Very confused on Hell

Dear friends,

I have just got back from an evening with fellow students of theology, who are in higher semesters than I am. Due to our nature, we talked theology, and came to fixate on the Last Things. Now, I am very confused. Here are some of the statements the other two made, which I found very odd.

*]Pre-Last Judgement “Hell” is not eternal and not decisive
*]Neither is Pre-Last-Judgement Heaven
*]Before the Last Judgement, we can pray souls out of “Hell”, and people can drop out of heaven and purgatory into “Hell”
*]We get a “second chance” at the Judgement Seat, even if we die in mortal sin, where we will encounter the love and mercy of God and are so overwhelmed that we cannot possibly refuse and go to Hell
*]Thus, we have hope and it is very likely that Hell is empty

They referenced von Balthasar and Rahner, and broadly “tradition”. To be honest, these things strike me as extremely foreign. Especially that people can drop out of Heaven or be prayed out of Hell. On that note, they said “But in the Fatima Prayer of the Rosary, we pray for those who most need His Mercy… who could need it more than the souls in hell?”

What is the teaching on hell on these points? Is there a difference between pre- and post-Last Judgement Eschatology?


I assume they mean pre-general judgment. The particular judgment occurs immediately upon death, and the soul immediately experiences either heaven, hell or purgatory.

Neither is Pre-Last-Judgement Heaven.

See above.

Before the Last Judgement, we can pray souls out of “Hell”, and people can drop out of heaven and purgatory into “Hell”

The beatific vision of heaven is eternal at the moment of death. “Dropping out” of purgatory into hell before the general judgment is speculative. The Church simply hasn’t taught this one way or another. We do know that purgatory will cease at the general judgment.

We get a “second chance” at the Judgement Seat, even if we die in mortal sin, where we will encounter the love and mercy of God and are so overwhelmed that we cannot possibly refuse and go to Hell

That is not the teaching of the Church. The Ecumenical Councils of Lyons and Florence make this clear.

Thus, we have hope and it is very likely that Hell is empty

The first part is a permissible belief in my opinion - that we may have hope that all men are saved. A caveat, CA pretty clearly disagrees with me and like minded theologians on this issue.

Whether it is likely that hell is empty is speculative.

They referenced von Balthasar and Rahner, and broadly “tradition”.

I have studied both Balthasar and Rahner extensively on these issues. Your fellow students are not accurately representing either of these men’s writings in that regard. Both insist that the possibility of eternally separating oneself from God (hell) is a permanent existential of humanity.

There’s no basis for disagreement. The Church teaches that hell exists but does not teach that anybody is actually there. If someone wants to believe that hell is empty, he does not go against any Church doctrine. If he says hell is empty because of some second chance, NOW he’s a heretic.

Whether it is likely that hell is empty is speculative.


They are expressing “wishful thinking” that is influenced by (secular) culture’s understanding of what a “good god” surely has to be like.

My start of a series on “the last things”, concerning Purgatory:

Keep looking for what is “really real” and questioning what does not seem to fit. You will be a great theologian by doing this.

Hi David,

I obviously agree with your conclusion (at least with regard to human souls), but at least one apologist at CA disagrees. Tim Staples recently took Fr. Barron and Balthasar to task on the question of Are There Souls in Hell Right Now? I just wanted to make it clear that there is a difference of opinion on the issue from CA.

They take 1 and 2, partially from Revelation 20:14 and Revelation 21:1. 20:14 Hell and Death are thrown into the lake of fire; they take it to mean it is destroyed. Revelation 21:1 says that John sees a new heaven and a new earth.

I don’t personally believe in Purgatory (topic for a different thread), but my understanding is its (in VERY basic terms) kinda of like a Heaven waiting room, but its a one way trip. It seems very foreign, weird, and unsettling to me that you can get booted out of Heaven, post death. How? Why? What do you have to do/have done or not do/not have done? Just so scary and confusing.

Those statements are heretical. When someone dies in the state of mortal sin they are condemned to hell for all eternity. There is no getting out. Once someone is saved they are saved for eternity, whether they are making reparation in purgatory or they are in heaven. There is no reasonable hope that no one is in hell. Someone who is in hell cannot get out. You cannot separate God’s mercy from His justice. Even after the great judgement, those in hell will remain there. Do not give in to the liberal “everyone goes to heaven” type of Catholics who are destroying the Church and Catholic identity. Watch this video

It’s heretical to believe that those in Hell can be saved or that those in Heaven can be damned.

The idea that Hell is empty isn’t heretical in the strictest sense, but imo it is a very theologically poor opinion. Satan wasn’t really thrown into Hell in the Apocalypse of John. His false prophets weren’t really thrown into Hell. His followers weren’t really thrown in Hell. The legions of verses talking about the damned (in the present or past tense) were metaphorical.

Mary desperately appealed to us about Hell, precisely at the immediate pre-dawn of an atheist superpower, where disbelief in Final Judgement would soar.

It follows an A to B logic. If we have no infallible “canonization” of certain people being damned, then strictly speaking, we can’t say with 100.00% certainty that Hell isn’t empty. I also can’t say with 100.00% certainty that in the next bag of chips I open, that I won’t discover an emerald bracelet that was dropped by one of the employees at the factory. It is folly to hold this belief as plausible, even if, strictly speaking, it is possible.

It is weird. I’m not sure where these people are getting that idea from. The Church certainly doesn’t believe that though, otherwise why would it bother canonizing saints? It would be completely meaningless.

It’s actually quite simple. Don’t go there…:wink:

Good point, it would be a temporary thing then. Have to rename churches, he isn’t a saint anymore.

Yeah, well, I said it was probably the biggest debate among modern Catholic theologians. I have no desire to insert myself between the likes of Tim Staples and Hans Urs von Balthasar (but I truly admire Staples’ pluck - he’s not exactly taking on the JV squad).

But both must surely agree that the Church has not decisively and definitively taught on the subject (otherwise, they would not disagree, because I firmly believe both men would not hesitate to accept such a decisive teaching).

Lacking any such definitive teaching, I find it hard to believe that either theologian would accuse someone of doctrinal error for believing one way or another.

The first 4 are flat wrong. #5 is doubtful.

As Ignatius mentioned, #1-4 are all wrong:

CCC 1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification 594 or immediately,595 – or immediate and everlasting damnation.596 At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.597

594 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 857-858; Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304- 1306; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820.
595 Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000-1001; John XXII, Ne super his (1334): DS 990.
596 Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1002.
597 St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64.

See also here for the Constitution cited by the CCC from Pope Benedict XII, which gives a definitive (and therefore infallible) judgment in that matter:

#5 is based on the idea that Jesus died for all and therefore God offers all the possibility of salvation. It is therefore possible for each individual to be saved. If it is possible for each individual, it is possible for all individuals to be saved. If this were to happen, each individual would have to die in the state of grace–there is no second chances afterward. Likewise, just because it is possible for each individual to be saved, it doesn’t mean each individual will be saved. We all have free will and therefore can turn away fro grace. Jesus warns that many may do this.

working backwards

Re: #5, pure wishful thinking backed up by pure speculation. Jesus spoke more of hell than anyone in scripture. Why do that if hell is going to be empty? Does God scare us needlessly? That would technically be a lie and God can’t lie.

Re #4, another example of wishful thinking backed up by speculation. The Church says this about those who die in mortal sin. 1035 And it’s not just the Church but scripture as well

Re #3, that contradicts scripture. Ref: Lazarus and the rich man. Jesus is telling the story. And what about all the gnashing of teeth, and the fire that never ends that Jesus talks about? If hell is only for Satan and his demons, and never meant for us, Jesus would have revealed that to us. But He revealed just the opposite.

Re #2 heaven is not eternal or decisive. Now that’s a scary speculation!! :rolleyes:

Re: #1 hell not being eternal or decisive, then I would ask why did we need a messiah? What would we need saving from?

I would need to see specific references.

The Fatima prayer is an intercessory prayer for those souls on this side of eternity, who are going down the wrong path.

Everyone judged to go through purgation, will ultimately go to heaven after purification, while Heaven and hell are permanent.

The CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) says this about heaven and hell

all references in the CCC to both, are in the following links



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