Rorate Caeli

Antidote to the denial of Hell

How should a faithful Catholic respond to last month's scandalous declaration on Holy Thursday -- ". . . those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls" -- that Pope Francis is reported to have spoken to Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari? (As many have noted, this is not the first time Scalfari has reported the pope making such a statement, and Pope Francis has not yet specifically or categorically denied Scalfari's reports on this  matter)

In response to so lamentable a report, it is the first duty of the faithful to reaffirm their belief in the Catholic doctrine of the hell of the damned.

As Thomist philosopher Edward Feser has explained, the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell logically and necessarily follows from the doctrine of eternal beatitude in heaven. Feser writes, "If the wills of the damned could change after death, then so too could the wills of the saved. Thus, they wouldn’t truly be saved any more than the former would truly be damned. They would forever be in danger of falling again into evil and facing punishment for doing so. The travails and instability of this life would never end.  Hence, no hell, no heaven either." In another essay, Feser also demonstrates why the "Annihilationist" position that Scalfari attributes to the pope is logically untenable.

But more fundamental than the metaphysical considerations that Feser makes clear, the Church's beliefs about hell depend on the explicit and unvarying testimony of Holy Scripture and 2,000 years of testimony from the Church's Magisterium and the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

Following is a summary of the Church's divinely-revealed and authoritative doctrine of the Hell of the Damned (the Magisterial statements drawn almost entirely from The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation (1955)).

Accept no substitutes!


"And they shall go out, and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched: and they shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh." (Isaiah 66:24)

"Woe be to the nation that riseth up against my people: for the Lord Almighty will take revenge on them, in the day of judgment He will visit them. For He will give fire, and worms into their flesh, that they may burn, and may feel for ever." (Judith 16:20-21)

"And if thy hand, or thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to go into life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee having one eye to enter into life, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire [Gehenna]." (Matthew 18:8-9)

"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. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting." (Matthew 25:41-46)

"And if thy hand scandalize thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life, maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [Gehenna], into unquenchable fire: 'Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.' And if thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter lame into life everlasting, than having two feet, to be cast into the hell of unquenchable fire: 'Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.' And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. It is better for thee with one eye to enter into the kingdom of God, than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire: 'Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.'" (Mark 6:42-47)

"And the rich man also died, and he was buried. And in hell [Hades], lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great Chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments." (Luke 16:22-28)

"Seeing it is a just thing with God to repay tribulation to them that trouble you and, to you who are troubled, rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with the angels of his power, in a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his power: When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be made wonderful in all them who have believed . . ." (II Thess. 1:6-10)

". . . . the devil, who seduced them, was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where both the beast and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Apocalypse 20:9-10)


"O God, from whom Judas received the punishment of his guilt, and the thief the reward of his confession, grant us the effect of Thy clemency: that as our Lord Jesus Christ in His passion gave to each a different recompense according to his merits, so may He deliver us from our old sins and grant us the grace of His resurrection." (Ancient Collect for the traditional Roman Mass of Holy Thursday and Liturgy of Good Friday) *

". . . And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved." (Conclusion of the Athanasian Creed, the Quicumque Vult, circa A.D. 500)

"If anyone says or holds that the punishment of devils and wicked men is temporary and will eventually cease, that is to say, that devils or the ungodly will be completely restored to their original state: let him be anathema." (Synod of Constantinople A.D. 543, formally reaffirmed by Pope Vigilius and the Second Council of Constantinople A.D. 553)

". . . The punishment for original sin [i.e., those who die unbaptised before the age of reason] is the loss of the vision of God [i.e., "Limbo," the Limbus infantium]; but the punishment for actual sin [i.e., the wicked who die without repentance] is the torment of an everlasting hell." (Pope Innocent III's Epistle to the Archbishop of Arles, A.D. 1201)

". . . [Christ] will come at the end of the world; he will judge the living and the dead; and he will reward all, both the lost and the elect, according to their works. And all these will rise with their own bodies which they now have so that they may receive according to their works, whether good or bad; the wicked, a perpetual punishment with the devil; the good, eternal glory with Christ." (Fourth Lateran Council, A.D. 1215)

"But if anyone dies unrepentant in the state of mortal sin, he will undoubtedly be tormented forever in the fires of an everlasting hell." (Pope Innocent IV's Epistle to the Bishop of Tusculum, A.D. 1254)

"The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with only original sin soon go down into hell, but there they receive different punishments." (Creed of the Council of Lyons, A.D. 1274, repeated by the Council of Florence, A.D. 1438-1445)

"Turning next to those who shall stand on His left, He will pour out His justice upon them in these words: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. The first words, depart from me, express the heaviest punishment with which the wicked shall be visited, their eternal banishment from the sight of God, unrelieved by one consolatory hope of ever recovering so great a good. This punishment is called by theologians the pain of loss, because in hell the wicked shall be deprived forever of the light of the vision of God. The words ye cursed, which follow, increase unutterably their wretched and calamitous condition. If when banished from the divine presence they were deemed worthy to receive some benediction, this would be to them a great source of consolation. But since they can expect nothing of this kind as an alleviation of their misery, the divine justice deservedly pursues them with every species of malediction, once they have been banished. The next words, into everlasting fire, express another sort of punishment, which is called by theologians the pain of sense, because, like lashes, stripes or other more severe chastisements, among which fire, no doubt, produces the most intense pain, it is felt through the organs of sense. When, moreover, we reflect that this torment is to be eternal, we can see at once that the punishment of the damned includes every kind of suffering. The concluding words, which was prepared for the devil and his angels, make this still more clear. For since nature has so provided that we feel miseries less when we have companions and sharers in them who can, at least in some measure, assist us by their advice and kindness, what must be the horrible state of the damned who in such calamities can never separate themselves from the companionship of most wicked demons? And yet most justly shall this very sentence be pronounced by our Lord and Saviour on those sinners who neglected all the works of true mercy, who gave neither food to the hungry, nor drink to the thirsty, who refused shelter to the stranger and clothing to the naked, and who would not visit the sick and the imprisoned." (Catechism of the Council of Trent, A.D. 1566, on Article VII of the Creed, "From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead")

"And after this mortal life there is no place left for repentance for justification. Therefore, all who die in actual mortal sin are excluded from the kingdom of God and will suffer forever the torments of hell where there is no redemption. Also those who die with only original sin will never have the holy vision of God." (Schema of the First Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Principal Mysteries of the Faith, A.D. 1870 - the Council was forced to adjourn before it could approve this schema, but the schema correctly expresses what the Church believes and teaches on these points)

Not even after the Second Vatican Council has this doctrine been changed (for this doctrine can never change).  This is shown by these articles from the 1992 "Catechism of the Catholic Church":

1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."

1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":

Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.


* In modern times some have argued that this Collect's reference to Judas Iscariot's punishment should be interpreted as a temporary purgatory. Such a re-reading would, however, leach the prayer of all force, for what would be the point of the liturgy's contrasting the divine verdicts in the cases of St. Dismas the Good Thief and Judas Iscariot if the verdict in both cases is the same: eternal life rather than eternal punishment? Note that Dismas and Judas are both punished in their bodies for their sins -- Dismas on the cross, Judas on the gallows tree -- but the Collect speaks of Dismas' reward (i.e., Paradise, beatitude) in comparison to Judas' punishment, which thus could not mean only his corporeal punishment but must be something other than the blessedness of heaven. There should then be no surprise that this Collect has always been understood to be referring to the final damnation of Judas. Lex orandi, lex credendi.