“Some of the Fathers terrify us beyond our strength and throw us into despair. Others of them encourage us and bid us rely upon Divine mercy”

Some of the Fathers terrify us beyond our strength and throw us into despair; and their opinion is well adapted to the simple-minded and trangressors of the law. Others of them encourage us and bid us rely upon Divine mercy; and their opinions are suitable and adapted to the perfect and those of settled minds and the pious. In the ‘Book of Memorials’ it is thus written: ‘This world is the world of repentance, but the world which is to come is the world of retribution. As in this world repentance saves until the last breath, so in the world to come justice exacts to the uttermost farthing. And as it is impossible to see here strict justice unmingled with mercy, so it is impossible to find there strict justice mingled with mercy.’ Mâr Isaac says thus: ‘Those who are to be scourged in Gehenna will be tortured with stripes of love; they who feel that they have sinned against love will suffer harder and more severe pangs from love than the pain that springs from fear.’ Again he says: ‘The recompense of sinners will be this: the resurrection itself will be their recompense instead of the recom­pense of justice; and at the last He will clothe those bodies which have trodden down His laws with the glory of perfection. This act of grace to us after we have sinned is greater than that which, when we were not, brought our nature into being.’ Again he says: ‘In the world which is to come grace will be the judge and not justice.’ Mâr Theodore the Expositor says: ‘Those who have here chosen fair things will receive in the world to come the pleasure of good things with praises; but the wicked who have turned aside to evil things all their life, when they are become ordered in their minds by penalties and the fear that springs from them, and choose good things, and learn how much they have sinned by having persevered in evil things and not in good things, and by means of these things receive the knowledge of the highest doctrine of the fear of God, and become instructed to lay hold of it with a good will, will be deemed worthy of the happiness of the Divine liberality. For He would never have said, “Until thou payest the uttermost farthing,” unless it had been possible for us to be freed from our sins through having atoned for them by paying the penalty; neither would He have said, “he shall be beaten with many stripes,” or “he shall be beaten with few stripes,” unless it were that the penalties, being meted out according to the sins, should finally come to an end.’ These things the Expositor has handed down in his books clearly and distinctly.

So also the blessed Diodorus, who says in the ‘Book of the Dispensation:’ ‘A lasting reward, which is worthy of the justice of the Giver, is laid up for the good, in return for their labours; and torment for sinners, but not everlasting, that the immortality which is prepared for them may not be worthless. They must however be tormented for a short time, as they deserve, in proportion to the measure of their iniquity and wickedness, according to the amount of the wickedness of their deeds. This they will have to bear, that they suffer for a short time; but immortal and unending happiness is prepared for them. If it be then that the rewards of good deeds are as great (in proportion to them) as the times of the immortality which are prepared for them are longer than the times of the limited contests which take place in this world, the torments for many and great sins must be very much less than the greatness of mercy. So then it is not for the good only that the grace of the resurrection from the dead is intended, but also for the wicked; for the grace of God greatly honours the good, but chastises the wicked sparingly.’

Again he says: ‘God pours out the wages of reward beyond the measure of the labours (wrought), and in the abundance of His goodness He lessens and diminishes the penalty of those who are to be tormented, and in His mercy He shortens and reduces the length of the time. But even thus He does not punish the whole time according to (the length of) the time of folly, seeing that He requites them far less than they deserve, just as He does the good beyond the measure and period (of their deserts); for the reward is everlasting. It has not been revealed whether the goodness of God wishes to punish without ceasing the blame­worthy who have been found guilty of evil deeds (or not), as we have already said before…. But if punishment is to be weighed out according to sin, not even so would punishment be endless. For as regards that which is said in the Gospel, ‘These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal;’ this word ‘eternal’ (le-`âlam) is not definite: for if it be not so, how did Peter say to our Lord, ‘Thou shalt never wash my feet,’ and yet He washed him? And of Babylon He said, ‘No man shall dwell therein for ever and ever,’ and behold many generations dwell therein. In the ‘Book of Memorials’ he says: ‘I hold what the most celebrated of the holy Fathers say, that He cuts off a little from much. The penalty of Gehenna is a man’s mind; for the punishment there is of two kinds, that of the body and that of the mind. That of the body is perhaps in proportion to the degree of sin, and He lessens and diminishes its duration; but that of the mind is for ever, and the judgment is for ever.’ But in the New Testament le-`âlam is not without end. To Him be glory and dominion and praise and exaltation and honour for ever and ever. Amen and Amen.

Solomon of Akhlat

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2 Responses to “Some of the Fathers terrify us beyond our strength and throw us into despair. Others of them encourage us and bid us rely upon Divine mercy”

  1. The Antiochians were so interesting. I don’t think Basil (or pseudo-Basil, most likely in my opinion) makes a very good argument against these “farthing” and “stripes” passages. That author’s point seems to be that the punishment is eternal but just different degrees of punishment for eternity.

    But if there’s someone that pinches Bob in a moderately annoying way for all eternity and there is someone who slowly saws off Tom’s leg without any numbing application only to do it again once his leg falls off and magically regenerates itself, and these two different punishments both happen for all eternity, the difference in these two punishments seems meaninglessness. This is just Nyssen’s epikatasis in terrifying reverse. By year 6 million, Bob is just as tortured as Tom is at year 100, and so on and so forth. The infinity of punishments, no matter how light or heavy the punishments, seems to destroy any semblance of justice since no matter how light a punishment is, if it goes on long enough, it will always be as bad as a heavy punishment. And yes if a light punishment goes on for eternity, then it will always be just as bad as the heaviest of punishments. It will just take more time to reach the same level of emotional distress but both will doubt reach the same level, and keep reaching the same level for all eternity.

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