Can we be absolutely certain that some human souls are in Hell?

Yes. It is an article of faith and a required belief (under pain of heresy and automatic excommunication) that Hell contains some human souls.

Infallible Teachings

The teaching that all men and/or all angels, will eventually reach Heaven is a condemned heresy:

Council of Constantinople II, Canon 9: “If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema.” [Denzinger 211]

Notice that the condemnation extends not only to the position that all fallen angels and all human persons are saved, but also the position that the entirety of either group, all angels or all human persons, is saved.

Now some persons interpret the above teaching as only a condemnation of the certitude that all are saved, as if one could still hold to the possibility or hope that all human persons are saved. However, the proposition remains heretical, even if phrased as “perhaps” all are saved, or as “the reasonable hope” that all are saved. For in such a case, the person is accepting an idea as a possibility or hope, despite a clear condemnation of that idea by the Church. If someone claims that Jesus is merely human, and not at all Divine, the claim is heresy. If someone else says “perhaps” Jesus is merely human, or that he “hopes” Jesus is merely human, the claim is still heresy. You cannot reasonably hope, nor admit the sheer possibility that a condemned idea is actually true.

But to make matters even more clear, the claim that perhaps no human souls are in Hell is contradicted by other infallible teachings. These infallible teachings directly assert that some human souls are in Hell.

Fourth Lateran Council: “He will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and to the elect. All of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear, so as to receive according to their deserts, whether these be good or bad; for the latter perpetual punishment with the devil, for the former eternal glory with Christ.”

“There is indeed one universal church of the faithful, outside of which nobody at all is saved, in which Jesus Christ is both priest and sacrifice.”[Confession of Faith]

The above infallible teaching of an Ecumenical Council becomes null and void if there is no one in Hell. The General Judgment becomes not a judgment at all, if all are saved. The dogma taught by the Council is also stated by Saint Paul: “there will be a future resurrection of the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:15) Some human souls (“the unjust”) are resurrected from Hell. This dogma becomes a lie if there are no unjust souls to be resurrected from Hell.

The Fourth Lateran Council infallibly taught that some of those persons judged at the end of time are “reprobate” (the souls in Hell), and that not all are “the elect” (souls in Purgatory or Heaven). The Council also taught that the reprobate suffer “perpetual punishment”. But if Hell is devoid of human souls, then that teaching would be false.

The dogma that “Outside the Church, there is no salvation”, becomes a ridiculous tautology if all human persons are saved. It is like saying “Outside of a group that includes everyone, no one is saved.” The profound truths of the Catholic Faith become worthless and empty if everyone goes to Heaven, and no one goes to Hell, despite all the manifest grave sins committed by billions of persons.

Council of Florence: “But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

The above infallible teaching would be false if no souls are sent to Hell, neither due to actual mortal sin nor due to original sin alone. There cannot be “unequal pains” if no one goes to Hell. The Ecumenical Council of Lyons II taught the same doctrine, also infallibly.

Council of Florence: “Thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good shall go into eternal life, but those who have done evil shall go into eternal fire.”

The Council infallibly teaches that the resurrection includes the reprobate souls in Hell (“those who have done evil”) as well as the souls in Heaven (“those who have done good”). This teaching would be false if there are no human souls in Hell.

Fifth Lateran Council: the Lord “promises eternal rewards and eternal punishments to those who will be judged according to the merits of their life” [Session 8]

The Council forbid anyone to teach the contrary. But if there are no human souls in Hell, then the teaching on eternal punishments would be false.

Council of Trent: “But although Christ died for all, yet not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only to whom the merit of His passion is communicated.” [Decree on Justification, chap 3]

The Council of Trent infallibly taught that not everyone receives the benefit of Christ’s salvific death on the Cross. And what is that benefit, received by some, but not all? It is eternal life in Heaven. So anyone who holds that perhaps all are saved contradicts the above infallible teaching, as if all receive the benefit of Christ’s salvific death on the Cross.

Therefore, it is an infallible teaching of multiple Ecumenical Councils, and a required belief under pain of heresy and automatic excommunication, that some human souls are in Hell. For several dogmas necessarily imply that human souls are sent to Hell:

* that the general resurrection includes a resurrection of the reprobate souls in Hell
* that the justice of God dispenses both eternal rewards and eternal punishments
* that the souls sent to Hell have unequal pains
* that not all human persons receive the benefit of Christ’s salvific death
* that outside the Church, there is no salvation

Scripture

In addition, many passages in Sacred Scripture teach that human souls are sent to God to receive eternal punishment. I will quote just a few examples:

[Matthew]
{25:41} Then he shall also say, to those who will be on his left: ‘Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.
{25:42} For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and you did not give me to drink;
{25:43} I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not cover me; sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.’
{25:44} Then they will also answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
{25:45} Then he shall respond to them by saying: ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did not do it to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.’
{25:46} And these shall go into eternal punishment, but the just shall go into eternal life.”

This teaching of Jesus would be utterly false if no human persons are sent to eternal punishment in Hell. And if anyone says “perhaps” no human persons are sent to Hell, then he means “perhaps” Jesus is lying. And if anyone says we can “reasonably hope” that Hell is empty of human souls, then he is saying we can “reasonably hope” Jesus is lying.

[Mark]
{9:41} And whoever will have scandalized one of these little ones who believe in me: it would be better for him if a great millstone were placed around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
{9:42} And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life disabled, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the unquenchable fire,
{9:43} where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished.
{9:44} But if your foot causes you to sin, chop it off: it is better for you to enter into eternal life lame, than having two feet to be cast into the Hell of unquenchable fire,
{9:45} where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished.
{9:46} But if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into the Hell of fire,
{9:47} where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished.

If no human persons are sent to Hell, then these statements by Jesus, that their suffering never ends in Hell, would be false.

[Matthew]
{7:13} Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leads to perdition, and many there are who enter through it.

If no human persons are sent to Hell, then Jesus was lying when He said that many enter the way that leads to perdition, i.e. to Hell.

{5:20} For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

This teaching of Jesus, too, would be false if everyone, even the scribes and Pharisees (of every generation), enter the kingdom of Heaven.

[Philippians]
{2:9} Because of this, God has also exalted him and has given him a name which is above every name,
{2:10} so that, at the name of Jesus, every knee would bend, of those in heaven, of those on earth, and of those in hell,
{2:11} and so that every tongue would confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.

If there are no human souls in Hell, then this passage would be false. For the expressions “every knee would bend” and “every tongue would confess” refer explicitly to human persons. Yes, even the reprobate souls in Hell are compelled by truth to admit that Jesus is Lord and Savior. For all the wicked souls and devils in Hell know whom they offended such that they would receive eternal punishment.

Whosoever claims that perhaps no human persons are in Hell, or that we may reasonably hope that no human persons are in Hell, or that we cannot be absolutely certain that any human persons are in Hell contradicts the infallible teachings of several Ecumenical Councils and of Sacred Scripture, and thereby asserts heresy.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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