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A copy of Fr. James Schall’s newest book,  The Modern Age , recently arrived in our offices. As the title implies, the scope of the work is in fact vast, but the book itself is not more than 250 pages. As anyone familiar with Fr. Schall’s work might be able to predict, it eschews the often-bloated ‘general survey’ format in favor of a series of comparatively brief (but incomparably well-sourced) reflections on aspects of the problem. In one chapter of particular merit, entitled “The Brighter Side of Hell,” Schall comments on the reason for the doctrinal insistence of the reality of hell, even in a time when such insistence is decidedly unfashionable and even supposedly mean-spirited. Without diving into a speculative debate over the actual “population” of hell, as Frs. Neuhaus and Dulles once did in the pages of this magazine, Schall examines the relationship between the afterlife and the weight of humanity’s God-given freedom:

Far from being absurd or cruel, when spelled out, hell is the guarantee that our lives are really and ultimately important . . . We do matter. Our choices provide a clear record of what we are, what we make ourselves to be . . . It is not forced upon us. Personal salvation cannot take place without our freedom. Even God cannot make it otherwise because God too respects the dignity of His own creation of a free being, the creation of which He obviously considered to be a good thing.

It’s a very Catholic vision, for sure, echoing Dante’s insistence that even hell is a place forged by “wisdom in the highest / and of primal love.” It also forms a nice counterpoint to another recently-arrived book on the same subject:  The Love Wins Companion .

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