First Preamble, Composition of Place – With the eyes of the imagination observe the length, width and depth of hell.
The second preamble (the appeal for something that I wish) will here be to beg a deep appreciation of the pains which the damned suffer, so that if, through my faults, I become forgetful of the Eternal Father's love, at least the fear of punishment will keep me from sin.
The first point will be to see with the eye of the imagination the great fires, and souls appearing as in fiery bodies.
The second will be to hear the frightful cries, wails, blasphemies against Christ our Lord and against His saints.
The third will be to smell the smoke, the rock, the sulphur, the filth and putridness.
The fourth considers the sense of touch – a fire which touches and burns souls.
Explanation – God is just in His awards. He rewards the upright with the glory of Heaven and punishes the wicked with the eternal pains of hell. We have seen how man was created to love and serve God. Now when he sins, he does not love and serve God, but despises Him (Isaias 1:2), and thus he comes under sentence of eternal punishment in hell. This punishment will be in proportion to the malice of his sins and their number. In sin there are found five evils of malice.
The first evil is the contempt with which the sinner treats God. On this account he deserves to be punished with the pain of loss, the loss of what he has made light of or disdained; hence he suffers the deprivation of the sight of God.
The second evil is his act of rebellion or independence from God, amounting to an abuse of liberty. Thus he deserves to be punished by losing his liberty and suffering slavery and subjection to satan; for God says, "Because thou didst not serve the Lord Thy God with joy…therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and in want of all things you will serve thy enemy." (Deut. 28:47-48)
The third evil is the over fondness for a created object for which one sinned. Thus a created object, which is fire, will cause torment, and this is called a pain of sense.
The fourth evil is a sensual or spiritual satisfaction that the sinner finds in sin; thus he deserves to be tormented with a corresponding dissatisfaction, as God commands – "As much as she hath glorified herself, and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her…" (Apoc. 18:7)
The fifth evil is pride, which consists in man wanting to be happy of himself, independent of God. In hell he thus finds humiliation, confusion, and every pain. Finally, as a sinner in hell is found obstinate in his evil disposition like a rock in a well, the duration of his suffering is rightfully eternal.
Let us begin with the pain of loss – Picture to yourself, Christian soul, a man whose lot is one of total misfortune, without anything good. Now a Christian who is damned to hell loses God, the Supreme Good, and eternal happiness. To lose God is a misfortune that goes beyond all that the imagination can grasp. It is just as impossible to grasp it, as it is impossible to grasp and comprehend the Infinite Good one gains who possesses God. Yet we can conceive a vague idea of it. Enter into yourself, O my soul, and seriously weigh what it means to lose God.
(1) One who is damned loses the enjoyment of God – At the moment a soul enters Heaven, God gives it so clear an enlightenment that it can know perfectly – as far as a creature can – all the depths of His Infinite Nature, and inflames the soul with such a burning desire to enjoy God, that any delay, even a moment's delay, would cause it infinite pain.
But because it so ardently desires this Good and at the same time perfectly enjoys It with the infallible certainty that it will eternally enjoy It, the soul experiences such a flood of joy that all other delights of paradise can be counted as nothing by comparison…in hell just the opposite happens.
When the soul enters hell, God sheds over it so vivid a light that it can know to the limits of its capacity, the greatness of His Infinite and Divine Essence. This enkindles in it so impatient a desire to enjoy God, that the delay of even a single instant causes infinite pangs.
As it craves with such ardor to possess this tremendous Good and at the same time sees itself violently separated, with the certainty that it will never for all eternity enjoy God, such a painful sadness arises from this that compared to it, all other torments of hell are considered as nothing. To sum up, as the happiness of a soul in paradise is beyond all measure because it possesses God so the grief of a soul in hell is boundless due to its loss of God.
(2) One who is damned loses God's devoted, special Providence which cared for him – As long as a man is alive, he is under the care of God, Who enlightens his mind with exalted lights and encourages and fortifies him in his sufferings. But a soul which has entered the eternal abyss must hope for none of this.
God no longer cares about it and regards that soul as something which no longer belongs to Him. And so for all eternity God will never again enlighten its mind, will not arouse its will toward the good, nor awaken a pious desire in its heart. That soul will become incapable of any good.
There will be no more than very horrifying specters appearing to the imagination. Only the most distressing thoughts will prevail in the mind. The will shall be forever stirred up with rage, madness and despair. The memory will perceive itself always grieved with very painful recollections. Wherever that soul may turn, it will find confusion and bitterness.
(3) When a soul is condemned, by losing God it ceases to be loved any more by creatures – The Blessed Virgin, one's Guardian Angel, all the saints, love a man as long as he lives on earth. But once he is condemned by God, then God's friends agree in God's judgment and condemnation.
For all eternity they will not have a kind thought for this wretch. Rather they will be satisfied to see him in the flames a victim of God's justice. (The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge…" Psalm 57:11). They will abhor him. A mother will look from paradise upon her own condemned son without being moved, as though she had never known him.
What is worse, is that in all the immense throng of persons damned in hell, not one will fail to increase the torments of his companions, partly due to the horror one causes another, partly due to the anger with which they rage against one another, and also due to the heat, the stench and the closeness.
(4) After losing God and with Him all things, a condemned person also falls under the devil's power – God does not then care about him and delivers him entirely up to the enemy's will. And alas! what will the devil not do with this soul? As the devil is tremendously clever and powerful, has great hatred for men, is full of rage, with an ability to torment him according to the number and gravity of sins a man has committed and for which he is damned, then what will he not do?
He can twist into the form of a serpent, enter the body, and torment him cruelly with his teeth. As a poisonous snake he can enter the mouth and bite and gnaw and destroy lungs, liver, heart and all the bowels. He can make his victim swallow molten metal and feed him poisonous toads. He can torment him practically as he wishes at his own pleasure, for God has withdrawn and the man is left under the fiendish demon's despotic control.
(1) Confession – O Jesus, how frightening are Thy judgments! How strict is Thy Justice! Oh, what a great evil sin is and how bitter are its effects! To be shut out of paradise for all eternity, to be forever cursed by the elect, to be always tormented and oppressed by the devil's tyranny – this is the reward of sin. Up to now have I believed these truths?
Ah, indeed – that is just what increases my guilt! I have believed that a single sin is enough to make me lose God and with God all happiness forever; and yet I have sinned. I have done this without caring, without alarm. I do not think I know which is greater, my blindness or my malice. O Jesus! Do not take Thy Mercy from me.
(2) Resolution – What will I do? What is it that I will resolve upon? Ah! By all means I want to be able to behold Thee in Thy glory, O Supreme Good, and my last End! Though this would cost me a thousand live, with all determination I must reach Heaven to embrace Thee there, my Jesus, my beloved Redeemer.
Even if it be only through the cruelest torments, I must yet see Thee, O my dearest Mother, and you, O dear friends of God in paradise, even though it cost me all the blood in my veins…This is my resolution – to rather die a thousand times than commit a single sin. Ye angelic spirits, be witnesses to the sincerity of my heart. I prefer a thousand deaths to ever sinning again. I will confess with repentance the sins I have committed up to now.
One who is condemned in hell finds God to be as a supreme evil. It is true. One who loses God as his Supreme Good, finds Him to be like a supreme evil. Now how can it be possible that God, who is a man's Supreme Good and Blessedness, change into that same man's supreme misery? Listen with attention, my soul, to what God does with those who are damned, and you will clearly know this truth.
(1) Within the reprobate, God places and preserves a very vivid knowledge of the Divine Beauty, with a very ardent desire to enjoy it – If the soul in hell did not have a knowledge far greater than it has in this life, then it would be spared its greatest torment. But because this knowledge is very clear in the damned soul and presents very vividly to it the immense happiness and blessedness which it could have enjoyed in God, from this a bitterness comes which is inconceivable, inasmuch as every moment it is driven toward God with a burning desire, and also realizes at each instant that it is cast off by the Lord.
What would be the torment of a thirsty man, tied hand and foot a thousand years where he would see ever before him a large drinking vessel containing a very delicious drink, and could not reach with his lips nor taste a drop of it?
(2) Within the damned person God preserves the sight of the Divine Countenance outraged (by his sin) – Before the eyes of a damned soul, God is never presented in any other aspect than as a Lord supremely outraged, always armed for vengeance and ever engaged in tormenting it and pursuing it. The soul may try with all its might to withdraw from such a painful sight, to flee God's presence and escape His wrath.
But the more it tries, the more closely God approaches it to make it suffer the weight of His hand and all the bitterness of His anger. It will not be hard to estimate the horribleness of this pain. Just as the bare sight of God's loving face is enough to fill all the elect with a boundless joy, likewise the sight of God's angry Countenance is enough to strike infinite terror and an infinite pain into all the damned.
(3) God keeps alive the person who is damned – The strongest desire of a damned soul in hell is to die. ("…Men shall seek death and shall not find it. And they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them." Apoc 9:6) For knowing it can never appease God's anger against it, it desires death as the only means of escape. But it will desire this in vain, for the damned person will live as long as God will live. Just as God forever preserves the saints in Heaven to delight them with new pleasures, so He will preserve forever the damned in hell, to always torment them with new sufferings.
(4) God remains angry toward the condemned – The damned wretch will curse his sins a thousand times over again, but will yet be obstinate in them. He will roar with very pitiful moans, capable of moving stones to compassion. He will shed enough tears to flood the earth. A time will come when one could say that he has suffered in these flames a thousand million years for every mortal sin. In spite of this, he will not calm God's anger, nor ever move Him to pity.
The Lord will continue to show wrath toward him and will never cease hating him for all eternity. As the reprobate knows this, he will surrender to a complete despair, will go into a fury, will fill his heart with rage, and in an extreme spite will gnaw his own flesh.
Not satisfied with this, he will conceive an eternal hatred for God; he will become, so to speak, a devil vomiting out continuous curses and blasphemies against God, and will have such a spitefulness against Him that he would engineer God's complete destruction if it were possible.
(1) Fear – Oh, what a happy affair it is to be at peace with God, and how bitter it is to have Him angry with us. How sweet it is to find God rewarding us; how painful to find Him an avenger. How fortunate to be plunged into a torrent of delights such as God lavishes upon His elect! How dreadful to find oneself planted in hell, suffering all the evils which God will cause to fall like rain upon the damned. How sweet it is to enjoy God for all eternity, and how bitter to lose Him forever!
What will I do to escape from this infinite evil? Ah, my soul! After sin there is no other remedy but a deep hatred of sin and a sincere confession. – I now have access to this remedy, and turning to Thee, my God, weeping in all earnestness with the most contrite remorse…I tell Thee that I am sorry for my sins and I give Thee my word that I will go to Confession.
(2) Repentance – O my God, with all my heart I detest and curse all the sins that I have committed until now. I know what evil I have done. In reference to Thee, sin is the supreme evil, because it is an offense committed against Thy Infinite Goodness and Mercy. It is also the greatest of evils in reference to me, because it is the ruin of my soul, which is immortal. And so I detest it and I curse it with all my heart…Oh, would that I had never sinned, my Jesus!
Oh, would that I had never offended Thee, my Sovereign Good! But the evil is done. I have lost Thee, O my last End and only happiness, and I can never again rejoice with Thee except by means of penance and tears. O my heart, repent and do not be satisfied with a half-hearted sorrow, but enlarge, expand, as much as possible, to squeeze into yourself an immense sorrow.
Be witness to this, O my Jesus, that if I had a thousand lives, I would want to spend all of them in pain and torments if in this way I could undo my sins…Thus I want to repent and indeed do repent of my sins, O my God! It is my intention to renew this will and repentance in Thy presence as many times as there are drops of water in all rivers and seas. O my Jesus, supply what is lacking in me; and offer to Thy Eternal Father, in place of my sorrow and repentance, that sorrow which Thou had in the garden for my sins.
(3) Resolution – But how will I conduct myself in the future? I will sin no more. If I cannot avoid sin except by dying, I will gladly choose death, even the most cruel death, rather than sin. If I can avoid sin only by bearing insult and contempt, I will gladly suffer being despised and abused by everybody rather than sin.
I want to die rather than sin. Therefore, with this aim I will use all my days and all my hours and moments in loving my Supreme Good and keeping closely united with Him. O my Jesus, engrave deeply in my heart these resolutions; keep them there so that I will never forget to practice them.
St. Teresa of Avila's Vision of Hell
"A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I've mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it.
The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated.
"But as to what I then felt, I do not know where to begin if I were to describe it; it is utterly inexplicable. I felt a fire in my soul but such that I am still unable to describe it. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life, and, as the physicians say, the greatest that can be borne, such as the contraction of my sinews when I was paralyzed, without speaking of other ills of different types - yet, even those of which I have spoken, inflicted on me by Satan; yet all these were as nothing in comparison with what I then felt, especially when I saw that there would be no intermission nor any end to them.
"These sufferings were nothing in comparison with the anguish of my soul, a sense of oppression, of stifling, and of pain so acute, accompanied by so hopeless and cruel an infliction, that I know not how to speak of it. If I say that the soul is continually being torn from the body it would be nothing - for that implies the destruction of life by the hands of another - but here it is the soul itself that is tearing itself in pieces. I cannot describe that inward fire or that despair, surpassing all torments and all pain. I did not see who it was that tormented me, but I felt myself on fire, and torn to pieces, as it seemed to me; and I repeat it, this inward fire and despair are the greatest torments of all.
"Left in that pestilential place, and utterly without the power to hope for comfort, I could neither sit nor lie down; there was no room. I was placed as it were in a hole in the wall; and those walls, terrible to look on of themselves, hemmed me in on every side. I could not breathe. There was no light, but all was thick darkness. I do not understand how it is; though there was no light, yet everything that can give pain by being seen was visible.
"Our Lord at that time would not let me see more of Hell. Afterwards I had another most fearful vision, in which I saw the punishment of certain sins. They were the most horrible to look at, but because I felt none of the pain, my terror was not so great. In the former vision, Our Lord made me really feel those torments and that anguish of spirit, just as if I had been suffering them in the body there. I know not how it was, but I understood distinctly that it was a great mercy that Our Lord would have me see with my own eyes the very place from which His compassion saved me. I have listened to people speaking of these things and I have at other times dwelt on the various torments of Hell, though not often, because my soul made no progress by the way of fear; and I have read of the diverse tortures, and how the devils tear the flesh with red-hot pincers. But all is as nothing before this: It is a wholly different matter. In short, the one is a reality, the other a description; and all burning here in this life is as nothing compared with the fire that is there.
"I was so terrified by that vision - and that terror is on me even now as I write - that though it took place nearly six years ago, the natural warmth of my body is chilled by fear even now when I think of it. And so, amid all the pain and suffering which I may have had to bear, I remember no time in which I do not think that all we have to suffer in this world is as nothing. It seems to me that we complain without reason. I repeat it, this vision was one of the grandest mercies of God. It has been to me of the greatest service, because it has destroyed my fear of trouble and of the contradictions of the world, and because it has made me strong enough to bear up against them, and to give thanks to Our Lord who has been my Deliverer, as it now seems to me, from such fearful and everlasting pains.
Pray one Our Father and one Hail Mary