Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/August 1890/Ancient and Modern Ideas of Hell

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THE idea of a place for the punishment after death of wicked men is found in most, though not all, of the religions of the present time and of antiquity. According to some beliefs, the punishment is to last forever; according to others, the torments are to continue only for a time, and are to result in purifying the imprisoned souls and fitting them for heaven. The Roman Catholic religion has both a purgatory, or place of temporary torment, and a hell, which is everlasting. No idea of penalty was connected with the classic hades—it was simply an under-world where dwelt all those who had the misfortune to be dead, irrespective of their conduct in life. The word comes from the Greek adjective Άἶζης, meaning unseen. The English word hell had also originally the same meaning. It is derived from the Teutonic base hal, whence also the Anglo-Saxon helan, to hide, "so that the original sense is the hidden or unseen place" (Skeat).

The conception of future existence which lays claim to the greatest antiquity is that of the ancient Egyptians. According to the Egyptian belief, if the great judgment resulted adversely, "the condemned soul is either scourged back to the earth straightway, to live again in the form of a vile animal, as some of the emblems appear to denote; or plunged into the tortures of a horrid hell of fire and devils below, as numerous engravings set forth; or driven into the atmosphere, to be vexed and tossed by tempests, violently whirled in blasts and clouds, till its sins are expiated, and another probation granted through a renewed existence in human form,"[1] In his description of the Ritual of the Dead, Renouf[2] mentions chapters in that book intended to secure the soul against dangers in the nether world, such as having his head cut off, dying the second death, suffering corruption, being turned away from his house, going to the nemmat (an infernal block for the execution of the wicked), going headlong into the cherti-nutar, and eating or drinking filth. Various divinities are invoked to save the soul from that god who feeds upon the accursed, from that god, who seizes upon souls, devours hearts, and feeds upon carcasses. These perils which the good escape, says Renouf, sufficiently show the fate which the wicked must expect. From Persia, also, we get a religion of great antiquity—Zoroastrianism—which, in a modified form, is held to-day by the small body of Parsis still to be found in Persia and India. According to the Parsi belief, the good after death pass safely over the bridge Chinevat, which stretches from Mount Alborj up to Garotman, the blissful realm of Ormuzd; while the wicked fall from the bridge into the Gulf of Duzahk, which yawns beneath, where they are tormented by dævas. At the end of the world, a comet will fall upon the earth, causing a vast conflagration, by which the whole earth will be melted, and the molten stream will pour down into Duzahk, carrying with it the sinners who are on earth at the time. Here they and the earlier comers, except those already redeemed by the prayers of friends, will burn for three days and nights and then thus purified will be received into heaven. Afterward all the dævas, and even the arch-fiend Ahriman, will have their evil burned away and will also enter the abode of light.

The Laws of Manu, one of the early sacred books of Brahmanism, names twenty-one hells. Punishments for different sins are, to be reborn into one of these hells, or to return to earth as a beggar, cripple, or leper, or in the form of a rat, a snake, or a louse, the penalty being in each case appropriate to the crime. Punishment need not be endless for any one, as each successive life is a new probation, in which righteousness wins admission to a higher stage of existence.

In Buddhism, which is one of the religions of China, and the state religion of Thibet and other countries of eastern Asia, future punishment is provided for in a great hell, comprising a system of one hundred and thirty-six lesser hells. The torments of these hells are depicted in many Buddhist books and paintings, with much detail and vividness.

The punishments recorded in the Jade Record and other works on future torment give frightful pictures of the torture of bad men.; in many Buddhist temples these are represented by small figures, and in others by life-size images. Men are ground to powder, the dust becoming ants, fleas, and lice; pestled in a mortar, and mashed to jelly in iron mortars; chopped in slices with a knife and hacked to pieces with hatchets; the tongue of deceit and lying pulled out; sawn asunder; the bones and flesh crushed by falling mountains; women cast into a lake of blood; crossing the narrow bridge and falling among fiery serpents; the caldron of oil for those who waste rice; drunkards with the cangue and standing on the hands; quack doctors with hands and feet tied, and a large stone on the back, the fierce judge administering hot drinks; a man going into the mill head foremost, with the legs sticking out, and a dog coming out below in the transmigration; a headless ghost pulling his murderer to judgment; disemboweled, tossed on a hill of knives; cast on a lake of ice; chained to a red-hot cylinder; iron dungeon, darkness within and fire without; lashed with burning iron wires; when thirsty, drinking molten iron; eating red-hot iron balls; besides, there is the freezing hell, the burning hell, and the hell of bubbling filth.[3]

As for the two other religions of China, Confucianism tells nothing whatever about punishment after this life, while Taouism has a theory of retribution much like that of Brahmanism.

The Jews in Old Testament times had no idea of a hell. There is no mention of punishment after death in the teachings of Moses, nor is this doctrine taught by the prophets. The word sheol, which is translated by hell in the King James version of the Bible, meant simply the abode of the dead, and corresponded to the Greek hades, used in the New Testament and other Greek writings. Gloomy and repulsive ideas were associated with sheol, similar to those we connect with death and the grave, but it was the destination of good and bad alike, and not a place of punishment.[4] The troubles which the wicked and the enemies of the Jews were threatened with by the prophets pertained to this world. They were pain, disease, loss of possessions and kindred, hostility of neighbors, death, and indignities to the dead body. The idea of sheol first became modified after the Persian captivity. The place was divided into two parts, which were separated only by the width of a thread. One of these divisions was for the good, awaiting resurrection, and was called Paradise; the other, set apart for the wicked, was called Gehenna. This latter designation means "the valley of the son of Hinnom," and was originally the name of a gorge outside of Jerusalem in which the Jews had practiced the fiery worship of Moloch, and where afterward offal from the city and the bodies of criminals were thrown, to be consumed by the fires always kept burning there. The idea of Gehenna as a place of future punishment had appeared in rabbinical theology and become quite detailed a century or more before Christ. Hell was represented as having special apartments for different kinds of torment. One place, from its darkness, was called "Night of Horrors." The fire of Gehenna was said to have been kindled on the evening of the first Sabbath, and would never be extinguished.[5] A Talmudic writer, quoted by Alger,[6] says: "There are in hell seven abodes, in each abode seven thousand caverns, in each cavern seven thousand clefts, in each cleft seven thousand scorpions; each scorpion has seven limbs, and on each limb are seven thousand barrels of gall. There are also in hell seven rivers of rankest poison, so deadly that if one touches it he bursts."

At the coming of Christ, there were three chief sects among the Jews. The Pharisees, who were by far the most numerous, believed that sinners were kept forever in a prison in the underworld; the Essenes believed that the vicious suffered eternal punishment in a dark, cold place; and the Sadducees thought that the soul died with the body. The first threats of hell in the Scriptures occur in the teachings of Jesus. There are three words in the New Testament which were translated by hell in the King James Bible: hades, meaning the same as elsewhere in Greek literature; Gehenna, which was properly the hell of Hebrew conception, and is uniformly so rendered in the revised version; and Tartarus, used only once (2 Peter, iii, 4), which is the regular Greek word for the place of punishment after death.[7] The place of future punishment represented in Christ's teachings is a region of fire: "Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire" (Matt, v, 22, revised version); the fire is to be eternal and unquenchable: "It is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, . . . where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark ix, 43, 48; see also Matt, xviii, 8). In Revelation" St. John informs us what fuel is to support the unquenchable fire: "If any man worshipeth the beast and his image, ... he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment goeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night" (Rev. xiv, 9-11). In another passage it is revealed concerning various kinds of sinners that "their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. xxi, 8). This doctrine was intended to last unchanged for all time, for we find in the last chapter the statement that, if any man shall add to or take from the words of this book, he shall suffer all the torments and lose all the rewards which are written in this prophecy (Rev. xxii, 18, 19).

The religion of Islam is characterized by lack of originality, and the Mohammedan hell contains nothing but easily made variations of the Gehenna of the Jews. To the man that disobeys the precepts of the Koran it is promised that "God shall cast him into hell-fire; he shall remain therein forever."[8] Further it is written: "Verily, those who disbelieve our signs, we will surely cast to be broiled in hell-fire; so often as their skins shall be well burned, we will give them other skins in exchange, that they may taste the sharper torment, for God is mighty and wise" (chapter iv). The physical pain of fire, applied in various ways, is also the staple of the following torments: "They who believe not shall have garments of fire fitted to them; boiling water shall be poured on their heads; their bowels shall be dissolved thereby, and also their skins; and they shall be beaten with maces of iron" ( chapter xxii). Those men who are sent to the left hand on the judgment-day "shall dwell amid burning winds and scalding water, under the shade of a black smoke, neither cool nor agreeable." Ye "shall surely eat of the fruit of the tree of al-Zakhum[9] and shall fill your bellies therewith; and ye shall drink there only boiling water."

In the Greek mythology, which was copied by the Romans, the place of future punishment is called Tartarus. The universe is represented in the poetry of Homer and Hesiod as a hollow globe, divided by the flat earth. In the top of the upper hemisphere was Olympus, the home of the gods; in the hemisphere beneath the earth was hades, the abode of all the dead; and in its lowest depths was Tartarus. An anvil would be nine days and nights in falling from Olympus to the earth; nine days and nights from the earth to the bottom of Tartarus. "Around it, moreover, a brazen fence has been forged; and about it Night is poured in three rows."[10] In Tartarus there is darkness, and the air has no motion. It was at this time regarded as the place of punishment for the Titans, who had rebelled against the powers of Olympus. Later the poets began to speak of mortals who had offended the gods, or had been unjust to their fellow-men, being sent there after death. Prometheus, who was guilty of overreaching Zeus, was punished by being chained to a rock, part of the time on earth and part in Tartarus. An eagle devoured his liver every day, and it was renewed every night.[11] Ixion, who had been treacherous to Zeus, was chained by the hands and feet to a wheel, which is described as winged or fiery, and said to have rolled perpetually in the air. He is further said to have been scourged and compelled to exclaim, "Benefactors should be honored."[11]

Sisyphus is represented by different authors as guilty of treachery of various kinds. "His wickedness during life was severely punished in the lower world, where he had to roll up hill a huge marble block, which, as soon as it reached the top, always rolled down again."[11] Tantalus was a wealthy king, who divulged the secrets of Zeus. "The gods punished him by placing him in the nether world in the midst of a lake, but rendering it impossible for him to drink when he was thirsty, the water always withdrawing when he stooped. Branches laden with fruit, moreover, hung over his head, but when he stretched out his hand to reach the fruit the branches withdrew. Over his head there was suspended a huge rock, ever threatening to crush him."[11] The Danaides, or fifty daughters of Danaus, all but one of whom in obedience to their father killed their husbands on their wedding night, were punished in Tartarus by being compelled everlastingly to pour water into a sieve..

The idea of Tartarus becomes more definite in later classical writings. Hades was divided into Elysium, or the region of dawn, which was the abode of the good, and Tartarus, the region of night, which was the destination of the wicked. Virgil describes Tartarus in telling of the descent of Æneas to the under-world to visit his father (Æneid, vi, 548-627). It is in the form of a prison, inclosed with a triple wall. Phlegethon, a flaming torrent, rushes by the walls, whirling great rocks along in its course. The huge gate is swung between columns of adamant and from an iron tower. Tisiphone, with her bloody robe tucked up around her, watches the vestibule night and day. The great chasm is twice as deep as from earth up to heaven. Groans are heard issuing from the place, and the strokes of cruel lashes, the grating of iron, and the clanking of chains. Khadanianthus judges the spirits on their arrival, and they are then turned over to the Furies for appropriate punishments, of which the torments of Ixion, Sisyphus, and a few others are given as examples.

According to the Scandinavian mythology, all who die bravely in battle are snatched away to Valhalla, Odin's magnificent banquet-hall in the sky. Those who, after lives of ignoble labor or inglorious ease, die of sickness, descend to a cold and dismal cavern beneath the ground, called Niflheim—i. e., the mist-world. This abode is ruled by the goddess of death, whose name is Hel. The place of torment for reprobates is Nastrond, deeper underground than Niflheim, and far toward the frigid north. This grim prison is described in the following passage from the Prose Edda, written in Iceland in the thirteenth century: "In Nastrond there is a vast and direful structure with doors that face the north. It is formed entirely of the backs of serpents, wattled together like wicker-work. But the serpents' heads are turned toward the inside of the hall, and continually vomit forth floods of venom, in which wade all those who commit murder or who forswear themselves."[12] According to the Voluspa, a poem of earlier date, the evil-doers in Nastrond are also gnawed by the dragon Nidhögg.

The fathers of the Christian Church generally taught the existence of a hell of material fire and brimstone. Alger[13] gives as their belief that at the resurrection the damned "were to be banished forever to a fiery hell in the center of the earth, there to endure uncomprehended agonies, both physical and spiritual, without any respite, without any end." The strict literality with which these doctrines were held is strikingly shown in Jerome's artless question: "If the dead be not raised with flesh and bones, how can the damned, after the judgment, gnash their teeth in hell?" "Origen, who was a Platonist, and a heretic on many points," says Alger,[14] "was severely condemned for saying that the fire of hell was inward and of the conscience rather than outward and of the body." Tertullian says, "The damned burn eternally without consuming, as the volcanoes, which are vents from the stored subterranean fire of hell, burn forever without wasting."[15] These words point also to the belief, noted above, that hell was located under the earth.

In the middle ages the Christian conception of hell became more detailed and more terrible. The details can be found not only in the books of the period, but they were favorite subjects for miracle-plays and for works of art, especially for the pictures, carvings, and painted windows with which cathedrals were adorned. The monks of the period produced an extensive literature of visions describing the torments of hell. In these visions, according to Lecky—

The devil was represented bound by red-hot chains on a burning gridiron in the center of hell. The screams of his never-ending agony made its rafters to resound; but his hands were free, and with these he seized the lost souls, crushed them like grapes against his teeth, and then drew them by his breath down the fiery cavern of his throat. Demons with hooks of red-hot iron plunged souls alternately into fire and ice. Some of the lost were hung up by their tongues, others were sawn asunder, others gnawed by serpents, others beaten together on an anvil and welded into a single mass, others boiled and then strained through a cloth, others twined in the embraces of demons whose limbs were of flame. The fire of earth, it was said, was but a picture of that of hell. The latter was so immeasurably more intense that it alone could be called real.

By far the most elaborate description of the punishments of sinners which the middle ages produced is that of Dante, whose Inferno combines the torments of the classical Tartarus and the horrors of the Christian hell. In this poem, which was written about 1300, the author represents himself as being conducted through the infernal regions by Virgil. Within the gates of hell, but before crossing the river Acheron, the visitors found those who had lived "withouten infamy or praise," and angels who had been neither faithful nor rebellious, but only selfish. They "were naked and were stung exceedingly by gad-flies and by hornets that were there."[17] Beyond Acheron were found the great ones of old, whose sin was lack of baptism. These were "only so far punished that without hope we live on in desire" (iv, 41, 42). In the third circle, rain, snow, and hail constantly poured down upon the miry earth (vi, 10-12)—a truly dismal abode. Further on a group of the damned are confined in tombs made as hot by flames as iron need be for any art. Whenever a soul is cast into another circle it sprouts like a seed, and grows into a tree. The Harpies then cause it pain by feeding upon its leaves (xiii, 99-102). Soon a drove of sinners was met, followed by "horned demons, with great scourges, who cruelly were beating them behind" (xviii, 35, 36). In one place were a lot of holes in the rocky floor, in each of which a transgressor was stuck head downward, and as far as the calf, while the soles of his feet were frying with a greasy flame (xix, 13-30). In another place was a lake of boiling pitch in which souls were immersed, while demons stood round and kept them under the surface with gaffs (xxi, 16-57). Another group of lost ones had their hands bound with serpents, which were also biting and stinging their bodies (xxiv, 94-96). Others were driven round a ring, where each time they passed a devil would cut them open so that their bowels hung out, and the wound would close again while they were making the next circuit (xxviii, 22-42). In one of the inner circles, if from the hospitals, "all the diseases in one moat were gathered, such was it here, and such a stench came from it, as from putrescent limbs is wont to issue" (xxix, 49-51). Its denizens were scratching scabs from their sores as a knife takes the scales off a fish.

The punishments increase in severity with the descent to the inner and smaller circles of the vast amphitheatre. In the ninth and last circle, where traitors are punished, there is an ice-bound lake, into which the perfidious ones are frozen. "The emperor of the kingdom dolorous from his mid-breast forth issued from the ice." He is supergigantic in size, and has three faces on his head. In each mouth he crunches a sinner, but "To him in front the biting was as naught unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine utterly stripped of all the skin remained" (xxxiv, 55-60). The three arch-traitors distinguished by these supreme torments were Brutus, Cassius, and, the one in front, Judas.

The reformers made little change in the mediæval conception of hell. Calvin Writes: "Forever harassed by a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolts of God, and broken by the weight of his hand, so that to sink into any gulfs would be more tolerable than to stand for a moment in these terrors."

The characteristic austerity of the Puritans finds free scope in the depiction of hell's torments. Their great poet Milton describes the place in the first and second books of Paradise Lost. Satan and his host are cast into it "there to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire."

"A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible" (i, 61-63).

It is swept by "a fiery deluge, fed with ever-burning sulphur unconsumed." Besides a burning lake, it contains land or "firm brimstone"—that is, "if it were land that ever burned with solid, as the lake with liquid fire." From a hill on this land is dug ore of gold and other metals, which furnish the building materials for the magnificent palace Pandemonium, the high capital of Satan and his peers. In the second book are mentioned "four infernal rivers, that disgorge into the burning lake their baleful streams." Far away was Lethe, the river of oblivion, and "beyond this flood a frozen continent lies dark and wild, beat with perpetual storms of whirlwind and dire hail." Thither at intervals all the damned are brought to be tormented by extremes of heat and cold (ii, 597-601). When Satan, starting out to discover the earth, reaches the bounds of hell, he finds "thrice threefold the gates—three folds were brass, three iron, three of adamantine rock; impenetrable, impaled with circling fire, yet unconsumed." The teaching of the Church of England in Milton's time did not differ much from that of the Dissenters. Jeremy Taylor devotes two chapters to deliberately recounting the most atrocious cruelties recorded in history, and asserts that they will be surpassed by the tortures in store for the wicked. A few instances will suffice:

Alexander, the son of Hyrcanus, caused eight hundred to be crucified, and while they were yet alive caused their wives and children to be murdered before their eyes, that so they might not die once, but many deaths. This rigor shall not be wanting in hell. . . . Mezentius tied a living body to the dead until the putrefied exhalations of the dead had killed the living. . . . What is this in respect of hell, when each body of the damned is more loathsome and unsavory than a million of dead dogs? . . . We are amazed to think of the inhumanity of Phalaris, who roasted men alive in his brazen bull. That was a joy in respect of that fire of hell. . . . The torment . . . comprises as many torments as the body of man has joints, sinews, arteries, etc., being caused by that penetrating and real fire of which this temporal fire is but a painted fire.[18]

The Puritans in America were no less emphatic in their depictions of hell than the parent stock in England. Many are the passages in the sermons of that stanch New England divine, Jonathan Edwards, devoted to setting forth the agonies of eternal punishment. The following extract is typical not only of Edwards, but also of his contemporaries:

Imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, or a great furnace, where your pain would be as much greater than that occasioned by accidentally touching a coal of fire as the heat is greater. Imagine also that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, and all the while full of quick sense; what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace! and how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you! And, after you had endured it for one minute, how overbearing would it be to you to think that you had to endure it the other fourteen! But what would be the effect on your soul if you knew you must lie there, enduring that torment to the full, for twenty-four hours! And how much greater would be the effect if you knew you must endure it for a whole year! And how vastly greater still if you knew you must endure it for a thousand years! Oh, then, how would your hearts sink if you knew that you must bear it for ever and ever!—that there would be no end!—that, after millions of millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end, and that you never, never should be delivered! But your torment in hell will be immensely greater than this illustration represents."[19]

Among primitive peoples in various parts of the world, a variety of notions in regard to future punishment have prevailed. The African tribes which have not been affected by Mohammedan or Christian influence, although they may believe in future rewards and punishments, generally have no idea of definite places for heaven and hell. The Kamtchadales also have no hell. Of the American peoples, the ancient Mexicans affirmed that the wicked went to Mictlan, a dismal cavern within the earth. The Peruvian hell was also in the earth, and there the reprobate must endure centuries of toil and anguish. The Eskimo believe that hell is among the rocks, ice, monsters, and chilling waters of the sea. All souls must go down into it, but the good pass deeper to a more peaceful abode. The American Indians have no idea of a place of future torment except where it has been derived from white missionaries. "The typical belief of the tribes of the United States," says Brinton,[20] "was well expressed in the reply of Esau Hajo, great medal chief and speaker for the Creek Nation in the National Council, to the question, Do the red people believe in a future state of rewards and punishments? "We have an opinion that those who have behaved well are taken under the care of Esaugetuh Emisee, and assisted; and that those who have behaved ill are left to shift for themselves; and that there is no other punishment."

No writer since ancient Egyptian times has given such a detailed theory of the future life as Swedenborg. In his book on Heaven and Hell, originally published in 1758, he says that punishments in hell are manifold; the more cunning and malignant of the damned domineer over the simpler. The faces of those in hell are deathly and dreadful: some are black, some fiery, some disfigured with pimples, warts, and ulcers; some have no face, only a hairy or bony surface. The "infernal heat is turned into intense cold when heat from heaven flows in, and then the infernal inhabitants shiver like those who are seized with a cold fever." The hells are everywhere—under mountains, rocks, plains, and valleys. In the milder hells there appear to be cities of rude huts; in the huts are infernal spirits, engaged in continual quarrels, enmities, blows, and fightings; in the streets and lanes robberies and depredations are committed. In other hells there are forests, or deserts, or ragged rocks, or ruins as of burned cities.

Christian preachers and writers of the present time do not agree as to the nature of hell's torments. Many of them are coming to attach a figurative meaning to the biblical descriptions of hell, and seem as loath as their predecessors were eager to dwell upon the subject. In the Fortnightly Review for January, 1876, Lionel A. Tollemache says, "The wiser among us are seeking to drop hell out of the Bible as quietly, and about as logically, as we already contrive to disregard the plain texts forbidding Christians to go to law, and Christian women to plait their hair." Canon Farrar, in a series of sermons, has emphatically declared his disbelief in a hell of material and everlasting fire.

That widely known book Letters from Hell describes the place of torment as a country where the wicked are impelled to continually follow the same pursuits as in life; whatever they wish for is at once provided, amusements of all sorts are indulged in, but everything is empty and unreal, they are possessed by a constant hunger for pleasure which is never satisfied, tormented by memories of their lives on earth, driven from one thing to another to escape threatened misery, always on the verge of despair, and never by their feverish activity achieving even forgetfulness.

The Roman Catholic Church now, as always, holds that there are material torments in hell. The idea of hell which prevailed in Europe in the middle ages was that taught by the Catholic Church, which was practically the only form of Christianity at that time. An extremely realistic picture of hell is drawn in a Catholic tract, by the Rev. J. Furniss, C. S. S. R., published not long ago, with high ecclesiastical indorsement, "for children and young persons" in England and America. It is entitled The Sight of Hell, and describes little children turning and twisting in red-hot ovens, and screaming to come out.

The following statement of Catholic doctrine concerning hell is abridged from A Catholic Dictionary, by Addis and Arnold. Hell may be defined as the place and state in which the devils and such human beings as die in enmity with God suffer eternal torments. Theologians divide the punishments of the damned into that of loss and that of sense. The former is the deprivation of the vision of God. The devils and disembodied spirits of the damned suffer from material fire. The lost are afflicted also by "the worm which never dies"—i. e., by the anguish of remorse; they are doomed to endure the society of others reprobate like themselves, and they know that all hope is over. After the resurrection the body also is subject to torment. It is certain that hell is a definite place, but uncertain where. Many of the fathers and theologians have held that it is in the center of the earth. Origen and some who followed him have thought that the punishment of the wicked would not be eternal, but a council has defined that the punishment of hell lasts forever.

Mr. C. H. Spurgeon, the celebrated English Baptist, says, in a sermon on The Resurrection of the Dead:

There is a real fire in hell—a fire exactly like that which we have on earth, except that it will torture without consuming. When thou diest thy soul will be tormented alone in hell; but at the day of judgment thy body shall join thy soul, and then thou wilt have twin hells, body and soul together, each brimful of pain; thy soul sweating in its inmost pores drops of blood, and thy body, from head to foot, suffused with agony; not only conscience, judgment, memory, all tormented, but thy head tormented with racking pain, thine eyes starting from their sockets with sights of blood and woe; thine ears tormented with horrid noises; thy heart beating high with fever; thy pulse rattling at an enormous rate in agony; thy limbs cracking in the fire, and yet unburned; thyself put in a vessel of hot oil, pained, yet undestroyed.

Heine's Reisebilder contains a witty caricature of the orthodox hell, in which his satirical genius has free play.

The Presbyterian Confession of Faith teaches that the punishment of sin shall be separation from God, "and most grievous torments of soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever."

That Unknown Country, a large octavo volume published in 1889, contains fifty chapters, each contributed by a living theologian as his views concerning punishment after death. These statements contain little description of the torments of hell; they are devoted mainly to discussing whether or no any of the condemned can shorten their term of punishment by repentance after death, and whether hell may not end with either the final salvation or annihilation of all the wicked. In this book Bishop Fowler, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, says that the popular conception of hell should be freed from the physical flames to be correct. Rev. Chauncey Giles (Swedenborgian) compares hell to an asylum for the incurably insane. Rev. Edward Everett Hale says, "No Unitarian supposes that life after death is limited in any way, so that one place in the universe can be mapped off as heaven, and another place mapped off as hell." Dr. A. A. Miner (Universalist) maintains that "punishment after death for the sins of this life is not taught in the Word of God." C. W. Pritchard, minister in the Friends' Church, Chicago, says, "Heaven is a place, and hades is a place" and calls the modern idea of hell a "mystical, superspiritual view." Mr. Talmage, of Brooklyn (Presbyterian), asks: "What is the use of explaining away a furnace of fire, when God says there is one? . . . I am not opposed to saying it may be figurative; but I know very well that if it is not fire it is something as severe as fire. . . . God says it is fire, and a furnace of fire. Besides that, I do not know that it is figurative. It may be literal. The Bible sixteen times says it is fire." Dr. H. W. Thomas, pastor of the People's Church, Chicago, says that there is now a tacit admission on the part of even the orthodox churches that "the teachings of the past on this subject are not wholly true, and that, in some respects at least, they have to be modified or abandoned."

"The proprietor of a great foundry in Germany," says Alger, while he talked one day with a workman who was feeding a furnace, accidentally stepped back, and fell headlong into a vat of molten iron. The thought of what happened then horrifies the imagination. Yet it was all over in two or three seconds. Multiply the individual instance by unnumbered millions, stretch the agony to temporal infinity, and we confront the orthodox idea of hell."[21] Mr. Alger maintains that the doctrine of a local hell, a guarded and smoking dungeon of the damned, ought not to be regarded as a truth contained in a revelation from God, because it is plainly proved by historic evidence to be a part of the mythology of the world, a natural product of the poetic imagination of ignorant and superstitious men.[22]

  1. William E. Alger, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, tenth edition, 1878, p. 103.
  2. The Religion of Ancient Egypt.
  3. The Dragon, Image, and Demon, by the Rev. Hampden C. Du Bose, pp. 311-313.
  4. Schaff-Herzog, Encyclopædia of Religious Knowledge, article Hell.
  5. Future Life, p. 509.
  6. Basnage, History of the Jews, lib. iv, cap. 30.
  7. Schaff-Herzog, ibid., idem.
  8. The Koran, Sale's translation, chapter iv.
  9. A thorny tree with a fruit like an almond, but extremely bitter (Sale).
  10. Hesiod, Theogony.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
  12. Prose Edda, chapter lii.
  13. Future Life, p. 402.
  14. Future Life, p. 516.
  15. Apologia, cap. 47, 48.
  16. History of European Morals, vol. ii, pp. 235, 236.
  17. Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto III, lines 65, 66, Longfellow's translation.
  18. Contemplations on the State of Man, Book II, chapters vi, vii.
  19. Jonathan Edwards's Works, vol. vi, p. 99.
  20. The Myths of the New World.
  21. Future Life, preface to the tenth edition.
  22. Future Life, p. 699.