Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stunning Revelation: Hell Exists

From The Scotsman:
Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated the existence of Hell and condemned society for not talking about eternal damnation enough.

A furious Pope Benedict unleashed a bitter attack during a sermon while on a visit to a parish church and said: "Hell exists and there is eternal punishment for those who sin and do not repent."

"Furious?" Somehow, I have a hard time picturing that. "Emphatic," perhaps, or "passionate."

Sounding "more of a parish priest than a Pope" the leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics added: "The problem today is society does not talk about Hell. It's as if it did not exist, but it does."

Pope Benedict unleashed his fury during a visit to the tiny parish church of St Felicity and the Martyr Children at Fidene on the outskirts of Rome, in his capacity as bishop of the Italian capital.

Awe, come on guys! If the Pope were to "unleash his fury," somebody would be getting crispy at the stake, or at least be excommunicated. "Hell exists" isn't exactly the stuff of rage. You want real fury, go listen to an Episcopal bishop when a parish tries to bail out of the Episcopal Church.

One churchgoer said: "The Holy Father was really having a go. It was a typical fire-and-brimstone sermon that you would have expected from a parish priest years ago."

You mean like years ago when people thought it was actually worth getting up on Sunday morning and going to Church?

[…] A committed theologian, it is not the first time the Pope has described the existence of Hell but it is the first time that he has stressed its significance in a sermon to humble parishioners.

Could there be just a touch of arrogance and condescension on the part of Mr. Reporter here?

Using the Gospel reading of John where Jesus saves the adulterous woman from death by stoning by saying "let he who is without sin to cast the first stone", Pope Benedict said: "This reading shows us that Christ wants to save souls. He is saying that He wants us in Paradise with Him but He is saying that those who close their hearts to Him will be condemned to eternal damnation.

"Only God's love can change from within the existence of the person and, consequently, the existence of every society, because only His infinite love liberates from sin, the root of every evil."

That same love is reflected in the sacrifice of Christ, who came with the concrete goal of saving souls, he added.

While still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and prefect of the Congregation of Divine Faith, he said: "The problem is that today, even the clergy thinks we are all so good that we will enter Paradise.
"We are impregnated by a culture that has taken away the sense of man's guilt, the sense of one's own guilt.

"It is the denial of a key reality of faith that Hell exists for sinners."

[…] Previous popes have often spoken of the existence of the Devil - St Peter, the first pope, warned: "Be vigil, be watchful, your enemy the Devil is about."

Fifteen hundred years later, Pope John XXIII, known as the Good Pope, who died in 1963, said: "The greatest trick of the Devil has been to convince the world that he does not exist."

Fifteen hundred years? By that reckoning, St. Pete didn't kick the bucket until 463 or thereabouts. He should have been a delegate to all the great Ecumenical Councils. I wonder why there was so much argument about whether the 2nd Letter of Peter should be included in the canon of Scripture. They could have just asked him. "Hey, Pete - did you write this one?"

However, Pope Benedict's vision of Hell is not a Dantesque vision of flames and devils, but more of a condition and state of mind.

Speaking in 2005, he said: "Let's hope there are few men whose lives have been a total failure that is unredeemable.

"Hell consists of an eternal damnation for those who have decided to die with the stain of mortal sin.

"The principal punishment of Hell is the eternal separation from God."

As a theologian, the Pope wrote about Hell on several occasions.

In the 1968 book, Introduction to Christianity, he described Hell as a state of existential abandonment, "the loneliness into which love can no longer reach".

In God and the World, a book-length interview in 2000, he said the church reminds people of Heaven and Hell in order to underline that "there is a responsibility before God, that there is a judgment, that human life can either turn out right or come to disaster".

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Hell as "the state of definitive self- exclusion from communion with God and the blessed".

I guess my first question is, "Why the heck is this treated like it's controversial?" As best I can figure, this has pretty much been the standard doctrine of all Christian churches for the past 1500 2000 years. If nothing else, hell is God's ultimate guarantee of human freedom; if you don't want salvation, He isn't going to force you to take it.

Secondly, there is always the denial of the file-and-brimstone image, as if that makes it better. Spending eternity in utter isolation, wrapped so tightly into yourself that you can't (and wouldn't if you could) get out, while you disintegrate into a putrid mass of competing sins, really isn't a big improvement over fire and brimstone. If you really think about it, that's about as bad as it can get - staring drooling and slack-jawed into an infinitely regressing series of mirrors. And the eternal awareness that you're there because you chose it, while something huge and vile cackles madly from the depths of its own suffering in the never-changing background.