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An eternal hell is difficult concept for some to grasp even among those who call themselves Catholic. [Cf. Debunking the myth of hell, by Carol Meyer, Feb. 3, 2011 | NCR]. The last paragraph in the article ends:

All arguments for hell, however reasonable they once sounded, are debunked by one single truth—God is LOVE. The end of the story.

The Catholic Church teaches that even though Revelation remains charged with mystery, and though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason, and revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason. Therefore even though the mysteries of Faith are beyond reason, they are not unreasonable (i.e. agreeable to reason or sound judgment; logical; being in accordance with reason ) and they can be defended [vs. proven] by employing arguments from reason [cf. Catholicism.org > Faith and Reason].

The question is, in Catholicism, drawing from Catholic patrimony [e.g. Church Fathers, the Saints & Doctors], what are the arguments for the reasonableness [intelligible in the light of our natural reason and/or reasonable and in accordance with the faith and/or not against reason] of an eternal hell?

This question is looking for arguments:

  • intelligible in the light of our natural reason
  • that are reasonable and in accordance with the faith
  • that are not against reason

for an eternal hell.

The question ought to stand like this and it is not necessary, nor required, nor in accordance with C.SE site criteria to start with the arguments for eternal hell being illogical.

Rephrasing:

If the Church teaches that the truths of the faith are intelligible in the light of natural reason and eternal hell is one of the truth she teaches, what have been the arguments intelligible in the light of natural reason [and/or reasonable and in accordance with the faith and/or not against reason] that have been made, drawing from Catholic patrimony [e.g. Church Fathers, the Saints & Doctors], for an eternal hell?



Some related C.SE questions:



Reasonable understood here as:

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Faith & Reason

Not all divinely revealed truths can be known without Divine Revelation. For example, the fact that God is triune (Three Persons of one Divine Substance) cannot be known by natural reason,¹ even though it is not against reason. The existence of God, however, can be known by natural reason,² and so can His divinity.³
¹St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica I q. 32 a. 1 article "Whether the trinity of the divine persons can be known by natural reason?"
²ibid. q. 2 a. 2 "Whether it can be demonstrated that God exists?"
³Rom. 1:20: "For his invisible things, from the creation of the world are seen, being understood by those things that are made: his eternal power also and Divinity: so that they are inexcusable."

This is an ambiguous statement: "the Church teaches that the truths of the faith are intelligible in the light of natural reason"

What it should say is: "the Church teaches that some of the truths of the faith are intelligible (i.e., "discoverable" or understandable) in from the light of natural reason, and none of them are against reason," although most are above human reason.

St. Thomas Aquinas gives two uses of reason in his Summa Theologica I q. 32 a. 1 article "Whether the trinity of the divine persons can be known by natural reason?":

Reason may be employed in two ways to establish a point:

  1. …for the purpose of furnishing sufficient proof of some principle…

and

  1. not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results

Way #1 is not possible for all truths of the faith. Way #2 is how reason is employed for understanding the Trinity and other truths of the Faith not "discoverable"/understandable/intelligible by human reason alone.

See the First Vatican Council's document on faith and reason, Dei Filius.


Determining Whether a Dogma is Reasonable using Human Reason Only

Proving the Reasonableness of a Dogma

Apart from faith, there are at least the following ways to show that a dogma is in accordance with reason:

  1. Come up with a proof of way #1 reasoning. This is the strongest reasoning on a merely human level.
    Such a proof is not known to exist for the dogma of hell's eternity, but that does not necessarily imply someone will not discover such a proof in the future. It is also not defined dogma that such a proof cannot be found.

  2. Show that reason is in accordance with the dogma in every possible way.* This isn't humanly possible because there might be an infinite number of ways to show.
    *This would be "to prove a negative, which isn't possible," as per earlier DJClayworth's comments.

  3. Offer individual examples of way #2 reasoning showing where this dogma is in accordance with reason.
    This is the weakest way of reasoning because it only offers probable reason to believe the dogma does not contradict reason.

Proving the Unreasonableness of a Dogma

Apart from faith, there is least the following way of showing that a dogma contradicts reason:

  1. Come up with a counterexample showing that it does contradict reason (e.g., Carol Meyer's reasoning that the eternity of hell contradicts God's love*).
    *This is easily disproved by noting that God is infinitely just. Plus, is her reasoning even "apart from faith"?


Showing the Eternity of Hell is in Accordance with Reason

It is a de fide ("of faith") dogma that hell is eternal.

A few such "individual examples of way #2 reasoning" are the following:

1) One can prove from natural reason the eternity of the soul* and conclude from that that it is reasonable that a soul could exist eternally in a state deprivation of the Beatific Vision in hell.
*St. Thomas Aquinas argues that the human soul is "subsistent" (eternal) in Summa Theologica I q. 75 a. 2.

2) As just kings have prisons with life sentences or impose capital punishment [there is no coming back from that]; so must God, a King, Who is infinitely just, have hell with eternal sentences (cf. this).

3) Since the will of the damned is set in its ways toward evil, we could ask: "Could someone's will never change toward the good?" Analogously, we could also ask: "Could someone be blind forever?" In answer to this, St. Thomas Aquinas would say "Yes." He compares God's withdrawal of His grace from the damned to the lack of sight of a blind man, in Summa Theologica I-II q. 85 a. 2 ("Whether the entire good of human nature can be destroyed by sin?") ad 3:

Even in the lost [i.e., the damned] the natural inclination to virtue remains, else they would have no remorse of conscience. That it is not actualized is owing to their being deprived of grace by Divine justice. Thus even in a blind man the aptitude to see remains in the very root of his nature, inasmuch as he is an animal naturally endowed with sight: yet this aptitude is not actualized, for the lack of a cause capable of actualizing it, by forming the organ requisite for sight.
Thus, just as it is possible for a blind man to lack sight, so is it reasonable that the damned lack grace.

4) The preservation of moral and social order would not be sufficiently provided for, if men knew that the time of trial were to be continued after death. (cf. this). Or that no matter how long, the punishment would eventually end.

The more arguments "of way #2 reasoning," the closer we approach to the more perfect reasoning of the second list point under the heading "Proving the Reasonableness of a Dogma" above.

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