The teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas on “absolute evil” is the teaching of the Catholic Church: there is no such thing as “absolute evil” in the sense that evil can exist apart from some antecedent good which sustains it. To hold this, as do some groups, is to put evil on the same plane as good. The explanation of the good which accompanies condemnation to Hell is well explained by Saint Thomas:
“It is impossible for evil to be pure and without the admixture of good …. [So]those who will be thrust into hell will not be free from all good … [And even] those who are in hell can receive the reward of their goods, in so far as their past goods avail for the mitigation of their punishment” (Summa Theologica, Supplement 69.7).
Therefore, Hell is not a place of “absolute evil” because good is there; the goodness of God in holding in existence human and angelic persons, the goodness of the past good deeds of those damned, the goodness of God’s justice in that the suffering in Hell is commensurate with one’s sins.
“Absolute evil,” rightly defined, can be used as a phrase to indicate certain fixed features of the life of all those condemned to Hell, features which cannot be changed no matter how great they are, even though their conditions were lessened by all their past good deeds. These features are:
- The eternity of the punishment no matter how different from person to person in Hell; and
- The excruciating pain, despite the presence of good.
The term “absolute” indicates the common features of their punishment. It does not describe the degree of punishment and the presence of a certain goodness of the condemned, it allows for justice in the degree of the punishment. God’s punishments are just; He judges according to our deeds. The degree of suffering is proportionate to the degree of sin and the degree of past good deeds. The damnation of a person to Hell comes about primarily, not by the amount of evil, but by the complete, definitive refusal of the sinner to repent and accept the divine pardon offered to them before death (as with the definitive refusal of the sinful angels to repent). Hence, the term “absolute evil” must be used with care and must not be used to indicate unfairness in the punishments of the Lord. The worst evil that can befall us is the everlasting evil of being separated from the God for whom we were made. Let us pray constantly for the grace of final perseverance. (For Advanced Course 8-43 & 26-108. Added in 2018)