Faith under Attack
Meditation on Hell
St. Peter of Alcántara
St. Peter of Alcántara (1499-1562), known for his gift of contemplation and his virtue of penance, suggests that the most fitting topics for mental prayer are the last things that we will encounter after we die. To reach Heaven, he encourages us to think about the divine blessings, the Last Judgment, the pains of Hell and glory of Paradise, which can move our hearts to the love and fear of God.
Here he lays out a meditation on the pains of Hell, which he assures us will help the young who are entering on the path of prayer and will encourage those who have already set out on it to persevere until the end.
This day you should meditate on the torments of Hell, so that with such thoughts your soul may be established in the fear of God and in the hatred of sin. These torments, says St. Bonaventura, may be considered under some of the figures and images that the Saints have presented to us. For instance, he tells us to figure Hell as a dark lake beneath the earth, or as a deep pit full of fire, or as a city terrible and gloomy, ever sending forth flames, in which no sound is heard but the wailing of the tormented and the gnashing of teeth.
The fall of the damned in the Last Judgment - Triptych by Hans Hemling
In this awful place, two torments are endured: the punishment of the senses and the penalty of loss. As to the first, consider that no outward or inward sense will be without its own torment. For as the wicked have offended God with all their members and senses and have made use of all for their sins, so is it ordained that each one of the senses must suffer its own torment and pay the penalty incurred.
And yet even this is not all the suffering to be endured there.
The other torment, which theologians call the penalty of loss, the eternal loss of the vision of God, is infinitely greater. This is the greatest of all evils and of all torments, inasmuch as it deprives man of all good things that come from God, Who is the greatest of all good.
These are the general torments of the lost. But besides these, there are the particular torments that await each one in conformity with the special quality of his sins. Thus, there will be then the special torment of the proud, the envious, the avaricious, the luxurious and the like. In return for evil pleasure will come grief; for presumption and pride, confusion; for extravagance and excessiveness, poverty and want; and for greed and gluttony, hunger and thirst.
A devil takes a King with his large purse to Hell
And then, in addition to all these pains, there is the eternity of the suffering, the summit of all the rest. For all sufferings would be tolerable if there were an end to them. But pain without end, or alleviation, or relaxation, or diminution, in which there is no hope that it will ever come to an end – the feeling that this is perpetual and a banishment never to be revoked, this is the height of anguish in that place!
As a holy teacher says, “If the condemned ones could only hope that their torments would cease when they had drank up all the water of the ocean, taking one single drop every thousand years, then there would be some touch of consolation, but this is not to be. God’s Word of sentence must be eternal as Himself: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall not pass away (Matt 24:25).”
Excerpt from St. Peter of Alcantara A Golden Treatise of Mental Prayer
London: A. R. Mowbray Á Co. Ltd., 1952, 3rd ed., pp. 30-33
Posted May 4, 2012
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