Last Things: A Discussion on the Eternal State


If you believe that God created all things, whether they be material or immaterial, even the worlds and time itself:

How can a Christian, who claims that thier God can be described as by John in one word “God is love”, reconcile the immortality of the soul to God’s charachter?

How can a God of love punish his children throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity?

Nietschze aptly quoted Dante’s sadistic remark about the gates of hell, written over the firey gates must be written “Eternal love made me too”, or in other words, eternal love created this destination for me.



A number of things going on here. First, free will. God gave it to us. That means we have the choice to reject Him. Would a more loving God have made us without free will - mere machines that would be compelled to act in this or that way? I leave the answer to that question up to you.

Second, apocalyptic literature. We really know very little about what hell would be like. Whether there are literally “fiery gates” in hell is speculation. The actual content of apocalyptic statements should never be confused with how the statement is expressed. The Church is only willing to say this much in the CCC:

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 fire."615 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

What the punishments of hell will be is seen primarily as separation from God. Whether other punishment will be literal burning in fire is not known.

Finally, the Catholic Church does not affirm that anyone is in hell. That being said, hell is a real possibility for anyone who truly chooses to reject God. It is not just a theoretical state where we can confidently say no one will find himself. Ultimately it comes down to our own choice. And God desperately wants us to choose Him. If that isn’t seen as love by some, then so be it.


Of course I meant “firey gates” in a symbolic sense.

So the question becomes, how can people accept a God that will send them to an eternal hell, which he created, even the one described by the CCC, and reconcil it with his charachter of love?

Of course we have free will. Free will exists whether hell is eternal or it is complete anihilation of the wicked, --an eternal punishment. God alone has immortality, and by choosing freely to accept or reject Him, we choose to live or die. The question becomes, “what is death?” Is there consciosuness in death? And if so, why did God set up the universe in such a way that those who reject him will suffer forever? Even over medium heat, so to speak?

Of course hell is eternal with regard to its effects, but my assertion is that the soul is mortal, and the duration of its consciousness is limited to its union with the body. Does one so readliy accept the Greek Philosophy of the seperation of the body and soul into two conscious entities which can exist together or apart? The question remains unanswered.

So your response does not answer the question, “how do you reconcile an eternal soul with God’s charachter of love”. All one can do is subjectively accept Church teaching, and as you said, “if this does not seem like love, so be it”.



So if you were God what would you do differently?


The wages of sin is death*. That is just the reality. However, God is love, that is why the Father sent the son to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world†. God is love, that is why he offers salvation as a free gift.

*For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
†John 1:29


Excellent post. This is why I don’t believe that hell will be eternal. See this Catholic Encyclopedia article which mentions some saints that believed in the apocatastasis (final restoration of all things including satan) and says that eventually the Church would consider the doctrine to be “heterodox” – which seems to me to suggest that it is not heretical, only heterodox.


Perhaps that may be because God would not be truly loving to His faithful if He would allow the evil free entrance in heaven. Hence Hell itself can be thought of as a consequence of eternal love.


Of course. But this answer presupposes the accident that the soul is immortal.


Wow, what an interesting article. It seems similar to the view that eventually all will be saved. It seems that this would contradict free will somehow. However, it speaks better of God’s charachter than the eternal torment view.

The Bible seems to indicate in no uncertain terms the eternal consequences of rejecting Him and His will. Death in the Bible, being the absence of life is pretty serious.

I suppose this view (apocatastasis), though it presupposes the immortality of the soul, would be a way to present hell as corrective rather than arbitrary torment. It makes more sense than the eternal torment view, but still does not jive with the Biblical teaching about exactly what death is, the absence of life.


Apokatastasis would contradict free will if apokatastasis stated that all will be saved regardless of their willingness to be saved. However, apokatastasis as argued by several Early Church Fathers (like Gregory of Nyssa) posits that, ultimately, everyone will discover God’s Truth and develop repentance and the willingness to be saved.


God is a loving fire, and He is a loving fire for all: good or bad. There is, however, a great difference in the way people receive this loving fire of God. Saint Basil says that “the sword of fire was placed at the gate of paradise to guard the approach to the tree of life; it was terrible and burning toward infidels, but kindly accessible toward the faithful, bringing to them the light of day.” 44 The same loving fire brings the day to those who respond to love with love, and burns those who respond to love with hatred.

 Paradise and hell are one and the same River of God, a loving fire which embraces and covers all with the same beneficial will, without any difference or discrimination. The same vivifying water is life eternal for the faithful and death eternal for the infidels; for the first it is their element of life, for the second it is the instrument of their eternal suffocation; paradise for the one is hell for the other. Do not consider this strange. The son who loves his father will feel happy in his father's arms, but if he does not love him, his father's loving embrace will be a torment to him. This also is why when we love the man who hates us, it is likened to pouring lighted coals and hot embers on his head.
"I say," writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, "that those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love.... It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God's love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love's power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it"* (Homily* 84). 


I think this is the key point.

The OP mentioned Dante’s gates of hell, which bear the message “Abandon every hope, you who enter here”, but he neglects to mention that, in Inferno, the souls who enter the gates do so of their own accord. Notwithstanding the fact that the Commedia Divina is not scripture, I think this illustrates beautifully the notion that the “damned” are not flung into the pit; they go there because that’s what they have chosen.

One must remember that God is not merely infinitely loving; he is also infinitely just. If one rejects God, it is through sin – a transgression against the Lord and Creator of the universe, who is the measure of all that is good. Justice requires a price to be paid, which Christ has done for us. We now have the ability to seek and find fellowship with God, provided that we live by his standards. Failure to do so subjects us again to his justice.



I will go even further than this; the Apocatastasis doctrine is a heresy. The Fourth Lateran Council declared: “Those (the rejected) will receive a perpetual punishment with the devil.” That the punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity is taught de fide as set forth in Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 481.


God is a loving fire, and He is a loving fire for all: good or bad. There is, however, a great difference in the way people receive this loving fire of God. Saint Basil says that "the sword of fire was placed at the gate of paradise to guard the approach to the tree of life; . . .

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’d known that this understanding of God’s love was an ancient one, but never knew the sources. The Fathers have understood the Scripture that “our God is a consuming fire.”

There is nothing of those spirits of the damned that can correspond and respond to the fire of Divine Love, and so God’s overwhelming love must necessarily be experienced as eternal fire and torment. In order to survive in and find joy and salvation in that Fire one has to himself become one with the fire of Divine Love - this the damned cannot do.


People that don’t understand the necessity of Hell have no Idea of the Act of Love that Jesus performed on the Cross.

If anyone rejects love that great God loves them enough to Let them go to Hell because they don’t want to be with Him!


Whether apokatastasis is a heresy, depends on the type of apokatastasis you are referring to. It is perfectly allowable to hope that everyone will willingly accept God’s love.

However, to argue that everyone will be saved, regardless of whether they consciously want to be saved, is much more problematic.

Gregory of Nyssa’s argument is based on the first argument, not the second.


That’s not entirely accurate. From your source material:

Gregory of Nyssa in On the Soul and the Resurrection 7 and in the Catechetical Oration 26 followed Origen in that the fire of hell has a purifying role and is, therefore, not eternal. He goes even further in his argument however, positing that since evil has no real existence, its “relative” existence will be completely annihilated at the end of time. According to how much the souls are attached to the material condition, purification may be instant or long and painful. Gregory compared purification by the fire of hell to the chemical purification of gold by fire, and to a muddy rope that is cleaned when passed through a small hole.

Ludwig Ott also notes that Gregory of Nyssa followed Origen in this regard. But I get your point that he very much stressed the fact that God would give every soul the opportunity at the time of death to accept His love. I don’t disagree. It’s the part about this happening in hell that I have a problem with.


But a perpetual sentence of punishment can be lifted by a judge (like how people are pardoned) And, the Catholic Encyclopedia (1912) says:

In itself, it is no rejection of Catholic dogma to suppose that God might at times, by way of exception, liberate a soul from hell. Thus some argued from a false interpretation of I Peter 3:19 sq., that Christ freed several damned souls on the occasion of His descent into hell. Others were misled by untrustworthy stories into the belief that the prayers of Gregory the Great rescued the Emperor Trajan from hell. But now theologians are unanimous in teaching that such exceptions never take place and never have taken place, a teaching which should be accepted.”

So according to the teaching of the Catholic Encyclopedia it is not a rejection of dogma to suppose God sometimes liberates souls from Hell and the teaching that this never happens is described as the teaching of “theologians” – not the teaching of the magisterium, let alone an infallible Council or infallible papal teaching. Furthermore the same article cites some contemporary (contemporary to 1912) “Catholics” who argued that some souls could be freed from Hell:

Among Catholics, Hirscher and Schell have recently expressed the opinion that those who do not die in the state of grace can still be converted after death if they are not too wicked and impenitent”

Apparently, this pre-Vatican II Catholic Encyclopedia considers these two gentleman still to be “Catholics” even though they express the opinion that some can be converted after death.

The great Jacques Maritain btw held to a form of the apocastastasis (natural happiness for those in hell):

“In a “reverie” circulated among friends but not published until after his death, the philosopher Jacques Maritain included what he called a “conjectural essay” on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, although eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape from pain. In response to the prayers of the saints, he imagines, God may miraculously convert their wills, so that from hating Him they come to love Him. After being pardoned, they will then be delivered from the pain of sense and placed in a kind of limbo. They will still be technically in hell, since they will lack the beatific vision, but they will enjoy a kind of natural felicity, like that of infants who die without baptism. At the end, he speculates, even Satan will be converted, and the fiery inferno, while it continues to exist, will have no spirits to afflict. This, as Maritain acknowledged, is a bold conjecture, since it has no support in Scripture or tradition, and contradicts the usual understanding of texts such as the parable of the Last Judgment scene of Matthew. But the theory has the advantage of showing how the Blood of Christ might obtain mercy for all spiritual creatures, even those eternally in hell.

A saint who expounded a similar theory:

“Mr. Grigor is correct in pointing out that our contemporaries are offended by the doctrine of eternal punishment. But the difficulty is hardly novel. It was already felt by Origen and others in the early centuries. The eternity of hell was energetically discussed in England in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Catholic lay theologian St. George Mivart wrote an essay on “The Happiness of Hell,” propounding a theory similar to the “reverie” of Maritain mentioned in my article. The damned, he conjectured, might experience “an eternal upward progress, though never attaining to the supernatural state which would no doubt be most unwelcome and repugnant to such souls.” The Holy Office condemned Mivart’s theory, and he expressed his total and sincere submission in 1893. If the doctrine of eternal punishment really proved anything against the nature of God as a loving Father, Jesus would surely have felt the contradiction. But he did not shrink from uttering “hard sayings” on this point, as on others. While Jesus spoke in metaphors that we cannot translate into literal language, I would not wish to minimize the severity of his warnings.”

It’s not clear whether the “submission” St George Mivart gave to the Holy Office was external submission of obedience or whether he actually changed his mind about the matter – anyone know? It’s also not apparent what kind of condemnation of the doctrine the Holy Office gave. The Holy Office could have merely said for example that it cannot be “safely” taught – which would be a far cry from say heresy.


Yes, Gregory of Nyssa followed Origen in terms of arguing for apokatastasis, but whereas Origen seems to have argued for the ultimate salvation of all *even *if the individuals involved did not consciously want such salvation, Gregory of Nyssa explicitly argued that universal salvation would only occur via individuals’ conscious acceptance of God’s Truth.


Jesus says in Hell there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

Why don’t people believe Jesus?

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