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The Dogma of Hell – Part IV

How to Avoid Hell in Our Daily Lives

Dr. Remi Amelunxen
What must we do to save our souls? This is the ultimate question of life and comprises the topic of this article in the series on Hell. To respond, we must answer the question posed by Our Lord, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Mt 16:26).

Hell detail

We should live our lives on the narrow path to avoid eternal damnation in Hell

The Holy Scripture is replete with powerful quotations regarding how a man must live to avoid Hell (e.g. Mt 26:24, 5:48). The problem with using them is that their advice often can be interpreted in different ways making it difficult to understand them in order to avoid Hell and attain Heaven. (1)

Knowing this, Our Lord has provided an important instrument to make understanding of our moral obligations easier: He established the Holy Catholic Church, an institution to last for all time that will teach mankind with authority so that we will have a guide to attain salvation. The perennial Magisterium of the Catholic Church as established by Christ, which has survived following the same secure path until the 20th century, is the true path to salvation.

Modernism & Progressivism: a parenthesis in the Magisterium

The deviation from that infallible path began already at the end of the 19th century with Modernism promoted by men like Fr. George Tyrrell (1861-1909). Tyrell was excommunicated by Pope St. Pius X, who combated the modernist errors in his famous encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907) and the Syllabus Lamentabile sane (1907).

But one of Tyrell’s students, the infamous Fr.Teilhard Pierre de Chardin, continued his work. His pantheist notions on evolution were preludes to the progressivist victory at Vatican II and the general apostasy that resulted, which continues to this day. Heresies abound in the Conciliar Church causing both Purgatory and Hell to be ignored, minimized or denied by ecclesiastics and even Popes. The heretical concept of universal salvation finds general acceptance, supported by progressivist theologians and also by Popes.

The suggestions made by John Paul II in his Encyclical in Ut Unum Sint that those in false religions can be saved (2) suffice for many superficial Catholics to disregard the very notion of Hell, assuming instead that an all-merciful God will save everyone who has some good intentions. Thus, Catholics today must increase their vigilance and be aware of all that is required for salvation. If not, a lengthy Purgatory, or worse, an eternal Hell will be their fate…

Material and formal sin

There are many types of sin that Catholic moralists include under the precepts of the Ten Commandments. A synopsis follows.

When speaking of mortal and also venial sin, the Church is careful not to make definitive pronouncements because the seriousness of sin can vary based upon the objective matter of the bad action, the circumstances surrounding it or the person’s awareness of its degree of sinfulness. These factors determine if there is mortal or venial sin, or even in some cases, no sin.

Moral theologians distinguish between “material” and “formal” sin. An action that is contrary to the Divine Law but is not known to be such by the person constitutes a material sin. Simply put, if someone commits an action against Divine Law, without knowing it, that action is considered a “material” sin, that is, there was matter for sin, but the person was not aware of it. A formal sin is committed when the person knowingly transgresses one of the Commandments.

So, in mortal sin three elements must be present: serious matter, sufficient knowledge and consent of the will. Thus, a person who mistakenly takes the property of another while believing it to be his own commits a material sin. But the sin is formal if he took the property in the belief that it belonged to another, whether his belief is correct or not.

Mortal sin

The most important way to avoid Hell is to not commit mortal sin. Unfortunately, today many youth – even those in Catholic schools – have never heard about mortal sin because of a general liberal concern that it may “frighten them.” This is the sad result of the catechetics that have resulted from Vatican II.

weighing souls

The angel holds the scales at a private judgment of a soul

The Church teaches that some sins are always mortal. As we mentioned before, there are three determining factors:
  1. A grave matter, judged from teaching of Scripture, the definitions of Councils and Popes, and also from the person’s reason;

  2. Sufficient knowledge, that is an understanding of the gravity of the matter;

  3. Full consent of the will.
The first effect of mortal sin is to deprive the soul of sanctifying grace and avert a man from his true last end. If a man dies in this state without repentance, he will go to Hell. Therefore, it is of absolute importance to confess every mortal sin in our lifetime to assure our salvation.

How should we stop committing mortal sins? It must be remembered that most of the sins we commit are habitual, that is, we tend to commit the same type of sin over and over again. Therefore, we must focus on those mortally wrongful things that we do habitually. Persons concerned about salvation also strive to eliminate all purposeful venial sins, knowing that they offend God and lead to mortal sins.

The common mortal sins are usually the most dangerous to salvation because they do not carry a social stigma – i.e., “everyone is doing it” – which produces a loss of horror about committing them. Today, many sins against the Faith (1st Commandment) and against purity (6th and 9th Commandments) fall into this category.

The Ten Commandments

A brief summary of transgressions against each of the Commandments with an emphasis on the horror of the mortal sin can be useful to many Catholics. Thus, it is presented here. Certain sins are always mortal sins and circumstances never alter the case.

For the First Commandment, these include sins directly against God, such as idolatry, despair, blasphemy, rejecting the Catholic Faith, apostasy from the Faith (so prevalent in today’s progressivist Church), heresy and schism, and failure to offer to God alone the supreme worship that is due Him.

The Second Commandment – Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain – forbids irreverence to God’s name, the breaking of oaths or vows to God and simony.

The Third Commandment Remember that thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath day – commands that we worship God at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, forbids the performance of unnecessary servile work that requires labor of the body, and counsels we not neglect the prayer and spiritual works leading to salvation.

The Fourth CommandmentHonor thy father and they mother – calls for us to respect and love our parents, to obey them in all that is not sinful, and help them when they are in need. It also commands parents to provide for both the spiritual and bodily welfare of their children.

Clothes in Church

Immodest clothing offends Our Lord and Our Lady, especially when worn in church

The Fifth Commandment Thou shalt not kill – forbids murder, suicide, sinful fighting and anger, hatred, revenge, gluttony, drunkenness, bad example, the reckless risk of one’s life and participation in a duel.

The sins against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments Thou shalt not commit adultery and Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife – include adultery, fornication, masturbation, willfully taking pleasure in impure thoughts, looks and actions, whether alone or with others. Most of the time these are mortal sins. Regarding impurity, a special horror is linked to homosexual acts because they are also sins against nature, which clamor for justice.

The Seventh and Tenth CommandmentsThou shalt not steal and Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s goods – forbid voluntarily retaining what does belong to another; to steal secretly is theft and to steal violently is robbery. It also proscribes cheating and accepting bribes. Further, it censors the desire to take or keep unjustly what belongs to others and forbids envy at their success.

The Eighth Commandment Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor– forbids lies, rash judgment, detraction, calumny and bound secrets.

Many old prayer books used to include a section with an examination of conscience before Confession. These examinations asked pertinent questions for each Commandment, as well as for the Seven Capital sins and Six Commandments of the Church. Reading through the questions helps to make a person alert to transgressions – both serious and slight – that can be committed. For the convenience of the readers, such an examination can be found here and here.


  1. Francois Xavier Schouppe, The Dogma of Hell, Illustrated by Facts Taken from Profane and Sacred History, pp.129-132.
  2. E.g. see Ut Unum Sint, Nos.11, 14, 40, 42, 45, 49, 50, 58, 62, 75, 78, 84, 87, 96

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Posted June 9, 2014

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