A Dore engraving of Dante visiting the Inferno.
While it is fashionable to deny the existence of Hell, such a denial flies in the face of constant Christian belief from time immemorial, and, in the end, the justice of God. The words of Christ, the Sacred Scriptures, and constant tradition all bear witness to the existence of Hell.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the teaching on Hell as follows:
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."610 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.611 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."
1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.612 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,"613 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"614
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."615 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "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."616
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."617
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;618 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":619
Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.620
610 1 ⇒ Jn 3:14-15.
611 Cf. ⇒ Mt 25:31-46.612 Cf. ⇒ Mt 5:22, ⇒ 29; ⇒ 10:28; ⇒ 13:42, ⇒ 50; ⇒ Mk 9:43-48.613 ⇒ Mt 13:41-42.614 ⇒ Mt 25:41.615 Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG # 12.616 ⇒ Mt 7:13-14.617 LG 48 # 3; ⇒ Mt 22:13; cf. ⇒ Heb 9:27; ⇒ Mt 25:13, ⇒ 26, ⇒ 30, ⇒ 31 ⇒ 4618 Cf. Council of Orange II (529): DS 397; Council of Trent
(1547):1567.619 ⇒ 2 Pet 3:9.620 Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88.
[Original text of the Catechism can be found here:
Vatican: Catechism of the Catholic Church]
Likewise, the Old Catholic Encyclopedia has a rather informative article on the subject: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Hell
Finally, in the Supplement to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, there is a discussion of the infernal regions, including: Question 97 on the Punishment of the Damned; Question 98 on the Intellect and Will of the Damned ; Question 99 on the Mercy and Justice of God.
Of course, one of the greatest literary works of the West, in this bloggers opinion, the Divine Comedy of Dante. How many other authors have a Papal Encyclical about their work? (cf. Benedict XV, In Praeclara Summorum). While not a theological manual, the Divine Comedy does embody a Catholic worldview in his presentation. So, why not go check out the opening section of the work that fits with our post? Here is a copy: Dante's Inferno
Live well, so as to avoid Hell!