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IN order that nothing may be wanting to the plagues of hell, wherewith the lost souls are tormented, God has in His anger decrees that this horrible prison should be saturated by an unspeakable stench, as a punishment for those who, when on earth, have taken excessive delight in the use of choice perfumes.
The prophecy of Isaiah will thus be fulfilled: "Instead of a sweet smell there shall be a stench" (Is. iii/ 24). Decaying animal matter emits so horrible an odor that no one likes to go near it. But if we imagine not one tainted carcass, but hundreds of thousands heaped together, the air for miles around would be so infected that it would cause the death of all in the vicinity.
Even this stench, however, when compared with the stench of hell deems as nothing, or rather as a pleasant odor. This vapor or odor of hell arises primarily from the place itself, which is by its nature a most horrible and foul region. No breath of pure air can ever be present in these closely-shut walls of this prison. Moreover, the whole of hell is a lake of burning brimstone and pitch, and every one knows how offensive are the fumes they give out.
"The unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Apoc. xxi. 8).
The prophet of the New Dispensation here speaks of a pool, full of stagnant, foul, stinking water, for which there is no outlet. He adds that this pool is filled with burning brimstone from which a dense smoke ascends, as he says elsewhere: "The smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever."
The very bodies of the reprobate are so foul and disgusting that they emit a most offensive odor, worse than any stench in this world. According to St. Bonaventure, the body of a single reprobate would so taint the air on earth as to cause the death of all living beings coming near it.
If one single body emits so horrible a stench, what can the smell be that rises from many millions of these wretched beings?
It is related of the tyrant Maxentius that he was wont, as a punishment, to cause a living man to be bound to a corpse, face to face and limb to limb, until the unhappy victim fainted, or even died through contact with the dead and decomposing body. That is indeed a torture of which no one can think without shuddering. How much worse will it be in hell, where the bodies will lie close to one an other, without any hope of being separated.
Bad as this stench is, it is greatly increased by the presence of the devils, who naturally are far more offensive to the nostrils than the bodies of the lost. We read in the life of St. Martin that the evil one appeared to him upon one occasion, and the stench that filled the room was so overwhelming that the saint said to himself: "If one single devil has so disgusting an odor, what can the stench be in hell, where there are thousands of devils all together?"
How much suffering this abominable stench must cause to the damned ! how it must aggravate their distress and pain ! For it must be deadly beyond description, arising as it does from so many different sources---hell itself, the bodies of the damned, the devils, the worms and reptiles, the fire of pitch and brimstone, each and all of which stink in the nostrils of the lost. Judge by what has been said how intolerable the combined odors of all these things must be.
Alas for the unfortunate beings who are condemned to breathe such an atmosphere ! Alas for the poor sinners who have to dwell in it for endless ages ! They must sink under it, they be on the verge of death. O my God, I beseech Thee by Thy infinite clemency, spare me from so terrible a fate.