‘Vengeance’ revisited

A follow-up to my recent squib, ‘A case of vengeance’:

No doubt one reason why Flyspeck Flivverpuff was so happy to hear suicide recommended as a sure ticket to Hell was that, in fact, this was a lie. It may be – it probably is – that anyone who is absolutely Hell-bent on going to Hell will find a way to get there; and the Spanish swordsman of the story probably got what he had coming to him. But it is not, in fact, and never has been the teaching of the Church, (that is, of the Ordinary Magisterium), that suicides go to Hell automatically. The unnamed interloper was badly misrepresenting the teaching of the Church, as you would expect from someone that Flivverpuff himself suspected of having had words put in his mouth by one of his fellow devils.

Paragraph 2283 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

Paragraph 2281 makes it clear that suicide is a grave sin, and indeed combines several sins in one:

Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

But this does not make it unforgivable or beyond the range of God’s mercy. Jimmy Akin, the well-known Catholic apologist, speaks eloquently on the issue in this video:

(Why Salazar went to Hell, on the other hand, we shall probably never know. We may suspect that it had little to do with whatever offence caused the swordsman to seek infinitely repeated revenge upon him. So extreme and disordered a desire is not usually bestowed upon an appropriate object. Of course, if Salazar had not been in Hell, Flivverpuff’s ‘customer’ would have had an entirely different punishment laid out for him: the doom of knowing that he had made an irreparable blunder, and his quarry was beyond his grasp for ever.)

Hope that helps. A merry Third Day of Christmas to all.


  1. Reminds me of the Screwtape Letters a bit. All this posturing about, pretending – for the sake of fiction – to know how things work.

    And then, being human, trying to scam the system. Oh, well – He made us. He should know us pretty well.

    And sometimes the phrase, ‘Jesus wept,’ is so appropriate.

    And a Merry third day of Christmas to you, oh excellent writer.

  2. First of all, I should thank our host for considering this question as serious enough to receive its own post. So it’s incumbent on me to try to give further observations on the subject, and why I’m so discontented, at bottom, with the theological answer to these questions.

    Akin’s reasoning on this is (as far as I can tell) a 100% doctrinally correct Catholic answer and perhaps the problem is that it is answering a slightly different question.

    The man phoning in is interested less so in the possibilities that exist for an abstract suicide after death, as he is interested in what the possibilities are for his specific son, whom it was his task to love on Earth. These possibilities are either forgiveness and thus Heaven, or Hell, and so long as there is even a probability of Hell the father is not satisfied, and indeed might understand himself to have failed irrevocably at his task. Simply swallowing whatever doctrine is necessary to calm oneself down feels irresponsible, because it would be a fairly pretty scene if the father — having been reassured by Akin — got himself to Heaven to discover — nope, his son was roasting that whole time! — and indeed at the time of the Catholic Answers call there was _absolutely nothing_ the father could have done to change that.

    It boils down to the matter of Time and the fact that everything in the whole absurd situation has supposedly been decided already, and cannot be revoked, by the time the people involved realize enough to start worrying about what to do. It is only that the result is unknown down on Earth. If someone is in Heaven or Purgatory — then there is no scandalous theological problem here. If someone is in Hell — then what can I do on his behalf? (Tradition suggests prayer and almsgiving on behalf of the dead definitively provides help, albeit of an unspecified nature.)

    Both of these things are possibilities, so their relative probability is a completely irrelevant question. What the dilemma is: if I know that someone who has committed suicide, I have to either definitively deny any possibility that he is in Hell, or I have to definitively consider the possibility that he is in Hell, and ask myself what my proper response would be if that was the case; just like when designing an airplane one puts in inflatable slides in the event the airplane lands on water, proceeding with the design as though assuming that this is *definitely* going to happen to the given airplane, even though many airplanes will never, ever even once have to land on water. Thus *if* (however unlikely) someone I know were definitively in Hell at this exact moment (albeit I did not know that fact), to give justifications for the probability of their actually being in Heaven would be an inappropriate response, because they are actually in Hell no matter how high the probability was of things having gone otherwise.

    At this point, the only way I can see to avoid reasoning myself into this style of Ivan Karamazov insanity is to consider the fate of my friend as still being decided at this time, in some way; whether or not this is compatible with the Catholic catechism depends on the meaning of the concepts ‘this time’ and ‘still being decided’ and all that.

    I have far more sympathy for Alicia Ehrhardt’s point of view, preferring to believe that God is good, than I do for my own. I have further, probably more useful thoughts on why these kinds of stumbling points recur for people, which I will have to figure out how to formulate more neatly.

    • Actually I would like to apologize for trying to tie people into knots with my last comment. Again, if one believes that God is good, all other things are kind of secondary — if there is something we are obliged to do, even in the specific matter of a friend who committed suicide, that will certainly be revealed at the appropriate times.

      Basically, I had been fairly jaded by the arguments of people who appear to disbelieve that God is good (in this sense), and attempt to convince other people that believing God to be good is indeed a heresy which they are obliged to repent of. I realize now that it was terribly unfair to go and waste the time of perfectly normal Catholics getting on with their lives, by drawing them to comment on dilemmas and intellectual constructions that I was obliged to come up with as a result of listening to their more embittered brethren.

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