14 – The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity

There are some uncomfortable truths that we would like to forget… to make things easier. Though there is certainly no benefit derived from this mentality, some people persist in it, thinking that by the fact of insistently denying the truth, it will just cease to exist.
A few months ago, certain newspapers, of dubious religiosity, published articles with headlines such as: ‘Francis reviews the theology of Hell’ [1]; ‘Does an eternal hell exist? Francis is open to reviewing this idea’ [2];  or ‘Francis reviews the dogma of the eternal chastisement in hell’ [3]. To defend such an outlandish theory, the articles – devoid of true intellectual integrity – were based on an affirmation of Francis made during the Mass with the new cardinals at the Consistory in February, 2015.
Since such truths are what real pastors should make the most efforts to preach about – if, in fact, we wish to work for the salvation of souls – it is opportune to ask ourselves certain questions: By any chance may the Pope change a revealed truth? Perhaps the Church cannot eternally condemn, but what about God? Should preaching about hell cease? After death can’t one still repent? Does God, who is good, really chastise eternally?



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There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation. These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. […] The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the “outskirts” of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach […] Dear new Cardinals, this is the “logic”, the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. […] I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul – who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized (Homily during the Holy Mass with the new Cardinals, February 15, 2015)
One word should suffice this evening, that is the Cross itself. The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness. It is also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us. Let us remember this: God judges us by loving us. If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by him, but my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves. (Words during the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, March 29, 2013)
Where there is no mercy there is no justice. When God’s people come close asking for forgiveness, it often finds itself condemned by one of these judges”.
The people of God – Francis said – come across persons “who exploit and make the most of them; “who deprive their souls of oxygen, robbing them of hope”; “who punish penitent sinners for the very sins they conceal within themselves”. “This – the Pope said – is called lack of mercy”. “I would just like to say one of the most beautiful passages contained in the Gospel. It never fails to move me: ‘Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir.’ ‘Neither do I condemn you’: one of the most beautiful passages because it is full of mercy.” (Homily, Santa Marta, March 23, 2015)
This causes the Church to suffer a lot. The closed hearts, hearts of stone, hearts which do not want to be opened, that do not want to hear, hearts which only know the language of condemnation. They know how to condemn and do not know how to say ‘Explain, why do you say this? Why? Explain it to me.’ No, they are closed. They know everything and have no need of explanations! […] To the other group, to those who are closed within the rigidity of the law, who do not want to hear, Jesus said a lot; even uglier things than Stephen said. The same thing happened with the adulterous woman, who was a sinner. Each one of us enters into dialogue with Jesus and the victim of the hearts of stone: the adulterous. To those who wanted to stone her, Jesus only responds: “Look within yourselves.” And, today, we see this tenderness of Jesus: the testimony of obedience, the Great Witness, Jesus, who gave his life, he makes us see the tenderness of God in relation to us, toward our sins, and our weaknesses. We enter into this dialogue and ask for the grace that the Lord soften the rigid hearts of these people, those who are always closed within the Law and condemn everything that is outside of this Law. (Homily, Santa Marta, May 2, 2017English summary)
The figure that helps me understand the attitude of the Lord with the lost sheep is the comportment of the Lord with Judas. The most perfect lost sheep of the Gospel is Judas: a man who always, always had something bitter in his heart, something to criticize the others about, he was always distant. He did not know the sweetness of gratitude in living with all of the others. And, always, this sheep was not satisfied – Judas was not a satisfied man!  – he fled. He fled because he was a thief, and went out, alone. Others are impure, others… But they always escape because they have this darkness in their heart that separates them from the flock. And this double life, this double life that so many Christians, even – and I say this with sorrow, curates, bishops… And Judas was a bishop, one of the first bishops. The lost sheep. Poor him! Poor brother Judas, as Father Mazzolari called him in that beautiful sermon: Brother Judas, what happened to your heart? We should understand the lost sheep. We also always have some little thing, little or not so little, of the lost sheep. That which the lost sheep does is not so much an error, but a sickness that he has in his heart that the devil takes advantage of. In this way, Judas, with his divided heart and unsocial attitude, is the icon of the lost sheep that the shepherd seeks. But Judas did not understand, and in the end, when he sees what his double life provokes within the community, the evil that he sowed with his interior darkness, which made him always flee, searching for lights that were not the light of the Lord but lights like Christmas decorations, artificial lights – he despaired. There is a word in the Bible – the Lord is good, even with these sheep, he never fails to seek them – there is a word that says that Judas hanged himself, he repented and hanged himself. (Mt 27, 3) I believe that the Lord took this word and brought it with him, I don´t know, perhaps, but this word makes us doubt. What does this word mean? That until the end the love of God worked in that soul, until the moment of despair. And this is the attitude of the Good Shepherd with the strayed sheep. This is the proclamation, the good news that brings us Christmas and asks of us this sincere happiness that changes the heart, that brings us to allow ourselves to be consoled by the Lord, and not with the fleeting consolations that we seek, to flee from reality, from interior torture, interior division. When he found the lost sheep, Jesus did not insult it, even though it had done so much wrong. In the Garden of Olives he calls Judas “friend”. These are the caresses of God. Who doesn´t know about the caresses of the Lord doesn´t know about Christian doctrine! He who doesn´t allow himself to be caressed by the Lord is lost! And this is the good news, this is the sincere happiness that we wish for today. This is the happiness, this is the consolation that we seek: that the Lord come with his power, that are the caresses, his meeting up with us, to save us, as the lost sheep, and bring us to the flock of his Church. May the Lord grant us this grace to await Christmas with our wounds, with our sins, sincerely thankful, to await the power of this God that comes to console us, and comes with power, but his power is tenderness, the caresses that are born from his heart, this heart that is so good that he gave his life for us. (Homily, Santa Marta, December 6, 2016)
God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the daddy who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that does not know where to go and is entangled in ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you. I start to fear when Christians lose hope and the capacity to embrace and caress […] The Bible clearly shows that God’s main virtue is that He is love. He waits for us; he never tires of waiting for us. He gives us the gift and then waits for us. (Interview with La Stampa, December 16, 2013)
The Holy Father also described how today’s reading shows how the Lord will judge the great and the lowly “according to their deeds,” with the damned being thrown into the pool of fire. […] “Eternal damnation is not a torture chamber,” he said. “That’s a description of this second death: it is a death. And those who will not be received in the Kingdom of God, it’s because they have not drawn close to the Lord. These are the people who journeyed along their own path, distancing themselves from the Lord and passing in front of the Lord but then choosing to walk away from Him.” What eternal damnation is, he explained, is “continually distancing oneself from God.” “It is the worst pain, an unsatisfied heart, a heart that was created to find God but which, out of arrogance and self-confidence, distances itself from God.” Distancing oneself from God Who gives happiness and Who loves us so much, the Pontiff admonished, is the “fire,” and the road to eternal damnation.(Homily, Santa Marta, November 25, 2016)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter in the various parts of our study


Sacred Scripture

Eternal condemnation in the words of Christ

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. (Mt 31:41-42)

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’. (Mt 25:41)

Synod of Constantinople (543)

The punishment of the demons and of impious men is eternal

If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema. (Denzinger-Hünermann 411. Synod of Constantinople, confirmed by Pope Vigilius, Canons against Origen, 543 AD)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Unquenchable fire is reserved for those who refuse to believe and be converted

Jesus often speaks of ‘Gehenna’ of ‘the unquenchable fire’ reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost (cf. Mt 5:22, 29; 10:28; 13:42, 50; Mk 9:43-48). Jesus solemnly proclaims that he ‘will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire’ (Mt 13:41-42), and that he will pronounce the condemnation: ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!’(Mt 25:41) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.  1034)

The souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer eternally

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire’ (DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, Credo of the People God #12). The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1035)

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Of what does hell consist?

Hell consists in the eternal damnation of those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice. The principal suffering of hell is eternal separation from God in whom alone we can have the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long. Christ proclaimed this reality with the words, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire’ (Mt 25:41). (Compendium of the Catholic Church, 212)

Catechism of Trent

The damned are tormented with unclean spirits in eternal and inextinguishable fire

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 so­called. (Catechism of Trent, no. 1050)

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

At the end of the world, those who have done evil will come forth unto resurrection of judgment

We strive therefore to please God in all things (2Cor 5:9) and we put on the armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil and resist in the evil day (Eph 6:11-13). Since however we know not the day nor the hour, on Our Lord’s advice we must be constantly vigilant so that, having finished the course of our earthly life, (Heb 9:27) we may merit to enter into the marriage feast with Him and to be numbered among the blessed (Mt 25:31-46) and that we may not be ordered to go into eternal fire (Mt 25:41) like the wicked and slothful servant (Mt 25:26), into the exterior darkness where ‘there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth’(Mt 22:13; 25:30). For before we reign with Christ in glory, all of us will be made manifest ‘before the tribunal of Christ, so that each one may receive what he has won through the body, according to his works, whether good or evil’ (2Cor 5:10) and at the end of the world ‘they who have done good shall come forth unto resurrection of life; but those who have done evil unto resurrection of judgment’ (Jn 5:29; Mt 25:46). (Vatican Council II, Dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, no. 48, November 21, 1964)

John Paul II

Hell and eternal damnation: the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy

God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. […] In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life. (John Paul II. General Audience, July 28, 1999)

Pius XI

Jesus declared to the Jews that the Father bestowed judicial power on Him - to impose punishments which no one can escape

[Jesus] claimed judicial power as received from his Father, when the Jews accused him of breaking the Sabbath by the miraculous cure of a sick man. “For neither doth the Father judge any man; but hath given all judgment to the Son.” In this power is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed. (Pius XI, Encyclical Quas primas, December 11, 1925)

Pius XII

The greatest disgrace is grave sin, by which one becomes worthy of eternal chastisement

Once restored by the waters of baptism, [the soul] is clothed in luminous whiteness, but with evil actions, it separates from the right path and is stained again. If the fault is grave, the grace of God is lost and one becomes worthy of eternal chastisement. Is there a greater disgrace than this? It is of capital importance for the Christian not to offend God, not to sin, and to keep the soul always in the state of grace. (Pius XII. Letter to the Archbishop of Sucre, August 13, 1954)

Before God and men, the Church has the sacred duty to preach about hell and to teach it without any mitigation

The preaching of the first truths of the faith and the final ends of man have not only not lost any of their appropriateness in our times, but have also come to be more necessary and urgent than ever. This includes preaching about hell. There is no doubt that this subject must be spoken of with dignity and wisdom. But, as far as the real substance of this truth goes, the Church has, before God and before men, the sacred duty to proclaim it, to teach it without any mitigation, as Christ has revealed it, and there is no condition of time that might diminish the rigor of this obligation…It is true that the desire for heaven is of itself a more perfect motive than the fear of eternal damnation; but this does not mean that it is for all men also the most efficacious motive, to keep them far from sin and to convert them to God. (Pius XII. Address to Priests and lenten preachers, March 23, 1949)

Synod of Valence III (855)

Wrath and indignation eternally: for those who do not obey the truth

As apostolic doctrine holds: ‘To them indeed, who according to patience in good works, seek glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life; but to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man doing evil’ (Rom 2:7 ff). In the same sense, this same one says elsewhere: ‘In the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power, in a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who do not know God, and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction . . . when He shall come to be glorified in His Saints, and to be made wonderful in all them who have believed’ (2Thes 1:7 ff). (Denzinger-Hünermann 626. Council of Valence III, On predestination)

International Theological Commission

The Church believes that the definitive state of damnation awaits those who die burdened with grave sin

 The Church believes that the definitive state of damnation awaits those who die burdened with grave sin (cf. LG 48). It is categorically important to avoid any too close assimilation of the purificatory process which precedes our meeting with God with the process of damnation, as if all that lay between them was the opposition of eternal and temporal: the postmortem purification is ‘straightforwardly other than the pain of damnation’ (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Recentiores episcoporum Synodi, 7, p. 942.) (International Theological Commission. Some current Questions in Eschatology, no. 8,2. 1990)

Pelagius I

The wicked are given to eternal and inextinguishable fire, that they may burn without end

For I confess that all men from Adam, even to the consummation of the world, having been born and having died with Adam himself and his wife, who were not born of other parents, but were created, the one from the earth, the other, however, from the rib of the man (cf. Gen 2:7), will then rise again and stand before the Judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he has done, whether it be good or bad (Rom 14:10, 2Cor 5:10); and indeed by the very bountiful grace of God he will present the just, as vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:23), with the rewards of eternal life; namely, they will live without end in the society of the angels without any fear now of their own fall; the wicked, however, remaining by choice of their own with vessels of wrath fit for destruction (Rom 9:22), who either did not know the way of the Lord, or knowing it left it when seized by various transgressions, He will give over by a very just judgment to the punishment of eternal and inextinguishable fire, that they may burn without end. (Denzinger-Hünermann 443. Pelagius I, Letter Humani generis to Childebert I, April, 557)

Saint Robert Bellarmine

After death there is no place for repentance, and out of hell there is no redemption

And every reader of history, or observer of what takes place around him, cannot but know that the rule is for men to end a wicked life by a miserable death, whilst it is the exception for the sinner to die happily; and, on the other hand, it seldom happens that those who live well and holily come to a sad and miserable end, but many good and pious people enter, after their death, into the possession of eternal joys. Those persons are too presumptuous and fool-hardy who, in a matter of such import as eternal felicity or eternal torment, dare to remain in a state of mortal sin even for a day, seeing that they may be surprised by death at any moment, and after death there is no place for repentance, and out of hell there is no redemption. (Saint Robert Bellarmine. The Seven Words on the Cross, Ch. VI)

Saint Alphonsus de Liguori

Rash confidence in the mercy of God sends more souls to hell than his justice

A learned author says, that the mercy of God sends more souls to hell than his justice; for sinners are induced, by a rash confidence in the divine mercy, to continue in sin, and thus are lost. God is merciful. Who denies it? But great as is his mercy, how many does he send to hell every day? God is merciful: but he is also just; and therefore he is obliged to punish those who offend him. He shows mercy; but to whom? To them who fear him. He hath strengthened His mercy toward them that fear Him. As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear Him (Ps 102:11, 13). (Saint Alphonsus Liguori. Preparation for Death, part III, consideration 23, n. 2)

Saint Thomas Aquinas

The condemnation of the reprobates is bitter, just and everlasting

The saying in flaming fire, deals with both chastising the evil and rewarding the good; but in the chastisement of the evil shows to be bitter, just and everlasting. Then it says, inflicting vengeance, that is, judging the reprobates with flaming fire, reducing to ashes the face of the earth, consuming the damned and casting them down forever. […] This chastisement is everlasting, for they shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction […] from which it is said that they will be so to say always dying: ‘Death shall be their shepherd’ (Ps 48:15). ‘Their worm shall not die’ (Is 66:24); ‘nor their fire be extinguished.’ (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, c. 1, lect.2 – 2 Thess1: 6-12Spanish)

Saint Francis de Sales

What makes hell intolerable is the fact that suffering can never have end: an eternal night which gives birth to eternal despair

Picture to yourself a dark city, reeking with the flames of sulphur and brimstone, inhabited by citizens who cannot get forth. Even so the lost are plunged in their infernal abyss; ‒ suffering indescribable torture in every sense and every member; and that because having used their members and senses for sin, it is just that through them they should suffer now. […] Beyond all these sufferings, there is one greater still, the privation and pain of loss of God’s Glory, which is forever denied to their vision. If Absalom cared not to be released from exile, if he might not see his father’s face, how much sorer will it be to be deprived forever of the blessed vision of God? Consider how insupportable the pains of Hell will be by reason of their eternal duration. If the irritating bite of an insect, or the restlessness of fever, makes an ordinary night seem so long and tedious, how terrible will the endless night of eternity be, where nought will be found save despair, blasphemy and fury. (Saint Francis de Sales. Meditation 7English)

Saint Catherine of Siena

If he does not amend his life, he will be eternally condemned with great reprimand and reproach

[Our Lord Jesus Christ] O dearest daughter! I have placed you on the bridge of the doctrine of my truth so that he might serve you, o pilgrims, and administer you the sacraments of the holy Church, but he [a priest] stays in the miserable river below the bridge immersed in the pleasures and miseries of the world. There he exercises his ministry, without noticing the wave that drags him to death and he goes with the devils, his masters, whom he has served and by whom he has been openly guided, along the river. If he does not amend his life, he will be eternally condemned with great reprimand and reproach, that your tongue would be incapable of referring. And he, due to his priestly office, much more than any other lay person. For this reason the same sin is punished more in him than in one who would have stayed in the world. At the moment of death his enemies will accuse him more terribly, as I have told you. (Saint Catherine of Siena. Dialogue, no. 130)

Saint Irenaeus of Lyon

Those who fly from the eternal light of God, are their own cause for inhabiting eternal darkness

But God, foreknowing all things, prepared fit habitations for both, kindly conferring that light which they desire on those who seek after the light of incorruption, and resort to it; but for the despisers and mockers who avoid and turn themselves away from this light, and who do, as it were, blind themselves, He has prepared darkness suitable to persons who oppose the light, and He has inflicted an appropriate punishment upon those who try to avoid being subject to Him. Submission to God is eternal rest, so that they who shun the light have a place worthy of their flight; and those who fly from eternal rest, have a habitation in accordance with their fleeing. Now, since all good things are with God, they who by their own determination fly from God, do defraud themselves of all good things; and having been [thus] defrauded of all good things with respect to God, they shall consequently fall under the just judgment of God. For those persons who shun rest shall justly incur punishment, and those who avoid the light shall justly dwell in darkness. For as in the case of this temporal light, those who shun it do deliver themselves over to darkness, so that they do themselves become the cause to themselves that they are destitute of light, and do inhabit darkness; and, as I have already observed, the light is not the cause of such an [unhappy] condition of existence to them; so those who fly from the eternal light of God, which contains in itself all good things, are themselves the cause to themselves of their inhabiting eternal darkness, destitute of all good things, having become to themselves the cause of [their consignment to] an abode of that nature. (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies, IV, 39, 4)


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3 thoughts on “14 – The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity

  1. Technically, the pope is correct on this one.
    The Church (as a teaching body) does not condemn (judge – only God judges) anyone (any particular person) to hell.
    The Church teaches a ‘positive theology’ – it teaches us how to get to heaven. It does it’s best to not focus on the negative – because negative attitudes and behaviour can also be non-divinely motivated.
    Ahem …
    And, you guys are totally on spot with all your quotes.

    • The Church also teaches us how to avoid hell…..negative is necessary and good! God is Merciful but He is also a Just Judge!

    • “The Church teaches a ‘positive theology’ It does it’s best to not focus on the negative” – are you really sure?
      Did you realize that Jesus refers to Hell more often than heaven in the Bible?
      Have you read how Jesus addressed the pharisees?
      Have you read any of the homilies of the great preacher saints?
      What gives you the right to think that one part of divine Revelation is more important than the other parts?
      Did you stop to think about the fact that what you would refer to as ‘positive attitudes and behaviour’ can also be non-divinely motivated?
      Sin strongly, but believe even more strongly – Luther would be your perfect example of a good preacher, no?

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