Summon up before the eye of your mind, therefore, a horrible and swirling chaos, or a lightless and sinister subterranean cavern, fuming with every kind of unspeakable foulness and swarming with hideous phantasms, or a burning and bottomless pit, completely suffused with scorching, acrid, and inextinguishable fires.
Alternatively, you may imagine a great and immense city populated entirely by the damned and by devils, where the atmosphere is permeated by an invisible, black fire. This invisible but all-pervading fire burns with a searing intensity but emits no light or luminescence whatsoever. And over this infernal metropolis—which is the capital of hell—there is an unfathomable, opaque darkness, whereby both the senses and the mind are suffocated and reduced to a state of perpetual, tormented confusion. The air there is filled with the dire resonance of the ceaseless groans, laments, squeals, and wailings of the inhabitants. For all of the damned souls cry out in pain and despair over the varied tortures and miseries they endure, while the demons (whose role it is to torment those condemned) issue forth their own malevolent cacophony of cruel taunts, callous derision, and sinister, diabolical laughter.
And each of the tortures and miseries experienced by those who populate hell are unique and particular to each individual. For this reason, each lost soul (despite the countless multitude of such souls in this city) abide in a state of utter isolation, bereft of all companionship and consolation. Yet, on the other hand, all the varied and multifarious torments and agonies are also one and the same—partaking in the common and unspeakable pain of everlasting damnation, which is nothing other than eternal separation from the Supreme Good of the divine love and glory of God.
Consider next the bitterness and extremity of the pains which are suffered there. These far exceed any pains which our bodies or hearts can experience during this mortal life. For the fire which burns so ceaselessly there is incomparably hotter than any flame found here on earth. Indeed, it is said that the fire of hell exceeds the heat of earthly fire to the same extent that our earthly fire is hotter than a mere painted picture of fire.
Next, consider the freezing cold which prevails in hell. You might wonder how this coldness can be possible, given the omnipresence of the searing flames. But the dire chill of hell is, paradoxically, felt at the very same time as its scorching fires. It is true that the pain and discomfort caused by this malevolent and diabolic combination of burning heat and bitter cold cannot be imagined by the mortal mind. Perhaps the closest approximation to be found in our earthly realms is the ghastly feeling of those afflicted with virulent and noxious fevers, who experience an overwhelming heat and a chilling frigidity at the same time, and hence they simultaneously sweat profusely whilst shivering violently.
Yet one can gain a sense of the horrid extremity of this condition by the sounds which fill the air in the accursed city of hell. For there resounds an unremitting cacophony of the grinding of teeth and gnashing of jaws, and wailing and weeping, and groaning and grunting, and crying and cursing. For in the delirium of their despair, the tormented souls continually utter the most disgusting blasphemies and imprecations against God Himself—the same God from whom their own wickedness has separated them forevermore. And, in the same breath, they curse with the most galling vitriol the entire universe, their wretched state, and their very own selves as well.
This article is taken from a chapter in Meditations On Death: Preparing For Eternity by Thomas à Kempis, which is available from TAN Books.