THE following is Gelo’s response to my previous article, An Eternity of Torment, which I have decided to publish in full, with only minor edits for brevity and correctness. My own reaction to it will come out in the next article: the Catholic view is kind of very difficult to discuss since it asks one to assume so many premises that all individually need a boat-load of unpacking. But you asked for it, Andy.
Before any talk of why a 'soul' that’s destined for hell after the death of the body remains so destined, it's first important to know, first, what exactly a 'soul' is, and second, what our natural knowledge of God is in this life.
On knowledge of God: it will suffice for now to say that God is the good. The Good Samaritan knows God insofar as he knows the good, despite that he doesn't know God in a completely theologically sound manner. Now, with that aside.
On the Soul: Aquinas argues that a soul--or that part of us which remains after death--is pure intellect and will. (This wasn't concocted willy-nilly, btw, as it all follows from his metaphysic, which all follows from his Aristotelian philosophy.)
Now, the Will follows the Intellect insofar as the intellect chooses the good towards which the will becomes directed.
A. The difference is that while the soul is attached, so to speak, to a corporeal body, its intellect has the ability to reason discursively--viz. it reasons from premises to conclusions, it favors one appetite over another, etc.
All that is to say the intellect can decide (or choose) between seemingly good things. But once the soul is detached from the body, there now exists nothing (be it cognitive processes or competing passions and appetites) that could lead it away from what it had already habituated itself to think is good. And, lacking the ability for sensations or imaginations--an ability it once had when attached to the body--there now exists for the soul no way of obtaining new knowledge.
On the issue of death being the point of no return for the soul:
1. From A, therefore a soul that had been habituated, prior to the death of the body, to be directed to some good other than God will have its will directed to that other good and be locked-on to it eternally.
2. From 1, a soul whose intellect had been so habituated will be forever separated from God.
3. Also from 1, a person who was habituated to hate God (or, the *good*) in this life will very likely be bound to have his will directed away from God upon death.
4. As an aside, it's probably not as bad as one tends to think. Well, it is, but not from the perspective of the damned, because if the damned are damned because they will some good other than God, then that entails they probably don't know what they're missing. They think they're directed towards some higher good, afterall.
5. As another aside, one must understand that the orthodox Christian understanding is that God is the ultimate good, therefore being with God just is what heaven is about, and being away from God just is what hell is about.
6. As another aside, this isn't the only theological explanation of the matter. There are others, and 'universalism' seems to be the one that's attractive to most. So a Christian (or anyone interested in concocting a disproof for Christianity for that matter) would do well to consider other explanations should he find this one unattractive, before throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.
All is not lost for the...ehrm.. lost soul, however. What is explained above is the 'just' side of God. There is a merciful side as well. I believe this has to do with some form or purgation of the soul after death. As to who will be so treated mercifully, I don't know. It's up to Him, I guess. But, like I said, accepting Jesus' sacrifice is what I believe will make the difference.