Friday, December 27, 2013

Oh, Hell!

A recent Internet meme has pope Francis renouncing the doctrine of Hell. Of course the statement is a spoof. 

Still, belief in Hell as a literal place of punishment has been questioned by some theologians for a long time now. The Spanish writer Juan de Valdes, who died in 1541, thought that the Biblical terms should be interpreted as meaning "the grave." Thus those who "went to Hell" would simply not rise to eternal life - a view tacitly endorsed by many Christians nowadays. 

Elsewhere Valdes concedes that Hell does exist as a physical place, but it is just that the deity has not yet seen it necessary to confine anyone there. It is empty real estate. As D. P. Walker has shown in his book "The Decline of Hell," the doctrine came under broad attack in the 17th century. However, there remains the awkwardness of passages that affirm it in Scripture. 

Unlike Hell, Purgatory has never had any Biblical warrant. As the French historian Jacques Le Goff has demonstrated, this notion was invented out of whole cloth in the 7th century.


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