I would now like to post some quotations from Paul Johnson's book entitled _A History of Christianity_ and obtain your input:
He writes: "Ambrose [of Milan] was a superstitious and credulous man, with a weird cosmology. He distinguished between paradise and the superior Kingdom of Heaven, already inhabited by Constantine and (after his death) Theodosius. He thought, in fact, there were seven heavens. Then there was Hades, where people waited for the last judgment, and purgatory, a place of second baptism or furnace of fire, where the precious metal in a soul was tested to rid it of the base alloy. Finally, there was Hell, divided into three regions, of increasing horror" (p. 107).
On pages 340-342, Johnson's comments are a bit long to type at this point, so I will just summarize them. The historian points out that Scotus Eriugena denied the existence of an eternal or material hell, and substituted "pangs of conscience" in its place. But despite having misgivings about an eternal hell, he refused to believe that such ideas should be taught pastorally. Why not? So that the parishioners would be frightened into serving God by being told that an eternal hell existed (whether it, in fact, did exist or not). This is why "the three most influential medieval teachers, Augustine, Peter Lombard, and Aquinas, all insisted that the PAINS of hell were PHYSICAL as well as mental and spiritual, and that REAL FIRE played a part in them" (caps. for emphasis).
Johnson also reports that "the general theory was that Hell included any horrible pain that the human imagination could conceive of, plus an infinite variety of others . . . Jerome said that Hell was like a huge winepress. Augustine said it was peopled by ferocious flesh-eating animals, which tore humans to bits slowly and painfully, and were themselves undamaged by the fires." In view of the observations above (1) how can some professed Christians say that Catholicism does not presently espouse a different view than what has been expressed in the past, when one reads about contemporary discussions concerning Hell which exclusively refers to it in terms of separation from God? (2) What kind of God is this described by the previously-mentioned writers? What type of God could carry out such punishments? The God of the Bible evidently could not torture souls for eternity (Jeremiah 7:31; 1 John 4:8).