4 February 2014

Longing for the damnation of others

I saw this post over at New Liturgical Movement.  The guts of the article is that the BBC is reporting that a minor controversy has been sparked after a Serbian Orthodox church had a mural painted that among other things,  depicted Tito, Marx and Engels in Hell.  Here's the picture.

They're the ones more or less in the middle of the picture.  As the New Liturgical Movement pointed out, while some attention has been paid to the depiction of Communists in Hell, no mention has been made of the larger image of church officials and rich people being swallowed by Leviathan or Behemoth.

My own comments are thus:

1. Placing one's enemies in Hell is old tradition among the Catholics.  Think of the entirety of Dante's Inferno.  More amusingly, if that's the appropriate term, is Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgement, where, in the lower right corner, we see this man:

He is officially Minos, the Judge of the Damned, but Michelangelo has painted him with the features of Baigio da Cesena, the Papa; Master of Ceremonies.   Master da Cesena had complained bitterly about Michelangelo painting nudes on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, and Michelangelo ultimately responded by painting among the damned with donkey ears (the symbol of a fool),  wrapped in a serpents tail, with a snake gnawing on his genitals.  Legend has it that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the Pope responded:  "Ah, had he painted you in Purgatory, I could have done something, but once thou art in Hell, thou art beyond redemption."

2.  For some reason, it calls to mind the recent little kerfuffle between Voris and Fr Barron, and eventually Shea, about the Church's teaching on damnation.  That teaching, as I understand it, tells us that the Church lives in the Hope that all will be saved, but also in the knowledge that this is unlikely.  Furthermore, while the Church may definitively state that some are in heaven, it has no authority to declare any particular person as damned.  According to Church teaching- as I understand it- one may imagine Hell as full or as empty as one pleases.  For some reason, we then tend to get Hell Maximalists and Hell Minimalists.  Both positions are dangerous.

The minimalist position removes all burdens from believers and non alike, for all will be saved and no one is damned and at the end, no matter how bad we may have been in life, we will all spend eternity in a heaven filled with bright golden sunshine and unicorns.

The maximalist position is dangerous for other reasons. There are some people who actually rather relish- I can think of no other word for it- the idea that some person they hated is now and forevermore roasting in the pit.   They desire someone, usually whomever their idea of Most. Evil. Person. Ever.is, be well and truly damned.  I believe it is a mistake to hold for such a desire.  It calls to mind the words of CS Lewis:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything -- God and our friends and ourselves included -- as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

 We do not know the ends others make.  We cannot know how they faced their judgement, and what judgement they received.   If we were to find at our own judgement that someone we thought of as irredeemably evil was in fact redeemed and lives on now in heaven, would we walk out rather than spend eternity in bliss in such company, or rejoice in the Grace that saves?

Remember this: It is one thing to recognize and fear that someone was heading in the wrong direction.  It is another to hope they followed that path to completion.  Only demons long for more souls in Hell.

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