27 November 2019, The Tablet

Topic of the week: Theology at the gates of hell


No, David Bentley Hart, “we” do not love hell (16 November).

Many scholars reduce hell to purgatory, to limbo, to Sheol, or to the person’s annihilation. Except for a Fundamentalist minority, Westerners rarely think of hell – and if they do, they ridicule and reject it. Scripture, the majority of the Fathers, and both the constant conciliar and theological traditions, teach authoritatively that hell exists, that it is eternal, and that it begins immediately at the sinner’s death.

I have argued (Theological Studies, March 2014: 75:52-73) that an orthodox contemporary theology could understand hell as the eternally loving presence of God, Christ, angels, saints, animals, vegetation, and material creation to the eternally obdurate, whose use of their freedom has rendered them incapable of receiving and responding to this loving presence. Yet, with some contemporary theologians and congruent with recent statements by the magisterium, I have the hope that all will be saved. Divine Love who creates out of nothing respects human freedom but may very well outwit it.

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