Choose a topic from Vol 3:


Reason proves God's existence
Primitive monotheism
Mystery of God's inner nature
Personality of God
Providence of God and the problem of evil


Immortal destiny of man
Can earth give true happiness?
Do human souls evolve?
Is transmigration possible?
Animal souls
Freedom of will
Free will and faith


Religion and God
The duty of prayer
The mysteries of religion
Can we believe in miracles?

The Religion of the Bible

Historical character of the Gospels
Canonical Books of the Bible
Original Manuscripts
Copyists' errors
Truth of the Bible
New Testament "contradictions"

The Christian Religion

Christianity alone true
Not the product of religious experience
Compared with Buddhism, Confucianism, Mahometanism, Bahaism, etc.,
Rejected by modern Jews
The demand for miracles
The necessity of faith
Difficulties not doubts
Proofs available
Dispositions of unbelievers

A Definite Christian Faith

One religion not as good as another
Changing one's religion
Catholic convictions and zeal
Religious controversy
The curse of bigotry
Towards a solution

The Problem of Reunion

Efforts at the reunion of the Churches
The Church of England as a "Bridge-Church"
Anglicans and the Greek Orthodox Church
The "Old Catholics" of Holland
Reunion Conferences
Catholic Unity
The Papacy as reunion center
Protestant hostility to Catholicism
The demands of charity

The Truth of Catholicism

Necessity of the Church
The true Church
Catholic claim absolute
A clerical hierarchy
Papal Supremacy
Temporal Power
Unity of the Church
Holiness of the Church
Catholicity of the Church
Catholic attitude to converts
Indefectible Apostolicity
Necessity of becoming a Catholic

The Church and the Bible

Catholic belief in the Bible
Bible-reading and private interpretation
Value of Tradition and the "Fathers"
Guidance of the Church necessary

The Dogmas of the Catholic Church

Dogmatic certainty
Credal statements
Faith and reason
The voice of science
Fate of rationalists
The dogma of the Trinity
Creation and evolution
The existence of angels
Evil spirits or devils
Man's eternal destiny
The fact of sin
Nature and work of Christ
Mary, the mother of God
Grace and salvation
The sacraments
Holy Eucharist
The Sacrifice of the Mass
Holy Communion
Marriage and divorce
Extreme Unction
Man's death and judgment
Resurrection of the body
End of the World

Moral Teachings of the Catholic Church

Catholic intolerance
The Spanish Inquisition
Prohibition of Books
Liberty of worship
Forbidden Socieities
Church attendance
The New Psychology
Deterministic philosophy
Marriage Legislation
Birth Prevention
Monastic Life
Convent Life
Legal defense of murderers
Laywers and divorce proceedings
Judges in Divorce
Professional secrecy

The Church in Her Worship

Why build churches?
Glamor of ritual
The "Lord's Prayer"
Pagan derivations
Liturgical symbolism
Use of Latin
Intercession of Mary and the Saints

The Church and Social Welfare

The Church and Education
The Social Problem
Social Duty of the Church
Catholicism and Capitalism


917. Why does the Catholic Church forget that God is love, and teach the dogma of hell?

The Catholic Church rightly teaches that a hell of eternal misery is a fact because God Himself has revealed that truth. And God does not thereby make Himself to be otherwise than a loving God. Because God loves there must be a hell. Love cares, and very deeply. It is not indifferent. And it involves hatred of all that opposes its purpose. If a man does not love a girl, he does not mind who marries her. If he really loves her, he resents losing her. If God loves good, He must hate evil. If He did not hate evil, He would not love good. He would be merely indifferent. The greater one's love of good, the greater one's hatred of that which would destroy the good, and, therefore, the greater one's hatred of evil. And God's infinite love is simultaneously an infinite hatred, the hatred being the very fire of love in defense of the thing loved. Every denial of hell is a denial that God is a loving God at all. God's love is like white light. White light contains all colors. If it falls on an object which absorbs none of the light to itself, but reflects all back to the source whence it came, the object is white, as is a white collar. If the object reflects some of the rays, absorbing others, the object will be colored, red or blue or yellow, as the case may be. If the object reflects none of the rays, but absorbs all to itself, the object is black. The difference is in the object, not in the light which falls upon it. So, too, God's love falls upon a soul. If the soul reflects all back to God, it is white in God's sight, a saint; if it reflects some of God's love, but absorbs part to itself, selfishly, it is not white, but imperfect in God's sight. If it takes all, reflecting nothing back to God, it is black in God's sight. It would not even have existed to be black, had not God loved it. But it has accepted God's gifts only to use those very gifts against God. It is evil and not good. It has rendered itself black in God's sight, opposed to the good God loves, and, therefore, putting itself under the hatred love must have for all that is destructive of good. Good and evil in time have two counterparts in eternity, heaven and hell. And both heaven and hell can be explained only, and precisely, because God is a loving God.

918. What does the word hell mean in the Bible, as in Psalm XVI, 10?

In the Bible, the word hell has various meanings, to be determined in each case by the context. At times it means the grave, as when Jacob cried, "You will bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to hell." At other times, it means the abode of the dead in general, as when Jacob said earlier, "I will go down to my son into hell, mourning." Again, the word hell can mean, not the grave, nor the abode of the dead in general, but the eternal fate of the wicked in conscious torment. Thus Christ said that the rich man was buried in hell and was conscious of terrible sufferings. The generic significance of hell is evident from the fact that the Bible repeatedly speaks of hell, the lower hell, and the lowest hell. When St. Peter wrote that God spared not the angels who fell but delivered them to hell, it is obvious that there is no reference to the grave in that text. Angels have no bodies to be buried in a grave. And Jesus Himself speaks of the hell of the fallen angels as everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Now in Psalm XVI, 10 (XV., 10), David says, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption." The word hell there refers to the kingdom of the dead, not to the hell of eternal suffering. It is a prophecy fulfilled in Christ, whose body was not allowed to corrupt, and whose soul returned from the kingdom of the dead to revivify His body on the day of His resurrection. St. Peter tells us clearly that Christ was put to death in the flesh, but that His soul lived on, and preached to those spirits who were in prison; that is, to the souls of the just who had died before Christ, and were awaiting the completion of His redemptive work.

919. Because scholars made faulty translations of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, thousands fear eternal torment in a hell which does not exist.

In the first place, the word hell was not a faulty translation of the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades. I will explain that in a moment. Secondly, the millions who believe in the existence of a hell of eternal suffering have more than sufficient ground for their belief. Thirdly, your implication that belief in hell necessarily fills people with dread and trembling betrays a limitation of outlook which destroys confidence in your judgment. It is a fallacy to isolate the doctrine of hell, making no allowance for other compensating doctrines which preserve the balance of every intelligent Christian. Lastly, the categorical statement that hell does not exist has the value only of the knowledge possessed by the person who makes it.

920. The misunderstanding about hell is the result of faulty translation of the Hebrew Sheol, and the Greek Hades from the Old and New Testament manuscripts.

No argument of any value whatever can be drawn from the primitive meaning of the Hebrew word Sheol. Many people have said that that word in Hebrew meant simply the grave, and not the hell of conscious survival in suffering which Christianity teaches to be the lot of those who die at enmity with God. It is true that Sheol is derived etymologically from Sha-al, meaning a subterranean cavity. But the sense of Sheol throughout the Old Testament shows that the Jews intended by it a much wider significance than the grave. By it they meant the nether regions in general, or the state of the dead, whether good or wicked, whatever that state might be, short of heaven itself. So they spoke of a dead man having gone to join his fathers. In that same general sense we still say in the Apostles' Creed that, after His death, Christ descended into hell. The word hell is there used in the original Jewish sense, the soul of Christ going to the souls of the departed who were not yet admitted to heaven. He did not go to hell in the later restricted sense of the hell of the damned. But He definitely taught that it is possible in Sheol, or in the state of souls after death, to encounter eternal punishment. And the English word hell, whether as a translation of the Hebrew Sheol, or the Greek Hades, is restricted by modern usage to this aspect of the future life. No philological argument based on the primitive meaning of Sheol, has any value in this matter, despite the shallow and superficial assertions of rationalists.

921. The wages of sin is death, says the Bible, not eternal torment.

The wages of sin is indeed death, death to happiness, and all those hopes and aspirations that make life worth while. But, if the appeal be to the Bible, it is certain that sin cannot be said to lead to mere extinction. When Christ described the lost as weeping and gnashing their teeth; as not securing forgiveness in the world to come; as being cast into the furnace of fire, and an unquenchable fire at that; as enduring the worm of remorse that dieth not; in a word, as going to everlasting punishment as the good to life everlasting, no one could maintain reasonably that He was using words suitable as a description of the grave and of unconscious nonexistence.

922. Why did Christ go to hell?

Christ did not go to hell in the modern and restricted sense of that word. At the time when the Apostles' Creed was composed, the word hell was used to designate any state of existence lower than heaven. After His death on the Cross, our Lord's soul went, says St. Peter, to preach to those spirits who were in prison. That is, He joined those souls which were detained from the fullness of heaven and who were awaiting the opening of heaven to mankind by Him. This descent of Christ's soul into hell was obviously not to the hell of the eternally lost, but to what we call the Limbo or detention place of the souls of the just who lived prior to our Lord's coming into this world.

923. Will men's bodies go to hell as well as their souls?

If men die in such a state as to deserve hell, both their bodies and souls will endure the misery. Thus, in St. John's Gospel, V. 28, 29, Christ is recorded as saying, "The hour cometh when all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." At that last judgment men will be present in their complete personality, body and soul. And they will reap one of two destinies, heaven or hell. The complete human being will be either saved or lost. Such is the teaching of Christ, and one must accept it, or cease to claim to be a Christian.

924. Is hell a place of eternal fire in a material sense?

Hell will be eternal. Its fire cannot possibly be fire exactly as we know it in this world. Hell is a revealed mystery which cannot be adequately explained by ideas drawn from things around us. But it is certain that there will be physical bodily suffering in hell, a suffering which our Lord thought best described by the analogy of pain caused by fire. As the complete man, body and soul, will be saved, so the complete man, body and soul, will be lost. And, if lost, both body and soul will endure their proper penalties and sufferings. The cause of bodily suffering in hell will be an agent more or less equivalent to what we understand by fire.

925. Will there be degrees of punishment in hell as there are degrees of reward in heaven?

Yes. Even amongst lost souls, the less guilty will not be punished so severely as the more guilty. Even the man bent on accomplishing his eternal damnation cannot multiply his sins with impunity on the score that one may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. Every degree of added guilt will result in an intensification of suffering which the less guilty will not experience to the same degree.

926. Would the denial of an eternal hell exclude one from membership of the Catholic Church?

Yes. The eternity of hell is a defined article of the Catholic Faith. Any Catholic who knows this, yet persists in denying the eternity of hell would by that very fact renounce his Catholic Faith, and repudiate the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. No priest could admit such a one to the Sacraments unless he rejected such ideas as wrong, and fully accepted the teaching of the Church as true. But here there are several things to be noted. The eternal hell in which we have to believe is a revealed mystery which we cannot fully comprehend, but which we have to accept on the authority of God, just as we accept the mystery of the Trinity. Too many people, in objecting to an eternal hell take it for granted that they fully comprehend the hell to which they object. But a hell which the human mind could fully comprehend is not the hell in which we are asked to believe. And certainly we are not asked to believe in a hell which is in any way in conflict with any of God's attributes. If we think we see a conflict, then we have wrong ideas somewhere. Our notions must be inadequate. Our minds, familiar only with that succession of events known as time, cannot understand what an eternity outside the time sequence will really mean. Nor do we understand the nature of the sufferings in hell. We have to believe in a hell such as God knows it to be. And having been told the fact of a possible destiny of untold misery, it is for us to take the means necessary to avoid such destiny, leaving other aspects of the matter to God. He will safeguard all His attributes. That is not our responsibility. But it is ridiculous to forget our limitations, and to deny a fact revealed by God, merely because our little minds cannot quite explain the fact to our own present satisfaction. No right-minded person would do that.

927. Surely the doctrine of hell is hard to believe even by Catholics.

It is no more difficult than any other revealed mystery of the Christian religion. If a man can believe in the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, or the Blessed Sacrament, he can just as easily believe in hell. He has exactly the same motive for doing so, the authority of God for its existence. Hell is as much a mystery of faith as any other revealed mystery. We have to believe in it as God knows it to be, not as we imagine it to be. As we can state simply that there are three Persons in one God without fully comprehending the complete significance of the doctrine, so we know that there is a possible final and eternal wreckage called hell. But the nature of hell, and its reconciliation with all the attributes of God, are beyond our comprehension. That, however, does not justify us in denying the knowledge and veracity of Christ. Our faith in Him compels us to believe in hell; and our belief in hell inspires us with a dread of sin. You will notice that I say our faith in Christ compels us to believe in hell. We look, not at the thing we are asked to believe but at the knowledge and veracity of the Christ who tells us to believe it. The only really valid argument against hell would be to prove that Christ did not teach it, or that He did not know what He was talking about, or that He deliberately lied. That our limited minds find difficulty in comprehending hell is no argument against it. We expect that, in the presence of a mystery of faith.

928. A merciful God would not punish even a man's deliberate sins.

God would not be merciful if He did not do so. Would God be merciful did He allow men to think that evil conduct does not matter? And if He shows that it does matter by threatening evil, would He be merciful if He allowed men to think that He did not mean what He said, and failed to fulfill His own sanctions? Even Carlyle has said, "One who does not know how to punish does not know what pity is." Weakness is not kindness, but cruelty. Mercy is offered to all men before their death, if only they will repent sincerely of their sins. But they cannot reject God's mercy and have it. Nor can we say that God is not merciful because He offered His mercy, only to find it refused. Were He not merciful, He would never have offered mercy.

929. How much pleasure could the Author of this beautiful and wonderful world find in tormenting eternally with fire any of His erring human family?

You concentrate on one aspect of life to the neglect of all others by your appeal to a beautiful and wonderful world. But is it so beautiful and wonderful? Is it not a mixture of good and evil? Do you lose sight of the fearful pain inflicted by, say, cancer? If you were God, would you have permitted cancer? Your soft and gentle heart would at once say no. Yet cancer is a fact. And if your judgment as to what should be in the world you do see is at such variance with what God has actually permitted, why must God's dealings with souls in the next life conform to your ideas of what ought to be there? Notice, too, your mild reference to erring humanity. It is begging the question to suggest that the sin which takes a soul to hell is but an error, or a mistake. The wicked who go to hell will go there for persevering malice. Again the reference to God's taking pleasure in the sufferings of the lost is a human and earthly piece of thinking which could apply only to an authropomorphic God acceptable to no instructed Christian.

930. If a man of low intelligence tortured even a rat for one day we should shrink from him with horror.

Possibly. But there is no parallel between that case and the matter under discussion. The case given omits ever so many vital factors essential to a right estimate of eternal retribution; and it can have value only for those who let imagination usurp the place of reason.

931. Yet our religious leaders have taught us to believe our loving Heavenly Father has planned a hell of eternal torments for us!

They have not taught us anything of the kind. They teach what Christ taught, that those obstinate in evil will go to everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. That hell was not meant and planned for us is evident from all the warnings given us both as to its existence, and the conditions that could take us there. If I want a man to fall into a pit, I don't warn him against it. Also, so long as we behave as children of God, accepting Him as our loving Heavenly Father, and rendering Him the reverence and obedience due to Him as such, there is no danger of going to hell. Those only will go to hell who repudiate God as their loving Heavenly Father. They cannot reject Him and have Him. Nor, for a moment, will they say in hell, "Our loving Heavenly Father sent us here." All I can add is that those who do go to hell will have no difficulties on the subject as to why they are there.

932. Could one respect a God who would permit any one of His creatures to suffer eternal torment, however grievously that creature had sinned? Reason rejects the thought.

Does such a doctrine violate reason? If it does, I could not respect such a doctrine. But let us see. Now it is not unreasonable that God should hate evil, and punish it. My reason is not violated by the thought that those who stole the Lindbergh baby and murdered it, should be apprehended if possible, and endure a pretty severe penalty. So far, so good; forI think you will agree with me there. Your difficulty concerns not the fact of retribution, but the idea of eternal retribution. So let us proceed. It is a truth of reason that the human soul is immortal of its very nature.And it must therefore live on. Now granted that a soul goes from this world in a state of sin, its will radically opposed to God's will, hating the things God loves, prepared to do again the very sins that deserved punishment during life, it is not unreasonable that its exclusion from God and from happiness should last as long as such evil dispositions continue. And if such dispositions as a matter of fact constitute an eternal hatred of God, reason is not violated by the thought that the retribution will be equally eternal. It may harrow our feelings; it may stagger our imagination; but I deny that it violates reason. As a matter of fact my reason is violated by the thought that there can be no eternal torment however grievous a man's sins may be. A law is not a law without a proportionate penalty. And if God gives very serious Commandments, it is absurd to suggest that a man can break them with impunity and challenge Him, "Do your worst. You may be able to punish me for a time. But there's no eternal punishment. It has got to end, and You have to make me eternally happy sooner or later. And once I'm in eternal happiness temporal experiences will be negligible." And, mind you, the man doesn't repent, or change his evil dispositions. God is holy, but the sinner remains wicked, and still defying God, he has to be admitted to God's presence and share His eternal happiness. You see, it won't work. Reason revolts. An eternal hell is reasonable as the only fit place for eternal malice. The only way he could get out of the admission would be by supposing that God would annihilate evil souls. But annihilation is against reason both from the point of view of proportionate penalty, and from the point of view of the soul's essential immortality.

933. Take a suicide. You Catholics have to believe that his soul was destined for hell.

Before proceeding, I must correct you. The expression destined for hell could be taken in two ways. Yet neither of those two ways could fit in with the Catholic view. Firstly, one could interpret the expression in the sense of predestination to hell. But the Catholic Church condemns the doctrine that God has predestined any soul to hell as straight-out heresy. Secondly, and I think this is what you have in mind, one could understand the expression in the sense that the soul of such a man will certainly go to hell as a result of his own perverse conduct. But even that is not the Catholic view. Undoubtedly suicide is, in itself, a gravely sinful thing. And every Catholic is taught that objectively it must be ranked as mortal sin. But when we turn from the crime itself to the person who takes his own life, we are quite unable to say that that particular person will go to hell. For we are unable to estimate his subjective responsibility. That depends upon the clarity of his mind at the time, the deliberateness of his decision, and the degree of untrammelled consent. Those things we cannot estimate. Then, too, even granted a sufficient degree of subjective guilt, we do not know whether or not a supreme act of God's mercy has intervened between the sin and the actual death of the unfortunate man. The Catholic view, therefore, is that we must refrain from judging that any given soul has actually forfeited salvation.

934. Can heaven even remain heaven, with hell functioning?

What it does do, it can do. Jesus is in heaven, and the devil is in hell. And both heaven and hell are functioning.

935. Do you think people would be happy in heaven if they could see their loved ones burning in hell?

It is quite certain that people will be happy in heaven, whatever our speculations about the conditions that will prevail. You can safely leave it to God to adjust the future for you, if you serve Him faithfully now.

936. Belief in hell causes the most harassing fear and distress in the mind.

Belief in the doctrine of hell certainly does not have such effects in the mind when the doctrine is taught in its right perspective, and side by side with the other doctrines of the Catholic faith, which include right ideas of human freedom, and the immense mercy and love of God. In the Catholic mind, the doctrine of hell awakens a clear idea of God's essential goodness and hatred of evil; it gives a very healthy dread of sin just as one dreads any other great disaster; it inspires vigilance over self; and impels people to recover God's grace by early repentance should they miserably fall from His friendship. All these effects are good.

937. The appeal to fear, to my mind, is not half so efficacious as the appeal to love.

I agree. Fear is a transitory emotion; love more lasting. But response to love supposes some generosity of character. Now habitual sin dries up generosity. The sinner becomes more and more selfish. He is less sensitive to noble motives, and is more affected by those which threaten his own comfort. This type will be more moved by fear than by love. But fear of God is but the beginning of wisdom. It is meant to make a man abandon his sins. But if he does so, and begins to lead a better life, selfishness wanes, nobility develops, and he begins to respond more to love than to his initial fears. And love will then show that it has the greater power to inspire positive virtue.

938. This picture of punishment constantly put before Roman Catholics helps to account for the large attendances at Catholic Churches.

It does, just as every single teaching contained in the Gospels helps one to live a Christian life, and be faithful to duties to God. Surely you are not going to blame the Catholic Church for refusing to forget the sterner elements of Christ's own teaching, and His repeated warnings on the subject of hell. No Catholic can bring himself to disregard the intensely serious warning Our Lord gave on this matter. Eternal punishment infinitely transcends in horror any human tragedy. And neglect of this doctrine has always proved disastrous. The Churches which no longer believe it their mission to save souls from eternal disaster have lost their inspiration and power. The passionate drive behind the mission of the Apostles, of the Catholic Church through the ages, and even of the Protestant Churches until recently was the unbearable thought that souls might not be rescued from the hell Christ preached. But the dwindling emphasis upon that doctrine, and loss of belief in it, obviously leads to indifference to religious duties. To drop one's religion is less and less regarded as a disaster; and modern Protestant parents are not greatly afflicted by the sight of children who ignore God and religion altogether.

939. Does this not give the impression of a religion essentially of fear, fear of punishment, fear of the everlasting bonfire?

Not to one who takes complete views, and considers the Catholic religion as a whole. The Catholic Church insists that the first and greatest commandment is that we must love God above all things, with all our hearts and souls, mind and strength. Everything else in the Catholic religion is subordinate to that, and meant to lead to its fulfillment, now on earth as far as poor weak human beings are capable of doing so, and eternally and perfectly in heaven. The essential thing in the Catholic religion, then, is the love of God. But that does not justify the omission of other things. Nor, because other and secondary elements of Christianity are preached, and insisted upon according to their importance and the danger of forgetting them, is it right to concentrate your attention on them as if the Church preached nothing else. Finally, you are no more justified in thinking, because fear of punishment is preached, that this is the one reason why Catholics go to Church, than you would be in thinking that the majority of people in Australia pay their just debts only because they would be taken to court if they did not do so. People who do not pay their debts are liable to legal retribution. But all decent people want to pay what they owe. So, too, the vast majority of Catholics desire to render to God the acknowledgment due to Him, and for that reason fulfill their religious duties. There is a choice of motives, all good insofar as they help people to do the right thing. And each person may choose the motive that appeals most to him. But there is no one, not even the saint, who should not keep in the back of his consciousness the thought of the grim fate awaiting him if he does not continue to serve God. Holy Scripture therefore gives the advice to all: "Remember thy last end and thou shalt never sin."

940. Why does the Roman Catholic Church stress God's justice rather than God's mercy?

The Catholic Church certainly does not. If you hear a priest preaching on the subject of hell, you will naturally hear a discourse confined to that subject. But you will hear the same priest preach also on God's mercy, again confining his discourse to that particular subject. And a right judgment will consist in balancing the two. It would be an excess to stress hell as if there were no mercy, and another excess to stress God's mercy as if there were no possibility of hell. The Catholic Church teaches that God's mercy is above all His works; that it is offered to everyone without exception; and that despair of salvation is forbidden by God to every human being, no matter how great and numerous his sins. No man is allowed to hope that he will secure salvation whether he repents or not of grave sins. That would be presumption. But God commands him to believe that, if he does repent sincerely of his sins, forgiveness is waiting.



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