Given the continual revelations of Cardinal Fernández’ psychosexual pathology and Pope Francis’ hat tip to an empty Hell, I thought it might be good to consider the truth of Satan and the infernal dwelling place where wicked men go.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke these words: “Of old time thou hast broken my yoke, thou hast burst my bands, and thou saidst: I will not serve. For on every high hill, and under every green tree thou didst prostitute thyself” (Jeremiah 2:20). By these words we are told the reason for Satan’s descent into Hell from Paradise. Satan’s fall from grace was an act of rebellion against the Almighty, a narcissistic fit of self-worship and self-adoration standing in stark contrast to the humble service we must render to the Divine Majesty.
Throughout the centuries, Satan has been portrayed as a fiery devil, frightening like something seen in a nightmare. And, although the Church does not have an official teaching in the most solemn sense that one must envision the Demon the way he has been popularly presented, we would do well to follow the wisdom of the mystics and saints who have all seen fit to tell us of the demonic with consistent imagery. If anything, even if those images of a fiery furnace are meant to be more allegorical than literal (I do not deny the reality of hellfire in the slightest but only hope to speak here of a different layer of meaning) we are not left with a Hell that is any less hellish.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
As is to be expected in our day, modern—or modernist—apologists and commentators tend to downplay the reality of literal fire in Hell or a devil who is frightening and horrifying. The intention, one can assume, is that for “modern man” who is so scientific and rational, it is not possible to sell a devil to potential converts that is so “unrealistic.” After all, we are told that angels (demons are fallen angels) are merely pure spirits, and therefore any talk of high temperatures and literal gnashing of teeth is nothing but a literary device that people of a simpler age needed so they could be scared straight. Whereas in our day, we are so smart and nothing like those simple people—people simple enough to realize that cutting off an organ does not change a gender—who needed such grotesque imagery in their theology. Modern man needs a reasonable devil, not a fiery one!
This mentality, so common today, is ironically very devilish. To believe the sophistry that belief in a fiery Hell or a monstrous demon is irrational or unfitting of a reasonable Christian is the height of demonic pride. Simply put, the greatest saints who have ever shared this Earth with us were under no impression that one should temper demonic imagery to be more in line with reason and sophisticated people. In addition, these fiery images and bestial portrayals of Hell and Satan are, at least in some way, literary or imagistic devices, and that is the point. We are told that demons are merely pure spirits, and therefore any talk of high temperatures and literal gnashing of teeth is nothing but a literary device that people of a simpler age needed so they could be scared straight. Tweet This
The absolute horror of Hell is greater and more painful than any flame, pitchfork, or lake of fire could ever be. The wisdom of Christian history has given us these “simple” images because it is we who are too simple to grasp how utterly awful it would be to dwell in Hell. Furthermore, we constantly fail to grasp the gravity of our sin and the sorrow this brings to Our Lord. Meditate for a moment on the following words from the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offences.”
Now, I am not a mystic, but I recall one time kneeling at the Communion rail and gazing at the statue of Jesus with His exposed Sacred Heart that was installed over the altar. That line from the prayer struck me like a ton of bricks, and for a brief moment I swore I could feel the awkward—and for some reason, metallic—pain that would result from a heart being bruised. Of course, I have no idea what it would feel like to have my literal heart bruised, but it was something like the feeling of when you bite tinfoil with a tooth filling but in my chest.
At any rate, the point here is not to dissect what it would actually feel like to have your heart bruised but, instead, to understand that these images that we either venerate or fear are meant to transmit to us a reality that is even more real than the image. When we read that Christ’s heart is bruised, we must understand with the metaphysics of sound Realism that the immutable realm of Being is more real than the changeable. This is because that which cannot or does not change is more like God (in the case of Christ, He is God) and therefore is not susceptible to degradation and decay due to a proximity to the Divine Source who sustains the unchangeable realm.
To put it a different way, we do not see angels normally, but that is not because they are less real than us but because, in a sense, they are more real than us. As aeviternal creatures, they have a beginning but no end, thus their nature is different than ours in a substantial way. Therefore, the plain of reality they operate within is not bound by space and time in the way that ours is, as it exists in aeviternity without the confines of space. Angels do not exist—as is commonly expressed—outside of time given that they are created beings and therefore have a beginning in time.
This is why angels have the characteristic of agility, which means they can seemingly be in many places at once. It is not necessary for us to posit that they are in more than one place at a time because “place” for an aeviternal spiritual creature is a different thing than for a creature bound up in the temporal and corporeal realm that we inhabit.
I say all this to say what Shakespeare wrote with fewer words and more succinctly: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We cannot fully understand a realm of reality that is so different than ours, but we know by logical reasoning that it must exist. Therefore, we must use images and analogies to understand things beyond our full comprehension. So, when the saints tell us that Hell is a fiery place, they tell us that what we will experience in Hell is the greatest pain, and the image of a conflagration is the most apt image, given the sheer horror of it.
Furthermore, the devil is portrayed as a heinous monster because if there could ever be an image of the platonic form of sin, it would be the ugliest picture one could ever see, as we would expect nothing less from something that bruises the heart of Christ.
Far from helping so-called modern man escape the supposed superstition of the Middle Ages by explaining away the fiery and monstrous imagery of Hell and demons, the apologist or commentator who does so is evidently possessed by the superstition that man in our day does not need the images that much greater and holier men than us needed.
In Hell, there will be total rejection of God, a state of unimaginable despair that would veritably kill you on the spot if you understood it for what it truly was. You would die from a broken heart if you saw the eternal resting place of unrest where the damned are tortured by their sins. The psychological and spiritual pain of that isolation from God would create a depressive state so great that one would gladly trade earthly fire for the interior fire of eternal anguish.
Rather than dismissing the age-old images of Hell, we should keep in mind that it is a mercy for us to have them.