One of the many controversial topics in which people in our times tend to avoid is the reality on the existence of Hell and it’s eternity. Since we are now living in dark times and the faith is often challenged by the secular world and even Catholic clerics themselves – in which we are to resist since they are harmful to souls – I will initiate this essay with the following quote from the Holy Gospel – the infallible and inerrant Word of God:
“But the cowards, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” – Rev 21:8
Recently I have been in a dialogue with a brother Catholic upon the existence of Hell and it’s eternity. In response to my post upon the USCCB and Pope Francis appointing Father Barron a Bishop of the Church, he argued it was not heresy to state that Hell is empty and that Catholics have the option to state otherwise.
Let’s just say that this were true. If this were the case then what was Christ and the apostles preaching about if the Gospel is centered around salvation? Theologians would argue that 95% of the Gospel is based upon the reality of Hell and the necessity to repent to avoid going there. In fact, what have the councils of the Church spoken about when it declared that Hell was eternal and very real in its nature, especially upon the Last Day?
Saint Alphonsus Ligouri use to say:
” “Many shall come from the East and the West, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the Children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into the Exterior Darkness: there shall be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth”. By these words Our Lord Wished to-Signify, that many Persons born-in Infidelity shall be Saved, and Enjoy the Society of the Saints; and that many who are born-in the Bosom-of the Church, shall be cast-into Hell, where the Worm of Conscience, by its Gnawing, shall make them Weep Bitterly for all Eternity.”
Being that Catholics are bound to accept dogma, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which holds authority for all time by the declaration of its introduction, states the following:
“These abodes (Limbo, Purgatory, and Hell) are not all of the same nature, for among them is that most loathsome and dark prison in which the souls of the damned are tormented with the unclean spirits in eternal and inextinguishable fire. This place is called gehenna, the bottomless pit, and is hell strictly so-called.”
The Church infallibly teaches that souls who die in mortal sin will descend into Hell for all eternity. This is a Dogma of the faith.
“Moreover we define that according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately (mox) after death and there suffer the pain of hell.”Encyclical “On the Beatific Vision of God” Issued by Pope Benedict XII in 1336
Catechism of Trent:
“For whoever offends God, even by one mortal sin, instantly forfeits whatever merits he may have previously acquired through the sufferings and death of Christ, and is entirely shut out from the gate of heaven which, when already closed, was thrown open to all by the Redeemer’s Passion. When we reflect on this, the thought of our misery must fill us with deep anxiety. But if we turn our attention to this admirable power with which God has invested His Church; and, in the firm belief of this Article, feel convinced that to every sinner is offered the means of recovering, with the assistance of divine grace, his former dignity, we must exult with exceeding joy and gladness, and must offer immortal thanks to God.”
1 Cor 6, 9-10: ” Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God.”
All of Holy Scripture unequivocally affirms that not all men are saved, but that some of them are lost by their own fault and will suffer eternal punishment. It is quite sufficient here simply to recall the Last Judgment mentioned in Mt. 25:31ff., and especially from v .41 :
And when the Son of man shall come in His majesty…and all nations shall be gathered together before Him, and He shall separate them one from another…and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on His left. Then shall the king say to them that shall be on His right hand: Come ye blessed of my Father….Then He shall say to them also that shall be on His left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels …and these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.
And, in the same vein, in Jn. 5:28-29:
For the hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have done good things, shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment (i.e., condemnation).
And in the Old Testament, we need only to refer to Daniel (12:2)..:
…and those that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake; some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always.
And thus it is throughout the Sacred Scriptures, both in the New as well as the Old Testament.
Against the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians, who (as some of today’s modernists) reduced God down to the level of a simple spectator of man’s salvation or perdition, St. Augustine and his disciples have already defended predestination as a traditional teaching of the Catholic Faith:
The Church has always had faith in this truth of predestination, a faith which nowadays she defends with a renewed solicitude against the new heretics (St. Augustine, De dono perseverantiae, 23, 65).
The First Constitution of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 at the very least alludes to the fact that folks then living in AD 1215 would be in hell. This was the opening statement of the Council and its “Profession of the Faith.” The implication is that people from every generation would finally be eternally separated from God, not just people from the 13th century. But, at the very least, for the strict interpreter of the words of the Council, it seems inescapable that the Council taught souls are in hell now:
Indeed, having suffered and died on the wood of the cross for the salvation of the human race, he descended to the underworld, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He descended in the soul, rose in the flesh, and ascended in both. He will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and to the elect. All of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear, (Latin text reads quae nunc gestant—which they are now bearing or wearing) so as to receive according to their deserts, whether these be good or bad; for the latter perpetual punishment with the devil, for the former eternal glory with Christ.
The present tense indicates that some folks then living—now wearing their bodies—would go to hell. Thus, the Church is here teaching there are souls “in” hell.
So in conclusion: the thought that Hell might be empty and that it be so, is to fly in the face of divine Revelation and to declare, also, the entire Church to be in error for two thousand years, hence its heretical since it involves the intention to progress dogmas, something Pius X condemned in pescendi. “To the laws of evolution everything is subject under penalty of death — dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself.”
The early church fathers ,who were disciples of the apostles and defenders of Sacred Tradition, taught the reality of Hell and it’s eternity for sinners.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch
“Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him” (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1–2 [A.D. 110]).
“If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment” (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).
“But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’” (ibid., 17:7).
“No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments” (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).
“We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God. We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire” (ibid., 21).
“[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with his angelic host, when he shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then he will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, he will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons” (ibid., 52).
The Martyrdom of Polycarp
“Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).
“When you know what is the true life, that of heaven; when you despise the merely apparent death, which is temporal; when you fear the death which is real, and which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the everlasting fire, the fire which will punish even to the end those who are delivered to it, then you will condemn the deceit and error of the world” (Letter to Diognetus 10:7 [A.D. 160]).
“[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one. . . . Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul . . . or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated” (Plea for the Christians 31 [A.D. 177]).
Theophilus of Antioch
“Give studious attention to the prophetic writings [the Bible] and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. . . . [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things. . . . For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).
“[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and b.asphemous among men into everlasting fire” (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).
“The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever” (ibid., 4:28:2).
“After the present age is ended he will judge his worshipers for a reward of eternal life and the godless for a fire equally perpetual and unending” (Apology 18:3 [A.D. 197]).
“Then will the entire race of men be restored to receive its just deserts according to what it has merited in this period of good and evil, and thereafter to have these paid out in an immeasurable and unending eternity. Then there will be neither death again nor resurrection again, but we shall be always the same as we are now, without changing. The worshipers of God shall always be with God, clothed in the proper substance of eternity. But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending, and they shall have from the very nature of this fire, divine as it were, a supply of incorruptibility” (ibid., 44:12–13).
“Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just is your judgment!’ And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).
“I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments. That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them, just as fiery thunderbolts strike bodies but do not consume them” (Octavius 34:12–5:3 [A.D. 226]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life” (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).
“[T]he sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment. For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding forever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire, the nature of which is different from this fire of ours, which we use for the necessary purposes of life, and which is extinguished unless it be sustained by the fuel of some material. But that divine fire always lives by itself, and flourishes without any nourishment. . . . The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment. . . . Thus, without any wasting of bodies, which regain their substance, it will only burn and affect them with a sense of pain. But when [God] shall have judged the righteous, he will also try them with fire” (Divine Institutes 7:21 [A.D. 307]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
“We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We b.aspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past” (Catechetical Lectures 18:19 [A.D. 350]).
So how do we avoid Hell? The Church teaches that one must die in sanctifying grace: therefore – no mortal sin on your soul period. Mortal sin is removed through both baptism and confession. If one is not baptized, their mortal sins will be cleansed off of their soul at baptism as new creations of God. If mortal sin is upon the soul of any person that is baptized, they must remove it at confession. If reaching confession is impossible, say living in a third world country in which there are not any priests of the Catholic Church, one must make a sincere act of contrition to sin no more and to do penance and ask God for the graces to overcome sin and send a good and holy priest. On this journey of growing in holiness, let us all keep each other in our prayers so that we may all enter the narrow gate and unite with Our Lord forever in the Beatific Vision.