There are questions that gnaw at me, day and night. Lately they have become a loud roar, one that I cannot ignore. The basis for the problems these questions raise is the idea of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) as promoted by all but a very small segment of Christianity. With that as our focus – the idea that when men and women die, they will possibly be sentenced to a never-ending existence of shrieking torment – let us ask the following questions:
- How do certain Christians get off saying “O blessed fault….” regarding the fall of Adam into sin if that fall means the eternal torment of millions (perhaps billions) of conscious souls? I guess if you aren’t the one shrieking and tearing at your skin in torment, then the fact that Adam fell so that we could have a Savior is a blessing. I think this is an exercise in extreme selfishness. Put the shoe on the other foot. How would you feel about that pithy little saying if it was you who was going to find himself condemned forever? Perhaps the fall of Adam might not appear such a jolly good thing after all!
2. Why did the Western Church decide that Augustine’s musings on eternal damnation represented truth? When other men had come up with theological novums, such as Christ not being one with God, (i.e. denying the Trinity), or the circumcision issue settled at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), their ideas were not accepted with readiness by the Church, especially since these ideas went against all that had been taught up to that time. Augustine’s eternal hell of torment, and his bizarre idea of an “elect of God” who alone would benefit from Christ’s death on the Cross, cut across 500 years of the teaching of universalism. Why did the Western Church run to this so eagerly without so much as an ecumenical council to determine if this was truth?
3. Here’s a serious one for me. Scripture states that the Church is the “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Timothy 3: 15), and that teaching has been used for 2, 000 year by the Church to teach people that the truth is not found in our own musings, but in the expressions of the faith as declared by the Church. If, then, if the Church abandoned Patristic Universalism for ECT, and Patristic Universalism was taught as truth for 500 years until Augustine’s writings torpedoed them, then where did the Church go? If Universal Salvation is not true, then Jesus lied about the Church and it keeping the truth for us. (Jesus cannot lie) And if it is true, then where did the Church that keeps the truth go to, since the Church is now teaching Augustine’s strange ideas of eternal torment? Do you see the problem I am having here? Either way, the Roman Catholic Church comes out looking very bad here.
This is no small matter. Christ described human beings with a most unflattering analogy, comparing us to sheep, meaning that we are so dumb we cannot take care of ourselves without a shepherd. Our natural state is darkness due to the fallen state we are in. We therefore must have shepherd to protect us, a light to guide us. That shepherd is the Church, the congregation of believers in which there are bishops who hold the apostolic offices which were promised to be led into all truth (John 16:13). The Church is given to us to care for us, guide us, and direct us. Dereliction of that duty is a serious matter, and the leadership is a serious matter, for look what happens when men think on their own – 40,000 denominations all claiming to follow the Bible and be led of the Holy Spirit, and yet disagreeing with one another on important doctrinal issues.
The Roman Catholic Church has officially denied Universal Salvation by insisting in it’s Catechism of the Catholic Church that torment and suffering for the damned are eternal in nature. This means that if Universal Salvation is true, as per the Early Fathers of the Church, then the Roman Church has wandered off the reservation and is not the Church, as the Holy Orthodox state in their literature. They are at best heterodox, but in that sense even, not worth listening to. The horrendous images of visions supposedly given by God to RCC saints should be taken up, burned and recanted if Universal Salvation is true, and one wonders what purpose and to what end these visions of dire torment served the leadership of the RCC Church? Just because men are in power and wear clerical garb does not exempt them from wretched behaviors and devious plots. There is an entire history of such behavior within the RCC, which does not speak well for them at all.
4. Did the surrounding culture of Rome, and the pagan elements therein, contribute to the changing of the doctrine of Universalism into ECT? Is the Roman Church, as some Orthodox writers insist, a synthesis of pagan and Christian teachings? If paganism did in some way influence the Roman Church, then what happens to the promise of Christ regarding His protection of the Church from error?
5. Suppose ECT is true? What does it say then of the character of God that He would allow the evil one to tempt, trick, deceive, and ensnare simple sheep into doctrines and behaviors which the RCC and Protestant churches say will lead one into a state of eternal, conscious torment from which there is no relief? To allow such a thing, especially since by ourselves and with no outside help, we are entirely disposed to do wrong, is the action of One who does not want to save all souls, but rather the actions of a malevolent being who neither cares for all souls nor wants all to be saved as the Sacred Scriptures state.
6. And what happened to the Orthodox Church of the East that these pictures of torment would take hold and the historical teaching of Patristic Universalism be scrapped? It is said of the Orthodox Fathers that when they received and read Augustine’s writings, they reacted with dismay at the errors in it, but by the time it reached them, the teachings had taken firm hold in the West (again, without any resort to an ecumenical council to discuss Augustine’s new ideas) and were accepted as truth. Yet they contradicted 500 years of Holy Tradition. Why did Holy Orthodoxy run to accept them, so that even today, to suggest that Patristic Universalism is true in the presence of most Orthodox priests is to be denounced as a heretic.
The bottom line is this: I want a Father who is forgiving and corrective of my faults, not excusing them, but responding with corrective scourging which is A.) proportional to my sins, errors, and mistaken decisions, and B.) designed to lovingly change me into the image of Christ rather than roast me over some hellfire forever. Who wants a Father who is presented as a borderline psychotic gleefully enjoying the torments of those wayward children who opposed Him in the darkness of this life? (Aquinas’s description of how the redeemed will enjoy the suffering of the damned) Perhaps this presentation of God is why the RCC has been losing members and has so many on their rolls who are not very dedicated to the faith. Perhaps. I can’t say for sure, but the Medieval pictures of Dante’s Inferno are not exactly designed to inculcate a sense of love in the hearts of most readers or joy in the salvation of Christ. Terror of doing wrong is more like it, to the point that a person can be filled with fear that he has committed a “mortal sin” by having one spoonful too many of Hagen-Daz, thus wandering into gluttony and damnation.
I wrote in my very first post that I need to trust the Church, but the more I study, the more devastated I am becoming by the manner in which the Western Church to which I belong has me looking towards the East as my last hope for a Church which will be my shepherd and the light of my soul.
I do not think I can anymore find it in the West.