"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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"Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God."

Thomas á Kempis

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.


By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP


 PART 3 : HELL (cont)



The dogma of hell shows us the immense depths of the human soul, absolute distinction between evil and good, against all the lies invented to suppress this distinction. It shows us also, by contrast, the joys of conversion and eternal beatitude.

The Latin word, damnum, which we translate by "loss," signifies damage. The pain of loss means the essential and principal suffering due to unrepented sin. This pain of loss is the privation of the possession of God, whereas that of sense is the effect of the afflictive action of God. The first corresponds to guilt as turning away from God, whereas the second corresponds to guilt as turning toward something created. [253]

We note, in passing, that infants who die without baptism do not feel the absence of the beatific vision as a loss, because they do not know that they were supernaturally destined to the immediate possession of God. We speak here only of that pain of loss which is conscious, which is inflicted on adults condemned for personal sin, for mortal sin unrepented. Let us see in what it consists, and what is its rigor.

The Nature of Loss

It consists essentially, as we have said, in the privation of the beatific vision and of all good that flows therefrom. Man supernaturally destined to see God face to face, to possess Him eternally, loses that
right when he turns from God by mortal sin unrepented. He remains eternally separated from God, not only as his last supernatural end, but also as his natural end, because each mortal sin is indirectly against the natural law, which obliges us to obey every command which God lays on us.

The pain of loss brings with it the privation of all good which arises from the beatific vision: that is, the privation of charity, of the love of God, of the immeasurable joys of heaven, of the company of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the angels and the saints, of souls that live in God, of all virtues, and of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which remain in heaven.

The Council of Florence [254] teaches clearly that, whereas the blessed enjoy the immediate vision of the divine essence, the damned are deprived of this vision. Scripture [255] too affirms the same truth explicitly: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels." [256] "Amen, I say to you, I know you not." These words [257] express eternal separation from God and the privation of all the good that accompanies God's presence. We may listen likewise to the reproaches addressed to the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus [258] calls them a generation of vipers, and threatens them with hell where the obstinate sinner is separated eternally from God.

Theological reasoning, as we have seen, explains these assertions of Scripture by the very nature of mortal sin followed by final impenitence. A man who dies in this state is turned away from God. After death, such a sin cannot be remitted. The soul of the sinner who freely and definitively has turned away from God stays eternally in that state. Refusal fixed by obstinacy, refusal of sovereign good which contains eminently all other goods, is punished by the loss of all good.

The Severity of This Pain

The pain of loss, the consequence of final impenitence, consists in an immense void which will never be filled, in an eternal contradiction which is the fruit of the hatred of God, in despair, in perpetual remorse without repentance, in hate of one's neighbor, in envy, in a grudge against God which is expressed by blasphemy.

First, an immense void which will never be filled. Eternal privation of God is hard for us to conceive here on earth. Why? Because the soul here on earth has not a sufficient consciousness of its own immeasurable depth, a depth which only God can fill. Sense goods, on the contrary, captivate us successively, one after the other. Gluttony and pride hinder us from understanding, practically and really, that God is our last end, that He is sovereign good. Our inclination to truth, goodness, and beauty supreme is often offset by inferior attractions. We do not as yet have a burning hunger for the only bread that can sate the soul.

But when the soul is separated from the body. it loses all these inferior goods which hindered it from understanding its own spirituality and destiny. It sees itself now as the angel does, as a spiritual substance, incorruptible and immortal. It sees that its intelligence was made for truth, above all for the supreme truth, that its will was made to love and will the good, especially the sovereign good which is God, source of all beatitude, foundation of all duty.

The obstinate soul now attains full consciousness of its own immeasurable depth, realizes that God alone, seen face to face, can fill it, sees also that this void will never be filled. Father Monsabre vividly expresses this awful truth: "The damned soul, arrived at the term of its road, should repose in the harmonious plenitude of its being, but it is turned away from God, is fixed upon creatures. It refused the supreme good, even in the last moment of its state of trial. Hence supreme good says to it: 'Begone' at the very moment when, having no other good, its nature springs up to seize this supreme good. Hence it departs from its light, from infinite love, from the Father, from the divine Spouse of souls. The sinner, having denied all this on earth, is now in the night, in the void. He is in exile, repudiated, condemned. And justice can but approve." [259]

Interior Contradiction

The obstinate soul is still, by its very nature, inclined to love God more than itself, just as the hand loves the body more than itself, and hence exposes itself naturally to preserve that body. [260] This natural inclination has indeed been weakened by sin, but it continues to exist in the condemned soul. Father Monsabre says: "The condemned soul loves God, has hunger for God. It loves Him in order to satisfy itself."

On the other hand, the soul has a horror of God, an aversion which comes from unrepented sin which still holds it captive. Continuing to judge according to its unregulated inclination, it has not only lost charity, but it has acquired a hatred of God. Thus it is lacerated by an interior contradiction. It is carried toward the source of its natural life, but it detests the just judge, and expresses its rage by blasphemy. Often the Gospel repeats: "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." [261]

The damned, knowing by a continual experience the effects of divine justice, as a consequence have hatred of God. St. Theresa defines the demon "he who does not love." We can say the same of those obstinate Pharisees, to whom Jesus says: "You shall die in your sin." This hatred of God manifests the total depravity of the will. [262] The damned are continually in the act of sin, though these acts are no longer demeritorious, because the end of merit and demerit has come.

Utter despair is the terrible consequence of the eternal loss of all good. And the damned fully understand they have lost all these goods, and that by their own fault. In the Book of Wisdom we read: "Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them.... (The wicked) seeing it shall be troubled with terrible fear and shall be amazed . . . saying within themselves . . .: 'These are they whom we had some time in derision and for a parable of reproach.... Behold how they are numbered among the children of God and their lot is among the saints. Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us.... We wearied ourselves in the way of destruction.... What hath pride profited us?" [263]

The extent of despair in the damned souls arises from their full knowledge of a good which can never be realized. If they could but hope to see the end of their evils! But this end will never come. If a mountain lost daily one tiny stone, a day would come when the mountain would no longer exist, since its size is limited. But the succession of centuries has no limit.

Perpetual remorse comes from the voice of conscience, which repeats that they refused to listen while there was yet time. They cannot indeed erase from their mind the first principles of the moral order, a distinction between good and evil. [264] But conscience recalls sin after sin: "I was hungry, and you gave Me not to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me not to drink." [265]

But the soul is incapable of changing its remorse into penance, its tortures into expiation. St. Thomas explains: [266] It regrets its sin, not as guilt, but only as the cause of its suffering. It remains captive to its sin and judges practically according to an inclination which is forever distorted.

Hence the condemned soul is incapable of contrition, even attrition, because even attrition supposes hope, and enters upon the road of obedience and humility. The blood of Christ no longer descends into the condemned soul to make his heart contrite and humble. As the liturgy of the office of the dead says: "In hell there is no redemption." Repentance rises above remorse, as the repentant thief rises above Judas. Remorse tortures, penance delivers. "The obstinate soul," says Father Lacordaire, [267] "no longer turns toward God. It scorns forgiveness even in the abyss into which it has fallen. It throws itself against God, with all that it sees, all that it knows, all that it feels. Can God come to it in spite of its will? Can hate and blasphemy embrace divine love? Would this be justice? Shall heaven open for Nero as it did for St. Louis? Impenitence before death, crowned by impenitence after death -- this should be the passport to eternal bliss!

Hatred of God involves hatred of neighbor. As the blessed love one another, the damned hate one another. In hell there is no love, only envy and isolation. Condemned souls wish their own condemnation to be universal. [269]

Eternally rebellious against everything, they long for annihilation, not in itself, but as cessation of suffering. In this sense Jesus says of Judas: "It were better for him if that man had not been born." [270]

Buried in boundless misery, the condemned soul has no desire of relief. Inexpressible anger finds vent in blasphemy. "He shall gnash with his teeth and pine away, the desire of the wicked shall perish." [271] Tradition applies to him these words of the psalm: "The pride of them that hate Thee ascendeth continually." [272] Such a soul has refused supreme good and has found extreme sorrow. It has found despair without hope. Each and every condemned soul repeats, each on his own level: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." [273] "The lost soul does not live. It is not dead. It dies without cessation, [274] because it is forever far away from God, the author of life.

The condemned, says St. Thomas, [275] suffer unchangeably the highest possible evil. They cannot in hell even demerit, much less merit. They are no longer voyagers. They sin indeed, but they do not demerit, just as the blessed perform acts of virtue, but no longer merit. Their state, if we consider only the pain of loss, is an abyss of misery, just as inexpressible as the glory of which it is the privation, as great as the possession of God which they have lost forever.

This condition, by its abysmal contrast, illumines the measureless value of the beatific vision and of all benefits that follow therefrom. But on earth we do not understand perfectly what the damned have lost. This perfect understanding is reserved to those who have unmediated vision of the divine essence, and the measureless joy which follows that vision. Yet faith too furnishes a parallel. Those who have a firm faith, and are continually faithful to it -- they, and they
alone, realize what measureless good is lost when faith is lost.


254. Cf. Ia IIae, q. 87, a.4; Supplementum, q. 97, a.2; q.99, a. 1. Cf. Dict. theol. cath., "Enfer et Dam".
254. Denz., no. 693.
255. Matt. 24:41.
256. Cf. Ps. 6:9; Matt. 7:23; Luke 13:27.
257. Matt. 25:12.
258. Matt. 23:14, 15, 25, 29.
259. Conferences in Notre Dame, 1889, 99th Conference.
260. Ia, a. 60, a. 5; IIa IIae, q. 26, a. 3.
261. Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; Luke 13:18.
262. Dict. theol. cath., "L'Enfer."
263. Wisd. 5:1-16.
264. Ia IIae, q. 85, a. 2 ad 3. "Even in the reprobate there remains the natural inclination to virtue. Otherwise they would not have remorse of conscience."
265. St. Thomas thus explains the gnawing worm of Scripture (Mark 9:42) and tradition. Cf. Contra Gentes, Bk. IV, chap. 89; De veritate, q. 16, a. 3. "Synderesis is not extinguished. It is impossible that the judgment of synderesis be entirely extinguished, but in one or the other particular deed it is extinguished, whenever man chooses what is sinful."
266. Supplementum, q. 98, a. 2.
267. Conferences in Notre Dame, 72nd Conference.
268. In the works of Father Cormier, who was general of the Dominicans and died in the odor of sanctity, we read the following reflections on the religious who has missed the goal of his life. He calls it "the hell of the religious." "This unfortunate man had acquired and kept a capacity, an inclination, greater than ordinary Christians have, of possessing God. God had put into his nature certain aptitudes, in view of his foreseen religious vocation. Now these aptitudes in the condemned religious turn necessarily and implacably against God. His heart feels an emptiness deeper than others, an emptiness that torments him inexorably. What a devouring hunger, which nothing can satisfy!

"He recalls the days and years of fervor, which were a foretaste of heaven. What contrasts! What regrets! He must say: 'Beautiful heaven, of which I was sure, thou art now lost to me.'

"He will feel more shame than other reprobates, but he will not be able to hide his degradation by lies and sacrileges. His duplicity will appear in a most striking fashion.

"In regard to God he will have more terrible hate than others. For the heart that is most carried on to love is also the most capable of hate, since hate is only love turned to its contrary, to aversion. This hate will be expressed by blasphemy against everything which he formerly loved."

This terrible contrast shows the price of salvation.
269. Supplementum, q. 98, a. 4.
270. Matt. 26:24.
271. Ps. 111:10.
272. Ibid., 73:23.
273. Heb. 10:31.
274. De civ. Dei. Bk. XIII, chap. 4.
275. Supplementum, q. 98, a.6 ad 3.