Friday, March 27, 2015


Is there such a thing as an immortal human soul, immortal independent of God?

In a supposed interview, Pope Francis has supposedly said the following concerning hell:

Scalfari: What happens to that lost soul? Will it be punished? And how? 

The response of Francis is distinct and clear (netta e chiara): there is no punishment, but the destruction/annihilation of that soul. [The Italian word is annullamento, literally, "turned into nothing", meaning here the same as the more usual Italian word for annihilation, annientamento]

 All the others will participate in the beatitude of living in the presence of the Father. The souls that are destroyed/annihilated will not take part in that banquet; with the death of the body their journey is finished. And this is the motivation of the Church’s missionary activity: to save the lost. And it is also the reason why Francis is a Jesuit to the end.”

Is what Pope Francis supposedly said heretical or not? Keep in mind that an interview with an atheist who then reports the interview from his memory is not a magisterial teaching. It is an opinion of  Jorge Bergoglio as Jorge Bergoglio. Keep in mind that when Pope Benedict wrote his trilogy on Jesus he stated that theologians were free to critique and disagree with some aspects of his writings, but of course in an academic way. So popes can have opinions to which we may agree or disagree but we should be able to back up our negative critique with academic prudence.

I was taught, maybe heretically, I am not sure, that if God ceased even to think about us we would cease to exist. It is only through the power of God that we are. This seems to imply to me that we can be annihilated in body and soul!

But I was also taught that we are created with an immortal soul. Is that true? Or can God annihilate the immortal soul of a mortal being? Certainly this is true if God is all powerful, which of course He is!

Thus what wiggle room does Pope Francis and any Catholic have in describing what hell actually is? It seems to me that there are no dogmatic descriptions of hell that are considered infallibly defined. Correct me if I am wrong.

For example, I believe that the Church teaches about the existence of hell, but the Church has never taught infallibly that any human soul actually exists there, although this is true in the realm of the theoretical. The Church does teach that Satan and the other fallen angels dwell in hell. But they are angels not humans.

A Catholic certainly can embrace the theological construct that an immortal soul condemned by God to hell suffers punishment and it is tortuous and could involve flames. But a Catholic could also believe in the torture and flames in figurative way that the immortal soul in hell experiences an absence of God by choice just as the soul did in life. The torture and flames symbolize the eternal knowledge that one has freely chosen to cut oneself off from God and reaps the fruit of their misdeeds and mortal sins. The immortal soul actually exists in hell and has knowledge.

But if what Pope Francis believes as is reported by an atheist, that the immortal soul isn't immortal after all that God can annihilate the immortal soul and cause it to cease to exist, wouldn't this be hell too? The hell is that one is gone, completely, body and soul and has absolutely no existence of immortality even in hell, now for the soul and at the Final Judgement in the here after with their body raised from the clay of the earth.

Is it heretical to believe the soul can be annihilated by God and thus in the Final Judgement and the resurrection of the dead, only the dead bodies that have souls in heaven will be raised from the clay of the earth and fashioned after the Glorified Body of our Savior and joined to their immortal soul in heaven?


Servimus Unum Deum said...

So, are you implying Pope Francis committed heresy? That red text is poignant.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is heresy to say that a soul damned to Hell doesn't really go to Hell but is annihilated. And it's becoming painfully clear that there is something wrong with Bergoglio.

It also raises another question. If a man holds heretical beliefs in his heart prior to his election as pope, is that man really the pope?

But there are other questions.

What kind of a man/shepherd keeps giving interviews (this is number 4) to a "journalist" which cause scandal? Francis KNOWS these interviews cause scandal and confusion. What did Our Lord say about those shepherds of the sheep who cause scandal? He said it would be better if a mill stone was tied around their neck and thrown into the sea. Does Francis think Our Lord was being judgemental and cold and unfeeling and here it comes not showing mercy when He said that?

What good is Francis trying to accomplish by commiting liturgical abuse? What good does someone famous for uttering "who am I to Judge", to daily, and during the Holy Mass, castigate anyone and everyone who disagrees with him? If a parish priest constantly gave sermons saying such nasty, judgemental things about his parishioners how long would he remain in his position.

Something is wrong with Francis.
Why is he being vague on almost everything? Why doesn't he come out and say people living in adultrey can't receive communion because it's sacraligeous? Why will he not say that? Why does he not tell those people to stop living a sinful life and repent, pick up their cross and live a heroic Catholic life? Why isn't he doing that? Why?

Rood Screen said...

First, the Church does teach that anyone who dies without having repented of deadly sins which were freely and knowingly committed will go to Hell. So, I don't know why people bring up the lack of a canonization process for the damned, as if this absence indicates something about the reality of Hell.

Second, I would be very pleased if His Holiness really said that the "motivation of the Church’s missionary activity" is to "save the lost" from Hell or nullification. I believe the lack of enthusiasm among Catholics for evangelization, the New Evangelization and true ecumenism stems from an unclear understanding of the goal of these undertakings: final salvation from death and for the Father. We urgently invite our neighbors into the Catholic Church because without the truth and grace of the Catholic Church, they are more likely to have their souls "annulled".

Rood Screen said...

As for whether damned souls remain parched in Hell or are annulled out of existence, to quote Mrs. William Clinton, "What difference, at this point, does it make"?

Catholic Mission said...

What about LifeSites? Heretical?

No donations to organisations that are pro- abortion but on the issue of salvation, dogmas , Vatican Council II they would welcome donations to LifeSites, whose editor dissents

Anonymous said...

The CCC teaches:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."618

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."619

So the answer to your question is, yes.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

It seems to me that the annihilation of the soul is hell since that soul certainly isn't in heaven or purgatory.

So the actual question I'm posing is what is hell in descriptive terms and how much leeway do Catholics have in describing what hell is since there is no dogmatic, infallible teaching on what the soul experiences in hell in terms of our understanding of pain and misery--certainly eternal annihilation is a way to describe hell!

Anonymous said...

I don't know what the big controversy is all about. The pope's position on the annihilation of souls is perfectly consistent…

…for a Jehovah's Witness.

Rood Screen said...

Father McDonald,

I think we first need to know exactly what the Holy Father said. Have his supposed words been confirmed elsewhere?

Second, if he truly spoke of "annihilation", in the usual English sense of that word, then we have a real problem. Since the Apostolic Tradition makes it clear that Hell is eternal, and that damned human souls suffer there eternally, it is simply not Catholic to speak of a true annihilation of the human soul.

Finally, I think we should assume the best until proven otherwise. Perhaps the Holy Father simply meant to say that the damned soul's hope for a friendship with God is made null and void in Hell.

Anonymous said...

" Perhaps the Holy Father simply meant to say......"

Really! Are we still playing that game. It has been 2 years of this imprudent speech. He is doing all of this on purpose. Like Anon said why does he keep giving these interviews. His actions are blatant and passive aggressive and deliberate.

Paul said...

Keeping in mind the three most dangerous words today: "Pope Francis said"...

What did Mary show Lucy at Fatima?

Matt 13:49

Luke 13:27

and (as pointed out) The Catechism

I think there are a large group of people who (in the words of Blood, Sweat and Tears) "I swear there ain't no heaven and I pray there ain't no Hell".

Perhaps annihilation is the false hope of the hopeless - no hell, just nothingness. If nothingness, then perhaps Satan doesn't exist, so why bother?

All in all, another attempt to deny the existence of Satan.

Anonymous said...

My father got me interested in politics as a child. He was a Roosevelt New-Deal Democrat and I remember watching the '68 Democratic convention in Chicago on TV. I ESPECIALLY remember watching the protesters and police go at each other.

Years later, I left the Democratic Party and registered Republican. My dad was upset with me, but I tried to explain it to him this way: "Do you remember those hippies that disgusted you so much, protesting at the 1968 conventions? Well guess what? Those are now the people running the party. This ain't Roosevelt and Truman's party anymore." He disagreed, but I think he understood.

Well, here is our parallel: Remember all those dissenting priests who completely threw us for a loop when they started taking over our parishes in the 60's and 60's? WELL NOW THEY ARE THE PEOPLE RUNNING THE CHURCH. And it appears they have finally reached the summit of authority. This is no longer Pope John Paul's or Pope Benedict's Catholic Church.

The only problem is, there no other church to go to. We have to pray, sacrifice and sit out this storm.

Anonymous said...

In the philosophy and theological world, this would not be called heresy but rather wrong opinion. For he maintains what has an apparent eternity, meaning there would be no change post "annihilation" as there is no change in eternity. However, this would, again would most likely be wrong opinion. Also he maintains that there is a hell, but obviously it is not a place, again that would be correct in the philosophic and theological sense, but again wrong opinion that what happens to the soul in such a state as hell. He seems to maintain all the proper parameters but would appear to have wrong, or debatable opinions about exactly what it means for a soul to be in hell. So, definitely not heresy, at least as far as anyone in the theological world is concerned. It might appear so to some as heresy, but as far as the context of the quote and the content of the quote, it is not but rather wrong opinion. Further, to claim he is trying to deny satan is absolutely ludicrous. I read statements like that and wonder if anyone has ever read what the Pope has directly said or if they get all their information from biased media, whether secular or religious.

JusadBellum said...

The disembodied human soul has no body and hence no senses (of space, of time, of taste, touch, sight, smell, sound...) but it is conscious, it has will and intellect and can thus know it exists and is utterly helpless.

To be annihilated would be a relief compared to the terror of that eternal state of helplessness, abandonment to solitary confinement with only one's ego-centric will and desire for goods forever lost.

The devils we meet in the New Testament prefer possession in any living thing to being banished back to hell - although as we see with the pigs, this reprieve doesn't last long as they stampede into the lake and presumably are lost back to hell once their host body dies.

It's an inescapably terrifying concept. Visually shown in modern times perhaps only in the recent Hobbit movies of Sauron being an infinite mirror image in fire... nothing but the same outline on fire flipping towards you for ever.

Naturally (and supernaturally) we are utterly repelled from such a fate. Our mind reels from it. We hear the scripture "...made for the devil and his angels": Hell was not made for man at all! It's a prison for rebellious angels and thus for mere mortals to fall into such a state is indeed the utter worst fate imaginable.

Far from gaining the whole world or cosmos in exchange for rejecting the Creator, the damned loses both God and friendship with all other creatures.

This is what we know from scripture and basic metaphysical based anthropology. "Theology" that declares Hell temporary or souls' annihilation is neither scriptural nor based on any metaphysics but on pure wishful thinking that they may delude themselves into believing is 'merciful'.

But Our Lord is merciful - and he did not annihilate the evil why would He annihilate beings far less evil than they?

rcg said...

Seems like annailation is an act of mercy for a soul in Hell. Quickness quoted Jesus' words to Judas at the Last Supper. Another thing it seems that once you know there is a God then you can't be saved by Faith.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I think part of the problem in this discussion is that the Church borrows philosophical terms in its understanding of doctrine. Transubstantiation borrows from the philosophy of metaphysics. One has to understand the means by which this philosophy helps the Church to communicate a truth.

The same with annihilation. The question is, can God annihilate a supposed immortal soul? Yes of course, God is all powerful. He can do as He pleases and not as we please.

Is being annihilated after death a form of hell when the others who are not annihilated see the Beatific Vision. Yes, I would say so, as hell is the absence of God and the absence of the soul from God. How much more absent can you be when you are annihilated and by God!!!!!!

Anonymous 2 said...

This is becoming a very interesting discussion. Let me enter it by pointing to JusadBellum’s apparently paradoxical assertions that the disembodied human soul has no sense of time and yet has a desire for goods “forever” lost. This gets to the crux of the matter and why we are entering deep waters where words run out.

As an article on eternity I have just read in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts the matter:

“As we saw in the case of Aquinas, it is natural and warranted by the nature of things to exercise a little caution in attempting to speak about the very nature of God. How could minds fashioned to function in space and time come to understand the nature of the one who allegedly exists outside space and time?”

And by extension, then, shouldn’t we exercise similar caution in attempting to speak about “eternal life” or “eternal damnation,” etc?

Here is a link to the Stanford article, which highlights the complexities, obscurities, and mysteries in trying to talk about such things:

Paul said...


Not accusing Pope Francis of denying Satan, note my first sentence which is a warning about reporting concerning what Pope Francis has *apparently* said. I can imagine such words, if *misused*, to deny the existence of Satan.

Anyway, not spoken, if spoken at all, Ex Cathedra.

Anonymous said...

Fr. McD, I don't understand how being annihilated is a form of hell, since once you are annihilated you cease to exist and therefore your capacity to suffer ceases to exist. Isn't this the belief of the atheist; death means end of consciousness, becoming no different than inert material? To many it is an attractive option, since doing all the wrong they wish here on earth only ends with nothingness, like being asleep and not dreaming. How bad is that? Think of it, no fires of hell, no accounting for what you have done in life, just like a movie, you end and that's all.
Annihilation sounds like a subtle lie of Satan to me. Why repent or worry if there is no judgement, no accountability for your life?
And if heaven is portrayed as some kind of place for dweebs wearing white robes and playing harps for all eternity, and if you don't go there you get annihilated, then I can see sinful people thinking annihilation isn't the worst thing - spending eternity playing a harp might be. Why repent when the option is an end to suffering by annihilation?

And what of Jesus' words about Gehenna and the unquenchable fire (Mark 9) or the place of outer darkness (Matt. 24). No, I don't believe Jesus lies or misleads. I do not think we are misled understanding there will be a judgement (Matt. 25) and he said regarding those on his left: "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Eternal is eternal. Sorry, no annihilation. Too easy.

Anonymous said...

Were it the case that God annihilated (deleted from existence) souls, it seems Jesus' words, "it would be better if he had not been born" would be untrue. While God may be able to do anything, it seems that such an event (or lack thereof) would deny free will. Ceasing to exist would be no consequence at all. If heaven were too lofty of a goal, you would have free reign to do whatever you wanted in this life with no consequence. Abortion wouldn't be so bad, it would really just set things back the way they were before the inconvenient conception.

Whether or not the Pope actually said such a thing, I don't know.

rcg said...

It seems that if one is annialated then you have no awareness at all, even of the vision of God. Perhaps I am being selfish to not worry to much about it. I should make my best effort to admit the will of God and ask for Our Mother to ask for her Son to mend my gaps. Everything after that will be joy.

George said...

The Holy Father can have theological insights. If God can create a soul "ex nihilo" certainly He could annihilate it.

There are just too many scriptural references concerning Hell to dismiss it, however. Revelations to the saints give desciptions of a very unpleasant experience for those unfortuate souls condemned there and seem to indicate that it is a place. As Anonymous at 8:31 quoted, Hell is Church teaching. One could get into a deep philosophical discussion of what is "place" but why go there? We have Christ's own words referring to such a place (he compares it to a place-Mark 9:43: "It is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into, 'Gehenna,' into the unquenchable fire.").
There are those who take the position that Heaven is not a place and and yet we accept as faith that Christ ascended BODY and soul into Heaven.

"The disembodied human soul has no body and hence no senses (of space, of time, of taste, touch, sight, smell, sound...) "

I personally know someone that had an out -of -body experience during surgery and could see and describe afterwards what the medical personnel were doing. These kind of experiences and testimony by others are not easly dismissed( they also confirm for believers the existence of a soul). The Church teaches that penance remits some or all of the TEMPORAL punishment due to sin. Does that not imply that if one dies in a state of sin, one will experience temporally in some way the punishment due in the life beyond? Certainly it will be experienced differently, since there will be no clocks or day and night to keep up with time.
I'm with St Augustine that Purgatory at least is experienced temporally.

"But Our Lord is merciful - and he did not annihilate the evil why would He annihilate beings far less evil than they?" The fallen angels serve God's purpose as we see in scripture which they would not if He had annihilated them. They are damned-there is no mercy for them. I see your point however.

I agree with JBS that as far as what the Holy Father said or didn't say, we should assume the best until proven otherwise.

Jusadbellum said...

Aquinas would say that any vision a soul has outside it's body comes to it via infused knowledge delivered by an angel. That's why we need our guardian angels.

It's also why ghosts are always suspect - they may be people or they may be evil spirits pretending to be the dead to mislead the living.

As for time... without a body one might still have succession of thought and will but by necessity how 'long' an idea lingers in one's consciousness is unanswerable.

But then we also believe in the resurrection of the body for the saved and the damned so in the final, general judgment, and afterwards forever, the damned WILL have bodies and hence they will suffer physical and spiritual torments as the saved enjoy physical and spiritual delights.

rcg said...

There is an old tune, 'Idumea', that contains the lyric, "a dreary region of the dead, where all things are forgot". While it isn't Catholic, per se, it does address the helpless state of mind it is reasonable to expect while we await resurrection and judgement which, coincidentally, comes in the next verse. I am convinced of God's absolute supremacy and mastery of my existence. I also acknowledge the gift of free will and my intellectual limits. I feel I better spend my gifts on those things within my ken, and can remain both awed and calm on the edge of the magnificent chasm, admiring the majesty without analyzing it in my faulty mind.

Anonymous said...

Of course all the strange ideas that Scalfari has been reporting [in, so far, four interviews] came from the Pope. The Pope will not continue to grant the atheist-journalist interviews if he had not been accurate in reporting his views.

The Pope himself prefers that his interviewer does not take down notes. He prefers that he not be quoted directly, which will give him deniability, if needed.

Yet the Pope has yet to deny anything Scalfari attributes to him even when it borders on heresy. So don't blame the translators; don't blame the media.

Everything Scalfari says the Pope says is true and the Pope means it to be said that way.

Anonymous said...

Whether the soul is anniliated or not does make a big difference because if the soul was simply anniliated that would mean that a soul would not undergo suffering for eternity. The Church has always taught that hell is a place or state that lasts eternally.

A lot of people wrapped up solely in their earthly existence simply wouldn't care if their soul was anniliated but might care if they thought their actions would mean they suffered eternally. So there is a very big difference.

If there is no hell that also implies there is no Lucifer.

If the Pope did say that then it would mean a new answer to the question: is the Pope Catholic? And, yes, I do believe it is a heretical statement.


Anonymous said...
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Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Notre Dame annihilated Perdue in the game last Saturday.

Did Notre Dame cause the Perdue team to cease to exist? I don't think so.

Were the Boilermakers "deleted from existence"? No.

Do the Perdue players, post-annihilation, continue to have sensual awareness of the world around them? Indeed they did.

Stop trying to find fault with Pope Francis. He's a better theologian than any of us who post on this blog.

Anonymous said...
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George said...

Well now Fr. Kavanaugh, if God and not Notre Dame had annihilated Perdue, then the answer you gave would not apply I would think. Now a good theological dispute (one for an Aquinas)would be:

Given: God can annihilate that which he created. Would He do so, in the case of a soul, and if not, why wouldn't He?

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, Pope Francis may well indeed be a better theologian than anyone posting here but at least you, he or his translater don't know the meaning of the word "annihilate" which is "to reduce to utter ruin or nonexistence; destroy utterly".

So if the Pope did say that the soul is annihilated then he either needs a better dictionary or needs to take a good look at what the Church teaches about the immortality of the soul.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

No one, though, including Jan has addressed one of my points and that is "if God ceases to think about us, then we cease to exist."

God is God and even the so-called immortal soul can become mortal if God chooses to cease to think about that soul! Talk about hell!

Hell is the absence of God. I don't think God thinks about the souls in hell.

God can annihilate a soul if God so chooses. To say otherwise would be heretical.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Personally, I'd be happy for an eternity with annihilation if I know what the alternative form my damned soul would be. In fact even if a soul is annihilated, is he truly gone? He once was so he always will be in someone's memory or is the memory of the soul eliminated too by God from the memory of loved ones in the communion of saints????

Anonymous said...

God is all powerful and He can do anything no doubt about that. The trouble is, though, Father, it is not for us to try and guess the mind of God. The closest we can come to knowing is what the Church teaches. The Church teaches that the soul is immortal. That is, it has no end. It must be heretical to say the opposite, surely? Because heresy is to go against the understood teaching or doctrine of the Church.

Our Lord Himself speaks many times of the everylasting fire, everlasting and unquenchable.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Jan this is where we get into philosophy and not theology. Nothingness is something isn't it? And annihilation is a big something for the immortal soul--it is damnation and cast into the giant abyss of emptiness, loneliness and nothingness, it is what it experiences, annihilation, nothingness, emptiness, it experiences no existence and thus to view annihilation in these philosophical terms does nothing to damage the sure and certain teachings of the Church and even with the description of the fires of hell, which certainly in a figurative sense the annihilated soul experiences in nothingness due to the fact that somethingness could have been,the teachings of the Church are upheld.

Nothingness is everlasting and in that sense is quite something and not good by any standard. What is immortality and how do we express it philosophically?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The immortal soul continues in its annihilation, its utter absenceness in the abyss of nothingness--that's hell and the fires of hell where the fire is fueled by the nothingness of the annihilated soul!
WOW! This is heady stuff and will take an eternity for the annihilated soul to comprehend.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

God created nothingness, for it is something even if a thought! The annihilated immortal soul enters into that created thought and continues for an eternity of annihilation. I see no heresy here.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

And the truth of annihilation, even its thought, burns me up!

Anonymous said...

But, Father, the comment supposedly made by the Pope was "there is no punishment, but the destruction/annihilation of that soul". Therefore, I don't think we can get past the word "annihilate" itself, which means to become nothing, to be utterly destroyed.

In that statement there is no inference that the soul enters into a state of nothingness but that the soul in fact ceases to be, and that is contrary to what the Church teaches. Even Fr Kavanaugh seems to realise the implication of what Pope Francis is reported to have said by trying to change the meaning of the word "annihilate".

Also, Father, how can you think that the soul goes into nothingness when Our Lord says: "The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. [42] And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [43] Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

Isn't it better to err on the side of having "ears to hear" than take the risk of what is implied in the annihilation of the soul, which implies that there is no hell and no suffering?


Anonymous said...

Father, you will know what the catechism states with regards to hell but others may now be confused:

613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,"615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"616

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs."

While the catechism states that the chief punishment is separation from God, at the same time it explicitly states that Hell is "eternal fire". A soul dying in mortal sin, being immortal, exists in this state forever but if the soul is annihilated it could not exist in this state and, therefore, the purported statement of the Pope contradicts Church teaching on the immortality of the soul and the fact that hell is everlasting.

I believe most people would fear eternal suffering in hell and would see the annihilation of the soul as the easier option, especially if life on earth was all they had ever longed for. Even though it is wrong that we repent for fear of hell, belief in the annihilation of the soul would lead fewer people to repentence I feel.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Jan, the Catholic Church is not opposed to philosphy and philosophical discussions, fundamentalist indeed are, indeed those of the Protestant denominations and others now in the Catholic Church simply cannot understand symbol and take everything literally.

Is there actual fire in hell that a disembodied soul can experience? Answer that please, how can something material like fire harm a spirit?

Therefore, fire is a metaphor for separation from God. What fuels the fire the soul of person in hell?

Gehenna is a place in Jerusalem in Biblical times where the trash is buried and burned and a very horrible place at that as the fire seemed always to burn--Jesus uses this as a metaphor for hell as does the Church when she uses the Words of Christ in this regard.

There is nothing heretical from the philosophical point of view with annihilation as I have described philosophically above. Only fundamentalist literalists, either Protestant or Catholic influenced by literalism would have a problem with philosophy. The Church doesn't though, meaning the Magisterium. Faith and reason walk hand in hand.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - The word annihilate does not always and in every use mean "to reduce to utter ruin or nonexistence; destroy utterly".

The example of gave of Notre Dame annihilating Perdue shows that.

Also, the Church does not teach that hell is eternal fire. This is a figure of speech intended to indicate that hell is a place of eternal and extreme suffering.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - And I have not tried to change the meaning of the word annihilate. It HAS several meanings. The meaning is determined by the context, as if the case with many, many words.

George said...

Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an

The commonly understood meaning of annihilate is" to destroy, to cause to cease to exist, to obliterate". There are other meanings of the word of course. The question is what did Pope Francis mean? I or anyone else could conjecture that God annihilates a soul of someone who is deceased and dies impenitent of mortal sin. It would be just an opinion. The best approach to take is to reference what is in scripture especially the words of Christ. If He was using Gehenna as a metaphor, I say what a metaphor!

Father McDonald, what you say below is true:
"God is God and even the so-called immortal soul can become mortal if God chooses to cease to think about that soul!" >That any of us exist at all is because God wills it. He could cause a soul to cease to exist but would He? Does He do this?

"In fact even if a soul is annihilated, is he truly gone?" > According to the commonly accepted meaning of the word, yes.

"And annihilation is a big something for the immortal soul--it is damnation and cast into the giant abyss of emptiness, loneliness and nothingness, it is what it experiences, annihilation, nothingness, emptiness, it experiences no existence"

In the above statement you are using annihilate in a different way than the generally understood definition. If one is annihilated as that word commonly understood, one would not experience anything, neither emptiness, loneliness or nothingness. So according to your usage of the term, the soul is not annihilated, it experiences something akin to being in the middle of an empty universe, devoid of stars and all other matter.

"Is there actual fire in hell that a disembodied soul can experience? Answer that please, how can something material like fire harm a spirit?"

How can something not visible to the eye heat and cook food? Yet that is what our Microwave ovens do. If man can do this cannot God do greater?

With God all things are possible.

Mike said...

I am late to comment, but here are my two cents: this is not a new interview, but an analysis/opinion column by Scalfari. I searched high and low for anything substantial that would suggest that this is the actual view of Pope Francis, and his previous references to hell and Satan do not appear to be even slightly unorthodox. There was, however, a false article that was written in 2013 that did feature a fake quote by Francis at "Vatican III" in which he states that hell is not a real place. Many of my evangelical friends were taken in by it. Who knows what the Italian press did once they got their hands on it. I suspect Scalfari was taken in by some version of the article and included it as part of his analysis without confirming whether Francis actually said it.

Anonymous said...

Father, regardless of what hell is, plainly the Church teaches it is a place or state of suffering, that is eternal and that the immortal soul, in mortal sin, goes there to suffer for all eternity.

That is the Church's teaching and, therefore, any statement that the soul in mortal sin does not suffer but instead is annihilated (the common meaning as George said to destroy, to cause to cease to exist") is heretical because it is directly contrary to Church teaching.


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - Notre Dame annihilated Perdue in the game last Saturday.

Did Notre Dame cause the Perdue team to cease to exist? I don't think so.

Were the Boilermakers "deleted from existence"? No.

Do the Perdue players, post-annihilation, continue to have sensual awareness of the world around them? Indeed they did.

Stop trying to find fault with Pope Francis. He's a better theologian than any of us who post on this blog.

No one, including Pope Francis, is denying the existence of hell and the suffering of those condemned to hell.

Anonymous 2 said...

This is an interesting, disturbing, and bleak discussion.

I raise again an issue that I raised obliquely a couple of days ago. The CCC says:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. . . .The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs."

Can someone please explain what “eternity” and “eternal” in “eternal separation” mean? Indeed, can anyone? It is speculation, of course, but could it not perhaps be experience of the awful knowledge of what is definitively and irrevocably lost before total annihilation, an experience unfathomable in the extent and depth of its intensity? How long does that experience last? A second? A million years? Forever? Are such questions even coherent if eternity is beyond space and time?

HH said...

yes this is heresy, through and through.

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, you appear to be following the line of some who try to put a better spin on what Pope Francis is reported as saying.

But the article is unequovical in stating "The response of Francis is distinct and clear (netta e chiara): there is no punishment, but the destruction/annihilation of that soul. [The Italian word is annullamento, literally, "turned into nothing", meaning here the same as the more usual Italian word for annihilation, annientamento]"

So if the Italian word used is literally "turned into nothing" it is clearly far removed from what you try to liken it to with your reference to a game of football where the sports writer has used narrative licence with the word "annihilated" to get his meaning across.

Saying there is no punishment and the soul is annihilated is contrary to Church teaching and heretical, so for the sake of the Church let us all hope that the report is incorrect and L'Osservatore Romano quickly publishes a correction.

And, Fr Kavanaugh, a person doesn't need to be a theologian to be able to quote the Catechism. However, I would think that one does need to follow the Catechism if one wants to be considered Catholics. Also I think you can agree with me that there are many who profess to be theologians who are not Catholic ...


Anonymous said...

When philosophy ceases to bring clarity and reduces terms to absurdity (Nothingness is something isn't it? says Fr. McD.) then it's just foolishness.
Can God annihilate (cause cessation in existence)? Probably.
Does He? Not likely.
God doesn't cheat at His own game.

Catholic Mission said...

Two standards on doctrine

Doctrinal difficulties exist within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's position on Vatican Council II and Tradition

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan, anyone can quote the catechism. You did in an attempt to show that the Church teaches that hell consists of fire.

You were wrong. The Church does not teach this. You misunderstanding of how the Catechism functions is the cause of your error.

No, one doesn't have to be a theologian to QUOTE the catechism, but there is more, much more, to understanding the Catechism than merely quoting it.

JusadBellum said...

This sort of conversation is the reason why philosophy and logic ought to be taught first and then theology.

You must define your terms. "Annihilate" means to bring to non-existence. ANALOGOUSLY one can speak of annihilate in sports as "wipe out", "broom", "decimate" or "defeat". But an analogy is just that.

CS Lewis in "The Great Divorce" would write of souls becoming less human, de-personalizing to the degree they closed in on themselves (inasmuch as Aristotle observed that humans thrive in community, to close in on oneself is to become less what we were made to be).

So in that sense, the damned are less human than the saved. But they're still human souls. They haven't ceased to have wills and intellects.

Nothing we have been revealed in scripture, councils or magisterial documents would make us switch from the metaphysical understanding of Being to the allegorical, metaphorical or symbolic understanding of the damned ceasing to exist. Their existence may certainly be an impaired one - their very sin in this life is an impairment! But to be wounded or degraded or reduced is not to cease to be entirely.

The same goes for the existence of fire in hell.

Hell was made for the devil and his angels (as per Our Lord's own warning in the gospel of Matthew). So as a prison of spiritual beings it would not have fire as spiritual beings have no bodies.

But again Our Lord mentions "fire" and the undying 'worm'. After the final judgment all the dead will rise and be given bodies and the damned with be 'flung' into the lake of fire with the devils.

While a disembodied soul cannot experience physical fire, a resurrected body can. It's an awful, horrifying prospect to have an incorruptible body that nevertheless can suffer the pain of heat like that. But what else are we to assume but that in Revelation "lake of fire" means "a lake of fire"?

To wave a "theological" wand and convert the literal sense into a metaphoric one in this instance lessens the horror of hell and consequently relativizes the importance of our relationship with God. It smacks of the devil's first lie to Eve "you will not die". True, IN ONE SENSE, Eve would not immediately physically die but she did immediately lose her super-natural life and immortality. Thus in the long sense, God was truthful: by eating the fruit she began to die. It might take 800 years but she was doomed to experience death from that moment on.

Thus resurrected damned humans will have bodies and can suffer some effects of physical fire. No reason for us to pooh pooh this literal understanding as doing so lessens the horror and deterrent value of hell.

If there is little 'downside' to rebellion and the end result is non-existence, many may feel that rebellion in this life is preferable - gather ye rosebuds while ye may and all.

Anonymous 2 said...

As no-one seems to want to address the issue of the nature and experience of “eternity” for the “damned,” let me try coming at the problem from another direction:

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Pope Francis actually said something along the lines of what is reported here (and that may very well not be the case given his frequent references to the Devil), why might he have done so? More generally, what might motivate_anyone_to question the lurid accounts of hell and eternal damnation that are part of the Christian patrimony (other than “JusadBellum’s “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” that is)?

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, do we need to be a theologian now to understand the catechism? I thought the catechism was for ordinary Catholics in simple language for them to understand. Could you explain perhaps how the catechism functions?

Anonymous 2 asks "what would motivate anyone to question the lurid accounts of hell and eternal damnation"? Well, of course there are the liberal minded in the Church who seek to twist the catechism - we have heard them all with their unprincipled arguments - they downplay miracles (Christ didn't walk on water but walked on a reef, for example), they deny the existence of the devil and downplay that hell is a place or state of suffering for eternity. Why? Simply, it seems to me they have lost the Faith.

St Teresa the Great Doctor of the Church was taken to hell and what she said confirms that it is a place of suffering where she felt fire in her soul:

“The entrance seemed to be by a long narrow pass, like a furnace, very low, dark, and close. The ground seemed to be saturated with water, mere mud, exceedingly foul, sending forth pestilential odors, and covered with loathsome vermin. At the end was a hollow place in the wall, like a closet, and in that I saw myself confined. All this was even pleasant to behold in comparison with what I felt there. There is no exaggeration in what I am saying. [...]

“I felt a fire in my soul. I cannot see how it is possible to describe it. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life… yet all these were as nothing in comparison with what I felt then, especially when I saw that there would be no intermission, nor any end to them. [...]"

The children at Fatima were also given a vision of hell as fire.

That's good enough for me. I prefer what the saints have had to say than what any liberal-minded pastor in the Church has to say these days.


George said...

Why would Christ use Gehenna as an example when he could of used something or someplace else? Do you not think He is perfectly capable of giving an appropriate example to describe what He is speaking about? An example which accurately describes the nature and characteristic of the subject?

" While a disembodied soul cannot experience physical fire, a resurrected body can." Is not God capable of having our soul experience the pain of fire? Or Heavenly bliss? How He enables this I know not but I am sure it is within His power. The testimony of numerous saints indicate this to be the case.

Anonymous 2
I don't know why Pope Francis would say such a thing(if that is what he said).
Hell is something that has been pondered and discussed since the the reality of a place or existence for the damned was revealed to man. As far as Eternity, Einstein believed that time was an illusion( but a persistent one). Interestingly, Therese of Lisieux in her writings said something similar. Unlike God and the heavenly inhabitants, we are "imprisoned" in our temporal existence and cannot from our vantage point understand what it is to experience anything else.

Anonymous said...

If God annihilates PErdue it's OK with me, but as a PUrdue grad I would be upset if He did so to PUrdue. Also whenever Purdue loses to the former Catholic Univ I'm unhappy as all Catholics should be.


Fr. Michael j. Kavanaugh said...

George - I think Jesus used the example of Gehenna to depict as nasty a place as He could. If we must understand His use of the example as an accurate description of the nature of hell, then we should conclude that hell is not a "lake of fire" but a garbage dump.

Jan - The Catechism “will provide every catechist with sound help for communicating the one, perennial deposit of faith within the local Church, while seeking, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to link the wondrous unity of the Christian mystery with the varied needs and conditions of those to whom this message is addressed.” (Apostolic Letter LAETAMUR MAGNOPERE, St. Pope john Paul II, 15 August 1997)

It functions to communicate to us the teaching of the Church. It does not function to support your erroneous understanding of the teaching of the Church regarding the nature of hell.

If you will re-read Fr. McDonald's March 29, 7:40 comments, you will see that my position cannot be dismissed as that of a "liberal-minded" pastor since he and I agree on this. Unless, of course, you lump him in with the "liberal-minded."

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, you are free of course to think my view of the catechism is erroneous, but I - and many others posting here - find your view erroneous, and we are free to do so. Likewise many pastors would not agree with you either. At least you say that Christ came up with the worst description possible for the pit of hell, so we agree at least, fire or no, as you appear to fear that so much, it is a place where none would wish to end up. And the place Our Lord referred to was a garbage heap where fire burnt incessantly.

Anonymous said...

And Fr Kavanaugh, New Advent sums up the fire of hell and shows that I have more of a leg to stand on than you do:

"The poena sensus, or pain of sense, consists in the torment of fire so frequently mentioned in the Holy Bible. According to the greater number of theologians the term fire denotes a material fire, and so a real fire. We hold to this teaching as absolutely true and correct. However, we must not forget two things: from Catharinus (d. 1553) to our times there have never been wanting theologians who interpret the Scriptural term fire metaphorically, as denoting an incorporeal fire; and secondly, thus far the Church has not censured their opinion. Some few of the Fathers also thought of a metaphorical explanation. Nevertheless, Scripture and tradition speak again and again of the fire of hell, and there is no sufficient reason for taking the term as a mere metaphor."


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - I have no problem whatsoever if you and others want to imagine hell as a lake of fire. If that works for you, stick with it.

The problem arises when you assert that the Church TEACHES that hell is a lake of fire. This is not the Church's teaching.

You use the Catechism to "prove" your point the same way a biblical literalist uses the Scripture to "prove" his/her point. Literalism regarding the Scripture or the Catechism leads to erroneous understanding.

Here's what St. John Paul II (General Audience, 21 July, 1999)said, "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).

Note: Scripture uses SYMBOLIC language. It is not meant to be taken literally.

He further stated, "The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. 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. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'"

The images must be correctly interpreted. They are not meant to be understood literally.

And I don't fear saying that hell consists of fire. I do fear those who state as Church teaching that which is not Church teaching.

So now you must include St. Pope John Paul II along with Fr. McDonald and Yours Truly among the "liberally minded."

George said...

Fr Kavanaugh

Sacred Scripture is the pre-eminent part of the Magisterial teaching of the Church. It teaches in part that Hell is a separation from God but also a very unpleasant place (or state if you want)

1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,"615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"

Do you not believe the words of Christ Himself? Or the testimony of many of the saints?

At Fatima(which as you know has been approved as worthy of belief), the Blessed Mother herself showed the children an image of Hell which comported with what Christ said.

Anonymous said...

With due respect to Pope St John Paul The Great - he expressed his opinion (it is said in three controversial Wednesday Audiences - so obviously he departed from traditional teaching on Hell as a place or state). Nevertheless, he also said that Hell is a state of eternal damnation. He didn't say that the soul was annihilated and nor did he have the word "fire" expunged from the catechism.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

"It is urged: How can a material fire torment demons, or human souls before the resurrection of the body? But, if our soul is so joined to the body as to be keenly sensitive to the pain of fire, why should the omnipotent God be unable to bind even pure spirits to some material substance in such a manner that they suffer a torment more or less similar to the pain of fire which the soul can feel on earth? The reply indicates, as far as possible, how we may form an idea of the pain of fire which the demons suffer. Theologians have elaborated various theories on this subject, which, however, we do not wish to detail here (cf. the very minute study by Franz Schmid, "Quaestiones selectae ex theol. dogm.", Paderborn, 1891, q. iii; also Guthberlet, "Die poena sensus" in "Katholik", II, 1901, 305 sqq., 385 sqq.).

It is quite superfluous to add that the nature of hell-fire is different from that of our ordinary fire; for instance, it continues to burn without the need of a continually renewed supply of fuel. How are we to form a conception of that fire in detail remains quite undetermined; we merely know that it is corporeal. The demons suffer the torment of fire, even when, by Divine permission, they leave the confines of hell and roam about on earth. In what manner this happens is uncertain. We may assume that they remain fettered inseparably to a portion of that fire."

The saints have testified to hell being fire, St Teresa of Avila for one. Our Lady showed the children a vision of hell as fire and, as George points out, there are the very words of Our Lord Himself.

How much else, Fr Kavanaugh, of scripture do you see as purely allegorical I wonder. There are those, for example, who believe that Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, as He stated He was. They see that as purely symobolic in that we are all sons of God. There are those who say that when he offered bread and wine it didn't become His body and blood but was merely symbolic. So how far do you go?


Anonymous said...

It is very interesting that I read about Purgatory, "it is important to mention that the Church has not rejected the possibility of material fire in purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1030-1032) refers to the fire and flames of purgatory twice, never indicating that these flames are metaphorical. Thus, the Church seems to feel bound to at least allow for the possibility of a strictly literal interpretation of the purifying fire and uses the language of fire and of flames without any hint that this is meant metaphorically."

In addition:

"Venerable father Garrigou-Lagrange: “After long discussions and wide historical researches on this particular point, it seems wise to conclude with St. Robert Bellarmine and Suarez as follows, ‘Although the existence of fire in purgatory is less certain than that of fire in hell, the doctrine which admits a real fire in purgatory must be classified as a sentential probabilissima (very likely). Hence the contrary opinion is improbable.’"

Interesting that this great theologian says that fire in Purgatory "is less certain than that of fire in hell".

So the view that hell is not fire is only an opinion held by certain liberals in the Church in recent years - other liberals go further in that they do not believe in hell or purgatory.


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

George - It's not a matter of believing the words of Christ Himself.

Must I believe Him when he says "I am the door" or "I am the vine"? Certainly not. It is plain to any reader, even the most confirmed Biblical literalist, that Jesus is not a door or a vine, that these are metaphors.

The testimony of the Saints is not a source of Divine Revelation UNLESS that to which they testify is declared to be Divine Revelation by the magisterial authority of the Church.

Don Bosco had a vision of children he'd taught in hell tearing the flesh off their own faces. Anne Emmerich saw hell as a dilapidated city with vipers devouring lost souls. Do these testimonies deserve to be thought of as 1) literally true or 2) as part of Divine Revelation?

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - I would go as far as the Church goes, and no farther, in interpreting the Scriptures as regards the literary forms found therein.

Nowhere are we taught by the Church that Jesus is a literal door, though He said, "I am the door' (John 10:7), or that He is actually a vine, though He said "I am the true vine" (John 15:1)

The Creation Accounts, according to the Catechism, use figurative laguage (CCC 390). It would lead to an erroneous understanding of Creation and the Fall if one were to read them as literal history.

And this is not some recent, "liberal" reading of Scripture. St. Augustine in "O the literal meaning of Genesis" warned of the dangers of understanding the Scriptures in a way that is plainly contradicted by human understanding and experience. "It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are." (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408])

You seem to think that "purely allegorical" means false. It doesn't. Allegory, metaphor, myth, and several other forms of literature are found in the Bible. All of them were used by the Sacred Authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to communicate to us Divine Truth.

CCC 110 "In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.""

No, this is not some "modern" or "liberal" approach to the Sacred Scriptures.

George said...

Fr Kavanaugh:
With all due respect,could it be that at least some of the time Christ was speaking literally? Sure He used figurative language and metaphors. When He referred to Hell, He had to use some example to describe it so that those who heard Him would have some understanding of what it was like. He could have said that it was like a continual, eternal falling into a bottomless pit. Had He done so, people listening to Him would have understood what He was referring to (at least to some extent). No one here is claiming that everything in Scripture- everything said by Christ is literal. Not everything is figurative either. When Christ used the example of Gehenna to describe Hell, His listeners had an apt description they could relate to of what it was like. We can surely agree with Augustine that Holy Scripture is not equivalent to a science textbook.
Some of the saints through the grace of God were able to see and experience Hell. If it was deemed to be a fabrication on their part, would they have been canonized? Their lives of holiness speak to their truthfulness.

You take a few threads and seek to weave a tapestry. The weight of Christ's words and the testimony of the saints stand in stark contrast to your view.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

George - The saints' visions of hell are not "fabrications" any more than Jesus' description of hell as being "garbage-dump-like" is a fabrication. Jesus saying he was a "door" is, in the same way, not a fabrication.

But that's not the point.

Jesus used an example of some horrible "place"- a garbage dump -to describe the punishment that awaits those who die unrepentant. Burning for all eternity in "fire" is, for all of us, a very horrible, unpleasant prospect.

But that's not the point.

The saints saw a "place," but hell is not a place, but a state of being every bit as real - maybe even more so - than the state of being in which we now exist.

But that's not the point, either.

The point is that the Church does not teach that, in order to be a faithful Catholic, any of us MUST believe that hell consists of fire, in whatever form you think of fire.

"Fire" is a metaphor for suffering - intense eternal suffering.

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, the theologian Fr Garrigou-Lagrange states that we "we are to admit metaphorical language only when comparison with other passages excludes the literal sense, or when literal sense involves an impossibility" which would relate to your example of a vine or door:

The Fire of Hell: Real or Metaphorical?

The common doctrine is that the fire of hell is a real fire. This view is based on the accepted position in the interpreting of Scripture, that is, we are to admit metaphorical language only when comparison with other passages excludes the literal sense, or when literal sense involves an impossibility. [283] Neither of these two conditions is here realized. In this sentence, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels," [284] the entire context demands a realistic interpretation. As the good go to eternal life, so you go to the fire prepared for the demon and his angels. This fire punishes, [285] not only souls, but also bodies. [286] The apostles [287] too speak with the same realism. St. Peter [288] takes as type of punishment in hell that fire which fell from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah. The metaphorical interpretation, wherein the fire is a figure of chagrin or remorse, is contrary to the obvious sense of Scripture and tradition.

The Fathers generally, with the exception of Origen and his disciples, speak of a real fire, which they compare to terrestrial fire, or even to corporeal fire. Thus St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great. [289] A. Michel, [290] after a long examination of these texts, concludes: "When the Fathers simply affirm traditional belief, they speak without hesitation of a hell of fire. But when they discuss the difficult question of this fire's mode of action, we can notice some hesitation in their thought."

This fire, says St. Thomas, [291] is a corporeal fire, of the same nature as fire on earth, differing from it only accidentally, since it has no need of terrestrial fuel. It is dark, without flame, lasts forever, burns bodies without destroying them. [292]"

Also, Benedict XVI (later than St John Paul II The Great) gave his opinion on hell when he described it as an inferno, so I am in good company:

Fri, Mar 30, 2007: Last Sunday, the Pope celebrated Mass at a parish in the northern suburbs of Rome. In his sermon to the parishioners, Benedict reminded his audience that hell is a place which really exists. As reported by the London Times, "the Pope said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to 'admit blame and promise to sin no more', they risked 'eternal damnation--the inferno'". In his homily Pope Benedict XVI stated that Hell "really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more." According to the Times, "the Pope went on to point out that 'forgiveness of sins' for those who repented was a cornerstone of Christian belief."


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan - You state, "The common doctrine is that the fire of hell is a real fire."

Real fire requires fuel, consumes what it burns, and has a commonly understood mode of action (reaction between oxygen and some fuel resulting in the release of energy), and emits light.

Then your sources promptly turn around and say, "It is the same as earthly fire EXCEPT that it needs no fuel, lasts forever, emits no light, and never consumes the thing being burned."

"Fire" that needs no fuel, lasts forever, emits no light, and never consumes the thing being burned" isn't fire. It is a metaphor for intense suffering.

Jesus is a door. Except He has no hinges, no latch, no door frame, no wooden planks, no "squeak" when opened/closed.

"Jesus is a door" is a metaphor.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

So hell is a metaphor for the burning of the soul now and the body with it after the resurrection of the dead, which can be described as eternal annihilation of joy and the bitter punishing experience of eternal anihilation.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Good Father - Hell is not a metaphor. Hell is a reality, as the Church teaches.

That hell consists of "fire" is not taught by the Church. While it is described as "like fire" or like a "garbage dump," the Church does not teach - and by that I mean definitively - that fire and brimstone (which so far has been left out of our discussion) is what the unrepentant should expect.

George said...

Fr. MacDonald:
Well, our connection (relationship) to God will be annihilated as will be our existence in the Temporal plan. Our salvation and life in the Eternal Heaven will likewise be annihilated.

Fr Kavanaugh:
Not believing in the private revelations of the saints does not mean one ceases to be Catholic. Likewise not practicing private devotions. I take the position that you are a much better Catholic if you do these. Saintly revelations do not Church teaching make, I know that. the Church has never definitively taught that any specific person is in Hell. It cannot do so. Does this then mean that no one is in Hell? Of course not. I take its teaching on whether or not there is fire in Hell to be similar. I also take the position in that to me it is within the Power of God to create something that looks and feels like fire outside our own existence.
I can't get past the words of Christ in Scripture. To me He was saying that it is close enough to what we know as fire that it will make no difference to those unfortunate to end up there.

I'm more in line with Jan on this.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

George - You and Jan can envision hell as you wish. Again, the issue I am addressing is Jan's claim that the Church TEACHES that hell consists of fire. This is not correct.

Too often people make such claims, believing, of course, that they are right. But, in fact, they are overreaching, taking some passage from some authoritative document and turning them into "teaching" because they want the Church to teach this or that. Or, they are confronted with the fact that they have misunderstood the Church's teaching and, when told they are wrong, they find it hard to adjust accordingly.

I conclude that there are many people of all religious and political stripes that yearn for complete and absolute clarity. They operate under the illusion that beliefs and/or policies can be stated in such a way that all discussion or disagreement will be ended.

This is the "Roma locuta; causa finita est" syndrome. The cause, however, is rarely, if ever, finished. Debates go on, theologians continue to theologize, scripture scholars continue to delve more deeply into ancient languages, factions within the Church push this or that way.

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, I originally stated, "While the catechism states that the chief punishment is separation from God, at the same time it explicitly states that Hell is 'eternal fire'". You obviously don't like the reference to 'eternal fire' but the catechism states that and the Church does in fact teach that there is fire in Purgatory.

Also to say that "the chief punishment is separation from God" means we can take from that that there are other punishments associated with Hell and the catechism mentions "eternal fire" which you cannot deny.

Where does the Church teach that the fire of Hell is only a metaphor? Only yourself and other liberal interpreters of scripture say such things. I mention again that one of the Church's preeminent theologians, Fr Garrigou-Lagrang, clearly states when metaphors can be used in interpreting scription and that Hell isn't one of them and that "The common doctrine is that the fire of hell is a real fire".

I know I was taught the common doctrine that Hell was a place of fire and it is only in recent years that some have been reinterpreting the common doctrine - 1999 in fact according to the New York Times who headline that "Hell is getting a makeover":

Fr Kavanaugh, George and I and others hold a different view from you. The views you hold belong to a recent development in the Church, which seems to be watering down the common doctrine handed down through the centuries and it is being done to suit the modern age that doesn't want suffering and it is leading to a widespread loss of faith, I am afraid.


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jan – The Catechism does not explicitly state that hell consists of fire. It quotes Jesus as describing hell a being like “eternal fire.”

You quoted: "Venerable father Garrigou-Lagrange: “After long discussions and wide historical researches on this particular point, it seems wise to conclude with St. Robert Bellarmine and Suarez as follows, ‘Although the existence of fire in purgatory is less certain than that of fire in hell, the doctrine which admits a real fire in purgatory must be classified as a sentential probabilissima (very likely). Hence the contrary opinion is improbable.’"

“Less certain” cannot be turned into “Purgatory consists of fire.”

“Sentential probabilissima” (very likely) cannot be the basis for a definition by the Church that is definitive / dogmatic. Likely, or even very likely, is not certain.

On May 17, 1979, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained: "She [the Church] believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner."

Fr. William Most comments: “There will be, then a bodily pain. The imagery of fire means it will be a suffering as intense as that caused by earthly fire.”

Fire is used as an image, as a metaphor, for the cause of the bodily pain, as intense as that caused by earthly fire.

The understanding of various passages of Scripture as being metaphor is not a “liberal” interpretation, unless you regard St. Augustine’s “On the literal meaning of Genesis” as liberal. Augustine understood the necessity of understanding properly the various forms of literature in the Bible, so to say that this is a “recent development” is simply wrong.

Anonymous said...

Fr Kavanaugh, if you wish to believe that the fire of Hell is a metaphor then that is your choice.

To me and others there are too many statements in scripture that point to the fact that it is not a metaphor (the basis for what Garrigou-Lagrange stated). For example, the rich man in the parable didn't ask for a burning coal to warm him up - no, he wanted to be cooled down.

As for the saints, many state it is a fire, St Teresa of Avila, St John Bosco among them. Not to mention the vision of hell fire that the children of Fatima were shown by Our Lady, which certainly goes against the idea of a metaphor.

St Anthony Clarat wrote: "In hell," according to St. Gregory the Great, "there will be a fire that cannot be put out, a worm which cannot die, a stench one cannot bear, a darkness one can feel, a scourging by savage hands, with those present despairing of anything good."

A most dreadful fact is that by the divine power this fire goes so far as to work on the very faculties of the soul, burning them and tormenting them. Suppose I were to find myself placed at the oven of a smith so that my whole body was in the open air but for one arm placed in the fire, and that God were to preserve my life for a thousand years in this position. Would this not be an unbearable torture? What, then, would it be like to be completely penetrated and surrounded by fire, which would affect not just an arm, but even all the faculties of the soul?

More Dreadful than Man Can Imagine

Secondly, this fire is far more dreadful than man can imagine."

As for purgatory, the Catechism states:

"1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608"


Anonymous said...

I know this thread is old, but I think there is something important worth considering here. Namely, if we think of "fire" this seems to me to be symbolic of the Holy Spirit. It is common to all three "places" in which one may end up, Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. The Seraphim "burn" with love for God, the souls in Purgatory burn with purifying fire, the souls in Hell burn with fires of torment.

The fire is common - what differs is the soul's experience of the fire. It is the soul's experience of God, their openness to God that determines this. Further, for all these places to exist, the Holy Spirit - God - is required to sustain them. We could enter into a philosophical discussion on whether Hell truly is a place or the absence of anything - but what we can say for sure I think is that the souls "in" Hell do exist ad infinitum. Indeed, to even speak of them implies their existence. And since God uses even people who become overridden by evil to accomplish good, they too become part of His story - a story which can never be forgotten. After all, without Judas we could not have the story of our Salvation as we know it. Anyhow if we do actually decide on the philosophical point to take the idea of Hell as nothingness, God is not therefore present therein, but He is in some way present in the sustaining of the souls in that state of annihilation.

So all souls are eternally supported by God, but those experiencing Hell have no visible manifestations of God's creativity except their own selves. They exist in nothing (apart from the company of demons and other fellow damned souls). Because they are so miserable they cannot see, they are blind to, the truth that their existence itself reveals God. That is, because they are faithless, it seems as though God is not present and they can therefore never make a movement towards Him.

Taking this further, as they are disavowing themselves of God, they also disavow themselves of their role as "Co-Creators" - i.e. they cannot create anything to fill the vacuum in which they reside in the damned state - which may shed some light on the further question of whether in Heaven we glory in creating continually new things in praise of God? That's another debate! I would venture to say perhaps, as anything we create is just really God creating through us anyway - our wills in Heaven are all unified to the Divine Will and thereby it seems logical we shall be free to take part in infinite Creative enterprise within the glory of Heaven.

On the whole I don't see any contradiction with Pope Francis' potential statements. Hell can be a "place" characterised by nothingness and annihilation but yet still a "place" in which souls exist forever. Mathematically, think of the souls experiencing Hell tending to zero. But never reaching zero! The souls in Heaven, conversely tending to infinity but never quite becoming infinite - indeed we can only become "like God" but not God ourselves.