Fr. C. C. Martindale,
HATEVER can be said about
our life after the body's death must always be recognised as immeasurably less than the reality, so that it cannot be supposed that I wish to " weaken " our belief in that reality, even though I cannot " picture " either heaven or hell to myself as medievals did—saved souls crowned with flowers and dancing in a ring: or lost souls like the drawings in 'a little book once popular called " Hell open to Christians" (more than once this was given to me to prevent my becoming a Catholic; but found it very amusing.)
The Church teaches that the souls in hell suffer from the "pain of loss " and the " pain of sense": these can be crystallised in our Lord's words already quoted: "Depart from Me". and His repeated use of the word "fire".
Everyone wants something that seems to them " good " (and there is some good in everything), and. perhaps unconsciously, wants God. A great pagan philosopher said: " Maybe all men desire—not what they say nor even what they think. but the One". Therefore to be excluded from God is to he excluded too from all in which there is anything good, God-like.
If, then, I myself wanted an image or metaphor for existence in such a state it would be, to exist in absolute black, absolute cold, absolute loneliness; meanwhile, I should hunger (infinitely more than I do) for beauty—which implies light, warmth, and love (implying union), As for " fire ", " hell-fire " to some degree must be metaphorical, since it touches souls, which "our" fire cannot (the martyrs rejoiced at the stake), nor does it destroy.
We need not then try to define some mysterious substance which " hell-fire " is, since it entirely escapes our experience: We can but say that the use of the word "fire" started from the fires of Gehenna, but cannot define what it came to mean when Our Lord used it. I repeat—He must have meant, and we must understand, more, not less.