Thursday, June 14, 2012

Professor Ratzinger on "Hell"

WARNING: This post is “dark”, but darkness can be a kind of light if it helps you to see.

Below deals with the article of faith “He descended into hell” (Good Friday/Holy Saturday), being without God and the pain in the verse “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It’s probably the best description of hell I’ve ever heard, not that I’ve heard many speak of it in detail.

Summarizing several pages from Joseph Ratzinger’s book Introduction to Christianity, in Part II, The Development of Faith in Christ in the Christological Articles of the Creed:

Loneliness is a region of fear, which is rooted in the exposure of a being that must exist, but is pushed out into a situation with which it is impossible for him to deal. In the experience of utter loneliness, a fear arises peculiar to man which is not fear of anything particular, but simply fear in itself. Man cannot overcome this kind of fear by way of reason.

Ø  Example 1:
A child walking alone in the dark woods is frightened even if convincingly shown that there is nothing to be afraid of. The child will lose this fear the moment there is a loving hand to take him and he experiences the fellowship of “Another”.

Ø  Example 2:
Someone keeping watch over a corpse will feel somehow “eerie” even when he knows perfectly well the dead body can do him no harm. In fact, there would be more possibility of danger if the person was alive, but logic is of no help. This fear will also recede like the child’s if he experiences the loving nearness of a “You”.

Man cannot stand alone; he needs closeness; he needs unity.  If man (and this is the true nature of sin) refuses to recognize his own limits and tries to “be like God”, standing alone on his own two feet, then precisely by adopting this attitude he delivers himself up to death. Scripture about the connection between sin and death is to be understood from this angle. Small wonder the devil wants us prideful. Pride naturally leads to isolation from God (and others), which will lead to a torment of anxiety. It’s the exact opposite of the life of the Trinity.

If a state of isolation were to arise that was so deep that no “You” could reach into it anymore, then we should have a total and terrifying loneliness; this is what theology calls “Hell”….. a loneliness which is as inescapable as it is dreadful!

Is it hot in here, or is it just me?


  1. Hi Ben,

    I would suggest that when talking about the ability of reason to overcome fear you don't use as an example a creature only taking its first steps on the road of reason (i.e. a child). In your first example most adults would be able to reason away their fear in a forest, especially if shown evidence of a lack of anything to fear.

    In the second example you are patently wrong as people working in morgues, hospitals etc. all do this and don't have the creepy feeling that most of us would have. Not to mention people in cultures that don't fear death/dead bodies.

    While your examples may speak to most people in urban, western civilisation, the lack of universality of them shows them to be false and hence the message as a whole is illegitimate.

    Regards, MH.

    1. Hello March,
      They are only examples and they are not from me; they are from the professor.

      If one wished to convey the idea of “joy”, he might use “a child on Christmas Morning”. One may not be a child and one may not care about Christmas, but it is still a relevant example.

      And even if I work in a morgue, I may still understand the example of “eeriness”.

    2. MH,
      Even if the examples are weak (and I am not saying they are), the message is still legitimate. Hell is still best descibed as utter lonliness from which there is no hope of relief. The opposite of the union with God that is our Christian destiny.

    3. Ben, it may well convey the idea of 'joy', but it doesn't negate the ability of an adult to reason away the joy. The part I took exception to immediately preceded the first example (hence I thought it was related): "Man cannot overcome this kind of fear by way of reason." I find that to be fallacious. Through various techniques, including judicious use of reason, we can overcome any fear.

      Morgue workers may be able to understand eeriness but they also know through repeated exposure (with no ill effects) and reason they have been able to stop that feeling. Whether it is cultural or innate, or even a bit of both, the eeriness of dead bodies is easily overcome.

      I simply think that the blanket statement about not being able to overcome fear X by reason alone should at least be followed up with examples that approach that threshold, preferably including actors that can actually use reason.

  2. "With no ill effects..." Though reason may have a part to play in overcoming fear, it is only one tool that is used and it is not complete. Take the example of dead bodies. There is a natural aversion the living have at the sight of a dead body. It is not always expressed in the same way by everyone, but the death of a human is seen as 'unnatural' though it is a natural part of our existence. Death was not meant for humans, life was. It is sin that brought death, and in this sense it can be said that death is unnatural to the original plan of creation.

    Yes, morgue workers may understand eeriness simply because they are humans working with dead humans but with a job at hand to prepare the body they must have the ability to disassociate themselves with what is a natural feeling of eeriness. Using reason alone may work, but it takes something away from the worker that no longer sees the body as a former "person" but as an object to be worked on and nothing but. The former respect and dignity one would have given that person in life is no longer found. This is what many would refer to as a 'cold' person with ice in their veins. Using reason alone that says, "he's a dead body and no more" may work, but removes 'empathy' and association with a dead person.

    Is this how all morgue workers deal with it? No. As was said, repeated exposure does help in avoiding 'eeriness, but it does not remove empathy, but allows it to be neatly tucked away in the worker in order for them to do the job. It is still there, but the humans natural defense to separate emotion from what needs to be done comes into play. To say that there are no ill effects from repeated exposure is also fallacious, for many have turned to drugs or alcohol to deal with their jobs. In speaking with a funeral director about a certain other directer in town, he admitted that many morticians have trouble dealing with their job, though they do it expertly. It is in their 'off' hours that the empathy begins to appear again, after the job is done.

    This is why many emergency room workers can only work in this capacity for so long. The constant exposure to the damage done to a human can become overwhelming for medical techs from repeated exposure. Hawkeye Pierce, the character and lead surgeon in the sitcom M.A.S.H. once said in an episode, when accused of being 'cold' because of all the jokes and bantor in surgery when men were dying, that the joking was a defense, a natural defense to separate emotion from the reality at hand(death)and to allow him to do his job and save another.

    Death is unnatural for the human person, for we were created for life. Death invaded our life. Though reason alone can be used, we lose much in ourselves, our spirits and we become cold, unresponsive to the human condition. That is why reason alone cannot account for our belief in God, but reason AND faith completes the picture. And so it is with the 'eeriness' felt that cannot be eliminated by reason alone, for it would be incomplete and destructive to those exposed to it.

  3. TOC,

    we were not 'created' for anything. Death existed long before the concept of sin. Reason alone can be enough to overcome fear, but I never claimed it always was or could be for everyone.

    As appropriate and applicable as the sentiment may be, it's probably best not to use the ramblings of a comedy writer to give insight into the minds of health professionals.

    The eeriness of a dead body, or any quasi-human form that isn't actually a living human, is described by:
    This is what evolution, and to a degree cultural indoctrination, has left us with. It is actually not (necessarily) to do with the dead body itself, though as potential carriers of disease this may have given us an evolutionary advantage over those with no eeriness feeling.