There is an active thread on this forum titled Apokatastasis which started out discussing the salvation philosophy of a certain Catholic theologian, but has broadened to a general discussion of the population of hell. I feel the thread has gone somewhat off-topic, but in a manner that may interest more people. So I decided to open a new thread on this particular issue.
So the question is: Does the Catholic Church actually teach that Hell CANNOT be empty?
I say the Church teaches no such thing (although I believe hell is quote crowded - but I think that is my own personal opinion, and NOT Church doctrine).
It will be assumed that everyone understands that the Catholic Church categorically teaches the following dogmas:
*]Hell absolutely DOES exist.
*]Anyone who dies in a state of mortal sin goes to hell.
*]If you go to hell, you remain there for ALL eternity.
[/list]It is further understood that the Catholic Church teaches the following doctrine:
*]Nobody can know for sure if s/he is presently in a State of Grace (for this would be the same thing as an absolute assurance of salvation)
[/list]So I submit that, if nobody can be sure s/he is in a State of Grace, then it stands to reason that nobody can be sure s/he is NOT in a State of Grace. For a Christian, being “not in a State of Grace” is the same as being in a state of mortal sin. So, just as a Christian cannot be sure s/he is in a State of Grace, likewise no Christian can be sure if s/he is in a state of mortal sin.
I concede that the Church has a general test of the mortal nature of sin (ie: a serious matter, awareness of the serous nature of the sin at the time, freewill consent to commit the sin), and a person who acts in any way according to that definition is fully and truly guilty of mortal sin (and this person will be condemned to hell for all eternity if s/he dies unrepentant). But I submit that the Church cannot say (and that She does not even claim the competence to say) whether any particular sin of any particular person truly meets all the criteria of mortality. So the Church cannot say (by Her own admitted limitations) that any particular person actually IS in a state of mortal sin. She can maintain that it is POSSIBLE that somebody somewhere is in a state of mortal sin, but She cannot say that any particular and specific person actually IS in a state of mortal sin.
So I submit that it is POSSIBLE under orthodox Catholic doctrine to suppose that NOBODY is specifically and actually in a state of mortal sin at this very moment (or any/all moments).
If the Church cannot say for sure that anyone is actually in a state of mortal sin, She cannot say for sure that anyone actually *dies *in a state of mortal sin.
The only (known) way to go to hell is to die in a state of mortal sin. But, if the Church cannot say that anyone actually dies in a state of mortal sin, the Church also cannot say that anyone is actually in hell.
So I submit that it is perfectly Catholic and orthodox to suppose that hell does exist, and anyone who dies in a state of mortal sin does go there and can never leave, but that hell could actually be empty, and nobody is actually in hell.
Some may claim that hell has at least one resident - namely Judas Iscariot (based on Our Lord’s words that “it would be better for that man had he never been born.”) But many theologians would not regard Our Lord’s words in this dialogue to be a condemnation to hell. After all, Judas took his own life in SORROW for what he had done (repentance). And, although suicide MAY be a mortal sin, the Church teaches that it MIGHT NOT be mortal because the mental disposition of the person may not allow for rational freewill consent to the sinful nature of the act (and, without informed freewill consent, the sin cannot be regarded as mortal). So even Judas may not be assumed to be in hell.
Given these points, does anyone wish to advance a position that the Church teaches that hell CANNOT be empty?
Just to clarify - the question is NOT, “Does the Church teach that hell MIGHT have residents?” because the answer to this question is obvious (‘yes’). The question is, “Does the Chruch teach that hell absolutely DOES have residents?”
I say the Church teaches no such thing, and has never taught any such thing (though I personally believe it to be true).