Fishers of Men

\”Come, follow me,\” Jesus said, \”and I will make you fishers of men.\”

PAINS OF HELL

NATIONAL NEWMAN CHAPLAINS ASSOCIATION COLLEGE OUTLINE OF SACRED DOCTRINE
 
A Basic Lecture for Students in Non-Catholic Colleges and Universities
 
General Editor
Joseph M. Wyss, O.P., S.T.Lr. Ph.D.
 
CHAPLAIN’S COMPLETE LECTURE OUTLINE
 
THE PAINS OF HELL
By Rev. Angelus Boyd, O.P., S.T.Lr., Ph.L.

Father Boyd is Chaplain at the University of Wichita in Kansas. He took his licentiate in philosophy from the Pontifical Faculty of Philosophy, River Forest, Ill., and his lectorate in theology from the Aquinas Institute of Philosophy and Theology, Dubuque, Iowa. He was formerly Chaplain to the Oklahoma State Reformatory.

INTRODUCTION:
 
The former lecture on hell pointed out those truths which the pains of hell presuppose. In this lecture we focus on our main interest: the nature of the punishments of hell in particular.

Our minds are never quite content solely with the knowledge of the existence of something, even when we are absolutely certain of the fact. We naturally have an insatiable appetite to know more about a thing than that it exists. We are always searching to learn as much as we can concerning its nature.

With the certitude of faith we know that the pain of loss exists in hell and that it essentially consists in the eternal privation of the vision of God. Let us now examine this punishment of loss in detail in compliance with our natural and legitimate inquisitiveness to discern what this loss involves.
 
Whenever we speak of a loss we do so in reference to something positive, namely, the thing which is lost. We cannot understand what “suffering a loss” involves unless we first investigate what is lost. Therefore, in order to comprehend more fully the true nature of the loss in hell we will start with a general notion of the pain of loss and proceed to a particular consideration of this pain by treating:

1) What is lost.

2) The loss itself.

3) The effects of this loss.
 
I.  THE PAIN OF LOSS IN GENERAL:
 
A. Insofar as sin consists in turning away from God, its corresponding punishment is the pain of loss. But insofar as sin turns inordinately to some created good, its corresponding punishment is the pain of sense.
 
One of St. Thomas’ basic principles when dealing with the pains of hell is that the punishment must fit the crime. Punishment is proportionate to sin. In sin there are two factors: the first is the turning away from God, and the other is the inordinate turning to a created good. According to these two aspects of sin, the punishment has been made to fit by the just Judge.
 
B. Accordingly, since the condition of one who dies in unrepented mortal sin consists in his eternal rejection of God, his corresponding punishment in the pain of loss, which consists in his eternal separation or exclusion from the possession of God.
 
This privation or loss of God is really the very essence or core of hell. To have lost God, the supernatural end of man constitutes the very nature of eternal punishment. This is why the Latin word, damnum, which simply means “loss”, is used when we describe hell’s condition and its inhabitants. We refer to them as the “damned”, in eternal “damnation”, but the word “loss” more accurately connotes what hell is. Hell essentially is the lost suffering the eternal loss of God. Consequently, we can only begin to fathom this punishment if we think of it first in terms of what is lost.
 
II. THE PAIN OF LOSS IN PARTICULAR:
 
A. What is lost—Ultimate objective and subjective happiness:
 
1. Final or ultimate objective happiness is that good, which, when it is possessed, will render the possessor subjectively happy by completely fulfilling and satisfying his entire nature.
 
Since everything tends to the fulfillment of its own perfection, a man desires for his last and ultimate end that which he desires as his perfect and crowning good. It’s necessary, therefore, that the last end so fill man’s appetite that nothing is left besides it for man to desire. That good which is the perfect good that fulfills this desire is the last end. It is complete and enduring fulfillment. Therefore, the good itself, which is desired as the last end, is that good which constitutes happiness and makes man happy. The attainment of this good is called happiness.
 
In this sense then, God, the universal and uncreated good, is man’s true and real final objective happiness, because he alone is able to satisfy perfectly man’s will.
 
2. Final or ultimate subjective happiness is that state of fulfillment or perfection in a person who has obtained the end for which he was made.
 
In this sense, then, man’s final and ultimate subjective happiness is the actual possession of God in the beatific vision.
 
3. In other words, final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the very essence of God.

If the human intellect, knowing the nature of some created effect, knows nothing more of God than that he exists, the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach the nature of the first cause, God, but there remains in the human intellect the natural desire to seek the cause, and therefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very essence or nature of the first cause, God.

Two points must be remembered to clarify this:

(a) Man is not perfectly happy so long as something remains for him to desire and seek.
 
(b) The perfection of any power is determined by the object of that power. The object of the human intellect is what a thing is, i.e., the very essence of a thing. Therefore the human intellect attains perfection insofar as it knows the essence of anything.

Accordingly, the true final objective and subjective happiness of an intellectual creature such as man is God and the possession of him in the vision of. his essence. Knowing God is what makes heaven to be heaven. This is what St. John is referring to when he says, “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ (John 17, 3).”

Possessing this object, the intellect will have nothing further to desire or seek. Once this end is reached, natural desire must find its full fruition. The divine essence when seen by the human intellect is the adequate and complete principle for knowing everything else and it is the source of all good, so that nothing else can remain to be desired. This final end of man is what we call happiness.
 
4. This gives us an accurate estimation of what is lost: the pain of loss entails the loss of God, who alone can fulfill and complete our finite being. What is lost, in short, is man’s true final objective and subjective happiness.
 
B. The nature of the pain of loss itself:
 
1. Essentially, the nature of this loss consists in the privation of the beatific vision, i.e., the pain of loss is nothing other than the opposite of all we have said about happiness, or, to put it concretely, it is complete objective and subjective wretchedness.
 
[Note: The word “pain”, as it is used here, is equivalent to “punishment of loss”, or the penalty imposed, which embraces both the objective and subjective aspects of wretchedness, i.e., the loss of the good and the condition of complete unfulfillment in the one sustaining the loss. It should be kept distinct from the word “pain” in the sense of “sorrow” or “grief”, i.e., the mental suffering caused by the punishment of loss upon the realization of what has been lost.]

(a) Final objective wretchedness or unhappiness is the loss of that good which, when possessed renders man subjectively happy by completely fulfilling and satisfying his entire nature, namely, it is the eternal loss of God. As heaven means “God”, so hell means “no-God”.
 
(b) Final subjective wretchedness or unhappiness is the state of complete failure and unfulfillment in the soul which will never obtain the end for which it was made, namely, it is the deprivation of God.
 
2. In other words, the very nature of this punishment of loss is best seen in terms of losing one’s true objective and subjective happiness.

Whatever pertains to wretchedness must be understood as being the opposite of all we have said about happiness. Man’s ultimate happiness, as regards his intellect, consists in the unobstructed vision of God. Therefore man’s extreme wretchedness will consist in the fact that his intellect is completely shut off from the divine light. As regards man’s will, happiness consists in the immovable repose or rest of man’s will in the First Good. Just as rest and delight are in the will upon the attainment of happiness, so ceaseless restlessness and misery are in the will which can never obtain its true end.
 
3. The soul suffers from this punishment or pain of loss. There is a realization of what has been lost because there would be no suffering if the soul were ignorant of what it had lost.

We should not forget that after death the separated souls of men have direct knowledge of things. They see in a glance all their needs, their desires, their destiny, the true object of the happiness and also its inaccessibleness.

After death, the unrepentant sinner sees clearly that his intellect was made for truth, above all the Supreme Truth, and that his will was made to love and will the good, especially the Supreme Good. The obstinate soul now becomes fully aware that God alone, seen face to face, can fulfill all his natural desires. Because he will never reach the state of fulfillment and satisfaction which his entire nature will crave forever, he can never be happy, but rather he will be in a state of complete unhappiness, a state of everlasting discontent and frustration.
 
4. (a) From all this, we can see that the real nature of the punishment of loss is not the mere absence of happiness, but it is also a most intense positive pain (in the sense of “anguish” or “mental suffering”).

The utter void of the soul made for the enjoyment of infinite truth and goodness causes the damned inexpressible anguish. The soul’s realization that by its own deliberate choice it has lost God forever humiliates and depresses the soul beyond calculation. .The desire for happiness inherent in the very nature of the soul, renders it utterly wretched because it knows this desire will forever go unsatisfied.

(b) Perhaps the best insight we can have on the true nature of the anguish caused by the pain (punishment) of loss is the suggestion by some modern theologians that it is something like the pain suffered by a split personality in this life.
 
A schizophrenic personality suffers greatly. Such a man believes that he is himself and someone else; two personalities or two egos, so to speak. On the superficial level he believes that he is another individual and yet he retains some notion of himself also. There are therefore two superimposed images of himself. at conflict within his spirit. Riven by this conflict he suffers as though devoured by himself.

Some suggest that it is possible that the soul in hell could feel this inner division. According to this view, there arises in the lost soul a conflict of opposite forces. On the one hand the soul by its natural inclinations is irresistibly impelled towards happiness and so, by its spontaneous, indeliberate will, it loves God as the highest good. On the other hand, it has freely and deliberately rejected God as its last end, the only true source of happiness and the only satisfaction of its intense craving for happiness. The pain of loss produces in the lost soul an interior contradiction that tortures and splits its inmost life. Simultaneously, the soul naturally yearns for God and rejects him, and this provokes an internal rift almost sufficient to tear apart the very personality of the damned soul. A more intolerable anguish is hard to imagine than for a soul to be at war with itself in the very act that should bring it happiness.

This helps us to appreciate why the suffering of the loss of God is the primary suffering of hell.
 
(c) Essentially, the anguish caused by the punishment of loss consists in the lost soul’s realization that through its own fault it has lost the greatest of all goods and missed the very purpose of its existence. This knowledge causes a state of unhappiness and misery that is the exact counterpart of the happiness and joy of heaven.
 
C.  The effects of this loss:
 
God decreed that the ultimate end for man, who was mad in his image and likeness by being endowed with an intellect, and will, is to reach the perfect fulfillment and satisfaction of these faculties by attaining and possessing God through perfect love and knowledge. The loss of this end results in the complete frustration of the will and the intellect.

These faculties will never attain the end for which they were made, yet in spite of this they still will tend toward it by the very force of their nature.
 
As a consequence of the loss of God, the will, made to seek and love goodness itself, is frustrated by simultaneously tending towards this end and rejecting and hating him. The intellect, made to seek and see the very essence of Truth itself, is frustrated by ceaselessly striving for this end and yet knowing it can never be attained.

The effects of the loss of God, therefore, are the frustration of the will and the intellect, or to be more specific:

1. Frustration of the will as evidenced by:

(a) Hatred of God: made to desire and love God, the will is now frustrated by an eternal rejection and hatred of God.

After death, the soul will still feel the magnetic attraction of God, but its deliberate will has definitely rejected him and replaced its love for God with hatred. It has an aversion to God that comes from the unrepented sin which still grips it. Because it knows God only as he stands in the way of what it has chosen for its last end, God becomes an object of hate and detestation. He becomes the lost soul’s supreme antagonist.

There comes a point in the life of an immortal soul when, by consistent and deliberate rebellion against God, it becomes fixed in complete antagonism to God.
 
Since hate is really only love of something turned to its contrary, namely to aversion, hatred comes as a result of the gradual deterioration and destruction of love. From friendship it passes to ceaseless enmity. This is the state reached by one who dies in unrepented mortal sin.
 
(b) Hatred of neighbor: stubbornly rooted in evil, the damned is without grace and therefore without charity, which is the love of God and neighbor.

The damned envy the blessed their happiness and those still alive their chance for happiness, and as a result they intensely hate them and wish they were damned along with themselves.
 
Envy, the sorrow over a neighbor’s good, grieves over what charity finds capable of causing joy. Envy is the mother of hatred of neighbor. As in the blessed in heaven there will be most perfect charity, so in the damned there will be most perfect hate. There will not even be any love for the damned among themselves, prompted by some sort of mutual pity at their sad plight. The demons will hate damned men as being inferiors and members of that nature which the Word assumed. Damned men will hate each other because one is better than another or because of the harm each one has done to the other by bad example, etc.

(c) Hatred of self: Without love for God, a man actually loves no one, not even himself. In hell, the lost soul cannot bear to live with himself. Looking into his own heart he finds nothing there but what is despicable.

After death all appearances dissolve and seeing himself as he really is, the damned person is confronted with his own evil and he hates himself.

Hell is a place where there is an utter absence of love, (”Hell is not to love anymore.”—Bernanos, The Dairy of a Country Priest), and the severe reality of this truth is best seen in the bitter irony of a soul which once loved itself to the point of contempt of God now hating itself for all eternity. The will ends in total frustration.
 
2. Frustration of the intellect as evidenced by:

(a) Remorse: Whatever offends against an order is eventually punished by that order. By his sins the damned has offended against the order of reason, and he is punished by reason through remorse of conscience. Perpetual remorse comes from the sting of conscience which the damned refused to heed while on earth.
 
The first principles of the moral order are stamped forever upon the minds of men and they will never be erased. Conscience constantly witnesses to our responsibility. Transgressions of the moral law are followed by remorse, by mental sufferings which sometimes are far greater than those endured by the body (e.g., murderers have been known to give themselves up after years of moral agony, solely to escape the tortures of a conscience stricken with remorse).

(b) Despair: aware that their lot has been cast forever, the damned have complete despair, which is nothing else but the abandonment of hope. Inscribed above the entrance of hell, Dante saw the words: “Before me were no things created except eternal ones, and I am eternal. Leave behind all hope, you who enter.”

“It belongs to the unhappy state of the damned that they should know that they cannot by any means escape from damnation and obtain happiness. . . . It is, therefore, evident that they cannot apprehend happiness as a possible good. . . . Consequently there is no hope. . . in the damned.” (Summa, II-II, q. 18,3. 3)

3. Frustration of the intellect itself: our natural, inborn craving for knowledge cannot come to rest within us until we know the first cause, God, in his essence.  If the mind will find rest and satisfaction only in God, then the loss of God will be the source of unrest and dissatisfaction.
 
The intellect will be impelled eternally to seek what it knows it cannot have. Even the knowledge which it attained here in this life, no matter how clear and penetrating it was, is unsatisfying in the next world, as far as the damned are concerned. That knowledge remains in the soul continually to badger the intellect concerning its inability to know with a deeper and clearer understanding.
 
D. Summation:
 
The pain of loss, in reality, is the total failure of a soul destined for God to attain him. The result is ruin beyond repair and utter frustration.
 
Eternal separation from God is really only the natural consequence of the sinner’s rejection of God until the last moment of consciousness.
 
The lost soul has freely and deliberately chosen another end than God, an end outside of and incompatible with God. God accepts the soul’s decision as irrevocable. The damned are “the lost” in all the hopeless misery of the word.
 
III. THE PAIN OF SENSE IN GENERAL:
 
Besides a negative punishment, i.e., the loss of eternal happiness, hell involves the infliction of some positive punishment which has been known traditionally as the pain of sense.
 
Since “the punishment fits the crime,” we see that the reason for such a positive punishment arises from the double aspect involved in the very nature of mortal sin.

It is only equitable that the sinner who abandons God by his sin be abandoned by God in return and that the very things to which the sinner turned for happiness now recoil on him and cause pain.
 
A. Meaning of the term:
 
To avoid any misunderstanding, we first should note what is meant by the term “pain of sense.”
 
The significance of the term “pain of sense” is that the damned will suffer a punishment corporeal on the part of the things afflicting them, i.e., the things by which they are punished will be corporeal.

N.B. “Pain of sense” does not refer to “sensible pain,” i.e., felt by the senses. Rather “sense” refers to an extrinsic sense agent, and therefore the term “pain of sense” means a punishment which is caused by a sensible medium, regardless of whether it is felt by the senses or not. This pain (punishment) is simply a positive punishment inflicted upon the damned by God by means of some external medium which he uses as an instrument of punishment.
 
[As in the case of the pain of loss, distinguish “pain” in the sense of “punishment,” viz., the actual penalty inflicted, and “pain” in the sense of the “physical or mental suffering” which is caused by the punishment.]
 
B. The fact of its existence:
 
Although it is not a truth of faith in the sense of having been solemnly defined, the existence of a pain of sense, which chiefly consists in that inflicted by fire, is certainly and explicitly contained in Scripture and in the Fathers and so commonly is it taught that it is at least a truth theologically certain.

Scripture is very clear about the existence of some positive torment distinct from the pain of loss (e.g. cf. Matt. 18,8-9; 5,29; Mark 9,42).

In fact, Scripture even specifies the primary punishment of sense by using the word “fire” or “flame” to designate it about thirty times in the New Testament.
 
IV. THE PAIN OF SENSE IN PARTICULAR:
 
A. The pain of sense as regards spirits and souls:
 
1. The nature of the fire of hell:
 
(a) Real or metaphorical?

The fire of hell is real, i.e., it has objective reality distinct from the lost soul itself.
 
The reality of the fire of hell implies the existence of an objective cause really distinct from the pain or punishment of sense, which is its effect, and that this cause is an instrument of divine justice.
 
In this sense, then, real fire is opposed to metaphorical fire just as the objective cause of suffering is opposed to the subjective affliction of the soul.

The fact of the reality of the fire of hell is a doctrine commonly taught by the majority of theologians and hence it is an accepted truth which it would be temerarious to deny.

(b) Its nature according to St. Thomas:

To establish that hell-fire is real corporeal fire is not to explain its nature.

The only guide in this matter is the more or less probable theological opinions of various private doctors and theologians which are inferences and conclusions drawn from premises which have been supplied by the Scriptures or reason.
 
Among all the opinions, St. Thomas’ is the most cogent in view of the data of revelation and the facts of modern science.
 
(1) St. Thomas’ opinion: hell-fire, notwithstanding differences in properties, is real, corporeal fire, and it is of the same species as the corporeal fire we know on earth, “so far as the nature of fire is concerned.”

“Under whatever conditions fire be found, it is always of the same species, so far the nature of fire is concerned, but there may be a difference of species as to the bodies which are the matter of fire. . . Accordingly it is clear that the fire of hell is of the same species as the fire we have, so far as the nature of fire is concerned. But whether that fire subsists in its proper matter, or if it subsists in a strange matter, what that matter may be, we know not. And in this way it may differ specifically from the fire we have, considered materially. It has, however, certain properties differing from our fire, for instance that it needs no kindling nor is it kept alive by fuel. But these differences do not argue a difference of species as regards the nature of fire.” (St. Thomas, Suppl., q. 97, a. 6)

Note: St. Thomas is not maintaining that these two fires are identical. He holds that they are essentially the same, meaning that, on the basis of what enters into the very constitution or nature of fire itself, these two fires are the same, but they obviously differ in their properties, due to the difference in the condition of the recipients of their actions. These differences do not militate against the possibility of their being essentially the same as far as the nature of fire is concerned.

(2) Theologically sound: the accounts of hell-fire given to us in the Scriptures provide a very solid foundation in revelation for maintaining that this fire is not only real, but real corporeal fire of the same specific nature as the fire we know on earth.
 
The theologian’s explanation must always be reconciled with the words of Scripture if it is to be tenable.

The fact is that the word “fire” or “flame” is used some thirty times in the New Testament which describes it as something real, outside the sufferer, distinct from him and the cause of the suffering, not the suffering itself. Such a consistent and persistent usage of the word “fire” strongly indicates that the fire we know here on earth is the closest and most appropriate idea of hell-fire we can have. The common meaning of the word “fire” as understood in the time of Christ as well as our own is a burning substance, a subject, actually burning and perceptible to our senses.
 
If this hell-fire really is fire as the Scriptures indicate, then no matter under what conditions it may be or how different will be its fuel, it will still be of the same species as the fire we know on earth.
 
(3) Scientifically sound: there is no contradiction between St. Thomas’ explanation and the modern scientific notion of fire.

Many reject St. Thomas’ position on the ground that it was based upon the imperfect scientific knowledge of his day which thought fire to be an element. The word “fire” can be taken in two ways:

(a) According to the common meaning, i.e., as it is evident to the senses (considered materially): an actually burning substance (e.g. flame is a burning gas).
 
(b) According to the strict scientific notion (considered formally): Modern science: the chemical action of oxidation which occurs so rapidly that both noticeable heat and light are produced. From the time of Christ to the end of the Middle Ages: an element.
 
Obviously, St. Thomas was in error about the strict scientific notion of fire but this does not nullify or alter the truth of the point he is making which is that, regardless of the substance which will be actually burning, fire as fire will always be the same. In other words, fire taken formally in its strict scientific sense will always be of the same nature no matter how different the substances actually undergoing this process.

2. The fire’s mode of action on fallen angels and separated souls:

(a) Problem: How can the devils, who have no bodies and the souls of the damned, prior to reunion with the body, suffer from the corporeal fire by which the bodies of the damned will suffer after the resurrection?

(b) Response: How the fire causes pain to damned spirits:

Note: In determining how the fire acts, we should bear in mind that the fire of hell has its own proper action which is the same as that of earth, but over and above that it has an instrumental action proper to the principal agent, God, and it also is acting upon different recipients, i.e., spiritual beings.
 
(1) Opinions: All the opinions as to the manner of the fire’s action can be reduced to two chief views:

(a) The fire of hell exerts only a spiritual or moral action upon the soul.

(b) Its action is real and physical, i.e., it immediately and really causes the effect produced.
 
(2) St. Thomas’ explanation: in effecting the punishment of the damned: hell-fire acts as a real physical instrumental cause of divine justice, and as such it afflicts the souls spiritually by detaining them within its sphere and preventing their natural liberty of movement and activity.

Theologians almost unanimously agree that hell-fire is the instrument of God’s power in effecting the punishment of the damned.

An instrumental cause is a type of efficient cause that exercises its causal function under the directive influence of an agent or principal cause, thereby producing an effect that exceeds its unaided power of production.

A physical instrumental cause is one which by its action immediately and really causes the effect produced (e.g. the pen in the hand of the writer actually forms letters).

Two requirements for true instrumental causality:

(i) the instrument must have its own proper action;

(ii) it must receive some power from the agent.

(a) The Thomistic position maintains that just as fire by its own proper form has the power to burn a body, so also, as a physical instrument of God it has the power to afflict a soul spiritually. The corporeal fire has an action transmitted to it by the divine power, so that it is raised to torture souls even spiritually. These spiritual torments exceed the connatural power of the fire but not the instrumental power given to it by God. In other words, the fire is a real physical instrument directly producing a spiritual effect, as the sacraments are physical instruments producing a spiritual effect, viz., grace.
 
(b) To maintain the fire’s true instrumental causality we must say that hell-fire itself is a direct and immediate cause of the effects on the separated soul, which means that there must be some sort of union, because an agent must be joined to that on which it acts immediately, and must touch it by its power.

The double role of an instrument is safeguarded by St. Thomas’ explanation: For a material thing to act upon a spirit, the spirit has to be united to it in some way. One way a spirit is united to matter is by the application of power, i.e., as a thing placed is united to a place.

The soul is united to the fire which punishes it in the way in which spirits are united to corporeal places, by contact of power, i.e., as a thing placed is united to a place.

An angel or a separated soul is in place insofar as it exercises its power there and not elsewhere. Now it is naturally possible for fire to have a spirit united to it as a thing placed is united to the place, but it is not naturally possible for the fire to retain or keep hold of this spirit, for the spiritual agent according to its nature is free to withdraw its power from one place and apply it to another. The fire of hell, therefore, besides having its own natural power of delimiting the power exercised by the demons and lost souls, has, as the instrument of divine justice, another power which enables it to detain them within its sphere and prevent their natural liberty.

It is in this way, i.e., by preventing the exercise of its freedom of acting where and as it wills, that the fire becomes a torment to the soul.
 
The soul suffers from corporeal fire in the sense in which we say that anything suffers which is obstructed in its proper activity or kept from something which belongs to it.

St. Thomas explains the mode of action of hell-fire on the demons and lost souls in terms, not of burning, but of binding and restricting the .damned and shackling their activity. This is in perfect harmony with the Scriptures which describe hell as a prison where the damned are detained against their will. (Cf. Matt. 5, 25; Luke 12, 58, II Peter 2, 4; Jude 1, 16)

The fire of hell, therefore, according to the mind of St. Thomas, insofar as it detains the soul, acts upon the soul as a real, physical instrument of divine justice. Insofar as the soul apprehends that this fire is restricting it, the soul is afflicted by interior sadness.
 
B. The pain of sense as regards bodies:
 
The fact that the bodies of the damned will share in the punishments of the soul is a truth of faith. (Denz., n. 531)

Just as the body cooperated in the sin and shared the pleasure, so also it will have to share in the punishments due for sin. Retribution will come to man, body and soul.
 
Problem: How will this fire burn the bodies of the damned and yet not consume them eventually?

Key to solution: The effect of any action is determined not only by the power of the agent but also by the condition of the recipient.

1. Condition of the resurrected bodies of the damned:

(a) General condition:
 
(1) Whole and entire bodies; The human body will rise whole and entire, with all its members.

(2) Incorruptibility: The bodies of the damned, in common with those of the blessed, will not be corruptible. In showing that suffering is compatible with this, condition of incorruptibility in the bodies of the damned, St. Thomas offers the following reason:

“The second reason is drawn from a consideration of the soul, in whose perpetual duration the body will be forced, by divine power, to share. The condemned person’s soul, so far as it is the form and nature of such a body, will confer never-ending existence on the latter. But because of its imperfection, the soul will not be able to bestow on the body immunity from suffering. Consequently the bodies of the damned will suffer forever, but will not undergo dissolution.” (Comp. Theol., c. 177)

(b) Properties of the bodies of the damned:

Four special properties, the opposite of the properties of a glorified body, will heighten the suffering of the damned.
 
(1) Passibility: Impassiblity means immunity to what is contrary to human nature and painful to it. The bodies of the damned will suffer pains in hell and thus they are passible, i.e., capable of experiencing suffering, although they will not undergo substantial change.

(2) Carnality: Subtlety, a quality of the glorified body, makes the risen body perfectly subject to the soul and instantly responsive to the will in all organic action. In contrast, the damned bodies will have a quality which could be termed carnality, meaning their bodies will not be entirely subject to the spirit, viz., spiritual, but rather the soul by its affection will be carnal.
 
(3) Ponderosity: Agility will enable the glorified body to move with the speed of thought, perfectly obedient to the direction of the soul and the command of free will. Bodies of the damned will have a property we might call ponderosity or sluggishness.

(4) Obscurity: The glorified body will have a visible splendor and luminosity about it, which shining quality is called clarity. On the other hand, the condemned bodies will be ashen so that the dullness of their souls may be mirrored in their bodies. This lackluster could be styled the body’s obscurity.
 
2. The action of hell-fire on the bodies:
 
St. Thomas’ solution is based on the notion of sensation or sense knowledge and explains how the bodies will be really tormented yet not corrupted by the fire.

(a) Prenotes on sensation: Knowledge, whether sense or intellectual, is the highest kind of immanent activity and involves a process of immaterialization by which the matter itself and finally the material qualities of an object are left behind. The external senses begin the process which is further carried out in the higher centers of the nervous system and completed as a result of the activity of the agent intellect on the data of the internal senses.

This immaterialization results in the formation of a union between the knower and the object known. The union is realized in the union of the knower with the form (species) of the thing being known, and in this union the knower receives the form of another thing not merely as its own form (i.e., not only as the knower’s own form) but as the form of the other thing. Hence, in a sense, by union with the form, the knower becomes this other thing. This becoming does not take place in a mere material sense (which would be a fundamental change rather than knowledge), but it takes upon itself the form of the other thing in an intentional sense.
 
In other words, in sensation, the knowable object imprints its own likeness on the sense faculty. This impression is the form (impressed species). The sense faculty receives this form of the agent and assimilates it in an immaterial way (intentionally), because whatever is received into anything is received, not according to the mode of the source from which it came, but according to the manner of the recipient. Therefore what is taking place in the sense power is intentional receptivity, i.e., form is in the sense power according to an intentional existence.
 
(b) According to St. Thomas, it is in this way that the fire acts upon the bodies of the damned, i.e., the bodies will receive the species or form of the fire intentionally. The species which is in the fire materially is received spiritually into the bodies of the damned. In this way the bodies will suffer from the fire, not by being transformed into the likeness of the form received, but by experiencing the effects characteristic of fire’s properties. This experience will be painful, because the effects produced by the action of fire are opposed to the harmony in which the pleasure of sense consists. But since spiritual or intentional reception of forms does not modify or change the bodily nature of the sense faculty as such, the action of hell-fire will not cause corruption. (Cf. Compo Theol., c. 177)

3. Other pains of sense: In particular, both the interior and exterior sense of the body will be tormented.

The lost must live in the company of all the devils, compelled to listen to their outbursts of hate and reproach and ridicule, and forced to look at their ugliness and repulsiveness.
 
One other aspect will be the darkness of hell itself, allowing nothing to be seen clearly yet dimly lighting up those things which are able to bring anguish to the heart.
 
V. DEGREES AND CONSTANCY OF THE PAINS OF HELL:
 
A. Degrees:
 
1. In general: It is theologically certain that there is a due proportion between the sufferings of the lost and the sins on account of which they suffer.

Based upon passages in the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 10, 15; 11, 21-24; Luke 10, 12-15; Apoc. 18, 6-7) and an authoritative declaration by the Church on this doctrine’s. counterpart in reference to the blessed (cf. Denz., n. 693), theologians have concluded that the punishment of the lost souls will be commensurate to the gravity of their sins.

Those who had more knowledge of God while on earth are definitely more responsible for their sins than others with less knowledge. A man who calmly and coolly schemed and executed the murder of thousands of innocent people will suffer much more than the barroom brawler who killed a man without dependents.

2. In particular:
 
(a) Degrees in the pain of loss: Precisely because it is the infinite loss of God, the pain of loss, the essential punishment of hell, is the same for all and it admits of no degrees. The differing degrees of suffering as a result of this punishment are only on the side of the sufferers. Their anguish, misery and despair vary in intensity in proportion to the degree of their guilt.

(b) Degree in the pain of sense: With regard to this pain itself, i.e., hell-fire will not torture all sinners equally.

Just as everyone did not turn away from God in the same degree, so neither did everybody turn to the love of creatures in the same degree. The infatuation and fervency for the created object varied according to the grip it had on the body and soul of the damned. Correspondingly, the various pains of sense should have a more vehement or weaker effect on the bodies and souls in hell.
 
B. Constancy:
 
The fixity or constancy of the essential sufferings of hell is theologically certain, and all theories of mitigation or gradual alleviation ought to be rejected.

This is simply a logical deduction drawn from the truth of faith that hell is eternal. There is no foundation in Scripture for any other position.

As for the pain of loss, how can there be a mitigation or lessening in the privation of the sight of God? It simply is or is not. As for the pain of sense, what becomes of a hell-fire which can never end and yet seems gradually to burn down or lose some of its heat?

There is only one type of mitigation or alleviation St. Thomas is willing to grant: God’s punishing less than the sin deserves. The punishment of the damned will not be taken away entirely, but it can be said to be mitigated in the sense that it is not as severe as it ought to be. “Even in the damnation of the reprobate, mercy is seen, which, though’it does not totally remit, yet somewhat alleviates, in pun­ishing short of what is deserved.” (Summa, 1. q. 21, a.. 4 ad 1)
 
VI. CONCLUSION:
 
A. It was the specific concern of this lecture to present the Church’s teaching on hell as regards the pains of hell in particular by unfolding not only the certainties about hell, but also the probabilities, the speculations and the problems that this mystery involves.

B. Brief review of the main points.

C. Summation: Just as everything will be a matter of joy in the blessed, so everything in the damned will cause sorrow, nor will anything that can pertain to sorrow be lacking, so that their wretchedness is absolute.
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY — See Lecture I on Hell.

Previously published by THE PRIORY PRESS.

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