Is hell crowded or empty?

An Internet controversy is percolating around a soon-to-be-published book by well-known evangelical preacher Rob Bell. In “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” Bell advocates the “universalist” position on salvation, which holds that everyone in the end is saved and that hell, accordingly, is empty. Many of his evangelical coreligionists are arguing that this doctrine runs counter to classical biblical Christianity and is designed to appeal to a postmodern audience for whom the only unforgivable sin is to be “exclusive.” This dustup over hell made the main page of the CNN website the other day and has prompted tens of thousands of responses. Obviously hell is still (forgive the pun) a burning question among both believers and nonbelievers.

Catholic doctrine is that hell exists, but yet the church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in hell. When the church says that hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility. “Hell” or “Gehenna” are spatial metaphors for the lonely and sad condition of having definitively refused the offer of the divine life. But is there anyone in this state of being? We don’t know for sure. We are in fact permitted to hope and to pray that all people will finally surrender to the alluring beauty of God’s grace.

Whether or not there are people in Hell is a no-brainer: 1- "Many will say on that day:“Lord…” 2- “Where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a passage that refers to human beings 3- “And the smoke of their torment will rise forever”

1- Some people WILL be cast into Hell 2- It won’t be pleasant 3- No hope of ever escaping, as in “Give up all hope all ye who enter”.

No controversy.

Hell is over crowded, purgatory is full, and heaven is empty…just my opinion.

Since hell is not a physical place, it cannot be “crowded” or “empty.” It just “is.”

If in the resurrection we all gain back a glorified body, then wouldn’t hell have to be a physical place that those bodies inhabited, and the same for heaven? I may be wrong about this, but that was my understanding of the resurrection…

If that were true the power of Christ’s love would be suspect! He would have suffered and died in vain.

I think it’s a wiser thing to accept the love of God found in Jesus than to reject His love and find out how crowded hell may be.

Rob Bell teaches Jesus wasn’t actually resurrected, but His followers only said He was:

youtube.com/watch?v=TsVkeMZCkOg

Rob Bell is a heretic, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

I didn’t see Rob Bell in that video.

So you reject Church teaching?

Robertanthony is correctly describing the teaching of Mother Church.
Hell exists, and damnation is for eternity.
Further while the Church does not pronounce on the fate of individuals, the teaching is clear that Hell is not empty.

What is Church teaching on this matter? That we can’t say for sure who is in Hell ( emblematic figures like Nero, Judas, Hitler readily come to mind)? How can anyone doubt that some will have Hell as a final and irreversible destination with those 3 scriptures that I alluded to? Perhaps you misinterpreted Church’s stance on that issue?

If some will definitely, indubitably, and absolutely certainly, have eternal damnation as their fate, then why should we hope that all may be saved?

We hope for all that are not yet damned.
We hope for as many as possible.

I suspect you may be over-analyzing the exact phrasing of some Bible passage.

I’m reading what Father Barron in the original post wrote: “But is there anyone in this state of being? We don’t know for sure. We are in fact permitted to hope and to pray that all people will finally surrender to the alluring beauty of God’s grace.”

***While I do not believe hell is empty, I pray that it is. ***

I don’t know what this Mr. Bell teaches, but merely advancing the notion that we can hope that hell is empty is not the heresy of universalism, nor is it contrarary to Catholic doctrine.

St. Terese Benedicta of the Cross taught similarly, teaching that one can indeed maintain the hope that God’s grace does indeed find ways of outwitting all human resistance. Thus, one can piously have hope that Jesus can and does “lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of mercy.” She wrote:

All-merciful love can thus descend to everyone. We believe that it does so. And now, can we assume that there are souls that remain perpetually closed to such love? As a possibility in principle, this cannot be rejected. In reality, it can become infinitely improbable–precisely through what preparatory grace is capable of effecting in the soul… [the soul] follows this inner prompting, then subjects itself implicitly to this rule of grace. It is possible that it will not do this…

The more that grace wins ground from the things that had filled the soul before it, the more it repels the effects of the acts directed against it. And to this process of displacement there are, in principle, no limits. If all the impulses opposed to the spirit of light have been expelled from the soul, then any free decision against this has become infinitely improbable. Then faith in the unboundedness of divine love and grace also justifies *hope for the universality of redemption, *although, through the possibility of resistance to grace that remains open in principle, the possibility of eternal damnation also persists… Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted."

[St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, cited by Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, *Dare We Hope “That all Men be Saved”?,

(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 219-221, citing St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, *World and Person. A contribution to Christian truth seeking, *ed. by L. Gelber and Romaeus Leuven, O.C.D. (Freiburg, 1962), pp. 158ff.)]

Likewise, Catholic theologian Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar proposed the same theological opinion in his book *Dare We Hope “That all Men be Saved”?. *The late Cardinal Avery Dulles, while disagreeing with Fr. von Balthasar’s interpretation, states that his interpretation is not contrary to Catholic doctrine, and as such can be freely held. See the First Things article on this subject linked to below.

The Population of Hell
First Things, May 2003
by Cardinal Avery Dulles

Mary is in Heaven, as are all the Saints.

I tend to hope that God, knowing how limited we are, gives us one last chance at the end. I don’t live that way, but I sure hope it is that way.

I can’t imagine anyone saying no to Him.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church Second Edition: (my thoughts in parentheses)

1035 "The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fires.” (Hell exists and anyone with mortal sin after death go there)

1036 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (This is referring to Mt 7:13-14, if the way is easy and wide it is because many have chose to take this path, which leads to Hell)

1038 The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust,” will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth. those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him…Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left…And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Obviously there are people who are “goats” that “will go away into eternal punishment”)

Looking at these passages from the Catechism, I would say the Church has said that there will be some that go to Hell. On top of that, if you use logic, if God knew all men would be saved in the end, he wouldn't have bothered making a place for those that wouldn't...

I came across the idea of a last chance at salvation immediately after we die reading the book about souls in purgatory (“The Souls in Purgatory” written by Maria Simma). She said every soul was given a last opportunity to repent, to muster contrition, except those who committed sins of insolence (grave lack of reverence to God) and/or presumption (assuming you’ll be saved no matter what). Believe it or not, she said some refuse to repent.

I came across the idea of a last chance at salvation immediately after we die reading the book about souls in purgatory (“The Souls in Purgatory” written by Maria Simma). She said every soul was given a last opportunity to repent, to muster contrition, except those who committed sins of insolence (grave lack of reverence to God) and/or presumption (assuming you’ll be saved no matter what). Believe it or not, she said some refuse to repent.

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