Apparently it's all the rage these days to talk about hell. Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, provoked a lot of discussion among mainstream evangelicals, and has already produced a response book, Christ Alone. The Splintered Light Bookstore here in Charlottesville is now featuring on display no less than four books on the subject, including the two mentioned above, a book called Hell on Trial: the Case for Eternal Punishment, and (my personal favorite title), Hell Under Fire.
So what does Florensky have to say on the topic? In order to understand, one has to understand his underlying philosophy of doctrine. Religious doctrine is antinomic, meaning it contains contradictions within itself. Rather than being a sign of its weakness, this is precisely its strength: the thesis and antithesis strengthen one another, rather than diminishing or destroying each other.
With that in mind, here is an extended quote from TPGT, Letter Eight, which is entitled "Gehenna," summarizing Florensky's remarkable views on eternal punishment and carefully distinguishing them from other more prevalent views:
And so, we have described two series of progressively refined views. It is easy to remark that they hav eone and the same deficiency: they both rationalize the mystical process of punishment and purification, so that, according to the law of identity, sin is represented as either the very substance of the soul (the first series of views is of the "Protestantizing" variety) or as purely external in relation to the soul (the second series is of the "Catholicizing" variety). But neither view can be accepted. A man with evil will can in no wise be forced to change this will. But as long as he does not change it, he will not be reformed. Sin cannot be removed from a man without touching his inner essence (contrary to the second series). But, on the other hand, we cannot imagine a man who is absolutely and thoroughly corrupt, for this would mean that God's creation has not succeeded. The image of God cannot perish (contrary to the first series). Only one conclusion is possible from this, a conclusion which was drawn by us before, i.e. antinomy.Of course, I may be doing the reader a disservice, since by this point he should have already read through Florensky's lengthy discourse on the separation of the soul from the body, the separation of the self from the soul, and the utterly demonic nature of evil. It is only after one has plunged deep into the depths of his spiritual explorations that one can truly appreciate this man's rather simple, if intentionally contradictory, view of judgment. But alas, there is no time or space here to treat the entire letter.
Thus, if you ask me, "Will there in fact be eternal torments?" I would answer "Yes." But if you were also to ask me, "Will there be universal restoration in bliss?" I would again say "Yes." The two are thesis and antithesis. I think that only the view expounded here satisfies both the spirit and the letter of the Holy Scripture as well as the spirit of patristic writing. But, being inwardly antinomic, this view requires faith and absolutely does not fit into the plane of rationality. It is both "yes" and "no." It is an antinomy. This indeed is the best proof of its religious validity.