The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 2)

What Is The Historical View? 1 2

Whether the view is right or wrong, one thing that is true about the tortureless, “darkness” form of hell described in part 1 is that it has not been historically common. That isn’t to say that it has never popped up ever. In part 3, we will look at some potential deviations and some blurring of the lines. And even beyond that, when you have 2,000 years and significant chunks of civilization holding to a set of beliefs (Christianity), you are bound to get someone believing something at some point. So I am not saying that no one ever held it in the history of the world until the 1900’s or anything that extreme. But when we think of great names in Chrisendom who also believed in eternal conscious punishment of the unsaved, one thing that you find across the board is a view of hell as a horrible, torturous place of vengeance and violence. Though not completely universal, this has been the predominant view in church history (among traditionalists).
In light of this fact, many traditionalists today who sneer at annihilationism because it departs from the more historical view may find that their own views fare no better.

Below is a sampling of noteworthy church figures spanning most of the church age. Many speak for themselves (though of course I’m going to give some additional commentary anyway):

Tertullian of Carthage

Therefore, after this there is neither death nor repeated resurrections, but we shall be the same that we are now, and still unchanged – the servants of God, ever with God, clothed upon with the proper substance for eternity; but the profane, and all who are not true worshippers of God, in like manner shall be consigned to the punishment of everlasting fire – that fire which, from its very nature indeed, directly ministers to their incorruptibility. 3

It is as though Tertullian expected people to one day think that the fire of hell is a metaphor, and goes out of his way to make the point that it really is a matter of immortal bodies burning for ever and ever. He continues:

The philosophers are familiar as well as we with the distinction between a common and a secret fire. Thus that which is in common use is far different from that which we see in divine judgments, whether striking as thunderbolts from heaven, or bursting up out of the earth through mountain-tops; for it does not consume what it scorches, but while it burns it repairs. So the mountains continue ever burning,; and a person struck by lightning is even now kept safe from any destroying flame. A notable proof this is of the fire eternal! a notable example of the endless judgment which still supplies punishment with fuel! The mountains burn and last. How will it be with the wicked and the enemies of God?

Of course, we know now that there is no special preserving properties in lava or lighting or other “secret fire,” but Tertullian did not, and so his point is clear enough.

Hippolytus of Rome:

Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just is your judgment!’ And the justice of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them. For neither are the righteous any longer seen by them, nor are they themselves worthy of remembrance. 4

Cyprian of Carthage

What will then be the glory of faith? What the punishment of faithlessness? When the day of judgment shall come, what joy of believers, what sorrow of unbelievers; that they should have been unwilling to believe here, and now that they should be unable to return that they might believe! An ever-burning Gehenna will burn up the condemned, and a punishment devouring with living flames; nor will there be any source whence at any time they may have either respite or end to their torments.  Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering. 5

And hell certainly is not locked from the inside in Cyprian’s view:

The pain of punishment will then be without the fruit of penitence; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late they will believe in eternal punishment who would not believe in eternal life. 6


For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding for ever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fires… 7

And just in case there were any doubts about what Lactantius meant about immortal bodies subject to physical tortures and everlasting fires:

The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment, which the poets transferred to the vulture of Tityus. Thus, without any wasting of bodies, which regain their substance, it will only burn and affect them with a sense of pain. 8

Cyril of Jerusalem

We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with Angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. 9

John Chrysostom

But we have a sea of fire, a sea not like that, either in kind or in size, but far greater and fiercer, having its waves of fire, of some strange and horrible fire. A great abyss is there, of most intolerable flame. Since everywhere fire may be seen roving quickly round, like some savage wild beast. And if here this sensible and material fire leaped like a wild beast out of the furnace, and sprang upon those who were sitting without, what will not that other fire do to such as have fallen into it? 10

And a little bit further down in that same homily:

For here it is possible to go unto the king, and entreat, and free the condemned person: but there, no longer; for He permits it not, but they continue in the scorching torment, and in so great anguish, as it is not possible for words to tell. For if, when any are in flames here, no speech can describe their sharp pangs, much less theirs, who suffer it in that place: since here indeed all is over in a brief point of time, but in that place there is burning indeed, but what is burnt is not consumed. 11

If literal flames were not in view, why even make that statement about how, unlike here in this world, those who are burned are not consumed?

Augustine of Hippo

Our opponents, too, make much of this, that in this world there is no flesh which can suffer pain and cannot die; while they make nothing of the fact that there is something which is greater than the body. For the spirit, whose presence animates and rules the body, can both suffer pain and cannot die. Here then is something which, though it can feel pain, is immortal. And this capacity, which we now see in the spirit of all, shall be hereafter in the bodies of the damned. 12

The body of the damned person in hell, which will last forever, is not a carrying vessel of sadness and regret, but of physical pain. The source of this physical pain, as should be no surprise to any of us, is fire:

If, therefore, the salamander lives in fire, as naturalists have recorded, and if certain famous mountains of Sicily have been continually on fire from the remotest antiquity until now, and yet remain entire, these are sufficiently convincing examples that everything which burns is not consumed. As the soul too, is a proof that not everything which can suffer pain can also die, why then do they yet demand that we produce real examples to prove that it is not incredible that the bodies of men condemned to everlasting punishment may retain their soul in the fire, may burn without being consumed, and may suffer without perishing? 13

Just as salamanders and mountains of Sicily can burn forever, and just as he soul can feel pain and live forever, so too does the body live and suffer forever in fire. Like Tertullian, Augustine made his point by referring to things that were mythical. But he didn’t know that when making the analogy, so that is besides the point.

Pope Gregory the Great

For ‘fire falls’ upon the ungodly, but ‘the sun is not seen’ on the fire falling; for as the flame of hell devours them, it blinds them to the vision of the true Light, that at the same time both the pain of consuming fire should torment them without, and the infliction of blindness darken them within, so that they, who have done wrong against their Maker both in body and in heart, may at one and the same time be punished in body and in heart, and that they may be made to feel pangs in both ways, who, whilst they lived here, ministered to their depraved gratifications in both. 14

Anselm of Canterbury

But, on the other hand, when the soul of the wicked is forced to go out of the body, angels of Satan presently receive her; and, binding her roughly with chains of fire, and forcing her still more roughly on from every side, hurry her off to the torments of that hell where Satan, plunged in the pit, lies deep and low, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (St.Matt. viii. 12), where ‘fire and brimstone and storms of wind is the portion of the cup of sinners’ (Ps. x. 7). Then the infernal king, Satan himself, clutching her in his grasp, and belching on her a breath of loathsome fire, orders her to be pinioned by his satellites, and, thus bound, to be cast into the midst of the tormenting fires, there to be tortured with out end with them, there without end to die undyingly for very grief. 15

Although the focus is on the soul, it is clearly not just suffering regret and sadness over being separated from God. As Anselm continues, it is clear that condemned soul suffers the equivalent of physical agony, and that it repents but to no avail.

Then the unhappy soul, racked with pains, hedged round by the infernal fiends, above, beneath, on every side, returning at last to herself, and seeing all the evils she has ever done, cries with a woful cry, ‘Ah, poor me, poor me! why did I ever live? Poor me, racked all over with such strange torments! poor me! O worms, O worms, why do you gnaw me so cruelly? Pity me, pity me; pity poor me, that suffer so many and such awful other torments! Ah, poor me, poor me! And I want to die; but, dying and dying, still I cannot die. Now do I, poor wretch, receive again all wherein I sinned, by sight, by taste, by hearing, by smell, by touch.’ And yet it avails not the woe-begone soul so miserably grieving, so late repenting, so sadly crying out for pain, that so great sorrow now afflicts it. No; what in her earthly life she merited, that she now receives in the pains of hell, poor soul, poor sinful soul.

 Peter Lombard

Since it is established that souls are to suffer the torments of material fire in their own bodies, it is usual to ask whether in the meanwhile the souls of the deceased reprobates are burned in material fire before their bodies have been restored. 16.

In the above, Peter Lombard affirms in passing that bodies in hell do burn in physical fire (and through these means, the soul suffers as well). It is noteworthy as well that in context, he had quoted Augustine of Hippo a number of times in the previous chapters to come to that conclusion. And if you were wondering whether he believes the soul itself will burn in literal fire in the intermediate state, we find out at the end of the chapter that the answer is yes. 17

Thomas Aquinas

The bodies of the damned will not be brilliant: ‘Their countenances shall be as faces burnt.’ Likewise they shall be passible, because they shall never deteriorate and, although burning eternally in fire, they shall never be consumed: 18

Aquinas doesn’t simply speak of fire, but specifically speaks of bodies that are subject to fire, fire which burns them and should consume them, but does not. That isn’t something that would come into play if we were talking about a metaphor for regret or unfulfilled desires.

John Calvin

Now, because no description can deal adequately with the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked, their torments and tortures are figuratively expressed to us by physical things, that is, by darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 22:13), unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43; Isa. 66:24), an undying worm gnawing at the heart (Isa. 66:24). By such expressions the Holy Spirit certainly intended to confound all our senses with dread. 19

Calvin admittedly believed the fire to be a metaphor, as would some who followed in his footsteps. The modern, darkness view of hell did not originate over night. Rather smaller shifts over time would develop in moving hell from a literal furnace for immortal souls to the sadness chamber we see in some camps today.
Nevertheless, while Calvin did believe in a non-literal fire, he believed it to be a metaphor not for sadness, but rather a metaphor in the sense of “God isn’t going to burn you alive in his anger; God will torture you far worse than that!” Even without literal fire and sulfur, that is still pretty fire-and-brimstone.

Richard Baxter

Is it an intolerable thing to burn a part of the body, by holding it in the fire? What then, will it be to suffer ten thousand times more for ever in hell?…If thou shouldest see the devil appear to thee, in some terrible shape; would not thy heart fail thee, and thy hair stand on end? And how wilt thou endure to live for ever, where thou shalt have no other company but devils, and the damned; and shalt not only see them, but be tormented with them, and by them? 20 21

Thomas Vincent

Your bodies shall never die, and they shall be filled with pain in extremity, and that to eternity. This will be very sore. All the tortures that ever were invented by the most mischievous mind, or executed by the most cruel tyrant on whom they have had the greatest spleen unto, are not so much as the least gentle touch in comparison with the torture which the least member of the damned shall endure in hell. 22

Jonathan Edwards

Here all judgments have a mixture of mercy; but the wrath of God will be poured out upon the wicked without mixture, and vengeance will have its full weight. 23
If a man were brought to the mouth of a great furnace to be cast into the midst of it, if at the same time he knew he should suffer torment but for one minute, yet that minute would be so terrible to him, that fearfulness would surprise and astonish him. How much more, if he were to be cast into a fire much fiercer; the fire in which wicked men are hereafter to be tormented!…They shall know that they shall for ever be full of quick sense within and without; their heads, their eyes, their tongues, their hands, their feet, their loins, and their vitals, shall for ever be full of glowing melting fire, fierce enough to melt the very rocks and elements; and also that they shall eternally be full of the most quick and lively sense to feel the torment. They shall know that they shall never cease restlessly to plunge and roll in that mighty ocean of fire. They shall know that those billows of fire, which are greater than the greatest mountains, will never cease to roll over them, following one another for ever and ever. 24

Jonathan Edwards made no bones about hell being the product of God’s wrath and unimaginable torment for all subject to it. 25

John Wesley

Is it not common to say to a child, ‘Put your finger in that candle, can you bear it even for one minute?’ How then will you bear Hell-fire? Surely it would be torment enough to have the flesh burnt off from only one finger; what then will it be to have the whole body plunged into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone? 26

Later in the same sermon:

But how dreadful would his case be if he should answer, ‘I am all over pain, and I shall never be eased of it. I lie under exquisite torment of body, and horror of soul; and I shall feel it for ever!’ Such is the case of the damned sinners in hell. Suffer any pain, then, rather than come into that place of torment!

John Gill

So the fire of hell, as it will burn, torture, and distress rebellious sinners, it will preserve them in their beings; they shall not be consumed by it, but continued in it. 27

Not only will the fire of hell not consume the wicked, it will preserve them as it burns and tortures them. While absurd, and while not your typical earthly fire, the fire John Gill envisions is not just a metaphor for internal turmoil over choosing the wrong path.

Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? that is, the wrath of God in hell, which is the fire that feeds upon and devours Christless sinners; which shall never be quenched, and is called everlasting fire, in which the followers of antichrist will be tormented for ever; and the smoke of which will ascend for ever and ever, and will be intolerable; none will be able to abide and endure it; see Revelation 14:9. So the Targum interprets it of the place where the ungodly are to be judged and delivered into hell, an everlasting burning. 28

It is not entirely clear what to make of John Gill’s fire, but some elements are evident: It is external (not just inner turmoil), it is wrapped up in the experience of it is the wrath of an angry God, and it is described in terms of torture, torment, and external distress.

John Furniss 29

The little child is in this red hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out. See how it turns and twists itself about in the fire. It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor of the oven. You can see on the face of this little child what you see on the faces of all in hell — despair, desperate and horrible!… God was very good to this child. Very likely God saw that this child would get worse and worse, and would never repent, and so it would have to be punished much more in hell. So God, in His mercy, called it out of the world in its early childhood. 30

Frederick Faber

Man’s cruelty is limited by the powers of endurance which reside in a mortal life; and, incredibly vast as those powers are, nevertheless they form a limit and they furnish an escape. But the indestructible immortality of a lost soul even in the tightest grasp of omnipotent anger, this gives us another measure of the severity of God’s punishments. It is a severity not only beyond all historical record of cruelty, or even the union of all actual cruelties, but beyond all our imaginations of conceivable torture…God can find unimaginable capabilities of pain in the immortal body, and yet more unimaginable capabilities in the soul. 31

If I didn’t know better, I honestly would think this was coming from a conditionalist or universalist who had an extreme repulsion to the doctrine of eternal torment and was trying to caricature traditionalism in the most graphic and disparaging way possible…

Charles Spurgeon

Now, do not begin telling me that this is metaphorical fire: who cares for that? If a man were to threaten to give me a metaphorical blow on the head, I should care very little about it; he would be welcome to give me as many as he pleased. And what say the wicked? ‘We do not care about metaphorical fires.’ But they are real, sir—yes, as real as yourself. There is a real fire in hell, as truly as you have now a real body—a fire exactly like that which we have on earth in everything except this—that it will not consume, though it will torture you. You have seen the asbestos lying in the fire red hot, but when you take it out it is unconsumed. So your body will be prepared by God in such a way that it will burn for ever without being consumed; it will lie, not as you consider, in a metaphorical fire, but in actual flame. 32

Charles Spurgeon didn’t think too highly of the idea of metaphorical fire (which admittedly applies to even some more traditional traditionalists on this list). He did seem to have a higher view of it than our finally entry though…

A.W. Pink

Let those who dare affirm that the Hell-fire is non-literal answer to God… 33

And there you have it.

The Point of All This

I cannot emphasize enough how different these descriptions of hell are from the ones quoted by many modern evangelicals (and probably held by someone you know, if not by you, yourself). Hell is (usually) literal fire. Hell is actively inflicted torture and pain. It is not just emotional suffering because of separation from God (separation that the wicked increasingly are now said to want and prefer to being in heaven anyway). 34
Rather, God is unabashedly said to subject the wicked to horror and misery of and pain and suffering far beyond what any person could withstand in this life, far beyond what any human could even conceive of in this life. The unsaved lament their state, and hell is certainly not locked from the inside. Rather, it is the eternal prison and, despite what Dr. Moreland says, it is the eternal torture chamber as well.
This is the traditional view that has history on its side. This is the actual historical view (among traditionalists). Whether ancient or medieval or post-reformation, whether Catholic or Protestant, whether Reformed or Wesleyan or Baptist or whatever else, the historical view among those who have held to eternal conscious punishment is that hell is pain and suffering and God’s vengeance in ways that a lot of traditionalist Christians today would write off as being just some caricature or some nonsense by Dante. But while many traditionalists today are quick to throw Dante under the bus, he wasn’t some lunatic who made up a bunch of hogwash out of thin air. He was working with the hell that the church of his day taught, the real traditional view of hell. Fire and torture and demons and all of these things are not just the mockings of cartoons or atheists who have no idea what Christians really believe. This is what Christians who held to eternal conscious punishment have believed throughout most of history.
If you think of hell like the late John Paul II or like J.P. Moreland, then that is fine, but you are hardly in a position to advocate your view over conditionalism because it is what the church has always believed. If you think hell is really just about separation from God or “torment but not torture,” then you cannot say that you have church history on your side.

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  1. I think it is also worth noting how many of these below use language that is contrary to scripture. The unsaved live, do not die, are not consumed etc. For more on this, see Episode 58.  See also Ronnie Demler, “Sic et Non: Traditionalism’s Scandal,” A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality Written in Honor of Edward Fudge (Pickwick, 2015), 255-276[]
  2. Of course, as has been pointed out here numerous times, we have good evidence to see some degree of conditionalism among the earliest church fathers (and even some who came later, such as Arnobious of Sicca). There has also been a considerable universalist presence historically. The aim here is to show what typically has been believed about hell specifically by those who believe that it entails eternal conscious suffering of some sort.[]
  3. Tertullian of Carthage, Apology, XLVIII, Trans. S. Thelwell, found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. II, eds. Alexander Robertson and James Donaldson (Christian Literature, 1887) 54, reproduced at Google Books, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  4. Hippolytus of Rome, Against Plato on the Cause of the Universe, found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. 5, eds. Alexander Robertson and James Donaldson (Christian Literature, 1886), 222-223, reproduced at Google Books, n.d., (accessed March 28, 2016).[]
  5. Cyprian of Carthage, Treatises of Cyprian, V. 24, found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. 5, 464.[]
  6. Ibid. 465.[]
  7. Lactanius, Divine Institutes, VII. 21, found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. 7, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905), reproduced at Google Books, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  8. Ibid.[]
  9. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XVIII. 18, found in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7, eds. Henry Wace and Phillip Schaff, (Christian Literature, 1898), 139, reproduced at Google Books, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  10. John Chrystostom, Homily on Matthew, Trans. George Prevost, found in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: First Series, Vol. 10, ed. Philip Schaff. (Christian Literature, 1888), reproduced at New Advent, n.d., (accessed March 28, 2016).[]
  11. Ibid.[]
  12. Augustine, The City of God: volume 2, ed. Marcus Dods, (T & T clark, 1871), XXI, iii, Page 416, reproduced at Google Books, n.d., (accessed March 21, 2016).[]
  13. Ibid, XXI, iv, Page 417.[]
  14. Gregory the Great, The Books of the Morals of St. Gregory the Pope: Vol. 1, (John Henry Parker, J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1844), IX. 97, reproduced at Lectionary Central, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  15. Anselm of Canterbury, Book of Meditations and Prayers, Trans. M.R., (Robson & Sons, 1872), 66, reproduced at Google Books, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  16. Peter Lombard, The Sentences: Book 4, Trans Giulio Silano, (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2010), XLIV, vii, Page 179.[]
  17. Ibid. 177.[]
  18. Thomas Aquinas, The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas, Trans. Joseph Collins, (Catholic Primer, 2014), 49, reproduced at Documenta Catholica Omnia, n.d.,,_Thomas_Aquinas,_Catechismus,_EN.pdf (accessed March 21, 2016).[]
  19. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Trans. Henry Beveridge, (n.p., 1848), III, xxv, 12 (Page 807), reproduced at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  20. Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest, (Fisher, Son, and Jackson, 1829), 60, reproduced at Google Books, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  21. Baxter also repeatedly refers to the possibility that one might “burn in hell,” e.g page 108, 116.[]
  22. Thomas Vincent, “Fire and Brimstone in Hell, to Burn the Wicked,” reproduced at International Outreach, n.d., (accessed March 31, 2016).[]
  23. Jonathan Edwards, “The Final Judgment,” Section 7, The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 2, (Banner of Truth, 1834), 578, reproduced at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d., (accessed Mrch 31, 2016).[]
  24. Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in Zion Tenderly Warned,” 582.[]
  25. Whether Edwards actually believed in literal fire, or envisioned fire as a metaphor for God’s wrath, is not entirely clear, even from “Sinners in Zion Tenderly Warned.” Either way though, you have God subjecting the unsaved to eternal and unimgainable torment out of wrath and vengeance. It is not separation from God or regret that torments the unsaved, but God’s vengeance.[]
  26. John Welsey, ‘Sermon 73,” reproduced at Global Ministries: The United Methodist Church, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  27. John Gill, “Mark 9,” John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, (n.p., n.d.), reproduced at Commentaries, n.d., (accessed March 31, 2016).[]
  28. John Gill, “Isaiah 33:14.”[]
  29. Yes, that really was his name.[]
  30. Reverend John Furniss, The Sight of Hell, (Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 1982), XXVIII, reproduced at, n.d., (accessed November 13, 2015).[]
  31. Frederick Faber, Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects: Vol. 2, (Thomas Richardson & Son, 1866), 188-189, reproduced at Google Books, n.d.,, (accessed on March 31 2016).[]
  32. Charles Spurgeon, “Sermon 66, 67,” [Sermon], London, UK, February 17, 1856, The Complete Works of Charles Spurgeon: Vol. 2, (Delmarva, 2014), Kindle edition, Locations 13191 to 13215.[]
  33. A.W. Pink, Eternal Punishment, (n.p., 1940), 36, reproduced at, n.d., (accessed January 30, 2016).[]
  34. e.g. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperOne, 2015), 131.
    Hank Hanegraaf, “Why Should I believe in Hell?” Christian Research Institute, April 22, 2009, (accessed March 31, 2016).[]