The Father William Most Collection
Will You Die? A familiar saying tells us: "Two things are certain: death and taxes." But really only one is certain. We do not mean to cross off taxes - they are really certain. But it is not certain that any given person alive today will ever die. How can that be? Does not Scripture say, "It is appointed for all men to die, and after death the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). Yes, it does say that. But general statements normally leave room for exceptions. For example, Romans 5:12 teaches that all contract original sin. But we know by definition of the Church that that it is not true of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We need to explain. In his First Epistle to Thessalonica, which is probably the first part of the entire New Testament to be written, coming from 51 A.D., Paul had to answer a problem that bothered many of his people. They were saying in effect: Would it not be too bad if I would die before Christ returns at the end? Then others would get to see Him before I would." Paul answers the question in 1 Ths 4:13ff. He explains what the scene will be like: "We don't want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who sleep, so you may not be grieved like the rest who do not have hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so also God will lead with Him those who fell asleep through Jesus. For we say this to you in the word of the Lord [namely], that we the living, who are left for the coming of the Lord, will not get ahead of those who have slept. For the Lord Himself with a command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God will come down from the sky, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we the living, who are left, will be snatched together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we will be with the Lord always."
Many of the people then expected the end and the return of Christ soon. This sort of thing really has happened in every age, and is happening even today. But the great question is: 1) Did Jesus Himself err on this matter? 2) Did Paul err on this matter?
We are certain that Jesus was not in error, in spite of many claims, because of the teaching of the Church (incidentally, the new catechism, §§471-74 - but cf. §606 - on this matter, is not very clear, one would hardly find out from it what the Church teaches). The Church teaches that His human soul, from the first instant of conception, saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is present. For official texts and other data cf. Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ, Christendom College Press, 1980). Already in Hebrews 10:7 (cited by new catechism in §606) we read that on entering into the world at conception He said: "Behold, I come to do your will, O God."
The idea that St. Paul was in error is based chiefly on this passage of 1 Ths. That conviction is so strong in many that they insist he could not have written Second Thessalonians, because there, in chapter 2, he speaks clearly against the idea that the end is soon. However, the ancient witnesses who say Paul wrote 1 Ths and 2 Ths are about equally strong. And the arguments from the text of 1 Ths itself are worthless. For when Paul says,"we the living", he is only speaking as many a teacher speaks, in making something concrete and vivid. For example, in explaining Phil 2:13 I often speak as follows: Paul in 2 Cor 3:5 said I do not have the ability to get a good thought on my own. In Phil 2:13 he says I cannot even make a good decision of will, or carry it out, on my own. How does this work? God first sends me an actual grace, which puts into my mind the good idea, and makes me favorable to it, though not yet is there a decision... ." And so on. To speak thus in the first person would not lead a normal listener to think I am talking about myself. It is just a way of making things clear and concrete. Similarly Paul here.
So some not very sharp scholars think in spite of this that Paul HAS TO mean he expects to be alive at the end, in spite of the ancient witnesses saying he also wrote Second Thessalonians, and in spite of the fact that his language does not have to imply at all that he expected to be alive at the end.
We gather then: Those who are alive when Christ returns at the end will never die at all. - Some manuscripts of 1 Cor 15:51-52 express this same truth, though still other manuscripts, apparently finding the idea strange, change it to mean all will die and then rise.
Rapture: In passing, many Protestants take this passage of 1 Ths to mean there will be a rapture, i.e., that at some moment, perhaps very soon, Christ will snatch all the good people out of the earth, and they will then reign with Him on earth for 1000 years (cf. Apocalpyse/ Revelation 20). Of course this would mean that some would be taken out of a car they are driving, so it would go wild and kill others. But all those not raptured would be bad people, and so that would be all right. They note that this text speaks of meeting Christ in the air, while the Gospel picture of the Last Judgment, in Mt. 25:31-46, pictures the judgment as taking place on the earth. So, they reason, there must be two different events.
But the reasoning does not hold. They ignore the partially apocalyptic genre in the two passages, which indicates we must not press details. (Apocalyptic is a bizarre pattern of writing found in Hebrew literature starting in full form about 2nd century B.C., running 3 or 4 centuries. It presents visions and revelations in bizarre imagery and colors. The original readers knew they had to reduce that imagery much to get the strict sense).
We see apocalyptic touches in the fact that Christ comes down from the sky with a command, with the voice of an archangel and a trumpet. Now of course He could make it strictly that way - but considering the genre, the pattern of writing, we have no reason to suppose it is such a thing.
The last judgment scene pictures the Judge seated on earth, with all persons of all ages of history before Him. But the globe would probably not have even standing room for such a multitude. And for sure, not many could see the Judge because of the crowd and the distance. So there is last Judgment, but it will take a different form, which we will discuss later on.
To return to the exemption from death - many early Christians did understand this text of Paul correctly, and so were eager for the end, so they could escape death. This appears in the words we have left from the earliest liturgy: maranatha. this is Aramaic, and if divided as maran atha, it means: The Lord has come. Divided Marana tha, it means: Come O Lord. (Manuscripts of that day did not divide words, hence the question of division). From context we know they meant it the second way. And even today in the verse after the second elevation we often pray: "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus come in glory". - We are praying for the end!
Pagan ideas on Survival after death: If we recall, in the passage we looked at from St. Paul's First Thessalonians, he said he did not want them to be like those "who have no hope". What did he mean? He might have meant that some are not sure of survival - though belief in it was very widespread in ancient times. Or he might mean that the situation of being a pagan in itself provides no assurance of immortality. Or he might mean they do not know the glorious goal God has made open to us and to all.
At any rate, it is sad to read the writings of such great philosophers as Plato who try bravely but pathetically to prove to themselves that there is life after death. To illustrate, Plato in his dialogue called Phaedo, gives several arguments to try to prove survival. It is interesting to review them. First, he says the world is made up out of opposites, such as hot and cold, wet and dry. One comes from the other. So life must come from death. - But this argument is worthless. We note especially that vagueness of the words "comes from". Dry does not come from wetness, not at all. It may, but need not, follow after wetness. Secondly he thinks that we had a previous life and tries to prove that by the fact that when questioned at length, people will sometimes give good answers on matters in mathematics, geometry or philosophy. So, says Plato, since they did not learn these things in the present life, they must have learned them in a previous life. But: if there was a previous life, he insists, there will be a next life. - Again, we say: that too is tragic. His proof of a previous life is no good. And even if it were, having had a previous life would not prove we would have still another life. Thirdly he claims the soul is more like something divine, and so cannot be dissipated. This in the view of some commentators, is edging close to the truth that our soul is spiritual, and so has no parts, and so cannot come apart. But it is not at all clear if Plato meant this. So at this point in the discussion, Plato has one of his associates say: This is hard and inconclusive. I wish some god would come and just give us the answer. But that did not happen for Plato, though it has happened for us, as we know. After a confused interlude, the argument resumes, saying that no form combines with an opposite form, e. g, . life is the form opposite to death. So if death tries to approach the living soul, death would have to retreat. -- Again the argument is sadly worthless.
Besides all this, Socrates, whom Plato claims to follow - and does to some extent - at the end of his trial in the Athenian court, after which he was condemned to death, addressed those jurors who had voted to acquit him. He said he saw two possibilities: Either death is like a long undisturbed sleep -which he says would be a blessing - or it is passage to a better place. But The long undisturbed sleep would be simply annihilation. Socrates did not really face up to it. Let us imagine that somewhere up ahead of me there is a cutoff point. When I reach that point, I just stop existing. After long ages will I make it back to existence? No. I simply am not. Really, that is the ultimate terror, complete nonexistence. John Milton, the great English poet, in his Paradise Lost imagines satan finding himself in hell after losing the battle with Michael the Archangel. He looks about, and says: At least, I still exist.
Aristotle, an even greater philosopher, spoke in such a confused manner about survival that many scholars today think he denied survival, while others think he affirmed it. Especially: one train of thought he presented would lead surely to a denial of survival.
And so it is with so many other great minds. They simply could not find a solid proof for survival. So St. Paul said: They have no hope.
Many pagan religions did hold for survival, but did not have any solid proof at all for their whole set of beliefs. Really, there is only one religion in all centuries and all lands that can provide a solidly reasoned proof that God sent a messenger, Christ, who proved he was sent, by miracles worked in a framework where there is a tie between the miracle and the claim, e. g, when he cured the paralytic to prove he had forgiven the man's sins. That he gathered a small group, the Twelve, told them to continue his teaching, and promised God would protect that teaching:
"He who hears you, hears me." But no other religion, sect or whatever has ever made a solidly reasoned proof for its own teaching in general, or its belief in survival in particular.
The general beliefs of Greeks and Romans did include survival, but it was a drab bare existence in Hades, a sort of underground cave, with hardly any light or anything else. Homer pictured. Achilles, a great warrior killed in the Trojan war, as appearing to a friend after his death and saying; It is better to be the slave of a poor man on earth than to be a king among the dead.
And we could go on and on, reporting on the tragic state of pagan thought. But we are much more blessed.
Development of Old Testament teaching on Survival: In spite of many denials, it is entirely certain that the people of the Old Testament did know of survival after death. Our Lord Himself in replying to the imaginary case proposed by the Sadducees, of a woman who had seven husbands, not only said there would be no marriage in the next life, but added that God "is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living." The erroneous belief of some about early Jewish beliefs on survival comes from the conviction that the ancient Hebrews had a merely unitary concept of a human being: we consist of a body with the breath of life: no mention of a soul. It is likely that the ancient Hebrews did have some such a concept. And that could readily lead to saying: the body decays, the breath goes into the air - nothing is left.
But yet we know that the Hebrews held tenaciously to a belief in necromancy, divination by the dead. This was prohibited several times in the Old Testament (Lv 19:31; 20:6; Dt. 18:10-11) yet they held on to it.
In holding on to a survival in spite of a unitary concept, they were following correct theological method. In divine matters, we are apt at times to meet two conclusions, which seem to clash head on. We recheck our work, but they are still at hand. Then we must refrain from forcing either conclusion. We must hold to both, hoping that someone one sometime will find out how to reconcile the seeming opposites. So they seem to have had a concept of a unitary nature of man, but they also held for necromancy, which implies the dead survive.
They did not know how to put these two things together until the time of Antiochus IV, Epiphanes (l75-64), yet they held on. Then, God led them by means of two things to see the truth. On the one hand, the terrible deaths of some of the martyrs under Antiochus forced them to see that at least in such cases they could not say that God would make all right before the end of the life of a person. (They had bravely tried to hold on to such things, e.g., in Psalm 73, which said in effect: I was distressed at the prosperity of the wicked until I came into the sanctuary and saw what an end they came to). At about the same time they came into contact with Greek thought which helped them to see there are two parts in a human, body and soul. (The Greek notions were not entirely correct - Plato held that the body is not a part of a man, just a prison; Aristotle held that the body is only the first matter, the soul the substantial form: He seemed at least unclear about whether or how the form could survive by itself after the dissolution of the body). Even though the Greek ideas were not fully correct, yet they would start the Jews thinking in the right direction. As a result, starting at about this time many of the Jews came to clearly understand survival. Others denied it, yet most of the Jews did accept it. Already before the time of Christ, the Pharisees and their followers clearly held afterlife: St. Paul proclaimed Himself such, cf. Acts. 23:6.
(Antiochus named himself Epiphanes, "a god who appears" to men. The Jews among themselves called him instead Epimanes: "insane").
Finally, Wisdom 3:1-8 clearly speaks of survival. Daniel 12:2-3 taught a resurrection, probably for all.
And of course, the fullest and clearest revelation on immortality comes from Christ Himself. And it is also from Him that comes the clearest revelation of unending hell.
Philosophical proof of survival: We really have no need of a merely reasoned proof of survival: the revelation of Jesus Christ tells us with wonderful clarity. Yet it is still worthwhile to give a rational proof of immortality.
We will give it in a humorous, yet fully solid form. Here it is: I have a nice dog. He is neither tall nor low; neither long nor short, neither sharp-nosed nor pug-nosed, neither with long hair nor no hair, neither black nor brown or white or spotted. Have you seen my dog? All those who are listening really have such a dog. Whenever we see a live dog, we mentally take from it everything individual - the sort of things we mentioned. We have left, just plain dog. This is not a confused image, or image of any kind. It is a mental concept of just dog. -- But next, we will hire the world's greatest artist. We will let him pick his medium to work in: carving wood, casting bronze, carving marble, oil paints on canvas - or whatever. We will pay him any price he asks. But would he please made us an image of our dog. What would we get? Nothing at all. No material can hold my concept of dog. Therefore that part of me which does hold it is not material, it is instead spiritual. A spirit of course has no parts, so it cannot come apart, unless of course the Creator should want to annihilate it - He does not do that. So we are immortal.
We did this with the concept of dog. We could have used a concept of goodness, truth, justice, beauty etc. It would still be true, even more forcefully true.
Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and others would have given an arm and a leg to know what we have just seen. Tragically, they did not have it. Nor did they have the revelation of Christ. We should be so grateful for what God has given us in this matter as well as in other things.
What is it like to die?: We now live in time. God is in eternity. When we die do we go to eternity? We never stop existing. But if we take the word eternity in the strict sense, we do not go to eternity. That applies only to God Himself.
Eternity is the kind of duration in which there is no change of any kind possible. So there is no past, and no future. We say: God made the world - a statement about the past. But to His eye, the day of creation is present. For He cannot change. To move from present to past or vice versa is a change. But He has no past at all. Of course we cannot get that into our dim minds - for even the most brilliant mind cannot understand everything about God, who is infinite. Similarly we say that Christ will return at the end - a statement about future. But to His eye, again, it is present, not future. So eternity is the simultaneous possession of fullest being, of fullest life. Again, if we ask: Does He foresee what I will do tomorrow? Yes, except that to Him it is not future, but present, even though it surely seems future to me.
If we ask how He sees what I will decide at, for example, ten AM tomorrow, we could ask about passive or active knowledge. We know so many things passively: we take in information, we acquire something we did not have before. But He cannot change, cannot acquire, cannot take in. So He does not know in this passive way.
To know something actively is to know the way a blind man knows. He knows a chair is moving because he is pushing it. Of course we cannot make God so limited. So He does not know in the active way either.
What then? Really, we must say that He is above and beyond all our classifications and categories: We cannot say He was, or He will be. He simply IS. So at the burning bush He once said to Moses: "I am who am" (Exodus 3:14). We call this aspect of God transcendence, being above and beyond all our categories and classifications.
Time: As we said, we live in time. Time is the kind of duration in which all kinds of change are possible, and actually do happen. There can even be substantial, deep change. For example. I eat a piece of beef. It loses what we might call cow form, takes on my form. There is a really deep kind of change, a kind we call substantial change.
But there is another kind of change that goes on all the time. Ahead of me is a moment I call future. But quickly it changes to present, then changes to past. It is restless, unending change. Actually, I am full of change, and surrounded by change. I am full of the change of metabolism, the process in which every cell in my body is constantly being torn down and built up again. I am surrounded by change, for I live on a planet that constantly turns on its axis, and constantly goes around the sun.
No wonder then that the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, said (Physics 4. 11): "Time is a measure of change, on a scale of before and after."
This of course does not explain everything about time, but it does help. For example, it does not at all explain how it is that time picks up speed. If I think of how long a school year was when I was in second grade, and compare that time to the past year, I see a tremendous difference. As we said, time picks up speed. Some have said that at age 7 a year is l/7 of my life. Now it is 1/70th. That is true, but it does not really explain the constant pickup of speed. Yet we know it is true. And this of course, on the side, leads us to another thought: this life is really very short, very fleeting. So we obviously should make it our great concern to take care of what comes after this life. So St. Paul told the Philippians (3:7-8): "The things that used to be gain to me, I now consider loss. Really I have come to consider everything as loss in the light of the tremendous knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for whose sake I have taken the loss of all things, and consider them as rubbish, so I may gain Christ." St. Paul does not mean that the things of this world are junk. Not at all. He knows that God, when He made each thing, as we read in Genesis 1, said it was good. We know too that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity took on a created nature, in the incarnation, and use created things - hence a marvelous dignity for created things.
But there are two ways of looking at created things, on a relative scale, or on an absolute scale. On the absolute scale, looking at them as we just said, in themselves, they are very good, for God made them good. But on the relative scale, in comparison to the things of eternity, they are so much rubbish. Saints have sometimes spoken of scorning the world, having contempt for it. They mean that in the way we have been explaining, that in comparison to eternity, nothing of this world seems worth anything.
Aevum: Death means leaving time. We said, we do not go into eternity in the strict sense. Yes, we will always exist and live, but we mean that we do not become such that we have had no past - we have had that for certain. We go into a kind of duration for which there is no English word. In Latin it is called aevum. The usual English for that would be age - but that translation does not help. So we attempt to describe it.
It is a kind of duration that will never end. In it there is no deep change, or substantial change possible at all. This applies to most things. But is it the very nature of things that makes this apply also to a spiritual will so that after death our wills cannot change? We know that they cannot, as a matter of fact. Or does that impossibility of change come from positive decree of God? The Church has not told us. But we do know for certain that in whatever way, our time for changing is over when we cross the line into aevum. Hence whatever attitude of will towards God a soul takes across the line into aevum is permanent. So that both heaven and hell are and must be permanent, except that there may be a stopover, as it were, in purgatory, before reaching the full blown life in aevum.
But accidental, shallow change, is possible though it does not go on constantly, like the restless succession of future - present - past we described. No, there is a great rest from all that. Yet there is possible a different kind of change, as we said, that takes place in purgatory. We will speak about that presently.
But we wanted to know what it is like to die. We can find out many things by using theology, philosophy, and psychology. We are going to do that.
At death, I leave this restless constant change that we call time. For my contact with that change is the body, which I then lose, until the resurrection restores it - then it will be in glorified, wonderful form. To lose contact with the constant change is what it means to live out of time.
Do the lights as it were go out then, when I die? Far from it. They go on, with a brilliance I never knew before. Here is the reason. My intelligence now consists of two parts: first, the material brain. That is marvelous device, having perhaps a hundred billions of neurons and a hundred trillions of connections or synapses, all operating on both electricity and chemical neurotransmitters. The second component is the power, natural to a spirit (my soul is a spirit) to know. That power is enormous, far more brilliant than any genius of this world. But - in the present life, that power of the spiritual intelligence is held down, limited by the material brain. That material brain is a marvel, but yet it is very poor compared to the spiritual power of knowing. In the present life the two are tied together so that if something happens to the material brain, for example, an accident that damages my head, the spiritual intellect will not function.
But at death that connection is snipped. Then the power of the spiritual intelligence which was held down before is no longer restrained. It bursts forth, and I know what God is like in a way I have never known before. For I do carry across the line with me the data I gained in the present life on what God is like. But then I will understand those things in a way I never could in this life. This is true even if I do not at once reach the beatific vision of God, which is heaven. I may need a stopover, as it were, in purgatory - unless, heaven forbid, there should be eternal hell!
Furthermore, my understanding of God here is held down by my five senses, which constantly bring in the distracting information on everything about me, telling me that this is the really real world, there is nothing else. But then all that tumult will be stilled, and I will know the truth.
Then, knowing God more than ever, even before reaching the vision of Him, I will most intensely desire Him. If I have left this world with my will basically in accord with His, then at least eventually I will get to see Him. If my will is basically opposed to His will - then there is hell. Much more on this later.
Near death experiences: While there have been some reports from earlier times, in the past 15 years reports on near death experiences have multiplied. Irresponsible tabloids sometimes report such things claiming they are proof of survival after death.
A careful investigation of the medical records of 58 patients who had such experiences, reported in the British medical journal Lancet (Nov. 10, 1990. vol. 336. pp. 1175-77) clearly rules out such a notion that they prove survival after death, if indeed any proof is needed. For if a person were really dead, if the soul had really separated from the body, no medical means could recall that soul. But this investigation, by J. E. Owens, Ph. D. , E. W. Cook, M. A. , and I. Stevenson, M. D. found that out of the 58 patients who had such experiences, medical records showed 30 patients were not medically near death, even though the patients commonly thought they were.
The experiences reported were as follows: enhanced perception of light occurred in 75% of 28 patients really near death, but in only 12 or 40% of those not near death. The experience of going through a tunnel was found in only 46% of 46 patients, of whom 12 had been near death, while 9 had not (a non-significant difference). Enhanced cognitive function was found in 62% of patients who were actually near death, but 81% of those not actually near death reported no cognitive enhancement. Some reported diminished cognitive enhancement:62% reported no diminished cognitive function, but 25% reported less control over thoughts.
As to emotions, 81% reported positive emotions, independently of whether or not they were actually near death. But we note that reports of many positive emotions was significantly related to the experience of enhanced light: Among 30 patients reporting enhanced light, 17 (57%) also reported positive emotions. As to negative emotions, 75% reported an absence of these. The most common negative emotion was indifference. Out of both those near and those not near death, 68% reported the feeling of having left the body and seeing it from above. Was there a sort of life review in memory? Some such memories were reported in 27% of 22 patients who were near death, and in 4 (17%) of 23 patients not actually near death. Most patients reported only a few memories.
Maurice S. Rawlings, M. D. , a Cardiologist, in a book, To Hell and Back (Nelson, Nashville, 1993) gives many interesting reports. He reports (pp. 39-40) what he calls a typical good clinical death experience (in contrast to the "hellish" type): the person seems to himself to leave the body, and to have a stronger sense of awareness and euphoria, often sees the likeness of himself left behind. So, looking down he may recall details of the room, but cannot communicate with the living. Not always can the man recall events in the room (p. 72). He discovers another world, sometimes going into it directly, sometimes through a tunnel. Then he may encounter a "being of light" and may - this does not always happen - have a review of his life. There may be a reunion with relatives or friends who have died before in a world that is wonderfully beautiful. But there is a barrier, such as fence, a wall, a river which he cannot pass. If he tries to pass, he is returned to his body, sometimes with the idea that it was not yet his time. In the pleasant cases, the person often wishes he had not returned to his body; in the hellish cases he is relieved to get back. Dr. Rawlings asserts that perhaps half of all persons have hellish experiences (p. 73)
Dr. Rawlings does not report anything like a scene in which the soul is judged. Thus, even souls that are very sinful seem to be welcomed by the light (p. 61). Further, experiences such as described have been found to happen in other faiths and cultures (pp. 61, 62, 72). Men of other faiths may see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hindus may seem to see Yamdoot, the death spirit. But the figure of light never identifies itself as Brahama, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Buddha, Allah, Matreya or any other deity (compare Rawlings' words on p. 79).
Rawlings also reports that in some cases measurements of oxygen in the brain of these patients show no deprivation of oxygen (pp. 94, 136).
He further tells (pp. 132-33) of an experimenter, Robert Monroe, who worked with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whom Rawlings says has been involved in spiritism (pp. 86, 106, 152, 157). Rawlings says Monroe used what he calls a sort of time machine, with cables and sound equipment running through the house from a central command, and a geodesic chamber of pyramidal glass. Monroe claims he went instantly, by this means, from Charlottesville to Stanford University where there was an assembly of parapsychologists present. Monroe then returned to Charlottesville, and made a phone call to California, and was able to correctly describe what he saw there. Dr. Rawlings clearly thinks spirits, evil, were involved in this sort of thing. He thinks they are involved in some other experiences. On p. 138 Rawlings says some have seemed to themselves to meet Jesus, but later found it was a counterfeit of Jesus.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in an article "Death does not exist" (Co-Evolution Quarterly no. 14. Summer 1977, reprinted from The Wholistic Health Handbook, Berkeley Holistic Health Center, And/or Press, Berkeley, CA 1978) says that if you have loved someone who has died, then if you have such an experience, you are likely to see that person. She tells of a twelve your old girl who told her father of such a beautiful experience she did not want to come back. She had seen her brother. Said she did not have a brother. Then her father told her three months before she was born she did have a brother, who died. Dr. Ross says that so many see Jesus, but only if they are Christian. A Jew would not see Him. She speaks of a decision, not precisely a judgment, in which the soul judges itself and reviews every action of life and makes its own heaven or hell.
Most researchers have suggested one of three interpretations of these experiences: transcendental, physiological, and psychological. The authors of the article in Lancet, Owens, Cook, and Stevenson see some support for each view. The psychological proposal gets some support from those who were not actually near death: their experiences seem to have been precipitated by the belief that they were near death. The physiological interpretation is helped by the fact that certain features occurred significantly more among patients who were really near death than among those who were not. This includes chiefly experiences of enhanced light and enhanced cognitive powers. Most striking was the experience of enhanced light, going along with strongly positive emotions during the experience. Just one item from the survey would help the transcendental interpretation: patients who were really near death reported more enhanced cognitive function at that time. Dr. Rawlings seems to think evil spirits are involved, noting that even those who know themselves to be sinners are welcomed by the light - and that in some cases, a figure first thought to be Jesus, turned out not to be Him at all.
Science News, Oct 5, 1996 in 'Visions on the Rocks. Rock and cave art may offer insight into shamans' trance states and spiritual sightings." Article discusses cave art esp. in S. Africa. Archaeologist David Lewis-Williams of University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. S. Africa reports, p. 216 "Vortex or tunnel shapes often appear as individuals enter the deepest stage of a trance... . The shapes foster a sensation of traveling through a passageway... ." ... ."Lewis-Williams notes that 19th and 20th century descriptions or ethnographicies of the cultural practices of South Africa's San people... include detailed accounts of shamans' trance rituals... . In the April 1995 CAMBRIDGE ARCHAEOLOGICAL JOURNAL Lewis-Williams used these sources to argue that a group of eight San pictures dating to several hundred years [p. 217] ago depict shamans' trance-induced journeys to the spirit world. Historical accounts note that San shamans used dancing and hyperventilation rather than hallucinogenic... substances to enter trance states... . . David S. Whitney of he University of California, Los Angeles... [asserts] that theexperience involves passage through a tunnel"
What about religious color in these experiences? The studies just reviewed would not support a religious interpretation. But another study "Distressing Near-Death Experiences" by Bruce Greyson M. D. and Evans Bush, M. A. in Psychiatry (vol. 55, Feb. 1992, pp. 95-110) brings in just a few instances with something like a religious aspect. The study was based on 50 accounts sent to the authors.
Only one example reported in the Psychiatry article had any religious color. It was that of a Jewish woman after an auto accident. She thought she was in a circle of light, and looked down on the scene of the accident, saw herself trapped and unconscious. She felt a hand touch her, and even though she was Jewish, she thought it was Jesus. She never wanted to leave him and that place. But he led her from a side of bliss to a side of misery. He made her look, and she found it ugly and disgusting. People were blackened and sweaty, groaning in pain, chained to their spots. She saw her two boys plus a girl which was not hers calling, "Mommie". She cried she did not want to leave Jesus but knew she had to leave. Several years later she had a baby, and says she knew it would be the little girl she saw in her experience.
As to distressing experiences there seem to be three quite different types of distressing experiences: (1) those in which the phenomenology is much like the peaceful near-death experiences, but which still are interpreted by the person as unpleasant; (2) a sense of nonexistence or eternal void, which tells the patient that everything they thought was real is only an illusion, a cruel joke; (3) seeming to see hellish landscapes and things. Sometimes these change in their course to peaceful experiences. A Gallup poll in 1982 estimated that only 1% of near-death experiencers reported a sense of hell or torment. Dr. Rawlings seems to think that to get hellish reports, an interview right after revival is required.
The contrast between the views of Ross and the others mentioned here remind one of an article by A. Kellehear, "Culture, biology and the near-death experience. A reappraisal" in Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 181 (3): 148-56. 1993. It says that life review and the tunnel sensation appear to be culture-bound phenomena, largely confined to societies where historical religions are dominant.
What conclusions can we reach? All is tentative:
1) The persons in question are surely not dead, for medicine could not bring back a departed soul; further many have had these experiences when they were not even near death, even though they thought they were.
2) They nearly always lack any religious color, and there seems to be acceptance by the light of even those who know themselves to be great sinners.
3) Perhaps half have peaceful experiences, and many at least lose their fear of death. In the peaceful experiences there is nothing to hint at the existence of purgatory. Could we suppose about half of all the persons were to go direct to heaven without purgatory?
4) Dr. Rawlings suspects evil spirits, who may wish to put into a soul a false sense of security. On the other hand, that theory would find it hard to account for the hellish experiences, unless we would suppose that evil spirits are being deliberately confusing, which is quite possible. St. Paul in 2 Cor 11:14 says that satan transforms himself at times into an angel of light. It does not mean, of course, that he becomes an angel of light, but that he takes on that appearance to deceive people. He can even promote some really good things, provided that in the long run, he hopes for more evil than good. He was doing that in St. Paul's day, in our day she is still doing it today, in quite a variety of things.
A book, by Betty J. Eadie. Embraced by the Light (Gold Leaf Press, Placersville, CA 1992) with a foreword by Melvin Morse, M. D. , claims Eadie saw three Guardian angels looking like monks. She claims to have learned that we pre-existed before our earthly life, and were present at creation, and that we would get further spiritual growth from coming to earth, but birth is a forgetting of our former life. She thought Jesus was a being separate from God, and that there is no one true church. This sounds much like the fancies of the ancient Greek Plato and Origen, who accepted much of Plato's ideas. For certain, the ideas are false, for we have full proof from our apologetics that these things are not so. Evil spirits today are for certain trying to promote indifferentism: all churches are the same.
The experiences however would seem to come from either suggestion based on reading, or from evil spirits. Dr. Morse asserted he had identified the part of the brain involved in her experience. This is quite possible. For different parts of the brain are involved in different activities, and some have been identified. But to find a certain area in the brain is active does not prove what the source of the activation was: it could be a good spirit, and evil spirit, or even just autosuggestion. Dr. Rawlings, on pp. 137-39 tells of a woman, Johanna Michaelson, who cultivated altered states of mind. She obtained two spirit guides, Sarah and Jesus. They at first had a holy radiance. But one day the beautiful figures changed into horrible faces. It seems, what she thought was Jesus was really the face of satan. Both good and evil spirits have, as part of their merely natural powers, the ability to work on our interior and exterior senses. They can readily give impressions, which can activate certain parts of the brain.
Further, different conditions in the brain can serve as the somatic resonance to different conditions. Science News of April 16, 1994, pp. 248-49 reported that PET scans of persons with autism showed that normal persons have a cooler anterior singulate compared to the active anterior singulate of the withdrawn person. The brain portions involved seem to be the somatic resonance to the mental conditions. Further, Science News of August 20, 1983, pp. 122-25 reports a chemist from Argonne laboratories took hair samples of violent criminals, found strong correlation between certain highs and lows in trace elements and violent behavior. It does not mean they had no free will. It does mean their somatic resonance could strongly predispose them in an evil direction. Cf. Discover magazine, August, 1992, pp. 11-12 for similar results.
(As to somatic resonance, it is a term from modern psychology. Since we are made of matter and spirit, body and soul, and the two are so closely joined as to be one person, therefore if I have a condition on either of the two sides, there should be a parallel condition on the other side: a resonance. When the resonance is on the bodily side - most usual -it is labeled somatic resonance).
Dr. Rawlings reports (p. 157) that Dr. Kübler-Ross has gone into spiritism and says she has spirit guides, and has even recorded their voices on audio-tape. We can see the implications for the authenticity of messages to Betty Eadie.
Morse wanted to conclude that Eadie's experiences were real, not hallucinations. But that conclusion will not hold. As we said, it is possible to identify the portions of the brain whose activity that serves as somatic resonance to kinds of thought and feelings. This tells us nothing of the cause the provoked the reactions in the brain.
5) It could be that some experiences are basically natural phenomena, but that evil spirits could enter at least after a start. We might compare some cases of extra sensory perception. One investigator of ESP, Harold Sherman, who had studied ESP, seemed to have found principles for making a person more sensitive to ESP. But then after some time in experiments, his reports seemed to indicate an evil spirit had entered in the later phases.
When we say they could be basically natural phenomena, at least at the start, we are thinking of the remark of St. Thomas (I. 12. 11. c. ): "The more our soul is withdrawn from corporal things, the more it is capable of abstract things. Hence in dreams and states removed from the senses of the body, divine revelations are perceived the more, along with foresight of future things." Cf. Genesis 49: 1-27.
(Rawlings himself (pp. 132, 244) holds for the simplistic Lutheran system, of once taking Jesus as your personal Savior, and then being secure. This of course is false).
Probation ends with death: This is certain since at once after death comes the particular judgment, which decides the eternal fate of the soul. This same fact rules out any room for reincarnation.
Second general Council of Lyons, 1274. DS 856-57: "Those souls who after receiving sacred Baptism have incurred no stain of sin, and also those who after contracting a stain have been cleansed, whether still in their body or not, are received into heaven at once. But the souls that departed in mortal sin or with only original sin, go straight into hell, to be punished with different punishments."
Benedict XII, Constitution, Benedictus Deus, Jan 29, 1336, DS 1000: "... we define that according to the usual ordinance of God the souls of all holy persons who departed from this world before the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, in which there was nothing to be cleansed, ... right after their death and the cleansing mentioned in those who needed it, even before the resumption of their bodies and the general judgment, after the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ saw and see the divine essence with an intuitive and face to face vision, with no creature in between... . ."
COMMENTS: 1) Immediate vision after judgment and purification: Pope John XXII, as we see from the introduction of DS 990, in a sermon at Avignon had said that there was a delay in the vision before the resurrection. This was done only in a sermon, and so was not dogmatically definitive. The same Pope retracted this in DS 990. Then his successor, Benedict XII, formally defined as above. The view that there was a delay was found in many, not nearly all, of the Fathers, as we shall see below.
2) The case of Emperor Trajan: We note the definition says heaven or hell happen "according to the usual ordinance of God." So room was explicitly given for God to do something different at times, outside of His general ordinances. In a doubtful work of St. John Damascene, De iis qui in fide dormierunt (PG 95. 247-78) we read that by the prayers of St. Gregory the Great, the Roman Emperor Trajan was brought back to life after being in hell. As we indicated, the story is doubtful and found in a doubtful work of St. John Damascene. St. Thomas does not mention it in his Summa but in an earlier Commentary on the Sentences he wrote (in 4 d. q. 2. a. 2. qc 1 ad 5): "as to the matter of Trajan, it could be probably thought in the following way: that by the prayers of Blessed Gregory, he [Trajan] was restored to life and there attained grace, by which he had remission of sins, and so immunity from punishment."
3) Prayer for salvation of those who have died: The item of #2 above is highly dubious. However we could reasonably make a speculation about something that is different, yet having some resemblance. We know that in defining the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX said that that grace was given her, "in view of the [anticipated] merits of Christ Jesus." Of course, God, for whom everything is present, could readily count the merits of Christ for her even though those merits had not yet been obtained. Hence we could ask: Could it also be that in the case of someone who lived a bad life, relatives by their prayers and penances, offered even after his death, might obtain that a special grace would have been given to that soul before death? Really, the old text of the Requiem Mass often prayed for the salvation of the one already dead. We could explain this as a sort of dramatization, and compare it to the old ritual of the ordination of a priest, in which, after receiving all the powers of priesthood, at the end he comes up to hear the words: Receive the power to forgive sins. But he already has received that power. It could be that the text may be understood in the sense we just explained as a possibility: that God might have taken into account by anticipation prayers that would be offered after the actual death of someone.
4) Unbaptized infants who die: The text of the Council of Lyons cited above speaks of those who die in original sin going to hell. The Latin word used is infernum, which means the realm of the dead, and need not mean the hell of the damned. As to the word poena, often translated as punishment, in Latin it need not mean the positive infliction of suffering, but could stand for only the loss or deprivation of some good. If unbaptized infants are deprived of the vision of God, that is a poena, but would not have to involve any suffering. We are certain of this from the teaching of Pope Pius IX, in Quanto conficiamur moerore , August 10, 1863: "God... in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." Of course, the infants do not have any voluntary fault. Hence they cannot be in the hell of the damned. Tragically, Leonard Feeney cited this text of Pius IX, and, in effect, ridiculed it and charged Pius IX with the heresy of Pelagianism, saying (in Thomas M. Sennott, They Fought the Good Fight, Catholic Treasures, Monrovia CA. 1987, pp. 305-06): "To say that God would never permit anyone to be punished eternally unless he had incurred the guilt of voluntary sin is nothing short of Pelagianism... . If God cannot punish eternally a human being who has not incurred the guilt of voluntary sin, how then, for example can He punish eternally babies who die unhaptized?." The teaching of Pius IX agrees with the teaching of St. Thomas in De malo q. 5 a. 3 ad 4: "The infants are separated from God perpetually, in regard to the loss of glory, which they do not know, but not in regard to participation in natural goods, which they do know... . That which they have through nature, they possess without pain." So when the Synod of Pistoia taught that the idea of St. Thomas was "a Pelagian fable", Pius IX, in 1794, condemned that teaching of Pistoia: DS 2626.
Vatican II, in the Decree on Ecumenism §6 taught: "... if anything... even in the way of expressing doctrine - which is to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith - has been expressed less accurately, at an opportune time it should be rightly and duly restored." Paul VI agreed, and in Mysterium fidei (Sept 3, 1965, 23-24. AAS 57. 758), said we must still not say the old language was false, only that it could be improved. Surely that is the case with the language of such texts as the Council of Lyons.
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church, in § 1261, after carefully explaining that those who without fault do not find the Church, can still be saved, quoted the words of Christ (Mk 10:14) "Let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them," added: "[this] permits us to have hope that there is a way to salvation for infants who die without Baptism."
Many theological attempts have been made in our time to find such a way. Let us offer something a bit new here: First, as St. Thomas said (III. 68. 2. c): "His [God's] hands are not tied by [or:to] the Sacraments".
Theologians commonly hold that God provided for the salvation of those who died before Christ in some way. Girls of course were not circumcised, cf. III. 70. 4. c):"By circumcision there was given to boys the power to come to glory." It was enough to belong to the people of God. In a similar way, St. Paul says (1 Cor 7:14) that the unbelieving mate in a marriage of a Christian and a pagan is consecrated or made holy through union with the Christian who does come under the Covenant: "Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy" So they are holy precisely by belonging to a family with even one party Christian. Paul does not at this point mention Baptism as the reason for their status - he speaks of the mere fact that they belong to a family with one Christian parent. (The word holy seems to reflect Hebrew qadosh which does not mean high moral perfection, but coming under the covenant). Similarly the Jews believed that merely belonging to the People of God insured their salvation, unless they positively ruled themselves out by the gravest sins: cf. Genesis Rabbah 48. 7: "In the world to come, Abraham will sit on the doormat of Gehinnom and will not allow a circumcised Jew to enter." and Sanhedrin 10. 1:"All Israel has a share in the age to come." The latter text adds that there are three groups who do not have a share: those who deny the resurrection, those who deny the Law is from heaven, and Epicureans (Cf. E. P. Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism pp. 147-82).
St. Paul insists in Romans 3:28-20 that if God had not provided for those who did not know the Law, He would not be their God. So He must have provided, and He did it through the means of faith. Could we argue that if God makes no provision for unbaptized infants, He would not act as their God? It seems yes.
Further, St. Paul insists many times over (Romans 5:15-17) that the redemption is superabundant, more so than the fall. But since God did provide for infants before Christ, if He did not do so after Christ, the redemption would not be superabundant, it would be a hellish liability for infants and millions of others. Really, Feeney and those of his followers who insist that God sends unbaptized babies to hell - along with countless millions of others who never had a chance to hear of the Church - they make God incredibly harsh, even a monster. God is not a monster, a God of that description could not exist as a God at all. So logically Feenyism calls for atheism. And in the parable of the talents (Lk 19:22) when the one servant told his master he hid the talent since he knew the master was harsh, the Master replied that he would judge the servant according to his own evidence. Since he thought the master was harsh, He would be harsh.
Also, God shows great concern for the objective moral order (cf. the appendix on sedaqah in my commentary on St. Paul). There is some reason to think He has also great concern for the objective physical order. Thus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham explains (Lk 16:24): "Remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish." There was no mention of sins on the part of the rich man or virtue in the poor man, just the reversal of the objective physical order. Similarly in the series of four woes in the Great Discourse (Luke 6:24-16), there is a reversal for those who were rich, for those who were full, for those who could laugh, for those who were well spoken of. There is, again, no mention of moral virtue, just of reversal of the objective physical order. Also, in the account of the Last Judgement (Mt 25:31-46) the excuse of those on the left that they did not know they did not help the Judge is not accepted.
So could it be then that God decides: These infants according to my plan should have had many goods things in life. They were deprived of all - and in the case of abortion, were cut to pieces savagely - so now there should be a reversal.
Delay of the beatific vision before the death of Christ: The text of Benedict XII, cited above, implies that the just who died before Christ, who had received, by something like purgatory, the cleansing of all their faults, still were not admitted to the beatific vision. This was taught quite explicitly by Innocent III in an Epistle to Humbert, Bishop of Arles in 1201 (DS 780) which said that even though circumcision remitted original sin, yet, "no one came to the kingdom of heaven, which was closed until the death of Christ." The same idea was common in the Fathers of the Church even earlier: cf. Dictionnaire de théologie Catholique, I. 114. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa, Suppl. 69. 7. c.
If we do not keep this fact in mind, we will make some sad mistakes in understanding the Old Testament. Many have been led to charge that the Old Testament knew nothing of survival after death, until the persecution of Antiochus Of Syria early in the second century B.C.
There were and are many lines in the Old Testament that would be easy to misunderstand if one did not know the character of the Limbo of the Patriarchs.
Thus, Psalm 6:6 said, "In death there is no remembrance of thee, in the underworld (Sheol) who can give thee praise?" And Isaiah 38:18-19 speaks similarly: "For Sheol cannot thank thee, death cannot praise thee; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for thy faithfulness." Here we meet the same Hebrew word for praise (hallel) that is also found in 1 Chron 16:4 and 2 Chron 5:13 for the grand liturgical praise of God. That of course did not go on in Sheol, the underworld. When Isaiah says they cannot hope for God's faithfulness, he refers to faithfulness to the covenant, which was for earth, not for the afterlife. Qoheleth 9:10 said: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it strongly, for there is no work or thought of knowledge or wisdom in Sheol. Of course the dead do not work. As to knowledge: they have no natural knowledge of what goes on "under the sun", on earth. Hence Qoheleth 9:6: "They have no more share in all that is done under the sun." Of course, they do not return to earthly life in its present form. Really, there are two kinds of statements in Qoheleth. One kind, 2:14; 3:19-21; 9:5-6 and 9:10, seem strange if one did not know the second series, plus what we have said about the Limbo of the Patriarchs. The second series texts all imply a future judgment: 3:17; 8:12-14; 12:13-14.
Yet there are some remarkable OT texts that seem so very different from the drab statements. The RSV of the disputed text of Job 19:25 has: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth... then from my flesh I shall see God." The newer NRSV is much the same in sense. Now 19:25 could not refer to relief in this life, for in 7:6-7 Job had said: "My eye will never again see good." Isaiah 25:8 foretells that,"He will swallow up death for ever, the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces." And again Is 16:29: "Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise." The original JBC on this verse (I. p. 277) admitted it does speak explicitly of a resurrection. Both texts of Isaiah belong to the 8th century B.C. Psalm 17:15 asserts: "As for me, I will behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I will be satisfied with seeing your form." M. Dahood, in the introductions to his three volumes on the Psalms in Anchor Bible proposes revising the translations of about 30 Psalm lines, with the help of Ugaritic, a related Semitic language. If accepted, they would show a belief in future retribution much earlier than is commonly supposed. His work, however, has not met with much acceptance. The more usual view is that in OT times the Jews did not know of future retribution until about the time of the persecution by Antiochus IV of Syria.
Delay in the Beatific Vision even after Christ: We saw above that Pope Benedict XII defined that those who are just and have been properly purified will reach the Beatific Vision right after that. But in the Patristic age there were hesitations, uncertainties, and denials.
St. Justin the Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 5 said that: "The souls of the just remain in a better place, the souls of the wicked and evil in a worse place, waiting for the time of the [last] judgment."
Tertullian, On the Soul 55: "Heaven is open to no one, as long as the earth is still as it is... . For with the passing of the world, the kingdom of heaven will be opened." Again, in his work On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 43: "No one who goes on pilgrimage from the body at once stays with the Lord, except from the prerogative of martyrdom".
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5. 31: "Souls will go to an invisible place, set for them by God, and there will stay until the resurrection."
Origen, Homily on Leviticus 7: "Not even the apostles have yet received their joy, even they are waiting so that I may be a sharer in their joy."
We could cite more texts of the same sort. But there are not enough of the Fathers to make this an official teaching. Yet there are enough to show the situation. This is not really strange, for at the last supper, Our Lord promised the Holy Spirit, (Jn 16:13) who would lead them to all truth. The Church has not understood this to mean new public revelations, but rather to mean an ever growing penetration into the things contained at the start in the deposit of revelation.
The Immaculate Conception is a strong instance, for there are only two Scripture texts that could imply it (we mean that without the help of the Church we could not be certain of their meaning). Nor do the Fathers help much: the New Eve comparison could have been taken as ground to deduce it, by saying that since the first Eve had an immaculate start, the New Eve, who was to reverse the damage, should also have an immaculate start. But no Father ever made that deduction. Many, not all, spoke of her surpassing holiness, which again could imply an Immaculate Conception, but would not have to do so. St. Bernard of Clairvaux around 1100 denied it, and then most of the great theologians of the Middle Ages, even St. Thomas, followed suit. The tide began to turn mostly from the work of Duns Scotus. After that the Popes began to intervene with texts of varying clarity, until by about a century and a half before the definition, the whole Church peacefully believed the Immaculate Conception.
Final perseverance: To hold to the state of grace even to death there is need of the special grace of final perseverance. For, if I look ahead to the next time I will have a temptation, and ask: Will God then offer me the grace needed to overcome it? The answer is yes . And it is yes for each instance for the rest of my life. However, for the sustained effort over all that time, something added is needed. We call that the grace of final perseverance.
There are many grave errors in theology today. Earlier in this century there were other errors, not so numerous, not covering nearly so much ground, but some of them extremely bad. One of them is an error about the grace of final perseverance. It said that God might decide simply not to give that grace, even without finding grave sin in a soul. Then that soul would be lost. This is grossly insulting to God, and a flat contradiction of Scripture. For St. Paul three times insists that God offers this grace to absolutely everyone. Thus in 1 Thes 5:23-24:"May the God of peace Himself make you holy, perfect, and may your spirit, soul and body be kept whole, without blame, at the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is the one who calls you: and He will do it." Similarly in 1 Cor 1:8-9: "He will also strengthen you until the end, without reproach on the day of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you have been called into sharing with His Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord." And in Philippians 1:6: "Being confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion, until the day of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
Death as punishment for sin: God had threatened Adam and Eve with death if they sinned (Gen 2:17). So St. Paul in Romans 5:12 wrote: "Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin, death, and so death came on all men, inasmuch as all have sinned... ." They sinned, and so death came upon them, as the threatened punishment. It was both natural death and spiritual death, in that their souls lost the life of grace.
Should we say that in us, the descendants of Adam, death is also a punishment for original sin?
To reply we need to recall what Vatican II said, as we quoted it above, in the Decree on Ecumenism. It told us that sometimes early language on a doctrine may need improvement. We do not mean the older language is false, but we do mean that it could and should be improved.
This is very specially true on the matter of original sin. Earlier language spoke of a stain of sin - a metaphorical term, for the soul, a spirit, cannot take on a stain. It also spoke of a new baby as being in the "state of sin". Those words are true in the analogical sense. When we apply the same words to two things, in senses partly the same, and partly different, we have the analogical sense. If we compare the new baby with an adult who has just committed a mortal sin, there is something the same - both souls lack grace which they should have - but the baby lacks it without any personal fault at all, while the adult lacks it through his own grave personal fault.
Pope John Paul II in a General audience of Oct. 1, 1986 gave us great help on this: "In context, it is evident that original sin in Adam's descendants has not the character of personal guilt. It is the privation of sanctifying grace... . It is a 'sin of nature' only analogically comparable to 'personal sin. '" A privation is the lack of something that should be there. But as the pope says, there is "not the character of personal guilt." Hence if a baby were to die in that state, we saw above from the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, that it would not suffer any positive pain at all, since without personal guilt, there is no positive pain. (If Latin poena is used in some texts, it means a loss of a good, not a positive infliction of pain, as we saw above).
So now, to answer the question about death in us as punishment for original sin, we work in parallel to the above. It was a positive punishment for Adam and Eve, for their own personal guilt. But in us it is merely a loss, a privation of a gift which God had given Adam and Eve, with the intention that they should pass the gift on to their descendants. The gift was freedom from bodily death. Since we do not inherit that gift, we do die. Death really is natural to a composite being, made of body and soul: the two can separate. So only analogically can death in us be called a punishment, just as it is correct to speak of only analogically of the state of sin.
Of course, we do ratify the sin of Adam by our personal sins, and that personal sin does deserve death. This seems to be the sense of the last words of Romans 5:12, cited above: "inasmuch as all have sinned". Romans 5:12 does speak of original sin, as the Council of Trent defined (DS 1514). But the Council explicitly said we must understand the text of St. Paul "as the Catholic Church spread throughout the world has always understood it." It has always understood that in the text as a whole, St. Paul speaks of original sin. But the sense of the last words in the verse "in as much as all have sinned" has been understood very differently by the Eastern Fathers, who all understood it as we have just done, as compared to the Western Fathers who read in Latin "in quo omnes peccaverunt", which seemed to mean "in whom [Adam?] all have sinned. It would take some strain to take it according to the Latin, which does not at all follow St. Paul's Greek. Some have even said that God miraculously enclosed all the wills of all men -who did not yet exist - in the will of Adam, so they could all sin together! Quite a bizarre notion to suppose God would work such a miracle for the same of evil! And a sad reflection on the goodness of God too. Similarly it is no compliment to the goodness of God to think He positively inflicts pain on the descendants of Adam for Adam's sin in itself.
Incidentally, Pope John Paul also clarified the words we often have heard, that by original sin,"the mind is darkened and the will weakened". The Pope said in a General Audience of Oct. 8, 1986: "However, according to the Church's teaching, it is a case of a relative and not an absolute deterioration, not intrinsic to the human faculties... . not of a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God." Adam had had the gift of integrity, better called a coordinating gift, which made it easy to keep all the drives of body and soul each in its own proper place. Without such a special gift, they can more easily rebel, and so pressure the will, and thereby also make it harder for the mind to see the truth. But as the Pope said, this is a relative loss, relative to what we would have had - not an absolute loss, not a loss of anything of the basic natural powers of mind and will.
Similarly when we hear that original sin is transmitted "by heredity" it really means that we have not gained by heredity what God had planned for us to inherit.
Elsewhere Paul says the equivalent things. In Romans 5:8-10: "But God has proved His love for us, because when we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, much more now that we have been justified in His blood will we be saved through Him from the wrath. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, after being reconciled, we will be saved by His life." And Romans 8: 32:"He who did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for all of us; How will He not give us all things with Him." In other words: Even when we were not yet His friends, but enemies, Christ died for us. After that, after giving His Son to a terrible death which earned all graces, how will be ever refuse us any grace that we need? But the old theology said: Even when we are reconciled, even when Christ as bought and paid for all graces, God might, without any grave reason (grave sin) simply decide not to give a soul what Christ has earned for that soul, and so that soul will go to hell. What a travesty!
Further, in Gal. 2:20 St. Paul said that Christ "loved me, and gave Himself for me". If we view this in the language of covenant, then we say, rightly, that in the covenant, the Father accepted something of infinite worth, the infinite value of the death of His Son. Thereby He obligated Himself to offer to humanity as a whole, grace without any limit, since the price given by His Son is infinite. So thee is an infinite objective title or claim to grace and forgiveness for our whole race. But then Gal 2:20 adds that there is also an infinite objective title even for each individual soul. We ask: Does this hold just for St. Paul, a very special soul, or does it apply to all? Vatican II, On the Church in the Modern world, §22 wrote: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me." So, with an infinite claim to grace for each soul, how could the Father decide even without grave reason, to withhold that for which that soul has an infinite title?
We must notice that while this special help, the grace of final perseverance, is offered to each soul, yet we could resist or reject that grace and so be lost. Hence in Phil 1:10 Paul prays "so that you may chose the better things, , so as to be pure, and may avoid stumbling until the day of Christ." So even though Paul had said in 1:6 of the same Epistle that God will bring to complete what He has begun in us, yet we could stumble.
An objection could be raised from the definition of the Council of Trent (DS 1566): "If anyone says that with absolute and infallible certitude he will have that great gift of perseverance to the end, unless he has learned this by special revelation, let him be anathema." Part of the answer comes from reading what the same Council also taught (DS 1541): "God, unless they fail His grace, just as He has begun a good work, will complete it, giving both the will and the doing." We notice this text incorporates the words of Phil 1:6,"He who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion," and also Phil 2:12: It is God who works [produces] in you both the will and the doing". ].
Of course, the Council is not contradicting itself. We can easily put together the two statements, one of which says without special revelation one cannot have infallible certainty that he will have the grace of final perseverance, the other which says: God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion." The two fit together in this way: It is one thing for God to offer this grace; another thing for a soul to have it. If it rejects it, it will not have it.
But especially also, in reading any statement of the Magisterium it is essential to note the historical situation in which it was written. The Council of Trent was called to counter the tragic mistakes of Luther. Luther thought we could have infallible salvation, if we would, just once, take Christ as our personal Savior, that is, gain the confidence that his merits apply to us. This would be infallible because no matter how much one might sin, it would make no difference: the merits of Christ would always out balance all sins, past, present, and future. In this vein Luther wrote to his great lieutenant, Melanchthon, on August 1, 1521 (Luther's Works, American Edition, 48. 282: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly... . No sin will separate us from the Lamb , even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day." Luther knew that S. Paul in 1 Cor 6;9-10 and Gal 5:5 had given lists of the chief great sins, and warned that those who do them would not inherit the kingdom. But Luther claimed that these words would not apply once a person had gained faith, the confidence that the merits of Christ applied to him.
The silly and tragic mistake was in not knowing what St. Paul meant by faith. Luther thought Paul meant what we have just said, confidence. But if we read all of St. Paul and keep notes there are three elements in faith: If God speaks a truth, we must believe it; if He makes a promise, we must be confident; and if He orders us to do something, we must do it. This Paul speaks of as "the obedience of faith", that is, the obedience that faith is. Now faith which includes obedience cannot justify disobedience. So Luther's claim just quoted is outrageous. And he did not notice the warning of Second Peter 3:16 which said, speaking of Paul's Epistles, that "in them there are many things hard to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable twist, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." Luther instead claimed Scripture is entirely clear - in clear contradiction of Second Peter. Actually, a major Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible in The Supplement volume, p. 333 described Paul's concept of faith just as we did above, and especially explained that Romans 1:5, the obedience of faith, means the obedience that faith is."
So we must avoid the two mistakes, that of Luther, and that of older theologians who said God might decide not to give a soul a grace which Christ paid for by dying, for no grave reason at all: just would not feel like giving it!
Infallible salvation: We just saw that Luther's claim of infallible salvation is terribly false. Is there anything at all similar that is sound? Yes, definitely.
At the start, we note that our problem concerns a gap: It is certain from St. Paul, as we saw above, that God offers the grace of final perseverance to all. But it is also clear that we could reject it. Is there any way to get over that gap?
We will draw material from both public and private revelation. Public revelation is that which is contained in Scripture and Tradition. It was completed, finished, when the last Apostle died and the New Testament was completed. There is no more of it until He returns at the end. However the Church, according to the promise given at the Last Supper to send the Holy Spirit to lead into all truth, does grow in the depth of its understanding of things in public revelation. In this area, the Church has the promise of Christ to protect its teaching.
All else is called private. It is not a good name, since it takes in even things like Fatima, which are addressed to the whole world. In the private area the Church does not have that promise of protection on its teaching. So strictly, we are not obliged to believe teachings on things in the private area. Yet if the Bishop of the place of an alleged apparition orders that there should be no pilgrimages to the place, we must obey. It is one thing to declare whether it is authentic or not: we need not believe that. Another thing to use legal authority: we must obey that. And if an apparition seems to continue after such a prohibition when the orders of the Bishop are being violated, we can be entirely sure that the alleged revelations are spurious at least from that time on. Our Lord, His Mother and the Saints will never appear to promote disobedience.
The most the Church can do in private revelations is two things: 1) It may check and see it does not conflict with public revelation. If an item did conflict, that item would be false, though other things might be all right - there can be a mixture in private revelations; 2) It might add that the matter seems to deserve human acceptance. We say this in contrast to acceptance on the divine virtue of faith.
Many people center their whole spiritual lives about recounting private apparitions, and going to the places. This is not spiritually healthy. Really why go to a place where Our Lady may have appeared, but will not appear to us, when in our own church in the tabernacle we have Our Lord Himself? If we wait for the Church we will not lack any grace. Many times we are told Our Lord appeared to St. Margaret Mary. One time He told her to do certain things. But her Superior forbade it. When He came again, she asked Him, and He replied: "Therefore not only do I want you to do what your Superior commands, but that you should do nothing of all that I order without their consent. I love obedience, and without it no one can please me. (Autobiography §47). He Himself redeemed the world precisely by obedience: cf. Rom 5:19 and Vatican II, Lumen gentium §3.
First something on St. Margaret Mary. Pope Benedict XV, in the Decree (AAS 12. 503) for the Canonization of St. Margaret Mary, did a very unusual thing. He wrote: "The Lord Jesus deigned to address his faithful spouse in this statement: "I promise you, in
the profuse mercy of my Heart, that those who for nine continuous months approach the most sacred table on the first Fridays, the omnipotent love of my Heart will grant to them the benefit of final penitence: they will not die in the state of having offended me, nor without the holy Sacraments. In their last moments, my Heart will give them a safe refuge." As we said, the text is very unusual. Normally in citing a private revelation, the Popes add some such tag as "it is said," to indicate they do not guarantee it. Of course, even here the Pope could not guarantee the private revelatoin. Yet he wanted to show most unusual approval of it. And we notice the wording of the greatpromise: "They will not die in the state of having offended me." And it promised not just the grace of perseverance, but the grace of final penitence, which is more. So that is more than just the offer of the grace of final peseverance: it adds that they will not die outside of grace, but will have final penitence. His omnipotence of course can bring that about in sptie of our frailty, and He promised to do it. As to the words about not dying "without the holy sacraments", they are to be taken to mean that if the soul needs the Sacraments, they will be given. If there is no need, they may or may not be given.
There is an account of a very special instance of the working out of this promise. On April 12, 1947 a fallen away Catholic, Bruno Cornacchiola who had become bitter against the Church, and even carried a dagger inscribed, "Death to the Pope" tried to take his children for an outing at Ostia. He missed the train, and so went instead to a grotto called TreFontane. While there his four year old boy, Gianfranco, was playing ball, and the ball rolled into the grotto. The child went into it, but did not come out. Bruno found him kneeling there, and the boy kept saying: Beautiful Lady. Then his ten year old, Isola, came in, and began to say the same thing. Bruno called his seven year old Carlo to come. He too began to say: Beautiful Lady. Bruno of course was furious, tried to pick up the smallest child. It felt like marble, he could not lift him. Bruno screamed: "You who are hiding there, come out." Then he became afraid, and called out: God save us. Just then two white transparent hands came from behind him, covered his eyes, and removed a film. So he too saw the beautiful Lady, barefoot, in a green mantle and white dress. She held a gray book and said: "I am the Virgin of the Apocalypse. You are persecuting me... The nine First Fridays which you made before entering on the way of evil have saved you, for my Son always keeps His promises." Of course, Bruno was converted on the spot. The Vatican bought the hill and grotto from the Trappists, and allowed pilgrimages there.
Even without this incident, we know from Pope Benedict that her Son always keeps His promises.
Of course, if someone made the nine Fridays intending to start a life of sin, and then be rescued at the end, it would not work. For his contrition at the end would not be a real repentance or change of heart, it would be preplanned instead. And from much sin one becomes hardened and so no absolution would remove the sins.
How would one become hardened? In Mt 6;21 we read: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." If a man had a box of coins under the floor of his house, that would pull his thoughts and heart to it, he would love to think of it. But a person can put his treasure in anything: in large meals, in gourmet meals, in sex, in travel, in study, even the study of theology. All these are below God Himself, some lower than others. This is one factor. The second factor: how strongly does a man let himself be pulled by these creatures: only as far as imperfection? or occasional venial sin? or habitual venial sin? or occasional mortal sin? or habitual mortal sin? When one goes far out on the scale and the creatures are far below God, the man loses his ability to perceive what grace tries to suggest to him that God wants. He is then blind. Only an extraordinary grace can rescue him then, and it seems such a grace could come not routinely, but only if someone else would do extraordinary work in penance and prayer for him would it be granted.
But if someone makes the nine Fridays in good faith, and later, in weakness, falls into sin then: Her Son always keeps His promises.
There is also another very remarkable promise which also covers the gap we mentioned. It is reported that on July 16, 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, Prior of the Carmelites, recently transplanted to England and in great difficulties. He had prayed earnestly to her for help. She appeared, holding a Scapular and saying: "This will be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire." The historical evidence for the reality fo this vision is very good indeed. Pope Pius XII, on the 700th anniversary of the vision wrote a letter to the Major Superiors of Carmelites and said (Neminem profecto latet, AAS 42. 390-91): "Not with a light or passing matter are we here concerned, but with the obtaining of eternal life itself, which is the substance of the Promise of the Most Blessed Virgin which has been handed down to us. We are concerned, namely, with that which is of supreme importance to all, and with the manner of achieving it safely."
The Church enriched the Scapular with many indulgences, showing her belief in the vision.
We note she said it was a privilege for all Carmelites: it is enough for this condition to be enrolled in the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
However, the mere physical wearing of the Scapular is not enough. So Pius XII warned: "May it be to them a sign of their Consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin."
The word consecration can be used in two senses: to entrust ourselves to her care, or to live a live really devoted to her. Pope Leo XIII in consecrating the world to the Sacred Heart in 1899 explained: "For we, in dedicating ourselves, not only recognize and accept His rule explicitly and freely, but we actually testify that if that which we give were ours, we would most willingly give it; and we ask Him to graciously accept from us that very thing, even though it is already His."
In other words, that consecration recognizes the rights He already has over us as Creator, and as the one who redeemed us from the captivity of satan. But His Mother shares in those titles too, as Pius XII explained in a broadcast on Vatican Radio to pilgrims assembled at Fatima on May 13, 1946: "He, the Son of God, reflects on His heavenly Mother the glory, the majesty and the dominion of His kingship. For, having been associated with the King of Martyrs in the unspeakable work of human redemption as Mother and Cooperatrix, she remains forever associated to Him with a practically unlimited power, in the distribution of the graces which flow from the redemption. Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest; through Him, with Him, and subordinate to Him, Mary is Queen by grace, by Divine Relationship, by right of conquest, and by singular choice [of the Father] and her kingdom is as vast as that of her Son and God, since nothing is excluded from her dominion."
He has a claim to our service by two titles: Creator and Redeemer. She has a claim by four titles, which include the parallels to these: He is Creator, She is Mother of the Creator; He has a claim "by right of conquest", she too has a claim "by right of conquest" that is, by sharing in reconquering our race from the captivity of satan.
So a real consecration the strong sense means living out the implications of this pledge of service. There are various ways of explaining this. St. Louis de Montfort did it well in his True Devotion, St. Maximilian Kolbe did it well too in his writings as did Father Neubert. A detailed explanation of this, drawn from all the authors mentioned, is to be had in Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, Chapter 24. Briefly, it includes the spirit of union with her (live in her presence and imitate her virtues); a spirit of dependence (in a full consecration we give her the right to dispose of everything we have that is disposable); and obedience to her as Queen. We do not think of her queenly power as a finite one, parallel to the infinite power of her Son. No, they always operate together, as a unitary principle.
Vatican II in chapter 8 of Lumen gentium, gave us a splendid theological base for living such a consecration. It first showed she was eternally joined with Him in the eternal decree for the incarnation - for all of God's decrees are eternal. In decreeing the Incarnation of course He in the same act decreed the Mother through whom it was to take place. Then the Council went through the Old Testament prophecies that pertain specially to her, and then through every one of the mysteries of His life and death, and showed at each point how she was His associate even in the great sacrifice itself. As it said in LG §61: "In suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace." To bring out all the implications of this rich text would take a whole course (cf. the text for Theology 523 from Notre Dame Institute). After going through all these mysteries, the Council added that eternally, after being assumed into Heaven, she is Queen alongside of her Son, the Eternal King. So literally, from eternity to eternity, and at all points in between, she is, as Pius XII wrote (Munificentissimus Deus AAS 42. 768) she is "always sharing His lot." This theological picture does not make a fully Marian form of life mandatory - there is a diversity in the graces of spiritual attractions - but it does show that objectively, in itself, it is the ideal. For since the Father freely chose to use her at all points in His approach to us, the ideal would be to give her a similar place in our response to Him.
If we do all this, we can be sure that we are satisfying the conditions Pius XII spoke of for the Scapular promise. However, much less will probably suffice. Kilian Lynch, Prior General of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance put it this way: "How much good will is required to gain the promise of the scapular? Eternity alone will answer this question, for we should be careful not to place limits upon the mercy of her who is the refuge of sinners and the Mother of Mercy... . In this age of measurements, we should beware of attempting to reduce at least our Blessed Mother's love for sinners to fixed formulas" (in: Your Brown Scapular, Westminster, 1950, p. 60).
We said at the start of this section that we would use both private and public revelation. We now turn, therefore, to the realm of public revelation, where the Church does have authority and promise of divine protection in its teaching. Pius XI (Explorata res, Feb. 2, 1923. AAS 15. 104) taught: "... nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most Blessed Virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This opinion of the Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the experience of all times, depends especially on this reason: the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of the Redemption with Jesus Christ." We spoke above of that sharing, and cited LG §61. We could add a development, given by Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater (March 25, 1987. AAS 79. 382-83. Vatican Press translation): "How great, how heroic, then, is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of God's 'unsearchable judgments'! How completely she 'abandons herself to God without reserve' offering the full assent of the intellect and the will' to Him whose 'ways are inscrutable... . ' Through this faith, Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying... . Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in His redeeming death... . as a sharing in the sacrifice of Christ - the new Adam -it becomes in a certain sense the counterpoise to the disobedience od disbelief embodied in the sin of our first parents. Thus teach the Fathers of the Church and especially St. Irenaeus, quoted ny the Constitution Lumen gentium; 'The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed by her faith. '"
In his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, the same Pope had said that he intended to deepen the teaching of Vatican II on her faith. He really did that. Vatican II had said she "consented' to His death. That was true. But there is more. The sense of the text cited above is this: Any soul is required to align its will with the will of the Father; and when it knows what the Father positively wills, the soul must positively will that too. Now at the time of His death, she knew all too well that the Father willed that His Son die, die then, die so horribly. So she was called on to empty herself, to positively will that He die, die then, die so horribly. But this went directly contrary to her love which was so great that Pius IX in 1854 (Ineffabilis Deus) wrote, speaking of her holiness, which in practice is equivalent to love, that it was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." So her suffering then was strictly incomprehensible to anyone - even to the highest Cherubim - to anyone but God Himself. This is really sharing in the covenant condition of the New Covenant , which was and is obedience. Her obedience, as John Paul II said in the texts just cited, was the counterpoise to the disobedience of Eve. The Pope spoke of faith in the Pauline sense, which includes three things: belief in what God says, confidence in His promises, obedience to His will, i.e., "the obedience of faith".
With such a cooperation, beyond the ability of any existing creature to fathom, no wonder that Pius XI could say her power to protect her devoted children at the time of death guarantees that one "will not incur eternal death." And as we said, this is no longer private revelation, this is the Pope interpreting public revelation. Further, the same basic idea was taught by two other Popes: Benedict XV wrote (Apostolic Letter Inter Sodalicia, March 22, 1918. AAS 10, 1918, 182): "There is a most constant view among the faithful, proved by long experience, that whoever employs the same Virgin as Patron, will not perish forever." Pius XII in his Encyclical, Mediator Dei (Nov. 20, 1947. AAS 29, 1957. 584) spoke similarly: "The cult of the Virgin Mother of God which, according to the view of holy men, is a sign of 'predestination'."
It is a general principle in theology that if something is taught repeatedly on the ordinary level (less than a definition) that teaching is infallible, for the repetition shows the intent to make the teaching definitive. That surely seems to be the case with the teaching we have just reviewed.
Let us not forget the intercession of St. Joseph. At his deathbed stood Jesus Himself, who was both His Son and His Judge, along with Our Lady, His wife and Queen of Heaven. No wonder he is called patron of a happy death.
Fear of death: St. Francis of Assisi was inclined to poetic expressions. He spoke of brother sun, sister moon and other things. He called his body, "brother ass". He meant this: no ass ever goes over to another ass and says: Brother ass, you have been around more than I. Tell me about it. No, brother ass must learn only from his own experience. And if the experience is vigorous, he learns very well, e.g., if he is facing north and a boot moves in swiftly from the south.
So we must distinguish between Brother Ass and our soul in the matter of fear of death. Our soul should have calm assurance if we have been faithful, especially if we have lived close to our Blessed Mother, so as to be able to realize what Pius XI taught, that such a one will not incur eternal death.
In some deaths, our Father arranges that brother ass causes little or no trouble. I knew a good woman in the parish of St. Lawrence, Alexandria, Va. who was a humble soul, had worked for a nearby McDonald's as just a cleaning woman, yet liked doing that work. She contracted cancer, and went down to skin and bones, about half her normal weight. Yet her relatives told that when the moment of death came her face lit up, and she seemed to be seeing something. After her death they phoned to her brother in South America to tell him, but he replied that she had just been there. And the manager of McDonald's had somehow not cleaned up as usual at night, but in the morning he found it all cleaned up nicely. Again, Twin Circle (11-14-93) told of a small girl who had a party with her friends in the evening hours before her death, which she expected that night, celebrating the fact that she was going to see Jesus. To the Doctor it did not seem she was going to die. Yet that very night in her sleep He did come for her.
On the other hand for their great spiritual growth, God may cause even holy souls to have a difficult time with brother ass. St. Francis de Sales, in a letter of Oct. 18, 1608 says that when St. Charles Borromeo was dying he had someone bring him a picture of our Lord after His death, "to soften the dread of his own death by joining it to that or his Savior." St. Therese of Lisieux told that during the last year and a half before her death she was afflicted with terrible temptations to despair, to disbelief in heaven. She said the tempter told her: "Look forward to death. But it will give you not what you hope for, but a still darker night, the night of annihilation." St. Therese accepted this suffering even gladly out of love of Jesus, and died in peace.
For as we have been bringing out, there are two very different parts of us, brother ass, and the soul. The soul can always have peace, the peace that no one can take from us. St. Francis de Sales in Treatise on the Love of God 9. 3 speaks of "the fine point of the soul". There are many levels of operations in us, both in body and in spirit. We might think of a tall mountain, 25000 feet high. On some days the peak will stick up through the clouds into serene sunshine, while all the lower slopes are in blackness and storm. So it is possible for there to be serene peace only on the highest level, while all the lower parts are in darkness and suffering.
Our Lord Himself suffered terribly in the Garden, and even prayed that the chalice might pass. (Really an incarnation in a palace with no suffering or death would have been an infinite reparation. Yet to show the horror of sin, and the immensity of His love, the Father willed, and He agreed, to go so dreadfully far). Yet He at once added: "Not your will but mine be done". Pope John Paul II explained this difference in the two levels of Jesus beautifully, in commenting on His cry: "My God, why have you forsaken me?" In a General Audience of Nov. 30, 1988 he said: "If Jesus feels abandoned by the Father, He knows, however, that that is not really so. He Himself said: 'I and the Father are one. ' ... . dominant in His mind Jesus has the clear vision of God and the certainty of His union with the Father. But in the sphere bordering on the senses, and therefore more subject to the impressions, emotions and influence of the internal and external experiences of pain, Jesus' human soul is reduced to a wasteland, and He no longer feels the 'presence of the Father'... . However, Jesus knew that by this ultimate phase of His sacrifice, reaching the intimate core of His being, He completed the work of reparation which was the purpose of His sacrifice for the expiation of sins. He was really reciting part of Psalm 22, to show He was then fulfilling it."
Hebrews 5:8 says, "He learned obedience from the things He suffered." We distinguish obedience in His human will, which was always perfect, from His bodily side. The same Epistle to the Hebrews in 7:10 said that "On entering into the world He said: Behold, I come to do your will O God." But it was His lower nature that found it hard to acquiesce, to as it were learn to settle down into pain. If we think of a man who has always been very devoted to the will of God, and has never had a severe illness, but now falls into one. His will was and is in accord with God's, but he must learn to settle down, must learn obedience from what he suffers.
So anxiety is not always a sign of lack of confidence in God. Jesus Himself suffered anxiety all His life long, for as the Church teaches us (Cf. Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ), from the first instant of conception, His human soul saw the vision of God in which all knowledge is present. To have a lifetime of anxiety from anticipating so dreadful a thing would wear the skin thin, as it were. In Luke 12:50 He let us see inside: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished." In John 12:27 while speaking to a crowd not long before His death He interjected: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour." Then the long running nightmare caught up with Him in the Garden. When we, chiefly as children, have a nightmare in which something dreadful is chasing us, we scream and wake ourselves up, and are relieved. But with Him there was no such escape: it was there. The interior tension was so severe that the capillaries near the sweat glands ruptured, and poured out blood through all their openings. This is medically known, is very rare, is called hematidrosis.
Why such tension? Because it had been running for a lifetime. But more, it was not just the terrible physical suffering, which He knew and had known in every horrid detail. It was the pain of rejection by us, whom He loved to such a point as to he willing to go through all that to make possible eternal happiness for us. Romans 5;8 says "God proved His love for us." To love is to will good to another for the other's sake. He willed us the practically infinite good of the vision of God. But if a small obstacle will stop a lover trying to bring happiness to the beloved, that love is small. If it takes a large obstacle to stop him, the love is great. If even an immeasurable obstacle cannot stop him - then the love is beyond measure. So really, He, God, did prove His love for us.
If we made a synthesis of many things all over St. Paul, it would be this: We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that that we are not only members of Christ, but like Him. So if a person suffers anxiety, it will not always be true that confidence in God can stop it. For example, if one is waiting for a medical report on whether or not he has cancer, God has not promised he will not have cancer. So anxiety is not a lack of confidence in God. Rather, it is an opening to be more like Christ.
The same is to be said of fear of death. Some fear in advance seems to be rather common, even though a difficult transit, such as we described in a few cases above, is not so common. But whatever it may be, our Father in heaven has it all tailored to what we can handle, and if we accept it well, as likeness to His Son, then the reward is beyond measure, is eternal, unending.
Grief at death of a dear one: Some saints have shown great influence of Stoicism in this matter, or of a poor understanding of the need of detachment (cf. 1 Cor 7:29-31 and Mt. 6:21). St. Augustine tells vividly of his own reaction at the death of his mother (Confessions 9. 12):
Later he took a bath, thinking it would relieve his grief. But the next morning:
Augustine's writing is beautiful, but his attitude is regrettable (later Augustine saw better, in Epistle 263. 3). He misunderstood, as was said above. He had not noticed that Our Lord Himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus, who was not a relative, just a friend. He could have restrained His tears, but rather He wanted them to flow to teach us that Christianity is not Stoicism, does not rule out feelings. Christianity wants to eliminate only feelings such that they can by their power pull a person into even a small sin. But if the feelings instead lead one to follow the role and pattern the Father has set for his state of life and for him and for all of us, then those feelings are good. Our Lord Himself not only wept for Lazarus, but also, as we learn from Mark 10:16, He even put His arms around the children who came to Him for His blessing. He found them attractive, but He, their Creator, had made them that way, so that we may like them and care for them. (St. Francis de Sales, with his usual splendidly balanced judugement, in his Epistle of May 3, 1604 to a married woman even wrote, "your husband will love it, if he sees that as your devotion increases, you become more warm and affectionate to him.
Other holy persons have shared Augustine's misunderstanding. Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromata 6. 8. 71. 2, speaks of Jesus Himself as apathes, without feeling. Cf. also St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 10. 23.
"You can't take it with you." That is only half true. It is true in the sense that we cannot take bank accounts, stocks, bonds and other things along. But we can take what is more important. in Mt 6:19-21: "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moths and rust eat away, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasure in heaven... . where your treasure is, there is your heart also." So we can take with us much more than any earthly wealth. St. Francis of Assisi understood this. The antiphon for the Benedictus for the Divine Office of his Feast, October 4, says: "Francis, poor and lowly, enters heaven as a rich man, is honored with heavenly hymns."
The Number of those saved: We start with Matthew 7:13-14: If we compare this passage with the parallel in Luke 13:22-27, Luke's version is much fuller, and includes a setting which makes clear the question is about final salvation. In Matthew that seems to be the case, but some have taken it to refer to entering the Church - speaking of the difficulties in involved. Because Luke's version is fuller, we will use it for our discussion. A person asks Jesus point-blank whether many or few are saved. (Here the word saved means reaching final salvation - often it means entering the Church)
It is important to knew that that very question was much discussed among the Jews at that time. We gather this clearly from some of their intertestamental writings, that is, works that are not part of Scripture. The Fourth Book of Ezra, according to the opinion of the editor of that section, B. M. Metzger (In James H. Charlesworth, general editor, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Doubleday, 1983) comes from late first century A.D. In 8. 1-3: "The Most High made the world for the sake of the many, but the world to come for the sake of the few." In 8. 14-16: "There are more who perish than those who will be saved." This is the background of the thought in 7:46: "It would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam." The same thought occurs also in 2 Baruch 48. 42 (dated between 1st and 2nd decades of second century, A.D.) and elsewhere. These texts of course do not mean all rabbis held such ideas - there was no central teaching authority in Judaism. But their gloomy remarks applied to our race in general. As to the Jews, nearly all would be saved. So Talmud, Sanhedrin 1. 10 saws :"All Israel has a part in the age to come." It does list a few exceptions to that for the very worst kinds of sinners. Genesis Rabbah 48. 7 has much the same: "In the world to come, Abraham will sit on the doormat of Gehinom and will not allow a circumcised Jew to enter."
Later, in the Talmud. b. Ber 7a Exodus 33: 12-16 they made an extension of the words of Moses to God in Exodus 33:12-16. In the OT text Moses had asked God to go along with His people. But in the Talmud Moses asks Him not to go with any other people. Far from loving neighbor!: "He [Moses] asked that the Shekhinah might not rest over the other peoples of the world, and God granted it to him. In contrast, St. Paul asked (Rom 3:29): "Is He the God of the Jews only? No, He is also the God of the gentiles."
It is against this background that we must look at the passages in Luke and probably also Matthew. First, is it inherently likely Jesus would reveal the truth on the matter? Hardly. To say most are saved could lead to laxity. To say most are lost could easily bring despair.
So, what He seems to mean is this: You people think you have it made because Abraham is your Father. But you do not. Do not rest on that, get going and work out your salvation.
Further, there were two Scriptural passages whose seeming sense led so many Fathers to take pessimistic view. One is our present passsage about the narrow way, the other is that of the banquet in Mt 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24. The version in Matthew ends with "Many are called but few are chosen." Jesus seems to have in mind at last primarily the Jews, and not all persons. - The word "many" almost certainly reflects Hebrew rabbim, which means the all who are many. So it means all Jews were invited to the messianic kingdom - few were entering. So the path is narrow.
The Fathers of the Church generally took that parable to refer to both God's call to be part of the chosen People, and to refer to final salvation. That was unfortunate, for the two are quite different. One can be saved without formally entering the Church, and some who do formally enter will not be saved.
Are we obliged to accept the Patristic interpretation? No, for there is no sign they are passing on a teaching from the beginning. Rather, they are on their own, and telescope two things that greatly need to be kept distinct, as we said.
The old Congregation of the Index in more recent times condemned two writings. One by P. Gravina, which held that by far the greater number are saved, was condemned on May 22, 1772. However, some of his arguments were foolish and he used apocryphal revelations. The general idea of the greater number of persons saved was also held earlier by Venerable Joseph of St. Benedict. As part of the process to declare him venerable, 40 theologians, along with other doctors elsewhere were appointed to examine his writings. None objected to his thesis. On the other hand, on July 30, 1708 a work under the pen name of Amelincourt - actually it was written by Abbé Olivier Debors-Desdoires - which held that most persons are lost, was condemned.
From these opposite condemnations and the approval of Venerable Joseph we gather that the Church simply does not profess to know whether the saved are few or many. This also confirms our judgment that even though so many Fathers are pessimistic, their views do not derive from a tradition handed down from the beginning, but from a misinterpretation especially of the parable of the banquet.
The early Christian writer, Origen, early second century, in his On First Principles 1. 6. 1 (cf. 3. 4-6) wrote: "The end of the world, then, and the final consummation will come when everyone will be made subject to punishment for his sins... . We think that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may bring back all His creatures to one end, and even His enemies will be converted and made subject. For Scripture says: 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." So hell will end. And Origen seems to mean that even the devils will be converted and get out of hell. Origen was influenced by Plato, and seems to have held that even heaven would come to an end, i.e., hell would empty and all go to heaven , but then all would return to the starting point, the world of spirits (3. 5. 3). Origen definitely meant to be orthodox (First Principles, Preface 1-2), but was too much influenced by Plato. Still later, St. Gregory of Nyssa (Catechetical Oration 26) also thought hell would come to an end. In our own day there are some few theologians skating perilously close to this unfortunate view of Origen, e.g. Hans Urs von Balthasar in Dare we Hope that All Men be saved?.
We mentioned above the misunderstanding of the Jews that they were practically all saved. Part of their trouble was failure to distinguish two things: predestination to heaven, and predestination to full membership in the People of God. The parable of the banquet surely referred to only predestinaton to full membership in the people of God. The Jews tended to think - and the Fathers too-- that this was the same as predestination to heaven. Of course the two are different. As we said above, to have full membership in the Church or People of God is a great help towards final salvation, but does not assure it. Conversely, lack of full membership does not mean certain eternal loss. (We spoke of full membership, since there is a lesser, though substantial membership, which suffices for salvation, though its help is less rich than that of full membership).
What chance is there for Protestants and pagans to be saved?
Protestants at least in general follow the tragic mistake of Luther, who wrote to his lieutenant Melanchthon on August 1, 1521 (American Edition, Luther's Works, vol. 48, . p. 282): "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly... . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day." The root of this error was his mistake on justification by faith. He did no research to determine what St. Paul meant by faith, he merely jumped to the conclusion it meant: confidence that the merits of Christ apply to me. After doing that once in a lifetime, he can commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day, with impunity. But by the word faith St. Paul really meant: 1) Believe the truth God speaks; 2) have confidence in His promises; 3) obey his commands, as in Romans 1:5,"the obedience of faith" = the obedience that faith is - this interpretation pf faith is also found in the protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement, p. 333.
Hence a great problem about the salvation of Protestants. For if a Protestant sins mortally and thinks he need do nothing about it, just believe it is all right, that mistaken belief will not remit a mortal sin. Nor could he reach the state of grace in the first place in that way unless of course he received baptism as a sacrament, not just as a testimony to his "faith."
First even with that mistaken notion it is possible for someone, protestant, or other, even pagan, to reach justification, i.e., the state of grace. St. Justin Martyr, c 145. AD. in his Apology 1. 46 said that in the past some who were considered atheists were really Christians, since they followed the divine Word, the Logos. He adds, in Apology 2. 10, that the Logos is within each person. He also said that Socrates was such a person, and so was Christian. How explain this?
A spirit does not take up space: t is present wherever it causes an effect. What is the effect here?: Romans 2:14-16 says that the gentiles who do not have the law [revealed religion] do by nature the things of the law: they show the work of the law written on their hearts - and according to their response, conscience will accuse or defend them at the judgement. So the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of Christ writes on their hearts, i.e., makes known to them interiorly what they should do. (It is defined, DS 800, that all works done by the Three Persons outside the Divine Nature itself are common to all three). Socrates read what the Spirit of Christ wrote on his heart, 1) he believed it; 2) he had confidence in it; 3) He obeyed -- these are the three parts of faith as St. Paul teaches, as we saw above. So Socrates was justified, received grace, by faith. So also for all others who fill these requirements, even if a person would say he does not believe in God, if he in practice fills these three, he is not an atheist, and does follow the Spirit of Christ. But further, we learn from Romans 8:9 that if someone has and follows the Spirit of Christ, he belongs to Christ. But in Paul's terms, that means he is a member of Christ, and a member of the Mystical Body, which is the Church.
Suppose someone justified in this way commits a mortal sin. Surely he can regain grace by perfect contrition. But if he does not know explicitly about that, what? We add a SPECULATION here. God is identified with each attribute, e.g., He IS love. So He also is mercy, is justice etc. So each attribute is identified with the other. So if someone comes to see that what he has done is wrong, against goodness or holiness in itself, or objective goodness, this seems to appeal to that attribute of God, which is identified with God who is love. Therefore he could regain grace. In Ezekiel 18:27-28 God says that if the wicked man turns from his wicked deeds he shall live. There is no mention of perfect contrition, just seeing that what he did was wrong, and changing his heart.
If a pagan in good faith follows pagan rites, do these contribute to his salvation? Pope Gregory XVI, in Mirari vos of Aug 15, 1832 (DS 2730) said that it is "an evil opinion that souls can attain eternal salvation by just any profession of faith, if their morals follow the right norm." The key word is by. It means that their false rites are not a means of salvation. Yet, these souls could be saved in spite of such things. Such is the teaching of Pius IX (DS 2866), Vatican II (Lumen gentium §16) and John Paul II (Redemptoris missio §10). The process is what we described above. Further, the good will shown by a pagan in following his religion, even though the religion as such does not save him, yet God could and would accept that good will as part of the fulfillment of the requirement of Pauline faith, described above. Pius XII, in his Mystical Body Encyclical (DS 3821 - cf. DS 3870) said that those who do not formally join the visible Church might yet be "ordered to the Church" by "a will of which they are not aware" (inscio voto) namely their general desire to do what God wills implicitly and objectively includes the desire to enter the Church, even though the person is not aware of that implication.
Further, it is important to notice that there are two very different ways of speaking about the whole economy of salvation. In one, we spell out all the means actually available even to those who do not find the Church, and notice that grace is offered them abundantly in anticipation of the future merits of Christ. (Here we need to consider that next section, on the "checker board"). The second speaks more of the external realm, namely, of the earning of the means we just spoke of. . A strong instance of that is found in the Preface IV for Easter:" In him a new age has dawned, the long reign of sin is ended, a broken world has been renewed, and man is once again made whole." Speaking of a long reign of sin does not imply all were hopelessly mired in sin before the coming of Christ. Again, the words, "a new age has dawned and a broken world has been renewed, and man is once again made whole" do not mean that now no one sins, that man's weakness is all taken away etc. These words merely mean that the means of these things have now been earned by the death of Christ, even though the fruits of His sacrifice were offered even before it took place.
The words of Our Lord about Judas, "better for him if he had never been born" (Mt 26:24) need not indicate final damnation of Judas. If Judas had not been born, he might have died before birth, and then his eternal fate would be according to the principles we have considered for unbaptized infants - which need not mean hell at all. Having been born, he might be saved, but only after a most terrible purgatory perhaps lasting until the end of time.
From this instance we can see that the Church never gives negative canonization, i.e., declaring someone is in hell, even though Dante was so presumptuous as to do that.
A checker board: Acts 16:6-7 reports that Paul on a misssionary trip wanted to go into Asia, then into Bithynia. But the Spirit said no. Why? Let us imagine God looking over a huge checkerboard before time begins to roll. He sees a square for each human of all ages. But He notes that some squares, first class, have the Mass and all other external means of grace. A second class has some, not all, of these. A third class has no external means (but God offers grace interiorly or course, for He wills all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).
Why the three classes? The founder of a heresy may well be in mortal sin. But later generations growing up in that heresy are hardly guilty. It takes much to even bring a person to see he ought to look into things. So there must inevitably be the three kinds.
Then God notices there are various degrees of resistance to His graces, leading to sin. Some are cussed, no matter in what kind of square God puts the man, he will surely be lost. So He does not waste a first class square on him. But others can be saved if they get the right class of square. Some will need all possible helps, as in the first class. Others can do with second or third class. So God assigns them accordingly. Thus no person is lost because of the type of assignment God has made, who could have been saved elsewhere.
Many places in Scripture agree with this supposition: 1 Cor 1:25-30; Ezek 3:5-7; the book of Jonah; Lk 10:30-37; 17:11-19; Mt 11:21. Perhaps God has a better way of arranging things. But for certain, no one is lost because of the place providentially assigned to him. In fact people put into very poor areas may have a better chance than Americans, for riches makes it hard to see spiritual truths: cf. Wisdom 4:12 on the "witchery of paltry things", and the camel going through the needle's eye.
Myriad are the means He uses to try to help souls to salvation. Besides what we saw above, let us mention some other things.
There is such a thing as somatic resonance - a term from modern psychology. Since we are made of body and spirit, and yet the two are so closely joined as to add up to one person, the result is that if we have a condition on either one of the two sides, there should be a parallel condition, called a resonance, on the other side. For example, a person in deep black depression sometimes thinks he is losing or has lost his faith. But the bad chemistry of his disease can interfere with the biochemistry that should serve as the somatic resonance to his faith. This does not expel faith, but can keep it from functioning normally, so that the person thinks he has lose it or is losing it.
There are numerous applications of this principle. Science News of Oct 14, 1989, p. 250 reporrted men who had committed murder without clear premeditaiton had the lowest levels of the breakdown product [ of serotonin] known as 5-hydroxyuindoleacetic acid of 5-HIAA. Science News of April16, 1994, pp. 248-49 shows that PET scans of a normal brain processing glucose show considerable differences compared to the scan of a brain of a person who has trouble relating to others. And there are numerous other instances. Again, Science News of Aug 20, 1983, pp. 122-25 reports a chemist found notable differences in highs and lows of certain trace elements in the hair of violent criminals.
These things do not deny free will. But they show that a person may be much inclined in an unfortunate direction by abnormal chemistry. God who so greatly wills all to be saved, surely makes good allowance for these things.
Again, there is a sort of spiral going downward when a soul sins much over a period of time. It grows less and less able to perceive spiritual truths. Suppose we think of a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he becomes very drunk. The next morning he will have guilt feelings - for this was the first time. There will be a clash between his beliefs and his actions. Something will give in time. If he continues getting drunk, his beliefs will be pulled to match his actions, so that a confirmed drink can hardly understand there is anything wrong with it. Further moral truths may be dimmed in this way.
Now we can see both mercy and justice here. The fact that the man is losing light is justice, he has earned that. But at the same time, what he does not understand at the time of acting can lower his culpability. He may lose even the ability to see some doctrinal truths. Thus Dignity, the group that defies the Church on the immorality of homosexuality, published a statement before the Pope's appearance in Denver in the summer of 1993 saying: The Pope is only titular head of the Church, We are the Church.
Yes, there is a responsibility taken on at the start of the decline , when and if the person sees himself declining, and consents to it. But at the later times of acting, responsibility may be diminished.
Further, God wills some obscurity in Scripture, to mercifully be able to say: "They know not what they do". How much responsibility is dimmed in a given case, only He can judge. But we can notice the principle. The command of Mt 7:1,"Judge not" refers precisely to judging the interior of a person - not to the objective morality of his acts in themselves. In Mark's version, after His enemies charge He casts out devils by the devil, then, as all three Synoptics report, Our Lord turned to parables, and told the Apostles: To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the others in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Now of course He did not deliberately blind them - if He had done that, He would not have wept over Jerusalem later. Rather it means that parables are a divinely esablished means for dividing people into two groups. One group, by living vigorously according to to what faith says, that the things of this world are worth little compared to eternity, will get a little, and then more and more, light. The other group will become more and more blind -- we are speaking again of the two spirals, mentioned above, in two directions.
But it is not only parables that cause this effect: God wills that Scripture in general be difficult. Iif we make allowance for differences in language, culture, literary genre etc. in understanding, after all that there is still a lot of difficulty not accounted for. That part is willed by God. St. Augustine thought God wants it that way, to get us to work harder, and so get more. Pius XII agreed (EB 563). So again, God has a means of mercifully allowing a person to become less responsible as he loses light.
This difficulty in understanding can come also from the presence in a man's mind of a mental framework, that is, a set of established ideas. For example, the Apostles had an firm idea that Jesus was going to restore the kingship to Israel - just before the ascension they asked when He would do that! (Acts 1:6). That is why they did not understand His predictions of His death and resurrection - such things could not fit with their notion of what sort of Messiah He was. Similarly, since the Old Testament predictions, as we shall see fully later, of the gentiles streaming to Jerusalem were easily understood to mean that all gentiles would become Jews - and not that they would be accepted by God as gentiles and become part of the people of God (cf. Ephesians 3:3-6, where that fact is revealed for the first time b y Paul). As a result, Peter and others were painfully slow to understand the command of Mt 28 to go and teach all nations. So Jewish Christians in Acts 10 were shocked that Peter would even speak to gentiles - though Jesus had ordered precisely that.
Such lack of comprehension fits, as we said above, with the words of Our Lord Himself. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
We can see then some of the myriad ways God has devised to make salvation possible for all. He bound Himself by the infinite price of redemption in the new covenant, to make available forgiveness and grace infinitely, without limit. The only limit imposed is the receptivity of the one to whom the grace is offered. Still further, as we learn from St. Paul in Gal 2:20,"He loved me, and gave Himself for me", the Father has established this infinite title or claim not just in favor of the world as a whole, but in favor of each individual man. Vatican II (Gaudium et spes §22) tells us: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me." So He will do everything possible for the salvation of each individual.
Hence we see how unfortunate it is to say that God gives "sufficient" grace to all to be saved. That sounds as if He doles it out, gives just enough: a man had better use every bit or he will be lost, and God will not care.
The particular judgment: As we mentioned in passing earlier, at once after death the soul appears before the Divine Judge. This is all done in an instant, since as God, He knows all the secrets of all hearts. His decision is given at once, and is of course final.
At the judgment the soul does not have to prove that it has earned heaven; merely that it did not earn to lose it. Cf. Romans 6:23: "The wages [ what we earn] of sin is death, but the free gift of God [what we do not earn] is eternal life." St. Paul frequently speaks of us as inheriting the Kingdom. Now when we inherit from our parents we do not say that we have earned the inheritance, though we could have earned to lose it, to be disinherited. Our Lord Himself constantly speaks of us a children of the Father, and says unless we become as little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. The sense is the same. So the Council of Trent taught (DS 1532) that first grace, which makes us children of the Father, and as such having a claim to inherit, is not at all earned, even though the possession of that grace gives us claim, as it were a ticket (which could even be called a merit) of heaven: DS 1582. If we notice the account of the Last Judgment calls for the works of mercy, we must say that these can earn us increases of glory, but that the basic is still unearned. If we did not do them, we would be violating the command to love neighbor, and then would earn to be disinherited.
This fits with the words of Our Lord (Lk:17:10): "When you have done all that has been commanded, say: We are unprofitable servants. We have done what we should have done." If we relate all these things to 2 Cor 3:5, which says we cannot of our own power get a good thought, and Phil 2:13 which says we cannot make a good decision, or carry it out by our own power - then we see that God gains nothing from us. Our "service" is good for us, for it makes us open to receive His gifts. But it does Him no good at all. cf. Job 35:7: "If you are righteous, what do you give to Him?" Or again (Job 22:3):" Can a man be profitable to God?"
In Romans 2:6 St. Paul says: "God will repay each one according to his works." This has caused Protestants much trouble. Joseph A. Burgess, in, "Rewards, but in a very different sense" (in: Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue . VII. Augusburg, 1985) reviews numerous attempts to explain this line. He says, on p. 98: "This is an unresolved contradiction in Paul which we have to accept."
But we are not permitted to say that St. Paul, writing under inspiration, contradicted himself. Really the problem is very easy to solve. All we need to notice is that St. Paul is here quoting the last part of verse 12 of Psalm 62. Many versions are senseless, for they say, for example, "You O Lord have kindness [or: mercy] for you will repay... ." But there is no connection between mercy and repayment. But if we read the Hebrew, which St. Paul would have in mind, it runs this way: "You, O Lord, observe the covenant [you have hesed] for you will repay... . Now when God gives something good under the covenant, there are two levels. On the most basic level, since no creature could possibly by its own power establish a claim on God, all is really mercy. That corresponds to justification by faith, which is not earned. But on the secondary level, that is, recalling that God freely established a covenant in which He promised reward for obedience, punishment for disobedience (cf. Dt. 30:15-20), there He can be said to repay. So then if the human does obey, God owes it to Himself to repay. Hence there is both repayment and gratuitous favor.
St. Augustine (Epistle 194. 5. 19) says: "When God crowns your merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts." This is the same thought as 1 Cor 4:7: "What have you that you have not received?" In other words, even our merits are basically His gift. Why does He give these instead of giving without merits? He does give the basic justification, which is the basic ticket to heaven, without merits. But for further things there are two reasons: 1) He loves all that is good, and as part of that loves to have reasons or titles for giving things (cf. Summa I. 19. 5. c). Merits provide those titles. 2) He wants so much to give us good. Therefore He urges us to gain merits, which are really His gifts, to give us confidence that He loves us and will reward us. So at the judgment, a soul need not, should not claim to have earned heaven. Yet it can claim to have "earned" extras. As we said, it is part of the marvelous kindness of God that He gives us these claims. St. Augustine (Confessions 5. 9) put it beautifully: "For your see fit, 'since your mercy is forever' to even become a debtor by your promises to those to whom you have forgiven their sins."
Really, when we speak of our merits, we need to remember not only that they are His gift to us, to let us have confidence, but also that it is not as individuals that we have merit, but only to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him, do we come to share in the claim to the kingdom that He established.
Denials of the existence of purgatory: The positive proof for the existence of purgatory we will consider below. But now to meet the very common objections.
The denial is essential to the system of Martin Luther. Let us explain how he arrived at that denial.
Luther thought he made a great discovery, justification by faith, in St. Paul's Epistles to Galatians and Romans. To Luther it meant everything personally as well as being the article on which his church would stand or fall. This happened because of his fears. An important statement, made in 1985, by a joint commission of Lutheran and Catholic theologians admitted (in Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, ed. H. G. Anderson, T. A. Murphy, J. A. Burgess, Augsburg Publ. House, 1985, §§ 24, 29): "In their situation [that of Luther and associates] the major function of justification by faith was rather to console anxious consciences, terrified by the inability to do enough to earn or merit salvation... . The starting point for Luther was his inability to find peace with God... . terrified in his own conscience."
Any experienced confessor will recognize from what the poor man suffered: he was scrupulous. A scrupulous man has a generalized anxiety, which expresses itself by latching onto first one thing, then onto another. The person fears he is constantly in mortal sin.
Luther hoped to solve this problem for himself by his "discovery" of justification by faith, which for him meant that it made no difference if he did sin mortally all the time. If he would just take Christ as his personal Savior, then the merits of Christ would be thrown over him like a white cloak, and he could not be lost, he was infallibly saved, saved no matter how much he might sin. So he wrote to his great associate, Melanchthon (Epistle 501): "Pecca fortiter, sed crede fortius" -- which means: "Sin greatly, but believe still more greatly." In another letter to the same Melanchthon of August 1, 1521 (American Edition, Luther's Works 48. 282): "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly... No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day." As a certain bumper sticker puts it: "Christians are not perfect, just forgiven." In other words, Christians can sin as much as they want -- they will get away with it. Others, for the same sins, go to hell.
However, it was not as easy as Luther had hoped. Hartmann Grisar, in his exhaustive classic study, Luther (B. Herder, 1916. vol. V, pp. 322-56) gives us a detailed chronicle, with extensive and numerous quotes from Luther himself, of Luther's fear that he was in error, and fears over his own salvation. These reached a climax in the period 1527-28, then subsided somewhat. Here are some examples (p. 322 from Dec. 14, 153l):"... if it's all wrong you have to answer for all the many souls which it brings down to hell... . Now the devil troubles me with other thoughts, for he accuses me thus: O what a vast multitude have you led astray by your teaching." Typically, in this passage, and elsewhere, he blames his fears on the devil. And again, in his Exposition of Psalm xlv he says the devil tells him: "Lo, you stand all alone and are seeking to overthrow the good order [of the church] established with so much wisdom. For even though the Papacy be not without its sins and errors, what about you. Are you infallible? Are you without sin? Why raise the standard of revolt against the house of the Lord, when you yourself can only teach them what you yourself are full of, viz, error and sin."
Similarly (p. 323):"What astonishes me is that I cannot learn this doctrine [that faith makes all kinds of sins all right], and yet all my pupils believe they have it at their finger tips." Or p. 324: "When a man is tempted, or is with those who are tempted, let him slay Moses [ignore the Law] and throw every stone at him on which he can lay hands." His great lieutenant, Melanchthon reports on an occasion on which(p. 316): Luther was in "such sore terror that he almost lost consciousness" and sighed much as he wrestled with a text of Paul on unbelief and grace [Romans 11:32]. In the dedication to his work, De abroganda missa privata of 1521 (Grisar, p. 531) the very year in which he wrote that letter cited above saying even 1000 fornications and murders a day would not separate a man from Christ, we read: "Are you alone wise and all others mistaken? Is it likely that so many centuries were all in the wrong? Suppose, on the contrary, you were in the wrong and were leading so many others with you into error and to eternal perdition?"
We comment: How right! If the promises of Christ were so empty that He permitted the Church to teach the wrong way to salvation for most of 15 centuries, then Christ Himself would be a faker.
In his Exposition on Psalm 130 cited above, Luther was surely right in saying that his church would stand or fall with his idea of justification by faith. So we ask: Is it standing or falling? It has fallen, for a double reason, according to his own calculations.
There are two key words in the expression "justification by faith."
First, justification: Luther thought that a sinner who is forgiven is still totally corrupt, unable to get away from sinning constantly. Did St. Paul mean that? Not really. He spoke of Christians as a "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). They are made over from scratch - not at all the same as the same old total corruption! And he says more than once that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us as in a temple (1 Cor 3:17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). Can we imagine the Holy Spirit living in a temple that is total corruption?
Even more telling, if possible, is the idea St. Paul has of faith. Luther did not even make a good try at finding out what St. Paul meant by that word. He just assumed what appealed to his scrupulous fears and said faith meant confidence the merits of Christ apply to me. But there is an obvious way to find out what St. Paul really meant by faith -- read every place where Paul uses the word faith, and related words -- we can use a Concordance to locate them - keep notes, and add them up. If we do that here is what we get: "If God speaks a truth, faith requires that we believe it in our minds (cf. 1 Ths 2:13; 2 Cor 5:7). If God makes a promise, faith requires that we be confident He will keep it (cf. Gal 5:5; Rom 5:1). If God tells us to do something, we must obey (cf. Rom 1:5; 6:16). All this is to be done in love (Gal 5:6). (Obeying does not earn salvation, but we must be members of Christ and like Him, obedient unto death: Rom 5:19).
How does that compare with just being confident the merits of Christ apply to you? Quite a difference. So, by his own standard, Luther's church has fallen. What he thought was a great discovery was just a great mistake. And yet his whole system stands or falls on his error, as he himself said.
There is a large standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. It first appeared in four very large volumes, with alphabetical articles on everything pertaining to the Bible. In 1976 there appeared a Supplement volume, which contained some new articles, and some older articles revised. This latest volume does have a new article on faith, on p. 333. We look for the subsection on St. Paul -- for St. James uses the word faith very differently. What do we find? Precisely the same as what we explained above. Faith is a complex of belief, confidence, obedience, love. The article even explains Paul's words in Romans 1:5: "the obedience of faith" to mean, "the obedience which faith is." Luther thought we do not have to obey any commandment at all if we have faith - but he did not see that faith itself includes obedience to God's commands!
How sadly wrong could he be? By his own standard, the article on which his church would rise or fall has fallen.
But we can see from the above that Luther thought all one needs to do to be assured of final salvation is to have confidence that the merits of Christ apply to him. Then no matter how much he sins, even if he commits fornication and murder a thousand times a day, as we saw above, he is saved. To put it a different way: Let us imagine a ledger for me. On the credit page I write infinity for the merits of Christ, if just once in a lifetime I take Christ as my personal Savior. On the debit page I write the number for my sins. No matter how great they have been, are or will be, they are always outbalanced by the merits of Christ. Hence final salvation is infallible. Hence there is no place at all for a purgatory.
However, Luther at first, in 1519, did believe in purgatory. In 1530 he wrote a retractation of his belief in purgatory. Yet, inconsistently, in 1543 he said, only hypothetically, if a soul be found in such a state, it could be helped by prayers.
But St. Paul himself did not think he had infallible salvation. It is important for us to get the context in which Paul speaks on this matter. In 1 Cor 9:24-27, Paul compares Christian life to the great games at Corinth. Anyone who hoped for the prize had to go into athletic training, and so deny himself a lot. Only one could get the prize. But Christians can all get it, and their prize is eternal life, not just a crown of leaves. Some Protestants say Paul is just urging them to gain something extra. But no, in context, Paul has been urging them for some time to avoid scandalizing another by eating meat offered to idols which the other thinks is forbidden. In 1 Cor 8:11-13 Paul pleads that "the weak one will perish [eternally] because of your knowledge, a brother because of whom Christ died."
As we said, Paul himself, even with his heroic work for Christ, does not think he has infallible salvation. Rather, in 1 Cor 9:26-27 he says [literal version]: "I hit my body under the eyes and lead it around like a slave, so that after preaching to others, I may not be disqualified [in the race]." He alludes to Greek boxing - no padded gloves - a blow under the eyes would usually knock a man out. The victor put a rope around the neck of the loser, and led him around the stadium like a slave. Not sportsmanlike!. But we get the point.
Again, right after this, in chapter 10, Paul gives many instances of the first People of God. They did not have it infallibly made. Rather, many were struck dead by God. So in 10:12: "He who thinks he is standing, let him watch out so he does not fall." No infallible salvation in sight here!
James R. White, in The Fatal Flaw (Crowne Publications, Southbridge, 1990, esp. p. 151) "The atonement of Christ is not dependent on the disposition of human beings at all... ." Hence there is no purgatory, since Christ paid for everything , and hence too White claims (p. 151 also) that the Catholic Church is not even Christian, since he says it teaches the work of Christ is incomplete! What a blow to St. Paul. In Romans 5:17:... we are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." Paul believes dispositons are needed. For it is one thing for God to be willing to give what Chrsit fully paid for - another thing for a human to be capable of receiving it. Otherwise it runs off like the proverbial water on the back of the proverbial duck. Romans 5:17 is just one bit of the geat syn Christo theme in St. Paul: Rom 6:3, 6, 8; Rom 8:9; Col 3:1-4; Eph 2:5-6. It mans this: We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are not only members of Christ, but also like Him -in suffering and in other things. It does not mean that we earn salvation but that we must be open to receive. Cf. Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin [what we earn] is death, but the free gift of God [what we do not earn] is eternal life."
Poor White is really antibiblical. He insists Paul is easy and clear, in contrast to Second Peter 3:16 which, speaking of St. Paul's Epistles said: "In them there are many things hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable twist, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."
There is positive proof for purgatory, if one dies not twist the Scriptures to his own destruction. In 2 Maccabees 12:46 we read that Judas took up a collection to have sacrifice offered for the souls of those who died wearing forbidden amulets. Of course White and other Protestants protest that 2 Maccabees is not part of Scripture. We comment; How do they know which books are part of Scripture in the first place? In the early centuries there were many Gospels, with the names of Apostles on them, which still are not inspired. The only psosible way to determine which books are inspired is to have a providentially protected teaching authority. In 1910, Professor Gerald Birney Smith of the University of Chicago gave a paper at the 28th annual Baptist Congess (published next year, somewhat revised, in - The Biblical World 37, pp. 19-29) in which he reached precisely the same conclusion we have just given. He explained that Luther thought a book was inspired if it preached justification by faith clearly - not noting that most books of the Bible do not even mention that subject! In that case, no Protesant has any logical right to quote Scripture at all since he cannot prove which books are inspired!
But we can prove purgatory without using Second Maccabees. In Malachi 3:2 we read: "Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire." But: St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 13:12 that in the next world we will see God "face to face". Of course, God has no face, and the soul has no eyes. So what can it mean? When I see another human, I do not take him into my brain, I take in an image. Images are finite, but so are people, and so an image can serve well. But if I come before God to see Him, there can be no image, for no finite image can represent the Infinite. Hence God must join Himself directly to the soul or created mind, without even an image in between (cf. DS 1000) and in this way the soul knows Him. But as Malachi says, He is like a refiner's fire. If He finds the soul totally corrupt as Luther insisted -- then He surely would not join Himself to it, or if He would, that fire would have to burn out all the corruption. That is purgatory.
What does purgatory accomplish? There are two things that need to be done by purgatory.
First, to see God the soul needs to be completely purified. The basic ability for this vision is given during the present life by sanctifying grace, but that vision is so far above the possibilities of any conceivable creature that absolute purity is needed. Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics said the goal of man is happiness. But he did not dare to say that happiness would consist in union with God, and surely he did not even dream of what the reality is to be. There is also the question of venial sins which the soul has at the end of life. How are they remitted? -It needs to be done before the soul can have that vision. It is much debated among theologians. St. Thomas in an early work (On Sentences 4 d. 21 q. 1 a. 3 qc 1) thought venial sins were remitted in purgatory by the penalty that was in a way voluntary, and so accidentally meritorious. Later, in De Malo q 7 a. 11, Thomas thought venial sins would be remitted at the very instant of separation of soul and body by a fervent act of love of God. Pope St. Gregory the Great, (Dialogues 4. 39, cited in CCC § 1031) understands Mt 12:31 to mean some sins, venial, will be remitted in the next life.
Secondly, the holiness of God is that attribute by which He loves all that is right and morally good. The gods of Mesopotamia from whence the Hebrews came, and the gods of Greece and Rome were all amoral. Amoral is different from immoral. If a god were immoral, he would know what is right of wrong, but, being so powerful, could get away with almost anything. But when we say a god is amoral, we mean he seems to have no notion that there is anything right or wrong at all. For example, Zeus/Jupiter was simply a big-time adulterer. The only reason he did not do more of it was that his wife, Hera/Juno, kept trailing him. And she was not objecting on grounds of morality: she was just a jealous woman. So when the Hebrew concept of God burst on the Mediterranean world it was astounding. Psalm 11:7 said "God is morally righteous [sadiq], and he loves all that is morally right [sedaqoth]. As a result, He will punish what is morally wrong, and reward what is morally right.
In Isaiah 5:15-16: "Man is bowed down, and men are brought low, but the Lord of Hosts will be exalted in right judgment [mishpat] and God, the Holy One, will show himself holy [niqdesh] by moral rightness [sedaqah]". Similarly in Es 28:22 God says to Sidon: "when I inflict punishments on her, I shall show myself holy in her [niqdashti]."
It is within the covenant that God both rewards and punishes. So Psalm 36:10: "Keep up your covenant fidelity [hesed] to those who love you, your moral righteousness [sedaqah} to the upright of heart."
So it seems that moral rightness [sedaqah] is the reason for both reward and punishment within the covenant. Hesed, observance of the covenant calls for both, according to man's reactions. So Moses told the people in Deuteronomy 11:26: "Behold, today I am putting before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God... and the curse if you do not obey the commandments."
There are two reasons for His giving commandments: First, moral rightness requires that creatures obey their Creator, children their Father. Second, He wants to give good things to us, but that will be in vain if we are not open to receive. His commandments tell us how to be open, and at the same time, steer us away from the evils that lurk in the very nature of things. We must note that when Vatican II taught that God created for his own glory, it was not that He wanted to gain something: glory from us is useless to Him. Bishop Gasser, president of the Deputation on Faith at Vatican I explained (cited from Wm. Most, New Answers to Old Questions, London, 1971, §27): "When it is said in the canon... 'the world was made for the glory of God' it speaks not about the purpose of the One who creates [finis creantis], but of the purpose of what is created [finis creati]." This means that God has linked His glory and our good together. He wills to have glory only through doing good to us. As we said, the glory we give Him does Him no good whatsoever. Our "service" is of no benefit to Him.
So His Holiness, wanting all that is morally right, considers sin a debt, a debt which His Holiness wants paid.
Hence as we learn from Leviticus 4, His Holiness wants the moral order restored by sacrifice if someone has violated the law even unwitting. As. Roland J. Faley wrote in New Jerome Biblical Commentary on Lev. 4: "Sin was a positive violation of the covenant relationship, whether voluntary or involuntary. Israel's responsibilities were clearly enunciated in the law, and any departure therefrom disturbed the right order of things." Hence God struck the Pharaoh's whole household (Gen 12:27) because he had Abram's wife, eventhough he was in good faith, and thought it was legitimate. And St. Paul in1 Cor 4:4 said: "I have nothing on my conscience, but that does not mean that I am justified." He means he might have violated a commandment without realizing it. Both Old and New Testaments have many examples of this principle. So do the Fathers, and Qumran, and the Rabbis.
In the Septuagint we often meet the verb aphienai, to forgive, with the connotation of cancelling a debt. Cf. e.g., Gen 50:17; Ex 32:32.
So in the intertestamental literature, we often find Hebrew and Aramaic hobah which basically mean debt, used to stand for sin (cf. S. Lyonnet - L. Sabourin, Sin, Redemption and Sacrifice (Rome, Biblical Institute, 1970, pp. 25-26, 32).
The same idea is abundant in rabbinic literature.
Simeon ben Eleazar (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1. 14) wrote: "He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him!. He has tipped the scales to the side of debt [hobah] for himself and for the world."
The image is a two-pans scales. The sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to have. It is the Holiness of God that wants it rebalanced. It is a debt.
In Pirke Aboth 3. 20 we have an elaborate metaphor of a shopman who give credit, but the correctors make the rounds daily to call for payment. In Baraitha in Kiddusin 40b (Cited from A. Büchler, Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century, Ktav, NY, 1967, p. 173 n. 3): God bestows prosperity in fullness upon sinners in this world, in order to drive them (from the world to come)... . ." Similarly in Semahoth III. 11 (cited from The Tractate Mourning, tr. Dov. Zlotnik, Yale, New Haven, 1966, p. 39): R. Yehudah ben Ilai asserts that the ancient pious men, "used to be afflicted with intestinal illness for about ten to twenty days before their death, so they might... arrive pure in the hereafter." Sifre on Deuteronomy, Piska 32 (cited From Jacob Neusner, Midrash in Context, Fortress, Phila., 1983, pp. 150-51): "A man should rejoice more in chastisement than in times of prosperity. For if a man is prosperous all his life, no sin of his can be forgiven."
The same concept of sin as a debt is in the New Testament. In the Our Father (Mt 6:12): "Forgive us our debts". And Jesus paid the price of redemption: 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23. Also in Mt 20:28 (Mk 10:45):The son of Man has come to give his life as a ransom for the many."
The debt concept appears also in the Fathers of the Church, e. g, Leo the Great Epistle to Flavian (DS 293): "To pay the debt of our condition, inviolable nature was joined to passible nature."
Most important of all is the doctrinal introduction by Pope Pau VI, to his Constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina of Jan , 1967. Pope Paul VI began by pointing out (AAS 59. 5): "For the correct understanding of this doctrine... it is necessary that we recall certain truths which the universal Church, illumined by the word of God, has always believed." This is a significant statement. Paul VI tell us that what he is about to present is part of the universal belief of the Church. But that belief is infallible (cf. LG 12).
On p. 6. 2: "As we are taught by divine revelation, penalties follow on sin, inflicted by the divine Holiness and justice... ." It is important to note that Holiness is put in the first place. The old theory of St. Anselm on the redemption unfortunately said God had to provide satisfaction for sin. Of course not! God does not have to do anything. Further, Anselm focused on the justice of God. Now that is not wrong, but the more basic consideration is His holiness, put in first place by the text of Paul VI. For if we center our thought on justice, some objectors may say: "When someone offends me, I do not always demand full justice. Why cannot God just be nice about it?" The answer is, that even though He could do that way, His love of what is objectively right urges Him to provide that rebalance.
So Paul VI continues: "For every sin brings with it a disturbance of the universal order, which God arranged in unspeakable wisdom and infinite love." In other words, God being Holiness itself, loves everything that is right. This was a striking idea when it first broke on the world. For the gods of Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, as we said, were not just immoral but amoral - they acted as if there were no morality at all. But Psalm 11:7 told the world: "God is sadiq [morally righteous] and He loves the things that are morally right." Hence the notion that sin is a debt which the Holiness of God wants paid. Sinner had taken a enormous amount from the scales of the objective order. But Christ who owed nothing, gave up far more than all sinners had taken: hence a rebalance and more.
Really, there could have been even an infinite rebalance from an incarnation in a palace, without any suffering or death. For any act of a Divine Person Incarnate would have an infinite value. So the prayer of Jesus in the Garden: "If it be possible, let this chalice pass from me" could have been granted. Yet the Holiness of the Father wanted to show how immense is the evil of sin, and how measureless is His love and the love of His Son: Hence the cross.
The immensity of that love even wanted to add the finite but incomprehensible value of the cooperation of the Mother of Jesus. Vatican II, in LG §61: 'In suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls." LG 56 had twice spoken of her contribution as obedience. LG 61 repeated that thought. Now one aspect of the redemption was that it was a New Covenant(cf. Jer. 31:31ff) The covenant condition was obedience. It was the obedience of Jesus that gave all the value to His death: LG §3 and Rom 5:19. Her obedience then became part of the covenant condition. The suffering for her was strictly incomprehensible. For any soul, when it knows the positive will of God, must positively will what He wills. She knew then, all too well, that the Father positively willed that His Son die, die then, die so horribly. So she was asked to also will positivley that He die, die then, die so horribly- and this, clashing with her love which was so great that (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus) "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it!" We note of course that holiness is an interchangeable term with love of God, So her suffering was strictly incomprehensible to anyone but God, as we said.
Small wonder then that the Holiness of God requires that the individual do his own part in rebalancing for his own sins by purgatory.
We cited above a text of Rabbi Yehudah ben Ilai saying that God often sent a long and difficult illness to a good man to cleanse him completely before his death, so he might enter pure into the world to come. So a difficult last illness can be a great favor from God, provided it is accepted generously as reparation, in union with the sufferings of Jesus and His Mother. We mean this: Just as He, and she had to positively will what the Father willed, so too the soul near the end should not be content with saying, as it were, I guess I have to put up with this - no, the person should positively will it, should thank God for it, and join it to the suffering of Jesus and Mary. St. Alphonsus, a Doctor of the Church, in his Homo Apostolicus, Paris 1929. III, p. 145, tract ult. , 8th point, said that a condemned criminal who would similarly accept his own death as reparation and join it to that of Christ, would be apt to escape purgatory. An outstanding modern theologian, Bertrand de Margerie, S. J. in his Les Perfections du Dieu de Jésus-Christ Cerf, Paris, 1981, p. 88 agrees with St. Alphonsus.
Such an acceptance is splendidly sound from the psychological point of view. For what is called flight from reality is pyshologically harmful. But this acceptance is quite the opposite, we might call it instead a flight into reality. Even in a natural way that will be beneficial to the sufferer.
There is another aspect of what we have been explaining. We start with Mt 6:21: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." In the narrow sense, the treasure might be a box of coins buried under the floor. Such a stash would attact the thoughts and heart of the owner; he would love to think of it; it would tend to pull his heart to that level. Now everything is lower than God Himself, some things much lower than others. This is one factor. The second factor is this: How far does someone allow himself to be pulled by these pulls? Only as far as imperfection, or occasional venial sin/ or habitual venial sin, or occasional mortal sin, or habitual mortal sin? The lower the creature, and the more one lets it get hold and pull, the less easy it is for that soul to raise its thoughts and heart to God.
Another comparison, taken from natural science, will help even more to see that we are trying to explain. We think of a galvanometer. It is just a compass needle on its pivot, and we put a coil of wire around it. We send acurrent into the coil: the needle swings the right direction and the right amount measuring the current, . It will read accurately ift there is no outside pull. but suppose nearby there is a 33, 000volt power line, or a mass of magnetic steel. Then two forces will be affecting the needle, the current in the coil, and the outside pulls. If the outside pulls are very strong, and the current in the coil is gentle, then the outside pulls may take over, drown out the effect of the current in the coil. Now this stands for my mind. The current in the coil is grace. It is always gentle, for it respects my freedom. But the outside pulls, if I let myself go far into them, take away freedom. This can reach such a pointthat , as we said, the current in the coil has no effect on the needle. Now that needle is my mental meter, which should register the good thought God wants to put into my mind (cf. 1 Cor 3:5) to lead me and to enable me to do particular good things here and now. But if I give myself too much and too long to the outside pulls, then grace cannot make any impression, cannot get me to see God's will. If that happens, the soul is blind. For if grace cannot do the first things, then it cannot do the other things either. So the soul is blind, eternally lost, for no one can b e saved without grace.
Is there any possible hope? Yes, in some cases, but not routinely. If someone else will do extraordinary, really heroic work in penance and prayer to help rebalance the objective order put so far out of line in this case, then that will call for an extraordinary grace, one which without destroying freedom (though it limits it) can cut through the soul's resistance, or even keep the resistance form developing. The work of the mother of St. Augustine is an obvious example of this sort of thing.
So again, we see the immense need of reparation for sin, or paying the debt. Jesus paid the debt infinitely; but we must do our part too, to be capable of receiving. St. Paul told the Romans (5:27): We are heirs together with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." (This is really the great syn Christo theme of St. Paul. Cf. more of it in Romans 6:3,6,8; 8:8; Col 3:1,4; Eph 2:5-6).
In addition to the great Scapular Promise, which we have seen, there is also, with the same Scapular, the Sabbatine Privilege. There was, it seems, a vision of the Blessed Mother given to Pope John XXII on March 3, 1322. The original copy of the bull in which he proclaimed this privilege has been lost. Several copies of the original were made, but there are certain variations in the wording of these copies. According to one text, Our Lady promised that those who fulfill certain conditions would be freed from Purgatory on the first Saturday after death; the other form merely promised special assistance towards a speedier delivery.
On January 10, 1613 the Roman Inquisition, in the presence of Pope Paul VI, decreed that the Carmelite might lawfully preach the Sabbatine Privilege. This statement of 1613 was quoted on July 4, 1908 (ASS 41:610- 10) by the Sacred Congregation on Indulgences. Also, St. Pius X in granting permission to substitute the medal for the cloth Scapular, approved a decree of the Holy Office declaring that the medal would suffice for (AAS 3,23) "all the spiritual favors and all the indulgences annexed to the scapular. . . the privilege. . . called the Sabbatine Privilege not excepted. Pius XI in a letter of March 18, 1922 (AAS 24,274), commemorating the six hundredth anniversary of the Sabbatine privilege, urged all Carmelite Orders and Confraternities to strive earnestly for all the indulgences available to them, and "particularly. . . that indulgence, which is the principal and greatest of them all, namely the Sabbatine." For validity, the medal must have on one side an image of Jesus showing his heart; on the other, any Marian image).
Pius XII, in the letter from which we quoted above, said: "And certainly this most gentle Mother will not delay to open, as soon as possible, through her intercession with God, the gates of heaven for her children who are expiating their faults in Purgatory - a trust based on that promise known as the Sabbatine Privilege."
We note that one of the above official texts tries to settle which of the two readings is correct. Yet they do make clear that it is extremely worth while to strive to gain it. The question of the variations in reading is not strange, for variants were common in Carmelite documents of that age. Even some books printed before the sixteenth century, which are copies of other printed books, display small variations in wording. The copy of the bull by Pope Clement VII, dated May 15, 1528 did have the stronger reading, but this copy was never solemnly issued, and is therefore technically invalid. The disturbed state of Rome after the sack of 1527 might explain the fact that it was never properly issued. Whatever be the reason, the same Pope Clement VII on August 12, 1530 did formally issue a transcript, but it contained only a promise of special help, not of liberation from Purgatory on the First Saturday after death.
Three conditions are required for gaining the Sabbatine Privilege: one must wear the Scapular, observe chastity according to his state in life, and recite the Office. The observance of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments is in accord with one's state in life. We note that a married couple who practice artificial contraception are surely not qualifying. Also, a grave sin against chastity would cancel one's claim to this promise. However, it is common teaching and probable that by regaining the state of grace, the claim is re-established, though repeated failure would probably mean that one would not gain the privilege in its fullest extent. The recitation of the Office is satisfied by saying the Divine Office in the case of those already bound to it. Others must recite, in any language, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. Those who are unable to read are allowed to substitute the observance of the fasts of the church, plus abstinence on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If one who can read wishes this recitation of the Office commuted to something else, he must apply to a priest who has special faculties for this purpose. The most common commutation is the daily Rosary.
Very valuable also are the more general indulgences granted by the Church. An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment left over after absolution. Before January 1, 1967, the Church spoke of plenary or partial indulgences, and specified a certain number of years or other time periods for the partial indulgences. This seems to have meant a remission equal to that that would have been gained by the older penitential discipline for such periods. But the revised law of Jan 1, 1967 specifies that partial indulgences are no longer measured in that way. Rather, whatever inherent value as satisfaction an indulgenced work may carry, the Church doubles it. For a plenary indulgence there are three conditions: sacramental confession, Holy Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father. The last condition could be satisfied by one Our Father and One Hail Mary. But if the work prescribed for a plenary indulgence is connected with a church or oratory it consists in a devout visit and the recitation during the visit of one Our Father and the Creed. In addition, for any plenary indulgence, (#26) "It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent." This is a difficult condition. It means that a person must not harbor what amounts to a gap in his purpose of amendment, as if he were to say: I do not intend to commit mortal sin, or every venial sin, but I have some reservations: if it gets too hard to keep a conversation without some detraction, I will join in, or if it is too hard to keep to the truth, I will lie etc. If one cannot fully gain a plenary indulgence, he will receive whatever his dispositions can take in.
Before the change of 1967 there were many opportunities for plenary indulgences. These are now much restricted. It was thought that people valued them less since they were more common. But there is reason to fear that now most persons pay no attention at all to them.
Only one plenary indulgence can be gained on one day, except on the day of death. Then: "To the faithful in danger of death who cannot be assisted by a priest to bring them the sacraments and impart the apostolic blessing with its attendant plenary indulgence (according to canon 468 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law) Holy Mother Church nevertheless grants a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they are properly disposed and have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime. To use a crucifix or cross in connection with the acquisition of this plenary indulgence is a laudable practice."
Indulgences can be gained in favor of departed souls. However, the jurisdiction of the Church is limited to the present life; hence in granting an indulgence to a deceased person, the Church merely asks God to accept it, but cannot grant it with the same authority as if the person were still in this life.
What is the suffering of purgatory? We are certain that there is great suffering from the loss of the vision of God. In this life we can be comfortable for long periods without thinking of Him. Then, as we said above, the lights go on, and the soul knows, even before seeing Him face to face, what He is like, and hence most intensely desires Him. Further, the distractions now being brought in constantly by our five senses are all gone after death. So this is a great suffering, which we can hardly appreciate now.
Is there fire in purgatory? There is a strong tradition of that in the Western part of the Church, but not in the Eastern. At the Council of Florence when there seemed to be a reunion with the Greeks, the Greeks were not required to believe in fire in purgatory. There are just a few papal texts that speak of fire. Innocent IV in 1254 (DS 838) spoke of a "transitory fire." Clement IV in 1351 (DS 1066-67) also spoke of fire. But in view of the lack of insistence at the Council of Florence, it seems these statements were merely made in passing, without the intention of imposing them on the whole Church. If there is fire in purgatory, it must be of a different nature from that we now know, for our fire is rapid oxidation, which cannot affect a spirit. Yet a teaching could mean that the suffering inflicted by the "fire" would be quite comparable to that inflicted by fire as we now know it.
How severe is the suffering? We simply do not know. Some theologians, e. g. , St. Robert Bellarmine, have said it is worse than any suffering of the present life. Other theologians disagree. The Church simply has not told us, and so we admit our ignorance.
There are numerous reports of appearances of souls from purgatory asking for prayers. A large collection of these can be found in F. X. Shouppe, Purgatory Explained. In one of these a soul put its hand onto a wooden table and burned a hole into it. In one of these incidents two men in a religious order had agreed with each other than when one of them died, the other would very promptly offer a Mass for his deceased friend. Then that deceased friend appeared, and asked why the long delay. His living friend told him here was no delay, his body was still warm in bed.
How long does purgatory last? There is no time there, only aevum, of which we spoke above. However, when a soul says it has been in purgatory 50 years we might take it this way: imagine a graph with two parallel, horizontal lines on it. The upper line represents the duration of aevum, the lower, the scale of time on earth. If we might as it were drop a line from a point in aevum and see where it hits the line for time, we might speak of 50 years.
Sister Lucy of Fatima reported that she had asked Blessed Mother about two friends of hers who had died. One was already in heaven, she was told; the other would be in purgatory until the end of time. St. Augustine in his Confessions, written perhaps 15 or more years after the death of his mother, St. Monica, asked for prayers for her soul even after all that time. We simply do not know how long a soul may need prayers. Hence the practice of almost canonizing a soul at the funeral is very wrong. So unless a person has been canonized, we should never stop praying for that soul.
The souls there cannot help themselves, cannot merit, cannot lessen their period. But we can, by our prayers, penances, masses etc. We do not know how these souls know of our prayers - it must be that God in some way makes it known to them. Or it may be merely that their suffering is lessened. But they do know, and they do pray for us. Many have reported gaining many favors through the intercession of these souls, and when a soul reaches heaven - there is no such thing as ingratitude in heaven!
The souls there have the wonderful consolation of knowing that they are eternally saved, will reach heaven. St. Bernardine of Siena said there is no greater joy on earth. St. Catherine of Genoa said the same.
Hell: The English word hell covers several meanings. For example in the Creed we hear that Jesus "descended into hell." Of course, this is not the place of eternal punishment, in spite of what seems to be the view of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who in his book, First Glance at Adrienne von Spehr (Ignatius, p. 66) said that on the day after His death, Saturday, Our Lord wandered about the realm of the dead, bereft of light, and could not find the Father. In contrast, the Church teaches that His human soul form the first instant saw the vision of God. Pope John Paul II, in a General Audience of Nov. 30, 1988 said, speaking of the cry of Jesus: "'My God, why have you forsaken me?': If Jesus feels abandoned by the Father, He knows, however, that it is not really so. He Himself said: 'I and the Father are one. ' . . . dominant in His mind Jesus has the clear vision of God and the certainty of His union with the Father. But in the sphere bordering on the senses, and therefore more subject to the impressions, emotions, and influences of the internal and external experiences of pain, Jesus' human soul is reduced to a wasteland, and He no longer feels the presence of the Father. . ."
Similarly the Council of Florence (DS 1306) said: "The souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin, or only original sin, descend right away into hell (infernum), to be punished, however with different punishments." The words speaking of those who die in actual mortal sin of course say they go to hell in the usual sense, But that those who die in only original sin also go to infernum needs clarification. St. Thomas Aquinas, as we saw above, said that infants who die without baptism suffer no pain. From which we gather that the Latin poena in this text means a deprivation, not pain: to be deprived of something can be called poena in Latin. It is also clear then, that hell in this connection means only the realm of the dead, not the hell of the damned. The same conclusion follows from the teaching of Pius IX (DS 2866): "God. . . in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." Original sin is not a guilt of voluntary fault. Therefore again, the reference in Florence is only to the realm of the dead.
So it is clear that we must at the outset clarify the meaning of several words used in this connection:
Sheol: Is the Hebrew word for the realm of the dead. The Old Testament nowhere suggests that Sheol is a place of torment for the wicked. It is just the general place for the dead.
The Old Testament speaks of it as the abode of the rephaim (the weak, the powerless ones) the shades, e. g. , Job 26:6; Is 14:9. Job 10:21 speaks of the realm of the dead as dark. We saw such descriptions above in speaking of the limbo of the patriarchs. We need to recall that the afterlife before the death of Christ was very different from what it is now.
Hades: The Septuagint consistently uses hades to translate sheol. Hades is actually the Greek classic word for the underworld. In pagan literature it is not basically a place of punishment, just of survival, very drab. So in Homer Achilles appears to a friend and tells him it is better to be the slave of a poor man on earth than to be king of the dead. Tartarus was the place of punishment, in contrast to Elysium, the place of reward.
Gehenna: this is the nearest Old Testament word for the hell of the damned. It comes from Hebrew expressions: ge hinnom (valley of Hinnom) and ge ben hinnom (valley of the son of Hinnom) and ge bene hinnom (valley of the sons of Hinnom). These expressions refer to a valley to the south of Jerusalem which was infamous for the Topheth, the place where children were offered to the god Molech, during the times of such wicked kings as Ahaz and Manasseh: 2 Chron 28:3; 33:6). King Josiah (2 Kings 23:10) tried to wipe out such a practice, but it may have returned again: Jer 7:31-32; 19:2-6). Jeremiah cursed the place, predicting it would be a place of death and corruption.
Later the place came to be associated with the growing belief that there was place where the wicked would be punished for eternity (Isaiah 66:24) where "the worm shall not die, the fire shall not be put out." Near the end of the Old Testament period, Daniel 12:2 speaks of a resurrection: "Many of those who sleep in the earth will awaken, some to everlasting life, some to shame and eternal contempt."
In the intertestamental literature the concept of a hell of the damned becomes clearer, but most of the passages are written after the New Testament.
In the Gospels we meet for the first time extensive and very clear teaching on hell. It is a place of fire (Mt 5:22;18:9; Jas 3;6). The fire is unquenchable (Mk 9:43). Hell is a pit into which people are cast (Mt 5;29; 18:9; Mk 9:45,47; Lk 12:5). Mt 10:28 even speaks of God destroying both soul and body in hell. Of course this does not mean annihilation, for in Mt 25:46 Jesus speaks of both heaven and hell as eternal, unending. In view of the parallel expressions in the same sentence, since heaven is clearly unending, so also is hell.
In the Apocalypse/Revelation 14:10, even though the word Gehenna is not used, yet it is said those who worship the beast will be tortured with fire and brimstone. All the wicked are to be cast into the pool of fire, the second death: 19:20; 20:9-15; 21:8.
Again, without the word Gehenna, we can understand it is meant in passages which speak of the place of punishment as a prison (Mt: 5-25-26) and a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth": Mt 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30.
In John, the language is different. It speaks of judgment: 5:24-29; 12:31,48; 16:11. It is exclusion from eternal life: 5:29; 8:24; 10:28; 11:25-26. And there is darkness: 8:12; 12:44-46.
The language is different again in St. Paul. The wicked stores up for himself wrath on the day of wrath: Rom 2:5. Death is the wages of sin: Rom 6:23. Sinners will not inherit the kingdom: 1 Cor 6:10; Gal 5:19-21. There will be eternal destruction and fire for the impious: 2 Thes 1:8-9.
It is remarkable, that although we sometimes speak - and not without reason - of the Old Testament period as one of fear, the New as one of love, yet, as we see from the above data, the first clear revelation that there is a hell, and of what it is like is to be found on the lips of our Lord Himself, the font of mercy.
The chief suffering of hell is the loss of God. That is something hard for us to visualize now, for we can so easily go for indefinite periods without thinking of Him. But then, when the lights go on, as we explained above, and when there is no longer any distraction from the five senses telling us that the present world is all there is or all that counts, then the soul will know what God is like even without the face to face vision. Hence it will most intensely desire Him. The temporary loss of that is the chief suffering of purgatory. The permanent loss is the chief suffering of hell.
Hell must be something like a sickish twisted state. On the one hand, the soul intensely wants God, as we explained. On the other hand, it is opposed to Him, since it left this world with its will opposed to His. It will both want and run away. That is a state comparable to a twisted, sickish condition. It is one that will never end.
The second suffering of hell is called fire. The New Testament speaks of that fire as affecting souls even before the resurrection, when the souls will receive their bodies again. When at the resurrection the body is given back, a body not glorified like that of those who were like Christ in this life, it too will share in the misery. The Doctrinal Congregation of the Vatican, on May 17, 1979, put it this way: There will be, "a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner." We note the statement did not use the word fire. There are many things we call anthropomorphisms in Scripture, that is, the use of human expressions to bring out a truth so profound that people would have great difficulty in grasping a more direct presentation. For example, in Genesis God says He will "go down" to see what about the tower of Babel. He is said to regret making our race, He is said to be angry, etc. These things all contain and express great truths, but truths not easily grasped. God does not need to go down: He sees and knows all things. He does not change His mind so as to regret something: the meaning is that sins and wickedness were so great that if He were capable of change, that would have happened. Again, anger we now know has two parts, the bodily changes, and the mental interpretation of the situation. It happens that the biochemistry that forms the somatic resonance, i.e. , the parallel condition to the mental interpretation, is much the same for anger and for fear. What makes the difference between anger and fear is the mental interpretation. If I see something before me that is outrageous, and should be corrected, the interpretation is anger. If I see something life-threatening, the interpretation is fear.
God of course does not have a body, being pure Spirit. But He does have the mental interpretation, that what He sees is outrageous, and that He will, sooner or later, correct it by punishment. So then when Our Lord speaks of fire, He does not mean rapid oxidation - for that is what our fire is - but He means that there will be a "repercussion" so painful that it would be of the same intensity and force as that caused by fire such as we now experience it.
First Timothy 1:4 says God wills all to be saved. Romans 5:8 says God proved His love for us by the death of His Son. To love is to will good to another for the other's sake. If that will is strong, the person will want to act to make the other happy and well off. To make open to us divine happiness, the Father sent His Son to a terrible death, and so He literally proved His love.
St. Augustine developed a fascinating, though not correct, way of explaining how a spirit can suffer from fire.
In Book 21 of his City of God he was arguing with those, especially Neoplatonists, who claimed that a body could not suffer eternal fire without being consumed. To make his point, he says that the nature of the risen body will be much different from that of bodies at present. Even though the bodies of the damned will not be glorious, they will be transformed so as to live forever. Incidentally, in the course of trying to prove this, he brings arguments from the natural science of his day showing some very strange natural phenomena, rather different from what we would expect. And among them he asserts, in 21. 8, that there are witnesses to the fact that in past times the planet Venus changed its course remarkably. He mentions Castor, who seems to have been a contemporary of Marcus Terentius Varro, and the author of a chronological table of Oriental, Greek and Roman history. Interestingly, in a work, The Soochow Astronomical Chart (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1945) we read of an 8 centuries old inscription speaking of such irregularities in the sky: "Once T'ai - P'ai [Venus] ran into Lang Hsing [Wolf Star, Sirius] though it is more than 40 degrees south of the Yellow Road [the ecliptic]." And in a controversial journal of the Velikovsky faction, Kronos, 6. 1, Fall 1980, p. 72 we read: "Among the Babylonian astronomical texts the so-called Dilbat tablet links the planet Venus with various fixed stars, and says that 'the Bow Star' [Sirius] is Dilbat [Venus] in the month of Abu". This seems to mean that Venus approached Sirius in the month of Abu.
To return to the thought of Augustine on hell. He did not know whether or not to say that devils (or angels) have bodies. But he did know that they could suffer from fire, and so could human souls even before the resurrection. His explanation is quite clever, and was even adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas (Contra gentiles 4. 90 and Summa, Supplement 70. 3). In City of God 21. 10 he wrote: "Here the question arises: If the fire will not be incorporeal, like pain in the soul, but corporeal, harmful to the touch, so that bodies can be tormented in it: how will there be a punishment in it for evil spirits? For the same fire will be assigned to the punishment of men and devils... . Unless the devils have certain bodies, as learned men have thought, made of this thick and humid air whose movement is felt when the wind blows. If this kind of element could not suffer anything from fire, it would not cause a burn when it is steam-heated in the baths. For before it can cause a burn, it is burned itself, and it causes what it endures.
But if someone asserts that the devils have no bodies, we need not argue with him in a laborious investigation or dispute. For why not say that in marvelous but real ways even incorporeal spirits can be afflicted by the punishment of bodily fire, if the souls of men, which are surely incorporeal, even now can be put within bodily members, and then (after the resurrection) will be able to be bound by the bonds of their bodies inseparably ? Therefore the spirits of devils, or the spiritual devils, will adhere, if they have no bodies, to bodily fires to be punished, not in such a way that the very fires to which they will adhere will be vivified by that union and become living things, made of spirit and body, but, as I said, they will adhere in marvelous, inexpressible ways, receiving punishment from the fire, but not giving life to the fires."
Denials of the existence of hell: In the time of Christ, the Sadducees denied any survival, and so denied hell too. In the Middle Ages, the Albigensians said that a soul which has sinned before this life is sent to a body to be purged so that after that it can go to heaven. And of course many Protestants and libertines of all ages deny hell. And probably some Catholics today do the same.
In St. Augustine's time, there was need to argue against denials of hell as we saw above. A particular facet was also added (City of God 21. 11): They said that the length of punishment for a sin should be no more than the time it took to commit the sin. Imagine the picture: to pull the trigger to kill takes a second or two - so the punishment should last only a second or two!
Vindictiveness on the part of God?: Unfortunately translations of Scripture often use the word revenge. Now revenge is very immoral, it means willing evil to another so it may be evil to him. But there is something else that seems at first sight to be almost the same, but is totally different: desire for rebalance of the objective order.
In Apocalypse/Revelation 6:9-11 we find the image of the souls of the martyrs under the altar. They ask: How long, O God, until you bring justice for our blood? Since the souls of martyrs are with God, and their wills are completely in unison with His, there can be no real desire for revenge. But they can desire what the Holiness of God desires: rebalance of the objective order.
Hebrew has a fine word which is often, not always, used for this concept; naqam. It means action by the highest authority to put right what needs to be put right.
We treated this above in the section on: What does purgatory accomplish? It involves rebalance of the objective order, which the Holiness of God wills. Now in hell the chief punishment is precisely that: the soul has rejected God, it takes the consequences of that rejection, it cannot have Him. Since it cannot change any more, it cannot repent. And not even God who is Mercy itself forgives, or even could forgive, where there is no repentance or change of heart. Hence hell must last as long as the unrepentance lasts. It is unending.
Eternity and hell: Even in this fact we see an aspect of the mercy of God. Sometimes teachers use the following comparison to convey to children the length of eternity. They say: Imagine a small bird. Every 10, 000 years it flies over and takes one peck at a granite mountain. When the mountain is entirely worn away, eternity is just beginning.
The trouble is that it implies something that goes on and on and on endlessly. But the soul in hell (or in heaven) does not just go on and on. That would imply endless time. But the soul is out of time when it leaves the present body. Rather, St. Augustine in City of God 10. 7 says that the angels participate in the eternity of God. Augustine did not know about aevum of which we spoke above. He meant however that just as all is present for God without change, so angels do not have a constant succession of future changing to present, then changing to past. They simply are unimaginably filled, fulfilled, blessed. Of course the same is true of a soul in heaven. It simply IS fulfilled, totally, unimaginably happy and blessed. In a parallel way the soul in hell does not go on and on and on - it simply IS indescribably miserable, wretched, without any change.
If we wish to believe some of the private revelations on purgatory, we might add that even though there is the unchangeability, yet it may seem to a soul to go on and on, in much the same way as the soul of a religious order man who seemed to have appeared to a living confrere spoke of the terribly long period he was waiting for a Mass to be said for him, when really, his body was still warm in bed after his death.
Visions of hell: St. Teresa of Avila tells us (Autobiography, chapter 32) that God allowed her to see the place in hell she would have had had she not reformed her life. She said that the hottest fire on earth is like only a painted fire in comparison to that of hell. She said she was led through a long narrow passage with filthy, evil-smelling mud and reptiles. At the end was a hollowed out place scooped out. She found herself in that space. She said she felt a fire within her soul which is beyond description. Her bodily sufferings were worse than anything she had experienced before, though she said that in medical problems she had had very severe sufferings. Besides this it felt as though the soul was continually being torn from the body. She could not see what caused it, she was being both burned and dismembered. Although it was so dark she could still see everything that could cause suffering. As she wrote this, six years later, the very thought of it caused her to feel a chill.
Sister Josefa Menendez in her work The Message of the Sacred Heart to the World, a book with which Pius XII was much pleased, describes in even more detail and at greater length her visit to hell. She wrote that the soul's worst torment was the inability to love. Souls there lived on hatred. The devils dragged her down to hell, and tried to torture her in various ways, but found that they could not affect any part of her body in which she had done voluntary penance. On one of these visits she saw a demon lamenting that a soul had escaped him, because someone had made reparation for the sins of that soul. She saw that damned religious and priests suffered more than others. She said in conclusion: "All I have written is but a shadow of what the soul suffers, for no words can express such dire torments."
The three Fatima children, as described by the survivor, Sister Lucy, in her book, Fatima in Lucia's Own Words, report on a vision of hell they were given. They saw a sea of fire, and plunged in it were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers. They were floating around in the fire, sometimes raised into the air by the flames that came from inside themselves along with great clouds of smoke, sometimes falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without any weight or balance, but there were shrieks of pain and despair. Then Our Lady told them they had seen hell where souls of poor sinners go. To save them God wanted to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart. If that is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. World War I, she said, was about to end, but if people did not stop offending God, a worse war would come in the pontificate of Pius XI. She said that when they saw the night lit up by an unknown light, it would be a sign that God was going to punish the world by war, famine, and persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father.
As to the imagery of hell - we note this imagery is quite different from that reported by St. Teresa of Avila, and by Sister Josefa Menendez. Why? No human eye can see hell as it is. These were merely anthropomorphic images, to try to convey to the children something of the terrible suffering of souls there. The fact of that terrible suffering was and is very real. (We called the imagery anthropomorphic in the same sense in which we spoke of such language earlier when explaining how Scripture could speak of God as going down to see the tower of Babel, or repenting for making our race, or being angry, etc. ).
But as we said, all these images try to convey something of the enormous sufferings of hell. The purpose of the vision to the Fatima children was to move them to do penance in reparation to save souls. They did this, to a heroic degree, as described vividly in the book by Sister Lucia just mentioned. They, little children of ages 10, 8, and 7, sometimes gave away their own food, and ate instead bitter acorns. Lucia had told Jacinta not to eat them for they were bitter. But Jacinta said (Fatima in Lucia's Own Words, p. 20): "But it's because it's bitter that I am eating it, for the conversion of sinners." Another time (p. 21) on a very hot day a neighbor gave them a pitcher of water. Francisco and Jacinta refused to drink: "I want to offer this sacrifice for sinners too." So they poured the water into a hollow in the rock for the sheep to drink. During his last illness (pp. 94-95) Francisco took everything his mother offered him and she could not find out what things he disliked. Similarly Jacinta in her last illness took the milk her mother brought, which she hated, but refused the grapes, which she liked. They spoke of consoling the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
That language of consoling the sorrowful heart of our Lady is more anthropomorphism. She is now in heaven, and can no longer suffer at all. Yet she wants to say she is much hurt over the eternal ruin of sinners, and begs for reparation to help save them. Similarly, she is reported to have said on other occasions that she can hardly keep the hand of God from striking the world. This too is anthropomorphism. It means that the scales of the objective order - of which we spoke in asking what Purgatory accomplishes -are so far out of balance that God will soon punish the world if no reparation is made.
Earning extraordinary graces: On one occasion Our Lady was reported to have told them: "Pray much, and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls are lost because they have no one to do that for them". Many theologians have said they could not understand this saying: How could one soul be lost because another soul did not make reparation for it? The answer is that a soul may become hardened by the process we described earlier in the section on what purgatory accomplishes. An ordinary grace cannot help a hardened sinner, for the sinner resists it, and is blinded by the pulls of creatures, so as to be unable to register at all the good thought God tries to inject into it. God respects our freedom. But if someone else will put an extraordinary weight into the two pan scales of which we spoke in connection with purgatory, then that can call for an extraordinary grace, which can prevent resistance from developing or even cut through the resistance that is already there. God cannot grant such graces routinely or all the time, for although they do not take away freedom, they do diminish it. In the process with ordinary graces, a point comes at which the soul could resist or could simply make no decision against the grace. In that normal process, if there is resistance, God will leave it stand, and so the first decision on the outcome is made by the human person, not by God (cf. 2 Cor 6:1:"We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain."). If the soul does not resist, grace goes ahead in its course and works in us both the will and the doing. So the first decision on the outcome comes from the soul. But with an extraordinary grace, since it prevents or cuts through resistance, the first decision is made by God, not by the human. By transcendence, He can still leave the human free, but with a diminished freedom, in that the first decision on the outcome no longer comes from the human but from God.
The sinners for whom Our Lady was pleading were and are hardened. To rescue them, extraordinary grace, as described, is needed or they will be eternally lost. The Fatima children did so much in the way of extraordinary penance, and that called for extraordinary graces to save many sinners.
The Fatima revelations seem to say that most souls who are lost are lost because of sins of the flesh. First, even if a private revelation is genuine in general -- and the evidence for Fatima is overwhelming -- it need not mean every detail is authentic. So one could ask about such a detail as this. On the other hand, sexual sins are very common. Yet, sex being so strong an emotion can easily blind a person, and thus reduce in a measure only God can calculate, his responsibility.
Did God make sex too strong? The very question is irreverent, yet since it has been asked we should answer. Definitely no. The purpose of sex is primarily to keep the race going. During the period of courtship, the couple often are infatuated over each other. But later on this fades, and they may find it hard to keep a marriage going. Sex, used according to our Father's plans, is a great means of keeping a marriage going. The fact of so many marriage failures shows it is not at all too strong. Further, the power contained in it can be, and in many cases is, sublimated, its energy is used to make possible higher purposes. So Our Father's plan is most wise.
Heaven: St. Paul uses an adaptation of a line of Isaiah 64:3 to speak of the marvels of divine wisdom. Often the same words are quoted to speak of the unspeakable wonder of heaven: "Eye has not seen nor has ear heard nor has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him."
Sharing in divine nature: It is most fully true. For each creature, God has prepared fulfillment and satisfaction in accord with the nature of that creature. But for us, He was not satisfied to prepare a human sort of satisfaction: He insisted on making us literally sharers in the divine nature, as 2 Peter 1:4 says. This is done by what we call sanctifying grace. That grace means a transformation of the soul, making it radically capable of seeing God "face to face," to use St. Paul's expression in 1 Cor 13:12. Of course, God has no face, and the soul has no eyes. But yet it does convey a reality beyond what we can understand. When I look at another human, I do not take him into my mind: I take in an image of him. The image is finite, and so is he. But to know God as He is, directly, "face to face," no image could begin to suffice, for no image, being finite, could represent the Infinite. Therefore there is only one thing possible: that He joins Himself directly to the human soul or mind, without even an image in between. Only a being that is at least part divine could do such a thing. Hence the Epistle of St. Peter is right, without any exaggeration, in saying we are sharers in the divine nature. So 1 John 3:2: "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Within the Divinity, the Father speaks one Word, as John 1:1 says. But that Word is not just a vibration in the air such as we speak, rapidly passing. No, it is substantial. Further, our words never fully express us. That one Word fully expresses the Father. Hence that Son Himself said precisely (Mt. 11:27): "No one knows the Father but the Son, and no one knows the Son but the Father." Between Father and Son arise love. But that love too is substantial, it is the Third Person. 1 John 4:8 says "God is love". To love is to will good to another for the other's sake. The Father wills the good of the divine nature to the Son, and so it is done. Both together will that same divine nature to the Holy Spirit: and so it is done. All three are constituted by Love.
In a different perspective, a Word expresses the knowledge of the intellect. So we could say the Son proceeds by way of intellect. The Holy Spirit proceeds by way of love. So there are, as it were, infinite streams of knowledge and love within the Holy Trinity.
Again, only a being at least partly divine could as it were plug into those infinite streams. Sanctifying grace transforms the soul, in the sense of making it basically capable to joining in the infinite knowledge and love. We said basically, since although the ability is given right here in this life, its fruition and fulfillment come only in the next life, and then only after the soul has gone through whatever is still left of the needed preparation in Purgatory, of which we spoke above. In fact, we should say thank heavens there is a purgatory. If those two things could not be done, no soul could ever each the vision of God.
Foolish Luther thought the soul remains totally corrupt even after receiving justification. For to him, justification is only a legal fiction, there is no real change in the soul at all, it remains totally corrupt, might even commit fornication and murder 1000 times a day. In contrast, we think of Malachi 3:2: "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire."
So sanctifying grace means this transformation. But since the vision of God is infinite, and we are finite, it is obvious that indefinitely increasing capacity for that vision is possible. That increase is what we mean by increase in sanctifying grace. (It is well that those who teach others should not stop with the terms "sanctifying grace" or "increase", but should translate the terms as we are doing here.
Full of grace: The Archangel Gabriel hailed Our Lady as "full of grace". That meant she had the maximum capacity for that vision her soul could support at the moment. But since that vision is infinite, there was still room for indefinite increases even in one who is full of grace at the start. We might compare her growth to that of a geometric scale in which each number is multiplied by itself, e.g., 2 x 2 = 4; 4 x 4 = 8; 8 x 8= 64 - and so on into infinity. Pius IX in defining the Immaculate Conception said of her holiness, which in practice means the same as love of God, that even at the start it was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." This is really a staggering thought! Not even the highest cherubim and seraphim can comprehend her holiness. Yes, God could have created a creature capable of doing it, but as a matter of fact He has not done that: so only God Himself can comprehend it! And then to think that at the cross she was called on to positively will that He die, die then, die so horribly, in a clash with a love that is literally incomprehensible to anyone but God Himself!. (Any soul that is holy must always will what God wills, and if it knows what He positively wills, it is not enough to say: "Let it go". No, the soul must positively will such a thing, no matter how difficult. Here, the difficulty is, speaking soberly, beyond the comprehension of any actually existing creature).
(The translation "full of grace" is precise. St. Luke wrote Greek kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle - a very strong form - of a verb charitoo that meant to put on into the state indicated by the root of the verb, a root meaning grace or favor. [If we used the word favor we would have to keep firmly in mind that it meant not just that He, as it were, would sit there and smile at her, but give her nothing. No, He gave infinitely, and the word for His gift is grace]. But the Archangel also used that word kecharitomene in place of her name, much as we do if we say someone is Mr. Tennis, meaning the ultimate in the category of tennis. So she is the ultimate in the category of grace, i. e, . Miss Grace). So if even in reference to us it is correct to say that we are sharers in the divine nature - what must be such a sharing in divinity in one who shares so fully that only God Himself can comprehend it!
Made for the Infinite: St. Augustine wrote well (Confessions 1. 1):" You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and restless are our hearts until they rest in Thee!" Yes, we often look ahead to getting some further thing, and at the time we foolishly think that one thing will satisfy us, or be wonderful. Yet when we get it, we soon tire of it or find it less than anticipated: anticipation is really greater than realization, as the saying goes. So really, nothing less than the Divinity itself could really satisfy us. Hence the incredible generosity of God who makes us even sharers in the divinity itself!
Aristotle, at the start of his great Nichomachean Ethics asked what was the supreme goal for man. He replied: Happiness. But then he asked: What is happiness? He reviewed various opinions on what happiness is. He finally settled on this: It is intellectual contemplation of truth.
That was indeed a noble ideal and goal. But how far short of the reality! (And he left out love in the will). He could not at all dream of union with God as the goal - even though his concept of God was poor. He thought that God Himself does nothing but contemplate what is best. But, thinking is best, therefore, He thinks of thinking! What a pitiful failure for a great mind.
But what even a great mind could not find, we, without minds as great, are privileged to know readily and easily through the revelation of Jesus, the Word of God. Above we saw, interestingly, that it was only through Him that humans first obtained a clear notion of hell. So also it is only through Him that we get the true concept of heaven. Moses, the great hero of the Old Testament, had asked to see God (Ex 33:18-23). God replied that He would hide Moses in a cleft in the rock, and let Moses see Him from behind as He passed. This was only imagery to try to make known that no creature in this life can see God as He is. So even when Exodus says (33:11) that Moses spoke to God face to face, the words do not mean what they mean in our theology, which we saw above. They mean merely that Moses could speak back and forth with God as we do with someone present before us. But the Divine Word told us clearly (John 17:3): "This is eternal life, to know you the only true God, and Him whom you have sent." (These words refer both to the present life, in which we know God somewhat, and to heaven, where we shall know Him face to face).
Inequality in heaven: It is evident from what we said above, that there will be degrees in heaven, that is, increases in sanctifying grace in this life mean increased ability to take in the vision of God. That vision is infinite, and we are finite. Therefore the capacity can be increased, but that can be done only in this life.
Those who have less however will be completely filled. We might compare a row of glasses, 8, 12, and 16 ounces. Each holds so many ounces. One holds more than the other, but all can be completely filled.
Relatives in hell: What if a soul in heaven has a relative or dear friend who is in hell. Will that cause sadness? We compare the expressions we reviewed above, in which Our Lady is reported to have said in an apparition that she was sorrowful at the loss of souls and at sins. We explained that that was anthropomorphism. In heaven there is no sadness at all. As to the loss of a dear one, we distinguish two things: 1) the attitude of will in the soul in heaven. Now since to love is to will good to another for the other's sake, a soul that sees a relative in hell will, as God Himself does, wish that soul were in heaven. Yet more basically it cannot flatly will that, for God Himself does not will it under the actual conditions, namely that He Himself, as we explained above, had provided infinite objective titles to forgiveness and grace for that soul as for all other souls. No one could wish Him to have done more. 2) But as to feelings or emotions - just as God Himself has no adverse feelings in this case, neither does the soul in heaven before the resurrection - for it until then it has no body in which to have feelings. But even after the resurrection there will be no such feelings, for they would be disorderly, and no soul that is saved has any disorderly feeling.
Secondary source of bliss: The chief source of blessedness in heaven is of course the vision of God; that alone is far beyond what one could imagine for any conceivable creature, as we said above. Yet there is also secondary happiness, from the company of all the other persons there, including our relatives and other dear ones. There is no marriage there, but yet the spiritual side of affection - for to love is to will good to another for the other's sake - will continue from earth to heaven.
The greatest of course of all the additional joys of heaven will be from seeing and associating with our Blessed Mother. Pope Pius XII wrote brilliantly about that (To Italian Catholic Action Youth, Dec. 8, 1953, from The Pope Speaks, 1954, 1. p. 38, citing Dante Paradiso, 31. 130-35): "Surely in the face of His own Mother, God has gathered together all the splendors of His divine artistry... . You know, beloved sons and daughters, how easily human beauty enraptures and exalts a kind heart. What would it ever do before the beauty of Mary!... That is why Dante saw in Paradise, in the midst of 'more than a million rejoicing Angels... a beauty smiling - what joy! It was in the eyes of all the other saints'-Mary!"
St. Paul taken to heaven: In Second Corinthians 12:1-5 St. Paul tells us: "I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or outside the body, I do not know, God knows -such a man was snatched to the third heaven. And I know such a man - whether in the body or outside the body I do not know. God knows -that he was snatched into paradise and heard unspeakable words, which it is not possible for man to speak."
What kind of experience was this? First it was not one of the out of body or near death experiences we spoke of earlier. This is clearly a special supernatural favor. It should belong to either of two categories, namely, sanctifying graces, or charismatic graces.
If it was in the sanctifying category Paul may have been given a momentary snatch of the beatific vision, for some theologians think such a thing has happened to a few persons. Cf. St. Thomas (I. 12. 11 ad 2 and II. 174. 4 and 175. 3) who thinks that Moses and St. Paul may have had this vision transiently, by way of exception.
(The reasons given for the vision in Moses are inadequate. Exodus 33:11 as we saw above says Moses spoke to God face to face; but 33:18-23 says Moses asked to see God, and was allowed only to see Him "from behind' as it were. As for the vision in St. Paul, as we shall see presently it is quite uncertain of what nature Paul's experience was.
Paul's experience could have been, within the sanctifying category, the highest form of infused contemplation. Some theologians think infused contemplation is part of the normal course of spiritual growth, others say no, that it is on a side track as it were. But when it does occur, the soul does not see any image of God, and may or may not have it in a pleasurable form. Yet it seems to itself to have contact with God as real as that of a hand pressed on a table. So it does seem to know God in this way specially.
In spite of the debates on whether or not infused contemplation belongs to the normal course of spiritual development, it is certain that when it comes, it is something incapable of being adequately described or expressed in ordinary words. For our words all depend on shared experiences, e.g., if I speak of red, green, or blue to a person who is not color blind, our common experience of these colors makes him understand. But If I use those words to a color blind person, he might indeed grasp the difference in frequency of the vibrations of light waves, but could not get any mental image or good understanding of those colors. Similarly, since infused contemplation is outside the experience of most persons, we do not have words to express it. And in this sense St. Paul could have said he heard things that were arrheta, unspeakable, which it is not possible, or not permitted to speak (Greek exon has both meanings).
On the other hand it could have been a vision in the charismatic category. Here too St. Paul may have been forbidden or unable to express it in words.
Whichever category his experience was in, it was very great, and caused a temptation to pride. Hence he says in 12:7-10 that an angel of satan, a sting of the flesh was given to buffet him so he would not get proud. We do not know what that sting of the flesh is. Scholars are in disagreement. Chiefly three proposals have been made: 1) Persecutions - but Paul prayed earnestly to get rid of it:12:8. He welcomed persecution as a means of likeness to Christ, as means of reparation. 2) Sickness --Paul would hardly pray earnestly to get rid of it. He would accept it as from the hand of God. 3) Vehement sexual temptations. This view is, not much favored today -- yet is very likely. We know many saints in the night of the spirit suffered such things. And the sting was such as to break pride. They would make him realize his weakness, and adjust his somatic resonance in the direction of humility. Such temptations often make even a good person feel insecure about his own success in resisting in a siege he has just had.
Resurrection: Eventually there comes the resurrection, and there is added happiness, if that can be imagined. The addition is not in the happiness of the spiritual soul, which is already completely filled. But there can be happiness in the risen body. Since the body shared in sinning and in doing good, it is only right that it too should share in suffering or in bliss at the resurrection.
We said eventually, since souls must wait for the end of the world for that. Really a soul without a body is an incomplete person. How long will it seem to them? If a soul goes directly to heaven, it is only one instant, for in aevum, there is no change. If it went to purgatory, there is some perception of passage of duration, as we explained above.
What will the risen bodies of the just be like? They will be on the pattern of the risen body of Christ. We gather two facts about His body from Scripture. First, it was real flesh. He allowed the Apostles to touch Him, and He even ate with them, though a risen body needs no food. Secondly, His body was spiritual. We do not mean that it was not flesh. As we said, He proved it was flesh. But when St. Paul in 1 Cor 15:45 says the body will be spiritual, Paul means that the flesh will be totally dominated by the spirit, unlike the present state, in which as St. Paul also says, the flesh desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh (Gal 5:17).
The flesh can no longer suffer or die, because the spirit does not want that. And it is completely dominated by the spirit.
When Our Lord came to the upper room where the Apostles had locked themselves in from fear of the Jews, He did not knock on the door. He did not open it by a miracle. He paid no attention to the door. For spirits do not need space, and so can pay no attention to it.
For the same reason, if the person wishes to go anywhere - even to the farthest reaches of the physical universe, he can go in an instant. Now the speed limit of the universe is the speed of light. After the resurrection, that will no longer apply.
Parents and unbaptized children: What of parents after the resurrection whose children died without baptism? We discussed above the fate of such infants, and found impressive even though not conclusive reason for supposing God will provide grace even to such infants, so that they can reach the vision of God. But even if they do not, yet, the beatific vision is in the soul of the parents. Even though the children would lack that vision in their souls, the children could not perceive the presence of it in the souls of the parents. But it is evident that parents and children could associate in body. The bodies of the children would surely not be like the risen bodies of the damned. If not like the glorified bodies, yet they would be good, and incapable of suffering of dying again.
Identity of risen bodies: St. Augustine faced what seemed then to be difficult problems about the resurrection. In his City of God 22. 20 he wrote: "Banish the thought that the omnipotence of the Creator, in order to raise and bring bodies back to life, could not call back whatever beasts or fire consumed, or what collapsed into dust or ashes, or what was dissolved into liquid, or exhaled into the air." No matter what might happen to the body or any part of it, the Almighty could bring it back.
He continued: "When the flesh of a dead man becomes also the flesh of another living man -- to whom will it be given back in the resurrection? For if someone, worn out and driven by hunger should eat the bodies of men- an evil which both former history and the unhappy experience of our own times testifies happened sometimes -will anyone contend... that the whole was digested through the inner parts, and nothing of it was changed and converted into his flesh?" But Augustine insists that even so God can bring it back.
But whose flesh would it ne if someone was eaten by a cannibal or other human. who would get that flesh at the resurrection? Augustine thought: "that flesh will be returned to the man in which it fist began to be human flesh. For it is to be considered as taken by the second man as on loan." What then of the one who had eaten another, being driven by famine? Augustine replies that God can restore that flesh too no matter where it had gone.
These speculations are ingenious, but we now know they are quite unnecessary. For because of metabolism, every cell in our bodies is constantly being torn down and replaced, so that in a normal life span, any person has had the matter of several bodies.
Over the intervening centuries, an interesting speculation has arisen at intervals. The Church has never passed judgment on it, favorably or unfavorably. The view was proposed or held by Aenaeas Gazensis, Petrus de Alvernia, Durandus, John of Naples, Billot. Van der Meersch, Michel Hugueny, and Vandenberghe (cf. L. Arand, St. Augustine, Faith, Hope and Charity in Ancient Christian Writers series, pp. 84-86 and notes especially note 293. The theory depends on Aristotle's Psychology 2. 1 which says that the soul is the substantial form of the body, while the body is related to the soul as first matter. Now within the theory of Aristotle, first matter is pure potentiality, having no actuality at all, no characteristics of its own. Really, it could not exist by itself, apart from a form. So if one believes that theory, he might say that if the soul is the form of the body, then any first matter (our language here is philosophically loose, but unavoidably) that the soul takes on is its body.
But even within philosophy, there must be something wrong with the theory of Aristotle. In human conception, two elements, sperm and ovum, meet and only then is a human soul present. But those two elements, sperm and ovum were not purely undifferentiated first matter. They had characteristics, and so were not purely potential.
We can and should still ask with St. Augustine about the size and age of the risen body. He replies, in suitable conjecture: "... the size of bodies will have forever those dimensions which the natural plan of perfect youth or youth which was to be perfected called for, keeping due propriety in the proportions of all members... . Or, if someone wishes to argue that each will rise in that stature of body in which he died, we need not resist vigorously - only that all deformity, all infirmity, all slowness, and all corruption be lacking, and whatever else is not fitting for that kingdom in which the sons of the resurrection and the promise will be equal to the angels of God, if not in body, or in age, at least in happiness." (He did not know for certain if angels did or did not have bodies, a common problem in his time).
The earth after the end: Second Peter 3:7 says:" the present heavens and earth are kept in the same way for fire." and 3:10: "the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will be loosed by fire... ." But such language is a part of apocalyptic imagery. The truth is that this world is not to be destroyed but purified, and brought back to that state in which it was before our first parents sinned.
Then everything was kept in beautiful harmony and subordination. The higher part of man, his soul, was subject to God; his lower part, his body, was readily subject to his soul or will in the coordinating gift or gift of integrity, the animals were readily subject to man, and inanimate things to them.
But when the soul of man refused the due subordination, it was as if someone swept a stick through a stack of children's blocks pile don top of each other. All the harmony was gone. Then, as St. Augustine puts it beautifully (City of God 14. 5) "the penalty of disobedience was disobedience," that is, the lower nature of man rebelled against his higher nature. Just as Christ became obedient even to death, so, said Augustine, Adam was disobedient even to death.
St. Irenaeus made what he called recapitulation (Greek anakephalaiosis) the center of his theology. Christ recapitulates Adam(Against Heresies 5, 14, 2; 2, 18, 1 & 7; 5, 21, 2; 4, 34, 1), that is, there is a parallel: disobedience/obedience, made from virgin earth, made from the virgin. And since Adam had real flesh, Christ had real flesh (against Gnostics). And Our Lady restores what Eve should have been (3, 22, 4; 5. 19, 1: 4, 33, 11. Vatican II in LG §56 cited with approval two lines from 5, 14, 2:"[Mary] by obeying, became a cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race... . the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary". The earth is to be brought back to its original good state( 5, 32, 1). St. Irenaeus even extends this idea of recapitulation to the antichrist, who is the "new head" of the forces of evil (5, 29, 2).
St. Irenaeus, was really developing the theme of St. Paul, who spoke of a first and a new Adam.
St. Paul in Romans 8: 19-25 gives a remarkable picture of the restoration at the end: "For the expectation of creation is waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. But creation was made subject to folly, not willingly, but because of him [Adam] who made it subject. [it is subject] in hope, for creation itself will be freed from the slavery of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God. For we know that all creation groans together [with us, or, groans in unison] and is in birth-pains together, up to now. Not only that, but we ourselves, though having the first fruits of the Spirit, groan in ourselves, waiting for the adoption of sons, the redemption of our body. For it is in hope [not in possession] that we are saved. For why would anyone hope for what he sees [present]? However if we hope for what we do not see, we await in patience."
The picture is splendid: all creation, not just man, is waiting to be restored to the original state. Yes, we now have adoption as sons of God, but we have only the beginning of that, not the full possession. That is yet to come, and we wait in patience for it. but all lower creation groans with us as we wait. It will be freed from slavery to corruption.
We ask ourselves: What is slavery to corruption? Clearly it is especially metabolism, by which every cell in our bodies is being constantly torn down and constantly rebuilt. But now: all lower creation is to be freed from that process of tearing down and being rebuilt. If that be the case, it seems we should expect flowers, trees, and birds and other animals to all be present in the restored world, just as they were in the beginning, before creation was made subject to folly by Adam, the wonderful harmony being destroyed. So then it seems there will even be immortal birds, for they will be no longer subject to corruption. St. Francis of Assisi would surely vote for that!
Here is really the recapitulation of which St. Irenaeus spoke!
The final age: We wish to consider five kinds of material: 1) highly idealized pictures of a messianic age; 2) prophecies that seem to indicate all gentiles will join Judaism. 3) the long prophecy in Ezekiel 40-48 of the restoration of the temple - probably the source of the Jewish beliefs mentioned above by St. Jerome. 4) the Millennium. 5) The signs for the actual end of the world in Scripture.
a) First, the idealized picture of a messianic time. Jewish speculation was not careful about chronology. They did speak of a messianic age, and of the eschatological period. Some especially Jews would like to think the sort of prophecies we are about to consider would be fulfilled almost literally before the end.
In the period before the writing of Revelation 20, the rabbis discussed much the duration of a temporary messianic kingdom. In 1 Enoch 91-103 the present age lasts seven weeks (the length of the weeks seems to be irregular), and the messianic kingdom is to come in the eighth week.
Here are some estimates from Rabbis about the length of the messianic age: Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (90 A.D. ) said 1000 years; Joshua (also 90. A. D) said 2000 years; Eleazar ben Azariah ( 100 A.D. ) said 70 years; Akiba (135 A. D) said 40 years; Jose of Galilee ( 110 A.D. ) said 60 years; Dasa (180 A.D. ) said 600 years; Eliezer ben Jose of Galilee (150 A.D. ) said 400 years.
IV Ezra (c. 100 A.D. ) 7. 26-30 said that a city now invisible would appear and land now invisible would also appear. The Messiah was to be revealed with those who did not taste death and the survivors would rejoice for 400 years. After that period the Messiah should die, along with all other humans. The world would return to primeval silence for 7 days. There would be a general judgment, the resurrection of the good and the wicked, and the final end. Most people would be eternally lost.
Isaiah 11:6-9 says the wolf will be a guest of the lamb and the leopard with be with the kid, and a calf and lion will eat together, with a child to lead them, while the baby plays at the Cobra's den. There will be no harm anywhere, and they will even beat their swords into plough shares (2:4).
What shall we say? First, we know the Semites had powerful imaginations, and could exaggerate more than Hollywood. In fact, the dire language of Matthew 24 about the sun being darkened, the moon giving no light, and stars falling from the skies -- all these are found in the descriptions of much milder events. Isaiah 13:10 speaks of the fall of Babylon thus: "The stars in the sky and the constellations will not give their light. The sun will be dark when it rises, the moon will not give its light." Similarly, Isaiah 34:4 said in speaking of the judgment on Edom: "All the stars will be dissolved, the sky will roll up like a scroll, and the host of the heavens will fall like dried leaves from the vine." Again, Ezekiel 32:7-8 foretells the judgment on Egypt thus: "When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and darken the stars... the moon will not give its light."
Which is the more powerful, the more exaggerated imagery? That about the wolf and the lamb, or about the sun and moon? Hard to say.
In passing, some left wing authors like to say that Joel 3:10 contradicts Isaiah 2:4. Joel says they will beat their plough shares into swords. A simple distinction will help. Even the nonconservative NAB in a note on Joel 4:10 (= NRSV 3:10) explains that warlike weapons are made in reply to God's call to armies to expel forever the unlawful invaders, from the land of the chosen people. Isaiah looks to a different situation: the heavily idealized age of the Messiah.
b) Prophecies that all gentiles will join Judaism?: But our second problem is much more complex. Many times over the prophets foretell all the nations being converted to God. Objectively and actually, that meant that the gentiles would be called to be part of God's people. But that was new. Ephesians 3:5-6 tells of a secret not revealed to past ages: that Gentiles are also called to be part of the people of God.
But to read Isaiah, for example, things would sound different. For example Isaiah 2:2-5 says: "The mountain of the temple of the Lord will be lifted up above the highest hills, and all nations will stream toward it. Many peoples say: Now let us go up the mountain of the Lord... and He will teach us in His ways and we will walk in His paths. Torah shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Specially striking is Zechariah 8: 22-23: "Many peoples. . shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem... ten men from nations of every language will grasp a Jew, and take hold of his garment: 'Let us go with you. For we have heard that God is with you. '"
c) The Prophecies of Ezekiel 40-48: Especially a problem is the last chapters of Ezekiel, chapters 40-48 which give a detailed description of a Jerusalem to be restored, with a great temple and animal sacrifices. However there is no mention of a Day of Atonement, or an ark of the covenant, or veil.
How can we understand this? St. Augustine in City of God 4. 33 said that in the OT, material things were used to stand for spiritual things: "There, even earthly gifts were promised, while the spiritual men understood even then, although they did not preach it clearly, what eternity was signified by those temporal things, and in which gifts of God was true happiness." St. Paul in Gal 3:15-21 spoke of the promises given to Abraham as really standing for eternal salvation.
So, these images given by Ezekiel could be taken to stand for eternal goods. And the lack of such essential things as a Day of Atonement, an ark, and a veil give a hint of what the real sense is.
But no wonder the first Christians had a hard time understanding. Yes, Jesus had told the Apostles to go and teach all nations. But we fear Peter and the others thought this meant all nations would become proselytes. So in Acts 10, Peter, after not understanding the vision of the sheet let down from the sky, went to the Roman centurion Cornelius. Jewish Christians were shocked that he would associate with Gentiles. Clearly the commission of Mt 28:18-20 had not registered on them at all.
Let us not accept the foolish proposal that Jesus after the resurrection never spoke words at all, that He just used interior locutions; and that only in time did Peter and others come to understand. This will not do at all, and only someone ignorant of mystical theology could say such a thing. St. Teresa of Avila, who had much experience with locutions, explained (Life 25. We notice the common confusion of persons in her writing): "When God speaks in this way, the soul has no remedy, even though it displeases me, I have to listen, and to pay such full attention to understand that which God wishes us to understand that it makes no difference if we want or not. For He who can do everything wills that we understand, and we have to do what He wills." She added (Interior Castle 6. 3. 7):"When time has passed since heard, and the workings and the certainty it had that it was God has passed, doubt can come" about the authenticity of the message. So Peter would have had to understand clearly at once , if Jesus had used an interior locution, and only later could begin to doubt. But the foolish proposal has that turned precisely around.
We have already seen at least a glimpse of the truth: the OT prophecies could easily give the impression, not that gentiles would be accepted into the Church as gentiles, but that they would all become proselytes.
But now we must ask: How and why did Jesus and the Scriptures speak in away that was so readily misunderstood? We add a remarkable case of that: toward the end of His public life some in the crowds began to suggest He might be the Messiah. But others said no, for the Messiah must come from Bethlehem (John 7:40-44). He could so easily have said on that occasion: But I was born in Bethlehem. But He did not.
So we ask why? God wants faith to be free, not coerced. He could have arranged to have His resurrection take place with all Jerusalem, including His enemies, assembled before the tomb. This would have bowled them over. There would have been no freedom left to such a faith.
To understand, we need to notice that there are two main kinds of evidence that lead us to accept something as true: compulsive and noncompulsive. Compulsive evidence, such as the fact that 2 x 2 = 4, forces the mind, does not leave it at all free. But noncompulsive evidence is different, Further, there is a broad spectrum of noncompulsive evidence running from some things at the top of the scale, where the evidence is so strong that no one actually doubts, e.g., that Washington crossed the Delaware. But at the low end of that scale there are things where feelings can enter, e.g., if one would say, about the original Mayor Daley of Chicago, that he was a good honest politician, those who received favors from him would agree he was good and honest. The opposition would say quite the opposite.
Now the evidence for things of our faith is objectively adequate, but definitely noncompulsive. It lies somewhere on that scale we mentioned where it is rational to believe, but one's dispositions can enter into the result.
This in turn is the same sort of framework we can see with the parables. If we wanted to follow the chronology of Mark - we are not sure of it of course - Jesus at first taught rather clearly. But then the scribes charged He was casting out devils by the devil. Then He turned to parables, and all three Synoptics quote Isaiah 6:9-10, in varied forms, saying the same thing: It is so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.
This was not deliberate blinding by Him. Otherwise why would He later weep over Jerusalem for not understanding the time of their visitation (Mt 23:27)?
No, He was setting up a marvelous divine device for dividing people according to their dispositions. We might speak of two spirals, in opposite directions. Let us think of a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he gets very drunk. Next day - for this is the first time - he has guilt feelings. There is a clash between his moral beliefs and his actions. Our nature abhors such clashes, and something will have to give. Either he will align his actions with his faith, or his faith will be brought into line with his actions. This goes on and on, like a spiral that gets larger as it goes out, and feeds on itself. In other words, the man is getting more and more blind. In time he will lose perception of other moral truths and even of doctrinal truths.
Here is another remarkable thing. We know that God is identified with each of His attributes, so He does not have love, but is love. Similarly He is justice, and He is mercy. How is this possible? We can begin to understand as we are now explaining. The man who goes out on the bad spiral is getting more and more blind. This is justice, he has earned the blinding. But it is also mercy, for the more one knows about religion at the time of acting, the greater the responsibility. So his responsibility is mercifully being reduced. And in one and the same action, we find both mercy and justice exercised.
On the good spiral we also see both. The man who lives strenuously according to faith, which says the things of the world are worth little compared to eternity, he will go farther and farther on the good spiral. His ability to understand spiritual things gets greater and greater. This added light is, in a secondary sense, merited, and is justice. We say secondary, for in the most basic sense, no creature by its own ability can establish a claim on God. So all is basically mercy. Yet as we said, secondarily there is justice: God in the covenant has promised to reward those who keep His covenant law. So again, in one and the same action, there is both mercy and justice exercised.
So it seems we may have found at least some insight into God's ways in these matters. One example is that He wants Scripture to be difficult, so we may work on it more, and get more out of it (cf. EB 563) but still more, so that those well disposed will be justly rewarded, while those who ill-disposed will lose the little they have. To him who has, it will be given. From him who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away (Mt. 25:29).
Here we might borrow a line from St. Paul (Romans 11:33-34): ""O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and unsearchable His ways." We have had the privilege of seeing, not all things about His wisdom, but some little corner, like Moses who had the privilege of seeing God from behind (Ex 34:23).
We commented above on how wonderfully God arranges everything so He can have mercy on people, and say: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Even if they know partly, He wants to see some excuse objectively present.
d) Millenarianism (Chiliasm). Chapter 20 of Apocalypse/Revelation has led to tremendous speculation. We read the essential part of it: "And I saw an angel coming down from the sky, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he seized the dragon, the ancient snake, which is the devil and satan, and he bound him for 1000 years, and he threw him into the abyss and he locked and sealed over him, so that he might not deceive the peoples any more until the thousand years were finished. After that it is necessary that he be loosed a short time. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them; and the souls of those beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for his word and that of God, and those who did not adore the beast and his image, and did not receive his character on their foreheads and on their hands, and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection. On these the second death does not have power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and they will reign with him a thousand years. And when thousand years are finished, satan will be released from his prison, and will go out to deceive the people in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and he will gather them to battle, they whose number is like the sand of the sea."
The word Millenarianism refers to Latin mille for 100, the word chiliasm refers to the Greek for 1000.
First, we note that the genre of this passage, indeed of the whole Apocalypse, is clearly apocalyptic, that is, it presents (not necessarily asserts) visions and revelations, in highly colored, almost bizarre images. The original readers knew that it was necessary to greatly reduce such images to get at the sober content.
A surprising number of major Fathers held a rather literal view of this passage, i.e., they took both resurrections physically, and the reign on earth similarly. Among them we find one of the earliest Fathers, St. Justin Martyr, writing c 150 A.D. (Dialogue 80). Trypho has just asked him if he believes in the literal rebuilding of Jerusalem and the reign with Christ on earth. Justin replies: "I admit to you... that I and many others think thus... but yet again many Christians of pure and devout view do not think thus."
Besides: The so-called Epistle of Barnabas (15:4-9) is strongly millenarist. So is Papias (according to Eusebius, History 3, 39. ) St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5. 28. 3, plus Tertullian, Against Marcion 3. 24. At Rome the priest Hippolytus also held this. The debate was even livelier in Egypt. Near Alexandria some small towns went into schism over it. Eusbeius (History 7. 24) reports that Bishop Dionysius said there was a three day debate on this matter. St. Methodius also held chiliasm (Banquet of Ten Virgins 9. 5. PG 18 . 190). There are hints of millenarism in Apollinaris of Laodicea, Lactantius (Institutes 7. 24. PL 6. 808), and Victorinus of Petau (cf. St. Jerome On Ezekiel 11. 36. PL 25. 339). St. Jerome rejects chiliasm but in doing so is milder than usual. He wrote in On Jer 4. 19. 10 (PL 24. 802): "After the captivity... the ruins of Jerusalem are to remain until the end of the age, although the Jews think Jerusalem is to be restored with gold and gems... [and that there will be] a reign of the Savior Lord on earth. Although we do not follow this, yet we cannot condemn it because many men of the Church and martyrs have said these things."
St. Augustine (City of God 20. 7) says he once (in Sermo 259. 2. PL 38. 197-98) held a mild form of the error, which foretold only spiritual joys. Most of the Fathers who held it at all held for this mild form. Eusebius (3. 28) says the heretic Cerinthus held for gross sensual pleasure, as did Coracion (Eusebius 7. 24).
At Rome, Caius even denied the authenticity of the Apocalypse, to counter the view more readily (cf. Eusebius 3. 28. PG 20. 274). Eusebius in telling us that Papias held the view calls Papias a "man of small intelligence" (3. 39. PG 20. 299-300). That is very strange, for since so many impressive names held it, and since the passage of the Apocalypse is so obscure, one should not call Papias a man of small intelligence for going along with them. Perhaps Eusebius is trying to devalue the important testimony of Papias, who said he tried to collect things from all who had heard the Lord. St. Irenaeus says (5. 33. 4) that Papias knew St. Polycarp who had heard St. John. St. Jerome (On Illustrious Men 18) says Papias had heard St. John himself. (Cf. J. M. Ford, Anchor Bible, Revelation, pp. 350-54.)
St. Augustine in City of God 20. 7, proposed a view he had basically taken from the Donatist Tyconius, in which the first resurrection is that from sin, the second is physical. The reign of 1000 years means the just will reign, instead of being slaves to vice, for all the period from the ascension to the return of Christ at the end.
The first edition of Jerome Biblical Commentary seemed to favor Augustine's view. But the 1990 edition (p. 1014) seems to favor a more literal view of the 1000 year reign. The Church has said surprisingly little on the millennium. Early in the present century, there was a revival of chiliasm in a moderate form in South America. It was repudiated by the Holy Office in a decree of July 21, 1944 (DS 3839) which said: "It cannot be safely taught"-a rather weak statement.
In the passage we cited above from Revelation 20, the text spoke of Gog and Magog coming to fight against the holy ones and the holy city. That word Gog is found in Ez 38. 2 and 39:2. There Gog is called the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, far to the north of Israel. Further, the prophecy of Ezekiel says God will send Gog against the holy city. this should be understood to mean God will permit this - for there is a well known Hebrew pattern of attributing to direct action of God things He actually only permits. It is quite possible that Magog really means the land of Gog.
Some think Gog comes from the name Gyges, king of Lydia. A land of Gaga is mentioned in the Amarna letters, and is probably north of Syria.
The sense seems to be that with God's permission, the forces of paganism from afar will come against the holy city and its people. Does this refer to a literal battle against the state of Israel, or does Israel merely stand for the people of God? More likely the latter, as we will see in the following section. Perhaps the sense is the same as that in Apoc. 16:14-16 where the kings of the earth have the final battle against the People of God. The name Armageddon seems to be Hebrew har megiddon, the mountain of Megiddo. The name was probably chosen because Megiddo was the site of several decisive battles in antiquity: Judges 5:19ff; 2 Kings 9:27; 2 Chron 35:20-24.
Joel 3:10, as we saw above, speaks of turning plowshares into swords. This is not a contradiction of Isaiah 2:4, for the passage in Joel refers to the final eschatological battle of which we are speaking, while the words of Isaiah 2:4 refer to the idealized Messianic age.
e) The special signs of the end of the world:
1) The Gospel must be preached everywhere:This is clear from Matthew 24:14: "This Gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, in testimony to all peoples, and then will come the consummation." Has that been done today?. It seems definitely yes.
2) The great Apostasy: Luke 18:8:"When the Son of Man comes , do you think He will find faith on the earth?" The same thought appears in 2 Thes 2:3. St. Paul had been telling them not to become upset as if the end were near: "We ask you, brothers, through the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to Him, that you not be quickly moved from your senses ... as if the day of the Lord were at hand. Let no one deceive you in any way. For if the apostasy does not come first and if the man of sin is not revealed..." Paul in excitement, apparently, does not finish his sentence. It is evident he meant to say: Unless these things come first, the end will not come. He implies that neither the apostasy nor the antichrist were on the horizon. So there is to be a great falling away from the faith, so great that there will be hardly anything left to the Church. Yet we know the Church will survive, for He promised that. But He did not promise it would be large and prosperous.
What of His will that there be one flock and one shepherd (John 10. 16)?: "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. It is necessary that I bring them and they will hear my voice and there will be one flock and one shepherd." This refers to His desire that the Church, the people of God, include not only Jews but also gentiles(cf. Eph 3:1-6). That has of course been realized today, even though most Jews still have not come in. But that again does not say how prosperous the Church will be by the time of His return at the end. As we saw above, the Apostles were shockingly slow to understand that He meant at all to include gentiles in His people.
We notice a similar thought among the Jews of a great apostasy to come. During the great persecution by Antiochus IV of Syria (175-64 BC) many Jews fell into apostasy. That seems to have led to the belief that there would be a great apostasy before the final age. We find this predicted in 1 Enoch 91. 7. (E. Isaac, in his introduction to the translation of 1 Enoch in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [Doubleday, 1983, p. 7] estimates the date of this part of 1 Enoch as around 100 B.C. ), and Jubilees 23. 14-16 (probably before 100 B. C), and 4 Ezra 5. 1-13 (probably dating from c . 100 A. D) which says truth will be hidden, faith uprooted, and wisdom will retreat into its chamber.
In Matthew 24:12: "Because sin will reach its fullness, the love of the many will grow cold." (This is the theme of filling up the measure of sins. We find it in especially full form in 2 Mac 6, which says that with some peoples, God lets them go the limit in sinning, filling up the measure of their sins, and then comes final ruin; but with others, such as the Jews, who are not hopeless, He corrects them by trials along the way so they may not have to be included the final ruin. Ad in many other places in Scripture we find this same theme. Tragically, in 1 Th 2:14-16 Paul said that the Jews who were then persecuting him, were on the wrong side of that divide: they were filling up the measure of their sins).
In Apocalypse 20:7: "And when the thousand years are finished, satan will be released from his prison, and will go out to deceive the people in the four corners of the earth, (The thought seems to be that for much of Christian times, satan will not be permitted to use all his power. But for a brief time before the end he will be allowed to use it all. That must be the terrible times of the chief Antichrist).
2 Timothy 3:1-7: "Know this, that in the last days, hard times will come. People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable... ." And further in 2 Tim 4:3-4:"There will be a time when they will not put up with sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, they will accumulate teachers, itching in their ears, and they will turn their hearing away from the truth and turn to fables."
In passing, what a contrast between these things and the dream of Teilhard de Chardin about the time just before the end (Cf. The Future of Man, p. 78).
3) The Antichrist: Although the word Antichrist itself is infrequent in Scripture, yet the concept, without the word, is found often.
In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul continues the passage we cited above, saying that unless, "the man of sin appears [the end will not come]. Paul continues, describing the Antichrist as "the son of perdition who is opposed, and exalts himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sits in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God." Then Paul adds a mysterious saying: "Do you not remember that when I was with you, I said these things to you. And now you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of iniquity is already at work, only that the one who holds him back does so until he is out of the way." We notice that there is someone, or something - Paul's language shifts as we can see from the underlined words. Evidently, Paul had told the Thessalonians who or what that restrainer was. We simply do not know.
Naturally, much guessing has been done. What is the impediment or restrainer? Many have thought it is the Roman empire. Many others think it is the preaching of the Gospel. Still others think it is the incredulity of Israel. We simply do not know, even though the Thessalonians did know.
In Matthew 24:24 (same as Mk 13. 22) we read: "False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." (The devils, being fallen spirits, retain the great natural powers of such spirits, powers far greater than what we humans have. Hence there are many things they can do by their natural power which will seem to be miracles to humans).
Similarly in Mt 24:5: "Many will come in my name, saying: I am the Christ." And in Mt 24:11:"Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray."
From this we gather that there will be more than one antichrist. This fits with the words of St. Paul that the mystery of iniquity is already at work.
In the First Epistle of St. John we find that the word Antichrist itself occurs several times. In 2:18-22: "Children, it is the last hour and just as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now there are many antichrists. From this we know that it is the last hour. They came out from us, but were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would have stayed with us."(Here St. John seems to be using a sort of focused pattern, such as St. Paul often uses. On this see Wm. Most, The Though of St. Paul, Christendom College Press, 1994).
The shifting between singular and plural is easy to handle. It is well known that in Hebrew writing it is common to find an individual who stands for and in a certain sense is identified with a group or collectivity. The king of Israel was often spoken of in this way. So, the forces of iniquity were already at work in Paul's day, and many individual antichrists are to come. But there is to be a great Antichrist before the end itself. (2 John 7 also speaks of many deceivers and then of the antichrist).
The First Epistle of St. John says that "it is the last hour." In scriptural language it means were are in the last period of God's dealings with us. And God's timetable is quite different from ours. In Psalm 90. 4 we hear that, "A thousand years in your eyes are as yesterday now that it is past". In 2 Peter 3:8: "In the eyes of the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day." When we recall from above that for God there is no past, and no future - for He is unchangeable, and so is out of time - these sayings make sense. Interestingly in Haggai 2:6-7 God says: "In a little while, I will move heaven and earth, and the one desired of all the nations will come in." That is, the Messiah - we are following St. Jerome's translation. He got the messianic interpretations from the rabbis. The Hebrew has a minor problem in that the noun hemdat is singular, but the verb is plural (such irregularities are not unknown elsewhere in Hebrew). In any case it seems to refer to the time of the Messiah, which is only a little while. But Haggai was writing in 520 B.C. (An objection: Were the gentiles expecting the Messiah? Not directly it seems, but inasmuch as good gentiles - cf. Romans 2:14-16 - desired to do the will of God, that would be implicitly included).
(An incidental problem: The antichrist will be able to work great signs, and will seem, probably, to claim them as proofs of his authority. God in general does not provide the power for any miracle if it is to be used to prove a lie. But in the case of Moses at the court of Pharaoh, God did permit the court magicians to bring snakes from their rods. However, a key was provided in that the snake from the rod of Moses ate the other snakes. In the case of the antichrist, we have a great key in that Our Lord Himself has warned of the antichrist, who will speak against what we know to be the true faith, and Jesus has said that His own return will be as obvious as the lightning flashing from one end of the sky to the other: Mt 24:27).
The Fathers of the Church give us little help on the Antichrist. They seem to be groping.
The Didache predicts (16. 4):"The world-deceiver (kosmoplanes) will appear as the son of God and will work signs and wonders, and the earth will be handed into his hands, and he will do lawless things, such as have never been done before."
The Epistle of Pseudo Barnabas (4. 5) seems to mean the antichrist when it speaks, with Daniel 7:7-8 of the fourth beast.
The Epistle of St. Polycarp 7. 1 says (1 John 4:2-3): "Everyone who does not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh, is the antichrist, and he who does not confess the testimony of the cross, comes from the devil and he who twists the words of the Lord is the first born of satan." Interestingly, St. Irenaeus, in 3. 33. 4 says St. Polycarp met Marcion, the archheretic. Marcion asked: "Do you know me"? Polycarp said: "Yes, I know the first born of satan." How unecumenical of him!
St. Irenaeus, in 5. 30, by deciphering the number 666 from Apocalypse 13:18, says that Lateinos, the Roman Empire or Teitan was the antichrist.
St. Hippolytus wrote an entire treatise on the Antichrist, and a commentary on Daniel. Victorinus, a martyr under Diocletian spoke of the Antichrist in his commentary on the Apocalypse, as did also Lactantius in book 7 of his Divine Institutes. Lactantius predicts two antichrists, a view more fully developed by Commodian in the middle of the fifth century. He says the Goths will conquer Rome and redeem the Christians. But then the first Antichrist, Nero, revived, will reconquer Rome, for three and a half years. But Nero will be conquered by the second, the Jewish antichrist from the East, who will go to Judea and be worshipped by the Jews.
The author of the Catecheses which we have under the name of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in Catecheses 15. 11 said the antichrist was to be skilled in sorceries and enchantments. He would seize the power of the Roman Empire and call himself Christ. With that name he would deceive the Jews, and seduce the gentiles by magical illusions.
St. John Damascene, in De fide orthodoxa 3. 4. 27 speaks in passing of the Antichrist.
666 the number of the beast from Apocalypse 13, 18, can be read as a name. Nero would qualify. Later Mohammed, read as Maometis, would also be read as 666. Joachim of Flora (died 1202) believed the antichrist would be a false Pope. Ubertino, leader of the Spirituals, called Pope Boniface VIII the beast from the sea. The seven heads were his seven vices, and the ten horns the Ten commandments which he broke.
Pope Gregory IX in 1239, quarreled with Emperor Frederick II, and excommunicated the Emperor. Gregory called the Emperor the beast from the sea. Then Frederick called the Pope the great dragon who deceives the whole world.
In the so-called Reformation, the Pope was called antichrist by Wyclif, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, and Cranmer. Of course the "Reformers" were in turn called antichrist.
4) Return of Elijah the prophet: He was taken up in a chariot, as we read in 2 Kings 2:1-12. Malachi 3:23-24 (=4:5) has God Himself foretelling: "Behold, I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the great and terrible day of the Lord. . And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the heart of children, and the heart of children to their fathers, or I will come and I will strike the land with a curse." Cf. also Sirach 48:10.
After the transfiguration, in Mt 17:10-13, the disciples asked Jesus: "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? He in reply said: Elijah will come, and he will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they willed. Thus too the Son of Man is going to suffer from them. Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them about John the Baptist."
Interestingly, in Malachi 3:1 we read a related text in which God Himself speaks: "Behold, I am sending my messenger, who will prepare a way before my face, and suddenly the Lord will come to His temple, the messenger of the covenant whom you are desiring." Even Reginald H. Fuller (The Foundations of New Testament Christology, Chas. Scribner's Sons, N. Y. 1965, p. 48) said that 4:5 is a note commenting on 3:1, in which Elijah appears as the forerunner not just of the Messiah but of Yahweh Himself. Jesus had cited (In Mt 11:3-10) this text of Mal 3:1 in the form then current, in which it had been modified by similarly to Exodus 23:20: "Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare the way before you." But even so, Jesus surely knew the original of Mal 3:1, and for Him to apply it to Himself tends to imply His own knowledge of Himself as Yahweh. In so applying it He is indicating the prophecy could have more than one fulfillment, which is true. On multiple fulfillment, cf. Wm. Most, Free From All Error (Libertyville, 1990) chapter 5.
Luke 1. 17 has Zachary say of John the Baptist: "He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to convert the hearts of fathers to children, and the faithless in the wisdom of the just, to prepare for the Lord a perfect people."
5) Return of Enoch? Genesis 5:24: "And Enoch walked with God, and then he was not, for God took (laqah) him." (We note the word laqah since the same word is used in Psalm 73:23 in which the Psalmist expects that after death God will take him in glory -- seemingly implying a knowledge of seeing God in so early a text.)
Sirach 44:16 in the Septuagint says: "Enoch pleased the Lord well, and was transferred as an example of change of heart to the generations." The Vulgate here has: "Henoch was transferred... to give repentance to the peoples."
None of theses texts says at all clearly that Enoch is to return at the end. Yet some scholars have thought he may do so, and have pointed to Apocalypse 11:2-13 in which two witnesses prophesy for 1260 days. Fire is to come out of their mouths to devour their enemies and slay them. The witnesses are to have power to close up the sky so no rain could fall, and will be able to turn water into blood, and bring other plagues. But when their testimony is finished, the beast from the abyss is to wage war and conquer and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the streets of the great city symbolically called Sodom or Egypt, where the Lord was crucified. Everyone will stare at the bodies, and be happy and exchange presents since the witnesses had afflicted so many. But after three and a half days they will come alive again, and a voice form the sky will tell them to come up. They will ascend. And a violent earthquake will come and ruin one tenth of the city, killing 7000 persons.
So: Who are the two witnesses? There are many guesses, not one with solid foundation. The NAB in a note suggests Peter and Paul, representing all Christian martyrs. The original Jerome Biblical Commentary said the description obviously fits Moses and Elijah. The 1990 edition seems to lean in the same direction. The Spanish Biblia Comentada (BAC) VII. 416 says most ancient and medieval authors thought the two were Enoch and Elijah.
6) Conversion of the Jews: In Romans 11:25-26: "I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, so you may not be wise in your own eyes: a blindness in part has come to Israel, until the fullness of the gentiles enters. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: There will come out of Sion one who delivers, and turn aside the impieties from Jacob. And this is the covenant from me to them, when I shall take away their sins."
We comment: The quote is loosely taken from Isaiah 59. 20. The word saved here means they will enter the Church. The word save has three senses in Scripture: 1) Rescue from temporal dangers; 2) enter the Church; 3) reach final salvation. The silly notion of getting infallible salvation by taking Jesus once as your personal Savior has no intellectual standing at all. G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the new Testament in the article on this word does not even mention it. It rests on a tragic misunderstanding to the word faith as St. Paul uses it. Paul uses it to include three things: belief in what God teaches, confidence in His promises, and especially, obedience to His commands (cf. Rom 1:5: "The obedience" of faith, i. e, . the obedience that faith is).
Here save means entry into the Church, for two reasons:1) the whole context, from chapter 8 on, is speaking of membership in the Church; 2) Paul would not have to look forward to the end time for Israel to have a chance at final salvation: in Romans 2:14-16 he said even gentiles can reach final salvation without formal entry into the messianic kingdom.
We note the words in italics, which say "until the fullness of the gentiles enters". They seem to have the same sense as the words in Luke 21:24: "Jerusalem will be trodden by the gentiles until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled." Now there were gentiles in Jerusalem before the time of Christ. This means that after the failure of the second revolt in 135 the Romans refused to let any Jews enter Jerusalem. So it became a fully gentile city. But then in 1948 Israel became a state, with part of Jerusalem. In 1967 it captured the rest of Jerusalem. This may well relate to the message of Daniel 12:7, which we will consider below.
Does this prophecy of St. Paul refer to the present population of the state of Israel? There is a problem. There has been a mixture over the centuries. Paul seemed to have in mind those who were descendants of Abraham. But in the intervening centuries many have joined Judaism without being descended from Abraham. Especially, most of the nation of the Khazars followed their king at one time into Judaism.
Earlier in chapter 11, Paul observes that the fact that the Jews on the whole rejected him was the occasion for the gentiles to enter - for had the Jews entered in large numbers, Paul might have had trouble getting around to the Gentiles. Then Paul indulges in some wishful thinking in 11:12: "if their fall" [the Jews who rejected Christ] is the richness of the world [the occasion for gentiles to enter] and if their fault is the riches of the gentiles, how much more [will be] their fullness [when they finally come in]?" Paul means that if a few coming in was the occasion for so many conversions: what will it be when all the Jews come in -as he will predict in 11:25-26. -- This is apt to be wishful thinking. Paul said he wanted to make the Jews jealous of the gentiles (11:14). Throughout the centuries that has not been happening. Now it is true, as we saw above, that there is to be a great apostasy of the gentiles. So some have wondered: will the conversion of the Jews then bring the fallen gentiles back? The problem is that the conversion of the Jews seems to be coming just before the end, and most likely, it is to be effected through the return of Elijah, mentioned above. The Holy Office, as we saw above (DS 3839) said it cannot be safely taught that there will be a millennium before the end, with Christ on earth.
7) The prophecy of Daniel 12:7. The various versions have had trouble with this verse. Anchor Bible has even suggested a mistranslation from an Aramaic original, and so the Anchor suggests an emendation to desecrator. The NAB and original Jerusalem Bible have fared poorly too. But they have all failed to note a possibility in the Hebrew kalah, which can have the meaning of "finish, complete". Then the line will read: "And when he shall finish (complete) scattering the power of the holy people, all these things will be accomplished." (The RSV and NRSV agree with our translation).
Daniel had asked the revealing angel when the things predicted would come to pass. The angel gives this answer. It means that when the people of Israel are brought back from their dispersion, then the time will be at hand for the things which the angel predicted. The angel had foretold at time of great distress, such as the world had never seen before. AT the time Daniel's people would be delivered, if their names were in the book of life. And many [rabbim - strange Hebrew word commonly meaning: the all who are many] of those who sleep in the dust shall awake, some to eternal life, some to eternal shame. The wise will shine like the stars. Then the angel tells Daniel to seal the book until the time of the end. It was at this point that Daniel asked when it would happen, and received the reply of verse 7.
The reply seems to mean that men the dispersion of Israel comes to an end, these things will happen.
This leads us to a fascinating question: Are we now near that time? As we said, Jerusalem has once again begun to be a Jewish city. And the time set by God for the conversion of the gentiles is near the end. This need not mean no gentiles could be converted but merely that the providential period for them would be near the end.
In 2 Mac 2:4-8 we read how Jeremiah the prophet hid the ark of the covenant. His followers later tried to find it, and could not. Jeremiah then told them that the place is to remain unknown "until God gathers His people together again."
There is a problem with this text. First, the entire second book of Maccabees is presented as an abridgement of a five volume work of Jason of Cyrene, and here in 2:1 we read: "You will find it in the records". So the inspiration of Scripture does not guarantee that this account is true, only that it was so found in the records. Biblical Archaeology Review in the issue of May-June 1983 reported that one Tom Crotzer claimed to have found the ark. BAR dismissed the claim readily, and did not publish any follow-up on it at all.
8) The prophecies of Matthew chapter 24: At the start of this chapter, the disciples asked what seem to us to be two questions: the signs for the fall of Jerusalem, and the signs of the end. It is just possible they thought both were to come together. Commentators are much divided on this chapter. Some would divide it, to answer separately each question. We are here proposing it as a case of multiple fulfillment (on multiple fulfillment, cf. chapter 5, of Wm. Most, Free From All Error). For everything except the appearance of Christ Himself did happen before the year 70 A.D.
First of all Jesus foretold there would not be a stone left upon a stone. Some foolish commentators today point to the few stones left, such as the wailing wall. But they seem not to know of Semitic exaggeration.
Then there are very specific things:
1) Many will come in my name, saying: "'I am the Christ', and will lead many astray." There were false Messiahs before 70. Thus Acts 5: 36-37 tells of revolts led by Theudas and Judas of Galilee. Now Judas seems to belong to an earlier time, about 6-7 AD. Josephus however puts Theudas in the 40s AD. To explain: Josephus is not always accurate; or, Luke may be following the Greek genre of history in which speeches may sometimes be made up to fit an occasion, without solid basis.
Acts 21:38 speaks of another false Messiah from Egypt, but does not give his name.
2) Wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes. But Jesus adds "All this is only the beginning of sufferings." So these signs which are general enough to apply to almost any period of history, are not signs immediately before the end.
There were many wars before 70, especially the great Jewish revolt starting in 66 AD. Also 69 was the year of the four Emperors: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. The first three each ruled just a few months after the fall of Nero. Vespasian finally was able to hold the throne. And there were famines in the time of Emperor Claudius (42-54). Acts 11:28 says a prophet called Agabus predicted a severe famine.
There were pestilences too. Tacitus in Annals 16:13 says that the year 65 was "a year of shame and of so many evil deeds, [which] heaven also marked by storms and pestilence. Campania was devastated by a hurricane, which destroyed everywhere country houses, plantations and crops, and carried its rage to the vicinity of Rome, where a dreadful plague was sweeping away people of all classes... the houses were filled with corpses, and the streets with funerals."
Tacitus also tells of earthquakes in various places in the empire: In the Province of Asia in 53 (Annals 12:58); in Rome in 51 AD (Annals 12:43); in Campania and especially Pompeii in 62 AD (Annals 15: 22). Seneca the philosopher and Josephus also tell of earthquakes.
Jesus also foretold persecutions. There were many of those long before 70 AD, and many of them from the Jews, who persistently pursued St. Paul, and once thought they had him dead by stoning. Nero's persecution also came in this period.
24:12 is frightening: Because sin will go the limit, the love of most people will grow cold. There was immense sin in this period of course, perhaps not as great as that which will come before the end, to which specially applies Lk 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, do you think He will find faith upon the earth?"
24:14 says the Gospel must be preached throughout the world, and then the end will come." St. Paul told the Romans (15:23) that he no longer had a place to preach in the whole eastern Mediterranean. But before the real end, the Gospel will have reached throughout the globe.
A specially difficult line is 24:15: "When you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel (9:27) standing in the holy place... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Daniel spoke of the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (167-65). The Emperor Caligula in 40 AD ordered that a statue be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, but it seems his subordinates had the good judgment to ignore that order. Yet Eusebius (Histories 3. 5) reports that many Christians in Jerusalem did see something that caused them to flee to the city of Pella before the fall of Jerusalem. Probably they had seen the Roman eagles on the standards of the soldiers in the outer temple area. The soldiers actually worshipped those eagles, and so they were really idols.
Another difficult line is 24:29-31: "Right after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky."
For certain this passage is basically of apocalyptic genre. And we know that such language was used earlier, by Isaiah 13:9-10: "The day of the Lord is coming, cruel and wrath... for the stars of the skies and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light." But Isaiah spoke only of the fall of Babylon. Isaiah spoke similarly in 34:4 on the fall of Edom, as did Ezekiel 32:7-8 on distress coming to Egypt. So such language could apply to the coming fall of Jerusalem, more terrible than that of Babylon.
However, the last words of 24:31 may apply only to the final end, when the sign of the Son of Man - mostly likely the cross -will appear in the sky. This is what Jesus Himself seems to have spoken of in Mt 26:64 to the High Priest saying he would see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, clearly alluding to Daniel 7:13.
24:43 says this generation will not pass away until it all is fulfilled. In as much as the signs Jesus gives apply to both the time before 70, and to the end, we may say that many to whom He spoke did see the things coming before 70 A.D. As to the final fulfillment: Hebrew dor means not only a generation but a period. We are now living in the final period of God's dealings with the human race, a final revelation which will last until He comes again at the end. So the Christian period or generation will indeed be that. On this cf. Vatican II, On Revelation §4: "The Christian economy, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and now no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ."
So, we have seen that all the signs enumerated did come before 70 A.D. They will come most fully before the final end.
9) Obscurity of the signs: In Mt 24:37 Jesus warns that the signs are not so clear that most people will read them: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." People will be eating, drinking, marrying - that is, business as usual. And suddenly it will be there. So St. Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Th. 5:2-3) that the day will come like a thief in the night. Cf. 2 Pet 3:10. His coming will be as obvious as lightening flashing from one end of the sky to the other: 24:27. And as obvious also as a carcass with vultures circling around it: 14:28. Verses 40-43 tell of one being taken to reward, the other to punishment at that coming. So watch.
We said they were not so clear that most people would read them. This does not mean that no one will read them. St. Paul seems to imply some will, in 1 Thes 5:1-4: "There is no need, brothers, that we should write to you about the times and moments. For you yourselves know accurately that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night... . but you brothers, are not in darkness, so that that day should catch you like a thief."
His comment in 24:26 (Mk 13:32) says that no one but the Father knows the day, not even the Son. This line has of course caused much discussion. The Fathers of the Church wrestled with it mightily for centuries. Most of them made two kinds of statements, one kind affirming He really did not know; the other kind, saying He did know. They used the same two kinds of statements on Luke 2:52, which says He advanced in wisdom. In acting this way the Fathers were using excellent theological method. In divine things, it is not strange if we encounter two conclusions, which seem to clash head on. Of course then we recheck out work, but often the two conclusions remain. Then we must hold to both without any straining, hoping that someone sometime may find how to resolve the problem. St. Athanasius solved the problem of Lk 2:52, by distinguishing between actual growth and growth in manifestation. As we shall see, Pope St. Gregory the great solves the other for us.
For a full presentation of over a hundred texts of the Fathers on these two points, with an analysis of each text, cf. the patristic chapter in Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ (Christendom College Press, 1980).
In regard to the day of the end, the Fathers often used an invalid argument saying: Since He showed He knew all the signs before that day, He also knew the day. The argument does not hold, for He might know the signs as it were in a block, but not know where on the time scale the block would belong. Yet even though the argument is not valid in itself, it does show the firm conviction of the Fathers that He was not and could not be ignorant of the day. However finally Pope St. Gregory the Great solved the problem, saying that he knew the day "in His humanity, but not from His humanity." In modern terms that would mean the information registered on His human mind, but His humanity was not the source of that information. The Church today has repeatedly taught that from the first instant of conception, His human soul saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is contained. Sadly, this teaching is widely rejected, even though it is an infallible teaching on two counts: 1) It is admitted by all that if something is taught repeatedly on the ordinary magisterium level, it is infallible -- for the repetition shows the intent to make it definitive.
Pope Pius XII, in his great Encyclical on the Mystical Body, on June 29, 1943, taught: "By that blessed vision which He enjoyed when just received in the womb of the Mother of God, He has all the members of the Mystical Body continuously and perpetually present to Himself." In other words: His human soul saw the vision of God at once, and in it all knowledge is at hand. In another Encyclical, Sempiternus Rex, in 1951, the same Pope complained many were not accepting his teaching. Then in still another Encyclical, Haurietis aquas, in 1956, he clearly repeated his earlier teaching. Further, on July 24, 1966, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Paul VI, complained many were still not accepting. Clearly, the repeated teaching shows the Church means to make this definite and definitive, namely, that the human soul of Jesus, from the first instant, saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is accessible. (The objectors do not really mean that a divine HE was ignorant -they mean His human mind did not register some things).
The stubbornness of those who reject is remarkable. For on two counts this teaching rates as infallible: 1) The repetition, as we said, shows the intention to make a thing definitive. So it is infallible. 2) Pius XII, in his Humani generis of 1950 (DS 3885) told us that if the Popes in their official journal deliberately take a position on something then being debated in theology, it is removed from debate, and comes under the promise of Christ (Lk. 10:16): "He who hears you, hears me." Of course, a promise of Christ cannot fail. The modern trouble on Christ's human knowledge was sparked by a book, by P. Galtier, L'unité du Christ, which appeared in 1939 - followed soon, in 1943, by the Encyclical of Pius XII, and then by still more texts, as we said. So this teaching is infallible, on two counts.
Really, even without the help of the official texts, we should be able to see for ourselves that the human mind of Jesus not only happened to have that vision, but could not lack it. We see it in the following way. For any soul to reach that vision (which happens to others in heaven), two things are needed: 1) the power of the soul to see needs to be elevated by grace. Of course that was true in Jesus; 2) The divinity should join itself directly to the human mind, without even an image in between, so that the mind may see God. Now in an ordinary case, if we put together human body and human soul, that is automatically a human person. That did not happen in the case of Jesus - His human mind, and whole humanity, was assumed, taken over, by the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Therefore His human mind was joined to the divinity, even more closely than happens in the case of an ordinary soul - for when an ordinary soul receives that vision, it remains a separate person. But in Jesus, there was only one Person, the Divine Person. So His human soul could not possibly have lacked this vision.
In other souls, this vision causes complete blessedness. In Jesus, there was in a way blessedness, but only on the highest point of His soul, as it were. On the other hand, the vision revealed to Him, in merciless detail, everything He would have to suffer in His Passion. If one of us foresees something dreadful coming, he can take refuge in the thought: Maybe it won't happen; maybe it won't be that bad. But the vision in Jesus could be called merciless: it showed Him with distressing clarity and absolute infallibility what was to come.
To live a life under such a vision was dreadfully painful. When we have a long-running trouble, as it were, it wears the skin thin. In Him it did something like that. Yes, His divinity could have protected Him from that. But He had resolved, when He "emptied Himself" (Phil 2:7) not to use His power for His own comfort, only for the sick. So an unprotected humanity would be in unending apprehension. Twice He let us see inside Himself In Lk 12:50: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished". That is: I have to be plunged in the deep waters of suffering. I am in a tight spot, cannot get comfortable until I get it over with. Again, about a week before His death, He was speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem, and decided to let us see inside again (John 12:27): "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour!" After that, in Gethsemani, the nightmare that had been pursuing Him caught up. He could not scream and find it only a dream: it was there in all its hideous reality. The interior tension ruptured the small blood vessels near the sweat glands, resulting in literally a sweat of blood, medically known as hematidrosis. He even, as St. Mark's Gospel reports (14:33), felt fear. The fact He knew He would rise on the third day could not keep the nails from hurting. Again, His divine power could have rescued Him from suffering. But He had resolved not to use that for His own sake. So again, an unprotected humanity could not help shrinking back in horror.
Instead of charging Him with such ignorance, we should be immeasurably grateful that He was willing to go through such a life, such a death. We owe Him reparation too for the charges of ignorance.
10) The vision of Apocalypse 12: "And a great sign appeared in the sky: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried out, laboring in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon... and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered so that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her son was taken up to God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, that there they should feed her a thousand two hundred sixty days... . And when the dragon saw that he was cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the man child. And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert into her place, where she is nourished for a time and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent... . And the dragon was angry against the woman, and went to make war with the rest of her seed... ."
St. Pius X, Ad diem illum. ASS 36. 458 - 59: "No one of us does not know that that woman signifies the Virgin Mary, who brought forth our Head with her virginity intact. But the Apostle continues: 'And being with child, she cried out, laboring in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. ' Therefore John saw the Most Holy Mother of God already enjoying eternal happiness, and yet laboring from some hidden birth. With what birth? Surely ours, we who, being yet detained in exile, are still to be brought forth to the perfect love of God and eternal happiness."
Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus. AAS 41. 762-63: "We frequently find theologians and preachers who, following the footsteps of the Holy Fathers, use words and events from sacred Scripture with some freedom to explain their belief in the Assumption... . And furthermore, the Scholastic doctors have considered the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as signified not only in the various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun, whom the Apostle John contemplated on the island of Patmos."
Paul VI, Signum Magnum, May 13, 1967 AAS 59: "The great sign which the Apostle John saw in heaven, 'a woman clothed with the sun' is interpreted by the sacred liturgy, not without foundation, as referring to the most Blessed Mary, the Mother of all men by the grace of Christ the Redeemer."
John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, March 15, 1987. Vatican Translation. §24: "... she who was the one 'full of grace' was brought into the mystery of Christ in order to be his Mother and thus the Holy Mother of God, through the Church remains in that mystery as 'the woman' spoken of by the Book of Genesis (3:15) at the beginning and by the Apocalypse (12:1) at the end of the history of salvation."
COMMENTS: 1. St. Pius X says flatly that John saw Mary in this passage. Pius XII is less clear, he attributes the interpretation to the Fathers and Scholastic Doctors. Paul VI says the liturgy sees her in this text "not without foundation". But John Paul II is rather explicit.
2. Some features of the image surely fit Our Lady, especially the rule "with an iron rod" which clearly reflects Psalm 2. 9 speaking of the Messiah. Yet the pain in birth seems to be more apt for the Church than for Our Lady. Hence it is likely we have here a well known Hebrew pattern, in which an individual stands for, and even is identified with a group. Then it will be both Mary and the Church. For an excellent defense of the view that the woman is both Mary and the Church, cf. B. J. Le Frois, The Woman Clothed with the Sun, Orbis Catholicus, Rome, 1954. Le Frois suggests that if the image stands for both Mary and the Church, then it could be a forecast that before the end of time, the Church will take on especially Marian character, an age of Mary. St. Louis de Montfort in True Devotion §58 predicts an age of Mary.
Appendix I. The Prophecies of Daniel
Daniel is commonly thought of as a prophet. We have already seen a few things from his prophecies. But before we examine other prophecies, we need to notice that the book contains two very different genres, edifying narrative, and apocalyptic.
The pattern of the book is clear: chapters 1-6 are the edifying narrative type. Chapters 7-12 are apocalyptic. Chapters 13-14 are narrative additions. Apocalyptic as we know is a genre or pattern of writing in which the author describes visions and revelations. It is not usually clear if he meant to assert they were real, and not merely a vehicle for his message. They contain bizarre, highly colored images. Often there are figures of animals, to represent pagan empires, a horn to stand for a king or a power, and they often include an angel who interprets images. Apocalyptic is commonly a work to give consolation in time of severe trial. God is presented as Lord of history. There may be prediction of the future. Now if such predictions were made in a rather factual genre, we would need to maintain that they really were made before the events. However because of the highly colored imagery and fanciful nature of apocalyptic, the predictions may be made after the events pictured, without any dishonesty. It is understood such things may happen in this genre.
The dating of Daniel is debated. Most scholars would give a second century date, in the context of the terrible persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, of Syria; some others, especially the evangelistic type, would hold for 6th century. The argument for the later date depends much on the type of Hebrew used. But there are respectable replies to the linguistic arguments.
Most of Daniel is in Hebrew, yet chapters 2-7 are Aramaic. The reason for this is not fully clear. The suggestion has been made that the Hebrew chapters were for the special concerns of the Jewish people, while the Aramaic portions were intended especially for the gentiles - for Aramaic was the international language of diplomacy at the time.
Chapter 1 tells of the dedication of 4 Jewish youths in the exile to the dietary laws. Eating nothing but vegetables made them more healthy. We must add: If the story is factual, it will not prove that vegetarians always get such an effect: there, God miraculously supplied.
Chapter 2 contains the great vision of the four kingdoms, symbolized by the different kinds of metal in a huge statue, which the king saw in a dream. Many have been tempted to see the 4th kingdom as Rome, so it may connect in time with the messianic kingdom, which comes after it. But we must note that the feet standing for that kingdom are part pottery, part iron - which do not mix. This hardly fits the strong power of Rome. Most interpreters take the four to be: Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Hellenistic kingdoms after the death of Alexander. We observe: if one follows that view, then there is a Median kingdom before the Persian, which would imply that Darius the Mede, who in 6:1 took Babylon, is a historical figure. Most writers say Darius is fictitious, that Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon. If so, we would say the edifying narrative genre could account for the matter. However, we must add that the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities, 10, 245-49 (xi. 4) does report that there was a Darius the Mede, a kinsman, who would have ruled for Cyrus for a time while Cyrus was occupied with other things. Such an action would be quite in character with the known policies of Cyrus.
Other narrative incidents - the three men in the fiery furnace, the vision of the giant tree, and the stories in the appendix (chapters 13-14), could have served the purpose of encouraging the Jews to perseverance in fidelity to their laws at a time of persecution. The episode in chapter 4 of Nebuchadnezzar's temporary insanity (boanthropy) does seem strange. Yet we notice that the Babylonian records carry no entries of activity on his part between 582 and 575.
An objection used to be made about chapter 5: Belshazzar is presented as the last king of Babylon before its fall. But it was said that the cuneiform records showed the last king was Nabonidus. We now know that Nabonidus in the third year of his reign, 553, made his son Belshazzar coregent, and he himself left for Tema in Arabia, where he stayed for about ten years, and never reassumed the throne.
With chapter 7 we enter the strongly apocalyptic portion of the book. The four beasts rise from the sea, showing they are hostile and chaotic forces opposed to God. They seem to represent the same sequence of kingdoms as the vision of the great statue in chapter 2, except that here we get the detail of the small horn that spoke arrogantly, which at least seems to many to be Antiochus IV of Syria.
Chapter 7, verses 13-18 includes the famous vision of one like a son of man, who receives from the Ancient of Days dominion, glory and kingship that will never be taken away forever. Commentators like to make this individual son of man just the "holy ones of the most high." But this is unrealistic, the Jewish people never did get such a kingship, one that will last forever. Nor would Jewish thought suppose a headless kingdom. However if the figure is the Messiah, then we do have a rational explanation. In Hebrew thought we often meet an individual who stands for and as it were embodies a collectivity. Jesus often used the phrase Son of Man to refer to Himself. This was part of His deliberately gradual self-revelation.
Chapter 8 largely repeats the thought of chapter 7, in a more explicit way.
In chapter 9 we meet the famous enigmatic prophecy of 70 weeks of years.
We begin with 9:2 in which Daniel is told that the desolation of Jerusalem is to last 70 years.
First, we notice that the number 70 is normally round, as is 40. How free this can be can be seen from a comparison of the Hebrew text of Jonah 3:4 where Jonah says Nineveh will be destroyed in 40 days - along side of the Septuagint translation of the same line, where it is not 40 but 3 days. The 70 years to Jeremiah 25:11 were the length of the exile - very roundly, 70 years. But Daniel by inspiration sees that there is a further fulfillment of the 70.
The Fathers of the Church commonly understood chapter 9 as a prophecy of the Messiah - a view now usually dropped. Modern scholars want to make it fit the events of the time of Antiochus IV who persecuted the Jews, and desecrated the temple.
We could make it fit rather well with the time of Antiochus, thus:
1) Start with 605, the message to Jeremiah (25:11 - for 70 years they will be enslaved to the king of Babylon. In one sense, which Jeremiah saw, this meant the length of captivity - Daniel does not contradict, but extends the prophecy by taking weeks of years instead of single years, about 70 weeks of years.
2) 605 BC minus 62 weeks (434 years) extends to 171 BC, the death of Onias, the High Priest, the anointed one (9:26).
3) Persecution for one week = 7 years, goes from 171-164 (death of Onias to death of Antiochus). Antiochus makes the compact with many, the fallen Jews (v. 27).
4) The half week in v. 27 is 167-65, the time of desecration of the Temple.
But, there must be a reference to Christ also. We note that 9:24 is too grand - there was no everlasting justice, nor expiation of guilt after end of Antiochus. Now, St. Augustine wisely noted in City of God 17. 3, that some prophecies refer partly to OT events, partly to Christ - we know this when they do not fit either one perfectly. So 9:24 refers to Christ."A most holy" could refer to Onias if we think of Hebrew qadosh, one set aside for God - "a most holy" refers more fully and easily to Christ.
We add two details to the interpretation that takes the prophecy to refer to the period up to Antiochus:
1) The he in v. 27 may mean Antiochus making a deal with fallen Jews - but it might also vaguely refer to Jesus making the eternal covenant. After half a week Jesus abolishes the sacrifices of the old law, and starts the new regime.
2) V. 25 says seven weeks of years remain until Cyrus, God's anointed (as Isaiah 45:12 said, in the sense that God empowered him to crush Babylon and so to liberate the Jewish captives in 539). Jeremiah twice ( 25:11, dated in 605 BC, and 29:10, dated between 597 and 587, probably in 594) foretold the exile would last 70 years. From 594 to 539 is 55 years, not precisely seven weeks or 49 years. However, in this sort of prophecy that is a good enough approximation - we recall the case of Jonah 3:4 mentioned above.
We conclude: the prophecy of the seventy weeks works out rather well - with allowance for some approximation - in reference to the times leading up to Antiochus, yet verse 24 refers entirely to the time of Christ, and there may be vague allusions to that same time in verse 26.
From 10:1 to 11: 35 it is not hard to see a picture of the Hellenistic wars. But from 11:36 to the end of that chapter we meet many things that hardly fit Antiochus IV. The evil ruler in this passage magnifies himself above every god - this does not fit Antiochus, who put not a statue of himself but of Zeus in the Jerusalem temple. Verse 37 says he pays no attention to any god -again, this does not fit Antiochus. St. Jerome in his commentary on this passage thinks the figure is the Antichrist. Already in 8:17 the angel-interpreter told Daniel that the vision referred to the end-time. But we could make Antiochus a weak prefiguration of the horror of the Antichrist. In 11:45 the evil ruler will come to a sudden end, with no one to help him, seemingly at the beautiful holy mountain, which probably means Zion. But Antiochus met his end in Persia.
Some fanciful interpretations would make the "King of the North" in 11:40ff to be Russia.
Chapter 12 opens with a prediction of a great tribulation such as has never been before. This would fit with the time of the great Antichrist. Mt 24:21 speaks similarly of the tribulation at the end. There seems to a conflict between the angels in charge of various places, with Michael victorious.
In 12:2-3 as we saw above, a resurrection is clearly predicted. It is not clear if the "many" means the whole human race (cf. Hebrew rabbim), or only the Jews. Of course, it is true in itself that all persons will rise. We recall a similar prophecy in Isaiah 26:19. Chapter 12:4 tells Daniel to seal the prophecy, and says many will fall away and evil will increase: Again we are reminded of Mat 24:12, Lk 18. 8, and 2 Tim 3. ff.
We already examined above the strange words of 12:7. We add here: Daniel in verse 6 had asked how long it would be until these things would happen. The angel said it would be a time, and times, and half a time, which seems to stand for three and a half - a frequent symbolic number in the Book of Revelation.
Some who have tried to claim that the cessation of the sacrifice mentioned in 12:11 means there will come a time when the Mass will not be celebrated. At the time of the great Antichrist it may be forbidden, but surely will be celebrated secretly. Some who think they have the only true faith want to say we have no valid Mass today, because of the words over the chalice which are now "for all" and used to be "for many." People who make that claim are sadly deficient in faith. The fact that the Pope himself so often celebrates Mass in English with this wording - and in Italian too, where he says per tutti which means the same - this alone assures us the Mass is valid. Further what is really going on is that we now use the fact that Hebrew rabbim means "the all who are many". Every time St. Paul uses Greek polloi , which usually means many, he uses it to mean all. Cf. Romans 5:19 which speaks of original sin, which of course comes to all, not just to many.
We may have another case of multiple fulfillment: Antiochus did abolish the Jewish sacrifices during his persecution, and the great Antichrist is apt to forbid the Mass, though as we said, it will still be celebrated secretly then.
Appendix II: The New Age Movement
It is no secret that there is a New Age movement, which hopes to abolish all religion except its own, to take over the world, to make it necessary to have their credentials to buy or sell. The movement is not secret, because in many large cities there are bookstores which openly stock New Age books. A woman lawyer from Detroit, Constance Cumbey, has worked hard to report on it. Cf. her book: The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow (Huntington House, 1983). Her handling of Scripture is sadly fundamentalistic, yet she has uncovered most of the truth about the movement. The movement is promising to reveal a new Christ. This would fit with the prophecies of Our Lord Himself in Mt 24:5 of many false Christs to come, before and in addition to the great Antichrist.
Their plans certainly resemble the scene of Apocalypse 13, where two beasts arise out of the sea, and gain power over the world. The beasts could be two aspects of the great Antichrist.