(c) Copyright 1994 by William G. Most
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 Thes 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: 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 Thes. 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
Thes and 2 Thes are about equally strong. And the arguments from the text of
1 Thes 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 Thes 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. Apocalypse/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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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 Kubler-Ross, who 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 Kubler-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.
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
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
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. Kubler-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 unbaptized?" 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:
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,
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 Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) the excuse
of those on the left that they did not know they did not help the Judge is
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 theologie 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
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-
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
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
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
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 St. 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
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 revelation. Yet he wanted to show most
unusual approval of it. And we notice the wording of the great promise:
"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
perseverance: it adds that they will not die outside of grace, but will
have final penitence. His omnipotence of course can bring that about in
spite 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 of 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
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
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,
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 and disbelief embodied in the
sin of our first parents. Thus teach the Fathers of the Church and
especially St. Irenaeus, quoted by 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 text 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
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
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
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
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,
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):
"I closed her eyes. And there flowed into my heart an immense grief,
and it flowed over into tears and at the same time my eyes, by a forceful
command of my mind, soaked up again this font even to dryness. . . . for we
did not think it proper to observe that death with tearful plaints and
groans, for in this way, the misery of those who die is usually deplored,
or their total extinction. . . . in your ears, where none of them heard, I
reproached the softness of my emotion, and restrained the flow of grief,
and it yielded to me a bit, but again rushed on by its own force, not as
far as breaking out into tears, or to a change of facial expression. And
because it displeased me greatly that these human things had so much power
over me. . . and I grieved with another grief over my grief, and was torn by a
Later he took a bath, thinking it would relieve his grief. But the
"I gradually brought back my former thoughts of your handmaid, and her
way of life, devoted to you and holy, sweet and accommodating to us - of
which I was suddenly deprived. And it pleased me to weep in your sight over
her and for her, over me and for me. And I let go the tears I was holding
in, so that they might flow forth as much as they willed, putting them as a
bed beneath my heart, and I rested in them. . . . And now Lord, I confess to
you in this writing. Let him who wishes read, and interpret as he wishes.
And if he finds it a sin that I wept for my mother for a small part of an
hour, my mother meanwhile dead to my eyes, who had wept for me for many
years so I might live to you - let him not laugh, but rather, if he has
great charity, let him weep for my sins to you, the Father of all the
brothers of your Christ."
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 judgment, 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
"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 passage 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 Abbe 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
predestination 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 Melanchton 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 of 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
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 A. D. 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: it 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 judgment. 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 missionary 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 reported men who had committed murder without clear
premeditation had the lowest levels of the breakdown product [of serotonin]
known as 5-hydroxyuindoleacetic acid of 5-HIAA. Science News of April 16,
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
Again, there is a sort of spiral going downward when a soul sins much
over a period of time. It grow 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
drunk 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 established means for
dividing people into two groups. One group, by living vigorously according
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. If 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
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 by 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
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 consistently 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. Augsburg, 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
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 its 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
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 retraction 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
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 dispositions
are needed. For it is one thing for God to be willing to give what Christ
fully paid for - another things for us humans 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 great 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
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 possible 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 Congress (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 Protestant 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
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 only in her [niqdashti]."
It is within the covenant that God both rewards and punishes. So Psalm
36:10: "Keep 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
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, even though he was in good faith, and thought it was legitimate. And
St. Paul in 1 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 canceling 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. Buchler, 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 Paul 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
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 sinner 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 positively
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 sufferings 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 Jesus-Christ, Cerf, Paris, 1981, p. 88 agrees with
Such an acceptance is splendidly sound from the psychological point of
view. For what is called flight from reality is psychologically 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
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 attract 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 what 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 a
current into the coil; the needle swings the right direction and the right
amount, measuring the current. It will read accurately if there is no
outside pull. But suppose nearby there is a 33,000 volt power line, or a
mass of magnetic steel. The 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 pull may
take over, drown out the effect of the current in the coil. Now the si
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 point that, 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 a particular good
thing 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 be 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
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
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
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.
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. Form 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
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
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 sons 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
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
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;
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
But whose flesh would it be 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 non-conservative 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 B. C. )
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
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. And 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
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
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, Commentary on
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
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
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
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
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
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 underlined 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
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. I 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
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
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 abridgment 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 A. D. Josephus however puts Theudas in
the 40's A. D. 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 A. D. 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 A. D. (Annals
12:43); in Campania and especially Pompeii in 62 A. D. (Annals 15: 22).
Seneca the philosopher and Josephus also tell of earthquakes.
Jesus also foretold persecutions. There were many of those long before
70 A. D. , 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 A. D. 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
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'unite 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
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
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
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
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
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
In chapter 9 we meet the famous enigmatic prophecy of 70 weeks of
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 B.C. minus 62 weeks (434 years) extends to 171 B.C., 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
4) The half week in v.27 is 167-65, the time of desecration of the
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
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 B.C., 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
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
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.