How Can One Be Happy in Heaven Knowing a Loved One Is in Hell

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The blessed are meant to know which of their loved ones are in Hell as pointed out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ( CCC 1039) where the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare at the Last Judgement. By this revelation, it appeared the blessed will be unhappy to find out that their loved ones are in Hell which may evoke a feeling of pity for them. But this is very unlikely to happen as there are two major ways of reconciling the happiness of the blessed in Heaven and their knowledge of their loved ones in Hell.

The first way to achieve the reconciliation is by allowing the blessed see perfectly the sufferings of the damned (Their loved ones). Knowledge of these sufferings doesn’t take away the happiness of the blessed rather it contributes to it. But one will be forced to ask if there is hatred in the blessed who finds happiness while knowing that their loved ones are in Hell. To this question, St Thomas Aquinas explains that the blessed don’t do that because they are perfected in Charity. The sufferings of the damned are only indirectly a matter of rejoicing for the blessed “by reason…of something annexed to it” (ST supply.III : 94:2). In simple terms, Aquinas was saying that the blessed are perfected in virtue and hence cannot rejoice in the punishment of the damned as such but only in that which is ” annexed” to the torments of the damned- namely, the order of divine justice and their deliverance from experiencing such torment. It is these two things that directly fill the blessed with joy while the punishment of the wicked cause their joy indirectly.

Another way to reconcile the happiness of the blessed and their knowledge of their loved ones in Hell is to deny the fundamental assumption that the blessed pity the damned. If the blessed in Heaven don’t pity their loved ones in Hell then the problem of how they can be happy will not arise. St.Thomas Aquinas addressed the issue in article two of the same question (Question 94) of the supplement of the third part of the Summa that concerns the relation of the saints to the damned. He started by distinguishing the two ways a person can have compassion or mercy. The first is by way of passion and the blessed will not be able to do that. The second is by way of choice which he concludes that the blessed will have for the damned. “When someone has compassion by choice he wills that another’s evil cease” he explained. Compassion by choice presupposes the possibility of the pitied to move from a state of unhappiness to a state of happiness, As such,when such movement is not possible there can be no compassion. It was this principle that backed up Aquina’s belief that the blessed do not pity the damned because they are incapable of moving from a state of unhappiness to happiness since their choice is irrevocable after death. Their wills are fixed on evil leaving nothing good within them. The possibility of a sinner changing from evil to good, unhappiness to happiness can only happen in this world. However, this movement is no longer possible for the damned and so, the blessed cannot pity them or share in their unhappiness.

In conclusion, It has become clear now how the blessed in heaven can have knowledge of the sufferings of their loved ones in Hell and still be happy by these two ways: The divine justice is annexed to the suffering of the damned and the blessed cannot pity the damned.

Summarised by Chioma Betina Okwara

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