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that which it wishes for, aud shall always have that which it wishes not" (a). What tongue can tell, what pen can paint the horrible nature of this punishment! For " neither hath eye seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive what Thou, O God, hast prepared for those who offend Thee. Oh, what an insufferable thing is hell!" (b) Woe, then, to those whose portion shall be in this "pool burning with fire and brimstone" (c).
The pain of loss. Nevertheless, the number and severity of all these punishments are a mere trifle, when compared with the pain arising from the loss of the vision of God. Multiply the tortures of hell one thousandfold, and they are nothing as compared with this loss. It is S. John Chrysostom who says so : "If any one," he says, " should name a thousand hells, he would still fall short of saying what a punishment it is to be excluded from the privilege of beholding that glory" (d). Dreadful sentence! for if one hell alone is the centre of all evils and all torments, what will a thousand hells be? A thousand hells! and, yet, according to S. John Chrysostom, not even a thousand hells, though multiplied one hundred thousand times, are equal in punishment to the single pain of loss. The reason is, because this punishment is infinite, not only in its extension, that is, in respect of the period for which it is to last, but
(a) S. Bernard, lib. v. de consider c. xi.
(b) Chrysostom, lib. de Reparat. (c) Apoc. xxi. 8.
also in its intensity, that is, in respect of the good of which it deprives us. As, then, the greatest happiness conceivable consists in seeing God, who is infinitely lovable, so the greatest possible calamity is to be cast out from his sight. Nay, as 8. Augustine declares, the greatness of the loss suffered in being excluded from the vision of God, can be measured only by the greatness of God Himself (a).
At present, while we are still sojourners in this world, we seldom entertain an ardent desire of seeing God, "and because we are ignorant of the greatness of this heavenly treasure, we fail, also, in understanding how great an evil it is to be deprived of it" (b). But once we shall have laid aside the trappings of our mortality, the mind will be filled with such appreciation of this treasure, it will burn with such an ardent desire of enjoying it, it will feel itself borne onwards with such force to possess it, that of all the torments of hell, the greatest and most intolerable for the damned soul will be to find herself removed from the vision of her Creator. In a word, "she will be tortured more by the loss of heaven than by the flames of hell" (c).
Nor need this surprise us: for so infinite is God's beauty, that, if the damned could gaze upon it, if but for an instant, not only would they cease to feel the pains of hell, but would even fancy themselves suddenly transported to heaven. And, therefore, those miserable wretches would willingly endure a thousand hells, if it were only permitted them to
(a) S. Augustine, lib. xix. De Civ. Dei. cap. 28.
behold, even for an instant, that incomprehensible beauty. But in vain; their sins have shut out His face from them, and this for ever .... for ever.
The eternity of the punishments. The most terrible of all the terrible punishments of hell is the eternity of this loss, the never-ending duration of this punishment. The day of judgment shall arrive; the universe shall become a ruin; after its destruction a thousand years will glide by, and after these many other hundreds of thousands of millions of years; yet, after the lapse of all this time, not a single minute will have been taken from eternity. In their turn, there shall pass by as many thousands of centuries as there are grains of sand upon the sea-shore, leaves upon the trees, and stars in the firmament; yet, all the while, the torments of the damned will be only at their commencement, and will be, as it were, ever beginning anew. Nor is this enough: after the lapse of this immense series of years and centuries, there shall pass by as many other centuries as there are atoms upon the earth and drops of water in the ocean; and lo! the damned shall be still in tortures; they shall be eternally miserable, "that all flesh may know that the Lord hath drawn his sword out of its sheath, not to be turned back " (a).
For "there shall be death without dying, an end
yet no ending, and infirmity yet no failing; for death
lives there, and the end is ever beginning, and the
failing cannot fail " (b). "Where you would think
(a) Ezech. xxi. 5. (6) S. Gregory, lib. ix. moral, cap. 49. that eternity must end, there it is also beginning," says S. Hilary. Do not say that this seems to attribute cruelty to God, "for eternal punishment may justly be inflicted for what never can be expiated"(a); and since the malice of sin is, in a certain measure, infinite, it is necessary, also, that the punishment should be infinite in some degree, and at least perpetual in its duration. Otherwise there would no longer be any just proportion between the crime and its punishment, and the wisdom of God would have failed to supply us with a motive sufficiently powerful to withdraw us from sin; as we see in the case of purgatory, the pains of which, though most excruciating, are powerless to deter us from the commission of a very great number of venial sins. If in hell there were a hope of redemption, the worm of the damned would finally die, and their punishment would cease to be eternal. But God has sworn that "their worm dieth not" (b), and that "they shall go into everlasting punishment" (c), therefore they shall remain there for eternity.
O eternity! O word, short, but of most bitter meaning! Ah ! if the mere sting of a wasp or of a mosquito were to last for ever, we should look upon it as an unbearable torture; what shall it be, then, to be chained in the centre of so many tortures, there to suffer without respite all possible pains, and to suffer them for ever. O horrible thought!
for ever, .... for ever for ever. "Woe
to you who do not believe these truths until they are forced upon your conviction by experience " (d).
(a) S. Bernard. (6) S. Mark ix. 45.
(c) Matt. xxv. 46. (d) Euseb. Emissenus.
1. An act of faith. O most wise God, Infallible Truth! I believe that there is a hell, .... that one becomes deserving of it by the commission of even a single mortal sin, .... that innumerable souls which were created for heaven, are, through mortal sin, precipitated into this abyss, .... and are there punished by Thee, whose justice can never chastise beyond what the crime deserves, and whose mercy always inclines Thee to deal lightly with the sinner; . . . . from which I conclude that, when I sin, my crime far exceeds the punishment allotted to it, and that sin should, consequently, be detested beyond everything else. Wherefore, I will, with all possible diligence, fly from everything which leads to sin, and I will avoid especially this venial sin (N.), this occasion (N.), this defect (N.), and this passion (N). On the other hand, I will embrace with my entire soul whatever leads away from sin, and, in particular, those means (NK.), which are of more than ordinary efficacy in preventing one from offending God. For "It is better . ... to go into life maimed or lame, than, having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire" (a).
2. An act of detestation of sin. Let the most august Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—be my witness, that I prefer rather to be cast into hell than to stain my soul with a single mortal sin. Yes, I am willing rather to burn for ever in flames, being pure and innocent, than to enjoy heaven for eternity if defiled with mortal sin.
(a) Matt. xviii. 8.