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CHAPTER XCHow Incorporeal Subsistent Spirits suffer from Corporeal Fire, and are befittingly punished with Corporeal Punishments

WE must not suppose that incorporeal subsistent spirits, — as the devil, and the souls of the lost before the resurrection, — can suffer from fire any disintegration of their physical being, or other change, such as our perishable bodies suffer from fire. For incorporeal substances have not a corporeal nature, to be changed by corporeal things. Nor are they susceptible of sensible forms except intellectually; and such intellectual impression is not penal, but rather perfective and pleasurable.10551055In itself it is so: it is a good quality to be open to sensible impressions: but what if the impressions that come in are disquieting, disgusting, dreadful, the sensible settings of a vision of woe? The unsolved difficulty of the subject is to know how pure spirits, having no organs of sense, are cognisant of anything sensible: cf. II, Chap. XCIX. How can we know, tied as our experience is to sense? Nor can it be said that they suffer affliction from corporeal fire by reason of a certain contrariety,10561056This is explained by a sentence at the end of the previous chapter: — “The bodies of the damned shall be afflicted by corporeal fire, inasmuch as the keen quality of that fire is contrary to that equable bodily structure and harmony, which is connatural to sense, though it cannot break up the structure: for such affliction shall not be able to separate the soul from the body, since the body must ever remain under the same form.” — The notion is that the soul, reunited with the body in hell, has such a drastic hold upon the body that not one bodily atom can be torn from its place: on the other hand the fire too takes hold of the same body, and endeavours, as fire ever will do, to disintegrate and break the body up: thus over that body a conflict rages between the immortal soul and the everlasting fire. And this is the ‘contrariety’ in question; and in this contrariety, felt, the agony of hell-fire consists. as their bodies shall suffer after the resurrection: for incorporeal subsistent spirits have no organs of sense nor the use of sensory powers. Such spirits shall suffer then from corporeal fire by a sort of constriction (alligatio). For spirits can be tied to bodies, either as their form, as the soul is tied to the human body to give it life; or without being the body’s form, as magicians by diabolic power tie spirits to images.10571057The angel Raphael seized the evil spirit, and tied it up in the desert of Upper Egypt (Tobias viii, 3). Much more by divine power may spirits under damnation be tied to corporeal fire; and this is an affliction to them to know that they are tied to the meanest creatures for punishment.10581058The spirit may be ‘constricted,’ or tied, to some material substance, and that material substance be kept in violent agitation, such that, for every vibration or other agitation of the substance, there shall be a corresponding pang of the constricted spirit. — I need scarcely add that this notion of ‘constriction’ is not of faith, but is a theory devised to explain what is of faith, namely, that everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. xxv, 41), and somehow torments those spirits.

1. Every sin of the rational creature comes of its not submitting in obedience to God. Now punishment ought to correspond and be in proportion to offence, so that the will may be penally afflicted by enduring something the very reverse of what it sinfully loved. Therefore it is a proper punishment for a sinful rational nature to find itself subject by a sort of ‘constriction’ to bodily things inferior to itself.

2. The pain of sense answers to the offence in respect of its being an inordinate turning to some changeable good, as the pain of loss answers to the offence in respect of its being a turning away from the Unchangeable Good (B. III, Chap. CXLVI). But the rational creature, and particularly the human soul, sins by inordinate turning to bodily things. Therefore it is a befitting punishment for it to be afflicted by bodily things.

Though the promises in Scripture of corporal rewards, like meat and drink (Isai. xxv, 6: lxv, 13: Luke xxii, 29: Apoc. xxii, 2), for the Blessed, are to be taken in a spiritual sense, nevertheless some corporal punishments, 414with which the wicked are threatened in Scripture, are to be understood as corporal punishments in the proper sense of the terms used. For though it is not becoming for a higher nature to be rewarded by the use of something inferior to itself: rather its reward should consist in union with something higher than itself: nevertheless the punishment of a superior nature may fittingly consist in its being rated with things inferior to it. Some, however, of the corporeal imagery that we find in Scripture, speaking of the pains of the lost, may very well be interpreted in a spiritual and figurative sense. Thus in the saying, Their worm dieth not (Isai. lxvi, 24: Mark ix, 44), by the worm may be understood the remorse of conscience with which the wicked will be tormented: for it is impossible for a material worm to gnaw a spiritual substance, or so much as the bodies of the damned, which will be imperishable. Weeping and gnashing of teeth too (Matt. xiii, 42) can only be understood metaphorically of subsistent spirits; although in the bodies of the lost after the resurrection the phrase may be taken to have its bodily fulfilment, — not that there can be any flow of tears, for there can be no secretion from such bodies, but the weeping will mean pain of heart, trouble of eyes and head, and such usual accompaniments of weeping.


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