Do you believe in the Enemy of the soul and in the eternal punishment of Hell?

From the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald comes this with my emphases and comments:

The Globe’s flat Doctor Faustus shows belief in the Devil is fading

Marlowe’s mighty drama about salvation is reduced to the level of a television gameshow

By Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith on Monday, 25 July 2011

Do people still believe in the Devil these days? I certainly do, but belief in Satan seems to be fading from popular culture. Or so the current production of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus at the Globe Theatre (details here) seems to prove.

Some critics, at least the ones mentioned on the theatre’s website, seemed to like the production. However, Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph was less than impressed by all the jolly japes and Brian Logan over at the Guardian puts his finger on it for me, writing:

[The production] uster You leave feeling you have plumbed the contents of the theatre’s wardrobe department, not the depths of the spiritual abyss. The problem is partly that we don’t believe in hell any more.

Faustus is a problem play: much of it consists of low and rather tedious comedy, book-ended by scenes of the utmost grandeur and seriousness. But if we no longer believe in the Devil, and his appearance on stage seems no more frightening than that of some pantomime villain, then Faustus’s bargain – his immortal soul for 24 years of devilish power – seems less than gripping[The bargain is the point without which they play makes no sense.]

But even today works of art can evoke the devilish. I am a huge fan of The Exorcist, a truly frightening movie. It leaves us in no doubt that Satan and his evil ways are a danger to us all. By contrast this production of Faustus makes little impact because Lucifer, when he appears on stage, seems no more threatening than any other imaginary bogeyman.

Marlowe’s play is one that I have read many times, but never seen until now, so I was tremendously disappointed. The hero struck me as infantile in his defiance of God, someone who clearly did not understand what he was rejecting. In this he struck a curiously modern note, reminding me of our own angry atheists, who reject God and pontificate about religion and yet never ever say anything that betrays the slightest understanding of what it is they reject. Their anger is existentially flat: a real tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing. [Hmmm…  Did Marlow write that?  (That’s a joke.)]

But what about Marlowe himself? Did the man who wrote these lines hold religion in contempt?

Oh, I’ll leap up to my God: who pulls me down?
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament.
One drop would save my soul, half a drop. Ah, my Christ!

I do not think one can hear these mighty lines properly delivered and not feel that the drama of salvation is precisely that – a drama, the most serious and engaging drama there is. But if we have lost sight of the Devil, and the concept of evil, and the terror that damnation should inspire, then what is left to us? Paradoxically, Faustus himself provides the answer, as he fritters his 24 years in a series of silly practical jokes: he does not get much from his side of the bargain.

One wonders what the audience, which was predominantly young, made of it all? They presumably live in a world where good and evil have been replaced by the concepts of appropriate and inappropriate: Faustus then seems rather like one of the less fortunate participants in a television gameshow.

A play like Doctor Faustus simply can’t work outside the framework of Christian theology. Our loss of belief leads us into existential and cultural impoverishment.

Incidentally I have often preached about the question of evil and mentioned the fact that Satan does exist, and that damnation is a real possibility, and that our lives on earth will have an eternal resonance. Some people have thanked me for this, but not all: I was once severely told off by a lady for mentioning Hell in front of children. One cannot blame the clergy for our fading belief in hell. [?!?] Uncomfortable truths…

With due respect, dear Father, we must blame the clergy for our fading belief in hell.

The clergy are not the only ones to blame.  Parents are to blame too, since they are the primary educators and catechists of their children.  Parents risk eternal hell for themselves if they don’t teach their children about the risk of eternal hell.   But clergy are definitely to blame for the decreasing belief in sin and the Enemy and hell.  They must impress on parents – even more than on children – the reality of heaven and of hell and the urgency of the consequences of sin.

Frankly, I also think that those who for the Novus Ordo edited out all that “negative stuff” from centuries old orations, all that stuff about sin and the consequences of sin, and inserted the happy bouncy message about resurrection are also to blame.  I don’t think they were malicious in doing so.  They were stressing the joy of heaven rather than the fear of separation from God.  Fine.  But, human nature being what it is, I don’t think that works very well.  We need a strong dose of anxiety sometimes, to keep us on the straight and narrow.  Not all the time.  Frequently, if not always.

I repeat… we don’t have to talk about the Enemy and hell all the time.  But we do have to talk about both.   We don’t have to talk about death and judgment all the time, but we do have to talk about them. Frequently, if not always.

And on that note, I will close with this.

You are all going to die.

QUAERITUR: What will happen to you in the next few seconds after you are truly and duly dead?

HOMEWORK: Try for a moment to imagine the first 10 seconds in the mind of a soul who finds herself in hell.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. a catechist says:

    I was just about to put this in the “Good News” thread….

    Sunday I heard bishop Walker Nickless preach, and his homily began, “Hell is real.” He went on to stress the reality of eternal damnation as the alternative to buying the pearl of great price or the wheat that yields abundantly.

    It was a Novus Ordo, according to the rubrics, with a crucifix on the altar and 7 lighted candles.

    A good shepherd who always asks for prayers.

  2. Titus says:

    Went to see Gounod’s Faust at the Lyric Opera a couple of years back. The music and the story, of course, are superb. But the staging couldn’t get the Devil to be anything other than gimmicky. The crowd, of course, found the affair, if anything, simply amusing. It’s no wonder that Faust, the world’s most popular opera a few generations ago, is now almost never performed.

  3. Brooklyn says:

    What a magnificent article, and unfortunately, all too true. People don’t believe and don’t want to hear about hell anymore. A few years ago, when I had first come back to the church, I attended a couple of “spiritual living” classes in the local rectory. It was based an an absolutely worthless piece of trash put out by the Paulists, basically telling people that they are wonderful. I brought up the subject of hell, and got the nastiest look from one of the attendees, who also happens to be an EMHC. Another person said to me, “You have been gone a long time.” I asked if anyone believed in Fatima. I did not get any positive responses, but I think I made everyone very uncomfortable and embarrassed. I stopped attending after that, and the classes stopped shortly after when the leader realized just how bad it was.

    If anyone wants to see an excellent production of Faustus, I would highly recommend the movie with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Richard Burton is magnificent in it, and it is wonderfully true to the original play and makes one think very seriously about hell, especially at the end when Faustus desires to repent and is unable and is taken to hell by the devil.

    I agree that a big part of the problem does lie with the clergy and the with NO Mass which is so deficient in mentioning sin and our dependence on God to overcome it, and most definitely with parents, who teach their children almost nothing of the Church. But the Church is a wonderful vast resource of spiritual material, and with all the technology we now have, we have easy access to the readings of the saint, the doctors of the church, the Fathers, and spiritual documents that have come down through the ages. If people really desire to give their lives to their Creator and truly desire to live a grace filled life, it can be done. Our Lord has more than made up for the spiritual deficiencies in our modern world. No one will be able to point the finger at anyone else at the end. Although I do agree that the clergy and others in authority will have much to answer for and should fear for their souls.

  4. Brooklyn says:

    I should add, Father, that part of the great spiritual resources we have is wonderful blogs like yours. Your blog and others have helped me far more than most priests I know.

  5. Legisperitus says:

    However much James Joyce may have turned against the Church as an adult, his mind was so steeped in Catholicism that he was able to write a corker of a sermon on Hell in part 3 of the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Useful reading.

  6. “Frankly, I also think that those who for the Novus Ordo edited out all that negative stuff from centuries old orations, all that stuff about sin and the consequences of sin, and inserted the happy bouncy message about resurrection are also to blame.”

    Included in that “negative stuff” which apparently was systematically eliminated: References to the depravity of sin, the wounds inflicted by sin, sin as offending God, sin as the way to perdition, sin as deserving chastisement by God, hell and loss of heaven and eternal punishment for sin.

    For instance, even the word “soul” itself has been banished from the Novus Ordo liturgy from Masses for the Dead, not appearing in any of the 9 proper orations for the three Masses of All Souls Day–though it appears in 8 of the 9 ancient orations they replace. Even in the corrected new English translation, we will pray for the “departed servants” but not explicitly for their souls.

    “I don’t think they were malicious in doing so.”

    Perhaps the word “malicious” is too judgmental for the sensibility of the Novus Ordo. But the uniformity–with which negative sin-and-judgment concepts were eliminated from ancient prayers–suggests that it was careful and deliberated.

    As for the reason why this was done so effectively, one who carefully compares OF and EF orations on a day by day basis may begin to wonder how far a “good intentions gone wrong” plea can be stretched.

  7. digdigby says:

    When a lemon rots it goes soft and sweet – but that doesn’t make it an orange.

  8. Part of the problem is that people have a hard time reconciling a “loving and merciful God” with the existence of a place of eternal torment. Yet I believe even hell is a place of mercy, even for the damned. And ultimately, the denial of hell denies God’s mercy and power and justice. If there is no hell, everyone goes to heaven because there is nowhere else for them to go and God has no power to keep them out. And if there is no eternal torment, there is no way for God to be merciful except in the trivial sufferings (by eternal standards) of earthly life, for no one needs to be saved from anything. And since everyone gets the same thing in the end, there is no justice in God. To deny hell is to deny God or at least his most glorious attributes, which is to deny his existence simply speaking.

    yet, even hell is a place of God’s power, justice, and yes also his mercy:

  9. Deo volente says:

    Isn’t part of the problem too the N.O. funeral Mass with white vestments and spoken tributes to the deceased who are all “now in heaven?” I remember the TLM funerals I served years ago as a youngster with black vestments and the “Dies Irae” being sung. The “Dies Irae” should be taught to every Catholic. It is a marvel for moving our attention to the reality of what the decedent is or has experienced in his presentation before God at the moments after death.

  10. Ralph says:

    I have five children. They are well aware that the devil is real and that hell is a place of torment.

    That being said, I find it difficult to discuss the enemy and hell with my kids. It’s revolting to think that hell could be a possibility for any of them. We work hard to prepare the children to strive for a good life and avoid evil. Part of this preperation is a frank discussion of the devil and hell. It’s not pleasent, but necessary.
    One area that is very difficult to discuss is the fate of those not in the church. My wife and I are converts. None of our family is in the church, and few are even nominal christian. My wifes parents are atheist. My older children are of an age that they are starting to put “2 and 2” together. They have started asking what is going to happen to the rest of the family. I don’t know how to answer this well. I tell the children that God’s plan is clear. We know what is expected of us. However, I also tell them that God’s mercy is abundent and that He alone will judge. It is hard for children to understand. Sometimes, it’s hard for me, too.

  11. Captain Peabody says:

    The Dies Irae is indeed a beautiful, beautiful thing to know and to hear and to allow to sink into one’s soul. I memorized the Latin a few years ago, and the power of it still astonishes me.

    Quid sum miser tunc dicturus,
    Quem patronum rogaturus,
    Cum vix iustus sit securus?

    What shall I then, wretched, say,
    What patron shall I ask,
    When even the just man will hardly be secure?
    Praeces meae non sunt dignae,
    Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
    Ne perenni cremer igne.

    My prayers are not worthy,
    But you, good, do benignly,
    Lest I burn with eternal flame.
    Lacrimosa dies illa,
    Qua resurget ex favilla,
    Iudicandus homo reus,
    Huic ergo parce, Deus.

    Pie Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem.

    That sorrowful day,
    On which shall rise again from the ashes,
    the guilty man to be judged;
    Spare him therefore, O God.

    Pious Lord Jesus, give them rest.

    What else is there to say?

  12. lucy says:

    I, too, have five children and homeschool them out of necessity (no decent Catholic schools here). I find that the Seton Home Study School’s religious materials are fine for imparting the subject of Hell, the Devil, Heaven, God, the Angels, etc.

    To Ralph above – I, too, am a convert and think about the very things you’re talking about here. My family is mostly Protestant (several different kinds), and my own father remains unbaptised. I implore my children to remember grandpa in their prayers, to ask God for his conversion before death, or that at least he will be baptised. I often beg God during the consecration for this very thing. I am doing what God said to do – Ask and you will be given it. I only hope that my dad makes the right choices before his death or at the moment of death.

    Because God’s mercy is complete, there must be a justice to that mercy. If a soul chooses Hell, he chooses hell. It’s all justice and mercy together.

    I tell my children the cold, hard facts. This is not our home. Heaven is our home. And if we love our brothers and sisters of the earth, we must pray for their conversion. God has put upon all our hearts a place for Himself. It up to us to act on filling that void. Our job is to pray for them. We cannot know the good we do by praying for souls to be saved.

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    I have to confess that I would most likely be dammed for eternity if I were to die this second, because I have rejected the grace of God and crucified my loving saviour and Bridegroom of my soul, I am thankfull that tonight the Bishop is saying Mass for the reopening of a Church so I hope to find an Alter Christus to confess too.

  14. Gail F says:

    David Bentley Hart has a great piece in the current First Things about the stock character Don Juan, and how he began as an unrepentant sensualist and ended as a sort of Milton’s Satan, attractive for his defiance, before fading from drama as — Hart says — people stopped believing in Hell. Interesting stuff.

    As far as the production goes, though, I think the problem must be with the director. An actor is supposed to ACT. He doesn’t have to believe in Satan to play Satan (or a character who does believe in Satan). If the director wanted a production that took the author’s plot seriously, he/she would have produced one. The question is, why didn’t he/she? Was it a “people today don’t believe in that stuff” decision, a “I want to be arty and subvert the author” decision, or a complete lack of understand of what Marlowe was saying? I have known enough actors and directors to know that they do not all understand the material they work with!

  15. I also have 5 kids and no everyone in the extended family is living a good life. There is no one alive today who is surely “going to hell” because everyone while still alive has a change at God’s mercy, but it is clear that some people appear to be headed in that direction. So our response is, “Pray for them.”

    Fr. Z asked a question and gave a homework….

    My hope is that in the instant of death I will plead with complete earnestness “MERCY!! MERCY!! MERCY!!” like the tax collector in the temple. I sin but it galls me because I want so badly to be with God even now. As for the homework… I think a soul would first think, “FINALLY!! I am rid FOREVER of God and can just please myself!” and in the next instant become painfully aware of how puny, pathetic, unsatisfying, and worthless getting what it wants is. I sometimes imagine that hell is getting exactly what one wanted in life and facing how undesirable it really is for eternity. Like, boatloads of gold and nothing satisfying to spend it on.

  16. Brad says:

    I hope Father won’t mind me posting this link. To my friends who buy and read: get ready, because you will be liquified constantly as you read, in good and bad ways.

  17. JohnE says:

    The first 10 seconds in hell….I hope to never find out! I’d imagine it would be an experience of immense fear followed by despairing rage and hatred against everything especially myself and God. I think there would be knowledge that justice was done, but an irrational hatred of justice, and an all-consuming fear and rage that do not even have temporary relief. The most intense rage would be directed toward my own existence due to my realization that I am not God, and to God due to my realization that He is. There would be no point where I could move on to something else.

  18. albizzi says:

    If people are not able to earn the Paradise out of love for God, at least may they avoid to be damned out of fear of Hell
    Of course, if they don’t fear Hell, certainly they will be damned.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    The heresy of universal salvation is alive and well in Britain. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with two intelligent lay women, one of whom denied the efficacy of Baptism, basically stating that children who are unbaptized have not a different status than those who are….This is common stuff here, and the denial of Satan must be blamed on priests, who either state that evil is “merely the absence of good”, which I have heard, or the outright denial of a person of Satan as a fallen angel, which I have heard multiple times for the pulpit. Except for one dear Latin Mass priest in Iowa, and another one in Illinois, I have not heard a sermon on Satan and going to Hell for over thirty years–no exaggeration. Some people feel that it is politically incorrect to state that some of the dead actually go to Hell. Justice, as well as Mercy, must be taught from the pulpit. How many youth and not so young, through occult activities and the reading of occult books, are seriously in danger of damnation, without a word from the clergy. We need some strong teaching on Hell, Satan, and personal judgement, for the sake of souls.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    May I add that another laxity from the pulpit is the lack of the old teaching on the four (or five) sins which cry out for vengeance from God. These sins, stated clearly in the Catechism, as well as in Scripture, are rampant, owing to the machinations of the Evil One. We need such teaching, again, for the sake of souls, which, as St. Therese the Little Flower stated, are going to Hell like leaves falling from trees in Autumn. Sad and scary. Priests do not teach that mortal sins and even venial sins must be avoided in order to be holy, instead, calling people “saints” and “holy” when we are far from that…

  21. Some thoughts of Fr. Z’s question…I know that when I die I will, as all will, face particular judgement at the awesome judgement seat of Christ. He will not have to ‘add up points’ or look me up in a book–he will simply show me the truth about who I am, how much pain and misery my sins have caused and how much unmerited good his grace has done for me and, through me, for others *in spite of my poor intentions*. I am not yet perfected in Charity, so that vision of the Truth will be a painful thing to see, a final falling away of all of my illusions about myself. And I will have, at that moment, a choice that is all at once perfectly determined and perfectly free: everything that I have made myself by my acceptance of God’s grace (or lack thereof) will either 1) give me the courage to reach out and cry for mercy or 2) close my eyes to the truth forever in what scripture calls the ‘second death’. I pray that by trying to accept God’s grace here and now by living a life rooted in the sacraments, prayer and the Church I will have the humility of heart to choose #1. The Father certainly wants me to make that choice and sent his Son to do everything possible to ensure it…even still (as the CCC says) hell remains the radical possibility of human free will.

  22. The Cobbler says:

    Hell better be real, ’cause the alternative is God makes us happy with Him whether we want it or not; who wants to worship some cosmological rapist?

  23. APX says:

    @Deo volente
    Isn’t part of the problem too the N.O. funeral Mass with white vestments and spoken tributes to the deceased who are all “now in heaven?”

    A member of our parish died last week, and wasn’t even buried yet on Sunday when our priest told us just before the final blessing that he “[Knew X] was in Heaven right now singing along with us.” I almost fell over in disbelief, and prayed three Hail Mary’s for that person’s soul right after Mass.

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