St. John of Damascus On Hell

by John Sanidopoulos


Below are some very characteristic and very important passages from Saint John of Damascus on the subject of Hell:

1. Hell is not God’s punishment, but it is a state of receptivity. It appears that Hell and Paradise as “places” do not exist. There is only God, who is present in all places (omnipresent).


on hell 1
“And so we know, that God does not punish anyone in the future, but everyone makes themselves receptive to share in God. And so to share in God is a delight, while not sharing in Him is hell.” (“Against the Manicheans”, PG 94:1545D-1548A)
2. Hell exists not because the damned are overdue, but because the damned remain unchangeable in their desire for sin. And again we see that only the omnipresent God will exist in the future age because, as he says, the object desired by sinners will not exist. What will exist is only what will be desired by the righteous, that is, God.
on hell 2
“… after death, there is no means for repentance, not because God does not accept repentance – He cannot deny Himself nor lose His compassion – but the soul does not change anymore … people after death are unchangeable, so that on the one hand the righteous desire God and always have Him to rejoice in, while sinners desire sin though they do not have the material means to sin … they are punished without any consolation. For what is hell but the deprivation of that which is exceedingly desired by someone? Therefore, according to the analogy of desire, whoever desires God rejoices and whoever desires sin is punished.” (“Against the Manicheans”, PG 94:1573??)
Here we observe the following: since God accepts repentance, this means that there are those who are damned, because the sinner does not express repentance. So, their soul freely and definitively chooses sin. Illustrative of the above is the following:
on h ell 3
“God forever supplies good things even to the devil, but he does not want to receive it.” (“Against the Manicheans”, PG 94:1569B)
The above passage continues:
on hell 4
“God forever supplies good things even to the devil, but he does not want to receive it. And in eternity God supplies good things to all because He is the source of good things gushing forth goodness to all, while everyone makes themselves receptive, and they share in the good … those who do not have habitual pleasures and suffer without being healed, without God making hell, but because we lay out hell for ourselves, and indeed nor did God make death, but we ourselves caused this for us.”

So we can say that the exact Orthodox doctrine teaches that:

In the Eternal Kingdom there are not separate places, but states of sharing in and being receptive to God. So Hell and Paradise are names of states experienced and not “places”.

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In the Eternal Kingdom only God exists, whose light some will experience as Paradise and others as Hell.

Hell and Paradise will be experienced not because God condemns or rewards people, but because they freely chose the state they will be in. Indeed, proof of Hell being a free choice is that God accepts repentance, but there is no expression of repentance for God to accept them because the person “does not want it”.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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