I saw this morning that my older article Annihilationism and Pope Francis had been visited quite a few times. This time, it is the same Italian newspaper reporter and the veracity of the story is disputed. I will therefore keep out of it. It is the second report of exactly the same theme: the Pope saying that there is no Hell and that the souls of unrepentant (mortal) sinners are annihilated.
I don’t know what is going on with this Papacy and I had it in mind since his election in 2013 to stay away as much as possible.
Whatever the veracity of this story I am in several minds myself. There are several references to a “dark place” in the Old Testament and Greek philosophy. Questions of the afterlife are confusing and of their very nature speculative. I have read a Russian Orthodox priest’s ideas in an essay – that hell is ourselves, our own being closed in onto our selfishness and therefore total loneliness. That would be one dimension. We also have the universalism of Origen, that there would always be hope for all souls even beyond death. There are many images and notions of eternity and time.
Death is always mysterious, and the unknown is so tantalising. One thing I am learning from the Romantics (and the mystical tradition in Christianity) is not to pretend to possess the truth and the Absolute but to be seeking it and yearning for it. This is the issue of foundationalism in philosophy which I am trying to learn to understand. I am a Catholic, not under the Pope, but in a Church that seeks this same Absolute in prayer and quietness.
I think we should keep it like that, contemplating the descent of Christ into that “place” from which he drew countless numbers of souls to bring them into the same Paradise as the repentent thief. That is hope and consolation.