The Eternity of Hell.
And these shall go into everlasting punishment.” – Matt. xxv. 46.
Hell is Eternal.
Hell is Eternal.
Were hell not eternal, it would not be hell. Torments which continue but a short time, are not a severe punishment. The man who is afflicted with an, abscess or cancer submits to the knife or the cautery. The pain is very sharp; but, because it is soon over, the torture is not very great. But, should the incision or cauterization last for a week, or for an entire month, how frightful should be his agony! A slight pain in the eye, or in the teeth, when it lasts for a long time, becomes insupportable. Even a comedy, a musical entertainment, would it continue for an entire day, produces intolerable tediousness. And would it last for a month, or for a year, who could bear it? What then must hell be, where the damned are compelled, not to listen to the same comedy or the same music, nor to submit merely to pains in the eyes, or in the teeth, or to the torture of the knife, or of the red-hot iron, but to suffer all pains and all torments? And for how long? For all eternity. They shall be tortured forever and ever.1
This belief in eternity is an article of faith; it is not .an opinion, but a truth attested by God in so many places in Holy Scripture. Depart from Me, you accursed, into everlasting fire. And these shall go into everlasting punishment.2 Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction.3 Every one shall be salted with fire.4 As salt prevents putrefaction, so the fire of hell, while it tortures the damned, performs the office of salt by preserving their life.
Now, how great would be the folly of the man who, for the sake of a day’s amusement, would voluntarily condemn himself to be shut up in a dungeon for twenty or thirty years! If hell lasted but a hundred, or even but two or three years, it would be the extreme of folly in a Christian to condemn himself to fire for two or three years for the vile pleasure of a moment. But there is not the question of thirty, of a hundred, or of a hundred thousand years; but there is question of eternity; there is question of suffering forever the same torments—torments which will never end, and will never be mitigated in the slightest degree. The saints then had reason, as long as they were on this earth, and in danger of being lost, to weep and tremble. Blessed Isaias, even while he lived in the desert in fasting and penitential rigors wept and said: Ah! unhappy me, who am. not as yet free from the danger of losing my soul.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God! if Thou hadst sent me to hell, as I have often deserved, and hadst afterward drawn me from it, how deeply should I feel my obligations to Thee! What a holy life would I have begun! And now that Thou hast shown me greater mercy by preserving me from falling into that place of woe, what shall I do? Shall I again offend Thee and provoke Thy wrath, that Thou mayest send me to burn in that prison of rebels against Thy majesty, where so many are buried in fire for fewer sins than I have committed? Ah, my Redeemer! I have hitherto done so; and instead of availing myself of the time which Thou gavest me to weep over my sins, I have spent it in provoking Thee still more. I thank Thy infinite goodness for having borne with me so long. If Thy goodness were not infinite, how couldst Thou have borne with me? I thank Thee for having waited for me till now with so much patience. I thank Thee in a most special manner for the light which Thou now givest me, by which Thou makest me see my .folly, and the injury I have done Thee in insulting Thee so often by my sins. My Jesus! I detest them, and am sorry for them with my whole heart. Through the merits of Thy Passion, pardon me, and assist me with Thy grace, that I may never more offend Thee. I now have just reason to fear that, if I commit another mortal sin, Thou wilt abandon me. My Lord! I entreat Thee to place this just fear before my eyes whenever the devil will tempt me to offend Thee again. My God I love Thee; I do not wish ever more to lose Thee; assist me by Thy grace. O most holy Virgin! do thou also assist me. Obtain for me the grace always to have recourse to thee in my temptations, that I may never again lose my God. Mary, after Jesus, thou art my hope.
The Weight of Eternity.
The Weight of Eternity.
He that enters hell, will not depart from it for all eternity. This thought made David tremble and say; Let not the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit Shut her mouth upon me.5 As soon as the damned fall into that pit of torments, its mouth is closed never to be opened. In hell there is a gate for admission, but none for egress. “There will be a descent,” says Eusebius. “but there will be no ascent.”6 In explaining the words of the Psalmist, this author says, and let not the pit shut her mouth; because when it shall have received them, it will be closed above and opened downward!7 As long as the sinner remains on this earth, he may hope to reverse the sentence of his damnation; but as soon as death overtakes him in sin, all his hopes are at an end forever. When the wicked man is dead, there shall be no hope any more.8 Perhaps the damned may flatter themselves with a false hope, and thus find some relief in their despair. The man who is mortally wounded, confined to his bed, and given over by his physicians, may console himself with the hope of finding a physician or a remedy to heal his wounds. The man who is condemned to the galleys for life may also find comfort in the expectation of being one day delivered from his chains. And may not the damned at least say: Who knows but I shall one day escape from this prison? and thus delude himself with this false hope. No: in hell there is no hope, whether true or false; there is no perhaps. I will set before thy face.9 The unhappy damned will always see the sentence of their reprobation written before their eyes. In it they will read, that they will weep forever in that pit of torments. And many shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always.10 Hence the damned not only suffer the torments of each moment, but in each moment they endure the pain of eternity, saying, What I now suffer, I must suffer forever. “They bear,” says Tertullian, “the weight of eternity.”11
Let us then pray to the Lord in the words of St. Augustine: “Here burn, here cut, here spare not, that you may spare for eternity.”12 The chastisements of this life pass away: Thy arrows pass; but the pains of the next life last forever, the voice of Thy thunder in a wheel.13 Let us dread these punishments. Let us dread that thunder of eternal damnation which will issue from the mouth of the Judge in passing sentence against the wicked. “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire.” The Psalmist says: “The voice of thy thunder in a wheel.” A wheel is a figure of eternity, which has no end. I have drawn my sword out of its sheath, not to he turned back.14 The punishment of hell will be great; but what ought to terrify us more is, that it will be irrevocable.
But the unbeliever say: Can it be just to punish a sin which lasts but a moment, with eternal torments? But how, I ask, can a sinner, for a momentary pleasure, dare to insult a God of infinite majesty? St. Thomas says that, even in human judgments, the punishment of crime is measured, not from its duration, but from its malice.15 Hell is but a small punishment for mortal sin; an offence against infinite majesty deserves infinite chastisement. “In every mortal sin,” says St. Bernardine Sienna, “an infinite insult is offered to God; but an infinite injury merits infinite punishment.”16 But, because, says St. Thomas, a creature is not capable of suffering pain infinite in point of intensity, God inflicts punishment infinite in extension or duration.17
Besides, since the damned are incapable of making satisfaction for their sins, their punishment should be necessarily eternal. In this life penitent sinners can atone for their iniquities only in as much as the merits of Jesus Christ are applied to them. But, from the application of these merits the reprobate are excluded. Hence, since they cannot appease the anger of God, and since their sin is eternal, their punishment also must be eternal. He shall not give to God his ransom. . . . And he shall labor forever.18 Hence Belluacensis says: “There sin can be forever punished, and can never be expiated;”19 for, according to St. Augustine, “there the sinner cannot repent.”20 Therefore the wrath of the Lord shall be always provoked against him. The people with whom the Lord is angry forever.21 Moreover, the damned, though God should wish to pardon them, are unwilling to be pardoned; for their will is obstinate and confirmed in hatred against God. And St. Jerome says that the reprobate “are insatiable in the desire of sinning.”22 Hence, because the damned refuse to be healed, their wounds are incurable. Why is my wound desperate, so as to refuse to be healed?23
Affections and Prayers.
Then, my Redeemer! if at this hour I were damned, as I have deserved, I should be obstinate in hatred against Thee, my God! who hast died for me. O God! what a hell should it be to hate Thee, who hast loved me so tenderly, who art infinite beauty, infinite goodness, and worthy of infinite love! Then if I were now in hell, I should be in such an Unhappy state, that I would not even wish for the pardon which Thou now offerest to me. My Jesus, I thank Thee for the mercy Thou hast shown me; and since I now can obtain pardon, I wish to love Thee. Thou offerest me pardon, and I ask it from Thee, and hope for it through thy merits. I am sorry for all the offences I have committed against Thee, O infinite Goodness! Pardon me, then. I love Thee with my whole soul. Ah, Lord! what evil hast Thou done me, that I should have to hate Thee forever as my enemy? And what friend have I ever had who has done and suffered so much for me as Thou, O my Jesus! hast done and suffered for me? Ah, do not permit me ever more to fall into enmity with Thee, and to lose Thy love. Take me out of life, sooner than permit this sovereign evil to befall me. O Mary! take me under thy protection, and do not permit me ever more to rebel against God and against thee.
Eternity is Unchangeable.
Eternity is Unchangeable.
In this life death is greatly feared by sinners; but in hell it will be most ardently desired. Men shall seek death, and shall not find it; and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them.24 Hence St. Jerome has written: “O death, how sweet should you be to those to whom you have been so full of bitterness.”25 David says, that death will feast on the damned. Death shall feed upon them.26 In explaining this passage, St. Bernardine observes that as, in feeding, sheep eat the blades of grass, and leave the roots untouched; so death feeds on the damned: it kills them every moment, but leaves them life in order to continue to kill them by pains for all eternity. Thus, according to St. Gregory, the damned die every moment without ever dying. Delivered up to avenging flames, they will die always. A man who dies through pain is an object of pity to all who behold him. Perhaps the damned, too, experience commiseration from others? None; they die every moment, and have not, and never will have, any one to take compassion on them. The Emperor Zeno, being one day shut up in a pit, continually cried out: For pity’s sake, open this grave and release me. But no one heard him, and he was found dead, after having eaten the flesh off his arms. The damned cry out from the pit of hell, says St. Cyril of Alexandria, but no one comes to deliver them—no one feels compassion for them.27
And for how long will this their misery last? Forever, forever. In the spiritual exercises of Father Paul Segneri, written by Muratori, it is related that in Rome, a devil in the body of a man possessed, being asked how long he would remain in hell, began to beat his hand against a chair, and answered in a rage: Forever, forever! At hearing this great sermon of two words, forever, forever, many students of the Roman seminary, who were present, made a general confession, and changed their lives. Poor Judas! he has spent more than eighteen hundred years in hell, and his hell is still at its commencement. Poor Cain, he is in fire for more than five thousand eight hundred years, and his hell is at its beginning. Another devil was asked how long it was since he had been sent to hell. He answered, Yesterday. “Flow,” said the person who asked him, “could it be yesterday, when you are damned for more than five thousand years? He replied: Oh! if you knew what is meant by eternity, you would easily conceive how a thousand years, compared with it, are but a moment. If an angel said to one of the damned: You will leave hell, but only after the lapse of as many ages as there are drops of water in the ocean, leaves on the trees, or grains of sand in the sea; he would feel greater joy than a beggar would at hearing of his elevation to a throne. Yes; all these ages will pass away, they will be multiplied an infinite number of times, and hell will be at its commencement. Each of the damned would make this compact with God: Lord, increase my pain as much as Thou wishest, let it last as long as Thou pleasest; but put an end to it, and I am content. But this end will never take place. In hell, the trumpet of divine justice will sound nothing else but these words—forever, forever, never, never.
The damned will ask the devils what is the hour of the. night. Watchman, what of the night?28 When will it end? When will these trumpets, these shrieks, this stench, these flames, these torments cease? Their answer is never, never. And how long will they last? Forever, forever. Ah Lord! give light to so many blind Christians, who, when entreated not to damn themselves, say: If I go to hell, I must have patience. O God! they have not patience to bear the least cold, to remain in an overheated room, or to submit to a buffet on the cheek. And how can they have patience to remain in a sea of fire, trampled by the devils, and abandoned by God and by all, for all eternity!
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, Father of mercies! Thou dost not abandon him who seeks Thee. Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee, O Lord.29 I have hitherto turned my back upon Thee so often, and Thou hast not abandoned me: do not abandon me now that I seek Thee. I repent, O Sovereign Good! of having made so little account of Thy grace, which I have exchanged for nothing. Look at the wounds of Thy Son. Listen to his cries, which implore Thee to pardon me; and grant me pardon. O my Redeemer! remind me always of the pains Thou hast suffered for me, of the love Thou hast borne me, and of my ingratitude, by which I have so often deserved hell, that I may always bewail the injury I have done Thee, and that I may live always burning with Thy love. Ah, my Jesus! how can I but burn with Thy love, when I reflect that for so many years I ought to burn in hell, and continue to burn in it for all eternity; when I remember that Thou hast died in order to deliver me from it, and that Thou hast with so much mercy rescued me from that land of misery! Were I in hell, I should now hate Thee there, and should have to hate Thee forever: but now I love Thee, and will love Thee forever. Thou lovest me, and I also love Thee. Thou wilt love me forever unless I forsake Thee. Ah, my Saviour! save me from the misfortune of ever leaving Thee, and then do with me whatsoever Thou pleasest. I merit every punishment, and I accept every chastisement, that Thou mayest deliver me from the punishment of being deprived of Thy love. O Mary, my refuge! how often have I condemned myself to hell, and thou hast preserved me from it. Ah, deliver me now from sin, which alone can deprive me of the grace of God, and bring me to hell.
1“Cruciabuntur die ac nocte in sæcula sæculorum.” – Apoc. xx. 10.
2Discedite a me, maledicti, in ignem æternum. . . Et ibunt hi in supplicium æternum.” – Matt. xxv. 41, 46.
3“Pœnas dabunt in interitu æternas.” – 2 Thess. i. 9.
4“Omnis igne salietur.” – Mark, ix. 48.
5“Neque absorbeat me profundum, neque urgeat super me puteus os suum.” – Ps. lxviii. 16.
6Descensus erit, reditus non erit.
7“Quia, cum susceperit reos, claudetur sursum, et aperietur deorsum.” – De Epiph. et Inf. hom. 3.
8“Mortuo homine impio, non erit ultra spes.” – Prov. xi. 7.
9“Statuam contra faciem tuam.” – Ps. xlix. 21.
10“Alii in vitam æternam, et alii in opprobrium, ut videant semper.” – Dan. xii. 2.
11Pondus æternitatis sustinent.
12Hic ure, hic seca; hic non parcas, ut in æternum parcas.
13“Sagittæ tuæ transeunt, vox tonitrui tui in rota.” – Ps. lxxvi. 19.
14“Eduxi gladium meum de vagina sua irrevocabilem.” – Ezek. xxi. 5.
15“Non, quia homicidium in momento committitur, momentanea pœna punitur.” – 1. 2. q. 87, a. 3.
16“In omni peccato mortali infinita Deo contumelia irrogatur: infinitæ autem injuriæ infinita debetur pœna.” – T. ii. s. 12, a. 2, c. 2.
17Comp. Theol. p. 1, c. 183.
18“Non dabit Deo placationem suam; . . . laborabit in æternum.” – Ps. xlviii. 8, 9.
19“Culpa semper potent ibi puniri, et nunquam potent expiari.” – Spec. Mor. l. 2, p. 3, d. 3.
20Ibi peccator pœnitere non potest.
21“Cui iratus est Dominus in æternum.” – Mal. i. 4.
22Insatiabiles sunt in desiderio peccandi.
23“Factus est dolor perpetuus, et plaga desperabilis renuit curari.” – Jer. xv. 18.
24“Quærent mortem, et non invenient eam; et desiderabunt mori, et fugiet mors ab eis.” – Apoc. ix. 6.
25“O mors, quam dulcis esses, quibus tam amara fuisti!” – Apud. S. Bonnav. Sol. c. 3.
26“Mors depascet eos.” – Ps. xlviii. 15.
27“Lamentantur, et nullus eripit: plangunt, et nemo compatitur.” – Orat. de exitu anni.
28“Custos, quid de nocte?” – Isa. xxi. 11.
29“Non dereliquisti quærentes te, Domine.” – Ps. ix. 11.