Hell -- what is it, exactly?

Apologies if this has been asked before. Did a quick search and didn’t find what I was looking for immediately.

My question is essentially about what Hell is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “The chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God” (CCC 1035). The Eastern Orthodox position seems to be that the fire of Hell is actually the love of God; that it “burns” those who have rejected God’s love. I was under the impression that Hell was the total absence of God, but I also think the Orthodox position makes sense and is interesting. I don’t think separation from God means total absence of God; rather, since God exists everywhere, separation could simply mean being out of communion. Are the two views (the one from the CCC and the EO position) mutually exclusive, or may I as a Roman Catholic believe, like the Eastern Orthodox do, that the fires of Hell are the unrequited love of God?


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What is hell?
It sucks and not a fun place to be for all eternity.


First of all, you’re a Latin Catholic (and a new one at that) so it’s advisable that you stick to what’s in the Catechism rather than go off seeking to believe in non-Catholic ideas.

Second, it’s my understanding that only some EO theologians believe in the idea you expressed about Hell being some perverted experience of God’s unrequited love. A large number of EO theologians believe that Hell is separation from God, as Catholics believe.

I frankly don’t buy the idea that God’s love could ever torment people. If people are tormented it’s because God is absent due to their rejection of him.


I think a more correct understanding would be that it’s not God’s love that’s torturing these people per se, but rather the realisation that they could have enjoyed heavenly life and love yet rejected it for finite pleasures.


You are required, as all Christians (East and West), to accept that Christ our True God died for your sins to save you from hell.

The principal way we accept this Immeasurable Gift is through the cleansing waters of baptism, the heavenly nourishment of the Eucharist, and living as Jesus instructed you (commandments and beatitudes). He gives you the other sacraments to assist you.

Get to heaven by accepting, receiving, and living the graces of the Holy Mysteries; not by pondering what hell is like.

Deacon Christopher


Yes, which is consistent with the absence of God. If they rejected God’s love, it’s not there. It’s not hanging around on the fringes tormenting them.

The main issue seems to be that some theologians can’t comprehend there being any place where God is absent, or they think God’s being “absent” somehow turns Hell into a physical location which it is not. God is perfectly capable of absenting himself from any heart that doesn’t welcome him.


How does that response add anything at all to the question being asked?


A very thorough explanation

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I’ve never understood why so many people are preoccupied with hell. Follow Jesus and His teachings, along with the commandments, and you will see heaven. I guess it’s a glass half full or half empty thing. Be an optimist. It’s a much happier life.


I’ve often heard it said that Hell is regret.

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I think your intuitions are serving you well. Strictly speaking, there is no way for a contingent being to be utterly separated from God. A ramification of contingency is that it always needs Necessity as the causal explanation of its existence. This is a ramification of the ways of knowing that God exists taught by Saint Thomas Aquinas. As in, God is ever causing you to exist, from moment to moment. So, considered from that vantage point, God can never “go away” and be utterly absent.

Also, strictly speaking, there is no one unified vision / theory of hell within the Catholic Church. There isn’t one within the eastern orthodox either. Views on hell are scattered all over the theological landscape, from the most merciful perspectives to the most harsh and judgmental. So, to answer your question, yes you would be free as a Catholic to hold to the view that you seem inclined toward. As John Henry Newman said, “Conscience is the primordial Vicar of Christ.” If your conscience pushes you away from conceiving of hell as a state of eternal conscious torment absent from God, then you should probably listen to your conscience.

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Hell consists in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.
We carry our personalities with us into eternity. We ratify what we have chosen to become. If we leave this world locked into ego, our choice of self apart from God becomes final, irrevocable and complete.

To me that definition is absolutely useless in defining what hell is. HOW does a separation from God manifest itself as hell? Is it an eternal burning cauldron of fire? Is it having to listen to Christian evangelists for all of eternity?

I think that the correct answer is that you don’t know what hell is, any more than you know what heaven is. Both terms are useless in any definitive way.

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Dan knows what Hell is. You’re frustrated that we do not know and can’t express how it manifests itself in physical terms.
Not knowing the physical manifestation of Hell in an afterlife where we will be outside time and not be in our physical bodies is perfectly reasonable. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a general idea that Heaven is union with God and Hell is separation from God.

I would further note that there are all kinds of private revelations, some of them approved by the Church, that describe Hell. The Fatima children for example saw a vision of Hell which was demons and damned souls in a pit of fire. The Fatima apparition is Vatican approved. However, Catholics aren’t bound to believe in private revelations, and some people are not willing to accept them. It is also entirely possible that Hell might not manifest itself in the same way to everyone or that God could change its manifestation any time he wished.


I would phrase the question differently: It is a negative, a lack, a void, a vacuum. No goodness at all. Even though it is a vacuum, no goodness can ever rush into it.

So Dan knows what it means to be “separated from God”, and what would that be exactly?

So you’re saying that hell is a physical place?

If you don’t attach some meaning to those phrases then they’re useless. What do you mean when you say that hell is separation from God?

I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. Hint, it’s also the correct one.

How about saying, as has been expressed already in this thread, heaven is being in the presence of God and his love and hell is being not in God’s presence meaning God’s love was rejected in mortal Earthly life. Other than that we don’t know what constitutes heaven or hell.


But how does not being in the presence of God cause one to suffer such torment?

Maybe like St. Augustine said “you made us for you Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”


But my heart isn’t restless now, why should it become restless once I’m dead? And what am I going to think once I’m dead and then alive again? Surely I’m going to consider that to be a bit odd.

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