thomas ultimately saw limits to the intellectual approach to theology. Often we just run into our own intellectual limitations and tendencies toward error, which are legion.

  65. Zippy…

    It would be a mistake to dismiss this issue of “free will” since its very practical conception lay at the root of our modern dilemma. The white race is a head divided with a split amongst our intellectual class (leftist versus Christians) over the dominant conception of “free will.” But there has been a most dastardly concession by the intellectual “Christians.” Whereas in the ever degrading world, the “right” to self-annihilate is the first and most valued “right” of the modern, it is now the “highest value” of the modern “Christian” to possess the “right” to self-annihilate for “salvation.” This latter conception of “true” “free will” is the modern “Christian” conception of free will and such conception is a diabolically deadly concession to the enemies of Western Christianity.

  66. Thanks Zippy, that’s about what I figured. Running into those limits is the best case scenario, what one should worry about is not noticing when you have passed them.

  67. […] because He is just, and justice demands it.  That it doesn’t seem just to me just shows that I lack God’s clear understanding of the horror of sin and the majesty of the Divine Nature against which it […]

  68. […] but I admit that I have not spent long on such grim speculations.  The most I have done is to argue that I should try to convince myself, rather than imagine that I am more merciful than […]

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