Hell and desolation

In preparing for a public debate about the possibility of a hope for an empty Hell, I was struck by just how absolute its desolation is. It is too horrible to think that you could end up so lost that even your own mother would not mourn your loss.



  1. Fr Aidan Kimel said,

    March 15, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    And precisely that outcome is what makes eternal damnation utterly inconceivable.

    • March 15, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      While I am sympathetic to St. Gregory of Nyssa et al. on this point, I find Matthew 26:24 to be nearly impossible to square with that interpretation: “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

      The best I can do is to say perhaps it is simply a Semitic idiom to express extreme grief, such as in the case of Job and Jeremiah. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that Job and Jeremiah did not at the time believe that it would be better for them had they not been born, which would make it not an idiom but a literal expression of true despair.

    • March 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Fr. Al,

      You read my blog? Awesome!

      I agree that it is inconceivable. I’m also open to Hell being possible. Perhaps all love and concern for others is ultimately grounded in the Mystical Body or the Church, and it is possible to separate oneself from it.


      Mt. 26 is made even more problematic by the direct reference to the “Son of Perdition” passages of Psalm 69, bolstered by John 17:12 and Acts 1:20.

      The reality of Hell is very difficult to decouple from Christ’s teaching. It figures directly in at least six of his parables, and he speaks twice or three times about those who will go there. Just word search the Gospels for “fire” and “wailing and gnashing”

      • Fr Aidan Kimel said,

        March 16, 2014 at 12:43 pm

        A couple of thoughts:

        1) “It is too horrible to think that you could end up so lost that even your own mother would not mourn your loss.” Precisely this, I think, is un-thinkable–both for God and for anyone who loves another. Will a mother forget her children? Will she not instead demand to be with her lost child in his damnation? Can she enjoy eternal joy knowing that her child is suffering the horrors of hell?


        2) Universalists do not deny the reality of hell; but they do genuinely hope that even in that terrible darkness God will eventually succeed in summoning all to himself. This hope is possible even for those who confess libertarian freedom, but you are a Thomist, right, and grace can be not only sufficient but efficacious, right? (You see where I’m leading, I’m sure …)

        3) The NT may not be as plain and clear as you think it is:

        Cheers. Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your stuff, even though it is usually well above my pay grade.

  2. E.R. Bourne said,

    March 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    James, I’m wondering if there isn’t a parallel between the inconceivability of both Hell and Heaven. You had a post recently on the universality of equality and transcendence, and it ended with a concept of heaven which humans cannot conceive but is nevertheless real in virtue of the relationship between perfect and imperfect being.

    I am unfamiliar with arguments about the hope for an empty hell, and I am ambivalent about the idea, although I do find the actual words of Christ rather compelling. But if the argument is that it would be inconceivable for the type of desolation or separation we think exists to actually exist, then can’t we say that that is no real obstacle for the same reason we say that heaven is inconceivable and yet altogether real?

  3. David T said,

    March 16, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    When I think of how difficult it is for me to honestly face my sins here on Earth, I wonder how I will ever be able to do it at my judgment after my death. But that is what we will endure – God is the God of both mercy and truth, and He will be merciful to the extent that we are truthful both to Him and ourselves. He will show us as we truly are. Will I flee from His presence rather than face the truth about myself? I will if I don’t know, really know, Christ and His mercy. And that is the essence of Hell. It is a healthy fear to take nothing for granted with respect to judgment.

    I wonder how someone guilty of crimes beyond human comprehension – Hitler being the textbook example – could ever stand the presence of God and the self-transparency it requires. How does such a person ever come to terms such sin? The only possibility is the mercy of Christ, but someone like Hitler has spit on this mercy, not only with his crimes against others, but with his final suicide. I don’t find it at all unimaginable that such an individual would spend eternity fleeing ever further from the presence of God – especially as I can’t rule out that possibility for myself.

  4. Tim L said,

    March 16, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Interesting question, David, about facing God. I was just reading today the story that Svetlana (Stalins daughter) told about how unpeaceful of a death her father had. That at points through his slow death he looked around the room terrified. And then, right before passing he mustered up enough strength to shake his fist angrily upward.

  5. March 25, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    “In preparing for a public debate about the possibility of a hope for an empty Hell”

    Will there be an audio record of this debate, and will it be accessible to public?

  6. March 25, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    I am very afraid that “empty hell” is similar term as “rounded circle” or (unfortunately) “best possible world”. Because what reason would there be for the existence of hell if it was not empty? AFAIK, catholic doctrine says that hell was the result of Lucifer´s unchangeable decision; so if hell exist, it is definetely not empty, because at least Lucifer is there. So if we want to speak about empty hell hypothesis, we should by this term mean “hell where no person is present (but fallen angels are)”.

    Anyway, from the point of view of orthodox catholic doctrine it is futile to discuss empty hell hypothesis. Traditionalists (FSSPX, etc) would maybe say that sole discussing this topic is at the edge of heresy, if not over it.

    This all nevertheless changes nothing about the fact, that the possible world without hell is “desirable as hell”, and that every imaginable (possible) world where hell, even if only one single person would be damned, is, without exaggeration, tragic. This is one of the reasons why I am not happy with the free will. No free will = no hell & no evil …

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