My dearest G.,
I have good news to share, and I hope you will welcome a new, more positive tone from me after months of sad sweet melancholy. In truth, I feel like I have labored too long under this heavy burden, panting and wailing like Jacob in labor. Too long have I shouted, asking “where is the Father?!” “Where is the God that planted His seed in me?!”. You know how I have cursed him and complained, I have said that His Truth is sadness indeed and His Law a drain on all my desire. And what is worse, I have burdened and worried you with the inconstancy of my faith and the scandal of my sins. But, now, oh Lord, let my restlessness come to an end, and let my rest begin! Oh my darling, rejoice with me, I bring good news from where I thought it could not be found. As once St. Peter Damian led me into the inferno of Sodom and showed me there the great grace of those two angels, so now do I return from Hell itself with good news, St. Thomas for my guide. And, like then, the gospel I have found is a myth of perverted good and misused grace.
You might tell me that this is just what K. is always going on about, the so-called “gospel of freedom”, the gospel of God’s “respectful” love for us, so full of respect that it even sees to the confirmation of our free choice to turn away from Him. But don’t worry, I haven’t crossed over to his modern fantasies. The angelic doctor has shown me a greater and more expansive view, one wherein that gospel of freedom finds finally a meaningful place. The gospel revealed to me in icy Pandemonium is a gospel of love, not of freedom. It is the realization of God’s true and real love for the reprobate. There is no reason for the great day of the elect to cast the rest of mankind into utter night. There is for us yet a true Moon, and countless stars, whereby we night travelers are kept on our many paths.
God loves us all: not only the holy, but also the good. He is not only a God of mercy and abundance, but also of justice and order. Precisely because He is a god of mercy, He has not jealously restricted existence to those called to perfection, but let the cup of His creative love overflow unto a lower world, an infernal region. To protest “that all shall be saved” is to insist that the imperfect must be nothing. But Our Lord is not such a miser. He is the Good itself, and the source of every good of every scale. He is not the Perfect that fathers none but the perfect, but the Good that produces all good and the very scale of goodness. God loves finite goods and desires that they exist and be enjoyed and embraced: such is His plan for this world and the world to come.
How is this the good news of hell? It is the infernal gospel, for to believe in hell is to believe in a place below heaven, a state besides beatitude. In heaven all see God face to Face and the light of His Countenance glorifies the blessed, so that all are immaculate before Him and enjoy the infinite Good of His Being and each saint and angel sees and expresses a certain aspect of That Infinite Good. Even if there is a hierarchy and an order amongst them, all are raised infinitely above their nature, such that this cannot be a true demonstration of justice. Thus the blessed alone could never, by definition, show forth the great justice of divine Reason. Love required another place to show its Justice.
Truly, each of the blessed is good and raised up to infinite goodness, but by being a good, they are not the Good itself, the object of all yearning. You are so infinite and boundless a good, oh Lord, that had You not identified Yourself with certain goods, had You not chosen some and not others, had You not, ultimately elected to be born as this man, in this time and place, it would be impossible for us to refuse You. And yet these very choices that made it possible for us to say no to you are have also lifted the elect up to the view of your boundless Goodness prior to all choice and election. For such is the character of our loving: we cannot love all, we cannot have a common interest with all, but only with our neighbor, only this particular mortal that crosses my path. And so, oh Christ, you became one of many, you became small enough to pierce human hearts and raise the chosen up to Yourself. This is the vista of the plain of truth, the supercelestial place, and if there were no place besides this Heaven, there would be no place for those who are not called to the infinite Good. There would be no place for those who are called to realize a finite good, even a very great one. There would be no place for most of us.
But God loves us and has made a place for each and every one of us in the world to come. We can see it already here, in this our world, for it is one and the same Creator who now works in this passing process and who will eternally sustain that glorious creation. After all, did God not create this world full of finite goods? Does he not give besides the true grace of holiness, also gifts of body and soul? Consolations, health, wealth, power, friends, fame: does God not give all these things on occasion in scripture? Did he not give His people victory, land, liberty, monarchy, law, cities they did not build, fields they did not plow? Not to mention the goods that are obviously finite for being mixed with suffering: the trials, plagues and oppression He sent, in short, the discipline that leads to conversion. And finally, Scripture tell us not only of Heaven, the theatre of God’s mercy, but also of another place, an outer darkness, a place of the undying worm, a fire preprared for the angels, in short, of Hell, a place destined for the exhibition of God’s justice.
But how does God love us in preparing Justice for us? My dear, think! Justice is not revenge and it is far from being but punishment! Justice is the good order of things whereby each has its own function, and each fulfilling its own function all are filled with the works of each. Justice is seen in the first chapter of creation, where each part of creation is seen to be good, but their complete order is seen to be very good. Justice is seen in a just city, where all are employed and receive fair wages: this would be an image of justice even if there were no thieves being punished or exploiters being flogged. God thus in rushing the elect to His mercy, and rushing the reprobate to justice is actively loving them both, and actively leading each to the manifestation of a unique good. Each of us can be assured that God works in His life toward the good: God does not direct the elect and neglect the reprobate, “permitting” them to work their own destruction alone.
God’s love thus gives both infinite and finite goods. The infinite Good is the Good itself, the very motive of every desire. To know it is to love it and there is no true love of it outside of the soul’s contemplation of Him. Therefore, it is wholly pure and cannot be touched by the impure. God’s elect must be cleansed of every sin before acceding to their final destination. But besides this good, there are all the finite goods, including the elect themselves. These goods are exterior to ourselves. God alone is interior intimo meo. They are good creations, external to ourselves, which we can enjoy or not. They do not penetrate to the sanctuary of the mind, but reward those who use them well and punish those who abuse them. Not even the natural knowledge of God, the highest private finite good, truly penetrates the depths of our soul. For it remains still a knowledge, an image, a relation: it is not Godself sweetly entering, and opening and overpowering us with the seed of His very own Word. And there is justice in the reward as there is justice in punishment that follows the use and misuse of every good, and truly justice is the great ordering of all the finite goods amongst each other and towards the Good itself. It itself the greatest of all the finite goods, and is their architecture and source.
We see then that God loves those whom He “permits” to sin. He does not neglect them, but He is constantly guiding them towards the fulfillment in the world to come of a singular finite good, a singular part of the universal order of justice. And this order and great good “permits” sin, for justice is realized as well in punishment as it is in reward. We who are rushing to our damnation are being lead towards good that we separate ourselves from through our sin. For every finite good is dependent upon the ultimate Good, so the sinner who accomplishes a finite good, may indeed produce it, but he will have no enjoyment of it. And he will be forever pursuing like Sisyphus that good, his very own good, to which he is called but can never obtain. And these endless cycles, this uncessant pursuit would be to him a reward, a life of perpetual felicity like that of the spheres of the Platonists, were it not for his sin, which ever separates him from his object.
God, not being a great lover, but Love itself, creates in His own likeness a world of every possible good, including both the infinite and the finite goods. I speak here of His ultimate, perfect creation, the world to come. The infinite goods altogether form heaven, the finite goods are ordered in the lower place. We do not know exactly what these goods are: in this world we know the finite goods of our corruptible nature, and we know the infinite good in Christ, but what goods shall be then, we can only dimly perceive. And God wishes that all these goods, these reflections of himself should be borne and realized by free beings like himself, beings that fashioned themselves into pursuers of the infinite or of the finite. And for this reason, this our world exists, so that we may choose the destinies to which we are called: for our eternal destiny would be a dead thing if it were not chosen by us in time, just as our temporal history would be meaningless without a destination in eternity. Indeed, if it were not for the world to come, there would be no intelligibility in this world of change.
There are, therefore, those called to the infinite virtues of mercy, and those called to the finite works of justice and God loves them both for he loves their ends both: he loves the infinite infinitely and the finite finitely, but he yet loves them and does not hate them. And every one of us can be assured of God’s love for themselves, for whatever their eternal destiny, they are assured of God’s providence over them. For some His love is a consuming fire that will work till at last it has burned the soul’s resistance to God to the ground and opened it to the infinite fires of His love. For others, God applies the same devouring and consuming fire, but according to a measure, to bring about the laborer towards a finite end, and a finite good. Some will enjoy the feast with God, as others are meant to labor in His beautiful vineyard. Sadly, since Adam, Satan has alienated the laborers have from the magnificent world they produce and which the blessed contemplate with joy.
Header image credit: Hieronymous Bosch - the Garden of Earthly Delights - Central Panel