Friday, October 13, 2006

On the impossibility of a simply benevolent end...

... or why the order of salvation isn't simple.
The whole debate about limbo has caused me to reflect on questions of salvation and predestination in general. And it strikes me with the prevaling climate of univeralism in some areas, it's worthwhile reminding ourselves that if we take the history of salvation seriously that we cannot jump too quickly to the benevolence of God as the solution to all our theological dilemmas. In particular, there is the usual plea that surely a good God would not allow Hell to exist and that we are justified therefore in not worrying about our own salvation or the salvation of others. In dealing with this question, I find the following passage from one of Newman's University Sermons particularly helpful:
[...]it may be doubted whether the notion of justice be not more essential to the mental constitution of free agents, than benevolence can be. For our very consciousness of being free, and so responsible, includes in it the idea of an unchangeable rule of justice, on which the judgment is hereafter to be conducted; or rather excludes, as far as it goes, the notion of a simply benevolent Governor; a simply benevolent end being relinquished (as we may speak) by the Creator, so soon as He committed the destinies of man to his own hands, and made him a first cause, a principle of origination, in the moral world.
But even if the general happiness of mankind could be assigned in hypothesis, as the one end to which all our moral instincts tended, and though nothing could be adduced in behalf of the intrinsic authority of the notion of justice, it would not be allowable thence to infer the unmixed benevolence of the Divine Mind, seeing we have actual evidences of His justice in the course of the world, such as cannot be explained away by a mere argument from the analogy of our own nature. Should any one attempt here to repeat the process of simplification, and refer in turn Divine Justice, as seen in the world, to Divine Benevolence, as if reward and punishment were but means to the one end of general good, let such a venturous speculator bethink himself what he is essaying, when he undertakes to simplify such attributes of the Divine Mind, as the course of things happens to manifest to him.

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