Choose a topic from Vol 5:

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

The Faith of Israel

The Faith of Israel

The Importance of Man

The Importance of Man

Origin of the Gospels

Origin of the Gospels

The Divine Redeemer

The Divine Redeemer

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church

The Papacy

The Papacy

The Biblical Tradition

The Biblical Tradition

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Liturgy and Sacraments

Liturgy and Sacraments

Moral Problems

Moral Problems

Final Realities

Final Realities

The Ecumenical Movement

The Problem of Disunity
Reactions Among Non-Catholics
Bewildered Catholics
Combined Unity Services
Mutual Bible Study
Prospects of Reunion

Final Realities

653. What is the meaning of the word "Eschatology"?

The Greek word "eschatos" means last or final; and eschatology means the theology of the last things. Eschatology includes discussion of God's final purpose for the whole universe; but men are usually more interested in the fate awaiting themselves after death. One of the basic doctrines of the Christian religion is that all men will have to answer to God for the way in which they have lived both according to religious beliefs and moral conduct in this world, the end result of His judgment being admission to a state of eternal happiness in heaven, or dismissal to a state of eternal perdition in hell. We know of the existence of heaven and hell only because God has revealed to us the fact of their existence. They necessarily still remain mysterious to us as regards their nature, for whatever we are told about them apart from the fact of their existence must be in a language on our own level according to our experiences of this world. It follows that the ideas and imagery used for descriptions of them are bound to be inadequate, leaving a residue of mystery surpassing the capacity of the human mind. But where we do not see, we accept the revealed facts because of our faith in God who sees all. The noted scripture scholar, Father J. L. McKenzie, put things well by saying: "No theological hypothesis can be biblical which reduces the ultimate destiny of righteousness and wickedness to the same thing, even though the details of the afterlife are not disclosed except in imagery." It is essential to keep these principles in mind. There is a heaven, attractive of its very nature, and a hell, repellent of its very nature. But if anyone puts before us a heaven and hell fully intelligible in terms of our this-worldly experience, his doctrine will not be that of the Christian religion.

654. Just what are Catholics bound to believe by their faith to be awaiting men beyond this life?

Firstly, that as a result of their particular judgment immediately after death souls go in their disembodied state to heaven; or to hell; or, if not good enough for heaven nor bad enough for hell, to purgatory where, by purification from their deficiencies, they will be fitted for heaven. Both heaven and hell are terminal states which will endure forever. Secondly, we are obliged to believe that the essential happiness of heaven will consist in the beatific vision and love of God, while the sufferings of hell will consist in unending remorse over the loss of God and in afflictions by agencies of the created order which was violated by rebellious transgressions against the Will of God. Thirdly, it is of faith that on the last day the general resurrection will occur, that all bodies and souls will be reunited, and that both body and soul will share in each person's eternal fate, the complete human being finding his or her lot among the saved or lost, as the case may be. Such are the basic facts. Interpretations of the biblical imagery and of various secondary aspects connected with these facts are left to theologians, their conclusions having degrees of probability or merely possibility according to the worth of their arguments for them.

655. Does Scripture say that one is judged the moment he dies?

Scripture tells us, in a stark and realistic way: "It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment." Heb., 9:27. Man consists of both a material body and a spiritual soul. These form one substantial personality, death dissolving the partnership of body and soul. Obviously, however, once dead, the material body cannot answer for the kind of life a person has led in this world. It is no longer a conscious living organism. If there is to be a judgment immediately after death, it is only the soul or spirit of man that can be there to encounter it, retaining its spiritual powers of memory, intelligence and will. What happens at death, then, is that the body begins to disintegrate while the soul survives, to be judged by God.

656. May not scientists some day find a means of prolonging life indefinitely?

That will never be possible. The New Testament declares: "By one man sin entered into this world and by sin, death; and so death passed upon all men." Rom., 5:12. We know by divine revelation, therefore, that all men are subject to death; which means that scientists will never find a way of preventing man from dying. It should be noted here that death is as natural to man as to any other living material organism. If death is said to be due to sin, that is because exemption from death was a supernatural privilege granted by God provided man did not sin. By sin, that supernatural privilege was lost and man reverted, as it were, to death as the natural fate of all material organisms. Writing on "Rejuvenation" in a medical manual, Dr. G. Somerville says, from a purely scientific point of view: "Death results from a general abatement of the physiological processes of the body, the universal tendency to wasting and degeneration of highly-specialised cells. Granted no hereditary defects, special strains, accidents or diseases, death is simply the climax of a completed life-cycle." He says that the Russian scientist, Voronoff, claimed to be on the way to rejuvenating man by in-grafting monkey-glands, but he says that such local replacement treatment can have only temporary effects and cannot restore degenerated tissues in general. "The dream of some means of giving perpetual youth to man," he writes, "has intrigued the human imagination from the earliest ages of civilisation. Today we know there are no secret remedies resulting in longevity."

657. There is not a scrap of evidence for the survival of what is called the spiritual soul of man.

That is true from the viewpoint of physical experimental science. But the problem lies beyond the range of physical science, and is a matter for philosophical reasoning, or additionally, faith in the divinelyrevealed truth. We know, of course, that Spiritualists and Societies for Psychical Research claim to offer experimental evidence for survival in an after-life, but they have not been able to offer anything like convincing proofs. However, the God who made us tells us that there is a next life. As the New Testament puts it: "God, who spoke in times past by the prophets, has in these days spoken to us by His Son . . . by whom also He made the world." Heb., 1:1-2. That Divine Son, born into this world under the name of Jesus Christ for our salvation, bade us not to fear those who can kill the body but are not able to kill the soul (Matt., 10:28), and to lay up for ourselves, not perishable goods on earth, but imperishable treasures in heaven (Matt., 6:19-20). He who made us, knows also the provision He has made for our future. To reject the truth of this teaching, one has to deny all the facts of Judaeo- Christian history, the whole series of events from Abraham through to Christ and the Apostles, manifesting God's interventions in human affairs. Man's reason has full scope for inquiry into this historical evidence on our own earthly level, which provides more than enough justification for faith in what God has revealed to be true precisely because He has so revealed it.

658. I want to know, just as clearly as I know other things around me, what becomes of the dead.

That desire, in one form or another, is a constantly recurring one. There are no more haunting words, even in Shakespeare, than his reference to "the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns;" and in an age when man is reaching out to explore new worlds of space, curiosity about the world beyond the grave remains as acute as ever. So, at some time or other, all, office boy and cabinet minister, atheist, democrat, communist, scientist and philosopher, ask themselves the question: Is there a life after death? And not all the natural science in the world, even with the aid of parapsychology, will help to unlock the door to the mystery and provide a satisfactory answer to it. Recourse must be had to the teachings of divine revelation; and even those, while stressing the reality of life in the world to come, will to a great extent leave unsatisfied our curiosity about the actual details of it.

659. For example, where are the souls of the dead?

What becomes of them is the important question, not where they are. When we speak of "where", we inevitably think in terms of space measurements. For example, localities on the surface of the earth are determined by degrees of longitude and latitude. If we think in terms of space and ask where is the moon we "locate" It within the solar system; and the solar system itself is located in relation to the stars. But the soul, immortal of its very nature, is a spiritual entity. It is useless to ask where the soul has gone in the same sense as that in which we are told that a friend about whom we are inquiring has gone, say, from Europe to America. The soul has gone from this world altogether and we have to ask what has become of it rather than where it has gone. We know by divine revelation the answer to that, as in n.654 above. The term "where", in the sense of locality as we understand it from our present experience in this material universe, cannot apply strictly to any of the three possible states, although we naturally tend to think in such a way.

660. How could a man's bodily senses continue to function after death?

They could not; but we must not confuse man's material body with his spiritual soul. Even though body and soul are combined to form a unity of human personality in this life, they differ in structure. After death, the soul will continue its purely spiritual activities, but senseactivities which depend upon material bodily organs will share the fate of the body when it dies and no longer be operative. The immediate fate of the body after physical death, however, is not its ultimate fate. In the general resurrection on the last day, as Our Lord has declared, it will be restored to life, being reunited with the soul, to share with the soul in whatever may be the eternal destiny awaiting it.

661. Is New Testament teaching on this subject the same as that in the Old Testament?

Yes, although it explains things more clearly. The epistle to the Hebrews, 9:7, tells us: "It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment." There are two significant statements there. Firstly, we die once, not over and over again in any series of reincarnations. Secondly, when a doctor says of a patient "he is dead" if the doctor is right we can say "he is judged"; and that means, of course, by God. Concerning this judgment Jesus gave various lessons in the form of parables, outstanding among which were those of the foolish virgins (Matt., 25:1-13); the prodigal son (Lk., 15:11-32); the rich fool (Lk., 12:16-20); and the ten talents (Matt., 25:14-30). These four parables stressed four important points: (1) It is wise to serve God perseveringly, ever ready to meet Him; (2) There is mercy always available for any sinner, however depraved, provided he sincerely repents; (3) Presumption, however, is excluded, for while forgiveness is promised to the repentant, there is no promise of time to repent; (4) Those who do save their souls will be rewarded in heaven proportionately to the good use they have made of the opportunities God gave them.

662. I find it difficult to see how our life here can affect it in any hereafter.

The kind of life we will have hereafter will depend on the kind of life we have lived here on earth. To the inquiry of a young man, our Lord said: "If you will enter into life, keep the Commandments." Matt., 19:16. The significance of the "if" lies in its warning that should one not keep God's Commandments his prospects of a life of happiness hereafter are seriously compromised, to say the least. As for how life here affects life hereafter, the New Testament gives the answer: "The just judgment of God will render to every man according to his works." Rom., 2:6. The question we should continually be asking ourselves is: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?" Mk., 8:36. The only sensible choice is to live the kind of life here which will involve no risk of losing our souls when death has put an end to our period of probation on earth.

663. I was shocked by your statement that some people after death go to a so-called Purgatory.

In the literary world, Dante's "Purgatorio," and in the musical world, Sir Edward Elgar's setting to music of Newman's "Dream of Gerontius," have made most people too familiar with the idea for them to be shocked by it. On the other hand, religiously, the vast majority of Christians, over 600 millions of Catholics and 200 millions belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, believe in the existence of purgatory. To believers in purgatory a most merciful doctrine it seems altogether too severe to hold that all who at death are not fit for heaven have only one other alternative, that of absolute rejection by God. Few people are wholly good or wholly evil; nor does the merely physical act of dying suddenly change the sort of personality one has developed during this life. Such considerations are leading more and more thoughtful Christians brought up with no belief in purgatory to speak of a progressive growth and understanding after death, fitting one for that "holiness without which no man shall see the Lord." Heb., 12:14. This, of course, without calling it purgatory, is to believe in an intermediate state between heaven and hell, a belief which seems to them more in accordance with both faith and reason.

664. Nowhere in the Bible have I ever come across the word purgatory.

It is not a question of words, but of realities. The word "Trinity" is not in the Bible, but it expresses the truth that in the one God there are the three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose name we are baptised. As for purgatory, both Old and New Testaments contain prayers for the dead. That supposes them neither to be in heaven where they would not need our prayers, nor in hell where prayers could not help them. In the Old Testament we read in 2 Maccabees, 12:46 that "it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins." In the New Testament we find St. Paul praying for the soul of his benefactor, Onesiphorus: "The Lord grant unto him to find mercy in that day." As for the actual teachings of Christ, in Matt., 12:32 He speaks of a sin so malicious that "it shall not be forgiven either in this world or in the world to come." In Lk., 12:59, having described different forms of retribution for sin, He declares that there will be no release until the "last mite" due to divine justice has been paid. In Lk., 16-19f. He made the intermediate state the basis of His parable about the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus. He depicted Lazarus as being in a state of happiness after death, but the rich man as consigned to a state of suffering. The Gospel describes the rich man as being "in hell," but that expression was used in the Hebrew sense of "sheol" or the netherworld, not as indicating a state of eternal reprobation to which modern usage restricts the word hell. In fact, the rich man, amidst his own sufferings, is shown, in vv. 27-28, as filled with charitable concern for his five brothers. These passages impelled the Anglican Bishop Gore to say that they strongly point to a middle state of purification. Finally, I Peter, 3:19 tells us that, between His death and resurrection the soul of Christ went to preach "to those spirits that were in prison," a reference which the non-Catholic Peake's revised "Commentary on the Bible" (1962) declares to be best interpreted as indicating the souls of those who had died in previous ages. From all this it should be clear that the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is not an unbiblical teaching.

665. When was belief in purgatory first adopted?

One should really ask when it was first denied. Right back to apostolic times we find the Christian Church, both in the East and the West, teaching an intermediate state of purification for souls after death, whom we can help by our prayers for them. All the ancient liturgies contain such prayers. Both Greek and Latin Fathers teach the doctrine which Tertullian, born in 160 A.D., declared to be derived from apostolic tradition, confirmed by custom and maintained by faith. The Christian outlook was well reflected in the words of St. Monica when dying in 387 A.D. To her son, St. Augustine, she said: "Lay this body where you will. This only I request, that you will remember me at the Lord's altar wherever you may be." ("Confessions of St. Augustine." Bk. 9). The real problem confronts a professing Christian who holds that the whole Church, which Scripture declares to be "the pillar and mainstay of truth" (I Tim., 3:15) taught a seriously erroneous doctrine.

666. Does the Church teach whether souls in purgatory are happier or unhappier than they were in this world?

The Church has no official teaching on that matter. Accordmg to Catholic theologians and spiritual writers, the souls in purgatory are inexpressibly happy and inexpressibly sad, from two different points of view. They are inexpressibly happy in the knowledge that they have saved their souls, in their absolute certainty of attaining to the Vision of God, in their love of Him, perfect conformity with His Will, charity towards one another, and a peace they never knew in this world. From another point of view, freed from the distractions of this world, they have a much keener realisation of how great a misery it is to be deprived of the Vision of God even temporarily, of how great an evil is sin which comes between God and ourselves, and of their own responsibility for the unfulfilled desire of the Vision of God with which they are consumed. From the former point of view they are happier than we are, who are still in a state of probation; and they would not change places with us who still have to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling," as St. Paul puts it (Phil., 2:12). From the latter point of view, they know a sorrow we have never experienced and need our prayers even as we hope that others will pray for us when we also are in the position that is now theirs. Without anxiety, but with true faith and piety and charity, we remember and pray for them.

667. Do our prayers alleviate the duration or the intensity of the sufferings of a soul in purgatory?

That we must leave to God. We do not know what purgatorial time or duration means; that is, what there corresponds to our ideas of time-measurements by days and months and years. Holy Scripture tells us that "a thousand years are but as a day in the sight of the Lord;" whilst even our own experiences of time are so relative to our psychological dispositions that in some circumstances we say "time went like a flash," in others that "time seemed to drag as never before!" However, granted some form of duration in purgatory whatever its nature, prayers for the souls there could avail for diminishing it, or for the alleviating of the intensity of sufferings being endured, or for both. More than that we cannot say.

668. Do souls in purgatory see and know of our worries here on earth?

The Church has no official teaching on that matter; but it is the common opinion of Catholic theologians that the departed souls, separated from their bodily means of seeing and hearing what is going on in this world, cannot have direct knowledge of ourselves and our activities, but that indirectly they can know in so far as God reveals to them whatever is of particular concern to them. In any case, they certainly pray for us as we pray for them, slight as is our knowledge concerning their other-worldly conditions. We believe in the communion or commonunion of saints which links in grace and prayer the Church Triumphant in heaven, the Church Suffering in purgatory, the Church Militant on earth.

669. Just how much has been infallibly defined by the Catholic Church about hell?

Five things. Firstly, it exists; secondly, it will be a state of unimaginable remorse and suffering; thirdly, it will be endless; fourthly, the souls of those who die in unrepented serious sin go there at once, without waiting for the Final Judgment at the end of the world; fifthly, on the Last Day, when the general resurrection reunites all human bodies and souls so that people will be saved or lost as complete human persons, their bodies will share in the destiny souls have chosen for themselves. Such are the five infallibly defined doctrines. If a Catholic rejects any of them, either he has lost the faith, or he is so ill-instructed that he does not know what his religion requires him to believe. Apart from those five factual statements, the Church has defined nothing. Of its very nature, hell is as much a revealed mystery as heaven and all else that has to do with our life beyond this one of our present every-day experience. Descriptions of it are necessarily symbolical; and additional statements about it are more or less probable theological opinions. But the revealed facts are enough for all practical purposes. They may not satisfy our curiosity, but they are enough to bring us to our senses and make us realise the seriousness of the life given us in this world as a preparation for one of two possible and eternal destinies in the world to come.

670. What biblical grounds are there for believing in an eternal hell?

There is nothing more certain than that Christ taught the possibility of an individual bringing upon himself an eternal and irrevocable misery. "I will tell you whom to fear," He said. "Not those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But fear Him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell." Lk., 12:4-5. He spoke of those going to hell as going "into the fire that never shall be quenched," where the worm of remorse within them "dies not." Mk., 9:43-4. He gives as the sentence on the unrepentant wicked at the Last Judgment: "Depart from me you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Matt., 25:41. With all allowance for metaphorical description, the fate of the devil and his angels can be ours. As St. Augustine said long ago: "Are you going to believe in everlasting life because you like it, but not in everlasting punishment because you don't like the thought of that?" In both cases our Lord used the same word for "everlasting." The simple truth is that, as good and evil exist in this world, so these have good and evil counterparts in eternity. Our very hope of salvation supposes an eternal and heavenly happiness to which we can possibly attain, and an eternal hell from which we can possibly be saved.

671. Why did God permit an eternal hell to exist at all?

If, as our Lord said, it was prepared for the devil and his angels, the reason can only be that God, in His wisdom and justice, regarded it as the fitting state for those who, immortal of their very nature, have chosen to render themselves irrevocably evil despite their having been under no necessity of making such a choice at all. St. Peter tells us that "God spared not the angels who sinned." 2 Pet., 2:4 St. Jude, in his epistle, verse 6, says: "The angels who did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been consigned to eternal chains and darkness." The language there used was but a human way of saying that a loss of light and liberty, resulting, not in repentance, but in a burning remorse and misery, had already become the lot of the rebellious angels; and our Lord warned us that a similar fate could become ours if we choose to be so obstinate in evil as to deserve it.

672. In Matt., 10:28 Christ says: "Fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell;" which suggests blotting both out of existence in the grave, translated in English as hell.

That interpretation is excluded by the clear distinction made in the preceding words of the same verse: "Fear not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul." The physical death of the body, therefore, does not mean the death of the soul. Also, in the Greek text the word translated as hell in English is not "hades", meaning the netherworld in general, but "gehenna", meaning a netherworld of suffering. The soul, which cannot be killed by the killing of the material body, can have all its hopes of happiness destroyed by the endless misery of gehenna. That there can be a living death to spiritual levels of life is clear from St. Paul's words to the Colossians: "When you were dead in your sins." Col., 2:13. To go from this world still dead in one's sins is, not to be annihilated, but to encounter destruction in the sense of entering into perdition or the state of lost souls.

673. Does not reason itself rebel against such a doctrine?

Not when one thinks twice about it. Hell, in fact, is the inexorable consequence of human dignity, of the possession of intelligence, freewill and moral responsibility. Eric Gill, the sculptor, says in his book "The Necessity of Belief," p. 135: "The doctrine of hell is the most stupendous compliment to man humanly conceivable. It is not disbelieved because people can't think God would be so unkind, but because they have slipped down from the lofty eminence on which religion placed them an eminence upon which they stood as men meriting to receive the uttermost praise or the uttermost blame into an easy place where they can grovel comfortably." There are good and evil in this world, and good and evil counterparts in eternity, heaven and hell. And certainly, if sin is bad enough to cause the death of Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, on Calvary, it is bad enough to deserve hell for the man who goes from this world obstinately identifying himself with seriously malicious dispositions of rebellion against the Will of his Creator. In any case, it is impossible to soften the severity of Christ's warnings against the enduring consequences of unrepented sin; and the sentimentalism which seeks to do so results in a distortion of New Testament teaching. People may persuade themselves that there is no hell, but that makes no difference to its reality. If they live and die in such a way as to deserve it, they will go there; and Holy Scripture tells us it is there awaiting them, if such be their choice.

674. That there should be an eternal hell simply baffles human understanding.

Man has only a limited and not an infinite intelligence. He would have to be God to see things as God sees them, finding no mystery in other-worldly realities. But we are told enough about hell for all practical purposes. Divine revelation is not primarily concerned with speculative questions. "It is not for you to know," was our Lord's reply to those. Problems which we cannot completely solve nor rightly expect to solve we can safely leave to God, unwavering in our acceptance of information ordained to the salvation of our souls and clearly put before us in the Bible as the Word of God.

675. The doctrine does not seem to fit in with God's attributes at all.

If we imagine a hell which is in conflict with God's attributes, our imagination is at fault. There is a God, infinitely loving, just and merciful; and there is a hell of eternal punishment. God, infinitely wise, must see how these are not incompatible; we, not infinitely wise, may not fully comprehend this. That, however, at most gives us reason to doubt, not the facts God has revealed to be true, but our own capacity to understand them as He does.

676. lt is Incredible that God, Infinite Love, should condemn a person to hell forever.

God does not really do that. He ratifies a person's own self-condemnation to hell. We can turn our back on God's love; and if that choice becomes fixed and eternal, our banishment from God's presence becomes fixed and eternal. But God cannot want anyone to go to hell, or He would not have "so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son" (Jn., 3:16); also Scripture tells us that God wills that "all men should be saved." I Tim., 2:4. This means that grace is always available so long as a man is in this life, to enable him to put himself right with God. No one need go to hell. But if a man won't put himself right with God, then hell is the logical consequence of not being able to reject God's mercy and have it. And surely we ourselves, endowed with a soul made in God's image and likeness and therefore immortal, and endowed with a free will enabling us to merit with the help of God's grace a destiny of eternal happiness, should be the last to complain of the eternal consequences of unrepented abuses of our freedom by rebellion against God abuses of which we need not be guilty and against the consequences of which we have been well and truly warned beforehand.

677. God must be infinitely just; and no sin, to my mind, would justify God in sending anyone to hell.

God hasn't got to justify Himself to our minds. He is our Judge. We are not His judge. However, in God no one divine attribute can violate another. God is Love and Mercy and Power and Justice. These attributes are equally one in Him. If any hell we imagine is really opposed to God's Justice, then hell isn't like that. But we must remember, too, that our ideas of justice are inevitably limited to relationships between human beings, and there is an infinite lack of proportion between those and the relationships between the Creator and His creatures. The justice of hell will be found to depend on the injustice of sin as a serious, fully-deliberate and unrepented offence against God's infinite majesty. But in the presence of whatever element of mystery confronts us here, we can confidently leave it to God to safeguard His own attributes. We haven't got to worry about that. What we can understand is that one who goes from this world rejecting God deserves to be rejected by God. People horrified by the thought of hell are no longer horrified by the thought of sin; and they are not indignant because they are concerned with God's good name but because in their self-centredness the thought of such a possible fate for themselves they find intolerable. The saints who, instead of loving themselves even to the contempt of God, loved God even to the contempt of themselves, would be shocked by our indifference to sin, which, if bad enough to bring about the death of Christ on the Cross, is bad enough to deserve hell for those who, refusing to repent of it, die irrevocably identifying themselves with it.

678. What becomes of God's mercy if, after a person's limited time in this world, forgiveness is no longer available?

We must take complete, and not incomplete views. We must see, not only the results of repudiating God's forgiveness by one who does not want it; we must see also God's merciful dispositions of readiness to forgive which are an essential and abiding characteristic of His very nature. He Himself declares: "I will not the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live." Ezek., 33:11. If a man commits serious sin and obstinately refuses to be converted right to the end of his probation in this world, it is not so much that God sends him to hell as that he himself chooses to go there. As for God's mercy, there can scarcely be a greater abuse of it than to make it one's excuse to offend Him the more, practically saying to Him: "There's no hell. Whatever I do, you've got to forgive me in the end; so your commandments will remain a dead letter as far as I'm concerned." Against the fallacy that we can not only sin but persist in doing so with impunity, Scripture rightly warns us: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap." Gal., 6:7.

679. I think the American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar expressed the theology of most people who say they believe in hell:
"There is a heaven forever; day by day
The upward surging of my soul doth tell me so.
There is a hell, I'm quite as sure; for pray,
If there were not, where would my neighbors go?"

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was a devout Methodist throughout his life; and the lines you quote contain, not a theology of hell, but a condemnation of the dispositions of pharisaical pride in one's own imagined virtues, with a tendency to see only the vices of other people. They express the lesson taught in Christ's parable of the pharisee and the publican (Lk., 18:9-14). The genuine Christian thinks of hell as a possible doom for himself rather than for others. He esteems others as better than himself; or, if he sees faults in them of which he knows he himself is not guilty, he says in the words attributed to so many of the saints "There but for the grace of God go I." Dunbar's lines contain no indication of unbelief in hell on his part; and, in any case, would not make any difference to the reality of hell if they did.

680. Is heaven a spiritual or a material eternal destiny?

Of that problem St. Paul had to say: "Behold, I tell you a mystery." I Cor., 15:51. A mystery is a reality of which we know by divine revelation but which is beyond our full understanding. To the Corinthians St. Paul wrote: "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face." I Cor., 13:12. That is, we now know only imperfectly realities of which we will be fully aware in the next life. This much, however, can be said. Heaven is essentially spiritual. When Jesus said: "God is a Spirit" (Jn., 4:24) He meant that God is quite different from the material things of the world so different that heavenly things cannot be fully explained in earthly terms (Jn., 3:12). At the same time, Scripture promises a glorious transformation of this material universe which will be "spiritualised" in a way of which we can have no idea now, lifting it to heavenly levels. So we are told that there will be a "new heavens and a new earth." (2 Pet., 3:13; Rev., 21:1). Our own material bodies will be raised as "spiritual bodies" (I Cor., 15:44) to fit us for participation, both body and soul, in the fulness of heavenly happiness as members of the risen, ascended and glorified Christ. In this sense, heaven is both spiritual and material, whatever is material as we now know it having undergone a mysterious transfiguration.

681. Surely it is obvious to common sense that there is no heaven "up there," and no hell "down there."

Everyone with even an elementary education knows that such expressions are figures of speech, as when we speak of one person having "high ideals", or of another as being of "low morals." "High" and "low" are spatial ideas used metaphorically for non-spatial characteristics. Where heaven and hell are concerned, spatial concepts are used symbolically; of heaven, as an invisible, spiritual and transcendent realm proper to God and beyond time and space altogether, not by distance, but in kind or nature; of hell, as a disastrous other-worldly sphere of existence which Christ said was "prepared for the devil and his angels" which does not suggest any "up" or "down" in the material sense of those words. The spiritual impact of Christianity upon ourselves is not lessened by the use of metaphorical expressions. No difference is made to the daily lives of Christians by the fact that the New Testament tells them to seek "the things that are above," the word "above" being a spatial concept used, not literally, but symbolically for "higher" spiritual ideals and realities as contrasted with "lower" material and earthly interests.

682. Are not heaven and hell on this earth, here and now?

Such an idea would be even more opposed to common sense than thinking heaven or hell to be literally "up" or "down" there, or anywhere spatially and relatively to this material world. Scripture stresses the "otherness" of the next life as compared with that on earth. As regards heaven, it tells us that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, not has it entered the heart of man, what God has prepared for them that love Him" (I Cor., 1:9). Heavenly conditions will be quite different from anything we have seen or heard on earth. The destiny we hope to attain will be supernatural of its very nature. Christ bade us: "Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth . . . but treasure in heaven" (Matt., 6:19). He said that in heaven "men shall be as the angels" (Mk., 6:25); and it was when He was on the verge of leaving this earthly scene that He said: "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you also may be" (Jn., 14:2) using the terms "place" and "where" only by analogy with our ways of thinking in our present human condition. Our eternal lot is beyond the here and now, the space and time limits of this earth where, as Heb., 13:14 puts it, "we have no abiding city but seek one that is to come," a destiny beyond and very different in kind from life as we know it here.

683. Our Lord told the dying thief they would be together that day in paradise (Lk., 23:43); yet after His resurrection He said He had not yet ascended to His Father (Jn., 20:17). Are we to think of paradise and heaven as two separate abodes of the blessed?

As regards those two particular references, yes. The word paradise has several different meanings. It is derived from the Persian "Pairidaeza", meaning a luxuriant enclosed park. So, in the Septuagint Greek Old Testament, the Garden of Eden in which our first parents were placed is translated as "paradise." Later, the word paradise became the symbol of a place or state of happiness beyond the grave; and this could be either a temporary state or one of permanent and eternal beatitude in heaven itself. In Rev., 2:7, our Lord says: "To him that overcomes I will give to eat of the Tree of Life which is in the paradise of my God." The reference there was to heaven. But paradise as a temporary state of other-worldly happiness not involving the very Vision of God was described by the Jews as "Abraham's bosom" (Lk., 16:23), which we speak of as the "limbo" of the just an intermediate state which is neither heaven nor hell. When our Lord said to the dying thief: "Today you will be with me in paradise," He was referring to limbo as the temporary abode of the just after death. It was enough to find oneself anywhere with Christ to be in a paradise of happiness, even though it fell short of the full beatitude of heaven for the time being. So St. Paul said simply: "I desire to depart" from this world - "and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better." Phil., 1:23.

684. If heaven is eternal, why did Christ say: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt., 24:35)?

He was not referring to heaven as the eternal state of happiness beyond this world. He was referring to the visible universe which seemed to His listeners so solid and stable, and for the sake of emphasis told them that, even though the whole visible universe were to collapse, His teachings would remain permanently true and valid. We use a somewhat similar illustration of our meaning when we urge someone to be true to his principles "though the heavens fall," the last thing we would expect to happen. We know from other passages in Scripture, that as a matter of fact the "heavens and the earth" as we know them will eventually pass away when, on the Last Day there will be a complete and mysterious reconstitution of this whole universe in ways known only to God; but our Lord was not alluding to that in the words you have quoted. He meant merely that the heavens and the earth as they appeared to His listeners were not more durable and lasting than the truth of His teachings.

685. In heaven, will we recognise and know those we loved on earth? It would scarcely be heaven if we did not.

What primarily and essentially makes heaven is the direct, immediate and beatific Vision of God as the supreme and supernatural goal of our existence. This does not exclude the secondary happiness of the company of others whom we have loved and who also have attained salvation; but even without that, God alone would be enough to make heaven for us. Our present ideas are inadequate to grasp this mystery of our faith. On earth our natural love goes out directly to our fellow human beings for their own sake. But in heaven God Himself will be the direct object of our love. Merely natural love will merge into a supernatural love primarily and directly centred on God, overflowing to others in so far as they participate in and reflect the goodness and holiness of God. If this baffles our limited understanding now, we should be more astonished still if it did not. For we are not in heaven yet.

686. Catholics hold that infants dying without baptism go neither to heaven nor hell, but to an eternal intermediate state of natural happiness called limbo.

That is the more common opinion, but not a definite Article of the Catholic Faith. The reasons for the opinion are threefold: firstly, our Lord's words: "Unless one be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn., 3:5); secondly, lacking the use of reason, such infants are incapable of "baptism of desire;" thirdly, no one can go to hell except for unrepented personal mortal sin, of which infants are incapable. Theologians argue, therefore, that a limbo or intermediate state somewhat like the limbo of the souls of previous generations awaiting the saving death, resurrection and ascension of Christ must exist to provide for such unbaptised infants.

687. Would not a permanent limbo for unbaptised babies who had no chance of freely choosing or rejecting God be unjust?

It would be unjust for a soul innocent of personal sin to be consigned to hell. But that certainly does not happen. It would not be unjust for an unbaptised infant to be granted an eternal natural happiness, but to lack the higher supernatural happiness of heaven to which it had no just claim.

688. What would be the natural happiness prevailing in limbo?

That we cannot say, beyond holding that, although the unrealised supernatural happiness of the immediate and beatific Vision of God would be absent, no form of suffering would be experienced. I remember maintaining years ago in a theological discussion that since the souls of unbaptised infants could not go to hell, they could not be regarded as lost. My opponent argued that since they could not enter heaven, they could not be regarded as saved. We both accepted the doctrine of limbo. Concerning its nature, there was of course much inconclusive citation of ecclesiastical documents and opinions of various theologians. To put our positions simply and in a humanly imaginative way, while he regarded limbo as a kind of painless "suburb of hell," I maintained that it was better thought of as a kind of happy "suburb of heaven."

689. Do not some Catholic theologians today deny the existence of a limbo for unbaptised infants at all, holding that such infants are admitted to heaven? If so, how authoritative is their opinion?

Individual Catholic theologians are not endowed with infallibility. When they are not citing the official teachings of the Church, they but express personal opinions and their reasons for them. Other theologians may challenge their opinions and dispute the value of their arguments. As regards the existence of limbo for unbaptised infants, I know of no Catholic theologian who positively denies the doctrine, although some contemporary theologians cast doubts about its likelihood. All Catholic theologians agree that the doctrine has never been defined as a dogma by the Church. All agree that it is possible that God has some way He has not made known to us by which He enables all unbaptised infants to enter heaven. Those who hold it to be likely that He does so argue that, since our Lord died for the salvation in the fullest sense of the word for all mankind, too great a proportion of mankind would be excluded from heaven if all unbaptised infants failed to benefit by His redemptive work. How God would make salvation possible for such infants if He does is as much a matter of conjecture as the theory itself. Some think that at the moment of death a special grace may enable such infants to experience a "baptism of desire;" others that at least in the general resurrection on the last day as "part of mankind" guilty of no personal sin they will have conferred upon them the benefits of the redemption Christ wrought for mankind. In this latter case, there would be a temporary limbo for unbaptised infants until the last day, but it would not be an endless state for them. One may hold these new theological opinions as possible or even likely, but not as certainly correct; and the Church is insistent that we must do our best to see that infants are not allowed to die without having received the Sacrament of Baptism which Scripture declares to be necessary without informing us of any special provisions God may make for unbaptised infants in ways known only to Himself.

690. What is the Catholic doctrine about Christ's Second Coming?

In the Apostles' Creed, all Catholics profess as part of their faith that Christ "rose from the dead and ascended into heaven" and that "from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead." The Catholic Church certainly teaches, therefore, that as surely as there was a first coming of Christ to this world by His birth in Bethlehem, so there will be a second coming of Christ in His majesty and glory as the Eternal Son of God to judge all mankind. That judgment will put an end to human history on this earth as we know it, resulting in one of two possible destinies in eternity for human beings who have attained to the age of responsibility for their conduct, heaven or hell; the one destiny sublime; the other tragic. There will be no setting up of any temporal kingdom of Christ on this earth, over which He will rule for a thousand years (often spoken of as the Millennium). The Catholic Church rejects any idea of that as erroneous and based upon a misinterpretation of Scripture.

691. What does the New Testament itself teach on this subject?

Christ Himself undoubtedly taught that there will be a dramatic end to human history in this world, with a final judgment of all mankind and the establishing of God's heavenly kingdom in the fulness of its perfection. But He also taught that the kingdom of God was already and initially present in this world by the very fact of His having come into it as our Redeemer. He began His public mission by saying: "The time is accomplished and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe the gospel" (that is, the "good news") Mk., 1:15. Christ, therefore, inaugurated the kingdom of God in the sense of the "Rule of God" over the souls of men. In Christ and in His saving activities, then, the old order was supplanted by a new age, in which we now exist. So we are told, in Heb., 1:1-2, that God who spoke in times past by the prophets "last of all in these days has spoken to us by His Son." St. Peter, in turn, wrote that Christ has been "manifested in the last times for you" (I Pet., 1:20) while St. John said: "It is the last hour . . . even now" (I Jn., 2:18) that is, the last age of this world. It is true that Jesus taught an end to come of this present age, a "Last Day" of these "Last Days," when He would come again for the Final Judgment of all mankind; but He made it clear that it was not part of His mission to proclaim and that He was not interested in predicting when the final consummation of the kingdom would occur. His interest was in the progressive coming of the kingdom within men themselves as they increasingly accepted the gospel He preached, took their place among His disciples and in the Church He established, and laboured at the work of sanctifying themselves and of extending the knowledge of Him and His influence among as many others as possible. Those who do this are already members of the kingdom of God initially operative among us.

692. I have spent years in vain, trying to work out from the Bible when the world will end.

One passage in the Bible should of itself be enough to tell you that what you seek is not in the Bible. In Acts 1:7, we have our Lord's reply to the direct question of His disciples: "It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father has reserved to His own authority." If it is not given to man to know, it is quite certain that calculations based on obscure biblical passages mean wasting one's efforts in what is bound to be a futile search. The keynote of our Lord's message to us all is found in His words: "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He comes, shall find watching . . . for at what hour you think not the Son of Man will come." Lk., 12:37. This is as true of His calling us individually to our judgment at death, as it is of His final coming to judge all mankind. The one thing necessary is to do our best to serve God, keeping in His grace and love and friendship. If we do that, whether the end of the world itself comes sooner or whether it comes later will not be of any great practical importance for us.

693. Are there not many signs given in the Bible that the Last Day is near at hand?

Obviously not, since our Lord declared that the Father had no intention of giving men any definite information on that subject. Usually the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel is quoted in this connection. In that chapter, Christ predicted with many details the fall of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D. and which meant for the Jews the end of their world. But He also presented this event as a type or symbol of the end of the whole world's history, an event in the far-off future at a time known neither to the angels nor to men, and of which there were to be no indications. His descriptions of what will happen when the day of general judgment comes were given in a highly symbolical way denoting simply judgment and renewal. A literal fulfilment of all the details of such descriptive symbolism is not to be expected.

694. Did not the apostles themselves think the end of the world was near?

They did not teach the early return of Christ as part of the divinelyrevealed gospel they had been commissioned to preach. They did look forward to the full manifestation of the glory of Christ and, not knowing when it would be, expressed their hopes and pious expectations that it would be soon. St. Paul, however, warned the Thess'alonians: "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet Him, we beg you, brethren, not to be easily shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand." 2 Thess., 2:1-2,

695. Today's moral depravity, desecration of marriage, blatant sexdeviations, business dishonesties, violence, murder, and crimes of all kinds, are surely signs of the impending Final Judgment and the end of human history.

No argument can be based on such considerations. Take the description of the conduct of even professing Christians in the then state of society, written by St. Cyprian in his treatise "De Lapsis," 250 A.D. "All," he wrote, "are out to accumulate money. Forgetting what was the conduct of believers under the Apostles and what ought to be their conduct in every age, with insatiable eagerness for gain they devote themselves to the multiplying of possessions . . . There is no mercy in good works, no discipline in behaviour. Women colour their complexion with paint. Their eyes are changed from what God made them and a false colour is given to their hair. The hearts of the simple are misled by treacherous artifices and brethren become entangled in seductive snares. Ties of marriage are formed with unbelievers. Members of Christ are prostituted to the heathen. Not only rash, but false oaths are rife. Persons in high places are puffed up with contemptuous pride; poisoned calumnies fall from their lips; and men are divided by continual quarrelling." The fact that we ourselves are living now (1963), over, 1,700 years later, shows how mistaken would have been a conjecture from the evils of the times in 250 A.D. that the end of the world must surely be imminent. One cannot but become very diffident about similar conjectures based on the evils of our own days.

696. Surely more than ever now we must prepare for the Second Coming of Christ.

The idea of a feverish last-minute preparation based on conjectural calculations, as if the time and not the fact of a Second Coming of Christ were the important thing, is not in accordance with the New Testament outlook. It is the fact, and not the time, that is supremely important. This doctrine excludes the idea of the ancient Greek pagans and that of modern secularists that the course of history is only an endless cycle of processes, an interminable series without ultimate purpose or meaning; a system breeding the thought that there is no particular point in living at all. With Christian doctrine, as St. Augustine put it, that "infernal cycle collapses." Our earthly history has an end to be attained, a direction and a significance of which the pagan world knew nothing. But each of us as individuals has one life of probation on earth only, and a short one. Even granted that we manage the full span, not cut off by disease or accident, when our time is up we'll feel as if we have scarcely lived. From the time point of view, much more important is the warning: "You fool, this night your soul will be required of you." Lk., 12:20. A man well-prepared for his own death is by the very fact well-prepared for the Second Coming, whenever that happens.

697. Did not Jesus say that He would come to destroy the world by fire?

Holy Scripture does not say so. In Matt., 24:27-29, He does speak of a cosmic catastrophe, suddenly disrupting the present physical order of the universe; but in verse 30 He says that all men will then see Him coming in power and glory. Also, in John 5:28 He says that, in preparation for this, all who are in the graves will hear the voice of the Son of God and have part in the general resurrection preceding the Last Judgment. The cosmic changes, therefore, whatever their nature may be, will not mean the destruction of the world by fire.

698. 2 Peter, 3:10, speaks of the end of the world by fire.

St. Peter did not intend that as a literal explanation of what will actually occur. There was a wide-spread idea current in those times among Persians, Greeks and Romans that the original element of the universe was fire and that the world would return in the end to a condition of fire from which it arose in the first place. St. Peter used this idea as imagery to symbolise the failure of the world, the supremacy of God, and the future judgment of mankind. He goes on, in verse 13, to speak, not of the annihilation of the universe, but of its transformation and renewal as a "new heavens and a new earth." His purpose was to signify, in conventional terms then acceptable, that the present corrupt world would undoubtedly end, yielding place to the triumph of Divine Justice.

699. When the end comes, will ft include all the universe or just the earth?

Scripture suggests that there will be a "new heavens and a new earth;" that the Second Coming of Christ will bring with it a cataclysmic shock to the existing order of material creation itself, affecting not only the earth but the whole universe; and that there will be, in some way quite beyond our present comprehension, a perfect adaptation of all created things to the manifestation of the glorified Christ and of the redeemed both body and soul as the children of God. We have here a mystery not to be solved in terms of natural science. There have been many and various speculations of the subject, such as those of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin; but the only safe thing to say is that, whatever happens, the redeemed, in their state of heavenly glory, will see the whole of material creation under a very different aspect from that confronting us now.

700. In another world-war, nuclear destruction could devastate the whole face of the earth.

However extensive the devastation, it is not by such means that the whole of humanity will perish and human history in this world be brought to an end. We know from the Scriptures that the end will come by a special intervention of God, Christ coming again, no longer in poverty and humility, but with great power and majesty, to judge the living and the dead (Matt., 24:30-31). The picture is not of something coming out of this world's chaotic distress, but of the God-man, Christ, coming into it again. The end of human history will not be brought about by any work of man but by an Act of God, the intervention of His own infinite power. And the decision rests with Him as to when this will be. No temporal disasters brought upon themselves by men, resulting from their misuse of science and technology, will be the deciding factor.

701. Does Armageddon (Rev., 16:16) refer literally to a great final conflict between the nations on the earth?

The term does not refer literally to any war between the nations. It is a purely symbolical expression denoting the climax to the whole spiritual struggle between the forces of good and evil in this world. The symbolism of Armageddon is derived from Mount Megiddo, in Hebrew "Har-Magedon," a high tableland in Palestine on which many great battles were fought in ancient times. The reference prophetically is to the ultimate victory over all sin and wickedness resting with Christ in His Second Coming to judge the living and the dead.

702. Will people living when the end of the world comes have to die?

That is more than anyone can say. The early Fathers of the Church and later biblical scholars are divided in their interpretations of what Scripture has to say on the subject. Some say that those living when the end comes will have to die, quoting St. Paul's words that "in Adam all die" (I Cor., 15:22); that through Adam's sin "death passed upon all men" (Rom., 5:12); and that "it is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment" (Heb., 9:27). Others say that those words should be taken as stating a general principle, allowing for exceptions, and that those living when, as we say in the Apostles' Creed, Christ comes to "judge the living and the dead," will be judged as they are, without first having to die. These writers say that St. Paul himself seems to allow for this exception by declaring, in I Cor., 15:51, that "we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed" and in I Thess., 4:16, that "we who are alive" shall be taken up, to be always with the Lord. The Catholic Church has not authoritatively decided this issue, but leaves it an open question.

703. If those living then do not die, would this mean that they would have to undergo their purgatory on earth?

It would mean that such expiation of their sins as they might have to undergo could be accomplished by their very experience of those last moments of crisis for the whole human race, the intensity of their interior purification supplying for any lack of duration which would otherwise have fallen to their lot; or, alternatively, they could be granted the grace of such perfect contrition and love of God that any indebtedness to His justice remaining over and above the forgiveness of the guilt of their sins would also be cancelled. Whatever the value of our conjectures in this matter, we can safely leave it to God to make provision for them in keeping with His own requirements of them.

704. The Catholic Church teaches that on the last day the bodies of all deceased human beings will be raised from the dead.

That is the clear teaching of Scripture, at which Christ bids us "not to marvel." Jn., 5:27-29. The doctrine is this. All human souls are immortal of their very nature and continue in existence after the death of the body. All human bodies will be restored to life and reunited with their souls on the last day at the general resurrection to be present at the General Judgment. So all human beings will be either saved or lost eventually according to their complete human nature, consisting of both soul and body.

705. I have read somewhere that John the evangelist thought up the idea of a bodily resurrection and put his own ideas on the lips of Christ.

That cannot be. St. John wrote his gospel between 95 and 100 A.D. But St. Paul proclaimed the doctrine as part of the teaching of Christ over forty years earlier. According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, Felix was appointed Roman Procurator in Judea in 52 A.D. and was recalled to Rome by Nero in 60 A.D. In 54 A.D. St. Paul was arrested at the instigation of the Jews and was brought to trial before Felix, the Roman Procurator, for disturbing the peace. During his trial, St, Paul told Felix: "I hold that there is to be a resurrection of good and wicked alike." Acts, 24:15. That was over forty years before St. John wrote his gospel, who could not have been the inventor of the doctrine.

706. The Apostles' Creed's profession of faith in "the resurrection of the body" is said to refer only to those who save their souls.

In a sense that is true, for the Apostles' Creed sums up primarily the beliefs and hopes of Christians. They professed their faith in the fact that if they saved their souls their bodies also some day would be raised from the dead to share with their souls in the happiness of heaven. So, in some forms of the Apostles' Creed used in early times the wording was: "I believe in the resurrection of the body to life everlasting." But while the reference in the Creed is to the resurrection of the bodies of the just, that does not exclude the fact that Christians believed in the resurrection of the unjust also, their bodies as well as their souls enduring the fate of the lost.

707. Do not some modern theologians say that nothing whatever of a man remains between death and the resurrection?

That has been called the theory of "collapse" and "reinflation," held by some non-Catholic theologians. It is, of course, quite opposed to Catholic doctrine. It ignores the traditional teaching of the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, from Apostolic times. It leaves no room for any concern with the saints in heaven, those "spirits of the just made perfect," of whom Hebrews, 12:23, speaks; nor for our prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, a Christian practice from the very beginning. The notorious "Dutch Catechism" has been officially and rightly criticised for teaching what in effect amounts to the "collapse" and "reinflation" theory, holding that the departed live on only in the memories, edifying or disedifying as the case may be, of those who may have known or heard of them in this life. After death, nothing of them remains beyond that. In the general resurrection at the end of time they will "come alive" again. But there are no souls suffering in purgatory, nor the souls of any saints already enjoying the Beatific Vision of God in heaven. The saints, too, are only those whom we think of as having been very good people while they were on earth. Such a doctrine is opposed to scripture, tradition and reason itself, and to the defined teachings of the Catholic Church. It is sheer sophistry for the "Dutch Catechism" to say as it does on p. 273 that such teaching is the same faith as Catholics have always held, only expressed "in a somewhat different way." Its doctrine is a different doctrine, opposed to the Catholic faith.

708. What kind of a body will we have after the resurrection?

Dealing with this subject in I Cor., 15:35-53, St. Paul himself had to say: "Behold, I tell you a mystery." In verse 44 he says that what is buried after death as a "natural body" shall rise a "spiritual body." Obviously he means that our earthly bodies will be adapted to otherworldly conditions. They will not actually be changed into spiritual entities of the same nature as the soul; but they will be emancipated from the limitations of matter as we now experience them and be transformed to become associated instruments of souls in their new spheres of activity. The element of mystery in all this is, as St. Paul admits, inescapable.

709. That we should get our same bodies back seems, not a mystery, but an impossibility. Science tells us that every particle of matter in our bodies completely changes every decade or so.

There is no need to think that our risen bodies in their material composition will be identical with all the changing particles of matter they have had during this life. Even now, despite all physiological changes, our bodies retain their permanent and abiding characteristics, and we know that we have the same bodies as those with which we were born; and in that sense we will have the same bodies in the resurrection, recognisable as such despite the new conditions under which they will exist.

710. How could all resurrected humanity possibly find standing room on this earth?

Under existing conditions, common sense excludes the idea of a resurrection of all generations of humanity simultaneously on this spatially limited earth. But we are not asked to think in such a crudely literal way. Scripture depicts as one total event the Second Coming of Christ, the transfiguration of this whole material universe, the resurrection of the etherealised bodies of men to be reunited with their souls, and the Last Judgment allotting to men their final destiny as they are found deserving to be ranked with the saved or the lost.

711. The earth itself would have to be altered.

That is to be expected, although not necessarily in order to make the resurrection of all mankind possible. The New Testament tells us, in 2 Pet., 3:13, that we are to look "for new heavens and a new earth according to His promises in which righteousness dwells." That does not mean that this earth will be restored as a dwelling-place for the redeemed. Christ Himself, having said to His apostles: "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you also may be" (Jn., 14:3), went on to explain: "I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (Jn., 16:28). For the saved, there is prepared a quite other-worldly state of eternal happiness in heaven. At the same time, St. Peter says that the actual scheme of the heavens and the earth will undergo a great change. Christ's Second Coming will bring with it a shock to the whole existing order of this material universe. But precisely what will take place belongs to the realm of mystery. We have no choice except to leave that to God, who can safely be left to accomplish His own purposes, whatever they may be.

712. Are Christ's words to be taken literally, that "all will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, with great power and glory" (Mk., 13:26)?

The allusion was to an Old Testament prophetic vision recorded in the book of Daniel, 7:13. The important thing in the passage is the fact that all people, after their resurrection, will see the majesty and glory of Christ's humanity with their bodily eyes, and realise that He who was once judged by men is now their Judge. So St. Paul writes: "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Rom., 14:10. The literary details of the prophecy need not be taken as they stand. No pictorial description of so great a mystery could do justice to it, and much of the imagery is necessarily symbolical. For His own listeners, by His use of the familiar Old Testament reference to the "Son of Man coming in the clouds," our Lord could have intended simply: "Then you will realise the significance of the visionary experience described in Daniel, 7:13." Some of the early Fathers saw all the signs associated with the Second Coming of Christ as symbols of the reverence and fear with which everybody will be filled at the sight of the majesty of Christ. However, while all will see the glorified humanity of Christ, that will not mean for them the Beatific Vision of His Divinity any more than in the case of Philip to whom our Lord said: "Philip, he who sees me, sees the Father." Jn., 14:8. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his "Summa Theologica," says that even the wicked at the Last Judgment will see the glorified humanity of Christ, but not His Divinity, although they will realise that He must be God from the extraordinary events occurring. The Saints, present in their risen bodies, who already have the Beatific Vision, will retain it; for once had, that can never be lost. The good, who have not until then received it, will be granted it; but the wicked, in the great separation which will take place at the Last Judgment, will be forever excluded from it.

713. If each individual in particular is judged immediately after his death, why should there be also a General Judgment of all mankind at the end of time?

The fact that there will be such a General Judgment is clearly revealed in Holy Scripture, which also contains many references in various places as to why this should be. Briefly, man is not only an individual; he is of his very nature a social being. We speak of humanity in general; and the common life in which we share with our fellow human beings should have a common ending. Again, we are all familiar with the axiom among ourselves that justice must not only be done, but must appear to be done. God's justice also should be publicly manifested. In every generation of men there have been those who have disputed God's wisdom and goodness and justice. On the Last Day, the particular judgments already encountered by individuals will not be unsaid, but will be ratified. Before all mankind, however, each and every one of God's attributes will be vindicated beyond any possible denial of them.

714. Was St. John's Apocalypse or Book of Revelation eschatological in outlook?

To that the reply would have to be yes and no. The book was written about 95 A.D. during the reign of the pagan Roman Emperor Domitian, when persecution was resulting in the wholesale martyrdom of Christians in Rome and throughout the Empire's provinces. St. John's immediate purpose was to encourage Christians to stand firm in their faith, foretelling the doom of the pagan Roman Empire in the near future and the survival and triumph of the cause of Christ and of His Church. The conversion of Constantine in 312 A.D. and the end of the first three centuries of persecution verified his predictions; but that was not eschatology or a theology of the "last things" in the strict sense of the word. Secondarily, however, St. John's vision did reach forward prophetically and eschatologically to the ultimate victory of Christ over all forces of evil in His second coming at the very end of the world, a victory in which all the faithful of all ages will share. The result will be eternal happiness in the heavenly New Jerusalem or "City of Peace," beyond space and time and our present limited horizons. There we shall find everlasting life in God's Presence, emancipated from all the trials and sufferings which are our inevitable lot on this earth. St. John had no idea of how long the interval would be between his own times and the final consummation of human history in this world; and he made no specific predictions applicable to persons or events during that interval. Misguided readers of the Apocalypse in almost every age have made fantastic applications of passages in it to living personalities and events of their own times, with forced interpretations fitting in with what their own presuppositions would like to be true. Such farfetched misuse of Scripture led the Congregationalist biblical scholar, Dr. C. H. Dodd, to say in his book "The Bible Today" that interpretations adapted to our own intervening times have turned the Book of Revelation into "the licensed playground of every crank." This does not mean that the Apocalypse has no prophetic message for Christians, however, during the intervening periods of waiting for the final coming of Christ in His majesty and glory as Judge of all mankind. The Book gives a divinely-revealed and absolute assurance that if we are faithful to Christ, despite all set-backs and trials, His triumph over evil is already realised in us, and that the heavenly glory that is now His will become ours also. This form of eschatology, or theology of the "Last Things," is for Christians today the Book's outstanding theme.

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