Objection: It seems that no one can be condemned forever. After all, God is Love, and love never wrongs someone. But to punish someone everlastingly is to wrong him. Therefore, no one can be condemned forever.
On the contrary: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity.” But all things that exist are created by God. And God is not evil but good. Therefore, by God’s authority, an eternal hell exists, and it is good that it exists. Therefore, it cannot be wrong to punish forever, since God does this for whoever is damned.
Objection: But perhaps no one is damned.
Response: Your first statement — with its “no one can” seems to imply the very possibility of condemnation would be an affront to God’s mercy. We have already argued against such a claim, on the authority of God’s one true Church. You seek an explanation. We will give one in a moment. But first, it is False and Heretical to say, “No one is damned.” Because the devil most certainly is damned, and all his evil angels. And he is a “one,” a person. Now, what is actual most certainly is possible.
The explanation is this. God creates rational beings with dignity, able to forge their identity, either for God or for something else. God makes them for himself. Therefore, if they choose to order themselves to themselves rather than to God, as they were made, they become flattened, deformed, muted, blinded, narrowed, constrained, monotoned, monolithic, boring, repetitive. Yes, all those who seek not to climb to God by way of the grace he lets down from the mountain peak, all these find their way lower to the center. And the center is but one little point. Littler, therefore, must they become. Darker. Narrower. Constricted. Un-breathing. But those who climb towards God with the grace he lets down from the peak, each of these becomes more unique, startling, amazing, beautiful, individual, free, glorious, committed, determined, actual. Each gains more substance. Why more unique? Do not the rays from a center expand outwards? This is the way creatures go “up” to God. Each becomes more unique, more what it was to be. Yet, also, more bonded, intimate, close. You cannot cleave to yourself. You can only cleave to an “other.” As we grow towards God, we each embrace more and more our true uniqueness. There is more “otherness” and at the same time, through the communion of love, more intimacy. The damned all return to their navel. They seek to return to the nothingness from which they arose, at God’s quickening call. Thus, they converge in the slime of undifferentiated chaos, the limit of the point of the center. Nothingness. And yet, enough of them remains that they are justly punished. Only, they are nothing much to write about any more, except to awaken the slumbering pilgrim to his possible fate.
Now, part of the dignity of this self-determination, under God’s inviting grace, is the capacity to define the self. The clay is wet for a while. There is time before the cement dries. But the essence of “to choose” is to commit, to define, to set, to become this or that. It is true that until the clay has been baked in death, there is time to repent. The pilgrim is not damned. Nonetheless, one thing is a sin of weakness. Another thing is a sin of habit. Yet another is an impenitence that refuses to leave an objectively sinful situation. Such impenitence is well nigh the pit of eternal wrath, for it participates in the very rebellion of the Damned themselves, the “NON SERVIAM” of each isolated and narrow, self-proclaimed “automaton”. Not yet condemned, those in this situation drive themselves towards it.
Hence, there is but limited time, O Man, for you to choose your way. Your self. Your end. Those who are damned have done so. Justly, then, does God execute his retributive judgment on those who choose not him.
Therefore, it is most false to say that no one can be condemned forever. It is no truly merciful and dignifying thesis. The merciful thesis is one based on truth that can be contravened by no one.
On the other hand, if we are speaking of an act ecclesiastical, such as ex-communication, then there are a number of different stories to tell. Excommunication is the sentence of punishment the Church issues in order to protect the common good of the Church. Thus, the good is real and very crucial and important to defend. But the Church does not “condemn to hell” the excommunicate, so far as I know. It is simply a juridical act within her competence. It is not in her competence, but only in God’s to send to hell. One can even say that the act of excommunication is for the good of the excommunicated, since he thereby knows how serious was his act that incurred such a woeful sentence. In short, the very act is still an act of hope. In that sense and in the sense that the Church does not judge the quick and the dead, the excommunicated is not condemned forever.