Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory the Great

Messa-di-S-Gregorio-Magno-400x517-400x517In relation to the Mass, St. Gregory the Great is perhaps especially remembered by many for the Eucharistic Miracle that occurred in 595 during the Holy Sacrifice. This famous incident was related by Paul the Deacon in his 8th century biography of the holy pope, Vita Beati Gregorii Papae.

Pope Gregory was distributing Holy Communion during a Sunday Mass and noticed amongst those in line a woman who had helped make the hosts was laughing. This disturbed him greatly and so he inquired what was the cause of her unusual behaviour. The woman replied that the she could not believe how the hosts she had prepared could become the Body and Blood of Christ just by the words of consecration.

Hearing this disbelief, St. Gregory refused to give her Communion and prayed that God would enlighten her with the truth. Just after making this plea to God, the pope witnessed some consecrated Hosts (which appeared as bread) change Their appearance into actual flesh and blood. Showing this miracle to the woman, she was moved to repentance for her disbelief and knelt weeping. Today, two of these miraculous Hosts can still be venerated at Andechs Abbey in Germany (with a third miraculous Host from Pope Leo IX [11th century], thus the Feast of the Three Hosts of Andechs [Dreihostienfest]).

During the Middle Ages, the event of the Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory was gradually stylised in several ways. First the doubting woman was often replaced by a deacon, while the crowd was often comprised of the papal court of cardinals and other retinue. Another important feature was the pious representation of the Man of Sorrows rising from a sarcophagus and surrounded by the Arma Christi, or the victorious display of the various instruments of the Passion.

The artistic representation of this Eucharistic Miracle became especially prominent in Europe during the Protestant Reformation in reaction to the heretical denial of the doctrine of the Real Presence.

[Source]

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A short biography of Saint Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great (540-604), also known as Gregory I, is one of the four great Traditional Doctors of the Latin Church (along with Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and Saint Jerome).

Born in 540 A.D., at Rome, Italy, Gregory was the son of a wealthy Roman senator and Saint Silvia of Rome. He was educated by the finest teachers in Rome and became prefect of the city of Rome for one year, when after much prayer and inner struggle he then sold all his possessions, turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used the money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. He entered the Benedictine Order, where he lived as a monk before being appointed cardinal-deacon, and then sent to the Byzantine court to secure aid against the Lombards. The result of his six year sojourn was a conviction that Rome must not rely on the East for help.

One day after his return he came across some fair-complexioned youths being sold in the Roman slave market. Asking where they came from he was told they were Angles, which prompted his famous remark: “Not Angles, but Angels! What a pity that God’s grace does not dwell within those beautiful brows!” From then he decided he would go as a missionary to England to bring these people to Christ. Unable to go himself by his election to the Chair of Peter soon afterwards, he sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury with a band of missionaries in his place.

Gregory was elected 64th Pope by unanimous acclamation on September 3, 590, and was the first monk to be chosen as pope. With his election to the papacy, he published a work on episcopal duties, which was used for centuries and wrote abundant doctrinal and spiritual writings including some very influential works on the Mass and Office. He established the system of appeals to Rome, and is also recognised as an administrator and lawyer. Gregory collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him and now known as Gregorian Chant. He also sent missionaries to France, Spain, and Africa.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great died of natural causes on March 12, 604 at Rome, Italy and was canonised by popular acclaim. He was the first of the Popes to be called “the Great” in recognition of his outstanding gifts and ministry.

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46 Responses to Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory the Great

  1. kathleen says:

    Toad, I’ve taken part of your comment from the other thread to respond to here, on the topic it refers to…

    Why would the woman in the story laugh? She might not believe – but how, or indeed, why – would she think it funny? Which is to say, I’m somewhat dubious of the story’s veracity.

    Well Toad, I expect she “laughed” (or perhaps she was sniggering into her hands) because she saw the holy reverence St. Gregory and others were showing to the Most Holy Sacrament and thought they were being hoodwinked.
    (Hmm… now why does this remind me of someone I know?😉 )
    Through the prayers of the holy Pope, Our Lord revealed to one and all in this account above, that after the Consecration that she was denying in her mind, the bread becomes truly His Sacred Body, and the wine truly becomes His Precious Blood.

    I don’t disbelieve in the Real Presence. I just don’t know. And I believe nobody knows for sure. So I reserve judgement on this issue.

    Don’t beat around the bush. Saying you “don’t know” that Our Lord’s Real Presence is there in the Consecrated Host, is as good as saying you don’t believe it, Toad.
    We “know” because this was clearly told us in Our Lord’s own words in all four Gospels, further explained in the various Epistles, then by the writings of the Great Doctors of the Church, saints, martyrs, throughout the history of the Church, and is a fundamental Truth of our Catholic Faith.
    If you simply have doubts, ask God to increase your Faith in the words of the man in the Gospel story:
    “I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

    Nobody “knows for sure” you say? We know it through our Faith in Our Blessed Lord Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

  2. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 19:40, September 4th:

    Amen, amen and amen. Very well said indeed – this really does cut to the heart of the matter!

  3. toadspittle says:

    “Don’t beat around the bush. Saying you “don’t know” that Our Lord’s Real Presence is there in the Consecrated Host, is as good as saying you don’t believe it, Toad.”
    No it’s not.
    Saying I don;t know what quantum theory is isn’t the same as saying I don’t believe it.
    Saying I don’t know if there are wild boar within a mile of my house is not the same as me believing there aren’t any.
    …But we are getting nowhere here. As usual.

  4. kathleen says:

    …But we are getting nowhere here. As usual.

    Forever wallowing in the inconsistencies of Relativism, plus “making words mean whatever you fancy them to mean” (depending on the situation), is definitely not going to get you anywhere, ever, as you say. Only more of the same: vacillation, dissatisfaction… and eventually one day, sorry to say, despair! (Either that, or the mind would have to be so anesthetised that no feelings penetrate, i.e. a zombie-like state.)

    Honestly, Toad – you tell me – what’s the point of your continuous ‘broken-record’ asking of the same old questions if you reject, every single time, the patient, logical and well-reasoned answers given you? [I’m thinking here also of your days’ old discussion with Michael on the other thread.] You never appear to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and truly tackle the argument at heart – but what (think about this, please) is stopping you? It seems to me that every time you get a little close to ‘seeing the light’, you balk at the ‘door’, and go off on one of your usual tangents mixing unrelated nonsense with the original subject you yourself had raised. Why? Perhaps merely so that you can avoid having to face the mind-boggling fact that there just might be, after all, a God Who is Truth Itself?

  5. toadspittle says:

    I don’t see it that way at all, Kathleen. I think I do take the bull by the horns, and am then accused of blasphemy – and censored. Well, that’s your call.
    However, you will be gladdened to know that your comment above arrived serendipitously – just at the moment when an ineffable weariness regarding all this seemingly endless metaphysical nit-picking came over me.
    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the same thing had happened to you.
    So, I will try hard not to comment any more – however tempting a point Rogebert or Michael makes.
    My decision will cheer up GC, anyway. And that’s a good enough reason in itself.
    It’s been a pointless exercise for you all and me – and it’s got to stop.
    It’s very boring.

  6. kathleen says:

    Toad, I’m not asking you to go – nobody wants that, and certainly not our lovely GC. (What’s got into you recently, the way you keep picking on her? She’s been one of your most patient and witty combatants.)
    I’m only asking you why such a basically intelligent man – who only pretends to be “thick” (there, I’ve admitted it) – cannot argue, or perhaps I should say discuss, the subjects that you yourself bring up and ask about, without bringing in unrelated and very silly ideas that have nothing to do with what you were originally asking! Just stick to the subject.
    That is what is meant by “taking the bull by the horns”: confronting the question head on, following the line of discussion down the line, without side-stepping it and coming out with banalities.

    Blasphemy is mockery of the Divine, not simply just denying (or doubting) your own belief in something, like in the case of Transubstantiation of the species into the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, “blasphemy” of the Most Holy will get you censored on CP&S – you know that by now. (I wasn’t the one who censored you, but I entirely agree with whoever it was.)

  7. toadspittle says:

    OK, Kathleen . I will give it one last despairing shot: You say it’s all been explained patiently before, and I honestly think it hasn’t
    But, to use an infuriating expression “bear with me” one more time – and you, or anyone – answer this basic question:
    How can eternal damnation be justified?
    You say it’s been answered foor me before. I think not. Saying people “choose” eternal anything is patently absurd. You can’t sensibly, reasonably, and logically – above all knowingly – choose something that is utterly beyond your comprehension – can you? I have Unamuno, Lewis Carroll, and Anthony Kenny on my team (or rather I’m on theirs.) all “infinitely*” smarter than me. So, it’s not just a foolish old Toad talking here.

    (Do’h. 15 minutes more time wasted on CP&S. Will you never learn, Toad?)

    * Well, a very great deal smarter.

  8. geoffkiernan says:

    To all the usual suspects out there…. Stop picking on Toad!

  9. kathleen says:

    Ah, Geoff, you must be referring to me. Sorry, Toad, if you also think I have been “picking” on you; above scoldings were not meant to be seen as that.

    A quick reply to your old question, and then I’m off to the early Mass which is always the most serene and devout. Today it shall be offered for you… and that, if it be God’s Holy Will, you will one day receive your own “Damascus experience” opening your eyes to Truth.😉

    How can eternal damnation be justified?

    I agree this is a tricky one, but it has been discussed and explained at great length on here.
    Basically, our true home is Heaven; for this we were created with an immortal soul. Those who end up there [Edit: in Hell] have refused God’s gift of eternity in His Holy Presence. In the next world we are outside of time (yes, I know, that fact is beyond our understanding) so it is not a matter of the ticking of the clock watching the minutes pass for all eternity, but more of a state of being. One can imagine that we shall be learning new things as well mind you, whilst being filled with the joy of God’s presence, and that of all our loved ones, angels and saints, but it is not to be compared to the passing of time as in our pilgrimage here on Earth.

    God love you, Toad.

  10. toadspittle says:

    Nope, sorry . No good, Senseless – for several reasons. Goodbye. Off to church myself.

  11. johnhenrycn says:

    It’s hilarious when people like Toad and Keyhole flounce off with a ‘promise’ never to return. The only people capable of keeping such vows are wise enough not to indulge in all that Goodbye Cruel World malarky, prudentially realizing they may be unable to resist just one more charge. Toad in particular reminds me of this ditty:

    ♬ But the cat came back the very next day,
    The cat came back, we thought he was a goner
    But the cat came back; it just couldn’t stay away.
    Away, away, yea, yea, yea ♬

    http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/c020.html
    Which reminds me…where’s Brother Burrito these days? Off to the Åland Islands again for his summer hols?

  12. Michael says:

    You say it’s been answered foor me before. I think not.

    If this question (along with several other points presumably) have never been answered satisfactorily, then I do wonder why the questions keep being asked. I think this was part of Kathleen’s point actually – that the curiosity about such matters which might lead one to ask questions about the Faith (even after never having had those questions answered to your satisfaction) is strange, to say the least. If one is convinced that (sticking with your example) eternal separation from God can never be justified, then it seems a bit odd to keep asking why it can be, knowing that you will almost certainly reject any explanations (having heard them all before).

    Saying people “choose” eternal anything is patently absurd. You can’t sensibly, reasonably, and logically – above all knowingly – choose something that is utterly beyond your comprehension – can you?

    It is not as if people, at some point in their life, think ‘where would I rather go – Heaven or hell?’ and then choose between the two. One’s final destination is the result of many choices throughout one’s life, which shape the fundamental preferences of each person. To borrow from a short article I read just this morning:

    ‘<i.Where the soul goes after death is decided by one’s free will to choose either God or himself. In other words, which do we love more. St. Augustine says, “wherever it is that I go, my love is what takes me there.” Scripture talked about the dead Apostle Judas on a grim note by saying “he went to his own place.” He seemed to love himself more than God, and so who he loved the most sent him there. Once we come to the end of our lives, we will have made a choice by who we love. Love of God takes us to God, while a love of self as distinct from God will separate us from God.‘

    http://renewedhopeministry.com/2015/09/06/journey-of-the-soul-after-death/

    As Kathleen said, eternity is not just endless extension of time, but a position in some way outside of our current temporal experience. However, it is also possible to conceive of a state wherein, even if our experience of time were the same as it is now, someone who has so fully preferred to be their own lord in this life, will continue to do so in the next, even if they begin to become aware of the stupidity of such behaviour. We can see this in this life, where people often continue to indulge in some kind of highly destructive behaviour, and either cannot or will not pull themselves out of it, preferring their own state of misery precisely because they can still say that they are doing what they want.

    Again, it is the illusion of absolute autonomy that is the key here – a state which it is not inconceivable to imagine will only deepen the more one distances oneself from God; and it is this distancing which characterises what we mean when we talk about hell. How many will actually end up like that is something only God knows, but it is at least a possibility given what we know of human perversity and reluctance to relinquish the priority of selfhood even when faced with consequences deleterious to the very self involved.

  13. kathleen says:

    What an absolutely wonderful and insightful explanation, Michael! (Shame we don’t give ‘stars’ to top comments on CP&S, like Fr. Z does on his blog; this comment certainly deserves one.😉 )

    And that was such a beautiful quote from St. Augustine! In fact the whole article you link to was very good. Will Toad read it though, or try to honestly understand what is being said, I wonder?

    Re your first paragraph – yes, you are right; asking constant questions on the same topics, without ever being satisfied with the answers, nor bringing up any logical rebuttal to any of the points supplied in them, is just a useless waste of everyone’s time.

  14. Tom Fisher says:

    it is also possible to conceive of a state wherein, even if our experience of time were the same as it is now, someone who has so fully preferred to be their own lord in this life, will continue to do so in the next, even if they begin to become aware of the stupidity of such behaviour

    Michael, that vision has more to do with thoroughly modern apologists such as C.S. Lewis than it does with traditional Christian belief. In traditional Christianity Hell is the state of inconceivable suffering experienced forever by those who are damned. Lurid descriptions of the agony of the damned can be found throughout patristic writings. According to Aquinas observing this suffering will be a source of pleasure to the saved. — But that is not doctrine. However, Hell is Hell. If you believe in it then you have to confront what it actually means; The Great Divorce is a fun read, but it’s modern apologetics, not traditional Christianity.

  15. Michael says:

    Tom @ 13:30, September 7th:

    Two points:

    1. Do you believe that doctrine develops – that is, that our understanding of a particular doctrine can deepen or expand, whilst remaining consistent to the essence of that teaching? That, I would suggest, is what we see in discussions about the nature of hell over the last century or so. Furthermore, there are also plenty of Church Fathers who described hell in the terms I’ve outlined above; patristic writings do not consist solely of ‘lurid descriptions of the agony of the damned’, and this is something generally more characteristic of the medieval period.

    2. Are you seriously saying that The Great Divorce is the only representative of this understanding of hell? It may well be closely associated with Lewis, because of his fame, but he was only re-articulating something that had become common amongst theologians in his day, a good few before his time, and things he found in patristic writings (particularly Saint Athanasius of Alexandria I think).

  16. Michael says:

    Thank you Kathleen! Here is another translation of that quote (highlighted) from Saint Augustine, in its original context (Confessions, Book VIII, Chapter IX):

    Weight goes not downward only, but to its own place. Fire tends upwards, a stone downwards. They are propelled by their own weights, they seek their own places. Oil poured under the water is raised above the water; water poured upon oil sinks under the oil. They are propelled by their own weights, they seek their own places. Out of order, they are restless; restored to order, they are at rest. My weight is my love; by it am I borne wherever I am borne. By Your Gift we are inflamed, and are borne upwards; we wax hot inwardly, and go forwards. We ascend Your ways that be in our heart, and sing a song of degrees; we glow inwardly with Your fire, with Your good fire, and we go, because we go upwards to the peace of Jerusalem; for glad was I when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. There has Your good pleasure placed us, that we may desire no other thing than to dwell there for ever.

    All of which could serve as a commentary on Matthew 6:21🙂

  17. Tom Fisher says:

    Michael,

    Do you believe that doctrine develops – that is, that our understanding of a particular doctrine can deepen or expand, whilst remaining consistent to the essence of that teaching?

    It’s conceivable. But in what sense would you say that the traditional understanding was insufficiently deep, and in need of expansion?

    patristic writings do not consist solely of ‘lurid descriptions of the agony of the damned’, and this is something generally more characteristic of the medieval period.

    The Church Fathers were a diverse bunch, but even if we restrict ourselves to Augustine, I think that we’d find a view of Hell which has little in common with modern belief. In the City of God he spent quite some time demonstrating that the body, not just the soul, would suffer the pains of eternal fire.

    C.S. Lewis didn’t invent the romantic view of damnation, but he popularised it, and surely you’d agree that the overwhelming majority of pre-20th Century Christian writers wouldn’t have accepted it?

  18. Michael says:

    But in what sense would you say that the traditional understanding was insufficiently deep, and in need of expansion?

    In the sense that it didn’t take into account the role we actually play in our own downfall, and didn’t bring out the implications of the role that pride and willfulness contribute to our separation from God in this life and the next. These are insights that are far from absent in the patristic period (especially, but not only, in the Greek-speaking Fathers), are heavily implicated in what we believe about Original Sin, and are also made more apparent the further one reflects on the doctrine of Purgatory (it is curious actually that when that doctrine came to the fore more fully, in the medieval period, that hell tended to be thought of mostly in punitive terms).

    The Church Fathers were a diverse bunch, but even if we restrict ourselves to Augustine, I think that we’d find a view of Hell which has little in common with modern belief.

    Then why restrict ourselves to Augustine? My point is that the Fathers did not just have one view on the nature of hell. If we are going on what can be found in Tradition, the free-will account of damnation has a lot more support than, say, universal reconciliation (which I admit had a couple of supporters as well).

    C.S. Lewis didn’t invent the romantic view of damnation, but he popularised it, and surely you’d agree that the overwhelming majority of pre-20th Century Christian writers wouldn’t have accepted it?

    That he popularised it is beside the point – the point is that he didn’t invent it, and that its recent popularity is not an issue unless you a.) don’t believe that doctrine can develop, or b.) don’t think this ‘romantic’ view has any roots in the patristic era. I would say that the free-will account is a valid development of the fundamental teaching that hell exists and it is possible to end up there, and that it very much does have patristic roots – i.e.; it is not a novelty, and even if it hadn’t appeared before now, would represent a valid development. In this case I would actually see it as a recovery rather than a recent development, but either way, I don’t see any conflict.

  19. Tom Fisher says:

    Michael, Re:

    I would say that the free-will account is a valid development of the fundamental teaching that hell exists and it is possible to end up there, and that it very much does have patristic roots

    And,

    If we are going on what can be found in Tradition, the free-will account of damnation has a lot more support than, say, universal reconciliation (which I admit had a couple of supporters as well).

    I find the optimism of Origen (for example) very appealing, but universal reconciliation has of course been rejected by the Church. Which is a salutary reminder that we can’t simply ‘take’ what we find most appealing in the Church Fathers — the Medieval Church (by its legitimate authority) distilled, defined, and transmitted the Patristic writings. And it was St Augustine’s vision (mainly) which the Middle Ages inherited. And we see it in (say) Dante and Aquinas. — It is fundamental to this view of damnation that concrete mortal sins are literally damnable; it is a characteristically modern view to argue that damnation consists in an ultimate and abstract ‘rejection’ of God. — I much prefer the view popularised by Lewis, but I don’t think it has a rock solid basis in Catholicism.

  20. Michael says:

    Which is a salutary reminder that we can’t simply ‘take’ what we find most appealing in the Church Fathers

    I’m not saying that we do that – I’m saying that the patristic witness does not consist, to the extent that you suggested it does, of ‘lurid descriptions of the agony of the damned’; it is much more varied. Re-reading your previous comments though, I am a little unsure which aspect of the free-will view it is you think goes against Tradition – the idea of our damnation being based on some kind of rejection of God, or the kind of suffering involved? Re the latter point, hell is no less terrible because of the way it is popularly described, or because of how one gets there.

    It is fundamental to this view of damnation that concrete mortal sins are literally damnable

    How so? The free will view and teaching on mortal sin are perfectly consonant as well, as someone whose will is primarily ordered towards to God will not knowingly commit a grave sin. Mortal sins are, in that sense, ways of gauging what one loves more – God or self.

    it is a characteristically modern view to argue that damnation consists in an ultimate and abstract ‘rejection’ of God.

    Again, just because this view is popular now, it does not mean that it was not present in the patristic period. Given that it was present then, and by no means an isolated view, it cannot be written off as just a modern invention.

  21. Tom Fisher says:

    I am a little unsure which aspect of the free-will view it is you think goes against Tradition

    Well I’d say that the Traditional understanding of Hell has the following characteristics:

    1.) Damnation can be brought about by the concrete fact of dying with an unconfessed mortal sin, or rejecting the Church without being in a state of invincible ignorance.

    2.) Hell consists of the experienced and eternal torment of both body and soul. Best conceptualised as endless suffering.

    I find the two points above profoundly troubling — so did CSL — so do you, I’m sure. But they are the traditional Christian position. What you call the ‘free will account’ would reorient everything to rejection of God, and getting what ‘we choose’ — but I think it’s an apologetic innovation

  22. Michael says:

    Tom @ 15:52, September 7th:

    I’m really not sure how the two points conflict with the free-will account (not sure what else to call it; I’m certainly not going to call it the ‘romantic’ view) at all. As I said, someone who knowingly commits mortal sin precisely is someone who rejects God; they have committed it because they prefer to choose their own path in contrast to His – to speak otherwise would be to countenance Rahner’s ‘fundamental option’ theory, which is unsound. Similarly, there is no reason why, on the free-will version, hell should not consist of the experience of suffering. As I said above, hell is no less terrible just because it is founded on a rejection of God.

    I think it’s an apologetic innovation

    Well, yes, and I don’t. I’ve said why, and assume you disagree with those reasons. Stalemate on that note I suppose!🙂 One ‘follow-up’ question though – your argument here is based on the fact that you think the explication of hell as I’ve given it is contrary to Christian tradition; yet you (if I remember rightly) are a ‘hopeful’ universalist – why the concern over consonance with Tradition in one case but not the other?

  23. Tom Fisher says:

    your argument here is based on the fact that you think the explication of hell as I’ve given it is contrary to Christian tradition; yet you (if I remember rightly) are a ‘hopeful’ universalist – why the concern over consonance with Tradition in one case but not the other?

    Fair question! The honest answer is that I am troubled by an internal contradiction in my own attitudes. On the one hand as you rightly say, I am very influenced by Balthasar’s optimism (not strictly universalism). I also find CSL’s account of damnation somewhat appealing. — But (and this is the contradiction) the overwhelming weight of Tradition seems to me to point in a starkly pessimistic direction.

    So I’m partly putting the pessimistic case in the hope of seeing it refuted🙂

  24. Michael says:

    So I’m partly putting the pessimistic case in the hope of seeing it refuted

    Haha – I see what you mean! Sorry to not have been able to convince you (thus far at least). The reason I mentioned universalism is that if you can see your way to accepting this in some way, despite its being a position in direct contradiction of what the Church teaches, then perhaps you may be able to see how the account of hell I have been talking about is legitimate, given that it:

    a.) Does not contradict other understandings of hell, neither denying the experience of suffering nor the relationship between the willful committing of mortal sin and damnation.

    b.) Has support in the patristic period, to a greater extent than universalism, for which one can only really look to Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Origen (and, a fair bit later, later Saint Isaac of Nineveh) as support.

    A free-will defence of hell is (I contend) not a novelty, has significant roots in the early Church’s discussion about the nature of damnation, and does not contradict any fundamental teachings about what hell is. It does differ significantly from ‘lurid descriptions’ of how bad hell is, but such descriptions are rhetorical tools, not doctrine.

  25. Michael says:

    P.S. Just in case you were under the impression that Lewis himself (I return to him because, as you say, he is the most well-known populariser of this idea) thought of his presentation of hell as in any way less problematic than others, or even as ‘romantic’, here are a couple of relevant quotations from his chapter on hell in The Problem of Pain:

    There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.

    We are told that it is a detestable doctrine – and indeed, I too detest it from the bottom of my heart – and are reminded of the tragedies in human life which have come from believing it. Of the other tragedies which come from not believing it we are told less. For these reasons, and these alone, it becomes necessary to discuss the matter.

    I am not going to try to prove the doctrine tolerable. Let us make no mistake; it is not tolerable. But I think the doctrine can be shown to be moral, by a critique of the objections ordinarily made, or felt, against it.

    Now it is quite certain that all these expressions are intended to suggest something unspeakably horrible, and any interpretation which does not face that fact is, I am afraid, out of court from the beginning.‘ (on the imagery used by Our Lord to describe hell in the Gospels)

    Even if it were possible that the experience (if it can be called experience) of the lost contained no pain and much pleasure, still, that black pleasure would be such as to send any soul, not already damned, flying to it’s prayers in nightmare terror: even if there were pains in heaven, all who understand would desire them.

    http://www.5novels.com/classics/u5584_18.html

  26. kathleen says:

    “In traditional Christianity Hell is the state of inconceivable suffering experienced forever by those who are damned.”

    Tom, that is correct, and it is still true today. “Modern apologetics” as you call it (those that are orthodox of course) do not deny that to be separated for God forever, irrevocably, is “inconceivable suffering”. What has been given more emphasis in today’s understanding of the Doctrine of Hell is that mental anguish and torment is a far greater form of suffering than anything physical ever could be. (And yes, through our own wrong “choices”, we have only ourselves “to blame” if this is our final destiny.*)
    We can see that in our own lives. Is not the betrayal of the person we love passionately; or the loss of a beloved child through accident or mortal illness; or the suicide of someone close to us (hoping to escape the pain of chronic depression) that we feel we should have tried to avoid; or soul-destroying regrets from irremediable past errors and mistakes, etc., etc., not every bit as bad as the worst toothache in the world?

    In the Agony of the Garden, Our Blessed Lord reveals to us the depths of torment in the soul that man can reach. His sweating of blood (Luke 22:44) was the visible sign of this unimaginable agony He suffered for our Redemption. The pinnacle of all His sufferings during the Passion and Crucifixion was, in His Humanity, not the physical but the mental agony of abandon and rejection. “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” He Who was Love Itself, Who for love of Mankind had taken on Human Flesh to lead us to Heaven by His Word and His Sacrifice on the Cross, was ‘allowed’ to suffer the greatest agony of all – to see Himself forsaken by the Father and repudiated by His people.

    Will there literally be a burning fire in Hell, such as seen by the little visionaries at Fatima? We do not know, but the fact of the matter is that if this is just symbolic language, it follows that the reality in mental anguish will be worse than any form of physical pain and suffering.
    This is why, at a time when men were starting to question the existence of eternal suffering, Our Lady showed the horrific vision of Hell to the children and told them to pray constantly and make sacrifices for people living in mortal sin on the path to Hell, that they may be given the grace to repent.

    “Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in Thee.” The separation of the soul from God is spiritual death where there is no ‘rest’.

    * We should never forget that God is also Divine Mercy. Many a soul (like the Good Thief, Dismas) will be saved at the last moment of life from his life of sin through a turning towards God’s outpouring of Mercy and Love.

  27. Tom Fisher says:

    Kathleen, I’ve just read your comment above. Once again you have distilled a great deal of meaning into just a few paragraphs. I might disagree here or there if I reply in full; but for now thank you for your reply. As our American friends would say, you’ve hit it out of the park again

  28. johnhenrycn says:

    Tom at 10:42 –

    Apparently this Lewis essay still does have copyright protection, but (without knowing diddly squat about copyright law) is a mere link, or alternatively a link with a brief extract as in Michael’s last comment, a violation of copyright? In any event, guess who holds the copyright:
    “© 2013-2014 Free Novels Online, a not-for-profit organization. Contact us – redstone2016@yeah.net

  29. Tom Fisher says:

    JH, I certainly didn’t mean to criticize Michael. But the website itself does seem a wee bit (polite cough) problematic. They advertise a variety of recent books on their homepage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not especially bothered, but I bet it’ll be gone within the month

  30. johnhenrycn says:

    Kathleen asks: “Will there literally be a burning fire in Hell…”©

    Meaning no disrespect to those who do think so, that seems a too literal, a too fundamentalist rendering of the bible passages in question. For what it’s worth, I consider the Lake of Fire to be in the realm of mythic truth, which is to say, something which is true, but which our limited vision and powers of description cannot fully put into words.

    I occasionally (very occasionally) experience a severe tingling in one of my legs that has nothing to do with any external stimulus, but is nevertheless quite hellish. Finally and actually knowing that there is a Heaven which one has lost for eternity – not just fearing that there could be – that knowledge has got to be the worst form of torture imaginable, with every ‘nerve’ in our immortal bodies, minds and souls forever rubbed raw at the thought

  31. Michael says:

    Tom @ 10:42, September 8th:

    Yes, I see what you mean. I did consider typing the quotes myself from the paperback copy on my shelf, but basically gave in to laziness. I’m thankful for Johnhenry’s suggestion that linking to the site isn’t itself problematic – just hope he’s right! Would it still be an issue if I had quoted from the book itself? If not, perhaps a moderator could remove the link and insert a page reference instead (The Problem of Pain (1980), pp.106-114, Fount Paperbacks)?

  32. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 10:48, September 8th:

    I second Tom’s approval – an excellent summary. You’ve captured some very essential stuff that I had been dancing around the edges of without being able to get to the heart of, and done so with admirable clarity. I think you should award yourself the Fr. Z style gold star!🙂

  33. Michael says:

    For what it’s worth, I consider the Lake of Fire to be in the realm of mythic truth, which is to say, something which is true, but which our limited vision and powers of description cannot fully put into words.

    I’ll second that too JH – very well put indeed. One small query though (and forgive me if I have asked this before – I have a distant memory that this is so) – what, in your opinion, is the distinction between the mythic and the metaphorical? I would ordinarily have put the fire of hell into the latter category.

  34. kathleen says:

    Thank you Tom and Michael.

    However, on a re-read of my comment, I now think my, “through our own wrong “choices”, we have only ourselves “to blame” if this [Hell] is our final destiny” is rather poorly expressed. Though we are instructed by the Church to make every effort to avoid even venial sins – for they can be the gateway to hard-to-break bad habits and even greater sin – these “choices” (bad choice (haha) of word) are not just little peccadilloes that can lead us to lose our souls, but a continual, knowing and increasing desire to take the non serviam route away from God. Those deeply immersed in evil will find it very hard to turn from, even on their deathbed. On the other hand: “A young man according to his way, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6)

    @ JH

    Sorry to hear about the “hellish” pain you get in your leg sometimes…. and thank you for a good laugh on your following “fears” at the very idea of this lasting for eternity!!
    Offer up the pain for sinners (as I’m sure you already do) and your suffering will be turned into ‘pure gold’ – or as good as.🙂

  35. Mimi says:

    I feel compelled to share one of my favourite C.S. Lewis quotes (apologies to those who don’t find Lewis so convincing!):

    “People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature…Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

  36. johnhenrycn says:

    Michael (14:54) –

    Is the Lake of Fire a myth or a metaphor? Can it not be both? Was there really a Trojan Horse involved in the Fall of Troy? ‘Trojan Horse’ is both a figure of speech (i.e. a metaphor) and a myth. There really was a Troy, long thought to be a mere ‘myth’ without any historical truth. We learned less than 150 years ago that the myth was true. Now, the reality of the mythical wooden horse might have actually involved an earthquake opening a breach in the walls of fair Ilium and its subsequent pillage by the Greeks. We can ask the same about Jericho. ‘Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho’ is a famous metaphorical African slave song about struggling for freedom. But the mythic trumpets of Joshua and the tumbling of the walls of ancient Jericho may eventually be explained by an Israelite attack occurring at the same time as a natural cataclysm.

    So too, I suggest that the Lake of Fire is both a metaphor and a mythic truth. One book that has had a profound influence upon my thinking concerning the significance and possible ‘truth’ of some myths, is Thomas Mann’s book (tetralogy to be more precise), Joseph and His Brothers, which he considered his magnum opus. In the prelude, Descent Into Hell, or in the opening chapters of Book 1 (I read it at least 10 years ago), he enters into a fascinating contemplation regarding the dialectic of mythic truths and history.

  37. Michael says:

    Is the Lake of Fire a myth or a metaphor? Can it not be both?

    Erm, I think we may be talking at cross-purposes here Johnhenry. I don’t deny that events thought to be mythical can be (and often are, IMO) based on historical happenings, nor that myths can employ metaphors as part of their truth-embodying framework. What I really mean is, when dealing with something like hell-fire, and having already decided not to see this as literal fire, is there a difference between saying it is a metaphorical fire and saying it is a mythical one?

    To my mind, one of the things that separates the two is that the mythic is only concerned with narrative, whereas metaphor can be used with respect to isolated images (like the fire in hell). A second one (though I am less confident of this) is that myths are grounded in or connected to some historical fact or collective experience, whereas metaphors do not have to be, and can instead be used to describe abstract truths, unconnected with concrete experience(s).

    But the mythic trumpets of Joshua…

    I am not sure that this counts as mythic at all. As narrated by Scripture, it is presented as plain history. One could say that the way the ancient Hebrews (and people at that time in general) recorded history was deeply interpretative and allusive, not intending to record events straightforwardly as we would ‘do’ history now, but I don’t think this is the same thing as myth. Furthermore, if it turned out that there were never any actual trumpets etc involved, I think this would lead the author of the account open to a charge of mendacity, given that, as I say, there are no obvious indications it is meant to be read as a myth.

  38. GC says:

    JH @17:34

    ‘Garble is what we need now, Sisters. We are leaving now the sphere of history and are about to enter that of mythology. Mythology is no more than history garbled; likewise history is mythology garbled and it is nothing more in all the history of Man. Who are we to alter the nature of things? So far as we are concerned, my dear Sisters, to look for the truth of the matter will be like looking for the lost limbs, toes and fingernails of a body blown to pieces in an air crash.’

    ‘The English Catholic bishops will be furious at your citing Milton,’ says Walburga.

    ‘It’s the Roman cardinals who matter,’ says the Abbess, ‘and I doubt they have ever heard of him’

    (Dame) Muriel Spark (1908-2006) in The Abbess of Crewe

    .

  39. Michael says:

    Mimi @ 16:58, September 8th:

    Excellent quote! Dovetails very nicely with what Kathleen has written just above too🙂

  40. Michael says:

    P.S. JH, this is extremely tangential (the only real link is that the term ‘new mythology’ is mentioned!) but I just watched an interview with Sir Roy Strong, whom I knew next to nothing about previously, but who provides a rather enjoyable rant about the state of modern life*:

    It’s particularly enjoyable because you can tell the interviewer is being made highly uncomfortable during his rant (due to his having put forward some views more in keeping with the BBC’s left-leaning views earlier on)! Hope you enjoy…

    *In the last ten minutes anyway. Hopefully the link I’ve provided starts at about fifteen minutes before the end.

  41. Michael says:

    Oops – time thing didn’t work. Anyway, just fast forward to fifteen/ten minutes before the end – that’s when it gets interesting.

  42. johnhenrycn says:

    Michae (18:47) –
    I haven’t much more to add that will further our discussion about myth and metaphor, save to say that I didn’t mean the trumpets at Jericho were themselves mythical – just that their supposed effect upon the walls thereof probably was – and that some natural phenomenon (e.g. meteoric sonic boom, cavitation, sinkhole, earthquake, etc.) occurring at the same time may have been the real cause of the walls tumbling down, if they did in fact fall down. Or maybe the sound of the trumpets combined with fear, starvation and thirst, drove the city inhabitants to open the gates and surrender, or maybe the spies who Joshua had sent into the city found a weak spot in the city defences, and the trumpets blaring and the marching around the city were feints to distract the Jerichoans whilst that weakness was explored and exploited.

    I wonder if mystical revelations mentioned in the Bible are better thought of as metaphors or myths?

  43. Michael says:

    JH at 19:52, September 8th:

    Re Joshua and Jericho, I didn’t mean to focus on the trumpets in particular; I just mean that accounts (such as the ones you have just suggested) don’t seem to me to do justice to the way Scripture itself narrates the events. Anyway, my real concern was the distinction between the mythical and metaphorical as I outlined above – I would genuinely be interested to know your thoughts on this, and I am not so much arguing a case as trying to discern whether such distinctions as I have suggested exist or not.

    The question of whether mystical revelations in Scripture are better thought of as metaphors or myths of course cannot be assessed until we decide on the distinction between the two!🙂

  44. johnhenrycn says:

    That interview with Roy Strong, Michael: what a charming old fogey eccentric. I would love to share a bottle of wine with him sometime. He reminds me so much of another grammar school graduate of roughly the same age, Neville M. Gwynne, the Latinist, who shares his outlook on life. Gwynne appears in a few YouTube videos, including The Latin Class, which I won’t actually link because this thread is becoming very slow at loading.

  45. Michael says:

    what a charming old fogey eccentric

    He is indeed, and I know just what you mean. I shall look up Neville M. Gwynne on youtube. Bit early for the bottle of wine though…🙂

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