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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

Hell is the Absence of God--

Any of you Christian-type theologians out there who know where and when this concept originated? IE, that any place that was out of the presence of God was Hell? As opposed to the medieval idea of Hell as the inferno, a place of literal 'physical' eternal torment, a la Dante?


Nyah - I don't know that this concept is particularly Christian in origin, despite the early Catholic appropriation of the concept. If I were researching this from a strict Church perspective, I'd look to the first ecumenical council at Nicaea circa 325 C.E. and try to work my way backwards.

The council clearly stated that anyone denying the presence or existence of God (in all ways and forms) was considered an anathema. Perhaps this got linked up with "absence of God = hell" through some kind of logical progression. The council also said a heck of a lot more and established much dogma still in use today.

{shrug} Good luck.
Addendum -- I'm not sure that the concept of hell as the absence of God predates the descriptions later popularized by Dante; I don't know that one can put them on the same timeline. And Dante's descriptions aren't all that original -- they seem to date from the descriptions of the Judaic "Sheol" which themselves appear to have mesopotamian/egyptian origins... So, I think it's all a lot older than the relatively modern term "Christian."

Is there any aspect of it in particular that you want to analyze? The in absentia concept can pretty much be manipulated by any group in power to its own end.
Well, exactly. I'm trying to figure out where the concept of "hell as absence of God" replaced licking red-hot stoves for eternity in the theological, if not the popular, consciousness. *g*

I'm trying to shut up but I love this stuff...

Here's a statement by the Pope confirming the idea that Hell is a separation -- the documents I'm finding state that this redefinition of Hell, the rejection of Hell as a place, occurred with Vatican II. I'm not sure Protestant churches would have the collective clout to really redefine Hell..?

"During his weekly address to the general audience of 8,500 people at the Vatican on July 28, 1999, Pope John Paul II rejected the reality of a physical, literal hell as a place of eternal fire and torment. Rather, the pope said hell is separation, even in this life, from the joyful communion with God."

Re: I'm trying to shut up but I love this stuff...

When was Vatican II?
I'm trying to confirm my suspicion that that's the first time it's really stated *that way* in Christian Europe, yeah--but I didn't want to generate false positives by making that suggestion. I've written this lovely theological argument, which my research more or less supported--i.e., that Marlowe was the first guy to get that concept into English--and I was trying to figure out if I was blowing smoke.

I was raised Pagan, which means--despite research--I sometimes trip over bits of Christian thought and theology that I have absolutely never heard of, and book research is never any substitute for asking people who know what they're talking about.

Thus, All Knowledge Is Contained In Livejournal. *g*

Basically, I'm trying to figure out where Marlowe got his ideas. Which are, it seems to me from reading the man's work, very complicated indeed, and not the 'simple' atheism or agnosticism he usually gets credited (or tarred) with these days, Elizabethan atheism (like Elizabethan sodomy) not being quite what atheism is now.

Thank you!


Dante's vision of Hell is actually a little more complicated than 'literal physical eternal torment' and his theology is not that of the typical Medieval thinker.

For Dante, Hell is the absence of God. All of the stove licking and flying about in whirlwinds and transformations into lizards and bleeding thornbushes are the *effects* of that unnatural denial of God's love. The soul's natural state is to fly upward, toward God's presence, toward heaven. Those in hell must continually exert themselves to deny themselves heaven; thus, Hell is a very lively place and the torment is not just physical and literal, but spiritual and metaphorical as well. The damned damn themselves; they are responsible for their own torment.

I find it a very profound idea, actually. Shapes the way I think about my life--and I'm not a Christian, either.

The point being that Dante is another point on that Hell-is-the-absence-of-God continuum and not opposed to it.

Thank you, Stranger!


Sorry, that was me. SarahP

I'm not as familiar with Dante as I should be, but I've got a thorough grounding (3 college credits) in Milton. How similar is the theology there, do you know?


Milton and Dante. Interesting question.

Similar and different, I think. An immediately evident difference is that Dante was Catholic and Milton a Puritan, but I think their basic assumptions about personal responsibility are rather surprisingly similar. Then again, Dante was an oddball Catholic.

There's some politics in _The Divine Comedy_ (check out the lowest, coldest circle of Hell!), but I'd suggest that Dante's work is more personal and more philosophical/religious than _Paradise Lost_, which I see as a highly political work. There was political turmoil in Dante's Florence and Dante was in the thick of it, but Milton's England was dealing with the regicide of a king who saw himself as anointed by God. Milton himself wrote treatises justifying regicide (Eikonoklastes, among others, which you're already aware of, I'm sure). So the whole _Paradise Lost_ battle in Heaven and Lucifer's fall is an examination of the concepts of kingship and rebellion and a discussion of how earthly kings and subjects should deal with each other. That's how I read it, anyway.

I'm still freaked out by the fact that the Roundheads actually *executed* their king. Charles deserved it, but still! Seriously, amazingly radical.


Yes, it freaks me out too. And reminds me eternally never to get too complacent: in politics, things can change *dizzyingly* fast.


Oop, me again. SarahP
Hey, Sarah--do you want a livejournal code? You could just log in and be known to all. *g* And read the protected posts, and set up a friends page if you liked.

I have a bunch: email me if you want one.