"Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but when he has once chosen, he ought not to change, except for most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in his director."

St Philip Neri

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"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."

Thomas á Kempis

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"Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it."

St Philip Neri

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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)



Besides the pain of loss hell inflicts also a pain of sense. We shall speak here of the existence of this pain, of what it is according to Scripture, of the nature of the fire in hell, and of its mode of action. [276]

The Testimony of Scripture

The pain of loss is clearly affirmed in the Gospel: "Rather fear Him that can destroy both soul and body in hell." [277] The existence of this pain follows, as St. Thomas [278] says, from the truth that mortal sin not only turns man away from God, but turns him also to a created good preferred to God. Mortal sin, therefore, deserves a double suffering, first, the privation of God, secondly, the affliction which comes from creatures. The body, too, which has taken part in sin and has found in sin a forbidden joy, must share the suffering of the soul.

In what does the pain of sense consist? Scripture [279] tells us by describing hell as a dark prison, as a place of tears and gnashing of teeth. Further, it speaks of fire and sulphur. [280]

In these descriptions two connected ideas always recur; that of imprisonment, and the pain of fire. Theologians insist as much on the one as on the other, because each explains the other. We read: [281] "The king said to the waiters: Bind his hands and feet and cast him into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.... The hell of unquenchable fire."

The Fire of Hell: Real or Metaphorical?

The common doctrine is that the fire of hell is a real fire. This view is based on the accepted position in the interpreting of Scripture, that is, we are to admit metaphorical language only when comparison with other passages excludes the literal sense, or when literal sense involves an impossibility. [283] Neither of these two conditions is here realized. In this sentence, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels," [284] the entire context demands a realistic interpretation. As the good go to eternal life, so you go to the fire prepared for the demon and his angels. This fire punishes, [285] not only souls, but also bodies. [286] The apostles [287] too speak with the same realism. St. Peter [288] takes as type of punishment in hell that fire which fell from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah. The metaphorical interpretation, wherein the fire is a figure of chagrin or remorse, is contrary to the obvious sense of Scripture and tradition.

The Fathers generally, with the exception of Origen and his disciples, speak of a real fire, which they compare to terrestrial fire, or even to corporeal fire. Thus St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great. [289] A. Michel, [290] after a long examination of these texts, concludes: "When the Fathers simply affirm traditional belief, they speak without hesitation of a hell of fire. But when they discuss the difficult question of this fire's mode of action, we can notice some hesitation in their thought."

This fire, says St. Thomas, [291] is a corporeal fire, of the same nature as fire on earth, differing from it only accidentally, since it has no need of terrestrial fuel. It is dark, without flame, lasts forever, burns bodies without destroying them. [292]

Its Mode of Action

How can corporeal fire cause pain in a soul separated from its body, or in pure spirits like the demons? Theologians answer in general: "It can do this as an instrument of divine justice, just as the sacraments, for example, the water of baptism, produce in the soul that spiritual effect which is grace. Those who have scorned the sacraments, instruments of God's mercy, suffer the instruments of divine justice.

Theologians here divide into two camps, as they do for the sacraments, some maintaining a physical causality, others only a moral causality. A moral cause, like prayer, which we address to someone to persuade him to act, does not produce directly the effect desired, it only inclines the agent capable of producing the act to realize it. If it be thus with the fire of hell, it would not produce effectively that which is attributed to it. The effect would be simply and solely produced by God.

Thomists, on the other hand, and with them many other theologians, maintain here, as in the case of the sacraments, a physical, instrumental causality, exercised by the fire of hell on the souls of the condemned. It is difficult indeed to explain its mode of action. St. Thomas [293] and his best commentators hold that the fire of hell receives from God power to afflict the condemned spirits. The fire ties and binds them, hinders their activity, somewhat like paralysis or intoxication. This subjection to a corporeal element is a great humiliation for immaterial beings. This explanation is in harmony with the texts of Scripture [294] which describe hell as a prison where the damned are retained against their will.

But how can this fire, after the general resurrection, burn the bodies of the damned without consuming them? That it does so is affirmed by tradition and Scripture. [295] St. Thomas [296] holds that the bodies of the damned, though they are incorruptible and unalterable, still suffer in some special fashion, as, for example, the sense of hearing suffers from hearing a high, strident voice, or as the taste suffers from a bitter flavor. [297]

Difficulty in explaining how this fire acts, is not a reason for denying the reality of that action. Even in the natural order it is difficult to explain how exterior objects produce in our senses an impression, a representation in the psychological order, which surpasses brute matter. Hence it is not surprising that preternatural effects should be still more difficult to explain.

The pain of sense, as all tradition affirms, is not the principal pain. That which is essential in the state of damnation is the privation of God Himself, and the immense void which this privation causes in the soul, a void which manifests by contrast the plenitude of life everlasting, of which the present meritorious life is the prelude. [298]

276. St. Thomas, IV Sent., dist. 44, q. 3, a. 3; Contra Gentes, Bk. IV, chap. 90; De anima, q. 2, a. 21; De veritate, q. 26, a.1; Supplementum, q. 70., a.3; q. 97, a.5; Tabula aurea (Anima, no. 140); John of St. Thomas, De angelis, disp. 24, a. 3. Cf. Gonet, Billuart, Dict. theol. cath., "Feu de l'Enfer."
277. Matt. 5:29; 10:28; 18:19; Mark 9:42, 46; Luke 12:5.
278. Ia IIae, q. 87, a. 4.
279. II Pet. 2:4, 6; 3:7.
280. Apoc. 20:14.
281. Matt. 22:13.
282. Ibid., 5:22; 18:9, 40, 50. Further Matt. 18:8; Mark 9:42.
283. Dict. theol. cath., "Feu de l'Enfer".
284. Matt. 25:41.
285. Ibid., 10:28.
286. Mark 9:42-48; Matt. 5:22; 18:9.
287. II Thess. 1:8; Jas. 3:6; Jude 7:23.
288. II Pet. 2:6; Jude 7.
289. Enchir. patrist., Index theologicus, nos. 592 ff.
290. Dict. theol. cath., col 2207.
291. Supplementum. q. 97, a. 5, 6.
292. St. Catherine de Ricci was allowed, in the place of one who had died, to suffer the fire of purgatory for forty days. No one could see this externally, but a novice, touching her hand, said to her: "But, mother, you are burning." "Yes, my daughter," she replied.
293. Contra Gentes, Bk. IV, chap. 90; Supplementum, q.70, a.3.
294. Jude 6: II Pet. 2:4; Apoc. 20:2.
295. Dan. 12:2; Matt. 18:8, 9; Mark 9:29, 49.
296. Contra Gentes, Bk. IV, chap. 89; De potentia, q. 5, a. 8.
297. These sufferings arise from their relation to the object of sense, independent of alteration on the part of the subject.
298. La vie spirituelle, December, 1941, p. 435. The author, Father Thomas Dehau, is commenting on the words of the rich man, "I am tortured in this flame" (Luke 16:24). "The wicked rich man at the bottom of hell is, we may say, crucified to the world of heaven. This world of beatitude and peace is for him inaccessible. This idea of crucifixion in hell is found expressed in the Divine Comedy. Dante, passing through the shades, perceives Caiphas, crucified on the ground by three nails, and enveloped with flames. There you have the picture of the soul in hell crucified in this flame. And this fire is at the same time ice, because the reprobate have no love. Satan, at the very bottom of hell, is buried in ice. He is the one who has no love.

At the other pole of the world we find the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. Infinitely removed from the scenes we have been describing, at the height of the regions there beyond, this heart too appears enveloped in flames, crowned with thorns; down below tears of blood and on high the Hame; always the flame: "I am crucified in this flame." Our Lord, from the moment
when he entered the world, had this flame in the midst of His heart, the flame and the wound of love."

Thus this mysterious word, Crucior in hac flamma, which resounds at the bottom of hell from the reprobate, is pronounced in a sense directly opposite by the adorable heart of our Lord. He no longer suffers, but all perfection which His love and His suffering had on earth continues to exist eminently in heaven.