The toll-house theory popularized by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov that after death, all souls must go through a series of stations of accusing demons before making it to Heaven or being dragged down to Hell, is plainly false. A person who is damned does not pass through toll-houses before making it to a toll-house he cannot pass through on account of certain sins and thereupon being dragged to Hell. Rather, the damned (those who die in a state of mortal sin) immediately descend to Hell, as the Church teaches. On the constant teaching of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church about eternal life and eternal punishment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1035 points to DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG [Solemn Profession of Faith: Credo of the People of God] # 12:
DS 76 (Athanasian Creed): He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, on the third day arose again from the dead, ascended to Heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead; at His coming all men have to arise again with their bodies and will render an account of their own deeds: and those who have done good, will go into life everlasting, but those who have done evil, into eternal fire. This is the Catholic faith; unless every one believes this faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.
DS 409 (Anathema 7 against Origen): If anyone says or holds that the Lord Christ in the future age will be crucified in behalf of the demons, just as (He was) for the sake of men, let him be anathema.
DS 411 (Anathema 9 against Origen): If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema.
DS 801 (Definition of the 12th Ecumenical Council, Lateran IV): But He descended in soul, and He arose in the flesh, and He ascended equally in both, to come at the end of time, to judge the living and the dead, and to render to each according to his works, to the wicked as well as to the elect, all of whom will rise with their bodies which they now bear, that they may receive according to their works, whether these works have been good or evil, the latter everlasting punishment with the devil, and the former everlasting glory with Christ.
DS 858 (Profession of Faith of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos at 14th Ecumenical Council, Lyons II): However, the souls of those who after having received holy baptism have incurred no stain of sin whatever, also those souls who, after contracting the stain of sin, either while remaining in their bodies or being divested of them, have been cleansed, as we have said above, are received immediately into Heaven. The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to Hell, yet to be punished with different punishments. The same most holy Roman Church firmly believes and firmly declares that nevertheless on the day of judgment “all” men will be brought together with their bodies “before the tribunal of Christ” “to render an account” of their own deeds [Rom 14:10].
DS 1002 (Pope Benedict XII’s Benedictus Deus): Moreover, we declare that according to the common arrangement of God, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin immediately after their death descend to Hell where they are tortured by infernal punishments, and that nevertheless on the day of judgment all men with their bodies will make themselves ready to render an account of their own deeds before the tribunal of Christ, “so that everyone may receive the proper things of the body according as he has done whether it be good or evil” [2 Cor 5:10].
DS 1351 (Decree on Behalf of the Jacobites at 17th Ecumenical Council, Florence): It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Mt 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.
DS 1575 (Canon 25 of the 19th Ecumenical Council, Trent): If anyone shall say that in every good work the just one sins at least venially, or (what is more intolerable) mortally, and therefore deserves eternal punishments, and that it is only because God does not impute those works unto damnation that he is not damned, let him be anathema.
The following history of dogma from the old Catholic Encyclopedia shows that the idea that all souls do not enter Heaven or Hell immediately but instead pass through aerial toll-houses before they meet their eternal fate was never a teaching of the Church:
It cannot, however, be inferred from these passages that all of the Fathers quoted believed that the vision of God is in most cases delayed till the day of judgment. Many of them in other parts of their works profess the Catholic doctrine either expressly or by implication through the acknowledgment of other dogmas in which it is contained, for instance, in that of the descent of Christ into Limbo, an article of the Creed which loses all significance unless it be admitted that the saints of the Old Testament were thereby liberated from this temporal penalty of loss and admitted to the vision of God. As to the passages which state that the supreme happiness of Heaven is not enjoyed till after the resurrection, they refer in many instances to an increase in the accidental joy of the blessed through the union of the soul with its glorified body, and do not signify that the essential happiness of heaven is not enjoyed till then. Notwithstanding the aberrations of some writers and the hesitation of others, the belief that since the death of Christ souls which are free from sin enter at once into the vision of God was always firmly held by the great body of Christians (cf. St. Cyprian, De exhort. mart.).
See McHugh, John. “Particular Judgment.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 13 Oct. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08550a.htm>.
Now we turn to the Fathers, whose testimony was perversely interpreted by men like Ignatius Brianchaninov and Seraphim Rose of Platina.
East: St. Anthony the Great of Egypt says [Life of St. Anthony 28 in PG ],
For place is no hindrance to their plots, nor do they look on us as friends that they should spare us; nor are they lovers of good that they should amend. But on the contrary they are evil, and nothing is so much sought after by them as wounding them that love virtue and fear God. But since they have no power to effect anything, they do nought but threaten. But if they could, they would not hesitate, but immediately work evil (for all their desire is set on this), and especially against us. Behold now we are gathered together and speak against them, and they know when we advance they grow weak. If therefore they had power they would permit none of us Christians to live, for godliness is an abomination to a sinner [Sirach 1:25]. But since they can do nothing they inflict the greater wounds on themselves; for they can fulfill none of their threats. Next this ought to be considered, that we may be in no fear of them: that if they had the power they would not come in crowds, nor fashion displays, nor with change of form would they frame deceits. But it would suffice that one only should come and accomplish that which he was both able and willing to do: especially as every one who has the power neither slays with display nor strikes fear with tumult, but immediately makes full use of his authority as he wishes. But the demons as they have no power are like actors on the stage changing their shape and frightening children with tumultuous apparition and various forms: from which they ought rather to be despised as showing their weakness.
From the words of the wonderworking ascetic, it is clear that the demons do not have the power that the toll-house theory accords them.
East: St. Macarios the Great of Egypt says [Homily 22 in PG 34:660AB],
He adds, [Homily 43:9 in PG 45:777BC],
East: Patriarch St. Gregory the Theologian of Constantinople (Doctor) says [Oration 7:21 in PG 35:781BC],
I believe the words of the wise, that every fair and God-beloved soul, when set free from the bonds of the body, departs hence, and at once enjoys a sense and vision of good things to come, inasmuch as what was dark in it has been purged or laid aside … and feels a wondrous pleasure and exultation, and rejoices in the Lord. Then, a little later, it will receive its flesh, which once shared in its pursuit of things above… And, as it shared the hardships of the body through a common life, so also is bestowed upon the body the joys of the soul hereafter, gathering it up into itself, and becoming with it one in spirit and mind in God… I await the voice of the Archangel, the last trumpet, the transformation of the heavens… Then shall I see Caesarius himself, no longer an exile, no longer spread on a bier, no longer the object of mourning and pity, but brilliant, glorious, Heavenly, such as in my dreams I have often beheld thee, dearest and most loving brother, in very truth if not by my desire.
According to the great Theologian of the Trinity, the holy (completely purified) departed do not run through stations of demons, but immediately enter Heaven.
East: Patriarch St. John Chrysostom the Great of Constantinople (Doctor) says
East: St. Diadochos of Photiki says [On Spiritual Knowledge 100],
If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover an ill defined fear in ourselves at that hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we may be without fear at that time; for if we are afraid then, we will not be able freely to pass the rulers of the lower world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which rejoices in the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness.
The souls of the righteous do not run through a gauntlet of demons, but are straightaway lifted to eternal bliss, according to the testimony of this God-bearing Father.
East: Priest St. Hesychios says,
East: St. John the Solitary says [Sixth Dialogue With Thomasios],
West: St. Columba of Ireland says before 597 [Life of St. Columba],
Now let us help by prayer the monks of the Abbot Comgell, drowning at this hour in the Lough of the Calf for behold, at this moment they are warring in the air against hostile powers who try to snatch away the soul of a stranger who is drowning along with them. Then after the prayer, he said, “Give thanks to Christ, for now the holy angels have met these holy souls, and have delivered that stranger and triumphantly rescued him from the warring demons.”
The monks and the stranger were still alive, so this account provides no support for the toll-house theory, which concerns an alleged posthumous phenomenon. We wage war against the hostile powers of the air in this life.
West: Pope St. Gregory I the Great of Rome (Doctor) says ,
East: St. Isaac of Nineveh says,