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Meditation on Hell

Today when we have Conciliar Popes telling us that Hell and Heaven are not physical places but states of mind – which conflicts with Catholic doctrine - it seems quite timely to post this logical meditation on Hell by St. Robert Bellarmine, the greatest anti-Protestant Doctor of the Church. He describes the ensemble of physical and spiritual torments which those who are damned suffer eternally in Hell.

St. Robert Bellarmine

It remains for us to consider the justice that God exercises by punishing sinners in the deepest abyss of Hell. If we do this carefully and attentively, we will understand how true are the words of the Apostle: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31) …

Regarding the present life, Isaiah says: “In the acceptable time I have heard you, and the day of salvation I have helped you (Is 49:8). Explaining this in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle says: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).

As for the future time that will come after this life, Zephaniah exclaims, “That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and anguish, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of trumpets and alarm” (Zep1:15-16). Not only all sins will be punished, but they will be punished with horrendous and dreadful torments, which will be so massive that now they can hardly be imagined by men.

Just as “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard nor has entered into human heart that what God had prepared for those who love Him” (Is 64:4; 1 Cor 2:9), so also no human eye has seen nor ear heard nor has it entered into the heart of man what God had prepared for His enemies.

Indeed, the punishment of sinners in Hell will be many and complete, that is, unmixed with any consolations, and, what infinitely increases their misery, they will be everlasting.

They will be many, I say, because each of the faculties of the soul and each of the five senses of the body will have its torments.

Weigh the words of this sentence of the Supreme Judge that is found in the Gospel, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire” (Mt 25:41). “Depart from Me,” he says, that is, move away from the fellowship of the blessed, remain deprived forever of the vision of God, which is the highest and essential happiness and ultimate end for which you were created.

“Accursed ones,” that is, cherish no further hope for any kind of blessing; you are deprived of any life of grace, any hope of salvation; the water of wisdom will no more rain upon you, nor the dew of good inspirations. No longer will the ray of celestial light enlighten you, nor will the grace of repentance sprout in you, nor the flower of charity nor the fruit of good works. He who comes from on High (Lk 1:78) will never again visit you from that moment on; you will lack, not only spiritual goods but also material ones, not only eternal benefits but also temporal ones. For you there will be no riches, no pleasures, no consolation, but you will be like the fig tree that I cursed, which immediately dried up, roots and all (Mt 21:19).

He says, “Into the fire,” that is, into the furnace of blazing and inextinguishable fire which will take hold not of one member, but of all your members at the same time and burn them with the sharpest pain.

“Everlasting,” that is, into the fire which does not need to be fed with wood to keep burning forever, but is whipped up by the breath of Almighty God so that as your guilt will never be destroyed, so there will never be an end to your punishment.

Rightly then does the prophet Isaiah exclaim, “Which of you can dwell inside a devouring fire? Which of you can dwell amidst the eternal flames?” (Is 33:14) By this he says that absolutely no one can support that fire patiently, but the damned will be forced against their will to bear it in impatience, anger and despair.

He adds: “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched” (Is 66:24). These words are repeated more than once by Our Lord in St. Mark’s Gospel (Mk 9:43, 45, 47). Their remorse of the conscience will increase with the memory of the times when the sinners, had they wanted, could have escaped those punishments with a little effort and enjoyed the everlasting joys of Paradise.

No one should think that the damned ones can find a little relief by walking about and changing their places. Hear what the Lord Himself says: “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him forth into the darkness outside where there will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Mt 22:13).

Therefore, those wretches, bound hand and foot by eternal chains, will lie forever in the same place, deprived of the light of the sun, moon and stars, scorched by burning fire, weeping and lamenting and gnashing their teeth in their fury and despair.

Those who will be thrust down into that place full of horror will suffer not only the most terrible pain in the eternal fire, but also the absolute privation of all things, as well as shame and disgrace full of acute embarrassment and confusion. Indeed, in a flash they will lose their palaces, fields, vineyards, flocks, oxen, clothing, as well as their gold, silver and precious gems, and will be reduced to such destitution that the rich banqueter will desire and beg for a drop of cold water, but will not be heard (Lk 16:24-26). …

If what we have said about the loss of all goods, both heavenly and earthly, and about the bitter pains, ignominy and shame, were to have an end or at least were mixed with some sort of consolation or relief, as it happens with all the miseries of this life, then they might be considered tolerable in some way. However, it is absolutely certain and beyond any doubt that, just as the happiness of the blessed will be perpetual and without any afflictions, so the unhappiness of the damned will last forever without any relief.

Those who do not make every effort to attain to the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal happiness, regardless of any trials and dangers and shame and death, which the Apostle calls light and passing (2 Cor 4”17), must indeed be blind men and fools.


Blason de Charlemagne
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(The Mind’s Ascent to God by the Ladder of Created Things, in
Robert Bellarmine: Spiritual Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality),
Paulist Press, 1988, Chap. IV, pp. 219-221)
Posted October 2, 2010

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