The Hell There Is!

The Bible and the Church Fathers on Eternal Hell, and Conscious, Eternal Torment


Michael casts out rebel angels. Illustration by Gustave Doré for John Milton's Paradise Lost.The Hell There Is! The Bible and Church Fathers on Eternal Hell

It is clear, people don't like the idea of an eternal (or never ending) hell (a state or 'place' of torment and punishment). In fact, a growing number of Christians today ('conservative' evangelicals among them) do not accept the orthodox, traditional doctrine of an eternal hell, and suggest that the Bible, properly interpreted, does not teach it, and even the Church Fathers or early saints and Councils, did not believe it. This article will be a detailed examination of that question, primarily from an orthodox Catholic perspective. Does the Bible teach, and do the early Church Fathers, saints, bishops, and Ecumenical Councils teach an eternal hell, meaning a conscious, 'everlasting punishment' or 'eternal torment' in a "place" called "Hell" ? Previously I had written on this subject (about 20 years ago), see:

Examination of Conditional Immortality, Soul Sleep, and Annihilationism by P. (myself, defending the orthodox, traditional doctrine against various 'conditionalists' and 'annihilationists')

This article will cover more on the 'eternal' nature of hell (contra 'Annihilationism' and 'Conditionalism'), in particular a large collection of writings from the early Catholic Church (Fathers, Saints, Bishops, etc) and commentary from prominent Church historians and experts on the subject (e.g. Fr. William Jurgens, Ludwig Ott, and especially, Brian E. Daley, SJ on Christian eschatology).

[ Picture right: St. Michael the Archangel casts out the rebel angels. Illustration by Gustave Dore for John Milton's Paradise Lost. ]


Internet quotes on "hell" from various unorthodox sites (with respect to the traditional doctrine):

  •  "Conditionalists" (immortality is 'conditioned' on receiving eternal life, i.e. the soul is not 'immortal') or
  • "Annihilationists" (there is no eternal hell, unbelievers shall be annihilated, i.e. cease to exist) or
  • "Universalists" (all persons will eventually be saved and go to heaven forever) :

"...many Christians insist that if you question hell, you are rejecting what has always been agreed upon by the Church, yet the doctrine of eternal torment was not a widely held view for the first five centuries after Christ [emphasis mine] particularly in the early Eastern Church, the Church of the early apostles and Church fathers such as Paul [sic], Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, and others." ("How & When The Idea of Eternal Torment Invaded Church Doctrine" from http://brazenchurch.com/how-hell-invaded-church-doctrine/ )

"...evangelical conditionalists hold to a resurrection for the wicked who are to face final judgment. Afterwards, they will be utterly destroyed in what the Bible calls the second death. It is really not all that different from the traditional view; the main area of difference has to do with the duration of conscious torment.... [on history]...the majority of the church has believed and taught the traditional view of hell since at best [emphasis mine] the time of Augustine." ( from "Rethinking Hell" site http://rethinkinghell.com/explore/ )

"....I have dozens of quotes from the early Church Fathers that universally taught universal salvation .... now you can go to Tentmaker.org and get all this information...." (Gary Amirault, Tentmaker Ministries, in response to Jerry Walls on Lee Strobel's 'Faith Under Fire')"

"There is no documentation that the church councils of the first four centuries embraced the doctrine of 'eternal punishment.' The church councils at Nice [sic] in A.D. 325, at Constantinople in A.D. 381, at Ephesus in A.D. 431 and at Chalcedon in A.D. 451 never embraced this doctrine. In contrast, there is documented evidence that many church leaders and teachers of the first centuries A.D. wrote acclaiming the doctrine of universal salvation or 'ultimate reconciliation', none of whom were censored. It was not until 553 A.D. that the Roman Catholic Church denounced the teaching of ultimate reconciliation as heresy." ("Eternal Punishment: Is It Really of God?" from www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/etpunish.html )

"...The truth is that several Early Church Fathers did teach eternal torment, and others may well have believed it without saying so. But to those with a bit of knowledge about early church history I put the question: How many can you think of in the first couple of centuries who actually taught it?" ("History of Hell | Hell before Augustine" from  www.afterlife.co.nz/2013/05/history-of-hell/ )


Catholic Teaching on Eternal Hell, and Conscious, Eternal Torment

Whether you are a Christian or not, this is not a pleasant or comfortable topic to study or think about. NOBODY likes the 'idea' of HELL. However, if it is TRUE, it is clearly very important as it deals with our eternal destiny. Unlike most Internet sites, I will be documenting this article from the best scholarly sources I can find (see Recommended Sources).

What I will present now is a definition and defense of the orthodox, traditional doctrine of an eternal hell from

  1. official Catholic teaching (this section), to make the doctrine clear;
  2. the Bible, primarily the New Testament;
  3. the Church Fathers (covering at least the first 400 years of Christianity, up to and including St. Augustine of Hippo), and
  4. early Church history (some post-apostolic writings that are relevant, with commentary).

I do not deal with the emotional or difficult philosophical/moral objections to this teaching. I admit it can be hard to accept or explain such a belief in light of a God of love, mercy and forgiveness. That may be the subject of a future article on this site (see books and links at end for some further answers).

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition, 1997) :

I. THE PARTICULAR JUDGMENT

1021. Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. [592] The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul -- a destiny which can be different for some and for others. [593]

1022. Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven -- through a purification [594] or immediately, [595] -- or immediate and everlasting damnation. [596]

At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love. [597]

NOTES:

[592] Cf. 2 Tim 1:9-10.
[593] Cf. Luke 16:22; 23:43; Matt 16:26; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; Heb 9:27; 12:23.
[594] Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274):DS 857-858; Council of Florence (1439) : DS 1304- 1306; Council of Trent (1563) : DS 1820.
[595] Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000-1001; John XXII, Ne super his (1334) : DS 990.
[596] Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1002.
[597] St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64.

[Then a section on heaven and purgatory . . . which I will skip for now . . .]

IV. HELL

1033. We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "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." [612] Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. [613] To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

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. [614] Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," [615] and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!" [616]

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." [617] 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.

1036. The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "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." [618]

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth." [619]

1037. God predestines no one to go to hell; [620] for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance" : [621]

Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen. [622]

V. THE LAST JUDGMENT

1038. The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust," [623] will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." [624] Then Christ will come "in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." [625] .....

NOTES

[612] 1 John 3:14-15.
[613] Cf. Matt 25:31-46.
[614] Cf. Matt 5:22,29; 10:28; 13:42,50; Mk 9:43-48.
[615] Matt 13:41-42.
[616] Matt 25:41.
[617] Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG - 12.
[618] Matt 7:13-14.
[619] LG 48 - 3; Matt 22:13; cf. Heb 9:27; Matt 25:13,26,30,31-46.
[620] Cf. Council of Orange II (529) : DS 397; Council of Trent (1547) : 1567.
[621] 2 Peter 3:9.
[622] Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88.
[623] Acts 24:15.
[624] John 5:28-29.
[625] Matt 25:31,32,46.


Scripture on Eternal Hell, and Conscious, Eternal Torment

Now that we have an explanation of this teaching from the official Catholic source, let us expand this from Scripture. Note that this is presented from a traditional, orthodox Catholic perspective, not merely from a 'sola scriptura' (or 'Bible only') viewpoint (which I believe to be an error itself). Although Scripture is certainly 'profitable' and important for doctrine, for correction, for 'instruction in righteousness', etc (2 Tim 3:15-17) it is not sufficient in establishing or 'proving' Christian doctrine since our private interpretations of Scripture differ and are contradictory (witness the 'thousands' of Protestant denominations and sects that exist, etc). On this very issue, we have so-called Bible-believing and 'evangelical' Christians who teach:

  • the traditional, orthodox Catholic doctrine (that hell is eternal and signifies punishment or torment -- this is the majority view among all Christians);
  • those who espouse 'annihilationism' (that the 'punishment' is temporary and the sinner is annihilated or extinguished or brought to non-existence or non-being);
  • and/or 'conditionalism' (that only the Christian believer has continued existence or 'eternal life' and that the 'soul' sleeps or is unconscious at death);
  • Christian 'universalism' (everyone eventually goes to heaven and is 'saved' by Christ -- a much smaller minority believes this).

These all claim 'Scriptural support' for their beliefs. This proves that our personal interpretations of Scripture are not 'definitive' nor 'binding' on all Christians, i.e. what is to be believed as true and 'essential' by all, etc. In evangelical or 'Protestant' understanding, we simply have to 'agree to disagree', etc. In Catholic understanding, what is to be believed by ALL Christians is reserved for the unique role of the Magisterium or 'teaching authority' of the Catholic Church. Catholics and Protestants (and Orthodox, and other Christians, etc) disagree on the nature of authority here, but we can agree that the Scriptures are A infallible rule of faith for determining Christian doctrine. So let us 'search the Scriptures' (cf. John 5:39; Acts 17:11) and see what we can find on the nature of 'hell' from the most explicit and clearest texts (there may be disagreement on what those are, but several of them were already referred to above in the Catechism).

The New Testament (NT)

Eternal Hell from Repentence Cry Ministries Here is what Jesus and the biblical writers have said about hell (Gehenna is the primary word used), its eternality, and its nature. Hell is described by our Lord in such terrible, forceful and fearful language as the following (mainly from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was often speaking to and debating the scribes and Pharisees, his primary 'opponents') :

  • "the fire of hell [Gehenna]" (Matt 5:22);
  • "thrown into the fiery [or blazing] furnace" (Matt 13:42,50);
  • "thrown [or cast] into eternal fire" (Matt 18:8);
  • "thrown [or cast] into the fire of hell" (Matt 18:9);
  • "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (e.g. Matt 13:42,50; and below);
  • "cast out [or throw] into [the] outer darkness" (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30);
  • "Depart from Me ... into the eternal fire" (Matt 25:41);
  • "These will go away into eternal punishment" (Matt 25:46);
  • "unquenchable fire" (Matt 3:12; Luke 3:17);
  • the rich man (Dives, by tradition) and Lazarus story which clearly talks about the rich man dying and being "in hell [Hades]"
  • where he was conscious and "in torment" experiencing a "place of torment"
  • and being "tormented in this flame" [or "in agony in this fire"] (Luke 16:19-31) -- Is this merely a parable? Why?
  • "cast into hell fire [Gehenna] . . . "
  • ". . .where the fire [Gehenna] never goes out (or shall never be quenched) [3x] . . . "
  • ". . .where their worm does not die [3x]" (Mark 9:43-48).

If Christ was trying to convey the simple idea of 'death' meaning unconsciousness or extinction, or cessation of being, or utter annihilation or total 'destruction' or completely 'consuming' of existence where 'nothing' of us is left, etc, so that the person WILL EXIST NO MORE, then why use such ETERNAL language? Why use phrases meaning to 'cast out' or 'throw into' something? Why use the language of PUNISHMENT or FIRE or TORMENT or OUTER DARKNESS at all? Why not use these phrases instead:

  • "will die"
  • "will be consumed"
  • "shall perish"
  • "shall be destroyed"
  • "will be snuffed out"
  • "will end"
  • "will stop existing"
  • "shall be reduced to nothing"
  • "utterly vanished to non-existence of being"
  • "completely annihilated so they will be no more"
  • "temporary fire" or "quenchable fire"
  • "brief punishment" or "tormented for a day"
  • "where the fire [or punishment or torment] is temporary and goes out [or stops or ends]"
  • "where the worm dies" and "they die with their worms", etc.

Or similar clearer phrases for death, or destruction, or annihilation, obliteration, extinction of being, temporary duration, etc. Now Christ and the NT writers DO use SOME of these terms (namely death/die and perish/destroy) which will have to be explained for a comprehensive view. However, we should START with the most explicit and difficult and clear passages of the orthodox, traditional doctrine and not IGNORE OR AVOID THEM or wait until later to cover them. Deal with them up front.

Furthermore, we have these statements from St. Paul, St. Jude, St. Peter, and St. John:

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power . . . (2 Thess 1:7-9 NIV)

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling -- these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day [of Judgment]. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 6-7 NIV)

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell [Tartarus -- a different word than Gehenna], putting them in chains [or 'pits'] of darkness to be held for judgment . . . the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:4,9 NIV)

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." (Rev 14:9-11 NIV)

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever . . . . Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:10,15 NIV)

The plain reading of all these passages above is that the FIRE connected with Gehenna, "prepared for the devil and his angels", where unrepentent sinners and unbelievers go . . .

  • is ETERNAL, i.e. it lasts forever and ever, without end (Matt 18:8; 25:41,46; Jude 7)
  • is UNQUENCHABLE, i.e. it will never die out or be put out (Matt 3:12; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 3:17)
  • signifies PUNISHMENT and TORMENT and NOT 'annihilation' or non-existence (Matt 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; Rev 14:9-11; 20:10)

These are the strongest texts that could be brought forward (in my opinion) for the orthodox traditional view. What is the response to such texts from those who wish to DENY that hell is eternal and/or doesn't involve eternal punishment and torment? There are several objections, both biblical and philosophical / theological / moral and I may deal with those in a future article. Sorry to cut this short, but this article was becoming way too long. Kind of like, well, hell.

I'll end this section with what must be believed (what is -De Fide- or "Of divine and Catholic Faith") from an orthodox Catholic perspective (see Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, his section on "Last Things" or Eschatology, pages 473-496) on heaven, hell, and purgatory. For an ecumenical book on this subject, I would recommend the book Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama by Jerry L. Walls (Brazos Press, 2015).

  • In the present order of salvation, death is a punishment for sin. (De fide)
  • All human beings subject to original sin are subject to the law of death. (De fide)
  • The souls of the just which in the moment of death are free from all guilt of sin and punishment for sin, enter into Heaven. (De fide)
  • The bliss of Heaven lasts for all eternity. (De fide)
  • The souls of those who die in the condition of personal grievous (or mortal) sin enter Hell. (De fide)
  • The punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity. (De fide)
  • The souls of the just which, in the moment of death, are burdened with venial sins or temporal punishment due to sins, enter Purgatory. (De fide)
  • All the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodies. (De fide)
  • At the end of the world Christ will come again in glory to pronounce judgment. (De fide)

Church Fathers on Eternal Hell, and Conscious, Eternal Torment

ALL FATHERS SUMMARY  No unknown

unknownBarnabas | Clement (Rome) | Ignatius | Justin | Polycarp | Diognetus | Tatian | Athenagorus | Theophilus | Irenaeus | Clement (Alex)

Tertullian | Hippolytus | Marcus | Cyprian | Lactantius | Cyril (Jeru) | Basil | unknownGregory (Naz) | unknownGregory (Nys) | unknownJerome | John Chrys | Augustine

This section covers about twenty+ individual Church Fathers, bishops, saints, or Christian writers from the early Church (from Barnabas and Clement's "Letters" in the first century to St. Augustine's writings in the early fifth century). After having collected and studied these patristic selections (my primary sources are Akin's The Fathers Know Best and Fr. Willis The Teachings of the Church Fathers along with commentary from Fr. Daley and others, etc) I discovered these writers are very clear about the eternity of hell, eternal fire, and eternal punishment (although not the precise 'nature' of these where Scripture itself does not provide the 'details'). With the possibility of Origen (and those later influenced by his writings), there are NO 'conditionalists' or 'annihilationists' or strict 'universalists' among the Church Fathers. As unpleasant as the HELL doctrine is, it was a UNANIMOUS teaching of the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, most later Protestant communities, and especially the earliest Fathers, Bishops, and Saints.

"...the Fathers, from the very earliest times, are unanimous in teaching that the wicked will be punished after death. And in proof of their doctrine they appeal both to Scripture and to reason [references to Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc are provided]....The Church professes her faith in the Athanasian Creed: 'They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire'.... The Church has repeatedly defined this truth, e.g. in the profession of faith made in the Second Council of Lyons...and in the Decree of Union in the Council of Florence...'the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments' (poenis disparibus)." (Catholic Encyclopedia [1913], article "Hell")

"The Fathers unanimously attest the reality of hell [Ignatius, Justin, Polycarp, Irenaeus are cited] .... The Fathers before Origen unanimously affirm the eternal duration of the punishment of hell [again: Ignatius, Justin, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian are cited]. Origen's denial proceeded from the Platonic doctrinal opinion that the purpose of all punishment is the improvement of the delinquent. Origen was followed by St. Gregory of Nyssa [discussed below], St. Didymus of Alexandria and Evagrius Ponticus. St. Augustine defends the endless duration of hell-punishment against the Origenists and against 'the merciful ones' .... " (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott, page 480-482)

NOTE: Origen of Alexandria (c. third century AD) would have to be covered separately on his unorthodox teachings (i.e. the pre-existence of souls, and the 'apokatastasis' or universal reconciliation derived from his doctrine that all will eventually be saved). He has never been considered a 'Saint' of the Catholic Church for that reason (e.g. the 'Origenist' controversies of the later centuries). Fr. William Jurgens, in his classic three-volume work The Faith of the Early Fathers, describes Origen's teachings this way:

"The disputes known as the Origenist controversies, in respect to the orthodoxy of his doctrine, arose never during his life, but three times after his death: c. A.D. 300, c. A.D. 400, and c. A.D. 550. He was a great scholar and a great theologian, and strove always to be Catholic in his faith. Yet, he came finally to be regarded as a heretic, which accounts largely for the fact that so many of his writings have perished entirely....It is generally stated that Origen's heresies are nowhere clearer than in his work on 'The Fundamental Doctrines' [De principiis]. Nevertheless, it should be noted that he is generally very careful to distinguish between Catholic doctrine and his own speculations, which latter he presents as no more than possibilities which would have to stand the test of acceptance or rejection in the teaching Church. The work undoubtedly suffers from an overly active Platonic influence, and from allegorical interpretation of Scripture; yet, it stands firmly and immovably and without pretence as neither more nor less than a theological monument of absolutely epic proportions." (Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, volume 1, page 189-190)

Although an important early ecclesiastical writer, he is excluded from this list below which covers mostly orthodox saints and bishops of the Church.

Edward Fudge, the author of the largest 'biblical' defense of annihilationism (The Fire That Consumes) has to acknowledge:

"...[on the Fathers and Doctors of the Church] the overwhelming view of the church -- the view that became orthodoxy for Catholics and Protestants alike -- was everlasting conscious torment....[on the modernist / fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century].... The fundamentalists insisted that heaven and hell both are real. But the fundamentalists also insisted that hell will be exactly like the traditional hell of unending conscious torment. And they were so sure of themselves on this point that they looked with total suspicion on anyone who even raised a question about unending conscious torment, or who suggested that the Bible might actually teach something else." (Fudge, Hell: A Final Word, page 153, 157)

The 'Rethinking Hell' site represented by various evangelical 'conditionalists' and 'annihilationists' states:

"...the majority of the church has believed and taught the traditional view of hell since at best [emphasis mine] the time of Augustine." ( from http://rethinkinghell.com/explore/ )

AT BEST? Don't you mean 'at least' ? 'At best' implies we can't go further back than St. Augustine and might even have to rely on later theologians (who? Dante?) in history. Even 'at least' wouldn't be correct since we can definitely go back BEFORE St. Augustine for the traditional, orthodox teaching on eternal hell. Michael McClymond of St. Louis Univ (author of the large two-volume The Devil's Redemption) states in a talk on the history of 'universalism' :

"The idea that the early Church was a 'universalist' Church, then along came the big bad Augustine, in City of God, you know and [he] just suddenly squelched that, this is completely contradicted by the evidence from the apostolic Fathers. If you look at [the] 2nd century, before Origen, there is ZERO evidence of ANY Christian belief in universalism, prior to Origen's De Principiis. So [the] 2nd century Church: Tertullian, Justin Martyr, the epistles of Clement [of Rome], so-called First and Second epistles of Clement, the epistle of Barnabas, [we have] Hell, Hell, Hell, you have Hell, Heaven, Judgment, Fire, it's pervasive throughout there." (Michael McClymond, in 2013 talk on "History of Universalism" to the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding)

We will see this is definitely the case, with all the Church Fathers and early ecclesiastical writers (with few exceptions) up to and including St. Augustine, clearly teaching the traditional view of an eternal and conscious hell. Following these patristic citations will be documentation and commentary from prominent Church historians. It will also cover (briefly) the controversial and unorthodox teaching of the 'Origenists' (from Origen of Alexandria, c. early third century A.D.)

=====

Epistle or Letter of Barnabas (c. 70-130 AD)

[translated from Early Christian Writings]

Of the way of darkness, that is, what kind of persons will forever be cast out of the kingdom of God.

But the way of darkness is crooked and full of cursing. For it is the way of eternal death, with punishment, in which those that walk will meet those things that destroy their own souls [i.e. destroy = ruin or loss or corruption, e.g. Matt 10:28; 16:26-27; Mark 8:36; etc]. Such are: idolatry, confidence, pride of power, hypocrisy, double-mindedness, adultery, murder, pillage, pride, transgression, deceit, malice, arrogance, witchcraft, covetousness, and the lack of the fear of God....It is therefore appropriate that, learning the just commands of the Lord we have before mentioned, we should walk in them. For he who does such things will be glorified in the kingdom of God. But he who chooses the other part will be destroyed, together with his works. For this reason there will be both a resurrection, and a retribution. I implore those that are in high estate among you (if you will take the counsel that with a good intention I offer to you), do not forsake those with you towards whom you may do good. For the day is at hand in which all things will be destroyed, together with the wicked one. The Lord is near, and his reward is with him. (ibid, chapter 15)

[ NOTE: .... the way of darkness is the way of eternal death, with punishment, where we destroy (or perish, or ruin, or lose) our souls, etc. There is both a resurrection, and a retribution or punishment. The day is at hand where all these things will be destroyed, together with the wicked one, etc. (e.g. Matt 10:28; 16:26-27; 25:41,46; Mark 8:36; 2 Thess 1:5-10; Rev 14:9-11; 20:10-15; etc). One could possibly argue 'annihilation' from this passage (assuming the meaning of 'destroy' or 'perish' means a cessation of existence, which it does not), but also the orthodox, traditional view is seen here. ] 

=====

St. Clement of Rome (80/95 AD or pseudo-Clement, 2nd century AD)

[translated from the Ante-Nicene Christian Library, by Roberts/Donaldson]

Wherefore, brethren, leaving [willingly] our sojourn in this present world, let us do the will of Him that called us, and not fear to depart out of this world. For the Lord saith, 'Ye shall be as lambs in the midst of wolves.' [Matt 10:16] And Peter answered and said unto Him, [an agraphon, or oral saying] 'What, then, if the wolves shall tear in pieces the lambs?' Jesus said unto Peter, 'The lambs have no cause after they are dead to fear [or, "Let not the lambs fear"] the wolves; and in like manner, fear not ye them that kill you, and can do nothing more unto you; but fear Him who, after you are dead, has power over both soul and body to cast them into hellfire.' [Matt 10:28; Luke 12:4-5] And consider [or "know"] brethren, that the sojourning in the flesh in this world is but brief and transient, but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful, even the rest of the kingdom to come, and of life everlasting [text and translation are here doubtful]. By what course of conduct, then, shall we attain these things, but by leading a holy and righteous life, and by deeming these worldly things as not belonging to us, and not fixing our desires upon them? For if we desire to possess them, we fall away from the path of righteousness. (Second Clement, 5)

But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, 'There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!' (Second Clement, 17) [another translation:]

It is of the great day of judgment he speaks, when they shall see those among us who were guilty of ungodliness and erred in their estimate of the commands of Jesus Christ. The righteous, having succeeded in enduring the trials and hating the indulgences of the soul, whenever they witness how those who have swerved and denied Jesus by words or deeds are punished with grievous torments in fire unquenchable, will give glory to their God and say, 'There will be hope for him who has served God with his whole heart.' (Second Clement, 17; from Akin, The Fathers Know Best, page 393)

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St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107 AD)

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 [who has] become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him. (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1-2) [other translations:]

Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be true of anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Anyone becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall everyone who listens unto him. (Chapter 16; from Akin, Fathers, page 393)

Make no mistake, brethren; the corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those are dead who do these things according to the flesh, how much worse if, with bad doctrine, one should corrupt the faith of God for which Jesus Christ was crucified. Such a man, for becoming contaminated, will depart into unquenchable fire; and will any one who listens to him.  (Chapter 16; from Willis, Teachings, page 458)

Do not err, my brethren. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him. (Chapter 16) For this end did the Lord allow the ointment to be poured upon His head, that He might breathe immortality into His Church. Be not anointed with the bad odor of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish [i.e. the idea here is corruption, ruin, loss, etc] not recognizing the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us? (Chapter 17; from NewAdvent.org - St. Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians)

[ NOTE: .... those who do not inherit the kingdom of God are corrupted, they experience ruin, loss, they perish, they are corrupted or defiled or contaminated by evil teaching, or wicked doctrine, etc. And if these according to the flesh (while on earth) suffer death, how much more (in the afterlife) shall these go away into unquenchable or everlasting fire, etc. ]

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St. Justin Martyr (c. 150 AD)

No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments. (First Apology 12) [another translation:]

And more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in promoting peace, seeing that we hold this view, that it is impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and for the virtuous to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. For if all men knew this, no one would choose wickedness even for a little, knowing that he goes to the everlasting punishment of fire but would by all means restrain himself, and adorn himself with virtue, that he might obtain the good gifts of God, and escape the punishments. (First Apology, 12; Akin, Fathers, page 393-394)

But, as we have said above, wicked devils perpetrated these things. And we have learned that only those are deified who have lived near God in holiness and virtue; and we believe that those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire. (First Apology, 21, Akin, Fathers, page 394)

[Jesus] 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. (First Apology, 52). [or another translation:]

[Jesus] shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by his angelic host, when he shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe the worthy with immortality, and shall send the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils. (ibid, 52; Akin, Fathers, page 394).

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Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155 AD)

Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire. (Martyrdom, 2:3) [or another translation:]

[The martyrs] despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by [the suffering of] a single hour. For this reason the fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them. For they kept before their view the escape from that fire that is eternal and shall never be quenched. (ibid 2:3, Akin, Fathers, page 394)

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Epistle or Letter to Diognetus (c. 160 AD)

Then you will see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe]; then you will begin to speak the mysteries of God; then will you love and admire those who suffer punishment because they will not deny God; then will you condemn the deceit and error of the world when you will know what it is to live truly in heaven, when you will despise what is here esteemed to be death, when you will fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which will afflict those even to the end who are committed to it. Then will you admire those who for righteousness' sake endure the fire that is but for a moment [i.e. on this earth] and will count them happy when you will know [the nature of] that fire. (To Diognetus 10; Akin, Fathers, page 394-395)  [or another translation:]

You will condemn the deceit and error of the world as soon as you realize that true life is in heaven, and depise the seeming death in this world, and fear the real death which is reserved for those who are to be condemned to eternal fire which shall torment forever those who are committed to it. When you have faith, you will admire those who, for the sake of what is right, bear the temporal fire, [i.e. in this present world] and you will think them blessed when you come to know that fire. (To Diognetus; Willis, Teachings, page 463)

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Tatian the Syrian (c. 160 AD)

We who are now easily susceptible to death, will afterwards receive immortality with either enjoyment or with pain. (Ante-Nicene Fathers [ANF] 1.71)

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St. Athenagoras of Athens (c. 177 AD)

We [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one.... Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul.... or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated. (Plea for the Christians 31)

[ NOTE: ... God has NOT made us as the animals or 'beasts of burden' that we should (merely) 'perish [die] and be annihilated', but we shall live another life, one with God, or without God, for the latter is 'a worse one and in fire' where one is NOT 'free from suffering in the soul' ....]

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St. Theophilus of Antioch (c. 181 AD)

Give studious attention to the prophetic writings [the Bible] and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God.... [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things.... For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire. (To Autolycus 1:14) [another translation:]

But do you also, if you please, give reverential attention to the prophetic Scriptures, and they will make your way plainer for escaping the eternal punishments, and obtaining the eternal prizes of God....To those who by patient continuance in well-doing [Rom 2:7] seek immortality, he will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest, and abundance of good things.... But to the unbelieving and despisers, who obey not the truth, but are obedience to unrighteousness, when they have been filled with adulteries and fornications, and filthiness, and covetousness, and unlawful idolatries, there shall be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish [Rom 2:8-9], and at the last everlasting fire shall possess such men. (To Autolycus 1:14; Akin, Fathers, page 395-396)

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St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 180-199 AD)

...Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, 'every knee should bow, of things in heaven,, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess' to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send 'spiritual wickednesses,' and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning of their Christian course, and others from the date of their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory. (Against Heresies 1:10:1)

The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming... [it] is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, 'Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,' they will be damned forever. (Against Heresies 4:28:2) [another translation with context:]

Inasmuch, then, as in both Testaments there is the same righteousness of God [displayed] when God takes vengeance, in the one case indeed typically, temporarily, and more moderately; but in the other, really, enduringly, and more rigidly: for the fire is eternal, and the wrath of God which shall be revealed from heaven from the face of our Lord (as David also says, "But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth"), entails a heavier punishment on those who incur it -- the elders pointed out that those men are devoid of sense, who, [arguing] from what happened to those who formerly did not obey God, do endeavour to bring in another Father, setting over against [these punishments] what great things the Lord had done at His coming to save those who received Him, taking compassion upon them; while they keep silence with regard to His judgment; and all those things which shall come upon such as have heard His words, but done them not, and 'that it were better for them if they had not been born' [Matt 26:24] and that 'it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the judgment' than for that city which did not receive the word of His disciples. [Matt 10:15]

For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire," [Matt 25:41] these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity," [Matt 25:34] these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word. (Against Heresies 4:28; translated from NewAdvent.org) [and this commentary on bodies and souls and the 'rich man' named by tradition 'Dives' and Lazarus:]

The Lord has taught with very great fullness, that souls not only continue to exist, not by passing from body to body [e.g. false idea of 'reincarnation', etc], but that they preserve the same form [in their separate state] as the body had to which they were adapted, and that they remember the deeds which they did in this state of existence, and from which they have now ceased -- in that narrative which is recorded respecting the rich man and that Lazarus who found repose in the bosom of Abraham. In this account He states [Luke 16:19-31, etc.] that Dives knew Lazarus after death, and Abraham in like manner, and that each one of these persons continued in his own proper position, and that [Dives] requested Lazarus to be sent to relieve him -- [Lazarus], on whom he did not [formerly] bestow even the crumbs [which fell] from his table. [He tells us] also of the answer given by Abraham, who was acquainted not only with what respected himself, but Dives also, and who enjoined those who did not wish to come into that place of torment to believe Moses and the prophets, and to receive the preaching of Him who was to rise again from the dead. By these things, then, it is plainly declared that souls continue to exist that they do not pass from body to body [i.e. no 'reincarnation'], that they possess the form of a man, so that they may be recognised, and retain the memory of things in this world; moreover, that the gift of prophecy was possessed by Abraham, and that each class [of souls] receives a habitation such as it has deserved, even before the [Final Day of ] judgment.

But if any persons at this point maintain that those souls, which only began a little while ago to exist, cannot endure for any length of time; but that they must, on the one hand, either be unborn, in order that they may be immortal [i.e. the false Greek idea, etc], or if they have had a beginning in the way of generation [i.e. an alternate Christian idea, etc], that they should die with the body itself -- let them learn that God alone, who is Lord of all, is without beginning and without end [e.g. Psalm 90:2, 1 Timothy 6:16], being truly and for ever the same, and always remaining the same unchangeable Being. But all things which proceed from Him, whatsoever have been made, and are made, do indeed receive their own beginning of generation, and on this account are inferior to Him who formed them, inasmuch as they are not unbegotten. Nevertheless they endure, and extend their existence into a long series of ages in accordance with the will of God their Creator; so that He grants them that they should be thus formed at the beginning, and that they should so exist afterwards. (Against Heresies 2:34:1-2; translated from NewAdvent.org)

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St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 AD)

Do not you judge who is worthy or who is unworthy. For it is possible you may be mistaken in your opinion. As in the uncertainty of ignorance it is better to do good to the undeserving for the sake of the deserving, than by guarding against those that are less good to fail to meet in with the good. For though sparing, and aiming at testing, who will receive meritoriously or not, it is possible for you to neglect some that are loved by God; the penalty for which is the punishment of eternal fire. (Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, 33; MG 9:637; ANF II:600; Willis, Teachings, page 465)

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Tertullian of Carthage (c. 200 AD)

These have further set before us the proofs He has given of His majesty in judgments by floods and fires, the rules appointed by Him for securing His favor, as well as the retribution in store for the ignoring, forsaking and keeping them, as being about at the end of all to adjudge His worshippers to everlasting life, and the wicked to the doom of fire at once without ending and without break, raising up again all the dead from the beginning, reforming and renewing them with the object of awarding either recompense. (Apology 18:3)

Then will the entire race of men be restored to receive its just deserts according to what it has merited in this period of good and evil, and thereafter to have these paid out in an immeasurable and unending eternity. Then there will be neither death again nor resurrection again, but we shall be always the same as we are now, without changing. The worshipers of God shall always be with God, clothed in the proper substance of eternity. But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending, and they shall have from the very nature of this fire, divine as it were, a supply of incorruptibility. (Apology 48). [another translation reads:]

Then the whole human race shall be raised again, to have its dues meted out according to what it merited in the period of good or evil, and then to have these paid out through the immeasurable ages of eternity. After this there is neither death nor repeated resurrections, but we shall be the same that we are now, and still unchanged -- the servants of God, ever with God, clothed with the proper substance of eternity; but the profane, and all who are not true worshippers of God, shall be consigned to the punishment of everlasting fire -- that fire that, from its very nature, directly ministers to their incorruptibility. (Apology 48; Akin, Fathers, page 396)

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St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 220 AD)

Standing before [Christ's] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: 'Just is your judgment!' And the righteousness of that cry will be  apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them. (Against Plato [the Greeks] 3) [another translation reads:]

And being present at his judicial decision, all men and angels and demons, shall utter one voice, saying, 'Righteous is your judgment,' in which voice the justification will be seen in the awarding to each what is just; since those who have done well shall righteously be assigned eternal bliss, and the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment. And the fire that is unquenchable and without end awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm that does not die, and that does not waste the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no voice of interceding friends will profit them. (Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe 3; Akin, Fathers, page 397)

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(Marcus) Minucius Felix (c. 226 AD)

I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment... Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments. That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them, just as fiery thunderbolts strike bodies but do not consume them. (Octavius 34-35) [another translation reads:]

And I am not ignorant that many, conscious of what they deserve, desire rather than believe that they shall be nothing after death; for they would prefer to be altogether extinguished than to be restored for the purpose of punishment..... There is no measure or termination to these torments. The intelligent fire burns the limbs and restores them, feeds on them and nourishes them, as the fires of the thunderbolts strike the bodies, and do not consume them. (Octavius 34-35; Akin, Fathers, page 397) [another translation reads:]

Nor is there set any limit or end to these torments. The fire there below, endowed with ingenuity, consumes and renews, wears away and sustains the limbs. As the fiery flashes of lightning strike the bodies without consuming them, as the fires of Etna, and Vesuvius, and volcanoes all the world over burn without being exhausted, so that avenging fire is not fed by destroying those who are exposed to the flames, but is sustained by the never ending mangling of their bodies. That those who do not know God are tortured for their impiety and injustice according to their deserts, none but an atheist can doubt, since the crime of ignoring the Father and Lord of all is not less than that of offending Him. And, although ignorance of God is sufficient reason for punishment, just as knowledge of Him helps to obtain His pardon, still, if we Christians are compared with you, although some fail to come up to the standard of our teaching, we shall be found far better than you. (Octavius 35; Willis, Teachings, page 40)

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St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250 AD)

An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies.... The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life. (To Demetrian, 24) [another translation:]

An ever-burning Gehenna and a devouring punishment of lively flames will consume the condemned, and there will be no means whereby the torments can at any time have respite and end. Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering.... Then there will be the pain of punishment without the fruit of repentance, useless weeping, and ineffectual prayer. Too late do they believe in eternal punishment who were unwilling to believe in eternal life. (To Demetrian, 24; Willis, Teachings, page 452)

Oh, what and how great will that day be at its coming, beloved brethren, when the Lord shall begin to count up His people, and to recognize the deservings of each one by the inspection of His divine knowledge, to send the guilty to Gehenna, and to set on fire our persecutors with the perpetual burning of a penal fire, but to pay to us the reward of our faith and devotion! .... When that revelation shall come, when that glory of God shall shine upon us, we shall be as happy and joyful, honoured with the condescension of God, as they will remain guilty and wretched, who, either as deserters from God or rebels against him, have done the will of the devil, so that it is necessary for them to be tormented with the devil himself in unquenchable fire. (To Thibaris, Letters 58:10; see Willis, Teachings, page 465-466)

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St. Lactantius (c. 307 AD)

But, however, the sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment. For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding forever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire.... The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment.... Then they whose piety shall have been approved of will receive the reward of immortality; but they whose sins and crimes shall have been brought to light will not rise again, but will be hidden in the same darkness with the wicked, being destined to certain punishment. (Divine Institutes 7:21)

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St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350 AD)

We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. (Catechetical Lectures 18:19)

The real and true life then is the Father, who through the Son in the Holy Spirit pours forth as from a fountain His heavenly gifts to all; and through His love to man, the blessings of the life eternal are promised without fail to us men also. We must not disbelieve the possibility of this, but having an eye not to our own weakness but to His power, we must believe; for with God all things are possible. And that this is possible, and that we may look for eternal life, Daniel declares, 'And of the many righteous shall they shine as the stars forever and ever.' And Paul says, 'And so shall we be ever with the Lord...' for the being forever with the Lord implies the life eternal. But most plainly of all the Savior Himself says in the Gospel, 'And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.' (Catechetical Lectures 18:28)

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St. Basil the Great (c. 370 AD)

In one place the Lord declares that "these shall go to eternal punishment," (Matt 25:46) and in another place He sends some "to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 25:41); and speaks elsewhere of the fire of Gehenna, specifying that it is a place "where their worm dies not, and the fire is not extinguished" (Mark 9:45); and even of old and through the Prophet it was foretold of some that "their worm will not die, nor will their fire be extinguished" (Isa 66:24). Although these and the like declarations are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many men, as if forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly. If, however, there were going to be an end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be an end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be an end to eternal punishment? The qualification of 'eternal' is ascribed equally to both of them. "For these are going," He says, "into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life." If we profess these things we must recognize that the "he shall be flogged with many stripes" and the "he shall be flogged with few stripes" (Luke 12:47-48) refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment. (Rules Briefly Treated, 267; Jurgens, Faith,  volume 2, page 25-26)

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St. Gregory Nazianzen [of Nazianz] (c. 380 AD)

I know the trembling and the staggering and the heaving and the wrenching of the heart and the palsied knees and the like that are the punishments of the impious.. But I do not mean to speak of the judgments to come, to which indulgence in this life will deliver us; for it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be sent to the torment to come, when it will be time for punishing only, and not for cleansing. (Orations, 16:7; from Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, volume 2, page 28)

For I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to send upon the earth, and He Himself is anagogically called a Fire..... I know also a fire which is not cleansing, but avenging; either that fire of Sodom which He pours down on all sinners, mingled with brimstone and storms, or that which is prepared for the Devil and His Angels or that which proceeds from the face of the Lord, and shall burn up his enemies round about; and one even more fearful still than these, the unquenchable fire which is ranged with the worm that dies not but is eternal for the wicked. For all these belong to the destroying power; though some may prefer even in this place to take a more merciful view of this fire, worthily of Him That chastises. (Orations, 40:36; MG 36:409; NPNF VII: 373; Willis, Teachings, page 462)  [another translation:]

I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to hurl upon the earth; and He Himself is called Fire in words anagogically applied.... I know also a fire that is not cleansing but avenging, that fire either of Sodom, which, mixed with a storm of brimstone, He pours down on all sinners, or that which is prepared for the devil and his angels, or that which proceeds from the face of the Lord and burns up His enemies all around. And still there is a fire more fearsome than these, that with which the sleepless worm is associated, and which is never extinguished but belongs eternally to the wicked. All these are of destructive power, unless even here someone may prefer to understand this in a more merciful way, worthy of Him who chastises. (Orations, 40:36; Jurgens, Faith, volume 2, page 37)

[ NOTE: There is a legitimate question here whether the 'torment' and 'punishment' and 'fire' that St. Gregory of Naz is referring to is a kind of 'purgatory' (which is temporary) or 'hell' (which is eternal). Fr. Jurgens comments on these texts: "Gregory seems to leave open to possibility the view that the fire even of hell is more cathartic than punitive. This would seem to deny the eternity of hell's punishment, at least in the case of some lesser sinners. It is, of course, the notion of purgatory; yet he has not developed the idea further, has presented no clear distinction of fires between a purgatory and a hell, and we can scarcely claim him as admitting the former. The fact is that by making a purgatory out of hell, he is an Origenist; and that he is an Origenist in this respect is generally admitted." (Jurgens, Faith, volume 2, page 40, footnote 48) ]

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St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 380 AD)

Indeed, the sinner's life of torment presents no equivalent to anything that pains the sense here. Even if some one of the punishments in that other world be named in terms that are well known here, the distinction is still not small. When you hear the word fire, you have been taught to think of a fire other than the fire we see, owing to something being added to that fire which in this there is not; for that fire is never quenched, whereas experience has discovered many ways of quenching this; and there is a great difference between a fire which can be extinguished, and one that does not admit of extinction. (The Great Catechism, chap 40; MG 45:104; NPNF V: 508-509; Willis, Teachings, page 462)

If in illustrious deeds the body toils along with the soul, and in sinful deeds it is not absent, how do you manage to pilot the incorporeal along to the dicastery? But that were not at all a just view, nor do wise men hold such. If the soul sinned naked and alone, let it alone be punished; but if it has an evident accomplice [i.e. the body] the just Judge will not dismiss that accomplice. I hear Scripture too saying that for the condemned just punishments are ordered: fire and darkness and a worm. All of these are punishments suited to composite and material bodies.... By such consistent reasonings from all sides we are compelled to assent to the resurrection of the dead, which God will bring about at its appointed time, when in His works he will make good His own promises. (Orations, On the Holy Pasch or Sermon Three on the Resurrection of Christ; Jurgens, Faith, volume 2, page 59)

The doorkeepers of the [heavenly] kingdom are careful and they do not play games. They see the soul bearing the marks of her banishment .... Then the miserable soul, accusing herself severely of her own thoughtlessness, and howling and wailing and lamenting, remains in that sullen place, cast away as if in a corner, while the incessant and inconsolable wailing takes vengeance forever (Against Those Who Resent Correction, Migne PG 46:307-316; from Jurgens, Faith, volume 2, page 57-58).

[ NOTE: Greek given by Jurgens who comments: "Nevertheless, Gregory's eternity of punishment must, in view of his numerous fuller statements elsewhere, be taken only in a relative sense. Gregory's [Greek given] is the Origenist [Greek given] except that Gregory's is really final, whereas Origen's repeats itself in endless cycles. Gregory seems to be convinced, at any rate, that ultimately all men and the fallen angels with them shall return to God." Jurgens, Faith, volume 2, page 58; see also Quasten, Patrology: "It is especially in his eschatological views that Gregory proves himself a disciple of Origen....Although he speaks repeatedly of 'the inextinguishable fire' and the immortality of 'the worm', of an 'eternal sanction' ... although he threatens the sinner with eternal suffering and eternal punishment, he could not imagine an eternal estrangement from God of his intellectual creatures and explains elsewhere these expressions as referring only 'to long periods of time' ... He believes with Origen in the universal restoration at the end of time (apokatastasis), and in the complete victory of good over evil ...." (Patrology, volume 3, pages 289-290) ].

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St. Jerome (c. 386 AD)

There are many who say there are no future punishments for sins nor any torments extrinsically applied, but that sin itself and the consciousness of guilt serve as punishment, while the worm in the heart does not die, and a fire is kindled in the mind, much like a fever, which does not torment the ailing person externally but punishes even bodies by its seizures, without the application of any torments that might be brought to bear from without. These arguments and fraudulent fancies are but inane and empty words having the semblance of a certain eloquence of speech but serving only to delude sinners; and if they give them credence they only add to the burden of eternal punishment which they will carry with them. (Commentaries on the Epistle to the Ephesians, 3:5:6; Jurgens, Faith, volume 2, page 193)

'Their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be extinguished' (Isa 66:24).... If anyone wants these punishments someday to end, granted it be after a very long time, and to have an end to these torments, let them make use of these testimonies: 'When the full number of the Gentiles shall have entered, then all Israel shall be saved....' (Rom 11:25; Jerome also cites Gal 3:22; Mich 7:9; Isa 12:1; Isa 7:4 in the LXX; and Psalm 30:20).... Just as we believe there are eternal torments for the devil and all the nay-sayers and impious persons who say in their heart: 'There is no God', so too, for sinners and impious persons who are, nevertheless, Christians, whose works are to be tried in the fire and purged (1 Cor 3:12-15; 1 Peter 1:6-9), we think that the sentence of the Judge will be tempered and blended with clemency." (Commentary on Isaias, 18:66:24; Jurgens, Faith, volume 2, page 209)

[ Jurgens comments: "For one so adamantly opposed to Origen's theology, it is remarkable how much of that theology Jerome himself retained." ]

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St. John Chrysostom (c. 392 AD)

This is no small subject of enquiry which we propose, but rather about things which are of the first necessity and which all men enquire about; namely, whether hellfire have any end? For that it hath no end Christ indeed declared when he said, 'Their fire shall not be quenched, and their worm shall not die.' (Homily 9 on First Corinthians, 3).

Wherefore I entreat and beseech, and lay hold of your very knees, that while we have this scant viaticum of life, you would be pricked in your hearts by what has been said, that you would be converted, that you would become better men; that we may not, like that rich man [i.e. Luke 16], lament to no purpose in that world after our departure, and continue thenceforth in incurable wailings. For though you should have father or son or friend or any soever who has confidence towards God, none of these shall ever deliver you, your own works having destroyed you. For such is that tribunal: it judges by our actions alone, and in no other way is it possible there to be saved.... For if we be slothful, there will be neither righteous man nor prophet nor apostle nor any one to stand by us. (Homilies on First Corinthians, 42:3; Willis; Teachings, page 453)

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St. Augustine of Hippo (c. 400 AD)

[ There are MANY passages of St. Augustine's writings that could be used, the primary texts are from City of God (ch 21). An alternate translation is by NewAdvent.org ]

Why can we not say that even incorporeal spirits are able to be afflicted in some real ways, however remarkable, with the punishment of corporeal fire, if the spirits of men, certainly themselves incorporeal, are able now to be contained in corporeal members, and in the future will be able to be bound indissolubly to the bonds of their own bodies? .... Gehenna, the which is called also a slough of fire and brimstone (Rev 20:10), will be a corporeal fire and will torture the bodies of the damned, either of both men and of demons, the solid bodies of men and the ethereal [aeria] bodies of demons; or the bodies of men only, with their spirits, while of the demons, their spirits without bodies shall so cleave to the corporeal fires as to feel their punishment but not so as to give them life [Latin: aut tantum hominum corpora cum spiritibus, daemones autem spiritus sine corporibus, haerentes sumendo poenam, non impertiendo vitam corporalibus ignibus]. But there will be one fire for both, as Truth itself has declared (Matt 25:41). (City of God, 21:10:1; Jurgens, Faith, volume 3, page 105)

Sins which are punished by an extremely lengthy period of penalties are committed in an extremely short time; nor is there anyone who would suppose that the punishments should be as quickly over as the offenses were quickly performed, whether murder or adultery or sacrilege or any other crime whatsoever that is to be measured, not by how long it took to do it, but by the magnitude of its wickedness and impiety. (City of God, 21:11; Jurgens, volume 3, page 105)

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment. (City of God, 21:13; Jurgens, volume 3, page 105)

How can eternal punishment be taken to mean a fire of long duration, and eternal life be believed to be without end, when in the very same place and in one and the same sentence Christ spoke of both together; "Those shall go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt 25:46) ? If both are eternal, certainly it must be understood either that both are of long duration but with an end, or both are perpetual and without end. For they are related as being equal: on the one hand, eternal punishment, and on the other, eternal life. But to say in this one and the same sense, eternal life will be without end and eternal punishment will have an end, is quite absurd. (City of God, 21:23; Jurgens, volume 3, page 106)

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ALL CHURCH FATHERS SUMMARY

Here is a helpful summary chart of all the Fathers, Saints, Bishops above, and what they believed from their extant writings about "HELL". There are others that may be cited (Origen of Alexandria, etc. who had unorthodox views and later influenced others, etc and more obscure writers like Arnobius of Sicca, etc who perhaps taught a form of 'conditionalism', etc) but those I have included here are considered the MAJOR orthodox Fathers and Bishops and Saints of the first five centuries of the Catholic Church. They are not inspired or infallible as individuals, and may have speculated beyond Scripture and tradition, but these prominent Christian writers at least provide us a reliable guide to what was believed as the 'tradition of the apostles' that was passed on by faithful men of God (e.g. 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 1 Cor 11:2; 1 Timothy 3:15; 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:1-2; 3:14-17; Acts 2:42; Hebrews 13:7; Jude 3; 2 Peter 3:2; etc) from the earliest Christian centuries. 

[ KEY:   = affirmed the doctrine; No = denied or did not mention the doctrine; unknown = was not clear or speculated about doctrine. ]

 Church Father / Saint / Bishop

Date

Hell is Eternal and Conscious
(traditional or orthodox view)

Hell is Annihilation
(Unbelievers 'cease to be')

Universalism or 'Apokatastasis'
(influenced by Origen)

Barnabas ("Epistle") 

c. 70+ A.D.

Yes
uses the words "eternal death, with punishment"

unknown
uses the biblical words 'destroy' and 'perish' but what meaning?

No

Clement (of Rome) 

c. 95+ A.D.

Yes
"punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire" or "punished with grievous torments in fire unquenchable"

No

No

Ignatius (of Antioch) 

c. 107 A.D.

Yes
"will depart into unquenchable fire" or "shall go away into everlasting fire"

No

No

Justin (Martyr) 

c. 150 A.D.

Yes
"each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation" and "[the wicked] goes to the everlasting punishment of fire" and they cannot "escape the punishments" and "those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire", etc

No

No

Polycarp (Martyrdom) 

c. 155 A.D.

Yes
compares the martyrs "torments" and "punishments" of this world to the "escape from that fire that is eternal and shall never be quenched"

No

No

Diagnetus ("Epistle") 

c. 160 A.D.

Yes
compares the "seeming death" and "temporal fire" of this world to the "real death which is reserved for those who are to be condemned to eternal fire which shall torment forever those who are committed to it"

No

No

Tatian (of Syria)

c. 160 A.D.

Yes
we will "receive immortality with either enjoyment or with pain"

No

No

Athenagoras (of Athens)

c. 177 A.D.

Yes
after "this present life we shall live another life" which is either "with God" or without God "a worse one and in fire"

No
"God has NOT made us" like the animals "that we should [merely] perish and be annihilated"

No

Theophilus (of Antioch)

c. 181 A.D.

Yes
the Scriptures make your way plain "for escaping the eternal punishments, and obtaining the eternal prizes of God" and to those who "seek immortality" (cf. Rom 2:7) "he will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest, and abundance of good things" but "to the unbelieving and despisers...shall be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish" (cf. Rom 2:8-9) "and at the last everlasting fire shall possess such men"

No

No 

Irenaeus (of Lyons)

c. 180+ A.D.

Yes
Christ will send 'spiritual wickednesses,' "and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire..." and "the penalty" "is not merely temporal, but eternal [quotes Matt 25:41] for "they will be damned forever" -- also his view on bodies and souls with the (conscious) rich man (Dives) and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31] is clear

No

No

    after Irenaeus we are into the early third century A.D. and the language only becomes clearer and more explicit for eternal punishment, eternal fire, etc.    
Clement (of Alexandria)

c. 200 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Tertullian (of Carthage)

c. 200 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Hippolytus (of Rome)

c. 220 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Minucius Felix

c. 226 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Cyprian (of Carthage)

c. 250 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Lactantius

c. 307 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Cyril (of Jerusalem)

c. 350 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Basil the Great

c. 370 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Gregory (of Nazianz)

c. 380 A.D.

Yes

No

unknown
see comments by Jurgens

Gregory (of Nyssa)

c. 380 A.D.

Yes

No

unknown
see comments by Jurgens, Questan, etc

Jerome

c. 386 A.D.

Yes

No

unknown

see comments by Jurgens, Daley, etc

John Chrysostom

c. 392 A.D.

Yes

No

No

Augustine (of Hippo)

c. 400 A.D.

Yes
very clear on the meaning of Aionios (eternal, everlasting, never ending, forever and ever and ever, etc.)

No

No


Additional Post-Apostolic Writings

As we can see from the above chart, I do not place a SINGLE Church Father, Bishop, or Saint of the first four centuries of Christianity into the "annihilation" or "conditional immortality" camp. The evidence from the patristic sources is clear. Aside from Origen of Alexandria (and those he later influenced), the Fathers were indeed UNANIMOUS. The ones I have listed above either teach the orthodox, traditional doctrine on hell (that it is eternal, and conscious) or a variation of Origen's Apokatastasis (speculated on by St. Gregory of Naz and St. Gregory of Nys, and possibly St. Jerome) i.e. that all will eventually be saved, with a temporary 'purification' or purgatory-like state (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-15; 1 Peter 1:6-9; 1 Thess 5:23; Heb 12:14; Rev 21:27) required before entering heaven. Although NONE of the Fathers deny the language of Scripture about 'eternal punishment' and 'eternal fire' and 'tormented day and night forever and ever'  (e.g. Matt 25:31-46; Rev 20:10-15; 2 Thess 1:5-10; etc), indeed they often affirm this language over and over again, however some have 'hope' that all will be eventually reconciled to Jesus Christ who is a God of love, mercy, forgiveness, and all-goodness, and will have everything subject to Him, that He may be 'all in all' (e.g. 1 Cor 15:24-28; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4,6; 2 Peter 3:9; etc).

I will summarize some additional post-apostolic writings from Fr. Daley's The Hope of the Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Baker, 2002) which is very dense and detailed on the first 700 years of the Church (the entire patristic period). Some of that eschatology is on the nature and duration of hell and punishment in the afterlife. I will supplement from other scholarly sources (e.g. J.N.D. Kelly of Oxford, etc) where appropriate.

Early Semitic Christianity and Jewish Christian sects (c. 100 - 150 AD)

The history of Christian eschatology begins in the apocalyptic hopes of salvation cherished by the earliest Palestinian Christian communities. Both the bodily resurrection and the restoration of Israel was a hope of a large number of Jews in Palestine, as the OT pseudepigrapha and several Qumran documents demonstrate. In the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (Rec) and Homilies (Hom) we find our main direct source for 'Ebionite' theology (a Jewish-Christian sect to whom the Church Fathers refer most frequently). Some beliefs of the 'Ebionites' :

  • the human believer is capable of becoming immortal and incorruptible, if they acknowledge God with faith and love (Hom 3.37);
  • at the resurrection of the dead, our bodies will be changed into light and we will become like angels, so that we will then be able to see God directly and live (Hom 17.16);
  • that time of transformation will also be a day of judgment, where not only shall the good be rewarded with eternal life and ineffable blessings, but the wicked "shall be handed over to eternal fire for their sins" (Rec 1.24);
  • Until then, the dead are apparently 'stored' in Hades, the 'place of souls' (Hom 3.33). [Daley, The Hope of the Church, page 5-6]

Early Biblical Apocrypha (c. 135 - 200 AD)

The most important early Christian apocrypha for our understanding of Judaeo-Christian eschatology are:

  • the Apocalypse of Peter (Apoc Pet), c. 135 AD in Syria but well known in Egypt during the 2nd century -- a work especially notable for its detailed and graphic description of the kinds of eternal punishment reserved for sinners;
  • the Ascension of Isaiah (Asc Is), probably of Syrian origin c. mid-second century;
  • the Epistula Apostolorum (Ep Ap), a letter purportedly from all twelve apostles addressed to the universal Church, which consists of a long revelatory discourse of the risen Lord on Easter night, composed in a Jewish-Christian community in Asia Minor c. 160 AD;
  • the Fifth and Sixth Books of Ezra, chapters 1-2 and 15-16 of Latin translation of the Jewish apocryphon IV Ezra, written in Asia Minor or Syria at the end of the 2nd century, or beginning of the third;
  • books VII and VIII of the Sibylline Oracles (Or Sib), Christian Alexandrian compositions in Greek hexameters (line of verse of six metrical feet) from the latter half of 2nd century;

Although these early Christian works differ widely in the details of their eschatological hope, the picture of impending deliverance and retribution portrayed in them is fairly consistent in its broad outlines. Some of these points are:

  • At the coming of Christ, the gates of Hades will be opened and the shadowy dead kept there will be released (Or Sib viii, 226f; ii, 214-37; cf. V Ezra 2.23,31);
  • Souls will be reunited to their bodies, and all men and women will rise again in their flesh to incorruptible life (Apoc Pet 4; Ep Ap 19,21-25);
  • Christ will then join his Father in making a final, righteous judgment of all who have lived (Ep Ap 26; Or Sib ii,42-55,238-44; viii, 218-21);
  • Everything will be revealed in this judgment, even a person's most secret deeds (Or Sib viii,219-30; VI Ezra 16.54-68);
  • in several passages, God executes his judgment by making all the risen pass through a stream of fire (Apoc Pet 5-6; cf. Or Sib ii,252-54,313-16; viii,411), "and the righteous shall all be saved, but the impious shall perish" (ibid);
  • Did this mean an 'annihilation' or 'extinction' for the unbelieving sinner? NO: Eternal fire will be the lot of those found to be sinners (Or Sib vii,119-28);
  • 'the abyss of torture' will be opened (Or Sib viii,241), and after being tormented by angels wielding flaming whips, sinners will be plunged into its depths forever, to burn without hope of release (Or Sib ii,285-310);
  • Apoc Pet 7-13 describes in vivid detail the specific punishments to be assigned to different classes of sinners; fire, however, is the element common to them all;

Or Sib ii,330-38, presents an alternative to the doctrine of eternal punishment for all sinners: God will allow the just to intercede for those whom they wish to save, and they will be brought to share in the comforts of the Elysian fields. [Daley, The Hope of the Church, page 7-9]

This closes the early post-apostolic period and what was believed by the earliest Christian sects and writings outside the New Testament. Later, Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 - 253 A.D.) with his doctrine of the 'reconciliation of all things' causes later controversy and discussion which the early Catholic Church and Ecumenical Councils were forced to deal with. On this subject, according to J.N.D. Kelly (see his section on Eschatology or "Last Things" in his classic Early Christian Doctrines, pages 459-489), by the time of the great theologian St. Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354 - 430) -- "As regards the fate of the wicked . . . the general view was that their punishment would be eternal, without any possibility of remission. . ." (page 483) --  we have various Catholic Christians holding a variety of positions about the details:

  • some holding that the pains of hell would be temporary for all men without distinction;
  • others that salvation was guaranteed for those, even heretics, who had been baptized and had partaken of the Lord's body and blood (i.e. communion);
  • or at any rate had received these sacraments within the Catholic Church;
  • others that all who had remained Catholics, even if they had lived disgracefully, must be saved;
  • others that only those sinners who had neglected to practice almsgiving when alive were destined to eternal chastisement.

The motive behind all of these ideas, St. Augustine claims, is a misplaced conception of God's compassion but that Holy Scripture contradicts them:

 ". . . the everlasting death of the damned, i.e. their alienation from the life of God, will abide without term [i.e. without end]" (Augustine, Enchir 112).

=====

Chapter 112. There is No Ground in Scripture for the Opinion of Those Who Deny the Eternity of Future Punishments.

It is in vain, then, that some, indeed very many, make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; not, indeed, that they directly oppose themselves to Holy Scripture, but, at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, and give a milder turn to statements which they think are rather designed to terrify than to be received as literally true

For "Hath God" they say, forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Now, they read this in one of the holy Psalms. But without doubt we are to understand it as spoken of those who are elsewhere called "vessels of mercy," because even they are freed from misery not on account of any merit of their own, but solely through the pity of God. Or, if the men we speak of insist that this passage applies to all mankind, there is no reason why they should therefore suppose that there will be an end to the punishment of those of whom it is said, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment;" [Matt 25:46a] for this shall end in the same manner and at the same time as the happiness of those of whom it is said, "but the righteous unto life eternal." [Matt 25:46b]

But let them suppose, if the thought gives them pleasure, that the pains of the damned are, at certain intervals, in some degree assuaged. For even in this case the wrath of God, that is, their condemnation (for it is this, and not any disturbed feeling in the mind of God that is called His wrath), abides upon them; that is, His wrath, though it still remains [cf. John 3:36] does not shut up His tender mercies; though His tender mercies are exhibited, not in putting an end to their eternal punishment, but in mitigating, or in granting them a respite from, their torments; for the psalm does not say, "to put an end to His anger," or, "when His anger is passed by," but "in His anger." Now, if this anger stood alone, or if it existed in the smallest conceivable degree, yet to be lost out of the kingdom of God, to be an exile from the city of God, to be alienated from the life of God, to have no share in that great goodness which God has laid up for them that fear Him, and has wrought out for them that trust in Him, would be a punishment so great, that, supposing it to be eternal, no torments that we know of, continued through as many ages as man's imagination can conceive, could be compared with it. (Augustine, Enchiridion or Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love, 112)

=====

Nevertheless, Augustine is led by certain texts of Scripture (e.g. 1 Cor 3:13-15; Matt 12:32) to allow that certain sinners may attain pardon in the world to come. These are people who, although they are Christians at heart, they have remained entangled in earthly loves, and it is natural that after this life they should undergo the purification by a certain 'purgatorial fire' (Augustine, Enchir, 69) [from J.N.D. Kelly Early Christian Doctrines, page 484-485]

=====

See The Church Fathers on the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead on this site
and
Arguments Against Purgatory Considered


Recommended Sources

On the Church Fathers from orthodox Catholic books --

  • Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott (TAN, 1974)
  • The Teachings of the Church Fathers by Fr. John Willis, S.J. (Ignatius Press, 2002)
  • The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin (Catholic Answers, 2010)
  • The Faith of the Early Fathers by Fr. William Jurgens, S.J. (3 volumes, Liturgical Press, 1979)
  • The Hope of the Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology by Brian E. Daley, S.J. (Baker Academic, 2002)

On Eternal Hell (both Catholics and evangelicals writing against opposing viewpoints) --

  • HELL (and how to avoid it) by Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J. (TAN, 1989)
  • Hell Under Fire edited by Morgan and Peterson, et al (Zondervan, 2004)
  • Death and the Afterlife by Robert Morey (Bethany House, 1984), I don't recommend Morey on other subjects (i.e. Islam) but this was an excellent earlier book
  • Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama by Jerry L. Walls (Brazos Press, 2015)
  • Four Views on Hell (Zondervan, 2016, 2nd edition) -- representing (1) eternal, conscious torment in hell; (2) terminal punishment or annihilation; (3) Universalism; and (4) purgatory (technically according to Catholic doctrine, purgatory is not 'hell' but a vestibule or antechamber of heaven; all souls in purgatory are saved and WILL go to heaven)

These are sources by orthodox, traditional Christian believers in eternal hell, both Catholic and evangelical Protestant Christians that document clearly that the Bible and the early Church Fathers DO teach the doctrine.

Books written by 'Conditionalists' or 'Annihilationists' or 'Universalists' and others --

  • The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers by Leroy Edwin Froom (Review and Herald, 1966) VOLUME 1 (PDF)  | VOLUME 2 (PDF)
  • Hell: A Final Word by Edward William Fudge (Leafwood Publishers, 2012) or his The Fire That Consumes (Wipf and Stock, 3rd edition, 2011)
  • Unconditional Good News by Neil Punt (William Eerdmans Publishing, 1980)
  • Christian Universalism: God's Good News for All People by Eric Stetson (Sparkling Bay Books, 2008)
  • Unitarian Universalism by Alan W. Gomes (Zondervan, 1998), an evangelical Christian critique
  • The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald (Wipf and Stock, 2nd edition, 2012)
  • The Devil's Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism by Michael J. McClymond (Baker Academic, 2018)

This last tome is an exhaustive historical study in two detailed volumes (over 1300 pages!) which I don't have yet (rather expensive!), but I have listened to the author in several lectures available online. McClymond (Protestant historian teaching at St. Louis University) traces the original 'universalism' to the early Gnostics (later found in Origen in his 'restoration of all things' belief) and contends it is not a 'biblical' idea but a gnostic error.

Articles, Audio, and Links on related topics -- 

P -- completed during Lent 2019


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