Many in the Church have made serious assertions that we can have a reasonable hope that at the Final Judgement Hell will be empty – that the Mercy of God is so great that even those that do not repent will be saved. Some have even gone so far as to assert that in the end even the Devil will be saved. These are shocking assertions, but do we really have a reasonable hope that Hell will be empty? Will everyone really end up in Heaven, regardless of their actions? I believe the answer to both questions is no, and in this article, I will explain why.
Let’s start with the firm assertion that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for our sins, after suffering His passion, and then rising from the dead provide the grace necessary to be saved. Salvation is freely given to those who acknowledge their sins, and by his grace repent of them and persevere to the end of their lives in friendship with the Father through Jesus. There is no doubt in Catholic teaching, and in most Christian denominations about this basic tenet. For God so loved the world that he sent his Only Begotten Son that we may have eternal life.
However, some stop there and forget what has been said in the Holy Scriptures about Hell – what it is like, and who goes there. The reality of saving Grace and Salvation for those who achieve holiness through Christ is often used to mask the reality of Hell for those who break friendship with God and deliberately choose to be wicked and to live evil lives. People don’t like to hear that such punishment exists, or to even acknowledge damnation. But what does scripture really say about Hell?
Hell Is Not a Pleasant Place
2 Samuel 22:6, Psalm 18:5 – There are sorrows in Hell.
Job 11:8, Psalm 86:13 Hell is deep.
Psalm 116:3 – There is great pain in Hell.
Isaiah 33:10-17 There is a devouring fire, and everlasting burnings
Isaiah 66:24 – in Hell, their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched.
Jer. 15:14 – in my anger, a fire is kindled which shall burn forever.
Judith 16:17 – in the day of judgment the Lord will take vengeance on the wicked and they shall weep in pain forever.
Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17 – John the Baptist said the Lord will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, 13:28 – There is darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 25:41 Hell is an Everlasting Fire
Mark 9:47-48 – Jesus refers to hell as where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. It lasts forever.
James 3:6 The tongues of the damned are set on fire in Hell.
Revelation 14:9-12, 20:10 The damned are tormented with fire and brimstone in God’s presence.
Revelation 21:8 Hell is a lake of fire and that is the second death.
Who goes to Hell?
Psalm 9:17, Psalm 55:15 All the wicked and all the nations that forget God.
Proverbs 27:20 Hell is never full.
Isaiah 5:14 Hell has enlarged herself to make room for all the damned.
Isaiah 14:15 The Devil will go there – he is not there now (Matthew 8:28-29, Revelation 20:10)
Ezekiel 31:16-17 The Devil is cast into hell
Matt. 25:41 – Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Matt. 25:46 – Jesus says, “they will go away into eternal punishment” which is in reference to this eternal fire.
Matt. 7:21 – all those who say “Lord, Lord” on the last day will not be saved. They are judged by their evil deeds.
2 Thess. 1:6-9 – the angels will come with flaming fire and the disobedient will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction.
Heb. 12:14 – without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Holiness requires works of self-denial and charity and does not come about simply by a profession of faith.
2 Peter 2:4 The angels that sinned have been cast down to hell, and are chained there until the day of judgment (Revelation 20:11-15)
Jude 6-7 – the rebelling angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Isaiah 24:17-23 The angels that have yet to sin and rebel will be shut up in hell
Revelation 11:7, 17:8 The antichrist is right now in the bottomless pit.
Revelation 14:11 – the worshipers of the beast suffer and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.
Revelation 20:10 – they’re tormented in the lake of fire and brimstone day and night forever and ever.
Revelation 20:15 Whoever is not found in the book of life.
The verses listed above are just a sampling of what Scripture has to say about Hell. I would remiss, however, if I did not add the sobering verse containing Jesus’ teaching about the narrow path, making it clear that few are saved and most are not.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 17: 13-14
There are many more describing who will be saved and who will not, and what sins will disqualify us from entering Heaven. In summary, there is absolutely no basis in the Holy Scriptures to suggest that Hell does not exist, that it has been abolished, that it is figurative, or that it will be empty at the end of time. We know it exists and that it is well populated. Many mystic saints and visionaries have been allowed to glimpse Hell and its torments in order to warn others and call for prayer penance to save souls. The accounts given by the three Fatima children, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Faustina are quite compelling. Our Lady of Fatima specifically asked for the praying of the Rosary for the conversion of sinners that they may not end up in Hell.
The Reality of Sin
Those that spend time suggesting that Hell is going to be unpopulated at the Final Judgement want to downplay the seriousness of sin and its eternal consequences. It’s sobering and it must be considered by any serious Christian. The teaching of the Church assures us that sin, whether it be venial or mortal, is serious and offends God. Sin is not serious because we will be punished; sin is serious because it offends the Triune God who loves us so much. In fact, as St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote, God loves us so much (and hates sin so much) he came to us and died a horrible death to save us from it. He transformed sin and death into a pathway we can freely choose, with his assistance, to be saved. But some will still choose the wide path that leads to perdition.
Venial sins are those sins we commit out of ignorance or weakness during our lives. St. Thomas Aquinas called this tendency to sin concupiscence. Even with the mark of Baptism, the stain of original sin still calls us to thoughtlessly do foolish and evil things. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a primary means to correct those offenses against God, as we offer our sinfulness along with Jesus’ one-time sacrifice to set ourselves back on the path. Each week we come back to the fountain to be refreshed by Grace, because we fail during the week. Daily communicants make even better progress. We abide with Christ and walk with him. Our failings are made up by Christ who helps us recover and get back on the path.
Habitual venial sin can lead to Mortal sin, discussed in the next paragraph, so don’t take these sins lightly. On the other hand, being active in the sacramental life, we can relax and trust that if we ask and desire it we can be freed from those sins – especially with frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist. This participation is in part how we abide with Christ and live in the spirit of Hope as adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Mortal sin are those sins that are grave in nature, and done with full knowledge and free will. Mortal sins are the most serious. It literally breaks our relationship with God and removes us from a “state of Grace.” This is a calamity for those in this state because if they were to die, most likely they would be damned to Hell. Those in this state should not receive the Eucharist because as St. Paul wrote, we eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves. The remedy that makes up for venial sins committed because we are weak and stupid during the week will become a poison which further offends God and moves us closer to damnation. St. John Bosco wrote that the soul of a person in this state is already in Hell in a manner of speaking, even while their body still lives. The longer someone is away from God’s grace, the harder it is for him or her to find their way back. Those in this situation should not delay – as scripture says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call to Him while he is still near.” (Isaiah 55: 6-7)
False Autonomy of Conscience
There are many who claim that their consciences have told them that sins identified by the Church are not in fact sins. Recent teachings, as found in Chapter 8 of Amoris Latitiae, have even stated that God understands when people can’t live up to his commandments and that a lesser standard of a guiding principle is ok for some. However, this idea is in error. Grace can help us overcome all sin – this is what the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus achieved – victory over death. And that victory is not by redefining sin or watering down teaching. Those that come to the conclusion that the public revelation of the Church is not for them suffer from a malady called “False Autonomy of Conscience.” (CCC 1792) One’s conscience can be understood to be correct when it agrees with the Magisterium, and false when it does not.
If sin was not important, God would not have come to earth to suffer and die on the Cross. If all were going to be saved in the end, what would have been the point? If the Devil and his Demons were to be saved, why did Jesus describe him as our opponent and say that he was damned forever in Hell, and that Our Lady would crush his head? Why would Jesus caution us over and over about losing salvation? It makes no sense.
Climbing the Mountain
The purpose of the Church is to guide us to Heaven, to save our souls and the souls of everyone that can be evangelized. Bishops and pastors are our guides as we climb this mountain – and seek Jesus who is the only Way, Truth, and Life. Church doctrine is the clearly marked path, and it’s essential that it remains crystal clear not only for unity but to eliminate confusion and lost sheep who fall off the path. The sacraments provide that “oxygen” we need as we get closer and closer to God, for worldly wisdom will only call us back down to the Valley of Death. We must stay on the path. Let us pray that our leaders teach doctrine clearly, and speak without fear about sin, Heaven, and Hell. After all, the reality is – and it’s no laughing matter – that souls are at stake.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matt 4: 17