Fewtril: Grim Expectations

The gospel is, as everyone knows, “good news.” What is too often nowadays forgotten is that, for news to be good, expectations must have been grim. The doctor telling me that I have every chance of living to see my grandchildren is “good news” only when I had been living in the shadow of a diagnosis of galloping morbidity. “Good news” is sunshine breaking through a wrack of ominous clouds, not the promise of another hour of sunshine on a beautiful afternoon. If it is to be “good,” the news of the gospel must therefore stand out against a background of exceedingly grim expectations. A pardon from the governor is, after all, “good news” only to a prisoner, and most especially to a prisoner who is pining and fretting through his last hour on death row. And the grim expectation against which the information related in the gospel stands out as good is, of course, certainty of damnation and the suffering of eternal torments in Hell. To read the gospel as gospel, a man’s eyes, nose and throat must be burning with the stinking fumes of brimstone. Otherwise it’s just a story.

23 thoughts on “Fewtril: Grim Expectations

  1. Pingback: Fewtril: Grim Expectations | Aus-Alt-Right

  2. The bad news is that I’m a rotten sinner deserving Hell.

    The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way.

    The worse news is that even if I escape Hell, most of the people around me who I know and care about will probably be damned anyways.

    Is there a good news for the worse news?

    • That’s a good question and one that has been asked before. It is impossible to believe while walking through this vale of tears, but one must suppose that, in the uplands of Heaven, it will not matter. The beatific vision must be perfectly satisfying, and so in no way diminished by regrets that this or that person is not there to share it. I once read of a medieval document that that described the sweet savor to the blessed of the smell of flesh roasting in Hell. I still think the image that still strikes me as excessive, since it suggests that sadism somehow spices the beatific vision, but it does have a point.

  3. I guess God makes us forget in Heaven?

    BTW, is physical torture in Hell an infallible, de fide teaching of the Church? I remember it being taught in the Baltimore Catechism but can’t remember it in the overly long CCC.

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  5. Christ’s parable of Lazarus safely in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man in hell-flames invites us to imagine the latter as a human being like ourselves in the midst of flames that are like flames as we know them.
    It could be so, but, first, let’s consider whether the main point of the parable is something that is sometimes forgotten, having to due with warning sinners of God’s wrath. They have Moses and the prophets (the Old Testament); if they won’t believe the Old Testament, they won’t believe even if someone came from the dead to warn them. The parable, in other words, seems primarily to be a testimony by Our Lord to the power and sufficiency of the Bible. Apologetics, I believe, is a worthy endeavor. But we must remember that God’s Word is what has His promise attached to it.
    OK. So, if the main point of the parable isn’t a glimpse of what existence hereafter is like, then perhaps we can go on to speculate a little–always humbly keeping close to the Bible, and never affirming speculation as doctrine; and we may consider the topic of what it is that is in hell.
    We know from the Bible that “it does not appear what we [the saved] shall be” in heaven. We can’t imagine it.
    It may well be that we also cannot imagine what it is to be a damned creature.
    Both the saved and the lost are resurrected. We know that from the Bible. The former are raised to glory, the latter to shame and corruption.
    What I’m driving at is that Arakawa and many of us may be troubled by the thought of hell because we imagine a person like ourselves imagining those eternal torments. Then we wonder how anyone could be an heir of perfect joy in heaven, with the knowledge of Uncle Oscar suffering terribly in hell.
    But will “Uncle Oscar” as we knew him be in hell? Will not everything that made him the Uncle Oscar we loved be gone? There will be “something” in hell. But I’m questioning whether it will be something that is *in any way* pitiable. I suppose that what is suffering in hell is what is left of Uncle Oscar after his resurrection to damnation, to shame, to corruption. Thus what is in hell is irredeemable. There’s nothing at all “in” it that anyone could pity. It is, I suppose, nothing but an obscenity. What it is “like” to *be* this thing we cannot imagine, not even if some have had true visions of hell.
    That thing will, certainly, be suffering. We can’t imagine, we in this terrestrial life, what it would be for something to be capable of suffering but utterly beyond the pity of God or angel or saint.
    I think of a passage in Dante’s Inferno in which Virgil reproaches the pilgrim for pity for a damned soul. But later, Dante the pilgrim kicks one of the damned and Virgil commends his act. For me the solution to this has been that the damned in the Inferno have lost everything except their sin.
    So imagine a sin you most abhor, say, the sadistic torment of infants. Now imagine that sin “embodied.” You would righteously hate it and joy that it suffers.
    I wonder if it is not like that with the damned, that they have become what they chose, in their corrupted wills, and there is nothing left but their sin, no longer restrained, no longer possessing a partial control of the creature, but rather, the creature is “consumed” by the sin. What is in hell is thoroughly hateful, utterly worthy of hate. We know no such creature in this terrestrial life, though we know of such. (I suppose a few have had encounters with satan, but mercifully most of us have encountered the evil one only indirectly, as it were.) So, as we cannot imagine what it is to be a damned thing, similarly we cannot — CANNOT — imagine what it is righteously to hate a damned thing. And perhaps the saints in heaven have no awareness of such things after all, anyway, and have no hate. But if they do, perhaps these sentences help a little wirth the intellectual and moral “problem.”
    And, as C. S. Lewis wrote in the chapter on Hell in his book The Problem of Pain, we need to remember that when we think of the damned in hell, we are thinking of our own destiny apart from the free gift of salvation that is ours through the mercy of Jesus Christ the Lord.

    • I agree that we must avoid overly literal interpretations of what must be symbolic representations of supernatural states of being. However, we must also remember that scripture and tradition approve these symbols as the most fitting that can be found in the world of terrestrial experience. So my reading of such symbols is that the thing symbolized is not exactly like that, but thinking of it as if it were exactly like that is a proper guide to conduct. Your description of the reduced state of poor Uncle Oscar is interesting and helpful, but I think you may be pushing this too far. It seems to me that Uncle Oscar must remain a subject of experience or his being in Hell does’t have much point.

    • One need not a fire to burn inside and out. He need not an intensifying terror to torment. Even insufferable heat isn’t necessary to his exhausting agony. All that is needed is his desire for radical autonomy and he can burn without fire, torment without terror and agonize with coolness.

      Hell IS radical autonomy and “man’s” desire for self-annihilation.

      And in so many ways, Hell as God’s “sadistic” creation versus man’s free willed desired “destination” JUST MUST BE the work of the Babblers.

  6. @JM – The Gospels are for all time, and the good news is for all time. That it is *good* news is the basic datum of Christianity. If we (as individuals, or as a church) don’t perceive the Gospels as good news *whatever our situation* then we have profoundly misunderstood them. If so, we need to think again.

    • @ Bruce – I agree. The gospels are good news whatever our situation, provided we actually apprehend what our situation is.

      On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been meaning to write to you with a question. I’ve been following developments on Albion Awakening with interest, along with related posts on your home blog. As you may recall, I’m a cultural geographer by profession, and so very interested in rumination along these lines. I haven’t read everything, and so may have missed it, but I’m wondering if you have an opinion of Stephen Graham’s 1917 novel Priest of the Ideal. It’s a new discovery for me. One character expresses the theme of the book when he says, “there are some spots in England that are, in a national sense, holy ground.” From what I’ve read so far, it’s not a literary masterwork, but Graham’s heart seems to be in the right place.

      • @JW –
        “The gospels are good news whatever our situation, provided we actually apprehend what our situation is.”

        – Yes, but that situation does not need to be “certainty of damnation and the suffering of eternal torments in Hell.”. I think we need to recall that God is both the creator and our wholly loving Father – and our understanding of the Human Condition must reflect both these facts.

        wrt Priest of the ideal by Stephen Graham; I’m afraid I’ve never before heard of the book, or the author – it does sound like an interesting subject, but it takes a lot to make me read a 422 page novel these days!

    • St. Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 2) that “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” St. Paul’s “we” is either himself, the apostle, or “we Christians.” I’m not sure who “we” are in Dr. Charlton’s comment, our “whatever our situation” means….

  7. JMSmith, your remarks on Stephen Graham caught my attention. He sounds like an interesting person. I have ordered a copy of his book With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem.

    • I have begun reading Stephen Graham’s With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem (1913). The first few pages (Prologue) are prompted misgivings–but then the book starts with the pilgrims on board a boat at Constantinople, and Graham writes about what they’re doing and saying, and it’s really appealing if you have any susceptibility to Holy Russia.

      Dale Nelson

      • Thanks for the report. I’ve read a few chapters in Europe-Whither Bound, including one on Constantinople in the early 1920s, when it was packed with Russian refugees. He has a good eye and an engaging style.

      • I browsed through Graham’s Priest of the Ideal, and your note reminds me that I meant to dig deeper into the man. As Alan’s new post says, there are great treasures to be found in old books.

  8. Extollager just put me onto Stephen Graham, too, following your mention and discussion here, for which, thanks – he sounds very interesting in various contexts!


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