What does the Catholic sensus fidelium say about the idea of Hell throughout the entirety of Church history? There is no fast and easy way to answer this, for when we look at the sensus fidelium, we are not asking what the Church has taught, not looking for lists of definitions from the Councils or citations from Denziger. Instead of asking what the Church teaches, we are asking how the faithful have understood Church teaching. Essentially, we are looking at how culture has appropriated Christian truth. Thus, we are looking at things like artistic depictions of the mysteries of the faith, architectural designs, poetry and literature, popular devotions, and any other popular expressions or interpretations of the faith. Looking at all these expressions of faith collectively, and stretched out over the centuries, we can establish a fairly clear picture of the Church's sensus fidelium on a particular point of faith.
...Earlier we mentioned Dante's Inferno. It has been stated in the past, most notably by Dorothy Sayers in her masterful introduction to the Divine Comedy, that no medieval literature so perfectly reflected the medieval mind as Dante's Divine Comedy. The whole structure of the Comedy presupposes a Hell in which sinners experience God's justice in punishment for their unrepentance. Far from being troubled about the idea of human beings in Hell, Dante sees it as a manifestation of the justice of God. In Canto III of the Inferno, the inscription upon the Gates of Hell reads:
Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Thus, far from being tormented in their conscience about how God could let anybody go to Hell, or about how the presence of sinners in Hell would mean that God and Christ "lost", Dante, and with him the whole medieval tradition, see a profound justice in the fact - not the hypothesis - but the fact of human damnation.The entire entry is excellent. The last paragraph is often portrayed in straw man fashion by liberal Catholics: "So you're saying the faithful in heaven will rejoice in the suffering of the damned? What kind of neurotic fascist bastard are you?!" No, that's not what Tradition says. The angels and saints in heaven do not rejoice in the sufferings of a particular individual who is damned. Hell exists because of God's justice and love: the former because the reprobate have reaped what they've sown, the latter because God does not force anyone into heaven against their will. The angels and saints in heaven rejoice in both God's justice and his love.
Contemporary thinking about morality assumes that we are ghosts in the machine, that our souls pilot our bodies like they were meat robots. Therefore, moral reasoning is aimed at making sure the ghost always has good intentions, which absolves actual chosen behavior of any taint of wrongdoing. In technical theological terms, this is heretical bile vomited forth from the mouth of Satan himself. We are both body and soul. Some things are evil, full stop, and no amount of epistemological alchemy can make them good (take one serving of sodomy, add 2 teaspoons of ignorance, 1 tablespoon of a good intention, and presto, we have a good act, right? Wrong.)
One of the many reasons why I despise liberal Catholicism with a white hot passion (not, you will take care to note, liberal Catholics) is that it lulls us into a false sense of security. It instills presumption. It tells us that Jesus loves us just the way we are, sins and all, and that everyone goes to heaven in the end. Actually, Jesus loves us despite our sins and he very much expects us to avoid sin and work at correcting our faults. This may appear to be a distinction without a difference, but the difference here is a matter of eternal life or death. If Jesus loves me just the way I am with all my sins and faults, then why do I need to repent? Why ask forgiveness? Why strive to follow the narrow path? We have a divine guarantee that God can and will forgive any sin provided we are sorry for it. We do not have any guarantee that we will live to see tomorrow. "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you."
The medievals had a healthy sense of eschatology. They meditated often upon the Four Last Things. Saints who were more inclined to the scholarly life are frequently depicted as having skulls on their desks in medieval and Renaissance artwork. Many of our clergy are specifically trained to offer bland inoffensive teaching and preaching that won't jeopardize the collection plate. They keep the money flowing and the institution humming along. But do they inspire authentic Christian hope in their people or presumption? I'm willing to give my life to Christ and work for the salvation of souls in whatever field our Lord wishes me to work. I am not willing to give my life to an institution whose sole and abiding concern is its own self-preservation at any cost.
Sometimes I wonder what might have been, but it's best not to dwell on moments like those. I've rather come to enjoy the freedom to kick priests and bishops in the ass to do what they should be doing in the first place. I'm sure I offend them, bruise egos, step on bureaucratic toes. Hey guys, I'm just making a mess like Pope Francis told me to :D