God of mercy and of love,

It is Your desire Lord, that none of humanity be lost from Your holy embrace and that all should come to salvation.  It is the destiny You intended for the sons of Adam since creation and yet there are those who in their persistence of pride and in their misuse of the gift of free will are determined to spend eternity in the place You created for Satan and his demon angels.  Hear us, O Lord, as we continually pray for the salvation of sinners when petition Your Son and our Savior:  "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell.  Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Your mercy."  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


+ + +


He who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
St. John, 1 John 3:14-15


We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God.  We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire.
St. Justin Martyr circa 150AD


The death, then, of the soul takes place when God forsakes it, as the death of the body when the soul forsakes it.  Therefore the death of both, that is, of the whole man occurs when the soul, forsaken by God forsakes the body.  For, in this case, neither is God the life of the soul, nor the soul the life of the body.  And this death of the whole man is followed by that which, on the authority of the divine oracles, we call the second death.  This the Savior referred to when He said, "Fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna)."
Augustine, City of God, Book XIII, chap. 2


To a certain degree eschatology has become irrelevant to contemporary man, especially in our civilization. 
John Paul II, Crossing the threshold of Hope, page 183



It is not "fashionable" in this modern age to suggest that there are those, who in their persistent desire to ignore the laws of God and to descend into the depths of mortal sin, who will reap for their efforts eternal punishment and eternal separation from God.  Yet it has always been a teaching in the long history of the Church that Hell, Gehenna, or the "fiery pit" is the destiny of those, who chose through their exercise of free will to decide for themselves apart from God what is good and what is good and what is evil-choosing the evil over the good.


The Existence of Hell


Pope Benedict XVI remarks on the existence of Hell: The idea of eternal damnation, which had taken ever clearer shape in the Judaism of the century or two before Christ, has a firm place in the teaching of Jesus, as well as in the apostolic writings.  Dogma takes its stand on solid ground when it speaks of the existence of hell and of the eternity of its punishments Eschatology, page 215].  If Hell does not exist how does one explain the many references to Hell/Gehenna in Sacred Scripture? 


Since there was no eternal blessing or punishment before the coming of the Messiah, there are very few Scripture passages which mention eternal punishment in the Old Testament.  The exceptions are found in Jeremiah 20:11 in which the prophet speaks of those who will reap "eternal disgrace," and Isaiah 66:24Isaiah 66:18-24 is an eschatological [the last things] discourse which speaks of the events which will take place when the Messiah establishes His kingdom: I am coming to gather every nation and every language.  They will come to witness my glory.  I shall give them a sign and send some of their survivors to the nations: to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coasts and islands that have never heard of me or seen my glory.  They will proclaim my glory to the nations, and from all the ;nations they will bring all your brothers as an offering to Yahweh, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to my holy mountain, Jerusalem, Yahweh says, like Israelites bringing offerings in clean vessels to Yahweh's house.  And some of them I shall make into priests and Levites, Yahweh says.

Question: What will be the signs of this new era?


  1. The Gentile nations will come into God's covenant family along with the sons of Israel to offer perpetual worship. 
  2. Of these who come, some will be sent out [Jews and Gentiles] to spread the message of salvation.
  3. From among those living in the Gentile nations who receive the message of salvation, some will be Israelites who were long ago scattered and lost among the Gentiles.
  4. These will return to a covenantal relationship with the One True God, like clean (holy) offerings
  5. A new priesthood will be established from among the faithful which is not based on heredity but which will be a spiritual priesthood.


The first part of this eschatological discourse speaks of Yahweh's blessings but the last part of the discourse, which continues to the end of the Book of Isaiah, prophesizes eternal punishments.  Earlier in the chapter the prophet spoke of the judgment that would fall on Jerusalem and the Temple, a prophecy which was fulfilled in 587/6BC [see Isaiah 66:5-17]: For see how Yahweh comes in fire, his chariots like the whirlwind, to assuage his anger with burning, his rebukes with flaming fire.  For by fire will Yahweh execute fair judgment, and by his sword, on all people; and Yahweh's victims will be many [Isaiah 66:15-16].  But this final passage is prophecy of an age that is the Final Age of man:  From New Moon to New Moon, from Sabbath to Sabbath, all humanity will come and bow in my presence, Yahweh says.  And on their way out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me; for their worm will never die nor their fire be put out, and they will be held in horror by all humanity [Isaiah 66:23-24].  So terrifying was this final passage of Isaiah that it has become the custom in Jewish Synagogues to end this book by repeating the promises of verse 23! [see note "n", New Jerusalem Bible, page 1293].


It is in this Final Age of man which begins with the coming of Jesus the Messiah that preaching on the existence of Hell as a place of eternal damnation becomes one of the themes of His ministry.  When Jesus spoke of the place of eternal punishment He used the Hebrew word "Gehenna."  This word is derived from the Hebrew ge-hinnom, which means "valley of Hinnom," also known in the Old Testament as "the valley of the sons(s) of Hinnom."  This valley is located south and west of the city of Jerusalem and is bordered by the Kidron Valley on the east.  The valley of Hinnom once formed the boundary between the tribal lands of Judah and Benjamin [Joshua 15:8; 18:16; Nehemiah 11:30].  During the period of the divided kingdom this valley became infamous as the site of pagan worship known as the Topheth, Aramaic for "fire-place."  It was at this site that children were sacrificed by fire as ritual offerings to false gods [see 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; 32:35].  Good King Josiah destroyed the ritual image and eliminated ritual child sacrifice in Judah [2 Kings 23:10] and the prophet Jeremiah condemned the site as perpetually cursed in Jeremiah 7:32; 19:6].  In Jesus' time the valley of Gehenna was used as the rubbish dumb and fires continually burned with huge pillars of black smoke rising from the valley.  The association of this valley with evil and the powerful image of the continual fires is probably the reason Jesus used this valley as a powerful metaphor for the eternal fire of the place of the damned.


In the Gospels Jesus speaks of both Hades the abode of the dead, which Jesus also calls "Abraham's Bosom" and Hell/Gehenna, the place of torment and eternal separation from God.

Jesus speaks of Hades/the grave in:


In the other New Testament books Hades is mentioned in:


Jesus speaks of Gehenna, the place of eternal separation which was created not for man but for Satan and his demon angels.  Jesus speaks of this place of eternal punishment more often than He speaks of heaven.  He felt an urgency to warn mankind that with eternal blessings come eternal punishments.


Jesus spoke of this place as the destination of those who commit mortal sins:

Jesus describes Gehenna as:

·        a fiery furnace in Matthew 13:42

·        an unquenchable fire in Mark 9:43

·        an "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels in Matthew 25:41


St. James mentions Gehenna in James 3:6 and St. Peter speaks of the abode of Satan and his demon angels in 2 Peter 2:4, but refers to this place by the Greek word Tartaroo.  St. Paul warns of the faithful who suffer of God's coming judgment and that those who punish them now will face the fires of Hell in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10: For God's justice will surely mean hardship being inflicted on those who are now inflicting hardship on you, and for you who are now suffering hardship, relief with us, when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven with his angels of his power.  He will come amid flaming fire, he will impose a penalty on those who do not acknowledge God and refuse to accept the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Their punishment is to a be lost eternally, excluded from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength on that day when he comes to be glorified among his holy ones and marveled at by all who believe in him; and your are among those who believed our witness.


The most descriptive Scriptural passages concerning Gehenna are found in St. John's visions in the Book of Revelation:

·        Revelation 19:20

·        Revelation 20:10, 14-15

·        Revelation 21:8


Hell: the Destination of Those who Reject the Gospel of Salvation

Question: What does the universal Catechism teach concerning the doctrine of eternal punishment for those who die in mortal sin? See CCC# 1033-37; 1861.









The main features of the Church's doctrine on hell:


Jesus taught many times on the literal existence of Hell as a place of eternal separation from God.  Read Jesus' parable comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a field planted with wheat and weeds in Matthew 13:24-30.  When His disciples fail to grasp the teaching, Jesus explains His teaching in 13:36-43.

Question:  What is the theme of Jesus' parable of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Answer: Judgment.  Those found to be fruitful "wheat" will be gathered into God's storehouse which is heaven while those found to be only useless "weeds" will be consigned to the eternal fire of Hell/Gehenna.  It is interesting that the Temple in Jerusalem was built on land that had been a threshing floor [1 Chronicles 21:21-28].  Judgment will be God's threshing floor where the good will be separated from the bad [also see Daniel 2:35].


One of Jesus most frequently quoted teachings on the subject of judgment and eternal reward and punishment is found in Jesus' teaching on the Final Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.  Please read that passage.

Question: What is essence is the result of the judgment by which one condemns oneself to eternal damnation according to Jesus' teaching.

Answer: The refusal to live the law of love in loving God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength and refusing to love one's neighbor as oneself.  When we show our Christian love to one in need we are in essence showing our love for God.  In the Final or General Judgment Jesus will separate out those of His flock'separating the loving sheep from the selfish and self-absorbed goats.


Question: Why has God created Hell/Gehenna as the destination of eternal separation for those who reject the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus?

Answer: Hell was not created for man.  Hell was created as the abode of Satan and the fallen angels, but when God allows men and women to send themselves to Hell because of lives lived in devotion to the false gods of selfishness and self-interest, He is exercising His role as a God not only of love but of justice.  It is not just that the sinner not be held accountable for his sins.  One must ask the question: "what if there was not hell, no threat of eternal punishment?  What would be man's reaction to not accountability for wickedness?  Pope John Paul II asked the question: Is not hell in a certain sense the ultimate safeguard of man's moral conscience?"  In other words, how is human freedom to choose evil over good to be held in check and how can human freedom be respected by God if it does not include the right of man to reject God, even to the point of rejecting his summons to eternal love?  Pope Benedict warns his audience in his book on eschatology that God's gift of salvation is not to be taken lightly: Human life is fully serious.... The irrevocable takes place, and that includes, then, irrevocable destruction [Eschatology, pages 217-218].  We are in essence, terrifyingly free to make the choice: eternal life or eternal death.  Hell is God's radical validation of God's respect for man as a ration being who choose to freely exercise His gift of "free will."


Question: In addition to the Eucharist, which protects and strengthens us against the temptation to sin, what other sacrament is our best safeguard against Hell?

Answer: The Sacrament of Reconciliation. 


Consider the advice of the early Church Father Tertullian, where he urges Christians to make good use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a remedy against Hell: If you are inclined to draw back from confession, consider in your heart the hell which confession extinguishes for you, and imagine first the magnitude of the penalty, so that you will not hesitate about making us of the remedy.  What do you think of that storehouse of eternal fire when certain of its smoke-holes rouse such a pressure of flames that nearby cities either already are no more, or are daily in expectation of destruction? The grandest mountains part asunder in the birth of their eternal fire, and though they part asunder, though they are devoured, yet they never come to an end, which proves to us the perpetuity of the judgment.  Who will not regard these occasional punishments inflicted on the mountains as examples of the impending judgment?  Who will not agree that such sparks are but a few missiles and random darts from some unimaginably great center?  Therefore, when you know that after the initial support of the Lord's Baptism there is still in confession a second reserve against hell, why do you desert your salvation? Why do you hesitate to approach what you know will heal you?  [Tertullian, Treatise on Repentance, circa 203AD].


Beloved, we must be vigilant that we do not fall from grace but that we remain faithful in anticipation of the Day of Judgment.  The Bishops of the Universal Council of Vatican II urge the faithful in Lumen Gentium #48:  Since, however, we know not the day nor the hour, on our Lord's advice we must be constantly vigilant so that, having finished the course of our earthly life (cf. Heb 9:27), we may merit to enter into the marriage feast with him and to be numbered among the blessed (cf. Mt 25:31-46), and that we may not be ordered to go into eternal fire...  [..]  For before we reign with Christ in glory, all of us will be made manifest "before the tribunal of Christ, so that each one may receive what he has won through the body, according to his works, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:10), and at the end of the world, "They who have done good shall come forth unto resurrection of life; but those who have done evil unto resurrection of judgment" (Jn 5:29; cf. Mt 25:46). 


Catechism References:


1033-34: definition of Hell

1034: a consequence of the continual rejection of God

1035: chief punishment is the eternal separation from God

1036: the Church's teaching

1037: validation of man's free will in willfully turning away from God

1861: mortal sin is he cause of eternal death


Resources used in this lesson:

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  2. New Jerusalem Bible
  3. Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II, 1999.
  4. Dogmatic Theology: Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, Johann Auer, Joseph Ratzinger, Catholic University of America Press, 1988.
  5. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, edited by Russell Shaw, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Huntington, Indiana, 1997.
  6. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, volume 5, Christian Classics, Benziger Bros., New York, 1948
  7. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, volume 2:  Augustine:  City of God, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  8. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, volume 3: Augustine: On the Trinity, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  9. The Baltimore Catechism volume 4, Rev. Thomas Kinkeade, Tan Books Publishers, 1978.
  10. The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, editor William Jurgens, Liturgical Press, 1970.
  11. The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, 1999.

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