Lesson #14 The Fifth Exercise—On Hell—the Pains of the Senses

                    Mary’s School of Sanctity                   

This meditation is on hell.  Its main purpose is to strengthen our conviction that the greatest evil that exists is sin.  In this Exercise, St. Ignatius is focusing on the pains in the senses.  As usual, we will first set out exactly what St. Ignatius tells us, and then incorporate more considerations for the exercitant to use when actually doing the meditation.

The preparatory prayer is the same as usual, I ask God Our Lord for the grace that all my intentions, actions, and works may be directed purely to the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.

The FIRST PRELUDE: This is the mental representation of the place.   Here it will be to see in imagination the length, breadth, and depth of hell.

The SECOND PRELUDE: I will ask for what I desire.  Here it will be to ask for a deep awareness of the pain suffered by the damned, so that if I should forget the love of the Eternal Lord, at least the fear of punishment will help me to avoid falling into sin.

The FIRST POINT is to SEE in imagination the great fires, and the souls enveloped, as it were, in bodies of fire.

The SECOND POINT is to HEAR the wailing, the screaming, cries, and blasphemies against Christ Our Lord and all His saints.

The THIRD POINT is to SMELL the smoke, the brimstone, the corruption, and rottenness.

 The FOURTH POINT is to TASTE bitter things, as tears, sadness, and remorse of conscience.

The FIFTH POINT is with the sense of TOUCH to FEEL how the flames surround and burn souls.

COLLOQUY:  Enter into a colloquy with Christ Our Lord.  Recall to mind the souls in hell; some are there because they did not believe in His coming, others, though they believed, did not act according to His Commandments.

 I can divide these souls into three classes:

1. Those who went to hell before the coming of Christ.

2.  Those who were damned during His lifetime.

3. Those condemned to hell after His life in the world.

I will now give Him thanks for not having permitted me to fall into any of these classes, thus putting an end to my life.

I will also thank Him for the great kindness and mercy He has always shown me until this present moment.  Conclude with an “Our Father.”

St. Ignatius gives us a basic framework in which to meditate on hell.  He has told us to ask for a fear of the physical pains of hell and that our fear should be so intense that if we should forget to fear displeasing God, at least the fear of His punishments would prevent us from committing offenses against the all-good God. 

We must remember that God, Who is all-good, is also all-just.  As we considered the most horrific malice of mortal sin in our last lesson [Lesson #13], we can see plainly that such malice must have a place of fitting punishment.

We, by our fallen human nature, do not like to suffer, nor do we like to think of suffering.   Yet, by pondering the terrifying suffering of hell, the place of God’s just punishments, we can gain strength to resist the wicked inclinations of our fallen human nature.   As it says in Ecclesiasticus, “In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.”[1]  So, in meditating often on hell, we shall more certainly escape hell after death.

 Father Hurter, S.J. tells us this truth in a striking way in his book Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat.  He says,

This meditation shows us clearly and distinctly how God judges mortal sin, and we must form our judgment according to His.  It should fill us with a holy fear. “Pierce thou”, says the Psalmist, “my flesh with thy fear, for I am afraid of thy judgment.” (Ps. 118:120) A time may come when love and fervor relax, temptations multiply, seductive occasions of sin become so enticing that only the fear of hell will keep us away from them.[2]

Let us now take an intense look at each of the senses and see their accompanying deserved pains of hell.

What do the damned see in hell? 

Although there is everlasting fire, there is no light.  The abyss is like an ocean of flames.      

Picture to yourself a pillar of fire that reached up two miles in the sky, much like what happened in the firestorms in the bombing of Hamburg during World War II.  Yet despite the fire of God’s Wrath, deep impenetrable darkness will prevail.  As Our Lord warned, “bind his hands and his feet and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [St. Matt. 22:13] 

Fr.  Martin von Cochem, in his book The Last Four Things, speaks of the impenetrable darkness and gloom of hell. Here are his words:

Now there is a land which is covered with the shadow of death, where no order, but an eternal horror reigns.  That land is hell.  An oppressive gloom weighs upon the lost; an indescribably terrible darkness prevails…

In this horrible darkness the damned lie helpless as blind men, or as those who have had their eyes cruelly put out.  They see nothing, for the acrid sulphur destroys their sight.[3] 

And St. John in the Apocalypse says, “To him (Satan) was given the key of the bottomless pit.  And he opened the bottomless pit; and the smoke of the pit arose as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke of the pit.” (Apoc. 9:2)

“They shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever; neither shall they have rest day and night.” (Apoc. 14:11)

However, the damned can sense the fierce demons who will be like monsters that torture the damned.  To be in the dark in a place unknown is terrifying.  What must it be like in hell where the reprobate is aware of thousands of demons and damned souls around him in this dark and noisome dungeon?

Let us now consider the source of all the gruesome noise.


What do the damned hear in hell?

Endless moaning, groaning, whining, weeping, screaming, howling, wailing of souls in agonies, cursing, blaspheming, laughter voices of the demons mocking the damned, the gnashing of teeth which will send a blood-curdling chill up the spines of the other damned etc.   The list could go on and on.  In short, every imaginable terrifying noise at the loudest pitches barely tolerable to human ears will be the constant torment of the damned for all eternity.  There will be no breaks or peaceful silence.   

Perhaps those who indulged in raunchy rock-n-roll so-called ‘music’ will be tormented in hell with the horrific thumping of heavy-metal bass drums like deafening thunder in their ears.  Then their ears will ache with the piercing of the demonically-inspired noise which is “rock-music”, that they found no problem listening to while on earth.  Thus, while they were alive, they tortured and scandalized other souls by forcing their trashy noise on the poor ears of others.  Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of being in a store and hearing this demonic trash blaring over the store’s public announcement system.  This demonic noise is so horrible that one’s soul actually hurts and one can get a headache.  One cannot wait to get out of that place!!

There will be the noise of hissing and growling of the demons who will take the shape of the most hideous monsters.  The damned will curse each other, especially the souls which were related by family ties, and associated with each other in life.  They will mock one another.  Catholics will especially be mocked because they were given the means to salvation and they threw their salvation away.

The damned hear resounding in their ears the severe words of the angry Judge: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” [St. Matthew 25:41].  These awful and dreadful words will echo and re-echo in their ears as the worm of conscience that dieth not.  They will hear their consciences rebuking them with, “You could have changed.  It was not so hard.  You liked to boast and criticize others, look where your boasting has brought you!  You thought you were so great and look at you now.  How ugly you are, you horrible monster!   You are worse than all the other trash in this place!  Cursed is the day that you were conceived, and the day that you were born!   What good was all the pampering of your body in your lifetime?  Look where all that luxurious pampering has brought you—to this reward of pitch and darkness!!  Where is your air-conditioner now?  Where is the comfort of pleasant warmth in this frozen part of hell where the fire chills you to the bone? Etc.”

Yes, there will be no end to the torment of the ears; however, we will now consider the odors of hell.

What do the damned smell in hell?

The stench of one carcass is so disgusting.  Most people have some idea of what this smells like.  Who has not at some point smelled perhaps a dead mouse or experienced smelling a piece of rotten meat?

One man we know told us that he came to a place where there were deer carcasses at room temperature which were set aside to feed some dogs.  He said the stench was so horrid that all he knew was that he had to get out of that place because staying there was not compatible with life or sanity.  What a striking thing to experience!  What if we picture “hundreds of thousands [of carcasses] heaped together, the air for miles around would be so infected that it would cause the death of all in the vicinity.”[4]

Fr. Cochem has many more forceful points about the stench of hell.  First of all, he tells us to remember that hell is an abyss filled with brimstone [sulfur].  He also mentions pitch, the residue from distilling tar which is hot and sticks to things. 

He relates how St. Bonaventure says the body of a single reprobate would so taint the air on earth as to cause the death of all living beings coming near it.  Then Fr. Cochem goes on to say that, “if one single damned body emits so horrible a stench, what can the exhalation be that rises from many millions of these wretched beings?”[5]

Fr. Cochem tells how the tyrant Maxentius used to punish a living man by binding him to a corpse, “face to face and limb to limb, until the unhappy victim fainted, or even died through contact with the dead and decomposing body.”  What an inhumane punishment to give a man!  Yet in hell, the bodies will be placed close to one other and this is a fitting punishment for the damned because God is all-just.

In addition to these nauseating and frightful examples, Fr. Cochem reminds us that the demons will also emit a vile stench which is much more offensive than the souls of the reprobates.  He says, “We read in the life of St. Martin that the evil one appeared to him upon one occasion, and the stench that filled the room was so overwhelming that the saint said to himself, ‘If one single devil has so disgusting an odor, what can the stench be in hell, where there are thousands of devils all together?’”[6]

Of course, we all have our own ideas of the most horrible odors we have experienced—rotten food with mold, sewage, vomits, rotten eggs, etc.  It is best to imagine the worst smell we have ever experienced and use that smell in this meditation.  The important thing is to incorporate the most graphic scene in order for this meditation to be the most efficacious. 

We live in very immoral times where people are loath to accept suffering of any kind, which includes people unwilling to have any distasteful odors anywhere.  We see this is true by going into the bathroom supply aisle in a store, where we find find every kind of potpourri, aerosol fragrances, scented candles, and even perfumed oils to plug into an outlet – all of which is meant to keep everything smelling wonderful at all times.  If a person finds it difficult to tolerate these odors, what is he going to do if he must endure far worse in hell for all eternity?

With this remarkable contrast in mind, let us turn to the sense of taste.

What do the damned taste in hell?

We live in very corrupt times and in very rich times, especially in more modernized countries.  Every luxury seems to be available in residential areas and most definitely on the internet. 

People so are obsessed with specialty foods and drinks.  The food industry gears its advertising to appeal to every whim people have from fancy gourmet coffee, elaborate entrees, and so-called ‘health-food’ to the lowest ‘craving’ for sweet, salty and greasy foods.  This industry is pushing more and more for us to satisfy any whim.  Obesity is on the rise even in poor countries.  In these apostate times man has truly forgotten God!!   Food, instead, has become his sole comfort.  St. Paul’s admonition fits our times well when he speaks of people “whose god is their belly”.[7]

What a contrast when comparing this to what is to be expected in hell.  Hunger and thirst forever!  Starvation without end!  All the things we mentioned about the wretched smells in hell will pervade the taste buds as well as the nostrils of the damned.

The taste buds will be tormented with the bitter tears of remorse and the fire.  The mouth and tongue will be torched and tortured with a violent thirst as Our Lord says of Dives, who wanted Father Abraham to let fall one drop of water to soothe his burning tongue.  The throat will likewise be scorched and parched, never allowed to have any relief.

In the history of mankind, we can find examples of people starving in famines and wartimes.  We can read about people eating the most disgusting and unclean things because they were starving—including eating human flesh!

Yet, what a stark contrast this picture is to modern men who, having indulged themselves at the slightest pang of hunger on earth, will have never-ending, intense gnawing-pain in their stomachs in hell!!

As Our Lord says, “Blessed are ye that hunger now: for you shall be filled,” and later on a few verses down He adds, “Woe to you that are filled: for you shall hunger.”  St. Luke’s Gospel, 6:25.

So here in this meditation we can clearly see our dear Lord’s words fulfilled.  Our Lord spoke very often about hell, but the theme that He spoke the most about when referring to hell is the everlasting fire.  With this in mind, let us now consider what torments are awaiting the sense of touch.


            What do the damned feel with the sense of touch in hell?

Now let us turn our attention to what is perhaps the most gripping of the physical pains in hell—the never-ending fiery flames of hell!!

Fr. Martin von Cochem has several poignant things to say about hell’s fire. We now share some of them with our fellow students in Mary’s School of Sanctity.  Because we want to avoid going to this horrible abode of the reprobate, we want to make the deepest impression on our souls and be completely filled with a just fear of the Lord.

St. Bridget says in her revelations, “The heat of hell-fire is so great that if the whole world were wrapped in flames, the heat of the conflagration would be as nothing in comparison with it.”[8]

Fr. Cochem writes, “St. Augustine tells us that the most fearful fire on earth is, in comparison with the fire of hell, like a painting of fire compared to a real fire.”[9]

Fr. Cochem continues, “When thou seest a fire, call to mind the fire of hell.  And since thou couldst not endure to put thy hand for a single instant into that fire, think what the heat of hell-fire must be, surpassing as it does so infinitely the small fire thou seest before thee.  If thou canst not bear this, how canst thou endure the other?”[10]

Most likely, we humans have done this brief reflection at some point in our lives.  Unfortunately, we most likely shrugged our shoulders and have thought within ourselves, “That’s a horrific thought.  I surely cannot endure thinking about that anymore.  At least, I will not think about it anymore right now.”

Here’s another powerful statement from Fr. Cochem:

“It has now been made clear that the damned will one day be cast, body and soul, into the huge and awful furnace of hell, into the immense lake of fire, where they will be surrounded by flames.  There will be fire below them, fire above them, fire all round about them.  Every breath will be the scorching breath of a furnace.   These infernal flames will penetrate every portion of the body, so that there will be no part or member, within or without, that is not steeped in fire.”[11]

There are times when we humans suffer a slight example of this description.  Take the case of someone who is in the heat of a ferocious fever, or someone who has taken some medication that causes a major vasodilation of the blood vessels, or some hormonal or other physical cause of a burning flush.  In these circumstances, one feels as if he would like to take his skin off if it were possible to get a little relief or coolness.  Yet, this troublesome ailment is nothing compared to the eternal internal and external intense heat of the damned.

We humans are truly frail and fickle.  Again, when we think of the corrupt times we live in, we are witnesses of how most people are continuously looking for physical comforts.  With the human body temperature being 98.6 degrees, we are very limited in what temperatures feel tolerable to us.  Indeed, it seems that mid-seventies are our best comfortable range and if conditions be anything slightly above or below this, people start to complain. 

At least in modern industrialized countries, people have air-conditioning in their homes, offices, stores, cars—just about everywhere.  People indulge in swimming pools, etc., because they feel like they cannot handle the season unless they have these amenities.  And again, people use “the heat” as an excuse to dress so scantily as if they were still in the Garden of Eden and original sin had not yet occurred.  The same type of self-indulgence occurs in the coldest months of the year.  Let’s face it, modern man wants to be comfortable all the time and not sacrifice anything.  Most unfortunately, people do not realize that their attitude is a recipe for damnation.

Using the above considerations:

“In truth, hell is a place of suffering, pain, and sadness. ‘Pierce thou my flesh with thy fear: for I am afraid of thy judgments.’ [Ps. 118: 120]”[12]

The exercitant is to read through all of the material or as much as he needs to, in order to accomplish what St. Ignatius intends, namely, to acquire:

a deep awareness of the pain suffered by the damned, so that if I should forget the love of the Eternal Lord, at least the fear of punishment will help me to avoid falling into sin.

Quoted from the Second Prelude, above.

For indeed, St. Ignatius wants the exercitant to make the considerations so he has a stronger Fear of the Lord and abhorrence for sin and especially to stir up his heart and to pour out his heart to Our Lord to thank Him for the great kindness and mercy He has always shown until this present moment.  [Bold text taken from the colloquy quoted above]

In our next lesson, we will consider the FIFTH Exercise (ON HELL) again but this time we will consider THE PAIN OF THE LOSS OF GOD.




[1]           Ecclesiasticus,7:40.

[2]           Considerations from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat by Hugo Hurter, SJ., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck, ©1918, third edition, St. Louis, MO, and London, page 65. 


An additional point here is that this aspect not only gives us a more sobering view of our own salvation but also of the salvation of our loved ones.


[3]  This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, by Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F. C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, pages, 133 and 134.

[4]           This partial quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 129.

[5]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 130.

[6]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 131.

[7]           St. Paul, Philippians, 3:19.

[8]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things by Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 119.


[9]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 120.


[10]         This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 120.


[11]         This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 120.

[12]         Considerations from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat by Hugo Hurter, SJ., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck, ©1918, third edition, St. Louis, MO, and London, page 69.