Eternal Punishment

Author: Rev. William G. Most

As we said in speaking of the judgment, those who have turned against God and are not in a state of grace at the time of death are condemned to hell. There can be no change of heart concerning God, for or against His will, after death. Hence hell and heaven must both be without end.

The chief suffering of hell is the loss of God. In this life, we can go comfortably without thinking of Him. But then it will be different. For one thing, our senses now keep telling us this world and this life are the only important things. Then that din of the senses will be gone. But more especially, when we cross into the next life, as it were, the light goes on. In this life, our intelligence has two components, the spiritual intellect proper to the spiritual soul, which is tied to the marvelous, yet material instrument in our heads. The latter limits us greatly. But at death, that limit is gone. Then even if the soul does not at once see God, it carries with it the information on Him, but then really understands, and wants Him intensely. To lose Him forever, or to be in a twisted state of wanting Him, yet in revolt against Him--this is the chief pain of hell.

Scripture often speaks of fire in hell. On May 17, 1979, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained: "She [the Church] believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner." There will be, then a bodily pain. The imagery of fire means it will be a suffering as intense as that caused by earthly fire.

Of course, those who have sinned more will suffer more. But for all, there is no end to suffering and despair.

Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
PART FOUR: The Apostle's Creed VI-VIII
Seventh Article: "From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead"

By William G. Most. (c)Copyright 1990 by William G. Most

Related Q and A

185. Who are punished in hell?

Those are punished in hell who die in mortal sin; they are deprived of the vision of God and suffer dreadful torments, especially that of fire, for all eternity.

(a) The souls in hell are beyond all help. They do not belong to the Mystical Body of Christ or to the Communion of Saints. They are not included among our neighbors and are not the objects of charity. They are doomed to the company of the devils for all eternity.

(b) The souls in hell do not have supernatural faith. They believe, however, in the truths revealed by Almighty God, not with divine faith, but because they cannot escape the evidence of God's authority.

(c) The privation of the beatific vision is called the pain of loss; the torment inflicted by created means on the soul, and on the body after its resurrection, is called the pain of sense.

(d) It is not against God's mercy to punish souls in hell for eternity. God's justice demands that He thus punish those who, sinning gravely and refusing to repent, deliberately turn themselves from God, their last end.

(e) The punishment of hell is eternal; Our Lord referred to it as "everlasting fire."

The Baltimore Catechism, no. 3, Lesson 14