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Dear Father Angelo,

I would like to ask you why in hell there is also the “pain of sense” (sensory pain) and not just the pain of loss. If someone decides out of his/her own free choice to move away from God why is s/he supposed to be punished also by “fire” and not just by the absence of the Lord? 

Thank you in advance,


The priest’s answer

Dear Francesco,

  1. Saint Augustine defines sin as a turning away from God and a disordered turning towards creatures (aversio a Deo et conversio ad creaturas). 

Well, since sin ecompasses these two components, theologians distinguish two pains. One is negative, consisting in the deprivation of God,  and the other is positive, namely the pain of sense. 

  1. Here is what Saint Thomas Aquinas thinks about the matter:

Punishment is proportionate to sin. Now sin comprises two things. First, there is the turning away from the immutable good, which is infinite, wherefore, in this respect, sin is infinite. Secondly, there is the inordinate turning to mutable good. In this respect sin is finite, both because the mutable good itself is finite, and because the movement of turning towards it is finite, since the acts of a creature cannot be infinite. Accordingly, in so far as sin consists in turning away from something, its corresponding punishment is the “pain of loss,” which also is infinite, because it is the loss of the infinite good, i.e. God. But in so far as sin turns inordinately to something, its corresponding punishment is the “pain of sense,” which is also finite. (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 87, 4.)

  1. The Quicumque vult, also called the Athanasian Creed, while affirming the existence and eternity of hell, also declares the eternity of the pain of sense: “they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believes truly and firmly, he cannot be saved. Amen”.
  1. The Athanasian creed is very long and it is greatly important for Catholic faith. It dates back to the IV century. Before the present liturgical reform it would be recited on Sundays in the Prima or First Hour, that is now suppressed. 
  1. Concerning the nature of this pain, which is certain, theologians express their views quite hesitatingly. Saint Augustine says that nobody can know exactly the nature of the fire of hell, unless they have a special divine revelation (De Civitate Dei, 20,16).

Saint Thomas Aquinas says that “the pain of a suffering, separated soul belongs to the state of future condemnation, which exceeds every evil of this life, just as the glory of the saints surpasses every good of the present life” (Summa theologiae, III, 46, 6, ad 3).

  1. To explain how a damned soul, which is spiritual, can suffer the pain of sense, Saint Thomas reports Saint Julian, bishop of Toledo, says. Peter the Lombard, also called the Magister Sententiarum, expresses Saint Julian’s thinking: “if the incorporeal soul of man is held by the body during his lifetime, why should it not be held by fire after life” (Book of Sentences, 4th, 44, 7). Saint Thomas then concludes: 

we must unite all the aforesaid modes together, in order to understand perfectly how the soul suffers from a corporeal fire: so as to say that the fire of its nature is able to have an incorporeal spirit united to it as a thing placed is united to a place; that as the instrument of Divine justice it is enabled to detain it enchained as it were, and in this respect this fire is really hurtful to the spirit, and thus the soul seeing the fire as something hurtful to it is tormented by the fire. Hence Gregory (Dial. iv, 29) mentions all these in order, as may be seen from the above quotations. (Supplement to the Summa Theologiae, 70, 3).

While wishing you to see the nature of this fire only from heaven, I assure you of my prayer and I bless you.

Father Angelo

Translated by Alessandra N.

Verified by Tom D.