Now for the caveat: they are humans and, perhaps because of exhaustion or other reasons, say things that could mislead. So when I heard not a few of them declare that Heaven, Purgatory and hell are not actual places but mere states of being, I said to myself perhaps they just needed rest. Or they should just be lovingly spanked.
But since Christianity, nay, Catholicism is much grounded on the faith in the afterlife, the issue must be cleared. I am no theologian. I just rely on authoritative sources I have come across over my life so far, including the Blessed Mother in her recent apparitions.
In tackling the matter this time, let me focus on hell as place, this time according to St. Alphonsus Ligouri. To establish hell as place is, indirectly, to also establish Heaven and Purgatory as such.
Here’s what the saint said of hell.
“Where Is Hell Located? The question as to the place where Hell is situated has been a matter of conjecture among the Fathers of the Church and theologians. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, was of the opinion that it is situated outside the bounds of this universe. More commonly and with more reason, other theologians think that Hell is situated within the earth itself. Some have even gone so far as to declare that it is near the surface of the globe, basing their opinion, rather quaintly, upon the existence of many volcanic mountains such as Vesuvius, the Volcanic Isles, Mt. Etna and others.”
St. Alphonsus also asserts that hell is a definite place, as he quoted St. Luke (16:22): “But the rich man also died and was buried in hell.”
He says further: “The sacred text employs the word “buried,” because burials are made within the earth. Moreover, the rich man himself describes Hell as a ‘place of torment’ (Lk. 16:28), confirming the opinion that Hell is a determined and definite place.”
Quoting more verses from the Bible, St. Alphonsus again asserted: “Hell is a determined place, and most probably situated within the earth. But as to where, precisely, it is situated, whether at the very center of the earth or nearer to the surface, cannot be determined from any revealed document.”
On the pains of hell, St. Alphonsus quoted St. Thomas Aquinas as proving that “the fire of Hell is a corporeal and material fire, though for the most part he does not write of the fire which torments the souls separated from their bodies, but of that which the damned are to endure after their corporeal resurrection.”
He notes that while “many heretics have maintained that the fire of Hell is not material, but only metaphorical or imaginary fire, there are numerous texts in Sacred Scripture… which demonstrate that the fire of Hell is a true, material and corporeal fire.”
The significance of such fire is that if it is corporeal, could hell itself be any less?
St. Alphonsus quotes the book of Deuteronomy: “‘A fire is kindled in my wrath, and shall burn even to the lowest hell.’ (Deut. 32:22) and the book of Job: ‘A fire that is not kindled shall devour him’ (Job 20:26), revealing that this fire of Hell needs not to be nourished, but, once enkindled by God, burns eternally.”
The saint confronts yet another apparent loophole on the issue: “But here a difficulty is posed: how is it possible for corporeal fire to torment the spiritual soul? In answer to this question, we can only say that we know that it can be done. Perhaps the answer lies in this explanation of many theologians. The material fi re of Hell will be given an extraordinary power by God, whereby it will be able to bind the spiritual soul to its place of torment, thus causing the soul untold humiliation and pain.”
Yes, to say that spirits cannot suffer corporeal pain because they have no body is to limit God’s power.