Hell: Questions and Answers
by Father Francis J Ripley
Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society

Do Roman Catholics believe in the mercy of God?

Yes. We believe most firmly all that Scripture tells us about God's kindness towards man in his sorrows and afflictions and especially towards repentant sinners. With the Jews we pray to god as "merciful and gracious, patient and of much compassion, and true." (Exodus 34:6) We believe that God's mercy is immeasurably great (Psalm 50:3), all-embracing (Psalm 144:9); inexhaustible (Psalm 29:6); free given (Exodus 33:19) and endless. One of the outstanding features of the life of Christ, who was God, was His mercy. Towards repentant sinners, mourners, the sick, the suffering and the needy He was unfailingly kind, sympathetic and compassionate.

Yet do you not believe that this merciful God condemns sinners to an endless hell?

That is not strictly speaking correct. What we do believe is that those who die in a state of mortal sin of which they have not repented are separated from God forever in hell.

What do you mean by mortal sin?

All sin is the breaking of the moral law. For a sin to be mortal certain conditions must be fulfilled. They are that the transgression must be

  • in a serious matter

  • committed with the knowledge that what we do is seriously wrong

  • with full deliberation and consent on the part of the will

If one of more of these three conditions is missing there is no mortal sin. You cannot commit mortal sin by accident; therefore, you cannot go to hell by accident.

Does God give every man enough help to save his soul?

Yes. "God our Saviour....will have all men to be saved." (1st Timothy 2:4) "The Lord....dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance." (2nd Peter 3:9) He does not entirely withdraw his grace even from blinded and hardened sinners. The Bible is full of admonitions to sinners to repent; these pre-suppose that repentance is always possible with the help of God's grace: "I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." (Ezekiel 33:11)

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