Pope Francis on the nature of Hell

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Pope Francis has a buddy, Eugenio Scalfari, who is founder of the liberal newspaper Repubblica, and who professes to be an atheist. Periodically, the two of them meet for conversation and, later, Scalfari, without the need of obtaining taken notes at the meeting, publishes what he understood Francis to have mentioned. Reading about the report on what Francis had mentioned about hell, a single of my pals expressed concern about what he had study to a different of my pals, who asked for my comment. This is an essential topic, and I believed the scenario deserved some reflection in a weblog post.

The portion of the interview that troubled the 1st buddy is translated as follows:

[Scalfari:] “Your Holiness, in our earlier meeting you told me that our species will disappear in a specific moment and that God, nevertheless out of his inventive force, will produce new species. You have by no means spoken to me about the souls who died in sin and will go to hell to endure it for eternity. You have on the other hand spoken to me of fantastic souls, admitted to the contemplation of God. But what about terrible souls? Exactly where are they punished?”

[Francis:] “They are not punished, these who repent acquire the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but these who do not repent and can not as a result be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”[emphasis supplied]

In regard to that report, I created the following comments:

Poor Francis has taken a lot of flack for purportedly obtaining mentioned this, but we will need to retain in thoughts the origin of the report, remembering that we can not take it as a verbatim account of the Pope’s words. This point was created by Sandro Magister, a Vatican watcher, in L’Espresso. He begins out as follows:

In the preface to a book that presents eight of his interviews, just out in bookstores, Francis has lifted the veil on a couple of rather fascinating points.

At a specific point the pope writes:

“Sometimes in my interviewers I have noted – even in these who say they are really far from the faith – terrific intelligence and erudition. And even, in some instances, the capacity to let themselves be touched by the ‘touch’ of Pascal. This moves me, and I treasure it significantly.”

The 1st is in reality far more a confirmation than a revelation. It is his affectionate esteem for Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the newspaper “la Repubblica.” He is, in reality, the interviewer “very far from the faith” to whom Francis is referring.

The two meet when or twice a year, at Santa Marta, and it is virtually often the pope who invites his buddy. The conversation requires location without the need of Scalfari recording any of it. And in the following days he publishes an account, adhering to the following criteria as he explained when to the Foreign Press of Rome, reporting these words that he mentioned to the pope at the finish of the 1st conversation:

“I will reconstruct the account of the dialogue in such a way that it can be understood by all. Some points you have mentioned to me I will not report. And some of the points I will attribute to you, you did not say them, but I will place them there so that the reader may well recognize who you are.”

The impact of this liberty of transcription is that Scalfari has confidently attributed to Francis not a handful of “revolutions,” the newest of which is the abolition of hell, purgatory, and heaven. Without having the pope ever obtaining felt it his duty to appropriate or deny something.

My personal sense is that Francis is a bit of a loose cannon. I uncover myself rather ambivalent about him. I’m delighted at his warmth toward evangelicals, his want to clean property inside the Vatican, and his frequent demonstration of the spirit of Christ with regard to the poor and oppressed. If I had been a Roman Catholic, on the other hand, I’d be fairly nervous about him, since he does look to threaten Catholic orthodoxy rather often, and I have a tendency to be respectful of tradition.

With regard to the punishment of the wicked, I’d be delighted if Francis departs from Roman Catholic tradition’s belief in hell as eternal conscious torment and affirms a far more biblical view of God’s punishment of the wicked as death. But I’m dissatisfied with the terminology Scalfari represented as coming from Francis, even though I am cautious about in fact crediting it to Francis. Two points in distinct, which come up in my friend’s quote, I would want to state far more biblically:

Initially, it is unhelpful to refer to the wicked as “disappearing.”

Annihilationists are often frustrated by the way tormentists describe our position, representing it as the belief that God causes the wicked to be totally obliterated. That may well, in reality, be what takes place when God no longer sustains the existence of some of his creatures, but it has by no means been the point of annihilationism. Although it may possibly be viewed as a plausible representation of what takes place when God “destroys each physique and soul in hell,” as Jesus warned us God will do (Mt 10:28), we need to not ignore or suppress the all-natural analogy in between the 1st and second death.

The 1st death, which we all knowledge, is a deprivation of life, but the lifeless corpse does not disappear and, even immediately after decomposition has occurred, there is continuing physical existence. What I hear Jesus saying in Matthew 10 is that the second death is analogous to the 1st, but it is far more complete. Even the wicked, immediately after physical death, go to Hades, and I think that they continue to exist consciously and personally, even though unembodied (unless there is an intermediate physique, which may well properly be the case) till they are bodily resurrected at the return of Christ. The second death, by analogy, will need not be interpreted as condemnation to total non-existence or disappearance, but it definitely connotes the thoroughgoing deprivation of life by way of destruction. From the second death, which is the final destiny of all who are not raised “with Christ” from the 1st death, there is no second resurrection. The wicked are permanently deprived of all life. That is the oft-recurring witness of Scripture.

What drives annihilationism is a commitment to represent the overwhelming teaching of Scripture that, as Paul place it, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom six:23). This was clear in the garden of Eden, when God prohibited Adam and Eve from consuming of the fruit of the tree of the expertise of fantastic and evil (Gen two:17), and that message is repeatedly declared all through the rest of Scripture. When they, and all their posterity, incurred death by way of sin, they lost their correct to consume of the tree of life. Only the redeemed will consume of the fruit of that tree, when God establishes the new earth, and only these who have been provided the correct to consume that tree will appreciate eternal life and God’s present of immortality. Permanent or everlasting death is the punishment of all who reject God’s grace in Christ. I am convinced that no a single reading the Old Testament, without the need of the presupposition of a Platonic view of the immortality of the soul, would ever derive from it the conclusion that the wicked are eternally consciously tormented.

Via Platonic influence, the solution of endless torment arose inside second temple Judaism, alongside annihilationism. Amongst the early fathers of the church, some really essential theologians (e.g. Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, and Athanasius) continued to voice the non-Platonic conviction that human souls are not intrinsically immortal, but that God provides immortality or eternal life only to these who are in Christ, by grace by way of faith. I have really higher regard for Augustine, but I regret that he drank the Platonic Kool-help with regard to intrinsic immortality, and that error necessitated the belief in endless consciousness of punishment. Offered Augustine’s big influence inside the church, tormentism became the dominant position, even though not without the need of challenge along the way. The persistence of belief in tormentism, or conscious separationism, even amongst evangelical theologians who deny the indestructibility of the human soul, and who grant that persons would not exist if God did not actively continue to give them life, continues to be extensively confessed. This is really surprising, considering the fact that its biblical grounds are so slim, basically resting on two apocalyptic texts in Revelation (Rev 14:11 and 20:10), which are then study without the need of regard to the Old Testament texts upon which John was clearly drawing in his account of the revelation of Christ to him.

So, if Francis is affirming the biblical affirmation that eternal punishment requires the type of death, then he is on far more strong biblical ground than the tormentist tradition.

Second, to assert that eternal punishment is death, is not to reject the doctrine of hell

The statement that “there is no hell,” provides an extraordinarily incorrect portrait of classic annihilationism. Sadly, if Francis wanted to affirm annihilationism, such language would echo the all also frequent charge created by tormentists that “annihilationists do not think in hell.” At operate in this statement is a nasty rhetorical maneuver. Initially, hell is defined as which means precisely what tormentists think it to be: the endless conscious torment of the unrepentant. By definition, as a result any individual who rejects eternal conscious torment denies the existence of “hell.”  But, of course, biblically faithful annihilationists do think in hell, which the New Testament refers to as Gehenna. It is the location to which God consigns the wicked immediately after God’s final judgment day. All orthodox Christians think that it is a location of divine punishment, to which God justly condemns all who are persistently rebellious and unbelieving. It is often described in terms of fire, but lots of who determine themselves as holding the “traditional” view of hell give that fire a metaphorical reading (e.g. William Crockett, “The Metaphorical View,” in 4 Views on Hell, 43-76).

Consequently, it would be really misleading to say of Pope Francis that he believes that “there is no hell,” even if he rejects the classic view of the Catholic church which is ordinarily understood to be describing hell as eternal conscious torment. Contemplate, for instance, the statement on “Hell” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Write-up 1035 states:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Promptly immediately after death the souls of these who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, exactly where they endure the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was produced and for which he longs.

Notice that “eternal fire” is place in quotation marks, which I take to indicate at least allowance for a metaphorical understanding. This is confirmed by the proposal that “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.” To say that, is not a rejection of the doctrine of hell, it is to define its nature or which means. If Francis believes that God will use the suffering of punishment in hell to bring about the eventual destruction (eternal death) of the wicked, he has not denied that hell exists, even though he has reoriented the description of its nature.

What I uncover intriguing, as I reread the section in the Catholic Catechism now, is how often I uncover myself in a position to affirm its statement. It starts this way, in Write-up 1033:

We can not be united with God unless we freely opt for to adore him. But we can not adore God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not adore remains in death. Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” [1 Jn 3:14-15].

Nicely, I say “amen,” as Francis can nevertheless do, even if he becomes an annihilationist. In reality, it seems to me that annihilationism is far more clearly affirmed right here than “tormentism.” 1 John three clearly denies that the wicked have eternal life, however proponents of eternal conscious torment (or eternal conscious separation) consistently insist that the wicked do reside endlessly. Francis, if annihilationist, appears far more in line with the catechism at this point than the tormentist does.

Write-up 1033 goes on:

Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the severe demands of the poor and the tiny ones who are his brethren [cf. Mt 25:31-46]. To die in mortal sin without the need of repenting and accepting God’s merciful adore implies remaining separated from him for ever by our personal absolutely free option. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is known as “hell.”

As an annihilationist I can confirm this statement without the need of reservation, and so could Francis. To me, Write-up 1033 appears far more representative of annihilationism than of tormentism. To be separated from God, the sole supply of life, would inevitably bring about death. So eternal life can only be the knowledge of these who are united with God by faith in Christ. Eternal conscious torment, in such a context, appears really out of location. Possibly Francis is drawn to annihilationism, and possibly he reads the Catechism with a clear conscience, nonetheless. As I contemplate the Catholic Catechism now, I in fact uncover myself far better in a position to affirm it than I would have been had I remained a tormentist.

Moving on to the subsequent item on “The Final Judgment,” Write-up 1038 cites Mt 25:31, 32, 46. Matthew 25:46 (“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life”), in distinct, sounds to a tormentist like an affirmation of the view that sinners are eternally consciously conscious of becoming punished by God. But Francis may possibly justly point out that the death which benefits from eternal exclusion from God’s presence is an endless death, and therefore an “eternal punishment.” I am doubtful that Francis stated to Scalfari that the wicked are “not punished.” It is attainable, I suppose, that what Francis had in thoughts is the statement in Write-up 1033 that the unbelief of the wicked is “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God” (emphasis supplied). On the other hand, Mt 25:46 and a multitude of other scriptures speak of God “punishing” the wicked, so that appears unlikely. What stands out to me most vividly is that the contrast Jesus tends to make is in between life and death, not in between life and torment. Nonetheless, each the life of the righteous and the death of wicked are eternal.

We are not probably to get any additional elucidation from Francis himself. If I had been a conservative Catholic, I may possibly be concerned about him, but as an evangelical Protestant I uncover it encouraging to feel that Francis may possibly be permitting Scripture itself, rather than a extended held classic understanding of Scripture, to shape his belief about hell. That he is a brother in Christ, I am consistently inclined to really feel. But if he is a kindred spirit theologically, I uncover that a great deal significantly less apparent. Nonetheless, what God is undertaking in that really substantial segment of the Christian church in our day, in and by way of Pope Francis, is some thing I can only watch with a sense of cautious hopefulness for fantastic benefits.

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