St Thomas Aquinas's Four Sections of Hell

The concept of Hell seems very confusing to me. I am very confused with this belief about St. Thomas’s four sections in Hell. Is this belief about Gehenna, Purgatory, and Limbo of Infants, and Limbo of the Fathers widely accepted? If so, is Thomas Aquinas’s teaching the Church’s “de facto” teaching about Hell, and does the Church officially say that any particular humans are in Hell, in the case with the Limbo of Infants?
Thanks
-JD

I don’t believe the Church has mentioned any particular person as being surely condemned in Hell.

Here’s what I have from The Catechism of the Council of Trent, I hope it helps…

Hell, then, here signifies those secret abodes in which are detained the souls that have not obtained the happiness of Heaven. In this sense the word is frequently used in Scripture. Thus the Apostle says: At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and in hell (Phil. 2:10); and in the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter says that Christ the Lord is again risen, having loosed the sorrows of hell. (Act 2:24).

DIFFERENT ABODES CALLED "HELL"

These abodes are not all of the same nature, for among them is that most loathsome and dark prison in which the souls of the damned are tormented with the unclean spirits in eternal and inextinguishable fire. This place is called gehenna, the bottomless pit, and is Hell strictly so-called.

Among them is also the fire of Purgatory, in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing defiled entereth. (Apoc. 21:27). The truth of this doctrine, founded, as holy Councils declare, (1), on Scripture, and confirmed by Apostolic tradition, demands exposition from the pastor, all the more diligent and frequent, because we live in times when men endure not sound doctrine.

Lastly, the third kind of abode is that into which the souls of the just before the coming of Christ the Lord, were received, and where, without experiencing any sort of pain, but supported by the blessed hope of redemption, they enjoyed peaceful repose. To liberate these holy souls, who, in the bosom of Abraham were expecting the Saviour, Christ the Lord descended into hell.

  1. C. of Trent, Sess. xxv.

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
ARTICLE 5
“HE DESCENDED INTO HELL. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN”

631 Jesus "descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens."476 The Apostles’ Creed confesses in the same article Christ’s descent into hell and his Resurrection from the dead on the third day, because in his Passover it was precisely out of the depths of death that he made life spring forth:

Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.477
Paragraph 1. Christ Descended into Hell

632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.478 This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.479

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.480 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”:481 "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell."482 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.483

634 "The gospel was preached even to the dead."484 The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."485 Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage."486 Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."487

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him - He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . "I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead."488
IN BRIEF

636 By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14).

637 In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.

vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a5p1.htm

THE
DOLOROUS
(SORROWFUL)
PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

JESUS SUFFERED TO SAVE THE WORLD

FROM THE MEDITATIONS OF

ANNE CATHERINE EMMERICH

CHAPTER LIX

A Detached Account of the Descent into Hell

WHEN Jesus, after uttering a loud cry, expired, I saw his heavenly soul under the form of a bright meteor pierce the earth at the foot of the Cross, accompanied by the angel Gabriel and many other angels. His Divine nature continued united to his soul as well as to his body, which still remained hanging upon the Cross, but I cannot explain how this was, although I saw it plainly in my own mind. The place into which the soul of Jesus entered was divided into three parts, which appeared to me like three worlds; and I felt that they were round, and that each division was separated from the other by a hemisphere.

I beheld a bright and beautiful space opposite to Limbo; it was enamelled with flowers, delicious breezes wafted through it; and many souls were placed there before being admitted into Heaven after their deliverance from Purgatory. Limbo, the place where the souls were waiting for the Redemption, was divided into different compartments, and encompassed by a thick foggy atmosphere. Our Lord appeared radiant with light and surrounded by angels, who conducted him triumphantly between two of these compartments; the one on the left containing the patriarchs who lived before the time of Abraham, and that on the right those who lived between the days of Abraham and St. John Baptist. These souls did not at first recognise Jesus, but were filled nevertheless with sensations of joy and hope. There was not a spot in those narrow confines which did not, as it were, dilate with feelings of happiness. The passage of Jesus might be compared to the wafting of a breath of air, to a sudden flash of light, or to a shower of vivifying dew, but it was swift as a whirlwind. After passing through the two compartments, he reached a dark spot in which Adam and Eve were standing; he spoke to them, they prostrated and adored him in a perfect ecstasy of joy, and they immediately joined the band of angels, and accompanied our Lord to the compartment on the left, which contained the patriarchs who lived before Abraham. This compartment was a species of Purgatory, and a few evil spirits were wandering about among the souls and endeavouring to fill them with anxiety and alarm. The entrance through a species of door was closed, but the angels rapped, and I thought I heard them say, ‘Open these doors.’ When Jesus entered in triumph the demons dispersed, crying out at the same time, ‘What is there between thee and us? What art thou come to do here? Wilt thou crucify us likewise?’ The angels hunted them away, having first chained them. The poor souls confined in this place had only a slight presentiment and vague idea of the presence of Jesus; but the moment he told them that it was he himself, they burst out into acclamations of joy, and welcomed him with hymns of rapture and delight. The soul of our Lord then wended its way to the right, towards that part which really constituted Limbo; and there he met the soul of the good thief which angels were carrying to Abraham’s bosom, as also that of the bad thief being dragged by demons into Hell. Our Lord addressed a few words to both, and then entered Abraham’s bosom, accompanied by numerous angels and holy souls, and also by those demons who had been chained and expelled from the compartment.

jesus-passion.com/THE_PASSION6.htm#CHAPTER%20LIX

It’s merely a theory.

There is a Hell of the Damned and a purgatory. Other than that there is no official teaching, other than that there was a place that souls went before Jesus died that was neither Heaven, Hell nor Purgatory. Limbo is not official teaching.

I didn’t realize St. Thomas referred to the states of Purgatory and the 2 Limbos as “Hell”. Today we would not refer to them as such; only “Gehenna” would we now refer to as “hell”.

Word usage and definitions can change over time; perhaps that is what happened. (Aquinas lived in the 1200’s.) Perhaps at that time “hell” referred to any place/state in the afterworld where there are souls not in the full presence of God in heaven.

Here is the Catechism section on hell. vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2O.HTM
As it says, hell is where those are who die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s love. Condemnation to hell is eternal, and is a place of torment.
Purgatory is temporary, not eternal.

The Limbo of the Fathers and the Limbo of the infants were never considered to be places of torment and punishment. Quite the opposite. Limbo of the Fathers (the good people who died prior to Jesus’ redemption of mankind) would have ceased once man’s redemption was accomplished by Jesus.

As to Limbo of infants who die unbaptized, we still cannot say where they spend eternity. As the Catechism says:
1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, … and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.

Purgatory is a temporary state, unlike Gehenna/hell which is eternal.

Instead of saying it is not “official teaching” it is better to say it has never been taught infallibly. Limbo of the children has been the common theologian teaching for centuries and can be found in many catechisms. It has just never been infallible defined by the Church, which is the case with many other doctrines.

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