From the Incarnation onwards the history of the world is the history of the Christian Church, and the end to which the whole process is moving is the remaking and gathering together of the whole human race through incorporation into Christ. It does appear that there will be at the end of time some human souls who have rejected finally and irrevocably the gift of eternal life. In admitting this, I do not mean to imply that I find the doctrine of hell anything but terrible to consider; but, while we cannot say that any particular person is in hell, loyalty to the plain teaching of the Gospel compels us to recognize that the final separation of a human soul from God is a very genuine possibility. We need not hesitate to acknowledge that in the popular mind, as moulded by the stories of nursemaids of the last generation but one and the sermons of the less scrupulous type of preacher, the doctrine of hell has been so conceived as to make religion a matter of fear rather than of love, and that the torments of hell have sometimes been depicted in crude and even ridiculous ways. But, in its essence, hell simply means that a man's ultimate destiny is determined by his own decision, and in this sense we must surely agree with Mr. Eric Gill that the doctrine of hell 'implies the most stupendous compliment to man humanly conceivable.' To-day, he says, 'the doctrine of hell is not disbelieved because kind people have persuaded us that a kind God would not be so unkind, but because we have slipped down from the proud eminence upon which, with great pain and labour, religion had placed us--an eminence upon which we stood as men meriting to receive the uttermost praise or the uttermost blame--...into an easy place where we can grovel comfortably.' Hell does not, it must be repeated, imply a denial of the love of God; what marks it off from heaven is not anything in God, but the condition of the human soul. The joys of heaven, the joys and pains of purgatory, and the pains of hell all proceed from the love of God--in heaven from love returned to its fulness; in purgatory from love returned, but as yet only in part; in hell, from love rejected. 'It is terrible,' writes Martin, 'to fall into the hands of the living God, for those hands give to each man what his will has settled on.'
We are not concerned here to consider fully the doctrine of hell, but we are concerned to recognize that it is not incompatible with the truth of the Church's final perfection, the plemora which will be achieved when, after 'all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all'; the apocatastasis, or restitution of all things; the anakephaloaisois, or recapitulation of all things in Christ. For it is of the essence of the notion of hell that the damned are altogether excluded from the community of the redeemed. They do not form a kind of fringe or slum of the heavenly Jerusalem, whose presence is a perpetual reproach to it, as the depressed areas in England where a reproach to the national honor; they are not in it at all, they have ceased to count. And if it be urged that heaven will be numerically incomplete by the number of the damned, the answer must be that the perfection of heaven is not a numerical perfection anyhow. For even heaven is composed of created beings, and is therefore finite: to demand that it should be so perfect that nothing more perfect were conceivable is in effect to demand that it should not be finite at all; in fact, that it should be just God himself. There can be no a priori calculation of the number of the redeemed; that is a secret hidden with God. As de Lubac writes:
'The Church is, in fine, nothing else than humanity itself, vivified, unified by the Spirit of Christ. She was willed by God to animate creation.' Woe then to him who separates himself from her! If schism is the sin unto death, death itself, damnation, is a schism: the supreme schism, the total alienation, the decisive severance; and one which can be the lot of those who are to all appearance the most ardent enthusiasts for unity: for it many are within who seem to be without, some can be without who pass for the guardians of that which is within. Novit Dominos qui sunt jus. But, whatever may be in this respect revealed at the Last Day, one thing is certain: the Church will not enter the kingdom mutilated. In the Jewish legend, when Lot's wife had been changed into a pillar of salt, one limb after another was successively torn from her; however, by a miracle of immediate restoration, she always remained whole. So also the Church, the salt of the earth, is often maimed, but finds her limbs again. And so humanity itself: all its defections leave no void in it. They can do nothing against its fulness. As in our fleshly body the members are jointly involved in one another, so humanity will share in the destiny of him who took it as his body. Since the Head has triumphed, the whole Body, the Pleroma, will be saved.'