June 9, 2006

Be Our Guest / John Hanagan

Columnist’s response to query about
eternal damnation is disappointing

Father John Dietzen’s answer in the Question Corner column in the May 26 issue of The Criterion is puzzling.

The question concerned reconciling God’s love with eternal damnation.  Much of his response shed good light on the difficulty of a definitive answer to understanding the dilemma. But I wonder about part of his conclusions.

After stating that: “Every attempt to explain this mystery, however, to resolve the apparent contradiction fails at some point,” he further states, “First, and perhaps most important, there is fairly general agreement that biblical statements about hell, such as we find several times in the Gospels, should be interpreted more as exhortations rather than as information.”

The biblical statements about hell are merely Jesus urging us to behave rather than actual, meaningful information? Our Church does not seem to share this “general agreement.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (second edition) states in #1035, “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity.  Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’”

The catechism references earlier Church documents in this statement and related statements.

It summarizes again in #1056, “Following the example of Christ, the Church warns the faithful of the ‘sad and lamentable reality of eternal death,’ also called ‘hell.’” In this—and in related paragraphs #1033 to #1041—many Scripture passages are referenced.

And Father Dietzen’s quotes from Pope John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope are taken out of context. Father Dietzen quoted, “Can God condemn anyone to eternal punishment? The silence of the Church [on this subject] is, therefore, the only appropriate position for Christian faith,” (page 185) as further defense of the mystery.

But between these two sentences by John Paul II is the clarification, “And yet, the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel, he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment.” Continuing, Pope John Paul tells what the Church does consider a mystery: “Who will these be? The Church has never made any pronouncement in this regard.”

The pope was writing about who will go to eternal punishment, not whether there is eternal punishment. And he included Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, as an example of about whom the Church is silent.

I know that God’s love for us is difficult to fully understand at times. We mere humans will someday have all the answers, or no more questions, when we are in eternity. Meanwhile, I was disappointed with Father Dietzen’s attempt to explain God’s reason for eternal damnation.

(John Hanagan is a member of St. Luke Parish in Indianapolis.)


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