THE FOUR LAST THINGS —- DEATH, JUDGMENT, HELL and HEAVEN
by FATHER MARTIN VON COCHEM, O.S.F.C. comments by Pat Miron
Father Martin von Cochem was born at Cochem, on the Moselle, in the year 1625, and died at Waghausel in 1712. Copyright, 1899, by Benziger Brothers
Presented in Four Separate PARTS
PART III. ON HELL.
I. On the Fire of Hell.
ALTHOUGH in the present day many are found to deny the existence of Hell, or, at any rate, the eternity of punishment, we do not consider it incumbent upon us to bring forward a number of proofs that there is such a place as Hell. In the case of the Christian reader, for whom this book is intended, evidence of this nature is quite superfluous, because he will not have made shipwreck of his faith. Indeed, what further proofs can be required for the existence of Hell and the eternity of punishment, seeing that the prophets, that Christ Himself, that the apostles, and the Fathers of the Church, nay, the very Turks and heathens, speak of it as an unquestioned fact. Those who deny the existence of Hell must consequently be counted amongst the fools who say in their heart that there is no God who punishes their misdeeds.
It would undoubtedly be very agreeable for these people if all things ended with this life, if there were no day of reckoning, or if, at least, the infernal regions were somewhat less intolerable. This accounts for their catching at any apparent arguments wherewith to delude themselves and lull to sleep their fear of the eternal chastisements of Hell. We will not enter upon any examination of the wretched sophisms wherewith these fools deceive themselves ; for the teaching of the Catholic Church on this point is all we need* She teaches that there is a place or state of unequalled and never-ending pain in reserve for the damned.
We know that there really is fire in Hell, from the words Christ spoke to the wicked : ” Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his Angels ” (Matt. xxv. 41). This shows that there is real fire in Hell, and that in it the damned must burn eternally. What the intensity of that pain will be it is beyond the power of man to depict. For of all the varied kinds of physical suffering to which man can be subjected, there is none so great, so cruel, so agonizing, as that which is caused by fire. The rack, the wheel, amputation of a man s limbs, are all terrible torture, but they are not to be compared to the pain of burning. If one does but touch a red-hot iron, what exquisite pain it occasions! In a moment the skin is off, the raw flesh protrudes, blood and matter exude from the wound, and the pain goes to the very marrow of our bones. One cannot refrain from crying out and screaming as if one had lost one’s senses. Now if momentary contact with the red-hot iron causes such acute pain, what would it be if one had to hold a red-hot iron for any length of time !
Now just imagine that thou wert sentenced to be burned alive for thy sins, and for the whole of a live long day thou didst stand amid the flames, unable to die. How piteously thou wouldst weep and wail, how loudly thou wouldst shriek and roar in thy agony, so that the heart-rending cries wrung from thee by the torture thou endurest would not only cause the bystanders to shudder, but fill them with sincere compassion. That man must indeed be stony-hearted who could bear to look unmoved on such a spectacle.
Ere long thou wouldst be burned to such an extent as to be no longer recognizable, reduced to the semblance of a glowing cinder. Now consider, O Christian, if the action of earthly fire causes such intolerable agony, what will be the torture of Hell- fire, the heat of which is incomparably more intense and more searching than that of any fire where with we are familiar. And if thou dost ask why Hell-fire should so far exceed earthly fire in the intensity of its heat, there are several reasons which account for this fact.
In the first place, every one knows that the larger the fire, the greater the heat it throws out. The flame of a wax taper is not very hot, but if the whole taper is burning at once, the flame arising from it is much hotter. When a house is on fire, the heat in the immediate neighbourhood is very great, but if a whole village is in flames, the heat of the conflagration becomes unbearable even at a distance. If such be the effect produced by the fire of earth, which is comparatively but small in its extent, what will the action be of the fire of Hell, that is immeasurably greater than any conflagration seen upon earth!
Secondly, a fire that is enclosed in a furnace burns far more fiercely than if it were in the open air, because the heat being shut in cannot escape and diffuse itself, or be tempered by the surrounding air. If that is so, with what fury the flames of the huge furnace of Hell will rage, with what intensity they will glow! Suppose such a misfortune as a man being thrown into a lime-kiln, or a furnace heated to white heat how terrible would be his sufferings!
The next reason why the fire of Hell surpasses in intensity of heat all other fire is that it is kindled by the breath of God. For the prophet Isaias says:
“Behold, the wrath of the Lord burneth and is heavy to bear, His lips are filled with indignation, and His tongue as a devouring fire. His breath as a torrent overflowing even to the midst of the neck, to destroy the nations unto nothing.” And again: ” Topheth (Hell) is prepared from yesterday, deep and wide. The nourishment thereof is fire and much wood ; the breath of the Lord as a torrent of brimstone kindling it” (Is. xxx. 27, 33).
What a frightful description is here given of Hell and its torturing fire. Do not say that in these and other familiar passages of Holy Scripture the expressions employed are mere figures, whereby the prophets foretold the Divine judgments about to fall on sinful nations, and not to be taken in a literal sense, as referring to Hell and its punishments.
Let us not deceive ourselves. These images are, it is true, in their primary signification to be understood as indicating the doom of sinful nations, but, in a wider and a higher sense, according to the interpretation given of them by the exponents of Scripture, they are predictions of the judicial chastisement which, after the final judgment, will be the portion of reprobate sinners.
St. Bridget justly says in her revelations: “The heat of Hell-fire is so great that if the whole world were wrapped in flames, the heat of the conflagration would be as nothing in comparison with it.”
Hence we learn that that earthly fire bears no more resemblance to the fire of Hell than the feeble flame of a wax taper to the white heat of a glowing furnace. Remember this, O sinner, and lay it well to heart. St. Augustine tells us that the most fearful fire on earth is, in comparison with the fire of Hell, like a painting of fire compared to a real fire.
When thou seest a fire, call to mind the fire of Hell. And since thou couldst not endure to put thy hand for a single instant into that fire, think what the heat of Hell-fire must be, surpassing as it does so infinitely the small fire thou seest before thee. If thou canst not bear this, how canst thou endure the other?
It has now been made clear that the damned will one day be cast, body and soul, into the huge and awful furnace of Hell, into the immense lake of fire, where they will be surrounded by flames. There will be fire below them, fire above them, fire all round about them. Every breath will be the scorching breath of a furnace. These infernal flames will penetrate every portion of the body, so that there will be no part or member, within or without, that is not steeped in fire.
How despairing the cries, how agonizing the shrieks that will ascend from this bed of torture! “Woe to us miserable creatures! Woe to us a thousand times! We are tortured in this flame! The excruciating pain pervades every member of our body; the intolerable agony leaves us no rest! If only we could die, if only we could die so as to escape this fearful torture! Alas, this wish is all in vain! Dead as far as the life of the soul is concerned, dead because we have forfeited the grace, the mercy of God, we are yet condemned to live on, to live forever and ever!
“What a privilege death, annihilation would be to us! But it eludes our grasp; we can no longer hope that it will come to deliver us from this misery, this torture, from the furnace of Hell. Alas, how great has our folly been ! For the worthless pleasures of a moment we have incurred this intolerable misery, a misery which will endure for all eternity.”
“Understand these things,” says David, “you that forget God, lest He snatch you away and there be none to deliver you.” Listen to this, O sinner, and let the lamentations of the lost be instructive to thee. Picture to thyself the pit of fire in which these wretched creatures have to expiate their sins. Wouldst thou, we ask again, for any sum of money, however large, agree to spend a single day immersed in those flames? No, not for the whole world wouldst thou agree to remain in that fire for one short hour.
If this be so, why dost thou for the sake of some sinful enjoyment, some unjust gain, voluntarily cast thyself forever into Hell-fire? O what folly, what consummate folly! God grant that these blind sinners may be enlightened, in order that they may become aware of the unwisdom of their conduct, and may apply themselves in time to the things which concern their salvation.
O God of justice ! sin. May God keep me from such sin as would be the means of casting me into eternal perdition. I will gladly suffer all things, the greatest temporal troubles, the acutest pains, even the cruellest death, in order to escape everlasting torment in Hell. This is my firm purpose; wherefore grant me Thy grace and strengthen me in my good resolution.
how great is Thy wrath and how all-powerful is Thy hatred of sin and of the sinner ! Woe betide me and all who have the terrible misfortune to commit mortal
II. On the Hunger and Thirst Suffered in Hell.
JUST as the crimes whereby the sinner in this life provokes the anger of God are of various kinds, so the pains of Hell whereby those crimes will be punished also vary in their nature. We know that men often sin through intemperance, greedily indulging themselves in food and drink. Consequently God has appointed a severe penalty for this sin in the next world. Christ foretells it, indeed, in the words: “Woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger” (Luke vi. 25).
When Our Lord utters the word “Woe,” He always intends to threaten or predict some great calamity. Let us consider for a moment what it really is in this case. It is impossible for us to form a true idea of the pangs of hunger, because we have never felt them. If for a whole day one has nothing to eat, the time seems very long, and one wants some food very much. And if one were deprived of any nourishment for two or three days, what misery it would be! But if a man had nothing whatever to eat for a whole week, and were left a prey to hunger, what would become of him?
In times of dearth and famine one is horrified to see what are the effects produced by hunger, and what a terrible visitation the scarcity of food is. For to still the intolerable pangs of hunger people will devour whatever they can lay their hands on; grass, leaves, unclean and disgusting animals, nay, men have even been driven to feed on the flesh of their fellow-men, mothers to sacrificing their children, and some have been known to gnaw their own flesh. And when the poor famished wretches have nothing more, they wander about like shadows of their former selves, pale and emaciated as death itself.
They drag on a lingering existence, until all their strength is consumed; finally, through the torture of starvation, they lose their senses; they rave and cry and howl, and die the most miserable of deaths.
If such are the effects of hunger upon earth, what will the hunger be which shall be experienced in Hell?
If want of food for a few days only causes such torture, what will a continual, never-ending hunger be? Who can think without horror of the hunger suffered in Hell! Woe betide those who have to endure it. The prophet Isaias testifies to the existence of real, actual hunger in Hell, in this passage of Holy Scripture: God thus speaks by the mouth of the prophet: “Because I called and you did not answer, I spoke and you did not hear; behold, My servants shall eat and you shall be hungry; behold, My servants shall drink and you shall be thirsty.
My servants shall rejoice and you shall be confounded; My servants shall praise for joyfulness of heart and you shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for grief of spirit” (Is. Ixv. 12, 13, 14). Who can tell how awful will be this hunger in Hell? The Psalmist says of the enemies of God that they shall suffer hunger like dogs (Ps. Iviii. 7). The reprobate shall then be constantly tormented by the most ravenous hunger, by a hunger so great as to exceed beyond measure the hunger endured in times of famine, by a hunger which will torment them forever.
What have you done, O unhappy sinners! You have brought upon yourselves this everlasting pain. Had you but done penance in this life, you would not have become the prey of this eternal hunger. But you desired to eat and be filled in your lifetime, consequently you must now endure what Christ foretold would be your fate:
“Woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger.”
Let those especially lay this to heart who are accustomed wilfully to neglect the observance of the prescribed fasts, and to eat meat on abstinence days. For whosoever eats meat on the fasts of the Church without necessity and without being dispensed, commits a grievous sin. To do so is tantamount to defying the Church and voluntarily excluding one’s self from her blessing. And he who persists in this sin, and does not heartily repent of it, cannot hope for eternal felicity. What could be more rash and foolish than for so despicable a satisfaction to expose one s self to the danger of eternal perdition!
O, hardened sinner, whither art thou going ! Think of the unending hunger to be endured in Hell, and have pity on thine own soul!
Besides hunger the damned suffer the most burning thirst, which it is beyond the power of words to describe. Every one knows how terrible are the sufferings caused by thirst: they are simply unbearable.
Those who are plagued by thirst will drink from the most impure sources, and if nothing at all can be obtained to quench their thirst, a lingering and painful death is the result. The thirst suffered by lost souls is infinitely greater, more intense, more painful than any thirst experienced on earth, however great that may be. If a mortal man could feel it even for a brief period, he would faint away and die immediately.
There is never any rest or respite for the damned; they are driven from one torment to another unceasingly. This occasions thirst. But the heat of Hell-fire, wherein they burn day and night, forever and ever, is the principal cause of the intolerable thirst that consumes them. They are immersed in flames, and never do they obtain the refreshment of a draught of water. My God, how great their thirst must be! It is unbearable, and yet they must needs endure it. Listen to the piteous appeal of a lost soul earnestly imploring the boon of a single drop of water: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke xvi. 24). “Most merciful God, I ask only for water; I crave only one drop of water to give momentary relief to my burning tongue. Thou wilt not refuse so moderate a request, Thou who art praised by all Thy creatures as goodness itself.”
But this supplication is in vain. God turns a deaf ear to the voice of their entreaty. Not a single drop of water is given to mitigate their sufferings.
Is it possible, O my God, that Thou canst be so stern? Father of compassion, why wilt Thou not hear their prayer? Thy justice and Thy hatred of sin will not allow Thee to yield; they oblige Thee to punish sin eternally and in the most terrible manner.
But we are told that not only are the damned tormented with excessive hunger and thirst, they are also fed with flames and given to drink of the chalice of Divine wrath. “If any man shall adore the beast, he shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine in the cup of His wrath, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone. And the smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever” (Apoc. xiv. 10). In the book of Moses we also read: “Their wine is the gall of dragons, and the venom of asps, which is incurable” (Deut. xxxii. 33).
Reflect, O sinner, upon this indescribable agony. Fire and brimstone will be the food of the damned, their drink the wine of God s anger. What can exceed such torture? My God, how rigorous Thou art ! How severe are Thy chastisements!
Think, you sinners, who now drink to excess, think what is the wine prepared for you hereafter, think of the fearful thirst that will consume you to all eternity. If you cannot bear to be thirsty for one day, how will you bear the burning thirst from which you shall never obtain relief? Reflect upon this in your heart, and indulge no longer in your intemperance. Give up this vice, which will infallibly drag you down to perdition.
St. Paul expressly closes the door of Heaven against you, when he says: “Drunkards shall not possess the kingdom of God” (i Cor. vi. 10).
There you have your sentence, pronounced upon you beforehand. If you continue to pursue your evil way, you cannot plead ignorance as to where it will finally condemn you.
III. On the Vile Odors of Hell.
IN order that nothing may be wanting to the plagues of Hell, wherewith the lost souls are tormented, God has in His anger decreed that this horrible prison should be pervaded by an abominable stench, as a punishment for those who, when on earth, have taken excessive delight in the use of choice perfumes.
The prophecy of Isaias will thus be fulfilled: “Instead of a sweet smell there shall be a stench” (Is. iii. 24). Decaying animal matter emits so horrible an odour that no one likes to go near it. But if we imagine not one tainted carcass, but hundreds of thousands heaped together, the air for miles round would be so infected that it would cause the death of all in the vicinity.
Even this stench, however, when compared with the stench of Hell, seems as nothing, or rather as a pleasant odour. The effluvium of Hell arises primarily from the place itself, which is by its nature a most horrible and foul region. No breath of pure air can ever penetrate the closely-shut walls of that prison. Moreover, the whole of Hell is a lake of burning brimstone and pitch, and every one knows how offensive are the fumes they give out.
The unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Apoc. xxi. 8.)
The prophet of the New Dispensation here speaks of a pool, full of stagnant, foul, stinking water, for which there is no outlet. He adds that this pool is filled with burning brimstone from which a dense smoke ascends, as he says elsewhere: “The smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever.”
The very bodies of the reprobate are so foul and disgusting that they emit a most offensive odour, worse than any stench in this world. According to St. Bonaventure, the body of a single reprobate would so taint the air on earth as to cause the death of all living beings coming near it.
If one single body emits so horrible a stench, what can the exhalation be that rises from many millions of these wretched beings?
It is related of the tyrant Maxentius that he was wont, as a punishment, to cause a living man to be bound to a corpse, face to face and limb to limb, until the unhappy victim fainted, or even died through contact with the dead and decomposing body. That is indeed a torture of which no one can think without shuddering. How much worse will it be in Hell, where the bodies will lie close to one another, without any hope of being separated.
Bad as this stench is, it is greatly increased by the presence of the devils, who naturally are far more offensive to the nostrils than the bodies of the lost.
We read in the life of St. Martin that the evil one appeared to him upon one occasion, and the stench that filled the room was so overwhelming that the Saint said to himself: “If one single devil has so disgusting an odour, what can the stench be in Hell, where there are thousands of devils all together?”
How much suffering this abominable stench must cause to the damned ! how it must aggravate their distress and pain ! For it must be pestilential beyond description, arising as it does from so many different sources Hell itself, the bodies of the damned, the devils, the worms and reptiles, the fire of pitch and brimstone, each and all of which stink in the nostrils of the lost. Judge by what has been said how insupportable the combined odours of all these things must be.
Alas for the unfortunate beings who are condemned to breathe such an atmosphere! Alas for the poor sinners who have to dwell in it for endless ages! They must sink under it, they must constantly be on the verge of death. O my God, I beseech Thee by Thy infinite clemency, spare me from so terrible a fate.
IV. Some Other Torments of Hell.
IT is the opinion of many that some of the reprobates will be doomed among many other intolerable pains, to endure a most fearfully intense cold.
The venerable Bede relates the following anecdote of a man whose name was Trithelmus. This man was dangerously sick, and one night he was thought to be dead. The next morning he recovered consciousness, to the astonishment of all who were with him, and rose from his sick bed, saying that God had granted him a prolongation of days, in order that he might lead a different life to that which he had hitherto led.
After dividing his property amongst his children, and giving a portion of it to the poor, he entered upon an excessively different mode of life. Shutting himself up in a small tent beside a river, he spent his days and nights in weeping. In winter time he plunged up to the throat into the icy waters of the river, and then, shivering and benumbed by the cold, he immersed himself in hot water, a proceeding which caused him such agony that he could not restrain his cries
When questioned as to the reason of his strange conduct, and how he could possibly bear the sudden alternations of extreme heat and extreme cold, he replied: “I have seen worse things than that.” “What didst thou see?” the others asked him. And he replied: “I have seen how the unhappy souls in another world are cast out of a raging fire into icy cold, and from icy cold back into the burning flames. When I realize what they have to endure, I count my slight sufferings as nothing.”
This anecdote, related by so grave and holy a man as venerable Bede, shows how terrible indeed are the torments of Hell.
Christ speaks to us of the darkness of Hell in these solemn words: “Bind his hands and feet and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. xxii. 13). Our Lord speaks of the darkness of Hell as exterior darkness, the most appalling, the most fearful that can be. A traveller who has lost his way in a forest and is benighted, feels a nameless terror coming over him.
Now there is a land which is covered with the shadow of death, where no order, but an eternal horror reigns. That land is Hell. An oppressive gloom weighs upon the lost; an indescribably terrible darkness prevails.
In this world sick people dread nothing more than the night, because the time seems to pass so slowly to them, and their pain seems doubly wearisome. They count the hours, and each one appears as long as the night. What will it be for the denizens of Hell, where thick darkness holds sway, and night never gives place to daylight?
In this horrible darkness the damned lie helpless as blind men, or as those who have had their eyes cruelly put out. They see nothing, for the acrid smoke stings their eyes, and the poisonous fumes of sulphur destroy their sight. We know how dense this smoke is from the account given by St. John: “To him (Satan) was given the key of the bottomless pit (Hell). And he opened the bottomless pit; and the smoke of the pit arose as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke of the pit” (Apoc. ix. 2). And again: “They shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever; neither have they rest day or night” (Apoc. xiv. u.)
These are indeed terrible threats, and this prophecy foretells in the plainest terms what will be the fate of those who are servants of sin and of the devil. They shall be tormented with fire and brimstone to such a degree that the smoke of their torment shall ascend forever and ever. O fearful words! O torture inexpressible!
Consider, O misguided sinner, what thy feelings would be if thou wert confined for one single day in this dark and noisome dungeon. Thou knowest how disagreeable pungent smoke is to the eyes and nostrils ; in fact, no one can remain in it for a quarter of an hour without being asphyxiated and half blinded. If this is so on earth, what will it be in Hell?
The existence of the damned is more like death than life; it is a living death, an everlasting, unlimited torture and misery. And since we are told that the smoke of their torment goes up forever, it follows of necessity that complete darkness must prevail in Hell. In connection with this subject, venerable Bede relates the experiences of the man Trithelmus (of whom mention has already been made) whilst he lay in a trance, and was supposed to be dead. On recovering consciousness, amongst other things he narrated the following: “I was conducted by a being clothed in shining garments through a country quite unknown to me, until we came to a region enveloped in thick darkness, that made me shudder with fear and horror. I could distinguish nothing but the figure of my guide. As we penetrated deeper and deeper into this obscurity, I perceived in the midst of the darkness an abyss of immense extent filled with smoke and a lurid glare, the sight of which caused my hair to stand on end with terror. From this abyss proceeded piteous wailing, which sounded as if a number of men and women were being put to cruel torture and death.
“But the worst was that my guide vanished, leaving me alone in this terrible spot. I cannot describe the agonized apprehension that took possession of me; in vain I looked around in the hope of finding succour or solace. The terror I felt was so great that I thought I should have died.
“When I looked down into the black abyss, I was afraid lest I should fall into it, and be lost, body and soul. For with the lurid flames that rose not of the abyss there came burning sparks that fell back into it with a deafening noise, besides masses of sulphurous smoke -like clouds that seemed as if they might at any moment sweep me down with them into the depths of the fiery gulf. These were all lost souls which were driven upwards like sparks from burning logs by the force of the underground fire.
“God alone knows what I suffered; a cold sweat broke out all over me. Whilst I stood there in this agony, not knowing which way to turn, there sounded from far above my head peals of laughter, and mingled with the laughter bitter weeping and howling. As this noise came nearer, I saw a number of devils who had with them five helpless souls whom they were persecuting and tormenting. The devils were in exultation, mocking and laughing; the souls were in despair, uttering lamentations and cries of poignant anguish. Imagine what my feelings were when I heard their cries, and observed that the accursed devils were coming nearer and nearer.
When they came close up to me, I was so over powered with terror that I thought I should have fainted, and I believe if God had not strengthened me, I should have died there and then.
“For the demons glared at me with their fiery eyes in so alarming a fashion, and the poor souls called on me so pitifully for help, that I was divided between fear and compassion, and my heart was as if it must break. When the souls had been driven past me, they were precipitated into the depths of the abyss by the evil spirits with such violence that Heaven and earth seemed to tremble, and such a cloud of sparks flew upwards that I was afraid they would cover me. Finally, to my great grief and alarm, a number of evil spirits approached me, breathing rage and fury, and making as if they would drag me down with them into the black abyss.
“Then in abject terror I wept and wailed and implored help from some quarter; for in this dense darkness I beheld nothing but mocking devils, the yawning gulf and leaping flames, and knew not where to turn for deliverance
“When my distress was at its height, my guide reappeared; he rescued me from my enemies, and conducted me out of that dark, foul, horrible place. He told me moreover that I was to return to my body, and that I was to make known to as many as possible of my fellow-men, the existence of this land of terrible darkness.”
In addition to the sinister obscurity that prevails in Hell, caused by the stifling smoke that rises in dense clouds from the lake of brimstone, there is the presence of frightful demons who increase the pain and torment of the damned.
We read in the legend of St. Anthony the Hermit, that the demons frequently appeared to him under various forms, plaguing and frightening him in indescribable ways. Sometimes they took the shape of wild beasts, lions, bears, dragons or savage dogs; at other times they appeared in human form, that of fierce-looking men, beautiful women, or monsters of hideous aspect. Sometimes they beat and maltreated him so barbarously that they left him half dead; sometimes they caused him such terror by their strange spectral apparitions, that had not God and his Angel guardian come to his aid, he would have incontinently expired.
Now if they did all this to a man of Saintly life, over whom they had no rightful power, what will they not do in Hell to the ungodly sinners who are completely at their mercy?
Doubtless these diabolical spectres, assuming the shape of wild animals, will fall upon the wretched sinners and mishandle them shamefully. This will be a fresh misery for them. No one can imagine what new terrors and torments the ingenuity of these spirits of Hell will devise to harass the damned and pour out on them their devilish malice.
If thou dost fear this darkness, and all the horrors attending it, see that thou fear the works of darkness, whereof Christ says: “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved” (John iii. 20).
But if thou loves darkness, and seek the darkness that thou may sin with greater impunity, it will be no act of injustice on God s part to cast thee into everlasting darkness, and at thy death to say to the devils: ” Because throughout his life he has loved darkness and the works of darkness, bind his hands and his feet and cast him into the exterior darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Would that all obdurate sinners could see this, and consider the frightful torments which await the careless and indifferent. For in that wherein we have sinned we shall also be punished. And as in our own day there are so many tepid and negligent Christians who have not the slightest zeal for religion or religious exercises, we bid them beware lest they be one day cast into Hell-fire at the command of Him who calls Himself a jealous God, and who is alone to be feared because He can ” destroy both body and soul into Hell.”
Wherefore consider, O cold and careless Christians, what a fate is before you. Truly, were you to reflect upon these frightful torments, you would at once enter upon a new life. Instead of being tepid, sluggish, lax, cold Christians, you would quickly become zealous, active, scrupulous, fervent servants of God.
Away, then, with all tepidity, all indifference in the great business of our salvation. Whosoever thou art who readest this, resolve to fulfil thy duties as a Christian with all earnestness. Approach the sacraments more frequently than thou hast done hitherto; hear Mass more frequently than hitherto, be more instant and fervent in prayer than hitherto. Think more often of God and of the last things. Thus thou wilt surmount the indifference, the coldness that has crept over thee, thou wilt make God thy friend, the hope of eternal felicity will rise up within thee and become a blessed certainty. God grant that by His grace it may be so with thee and with me!
V. On the Company of Hell.
THERE are many bold sinners who, when they are punished for their crimes and threatened with Hell-fire are wont audaciously to answer: “Wherever I go, I shall at any rate not lack company,” as if the presence of others could afford any solace to them, or any alleviation of their torment. In order that these shameless sinners may see how wrong they are to speak thus, and how little cause they have to anticipate any relief from the company in which they will find themselves, this chapter shall be devoted to showing them how woeful that company will be, and how it will aggravate their misery.
The society of the damned consists of devils and lost souls. Both of these are countless in number. As for the society of the devils, this is so detestable that it may be reckoned as the worst penalty of the lost in Hell. The place of torment would be far less deserving of this name were there no devils in it. On account of the multitude of demons there, such confusion, such grief, such misery, such tyranny prevails, that it is heartbreaking even to think of it.
We mortals have no worse enemy than the devil, who hates us with so intense a hatred that he longs every moment to hurl us down into the abyss of perdition. And when at length he has got some one into his power, he deals with him more barbarously than savage despot ever dealt with his deadliest foe.
All the envy and hatred which at the time of his fall he conceived against God, and which he cannot vent upon Him, he vents upon the damned, tormenting them with plagues the very thought of which makes a man s blood run cold. Even if he were not to do any harm to the damned, the mere fact of his dwelling with them for all eternity would be such terrible misery for the unhappy sinners, that the horror of their position would be like a continual death to them.
Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.
Listen to what the Fathers of the Church and some expositors of Holy Scriptures say of the dreadful appearance that Satan presents: they apply to him the description given of the leviathan in the book of Job: “Who can discover the face of his garment, or who can go into the midst of his mouth? Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. His body is like molten shields, shut up close with scales pressing one upon another. One is joined to another, and not so much as any air can come between them. His sneezing is like the shining of fire, and his eyes like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go forth lamps, like torches of lighted fire. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, like that of a pot heated and boiling. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame cometh forth out of his mouth.
In his neck strength shall dwell, and want goeth before his face. His heart shall be as hard as a stone, and as firm as a smith’s anvil. When he shall raise him up, the Angels shall fear and, being affrighted, turn to God for protection. He shall make the deep sea to boil as a pot; there is no power upon earth that can be compared with him who was made to fear no one. He beholdeth every high thing ; he is king over all the children of pride” (Job xli.).
It is the opinion of St. Cyril, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory and other learned expositors of both the Greek and Latin Churches, that although this description, taken literally, is that of a monster of the sea, yet it is intended, in its mystic sense, to apply to Lucifer. And if one compares what is said of the leviathan with the attributes ascribed to the prince of darkness, it is impossible to deny their coincidence; moreover, one knows as a general fact that evil things have their types and figures in the natural world as well as good things, the one serving us for warning, the others for an example.
Besides the prince of darkness there are hundreds of thousands of inferior devils, which though less bad and abominable than himself, are yet so wicked and horrible that one could hardly look upon them and live.
St. Antony relates that one of the Brothers of his Order uttered a piercing scream at the sight of a devil who appeared to him. His fellow-monks, running to him in alarm, found him more dead than alive. After giving him something to revive and strengthen him, they asked him what was the matter. Then he told them that the devil had appeared to him, and terrified him so that all the life had gone out of him. And on their inquiring what the devil looked like, he answered: “That I really cannot say; I can only say that if the choice were given me I would rather be put into a red-hot furnace, than look again at the countenance of the demon.”
We read much the same thing in the life of St. Catharine of Sienna. She too declared that she had rather walk through a flaming fire than gaze for one instant at the devil.
If the mere sight of the evil one is so appalling that the Saints think it more intolerable than the pain of exposure to a burning fire, what, my God, must be the fear and horror of the damned, dwelling forever in the midst of countless fiends!
How terrified thou wouldst be if a mad dog were suddenly to spring upon thee, pull thee to the ground, and begin to tear thee with his teeth ! Do not imagine that the devil will fall upon the damned with less fury, or treat them more mercifully. The account Job gives of his persecutors describes very accurately the state of a lost soul in Hell:
“My enemy hath gathered together his fury against me, and threatening me he hath gnashed with his teeth upon me; he hath beheld me with terrible eyes. They have opened their mouth upon me and reproaching me they have struck me on the cheek, they are filled with my pains. He hath taken me by my neck, he hath broken me, and hath set me up to be his mark. He hath compassed me round about with his lances, he hath wounded my loins, he hath not spared. He hath torn me with wound upon wound, he hath rushed in upon me like a giant” (Job xvi. 10-15). This passage will give us some idea of the awful character of the company the damned will find themselves among in Hell.
The reprobate may nevertheless perhaps console themselves with the thought: at any rate we shall have our fellow-men with us in Hell, and no lack of them either. Beware how you delude yourselves with this false comfort. Every lost soul would far rather be alone in Hell, were the option given him.
For as in Hell there is no Divine charity, so there is no love of one s neighbour; on the contrary, all the damned are so embittered one against the other, that they only wish evil to one another, and mutually mock at and curse one another in the most unkind manner.
And since on earth it is very grievous to be forced to live with an enemy who does one all manner of harm, so it is no small affliction to be continually with thousands of people, all of whom they hate and detest from the bottom of their heart.
What thinkest thou would be thy feelings if thou wast sorely tormented and maltreated and persecuted by devils, so that thou couldst not refrain from uttering loud cries of pain and vexation, and yet among all the thousands who bore thee company thou couldst not find one to show thee the slightest sympathy, but thou wert laughed at and cursed by all, for every one would rejoice in thy misery. Even thy father and mother, thy wife and children, thy brothers and sisters, thy friends and relatives would then be thy declared enemies, and instead of showing thee any gratitude would only seek to injure thee.
But amongst all thy enemies the most inveterate will be those to whom thou hast given scandal by thy bad example, whom thou hast led into sin by counsel or example, who owe to thee their perdition. They will hate and execrate thee so bitterly, and torment thee with such animosity that they will appear less like men than fiends incarnate.
In connection with this subject St. Bernardin relates the following instance: “A wealthy usurer had two sons, one of whom entered a religious Order, whilst the other remained in the world with his father. Not long after the father died, and in a short space of time he was followed to the grave by his son, to whom he had bequeathed all his property.
The other son, who had become a monk, was much concerned about the fate of his relatives, and earnestly implored almighty God to reveal to him their lot in another world. His entreaties at length prevailed; he was one day transported in spirit into Hell, but although he looked everywhere around him, he could not descry his father and his brother. Presently he noticed a fiery abyss, the flames of which rose up to a great height. In this pit of fire he saw those of whom he was in search, rivetted together with iron chains, raving and raging at one another. The father cursed his son, laying all the blame of his damnation upon him, saying: A curse upon thee, O wicked son, thou art alone the cause of my perdition. For thy sake, to make thee a rich man, I practised usury; had it not been for thee, I should not now be in this misery. Then the son retorted upon his father, saying: “A curse upon thee, O ungodly father, for thou art alone the cause of my perdition. Had you not taken usury and bequeathed to me thy unjust gains, I should not have been the possessor of ill-gotten riches, and should not have come to this misery.”
Thus will it be with thee, if thou art in any way responsible for the loss of a soul. Thy wife and children will anathematize thee, and reproach thee with the occasions of sin thou did put in their way.
Dives felt this so keenly that he earnestly besought Father Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house, to testify to his brethren of the sufferings he endured, lest they should also come to that place of torments. This he did not do out of love for his brothers, as St. Antony says, but because he was well aware that if they joined him in Hell, it would greatly aggravate his torment.
But supposing that natural affection still existed in Hell, especially between those who had sincerely loved one another on earth, and who had not been the cause of one another s damnation, the society of one who was dear to thee would augment rather than diminish thy pain, and this in proportion to the love thou had for him.
For what anguish it would be to thee to see thy dearest friend tortured and tormented in every possible manner. It would be enough to make your heart break asunder with sorrow and sympathy. And in addition to the mental pain and grief, the damned increase vastly one another’s exterior and bodily sufferings. In the first place, because they lie pressed closely one upon another. Secondly, because they all emit so offensive and insupportable a stench. Thirdly, because they howl so piteously, and make Hell re-echo with their woeful lamentations.
Of this Christ speaks when He says: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He repeats these words more than once, to give them greater force, and to impress upon our minds the magnitude of the torture endured by the lost.
The devils, too, will unite their howls to the shrieks of the damned, and raise such a clamour that Hell itself shall tremble.
The torment of the damned will be further aggravated by the frightful appearance of their bodies and the horror wherewith they inspire one another. For St. Anselm says: “Just as no stench can be compared to the stench of the damned, so nothing in this world can give an idea of their hideous appearance.”
Thus as often as one lost soul looks at another, so often will he shudder with disgust and loathing and abhorrence. Were there no other torture but this in Hell, it would suffice to render its inmates most miserable.
Finally, the torment of Hell is greatly augmented by the eternal shame which will be its portion.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the sins of each one will be as fully known to the others as if they could behold them with their bodily eyes.
Every one can imagine what anguish this must be. For what is so painful on earth as to be put to open shame?
To a man who has lost his good name life is not worth living ; it is only a burden to him. In former times, in some countries, it was customary to brand evil-doers, robbers, for instance, with a mark on the forehead or the shoulder. What ignominy for any one who had a spark of self-respect! Whenever anybody looked at him, he must have blushed crimson.
The devil will brand all the reprobate with the mark of shame on their foreheads, or on that part of the body wherewith they sinned, in order that all the shameful deeds they perpetrated in their life time may be made known. It is this everlasting disgrace which God foretells to the sinner by the mouth of His prophet: “I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame which shall never be forgotten” (Jer. xxiii. 40). Let the damned do what they will, no effort on their part will ever avail to efface this mark, or to conceal it from their fellow-sufferers. Thus, as St. Ephrem says, this shame and infamy will be more insupportable than Hell-fire itself, because it will keep constantly before their remembrance the sins whereby they defiled themselves on earth.
Dionysius, the Carthusian, speaks of one of his religious brethren in England, who, after a trance that lasted three days, gave the following account, at the earnest request of the monks, of what he had seen: “I was conducted by my guide a long way until we came to a region of gloom and horror, where were a countless multitude of men and women, all suffering terrible torments. These were the persons who had sinned with their bodies; they were plagued by huge fiery monsters, who sprang upon them, and, despite their resistance, clasped them and hugged them with their paws till they shrieked with pain.
Amongst those who were tormented in this manner I saw a man whom I knew very well, and who had been much esteemed and respected in the world. Seeing me, he cried aloud in piteous tones: Alas, alas! woe is me that I sinned as I did in my lifetime, for now the pain I endure grows greater day by day. But the worst of all, what I feel most acutely, is the shame and disgrace to which my sins expose me, for all know them, and all despise me and mock at me on account of them.”
Thus it will be seen that, immeasurable as are the torments of Hell, what the damned dread yet more than physical torments is to be an object of scorn and derision to their fellows on account of their sins. And thus their misery, far from being lessened by the company of others, is vastly increased by it. Wherefore think not to console thyself with the thought of the companions thou wilt find in Hell, for their society is only to be dreaded. And in order that thou mayst never be brought into such company, beware of associating in this world with any who may lead thee into sin and perhaps bring thee to perdition.
VI. On the Loss of the Beatific Vision of God.
WE have already spoken of many and very terrible chastisements inflicted on the damned, but these are but a very insignificant portion of the whole. They are countless in number; and so great and awful that, as St. Augustine says, all the suffering of this world is as nothing when compared with the everlasting fire and torments of Hell.
Just as the Apostle Paul says: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him,” so it may be said: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, what punishments God hath prepared for those on whom His just judgments fall. And when we read the fearful chastisements wherewith God threatens to overwhelm, even in this world, the transgressors of His holy law, may we not feel sure that He will pour out all the fury of His anger upon those bold sinners who set at naught His warnings, and with fiendish malice, persist in their iniquity unto their life’s end?
Remember what God said to the people of Israel: “A fire is kindled in My wrath, and shall burn even to the lowest Hell; and shall devour the earth with her increase, and shall burn the foundations of the mountains. I will heap evils upon the transgressors of My law, and will spend My arrows among them. They shall be consumed with famine, and birds shall devour them with a most bitter bite; I will send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the fury of serpents. Without the sword shall lay them waste, and terror within, both the young man and the virgin, the sucking child with the man in years” (Deut. xxxii. 22-25).
Holy Scripture contains many similar and equally appalling menaces. There is no doubt that in the next world, where justice, not mercy, will rule, God will chastise the insolent violators of His holy commandments with an unsparing hand. The punishments of eternity will be without number and without limit. The damned will be encompassed with trouble and sorrow, with agony and torments innumerable. St. Bernard says the pains of the damned are countless, no mortal tongue can enumerate them.
Yet of all these pains, that which gives the keenest anguish is being deprived of the vision of God. It will never be given to the damned to behold the Divine countenance. This pain will far outweigh all the other torments of which we have spoken.
It is impossible for mortal man to understand how this can be so great an affliction for the damned.
Yet such is the teaching of the Fathers ; they all maintain that there is nothing which the lost bewail so bitterly as being shut out forever from the vision of God. Whilst we live in this world, we think but little of the vision of God, and what it would be to us to be deprived of it eternally. This arises from the bluntness of our perception, which prevents us from comprehending the infinite beauty and goodness of God, and the delight experienced by those who behold Him face to face. But after death, when we are freed from the trammels of the body, our eyes will be opened, and we shall at least to some extent perceive that God is the supreme and infinite Good, and the enjoyment of Him our highest felicity.
And then such an eager desire will take possession of our soul to gaze upon and enjoy this supreme Good, that she will be irresistibly drawn to God, and will long with all her powers to contemplate His ineffable beauty. And if on account of her sins she is deprived of this beatific vision, it will cause her the most intense anguish. No grief, no torture known in this world can be in any wise likened to it.
St. Bonaventure bears witness to this, when he says: “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.” Again, St. John Chrysostom says: “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”
The evil one himself was made to acknowledge this, as we read in the legends of Blessed Jordan, at one time General of the Dominican Order. For when Jordan asked Satan, in the person of one who was possessed, what was the principal torment of Hell, he answered: “Being excluded from the presence of God.” “Is God then so beautiful to look upon?” Jordan inquired. And on the devil replying that He was indeed most beautiful, he asked further: “How great is His beauty?” “Fool that thou art,” was the rejoinder, “to put such a question to me! Dost thou not know that His beauty is beyond compare?” “Canst thou not suggest any similitude,” Jordan continued, “which may give me to some extent at least an idea of the Divine beauty?” Then Satan said: “Imagine a crystal sphere a thousand times more brilliant than the sun, in which the loveliness of all the colors of the rainbow, the fragrance of every flower, the sweetness of every delicious flavour, the costliness of every precious stone, the kindliness of men and the attractiveness of all the Angels combined; fair and precious as this crystal would be, in comparison with the Divine beauty, it would be unsightly and impure.”
“And pray,” the good monk inquired, “what would you give to be admitted to the vision of God?” And the devil replied: “If there were a pillar reaching from earth to Heaven, beset with sharp points and nails and hooks, I would gladly consent to be dragged up and down that pillar from now until the Day of Judgment, if I could only be permitted to gaze on the Divine countenance for a few brief moments.”
Thus we may gather how infinite is the beauty of the face of God, if even the spirit of evil would submit to such physical torture as he describes for the sake of enjoying for a few moments the sight of that gracious and majestic countenance. There is therefore no doubt that nothing is a source of such anguish to the devils and the damned as being deprived of the beatific vision of God.
Consequently, if God were to send an Angel to the portals of Hell, with this message to the wretched denizens of that place of torment: “The Almighty has in His mercy had compassion on you, and He is willing you should be released from one of the penalties you endure; which shall it be?” What thinkest thou would be the reply? They would all as one man exclaim: “O good Angel, pray God that if only of His bounty He would no longer deprive us of the sight of His countenance! “This is the one favour they would implore of God. Were it possible for them, in the midst of Hell-fire, to behold the Divine countenance, for the joy of it they would no longer heed the devouring flames. For the vision of God is so beauteous, so blissful, so full of rapture and infinite delight, that all the joys and attractions of earth cannot compare with it in the remotest degree.
In fact, all celestial happiness, how greatsoever it might be, would be turned to bitterness if the vision of God was wanting; and the redeemed would choose rather to be in Hell, if they could there enjoy that Beatific Vision, than be in Heaven without it. Just as the privilege of be holding the Divine countenance constitutes the chief felicity of the blessed, the one without which all others would be no happiness at all, so it is the chief misery of Hell, that the lost souls should for ever be excluded from it. On this subject St. John Chrysostom says: “The torments of a thousand Hells are nothing in comparison to the anguish of being banished from everlasting bliss and the vision of God.”
To realize, in some measure, how great this pain of loss is, we should bear in mind that we have been created by God to be forever happy. This love of happiness, this yearning for it, which every one of us feels in his heart, will never be destroyed, not even in Hell. During this life men, impelled by this desire and blinded by passion, seek happiness in riches, in honours, in sensual gratification. These vain images of happiness deceive us so long as our soul is united with our body. But after the soul has severed her connection with the body, all these false, fleeting pleasures disappear, and she becomes aware that God alone is the source of all happiness, and that she can find happiness solely in the possession of Him.
No longer deceived by false appearances, no longer blinded by passion, she perceives clearly the ineffable, ravishing beauty of God and His infinite perfections ; she sees His infinite power in creating the world, His infinite wisdom in governing it, His excessive love for her in be coming man, in dying for her, in giving Himself to her as the food of her soul in the Blessed Sacrament, in destining her to share His own happiness forever in Heaven. This knowledge of the grandeur, of the goodness and loveliness of God will remain deeply impressed on her for all eternity. She will also see the justice of the punishments which God inflicts forever in Hell upon all those who do not keep His commandments.
Then the reprobate soul, yearning after happiness, and feeling irresistibly drawn to God, who alone can make her happy, endeavours to rush to God with all the impetuosity of her nature, in order to behold Him, to enjoy Him, to be united to Him; but she finds herself repelled with infinite force from God, and hated by Him on account of her sins. Were all the riches, honours and pleasures of the world now offered to that soul, she would turn away from them, and would even curse them all, for she yearns for God alone, and can be happy only in God.
The reprobate soul in Hell, spurred on by frightful pains, looks about her for some alleviation, for some word of comfort; but not even a sympathizing look greets her, for she is surrounded by cruel devils and bitter enemies. Not meeting with any compassion where she is, she raises her eyes to Heaven, and beholds it so beautiful, so enchanting, so delightful, so full of true happiness. She remembers that she was created and destined to enjoy its bliss, and now, in the midst of her most excruciating pains, she longs for its pleasures with a still more indescribable yearning, and makes extraordinary efforts to go there, but she cannot leave her abode of torment.
No one in Heaven seems to take any notice of her. She sees the throne that God, in His goodness, had prepared for her, now occupied by someone else ! There is no longer any room for her in Heaven. She beholds there some of her relatives, of her companions and acquaintances; but they do not heed her. She beholds all the elect in Heaven full of joy and gladness. They do not even sympathize with her, but as the Psalmist sings, “the just will rejoice when he shall see the revenge” (Ps. Ivii. ii).
In vain the reprobate soul calls on the Saints, on the Blessed Virgin and on our Divine Saviour Himself. She feels drawn to God by an irresistible impulse, and understands that God alone can quench her thirst for enjoyment and make her happy. She longs to see and possess Him; she repeatedly endeavours to spring towards Him, but she feels herself repulsed by Him with invincible force; she beholds herself the object of Divine wrath, of the Divine anathema. She is aware that her case is hopeless, and that she shall never be admitted into the mansions of the blessed, or leave the abode of endless misery.
Despair seizes her; she utters the most fearful imprecations against God and the elect, against Heaven, against herself, her parents, her companions, against all creatures. All Hell resounds with her horrid blasphemies, and she becomes, in her ravings, an object of terror to all the other reprobates.
VII. The Worm that Dieth Not.
OUR Divine Saviour says: “If thy hand scandalize thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life, maimed, than, having two hands, to go into Hell, into the fire that cannot be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished. And if thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter lame into life, than, having two feet, to be cast into the Hell of unquenchable fire, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished. And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee with one eye to enter the kingdom of God, than, having two eyes, to be cast into the Hell of fire, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mark ix. 42-47).
By these words our blessed Redeemer wished to impress on our minds the necessity of avoiding the occasions of sin and of making even the most painful sacrifices to avoid sin and thus escape the endless pains of Hell. He, moreover, wished to en grave deeply in our minds the fact that two of the most fearful torments of Hell are its unquenchable fire and its never-dying worm. We have seen in a foregoing chapter in what consists the terrible fire of Hell. It now remains to us to examine in what consists “the worm that dieth not.”
All the senses of the reprobate have each their peculiar punishment; their reason, or intellect, is punished by the pain of loss, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, a punishment far surpassing that of the senses. The memory of the reprobate is tormented by ” the worm that dieth not,” that is by a most keen and constant remorse of conscience, which will give them no rest.
The lost sinner will remember how many graces and means of salvation he had during life to save his soul ; how God sent him so many holy inspirations, how he received so many good instructions, how he had the grace of prayer within his power to enable him to practise the virtues of his state, to overcome temptation, to keep the Commandments of God and of His Church; how his pious friends exhorted him to lead a good life both by their exhortations, but especially by their good example; how he had so many opportunities of instructing himself in his obligations by the hearing of the word of God and the reading of good books, and of strengthening himself in the discharge of his duties by the reception of the Sacraments and by the practice of devotion to the Blessed Virgin!
The lost sinner will, in a word, remember with how little trouble he might have saved his soul and avoided Hell. He will say to himself: ” So little effort was required for my salvation; even after my numerous sins a good confession would have sufficed. But through shame, through human respect, I did not make it. How foolish I was! How often did my conscience, my family, my friends urge me to go to confession! But it was all in vain. Others committed greater sins than I did, but they bewailed them, went to confession and changed their life, and now they are enjoying unspeakable happiness in Heaven! And as for me, I am lost forever, and that through my own fault, for I had at my disposal a superabundance of means of salvation.
But now repentance is unavailing, it is too late!”
But let us consider the expressions of regret of the various lost sinners. Their sorrow is vain, for, like that of Judas, it is the sorrow of despair.
“During life,” these lost sinners will say to themselves, “I loved ease and comfort and luxury, fine garments, costly jewellery and princely mansions. To gain these I did not scruple to defraud my neighbour in every available way. I stole from my employers, I took false oaths, I joined secret societies, I even sold my virtue! I stayed away from Mass, I ate meat on forbidden days, I neglected the Sacraments, I went so far as to deny my faith. I contracted marriage before a civil magistrate, or before a heretical minister; I contracted a mixed marriage without dispensation; I got a divorce and then ventured to break the laws of God and of the Church by getting married again! I wished to be free, to do just as I pleased.
The laws of God and of His Church forbade me to frequent dangerous occasions, and I spurned these laws because I wished to enjoy myself and gratify my passions by going with persons and into places that were dangerous to me, and thus I fell repeatedly into sins, even the most shameful.
God commanded me to be pure and chaste, and I took delight in gratifying my basest passions in every possible way, and sought every occasion of doing so. How criminally I acted in neglecting to give my children a religious education, and thus caused them to lose their souls ! During life I was fond of listening to and joining in backbiting, calumny, obscene discourses, and even irreligious conversations. I loved to read filthy novels and to gaze on immodest pictures and objects. While on earth, I yielded to my passion for strong drink, and indulged in it to excess, until I degraded myself below the brute and committed crimes innumerable against my wife and children, against my neighbour.
During life I delighted in cursing, swearing, in uttering fearful oaths and imprecations and in quarrelling, in gambling and in almost every crime.
And now I find myself in the gloomy prison of Hell, in company of a countless multitude of villains, murderers, of the most degraded beings that have ever lived I have no longer a loving parent, a loving child, a sympathizing friend. No; all the ties of friendship, all the ties of nature, are forever broken, forever turned into devilish hate. Every evil spirit, every reprobate insults me, curses me, tortures me, seeks to make me suffer the more. I must submit to all this, because during life I refused to submit to the holy will of God. I could so easily have been saved, and now I am lost, lost forever, and that through my own fault! Never shall I see God, never shall I enjoy the delights of Heaven, never more shall I be released from these terrible torments. It is now too late!”
All this, and much more, will the worm of conscience say to the damned, stinging him with reproaches so relentlessly that he will almost be driven crazy with despair. In fact, the damned will rave and rage as if they were possessed, and will invoke curses on themselves. But all in vain; it is too late for repentance. This terrible remorse will do nothing towards atoning for their sins, it will only add to their anguish.
Consider this, obdurate sinner, who dost sin so boldly, and even when thy conscience pricks thee, turnest a deaf ear to its reproaches. Be assured that one day thy own conscience will be thy tormentor, and will plague thee more pertinaciously than the demons themselves. If thou dost desire to escape this never-ending misery, listen to the voice of conscience now, follow its counsel when it bids thee abstain from doing evil, and urges thee to do that which is right.
VIII. On Eternity.
IN the preceding pages some slight portrayal of the torments of Hell has been placed before the reader; now eternity is the subject that must occupy our attention, one on which it is not easy to write or speak. The torments of Hell are all so horrible, so appalling, that they are enough to make the bravest man tremble. But the thought of eternity is so awful that the serious consideration of it is almost enough to deprive one of one s senses. For in this world, however afflicted a man may be, he has one sure source of solace, the knowledge that, sooner or later, his misery will end.
It appertains to human nature to get weary of everything after a time, even things that are agreeable to our nature and suited to our taste. If a man were forced to sit all day long at table, he would get a disgust of the viands before him. If one were made to sleep day and night for a whole week in the softest and most comfortable bed, how long the time would seem to him. If the most ardent lover of the dance were compelled to continue this favourite amusement day and night without rest, he would acquire a strong distaste for it.
And if this is the case with things that are congenial to our nature and inclinations, what would it be in regard to those which are unpleasant and repugnant to us? If a small stone got into one s shoe, and if as a penance one had to keep it there for a whole week, this would seem almost intolerable. And if a slight pain or inconvenience becomes terribly irksome after a time, how can a serious illness, or real discomfort, be borne continually without murmuring and impatience?
If it were possible that a wretched sinner could be condemned to lie in a furnace, bound hand and foot, for a whole year, would not the suffering deprive him of reason? No one could be so hard hearted as not to feel the deepest compassion for any one thus tormented.
Now look down into the abyss of Hell, and there thou wilt see thousands and thousands of these unhappy creatures in the lake of fire and torment. Many of them have already spent twenty, a hundred, a thousand, even five thousand years in this dreadful state of suffering.
But what is before them? Not five thousand years more, not a hundred thousand, not a thousand thousand of this terrible agony, they must endure it forever and ever; an eternity is before them, with out comfort or solace, without grace or mercy, without merit or recompense, without the faintest hope of deliverance. This is what renders the torment of the damned so immeasurable; this is what drives them to fury and despair.
What dost thou imagine that eternity really is, or what its duration will be? Eternity is something that has no beginning and no end. It is time which is always present and never passes away. Thus the torments of the damned will never end, never pass away. When a thousand years have gone by, another thousand will commence, and so on for evermore. None of the damned can reckon how long they have been in Hell, because there is no succession of day and night, no division of time, but continual and eternal night from the first moment of their entrance into Hell for ever more. And if thou wouldst conceive some faint idea of eternity, suppose the whole terrestrial globe to be composed of millet seeds, and suppose that every year a bird came, and picked out one of those tiny seeds, what an infinite number of years must elapse before the whole earth was eaten up in this way. Nay, how many thousand years must pass before one little hillock was consumed. It is impossible to make any estimate of the number.
Thou mayst perhaps think that it would take all eternity to destroy the earth by that slow process. But believe me, it might be destroyed many times over before eternity could end. For the earth must at last come to an end, even if only once in a century one single grain was taken from the whole, but eternity cannot end, for nothing can be taken from it.
How terrible is this thought ! It is indeed appalling when one attempts to realize it.
The damned would be joyful, they would give God thanks, if they could hope, after millions and millions of years of torment, to be at last released from their misery.
But there is no hope at all of their final release from the pains of Hell. No one who thinks seriously of this can fail to be awestruck and horrified. O God, how terrible Thou art ! How great is Thy severity! How canst Thou, the Father of mercies, see these unhappy creatures condemned to such punishments forever and ever, how canst Thou hear unmoved their despairing cries!
All this teaches us how grievous every mortal sin must be, since Thou, the all-merciful God, canst sentence the sinner to eternal damnation for one mortal sin. O Christian, I beseech thee, in the name of all that is holy, do not sin so lightly, do not think so little of mortal sin, see how dreadful is the chastisement inflicted upon the unfortunate sinners. It may perhaps appear scarcely credible to thee that God, whose mercies are infinite, could possibly inflict upon one of His frail creatures a never-ending punishment for one single mortal sin.
Yet so it is; and it is even true that a man who has led a pious life will, if before his death he should have the unspeakable misfortune to commit a mortal sin, and die impenitent, be consigned to eternal perdition.
The Psalmist could not help expressing his astonishment at this ; in fact he appears to think it hardly possible. Listen to his words: “I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years. And I meditated in the night with my own heart, and I was exercised and I swept my spirit. Will God then cast off forever? or will He never be more favourable again? or will He cut off His mercy forever, from generation to generation ? or will God forget to show mercy? or will He in His anger shut up His mercies?” (Ps. Ixxvi. 6-10.) In another Psalm he answers these questions : ” Man shall not give to God his ransom, nor the price of the redemption of his soul; he shall labour forever, and still live unto the end,” that is to say he shall be tormented forever, and yet live on (Ps. xlviii. 9, 10).
The reason wherefore the all-merciful God punishes mortal sin with an eternal punishment, and nevermore pardons it, is because the sinner, when he is damned, will not awaken contrition and sorrow within his heart, or ask forgiveness of God. For if any one dies in mortal sin, he is so hardened in it, that he will not desist from it to all eternity. And because God has consigned him to perdition, he conceives so intense a hatred against Him, that he would injure Him in every way that he could.
Rather than humble himself before God, and implore His pardon, he would endure yet greater tortures in Hell. Therefore because the sinner will not repent of his sins, nor ask pardon for his sins, he remains eternally in a state of sin, and because his sin is never expiated or repented of, the punishment is likewise eternal.
For God does not cease to punish until the sinner repents and bewails his sin and asks for forgiveness.
Hence it will be seen that God does no wrong to the reprobate when He subjects him to everlasting chastisement, for Divine justice demands that if the sin is eternal in its duration, the penalty of that sin must likewise be eternal.
It may perhaps be surmised that the damned grow accustomed to their torments, and at length become insensitive and almost indifferent to them.
This is far from being the case. The damned feel their torture to its full extent, and always in the same degree. Each one of the miserable denizens of Hell feels his sufferings now as acutely as he did in the first hour of his damnation, and he will continue to feel them no less keenly after thou sands and thousands of years have elapsed.
Now because the damned know perfectly well that they will never be released from Hell, but must remain there forever; because they know that the dreadful tortures they endure will never end; because they know that no created being will ever compassionate them, but all will acknowledge the justice of their doom ; for this cause they begin to despair, and to curse themselves and all that the hand of God has created.
Their despair only augments their sufferings. This we see from the example of our fellow creatures on earth, if they give way to despair. It is impossible to do anything with a man who is in despair; no one can help or console him, no one can comfort him or bring him to reason. He looks like a spectre ; he raves and rages like the very devil himself; he declares he will put an end to his life, that he will drown himself or hang himself; he destroys everything that comes in his way; he curses all men and all things. This the damned do in their despair, and thereby they torture themselves even more than the devils can torture them. They shriek and howl, they curse and swear, they storm and rage; in fact, they behave just as if they were fiends incarnate.
In their fury and spite they attack one another with the fiercest animosity; nay, they endeavor by every possible means to strangle themselves in their frantic despair.
Their efforts are, however, futile. All that they accomplish is to increase their torment, and inflict on themselves fresh pains.
Would that every obdurate sinner would lay this to heart, and take heed, lest one day he become the prey of this eternal despair.
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” says St. Paul (Heb. x. 31). If we now dread Hell, we shall not have any reason to fear or endure it in the next life.
Every one has sufficient grounds for dreading it. The just and holy should fear Hell, because they may yet fall into it. So long as they remain on earth, they are surrounded by not only exterior, but also interior, dangers. Outside of them there is the world with its allurements, its scandals and temptations, and human respect.
Within them dwell violent passions and a weak will. Only a single mortal sin suffices to cause their condemnation to the infernal abyss. How many are now in Hell, who for a time were remarkable for their piety and virtue, but who gradually grew careless in the service of God, and finally fell into mortal sin and died without having become reconciled with God. Even the great St. Teresa was in danger of damnation, for God showed her the place destined for her in Hell, if she did not give up certain faults.
The greatest Saints have shuddered and trembled at the thought of the danger they were in of committing mortal sin and of being condemned for it to the endless torments of Hell. St. Peter of Alcantara, who performed such great penances, dreaded even in his last moments the danger of falling into Hell. St. Augustine and St. Bernard were filled with terror at the very thought of Hell and of the danger they were in of deserving it.
The careless, the lukewarm Catholic should, above all, dread Hell, for he is continually walking on the brink of the infernal abyss. He makes little of the precepts of hearing Mass, of the prescribed abstinence from flesh meat, he scruples not neglecting the religious training of his children, he associates with persons and frequents places that are to him an occasion of sin, he yields to impure thoughts, commits sins of impurity without remorse, gives way to his vindictive feelings against his neighbour, appropriates to himself the goods of his neighbour, indulges to excess in eating and drinking, neglects prayer and the Sacraments. Now is the time for him to be aroused from his life of sin, now is the time for him to give up sin and change his life, for if he defers doing so, it may soon be too late. This may, indeed, be the last warning that God gives him. Oh, if the damned could come back to life, to what penances and austerities would they not eagerly and cheerfully submit!
The prophet Isaias asks: “Which of you can dwell with devouring fire?” (Is. xxxiii. 14.) Canst thou stand the fearful torments of Hell for all eternity, thou who art so fond of comfort and so sensitive to the least pain? Which of you has deserved to dwell in Hell? Every one of us already deserved, immediately after our first mortal sin, to be condemned to that abyss of misery and woe ! It is owing to the Divine mercy that we have not been so condemned.
“Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in Hell” (Ps. xciii. 17). We are certain of having deserved Hell, but we are not so certain of having been forgiven. “Man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred” (Eccles. ix. i). What a dreadful uncertainty? How much should it cause us to tremble!
Isaias asks again (xxxiii. 14): “Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” The answer is : All those sinners who do not give up sin, who do not bewail and confess their sins and amend their life, shall dwell with everlasting burnings!
Let us, dear reader, make every effort, strain every nerve, undergo every suffering, make every sacrifice in this life, that we may escape the horrible fate of those who fall victims, through their own fault, to the Divine justice! No pain is too great, no sacrifice is too dear, when there is question of avoiding eternal torments. Let us then say with St. Augustine: “Lord, burn us here, cut and bruise us in this life, provided YOU spare us in eternity!”