II. MANIFESTATIONS OF HELL
As we have just said, the dogma of hell stands on the infallible word of God; but in his mercy, God, to aid our faith, permits at intervals, the truth of hell to be manifested in a sensible manner. These manifestations are more frequent than is thought; and when supported by sufficient proofs, they are unexceptionable facts, which must be admitted like all the other facts of history.
Here is one of these facts. It was juridically proved in the process of canonization of St. Francis of Jerome, and under oath attested by a large number of eye-witnesses.
In the year 1707, St. Francis of Jerome was preaching, as was his wont, in the neighborhood of the city of Naples. He was speaking of hell and the awful chastisements that await obstinate sinners. A brazen courtesan who lived there, troubled by a discourse which aroused her remorse, sought to hinder it by jests and shouts, accompanied by noisy instruments. As she was standing close to the window, the Saint cried out: “Beware, my daughter, of resisting grace; before eight days God will punish you.”
The unhappy creature grew only more boisterous. Eight days elapsed, and the holy preacher happened to be again before the same house. This time she was silent, the windows were shut. The hearers, with dismay on their faces, told the Saint that Catherine — that was the name of the bad woman — had a few hours before died suddenly. “Died!” he repeated, “well, let her tell us now what she has gained by laughing at hell. Let us ask her.” He uttered these words in an inspired tone, and everyone expected a miracle. Followed by an immense crowd, he went up to the death chamber, and there, after having prayed for an instant, he uncovers the face of the corpse, and says in a loud voice, “Catherine, tell us where art thou now.”
At this summons, the dead woman lifts her head, while opening her wild eyes, her face borrows color, her features assume an expression of horrible despair and in a mournful voice, and she pronounces these words: “In hell; I am in hell.” And immediately, she falls back again into the condition of a corpse.
“I was present at that event,” says one of the witnesses who deposed before the Apostolic tribunal, “but I never could convey the impression it produced on me and the bystanders, nor that which I still feel every time I pass that house and look at that window. At the sight of that ill-fated abode, I still hear the pitiful cry resounding: “In hell; I am in hell.” (Father Bach, Life of St. Francis of Jerome.)
Ratbod, King of the Frisons, who is mentioned in ecclesiastical history in the eighth century, had said to St. Wolfrand that he was not afraid of hell; that he wished to be there with the kings, his ancestors, and most illustrious personages. “Moreover,” he added, “later on, I shall be always able to receive baptism.” “Lord,” answered the Saint, “do not neglect the grace that is offered to thee. The God who offers the sinner pardon, does not promise him to-morrow.” The King did not heed this advice, and put off his conversion. A year after, learning the arrival of St. Willibrord, he dispatched an officer to him, to invite him to come to the court and confer baptism on him. The Saint answered that it was too late. “Your master,” he said, “died after your departure. He braved eternal fire; he has fallen into it. I have seen him this night, loaded with fiery chains, in the bottom of the abyss.”
Here is another witness from beyond the grave. History avers that when St. Francis Xavier was at Cangoxima, in Japan, he performed a great number of miracles, of which the most celebrated was the resurrection of a maiden of noble birth. This young damsel died in the flower of her age, and her father, who loved her dearly, believed he would become crazy. Being an idolater, he had no resources in his affliction, and his friends, who came to console him, rendered his grief only the more poignant.
Two neophytes, who came to see him before the funeral of her whom he mourned day and night, advised him to seek help from the holy man who was doing such great things, and demand from him with confidence, the life of his daughter. The pagan — persuaded by the neophytes that nothing was impossible to the European bonze, and beginning to hope against all human appearances, as is usual with the afflicted, who readily believe whatever comforts them — goes to Father Francis, falls at his feet, and, with tears in his eyes, entreats him to bring to life again his only daughter whom he has just lost, adding that it would be to give life to himself.
Xavier, touched by the faith and sorrow of the pagan, went aside with his companion, Fernando, to pray to God. Having come back again after a short time, “Go,” he said to the afflicted father, “your daughter is alive!”
The idolater, who expected that the Saint would come with him to his house and invoke the name of the God of the Christians over his daughter’s body, took this speech as a jest and withdrew, dissatisfied. But scarcely had he gone a few steps when he saw one of his servants, who, all beside himself with joy, shouted from a distance that his daughter was alive. Presently, he beheld her approaching. After the first embraces the daughter related to her father that, as soon as she had expired, two horrible demons pounced upon her, and sought to hurl her into a fiery abyss; but that two men, of a venerable and modest appearance, snatched her from the hands of these executioners and restored her life, she being unable to tell how it happened.
The Japanese understood who were these two men of whom his daughter spoke, and he led her directly to Xavier to return him such thanks as so great a favour deserved. She no sooner saw the Saint with his companion, Fernando, than she exclaimed: “There are my two deliverers!” and, at the same time, the daughter and the father demanded baptism.
The servant of God, Bernard Colnago, a religious of the Company of Jesus, died at Catana in the odor of sanctity, in the year 1611. We read in his biography that he prepared for the passage by a life full of good works and the constant remembrance of death, so apt to engender a holy life. To keep in mind this salutary remembrance, he preserved in his little cell a skull, which he had placed upon a stand to have it always before his eyes. One day it struck him that, perhaps, that head had been the abode of a mind rebellious to God, and now the object of His wrath. Accordingly, he begged the Sovereign Judge to enlighten him, and to cause the skull to shake if the spirit that had animated it was burning in hell. No sooner had he finished his prayer than it shook with a horrible trembling, a palpable sign that it was the skull of a damned soul.
This saintly religious, favored with singular gifts, knew the secret of consciences, and, sometimes, the decrees of God’s justice. One day God revealed to him the eternal perdition of a young libertine, who was his parents’ heart-scald. The unfortunate young man, after having rushed into all sorts of dissipation, was slain by an enemy. His mother, at the sight of so sad an end, conceived the liveliest terrors for her son’s everlasting salvation, and besought Father Bernard to tell her in what state his soul was.
Despite her entreaties Father Bernard did not answer by a single word, sufficiently showing by his silence that he had nothing consoling to say. He was more explicit to one of her friends. This person inquiring why he did not give an answer to an afflicted mother, the religious openly said to him that he was unwilling to increase her affliction; that this young libertine was damned, and that, during his prayer, God had shown him the youth under a hideous and frightful aspect.
On the 1st of August, 1645, there died in the odor of sanctity, at the College of Evora, in Portugal, Anthony Pereyra, and Coadjutor Brother of the Company of Jesus. His history is, perhaps the strangest furnished by the annals of this Society. In 1599, five years after his entrance into the novitiate, he was seized by a mortal malady in the Isle of St. Michael, one of the Azores; and a few moments after he had received the last sacraments, beneath the eyes of the whole community, who were present at his agony, he seemed to expire, and became cold like a corpse.
The appearance — almost imperceptible — of a slight throbbing of the heart alone prevented his immediate burial. Accordingly, he was left three whole days on his death-bed, and there were already plain signs of decomposition in the body, when all of a sudden, on the fourth day, he opened his eyes, breathed and spoke. He was obliged by obedience to account to his superior, Father Louis Pinheyro, all that had passed in him after the last pangs of his agony; and here is the summary of the relation which he wrote with his own hand:
“First, I saw from my death-bed,’ he says, “my Father, St. Ignatius, accompanied by some of our Fathers in heaven, who was coming to visit his sick children, seeking those who seemed worthy to be presented to our Lord. When he was near me I thought for an instant that he might take me, and my heart leaped with joy; but he soon described to me what I must correct before obtaining so great a favor.”
Then, however, by a mysterious dispensation of Providence, the soul of Brother Pereyra was momentarily released from his body, and immediately the sight of the hideous troop of demons, rushing headlong upon him, filled him with dread. But, at the same time, his angel-guardian and St. Anthony of Padua, his countryman and patron, put his enemies to flight, and invited him in their company to take a momentary glimpse and taste of something of the joys and pains of eternity. “They then, by turns, led me to a place of delights, where they showed mean incomparable crown of glory, but one which I had not yet merited; then, to the brink of the abysmal pit, where I beheld souls accursed falling into the everlasting fire, as thick as grains of corn, cast beneath an ever-turning millstone. The infernal pit was like one of these limekilns, in which the flame is smothered for an instant beneath the heap of materials thrown into it, only to fire up again by the fuel with a more frightful violence.”
Led thence to the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge, Antony Pereyra heard his sentence to the fire of purgatory, and nothing here below, he declares, could give an idea of what is suffered there, or of the state of anguish to which the soul is reduced by the desire and postponement of the enjoyment of God and of His blessed presence.
So when, by our Lord’s command, his soul was united again to his body, neither the new tortures of sickness, which, for six entire months, combined with the daily help of iron and fire, caused his flesh, irremediably attacked by the corruption of this first death to waste away; nor the frightful penances to which, so far as obedience allowed him, he never ceased to subject himself for the forty-six years of his new life, were able to quench his thirst for sufferings and expiation. “All this,” he used to say, “is nothing to what the justice and mercy of God have caused me, not only to see, but to endure.”
Finally, as an authentic seal of so many wonders, Brother Pereyra detailed to his Superior the hidden designs of Providence on the future restoration of the Kingdom of Portugal, at that time still distant nearly half a century. But it may be fearlessly added that the most unexceptionable avouchment of all these prodigies was the surprising sanctity to which Antony Pereyra never ceased for a single day to rise.