As a cloud is consumed, and passeth away: so he that shall
down to hell shall not come up. (Book of Job, vii. 9)
I. For the damned, There is no return to pardon, or to what they
A cloud hangs in the upper air; but pressed by the wind it is driven
on and floats away; in the sun’s heat it will dissolve, and so it vanishes.
And so is it with men’s hearts, which through the gift of reason soar upwards
to the heights, but pressed by the breath of an evil spirit, they are borne
hither and thither by the evil impulses of their own desires. But, in the
stern presence of the Heavenly judge, they dissolve as if by the heat of
the sun, and then, once delivered to the place of suffering, return no
more to this freedom to serve God. And so listen to the holy man Job, describing
this upward soaring, the course and decline of man’s life, telling us:
As a cloud is consumed, and passeth away: so he that shall go down to
hell shall not come up. As though he were to say simply: ‘Soaring high,
he fails who by exalting himself goes towards his own destruction; whom,
if sin has once dragged down to punishment, mercy shall no more return
to pardon.’ And so he goes on:
V.10. Nor shall he return any more into his own house.
II. The house of the soul is that in which it dwells by loving. The
hearts of the despairing are like clouds. They are scattered.
As a house is the corporal dwelling of the body, so to each mind that
is a house where it is wont through desire to dwell. Once a man is given
over to eternal punishment, he is recalled no more to that house to which
he had clung fast from love; and thereafter he shall return no more
into his own house. Even the name of hell can signify the sinner’s
despair; for of it the psalmist says: In hell, who shall confess thee?
(Ps. vi. 6). For this reason was it also written: The wicked man when
he has come into the depths of sins, becomes contemptuous (Prov. xviii.
3). For whosoever succumbs to wickedness, dying, leaves wholly behind him
the life of justice. And he who after he has sinned, is also overwhelmed
by the weight of despair, what is this but, after dying, to be buried in
the torments of hell? Well therefore is it said: As a cloud is consumed,
and passeth away: so he that shall go down to hell shall not come up;
for it will often happen that despair goes in company with evil; and the
way of return is thus cut off. Rightly therefore are the hearts of the
despairing compared to clouds; because they grow dark in the mists of evil
belief, and dark from the multiplicity of their sins. But dissolved, they
vanish; for in the splendour of the Last Judgement they come to nothing.
House is also used to mean the dwelling-place of the heart. So
to a certain man who was cured was it said: Go into thy house (Mk.
v. 19); for it is fitting that a sinner, after he is forgiven, should return
to his own mind, lest he yield again to that for which he will justly be
punished. But he who has gone down to hell, he shall come up no
more to his own house: for he whom despair has overwhelmed, it sends forth
from the dwelling place of his heart, and he is unable to return within
again; for, once driven forth, urged on he falls daily to lower and lower
things. For man was made to look upon his Creator, to dwell upon His beauty,
to live in the joy of His love. But sent out of himself through disobedience,
he has lost the place of his soul; for wandering in darkened ways,
he has gone far from the dwelling place of the true light. So fittingly
there is also added: Neither shall his place know him any more.
III. God is the place (house) of man; abandoned through disobedience.
At the judgement, God shall not know them who here despised him.
The place of man, but not his place in space, is the Creator Himself,
Who created man that he might dwell within Himself. This place man abandoned
when, giving ear to the voice of the tempter, he abandoned the love of
the Creator. But when Almighty God, redeeming us, showed Himself to us
in a bodily manner, and, if I may say so, following in pursuit of man who
had fled from Him, He came to us as a place wherein He might keep lost
man. If the Creator may not be spoken of as a place, the psalmist
praising God would not have said: The children of thy servants shall
dwell there (Ps. ci. 29). For we do not say there, unless referring
to some particular place.
But even after they have been helped by the Redeemer, many fall into
the darkness of despair; and they fall the more terribly, the more they
despise the remedies of salvation He now offers them. Rightly then is it
said of the man who is damned: Neither shall his place know him any
more. For the more he now despises God Whose gifts recall him to the
grace of reparation, the more his Creator, then stern and terrible, shall
not know him at the judgement. So let us carefully note, that he does not
say: Neither shall he know his own place any more,’ but says: Neither
shall his place know him any more. For since knowing is here attributed
not to a man, but to a place, the word place plainly refers to the Creator
Himself, Who, coming as a stern Judge to Judgement, shall say of those
who have continued in iniquity: I know you not whence you are (Lk.
xiii. 25). But the Elect, seeing the reprobate so severely rejected, daily
purify themselves the more earnestly from the stains of the evil they have
committed. And when they see others who shall perish grow cold through
the love of this life, they rouse themselves earnestly to tears of repentance.
Hence of the Just the Psalmist says: The saints shall rejoice in glory:
they shall be joyful in their beds (cxlix. 5). For when men turn away
from the evils outside them, they begin to rejoice in glory, safe in the
secret places of their souls, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.