JMC : The Christian Mind / by Dom Anscar Vonier, O.S.B.

Chapter XII.
The Christian Mind and Eternal Life.

To expect eternal life for the just, and as a reward of sanctity, belongs to the general Christian mind.

All religious men of all ages have hoped for a happy and never ending existence beyond the grave. Their efforts at representing the nature of that life have met with varying success.

Some men have seen more clearly than others what immortality of soul means for the just; but all good men have believed in the fundamental fact of immortality.

The Catholic doctrine of Beatific Vision is certainly the loftiest, as well as the truest expression of the state of the elect in the world to come. It is a doctrine that has been worked out as completely as human intellect can do it by the Christian Theologians. Yet glorious as it is, and sublime as it is, and though it was never grasped clearly except amongst Christians, I should not class it amongst the doctrines that are specifically Christian, as depending intrinsically on the doctrine of Incarnation. For there could be Beatific Vision even if God had not taken to Himself a human nature.

The argument and ground on which the holy men of all times have based their hopes for a blessed immortality also belong to the general Christian mind. Such arguments and motives of belief are partly inherent in our reasoning natures, and partly they are God's revelation. But they have no distinct connection with the fact that God became Incarnate.

Yet nothing could be more false than the conviction that the Incarnation has not brought us an entirely new set of views and doctrines and arguments, with regard to the great question of the fate of the just who live and die in the grace of Christ.

As there is the general Christian doctrine of eternal life, the specific Christian Mind moves in spheres unknown to the general Christian mind, when it thinks of man's Hereafter.

Christ's resurrection and ascension into Heaven constitute for the Christian Mind a ground of hope quite different from all other reasons of hoping, and the eternal life of the faithful Christian is a necessary concomitant of the glorious estate of the risen Christ.

Eternal life for the specific Christian Mind is essentially life in Christ, and life with Christ, a condition of existence that includes all other facts known to man about his own personal survivance. When he wants to have an irrefragable proof of the reality of eternal life for the just, the Christian turns for arguments not to philosophy, nor to the traditions of mankind, but he goes directly to Christ's sepulchre.

Christ is risen, and He will not die again, and this glorious fact settles forever all his hesitations and perplexities. He knows that there is such a thing as eternal life for man.

He may be well instructed in philosophy; he may be capable of reasoning out the logical necessity of immortality for man's spirit; he may be deeply impressed by the fact that all human goodness has always lived on the conviction that there is the great Hereafter; he may live on the generic Christian faith of retribution for the good in the land of the living. But all such supports and props to his mind hardly appear. His mind is suffused with the glory of Christ's resurrection, and eternal life is merely the radiance of the risen Son of God.

Christians ought to dread nothing more than a diminution of their faith in Christ's bodily resurrection, as such a diminution would be the loss of our chief and most congenial ground for belief in our own personal immortality.

For as Christians, and in virtue of our mystical incorporation with the Incarnate God, all our future hopes are based on Christ's resurrection.

Once more I say that we do not ignore other motives for holding the belief in man's survival after death; nowhere are such motives searched into, and probed, and held with greater reverence than in Catholic schools of thought. Yet when all has been said, the mental satisfaction derived from such meditations is as nothing, when compared with the overpowering conviction that there is eternal life for us, which comes to us from the constant contemplation o( the sweet mystery of Easter.

To speak and think lightly of the mystery of Christ's bodily rising from the dead, and to cling keenly to the merely philosophical grounds of belief in our soul's immortality is indeed to sell our birthright for the pottage of lentils. I do not enter here into the question whether it is possible for the human reason, in the long run, to hold logically, and as a deliberate conviction, any doctrines as to man's personal immortality, and reject at the same as an impossibility the dogma of Christ's resurrection.

I do not believe that faith in man's personal survival after death could have deep roots in a mind that recoils from the faith in Christ's resurrection.

All I need say here is that the doctrine of Christ's resurrection being a specifically Christian doctrine is of such a nature as to give us an unshakable assurance of our personal immortality: so that for us temptations of doubt and despair are best overcome, not so much by investigations into the philosophical grounds of the soul's immortality, as by meditating humbly on the sweet mystery of our Lord's resurrection.

Such is evidently St. Paul's mental attitude with regard to the motives why we should look forward, each of us, to a happy immortality. The resurrection of Christ establishes for ever the fact that the dead, at least those that died in Christ, will also rise.

A happy eternity in the mind of St. Paul is identical with fellowship in Christ's resurrection.

"For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even so them who have slept through Jesus will God bring with him" (i. Thess. iv. 13).

The powerful reasoning of St. Paul in the fifteenth chapter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians establishes the general truth, that there is a resurrection awaiting Christ's disciples, on the fact that Christ rose from the dead, Who is "the first fruits of them that sleep".

St. Paul's mind at first sight seems to move in a way that is the inversion of the movements of the ordinary logical mind.

The ordinary logical mind would deduce the fact of one individual being's resurrection from the general truth that there is a resurrection whilst St. Paul deduces the general truth of universal resurrection from the particular fact that Christ rose.

But the inversion is merely apparent.

As Christ's resurrection is the cause of all other resurrections, it is really something vaster, something more general and more universal than the general truth of the resurrection of all the just. "For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive" (i. Cor. xv. 21-22).

There is no question as to St. Paul's mental outlook. For him, eternal life and eternal happiness simply mean participation in Christ's resurrection.

"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection" (Phil. iii. 10).

Several doubts might occur to the reader, when he is told that for the specific Christian Mind, the whole question of the world to come resolves itself into a keen realisation of the mystery of Christ's resurrection.

It might be argued that the doctrine of our Lord's resurrection with its effects on our own happy immortality, leaves entirely untouched the general question whether the souls of all men, good or bad, are immortal.

Christ's resurrection, in the mind of St. Paul, seems to have a direct bearing only on the fate of the elect.

To this I answer, that the Christian Mind is not merely a speculative turn of thought, but is essentially a practical view of each one's spiritual interests.

As the eternal loss of the reprobate has nothing to do with me practically, I am fully justified in reading the great question of my own eternal future in the light of Christ's resurrection, as my own future is entirely decided, and shaped by it, and by nothing else. Whether the doctrine of Christ's resurrection settles all the eschatological questions of mankind, is a point that need not be discussed here. It certainly can solve all such questions as far as they have reference to me.

Then it might be said that the doctrine of Christ's resurrection is more a doctrine for the body, than for the soul. It does not directly encourage the belief that man's soul is immortal through its own innate elements.

To this I reply, that Christ's resurrection implies all and everyone of the conclusions of human philosophy and of the consensus of mankind as well as the facts of the broader Revelation to man with regard to the nature of our immortal souls.

Resurrection means the survival of the soul after death, as well as the quickening of the body.

The power, and the life, and the selfconsciousness of Christ's soul, after the death on the cross, constituted one of the great Christian dogmas, the descent into the lower world of the just spirits, with its illuminating and saving power for the souls detained in the expectancy of the Redemption.

"Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit. In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison: Which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noe, when the ark was a building: wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water" (i. Pet. iii. 18-21).

The departure of Christ's soul from the body, its selfconscious existence, its power of enlightenment, its return to the body are all part of the resurrection mystery.

No man could believe in Christ's resurrection without his apprehending most clearly the natural immortality of the human soul.

It would seem lastly, that faith in Christ's Resurrection does not of necessity imply a revelation of the more spiritual factors of eternal life, such as the clear vision of God; it would seem as if the resurrection were of the secondary order of spiritual realities, it being directly the glorification of the body, not of the soul. So it would seem as if Christ's resurrection could not be to us the glorious summary of all our hopes.

Such is the objection, and common as it is, it reveals a very great ignorance of the conditions and glories of our new life in Christ. If any thing is clear, it is the fact that the bodily resurrection of Christ, and our bodily resurrection, in Him, is eternal life to the mind of St. Paul. It means the totality of our hopes, not only the possession of a secondary happiness.

Resurrection, in Apostolic language, is everything, glory of the soul, and glory of the body, triumph over the world, and vision of God.

The above quotation from St. Peter's Epistle is followed by a very clear statement as to the universality of glories implied in this one thing, Christ's resurrection.

"Whereunto baptism being of the like form, now saveth you also: not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the examination of a good conscience towards God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Who is on the right hand of God, swallowing down death, that we might be made heirs of life everlasting: being gone into Heaven, the angels and powers and virtues being made subject to him." (i. Pet. iii. 21. 22).

Christ Himself quite plainly identifies the mystery of man's resurrection on the last day with the mystery of man's adoption as God's child.

"And Jesus said to them: The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives. . . . Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection (St. Luke xx. 34-36).

If anything is certain, it is the fact that in the New Testament language the idea of resurrection as applied to Christ and to His elect, though it be primarily the mystery of the quickening of the body, is not a secondary spiritual factor, but is the main factor, of our glorious Hereafter.

Eternal life is simply stated as being the resurrection from the dead. It is said sometimes that through the resurrection, both in the case of Christ and His elect, a merely accidental joy and glory accrues to the human nature. Such language is hardly scriptural.

Everywhere the mystery of the resurrection is spoken of as the great crowning of God's works in the natural and supernatural order, an act of God that brings with itself every other glory, every fulness of divine life.

"Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ: Knowing that Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall no more have dominion over him. For in that he died to sin, he died once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God" (Rom. vi. 8-10).

This then is the essentially Christian attitude of mind with regard to our future life: a keen love, and a profound grasp of the great dogma of Christ's resurrection.

It gives wonderful definiteness to all our hopes and aspirations. It makes of the Son of God the end of all our longings, and never the means towards something outside the Son of God, however lofty that something may be.

Our eternity is merely the participation in Christ's risen life. No words could be a better conclusion to these considerations than Christ's own confident and unequivocal assertion, in His last prayer:

"Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me: that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world" (St. John xvii. 24).

Christ's eternal glory could not be put in more forcible terms. There is only one further remark before drawing this chapter to a close. The doctrine of Christ's bodily resurrection, and consequently the doctrine of our own bodily resurrection, means infinitely more than we commonly imagine.

It means the complete glorification of human nature, in soul and body. Catholic theology knows well how to distinguish between final glorification and other states of sanctity and happiness.

Thus our Lord on earth had Beatific Vision, and yet, before the hour of His resurrection. He was not a glorified being, and did not enjoy the supereminent happiness of a glorified being.

On the other hand, the Saints whose souls are in Heaven now, before the great waking up of the last resurrection comes, have Beatific Vision and happiness. But it could not be said that they are in a state of glorification. Such a state will become theirs on that great day, and what they possess now is a partial anticipation of it.

These considerations ought to help us to understand better why the resurrection is, after all, the one idea that ought to stand for eternal life in minds well educated in the mystery of Christ.

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