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.
VIII. On Eternity.
IN the preceding pages some slight portrayal of the torments of Hell has been placed before the reader; now eternity is the subject that must occupy our attention, one on which it is not easy to write or speak. The torments of Hell are all so horrible, so appalling, that they are enough to make the bravest man tremble. But the thought of eternity is so awful that the serious consideration of it is almost enough to deprive one of one s senses. For in this world, however afflicted a man may be, he has one sure source of solace, the knowledge that, sooner or later, his misery will end.
It appertains to human nature to get weary of everything after a time, even things that are agreeable to our nature and suited to our taste. If a man were forced to sit all day long at table, he would get a disgust of the viands before him. If one were made to sleep day and night for a whole week in the softest and most comfortable bed, how long the time would seem to him. If the most ardent lover of the dance were compelled to continue this favourite amusement day and night without rest, he would acquire a strong distaste for it.
And if this is the case with things that are congenial to our nature and inclinations, what would it be in regard to those which are unpleasant and repugnant to us? If a small stone got into one s shoe, and if as a penance one had to keep it there for a whole week, this would seem almost intolerable. And if a slight pain or inconvenience becomes terribly irksome after a time, how can a serious illness, or real discomfort, be borne continually without murmuring and impatience?
If it were possible that a wretched sinner could be condemned to lie in a furnace, bound hand and foot, for a whole year, would not the suffering deprive him of reason? No one could be so hard hearted as not to feel the deepest compassion for any one thus tormented.
Now look down into the abyss of Hell, and there thou wilt see thousands and thousands of these unhappy creatures in the lake of fire and torment. Many of them have already spent twenty, a hundred, a thousand, even five thousand years in this dreadful state of suffering.
But what is before them? Not five thousand years more, not a hundred thousand, not a thousand thousand of this terrible agony, they must endure it forever and ever; an eternity is before them, with out comfort or solace, without grace or mercy, without merit or recompense, without the faintest hope of deliverance. This is what renders the torment of the damned so immeasurable; this is what drives them to fury and despair.
What dost thou imagine that eternity really is, or what its duration will be? Eternity is something that has no beginning and no end. It is time which is always present and never passes away. Thus the torments of the damned will never end, never pass away. When a thousand years have gone by, another thousand will commence, and so on for evermore. None of the damned can reckon how long they have been in Hell, because there is no succession of day and night, no division of time, but continual and eternal night from the first moment of their entrance into Hell for ever more. And if thou wouldst conceive some faint idea of eternity, suppose the whole terrestrial globe to be composed of millet seeds, and suppose that every year a bird came, and picked out one of those tiny seeds, what an infinite number of years must elapse before the whole earth was eaten up in this way. Nay, how many thousand years must pass before one little hillock was consumed. It is impossible to make any estimate of the number.
Thou mayst perhaps think that it would take all eternity to destroy the earth by that slow process. But believe me, it might be destroyed many times over before eternity could end. For the earth must at last come to an end, even if only once in a century one single grain was taken from the whole, but eternity cannot end, for nothing can be taken from it.
How terrible is this thought ! It is indeed appalling when one attempts to realize it.
The damned would be joyful, they would give God thanks, if they could hope, after millions and millions of years of torment, to be at last released from their misery.
But there is no hope at all of their final release from the pains of Hell. No one who thinks seriously of this can fail to be awestruck and horrified. O God, how terrible Thou art ! How great is Thy severity! How canst Thou, the Father of mercies, see these unhappy creatures condemned to such punishments forever and ever, how canst Thou hear unmoved their despairing cries!
All this teaches us how grievous every mortal sin must be, since Thou, the all-merciful God, canst sentence the sinner to eternal damnation for one mortal sin. O Christian, I beseech thee, in the name of all that is holy, do not sin so lightly, do not think so little of mortal sin, see how dreadful is the chastisement inflicted upon the unfortunate sinners. It may perhaps appear scarcely credible to thee that God, whose mercies are infinite, could possibly inflict upon one of His frail creatures a never-ending punishment for one single mortal sin.
Yet so it is; and it is even true that a man who has led a pious life will, if before his death he should have the unspeakable misfortune to commit a mortal sin, and die impenitent, be consigned to eternal perdition.
The Psalmist could not help expressing his astonishment at this ; in fact he appears to think it hardly possible. Listen to his words: "I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years. And I meditated in the night with my own heart, and I was exercised and I swept my spirit. Will God then cast off forever? or will He never be more favourable again? or will He cut off His mercy forever, from generation to generation ? or will God forget to show mercy? or will He in His anger shut up His mercies?" (Ps. Ixxvi. 6-10.) In another Psalm he answers these questions : " Man shall not give to God his ransom, nor the price of the redemption of his soul; he shall labour forever, and still live unto the end," that is to say he shall be tormented forever, and yet live on (Ps. xlviii. 9, 10).
The reason wherefore the all-merciful God punishes mortal sin with an eternal punishment, and nevermore pardons it, is because the sinner, when he is damned, will not awaken contrition and sorrow within his heart, or ask forgiveness of God. For if any one dies in mortal sin, he is so hardened in it, that he will not desist from it to all eternity. And because God has consigned him to perdition, he conceives so intense a hatred against Him, that he would injure Him in every way that he could.
Rather than humble himself before God, and implore His pardon, he would endure yet greater tortures in Hell. Therefore because the sinner will not repent of his sins, nor ask pardon for his sins, he remains eternally in a state of sin, and because his sin is never expiated or repented of, the punishment is likewise eternal.
For God does not cease to punish until the sinner repents and bewails his sin and asks for forgiveness.
Hence it will be seen that God does no wrong to the reprobate when He subjects him to everlasting chastisement, for Divine justice demands that if the sin is eternal in its duration, the penalty of that sin must likewise be eternal.
It may perhaps be surmised that the damned grow accustomed to their torments, and at length become insensitive and almost indifferent to them.
This is far from being the case. The damned feel their torture to its full extent, and always in the same degree. Each one of the miserable denizens of Hell feels his sufferings now as acutely as he did in the first hour of his damnation, and he will continue to feel them no less keenly after thou sands and thousands of years have elapsed.
Now because the damned know perfectly well that they will never be released from Hell, but must remain there forever; because they know that the dreadful tortures they endure will never end; because they know that no created being will ever compassionate them, but all will acknowledge the justice of their doom ; for this cause they begin to despair, and to curse themselves and all that the hand of God has created.
Their despair only augments their sufferings. This we see from the example of our fellow creatures on earth, if they give way to despair. It is impossible to do anything with a man who is in despair; no one can help or console him, no one can comfort him or bring him to reason. He looks like a spectre ; he raves and rages like the very devil himself; he declares he will put an end to his life, that he will drown himself or hang himself; he destroys everything that comes in his way; he curses all men and all things. This the damned do in their despair, and thereby they torture themselves even more than the devils can torture them. They shriek and howl, they curse and swear, they storm and rage; in fact, they behave just as if they were fiends incarnate.
In their fury and spite they attack one another with the fiercest animosity; nay, they endeavour by every possible means to strangle themselves in their frantic despair.
Their efforts are, however, futile. All that they accomplish is to increase their torment, and inflict on themselves fresh pains.
Would that every obdurate sinner would lay this to heart, and take heed, lest one day he become the prey of this eternal despair.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," says St. Paul (Heb. x. 31). If we now dread Hell, we shall not have any reason to fear or endure it in the next life.
Every one has sufficient grounds for dreading it. The just and holy should fear Hell, because they may yet fall into it. So long as they remain on earth, they are surrounded by not only exterior, but also interior, dangers. Outside of them there is the world with its allurements, its scandals and temptations, and human respect.
Within them dwell violent passions and a weak will. Only a single mortal sin suffices to cause their condemnation to the infernal abyss. How many are now in Hell, who for a time were remarkable for their piety and virtue, but who gradually grew careless in the service of God, and finally fell into mortal sin and died without having become reconciled with God. Even the great St. Teresa was in danger of damnation, for God showed her the place destined for her in Hell, if she did not give up certain faults.
The greatest Saints have shuddered and trembled at the thought of the danger they were in of committing mortal sin and of being condemned for it to the endless torments of Hell. St. Peter of Alcantara, who performed such great penances, dreaded even in his last moments the danger of falling into Hell. St. Augustine and St. Bernard were filled with terror at the very thought of Hell and of the danger they were in of deserving it.
The careless, the lukewarm Catholic should, above all, dread Hell, for he is continually walking on the brink of the infernal abyss. He makes little of the precepts of hearing Mass, of the prescribed abstinence from flesh meat, he scruples not neglecting the religious training of his children, he associates with persons and frequents places that are to him an occasion of sin, he yields to impure thoughts, commits sins of impurity without remorse, gives way to his vindictive feelings against his neighbour, appropriates to himself the goods of his neighbour, indulges to excess in eating and drinking, neglects prayer and the Sacraments. Now is the time for him to be aroused from his life of sin, now is the time for him to give up sin and change his life, for if he defers doing so, it may soon be too late. This may, indeed, be the last warning that God gives him. Oh, if the damned could come back to life, to what penances and austerities would they not eagerly and cheerfully submit!
The prophet Isaias asks: "Which of you can dwell with devouring fire?" (Is. xxxiii. 14.) Canst thou stand the fearful torments of Hell for all eternity, thou who art so fond of comfort and so sensitive to the least pain? Which of you has deserved to dwell in Hell? Every one of us already deserved, immediately after our first mortal sin, to be condemned to that abyss of misery and woe ! It is owing to the Divine mercy that we have not been so condemned.
"Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in Hell" (Ps. xciii. 17). We are certain of having deserved Hell, but we are not so certain of having been forgiven. "Man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred" (Eccles. ix. i). What a dreadful uncertainty? How much should it cause us to tremble!
Isaias asks again (xxxiii. 14): "Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" The answer is : All those sinners who do not give up sin, who do not bewail and confess their sins and amend their life, shall dwell with everlasting burnings!
Let us, dear reader, make every effort, strain every nerve, undergo every suffering, make every sacrifice in this life, that we may escape the horrible fate of those who fall victims, through their own fault, to the Divine justice! No pain is too great, no sacrifice is too dear, when there is question of avoiding eternal torments. Let us then say with St. Augustine: "Lord, burn us here, cut and bruise us in this life, provided Thou spare us in eternity!"