+ A.M.D.G. +


1. Hell is the abode of everlasting torment.

The unhappy rich man of the Gospel prayed Abraham to send one from the dead to his brothers “that they might not come to this place of torments” (Luke xvi. 28). In His discourse on the general judgment Christ speaks of hell as “everlasting punishment” (Matt. xxv. 46). Hell is both a place and a state. As a place it is situated beneath the earth. Hence the expression in the Creed “Descended into hell”; and we call hell an abyss. In the exorcisms we find the expression: “God has cast you from the heights of heaven into the bowels of the earth.” Hell is sharply defined from heaven; between them yawns a chasm (Luke xvi. 26). The lost are separated from the saints (Matt. xxiv. 51). With good reason St. John Chrysostom exhorts us not to inquire so much where hell is as how to avoid it. Hell is a state, and moreover the continuation of that same state in which the sinner is found at death. “Thus,” says St. John Damascene, “the pains of hell are due not so much to God as to man himself.” Since hell is also a state, it is quite clear that the evil spirits may be near to us (1 Pet. v. 8), and even dwell in sinners (Matt. xii. 45). Even the pagans believed in a hell; hence the story of Tantalus, condemned to suffer perpetual hunger and thirst, and unable to satisfy either, because the water which he tried to drink or the fruit which he attempted to eat withdrew from his lips; the Danaids, condemned to draw water in sieves, and Sisyphus, forced ever to push a great rock to the top of a hill only to see it roll down again, furnish other examples of this belief.

The torments of hell are terrible; for the damned never see God, they are in the company of evil spirits and in fire, they endure great anguish of mind, and after the resurrection will have to suffer in their bodies.

St. Paul says: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. x. 31). St. John of the Cross teaches us that as a hundredfold is promised for every sacrifice that is made, so for every unlawful pleasure indulged in, a hundredfold penalty must be paid. St. John Chrysostom applies the words of St. Paul on heaven to describe hell: “Neither eye hath seen nor ear heard, nor hath it entered the heart of man to conceive what God has prepared for them that love Him not” (1 Cor. ii. 9). Christ calls hell an “unquenchable fire” (Mark ix. 44), because the sensation of burning is the greatest pain which man can conceive on earth. In other places He speaks of the “outer darkness” (Matt. xxii. 13) because the damned never see God, the source of eternal light. It is the place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. viii. 12), “where the worm never dies” (Mark ix. 43), and conscience never ceases to reproach the damned. Christ also speaks of the lost as “bound hand and foot,” to show that they have no freedom and are in a place of banishment. From the words used by Christ to the damned: “Depart from Me, into everlasting fire” (Matt. xxv. 41), we learn that they have a double pain; they are banished from the vision of God (pain of loss), and condemned to suffer torment (pain of sense). The pain of loss is the greatest of the sufferings of hell. The greater the value of what is lost, the greater is the pain of the loss. “The damned have lost what is of infinite worth, hence their pain is infinite,” says St. Alphonsus. How keenly does he suffer who is cut off from the sight of the beauty of creation by blindness; yet how much greater is his suffering who is deprived of the sight of the infinite beauty of God (St. John Damascene). The possession of God, the highest good, is the end of every rational being. This is evident from the way in which man in this life strives after the greatest happiness. This longing increases after death, for then the things of earth no longer distract the mind, nor can they give any more satisfaction. What an awful fate if this longing can never throughout eternity be satisfied! In the words of St. Augustine: “It is right that he who rejects God should be rejected of God.” The sorrow of Esau in the loss of his father’s blessing is but a type of the sorrow of the damned for the loss of the vision of God. The saints have trembled at the mere thought of this loss. The damned have no communication with the blessed. They may see them as the rich man saw Lazarus: “They see them not to their joy, but to their sorrow,” says St. Vincent Ferrer, “they see them as a hungry man may look on a plenteous table which he may not touch.” Besides this the damned have much to suffer from evil spirits; and it is meet that those who sided with and subjected themselves to the evil spirits on earth should be of their company after death. We are warned in the book of Job and in the case of the possessed persons in the Gospel, how cruel the devil is when he has a little power. What an awful experience it must be for the damned in hell, where the devil has full power! The damned in hell cause one another great suffering; for they hate one another. In that region of hatred of God there is no love of God. Hence the numbers in hell only increase its torments. More over fire will torture the lost souls . “They shall be sunk in fire like fish in the sea,” says St. Alphonsus. And we learn from the teaching of Christ (Luke xvi. 24) and the holy Fathers that this fire is a real fire. Even on earth God punished by fire the sins of Sodom and Gomorrha (Gen. xix. 24; 4 Kings i. 14). “If,” says Bellarmine, “the soul can be united to the body so as to suffer in company with it, so can the soul be reached by this avenging fire.” Is it so much beyond almighty power that God could not call into being all those sensations in the soul, which the latter had while in the body? It is probable also that the fire of hell is not like fire as we know it on earth. Our fire destroys; that of hell does not consume but rather preserves, as salt preserves meat (Mark ix. 48); our fire gives light, while in hell there is darkness (Matt. xxii. 13). Our fire warms, while the fire of hell is accompanied by an insupportable cold, and moreover it is much more painful; “Our fire,” says St. Vincent Ferrer, “is cold in comparison with that of hell.” The soul suffers also from continual remorse of conscience. The lost are given up to despair; they recognize what fools they were to reject God’s grace so often, and to prefer a passing pleasure to eternal happiness. How unhappy they are in losing forever that God Who loved them so much! And their shame is ever present, for their sins are revealed to all, and those whom they despised and laughed to scorn on earth are now in honor.

“They will be tortured with envy,” says St. Anthony, “for they will envy the blessed their glory.” Our experience on earth teaches us that mental suffering is often greater than bodily pain; suicides con firm this. After the resurrection the lost will have to suffer also in the body: “They shall come forth to the resurrection of judgment” (John v. 29). All their senses will receive punishment; the sight by darkness, the hearing by the wailing and cursing of the other lost souls (Matt. viii. 12), the taste by hunger (Luke vi. 25) and thirst (Luke xvi. 24), the smell by the unbearable stench, and the sense of touch by the torture of heat and cold. Other pains may be added; for instance, we read of wicked men whose bodies were devoured by worms (Acts xii. 23).

The tortures of the damned are eternal.

Satan with his followers is cast into a pool of fire and brimstone, where he will be tormented day and night forever (Apoc. xx. 10). In hell there is no redemption, for the day of grace is gone (John iii. 36). Life in hell is the “everlasting death” or “second death” (Apoc. xxi. 8), for a life without joy and full of torture is rather death than life. “O Death!” says Innocent III., “how sweet wouldst thou be to those to whom thou wert so bitter!” Christ tells us that the pains of hell are eternal; He calls the fire of hell an everlasting fire (Matt. xxv. 4-1), the torment of hell eternal (Matt. xxv. 46). So too teaches the Church in the Council of Trent. The error attributed to Origen (254 A.D.) that the punishment of hell came to an end was condemned by the Church (Council of Constantinople, ii., 553). “Eternal woe is due to him who destroys in himself eternal good,” says St. Augustine. Our judges on earth inflict lifelong punishment on criminals, and even a sentence of death.

The torments of the damned are not all alike, but vary according to the sin.

“The punishments in hell are not all alike” (Council of Florence). According to St. Thomas they are as various as the sins committed on earth; they depend on the nature, number, and gravity of the sin. Those who have lived in pleasure shall be punished by a corresponding amount of suffering and torment (Apoc. xviii. 7). The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha will have a lighter judgment than that city which rejected the apostles (Matt. x. 15).

2. The souls of those who die in mortal sin go to hell.

By grave sin a man cuts himself off from God; and in that state is like a branch broken off from Christ the vine, which withers and is cast into the fire (John xv. 6). The souls of those who die in mortal sin go at once into hell (Council of Lyons, ii.). In particular the following go to hell: the enemies of Christ (Ps. cix. 1), all those who refuse to believe in the Gospel (John iii. 18), the impure, thieves, covetous, railers (1 Cor. vi. 10), all who have neglected the talents given to them by God (Matt. xxv. 30); many who were among the first on earth (Matt. xix. 30). Those, too, who die with only original sin on their souls (unbaptized children) go to hell; (i.e., are excluded from the vision of God), but are not visited with the sufferings of those who have committed actual sin (Council of Lyons, ii.). A single mortal sin, done however secretly, is enough to send a man to eternal perdition.

Sinners begin their hell even on earth.

The wicked are like the raging sea which can never rest (Is. Ivii. 20). Every sinner sits in “darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke i. 79). To him the lessons of religion are folly (1 Cor. ii. 14). It is in the hour of death that the worldling will awake to his misery; at present he feels it not, because he is distracted by a thousand things. Think often about hell; the thought will keep us from sin. “Often go down to hell during thy lifetime, that thou mayst not have to go after death” (St. Bernard). “He who despises hell or forgets it,” says St. John Chrysostom, “will not escape it.”


This article, 4. HELL is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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