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Is “No One Is Condemned Forever” Perversely Compassionate, According To St. Augustine ?

In his masterpiece, City Of God, St. Augustine devotes seven entire chapters of Book XXI to this subject, as stated at the beginning of Chapter 17: “Of Those Who Fantasize That No Men Shall Be Punished Eternally.”

It was as if St. Augustine got an advance copy of the papal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, and read its proclamation that: ”No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.” (Para. 297).

This discussion assumes – particularly since it has not been denied or clarified in response to responsible questions and reasonable doubts – that Amoris Laetitia teaches that there is no eternal punishment for sin, for any sin, of any kind, in any situation. Should the questions be addressed and the doubts dissolved, and the words of Jesus and the constant teaching of the Church for about two millennia be affirmed (that indeed, a person can go to Hell forever), then the following discussion can be shredded and  thrown into the bin.

Tender-Hearted Christians

St. Augustine begins with a reference to “tender-hearted Christians”:

“I must now, I see, enter the lists of amicable controversy with those tender-hearted Christians who decline to believe that any, or that all of those whom the infallibly just Judge may pronounce worthy of the punishment of hell, shall suffer eternally, and who suppose that they shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment, longer or shorter according to the amount of each man’s sin.” (Chapter 17; Book XXI, City Of God; henceforth in the form “17:XXI”)

Mercy For The Devils In Hell ?

If no sinner will be condemned forever, St. Augustine wonders why this will not apply to the fallen angels:

“Which opinion, if it is good and true because it is merciful, will be so much the better and truer in proportion as it becomes more merciful. Let, then, this fountain of mercy be extended, and flow forth even to the lost angels, and let them also be set free, at least after as many and long ages as seem fit! Why does this stream of mercy flow to all the human race, and dry up as soon as it reaches the angelic? And yet they dare not extend their pity further, and propose the deliverance of the devil himself. Or if anyone is bold enough to do so, he does indeed put to shame their charity, but is himself convicted of error that is more unsightly, and a wresting of God’s truth that is more perverse, in proportion as his clemency of sentiment seems to be greater.” (17:XXI)

It Is In Sinners’ Interest To Deny an Eternal Hell

St. Augustine notes that there are some whose opinions he has heard, who live a bad life, who profess that God’s mercy will be their salvation:

“There are others, again, with whose opinions I have become acquainted in conversation, who, though they seem to reverence the holy Scriptures, are yet of reprehensible life, and who accordingly, in their own interest, attribute to God a still greater compassion towards men. For they acknowledge that it is truly predicted in the divine word that the wicked and unbelieving are worthy of punishment, but they assert that, when the judgment comes, mercy will prevail.” (18:XXI)

Conjectures, Absurdity & Arguing Against God

St. Augustine, again and again, makes the point that those who would rely on total, encompassing-all-sin, divine mercy, while denying endless punishment, are simply making absurd arguments. For example:

“ . . . Or is perhaps the sentence of God, which is to be pronounced on wicked men and angels alike, to be true in the case of the angels, false in that of men? Plainly it will be so if the conjectures of men are to weigh more than the word of God. But because this is absurd, they who desire to be rid of eternal punishment ought to abstain from arguing against God, and rather, while yet there is opportunity, obey the divine commands. . . . And to say in one and the same sense, life eternal shall be endless, punishment eternal shall come to an end, is the height of absurdity. Wherefore, as the eternal life of the saints shall be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it shall have no end.” (23:XXI)

Asserted By No One Sound In The Faith

St. Augustine sees that some proclaiming that divine mercy trumps divine justice “attempt to invalidate the words of God,” not to proclaim the extent of His mercy, but “in their own interest . . .under the guise of greater tenderness of sprit.” (24:XXI). He wonders how far those who promote these errors will go:

“Or will there, perhaps, be someone hardy enough to affirm that even the holy angels will make common cause with holy men (then become the equals of God’s angels), and will intercede for the guilty, both men and angels, that mercy may spare them the punishment which truth has pronounced them to deserve? But this has been asserted by no one sound in the faith; nor will be. Otherwise there is no reason why the Church should not even now pray for the devil and his angels, since God her Master has ordered her to pray for her enemies. The reason, then, which prevents the Church from now praying for the wicked angels, whom she knows to be her enemies, is the identical reason which shall prevent her, however perfected in holiness, from praying at the last judgment for those men who are to be punished in eternal fire.” (24:XXI)

God’s Words Are Truth, Not An Empty Threat

St. Augustine says that these declarations about mercy are contradicted by the clear words of Jesus and of Holy Scripture:
“As for those who find an empty threat rather than a truth in such passages as these: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire; and These shall go away into eternal punishment” [Mt 25: 41,46]; “They shall be tormented for ever and ever” [Rev 20:10]; and “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, [Is 66:24] — such persons, I say, are most emphatically and abundantly refuted, not by me so much as by the divine Scripture itself.” (24:XXI)

Later in this Chapter 24, St. Augustine refers to those who deny that some sinners will be subject to eternal punishment as “perversely compassionate.” (24:XXI).

It Is Error To Say God Will Condemn No One

In discussing Romans 11: 32 – “For God has concluded all in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon all” – St. Augustine says that this statement of St. Paul “ . . . does not mean that He will condemn no one . . . “ (18:XXXI)

Conclusion

The false position on mercy has come be called the “universalist heresy,” the heresy that all persons will be saved due to God’s mercy, and that a God who is merciful will not condemn anyone to an eternal hell. If the words “No one is condemned forever” stand as written and promulgated, without change or explanation, then they are a statement of the universalist heresy.

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Guy McClung

60 Comments

  1. Pope Francis has bet his life and his Papacy on St Augustine and Jesus being wrong. And now he wants all of us to agree with him. It is catastrophe that so many seem to agree with him. This is why we need God to straighten him out in some way or put an end to him. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he see the truth and proclaim it.

  2. Christ has offered each and every human being salvation, and he wants all of us to accept. It would be perverse for us to not align our hopes with Christ’s wishes. Yet, it is heresy for that hope to become an article of faith or belief. While we may hope that hell is empty, the reason the Church has never taught this is that the evidence weighs against it. Indeed, if Lucifer, who was close to God, succumbed to pride and chose Hell over God, it would seem very unlikely that every prideful human who ever lived would somehow avoid this pitfall. Yet, because with God all things are possible we are mercifully allowed to hope.

  3. Long live the universalist heresy! The alternative is to believe in a psychopathic monster God who creates billions of people who he knows in advance will be eternally tormented. To worship such a God is a form of madness.

    To see the true nature of God we should pull our heads out of human created holy books and more closely examine that which God created, ie. nature. We should look to the work of the highest authority directly, and not to the opinions of self appointed human middlemen.

    All things in nature that take on form are absorbed back in to nature where they become the building blocks of new forms. All things that arise in nature return to nature. This is how God’s creation actually works in the real world beyond holy books.

    All of God’s creations return to God. And that’s because all of God’s creations are God, and thus they were never separate to begin with.

  4. How comforting to know, Phil that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the las Vegas shooter and other of history’s greatest monsters are all saved. In fact, for what reason am I being kind and helpful to the less fortunate? Better then to be a sociopath aiming only to get everything I can from others since I’ll still get to be with God, right?

  5. Phil,
    God allows angels and men to choose torment if they wish. It is hard to understand why anyone would, of course, but they of course many things are hard to understand. A monster God would be a God who is indifferent to either sin or remorse for sin.

  6. If Death is the fixation of our relationship with God, NO, that fixation in our relationship with God will not, cannot and does not change after death. Purgatory is the fixation with our relationship with God that is fixed to suffer for a time before heaven. Therefore this piece is about purgatory and then heaven. Our relationship with God is a civil right called religion and the freedom to respond to the gift of Faith from God in our human nature.
    “All of God’s creations return to God. And that’s because all of God’s creations are God, and thus they were never separate to begin with.”
    God, the Father, presented all power and authority on earth to His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ redeemed all creation and presented all creation to His Father in heaven. All creation belongs to the Creator. God has a patent and a copyright on us. Without salvation God must relinquish His creation to the free will choices of men whatever they will be, as written above in the post. Only the informed consent through man’s free will to be chosen allows man to enter into the wedding feast and only then with accomplished original innocence, our pursuit of Happiness, the white robe of purity and humility as Saint Augustine has written.
    Hell is eternally fixed for the souls who are chosen to be excluded from heaven by the informed consent of their free will. Jesus loved us to the end. That end might be hell. The choice to be chosen is ours.

  7. “How comforting to know, Phil that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the las Vegas shooter and other of history’s greatest monsters are all saved”
    All people are saved. All mankind is redeemed. Some monsters have hatred for God and being saved they, in informed consent of their free will, choose their hatred for God over their love for God. The damned souls in hell love hell, that is why it is hell.

  8. “Long live the universalist heresy! The alternative is to believe in a psychopathic monster God who creates billions of people who he knows in advance will be eternally tormented. To worship such a God is a form of madness.”
    God Himself came down and was tortured and crucified to turn men back to Him. Perfect and infinite LOVE WHO will have loved us, and has love us, to be with Him, in Him and for Him. Some prefer hell.

  9. I’ll stick with my little, old 1959 Baltimore Catechism and try to live my life the way God wants.

    1. Who made us? God made us.

    11. Why did God make us? God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His eternal happiness in heaven.

    12. What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven? To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love and serve God in this world.

    As in the Gospel parable, those who ignore God’s invitation and/or refuse to “put on their wedding clothes” likely (not my call) will not be chosen.

  10. “If you love me,keep my Commandments!” The Four Immutable Truth: Birth, Death, Heaven and Hell. (Purgatory vanished at the time of Judgement, they all go to Heaven!) Hell is forever as Heaven is everlasting! The reason Jesus had to come and to die the death that H Went through was to help to teach all souls to LOVE GOD and LIVE within His Commandments. “Thou shall not serve two masters!” Heaven and Hell do not mix! Those who do not serve with complete devotion and committed Mortal sins before death without Confession will not be in Heaven. God give each soul all the time that soul needed to Establish a Holy Relationship with Him before death! The un-repented will not enter heaven will be in Hell all through Eternity! Pray that no one goes there!

  11. Phil’s philosophy is merely regurgitated repackaged New Age neo-gnostic econ-wacko enviro-nazi pagan worship of goddess Gaia, hence his statement:

    “All things in nature that take on form are absorbed back in to nature where they become the building blocks of new forms. All things that arise in nature return to nature. This is how God’s creation actually works in the real world beyond holy books.”

    How does he know this to be true without books that he considers holy? More eastern mysticism mixed in with scientism – notice the ISM – I, Self and Me. And notice his hatred of humanity and of God.

    PS, for the record, Phil, God doesn’t send anyone to hell. You send yourself there by rejecting him. And hell is eternal rejection of God. You select eternal torture over bending knee and confessing, “Thou art Lord.” You say, “Non serviam.” And God lets you go to exactly where you want to go. He is a gentleman, whereas you are not.

  12. Something else that bothered me about Phil’s heresy where he said: “The alternative is to believe in a psychopathic monster God who creates billions of people who he knows in advance will be eternally tormented. ”

    Is this a psychopathic monster – John 3:16-21?

    6 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

    —–

    IF He were a psychopathic monster, THEN Why would God “so love the world that He gave his only begotten Son” to die for your sins and mine in order to escape hell?

    IF you or I do evil and fail to repent, THEN yes, we go to hell because “every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

    But IF we repent and accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers by His sacrifice, THEN we go to heaven because “he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.”

    Yet I forgot. You, Phil, hate holy books “written by men” even thought the Holy Spirit inspired the writings. You prefer the eastern mysticism mixed in with gnostic New Age nature worship – a paganism of the long dead Celts or American Indians or Hindus and Buddhists in the Far East – to the real and living God who raised His Son from the dead never to die again.

  13. Thor’s oak has returned as being worthy of worship. This is Phil’s God.

    St. Boniface took an axe to this tree in 723 and the Germanic people were free from false worship. Seems the axe needs to be dusted off and sharpened.

    I feel sorry for Phil. The God of mercy is alive and wants all to know His love. Paul is correct.
    People choose Heaven or Hell. Our choice.
    Our final destination is determined by our choices.

    Today the spirit of St. Boniface must be alive in us. We must take the axe to the root of false God worship, by introduction and instruction on the Tree of Life..Jesus Christ.

    Prayers for Phil’s conversion.

    St. Boniface, pray for us.

  14. Thanks for the replies guys.

    According to the Catholic doctrine I was taught as a child, God is all powerful and all knowing. Therefore, it follows that he knows in advance what will happen.

    Therefore, it follows that if there is a hell, God knew when he created human beings that most of us would wind up there. You know, most of the human beings born over the last 2,000 years have had little to no interaction with any form of Christianity.

    I’m open to the idea of purgatory, a transition between life and melting back in to God. After all, the womb is such a transition. I’m receptive to the idea that those who live lives rooted in selfishness (ie. division) may take longer to melt back in to unity with God, and this may be a form of torment for them. So I’m not ruling out any form of post-life punishment, though I wouldn’t use that word.

    But the concept of ETERNAL punishment and a loving God are simply incompatible. There is no sane logic by which these two things can be combined. Eternity is a VERY long time, it’s beyond the very concept of time. There is no crime which any frail human mortal could commit which would justify such a punishment. It’s a form of arrogance to think we are that important and powerful.

    The rest of my “new age” philosophy rests upon another Catholic doctrine, the idea that God is everywhere in all times and places. If we should actually think about this, and not just chant it blindly from a holy book, we will see that it means that nothing is separate from God. That’s what a loving God is, a God who never abandons any of his creations. Ok, delivers painful teaching moments sometimes, but never abandons.

  15. I just cannot debate New Age Gnostic heretics who deride Catholic Sacred Scriptures as mere writings of mortal men then arrogantly proclaim what they think Catholic dovtrine says. It’s all excrementum armenticium. Jesus said people go to hell forever. You do not like that, then repent and spread the good news that there is a way to heaven. The only way. Jesus.

  16. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
     “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
     “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

  17. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, you don’t actually know what Jesus said, or what he meant. Like all of us, you know only what some people said Jesus said, often a long time after his death. If it was clear beyond doubt what Jesus said, and what he meant, there would be no need for clergy or theologians.

    A loving all knowing God created only one way back to God, a way He knew in advance that most people would not or could not take? And then, when most human beings don’t reach this one and only way they are condemned to eternal suffering?

    You’re not debating me because you know such a debate would further reveal the spiritual emptiness of of the psychopathic monster god hypothesis. People cling to that theory because it makes them feel special, one of the chosen few etc. That’s not theology, but rather just the usual human ego agendas.

  18. Phil, meaning no disrespect, one of the uncomfortable realities of Christianity is making peace with Mysteries. One of the most significant is God as the Alpha and the Omega, one outside of time who knows everything and, yet, gives us, and to some extent angels, Free Will.

    I don’t have an explanation for that. No one does. It is a Mystery but it is nonetheless true that we will stand before him and be judged by our stewardship of what we were given. We will either accept God as He is and His mercy or we will reject it and sentence ourselves to hell.

    Bill et al are absolutely correct that there is a hell, an actual place from which Man does not return. It is an essential Truth of Christianity and specifically stated by Jesus Himself. it has been the unbroken teaching of the Church, spoken extensively about by our greatest theologians, and testified to by many saints, some of whom have seen actual visions of it.

    Hell is real and we CAN put ourselves there.

    I don’t know how it all works. it is a Mystery but it is both true that God is infinitely merciful and that we can choose hell over Him.

    The only question is what Pope Francis means. On its face, it seems like he is saying there is no hell and that all are saved by God’s mercy. If that is, indeed, what he is saying, it is heresy of the first order. I rather think it is not but it is on him to explain what he meant, not on us to warp his words to fit them into the fabric of Church teaching.

  19. Hi David, thanks for your reply.

    First, I am very much in favor of mystery, truly I am. That’s another very important topic I would welcome exploring together some time. But you are not referring to mystery, but rather to things that you claim to know.

    Here’s an example which might shed some light. Do you believe the Adam and Eve story is literally true? Or do you believe that story is more of a metaphor which comments upon the human condition and situation etc?

    To me, hell is a metaphor. It does truly exist, in the human mind, and in the human condition. The apostle John said that “God is love”, and so to the degree I immerse myself in selfishness I will divide myself from God, and thus I will suffer. In such a case it’s appropriate that I suffer, because that is God teaching this stubborn child not to put his hand on the hot stove. I’m ok with this form of hell, because it is instructive, supportive and loving, which I see to be in the character of God.

    Eternal punishment is something else altogether. Imagine the human parent who confines their child to a boiling basement for the child’s entire life because the child did not appropriately revere the parent. There’s a word for such people. Psychopaths.

  20. DAVID SPAULDING: Yours is a beautiful exposition on the Truth.
    “That’s not theology, but rather just the usual human ego agendas.” You neglected to acknowledge WHO created human egos.

  21. “Eternal punishment is something else altogether. Imagine the human parent who confines their child to a boiling basement for the child’s entire life because the child did not appropriately revere the parent.”
    Hell is a place where souls hate God, where souls hate themselves and where souls hate their neighbors, where souls live in despair of being the Children of God because Satan lied to them about becoming like God when they ate the apple. God created human beings as brothers and sisters of His Son, Jesus Christ.. God created mankind like God. Satan was denying the children of God to fool us… and fool us the devil did.

  22. Understanding that this is my intellectual resolution of the problem and not, strictly speaking, Church teaching:

    It seems to me that one need not conclude that God condemns man and that Man condemns himself. What I mean is that many bishops, including the Pope, talk about the crux of the faith journey being developing relationship with God. Everything in creation can, in a sense, be thought of as tools to develop that relationship.

    Now, God meets us where we are. He knows that the mysteries and fine details of the universe move the mind of one person and a generalized sense of connection to nature moves another. For one, the sensual has to be transformed into energetic and true love. For another, the sophistry of their age has to be quieted so that they can see more clearly. In all though, the same mechanism is at play: God creating everything so that we can develop a relationship with Him.

    What, then, of the one who chooses to not do this? We aren’t talking about the one who cannot, the one who is barred from developing the relationship due to various defects. See, that seems to me to be dealt with in “to those to whom more is given, more is expected.” No, we are dealing with the one who chooses to separate themselves from God.

    Let me pick on me for a moment:

    I am a cradle Catholic. I went to Catholic schools through college. I have had good examples around me, am fairly well read, interested in religion and Western Civilization, blessed with a good wife, parents who stayed together, good children, physical and mental health, and stable, good employment.

    MUCH has been given me and, so, God expects much from me… Except that I often don’t deliver. As Paul notes in Romans, I am horrified and mystified by doing what I know I don’t want to do and failing to do what I know I should. Those are choices, choices to reject God as the one to whom I owe everything.

    Now, I regularly interact with an homeless man on my way to work who appears to have serious addictions. He is old and has been on the street at least as long as I have worked here. That is to say that he has been on the street for at least five years and likely longer. Sometimes he is entirely sober and sometimes barely cognizant of what is happening around him.

    I have no idea what Warren was given in life or how he got where he is. Maybe he was given as much as I was and wasted it. I rather doubt that though. From snippets, I gather he has been in and out of jail since he was a teenager. I gather he has been estranged from his family for a long time and I understand he isn’t from Philadelphia at all.

    It may well be that, standing before God, Warren can bear to accept God’s mercy, can bear to look on that infinite love without recoiling in horror at his own unworthiness. I hope that I can for I will surely need that mercy.

    It is not hard to imagine one who cannot accept mercy though, one who, looking upon God as He is, and observing how poor a steward that wretched soul has been, cannot face God and chooses hell.

    I have had folks say “only a mad man would choose hell” and that is assuredly so but there is an inherent madness to sin, one that we all participate in for, if we are honest about what we owe to our creator, who could sin? Sin IS madness and enough avoiding that relationship, enough convincing that neither God, nor Satan is real, enough assurance from the world that this is all there is, might well make a person ill-equipped to see God and do other than flee.

    Again, this is my own musing but, since we are outside of Church teaching here, I am more comfortable doing so. It just seems to me that you are placing on God the choice that is ours. it doesn’t seem to me that the mystery is resolved by saying “God condemns us.” I think it comes somewhat closer to be resolved by acknowledging that “we send ourselves to hell.”

  23. David, you thoughtfully wrote…

    “What I mean is that many bishops, including the Pope, talk about the crux of the faith journey being developing relationship with God. Everything in creation can, in a sense, be thought of as tools to develop that relationship.”

    Yes, I can agree with these wise teachings.

    Part of developing our relationship with God could be to try to better understand what is separating us from God. What is causing the problem which religion attempts to solve?

    The good news is that our _apparent_ separation from God is just an illusion created by the inherently divisive nature of what all of us are made of psychologically, human thought. Thought operates by dividing reality in to conceptual parts, and thus we see division everywhere we look, a division which exists only in our minds and not in the real world.

    Catholic doctrine speaks to this when it claims that God is ever present everywhere in all times and places, a clear statement that there is nowhere anyone or anything can be but with God, or put another way, there is no division, all things are unified with God.

    What we need to be “saved” from is not separation from God, which is impossible, but a compelling illusion of separation from God. The Adam and Eve story speaks to this illusion when it references the eating of the “apple of knowledge” a clear reference to human thought. We were never expelled from the Garden of Eden, and never will be, but we FEEL expelled and separate due to the way thought works.

    And if we never fully succeed in escaping this illusion, as most of us won’t, it doesn’t really matter because every single creature ever created has been liberated from the illusion of separateness, an iron clad guaranteed promise never broken once in a billion years.

    That is the hand of a loving God at work. Everybody and everything gets to come home. No matter what.

  24. Of what merit is the Cross then?

    Why do we need, or do we even need, a Savior?

    It sounds to me like you are saying that creation is, itself, an illusion. Ultimately, there is just and only God and, so, there is no actual division, no actual difference between us and God. We are just a dream of a divine being and not real, in any meaningful sense of the word.

    Perhaps I am entirely misunderstanding you. In a decidedly un-Pope Francis like way, I would like to better understand. 🙂

  25. Hi again David,

    You answered your question about the need for a savior when you said, “Everything in creation can, in a sense, be thought of as tools to develop that relationship (with God).”

    In my view, a loving God would not send just one “savior”, that some could access while most others could not, but as you say, everything in creation would be provided as a “savior” ie. a path back to God. That is, a loving God would be broadcasting on all channels to all people, not on just one channel to one limited “chosen people” group.

    The bottom line is finding a path back to God, not arguing over which path is better than all the others paths, a “sin” I find myself too often guilty of. Like so many of Catholic heritage, I am a “living in one’s head” kind of person, which makes me susceptible to the processes of division which thought brings to anything it touches.

    I believe that Jesus was one of those exceptionally talented individuals way out at the end of the spiritual bell curve, who while in the desert had a profound experience of transcending the illusion of being separate from God. And so he began calling himself God, which was a true statement. But being only 30 years old, he forgot the part about everything else being God too. Remember, there is clear evidence in the New Testament of Jesus being capable of error (“God why has thou forsaken me?”).

    The most useful thing I can contribute is probably the suggestion that we shift much of our focus away from the content of thought (this idea vs. that idea) to the nature of thought itself. In my view, it is the inherently divisive nature of thought which creates the very human problem which all religions are trying to solve.

    You seem like an interesting fellow. If you participate in a forum anywhere, I’d be interested in finding you there, should that interest you.

  26. I assume you are entirely aware that it sounds like you are not Christian. It is a generalized spiritualism perspective that you seem to be articulating and it is not one I share.

    I am a Christian.

    Jesus is God, not playing at or confused, but actually God.

  27. I’m agreeable to accepting any label for myself that works for the reader. If any label fit too tightly I’d feel I wasn’t doing my own homework. And I’m agreeable that readers not adopt my perspective, for of course that’s their business.

    The subject of “what is a Christian?” seems too large to address here, so I guess I’ll skip on by that one.

    Please note that I already agreed that Jesus is God.
    But, a gentle reminder, the New Testament also clearly indicates a specific instance when Jesus was confused.

  28. You seem like a thoughtful soul, Phil. That is commendable, even though I do not share your spirituality views. Ultimately, the position you stake out cannot be reconciled with Christianity as taught by the Church. That makes it a non-starter for me.

    I would like to return to the concept of “Mystery” for a moment though because I think it fits in the discussion here as well.

    I have heard it said that there are at least two very different definitions for “mystery” for the world tends to view a mystery as something unknown that CAN be known. The Church means something very different though for I think the Church means that it is something that cannot BE known.

    As applied here, I mean to say that I cannot reconcile God’s infinite being with our separateness. I cannot reconcile His knowing all things and my having Free Will. Those things are Mysteries because I cannot come to know them in this state of existence, not because I don’t know them now but can divine a right answer.

    I wonder if your search is not largely in this realm of the unknowable.

    I know men much smarter than I am who struggle with God because the very idea of something unknowable, unreconcilable with experience and reason, is unfathomable. Some are surprised that anyone can throw up their hands and say “it just is” without being able to explain why. Trite answers like “well I don’t know how ___ works but I know it does” don’t serve either because that the mechanism COULD be known remains on the table.

    Do you struggle with the concept of Mystery as something that actually cannot be known, cannot be reconciled with experience or Reason?

  29. Hi again David,

    To me, “the Church” is the sum total of a billion Catholics and everything that they think, feel, and most importantly, do. To me, the clergy is a very small group of serious and influential Catholics who have appointed themselves to leadership positions. I’m not asking anyone to agree, just sharing where I am personally.

    The subject of mystery does interest me greatly, though I despair at trying to address it adequately here in such a limited media as blog comments.

    For myself, I “reconcile God’s infinite being with our separateness” with the insight that our separateness is only apparent, a compelling illusion generated by the nature of the electro-chemical information medium, thought, that we are made of psychologically.

    To address your question, I don’t struggle with the concept of mystery and the unknown because I embrace the reality of our ignorance as a great asset that we typically neglect in a rush to craft what inevitably wind up being fantasy knowings. What I struggle with is this embrace of ignorance trying to co-exist with the seemingly infinite supply of fantasy knowings clogging my own mind which fuel a form of typoholic mania. Speaking of which….

    Any “knowing” is a conceptual symbol in our mind which very imperfectly attempts to represent reality. Typically religions attempt to craft the perfect knowing. But whatever the quality of any knowing, it’s still just a collection of symbols in the human mind. So, from my perspective, rather than invest too much energy in to “this knowing vs. that knowing” it seems wiser to instead turn our focus to the reality all symbols point to.

    If we start with the Catholic doctrine that God is ever present everywhere, then it follows that there are infinite number of places in the real world where we can look for God other than words, ideas, concepts, doctrines, holy books, “knowings”. Put simply, God is not an idea, God is real. Thus, the real world is the place to look.

    If the above sounds rather too esoteric, here’s an example to illustrate. A photo of you on Facebook is a symbol which attempts to point to you. It’s of course true that some photos represent you more accurately than others. But all the photos on Facebook, whatever their quality, are still just photos, ie. symbols. The real you is far more interesting than any photo can ever be. Likewise, experience of God will always be far more interesting than any idea about God.

    Do you struggle with the concept of mystery? Is that why you bring this up?

  30. Trying to get back on topic…

    Let’s take the case of Hitler as being representative of the worst that human beings can do. Does Hitler deserve eternal torment, the key word in the question being “eternal”.

    Did Hitler choose to be born? Did Hitler choose his parents, his family heritage, his brain, his DNA? Did Hitler choose the cultural circumstances he was born in to? Did Hitler choose that the horror of WWI should afflict his formative years? Point being, did Hitler have enough control over the circumstances of his existence to be deserving of ETERNAL punishment?

    Again, we aren’t asking if Hitler was bad or whether he deserved punishment, both obviously true. We are instead asking whether any human being, even Hitler, deserves to suffer ETERNALLY for crimes committed over the course of a few decades.

    Consider the word “eternal”. Using the age of the universe as a guide, eternal equals at least 14 billion years. But of course by it’s definition eternal seems to imply punishment without limit, never ceasing, permanent, without end, ever.

    If a reader feels that Hitler does deserve eternal punishment, then please explain why those who have committed far lesser (but still serious) crimes deserve the very same punishment. Don’t some feel that we can go to hell simply for not accepting Jesus as our savior? So the peaceful atheist, and Hitler, both sharing the same fate?

  31. Ok, first, thanks for your cleverness. And now, the next question as requested.

    Why? Why do frail mortal human beings who are born in to profound imperfection through no fault or choice of their own deserve ETERNAL punishment? Please remember, nobody decides to be born, it’s not a choice.

    What point does ETERNAL punishment serve, given that it provides no opportunity for learning and correction? To contrast, purgatory is punishment too, but it does provide the opportunity for learning and correction.

    Let’s say that Hitler had to live out the lives of all his victims in purgatory. That would take a very long time. It seems a just punishment given that it’s tailored to match the scale of the crimes. And, it’s educational, because Hitler would then be able to grasp the full impact of his crimes. Maybe upon death all of us experience the lives of all those we’ve impacted, for the better and the worse.

    It seems purgatory can be reconciled with the concept of a just and loving God. Please explain how hell can as well. Thanks.

  32. And, the next question you requested was contained in the post you replied to….

    ‘If a reader feels that Hitler does deserve eternal punishment, then please explain why those who have committed far lesser (but still serious) crimes deserve the very same punishment. Don’t some feel that we can go to hell simply for not accepting Jesus as our savior? So the peaceful atheist, and Hitler, both sharing the same fate?”

  33. “Please remember, nobody decides to be born, it’s not a choice.”

    What possible difference does that make? We are created in the image of God in that we have free will. How we use that free will determines our eternal destination. Those who end up in Hell did so by their own actions. Hell isn’t a matter of argument but a matter of revelation from God. Arguing about Hell is as fruitless as arguing about the act of Creation itself. That an all-just God has ordered our reality as He wishes is not something that can be altered through debate, logic or any of the other pretenses by which Man presumes to judge God.

  34. Donald,

    Jesus also said, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me? At the moment Jesus said this, he seemed to consider God to be something other than himself. You’re trying to propose Jesus as the ultimate authority the final decider but Jesus, in his own words, seemed to be looking somewhere farther than himself for that authority.

    It seems that many who quote Jesus in an attempt to end a debate often simply ignore the quotes which are inconvenient to their own stated position.

  35. Donald,

    According to your theory….

    Who created hell? Who created human beings? Who created human beings to be highly imperfect? Who knew in advance before any human choices were made that many or most of the highly imperfect humans they created would wind up in hell?

    You want to push all the responsibility on to weak humans who never asked to be born, but that’s not who set the whole game up knowing in advance that many or most of us would lose.

    The alternative to the above is of course that hell does not literally exist, but is a metaphor for the human condition without love.

    Do you believe there was literally a guy named Adam and a gal named Eve, and a talking snake, and a single apple that could condemn all humanity? Or do you feel that story is a metaphor that attempts to describe the human condition to the simple uneducated sheepherders of 3,000 years ago?

  36. “Jesus also said, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me? At the moment Jesus said this, he seemed to consider God to be something other than himself.”

    Actually He was invoking Elijah as the onlookers were aware, and beginning the recitation of the Messianic psalm 22 which strikingly portrays the crucifixion that Christ was undergoing.

  37. “Who created hell?”

    God created everything Phil, and set the rules. Your dislike of the rules does not alter one whit the reality of the rules. You will find no buyers here for what you are seeking to sell.

  38. Thanks for thoroughly dodging my questions Donald, that makes my points better than I could.

    But you are right, I will find no buyers, and that’s ok with me. You will find no buyers either. All of this typing is largely a waste of time as everybody on the Net tends to leave with the same understandings and opinions they arrived with. The real people we are trying to sell are ourselves.

  39. Do you believe there was literally a guy named Adam and a gal named Eve, and a talking snake, and a single apple that could condemn all humanity? Or do you feel that story is a metaphor that attempts to describe the human condition to the simple uneducated sheepherders of 3,000 years ago?

  40. “Do you believe there was literally a guy named Adam and a gal named Eve, and a talking snake, and a single apple that could condemn all humanity? Or do you feel that story is a metaphor that attempts to describe the human condition to the simple uneducated sheepherders of 3,000 years ago?”

    Do I believe that all humanity is descended from common ancestors? Yes. Do I believe that these common ancestors fell from God’s grace by original sin? Yes. Do I believe in the existence of Satan? Yes. Can Scripture be interpreted in many different senses? Yes, a Catholic doctrine that goes back to the beginning of the Church. Really Phil, tactics that might work against a Biblical literalist are completely useless against Catholics.

  41. Ok, thank you for answering. We aren’t so different then. We seem to agree that the Bible is sometimes literal history, and sometimes instruction by metaphoric stories. Sorting out which is which is much of what makes the Bible interesting.

    Do you ever wonder if the Bible was deliberately engineered to leave a lot of things open to interpretation so as to engage us in investigation and keep the conversation going? Maybe the point is less to deliver “the answer” than it is to keep us on the right subject. As example, a skilled philosophy professor wouldn’t give his students answers, he’d give them questions.

    Perhaps the human authors of the Bible sincerely felt they were delivering “the answer” but behind the scenes God knows he’s engaging our egos by leaving issues unsettled, which will keep us debating these questions for endless centuries. You and I seem to be doing this right now. Both of our egos are engaged, and because nobody can ever prove any case, this thread could literally go on forever. If either of us could prove our case, the thread would die.

    I asked about the Adam and Eve story because to me it seems remarkably insightful commentary on the human condition, and upon the modern world we now inhabit. Should you wish to hear an interpretation that’s not all about guilt and shame and sin and punishment and other such drearyness, write an article about Adam and Eve and I’ll meet you there.

  42. “We seem to agree that the Bible is sometimes literal history, and sometimes instruction by metaphoric stories. Sorting out which is which is much of what makes the Bible interesting.”

    The Fathers of the Church always understood that Scripture could be interpreted in several ways, but they were quite clear that all of it was inspired by God no matter how it was interpreted. In regard to Christ we have God Himself teaching us directly. That is why when any Pope attempts to deviate from Scripture, that is beyond his power to do so.

  43. Donald said, “The Fathers of the Church always understood that Scripture could be interpreted in several ways, but they were quite clear that all of it was inspired by God no matter how it was interpreted.”

    Ah, that’s interesting. So Phil The Heretic’s interpretation is as inspired by God as yours, and the Pope’s etc? If yes, that would align with my “God as savvy philosophy professor” theory. What I mean is, in such a case God would be tossing out a lot of different things to engage us, not only “one true way” things.

    So, as just one example of the theory, we could assume that everything that Phil The Heretic is preaching is all completely wrong, but my wrong sermons are inspired by God so that you’ll argue against them and thus build your faith. Or, in an alternate theory, it could be the devil has brought us together around scripture, so we can help each other build our egos. But of course, that could never happen on the Internuts. 🙂

    Donald said, “In regard to Christ we have God Himself teaching us directly.”

    Um, well, I’ll have to decline this one I guess. What we have in the case of Jesus is hearsay evidence, what a bunch of different people said Jesus said. And then another bunch of people hundreds of years later went through the big pile of things people said Jesus said, keeping some reports and tossing others, based on their own judgement of what was valuable or not. And then there is the issue of translation in and out of a number of different languages. Oh, and we are talking about hearsay evidence that arose in a culture 2,000 years distant from our own. As to Church fathers, well, some of them have been wonderful while others have been murderous scoundrels.

    So, apologies, I don’t see how your use of the word “directly” applies. Directly would be video of Jesus giving his own sermons unfiltered through lesser minds.

  44. “Ah, that’s interesting. So Phil The Heretic’s interpretation is as inspired by God as yours, and the Pope’s etc?”

    How you got that from what I wrote is more of a mystery than the Trinity.

    “What we have in the case of Jesus is hearsay evidence”

    Which is often extremely reliable. Leaving aside the myriad of hearsay exceptions, hearsay evidence is kept out of legal hearings and trials not because it is inherently unreliable, but because the person who made the statement is not subject to cross examination. As an attorney for 35 years, I know that I usually raise the hearsay objection not when I think what is being stated is not true, but when it is and is damaging to the case of my client. In regard to the Synoptic Gospels we have testimony about Christ written down while people who heard and saw Him were among the living. The Gospels are perhaps the most reliable texts to come out of antiquity, along with Acts and the Pauline epistles.

  45. Donald, your exact words were…

    (Emphasis mine.)

    “The Fathers of the Church always understood that Scripture could be interpreted in several ways, but they were quite clear that all of it was inspired by God NO MATTER HOW IT WAS INTERPRETED. ”

    Mystery resolved.

  46. Ok, so I sidetracked us by using the phrase “here say evidence”. Will try again.

    Everything we know about Jesus and what he taught comes to us filtered through other people’s minds.

    Imagine that Einstein tried to explain his space/time theory to me, a humble fisherman when it comes to physics. And then I try to explain the physics theory to you, an attorney. And then you try to explain it to your nephew, who writes a book about it. Which is translated in to various other languages. And then another group of people centuries later edit that book tossing out what they think isn’t important. And so on.

    How much of Einstein’s original theory would remain in tact after going through such a filtering process run by people who themselves were not physics experts?

    Your writing seems to assume that we have an accurate record of what Jesus said, and an accurate understanding of what he meant. I see no reason to assume that.

    The part of the gospel we can have confidence in is the part we can test in our own daily lives, for example, the experience of love. I’m not cynical or skeptical about that, I think it’s brilliant.

  47. “Your writing seems to assume that we have an accurate record of what Jesus said, and an accurate understanding of what he meant. I see no reason to assume that.”

    I see no reason to assume otherwise. The Synoptic Gospels were near contemporaneous documents and differ in minor details as eye and ear witness accounts usually do. Outside historical records affirm the historicity of the Gospels on a myriad of historical details mentioned in the Gospels. Of course most historical figures from antiquity are filtered in just such a way, usually by historical accounts written centuries after they lived. Our main source as to the campaigns of Hannibal, for example, comes from Livy who wrote two centuries after the event. Socrates appears to us only in the writings of Plato and Xenophon, his disciples, writing decades later, and the Socrates they present might as well be two separate persons. Much of our knowledge of various Latin and Greek historical figures comes from Plutarch who wrote centuries after the fact. With three near contemporary accounts of Jesus, backed up by the also near contemporary Pauline epistles and Acts, along with the Gospel of John that has good historical information of its own, the life of Jesus is one of the most well documented lives we have from antiquity.

  48. Hmm… Text as inspired? Does that mean, “as interpreted by the clergy?” Or something else?

    Gentle reminder, the officially sanctioned clergy approved group consensus of Jesus’s time thought he was such a bonehead they exterminated him. Just saying, today’s bonehead sometimes turns out to be tomorrow’s messiah.

    Your historical knowledge is to be admired, but you’ve not yet met my point. What if the poor uneducated humble folk Jesus gave his sermons to didn’t fully understand what he was saying? Doesn’t one have to almost be a saint to understand a saint? Wouldn’t a spiritual savant be, almost by definition, outside the range of those lacking such talents? Put another way, if the average man in the street could fully grasp Jesus, why do we need Jesus?

    I know you don’t mean to, but it seems to me you may be actually diminishing Jesus by assuming Gospel writers understood him.

  49. “Hmm… Text as inspired? Does that mean, “as interpreted by the clergy?” Or something else?”

    The text as written is held to be inspired from God. Interpretations of the text may be right or wrong, but they are not inspired.

  50. Given that interpretations may be right or wrong, and interpretations are all we have…

    We arrive at that old question of why God chose to communicate through a medium as weak as the human form.

    This is why I was wondering if the Bible is really more about questions than answers. That would make sense, if the goal is to keep everything up in the air so as to generate ongoing engagement. Handing the task to humans would do a good job of keeping the message sufficiently muddled so as to never be settled.

    If on the other hand God wanted to deliver “one true way” answers, why didn’t he do the job himself so it would be done right? By which I mean, in a manner indisputably uncontaminated by the imperfections of the human mind.

    Point being, the “one true way” theory seems in conflict with the way the message was delivered.

  51. “Given that interpretations may be right or wrong, and interpretations are all we have…”

    Nope, we have the text. Anyone who reads the Gospels, for example, and denies that Christ is the Son of God is in defiance of the inspired text.

    “We arrive at that old question of why God chose to communicate through a medium as weak as the human form.”

    To save us from our sins by sacrificing Himself for us.

    “If on the other hand God wanted to deliver “one true way” answers, why didn’t he do the job himself so it would be done right?”

    He did as the Second Person of the Trinity and the inspiration given to the sacred authors by the Third Person of the Trinity.

  52. “Anyone who reads the Gospels, for example, and denies that Christ is the Son of God is in defiance of the inspired text. ”

    And anyone who reads the Genesis story and denies there was a snake is in defiance of the inspired text. You’re making this too easy for me Donald.

    Yes, we have some text. But interpretation is still all we have. You just think that YOUR interpretation is the obviously one true way correct interpretation. As does everybody else.

    You want this to be lock solid fixed in stone. Ok, so again, if God wanted to deliver a rock solid fixed in stone “one true way” message that was beyond challenge, why didn’t he deliver the message in some manner that would have accomplished that?

    Why play this game where everything can be interpreted a hundred different ways by a million different people so that the meaning of the message is always up in the air?

    Please don’t reply that the message is not up in the air. If that were true, there would be no need for clergy or theologians or denominations, or this website. If the message was not up in the air there would be no point to your many writings on the subject, as everyone would already know the correct answer, and you would not be needed.

    My theory is that either 1) God didn’t inspire these writings, or 2) he did inspire them, and deliberately left the message open to a thousand different interpretations so as to engage us in endless conversation on the subject.

  53. “You just think that YOUR interpretation is the obviously one true way correct interpretation. As does everybody else.”

    No I have the dogma of the Church that the text is inspired. I also have twenty centuries of Catholic interpretation. All you have is the intellectual prejudices and fashions of the current day.

    “Ok, so again, if God wanted to deliver a rock solid fixed in stone “one true way” message that was beyond challenge, why didn’t he deliver the message in some manner that would have accomplished that?”

    Man has free will. God wants worshipers who freely choose to love and follow Him, not programed robots. You have chosen poorly and I do pity you.

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