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Eschatology or the Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things
A Dogmatic Treatise
Rev. Joseph Pohle Ph.D. D.D

1. DEFINITION.—a) Etymologically the Latin word for “Heaven” means the expanse of sky above the earth, which resembles a great dome or arch apparently containing the sun, moon, and stars. The Church employs the term caelum to signify the abode of God and the Blessed, with the emphasis upon the state rather than the place in which they find themselves.

The Bible refers to Heaven both as a place and as a state (eternal life, eternal rest, the kingdom of God, the joy of the Lord, etc.). In the language of St. Paul, to enter into Heaven is to “be present with the Lord,” which can mean nothing else but a spiritual occupation engaging the highest faculties of the soul and culminating in the knowledge and love of God. As Heaven is man’s final goal (status termini), it must be identical with the beatitude which comes to the created mind from the contemplation and love of the divine essence and perfections (status beatitudinis).

b) To arrive at a real, as opposed to the nominal, definition of Heaven, therefore, we must ascertain in what precisely the happiness of the Elect consists.

Boëthius defines Heaven as “a state made perfect by the accumulation of all good things.” St. Thomas says it is “the ultimate perfection of rational or intellectual nature.” These definitions, while correct, are not sufficiently specific, for a “state made perfect by the accumulation of all good things” and the “ultimate perfection of rational nature” need not necessarily be supernatural.

The happiness produced by the knowledge and love of God would not be the same in a natural state of beatitude as it is in Heaven. In proposing to man a supernatural end, the Creator abolished his purely natural destiny, which consisted in an abstractive knowledge and a natural love of God. In the present economy the rational creature has no choice between natural and supernatural beatitude. To miss the latter means to miss both. Hence Heaven, in the Christian sense, must be a state of supernatural beatitude.

In what does this supernatural beatitude consist?

c) The supernatural beatitude of Heaven fundamentally consists in the intuitive vision of the Divine Essence (visio Dei intuitiva), as opposed to the purely abstractive and analogical knowledge which man has of God here below.

St. Paul describes the difference between these two kinds of knowledge as follows: “Now we see in a mirror, obscurely; but then [we shall see] face to face. Now I know in part; then shall I know fully, even as I have been fully known [by God].” As the Divine Essence subsists in three distinct Persons, the beatific vision involves an intuitive knowledge of the Trinity. Needless to say, the human intellect cannot attain to this exalted knowledge by its own power, but requires for this purpose a special “light of glory.”

The intuitive vision of God is essentially beatific, that is, it renders man infinitely happy.

Thomists and Scotists have been engaged in a long-standing controversy on the question whether beatitude is in the intellect or in the will. The two views are not incompatible, in fact, it is only by judiciously combining them that we arrive at the whole truth, viz.: that the knowledge of God is the essence of beatitude, while the love of God is its form and goal.

d) Perfect beatitude must include the will as well as the intellect. That beatitude is described more often as knowledge than as love is owing to the fact that whereas the love we shall have for God in Heaven is substantially identical with the love we have for Him on earth, the knowledge we shall have of Him there differs essentially from the abstractive and analogical knowledge which is vouchsafed us here. This does not, however, prevent the visio beatifica from culminating in a rapturous love, free from imperfection, whereby the creature is made unspeakably happy (amor beatificus). As faith is transformed into vision and hope changes to possession, love grows perfect and thus man becomes completely happy.

2. PROOF FROM REVELATION.—Various heretical errors have been current at one time or other concerning the nature of Heaven. Certain Armenian writers of the fourteenth century claimed that the Elect know God in an abstractive manner only. The Palamites or Hesychasts, a school of Greek mystics who flourished about the same time on Mount Athos, taught that the divine attributes are mere radiations of God’s Essence, which become solidified as it were, by taking on the shape of an uncreated light, perceptible to the Blessed by means of bodily vision. Rosmini all but denied the beatific vision by saying that its object is not the Divine Essence, but God in His relation to the outside world. The question was authoritatively decided by Benedict XII (1336) and the Council of Florence (1439).

a) For the proof from Revelation see Pohle-Preuss, God: His Knowability, Essence, and Attributes, pp. 80 sqq.

b) The beatitude of Heaven would be incomplete if it did not include freedom from evil;—which is but another way of saying that the Blessed can neither suffer pain nor commit sin.

Evil may be physical or moral. Physical evil disturbs the order of nature; moral evil interferes with the law by which God governs the universe. Physical evils are, e. g., ignorance, sorrow, pain, sickness, and death. Moral evils: sin and concupiscence (fomes peccati). In Heaven there is neither physical nor moral evil. Cfr. Apoc. 7:16: “They shall no more hunger nor thirst; the sun shall not oppress them, nor any heat.” Apoc. 21:4: “And [God] shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall mourning or wailing or pain be any more, because the first things are passed away.”

The greatest of all evils is sin, and therefore the Blessed can no longer sin. As this truth was denied by Origen, it requires special proof. In saying that there is no pain or sorrow in Heaven the inspired author of the Apocalypse cannot have meant physical sorrow only. Mental sorrow caused by the loss of sanctifying grace is far deeper and keener than mere physical pain. Moreover, the beatitude of Heaven, being eternal, is incompatible with sin. As St. Augustine aptly observes, the happiness of the Elect would be incomplete if it did not exclude sin.

Whether the so-called impeccability of the Blessed in Heaven is due to a purely extrinsic confirmation in grace, or rooted in the essence of the beatific vision, is a controverted question. St. Thomas declares: “They who are already blessed in Heaven, apprehend the object of true happiness as making their happiness and last end: otherwise their desire would not be set at rest in that object, and they would not be blessed and happy. The will of the Blessed, therefore, cannot swerve from the object of true happiness.” This constancy of the will is rooted in an ineradicable love of God, which, being based on a true knowledge of His essence, has neither the power nor the will to offend Him. However, there is this much truth in the opposing view of the Scotists, that the beatific vision and impeccability, though connected by an intrinsic natural bond, are not essentially one, but could be dissociated by a miracle. The same may be said of the beatific vision and sorrow: these, too, are naturally but not metaphysically incompatible.

3. THE OBJECT OF THE BEATIFIC VISION.—What do the Blessed in Heaven actually behold through the lumen gloriae? To answer this question we must distinguish between the Divine Essence and the things existing outside of it. The Divine Essence itself is the object and source of what is known as beatitudo essentialis sive primaria, or beatitudo aurea. That secondary beatitude which the Scholastics term accidentalis, results from the contemplation of beautiful objects existing outside of the Divine Essence. The essential beatitude of the Blessed consists in an intuitive vision of the tri-une God with His various attributes. To what objects the accidental beatitude of the Blessed extends cannot be exactly determined.

a) From St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 13:9 sqq. we know that the Blessed clearly behold in Heaven whatever they embraced with theological faith on earth. Faith is transformed into knowledge.

It follows that the Blessed have a clear, though not an adequate, knowledge of all the theological mysteries (the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union of the two natures in Christ, the Holy Eucharist), and their mutual relations. A fortiori they must have a knowledge of the lesser mysteries of our holy religion, e. g. in what manner the Sacraments produce their effects, how the Holy Ghost operates in the Church and in the souls of the faithful, the nature of actual and sanctifying grace, the number of the Elect, predestination and reprobation, and many other things of which we on earth have at best only an inkling.

b) The beatific vision also involves a knowledge of the causal relations between God and all existing and possible creatures. This knowledge, however, is not shared equally by all the Blessed, but varies in clearness and depth in proportion to merit.

God is the cause of His creatures in a threefold respect: (1) as their pattern-exemplar (causa exemplaris), i. e. the model according to which they are fashioned; (2) as the efficient cause (causa efficiens) of both nature and the supernatural; and (3) as the final end and object (causa finalis) towards which all creatures consciously or unconsciously tend. In all three of these respects the Blessed in Heaven perceive not only God’s manifold relations to His creatures, but also the why and wherefore thereof, because knowledge of the Divine Essence necessarily includes knowledge of the divine ideas (though not of all), and the external glory of God, i. e. the admiration, love, and praise of His creatures, grows in proportion to their knowledge of His essence.

c) The beatitude enjoyed by the Blessed in Heaven is (per accidens) increased by their intimate association with the angels and saints.

The inhabitants of Heaven do not lead a solitary life, but are associated together in a mystic body called the Communion of Saints (communio sanctorum). They are members of the triumphant Church and admiringly contemplate the angels in their hierarchical gradations as well as the various degrees of dignity and happiness manifested in their glorified fellowmen. Their knowledge is not, however, limited to heavenly things, but extends to Purgatory and this earth, comprising especially those things which are closely related to the supernatural order in general and the position occupied therein by each heavenly denizen in particular. They devote special attention, of course, to whatever pertains to the worship and the intercession of the Saints. Bellarmine thinks that they derive their knowledge of these things from their official position in the celestial hierarchy rather than from a special revelation.

d) Various bonds connect the Blessed in Heaven with the scene of their labors, battles, temptations, and victories here below.

It was here they acquired that more or less profound knowledge of science and art which is not lost but clarified, deepened, and ennobled in Heaven. Here they still have relatives, friends, and descendants, in whom their former interest continues unabated, for Death does not destroy our earthly relations, but raises them to a higher sphere, in which the salvation of souls outweighs all other considerations. This knowledge the Elect can not obtain from personal observation, as they lack the organs of sense, but it is communicated to them by the Divine Logos, in whom they behold all things.

4. THE “DOWRY” OF THE BLESSED.—By the dowry of the Blessed (dotes beatorum) the Scholastic theologians understand the supernatural endowments of the soul in the beatific state.

a) Like the mystic marriage of the soul with Christ, the dotes beatorum must be conceived allegorically. As a dowry is not the matrimonial bond, but something which precedes marriage; so the dowry that Christ bestows on His mystic spouse is a habit which precedes the beatific vision and renders it more enjoyable. The dowry of the Blessed is, however, purely accidental, and must not be confounded with the essence of the beatific vision, which consists in the intuitive knowledge of God.

b) The gifts that constitute the dowry of the Blessed are partly of the body and partly of the soul. The dowry of the body is identical with the properties described infra, in Part II, Ch. II, Sect. 3. The dowry of the soul consists of the three gifts of contemplation, possession, and fruition. Contemplation (visio) corresponds to faith; possession (comprehensio), to hope; fruition (fruitio), to charity. All three converge in the light of glory, which dispels the obscurity of faith, insures the eternal possession of God, and guarantees the enjoyment of His love.

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