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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 23

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 23.—Against Those Who are of Opinion that the Punishment Neither of the Devil Nor of Wicked Men Shall Be Eternal.

First of all, it behoves us to inquire and to recognize why the Church has not been able to tolerate the idea that promises cleansing or indulgence to the devil even after the most severe and protracted punishment.  For so many holy men, imbued with the spirit of the Old and New Testament, did not grudge to angels of any rank or character that they should enjoy the blessedness of the heavenly kingdom after being cleansed by suffering, but rather they perceived that they could not invalidate nor evacuate the divine sentence which the Lord predicted that He would pronounce in the judgment, saying, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” 1541   For p. 469 here it is evident that the devil and his angels shall burn in everlasting fire.  And there is also that declaration in the Apocalypse, “The devil their deceiver was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also are the beast and the false prophet.  And they shall be tormented day and night for ever.” 1542   In the former passage “everlasting” is used, in the latter “for ever;” and by these words Scripture is wont to mean nothing else than endless duration.  And therefore no other reason, no reason more obvious and just, can be found for holding it as the fixed and immovable belief of the truest piety, that the devil and his angels shall never return to the justice and life of the saints, than that Scripture, which deceives no man, says that God spared them not, and that they were condemned beforehand by Him, and cast into prisons of darkness in hell, 1543 being reserved to the judgment of the last day, when eternal fire shall receive them, in which they shall be tormented world without end.  And if this be so, how can it be believed that all men, or even some, shall be withdrawn from the endurance of punishment after some time has been spent in it? how can this be believed without enervating our faith in the eternal punishment of the devils?  For if all or some of those to whom it shall be said, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” 1544 are not to be always in that fire, then what reason is there for believing that the devil and his angels shall always be there?  Or is perhaps the sentence of God, which is to be pronounced on wicked men and angels alike, to be true in the case of the angels, false in that of men?  Plainly it will be so if the conjectures of men are to weigh more than the word of God.  But because this is absurd, they who desire to be rid of eternal punishment ought to abstain from arguing against God, and rather, while yet there is opportunity, obey the divine commands.  Then what a fond fancy is it to suppose that eternal punishment means long continued punishment, while eternal life means life without end, since Christ in the very same passage spoke of both in similar terms in one and the same sentence, “These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal!” 1545   If both destinies are “eternal,” then we must either understand both as long-continued but at last terminating, or both as endless.  For they are correlative,—on the one hand, punishment eternal, on the other hand, life eternal.  And to say in one and the same sense, life eternal shall be endless, punishment eternal shall come to an end, is the height of absurdity.  Wherefore, as the eternal life of the saints shall be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it shall have no end.


Footnotes

468:1541

Matt. 25.41.

469:1542

Rev. 20.10.

469:1543

2 Pet. 2.4.

469:1544

Matt. 25.41.

469:1545

Matt. 25.46.


Next: Chapter 24

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