“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

For the past week or so, Patheos writers have been on a Hades kick. You might think it had something to do with Halloween, but you’d be wrong.

Apparently things started with Mark Shea defended Father Robert Barron against what seems to me to be a case of misinterpretation. Whatever, I still wasn’t paying much attention, because my kid got pneumonia again. And then young Ryan Adams brought in some Orthodox perspective, and suddenly there were Facebook eruptions of hellish debating and people behaving in devilishly uncharitable ways toward each other.

And I still wasn’t paying much attention because, you know, book prep, and a headcold that has turned me into a mouthbreather, and the clocks got turned…

And then I look up and, welcome to Patheos Catholic, where it’s wall-to-wall hell and demons and Katrina is happy because at least someone is talking about it (and it’s true, I can’t recall the last time I heard anyone preach on hell…)

“Hell is Hot” says Katrina.

“The Hell You Say!” says Dr. Gregory Popcak

“Try Oklahoma!” counters Rebecca Hamilton

“This all lacks wit!” cries Sam Rocha

“Unity, Unity, Unity!” pleads Pat Gohn, who is trying to shed some light.

“If you want to talk hell…” whispers Lisa Hendey who is still processing the bits of heaven and hell she encountered in Rwanda.

“When you’ve reached rock bottom,” counsels Elizabeth Duffy “very next breath is a coin in the basket.”

“Do you know what Aquinas said about hell and rock bottoms,” interrupted Will Duquette, “because I’m reading this new book – ”

“BOOKS!” bellowed Tony Rossi. “I’m giving books away! Come and get ‘em!”

“BOOKS!” answered Sarah Reinhard and their all about Mary!”

“Ssshhh,” calmed Tom McDonald, “you people are too worked up. Listening to the oldest surviving song might calm you down.”

“Ssshhh,” answered Leah Libresco. “I am processing penance and Pelagianism.”

“No, you shush,” Max tells her. “I can’t keep quiet about it; this is THE UGLIEST PIECE OF RELIGIOUS ART, EVER.”

“Gently, gently,” say Deacon Greg Kandra and Margaret Rose Realy, “only beautiful things…”

You know what I think about hell?

It’s real.

Whether it is an actual place or a state of being is utterly immaterial to me; it is the place without God, and I want to be saved from it, and I don’t think I can work out my salvation in fear and trembling by arguing about it in a Facebook forum and deciding who is the “good” Catholic who knows the truth and who is the “bad” one who doesn’t get it.

I think arguing about whether “few” or “many” are in hell is a futile business when the more important point is that Christ Jesus said we’d be surprised who ends up where.

I think none of us know what happens between God and a created soul in those infinitesimal moments between life and death, and so we have no clue — none of us knows — whether hell is empty, as Shakespeare posits, or is full.

But we do know that, like heaven, it will never be too full to receive us, and so if you believe in heaven or hell, you should strive for one. I suspect the place worth going to is the difficult one — because getting there involves serving God and then others — and the place to avoid is the easy one because it only needs serving of the self and the self and the self until we cannot see any true god and bump continually into ourselves, in our house of mirrors.

That sounds like hell to me.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Almario Javier

    My sentiments exactly. Whethere one or a trillion are in Hell, we should do our utmost to not go there. I mean, I already have a hard enough time with the state of my own soul.

  • Josh Magda

    As you contemplate this important issue, Sister, I offer only this testimony, based on limited but utterly decisive experience:

    I would sooner be afraid of my own beloved mother than I would be of God. :-)

    There is no fear in Love, even as there also is no eternal separation from the Beloved. Love does indeed win. :-)

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I didn’t check out all the links, but there is one Universalist possibility that I don’t think was discussed there. It’s the one i’m sympathetic to. It’s not that hell doesn’t exist, or that no one is there. It exists and millions if not trillions might be there. It’s that hell is not eternal. No where does it say that reconcilation is not possible after death. (Look up “Universal Reconciliation”) And there are several implications that our wills are not fixed after death. If our wills are not fixed after death, then we can still change our hearts. God’s mercy is infinite, and in the course of eternity even the most hardened sinner and the most devout atheist will have a change of heart. We know so little of the after life that it’s clear that very little of it has been revealed. Anyway, that’s my hope.
    And it just occured to me. If one believes in the absolute damnation of souls, hasn’t one lost hope?

  • Linebyline

    So whether hell is immaterial is immaterial to you? Hee hee.

    Anyway, good point about the “how many people are in hell” debate missing the point entirely. The objective is not to guess the number, but to keep it from increasing.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    I am just glad Fr. Barron and Mark Shea say there is no one in hell…..that means party time….let’s rock and do whatever we want…….yea baby!!!!!
    Skip that old Jesus who was always warning people about going to hell —– hey, if Fr. Barron and Mark Shea are right and Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are having a great time in heaven I will to….I’m not as bad ay they are.
    And I’m just glad we don’t need confession anymore……

  • MeanLizzie

    What a dishonest and lazy representation! What a straw man you’re chewing on! Nobody said anything like that – I certainly did not — and I listened to the Barron video and never heard “there is no hell.” I certainly never heard anyone say “we don’t need confession anymore.”

    The fact is you cannot know who is in hell, Maggie. You just can’t know; you can’t say for sure than anyone is. You can suppose. You can “trust” that the people you think should be in hell are there. But you cannot know. Neither you or anyone else is privvy to that information, or what happens between any soul and its maker in those most intense moments. You don’t know if mercy is offered once more and refused, or accepted. You also don’t know if you are going to end up there, or not, and neither do I know that about me. I pray I won’t, but I know my sins. I believe in mercy, but I don’t know the mind of God; all I can do is hope and trust.

    The nature of theological discussion is to take subjects and wonder about them. That, says Saint Gregory of Nyssa, is how we get to knowing. Refusing to allow people to wonder is how we get to idolatry. “Ideas lead to idolatry, only wonder leads to knowing.” It’s perfectly okay with me if people wonder about stuff. And God must like it too, because he equipped us with reason and imagination, both of which we need, if we’re have any sense of him — even the merest notion of him — to begin with.

    Please don’t sneer and pretend people said things they didn’t say. I’m kind of done tolerating that in the comboxes, and I’m at the point where if all someone can manage is a snotty, sneery “oh, right, nah, nah, nah, let’s all do this now” (as with your ridiculous assertion that anyone said “confession doesn’t matter”) I’m just going to trash them. I’m tired of enabling our perpetual adolescences. Things are too serious for it.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    Jesus has redeemed everyone. That’s what Pope Francis and Father Barron are saying. It’s not a misinterpretation. To say becoming a Catholic is the only way of salvation is triumphalism, which Francis has condemned. No one need become a Catholic. According to Francis proselytism is solemn nonsense. Because Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, etc — everyone — has already been redeemed.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    Father Barron clearly said we must believe their is a hell but we don’t have to believe anyone is there.

    2+2=4

    If a good Piest of the church tells us it’s very likley no one is in hell………… then what hitler, stalin, and mao did really doesn’t matter.
    LETS PARTY LIKE NO ONE IS IN HELL………and to all the Jews who were murdered by hitler they can just get over the fact that good ole Adolph gets to hang out in heaven with them.

    Now you can accuse me of being a perpetual adolescent and dishonest and lazy but I somehow believe that could be better applied to peoplle who deny the clear warning from Jesus that hell does indeed exist and souls are there right now.

  • Oldlinestatedad

    I like the description of hell that CS Lewis uses in the Great Divorce-it is essentially a prison of one’s own making. While people may be free to leave in Lewis’ story, most souls in hell choose to remain, for whatever reason, they do not want to enter heaven. To paraphrase Lewis, those in heaven say to God “Thy will be done.” Those in hell hear God tell them. “thy will be done.”

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    No that’s not what it means about Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. What Fr. Baron is saying is that we don’t know if Hitler, Stalin, or Mao repented at the moment before their death

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Right, and the question that I think is pertenet is whether those people in hell can change their minds over time. Are their wills free to change, and if so, then they will in time have a change of mind, or more accurately a change of heart. Lucifer changed his mind (for the worse) in paradise, and so did Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve acted with free will.

  • LisaB

    From what I understand, Catholic teaching is that you cannot change your mind once in Hell – Purgatory is the time of cleansing.

    I believe that Hell exists because I believe there is Justice. I believe Heaven exists because I believe there is Mercy.

  • Josh Magda

    I concur with the sentiment I first heard from the Eastern Church: Hell is nothing more than the presence of God’s Love, in our state of active resistance to it, whether in this life or the life to come. And because our resistance is no ultimate match for God’s Love, which quite literally cannot stop, Hell, if anyone is there in the first place, cannot be eternal. Though I am Catholic but not Roman Catholic, I believe the view I have outlined is entirely possible without compromising the tradition of the RCC.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    That may be Catholic teaching, but it’s not based on revelation as far as I can see. So it’s rather murky and speculation. At least that’s how I see it. Universalism is outside of church teaching, so the concept is most definitely pushing the envelope. As to justice, I didn’t say hell didn’t exist. Yes, justice takes place but would it be justice if a soul is damned eternally to hell? That would be worse than the death penalty and the church rejects the death penalty. Eternal justice is beyond justice and contradicts an all loving God.

  • Oldlinestatedad

    My point about CS Lewis wasn’t to illustrate Catholic teaching, Lewis was An Anglican convert from atheism. And in truth, the area that he describes in the Great Divorce is more akin to purgatory-where souls are urged by angels to reevaluate their lives (via weekly bus rides to the gates of heaven-over the course of the book, only one soul actually decides to enter heaven, most opt to return to the waiting room/staging area). Lewis also works the theme of humans placing virtues and other good things upon a pedestal and worshipping them (something our host has written a book about) only to find those things become demons when that happens. Even something as pure as motherly love can be turned into something monstrous when worshipped upon a pedestal. The example of that particular soul in the Geat Divorce was rather harrowing.

  • Luke

    It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye, than for a man to enter the kingdom of God when he is rich. 26 But when he was asked by those who were listening to him, Why then, who can be saved? 27 he told them, What is impossible to man’s powers is possible to God.

  • Sharon

    “Proselytism” is different from evangelization, and Pope Francis is the kind to realize that the way we live our lives is the best form of evangelization. Francis himself has condemned no Church doctrine. We may have been redeemed, but we are still free to reject that redemption.

  • Jordan

    I just don’t understand anyone who just keeps repeating jazz about NEEDING Hitler, Stalin, yada yada yada to be in Hell. I wouldn’t be suprised if they were, it seems logical, but it’s possible they’re not, I really have no idea. I find it a kind of sick and stupid waste of time to blabber on about SO MANY PEOPLE that MUST be in Hell. How about pray and hope and work with God’s grace for your own good and the good of others and quit calling people stupid for hoping as few people end up in Hell as possible. They’re probably getting more accomplished than you are, anyway.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    Manny, Fr. Barron said we don’t have to believe anyone is is in hell.

  • Jonenred

    Thank God for Michael Voris.

  • craig

    We don’t have to believe anyone *specific* is there. The closest we could come is speculation that Judas Iscariot is in hell, based on Jesus’ statement ‘it would be better for that person never to have been born’. But the Church has never definitively declared even that Judas is in hell. It’s above her pay grade.

    But the existence of an eternal hell, and the fate of at least some unspecifed people to end up there, is directly revealed from the words of Jesus Himself and cannot be contradicted.

  • craig

    Lewis made this explicit at one point — I forget where. He said that the fictional place ended up being Hell for the people who stayed, but it was Purgatory for the people that eventually moved on toward Heaven.

  • LisaB

    God is all loving – Yes! And that is why He would never make someone who rejects Him go to Heaven against his or her own will.

    The Church does not outright reject the death penalty.
    “2267 Assuming that
    the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the
    traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death
    penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives
    against the unjust aggressor. “

  • MeanLizzie

    Manny, watch it for youself.

  • MeanLizzie

    Manny, watch it for youself.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v… I’m closing comments because I’m bored with this and tired of the breathless “he said this heretical thing”…which he did not. He just dared to be a little nuanced while presenting many ideas.


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