by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
If there is any Topic that Preachers Hesitate to Preach-about, and Writers Hesitate to Write-about, it is the Topic of
Hell. Yet, we cannot do-away with the Reality, merely by Ignoring it, or Avoiding it because it is
Unpleasant. As Fr Walter Farrell, O.P. has stated, "What is Surprising,
and not at all Flattering to Humanity, is that Men should Shrink from the Truth of Hell, as if the Place of Eternal Torment could be
Obliterated by our Denial of it . . . It is the Height of Unreason to give a Divine Truth treatment of this kind"
(Comp. to Summa, 4, p. 452).
We who Profess the Catholic Faith, cannot Pick
and Choose between the Doctrines Revealed by
Christ, but must Accept His Word in All Things. As we shall see,
Christ Clearly and Frequently Referred-to an Eternal
Punishment for those who Die
Rejecting Godís Will.
The Divine Plan
The Scriptures place much Emphasis on the General Plan of Man's
Final End. The Whole of Mankind is Called-to that Final
Glorification with Christ, when the
Son will Present the Blessed to the
Yet, it is possible for the Individual to be Excluded-from that Final Fulfillment. The
Sacred Books utter Urgent Warnings as to the
Dire Consequences to those who would Exclude Themselves from this Final
Glorification, by Choosing a Life lived Exclusively-for Themselves, instead-of a
Life-for God in the Community of their Fellow Men.
God Wills that all Mankind be Saved,
yet He has given to each Man a Free-Will to Choose
God's Plan or
Reject it. In order to Save the Whole of Mankind,
Christ underwent His Passion
and Death, thereby Gaining Sufficient Graces
for the Redemption of the Whole Human Race. But once One Reaches the Use-of
Reason, in order to Share-in those Redeeming Graces, he must
Choose Christ, i.e. he must Believe in
His Redeeming Sacrifice, and
Choose to Follow-in His Footsteps by keeping
His Commandments. Those who Choose
Worldly Satisfactions Forbidden by
God, and Die Clinging Obstinately to that
Choice, have Chosen an
Eternity of Painful Separation from God.
Hardness of Heart
Saint Paul said of such Individuals, "They have not Opened their Hearts to the Truth in order to
be Saved" (2Thessalonians 2:10). Of all the Misfortunes that can
Befall Man . . . such as Severe Physical Affliction because of
Sickness or Accident, Total Loss
of one's Worldly Possessions, Abandonment by or Loss
of Family or Friends, etc. . . . none of these Misfortunes can Compare-to the
Affliction of "Hardness of Heart" in the
Rejection of God. Those Former
Afflictions bring Suffering in This-Life only, and can even Occasion a
Growing Closeness to God and a Greater Dependence on
Him; while the Last Mentioned, except for a Miracle of Grace, Increases the
Soul's Resistance to
Grace, and can even bring an Eternity of
Unspeakable Torment. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul speaks of this Hardness
"Do you not know that God's Kindness is an Invitation to you to Repent? In spite of this,
your Hard and Impenitent Heart is Storing up Retribution for that Day of Wrath when the Just Judgment of God will be Revealed, when
He will Repay every Man for what he has done: Eternal Life for those who Strive for Glory, Honor and Immortality by Patiently doing
Right; Wrath and Fury to those who Selfishly Disobey the Truth and Obey Wickedness" (Romans 2:4-8).
There is an Essential Connection between Hell and Man's Freedom. A
Refusal to Believe in Hell is a
Refusal to take God's Word Seriously, and a
Refusal to take Seriously Man's own Freedom and his Consequent Responsibility.
It is Important to Remember, then, that no one incurs Eternal
Punishment by Accident. Nor, Strictly Speaking, does God 'Sentence' anyone
to Hell. It is the Sinner Who goes
There by His own
Choice. For His Will has become
so Fixed on that to which He Clings, His
Heart has become so Hardened
Against God, that
He Resists the Last-Moment Graces
of God seeking His Surrender and
Two-Fold Suffering of Hell
While the Church has made no Solemn Definitions as to the Nature of the
Punishment of Hell, there are Sufficient
Indications in the Scriptures and Tradition
to Establish the Doctrine which the Church
Teaches regarding Eternal Punishment.
Hell is the Ultimate Consequence of
Sin. It is a Monument to the Creature's
Declaration of Independence from the Creator. In every
Grave Sin there is a Two-Fold Element: a
Turning Away from God, and a Turning to Creatures,
i.e. a Seeking some Creature-Satisfaction in Opposition-to God's Commandments. And because
of this Two-Fold Element in every Grave Sin,
there is a Corresponding Two-Fold Punishment
in Hell, namely,
the Pain of Loss (for one's Turning Away from
the Pain-of-Sense (for
Choosing Creature-Satisfaction in Preference-of God).
THE PAIN OF LOSS (Primary)
Saint Augustine wrote Centuries ago, "Our Heart
is made for Thee, O God, and it will be Restless until it Rests in Thee". Only
God can Fill all the Yearnings of the Human Heart. In this Life, Man is
often Unaware of the Cause of his Restlessness, and at times will Seek to Fill the Vacuum
in his Heart with Passing Satisfactions, even Satisfactions
Forbidden by God. If one Continues to Seek
Forbidden Satisfactions, it can Lead-to an Exclusive Love of Self that
involves an Habitual Disregard of God. If such
an Individual Ends his Life Clinging-to that Choice, that is,
Unrepentant, his Will is 'Fixed'
Eternally in that Choice - an Eternal
Separation from God.
The Pain of Loss Depends-on the Realization of the Value of the Thing
Lost. And in the Life Beyond the Grave, the
Lost Souls - no longer Hampered by
Union with the Body - see with a Clearness Unknown
in this Life, the True Value of Things. They will have an Immeasurably Greater Realization
of what God is, than They were Capable-of
while on Earth. Locked-in Forever in the Choice They
have made, They are Impelled by Their very
Being to Reach-out for God, but They
are Imprisoned by Their own Selfishness.
Their Frustrating Lot brings Untold
Anguish and Remorse, but not
Repentance, for They are no longer Capable-of any
Change-of Mind or Heart. In the very Depth
of Their Being, They are
Torn Apart by the Struggle within.
The Human Soul was Created-for the Perfect
Enjoyment of the Beatific Vision of the
Divine Trinity. Just as the Enjoyment of the "Face-to-face"
Vision of God Constitutes a Beatitude beyond anything we can Imagine
in this Life, so the Eternal Loss of it
Constitutes a Pain of Loss beyond anything we can Conceive in this Life. For all
Eternity the Damned have to Live-with the
Horrible Choice of Self in Preference-to God,
the Choice of Earthly Satisfactions (which now only Disgust
and Torment) in Preference-to the Possession-of Him
Who is Infinite (∞)
GOOD, Infinite (∞)
LOVE, Infinite (∞)
TRUTH, Infinite (∞)
As the Eye is made for Light,
so the Mind is made for Truth, and the
Will is made to Love. Thus
Souls in Hell, Confirmed-in
Hatred of God and Deprived-of the Vision of
God, will never Attain the End to which They must Tend by Force of
Their very Nature. Their Existence is one of
Never-ending Frustration, an
Eternal Unsatisfied Craving of Their Whole Being.
The Utter Void of These
Souls, made for the Enjoyment of Infinite
(∞) Truth and
Infinite (∞) Goodness,
causes Untold Anguish.
Their Consciousness of having, by
Their own Deliberate Folly, Forfeited the
Greatest Blessings for Transitory and Delusive Pleasures, Humiliates and
Pains Them beyond Measure.
Their Desire for Happiness, Inherent in
Their very Nature, Wholly Unsatisfied and no longer able to Find any
Compensation in Creature-Satisfactions for Their Loss
of God, Renders Them Totally and Perpetually in a
State of Incompleteness and Frustration.
They were called to be "Children of Light"
(Ephesians 5:9), but have been Cast-into "Exterior Darkness" (Matthew 8:12).
They clearly see what Their True End should have been, and
Their Unclouded Intellect makes the Thought of
God a Maddening
Mystery to Them, a Torment that
does not Go-away.
During the Course of Their Earthly Life-span, no
Failure was Final, because there was always Another Chance, at least in Regards-to Repentance
for one's Mistakes. But for Those in
Hell, Their Life's Failure is
Final, without any Hope of Another Chance, or of Regaining what was
Lost. They Hate and
Curse God as the Inflictor of
Punishment, They Hate the
Blessed for having what They Lack,
They Hate Themselves for
Choosing a Way of Life that Led-to This End.
They would Gladly-accept Annihilation as an Escape from Their
Torments, but They know there is no Escape.
Their Lot is Utter Despair.
Nothing Supernatural Remains-in Hell,
except the 'Marks' of Baptism, Confirmation and the
Priesthood Deeply Imprinted in the Soul. These bring the
Constant and Bitter Memory of Graces once Received, to the
Increase of Their Remorse and the Sense of Greatness of what
was Lost. And while all the Souls of the
Damned Suffer the Pain
of Loss, that Punishment will not be Equal for all, for all did not Equally
Reject God during their Time of
Definition - Pain of Sense
Pain of Sense: The Wicked will Suffer from Fire and the Torments Inflicted on all
the Five (5) Senses, the Sight, the Hearing, the Smell, the Taste, the Touch.
THE PAIN OF SENSE (Secondary)
In Addition-to the Privation of the Vision
of God - the Pain of Loss - which Constitutes the
Primary Suffering of Hell, there is a
Secondary Source of Pain
Afflicting those Condemned to Hell, Referred-to as the
Pain-of-Sense. The Pain of Loss
is Caused-by the Absence-of Something, whereas the Pain of
Sense is Caused-by the Presence-of Something, namely, what Scriptures
Refer-to as the Fire of Hell. The Former
Torments the Heart of Man from
Within, while the Latter Torments Man from
Without. The Sinner
Condemned-to Hell Chose some Created Thing, Instead-of
God, as His Ultimate Good, Clinging-to it to the End. Because of
this, a Created Thing (Hell-Fire) will be a Source of Torment
for all Eternity.
It would be Wrong to Imagine that the Fire of
Hell Afflicts only the
Body of Lost
Souls. Scripture indicates that it was Created Primarily to
Afflict Spiritual Beings. Shortly before
Our Lord, in His Discourse on the Last
Judgment foretold what the Condemned will
Hear: "Depart from Me . . . into Everlasting Fire which was Prepared for the Devil and his
Angels". The Angels have no
Bodies, nor do Lost Human Souls,
Prior-to the End of the World. Only after the General Resurrection will their
Bodies Share the Torments of the
While the Nature of the Fire of Hell
is a Mystery, most Theologians are in Agreement that it is not a mere 'Metaphor' for
the Intensity of Suffering. It is an 'Objective Reality', External to the
Sufferer. The Words 'Fire' and '
Flame' are used to Describe the Pain-of-
Sense of Hell Eight (8) Times
in the Gospels and Thirty (30) Times in the entire New Testament. This
seems to indicate that the Pain-of-Sense
Inflicted on the Damned is Similar-to that
Caused-by the Fire we Know on Earth. Theologians describe the Differences of this
Fire as follows:
"Earthly Fire is the result of Chemical Combustion; Hellís Fire is Kindled by the Wrath of
God. Earthly Fire Afflicts the Soul only through the Body; Hellís Fire Afflicts the Soul Directly. Earthly Fire gives Light; Hellís
Fire produces Gloom and Darkness. Earthly Fire Consumes; Hellís Fire Burns, but does not Destroy its Victim"
(Christ & His Sacrament, Priory Press, p. 597)
While it is not Possible for us to know the Precise Nature of the Fire that
Torments Devils and
Lost Souls, Saint Thomas Aquinas held that it was of a Corporeal
Nature. If that is so, how can a Corporal Agent Torture a
Spiritual Being which is without a Body? The Angelic Doctor answers
that it can do so, not by its own Natural Power, but "as an Instrument of Vengeance of Divine
Justice. For the Order of Divine Justice demands that the Soul, which by Sinning Subjected itself to Corporeal Things, should be Subjected
to them also in Punishment" (Suppl. 70,3). Fr Francis
Cunningham, O.P. summarizes the Teaching of Saint Thomas in this matter as follows:
This Fire serves as the Instrument of Divine Justice, and by the Power of God it can Act Directly upon
Spirits in a way similar to that by which the Material Signs of the Sacraments, Produce their Effects upon the Soul. Besides its
Nature/Power, the Fire of Hell is endowed with a Special Efficacy by God, whereby it is able . . . to Restrain Spiritual Beings,
Depriving them of their Freedom and Preventing them from Acting where and as they desire (Christ & His Sac. ibid).
The Mystery of God's Justice
After reading much in the New Testament about the Mercy of
Christ, it comes as a Shock, to some, to Learn of the
Severity of Punishment in store for those who Deliberately and Obstinately
Defy His Teaching. The Merciful
Christ, Who Forgave Magdalen and the Woman Taken-in
Adultery, and Forgave the Repentant Thief, is the same
Christ Who spoke time-and-again of Hell as
an "Unquenchable Fire" (Mark 9:44), as "Everlasting Fire"
Matthew 18:8), and as a "Furnace of Fire" (Matthew 13:42,50).
God is not only Infinitely (∞)
Merciful, but also Infinitely
(∞) Just. His
Mercy is Manifested during our Life on Earth. But He has Told us Clearly
that at the End of this Time of Trial, there comes a 'Judgment' of our Whole Life, and a
Reward or Punishment that is
Final and Eternal. Saint Paul expressed the
same to the Thessalonians:
" . . . when with Flaming Power He will Inflict Punishment on those who do not Acknowledge God nor Heed
the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Such as these will Suffer the Penalty of Eternal Ruin apart from the Presence of the Lord
and the Glory of His Might on the day when He Comes" (2Thessalonians 1:8,9).
Why must Hell be Eternal? Since
Grave Sin is an Outrage against
God, a Divine Person of
Infinite (∞) Dignity and
Majesty, Man incurs thereby an Infinite
(∞) Debt of Punishment. And since
Finite Man cannot be Punished in a way that
is Infinite (∞) in Intensity, he must be
Punished in a way that is Infinite
(∞) in Duration.
Is the Punishment of Hell the same for all?
Just as there are "Different Mansions" in Heaven, so
there are Different Degrees of Suffering in Hell.
A more-Intense Hatred of God in this Life, will
Merit a more-Intense Pain of Loss in the Next. A more-Intense Seeking of
Forbidden Pleasures as one's Ultimate Good in this Life, will Merit a more-Intense
Pain-of-Sense in the Next.
Is the Existence of Hell a Dogma of our
Faith? The Church has Repeatedly Defined this
Truth. One Example is the First Council of
Lyons which Decreed in 1245: "If anyone Dies without Repentance in
the State of Mortal Sin, he will without Doubt be Tormented Perpetually in the Flames of an Everlasting Hell".
Is it likely that one will incur Eternal Punishment
who tries to Lead a Good Life, but from Time-to-Time
Falls into Grave Sin out of Human
Frailty? Such a one, almost Invariably, will very Quickly Repent and Return-to
God's Friendship. If the Good Thief on Calvary
Stole Heaven the Last Moment, the Reverse, we
Believe, is Rarely True - that one who Tries to Live in God's Friendship,
Loses that Friendship the Last Moment.
Speaking of the different Mansions in Heaven and
Hell, Fr Walter Farrell, O.P. commented:
"Both are Built Slowly, Carefully, Stone by Stone, through all the Abundant Moments that measure
the Length of a Man's Life. A Man does not Achieve Hell the Last Moment, but when he Embraces Sin . . . Heaven or Hell, in other words,
never comes as a Shock; it is the Harvest that was Planted long ago, Watched, Cultivated, Defended, and now Reaped in all its
Fullness" (Comp. to Sum. IV, 455).