In this second part we shall consider: first, final
impenitence; secondly, good death; thirdly, the
unchangeableness of the soul, whether in good or in
evil, after death; fourthly, the knowledge which the
separated soul has; and fifthly, the particular
Since our life in eternity depends on the state of
the soul at the moment of death, we must here speak
of final impenitence. By contrast, we speak of
Impenitence is the absence, the privation, of that
contrition which alone can destroy in the sinner the
moral consequences of his revolt against God. These
consequences are destroyed by satisfactory
reparation, that is, first, by sorrow for having
offended God, secondly, by an expiatory compensation.
As St. Thomas  explains, these acts of the virtue
of penance are demanded by justice and charity toward
God, and also by charity toward ourselves.
Impenitence is the absence of contrition or of
satisfaction. This impenitence can be either
temporal, lasting throughout the course of our
present life, or final, existing at the moment of
Dispositions toward Final
Temporal impenitence is the cause of final
impenitence. Final impenitence presents itself under
two different forms: impenitence of fact, the simple
absence of repenting, and impenitence of will,
namely, the positive resolution not to repent. In
this last case we have the special sin of
impenitence, which, in its final development, becomes
a sin of malice. In illustration, think of a man who
signs an agreement to
have no religious funeral.
There is certainly a
great difference between these two forms. But, if a
man is seized in death in the simple state of
impenitence of fact, this state is for him one of
final impenitence, even though it has not been
directly prepared by a special sin of hardening of
Temporal impenitence of will leads directly to final
impenitence, even though at times the Lord, by
special mercy, preserves the soul from final
impenitence. The soul on this road perseveres in sin,
deliberately and coldly. It repels all thought of
penance which might deliver it. Thus, as St.
Augustine says, it is not only a sin of malice, it is
also a sin against the Holy Spirit, that is to say, a
sin which contradicts directly that which would save
the sinner. 
The sinner, therefore, must do penance at the proper
time, for example, at the time of Easter Communion,
otherwise he falls from impenitence of fact into
impenitence of will, at least by a deliberate
omission. One cannot stay long in mortal sin without
committing new mortal sins which accelerate his
Hence we must not put off the time of repentance.
Scripture urges us to do penance without delay.
before thou art sick."  St. John the Baptist 
unceasingly urges the necessity of repentance. Jesus,
too, from the beginning of His ministry, cries out:
"Repent and believe the gospel."  Again He says:
"Except you do penance, you shall all perish." 
St. Paul writes to the Romans: "According to thy
hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to
thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation
of the just judgment of God, who will render to every
man according to his works."  In the Apocalypse
word comes to the angel of Pergamus: "Do penance ! If
not I will come to thee quickly."  This is the
visit of divine justice, if one has not paid
attention to mercy.
The degrees of temporal impenitence are numerous.
 Passing from forms of impenitence which are
least grave, but which for that reason are already
very dangerous, we find those who are hardened by
culpable ignorance, who are fixed in mortal sin, in a
blindness that makes them continually prefer the
goods of today to those of eternity. They drink
iniquity like water. Their conscience is asleep
because they have gravely neglected to instruct
themselves in their numerous duties. Further, we have
those who are hardened by neglect, who, though they
are more enlightened than the preceding and more
culpable, do not have the energy to break the bonds
which they themselves have forged, bonds of luxury,
of avarice, of pride, of ambition. They do not pray
to obtain the energy they lack. Finally we have those
who are hardened by malice, those, for example, who
never pray, who are in revolt against providence, on
account of, say, some misfortune. Further, free
livers, who are sunk in their disorders, who
blaspheme, who become materialistic, who speak of God
only to insult Him. Lastly, sectaries who have a
satanic hatred of the Christian religion and cease
not to write against it.
There is a great difference between these classes,
but we cannot affirm that, to arrive at final
impenitence, we must start with the hardening of
malice, or at least with the hardening that comes
from neglect or voluntary ignorance. We cannot affirm
that God does mercy to all other sinners who are less
culpable. Neither must we say that all those who are
hardened by malice will be condemned, because divine
mercy at times has converted great sectarians who
seemed to be obstinate in the way of perdition. 
The Church Fathers and the great preachers have often
threatened with final impenitence those who put off
their conversion from day to day.  After such
long-continued abuse of God's grace, will they ever
have the efficacious grace necessary for conversion?
Return Difficult but Possible
Return is difficult. Hardening of heart supposes
blindness of mind, and a will carried on to evil,
with feeble movements toward good. The soul no longer
derives profit from good advice, from sermons, it no
longer reads the Gospel, no longer frequents the
church. It resists even the warnings of genuine
friends. It falls under the indictment of Isaias:
"Woe to you that call evil good and good evil, that
put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that
put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to
you that are wise in your own eyes, and prudent in
your own conceits! "  This condition is the
consequence of sins often reiterated, of vicious
habitudes, of criminal entanglements, of erroneous
reading. After such abuse of grace, the Lord may
refuse a sinner, not only the efficacious succor of
which every sinner is deprived at the moment when he
falls, but also the grace, proximately sufficient, to
make obedience possible.
But return to God is still possible. The sinner, even
though hardened, receives remotely sufficient graces,
for example, during a mission or during a trial. He
can begin to pray. If he does not resist, he receives
efficacious grace to begin praying effectively. This
is certain, because salvation is still possible, and,
against the Pelagian heresy, conversion is not
possible except by grace. If the sinner does not
resist this last appeal, he will be led from grace to
grace, even to that of conversion. The Lord has said:
"I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the
wicked turn from his way and live."  St. Paul
says: "God will have all men to be saved and to come
to the knowledge of the truth." 
Return is always possible. Calvinism indeed says that
God destines certain souls to eternal damnation and
that consequently He refuses them all grace. The
truth, on the contrary, says with St. Augustine and
the Council of Trent: "God never commands the
impossible, but He warns us to do what we can, and to
ask of Him the grace to accomplish that which we of
ourselves are unable to do."  Now there lies on
the hardened sinner a grave obligation to do penance,
and this is impossible without grace. Hence we must
conclude that he receives from time to time
sufficient graces that he may begin to pray.
Salvation is still possible.
But if the sinner resists these graces, he steps into
quicksand, where his feet sink down when he attempts
to emerge. Sufficient grace blows from time to time,
like a fresh breeze, to renew his forces. But if he
continues to resist, he deprives himself of the
efficacious grace which is offered in sufficient
grace as fruit is offered in the blossom. Hence when,
later on he wishes for that efficacious grace, will
he have that succor which touches the heart and
converts him in truth? Difficulties grow greater, the
will grows weaker, graces diminish.
Temporal impenitence, if it is voluntary, manifestly
disposes the soul for final impenitence, although
divine mercy at times saves the sinner, even on his
It is possible to die in the state of mortal sin,
even though the thought of such a death has not
presented itself to the spirit. Many die suddenly,
and we say, looking at their abuses of graces, that
they have been surprised by death. They did not pay
attention to warnings received beforehand. They have
not had contrition, or even attrition, which with the
sacrament of penance would have justified them. Such
souls are lost for eternity. Here we find final
impenitence, without any special previous refusal of
the last grace.
If, on the contrary, death is foreseen, we are met
with an impenitence that is final. This last
rejection of grace, offered before death by infinite
mercy, is a sin against the Holy Spirit, which takes
forms. The sinner shrinks back from the humiliation
involved in acknowledgment of his sins, and chooses
consequently his own personal evil. At times he even
scorns the duty of justice and reparation before God,
scorns the love which he owes to God by the supreme
precept: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy
whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy
strength and with all thy mind."  These terrible
lessons show us the importance of repentance, a state
quite different from remorse, which can continue to
exist in hell without the least attrition. Condemned
souls do not repent of their sins as guilt against
God, though they see that for these sins they are
punished. They hate the pain which is justly
inflicted. They hate the worm of remorse which arises
from their sin. They are at war with everything,
especially with themselves. Judas had remorse and
anguish, but he did not have repentance which gives
peace. He fell into despair instead of confiding in
infinite mercy and asking pardon. 
It is terribly dangerous to put off conversion.
Father Monsabre  dwells on this subject: "First,
in order to profit by our last hour, we must foresee
it. Everything conspires to hide this moment when it
arrives: the sinner's own illusions
his negligence, the lack of sincerity on the part of
those who surround him. Secondly, to profit by this
last hour, if he foresees it, he must wish to be
converted. But it is greatly to be feared that the
sinner does not wish this. The tyranny of habit gives
to his last acts a character of irresolution.
Calculated delays have weakened his faith, have
blinded him to his own state. Hence even the last
hour does not move him, and he dies impenitent.
Thirdly, to profit by this last hour, even if he
wishes for conversion, the conversion must be
sincere, and for this the soul needs efficacious
grace. Yet the delaying sinner counts rather on his
own will than on grace. If he does count on grace, he
does so with a cowardly look toward the mercy of God.
Will he thus reach a true regret for the offense done
against God, to a genuine and generous act of
repentance? The sinner who delays may forget what
penitence is, and runs great risk of dying in his
sin. Hence the conclusion: Seize the grace of
repentance now, lest you lack it then when you must
have it to decide your eternity." 
Deathbed conversion, however difficult, is still
possible. Even when we see no sign of contrition, we
can still not affirm that, at the last moment, just
before the separation of soul from body, the soul is
definitively obstinate. A sinner may be converted at
that last minute in such fashion that God alone can
know it. The holy Cure of Ars, divinely enlightened,
said to a weeping widow: "Your prayer, Madame, has
been heard. Your husband is saved. When he threw
himself into the Rhone, the Blessed Virgin obtained
for him the grace of conversion just before he died.
Recall how, a month before, in your garden, he
plucked the most beautiful rose and said to you,
'Carry this to the altar of the Blessed Virgin.' She
has not forgotten."
Other souls, too, have been converted in extremis,
souls that could barely recall a few religious acts
in the course of their life. A sailor, for example,
preserved the practice of uncovering his head when he
passed before a church. He did not know even the Our
Father or the Hail Mary, but the lifting of his hat
kept him from departing definitively from God.
In the life of the saintly Bishop Bertau of Tulle,
friend of Louis Veuillot, a poor girl in that city,
who had once been chanter in the cathedral, fell
first into misery, then into misconduct, and finally
became a public sinner. She was assassinated at
night, in one of the streets of Tulle. Police found
her dying and carried her to a hospital. While she
was dying, she cried out: "Jesus, Jesus." Could she
be granted Church burial? The Bishop answered: "Yes,
because she died pronouncing the name of Jesus. But
bury her early in the morning without incense." In
the room of this poor woman was found a portrait of
the holy Bishop on the back of which was written:
"The best of fathers." Fallen though she was, she
still recognized the holiness of her bishop and
preserved in her heart the memory of the goodness of
A certain licentious writer, Armand Sylvestre,
promised his mother when she was dying to say a Hail
Mary every day. He kept his promise. Out of the swamp
in which he lived, he daily lifted up to God this one
little flower. Pneumonia brought him to a hospital,
served by religious, who said to him: "Do you wish a
priest?" "Certainly," he answered. And he received
absolution, probably with sufficient attrition,
through a special grace obtained for him by the
Blessed Mother, though we can hardly doubt he
underwent a long and heavy purgatory.
Another French writer, Adolphe Rette, shortly after
his conversion, which was sincere and profound, was
struck by a sentence he read in the visitors' book of
the Carmelite Convent: "Pray for those who will die
during the Mass at which you are going to assist." He
did so. Some days later he fell grievously ill, and
was confined to bed in the hospital at Beaune, for
many years, up to his death. Each morning he offered
all his sufferings for those who would die during the
day. Thus he obtained many deathbed conversions. We
shall see in heaven how many conversions there are in
the world, owing to such prayers.
In the life of St. Catherine of Siena we read of the
conversion of two great criminals. The saint had gone
to visit one of her friends. As they heard, in the
street below, a loud noise, her friend looked through
the window. Two condemned men were being led to
execution. Their jailers were tormenting them with
nails heated red-hot, while the condemned men
blasphemed and cried. St. Catherine, inside thehouse,
fell to prayer, with her arms extended in the form of
a cross. At once the wicked men ceased to blaspheme
and asked for a confessor. People in the street could
not understand this sudden change. They did not know
that a near-by saint had obtained this double
Several years ago the chaplain in a prison in Nancy
had the reputation of converting all criminals whom
he had accompanied to the guillotine. On one occasion
he found himself alone, shut up with an assassin who
refused to go to confession before death. The cart,
with the condemned man, passed before the sanctuary
of Our Lady of Refuge. The old chaplain prayed:
"Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never
was it known that anyone who had recourse to thy
intercession was abandoned. Convert this criminal of
mine: otherwise I will say that it has been heard
that you have not heard." At once the criminal was
Return to God is always possible, up to the time of
death, but it becomes more and more difficult as
hardheartedness grows. Let us not put off our
conversion. Let us say every day a Hail Mary for the
grace of a happy death.
|| IIIa, q.84, a.5; q.85.
|| Bossuet, Defense of Tradition, Bk.
XI, chaps. 4-8
|| IIa IIae, q. 14.
|| Ibid., q109, a.8.
|| Ecclus. 18:21.
|| Luke 3:3.
|| Mark 1:15.
|| Luke 13:5.
|| Rome 2:5.
|| Apoc. 2:16.
|| Ia IIae, q.76-78; IIa IIae, q.15,
a.1. Dict. Theol. Cath., "Impenitence".
|| St. John Bosco came to the bed of
a dying Freemason. This Freemason said to him: "Don't speak to
me of religion. Otherwise here is a revolver whose bullet is
for you and another one whose bullet is for me." "Well, then"
said the saint, "let us speak of something else." Then Bosco
spoke to him of Voltaire, relating the
latter's life. Toward the end of his account, Bosco aid: "Some
say that Voltaire never repented and had a bad death. This I
do not say, because I do not know." "You mean," said the
Freemason, "that even Voltaire could repent?" "Oh, certainly."
"Then I, too, could repent." Thus this man who was in despair
seems to have had a good death.
A prison chaplain, a holy priest, while assisting a condemned
criminal who would not go to confession, ended his words as
follows: "Well, then, if you wish to be lost, just be lost."
When beatification was in question, this chaplain, by reason
of this word, was judged unworthy of beatification, since he
doubt the mercy and possibility of return to God.
|| Cf. St. Ambrose, De poenitentia,
chaps. 10-12; St. Jerome, Epist. 147, ad Sabinianum; St.
Augustine, Sermons 351, 352; St. John Chrysostom, Nine
Homilies on Penitence, P.G., XLIX, 277 ff.; St. Bernard, De
conversione ad clericos; Bossuet, Sermon for the First Sunday
|| Isa. 5:20-21.
|| Ezech. 33:11, 14, 16.
|| 1 Tim. 2:4
|| Denz., no. 804.
|| Luke 10:27.
|| IIa IIae, q. 13, a.4; IIIa, q. 86;
a. 1; Contra
Gentes, Bk. IV, chap. 89.
|| Easter Retreat at Notre Dame,
1888, 3rd instruction.
|| Let us not forget that attrition,
which disposes us to receive the sacrament of penance and
justifies with that sacrament, must always be supernatural.
According to the Council of Trent, attrition presupposes the
grace of faith and of hope, and must detest sin as an offense
against God. Denz., no. 798. Now this presupposes, probably,
as in the baptism of adults, an initial love of God as the
source of all justice. Denz., no. 798. We cannot detest a lie
without loving the truth, we cannot detest injustice without
beginning to love justice and Him who is the source of all