Skip to comments.The Early Church Fathers on Hell - Catholic/Orthodox Caucus
Posted on 02/06/2007 2:19:51 PM PST by NYer
The Early Church Fathers taught that any one who dies in a state of mortal sin will suffer for all eternity in hell.
Ignatius of Antioch
Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil reaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire, and so will anyone who listens to him (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1-2 [A.D. 110]).
If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).
No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).
[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with his angelic host, when he shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then he will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, he will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons (ibid. 52).
The Martyrdom of Polycarp
Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).
We [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one. . . . Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul . . . or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated (Plea for the Christians 31 [A.D. 177]).
Theophilus of Antioch
Give studious attention to the prophetic writings [the Bible] and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God.... [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortally by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things. . . , For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).
The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . It is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, "Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire," they will be damned forever (Against Heresies 4:28:2 [A.D. 189]).
Standing before [Christ's] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: "Just is your judgment!" And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).
I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there measure nor end to these torments. That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them, just as fiery thunderbolts strike bodies but do not consume them (Octavius 34:12-5:3 [A.D. 226]).
Cyprian of Carthage
An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike; For if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past (Catechetical Lectures 18:19 [A.D. 350]).
In keeping with guidelines posted by the Religion Moderator, we are posting this thread (and future ones) a series on the Early Church Fathers, as a Catholic/Orthodox Caucus. Protestants are welcome to post comments but restraint from attacks, would be appreciated. This thread is posted to inform, support and defend the historic orgins of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17 - John the Baptist said the Lord will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. This unquenchable fire is the state of eternal separation from God, which the Church has called "hell" for 2,000 years. Some Protestant communities no longer acknowledge the reality of hell.
Matt. 25:41 - Jesus says, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Matt. 25:46 - Jesus says, "they will go away into eternal punishment" which is in reference to this eternal fire.
Mark 9:47-48 - Jesus refers to hell as where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. It lasts forever.
2 Thess. 1:6-9 - the angels will come with flaming fire and the disobedient will suffer punishment of eternal destruction. It is important to note that "destruction" does not mean "annihilation," as some Protestant denominations teach. It means eternal exclusion from the presence of God.
Jude 6-7 - the rebelling angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Rev. 14:11 - the worshipers of the beast suffer and the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever.
Rev. 20:10 - they're tormented in the lake of fire and brimstone day and night forever and ever.
Isaiah 33:14 - "Who of us can dwell in the everlasting fire?" This is a reference to hell which is forever.
Isaiah 66:24 - their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched. We cannot fathom the pain of this eternal separation from God.
Jer. 15:14 - in my anger a fire is kindled which shall burn forever. Hell is the proper compliment to the eternal bliss of heaven.
Judith 16:17 - in the day of judgment the Lord will take vengeance on the wicked and they shall weep in pain forever. Hell is a place that sinners have prepared for themselves by rejecting God, who desires all people to be saved in His Son Jesus Christ. God sends no one to hell.
Bookmark for later. Time to feed the hounds.
By Fr. Joseph Pfeiffer
Can we get a definition of what "in a state of mortal sin" means? One preferrably from the same Church Fathers?
"Can we get a definition of what "in a state of mortal sin" means? One preferrably from the same Church Fathers?"
I'd appreciate the appropriate cites also, NYer. I am unaware of any Eastern Fathers who used the term, but of course I could be wrong.
Let us pray and repent of our sins.
27. Sin, then, is any transgression in deed, or word, or desire, of the eternal law. And the eternal law is the divine order or will of God, which requires the preservation of natural order, and forbids the breach of it. But what is this natural order in man? Man, we know, consists of soul and body; but so does a beast. Again, it is plain that in the order of nature the soul is superior to the body. Moreover, in the soul of man there is reason, which is not in a beast. Therefore, as the soul is superior to the body, so in the soul itself the reason is superior by the law of nature to the other parts which are found also in beasts; and in reason itself, which is partly contemplation and partly action, contemplation is unquestionably the superior part. The object of contemplation is the image of God, by which we are renewed through faith to sight. Rational action ought therefore to be subject to the control of contemplation, which is exercised through faith while we are absent from the Lord, as it will be hereafter through sight, when we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2 Then in a spiritual body we shall by His grace be made equal to angels, when we put on the garment of immortality and incorruption, with which this mortal and corruptible shall be clothed, that death may be swallowed up of victory, when righteousness is perfected through grace. For the holy and lofty angels have also their contemplation and action. They require of themselves the performance of the commands of Him whom they contemplate, whose eternal government they freely because sweetly obey. We, on the other hand, whose body is dead because of sin, till God quicken also our mortal bodies by His Spirit dwelling in us, live righteously in our feeble measure, according to the eternal law in which the law of nature is preserved, when we live by that faith unfeigned which works by love, having in a good conscience a hope of immortality and incorruption laid up in heaven, and of the perfecting of righteousness to the measure of an inexpressible satisfaction, for which in our pilgrimage we must hunger and thirst, while we walk by faith and not by sight.
The distinction itself is suggested by the scripture, as we know:
16 He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him, who sinneth not to death. There is a sin unto death: for that I say not that any man ask. 17 All iniquity is sin. And there is a sin unto death. 18 We know that whosoever is born of God, sinneth not: but the generation of God preserveth him, and the wicked one toucheth him not. 19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world is seated in wickedness. 20 And we know that the Son of God is come: and he hath given us understanding that we may know the true God, and may be in his true Son. This is the true God and life eternal.
(1 John 5)
Note that the passage that begins by warning of sin onto death, and ends with the promise of eternal life speaks of the understanding, and being, of true God. Note also that the sin that is not onto death is of such nature that the sinner himself does not know of it, and another must pray for him instead. This suggests an involuntary separation from God, which the Church calls venial sin.
It is a pity that St. Augustine did not get to this part in his homilies on 1 John.
I just did a search of the Ante and Post Nicene Fathers and found only a very, very few uses (5 to be exact in 40 volumes) of the term "mortal sin", all of them from Blessed Augustine save one, from +Basil the Great where he speaks of the deposition of a clergy man for "mortal sin", without definition and say he should not be "excommunicated". The translation I have is Roman Catholic and it would be interesting to see exactly what +Basil said in Greek.
I think its interesting that the other Fathers didn't make the distinction which Blessed Augustine apparently did. I just took a quick look at +John Chrysostomos' Homilies on John and found nothing.
We need a homily on 1 Epistle of John, not Gospel of John.
In fact, the distinction can only be inferred from St. Augustine; 1 John makes it but does not elaborate much.
All the fathers cited predate St. Augustine.
"We need a homily on 1 Epistle of John, not Gospel of John."
Well that would explain why when I read 1 John v, I didn't see what you were talking about and of course +John Chrysostomos didn't write on that epistle. Sorry.
St. Augustine lived from 354 to 430. All the aforementioned fathers lived before him. So, no, these Church fathers were not citing him.
the judgment must be referred to them too (by both together I mean man, consisting of soul and body), and that such man becomes accountable for all his actions, and receives for them either reward or punishment. Now, if the righteous judgment awards to both together its retribution for the deeds wrought; and if it is not proper that either the soul alone should receive the wages of the deeds wrought in union with the body (for this of itself has no inclination to the faults which are committed in connection with the pleasure or food and culture of the body), or that the body alone should (for this of itself is incapable of distinguishing law and justice), but man, composed of these, is subjected to trial for each of the deeds wrought by him; and if reason does not find this happening either in this life (for the award according to merit finds no place in the present existence, since many atheists and persons who practice every iniquity and wickedness live on to the last, unvisited by calamity, while, on the contrary, those who have manifestly lived an exemplary life in respect of every virtue, live in pain, in insult, in calumny and outrage, and suffering of all kinds) or after death (for both together no longer exist, the soul being separated from the body, and the body itself being resolved again into the materials out of which it was composed, and no longer retaining anything of its former structure or form, much less the remembrance of its actions): the result of all this is very plain to every one,namely, that, in the language of the apostle, "this corruptible (and dissoluble) must put on incorruption," 1 Corinthians 15:54 in order that those who were dead, having been made alive by the resurrection, and the parts that were separated and entirely dissolved having been again united, each one may, in accordance with justice, receive what he has done by the body, whether it be good or bad.
Here we have that origenist belief is temporary hell; note that the description of hell is quite modern, even though the beleif in its temporary character is not:
We certainly believe, both because of the prevailing opinion, and still more of Scripture teaching, that there exists another world of beings besides, divested of such bodies as ours are, who are opposed to that which is good and are capable of hurting the lives of men, having by an act of will lapsed from the nobler view, and by this revolt from goodness personified in themselves the contrary principle; and this world is what, some say, the Apostle adds to the number of the "things under the earth," signifying in that passage that when evil shall have been some day annihilated in the long revolutions of the ages, nothing shall be left outside the world of goodness, but that even from those evil spirits shall rise in harmony the confession of Christ's Lordship.
(St Gregory of Nyssa: On the Soul and the resurrection)
He later calls that hell a "second death".
Here, by the way, Purgatory makes almost a literal appearance:
The speculative and critical faculty is the property of the soul's godlike part; for it is by these that we grasp the Deity also. If, then whether by forethought here, or by purgation hereafter, our soul becomes free from any emotional connection with the brute creation, there will be nothing to impede its contemplation of the Beautiful; for this last is essentially capable of attracting in a certain way every being that looks towards it. If, then, the soul is purified of every vice, it will most certainly be in the sphere of Beauty.
while evil is being consumed in the purgatorial fire, the soul that is welded to this evil must inevitably be in the fire too, until the spurious material alloy is consumed and annihilated by this fire.
the agony will be measured by the amount of evil there is in each individual.
But because I had said that the anger of God is not for a time only, as is the case with man, who becomes inflamed with an immediate excitement, and on account of his frailty is unable easily to govern himself, we ought to understand that because God is eternal, His anger also remains to eternity; but, on the other hand, that because He is endued with the greatest excellence, He controls His anger, and is not ruled by it, but that He regulates it according to His will. And it is plain that this is not opposed to that which has just been said. For if His anger had been altogether immortal, there would be no place after a fault for satisfaction or kind feeling, though He Himself commands men to be reconciled before the setting of the sun. But the divine anger remains for ever against those who ever sin. Therefore God is appeased not by incense or a victim, not by costly offerings, which things are all corruptible, but by a reformation of the morals: and he who ceases to sin renders the anger of God mortal. For this reason He does not immediately punish every one who is guilty, that man may have the opportunity of coming to a right mind, and correcting himself.
For what is greater in power than God, or more perfect in reason, or brighter in clearness? And since He begat us to wisdom, and produced us to righteousness, it is not allowable for man to forsake God, who is the giver of intelligence and life and to serve earthly and frail things, or, intent upon seeking temporal goods, to turn aside from innocence and piety. Vicious and deadly pleasures do not render a man happy; nor does opulence, which is the inciter of lusts; nor empty ambition; nor frail honours, by which the human soul, being ensnared and enslaved to the body, is condemned to eternal death: but innocence and righteousness alone, the lawful and due reward of which is immortality, which God from the beginning appointed for holy and uncorrupted minds, which keep themselves pure and uncontaminated from vices, and from every earthly impurity. Of this heavenly and eternal reward they cannot be partakers, who have polluted their conscience by deeds of violence, frauds, rapine, and deceits; and who, by injuries inflicted upon men, by impious actions, have branded themselves with indelible stains. Accordingly it is befitting that all who wish deservedly to be called wise, who wish to be called men, should despise frail things, should trample upon earthly things, and should look down upon base things, that they may be able to be united in a most blissful relationship with God.
(Lactantius: On the Anger of God)
Which breed? I have two basset hounds ... rooo, rooo!
"Here we have that origenist belief is temporary hell; note that the description of hell is quite modern, even though the beleif in its temporary character is not:"
Poor +Gregory of Nyssa was indeed influenced by Origen's heretical views. I've often wondered why +Gregory wasn't anathemized the way Origen was. Personally, on the other hand I also always thought that the anathemization of Origen was unfair. Generally he was pretty clear about the fact he was speculating on certain issues.
The snip from Athenagoras is a curious one. The treatise is on the bodily resurrection, as you know. I suppose what he is saying is that a body is necessary for the torment awaiting the damned at the Final Judgment. I have always found Athenagoras "odd". I don't know how else to put it. of course, he was writing very, very early on and much of what later became the consensus patrum hadn't even been spoken of. I guess I hestitate to read too much into what he writes, beyond saying that he was an elegant apologist for some very early Greek Christian beliefs. Interesting that he was never made a saint.
This is outside the consensus patrum, A. Its also a pretty clear case of anthropomorphism. I think we went over this several thousand posts ago.
Can we get a definition of what "in a state of mortal sin" means? Can we get a definition of what "in a state of mortal sin" means?
Q. What is a mortal sin?
A. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a mortal sin as follows:
"Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him." (C.C.C. # 1855)
"Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the Sacrament of Confession." (C.C.C. # 1856)
"Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the private of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance of God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God." (C.C.C. # 1861)
"To choose deliberately - that is, both knowing it and willing it - something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death." (C.C.C. # 1874)
As distinguished from ....
Q. What is a venial sin?
A. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a venial sin as follows:
"Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it." (To "subsist" means to "exist.") (C.C.C. # 1855)
"Venial sin constitutes a moral disorder that is reparable by charity, which it allows to subsist in us." (C.C.C. # 1875)
"One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law,or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent." (C.C.C. #. 1862)
"Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. With God's grace it is humanly reparable. 'Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.'" (C.C.C. # 1863)
As to quoting the Church Fathers, I don't know that they had yet distinguished between these two forms of sin. Perhaps they did and that you will be able to draw from the above quotations.
From the earliest years of my Catholic school education (pre-VCII), I recall the priest making the same distinction. In order for a sin to be 'mortal', three conditions must be met. The penitent must know that it is a grave sin, agree that it is such and decide to commit it anyway. Obviously, murder and petty theft are distinct in the level of gravity. Murder would be a mortal sin; stealing a candy bar would constitute a venial sin.
With no malice or disrespect intended, I'm going to bow out of this thread and lurk, while you all discuss this amongst yourselves.
"All murderers go to Hell, then?
Nope. In fact the Orthodox patron saint of African Americans, +Moses the Black, was a thief, a brigand and a murderer. He also became a great monastic saint. Here's a link to a comment on his very interesting life:
"Of this heavenly and eternal reward they cannot be partakers, who have polluted their conscience by deeds of violence, frauds, rapine, and deceits; and who, by injuries inflicted upon men, by impious actions, have branded themselves with indelible stains."
Rather a bleak and disheartening picture, A. This looks as if certain sins are unforgivable, which would leave a number of saints out in the "heat" so to speak.
Doubtful. This is why auricular confession is necessary. Killing anyone is a grave = 'mortal' sin. It immediately violates the 5th Commandment - 'Thou shall not kill'. Killing someone in self defense is quite different from intentionally plotting to kill another individual. The following 'examination of conscience' is a good place to grasp the distinctions.
So, "dies in a state of mortal sin" means death without first confession of said sins?
Yes, thank you.
That is what I was trying to grasp.
I too will now bow out without further comment.
"So, "dies in a state of mortal sin" means death without first confession of said sins?"
You'd have to ask NYer that. We Orthodox don't make that distinction among sins, though clearly some are more serious than others. I suppose we have to ask "How much similitude to Christ" is enought to avoid damnation? Orthodoxy doesn't know. We are all terrible sinners and our sin prevents us from becomeing like God which is our created purpose. In the end we have to hope for God's mercy. We pray that God will have mercy on the souls of all the departed, because as we say in our memorial prayer, "Every sin by him committed in thought, word, or deed, do You as our good and loving God forgive, seeing that there is no man that shall live and sin not, for You alone are without sin: Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth."
In his defense, the context moderates his naive proto-calvinism. But, he is a Latin propagandist more than a deep author, agreed. I was simply trying to find anything on hell.
Scripture says that the sins against the Holy Spirit are unforgivable. However, Lactantius does say, in the very passage that I cited,
he who ceases to sin renders the anger of God mortal. For this reason He does not immediately punish every one who is guilty, that man may have the opportunity of coming to a right mind, and correcting himself.
This is the short of it, yes. However, forgiveness of sin is from Christ and we do not have a measure of His mercy. If one has fallen to mortal sin and is able to come to sacramental confession, yet does not go, then he is hardened in that sin. The Catholic interpretation is that he then is either presumptious of his pardon without confession, or has despaired of the power of Christ to forgive him, and either one constitutes the sin agains tthe Holy Spirit that is the only unforgivable sin.
If, however, the sinner is prevented from going to confession but is repentant in his heart, then, -- our belief in the mercy of Christ assures us -- this non-sacramental out of necessity confession will save him. It is to be hoped so, and we should pray for such men. This is why it is a good idea to pray for soldiers and travelers
You might want to re-word that, this being a "Catholic/Orthodox Caucus" and all that.
With a name like that... could Biddefordwalmart be far behind?