But what has Tertullian to do with orthodoxy?Isn't Tertullian considered an orthodox church father?
Regarding Aquinas, and others, such expressions can indeed be troubling, though I've found often less troubling when read in the larger context (as when St. Gregory of Nyssa said something similar)
What did Gregory of Nyssa say?
Tertullian is an important early historical source, but he has never been considered a church father or saint. He had some questionable ideas, and after first being orthodox he later went in a Montanist direction.
Regarding St. Gregory, he said this:
Somewhere in his utterances the great David declares that some portion of the blessedness of the virtuous will consist in this; in contemplating side by side with their own felicity the perdition of the reprobate. He says, "The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he shall wash his hands in the blood of the ungodly" (Ps. 58:10); not indeed as rejoicing over the torments of those sufferers, but as then most completely realizing the extent of the well-earned rewards of virtue. He signifies by those words that it will be an addition to the felicity of the virtuous and an intensification of it, to have its contrary set against it. In saying that he washes his hands in the blood of the ungodly he would convey the thought that the cleanness of his own acting in life is plainly declared in the perdition of the ungodly.
-- St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Infants Early Death
This seems to be walking a pretty fine line. People aren't rejoicing in the torment of others, but rather experiencing their own joy by virtue of being able to compare it with the opposite experience. But to what extent is that distinction believable if we consider that it is a friend or loved one who is serving as the point of comparison? Or, for that matter, if in Godliness we have true love for all, as saints say, then any
such point of comparison would seem to be difficult, whether we know them or not. Read in the broader context of that particular document, or all his works, its clear that St. Gregory is not sadistic, especially compared to other writers of the time (it was a hardened life, and so people were more open to hardened beliefs). I also think that the afterlife, like salvation in general, isn't defined so much as described. And it can't be described with one or two statements, but rather by dozens, which even Jesus shows by using so many different parables to describe it. No one way of speaking of it can be self-sufficient, and we'll each find some more helpful and some less. The point is not to pick and choose which you like, but rather to accept the truth that we are all different, and some react better to one action or word, others to different ones. As another St. Gregory put it:
For men and women, young and old, rich and poor, the sanguine and despondent, the sick and whole, rulers and ruled, the wise and ignorant, the cowardly and courageous, the wrathful and meek, the successful and failing, do not require the same instruction and encouragement. And if you examine more closely, how great is the distinction between the married and the unmarried, and among the latter between hermits and those who live together in community, between those who are proficient and advanced in contemplation and those who barely hold on the straight course, between townsfolk again and rustics, between the simple and the designing, between men of business and men of leisure, between those who have met with reverses and those who are prosperous and ignorant of misfortune. For these classes differ sometimes more widely from each other in their desires and passion than in their physical characteristics; or, if you will, in the mixtures and blendings of the elements of which we are composed, and, therefore, to regulate them is no easy task.
As then the same medicine and the same food are not in every case administered to men's bodies, but a difference is made according to their degree of health or infirmity; so also are souls treated with varying instruction and guidance. To this treatment witness is borne by those who have had experience of it. Some are led by doctrine, others trained by example; some need the spur, others the curb; some are sluggish and hard to rouse to the good, and must be stirred up by being smitten with the word; others are immoderately fervent in spirit, with impulses difficult to restrain, like thoroughbred colts, who run wide of the turning post, and to improve them the word must have a restraining and checking influence. Some are benefited by praise, others by blame, both being applied in season; while if out of season, or unreasonable, they are injurious; some are set right by encouragement, others by rebuke; some, when taken to task in public, others, when privately corrected. For some are wont to despise private admonitions, but are recalled to their senses by the condemnation of a number of people, while others, who would grow reckless under reproof openly given, accept rebuke because it is in secret, and yield obedience in return for sympathy.
Upon some it is needful to keep a close watch, even in the minutest details, because if they think they are unperceived (as they would contrive to be), they are puffed up with the idea of their own wisdom. Of others it is better to take no notice, but seeing not to see, and hearing not to hear them, according to the proverb, that we may not drive them to despair, under the depressing influence of repeated reproofs, and at last to utter recklessness, when they have lost the sense of self-respect, the source of persuasiveness. In some cases we must even be angry, without feeling angry, or treat them with a disdain we do not feel, or manifest despair, though we do not really despair of them, according to the needs of their nature. Others again we must treat with condescension and lowliness, aiding them readily to conceive a hope of better things. Some it is often more advantageous to conquer— by others to be overcome, and to praise or deprecate, in one case wealth and power, in another poverty and failure.
For our treatment does not correspond with virtue and vice, one of which is most excellent and beneficial at all times and in all cases, and the other most evil and harmful; and, instead of one and the same of our medicines invariably proving either most wholesome or most dangerous in the same cases— be it severity or gentleness, or any of the others which we have enumerated— in some cases it proves good and useful, in others again it has the contrary effect, according, I suppose, as time and circumstance and the disposition of the patient admit. Now to set before you the distinction between all these things, and give you a perfectly exact view of them, so that you may in brief comprehend the medical art, is quite impossible, even for one in the highest degree qualified by care and skill: but actual experience and practice are requisite to form a medical system and a medical man.
-- St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 2.28-33
That's one reason I mentioned the 'put it on the shelf' idea earlier in the thread. I don't think it's fair to assume that we will definitely understand something, or be helped by something, when we encounter it. Maybe we'll always find it confusing, or even repulsive. Or maybe things will change later. To put it another way: we shouldn't ignore problems, but we also shouldn't let them drag us down into the depths to drown when we could possibly have avoided that fate by keeping our wits about us and not thrashing around so much.