Garrigou-Lagrange continues. It is commonly argued today that punishment is evil. If one accepts that punishment is necessary, one says, “It is a necessary evil.”
This is a very lamentable set of theses. First, not all punishment is evil; some punishment is just. And justice is good. Ergo, some punishment is good, and not to punish in such cases is evil. Let us offer the argument in a moment.
Second, there is no such thing as a “necessary evil” if by evil we mean moral evil. It is never licit (morally right) to commit an evil act. It is always evil to commit evil. Ergo, if punishment were morally evil, it could not be “necessary”. What a sad pickle one is in if one thinks punishment a necessary evil, for one will punish — and rightly so, at least sometimes — and yet hate oneself in the process — wrongly so, at least some times.
Why is punishment sometimes necessary? Well, sin is a disturbance of Right Order. Right Order, such as that of a family or city or state, has a certain “being.” Now, things want to preserve themselves in being. Disturbances threaten the existence of the order. Just as a lion will defend itself when attacked, so a society will. Whereas the lion’s action is instinctual, society’s ought to be governed by reason. It is rational to defend a society against unjust attack. We are defining the disturbance as unjust. So, disturbances ought to be put down.
This is what we call punishment. The primary aim of the punishment, then, is the restoration of order to the society. This aim is achieved if the offender is punished. The offender might benefit from the punishment, and amend his ways and so contribute to societal order after his liberation. Or he might never repent. His repentance or not bears on him, not on the just society itself. In this sense: Even should he not repent, if he is adequately punished, the societal order stands. The act of punishment can be already just in itself, even before / apart from his repentance.
Punishment can be medicinal for the criminal; that is the outcome to hope for. But medicinal change is NOT the justification for punishment. It is already just and necessary apart from that possible outcome, provided that the medicinal change is hoped for and made possible in those situations in which it is not impossible.
Well, then, Hell is a just punishment, although it is not medicinal for the criminal. It’s existence is, however, salutary for the living, since, fearing damnation, they might repent before it is too late. See Rom 2.