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 Hell

It is clear, people don't like the idea of an eternal hell. 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 biblical evidence for the 'eternal' nature of hell (contra 'Annihilationism' and 'Conditionalism'), including 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. especially, Fr. Brian E. Daley, SJ on 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, 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/ )

"...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/ )

"....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 )


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 standard scholarly sources (see Recommended).

What I will present now is a definition and defense of the orthodox, traditional doctrine of an eternal hell from (1) official Catholic teaching, to make the doctrine clear; (2) the Bible, primarily the New Testament; (3) the Church Fathers; and (4) early Church history with commentary (at least the first 400 years or so, up to and including St. Augustine of Hippo). 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 (see articles and links at end for some answers to that).

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

text

text

text

text

text

text


Church Fathers on Eternal Hell, and Conscious, Eternal Torment

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 '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 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.

=====

Epistle 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 argue 'annihilation' with much difficulty from this passage, but also the orthodox, traditional view is easily seen here. ] 

=====

St. Clement of Rome (80 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)

=====

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 odour 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, 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. ]

=====

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).

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

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' ....]

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

(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)

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

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)

=====

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) ]

=====

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)

text

text

 

=====

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)

text

text

 

=====

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)

=====

St. Augustine of Hippo (c. 400 AD)

text

text

text

text


Commentary from Church historians

text

text

text


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
  • 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' --

  • 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 on related topics -- 

P


Back to Apologetics Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links