Father Ripperger, FSSP opens his discussion on Hell with a quote from Sister Lucia from her memoires regarding what she was shown by Our Lady as her vision of Hell when she was a child at Fatima. She says “She opened Her hands once more, as She had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, Who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear.”
In scripture we read on the Old Testament in the book of Judith that “He will give fire and worms into their flesh and they may burn and may feel forever.” In the book of Job we read that Hell is a land of misery and darkness where the shadow of death and no order but everlasting horror dwelt. In the book of Isaiah we read the nourishment there is as fire and much wood. The breath of the Lord is as a torrent of brimstone kindling it. The worms shall die not and their fire shall not be quenched. In the New Testament our Lord said in the book of Matthew “Depart from me you cursed into the everlasting fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels. Also from Matthew, “Every tree that yields not good fruit shall be cut down and should be cast into fire and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. From the book of Revelation we read “The pool of fire where both the beast and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night forever and ever and the smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever”.
Scripture tells us a great deal about Satan and Hell despite the modern theory that there is no Hell. Once again from the book of Revelation “And behold a great red dragon having seven heads and seven horns and on his head seven diadems and his tail drew their third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And that great dragon was cast out that old serpent that was called the Devil and Satan who seduces the whole world. And he who was cast to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him. The book of Matthew tells us the following regarding Satan, “Depart from me you cursed into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the Devil and his angels.”
The Church teaches that those who go to Hell die in a state of mortal sin – that is without any sanctifying grace. Looking at what the Church teaches, at what the saints have told us, the nature of man, and the nature of justice and suffering, we come to a great deal of knowledge about the nature of the sufferings in Hell.
The first suffering that is often talked about is what is referred to as the pain of sense. The saints tell us that the suffering in Hell is proportionate to the offenses committed against God. As a result, there are actually levels in Hell meaning some will suffer more than others. We can suffer more intensely in Hell because the body is no longer subject to the limitations of human flesh. After the resurrection of the body, the body is qualitatively changed and as a result can sustain much greater suffering. So much so, that we are not even capable of understanding it.
The first sense is touch. The saints describe that in Hell there is a type of “crushing” experience along with a burning sensation. Some saints talk about both a fire and a cold with the souls flipping back and forth between the fire and the instantaneous freezing in an attempt to seek some relief though it does not come. This suffering is not just on the skin, rather the whole body is racked with suffering. Saint Bridget tells us in her revelation that the heat of the Hell fire is so great that if the whole world were wrapped in flames the heat of the conflagration would be as nothing in comparison to the sufferings in Hell. Saint John Bosco in a dream in which he was given a vision of Hell was told to take a closer look at the conditions in Hell by the spirit that took him there. For more details about this dream see the following link http://www.4kingdoms.com/road-to-hell.html The heat experienced when he touches the palm of his hand to a wall in Hell causes the skin to peel off the day after having had this dream.
Next is the sense of taste. Imagine drinking the foulest sewer water. This is nothing compared to the experience of taste for the souls in Hell every day.
Imagine the smell. There are the smells of sulfur and pitch along with the smells of rotting and burning flesh. St. Bonaventure says that the stench from the flesh of a single person in Hell would so taint the air of the earth so as to cause the death of all living beings coming in near it. To understand St. Bonaventure’s description of these smells and more when he was given access to Hell, see the following link http://www.salvemariaregina.info/Hell.html .
What about sight? The saints describe great visions of horror. There is no light in Hell because light is a sign of intelligence and purity of which there is none in Hell. The bodies in Hell give off a glow.
As to the sense of hearing, there are shrills and constant screaming – cries of agony and pain. Because the demons can cause sound, the sounds are very fearful.
Then in Hell there is hunger and thirst. Starvation in this life is nothing compared to the experience of this in Hell. In Luke we read that the dead man asks for a single drop of water in an attempt to quench his thirst just for a moment.
The “common sense power” takes our five senses and unifies them so that we can experience them all at the same time. In Hell none of the five senses work right together. This causes a great deal of confusion for the damned. Demons don’t have the five senses; rather they just have an intellect. As a result, they are not confused.
Next is memory. Those souls in Hell constantly remember their sin and what caused their condemnation. They also remember the goods on earth that they had. They remember the evil that others did to them resulting in constant anger. So, the memory is a constant source of torture. The demons can look into your memory, even in this life, and see the sins that you have committed so as to use them as a source of temptation in this life. In Hell, they can bring them into your imagination to torture you more.
Then there is the imagination. In Hell we have no control over the images that will float through our imagination. Satan will play with those images. It is a non-stop horror. St. John Bosco in his visit to Hell sees a demon controlling a dream for one of the boys that he had in his school. The vision has the demon sticking his finger into the head of the boy and stirring it.
Then there is what is referred to as the “cogitative power”. This is the part of our brain that has the power of association. Even animals have this power, for example Pavlov’s dog. In Hell we have no control over this though the demons will be able to influence it. These associations in Hell will draw out the worst kind of passions and emotions. There is profound confusion. In Hell whatever flows through our imagination will directly impact our emotional life. Souls in Hell while experiencing their own suffering will be able to see the suffering of others and at times have visions of Heaven which will cause great emotional strife.
There are three functions to our intellect. The first is simple apprehension, the understanding of something. In Hell one does not understand anything properly except those evils that God would have them understand for the sake of their punishment. The confusion mention earlier contributes to this lack of understanding. Because of this confusion, there is an inability to grasp everything that is going on in Hell. Then there is judgment, the comparison to different things. There is no clear judgment in Hell as one does not think clearly, except for one’s conscience which is the assessment about what we are going to do or have done as either being right or wrong. Our conscience “nags” us when we have done something wrong and brings about happiness when we have done something right. One thing is clear to the soul in Hell, which is that the punishment being received is absolutely just and proportionate to what has been done that put them there. It cannot be denied. In this life we are able to deny reality – not in Hell. Then there is our will. Because we chose to use our will wrongly, God gives us what we ultimately wanted. If we choose evil, then He will give us evil. In Hell the will is filled with hatred and incapable of love. It can’t even love itself. It has spite hating everyone around them. It has despair because it knows it will never be freed from the suffering. It wants to mete out suffering to everyone around them. There is perfect ill will and a perfect hatred of God.
Then there is the appetite which are faculties in us that which arise the emotions in us. In Hell there is only negative emotion. The first appetite is the irascible appetite which causes anger in us. There is a constant anger and emotional hatred for everyone around us. There is uncontrollable rage. In fact the sole wants to be angry. There is perfect frustration and fear. Fear is an emotion that arises out of the perception of an upcoming evil. There is perfect fear in Hell because we know for certain that suffering is going to be constantly coming. Next is the concupiscible appetite which desires bodily goods like food and sex. Those in Hell have eternal bodily wantonness – they hunger and thirst for eternity. There is an uncontrollable sexual appetite. One of the signs of demonic possession in this life is when a person starts losing control over their emotional life or their emotions are inordinately strong contrary to their disposition. In Hell, the passions are raging, out of control, and strengthened by the demons around them.
Then there is the faculty of the motive power which allows us to move. In Hell, the motive power is bound in the sense that there is no control over it. As a result two types of things occur to the souls – they can’t move stuck in the same position for all of eternity, while others have no control over their limbs lashing out at others and themselves uncontrollably. In Hell, the resurrected body cannot undergo dissolution, you can’t kill it, so this will go on forever.
Then there is the faculty of speech. The souls in Hell are constantly committing blasphemy against God, His justice, the saints, and those around them. There is no control over the faculty of speech.
There is no control over ones bowels. There is constant vomiting. There is a sense of suffocation from the smells and everything going on around them.
This is just the physical suffering!
The first spiritual suffering is the eternal company of Satan and the demons. Each demon who successfully tempted you on earth will laugh at you, mock at you, torment you spiritually, and cause you physical pain and other suffering. They will increase your feeling of guilt, shame, and hatred. Their company will be forever with you. Compare this to the company of the saints in heaven. A person will be demonically oppressed which is where the spirit is constantly putting something into your imagination (where you can’t get a thought out of your head). In this life God restricts how much a demon can influence us – not in Hell. There is no freedom in Hell. You can’t get away. Each demon has its own personality. They will terrorize you based upon what they know bothers you the most. There is a hierarchy of demons in Hell. There are also different severities of punishment. Even the demons fear those that have power over them. In this life if a demon is exercised, they are subjected to the rage of the higher demon for their failure. In Hell it is similar. There will be higher demons telling the lower demons how to subject you to suffering. The full effects of Satan’s malice (hatred) will be inflicted upon those in Hell. Everyone around you in Hell hates you – even members of your own family. You are totally cut off from love and the effects of love. You are a foul wretch that is unworthy of love. In Hell there is no truth except that which comes from your punishment. Everyone lies to you except when the truth will cause you more suffering. The evil spirits have control over you so you do their every bidding and whim regardless of how disgusting, repulsive, vile, or evil it may seem.
Then there is the suffering that comes from God’s wrath and His justice. This will haunt you for all eternity. You will in horror attempt to flee His justice, but never escape it. Hatred for God and His justice will consume you.
There is a story of a soul suffering in purgatory that when asked by a saint if it would like to be in heaven replied “No, I would rather spend eternity in purgatory than spend a single instance in the sight of God with a single blemish on my soul”.
Then there is the pain of separation. For all eternity you will never see God and never experience heaven. The evil one himself was made to acknowledge this, as we read in the legends of Blessed Jordan, at one time General of the Dominican Order. For when Jordan asked Satan, in the person of one who was possessed, what was the principal torment of Hell, he answered: “Being excluded from the presence of God.” “Is God then so beautiful to look upon?” Jordan inquired. And on the devil replying that He was indeed most beautiful, he asked further: “How great is His beauty?” “Fool that thou art,” was the rejoinder, “to put such a question to me! Dost thou not know that His beauty is beyond compare?” “Canst thou not suggest any similitude,” Jordan continued, “which may give me to some extent at least an idea of the Divine beauty?” Then Satan said: “Imagine a crystal sphere a thousand times more brilliant than the sun, in which the loveliness of all the colors of the rainbow, the fragrance of every flower, the sweetness of every delicious flavour, the costliness of every precious stone, the kindliness of men and the attractiveness of all the Angels combined; fair and precious as this crystal would be, in comparison with the Divine beauty, it would be unsightly and impure.”
“And pray,” the good monk inquired, “what wouldst thou give to be admitted to the vision of God?” And the devil replied: “If there were a pillar reaching from earth to Heaven, beset with sharp points and nails and hooks, I would gladly consent to be dragged up and down that pillar from now until the Day of Judgment, if I could only be permitted to gaze on the Divine countenance for a few brief moments.”
Hence we may gather how infinite is the beauty of the face of God, if even the spirit of evil would submit to such physical torture as he describes for the sake of enjoying for a few moments the sight of that gracious and majestic countenance. There is therefore no doubt that nothing is a source of such anguish to the devils and the damned as being deprived of the beatific vision of God.
Consequently, if God were to send an Angel to the portals of Hell, with this message to the wretched denizens of that place of torment: “The Almighty has in His mercy had compassion on you, and He is willing you should be released from one of the penalties you endure; which shall it be?” What thinkest thou would be the reply? They would all as one man exclaim: “O good Angel, pray God that if only of His bounty He would no longer deprive us of the sight of His countenance! “This is the one favour they would implore of God. Were it possible for them, in the midst of Hell-fire, to behold the Divine countenance, for the joy of it they would no longer heed the devouring flames. For the vision of God is so beauteous, so blissful, so full of rapture and infinite delight, that all the joys and attractions of earth cannot compare with it in the remotest degree.
In fact, all celestial happiness, how greatsoever it might be, would be turned to bitterness if the vision of God was wanting; and the redeemed would choose rather to be in Hell, if they could there enjoy that Beatific Vision, than be in Heaven without it. Just as the privilege of be holding the Divine countenance constitutes the chief felicity of the blessed, the one without which all others would be no happiness at all, so it is the chief misery of Hell, that the lost souls should for ever be excluded from it. On this subject St. John Chrysostom says: “The torments of a thousand Hells are nothing in comparison to the anguish of being banished from everlasting bliss and the vision of God.”
To realize, in some measure, how great this pain of loss is, we should bear in mind that we have been created by God to be forever happy. This love of happiness, this yearning for it, which every one of us feels in his heart, will never be destroyed, not even in Hell. During this life men, impelled by this desire and blinded by passion, seek happiness in riches, in honours, in sensual gratification. These vain images of happiness deceive us so long as our soul is united with our body. But after the soul has severed her connection with the body, all these false, fleeting pleasures disappear, and she becomes aware that God alone is the source of all happiness, and that she can find happiness solely in the possession of Him.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that the punishment of the damned is infinite because they have suffered the loss of the infinite good – that is God. Yet the damned will curse God for having created them. The sufferings in Hell are so great that the souls there would prefer annihilation that is to go out of existence. Yet the sufferings will be eternal and unchangeable. They will never end causing perpetual fear and despair among the damned. There is a place in Hell for you already. The Church teaches that those who will go to Hell will do so because of mortal sin and for a lack of repentance. If you don’t do something about your life, you may end up there! St. Theresa of Avila saw her place in Hell. All it takes is a single, fully volitional impure thought and Hell is your eternal punishment. Therefore, avoid mortal sin and die in a state of grace, otherwise the place in Hell with your name on it will find its occupant.
For an understanding of The Pains of Hell by St. Anthony Mary Claret, see the following link: https://www.olrl.org/doctrine/pains.shtml
To see St. Catherine of Siena’s writing on Hell, see the following link: http://www.catholictreasury.info/books/dialogue/diag33.php
Thank you to Father Ripperger for sharing his teachings with us and for allowing us to post these notes from his teachings. For more content on other topics from Father Ripperger, see the following link: