Hello, that’s my first post on this forum :). Glad to be able to write with you all.
In this thread I’d like to consider the notion of hellfire. I know there have been like plenty threads on that. In all of them the majority of users claimed that hellfire is a metaphore for the psychological torments of the damned. I, too, did (because now I don’t know if still do) consider it in the same manner, i.e., resulting from the mere knowledge of losing God forever (although still distinct from ‘poena damni’, the pain of loss).
I read a bit on the topic, and although in many, especially ‘traditionalist’ Catholic places I saw statements on the fire of Hell being material, I also found information that – being a minority opinion of the theologians – it is still possible to interpret Hell fire metaphorically, as did, for instance, Ambrosius Catharinus, a 16th century Dominican. He might have been considered controversial, but was apparently never criticised for that particular view. So I held to my private opinion – I think that it is shared by many Catholics, among them JP2 and B16 – until recently.
Because recently I found out that certain theologians, while admitting that the material Hellfire is not de fide, said that to deny this view would be ‘harsh’ and even constitute a mortal sin. Elsewhere I also found a passage in which the author mentioned the reply of Sacred Penitentiary from the 19th century, where a priest was said to reprimend his penitent, who interpretted the fire of Hell metaphorically, under pain of denying absolution. Moreover, Cardinal Gasparri had this to say on that matter:
It is theologically certain, though not “of faith,” that the fire of Hell is a real or corporeal, not a metaphorical fire, see Hugon, O.P., De Novissimis, qu. III, i, no. 7: “The Church has nowhere defined the nature of the fire but the teaching of theologians who speak of this fire as real and not a figure of speech has been so accepted by the Church that to hold the contrary would be intolerably rash.” The same is held by Cardinal Lepicier, De Novissimis, qu. IV, art. 2; also by Cardinal Billot, De Novissimis, qu. III, thesis 4. There exists also a reply given by the Sacred Penitentiary to the question “whether penitents can be absolved if they only allow of a metaphorical and not a real fire of Hell”; the Reply runs: such penitents are to be carefully instructed and if obstinately holding to their views cannot be absolved,” April 30, 1890.
He mentions the opinion of the Penitentiary I referred to above.
So, given all those opinions, what are we to make of hellfire? My guess is that, like, 80% of modern Catholics do not believe in literal, material fire of Hell. Or perhaps we might ignore the Penitentiary as it was not dogmatic but disciplinary? If so, would the theological censures (‘rashness’) no longer be valid?
For the sake of argument let’s say that I do not side with either opinion right now. I just wonder what a Catholic must believe about the topic in question, having taken into consideration all the facts mentioned.