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What is Eternal Death?

February 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Death and Dying, Fr. Fortea, Grace

Father Fortea, what is eternal death?

The human soul, as a spiritual reality, is immortal (see Catechism paragraph 366). Like any spirit, it is not subject to decay or illness; it cannot grow old or wear out. No matter what sins people commit, their souls cannot die in a metaphysical sense. They will exist forever.  Where they will exist forever – heaven or hell – is another matter.

When we use the expressions “mortal sin,” “death of the soul,” or “eternal death,” we are speaking of the death of the soul’s supernatural life, i.e., the life of God’s sanctifying grace (see CCC 1861). As Christians, we are admitted to this life of grace in baptism, and we are strengthened in grace through the sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist and confession. Mortal sin destroys this supernatural life, but the soul continues to exist in its natural state. The intellect and the will, with all their natural powers, continue to work, but there is no life of grace remaining within the soul.

Thus, many people are “alive” only on a purely natural level, without the supernatural life of grace that God willingly offers them. Without God’s grace, one cannot be admitted to the eternal life of heaven; such a soul “dies” eternally in hell.


Editor’s Note:  To learn more about spiritual warfare and demonology, Catholic Spiritual Direction recommends Fr. Fortea’s excellent book, Interview With An Exorcist – An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance


Art: Demons showing a dying man his sins on a medieval engraving, author unknown, Middle Ages, copyright expired, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea

Father José Antonio Fortea is not only an exorcist, but also a writer, and parish priest. He once thought he would lead what he has termed ordinary life as an attorney in Madrid, much as his father did before him, but sensed instead a vocation to the priesthood in his adolescent years. A theology graduate of Navarre University in Spain, Father Fortea wrote a thesis there on exorcism. He has been a practicing exorcist for several decades.

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  • Mary Anne

    Thank you for this post. As a person who struggles with scrupulosity, is it ever possible to know for sure if one is in a state of grace?

    • It is very difficult. But to be sure, no one really knows with absolute certainty. The way to handle this in your state is to rely on a spiritual director who can make the assessment for you. Then, you need to, as a firm act of the will, submit to that assessment and rest in the grace of God.

      • Dan, sorry for coming late on this one. From the Retreats we used to attend in my School-days, this state of Death of the Soul was made clear. The Theme of these Retreats – held during Lent – was “The Four Last Things”. Now my question is on what you advise Mary Anne about the state of Sanctifying Grace. My Spiritual Director who is beginning to understand me, assures me that the Spiritual Rule of Life I have adopted ensures I am in a State of Grace and must not berate myself for my habitual venial sins which I confess every week. I get the same assurance, and sound advice from the other Confessors in my neighbourhood Parish. However, there is one Confessor who repeatedly strives to prove to me that, since I keep on coming to Confession for these sins, I am not making any progress, or it is proof that I am not making an effort to stop sinning; and yet I continue to attend daily Mass and receive the Holy Communion. In fact, yesterday he made me feel like I have been committing Sacrilegious sins by continuing to receive Holy Communion and I was tempted to ask him if I should stop receiving Holy Communion. I am very perturbed that he could be right and I am in grave Spiritual State. I do not now know whom to believe – this one intimidating Confessor or my Spiritual Director and the other Confessors who have always encouraged me, advise me and reassured me that God is very pleased that I am striving with His Grace to be faithful to Him and determined to conquer my Root Sins and Imperfections.

  • patricia

    Thank you for this post Father indeed has been beneficial in clarity of what eternal death is. my prayers and Gods blessings!

  • $1650412

    This is a mystery, and not one we can really understand well- which is probably a good thing! Does anyone know if any doctors of the Church refer to this or address it? I have been trying to mentally fit some things together on this topic.

  • cam

    what does one of our previous Pope’s, Pope Paul say about heaven and hell are not a place but a state of mind? and how does that relate to the soul going somewhere at the death of the body? and how do you know this to be true? these aren’t facts. these are teachings, correct?

    • Dear Cam – in an easier than expected bit of research I discovered the general audience where Blessed John Paul II spoke about hell. Here’s the key quote: “3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (n. 1033).” In the end, he doesn’t displace the traditional teachings which are rooted in the old and new testaments. They are “facts” in that we accept the teachings of Christ and the Church as fact. You can find the document and further answers to your questions if you search the Vatican site for “General Audience Wednesday 28th 1999” or something like that.

      • cam

        thank you. i found it. it was easy. right on The Vatican site. and thank you for your inquiry and answer.

  • Sandra Traw

    You mention that mortal sin destroys the supernatural life but the intellect and the will with all their natural powers continues to work. So what signs or lack thereof of this supernatural life would distinguish itself from a person who has lost that supernatural life and yet continues to show great intellectual knowledge etc. How is it one discerns this in their life or the life of another say leader. Etc ?

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