By: Fr. Louis Campbell
Some truths are hard to face. Who wants to hear about exterior darkness, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth? Hell, however, is a reality that we ought to hear about for the sake of our souls, and Jesus often speaks about it, as did the great saints and preachers like St. John Chrysostom.
In a truly amazing reversal that has occurred since Vatican II, Catholics (and others) now believe in the doctrine of Universal Salvation. Everyone is saved; no one goes to hell. If you don’t believe this has happened, just go to the typical Novus Ordo funeral. There the deceased are canonized on the spot, and declared to be enjoying heavenly bliss in God’s presence. And heaven forbid that there should be any mention of hell or purgatory.
I quote the words of Fr. Robert D. Smith, now deceased: "All heresy, from Gnosticism in the first century to Arianism in the fourth; from Islam in the seventh to Lutheranism in the sixteenth, boils down to the notion that at least some people are so loved by God that they do not have to repent of sins against the Commandments to be saved. Some people do not have to repent at all. And this notion is all too likely to lead to the logical conclusion that, after all, everyone who has ever lived must be saved. This is the final state of heresy… belief in universal salvation. Universalism. Today, this belief in universal salvation seems to be itself universal" ("A Heaven Which Makes No Sense," from The Other Side of Christ, Issue 25).
Whom can we blame for this? We can blame in part the documents of Vatican II, as well as other documents issued by the Vatican. Take, for instance, the document for Mission Sunday, October 20, 2002, Mission is Proclamation of Forgiveness, in which John Paul II declared that we were all on our way to our "common Homeland," following different paths, it is true (the various religions), but destined to end up in the same place—our "common Homeland." That very ecumenical document pretended to speak of evangelization, but failed to mention the necessity of Baptism.
Now hear this! John Paul II, who now openly uses the term universalism, has expressed the opinion that hell is only for the devil and his fallen angels, and that no human being goes there. In fact, he was teaching this heresy even before he was declared to be pope by a den of Masonic Cardinals and infiltrators at the conclave in 1978, after the suspicious and untimely death of John Paul I. As Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, he gave a retreat to the papal curia under Paul VI. His retreat conferences were afterwards published in a book called The Sign of Contradiction.
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 28 July 1999, the Holy Father reflected on hell as the definitive rejection of God. In his catechesis, the Pope said that care should be taken to interpret correctly the images of hell in Sacred Scripture, and explained that "hell is the ultimate consequence of sin itself... Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy".
1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life "hell".
In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father's mercy, even at the last moment of their life.
Hell is a state of eternal damnation
2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez. 28:8; 31:14; Jb. 10:21f.; 38:17; Ps 30:10; 88:7, 13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb. 7:9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38:18; Ps 6:6).
The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.
Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged "by what they [have done]" (Rv 20:13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will "weep and gnash their teeth" (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like Gehenna with its "unquenchable fire" (Mk 9:43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1).
The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a "pool of fire" those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a "second death" (Rv. 20:13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for 'eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thes 1:9).
3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the