“It is unimaginable how a loving God could condemn one to Hell for all eternity!”
The doctrine of an eternal hell is assailed from both within and without the Catholic Church today. Within the Church there are Catholics infected with the modernist notion of “universal salvation,” that is, that in the end all will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven because God’s mercy is so great that He could not allow otherwise. These Catholics completely lose sight of the fact that God is also a God of justice. On the other hand, Jehovah Witnesses, for example, assert that the wicked have no eternal destiny, either in heaven or hell, but instead they will be “annihilated” at the end of the world. In holding such a view they deny the immortality of the human soul.
What does Sacred Scripture have to say on the question?:
“A land of misery and darkness, where the shadow of death, and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth” (Job 10, 22 [Douai]);
“And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Is. 66, 24);
“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12, 2);
“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him” (St. Matt. 3, 10-12).
“But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, You fool! shall be liable to the hell of fire” (St. Matt. 5, 22);
“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (St. Matt. 7, 19);
“I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (St. Matt. 8, 11-12);
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (St. Matt. 10, 28);
“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (St. Matt. 13, 41-42);
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (St. Matt. 18, 7-9);
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe? And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (St. Matt. 22, 11-13);
“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (St. Matt. 25, 30);
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (St. Matt. 25, 41);
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (St. Mark 9, 42-48);
“The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames” (St. Luke 16, 22-24);
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (St. John 15, 5-6);
“And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet, who wrought signs before him, wherewith he seduced them who received the character of the beast, and who adored his image. These two were cast alive into the pool of fire, burning with brimstone. Where they were tormented day and night, for ever and ever” (Rev. 19, 20 [Douai]);
“…and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20, 15).
Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own version of the Bible, The New World Translation, contains passages which assert the eternity of hell:
“cannot be put out” (St. Matt. 3, 12);
“everlasting cutting-off” (St. Matt. 18, 8);
“cannot be put out” (St. Mark 9, 43);
“tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20, 10).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses stand contradicted out of their own mouths.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians (C. 110 A.D.):
“Do not err, my brethren: the corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God, for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire; and so also will anyone who listens to him.”
St. Justin Martyr, First Apology (C. 155 A.D.):
“The Prophets have proclaimed his two comings. One, indeed, which has already taken place, was that of a dishonored and suffering Man. The second will take place when, in accord with prophecy, He shall come from the heavens in glory with His angelic host; when He shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then he will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, He will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love (421 A.D.):
“In vain, therefore, do some men, indeed, very many, because of human sentiment, bewail the eternal punishment, of the damned and their perpetual, unending torments, without really believing that it shall be so…But let them suppose, if it pleases them, that the punishments of the damned are, at certain periods of time, somewhat mitigated. For even thus it can be understood that they remain in the wrath of God that is, in damnation itself, for it is this that is called the Wrath of God, not some disturbance in the divine mind: that in His wrath, that is, by their abiding in His wrath, He does not shut up His mercies; yet He does not put an end to their eternal punishment, but only applies or interposes some relief to their torments.”
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
The first words, depart from me, express the heaviest punishment with which the wicked shall be visited, their eternal banishment from the sight of God, unrelieved by one consolatory hope of ever recovering so great a good. This punishment is called by theologians the pain of loss, because in hell the wicked shall be deprived forever of the light of the vision of God…
The next words, into everlasting fire, express another sort of punishment, which is called by theologians the pain of sense, because, like lashes, stripes or other more severe chastisements, among which fire, no doubt, produces the most intense pain, it is felt through the organs of sense. When, moreover, we reflect that this torment is to be eternal, we can see at once that the punishment of the damned includes every kind of suffering.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 1034: Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna,” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that He “will send His angels, and they will gather…all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,” and that He will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”
No. 1035: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.