A Letter on the Love of God - II

A Letter on the Love of God - II

(For the first part of this text go here)

Speaking so much of love, I can imagine that some might object: But is this Hell? Is this the fire prepared before the foundation of the world for the devil and his angels? Is this the outer darkness where the worm does not die and the fire burns yet does not shine? Some of the more perceptive may complain: this is Limbo! This is a garden of earthly delights! Quite so. But to speak of Limbo after having spoken of Heaven and Hell is nonsense: better things are not explained by worse things. Limbo cannot be explained as a reprieve of hell. As if the Good itself would create the perfect, the monstrous and then lift up a small section of the monstrous to mediocrity. No, if we are to ask what Hell is in God’s eyes it is “Limbo”, the place of the fulfillment of the natural, finite end of man. It is we sinners who make a hell out of Limbo. This needs to be explained.

God’s love is in every case everlasting. God’s mercy towards his saints is established in the immutability of his will. If He has called them into existence in order to ultimately participate in His infinite gifts, this is an unchangeable decree. No matter how far they fall, how great they sin, God will come with His graces to bring them to repentance and at length to final perseverance. The decrees of God’s justice are no different: they are unchangeable, and the one called to a particular function in the world to come will infallibly be prepared by God’s love for that function. But finite goods are not God and as such they are compatible with sin. Thus, whereas those called to mercy are in a sense “not free” to choose whether they will ultimately die in sin, those called by justice are “free” in this manner. And the good of their freedom is precisely the good of the expression of God’s justice and this is the extent to which the “freedom of the will” is something ultimately valuable to God.

Go loves and desires creatures who’s ultimate beatitude and holiness is not required. He loves them for the sake of the garden of earthly delights, the grand architecture of all the immortal finite goods of the world to come. And yet, as we saw, every finite good is compatible with our rejecting it by rejecting the Good itself in sin. We can thus make the garden we are supposed to tend, a place of toil instead of leisure. Thus is it that “limbo”, the garden of earthly delights becomes for the sinner a hell.

But how can God’s love not burn every remaining sin away from the man? There is a point to this. Even Plato recognized the problem when he had the Father of the universe turn to the gods he had made and tell them “Gods of gods, I have made you immortal and could not do otherwise. Yet the mortal remains to complete the cosmos. Go forth, then, and bring forth the mortal yourselves.” Here Plato recognizes the problem and hands us the solution. For indeed, before I said that “God loves the finite finitely,” but how can God, who is Infinite, love finitely? He loves finitely by loving through a creature: by loving the workers of justice through the saints of mercy. The lower world receives the love of God refracted from heaven into every shade and aspect it can be divided into. And it arrives not as the irresistible grace that shapes our souls, but as a love that can be either a joy or a punishment depending on our condition. This is the truth of those who say that hell is nothing but God’s love rejected. This is correct, but it cannot mean that it is the same love in heaven and in hell, in one case freely accepted in the other, misunderstood and rejected. Rather, hell receives God’s love mediated through creatures and because of this it can be rejected.

And the warmth of God’s mediated love solves also the paradox of the pity of the blessed: how can they not be troubled by the pains of the damned? I tell you, the pains of the damned are their very rejection of the love of the blessed, just as the joy of those in limbo is the joy of that love too. And furthermore, the blessed are happy because this love unfailingly finds its end: those in hell do fulfill their purpose, the finite good is constituted by their activity thanks to the mediated love of God. The blessed in their conveyance of god’s love do for the denizens of justice everything possible. The only thing left to the inhabitants is their acceptance (in which case they are in limbo) or their rejection (in which case they live in hell). The sufferings of hell are entirely neurotic, originating solely in the will and responsibility of the sinner.

But what of the devil and his angels? Where are they? Here I will tell a story. The devil and his angels were created for the administration of justice. They were created to lead each person to their particular good. They stood at the gates of limbo to transmit and convey the finite love of god that arrived from the blessed. And as this was a just administration it had a head, Lucifer. Yet this head rebelled out of envy for the fact that he would be administering justice and not mercy. And since he was the just head of the infernal administration, so did all his devils rebel with him. And thus they “fell” into hell. But their missions were missions of justice. So they could be fulfilled through sin. And whereas before they would have lead each person to their finite good through virtue, now they lead them to their goods through sin. And since it is sin that makes the finite good into a punishment for the one called to it, the devils are also rightly said to be punishers of sinners in hell.

I think it is a mistake to think like Dante that Hell is organized according to sin, and that people there are identified by their sins: no man can have his identity in sin, he must have it in some good. So Hell is organized according to the order of finite goods, and we may find there souls in limbo and souls in hell purusing similar goods, and souls in hell for different sins pursuing the same good. The principle of order must be the good, must be divine justice that wants in every case the finite good, irrespective of whether it is punishment or reward.

But what of bodily punishment? What of fire? The ancient Stoics spoke of a fire that gave no light, but rather gave form to every body, melting and molding and drying and burning everything from the inside, an artisanal fire that was the very presence of God in the interior of each being. Such I propose to be hellfire: an instrument of justice, creating finite goods, but to those who reject it, indeed, a painful reality. Those in limbo might appear to be special beings, resistant to hellfire, but the truth is exactly opposite: it is the damned that cannot bear the world of justice.

You see, then, that Hell is sustained by the love of God and existence out of the abundance of his Goodness, that does not want only the infinitely good to exist, but also the finitely good. And for both ends he uses the same grace, just as a sculptor will use a single chisel for all his different sculptures, but to some he applies it more, and to others less, some desiring to give a more finished form, to others seeking to preserve some of the original shape of the rock. So does God give the same sanctifying grace to all according to different measures and towards different ends. Now, we do not know what our end is. But what we do know is that because of God’s love for us, He now gives us a grace that can lead us to holiness. He gives this same grace to all: let us hold on to it and hope for the best.

I look forward to hearing your reply. Do you believe I should give these thoughts a more polished form? Do you think they are safe to share? Or will I be tying a millstone around my neck? Pray for me.

John Tauler

Header image credit: Roman; Statue of Apollo Lykeios; Stone Sculpture

Antonio Vargas
Antonio Vargas

Antonio is a postdoctoral researcher at the Martin Buber Society for the Humanities and the Social Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


christian-platonism Aquinas Predestination Love death Evil Hell Satan Limbo Timaeus

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