St. Chrysostom on Hell: a collection of proof texts

“For when you hear of fire, do not suppose the fire in that world to be like this: for fire in this world burns up and makes away with anything which it takes hold of; but that fire is continually burning those who have once been seized by it, and never ceases: therefore also is it called unquenchable. For those also who have sinned must put on immortality, not for honor, but to have a constant supply of material for that punishment to work upon; and how terrible this is, speech could never depict, but from the experience of little things it is possible to form some slight notion of these great ones. For if you should ever be in a bath which has been heated more than it ought to be, think then, I pray you, on the fire of hell: or again if you are ever inflamed by some severe fever transfer your thoughts to that flame, and then you will be able clearly to discern the difference. For if a bath and a fever so afflict and distress us, what will our condition be when we have fallen into that river of fire which winds in front of the terrible judgment-seat. Then we shall gnash our teeth under the suffering of our labors and intolerable pains: but there will be no one to succor us: yea we shall groan mightily, as the flame is applied more severely to us, but we shall see no one save those who are being punished with us, and great desolation. And how should any one describe the terrors arising to our souls from the darkness? For just as that fire has no consuming power so neither has it any power of giving light: for otherwise there would not be darkness. The dismay produced in us then by this, and the trembling and the great astonishment can be sufficiently realized in that day only. For in that world many and various kinds of torment and torrents of punishment are poured in upon the soul from every side. And if any one should ask, and how can the soul bear up against such a multitude of punishments and continue being chastised through interminable ages, let him consider what happens in this world, how many have often borne up against a long and severe disease. And if they have died, this has happened not because the soul was consumed but because the body was exhausted, so that had the latter not broken down, the soul would not have ceased being tormented. When then we have received an incorruptible and inconsumable body there is nothing to prevent the punishment being indefinitely extended. For here indeed it is impossible that the two things should coexist. I mean severity of punishment and permanence of being, but the one contends with the other, because the nature of the body is perishable and cannot bear the concurrence of both: but when the imperishable state has supervened, there would be an end of this strife, and both these terrible things will keep their hold upon us for infinite time with much force. Let us not then so dispose ourselves now as if the excessive power of the tortures were destructive of the soul: for even the body will not be able to experience this at that time, but will abide together with the soul, in a state of eternal punishment, and there will not be any end to look to beyond this. How much luxury then, and how much time will you weigh in the balance against this punishment and vengeance? Do you propose a period of a hundred years or twice as long? And what is this compared with the endless ages? For what the dream of a single day is in the midst of a whole lifetime, that the enjoyment of things here is as contrasted with the state of things to come. Is there then any one who, for the sake of seeing a good dream, would elect to be perpetually punished? Who is so senseless as to have recourse to this kind of retribution?” (Ad Theod. 1.10)


“(Hell) It is a sea of fire—not a sea of the kind or dimensions we know here, but much larger and fiercer, with waves made of fire, fire of a strange and fearsome kind. There is a great abyss there, in fact, of terrible flames, and one can see fire rushing about on all sides like some wild animal. … There will be no one who can resist, no one who can escape: Christ’s gentle, peaceful face will be nowhere to be seen. But as those sentenced to work the mines are give over to rough men and see no more of their families, but only their taskmasters, so it will be there—or not simply so, but much worse. For here on can appeal to the Emperor for clemency, and have the prisoner released—but there, never. They will not be released, but will remain roasting and in such agony as cannot be expressed.” (Homilies on Matthew 43[44].4)


If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.

This is no small subject of enquiry which we propose, but rather about things which are of the first necessity and which all men enquire about; namely, whetherhell fire have any end. For that it has no end Christ indeed declared when he said, Their fire shall not be quenched, and their worm shall not die. [Mark 8:44, 46, 48.]

Well: I know that a chill comes over you (ναρκᾶτε) on hearing these things; but what am I to do? For this is God’s own command, continually to sound these things in your ears, where He says, Charge this people; Fors. Exodus 19:10, 20. διαμαρτύραι, Septuagint. here διάστειλαι and ordained as we have been unto the ministry of the word, we must give pain to our hearers, not willingly but on compulsion. Nay rather, if you will, we shall avoid giving you pain. For says He, Romans 13:3, in substance if you do that which is goodfear not: so that it is possible for you to hear me not only without ill-will, but even with pleasure.

As I said then; that it has no end, Christ has declared. Paul also says, in pointing out the eternity of the punishment, that the sinners shall pay the penalty of destruction, and that for ever 2 Thessalonians 1:9 And again, 1 Corinthians 6:9 Be not deceived; neither fornicators. nor adulterers, nor effeminate, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And also unto the Hebrews he says, Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see theLord. And Christ also, to those who said, In your Name we have done many wonderful works, says, Depart from Me, I know you not, you workers of iniquityMatthew 7:22 And the virgins too who were shut out, entered in no more. And also about those who gave Him no food, He says, Matthew 25:46 They shall go away into everlasting punishment.

2. And say not unto me, where is the rule of justice preserved entire, if the punishment has no end? Rather, when God does any thing, obey His decisions and submit not what is said to human reasonings. But moreover, how can it be any thing else than just for one who has experienced innumerable blessings from the beginning, and then committed deeds worthy of punishment, and neither by threat nor benefit improved at all, to suffer punishment? For if you enquire what isabsolute justice; it was meet that we should have perished immediately from the beginning, according to the definition of strict justice. Rather not even then according to the rule of justice only; for the result would have had in it kindness too, if we had suffered this also. For when any one insults him that has done him no wrong, according to the rule of justice he suffers punishment: but when it is his benefactor, who, bound by no previous favor, bestowed innumerable kindnesses, who alone is the Author of his being, who is God, who breathed his soul into him, who gave ten thousand gifts of grace, whose will is to take him up into heaven;— when, I say, such an one, after so great blessings, is met by insult, daily insult, in the conduct of the other party; how can that other be thought worthy of pardon? Do you not see how He punished Adam for one single sin?

Yes, you will say; but He had given him Paradise and caused him to enjoy much favor. Nay, surely it is not all as one, for a man to sin in the enjoyment of security and ease, and in a state of great affliction. In fact, this is the dreadful circumstance that your sins are the sins of one not in any Paradise but amid the innumerable evils of this life; that you are not sobered even by affliction, as though one in prison should still practise his crime. However, unto you He has promised things yet greater than Paradise. But neither has He given them now, least He should unnerve you in the season of conflicts; nor has He been silent about them, lest He should quite cast you down with your labors. As for Adam, he committed but one sin and brought on himself certain death; whereas we commit ten thousand transgressions daily. Now if he by that one act brought on himself so great an evil and introduced death; what shall not we suffer who continually live in sins, and instead of Paradise, have the expectation of heaven?

The argument is irksome and pains the hearer: were it only by my own feelings, I know this. For indeed my heart is troubled and throbs; and the more I see the account of hell confirmed, the more do I tremble and shrink through fear. But it is necessary to say these things lest we fall into hell. What you received was notparadise, nor trees and plants, but heaven and the good things in the heavens. Now if he that had received less was condemned, and no consideration exempted him, much more shall we who have sinned more abundantly, and have been called unto greater things, endure the woes without remedy.

Consider, for example, how long a time, but for one single sin, our race abides in death. Five thousand years and more have passed, and death has not yet been done away, on account of one single sin. And we cannot even say that Adam had heard prophets, that he had seen others punished for sins, and it was meet that he should have been terrified thereby and corrected, were it only by the example. For he was at that time first, and alone; but nevertheless he was punished. But you can not have anything of this sort to advance, who after so many examples art become worse; to whom so excellent a Spirit has been vouch-safed, and yet you draw upon yourself not one sin, nor two, nor three, but sins without number! For do not, because the sin is committed in a small moment, calculate that therefore the punishment also must be a matter of a moment. Do you see not those men, who for a single theft or a single act of adultery, committed in a small moment of time, oftentimes have spent their whole life in prisons, and in mines, struggling with continual hunger and every kind of death? And there was no one to set them at liberty, or to say, The offense took place in a small moment of time; the punishment too should have its time equivalent to that of the sin.

3. But, They are men, some one will say, who do these things; as for God, He is loving unto men. Now, first of all, not even men do these things in cruelty, but in humanity. And God Himself, as He is loving unto men, in the same character does He punish sinsSirach 16:12 For as His mercy is great, so also is His reproof. When therefore you say unto me, God is loving unto men, then you tell me of so much the greater reason for punishing: namely, our sinning against such a Being. Hence also Paul said, Hebrews 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Endure I beseech you, the fiery force of the words, for perhaps— perhaps you will have some consolation from hence! Who among men can punish as God has punished? When He caused a deluge and entire destruction of a race so numerous; and again, when, a little while after, He rained fire from above, and utterly destroyed them all? What punishment from men can be like that? Do you see not that the punishment even in this world is almost eternal? Four thousand years have passed away, and the punishment of theSodomites abides at its height. For as His mercy is great, so also is His punishment.

Again: if He had imposed any burdensome or impossible things, one might perhaps have been able to urge difficulty of the laws: but if they be extremely easy, what can we say for our not regarding even these? Suppose you are unable to fast or to practice virginity; although you are able if you will, and they who have been able are a condemnation to us. But, however, God has not used this strictness towards us; neither has He enjoined these things nor laid them down as laws, but left the choice to be at the discretion of the hearers. Nevertheless, you are able to be chaste in marriage; and you are able to abstain from drunkenness. Are you unable to empty yourself of all your goods? Nay surely you are able; and they who have done so prove it. But nevertheless He has not enjoined this, but has commanded not to be rapacious, and of our means to assist those who are in want. But if a man say, I cannot even be content with a wife only, he deceiveshimself and reasons falsely; and they condemn him who without a wife lives in chastity. But how, tell me, can you help using abusive words? Can you not helpcursing? Why, the doing these things is irksome, not the refraining from them. What excuse then have we for not observing precepts so easy and light? We cannot name any at all. That the punishment then is eternal is plain from all that has been said.

4. But since Paul’s saying appears to some to tell the other way, come let us bring it forward also and search it out thoroughly. For having said, If any man’swork abide which he has built thereon, he shall receive a reward; and if any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, he adds, but himself shall besaved, yet so as through fire. What shall we say then to this? Let us consider first what is the Foundation, and what the gold, and what the precious stones, and what the hay, and what the stubble.

The Foundation, then, he has himself plainly signified to be Christ, saying, For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which, he says isJesus Christ.

Next, the building seems to me to be actions. Although some maintain that this also is spoken concerning teachers and disciples and concerning corrupt heresies: but the reasoning does not admit it. For if this be it, in what sense, while the work is destroyed, is the builder to be saved, though it be through fire? Of right, the author ought rather of the two to perish; but now it will be found that the severer penalty is assigned to him who has been built into the work. For if the teacher was the cause of the wickedness, he is worthy to suffer severer punishment: how then shall he be saved? If, on the contrary, he was not thecause but the disciples became such through their own perverseness, he is no whit deserving of punishment, no, nor yet of sustaining loss: he, I say, who built so well. In what sense then does he say, he shall suffer loss?

From this it is plain that the discourse is about actions. For since he means next in course to put out his strength against the man who had committed fornication, he begins high up and long beforehand to lay down the preliminaries. For he knew how while discussing one subject, in the very discourse about that thing to prepare the grounds of another to which he intends to pass on. For so in his rebuke for not awaiting one another at their meals, he laid the grounds of his discourse concerning the mysteries. And also because now he is hastening on towards the fornicator, while speaking about the Foundation, he adds, Do you notknow that you are the Temple of God? And that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroy (Φθείρη, rec. version, defile.) the Temple of God, him willGod destroy. Now these things, he said, as beginning now to agitate with fears the soul of him that had been unchaste. (Homily 9 on 1 Corinthians)

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