Have you ever heard someone say that they believe there is no place called hell, therefore no one goes there. Or, maybe they believe in hell, but they don’t think a loving God would send anyone there. Does the Catholic Church teach that an individual has the freedom to believe that there is the possibility that no one ever enters hell? After all, St. Paul says: “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4).”
First of all, what is hell? Hell is the state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed, reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the end of their lives. We as individuals have a free choice, but God wills us to not to go to hell. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want ‘any to perish, but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)’ (CCC# 1037).”
The Church forbids anyone from saying with certitude that a particular individual is in hell. It is not for us to know because only God knows for sure. But, we can assume that people like Hitler, Stalin or Judas are in hell, but we can’t definitely assert it because we just don’t know. What we can safely say however, is that in spite of our optimism, Sacred Scripture is clear that there is a place called hell and some people will end up there. One of many passages Jesus talks about this is in the gospel of Matthew when he separates the sheep from the goats, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt 25:45-46).” Jesus also states that, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matt 7: 13-14).”
So, because of the biblical data alone, we know hell exists. And if hell exists and there is nobody in it, then there would be no purpose for it to exist. In my view, it would be very difficult to argue that no persons are in hell or will be in hell, just based on Jesus’ words alone. We are permitted to hope that I or you or anyone we know will not go to hell and be saved, but if we believe that no one who ever existed will not go to hell, then that directly undermines Christ’s words.
Until next time, God bless.