The medieval West was committed to the doctrine of hell as everlasting separation from God and punishment for sin. Hell described in vivid but crude language was not uncommon. Perhaps the most notable expression of hell during the Middle Ages was developed by Dante in his Divine Comedy. Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through what is largely the medieval concept of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.
During the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, the doctrine of hell was not a matter of controversy between the Catholic church and most within the Protestant reformation. Both held to eternal punishment. Though Luther made frequent mention of hell, it was not one of his major doctrines. Calvin wrote about it deliberately, identifying hell as being cut off from all fellowship with God.
Hell was mentioned in a similar way in various confessions and catechisms including the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Westminster Confession (1647) and the Second London Confession of Particular Baptists (1677). Additionally, pastors and theologians such as Richard Baxter, John Bunyan and Jonathan Edwards made use of hellish imagery and theology throughout their ministry.
In my next post, I will begin to look at two alternatives to hell: universalism and annihilationism, starting with universalism.