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Why, then, had he come hither? Was it but the mockery of penitence? A mockery, indeed, but in which his soul trifled with itself […] He had been driven hither by the impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere. (12.2)
Dimmesdale doesn't have the guts to face judgment—he can hardly even face his own soul's judgment. No wonder the narrator calls him a coward.
This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do neither, yet continually did one thing or another, which intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the agony of heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance. (12.2)
Our Shmoopster brains just can’t help but stare at the phrase "heaven-defying guilt" here—what does that mean? Does it mean that the guilt Dimmesdale endures will ultimately prevent him from getting into heaven? Or does it mean that the guilt he imposes upon himself is not necessarily the kind of guilt that heaven endorses?
"At the great judgment day!" whispered the minister, —and, strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Then, and there, before the judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!" (12.17-28)
All the judgment on earth is just preparation for the big judgment day, when it's not just a bunch of sour magistrates deciding your fate but God himself. We get the feeling that Hawthorne thinks that maybe the magistrates should leave the judging up to God.