The reason why many people find the concept of Hell so unacceptable is because they have an unbibilical and untraditional understanding of what Hell is. I have commented in more detail on how first century Judaism, akin to Orthodox Christianity, imagines Hell and Heaven to be on a spectrum. What this spectrum precisely is the “face of God.” In short, God created all things “good” (Gen 1) and to posit Hell as somewhere God created to be explicitly bad makes God an author of an evil creation. Rather, we Orthodox understand the literal rendering of the Scriptures and the teaching of the saints that Heaven and Hell are an experience of God’s eternal goodness and it is, in fact, the will of those that are damned that turns what is good into something evil.
The obstinacy of such a will for eternity is what literally constitutes eternal damnation. The sharing of this experience with other created people and fallen angels with likewise obstinate wills, I speculate, makes Hell even worse. Yet, as we can see, none of these things are God being a direct cause of man’s punishment and evils. Rather, God permits the eternity of those who by their own will cause their suffering, and I speculate, increased suffering between each other. While this might not exactly be devils with pitchforks, it is still a valid picture. The devil is no happier sticking you with his pitchfork or lashing out at you, as you would be in receiving his blows.
Hell, in a sense, is like a jailhouse. The people make it bad. The amenities in a modern jail would, in fact, make it much better than the abode of great kings in ages past. What makes it terrible is the twisted wills of those inside.
So, all of this aside, where does Augustine fit into this conversation? Augustine takes for granted that the experience of Hell exists in gradations. This concept may make more sense if one clicks on the links above. Presuming you read those links, these gradations between “really bad” and “not so bad” may be so not bad that being damned is being better than never existing! Look at what Saint Augustine says:
I do not say that children who die without baptism of Christ will undergo such grievous punishment that it were better for them never to have been born, since our Lord did not say these words of any sinner you please, but only the most base and ungodly…who can doubt that non-baptized infants, having only original sin and no burden of personal sins, will suffer the lightest condemnation of all? I cannot define the amount and kind of their punishment, but I dare not say that it were better for them to never have existed than to exist there (Against Julian, Book V, Par 44).
There are two ways to interpret the preceding. The first is the typical Calvinist approach that would say it is best the infants be damned because it shows the glory of God, or benefits those who are saved–or both. While this reading is theoretically possible, I do not think this is what Augustine is getting at.
Rather, Augustine is commenting that it is better for the infants to have “the lightest condemnation of all” than for them “to never have existed.” If the the Calvinist reading was correct, the logic would require us to say that it could have not been better for the most grievous sinners to never be born, as their punishment glorifies God and benefits the saved. So, such a reading must be wrong.
Augustine refrains from speculating precisely what such a condemnation is, but he “dare[s] not say” that to no exist would be preferable than to be in Hell!
I will conclude this post with my own speculation. Hell, quite simply, is eternal separation from God. The unbaptized, normally, are not united to Christ and therefore cannot attain to deification–hence, they do not grow closer to God for eternity. They will never look into the depths of the Light and feel the intensity of His love for eternity. This is, indeed, Hell. However, they are not going to feel the Light as harsh burning rays, brilliant and at the same time terrible. Rather, that light may bathe them and they feel quite comfortable with it. Being infants, they will not even sigh like those in the first ring of Hell in Dante’s Inferno knowing that they are missing out on salvation. Simply, they will be in a pleasant state, which is not Heavenly because there is no growing sanctification in Christ.
So, while none of this can be taken as license for wanting to go to Hell (because if you are reading this, the preceding will not apply to you), it does give us a good view of what a Saint obliquely understood what Hell is and what Hell is not.
Help Grow the Orthodox Church in Cambodia!
Has this article blessed you? Please bless the Moscow Patriarchate’s missionary efforts in Cambodia to bring the Gospel to a people who have not heard it!
It seems Augustine was more honest and humble than the John Calvin who exploited and made a hell of ideas which Augustine intended as leading toward heaven and God’s Sovereignty, but what is Good in Itself Calvin twisted into the evil and unmerciful unjust TULIP Five Points of Calvinism. Surely nothing in Augustine’s works, nothing at all is even remotely as Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and the Westminster Confession of Faith’s On the Eternal Decree of God and Double Predestination to heaven and hell.
I’ve read a lot of Augustine—a lot: On Nature and Grace, City of God, Ten Homilies Epistles of John, The Confessions, On the Predestination of Saints, Answer to Faustus the Manichean, and more. I still have only hit a fraction of the body of work.
The difficulty with Augustinianism is that the man is not monolithic in his writings. So, when someone like myself says I am Augustinian—it still needs an explanation. Of course, this why I was intrigued to know more when you referenced Augustine, what Augustine? What period of his life? What does he say in his retractions on the topic? etc.
Generally, the a good example is On the Predestination of the Saints is a very difficult treatise to read because of Augustine’s nuance. I still sit and think about the meaning of that particular text. I’m convinced that Calvin got it wrong, but there’s still so much there.
Anything that is the pelagian controversy is the last stage of Augustine’s career, written about 420 AD. So, it sums up his mature thought. Augustine does have his difficulties, in one section of Against Julian he explcitly says some baptized infants are damned and calls it a mystery. I detect in the work a slightly more harsh predestinarian bent than what he actually defends in on predestination of the saints, which is one of his last works.
In On the Gift of Perseverance, he says the same thing regarding some damned baptized.
And that was written with On the Pred. of Saints around January of 430. He dies in Aug of 430
I don’t understand your comment. Can you be a bit more specific? Are you saying that he is saying that those who are not baptized are damned? or Something different?
I am saying that he divides the world into 3 groups in those 2 final works, which were often grouped together as one in medieval mss. Those who are unbaptized and damned, baptized who are still not given the gift of perseverance and therefore are damned, and last the baptized who do get the gift of perseverance and are therefore saved.
I totally don’t remember that and I read that twice!
I don’t necessarily disagree with your short analysis. Augustine has a certain sense of complexity, I suppose that’s why he gathers interest.
I misread your comment Craig and read “baptized infants” as just “baptized.” Sorry. Yeah, that is a pretty extreme view even by late Augustine standards.
Oh, okay, yeah. If I knew that passing comment would garner more interest I’d would have taken note of the passage. It’s in book 5 of against julian. I can’t remember where, though.
Wait, I found it! Par 43 of Book V:
“Certain infants, even those baptized, He does not take from this life as adopted into the eternal kingdom, and does not confer upon them the great benefit…Yet nothing attributed to God except justice and goodness…
I suppose Augustine felt that dying with unrepented concupiscence even in an infantile state can lead to damnation? It is a very strange position, but I don’t think its mistranslated because it is part of his point in that paragraph that parents cannot be faulted for having children, even if their children are reprobates.
Yeah. I do recall that On Nature and Grace, Augustine talks about unbaptized infants going to Hell, some part that with less torment. I’d have to find it in my copy but it’s pretty early on in the treatise. So, it looks fairly consistent.
However, in Par 43 he states that even some of the baptized (!) go to Hell. Nevertheless, in the OP, Augustine explicitly describes Hell for these infants as better than not existing, which must mean it is somewhat pleasurable.
Lol must be the difference in our personalities because when I read your post and the comment I thought I suppose a little pain is better than non existence?
You be interested in giving the Orthodox perspective on All Along the Watchtower? https://jessicahof.blog
The blog is ecumenical and has now had frequent encounters with Atheist. We’ve had Orthodox in the past, but for various reason they’ve left and before my time with the blog. I’ve followed your blog for a time and you seem like a great perspective. If you’re interested, Ill send you user name to the administrator for invite as an author. You’d be free, of course, to repurpose posts from this blog (get more one times use out of them). I’m asking folks old and new to pick a day and write 500 words or even less to renew this blog, which in its second year had over 100,000 views. I’d like to see a return to those numbers.
It is well known that Augustine of Hippo was never able to overcome and to eliminate all pagan philosophy from mixing with New Testament Greek theology; therefore he read New Testament Greek theology verses in light of Latin writings it is doubtful he knew the NT in Greek and he read Romans and much in the NT in light of Persian Manichaean fatalism and predestinarianism and Gnostic Neo-Platonic philosophy, therefore people get Calvinism out of him which is damnable and which is not the New Testament meaning of Synergy and the so-called falsely so called Semi-Pelagianism of Saint John Cassian; it is likely the traditions of the true Pelagius are misrepresented and misread by Augustine no matter what the non-ecumenical council of Orange said; I am not a defender of Pelagius, but I think Augustine went too far against so called Pelagianism; but if I am wrong, and Pelagius actually taught an unprepared soul can find redemption without saving grace and by nature alone, then Pelagius was wrong.
On Sat, Dec 21, 2019 at 8:42 AM Orthodox Christian Theology wrote:
> Phillip commented: “Craig, You be interested in giving the Orthodox > perspective on All Along the Watchtower? https://jessicahof.blog The blog > is ecumenical and has now had frequent encounters with Atheist. We’ve had > Orthodox in the past, but for various reason they’ve left” >
I haven’t looked into but do Pelgius own writings survive? In Augustine’s On Nature and Grace he quotes him and part of me feels like I want to see the actual document Augustine is referencing.
Yes, his commentary on Romans survives if I recall correctly. Everything else is generally quotations from Augustine.
We do have Pelagius’ commentary on Romans, because it was preserved under Jerome’s name. It is not as “bad” as people think, which is why Jerome’s name was plausibly put as its author. Pelagius was not as bad as many “free will” baptists and even some modern Orthodox in all honesty. It appears he understood some role for grace. I think the main division was truly over original sin and ironically, that continues to be a cloudy issue in the east. This explains why Pelagians were being sheltered by Jerusalem and Constantinople until Ephesus i. Pelagians had the misfortune of drawing the hatred of Augustine, which the Popes (to keep the peace in Africa) took their side, and then chose the wrong Patriarch to ally with (Nestorius!) Hence, they were condemned by an ecumenical council and can never be really restored. I really don’t care for pelagianism but point out that mnuch of their condemnation really was political, as if you read their theology (at least Pelagius himself) it is not as extreme as some people think.
Another good example is that in earlier text Augustine seems to accept baptism of desire via Ambrose. However, On Nature and Grace, he stresses that in fact people need actual baptism. Of course, as I’ve admitted, not having read the entire corpus of work, what else he has written on the topic.
I think a lot of Westerners prefer to read Aquinas and Thomism because of its clarity, but as I remind them, it doesn’t make it correct. Leo XIII Aeterni Patris to Pope Pius XII Humani Generis gave Aquinas the preferred position of theology in the Church. However, The Nouvelle Theology of the Conciliar Church ala Ratzinger has tried to scale back this Thomism. Neo-Thomism is on the rise though in seminaries, I’ve been rebuffed by Thomist professors for not just accepting Aquinas as gospel.
You need to stop writing immediately and find a quite place, perhaps a monastery with a mature spiritual father. Perhaps simply a mountain top somewhere. What you are writing is evil and taking it seriously will destroy your soul.
Stop, you speak evil and blasphemy the Lord. Conversion is a long process. You have not yet started.
Conversion starts and ends at preaching only to oneself to convert and repent. You can’t give to others what you do not have in yourself. Conversion does not consist of telling others they are doing evil. One must avoid triumphalism and remain humble. The greatest sin is not looking at others to judge, but at failing to be critical of oneself. Do not despair and give up, but I know I have enough sin too much sin in myself to have any time to look what anyone else is doing wrong. The easiest way for me to be deceived is to fool myself. God bless and save all of you. With a little luck, and God’s mercy, may God deliver me from temptation. God save the Orthodox Church.