11. The opinion of Christian theologians in regard to Hell is summed up in the following quotations. * This description, derived from the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the Lives of Saints, may be presented with all the more confidence as conveying a correct idea of the orthodox belief in regard to the subject we are considering, because it is perpetually set forth, with some slight variations only, in the sermons of Protestant divines, as well as in the pastoral teachings of Catholic priests.
* Vide “L’Enfer,” by AUG. CALLET.
12. “Demons are purely spiritual beings, and the damned, who are now in hell, may also be considered as purely spiritual beings, because it is only their soul that is in hell, for their bones, returned to dust, are being incessantly transformed into grass, plants, fruit, minerals, and liquids, undergoing, unconsciously, the continual metamorphoses of matter. But the damned, like the Saints, will be resuscitated at the Last Day, and will again put on, nevermore to be cast off, a fleshly body, the same body by which they were known during their earthly life. What will distinguish the one class from the other is that the elect will be raised with a purified radiant body, and the damned, with a body degraded and deformed by sin. There will then be no longer in hell purely spiritual beings only; for there will be in it men, such as we now are. Hell is, therefore, a place, physical, geographical, material, since it will be peopled with terrestrial creatures, having feet, hands, a mouth, a tongue, teeth, ears, eyes, like ours, and veins with blood in them, and nerves capable of feeling pain.
“Where is hell situated? Certain doctors of the Church have placed it in the entrails of the Earth itself; others, in some planet; but the question has never been decided by any Council. We are, therefore, in regard to this point, reduced to conjectures; the only thing that is affirmed in regard to it is that hell, whatever the part of the universe in which it is situated, is a world composed of material elements, but a world without sun, without moon, without stars; more gloomy, more inhospitable, more utterly devoid of every germ and appearance of good, than are the most inhospitable regions of the world in which men are now sinning.
“Christian theologians prudently abstain from painting, after the fashion of the Egyptians, the Hindus, and the Greeks, all the horrors of that abode; they confine themselves to showing us, as a sample, the little that the Scriptures unveiled to us in regard to it; the lake of fire and brimstone of the Apocalypse; the worms of Isaiah, that are forever writhing on the carcasses of Tophel; demons, tormenting the men they have brought to perdition; and men, weeping and gnashing their teeth, according to the statements of the Evangelists.
“Saint Augustine does not admit that these miseries can be regarded as merely physical images of moral sufferings; he sees, in a real lake of sulfur, real worms and real scorpions attacking every part of the bodies of the damned and adding their stings to those of the fire. He asserts, basing this assertion on a verse of Saint Mark, that this wondrous fire, although as material in its nature as the fire we know upon the Earth, and although it will act forever upon material bodies, will preserve the bodies of its victims as salt preserves flesh. But the damned, perpetually sacrificed and yet perpetually living, will feel the agony of this fire that burns without destroying; it will penetrate under their skin; they will be soaked and saturated with it in all their limbs, and in the marrow of their bones, and in the pupils of their eyes, and in the most secret and sensitive fibers of their being. The crater of a volcano, could they throw themselves into it, would be for them, in comparison with the fire of hell, a cool and refreshing resting place.
“Thus speak, with the fullest confidence, the most timid, most discreet, and the most reserved theologians. They do not deny that hell has other kinds of corporeal torments; they only say that they have not a sufficient kind of knowledge of these to warrant their speaking of them, or, at least, as positively as they are able to do in regard to the horrible torture of fire and the disgusting torture of worms. But there are other theologians, bolder, or more enlightened, who give, in regard to hell, descriptions that are more detailed, more varied, and more complete; and, although it is not known in what region of space hell is situated, there are saints who have seen it. They did not enter its gloomy portals carrying a lyre in their hands, like Orpheus, or a sword, like Ulysses; they were transported thither in spirit. Saint Theresa is one of those who have thus beheld it.
“It would seem, according to the recital of that Saint, that there are cities in hell; at all events, she saw a sort of narrow alley, such as those which are so often found in old towns. She entered this alley, stepping, with horror and loathing, upon the muddy, filthy, and stinking ground, covered with monstrous reptiles; but her progress was speedily arrested by a wall which barred the alley, and in this wall was a niche, in which Saint Theresa placed herself, without quite understanding why, or how, she did so. It was, she said, the place reserved for her, if she made ill use, during her earthly life, of the grace so abundantly shed by God, on her cell at Avila. Although she had entered, with wonderful facility, into this niche, she could neither sit, nor lie, nor stand upright in it; still less could she get out of it: the horrible walls had closed in upon her on all sides, enveloping her whole person in a stony shroud, and pressing in upon her, as though they were alive. It was as though she were being stifled, strangled, and, at the same time, flayed alive, and chopped into pieces; she felt as though she were being burned, and experienced, at once, every species of torture and anguish. As for obtaining any help, none was to be hoped for; around her there was nothing but thick darkness, and nevertheless, through this darkness she still, to her utter amazement, beheld the hideous alley in which she was kept a prisoner, and all the vile and filthy creatures about her; a spectacle fully as intolerable for her as the pressure of her prison walls. *
“The alley thus seen was, doubtless, only a little corner of Hell. Other spiritual travelers have been favored with wider views of it, and have seen within its precincts, vast cities all on fire; Babylon, and Nineveh, and Rome itself, with their palaces and temples, wrapped in flames, and all their inhabitants chained, each to his place, in the midst of the burning; the dealer at his counter, priests and courtesans in the halls of festivity, shrieking on the seats from which they could never again get loose, and lifting to their lips, to quench their torturing thirst, wine cups that vomited flames; lackeys on their knees in burning sewers, and princes, upon whom there flowed, from the hands of those lackeys, a devouring lava-stream of molten gold. Others have beheld, in Hell, enormous plains that were being dug and sown by armies of famishing peasants, and as these plains, steaming with their sweat, and this sterile seed produced nothing, the starving peasants devoured one another, after which, as numerous, lean, and famishing as before, they wandered off in bands, towards every part of the horizon, seeking in vain for some more favored region, while their places were taken, at once, by other wandering columns of the damned. Other saints, again, have seen, in Hell, mountains full of precipices, groaning forests, wells without water and fountains fed with tears, rivers of blood, whirlwinds of snow in deserts of ice, boats full of shipwrecked wretches blown hopelessly about, on shoreless seas. In short, all these seers have seen, in Hell, all that the Pagans formerly saw in it, viz., an exaggeratedly dismal reflex of the Earth, a shadow, incommensurably magnified of its miseries, with its natural sufferings rendered infinite and eternal, even to its dungeons and its gallows, and all the instruments of torture that our own hands have forged.
“There are, moreover, in Hell, demons who, in order to more thoroughly torture the fleshly bodies of the damned, take upon themselves bodies of flesh. Some of these have wings like bats, horns, scaled, sharp claws, and pointed teeth; they are described to us as being armed with swords, pitchforks, pincers, red-hot nippers, saws, gridirons, bellows, and clubs, and as discharging throughout eternity the functions of cooks and of butchers of human flesh; others, transformed into enormous lions or vipers, incessantly drag their human prey about in solitary caverns; others, again, changing themselves into crows, peck out, forever, the eyes of some of the guilty, or, taking the form of winged dragons, carry them away upon their backs, terrified, bleeding, shrieking, athwart vast wastes of darkness and then shake them off into the lake of brimstone. Some of these demons present the appearance of clouds of gigantic grasshoppers and scorpions of which the sight causes shuddering, the smell, the nausea, the slightest touch, convulsions; others assume the form of many-headed open- throated voracious monsters, whose hideous faces are surmounted by manes of snakes, that crunch the reprobate in their gory jaws and them vomit them out again crushed and formless, but living, because they are immortal.
“These demons, with forms perceptible to the senses, and that so nearly resemble the gods of the Amenthi, and of Tartarus, and the idols worshipped by Phoenicians, the Moabites, and the other Gentiles around Judea, do not act from their own caprice; each of them has his own function and his own work, and the tortures they inflict in Hell are in close connection with the crimes they have inspired, and caused to be committed upon the Earth. ** The damned are punished in all their senses and in all their organs, because they have offended God by all their senses and by all their organs; they are punished in different ways according to the nature of their sins, they are punished as gluttons by the demons of gluttony, as lazy by the demons of laziness, as fornicators by the demons of fornication, and in as many other ways as there are different ways of sinning. They will freeze in burning and burn in freezing; they will hunger for rest while hungering for movement; they will be always hungry, always thirsty, a thousand-fold more weary than the weariest slave at the close of day, more diseased than the dying, more broken, more bruised, more covered with wounds than the martyrs, and they will continue to exist forever and ever.
“No demon ever yet tired, or ever will tire of his hideous task. All the demons are, in regard to the work appointed to them, thoroughly disciplined and faithful in executing the avenging orders they have received. Were it otherwise, what would become of hell? The victims would obtain relief if their executioners quarreled among themselves or wearied of their work. But there is no relief for the former because there is no quarreling among the latter; however wicked they are, however innumerable, the demons have a perfect understanding with one another throughout the length and breadth of the abyss, and there have never been seen, upon the earth, nations more docile to their princes, armies more obedient to their chiefs, monastic communities more humbly submissive to their superiors, than are the demons to their rulers, from one end of hell to the other. ***
“We know, however, but little of the populace of demons, of the vile spirits who make up the legions of vampires, ghouls, toads, scorpions, crows, hydras, salamanders, and other beasts that have no name for us, and that constitute the fauna of the infernal regions; but we know and have the names of many of the princes who command those legions, among others, Belphegor, the Demon of lust; Abaddon or Apollyon, the Demon of murder; Beelzebub, the Demon of impure desires, Master of the flies that engender corruption; Mammon, the demon of avarice; and Moloch, and Belial, and Baalgad, and Astaroth, and many others; and, above these, their universal chief, the somber archangel who bore, in Heaven, the name of Lucifer, and who bears, in Hell the name of Satan.
“Such, in brief, is the idea which is given us of hell, considered from the point of view of its physical nature and of the physical sufferings of which it is the theater. Open the writings of the Fathers and the ancient Doctors of the Church; interrogate our pious legends; examine the carvings and the paintings of our churches; listen to what is said in our pulpits, and you will learn many particulars in regard to it.”
* This vision presents, so distinctly, all the characteristics of nightmare, that Saint Theresa’s experience may doubtless be regarded as of that nature.
** A strange sort of punishment, in sooth, which consists in enabling these demons to continue, upon a wider scale, the evil done by them upon the Earth! It would be more reasonable for them to be made to suffer themselves the consequences of that evil than to be allowed to gratify themselves by inflicting suffering on those whom they have led astray.
*** Those demons, rebellious to God’s goodness, present an exemplary mildness to practice evil. None of them display ill will throughout eternity. What a strange metamorphosis took place. They were created pure and as perfect as angels! Is it not odd for the demons to be examples of perfect harmony, comprehension and unalterable agreement, while humans do not know how to live in peace and mutually tear each other apart? Viewing the amount of punishment reserved for the condemned and comparing their situation, which are more deserving of compassion more our pity, the criminals or their victims?
13. The author from whom we are quoting follows up the foregoing picture with the following reflections, the importance of which will be easily perceived by the reader:
“The resurrection of the body is in itself a miracle; but God will work a second miracle in giving to the mortal bodies thus raised—bodies that have already been worn out by the passing trials of life, that have already been annihilated—the power to subsist, without dissolving in a furnace in which all the metals would be converted to vapor. If it be urged that the soul is its own executioner, that God does not persecute the sinner but abandons him to the state of misery he has brought upon himself by his own choice, that statement may be admitted as true, although the eternal abandonment of a lost and suffering being would seem to be but little in conformity with the goodness of the Creator; but what may be admissible in regard to the soul and to spiritual sufferings cannot be, in any degree, admissible in regard to the resuscitated bodies and corporeal suffering of the damned. In order that these sufferings may be perpetuated throughout eternity, it is not enough that God should withdraw His hand; it is necessary, on the contrary, that He should show His hand that He should intervene, that He should act; for, without the constant action of His power in maintaining their existence, those bodies would be immediately destroyed.
“Theologians, therefore, assume that God operates, after the resurrection, the second miracle to which we have just referred. He draws, in the first place, from the sepulcher that has devoured them, our bodies of clay. He raises them, from the grave, such as they were when they were committed to its keeping, with all their original infirmities and all the degradations they have successively undergone from age, vice, and disease; He gives them back to us in that state, decrepit, shivering, gouty, full of physical needs, sensitive to the sting of the minutest insect, covered with the ignoble stains that our life and our death have left in them; this is the first miracle. Next, to these weak wretched bodies, ready to crumble away into the dust from which they have been taken, He imparts a property that they never before possessed; and this is the second miracle: that is to say, He inflicts upon them the gift of immortality, that same gift which, in His anger—or, should we not rather say, in His mercy? — He withdrew from Adam when the latter was driven out of Eden.
“While Adam remained immortal, he was invulnerable; and, when he ceased to be invulnerable, he became mortal: death followed close upon the heels of pain.
“The resurrection, then, does not restore to us either the physical conditions of the innocent man or the physical conditions of the guilty man; it is a resurrection only of our miseries, but with the addition of new miseries infinitely more horrible; it is, in fact, and as regards the immortality of the bodies thus raised, a new creation, and the most malicious act the human imagination has ever dared to conceive of. God alters His mind and, in order to add to the spiritual torments of sinners fleshly torments that shall endure forever, He suddenly changes by an act of His power, the laws and properties that He Himself assigned in the beginning, to all bodies formed from matter: He resuscitates diseased and rotten flesh, and joining in an indestructible union, the material elements which tend spontaneously to separate from each other, He maintains and perpetuates this living rottenness; He throws it into the fire, not in order to purify it, but to preserve it just as it is, sensitive, suffering, burning, horrible, and in this state by His will, He renders it immortal.
“By attributing such a miracle to God, Christian theologians represent Him as one of the executioners of Hell; for, although the damned can only attribute their spiritual sufferings to themselves, they can only attribute their fleshly sufferings to a direct exercise of His power. It is not enough, apparently, for God to abandon the souls of the guilty, after their death, to sorrow, to remorse, to the anguish of knowing that they have shut themselves out from happiness forever; His power, according to theologians, pursues them through the darkest recesses of this abyss of horror, seeks them out from this night of misery and drags them back, for a moment, to the light of day, not to console them, but to clothe them with a hideous, putrid, flaming, but imperishable body, more pestiferous than the robe of Dejanira; and it is only then that He abandons them to their fate.
“But, no; He does not, even then, simply leave them to their fate; for Hell only subsists, like the Earth, like Heaven, in virtue of a permanent action of His will, and, like them, would vanish into nothingness if He ceased to sustain its existence. His hand will therefore be laid upon the damned, throughout eternity, to prevent their fire from burning itself out and their bodies from being consumed; and He will do this, incessantly, in order that the sight of the perennial tortures of these wretched beings, thus cursed by Him with immortality, may intensify the happiness of the elect.”
14. We have said, and with truth, that the Hell of the Christians is more hideous than that of the Pagans. In Tartarus, we see the souls of the guilty, tortured by remorse, perpetually confronted with their crimes and their victims; we see them fleeing from the light which transpierces them, and seeking in vain to hide themselves from the sight of those whose glance follows them wherever they go. Their pride is abased and mortified; each of them bears the stigma of his past; each is punished by the recoil of his own evil deeds, and so certainly that for a great number of them, it is judged to be quite enough to leave them to themselves, without adding any other chastisements. But they are shades, that is to say, souls clothed with their fluidic bodies only, images of their terrestrial existence; we do not see, in the Pagan Hell, men re-clothed with their fleshly body, in order that they may be harrowed with the additional misery of physical suffering, nor any material fire “penetrating under their skin and saturating them with physical agony to the very marrow of their bones,” nor the lavish variety and ingenious refinements of the tortures that constitute the basis of the Christian Hell. We find, in Tartarus, judges who are inflexible but just, and who apportion the severity of the punishment to the degree of the faultiness for which it is inflicted; whereas, in the empire of Satan, all are subjected to the same tortures, and all these tortures are based on physical suffering; everything else is banished, including equity.
Undoubtedly there are, at the present day, and even in the churches themselves, many sensible men who do not accept these descriptions of Hell as literally true, and who regard them as being only allegories which are to be interpreted in a spiritual sense; but the opinion of such persons is merely individual, and is not the rule. The belief in a physical Hell, with all the consequences implied in that belief, is nonetheless, even at the present day, an article of the Christian creed.
15. It may be asked, “If these horrors do not really exist, how can they have been seen by ecstatics, even in a state of trance?” This is not the place for explaining the source of the fantastic images that are sometimes produced to the consciousness of the spirit, with all the appearances of reality. * We can here only remark that the fact of their production proves the truth of the principle laid down by us,** viz., that trance is the least reliable of all the modes of revelation, because this state of super-excitement is not always the result of a complete disengagement of the soul from the body, but is often complicated with reflexes of the subjects with which the mind of the seer has been busied in his waking state. The ideas that have been assimilated by the spirit of the seer, and of which his physical brain, or, rather, the perispiritual envelope corresponding to the brain has preserved the impress, are reproduced in trance but distorted as though in a mirage under vaporous and shadowy forms that cross each other, blend together, and make up unreal and fantastic pictures. The visions of ecstatics of all religions are always conformed to the religious belief with which they are imbued; and it is therefore not surprising that those who, like Saint Theresa, are strongly imbued with theological ideas of Hell, as conveyed by verbal or written descriptions and by paintings, should have visions which are, properly speaking, only the reproduction of these ideas and which partake of the nature of nightmare. A Pagan ecstatic, if he believed in the creed of his day would have seen in trance Tartarus and its Furies, just as in a vision of Olympus he would have seen Jupiter holding the thunderbolts in his hand.
* Vide “The Mediums’ Book,” No. 113. – Tr. 17
** Vide “The Spirits’ Book,” Nos. 443, 444.