1. Immediately after death, each and every human person is judged by God.
(Pope Benedict XII, On the Beatific Vision of God)
2. All those persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are sent to Hell by God. (Pope Benedict XII, On the Beatific Vision of God; also Council of Florence, Sixth Session, 6 July 1439)
Some persons say that the reprobate send themselves to Hell. This is true figuratively, but not literally. By the choices that they made in their lives, to sin gravely and not to repent, they in effect chose Hell. But after death, they cannot change their final destination from Hell to Heaven. God judges them; they do not judge themselves. God sends them to Hell, for only He has power and justice sufficient to condemn the unrepentant to eternal punishment.
3. Only those persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are sent to Hell by God.
This point is currently speculative. The Council of Florence decreed that those persons also go to Hell who die in a state of ‘original sin only’. But I interpret this sin, the sin of not having found sanctifying grace in life, as only applying to persons who have had ample opportunity to find at least a Baptism of desire, and have failed by an actual mortal sin of omission. Concerning prenatals, infants, and young children, who die at that young age, I believe that each of them is given a Baptism of blood, from Christ suffering and dying on the Cross, by virtue of the suffering of their death at such a young age.
4. It is a revealed truth in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture that Hell is certainly not empty: “For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leads to perdition, and many there are who enter through it.” (Mt 7:13). Perdition means ‘place of the lost’; perdition is Hell because all who enter are lost from eternal life.
5. Hell is everlasting; the sufferings of Hell never end: “And these shall go into eternal punishment, but the just shall go into eternal life.” (Mt 25:46).
6. Hell is a place of punishment not only for condemned human persons, but also for condemned fallen angels (also called devils, or demons): “Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Mt 25:41).
Satan and the devils are not in charge of Hell. They do not have any authority or power over the damned. Hell is like a prison, and all the devils are prisoners there, not wardens or guards. The devils do not directly torment or torture or inflict suffering on any of the damned. The devils do not enjoy being in Hell.
7. The damned souls in Hell suffer from the presence in Hell of the fallen angels and other damned souls, just as the blessed in Heaven rejoice in the presence in Heaven of the holy Angels and other holy souls. So the presence of devils in Hell inflicts a type of passive suffering on souls, but the devils do not directly torment or torture souls. For God is Just. He would not turn over to devils the authority or ability to punish the condemned souls in Hell. For the wicked angels would not punish justly.
8. All the sufferings of Hell are just and merciful punishments from God. Each fallen angel and each damned soul is punished with the type and degree of suffering that is exactly fitting to just and merciful punishment for that person’s particular unrepentant actual mortal sins. In the Divine Nature, Justice and Mercy and Love and Wisdom are exactly the same.
9. The punishments of Hell can be considered in various ways, and so can be numbered in various ways. I would divide the sufferings of Hell into three types:
a. Deprivation of all the goods of Heaven, including the Beatific Vision of God, the company of the Saints and Angels, and all the happiness there. This is the worst suffering, and it is endured by all the denizens (residents) of Hell.
b. Knowledge, given by God at the particular judgment, of all the unrepentant actual mortal sins of the person’s life, such that the person knows his sins and his own guilt; he cannot escape from this knowledge and he cannot deny his own guilt. This punishment is analogous to a punishment often given to children: “Sit here and think about what you have done.”
c. Active afflictions, caused directly by God, to some (perhaps most) of the denizens of Hell. The person suffers pains of the soul, and after the general resurrection pains of the mind and heart and body also. The sinner commits sins with his body as well as with his soul, and so his punishment fittingly includes pains of the body, of the mind, of the emotions, as well as of the soul. “For the retribution against the flesh of the impious is with fire and worms.” (Sirach 7:19).
10. The claim is false that God does not directly punish anyone in Hell. For Hell is created by God (Mt 25:41), who created all things. And so Hell is God’s place of just punishment, not a place of unjust punishment. Only the all-knowing, all-powerful, Just and Merciful God could punish the innumerable denizens of Hell with punishments which are exactly fitting to the sins of each and every person there, and which are entirely just and merciful. The claim that the persons of Hell punish themselves is not literally true, for these condemned souls and condemned angels are thoroughly unjust — they could not punish themselves justly.
11. There is no sin in Hell. The devils and damned souls in Hell do not blasphemy, or hate, or have malice, for all such acts are sinful. The denizens of Hell are unable to sin. To say otherwise is to accuse God of injustice. For every sin deserves judgment, but there is no judgment after the general Resurrection and general Judgment is completed. And every sin deserves punishment. But if the devils and souls in Hell continued to sin forever, they would continue to deserve additional punishment forever. Then their punishment would increase to an unimaginable extreme degree, and continue increasing forever. Such a degree of punishment is contrary to justice. It would also be contrary to justice to allow innumerable devils and damned souls to continue sinning gravely forever. Therefore, God does not permit the souls and devils in Hell to sin at all.
I have more to say on this subject. But the above is sufficient for now.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator