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Why don't the Saints pity the damned?
And why do they delight in observing their suffering?
In my previous post I spoke about two things that are necessary in quoting the Summa Theologica. It may happen that sections are quoted in a context that is unbecoming of a Christian - a type of truth that seems to enable the internal sinfulness that belongs to a fallen human race. For instance, those offended by sin may slide into the error of proclaiming the Church’s teaching about hell with a type of giddiness that was not in Christ when he spoke about the same thing. Rather, it becomes a matter of lashing out, condemning, yet carries with it the mere pretense of seeking the salvation of souls.
I’d like to now examine a particular doctrine, where I’ve observed this type of giddiness pertaining to St. Thomas Aquinas’ summa where he speaks about how those who are righteous in heaven will have no pity on the damned, while also being joyful about their damnation. Saying it so simply would lead a reader to become naturally averse to such a suggestion. For this reason, Aquinas did not say it so simply, but wrote a great deal on this matter that requires a disciplined and charitable read.
Pity in the Suffering of the damned?
Quote 1 - Summa Theologica II, II, Q. 94, A2
“Whoever pities another shares somewhat in his unhappiness. But the blessed cannot share in any unhappiness. Therefore they do not pity the afflictions of the damned.”
St. Thomas’ notion of the whole human person is that our ultimate end is “happiness.” He argues earlier that the purpose for our existence is perfect, complete happiness. If this doesn’t occur in heaven, it will never occur. So if God constructed heaven in such a way that we would be subject to the passion of pity, then it wouldn’t really be heaven. Aquinas’ point is not about an indifference towards the damned, but rather preserving the belief that God will bestow perfect happiness on the righteous. But it leaves us with something unresolved - how can we be both righteous and not pity the damned? Wouldn’t this be a lack of mercy and compassion on our part? He anticipates this concern and continues:
Quote 2 - IBID
I answer that, Mercy or compassion may be in a person in two ways: first by way of passion, secondly by way of choice. In the blessed there will be no passion in the lower powers except as a result of the reason's choice. Hence compassion or mercy will not be in them, except by the choice of reason. Now mercy or compassion comes of the reason's choice when a person wishes another's evil to be dispelled: wherefore in those things which, in accordance with reason, we do not wish to be dispelled, we have no such compassion. But so long as sinners are in this world they are in such a state that without prejudice to the Divine justice they can be taken away from a state of unhappiness and sin to a state of happiness. Consequently it is possible to have compassion on them both by the choice of the will—in which sense God, the angels and the blessed are said to pity them by desiring their salvation—and by passion, in which way they are pitied by the good men who are in the state of wayfarers. But in the future state it will be impossible for them to be taken away from their unhappiness: and consequently it will not be possible to pity their sufferings according to right reason. Therefore the blessed in glory will have no pity on the damned.
First, St. Thomas makes note of the rightly ordered passions that will occur in heaven. He is making a distinction between how we experience our passions on earth, versus the reality of heaven where our fallen-nature is no longer experiencing disordered passions. Thus, our passions will be ordered reasonably, and not come out twisted or wayward. He explains that mercy, which pity is a type, can only be caused in heaven by way of a choice.
Second, he defines the term pity as one who ‘wishes another’s evil to be dispelled.’ Here we arrive at what we must already know about pity - this is a pure and beautiful disposition that we experience in this life on earth. We see someone suffering, and our compassion (suffering-with) leads us to mourn over their wounds as if they were our own.
Third, St. Thomas begins to explain the difference between what can occur in this life, and the next. Thus he illustrates that one can have pity for those who suffer unhappiness in this life, because hope remains in that such a situation can change.
Finally, Aquinas now explains why such pity cannot be possible for those who have died: “But in the future state it will be impossible for them to be taken away from their unhappiness: and consequently it will not be possible to pity their sufferings according to right reason.” St. Thomas Aquinas is saying something that measures up to something he says previously, which is that man, knowing it impossible, cannot will what is impossible. That is to say, we cannot will something that will never occur. In this sense, pity for the damned would be to will that those who cannot be saved, be saved. This, according to right-reasoning is therefore impossible to will. Aquinas explains as does Jesus that once a person is in heaven or hell, there can be no change. To understand this we would have to examine the metaphysics of heaven and the eternalization of the will. But we do not have time for that here.
Lets rather examine the next point of contention: while man cannot experience pity for the damned, he can experience a type of joy at their suffering. Its important to not move to this topic too quickly. Again, the wrathful move to this rather quickly as if it applies to them right now, in this life - which it does not. And the type of joy experienced at the suffering of the damned needs to be nuanced so as to avoid any type of cruel notion that is contrary to love.
Quote 3 - Summa Theologica II, II, Q. 94 A3
It is written (Psalm 57:11): "The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge."
Further, it is written (Isaiah 56:24): "They shall satiate [Douay: 'They shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh.'] the sight of all flesh." Now satiety denotes refreshment of the mind. Therefore the blessed will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked.
Joy in the Sufferings of the Damned?
These passages from scripture can be disturbing at first for many. But let us consider that the righteous, those in heaven, do not hate justice. This is the principle at work that St. Thomas begins with. If one has a latent view of hell as a place of unjust suffering, then they will ultimately believe that God is evil in allowing such souls to suffer there. But the notion of hell is ultimately a place where the unjust suffer a just punishment. We might need to wrestle with that, but that must at the very least be assumed here first in order to understand the biblical notion of hell.
I answer that, A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.
Here, for the first time, St. Thomas explains in what way the righteous will not rejoice in the sufferings of those in hell. This would be important to reflect on, and stew in, especially for those addicted to wrath. That is to say, saintly people do not directly rejoice in the suffering of the damned. This simply means that when a saint looks upon those who suffer the torment of hell, they do not rejoice that such a person did not make it home safe to God the Father. They do not rejoice that this person made a decision that rejected God as their place of rest. They do not rejoice that such a person rejected their own good nature, ordered towards the Saints and God in heaven. To delight in any of these things would be to describe the souls of the damned themselves, watching each other suffer, enviously.
Lets now examine in what manner delight will take place in their sufferings: “indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice, and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy.” A lot is packed into this quote, but its important to examine. This isn’t entirely detached from our own experience either. For instance, if you once thought about doing drugs, yet avoided the abuse of such chemicals, you might not realize just how grateful you ought to be that you are free from such an addiction. Then you examine someone who abuses such drugs, and you witness the horrible consequences of such actions, by way of juxtaposition you are elated that you are free from such consequences. In more technical terms: the essence of your joy is in being saved, and you have a deeper understanding of this by way of juxtaposition. A further point can be made here, in that the righteous will not such boast of their own righteousness, but having cooperated with God’s grace, recognize how grateful they are in that gift of mercy which they received humbly.
The Main Point:
The essence of a Saint’s joy, in heaven is not in someone else’s suffering. Again, that would likely be present in the damned, as a twisted type of false-joy. It wouldn’t mean you were grateful that such a person was addicted to drugs, but rather that you developed a deeper appreciation for not having such a consequence.
Now, to note, the analogy is somewhat lacking here, since addictions may not represent mortal sin, since interior freedom can categorize such as a sin as venial. Those who are in hell are not there due to bad-luck, but rather free-choice. This remains our final point - when looking at any of the souls in hell, none of them are capable of regretting their sin, except for the consequences thereof. In this way, they remain chained to hell by their own will, and persevere for all eternity in such a place. That is to say, in a sort of twisted sense, the souls in hell will to remain there. And while that is sad for such persons, God respects their choice, and won’t be manipulated by it.
All of this can be summarized in the teaching that Hope doesn’t exist in any sense in either heaven or hell. Those who have achieved what they hoped for, no longer hope for what they have. And those who are in hell, abandon all hope as their will eternally embraces malice.
If you have read thus far, congratulations! It means that you are willing to give the time of day to a subject - it means you have discipline and endurance. It also means, even if you still disagree, that you are willing to ensure St. Thomas’ position is not misrepresented. In this vein, we can understand why a person flippantly saying, “I won’t pity the damned and will delight in their suffering” can be a misleading, over-simplified version that can protect one’s inner-addiction to wrath. Lets be people who not only take token conclusions from the bible or Summa, but rather dig into the essence and beauty of all such nuancing.