Medieval Views of Hell

The doctrine of hell as a cosmic torture chamber was propounded by a number of prominent medieval thinkers, among them Augustine and Aquinas.

According to Kelly James Clark, in God is Great, God is Good: Medieval Conceptions of Divine Goodness and the Problem of Hell, “Augustine contends that the tortures of the damned are both physical and spiritual and that the damned, though consumed by physical fire, are kept in existence by God himself. Aquinas rejects the notion that the damned are tormented solely by fire, arguing that a variety of tortures will be employed. The term ‘fire’ is prevalent in scripture to describe the intensity of the pain, not the specificity of the torture. Eternal suffering, likened to the horror of being burned, is inflicted by torment ‘in many ways and from many sources’ and without respite. Indeed, hell will be so arranged ‘as to be adapted to the utmost unhappiness of the damned,’ and there will be, he argues, just enough light to perceive ‘those things which are capable of tormenting the soul.’ (Summa Theologica Suppl. Q. 97, Art. 5) One will, for example, see the corporeal fires and smell their stench as they burn one’s corporeal body. This never ending fire, Aquinas believes, is sustained not by fuel but by the very breath of God.”

Clark concludes, “The medieval notions of goodness and hell, seem to make God more a sadistic torturer who keeps her victims alive just so she can maximally inflict pain than a caring parent who would with all her power never cease attempting to benefit her child through her sufferings.”

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4 Responses to Medieval Views of Hell

  1. Chuck McClellan says:

    Just wondering… who did these guys eat lunch with?

  2. admin says:

    I wonder if these were the guys no one wanted to have lunch with, perhaps they were teased at school and that accounts for their “cheery disposition”.

  3. Rick Lannoye says:

    I would agree that Augustine and Aquinas most certainly “fleshed out” Hell as the ultimate torture chamber. They had torturous foundation to start from though, with Revelation depicting the unbelieving as being tossed into a lake of fire.

    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–“Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell,” (for anyone interested, you can get a free Ecopy of my book at my website:, but if I may, let me share one of the many points in support of the concept you mention–God, as a loving parent, could never torture anyone.

    If one is willing to look, there’s substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: “You don’t know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!” Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there is a minority of statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

  4. Abraham says:

    Be aware Hell and heaven, devil and Sin are true. Let no one deceive you people, satan is hiding himself by the false teachers who said that there’s no heaven or hell, and that there’s no sins but mistakes. read the bible and you’ll see that hell exist and its existanc is more true than yours.

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