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In Perelandra, chapter 9, C. S. Lewis writes:

In certain old philosophers and poets he had read that the mere sight of the devils was one of the greatest among the torments of Hell.

Elsewhere in the Space Trilogy, Lewis makes specific references to John Milton and other real-world figures, so I doubt that this reference is fictional. But he doesn't provide more detail regarding who said it.

Who might Lewis be referring to here? Who originally said that the mere sight of devils in hell was one of its worst torments?

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The most obvious reference I see comes from St. Catherine of Siena, one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church.

St. Catherine wrote a work known as the Dialogue, representing a discussion between a soul and God. In Section 22 of the Dialogue, God says this to the soul:

"[The] vision of the Devil is the third pain [of four pains suffered by those in Hell] and redoubles to them their every toil.

"As the saints exult in the sight of Me, refreshing themselves with joyousness in the fruit of their toils borne for Me with such abundance of love, and displeasure of themselves, so does the sight of the Devil revive these wretched ones to torments, because in seeing him they know themselves more, that is to say, they know that, by their own sin, they have made themselves worthy of him.

"And if you remember well, you know that I showed him to you in his own form for a little space of time, hardly a moment, and you chose (after you had returned to yourself) rather to walk on a road of fire, even until the Day of Judgment, than to see him again. With all this that you have seen, even you do not know well how horrible he is, because, by Divine justice, he appears more horrible to the soul that is deprived of Me, and more or less according to the gravity of her sin."

St. Catherine lived in the mid-14th century. It's possible that earlier philosophers or theologians made similar statements, but I have been unable to find any.

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According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Hell, the damned also suffer various "accidental" punishments, one of them being that "[t]he reprobate must live in the midst of the damned; and their outbursts of hatred or of reproach as they gloat over his sufferings, and their hideous presence, are an ever fresh source of torment."

How far back in Church History can we find a mention of this particular torment of hell?

In the book The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell, Heaven by Fr. Martin Von Cochem O.S.F. (1625-1712), a book highly recommended by the likes of the great Doctor of the Church St. Alphonsus Liguori, Section V. On the Company of Hell says in PART III. ON HELL:

There are many bold sinners who, when they are punished for their crimes and threatened with Hell-fire are wont audaciously to answer: "Wherever I go, I shall at any rate not lack company," as if the presence of others could afford any solace to them, or any alleviation of their torment. In order that these shameless sinners may see how wrong they are to speak thus, and how little cause they have to anticipate any relief from the company in which they will find themselves, this chapter shall be devoted to showing them how woeful that company will be, and how it will aggravate their misery.

The society of the damned consists of devils and lost souls. Both of these are countless in number. As for the society of the devils, this is so detestable that it may be reckoned as the worst penalty of the lost in Hell. The place of torment would be far less deserving of this name were there no devils in it. On account of the multitude of demons there, such confusion, such grief, such misery, such tyranny prevails, that it is heartbreaking even to think of it.

We mortals have no worse enemy than the devil, who hates us with so intense a hatred that he longs every moment to hurl us down into the abyss of perdition. And when at length he has got some one into his power, he deals with him more barbarously than savage despot ever dealt with his deadliest foe.

All the envy and hatred which at the time of his fall he conceived against God, and which he cannot vent upon Him, he vents upon the damned, tormenting them with plagues the very thought of which makes a man s blood run cold. Even if he were not to do any harm to the damned, the mere fact of his dwelling with them for all eternity would be such terrible misery for the unhappy sinners, that the horror of their position would be like a continual death to them.

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

Listen to what the Fathers of the Church and some expositors of Holy Scriptures say of the dreadful appearance that Satan presents: they apply to him the description given of the leviathan in the book of Job: "Who can discover the face of his garment, or who can go into the midst of his mouth? Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. His body is like molten shields, shut up close with scales pressing one upon another. One is joined to another, and not so much as any air can come between them. His sneezing is like the shining of fire, and his eyes like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go forth lamps, like torches of lighted fire. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, like that of a pot heated and boiling. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame cometh forth out of his mouth.

In his neck strength shall dwell, and want goeth before his face. His heart shall be as hard as a stone, and as firm as a smith’s anvil. When he shall raise him up, the Angels shall fear and, being affrighted, turn to God for protection. He shall make the deep sea to boil as a pot; there is no power upon earth that can be compared with him who was made to fear no one. He beholdeth every high thing ; he is king over all the children of pride" (Job xli.).

It is the opinion of St. Cyril, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory and other learned expositors of both the Greek and Latin Churches, that although this description, taken literally, is that of a monster of the sea, yet it is intended, in its mystic sense, to apply to Lucifer. And if one compares what is said of the leviathan with the attributes ascribed to the prince of darkness, it is impossible to deny their coincidence; moreover, one knows as a general fact that evil things have their types and figures in the natural world as well as good things, the one serving us for warning, the others for an example.

Therefore Fr. Martin has the Fathers of the Church e.g. St. Cyril, St. Athanasius, and St. Gregory, giving a description of Lucifer from the book of Job which is a type and figure, and warning from the natural world.

The father then continues:

Besides the prince of darkness there are hundreds of thousands of inferior devils, which though less bad and abominable than himself, are yet so wicked and horrible that one could hardly look upon them and live.

St. Antony relates that one of the Brothers of his Order uttered a piercing scream at the sight of a devil who appeared to him. His fellow-monks, running to him in alarm, found him more dead than alive. After giving him something to revive and strengthen him, they asked him what was the matter. Then he told them that the devil had appeared to him, and terrified him so that all the life had gone out of him. And on their inquiring what the devil looked like, he answered: "That I really cannot say; I can only say that if the choice were given me I would rather be put into a red-hot furnace, than look again at the countenance of the demon."

We read much the same thing in the life of St. Catharine of Sienna. She too declared that she had rather walk through a flaming fire than gaze for one instant at the devil.

If the mere sight of the evil one is so appalling that the Saints think it more intolerable than the pain of exposure to a burning fire, what, my God, must be the fear and horror of the damned, dwelling forever in the midst of countless fiends!

How terrified thou wouldst be if a mad dog were suddenly to spring upon thee, pull thee to the ground, and begin to tear thee with his teeth ! Do not imagine that the devil will fall upon the damned with less fury, or treat them more mercifully. The account Job gives of his persecutors describes very accurately the state of a lost soul in Hell:

"My enemy hath gathered together his fury against me, and threatening me he hath gnashed with his teeth upon me; he hath beheld me with terrible eyes. They have opened their mouth upon me and reproaching me they have struck me on the cheek, they are filled with my pains. He hath taken me by my neck, he hath broken me, and hath set me up to be his mark. He hath compassed me round about with his lances, he hath wounded my loins, he hath not spared. He hath torn me with wound upon wound, he hath rushed in upon me like a giant" (Job xvi. 10-15). This passage will give us some idea of the awful character of the company the damned will find themselves among in Hell.

Read the rest here.

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