The Catholic Thing
Hell Frozen Over Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 05 May 2014

Editor’s Note: Brad Miner makes the unpopular but true case today for why it is that eternal damnation is a real possibility - and in certain Scriptural passages, it seems, a fact. Every serious Christian knows that there may be things we do for which we might merit Hell. But we’re much less inclined to remember that there are sins of omission — sins of not doing the things we are commanded to do. One is to give alms to the poor. At TCT, we’re quite aware that it’s a long stretch from Dives and Lazarus to a fund drive. But they’re not entirely unrelated. If you think there needs to be a more robust and powerful presence of the Catholic Faith in the world, you need to do something about it. There are bishops and religious orders worth supporting, universities and schools that are still struggling to keep the Faith. But there’s also The Catholic Thing, our daily series of columns that I’m quite confident is as good as any you may try to compare it to. Please, we only ask a few times a year and our success or failure early in the year really shapes what we can do for the rest of 2014. The sooner we all reach deeper, the sooner we can get to our regular business. Do all you can to support TCT today. - Robert Royal

Judas is in hell. Despite the contortions of some celebrated theologians such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, it’s quite difficult to find universal salvation in the Scriptures. Even Plato noted that if the extremely wicked were not extremely punished in the next life, the world might seem founded on injustice.

Yet we often hear it said that, since the Catholic Church has never condemned any individual to damnation, we cannot say for certain that any soul now suffers or ever will suffer whatever torments exist in hell.

I’ll come to Judas presently, but let me say that of all the questions folks ask about pain and suffering and sin and damnation, the only one that seems to me to matter is this (which is not the subject of this column): Why are we tainted with original sin? Put another way: Why are we, who never asked to be born, put at jeopardy of damnation by virtue of our coming, involuntarily, into existence?

Very many people I know raise these questions with sincerity, and argue that our minds being so clearly incapable of comprehending either eternal damnation or eternal salvation (what Paul said of heaven in 1 Cor 2:9 may as easily be said of hell: that the true horror has never entered into our minds), it is simply unjust that God would consign anybody to eternal terror.

And the answer to that is Judas.

My older son was stationed at Ft. Knox a couple of years ago and on a Sunday (we afterwards traveled the “Bourbon Trail”), we went to morning Mass at Our Lady of Gethsemane Trappist Monastery near Bardstown.

Now I had heard that this house had become somewhat non-standard in its embrace of Catholic dogma, but I was hardly prepared for the abbot’s homily about hell. Standing there beneath a tapestry that depicts Lao Tzu, Gandhi, Patrice Lumumba, MLK, and other sages and martyrs for peace, the priest made the claim that hell may well be empty. I can’t recall all those to whom he gave a get-out-of-hell-free card, although Adolf Hitler was mentioned. Did he include Judas among those for whose salvation we may hope? By the abbot’s own logic, he should.

The trouble with this abundance of compassion is Christ’s own very clear assignment of Judas to perdition. John records the Lord’s prophetic prayer at the Last Supper:

And now I will no longer be in the world, but they [the Apostles] are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled. (17:11-12)
So there’s one lost for sure.
   Now Dis Behold (Lucifer gnaws Judas) by John Flaxman, c. 1807

The fulfilled scripture Jesus cites is the 41st Psalm: “Even my trusted friend, who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me.” And – almost as if in answer to the questions about original sin, redemption, and damnation – in Mark (14:21, in the same Eucharistic context) Jesus says: “For the Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.

Never been born. Given that we do exist, and given the ecstasy promised to the saints, and given even the joys of this world, how can “never been born” not imply that Judas forfeited paradise? Clearly he is damned.

Again, it is sometimes argued, given other prophecies made that same night, specifically about Peter, that the Apostles still did not know who Jesus really is. Yes, they believed Him to be the Messiah, but believed as most Jews understood their deliverer to be: God’s chosen one, but not God Himself.

But that hardly mitigates Judas’ betrayal; his suicide seals the deal. Both Peter and Judas denied Christ, but Peter repented.

Saint Augustine described humanity as a massa damnata, which phrase needs no translation. We are children after the Fall, haunted by concupiscence – a mystery rooted in our resemblance to God: in our freedom. We know we’re fallen. Experience teaches us so. No socio-political system will ever free us from bondage. We know hell exists, because Jesus made its existence perfectly clear in His earthly ministry. We know those who dwell therein are rightly condemned, for our just God would not allow it to be otherwise.

Neither Scripture nor tradition gives us reason to anticipate a second Harrowing of Hell, such as we evoke in the Apostle’s Creed.

On another Holy Thursday, this one in the year 1300, Dante “began” his descent into Inferno. Unable to find the diritta via (straight way), he and his guide, the Limbo-dwelling Virgil, hike down through all nine circles. Short of heaven, the best any unrepentant sinner may hope for is to be with Virgil and the other melancholy residents of Limbo, although such an end is unlikely for a damned Catholic.

And lest one think the Divine Comedy, being neither Scriptural nor Magisterial, cannot educate, consider that Benedict XV devoted an encyclical to it (In Praeclara Summorum, 1921) in which he wrote that the “divine” Dante “depicted the triple life of souls as he imagined it in a such way as to illuminate with the light of the true doctrine of the faith the condemnation of the impious, the purgation of the good spirits and the eternal happiness of the blessed before the final judgment.”

In the Ninth Circle, the very bottom of Inferno, where all is ice, fanned frozen by the furious flapping of Satan’s wings, Dante and Virgil find Judas. The Devil gnaws on Judas’ head and claws at his back. Forever.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His book, The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio and as an iPhone app.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (22)Add Comment
written by Howard Kainz, May 04, 2014
Besides Dante's speculations, we have private revelations. In the revelations to St. Birgitta of Sweden, in the chapter on "Why Christ Tolerates the Wicked," Jesus says, "It is in order to manifest God's glory and patience. It was for this reason that I tolerated Pilate, Herod, and Judas, although they were going to be damned." And a few chapters later Jesus, in dialogue with the devil on His justice and mercy, after getting the devil to give the reasons for his fall (namely, envy of the glory, power, and eternal life of God), says to the devil, "If I am so merciful, then, that I do not refuse pardon to anyone asking for it, ask me humbly for mercy yourself, and I will give it to you." The devil answered him: "That I shall do by no means! At the time of my fall, a punishment was established for every sin, for every worthless thought or word. Every spirit that has fallen will have his punishment. But rather than bend my knee before you, I would rather swallow all the punishments myself, as long as my mouth can open and shut in punishment and be forever renewed to be punished again."
The good which is so attractive to the saints is abhorrent to the damned, and they reject it as ugliness itself.
written by Thomas. C. Coleman, Jr., May 05, 2014
We are mostly Catholics here, at least I think. It hardly matters how we came by the Faith. So we must all be aware that only God knows who is in Hell. The only reason we can speak of certainty of anyone at all being in Heaven is canonization. Not only can we not speak with certainty of particular people being in Hell, we may not presume to do so, for doing so is itself gravely sinful.
written by Gian, May 05, 2014
"second Harrowing of Hell"

CS Lewis pictured Christ's descent to hell as eternal-"there is no spirit in prison to whom He did not preach"- The Great Divorce.

Given that the Heaven and Hell are in eternity, the idea that the Harrowing of hell took place only once is simplistic. It took place once in the Earth but the times on the Earth may not correspond in one-to-one fashion with times on the supernatural realms.

Also, we do not know how the moment of death appears in the supernatural realms. There is no repentance AFTER death but the moment of death itself could be eternal in supernatural realms, giving to the sinner an opportunity to repent.
written by Manfred, May 05, 2014
Thank you for this column, Brad. It follows on Randall Smith's column of a few days ago on the Sensus Fidelium. You take an institution which claims a billion members which purports to teach the True Faith, you teach the membership NO catechetics or moral theology for two generations and then you ask them to complete a questionnaire on how they feel/think on certain serious subjects of faith and morals. We are then surprised when the replies have little to no relation to the Faith and teachings of the previous two millennia! Let's be blunt. Your column today, with which I agree, directly opposes the sentiments of von Balthasar, and Fr. Robert Barron who has become the persona of modern Catholicism due to his very popular series called=Catholicism. The Church today consists of millions of catholics who do not even know they are not Catholic. They do not even know they have been cheated out of receiving the Pearl of Great Price!
In a revelation to Sister Lucia, one of the seers at Fatima, the Mother of God told her that "most souls are in Hell for sins of the flesh". Yet catholics will argue for hours whether Hitler (or Stalin, as these are the only two who might possibly be damned) is in Hell or he received an early parole. After the Council, Hell was effectively dismissed as irrelevant and this has led millions of catholics to feel they can support abortion, premarital sex, divorce and remarriage without annulment, sodomite marriage. Gone are the days, except in the Traditional orders, where the laity are reminded that we all face the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven or Hell. The Sacraments, especially frequent Confession, are gifts from God to assist us in avoiding eternity in Hell. All these are found ONLY in the Roman Catholic Church.
ALL of these facts will be known by EVERY HUMAN BEING when each stands before Christ to be individually judged. This is why there is so much condemnation of any pope, bishop, priest, etc. who waters down any of these teachings!
"The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops" St. John Chrysostom
written by T.D., May 05, 2014
Gian, I beg to differ with your logic. You can't have an eternal moment of death and eternal life at the same time, because that would amount to two eternal opposites. Just as here on earth, the rule of non-contradiction should apply - something can't both be and not-be eternally, that is, you can't be eternally alive and eternally dying.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, May 05, 2014
Some of the Fathers, like St Isaac of Syria and St Maximus the Confessor teach that the "fire" that will consume sinners at the coming of the Kingdom of God is the same "fire" that will shine with splendour in the saints. It is the "fire" of God's love; the "fire" of God Himself who is Love. "For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29) who "dwells in unapproachable light.” (I Timothy 6:16) For those who love God and who love all creation in Him, the "consuming fire" of God will be radiant bliss and unspeakable delight. For those who do not love God, and who do not love at all, this same consuming "fire" will be the cause of their "weeping" and their "gnashing of teeth.".
It is the presence of God's splendid glory and love that is the scourge of those who reject its radiant power and light.
written by JDJL, May 05, 2014
Hell is real and a clear and present danger for ALL and needs to be taught. But teaching the reality and danger of hell is one thing, insisting that this or that person is in hell, or that the majority of people go to hell, is another. These are separate issues, and one should not be taught as though it depended on the other. In support of the claim about Judas--"Clearly he is damned."--the scriptural interpretation offered is careless, inconsistent, and unorthodox. Unorthodox: Jesus' statement at the last supper, that "none of them was lost except the son of destruction" cannot be taken as proof of Judas' damnation, as Judas was still alive, and still free to repent; to interpret this reference to the living Judas as "lost" as a sentence of damnation ("there's one lost, for sure"), is to claim that Judas was predestined to damnation; the claim that the reprobate are predestined to hell has been declared anathema by the church. Inconsistent: after claiming that Judas was already condemned to hell at the last supper ("Christ’s own very clear assignment of Judas to perdition"), the author goes on to say that it was Judas' suicide that "sealed the deal." Careless: reading "It would be better for that man if he had never been born" as implying damnation is a non-sequiter. Jesus is underlining the evil of the act, and the terrible consequences it entails; it does not follow that the sin could not be forgiven. The act was damnable; the agent was nonetheless redeemable. Was Judas saved, in the end? Did he repent? We have no evidence of any such repentence. We don't know. Humanly speaking, it is highly probable that he did not repent. But to declare that we have certain knowledge of the last thoughts and acts of the will of a dying suicide is foolish, unless we have been give a specific, public, divine revelation. And that we do not have.
written by Jack,CT, May 05, 2014
Thanks Brad you certainly woke up a tired soul!-
written by Manfred, May 05, 2014
Post Script: I just had the great fortune to hear Cdl Kasper being interviewed by Brian Lehrer on WNYC radio at 11 AM. Cdl Kasper was being interviewed on his book: MERCY, which has just come out in English. I have said for decades that the only thing which gives the Church authority is Catholic Truth. The Cdl spoke on the need for mercy in a very vague way and after a few minutes Lehrer handed him his head. If mercy is just vague virtue with no connection, why does one have to be Catholic? Would not atheists think mercy was a good idea? I phoned in to inject the subject of the Synod in October and Kasper's pre-synod address recently on divorced and remarried Catholics being allowed to receive Communion without benefit of annulment. Lehrer asked the question for me and Kasper's answer was so vague, Lehrer's questions were so incisive (would it not be merciful to allow poor married couples to contracept?), that Kasper was left with nothing to say. Think of it: a cardinal of the Church, who is referred to as "the Pope's theologian" (as Lehrer mentioned many times!) is stymied by questions from a Jewish man on a secular radio program!!! Which comes back to the subject at hand: Hell.
If the Church cannot teach binding truths with Divine authority, who would be bothered listening? If the Church does not teach the Will of God it is out of business. "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Fear of Hell is a tremendous incentive to fear and respect the Lord.
Thank you once again, Brian.
written by Seanachie, May 05, 2014
Has the concept of "perfect contrition", and its effect, been lost in this discussion?
written by Ted Seeber, May 05, 2014
To be a Devil's Advocate for a second:

I don't need Jesus to know that Hell exists. I need only spend some of my time working with the drug addicted and the mentally ill.

But in keeping with St Faustina's vision- I'd point out that Hitler, Judas, and Stalin did not necessarily commit "sins of the flesh"- however many people I know do.
written by Kingofnothing27, May 05, 2014
There are people in hell.

However I wish we heard more about it...sometimes hearing about mercy and love constantly makes us weak and flabby in regard the holy life we are all called to.

Let as try to respect Jesus and never tire of trying reduce our sins for his sake...
written by Myshkin, May 05, 2014
Granted, on scriptural grounds Judas is there, but I won't be caught speculating one way or the other on many others. Consigning others to hell is a splendid way to start on the broad road to it oneself.

I had a maiden aunt who was always telling me (and anyone else who would listen) about the various members of our extended family who were going to hell for this reason or that, usually due to something they'd said or done to injure her. As you may imagine some of these injuries were very slight. My own response was that I just wanted to make sure that neither she nor I were going to hell for the evils we had done or the good we had failed to do. I told her that I didn't want to find out whether anyone is in hell by being there myself!

Related to this, I must recommend Charles Williams' "Descent into Hell" as one of the most terrifying descriptions of how a soul may take the road to hell by his own volition. It's the scariest book I've ever read.
written by Peggy Angotti, May 05, 2014
Rob Royal - RE: Brad Miner's "Hell Frozen Over" ... Was there a need for the Editor's note when the Church's Dogma teaches Hell? In your fund drive you asked if we believe there needs to be a more ROBUST & POWERFUL presence of the Catholic Faith in the world. Your editorial note seems to "soft pedal" Church teaching on Hell, something we are getting too often today.
written by James, May 05, 2014
There will be folks in hell. They will be the ones who are living in it now, hell will just be the fulfillment of what they have always been doing.

Those who end up in hell will of course hate it, but they would be more miserable in Heaven. By the time they go through the Judgement, their lives will show that they either hate or didn't give a rip about God.

People may not be self aware of their hatred of God now, but they will be aware then.

written by mike bourgeois, May 05, 2014
If God can neither deceive nor be deceived, and Jesus is God, then why would Jesus try to deceive us into thinking there is a hell if He knows there isn't one? He wouldn't. Another thing Catholics don't seem think about much these days is this. When Jesus performed miracles, the Pharisees said He was a blasphemer using sorcery to make Himself appear to be God and, therefore, He deserved to be put to death. The Apostles, witnessing the same miracles, said Jesus was the Messiah Who deserved to be worshipped, because only God could do such things. Two different groups observing the very same thing, both drawing totally different conclusions from what they observed. It seems that each generation has the same kind of moral situations presented to it, but wrapped in different packages. Legalized abortion, the legalization of gay marriage, and the legalization of various sexual orientations as equal under the law being some of the most obvious in our day. Two different groups of Catholics and others contemplating the same situations and drawing totally different moral conclusions about them. I guess scriptures such as this escape them -- In those days, people will think of right as wrong and wrong as right. I don't know when those days are to be, but I do know that Catholics from those in the highest places in the clergy to lay people think of moral wrongs as civil rights today. When I asked one priest recently why Catholics, believing in a one, holy Catholic and apostolic church, would vote for pro-abortion Catholics, like Joe Biden, instead of pro-life Catholic Republicans, and feel justified for voting pro-abortion, he said that pro-life and pro-abortion are just two sides of the same Cahtolic coin. When I said, yes, Father, I know there are cases such as that. But if I say the floor we're standing on is liquid, and you say it's solid, one of us has to be wrong. He answered, you have a point. I guess they are not familiar with the Didache, a 1st Century document from the Apostles, which condemns abortion, pederasty (definition: sex between men, especially men and boys.)and other behaviors. Likewise, the Christian Roman Emperors criminalized these behaviors by 400 AD. Yet, Catholics today seem to be hell bent on leading the charge to re-legalize these behaviors. Well, if the Apostles didn't have the true faith, and the Christian Roman Emperors didn't have the true faith, then what is the true faith? Abortion was legal in the ancient, pagan Roman Empire. Criminalized by the Christian Roman Emperors, abortion remained criminalized until the former officially atheistic USSR became the first modern-day country to re-legalize abortion when Soviet Premiere Vladimir Lenin legalized all forms of it there in 1920, the supposedly predominantly Christian UK following suit in 1967, the supposedly predominantly Christian U. S. me tooing them in 1973 by legalizing paganistic/ahteistic abortion on demand here. What is it that the Bible prophesies about the coming of a Great Apsotacy from the true faith? Do certain Catholics ever consider this? When the anti-Christ appears, will he believe in abortion as a women's rights issue, or will he condemn it, like the Apostles in the Didache? Will he believe marriage is between one man and one woman only? Will he believe all sexual orientations are equal? Will he believe anything Christ believes and the Bible teaches? If you believe what he believes, instead of what Christ beleives and the Bible teaches, why wouldn't you follow and admire him for believing what you already believe before he even gets here?
written by Jim C., May 05, 2014
Jesus looked down from the cross and said, "Lord forgive them because they know not what they do.". Was he talking only to the Pharisees and Jewish mob? I doubt it. I think he was talking to all mankind, in that time and OURS. He forgave all of us, even for sins we had not yet committed. Seems to me that if Jesus were walking to the cross today, most of us would probably act no different than those Pharisees and mobs. We would be screaming for His death. God gives free will, but he also knows mans heart. He knew if he sent His Only Son, we (mankind) would put him to death. Yet Jesus took up that cross, WILLINGLY. What an incredible, selfless sacrifice!

Peter betrayed Christ too. He denied Him three times. But Jesus made Peter, ROCK, head of His Church. I think Judas also repented for what he had done at the moment of his suicide, and Jesus saved him.
written by William P, May 06, 2014
Judas is in hell?

Here's what Pope Benedict XVI said about this:

This mystery is even more profound if one thinks of his eternal fate, knowing that Judas "repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying 'I have sinned in betraying innocent blood'" (Matthew 27:3-4). Though he departed afterward to hang himself (cf. Matthew 27:5), it is not for us to judge his gesture, putting ourselves in God's place, who is infinitely merciful and just. (From his Oct 2006 audience and in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week)

To repeat: "it is not for us to judge his gesture, putting ourselves in God's place, who is infinitely merciful and just."

There is so much that could be going on in the mind and emotions of one in despair, of one who commits suicide, perhaps even enough to diminish culpability. As well, he could have sought God's mercy after he did the deed of suicide but before he actually died. There is at least one instant of time there, enough for Jesus to be with him and for Judas to receive forgiveness.

This does not mean that Judas is not in hell, merely that we don't know and so, according to Pope Benedict, "it is not for us to judge his gesture, putting ourselves in God's place, who is infinitely merciful and just."
written by grump, May 07, 2014
I think Sartre had it right: "Hell is other people."
written by Ray from Worcester, May 08, 2014
"VIn the Ninth Circle, the very bottom of Inferno, where all is ice, fanned frozen by the furious flapping of Satan’s wings, Dante and Virgil find Judas. The Devil gnaws on Judas’ head and claws at his back. Forever."

This is a disgusting statement. A human being suffering forever? You accept this? It sounds like you are celebrating it. A lot of us will probably need a severe punishment in the next life, but for eternity? I can not accept that.

Like Adam, none of us were born evil. We learn to love evil.
I hope we can learn to love good when we enter eternity. I think that's what Christ wants. But if even one human is in hell, heaven is a bad joke.
written by Brad Miner, May 08, 2014
@Ray from Worcester: What you object to is what Dante wrote.
written by Paul, May 10, 2014
When the topic of "hell" comes up, I always ask what "hell" are you talking about? Sadly, I find many fellow Christians don't realize "hell" is a misunderstood word and they lump some or all of the following together: the grave, dump outside of Jerusalem, place of confinement for fallen angels, lake of fire, place of eternal torture for the damned ruled by Satan.

Secondly, I'm surprised Christians ignore the Biblical evidence that the human "soul" is not immortal and those who's names are not written in The Lamb's Book of Life are cast into the lake of fire after the great white throne judgement and destroyed body and soul. Those who believe in the popular version of "hell" I find zero in on the red letter words of the Bible ignoring the context and other Biblical verses contrary to them. There are some excellent posts on the internet discussing this topic with Biblical documentation.

When I was younger I was taught about heaven, "hell" and purgatory. I thought I'm not evil enough to go to "hell" and I'm not good enough to go to heaven so I'll probably go to purgatory till I can be perfected to get into heaven. Then after years of study I realized those weren't the options. My options were between life and death only, no third choice. Don't forget Satan's big lie: "you shall not die".

The place many people think of "hell" does not exist, not because God is love but because God is just. "The wheat will be gathered into the barn and the tares will be bundled and thrown into the fire" where they'll be destroyed.

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