Saint Isaac the Syrian on Love and Hell

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Few arguments against Christianity are stronger and more troubling than the problem of hell. The problem is familiar to anyone who is familiar with Christianity. But not all understandings of hell are equally problemmatic. As Swinburne notes in Responsibility and Atonement for every “hard” position about salvation, sin, hell, justice, or human agency, there is a “soft” or more “liberal” view. Ironically, the more “liberal” view is hardly “liberal”, if by that we mean “new, innovative, rebelling against conservative consensus”. I think we sometimes assume for some reason that the harshest, most morally-repugnant view of Christianity is the most faithful to text and tradition. To help start correcting that tendency, I offer some words from Saint Isaac the Syrian:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.
The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised..

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

(Taken from here)

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One Response to “Saint Isaac the Syrian on Love and Hell”

  1. Natural Consequences (8): The Fathers on Merciful Justice « The Well of Questions Says:

    […] consequence of God’s presence.  This is, I have argued, how St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Isaac the Syrian viewed eschatological punishment–the deprivation of blessing based on the personal decision […]

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