A. The Two Paths to Hell
There are only two ways to end up in Hell:
1. To die in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin
2. To die in a state of original sin alone
The first way is well-known to most Catholics. You commit a gravely immoral act, with full knowledge of its gravely immoral and full deliberation, AND you never repent through the last moment of life. That is the most common path to Hell.
The second way is a matter of some theological dispute. One opinion is that it refers to prenatals, infants, and young children, who die without formal baptism. They die in a state of original sin, because they did not have any form of baptism to take away original sin. But they have no actual mortal sins, so the state is called original sin “alone”.
My opinion is that those persons only die in a state of original sin alone who die unrepentant from the actual mortal sin of omission of never having found the state of grace in this life, by some form of baptism, despite ample opportunity. That last provision is important. It means that no prenatals, no infants, and no young children die in the state of original sin alone, as they have not had ample opportunity. Instead, all prenatals, infants, and young children are given the state of grace, prior to death, as a type of baptism of blood.
Most Catholics have never heard of dying in a state of original sin alone.
B. Punishment in Hell varies, depending on how much you have sinned.
The secular depiction of Hell is constant severe suffering for everyone there. But Catholic dogma (Florence, Lyons II) states that the souls sent to Hell are punished unequally. And this would seem to depend on the type and degree of unrepented actual mortal sin they have committed.
Those who suffer the least in Hell are those who died in a state of original sin alone. They suffer the deprivation of the Beatific Vision of God and all the joys of Heaven, and the worm of conscience. But they have no active torments. They have no bodily pains or other types of torture. Those who suffer the least are said to occupy a part of Hell called the Limbo of Hell.
Among those who suffer active torments, the type and degree of suffering matches the sins that the person committed. For God is just, and just punishment cannot be the same sentence for every guilty person.
C. Punishment for Venial Sin Ends
Since God punishes justly in Hell, He must punish for venial sins as well as for mortal sins. In Purgatory, the souls are punished for venial sins and for repented mortal sins. So the souls in Hell cannot be exempt from punishments for venial or mortal sins.
On the other hand, venial sin does not deserve eternal punishment. Therefore, God punishes the souls in Hell for their venial sins, but after a time, that punishment ends. And this implies that the punishments of Hell diminish, for a while, and then level off. For the punishments of unrepented actual mortal sin are eternal.
D. The fallen angels and souls in Hell cannot sin any more.
If they could sin in Hell, they would sin mortally, and then they would deserve further punishments. And this process would continue, more sin, greater punishments, unceasingly, until every angel and soul in Hell were punished to an unbearably extreme degree. And then it would become even worse. For the greater the sin, the greater the punishment.
Also, it would be unjust for God to permit billions of persons in Hell (angels and souls are both persons) to sin gravely forever and ever. Justice not only punishes sin, but eventually brings it to an end.
Therefore, God must prevent the angels and souls in Heaven from ever sinning again — by His prevenient grace. Similarly, the souls in Purgatory are prevented from sinning by the same type of grace.
E. Justice requires that the souls in Hell in some way benefit from the truly good acts that they may have done while in the state of grace in their lives.
This next point is quite speculative. It seems only fair that if one person did many holy acts, in cooperation with grace, but fell into unrepented actual mortal sin at the end, they should be punished less, or differently, than a person who did not commit holy acts, but did commit the same unrepented actual mortal sin. It’s difficult to say what the difference would be, though, since souls in Hell cannot be rewarded.
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