Questions Answered

  • Is it true that Hell is not a permanent condition?
  • Are there any clear statements in Scripture that homosexuality is a sin and unnatural?

Question: Is it true that Hell is not a permanent condition?

 Answer: The question of the existence of Hell is an essential one. This is also connected to the question of death and judgment. The problem first concerns the time of judgment and what the nature of that judgment is. Some contemporary theologians, following Karl Rahner after Vatican II, posited the fact that the only real personal act any human being makes takes place at the moment of death, which is different from clinical death, and not yet the same as the afterlife.  Ladislas Boros summarizes it well: “Death is man’s first completely personal act, and is, therefore, by reason of its very being, the center of all others for the awakening of consciousness, for freedom, for the encounter with God, for the final decision about one’s final destiny” (The Mystery of Death, 1965, 165). The reason is that man does not have a body anymore, but mysteriously, these theologians maintain that he is not yet at the end of his pilgrimage. For them, this is an encounter with Christ, when man makes his only really personal act.  Presumably, one who has been against God his whole life can now choose Christ, and one who has been for him can reject him. For Rahner and his followers, man is a zein zum tode (a being made for death), and it is in death he finds his fulfillment.

It is true that in the Catholic tradition, one encounters Christ in the particular judgment, which happens immediately after death. But in this tradition, this is not the only really personal act a person makes. Christ pronounces the particular judgment based on a person’s actions throughout life, as indeed he also pronounces the universal judgment. Though one can certainly convert or revert in articulo mortis (“at the point of death”), and, thus, be saved or damned, this is not at a moment after the soul is separated from the body.  Once the soul leaves the body, death occurs, man’s pilgrimage ends, and so does his ability to merit or demerit. The particular judgment is based on the whole of a man’s life, and may be completed in the final choice at the hour of death—or may not. Some people are not even conscious at the time they die, and it is difficult to see how this could be the only personal act for such a person. Any choice made throughout life is sufficient to merit Heaven, and any mortal sin sufficient to merit Hell if one dies unrepentant.

Some theologians are also of the opinion that God did not make Hell. One said that man makes Hell.  This is certainly not consonant with the Catholic tradition since the existence of Hell is an article of faith, and the devil and his angels are certainly there. Of course, this is a Hell which has, as its primary punishment, “eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created, and for which he longs” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1036). If, by maintaining that God did not create Hell, one means that “God predestines no one to Hell” (CCC, 1037), then this is certainly true. But God’s judgment affirms what we have chosen; certainly, our choices throughout life can merit loss of the vision of God if we die unrepentant. God is definitely judgmental in the sense that he pronounces the sentence through Christ, affirming the results of our responsible choices.

There are some theologians who also maintain that everyone can be saved, even those who are damned. Sometimes, the famous story of the tears of St. Gregory the Great saving the emperor Trajan from Hell are invoked, but one must remember that Trajan is portrayed as a good pagan. And so with Dante, it is better to understand the word “Hell” in this context as “Sheol,” or what Catholics mean by “Purgatory.”  Though one certainly can hope that there are no human beings in Hell—we cannot be sure any particular person is there—the devil and his angels are certainly there, and Hell is eternal because of them. Also, the Lord refers many times to the difficulties of living the life of grace, so it is better to live with the sober possibility that one may be responsible for the rejection of God in one’s daily choices.

Question: With all the politically correct steps taken in society to approve “gay marriage” as though homosexuality is just as normal as heterosexuality, are there any clear statements in Scripture that homosexuality is a sin and unnatural?

Answer: There are a number of theologians and exegetes in all Christian denominations who, at best, find it highly questionable to maintain that there is any explicit biblical condemnation of homosexuality.  This is true of Catholic priests also. Of course, one is aware that almost any reference to biblical sources without tradition will be debated from the point of view of the culture, and the words used in the original language. The issue then becomes an in-house discussion among experts. Often the very lack of clarity on the matter seems to lead to difficulties in accepting the teaching of the Church.

It would seem then that an explanation of the general teaching of the Church is important.  Homosexuality is condemned as unnatural because neither of the two goods of marriage can follow from it in any realistic way. Procreation, and the education of the children of procreation, cannot follow from homosexual acts. Since procreation is impossible as an act of the sharing of seed, homosexual acts cannot really be an expression of the unity of the two parties, which is essential to the spousal love of marriage. Once this is established, one can refer to some biblical texts which the Church has always interpreted as strictly condemning homosexuality.

In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 23:17 says: “There shall be no cult prostitute of the daughters of Israel; neither shall there be a cult prostitute of the sons of Israel.” The latter part of this verse has always been taken to refer to a condemnation of homosexuality, as has Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

The New Testament has many such texts. Examples would be: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals” (1 Cor. 6: 9-10). “For this reason God gave them up to their dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1: 26-27). “… immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10). “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

Many of these texts are also cited by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as scriptural examples of Church teaching: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’ (CDF, Persona human 8). They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (2357).

At the same time, the Catechism notes that the Church judges the action and not the person. So, unjust discrimination of homosexuals is also contrary to Christ’s teaching. Nonetheless, homosexuals are still called to live a chaste life, and master their unnatural tendencies, so they can truly enjoy unselfish friendship.

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avatar About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, "Questions Answered".

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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Comments

  1. avatar Martin Drew says:

    Thank you Fr. Mullady your article hit the question right on target and Scripture and Tradition shows that.

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  3. avatar Aloysius says:

    Father, you make the following statement,
    “It is true that in the Catholic tradition, one encounters Christ in the particular judgment, which happens immediately after death. But in this tradition, this is not the only really personal act a person makes. Christ pronounces the particular judgment based on a person’s actions throughout life, as indeed he also pronounces the universal judgment.”

    So the person stands before Christ for judgment of his free will actions taken throughout life. A person who commits murder will be judged as a murderer.

    Then in discussing the sinfulness of homosexual acts you say,
    “At the same time, the Catechism notes that the Church judges the action and not the person.”

    Judgment of acts absent the person who committed them is a theological exercise. There is no sin. But a homosexual defines himself by his sexual behavior willfully committing illicit sexual acts. A prostitute is another example. Both involve behavior (acts) chosen freely. Will not Christ judge the homosexual and the prostitute?

    The Church is about conversion and forgiveness of sins of persons who repent of illicit actions. It is incongruous to disassociate the person and focus only on actions.

  4. avatar Manuel says:

    As Fr. Brian said at the end: “At the same time, the Catechism notes that the Church judges the action and not the person. So, unjust discrimination of homosexuals is also contrary to Christ’s teaching. Nonetheless, homosexuals are still called to live a chaste life, and master their unnatural tendencies, so they can truly enjoy unselfish friendship.”
    My understanding is that every person who chose Christ is called to a chaste life in their state of life. Married couples (man and woman) have to live in chaste way as couple called to show love to each other and be open to procreation. When we refer to homosexuals, (men or woman), prostitutes, etc. And I will like to include singles and unmarried couples; the chaste life calls us (us because I am single) to live without sex. Is keeping our sexuality, but walking toward the state of perfection.
    For me and for others theologian and teachers; homosexuals, prostitutes who acts (remember the action, not the person) are the same to those heterosexuals (men or woman) who practice and have sex outside the marriage. The sin is the same, sex that doesn’t fulfill the call to procreation.

    Blessings

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