Hell Saves: What?

That’s right, hell saves. The doctrine of hell, that is, saves many souls. So argues Garrigou-Lagrange.

I cite from his little book Everlasting Life, p. 97:

There is today an unwillingness to preach [about hell], and therefore people often forget revealed truth that is very salutary. They do not give attention to the truth that the fear of hell is the beginning of wisdom and the beginning of conversion. They forget that, in this sense, hell has saved many souls.

Someone might object: But that is negative. We should be positive. Start with the positive. And doesn’t perfect love cast out all fear? So, isn’t all fear of punishment evil? Isn’t it selfish?

Let us calmly reason. First, to love one’s own life is not “selfish” but just natural. And good. And God gives us this love of self in giving us life. Hence, his commandment to love neighbor is premised on love of self: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” So, let us get this clear and very clear. Recent heretics reject love of self, and then they prey on your inveterate love of self to make you hate yourself. (It is what certain “leaders” are doing with nations, when they say that all efforts to protect borders are evil.) This is very perverse and we must return to it in another post. Second, to fear what opposes your good is itself good. If I don’t fear the lion, I do not love myself. I am thus unnatural, sick. Third, hell indeed opposes my good. So, I should fear it. Fourth, whoever is not yet justified, not yet holy, does not have charity for God above all things. When you are reaching out to this person, you cannot appeal to the charity they do not have. You have to appeal to something they love naturally. They naturally love their own good and what they think will constitute their happiness. So, you can argue it out with them that none of these things will deliver. And further, if they believe in God and his providence, you can remind them of his coming judgment and the possibility of hell. Fear of hell can motivate them to stop sinning. This is not yet love of God, but it is better not to fornicate than to fornicate. It is a step in the right direction in this sense: It is to stop stepping in the wrong direction. Fifth, so many saints began their journeys this way. Teresa was shown hell. Ignatius begins the Exercises with mediation on hell. Dante teaches us by taking us down to hell. Newman – O Kindly Light – is very sober about true religion. True religion shows us hell before it shows us heaven. That is Newman. Newman! (See Grammar, chapter 10).

Lastly: Yes, the fear of hell is a sign that one is not yet perfect. But since we should accompany sinners, we should start where they are at. If they are not yet perfect saints, we should remind them of hell, or inform them of hell. “But in the proper context.” Yes, of course; this is obvious. It need not be stated. We get it. The context is important. Namely, One God, creator of all, freely made us and calls us, we sinned, he redeems; we balk, he calls; etc. BUT DO WE PRESUME ON THE GRACE OF HIS KINDNESS? DO WE NOT REALIZE THAT HIS KINDNESS IS MEANT FOR OUR REPENTANCE, SO THAT WE MIGHT STAND ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT WHEN HE JUDGES THE SECRETS OF HEARTS? (ROMANS, CHAPTER 2)

4 thoughts on “Hell Saves: What?

  1. You are making me want to get this book. (But I have read Fr Shouppe on this years ago). I have never read this author I don’t believe.

    1. It is very good; readable and sound. Schouppe is also good. I find G-Lagrange a bit more balanced on each page. What I mean is that he knows you have time only for 20 minutes of reading. So, he gets the good news in there just after the bad news — so to speak. He always closes with an edifying story of some deathbed convert or someone who rose to heroic virtue. Very pastoral in that sense.

  2. This is a particular issue that frustrates me. For certain persons to obfuscate the Church’s teaching on hell out of excessive “pastoral concern” is to obfuscate Her lofty teaching on the power of grace and the boundless magnanimity of God’s help. If grace does not save us from any real or ordinarily encountered plights, it is irrelevant to the ordinary Christian life. To not know that one should ordinarily rely on grace is to not know to ordinarily exercise acts of theological hope. And to not ordinarily exercise acts of theological hope is to be exposed to despair or presumption in one’s weakest moments.

    But through the lens of theological hope, there is a practically endless treasury of supernatural helps — and many of them are all so very near through simple acts of prayer! There’s little need to fear preaching about hell unless one neglects to preach also the power of divine grace and theological hope. Really, without preaching on hell, one is spurning the latter truths by preventing their traction; and worse, one is blocking the hearts of the spiritually needy from the haste and power of God’s generosity. It probably is not the best of ideas to stand in the wake of Christ’s vehement thirst for the salvation of especially impoverished souls. It would be better for a millstone to be tied…

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