279. Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell are usually called the Four Last Things. These subjects may well give us thought: enough of them is made known to man to make it his highest interest to guide his whole life by these beacon lights; but the Holy Spirit has not been pleased to reveal the answers to many questions that are suggested on such matters to an inquisitive mind. Meanwhile the obscurity which hangs over the tomb is well suited to foster a salutary fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 110).
280. I. Of Death we know that "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Hebr. IX, 27); this is the sentence pronounced upon our race since Adam's sin, without whose fall we should have been exempted from this natural termination of animal life (nn. 174, 176). Hemmoch and Elias are the only men of whom it is written that they left the earth without dying (Ecclus. XLIV, 16; 4 Kings II, 11). We know not where they are but we see no reason to suppose that they will ultimately be exempt from the sentence of death, to which the Saviour Himself deigned to submit. When we read that Christ shall judge "the living and the dead", we must, it appears, understand by "the living" those who shall be alive at the beginning of the universal destruction. The time, manner, etc. of each man's death are most uncertain, so that Christ warns us to be ever ready: "For at what hour you think not, the Son of man shall come" (Luke XII, 40).
281. II. "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom. XIV, 10). A Particular Judgment comes to each one immediately after death. While most Protestants appear to have very misty views on this subject, all Catholics are agreed on it, as on a certain doctrine of Tradition. This is founded on the obvious meaning of many texts of Scripture, such as these "After this (death), the judgment" (Hebr. IX, 27); "The rich man died, and was buried in hell" (Luke XVI, 22); "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" (ib. XXIII, 43); Judas had "gone to his place" before his successor was elected (Acts I, 25). All these must have been judged immediately after death, and the sentence was at once executed; as Ecclesiasticus also implies, saying It is easy before God in the day of death to reward every one according to his ways" (XI, 28). As to the immediate execution of the sentence, we have an explicit definition of Pope Benedict XII., in the fourteenth century, teaching that the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go at once to hell.
282. III. The word "Hell" has various meanings; we use it here to designate the place where the reprobate are punished forever. That there must be rewards and punishments after death, is a dictate of reason which all men have ever acknowledged. For a just and wise God must appoint such sanction of His laws as will make it every one's highest interest to observe them; but such is not always the case in this life, in which the wicked often triumph over the good; therefore rewards and punishments must be provided beyond the grave. That those punishments must be eternal, is the clear and emphatic teaching of Christ and His Church. For we say in the Athanasian Creed "Those who have done evil shall go into eternal fire"; Christ shall say to the condemned: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire" (Matt. XXV, 41); while on earth, He cautioned sinners against giving scandal, by three times in succession declaring the existence of "unquenchable fire, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished" (Mark IX, 22-27). On the interpretations of these texts, Tradition is uniform, and cannot be contradicted without rashness. It declares the "worm" to signify remorse, or mental anguish, but "the fire" to be in a true sense a creature distinct from the sufferer, and a source of excruciating torture to him. Its nature is unknown to us, as St. Augustine avowed it was to him (De Civ. Dei, XX, 16). Besides the pain of sense, of which the fire is the chief source, there is also the pain of loss, or the utter disappointment of all hopes and frustration of all desires; it is depicted in an impressive passage of the Book of Wisdom, where the reprobate lament their utter discomfiture (V, 2-14). If a sin is not great enough to deserve eternal pain, it is then not a mortal sin, and will be atoned for in purgatory.
283. IV. Heaven is the place of eternal and perfect happiness, to which Christ will invite the just, saving to them "Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. XXV, 34). It is to last forever; for Christ adds that the just shall go into life everlasting" (ib., 46); and in the Apostles' Creed we profess belief in "life everlasting". It is to produce perfect happiness, or beatitude, which will leave no desire unsatisfied. This beatitude will result from the clear vision of God, which is therefore called the "beatific vision" "We now see through a glass, in a dark manner, but then face to face" (1 Cor. XIII, 12); "We shall be like unto Him (to God) because we shall see Him as He is" (1 Jo. III, 2). We cannot see God thus by our own power; for "God is an invisible King" (1 Tim. I, 17); but we shall be enlightened by the supernatural "light of glory", as truly as our eyes on earth are enabled to see bodies by the rays of material light. In this vision of God will consist the essential happiness of the Blessed. There will also be sources of accidental happiness, such as the splendor and the love of the sacred Humanity of Christ and of His holy Mother, the fellowship of the Saints, the beauty of the place, which is described in the Apocalypse (XXI, 18-25); to all this will be added after the Resurrection the pleasures of the glorified senses, etc.: "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what God bath prepared for those that love Him" (1 Cor. II, 9). It is of faith that there are various degrees of grace and consequent union with God, as was defined at Florence: for "God will render to every one according to his works" (Matt. XVI, 27); and "He that soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he that soweth in blessings shall also reap in blessings" (2 Cor. IX, 6). The conspicuous victors in the race are spoken of as adorned with the aureolae of Virgins, of Martyrs, and of Doctors, according to the special virtues in which they shall have excelled.
284. St. John says of Heaven that "there shall not enter into it any thing defiled" (Ap. XXI, 27); and yet in many things we all offend" (James III, 2); therefore reason pleads for a place of further purgation after death. Besides, the temporal punishment for sin often remains after its guilt has been remitted (n. 263). The second Book of Machabees explicitly declares it to be "a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins" (XII, 46). We also find inscriptions in the early Catacombs containing prayers for the departed. St. Augustine prayed for the repose of the soul of his mother, St. Monica. In fact, Tradition is clear and copious on the subject. Therefore, the Creed of Pope Pius IV. (n. 122, 5) professes that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful. This is the only defined teaching of the Church on the matter. But the Reformers found in the doctrine of Purgatory a complete refutation of their leading tenet of "salvation by faith alone". Besides, the preaching of certain indulgences had been the first occasion of opposition to Rome. For these two reasons, they assailed this belief with especial acrimony; misconception of the Catholic doctrine in subsequent times perpetuated the prejudice. But a return to sober thought is rapidly dispelling the mists of error; many Protestants are resuming prayers for the departed, while the Universalists have converted the doctrine of an eternal hell into that of a general Purgatory, through which any sinner may ultimately reach Heaven.
285. Besides the Particular Judgment, which takes place for each man immediately after death (n. 281), there will be a General Judgment for all mankind at the consummation of the world: "When the Son of man shall come in His majesty, and all the Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His majesty, and all the nations shall be gathered together before Him" (Matt. XXV, 31-33). The purposes of that Judgment are obvious: the wisdom of God's dealings with men will thus be publicly vindicated; the blessed Saviour formerly so shamefully rejected by His own, so outraged in His Person, so bitterly persecuted in His followers, will appear triumphant; His spouse, the Church, now, like her Lord, so maligned and illtreated, will then be exhibited in her spotless beauty; all the just will be glorified, and the wicked overwhelmed with confusion.
The signs which will announce the approachiug Judgment are strikiiigly predicted in the 24th chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel; they are, however, mixed up with forewarnings concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, which was intended as a figure of the final catastrophe; and a terrible image it is of the Day of Doom. The 25th chapter of the same Gospel gives a graphic description of the Last Judgment itself, with the sentence to be there pronounced. It is not necessary that we should now understand the exact manner in which all these prophecies will be verified, nor does the Church profess to do so. Enough is known now, or shall be known in due time, to answer the purposes of Divine Wisdom. About the time when the Last Day shall come, we know nothing: "Of that day and hour no one knoweth, no not the Angels in Heaven; but the Father alone" (Matt. XXIV, 36); it was not a part of the mission of Christ to reveal it to the world.
286. One important feature of the Last Judgment is so distinctly predicted that it has been made an article of the Apostles' Creed, "The Resurrection of the Body"; this is the finishing stroke to the great work of the Redemption, since it totally undoes the work accomplished by Satan in Paradise. Christ has clearly announced it: "All that are in the graves shall hear the voice of God: and they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of the judgment" (Jo. V, 28, 29). The Resurrection occupied a most prominent place in the preaching of the Apostles. In particular, it is dwelt upon with much insistence of argument in the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. To the curious question, "How do the dead rise again? or with what manner of body shall they come?" the Apostle answers reproachfully: "Senseless man, that which thou sowest is not quickened unless it die first. So also in the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory; it is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power. It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body. . . . And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. . . . Thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (35-54).
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