THE FOUR LAST THINGS ---- DEATH, JUDGMENT, HELL and HEAVEN
FATHER MARTIN VON COCHEM, O.S.F.C.
Father Martin von Cochem was born at Cochem, on the Moselle,
in the year 1625, and died at Waghausel in 1712.
“Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.”
HOLY REDEEMER LIBRARY
Nihil Obstat: Thomas L Kinkead, Censor Liborium
Imprimatur: Michael Augustine --- Archbishop of New York (New York October 5, 1899)
Copyright, 1899, by Benziger Brothers
PART III. ON HELL.
I. On the Fire of Hell.
ALTHOUGH in the present day many are found to deny the existence of Hell, or, at any rate, the eternity of punishment, we do not consider it incumbent upon us to bring forward a number of proofs that there is such a place as Hell. In the case of the Christian reader, for whom this book is intended, evidence of this nature is quite superfluous, because he will not have made shipwreck of his faith. Indeed, what further proofs can be required for the existence of Hell and the eternity of punishment, seeing that the prophets, that Christ Himself, that the apostles, and the Fathers of the Church, nay, the very Turks and heathens, speak of it as an unquestioned fact. Those who deny the existence of Hell must consequently be counted amongst the fools who say in their heart that there is no God who punishes their misdeeds.
It would undoubtedly be very agreeable for these people if all things ended with this life, if there were no day of reckoning, or if, at least, the infernal regions were somewhat less intolerable. This accounts for their catching at any apparent arguments wherewith to delude themselves and lull to sleep their fear of the eternal chastisements of Hell. We will not enter upon any examination of the wretched sophisms wherewith these fools deceive themselves ; for the teaching of the Catholic Church on this point is all we need* She teaches that there is a place or state of unequalled and never-ending pain in reserve for the damned.
We know that there really is fire in Hell, from the words Christ spoke to the wicked : " Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his Angels " (Matt. xxv. 41). This shows that there is real fire in Hell, and that in it the damned must burn eternally. What the intensity of that pain will be it is beyond the power of man to depict. For of all the varied kinds of physical suffering to which man can be subjected, there is none so great, so cruel, so agonizing, as that which is caused by fire. The rack, the wheel, amputation of a man s limbs, are all terrible torture, but they are not to be compared to the pain of burning. If one does but touch a red-hot iron, what exquisite pain it occasions! In a moment the skin is off, the raw flesh protrudes, blood and matter exude from the wound, and the pain goes to the very marrow of our bones. One cannot refrain from crying out and screaming as if one had lost one’s senses. Now if momentary contact with the red-hot iron causes such acute pain, what would it be if one had to hold a red-hot iron for any length of time !
Now just imagine that thou wert sentenced to be burned alive for thy sins, and for the whole of a live long day thou didst stand amid the flames, unable to die. How piteously thou wouldst weep and wail, how loudly thou wouldst shriek and roar in thy agony, so that the heart-rending cries wrung from thee by the torture thou endurest would not only cause the bystanders to shudder, but fill them with sincere compassion. That man must indeed be stony-hearted who could bear to look unmoved on such a spectacle.
Ere long thou wouldst be burned to such an extent as to be no longer recognizable, reduced to the semblance of a glowing cinder. Now consider, O Christian, if the action of earthly fire causes such intolerable agony, what will be the torture of Hell- fire, the heat of which is incomparably more intense and more searching than that of any fire where with we are familiar. And if thou dost ask why Hell-fire should so far exceed earthly fire in the intensity of its heat, there are several reasons which account for this fact.
In the first place, every one knows that the larger the fire, the greater the heat it throws out. The flame of a wax taper is not very hot, but if the whole taper is burning at once, the flame arising from it is much hotter. When a house is on fire, the heat in the immediate neighbourhood is very great, but if a whole village is in flames, the heat of the conflagration becomes unbearable even at a distance. If such be the effect produced by the fire of earth, which is comparatively but small in its extent, what will the action be of the fire of Hell, that is immeasurably greater than any conflagration seen upon earth!
Secondly, a fire that is enclosed in a furnace burns far more fiercely than if it were in the open air, because the heat being shut in cannot escape and diffuse itself, or be tempered by the surrounding air. If that is so, with what fury the flames of the huge furnace of Hell will rage, with what intensity they will glow! Suppose such a misfortune as a man being thrown into a lime-kiln, or a furnace heated to white heat how terrible would be his sufferings!
The next reason why the fire of Hell surpasses in intensity of heat all other fire is that it is kindled by the breath of God. For the prophet Isaias says:
"Behold, the wrath of the Lord burneth and is heavy to bear, His lips are filled with indignation, and His tongue as a devouring fire. His breath as a torrent overflowing even to the midst of the neck, to destroy the nations unto nothing." And again: " Topheth (Hell) is prepared from yesterday, deep and wide. The nourishment thereof is fire and much wood ; the breath of the Lord as a torrent of brimstone kindling it" (Is. xxx. 27, 33).
What a frightful description is here given of Hell and its torturing fire. Do not say that in these and other familiar passages of Holy Scripture the expressions employed are mere figures, whereby the prophets foretold the Divine judgments about to fall on sinful nations, and not to be taken in a literal sense, as referring to Hell and its punishments.
Let us not deceive ourselves. These images are, it is true, in their primary signification to be understood as indicating the doom of sinful nations, but, in a wider and a higher sense, according to the interpretation given of them by the exponents of Scripture, they are predictions of the judicial chastisement which, after the final judgment, will be the portion of reprobate sinners.
St. Bridget justly says in her revelations: "The heat of Hell-fire is so great that if the whole world were wrapped in flames, the heat of the conflagration would be as nothing in comparison with it."
Hence we learn that that earthly fire bears no more resemblance to the fire of Hell than the feeble flame of a wax taper to the white heat of a glowing furnace. Remember this, O sinner, and lay it well to heart. St. Augustine tells us that the most fearful fire on earth is, in comparison with the fire of Hell, like a painting of fire compared to a real fire.
When thou seest a fire, call to mind the fire of Hell. And since thou couldst not endure to put thy hand for a single instant into that fire, think what the heat of Hell-fire must be, surpassing as it does so infinitely the small fire thou seest before thee. If thou canst not bear this, how canst thou endure the other?
It has now been made clear that the damned will one day be cast, body and soul, into the huge and awful furnace of Hell, into the immense lake of fire, where they will be surrounded by flames. There will be fire below them, fire above them, fire all round about them. Every breath will be the scorching breath of a furnace. These infernal flames will penetrate every portion of the body, so that there will be no part or member, within or without, that is not steeped in fire.
How despairing the cries, how agonizing the shrieks that will ascend from this bed of torture! "Woe to us miserable creatures! Woe to us a thousand times! We are tortured in this flame! The excruciating pain pervades every member of our body; the intolerable agony leaves us no rest! If only we could die, if only we could die so as to escape this fearful torture! Alas, this wish is all in vain! Dead as far as the life of the soul is concerned, dead because we have forfeited the grace, the mercy of God, we are yet condemned to live on, to live forever and ever!
"What a privilege death, annihilation would be to us! But it eludes our grasp; we can no longer hope that it will come to deliver us from this misery, this torture, from the furnace of Hell. Alas, how great has our folly been ! For the worthless pleasures of a moment we have incurred this intolerable misery, a misery which will endure for all eternity."
"Understand these things," says David, "you that forget God, lest He snatch you away and there be none to deliver you." Listen to this, O sinner, and let the lamentations of the lost be instructive to thee. Picture to thyself the pit of fire in which these wretched creatures have to expiate their sins. Wouldst thou, we ask again, for any sum of money, however large, agree to spend a single day immersed in those flames? No, not for the whole world wouldst thou agree to remain in that fire for one short hour.
If this be so, why dost thou for the sake of some sinful enjoyment, some unjust gain, voluntarily cast thyself forever into Hell-fire? O what folly, what consummate folly! God grant that these blind sinners may be enlightened, in order that they may become aware of the unwisdom of their conduct, and may apply themselves in time to the things which concern their salvation.
O God of justice ! how great is Thy wrath and how all-powerful is Thy hatred of sin and of the sinner ! Woe betide me and all who have the terrible misfortune to commit mortal sin. May God keep me from such sin as would be the means of casting me into eternal perdition. I will gladly suffer all things, the greatest temporal troubles, the acutest pains, even the cruellest death, in order to escape everlasting torment in Hell. This is my firm purpose; wherefore grant me Thy grace and strengthen me in my good resolution.