Pope John Paul the Great and Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Recently I read three audiences of Pope John Paul the Great regarding Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I am really surprised at his understanding and would describe it as revolutionary. According to the late Pope, heaven, hell and purgatory do not exist as places but rather, are states of souls. Regarding the Bible, he writes that the references to heaven, hell and purgatory as places are metaphorical to describe to us a reality in the spiritual realm by comparing it to something we know so that we can understand.

I think that the only way the Pope could have come to such understanding is by private revelation. I am still a little surprised by his understanding as I just read it the other day. Basically, he does away with heaven, hell and purgaroty with a couple of sentences. If he is correct it has a lot of implications and he is not correct it can be very misleading especially to those who are seeking God.

In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2heavn.htm

What sayest thou?



Friend, the Eastern Orthodox have had this understanding for centuries. It is the traditional oriental idea of the Last Things, apparently. God did not create Hell, because Hell is the state of a man who is so wicked that being in the presence of the Eternal Good is torture for him; likewise, Heaven is the state of a man so good that being in the presence of the Eternal Good is bliss for him. Giving the final states of souls geographical locations or physical dimensions has always seemed a very queer notion to the Orthodox.

If I were being cynical (which I often am), I’d say the late Pope was being ecumenical.

Purgatory is a state of the soul when satisfying temporal punishment for sins after death- its pain is purely spiritual because we do not have a body- our bodies are in the ground decaying

Heaven and Hell when experienced after death are states of the soul- Heaven in union with God with the beatific vision, hell departed from God. Neither heaven or hell are location shere because we are not in the physical realm at this point after death.

After the ressurection and the general judgment, purgatory will cease to exist, heaven will be a place (we do not know exactly what it will be like) and so will hell be. Heaven we will have glorified bodies and the beatific vision- happiness in body and soul. In hell, people will suffer physically and spiritually separated from God and in a sort of torment, often described as fire but technically the “pain of sense”

If the spiritual realm is outside of time and space then it could make sense that they would exist in a state of being but not a physical place.

However, how does one account for the physical bodies of Jesus and Mary being in heaven?

How does one account for the promised resurrection of the body if there is no physical location in eternity? What would be the point?

Jesus in his parable about Lazarus and the rich man seems to indicate there is some kind of void or division which the souls in heaven and hell cannot cross to reach each other. That seems to me like some kind of a physical realm though probably nothing like we can imagine.

I certainly don’t have the answer.

The human afterlives are outside of time. Therefore, they are not part of the “places” that we know. Our “places” are in time so that light can reach them, else we would never see them.

Because outside of time, you are not “waiting” for embodiment, or anything else. You pass immediately to your eternal being, pneumatikon soma. You resume “being alive” in Heaven, or become consciously dead in Hell. Or enter the process of Purgatory, which is in fact a transitional part of Heaven.

One could say that Heaven is a later stage in human life. “Human life” is a condition not a place, but that does not mean that the live human being does not have place. Likewise, the eternal worlds, though the light of this life does not reach them, have places of their own.

God Bless and ICXC NIKA.

Surely nobody has believed otherwise for centuries. Remarkable though Pope JP2 was, I’d hardly say it was controversial. nor required a private revelation.

Heaven is an actual place, purgatory is an actual place, and hell is an actual place. The physical body of Jesus and Mary are currently in heaven, and after the resurrection there will be many more bodies in heaven, and many bodies in hell.

Have you ever read what John Paul II taught about Jesus descending into hell? If you have time to read it, I would be interested in your thoughts.

I think it should suffice that they exist and their mode of existent is transcendent. We will not know and are not meant to know too many of the details. This is one thing that God is revealing on a need to know basis, and we already know enough facts about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory to live.

There is nothing new here. This has been taught by theologians from Augustine to Benedict XVI. What is new here is the language that Pope John Paul uses to explain it and the fact that popes don’t usually do exegesis. Their audiences and talks are usually catechetical. These are more exegetical. He’s trying to show the metaphysical reality of heaven, purgatory and hell using the scriptures.

The problem is that we try to confine God to our limited reason. We believe in the physical resurrection of Christ and in the Assumption of Mary. So, we assume that they live in some physical place. We forget tht Jesus walked through walls and appeared and disappeared at will. We forget that Mary has appeared and disappeared many times. Obviously, the glorified body is not like our own. Therefore, it does not require a physical place as do our unglorified bodies.

Jesus and Mary can be very human without the same needs as other human beings. One of those is that they do not need physical space in order to live. God is not restricted by the laws of physics and biology. If you want to think about it in different terms, think about the Eucharist. It is the same body that rose from the tomb and the same body to which Mary gave birth, but we can’t see it. What is even more profound is that it is a truly physical body, but it transcends space and time. Christ is physically present in every tabernacle and on every altar. Therefore, we’re talking about a physical state of being that is very different from the one that we know, beecause it’s not limited by time and space, nor does it have the same needs that we have. We don’t have to feed Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, yet we know that he can eat. He ate with the Apostles when he first appeared to them and again on the road to Emaus.

The Holy Father is telling us the same things that the Evangelists told us. Heaven is a state of being that transcends the physical, but allows the physical to be preserved in a glorified state.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Purgatory and Hell may be states, but Heaven is a PLACE, it is the New Jerusalem, the city of God, outside of which exist: “the dogs; sorcerers, adulterers, murderers, etc…”

It is not a place as we understand place. It exists outside of time and physical space. That’s what the Holy Father is saying. What he is doing is analyzing what the Scriptures are saying and explaining what they mean.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

How is it outside physical space when three dimenisional spatial objects exist in it, Like the glorified humanity of The Blessed mother and the Enhypostatic Humanity of the Word INcarnate?

I certainly would not view it as Pope John Paul the Great being ecumenical. This would be to insinuate that he would put Truth to the side in an attempt to be diplomatic. He would never do this, instead, he would rather be cut into little pieces before he would do that.

He expressed this understanding because he understood it to be correct. I am just trying to figure it out.



Did you miss the part that the Glorified Bodies are no longer bound by time and space? Jesus was appearing out of nowhere amidst the Apostles in a locked room. He vanished into thin air at the Road to Emmaus. He levitated up into the sky at the Ascension. Since the laws of physics no longer apply to the Glorified Body, why then can it not exists in a spiritual plane?

Look at the Blessed Sacrament. It is truly Jesus’ in his human form. Yet, he is present in every host. It’s not a piece of him in each host. It’s all of him, three dimensional and spiritual. Nonetheless, he is not bound by the laws of space, physics and biology. He doesn ot each, go to the bathroom, sleep, need vacations to rest. He does not look like us. He looks like a wafer and yet we know that he’s not a wafer. We know that the Blessed Sacrament is truly a three-dimensional body that is very much alive with a divine and human nature.

If Jesus and Mary were limited by physical time and space, the Blessed Sacrament would not be possible. Bread and wine would not become the living body and blood of Christ and Jesus would be unable to be present, in a three-dimensional human body, in every host around the world.

The Eucharist is the best proof that we have that Heaven is not a physical space, because the Eucharistic presence is not limited by space or time. The host that you consume is the same body that came from Mary’s womb, that was crucified, that was buried, that rose, that walked through walls and asked the Apostles if they had anything to eat. Jesus did not askf or food because he was hungry. He asked for food to prove that he was not a ghost, yet he appears and disappears at will.

We see the same with the Marian miracles. We know that Mary was physically present in Juan Diego’s tilma. There are images in the pupuls of the eyes that indicate that she was truly present when Juan opened his tilma and dropped the roses. The images in the pupils reflect the people who were present, just as happens when we look at someone. Their image is reflected in our pupil as if in a mirror.

Here is the question. How is a possible for a 3-dimensional person to be physically present in a flat tilma unless she’s not limited by the laws of physics and biology? We know that she did not remain in the tilma. The glorious body of the resurrection is truly a body, but free of the limitations that our bodies have. That’s why they can exist in a non-traditional ways and still be truly physical. It is best described as a body free of the effects and limits of Original Sin.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

I do not mean limited by spacial location, I just mean they continue to exist at LEAST as three dimensional objects occupying space…I do not think they cannot rise to a greater spiritual plane or anything like that, I simply mean that for an object to physically exist, it must exist in conditions which favor its existence: SPace/Time. But naturally they can exist in a HIGHER dimensional reality or something, because that does not take away from their need to exist as they were created; The gorified humanity of Jesus and THe blessed mother I mean here. THey are no LIMTED, they exist in at LEAST three dimensions, and time. SO, it’s a mystery… :slight_smile:

Now you’re saying the same thing that the Holy Father was saying. The space that we call heaven is not a space as what we know. That’s all that he is saying. It’s better to describe it as a state, rather than a place, so as not to limit God to time and space.

That’s why I use the example of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist you have a real human being in thousands of hosts. But you don’t have thousands of Christs. It is only one Christ, yest each host is the whole Christ, not a piece of him. There is no physical way to explain this, because it defies the laws of physics. The only way that we can explain it is through metaphysics. Even metaphysics has limits, because God cannot be limited to human language.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

If you refer to the chapter in the Crossing the Threshold of hope his ideas about the last things were common teaching in the fifties.

Except for Jesus and Mary in the heaven recently only souls are in the in the hell - purgatory heaven; so at least the hell and purgatory cannot be place (locus = stretched out by bodies) but state. Also common analogy was the bombings of the two World Wars, how in the hell people and the evil spirits make suffer each other in the hell, God does not needs further punishments.

Hello JReducation, :slight_smile:

Well, if this was all the Holy Father was saying it would be some of what I understand, but, this is not what I understand him to be expressing. He seems to be saying that Hell, Heaven and Purgatory are states of souls. I would think that the souls, rather they are in purgatory or hell, would be confined to an area and not necessarily in space and time, but if they are outside of space and time it would still be an area. I do not understand souls to be roaming where they wish and call this hell and hell being an ‘internal’ state of the soul.

Also, I consider that God created heaven and earth and at the end of time will create a new heaven and a new earth and will come down with a new Jerusalem and we will not need the sun nor the moon because he will be our light.

I mean, I am fine with not searching or having to know where exactly is hell and make illusions of how things are in heaven, in the Bible we are I told not to bother and so I really don’t, but, to say that they do not exist and are states of souls- it’s difficult to swallow. Although, I am very ignorant and continue to learn, and so I want to see how he could have come to that understanding.

I am reading the catechism etc… on Hell.
633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

I mean, what is being said here? that Jesus descended into the individual ‘hell’ of each and every individual soul who is in a state of ‘hell’? The ‘hell’ referred to on CCC633 is a different ‘hell’ than the one we are talking about, as I understand that Jesus did not descend to the ‘hell’ of the damned but to the Abode of the Fathers.

I was taking a look at “Dictionary of the Bible” Edited by James Hastings (1963). The ‘hell’ that we are talking about is ‘Gehenna’ that is the hell of the damned. Hastings writes: None of the NT writers delight to dwell on the miseries of the lost, or make any attempt to give exactly descriptions of the place of punishment. While we need not literalize their descriptions of physical torments, we cannot explain the symbolism away and do justice to their teachings. NT speaks of Gehenna and perdition always with the purpose of warning and awakening responsibility.

Btw, I once asked why we pray for a dead person ’ May he/she rest in peace’ is they are judged by Our Lord Jesus when they die and the options are hell, purgatory or heaven. I did not get a clear answer, but, now, as I read under Gehenna in this dictionary Hastings distinguishes Hades as the place where the dead rest until the last judgement - I guess, he does not write ‘last’ but, I guess that is what he means. :shrug:

I am still here scratching my head…:hmmm:

You can’t ‘roam’ anywhere unless you have a body, pneumatikon soma. You need limbs for “roaming.”

Interestingly, Biblical depictions of hell sometimes refer to binding, ie, disabling someone’s movement. In Mt 22:13, our LORD said that the improperly dressed man would have his “hands and feet bound.” You won’t be moving around much with bound hands and feet.

Robert Bellarmine conjectured that persons in Hell would be confined at the center of the earth, unable to obtain relief by movement.

.I mean, what is being said here? that Jesus descended into the individual ‘hell’ of each and every individual soul who is in a state of ‘hell’?..I am still here scratching my head…:hmmm:

I haven’t read this document, but I imagine translation issues exist. Is it a “state of soul” or rather, a “state of being”? While a state of ‘soul’ is necessarily psychological (literally, “psyche” = soul), a state of “being” has its own places. The place of the unborn is the womb; that of the living is the human world; that of Life Everlasting is the New Jerusalem. Etc.

What language was the document written in?

God Bless and ICXC NIKA.

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