16. The advocates of eternal punishment bring forward the following argument:
“The rewards accorded to the good, being eternal, must have their counterpart in an eternity of punishment. Justice demands that the degree of punishment should be proportioned to a similar degree of reward.”
Refutation. — Does God create a soul with a view to rendering it happy or to rendering it unhappy? Evidently, the happiness of the creature must be the aim of its creation, as, were it otherwise, God would not be good. The soul attains to happiness as the consequence of its own worthiness; that worthiness once acquired, its fruition can never be lost by the soul, for such a loss would imply degeneracy on its part, and the soul that has become intrinsically good, being incapable of evil, cannot degenerate. The eternity of happiness of the purified soul is therefore implied in its immortality.
But, before attaining to perfection, the soul has to wage a long struggle, to fight many a battle with its evil passions. God having created the soul, not perfect – but susceptible of becoming such, in order that it may possess the merits of its labors – the soul may err. Its lapses from the right road are the consequence of its natural weakness. If, for a single error, the soul is to be punished eternally, it might fairly be asked why God did not create it strong to begin with? The chastisement that the soul brings upon itself, by its wrongdoing, gives it notice that it has done wrong, and should have for effect to bring it back to the path of duty. If its punishment were irremissible, any desire on its part to do better would be superfluous; and, in that case, the Providential aim of creation would be unattainable, since, although there would be some beings predestined to happiness, there would be other beings predestined to misery. But if we admit that a guilty soul can repent, we must also admit that it can become good; if it can become good, it may aspire to happiness: would God be just if God denied to it the means of rehabilitation?
Good being the final aim of creation, happiness, which is the result and reward of goodness, must, in the nature of things, be eternal; but chastisement, which is only a means for leading the soul to goodness and to happiness, must be only temporary. The most elementary notion of justice, even among humankind, suffices to show us that it would be unjust to inflict perpetual punishment on one who had the desire and the determination to amend.