E-text prepared by David McClamrock
THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN
By a Father of the Society of Jesus
F. J. BOUDREAUX (Requiescat in pace)
"Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you."—Matth. xxv. 34.
I, Ferdinand Coosemans, Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Missouri, in virtue of power granted to me by the Very Reverend P. Beck, Superior General of the same Society, hereby permit the publication of a book entitled: "THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN, by a Father of the Society of Jesus;" the same having been approved by the censors appointed by me to revise it.
St. Louis, Mo., 1 Nov., 1870. F. Coosemans, S.J.
Liber supradictus, cum a Censoribus Nostris fuerit jam probatus, imprimatur.
+ MARTINUS JOANNES, Archiep. Baltimor.
Entered, according to an Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by John Murphy & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
Baltimore: Published by John Murphy & Co. New York: Catholic Publication Society. 1872.
PUBLISHERS' PREFACE TO THE SECOND REVISED EDITION.
It seldom falls to the lot of a Catholic Publisher to issue from his press a book, which, while it possesses the true, substantial merit of genuine Catholic literature, is at the same time graced with the novelty, the absorbing interest which at once command the attention on the Public, and place the book in a high and permanent position before the world. Such has been our good fortune in the publication of "THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN"—and of this no better proof can be required than the unprecedented sale of 3000 copies, constituting the first edition, in less than sixty days, and the constantly increasing demand which already calls forth this second edition. Few books have been more warmly welcomed by the Press, both Catholic and non-Catholic, than "The Happiness of Heaven;" fewer still have proved, in the perusal, more worthy of the praises bestowed by Reviewers, or have borne out the character which favorable critics had assigned. Of this work it may be said with truth, that the highest praise falls short of its merit, the most favorable critic has not said too much in its commendation. And this promises to be more than an ephemeral popularity—the book will live—it will be read with pleasure and profit, as long as genuine Catholic literature finds readers.
It is a book which was long wanted: a thorough, systematic treatise on a subject of the most vital importance: a book which gives us all that Catholic Theology teaches about heaven, and gives it in an authentic shape, with text, references and citations in all scholastic completeness; and yet in a form adapted to the humblest capacity. It is indeed, as one of its reviewers so happily calls it, "The spiritual Geography of heaven, giving us such a knowledge of that blessed country, as we can acquire at this distance," and showing forth its beauties, its loveliness, its thousandfold bliss in a manner so clear, so winning, so unconquerably attractive, that earth pales into insignificance before those dazzling splendors, and our hearts long to be where our real treasure is. When we have read this book and studied it, (for a single perusal of it will not satisfy us,) we know something of that heavenly Paradise which is to be the eternal abode of the Elect, and knowing it, we must love and desire it,—we must submit with patience, if not with joy, to the trials of this life, which are to be there so gloriously rewarded,—we must sigh for the moment which is to admit us into that Paradise of endless delights and of imperishable beauty.
Let then this book go forth on its mission of consolation and encouragement to the sorrowing and suffering poor: it will teach them to prize their sorrows and their afflictions as the virgin gold of which their crown is to be formed, and the brilliant gems which are to adorn it forever. Let it go to the counting-house of the merchant, to the desk of the banker—and they will know that there is another and a truer wealth more worthy of their ambition. Let the great ones of the earth learn from it that their honors are a deceit and a snare; that one sigh for Eternity, one moment spent in the service of God, purchase greater glory than all the crowns and sceptres of earth can bestow. Let those whose lives are consecrated to the task of teaching young hearts to love God, of recalling the wanderer to the paths of his duty, of battling with the errors of worldly wisdom and the passions of the depraved human heart,—let them gather from this book not only the motives which will be powerful over the souls of men, but also the strength and courage which they themselves need in their toils for the good of their neighbor. In a word, let all study this precious volume:—Catholics and Protestants, the learned and the ignorant, the old and the young, the innocent youth still arrayed in the spotless garment of his baptismal purity, and the unhappy sinner who has grown old in wickedness and whose soul has lost almost all hope of peace;—there is instruction for all, comfort and joy, encouragement and hope for all if they will but make a proper use of such means as God has given them, and live here without forgetting that they are destined for a glorious hereafter.
We have but a word to add in regard to the present edition:—several alterations and improvements have been introduced into the work by the Author, which enhance its value and render it more deserving the patronage it has already received.
THE PUBLISHERS. BALTIMORE, June 17, 1871.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
Many books, owing to their special character, are designed for only a small circle of readers. But topics involving general and vital interests deservedly claim the attention of all persons. Such is the subject of the present work—"The Happiness of Heaven." For who is he that, believing in the existence of that blessed abode, does not hope eventually to arrive there?
What sublime descriptions do not the Holy Scriptures give us of the blessed City of God! Her wails are built of jasper-stone; but the City itself is of pure and shining gold, like to clear crystal glass. And the foundations of the City are adorned with all manner of precious stones. Her gates are pearls. The very streets are transparent as glass. This glorious City has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in her; for the glory of God is her light.
In the midst of her sits the Ancient of days: His garments are white as snow: His throne is like flames of fire. Thousands and thousands minister unto him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stand before Him. A river of life-giving water, as clear as crystal, whose banks are adorned with the tree of life, issues from the throne of God. The Blessed drink of the torrent of pleasure, and are inebriated with the plenty of the house of God. All tears are wiped away from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.
And, when we are assured that no mortal eye hath seen nor ear heard, nor heart of man conceived the happiness prepared for God's children, we must conclude that the magnificent language describing the heavenly Jerusalem is only symbolical; that the Holy Ghost speaks of the most precious and beautiful things we know, in order to raise our minds to the reality which they faintly represent. It has been the aim of the author of the following pages to discover the meaning concealed under those enticing figures. In his exposition of "The Happiness of Heaven," he has endeavored to follow the teachings of the most approved theologians of the Church. Moreover, mindful that our Divine Model spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in parables, he has laid aside, as far as possible, the technical language of the schools, and has replaced it by illustrations, which are better adapted to the capacity of all.
Should the worshipper of mammon, on perusing these pages, pause in his headlong course, to think of "treasures which neither the moth nor rust consumes;" should the votary of pleasure be induced to sigh after the joys that pass not away; should the poor and the afflicted of every description, cast a lingering, longing glance toward that blessed region where sorrow is unknown; should those who have consecrated themselves to God be incited to a greater perfection and to a desire of a higher degree of glory in heaven, the writer will deem himself amply rewarded for his labor.
I. The Beatific Vision
II. In the Beatific Vision, "We shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is."
III. In the Beatific Vision, our Intellect is glorified, and our Thirst for Knowledge completely gratified
IV. In the Beatific Vision, our Will is also to be glorified, and then we shall be happy in loving and being loved
V. The Beauty and Glory of the Risen Body
VI. The Spirituality of the Risen Body
VII. The Impassibility and Immortality of the Risen Body
VIII. Several Errors to be avoided in our Meditations on Heaven
IX. The Life of the Blessed in Heaven
X. Pleasures of the Glorified Senses
XI. Social Joys of Heaven
XII. Will the Knowledge that some of our own are lost, mar our happiness in Heaven?
XIII. The Light of Glory
XIV. Degrees of Happiness in Heaven
XV. Degrees of Enjoyment through the Glorified Senses
XVI. The Glory of Jesus and Mary
XVII. The Glory of the Martyrs
XVIII. The Glory of the Doctors and Confessors
XIX. The Glory of Virgins and Religious
XX. The Glory of Penitents and Pious People
XXI. The Eternity of Heaven's Happiness
THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN.
THE BEATIFIC VISION.
Reason, revelation, and the experience of six thousand years unite their voices in proclaiming that perfect happiness cannot be found in this world. It certainly cannot be found in creatures; for they were not clothed with the power to give it. It cannot be found even in the practice of virtue; for God has, in His wisdom, decreed that virtue should merit, but never enjoy perfect happiness in this world. He has solemnly pledged himself to give "eternal life" to all who love and serve him here on earth. He has promised a happiness so unspeakably great, that the Apostle, who "was caught up into paradise," and was favored with a glimpse thereof, tells us that mortal "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him."*
* 1 Cor. xi. 9.
This happiness—which is now so incomprehensible to us—is none other than the possession and enjoyment of God himself in the Beatific Vision, as well as the perfect satisfaction of every rational craving of our nature in the glorious resurrection of the body. It is on this glorious happiness we are going to meditate; and first, we shall endeavor to obtain a definite idea of the Beatific Vision, which is the essential constituent of heavenly bliss.
In meditating upon the happiness in store for the children of God, we are very apt to build up a heaven of our own, which naturally takes the shape and color which our sorrows, needs, and sufferings lend thereto. The poor man, for instance, who has suffered mutely from toil and want, looks upon heaven as a place of rest, abounding with all that can satisfy the cravings of nature. Another, who has often endured the pangs of disease, looks upon it as a place where he shall enjoy perpetual health of body and mind. Another again, who, in the practice of virtue, has had all manner of temptations from the devil, the world, and his own flesh, delights in viewing heaven as a place totally free from temptation, where the danger, or even the possibility of sin, shall be no more.
All these, and other similar views of heaven, are true, inasmuch as they represent it as a place entirely free from evil and suffering, and, at the same time, as an abode of positive happiness. Nevertheless, they are all imperfect views, because not one of them takes in the whole of heavenly bliss, such as God has revealed it to us. They all ignore the Beatific Vision, which is the essential happiness of heaven.
But even among those who look upon heaven as a place where we shall see God, very few indeed understand what is implied in the vision of God. They imagine that we shall simply gaze upon an object whose surpassing perfection will make us happy in a way which they do not understand. These last do not fully comprehend what is meant by the Beatific Vision, though they view heaven as a place where we shall see God. Let us, therefore, endeavor to understand what faith and theology teach us concerning the Beatific Vision. We shall see that it is the essential happiness of the blessed which not only fills them with the purest and completest satisfaction, but that it is, moreover, in virtue of this Beatific Vision that they are enabled to enjoy the additional or secondary pleasures which cluster around the throne of God.
Theologians divide the happiness of heaven into essential and accidental. By essential is meant the happiness which the soul receives immediately from God in the Beatific Vision. By accidental are meant the additional pleasures or joys which come to the blessed from creatures. Thus, when our Blessed Lord says: "There shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner doing penance," He evidently means a new joy, which the blessed did not possess until sorrow for sin entered that sinner's heart. They were already happy in the Beatific Vision, and would not have lost the slightest degree of their blessedness, even if that sinner had never repented of his sins. Still, they experience a new joy in his conversion, because therein they see God glorified; and, moreover, they have reason to look for an additional brother or sister to share their bliss. Yet, although the blessed do rejoice in the conversion of the sinner, they do so in virtue of the Beatific Vision—without which they could receive no additional pleasure from creatures. Therefore the Beatific Vision is not only the essential happiness of heaven, but it is also that which imparts to the saints the power of appropriating all the other inferior joys wherewith God completes the blessedness of his children. As this is a point of importance, we shall endeavor to understand it more clearly by an illustration.
A man who is gifted with perfect health of body and mind, not only enjoys life itself, but he likewise receives pleasure from the beauties of nature from literature, amusements, and society. Now, suppose he loses his health, and is thrown on a bed of sickness. He is no longer able to enjoy either life itself or its pleasures. What is all the beauty of earthly or heavenly objects to him now? What are amusements, and all the joys of sense, which formerly delighted him so much? All these things are now unable to give him any pleasure; because he has lost his health, which afforded him the power of appropriating the pleasures of life. Therefore, we say that health is essentially necessary, not only to enjoy life itself, but also to relish its pleasures. So too in heaven. The Beatific Vision is necessary not only to enjoy the very life of heaven, but likewise to enjoy the accidental glory wherewith God perfects the happiness of his elect. What, then, is this Beatific Vision? Is it an eternal gazing upon God? Is it an uninterrupted "Ah!" of admiration? Or is it a sight of such overpowering grandeur as to deprive us of consciousness, and throw us into a state of dreamy inactivity? We shall see.
"Beatific Vision" is composed of three Latin words, beatus, happy; facio, I make; and visio, a sight; all of which taken together make up and mean a happy-making sight. Therefore, in its very etymology, Beatific Vision means a sight which contains in itself the power of banishing all pain, all sorrow from the beholder, and of infusing, in their stead, joy and happiness. We shall now analyze it, and see wherein it consists; for it is only by doing so that we can arrive at the clear idea of it, which we are seeking.
Theologians tell us that the Beatific Vision, considered as a perfect and permanent state, consists of three acts which are so many elements essential to its integrity and perfection. These are, first, the sight or vision of God; secondly, the love of God; and thirdly, the enjoyment of God. These three acts, though really distinct from each other, are not separable; for, if even one of them be excluded, the Beatific Vision no longer exists in its integrity. We shall now say a few words on each of these constituents of heavenly bliss.
1. First, the sight or vision of God means that the intellect which is the noblest faculty of the soul is suddenly elevated by the light of glory, and enabled to see God as He is, by a clear and unclouded perception of his Divine Essence. It is, therefore, a vision in which the soul sees God, face to face; not indeed with the eyes of the body, but with the intellect. For God is a Spirit, and cannot be seen with material eyes. And if our bodily eyes were necessary for that vision, we could not see God until the day of judgment; for it is only then that our eyes will be restored to us. Hence, it is the soul that sees God; but then, she sees Him more clearly and perfectly than she can now see anything with her material eyes.
This vision of God is an intellectual act by which the soul is filled to overflowing with an intuitive knowledge of God; a knowledge so perfect and complete that all the knowledge of Him attainable, in this world, by prayer and study, is like the feeble glimmer of the lamp compared to the dazzling splendor of the noonday sun.
This perfect vision, or knowledge of God, is not only the first essential element of the Beatific Vision, but it is, moreover, the very root or fountainhead of the other acts which are necessary for its completeness. Thus we say of the sun that he is the source of the light, heat, life, and beauty of this material world; for, if he were blotted out from the heavens, this now beautiful world would, in one instant, be left the dark and silent grave of every living creature. This is only a faint image of the darkness and sadness which would seize upon the blessed, could we suppose that God would at any time withdraw from them the clear and unclouded vision of Himself. Therefore, we say, that the vision of the Divine Essence is the root or source of the Beatific Vision.
Yet, although this is true, it does not follow that the vision of the Divine Essence constitutes the whole Beatific Vision; for the human mind cannot rest satisfied with knowledge alone, how perfect soever it may be. It must also love and enjoy the object of its knowledge. Therefore, the vision of God produces the two other acts which we shall now briefly consider.*
* Dico 1. Essentiam beatitudinis formalis primo ac principaliter consistere in clara Dei visione, in qua, quasi in fonte ac radice tota beatitudinis perfectio continetur. Est enim praecipua ac perfectissima animae operatio in ratione consecutionis finis ultima, et immediate cum ipsius conjunctione, ac forma essentialiter distinguens statum beatum a non beato.... Tamen, dico 2: Amor charitatis et amicitiae divinae est simpliciter necessarius, ut homo sit supernaturaliter perfecte beatus: atque ita absolute est de ipsius beatitudinis essentia.—Suarez de Beat. Disput. 7.
2. The second element of the Beatific Vision is an act of perfect and inexpressible love. It is the sight or knowledge of God as He is, that produces this love; because it is impossible for the soul to see God in his divine beauty, goodness, and unspeakable love for her, without loving Him with all the power of her being. It were easier to go near an immense fire and not feel the heat, than to see God in His very essence, and yet not be set on fire with divine love. It is, therefore, a necessary act; that is, one which the blessed could not possibly withhold, as we now can do in this world. For, with our imperfect vision of God, as He is reflected from the mirror of creation, we can, and unfortunately do withhold our love from him even when the light of faith is superadded to the knowledge we may have of him from the teachings of nature. Not so in heaven. There, the blessed see God as He is; and therefore, they love Him spontaneously, intensely, and supremely.
3. The third element of the Beatific Vision is an act of excessive joy, which proceeds spontaneously from both the vision and the love of God. It is an act by which the soul rejoices in the possession of God, who is the Supreme Good. He is her own God, her own possession, and in the enjoyment of Him her cravings for happiness are completely gratified. Evidently, then, the Beatific Vision necessarily includes the possession of God; for without it, this last act could have no existence, and the happiness of the blessed would not be complete, could we suppose it to have existence at all. A moment's reflection will make this as evident as the light of day.
A beggar, for instance, gazes upon a magnificent palace, filled with untold wealth, and all that can gratify sense. Does the mere sight of it make him happy? It certainly does not, because it is not, and never can be his. He may admire its grand architecture and exquisite workmanship, and thus receive some trifling pleasure; but, as he can never call that palace nor its wealth his own, the mere gazing upon it, and even loving its beauty, can never render him happy. For this, the possession of it is essential.
Again, the starving beggar gazes upon the rich man's table loaded with every imaginable luxury. Does that mere sight relieve the pangs of hunger? It certainly does not. It rather adds to his wretchedness, by intensifying his hunger, without satisfying its cravings. Even so would it be in heaven, could we suppose a soul admitted there, and allowed to gaze upon the beauty of God, while she cannot possess or enjoy Him. Such a sight would be no Beatific Vision for her. The possession of God is, therefore, absolutely necessary in order that the soul may enjoy Him, and rest in him as her last end. Hence, the act of seeing God is also the act by which the blessed possess God, and enter into the joy of their Lord.*
* Si generatim loquamur, verum est quod visio, ut visio, non sit possessio. Nam visio, ut sic, solum dicit claram cognitionem objecti visi. Possessio autem significat habere et tenere objectum, eo modo, quo natum est haberi et genera. Jam vero, quia Deus non aliter potest a nobis haberi et teneri quam per visionem, ideo fit, ut visio sortiatur nomen et officium possessionis respectu Dei.—Becanus, de Beat. quaest. 3.
But this is not yet all. We have been considering the acts by which the soul appropriates God to herself; meanwhile, we must not forget that the active concurrence of God is as essential in the Beatific Vision as the action of the creature. The Beatific Vision means, therefore, that God not only enables the soul to see Him in all his surpassing beauty, but also that he takes her to his bosom as a beloved child, and bestows upon her the happiness which mortal eye cannot see. It means, furthermore, that God unites the soul to Himself in so wonderful and intimate a manner, that, without losing her created nature or personal identity, she is transformed into God, according to the forcible expression of St. Peter, when he asserts that we are "made partakers of the divine nature."* This is the highest glory to which a rational nature can be elevated, if we except the glory of the hypostatic union and the maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
* 2 Pet. i. 4.
In explaining this partaking of the divine nature in heaven, theologians make use of a very apt comparison. If, say they, you thrust a piece of iron into the fire, it soon loses its dark color, and becomes red and hot, like the fire. It is thus made a partaker of the nature of fire, without, however, losing its own essential iron-nature. This illustrates what takes place in the Beatific Vision in relation to the soul. She is united to God, and penetrated by Him. She becomes bright with His brightness, beautiful with His beauty, pure with His purity, happy with His unutterable happiness, and perfect with His divine perfections. In a word, she has become a partaker of the "divine nature," while she retains her created nature and personal identity.
Abstract words, however, and reasoning fail to convey a definite idea of this glorious happiness reserved for the children of God. Let us, therefore, have recourse to an illustration in the shape of a little parable. It will be as a mirror, wherein we shall see faint but true reflections of the Beatific Vision.
A kind-hearted king, while hunting in a forest, finds a blind orphan boy, totally destitute of all that can make life comfortable. The king, moved with compassion, takes him to his palace, adopts him as his own, and orders him to be cared for and educated in all that a blind person can learn. It is almost needless to say that the boy is unspeakably grateful, and does all he can to phase the king. When he has reached his twentieth year, a surgeon performs an operation upon his eyes by which his sight is restored. Then the king, surrounded by his nobles and amid all the pomp and magnificence of the court, proclaims him one of his sons, and commands all to honor and love him as such. And thus the once friendless orphan becomes a prince, and, therefore, a partaker of the royal dignity, of the happiness and glory which are to be found in the palaces of kings.
I will not attempt to describe the joys that overwhelm the soul of this fortunate young man when he first sees that king, of whose manly beauty, goodness, power, and magnificence he had heard so much. Nor will I attempt to describe those other joys which fill his soul when he beholds himself, his own personal beauty, and the magnificence of his princely garments, whereof he had also heard so much heretofore. Much less will I attempt to picture his exquisite unspeakable happiness when he sees himself adopted into the royal family, honored and loved by all, together with all the pleasures of life within his reach. Each one may endeavor to imagine his feelings, joy, and happiness. We can only say that all this taken together is a beatific vision for him—in the natural order.
Here we find the three acts already explained. The first is the sight of the good king in all his glory and magnificence; the second is the intense love which this sight produces; and the third is the enjoyment of the king's society, and all the happiness wherewith his adoption has surrounded him.
The application of the parable is obvious. God is the great and mighty King who finds your soul in the wilderness of this world. To use the forcible words of Scripture, He found you "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."* Moved with compassion, He brought you into His holy Church. There, He washed you with his own precious blood, clotured you with the spotless robe of innocence, adorned you with the gifts of grace, and adopted you as his own child. Then He commanded his ministers and others to educate you for heaven. By His grace, and your own co-operation, your soul is being gradually developed into a more perfect resemblance to Jesus Christ, who, in His human nature, is the standard of all created perfection. But you are blind yet, and must remain so until your Heavenly Father calls you home. When that happy day dawns, you will leave this world; your eyes will be opened by the light of glory, and you will see God as He is, in all his glory and magnificence. You will also see yourself as you are, adorned with the jewels of the many graces He has bestowed upon you. You will also see the beautiful angels and saints, clothed with the beauty of God himself, standing around his throne to hear the sentence that is to admit you into their society. This sight of the Living God, and of all the magnificence which surrounds Him, will fill your soul with a perfect knowledge of him; and this knowledge will produce a most ardent and perfect love; and when he presses you to his bosom, proclaims you one of his children, and commands all to honor and love you as such, your joy will be full. This will be emphatically a Beatific Vision for you. you will then enter into the possession and enjoyment of God, who alone can fill the soul with pure and permanent happiness.
* Apoc. iii. 17.
We shall now close this chapter with a beautiful extract from the great theologian Lessius. Speaking of the three acts which constitute the Beatific Vision, he says: "In these three acts resides God's chiefest glory, which He himself intended in all his works; and so, likewise, in these same acts reside the highest good and formal beatitude of men and angels. By these acts the blessed spirits are vastly elevated above themselves, and, in their union with God, become godlike, by a most lofty and supereminent similitude with God, so that the mind can conceive no greater. Thus, like very gods, they shine to all eternity in the divine brightness. By these same acts they expand themselves into immensity, so as to be co-equal and co-extensive, as far as may be, to so great a good, that they may take it in, and comprehend it all. They linger not outside, as it were upon the surface of it; but they go down into its profound depths, and enter into the joy of their Lord; some more, some less, according to the magnitude of the light of glory imparted to each. Immersed in this abyss, they lose themselves, and all created things; for all other good and joys seem to them as nothing by the side of this ocean of good and joys. In this abyss there is to them no darkness, no obscurity, such as now hangs over us about the Divinity; but all is light and immense serenity. There are their eternal mansions, with a tranquil security that they can never fail. There is the fulfilling of all their desires. There is the possession and enjoyment of all things that are desirable. There nothing will remain to be longed for, or sought for any more; for all will firmly possess and exquisitely enjoy every good thing in God. There the occupation of the saints will be to contemplate the infinite beauty of God, to love His infinite goodness, to enjoy his infinite sweetness, to be filled to overflowing with the torrent of his pleasures, and to exult with an unspeakable delight in his infinite glory, and in all the good things which he and they possess. Hence comes perpetual praise, and benediction, and thanksgiving; and thus the blessed, having reached the consummation of all their desires, and knowing not what more to crave, rest in God as their last end."*
* De Perf. Divin. lib. xiv. c. 5.
THE BEATIFIC VISION. (CONTINUED.)
In the Beatific Vision, "we shall be like Him; because we shall see him as he is."*
* 1 John iii. 2.
In the preceding chapter, we have endeavored to understand the meaning of the Beatific Vision. We have seen that it is not a mere gazing upon God, but a true possession and enjoyment of Him. We have seen, moreover, that the Beatific Vision implies a most intimate union with God, in which the soul is made a partaker of the "Divine Nature," in a far higher degree than is attainable in this world.
But we must be careful not to confound this union of the soul with God, which is a moral union, with a personal union, such as exists between the humanity and the divinity in Jesus Christ. For, in Him, though these two natures are distinct, they are not separable. The human nature is so intimately united to the divine, that it receives its personality from the eternal Son of God. Hence, we cannot say that Jesus Christ is one Person as man, and another Person as God, thus asserting two distinct Persons in Christ. This would be a heresy, long since condemned by the church. In Him, therefore, there is but one Person, and that Person is the eternal Son of God, in whom the human nature has not a distinct personality of its own. This is called a personal or hypostatic union, which belongs to Jesus Christ alone, and constitutes Him the Lord of lords, the King of kings, and the Judge of the living and the dead. No other creature, not even the Blessed Virgin, can ever aspire to such a union with God. When, therefore, we speak of our intimate union with God in the Beatific Vision, we understand a moral union, and not a physical or a personal one. Hence, however intimate our union with God may be, we shall always retain our personality, and never be merged into God.
In this world, how intimate soever may be the union which exists between friend and friend, parent and child, husband and wife, these persons all retain their respective personalities. So shall it be in heaven. We shall see and possess God; we shall be united to Him in an intimate manner, but we shall ever retain our distinct personality and individuality. When a drop of water falls into the ocean, it is absorbed and completely lost in that immense volume of water. This is no type of our union with God. But the drop of oil is such a type; for while it floats on the bosom of the deep, it does not mingle with the water, nor lose its individuality. It remains a drop of oil.
Not only shall we thus retain our personality, when united to God in the Beatific Vision, but we shall, moreover, retain all that belongs to the reality of human nature. For, as St. Thomas teaches, "the glory of heaven does not destroy nature; but perfects it."* Therefore, when Scripture tells us that "we shall be changed," we must not imagine that we shall be changed into angels, or into some other nature different from the human. The change means a supernatural elevation and perfection of our whole nature, and not its destruction. The transition or change of the child into the man neither changes nor destroys the faculties of his mind nor the senses of his body; neither does it create new powers or faculties which he had not before. His gradual growth into manhood only develops and perfects what the hand of God had placed in his nature on the day of his creation.
* Quamdiu manet natura aliqua, manet operatio eius. Sed beatitudo non tollit naturam, cum sit perfectio eius. Ergo non tollet naturalem cognitionem et dilectionem.... Semper autem oportet salvari primus in secunda. Unde oportet quod natura salvetur in beatitudine. Et similiter quod in actu beatitudinis salvetur actus naturae.—S. Thomas, p. 1, q. 62, art. 7.
This gradual development of our nature to its perfection, in the natural order, illustrates the wonderful supernatural perfection which the power of God will work in us both in the Beatific Vision and in the glorious resurrection of the body. For, however great and elevated we may then be, our now existing natural powers will neither be changed nor destroyed.
I have been thus careful in explaining these things, because we are now to study the transforming power of the Beatific Vision upon the soul, as well as the glory of the spiritualized body in which we shall again be clothed on the resurrection day.
According to the angelic doctor, the human soul bears a threefold resemblance to God.* She is like God by nature, by grace, and by glory. The likeness to God by nature is found in all men, but is imperfect. The likeness by grace is far more perfect, and is found in the just only; while it is seen in its full perfection in the blessed. We shall, therefore, endeavor to fathom the meaning of St. John, when he says, "We shall be like Him: because we shall see him as He is;" as well as the saying of St. Peter, who asserts that we shall be "made partakers of the divine nature." Let us begin by a little illustration.
* ... Imago Dei tripliciter potest considerari in homine. Uno quidem modo secundum quod homo habet aptitudinem naturalem ad intelligendum et amandum Deum. Et haec aptitudo consistet, in ipsa natura mentis, quae est communis omnibus hominibus. Alio modo secundum quod actu vel habitu Deum cognoscit et amat, sed tamen imperfecte. Et haec est imago per conformitatem gratiae. Tertio modo secundum quod homo Deum actu cognoscit et amat perfecte. Et attenditur imago secundum similitudinem gloriae. Prima ergo invenitur in omnibus hominibus. Secunda vero in justis tantum. Tertia vero solum in beatis.—S. Thomas, p. 1, q. 93, art. 4.
Suppose you enter an artist's studio, just as he has drawn the outlines of a portrait. All the essential features are there—the shape of the head, the eyes, ears, mouth, and whatever else is necessary to constitute the human face; and it already bears a striking resemblance to the man who is sitting for his portrait. You return in a few days, and, though it is yet far from being finished, the coloring has added so much that it is far more beautiful and perfect than when you first saw it. Again, you see it when it is completely finished, framed, and exposed to public view. How perfect! how life-like it is! It actually seems to live and breathe. How vast a deference between this exquisitely finished painting and the mere outlines you first saw! This illustration teaches us, better than abstract words could do, how the human soul is like God from the very first, and how that likeness gradually increases by grace and the practice of virtue, until it receives the last touch and finish in the Beatific Vision.
From the very first moment of her existence, the soul is like to God, because she is a spirit, and therefore immortal. She is endowed with intelligence, free-will, memory, and whatever else belongs to a spiritual substance. Evidently, this is already the image of God, though, compared with what it will be by grace and the Beatific Vision, it is as yet nothing more than the mere outlines.
Next comes baptism, by which the soul is raised to the supernatural state. She is washed with the blood of Jesus, and clothed with the robe of innocence, which, if we may use the expression, begins the coloring or beautifying process. Faith, hope, and charity are infused into her, by which she is enabled to lead a supernatural life. Then come other sacraments, which have for their object to wash away stains, remove imperfections, and to nourish, strengthen, beautify, and gradually develop a greater resemblance to God.
But there is an immense difference between the senseless image we saw on the canvas and the soul. The portrait is a lifeless image, which is totally passive, and has, therefore, nothing whatever to do with its gradual growth and its resemblance to the original. Not so with the soul. She is a living and rational image of the eternal God, and has the power to aid very materially in her gradual development, and in her greater resemblance to the original which is God. Not only has she the power, but also the strict obligation of co-operating with God, in perfecting what He began without her co-operation Hence, while of herself she is incapable of having even a good thought, aided by the grace of God she not only has good thoughts and desires, but also the strength to carry them into effect. With God's assistance, she can and does reproduce in herself the virtues which Jesus taught and practised—His humility, purity, meekness, obedience, patience, and resignation to God's will. Especially does she reproduce His life of love—love or God and love for man.
As soon as this divine charity becomes the mainspring of her actions, everything she does develops in her a greater resemblance to God. Then, not only prayer, the sacraments, pious reading, and other spiritual exercises, but voluntary mortifications, temptations from the devil, the world, and the flesh—even eating, drinking, and innocent recreations—all help powerfully to develop and perfect in her the image of God. For, as St. Paul tells us, "To them that love God, all things work together unto good."*
* Rom. viii. 28.
Could you now see a soul at the first moment of her existence, you would see the image of God begun. Could you see her again immediately after baptism, she would appear far more beautiful; because she is then clothed with the robe of innocence and beautified by the grace of God. But could you see that same soul after ten, twenty, or more years of a holy life, you could scarcely believe that it is the same soul—so much more God-like and beautiful has she become. But again, could you see her united to God in the Beatific Vision, you would be so overpowered with her dazzling splendor and unearthly beauty, that you would be ready to fall down and adore her—thinking that it is God himself you see, and not his image. She would have to prevent this adoration, by assuring you that whatever excellence you behold in her is, after all, that of a mere creature. This is what happened even to St. John, who had already seen so many and such wonderful visions. When the bright angel stood before him, to reveal the secrets of God, he says: "And I fell down before his feet to adore him. But he saith to me: See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren, who have the testimony of Jesus. Adore God."* St. Augustine says that "the angel was so beautiful and glorious that St. John actually mistook him for God, and would really have given him divine worship, had not the angel prevented it by declaring who he was."
* Apoc. xiv.
From all this, we begin to see what St. John means when he tells us that we shall be like God, "because we shall see Him as he is." Our likeness to God was begun on the very first day of our existence. It was gradually developed by God's grace and the sacraments; and by our own co-operation with all the helps of God. But during life, the process of development was slow—so very slow, that we were at times tempted to think it had ceased altogether. But in the Beatific Vision the process is rapid as a flash. The soul is suddenly transformed into that degree of likeness to God which she has deserved by a holy life. She is made like to God, because she sees Him as he is. It is this glorious vision which contains in itself this transforming power, and which assimilates the soul to God.
In this world a deformed man may gaze upon a beautiful object without becoming beautiful thereby; the poor man gazes upon the rich man, but remains as poor as ever; and the ignorant man gazes upon the philosopher, and nevertheless remains as ignorant as before. Not so in heaven. The vision of God has a transforming power; that is, it has the power of communicating to the beholder attributes which he had not before, or possessed only in the germ. Thus the soul, because she sees God as He is, is filled to overflowing with all knowledge; she becomes beautiful with the beauty of God, rich with his wealth, holy with his holiness, and happy with his own unutterable happiness. In a word, by the vision of God, she is made a partaker of the divine nature, and, like a very god, she shines unto all eternity in the divine brightness.
A diamond, carefully cut and perfectly polished, glitters and shines in the sun with exceeding brilliancy. It not only reflects the light, but also absorbs it into itself, so as to shine even in the dark with the light it has absorbed. It actually becomes, as it were, a little sun, shining with its own light. It is thus become a partaker of the sun's nature, while it retains its own peculiar diamond nature and individuality. This is an image of what takes place in the Beatific Vision. While she was in this world, God had polished that soul, by the sacraments and by sufferings; and now that she is in His presence, and sees him as he is, she shines and sparkles in his light with unspeakable splendor. She reflects and absorbs the divine light and beauty of God. She is like God, because she sees Him as he is; she is made a partaker of the divine nature, while she retains her own human nature and personal identity.
But, let us again hear Lessius. Speaking of this communication of the divine nature to man, he says "This communication begins in this life, by the gifts of grace, especially faith, hope, and charity. By these virtues we are not only made like to God, but God is also united to us. It is perfected, however, in the next life by the gifts of glory—namely, the light of glory, the vision of the Divinity, beatific love, and beatific joy. For, by these, we attain our highest similitude to God, and become perfectly sons of God, shining like the Divinity, and exhibiting in ourselves the most excellent image of the most Holy Trinity. For by the light of glory we are made like the Father; by the vision of the Divine Essence and the Divine Persons, we become like the Son; by beatific love we are made like the Holy Ghost; by joy we become like the Godhead in beatitude, and thus the participation of the divine beatitude is completed in us."*
* De Perf. Divin., lib. xiv. c. 1.
Now, Christian soul, meditate well on all this. Endeavor to fathom the bliss of the saints when they see themselves like God in so eminent a degree. Remember that you were created to enjoy the unspeakable happiness of seeing God, and of being made a partaker of the divine nature. But remember, too, that God, who created you without your co-operation, will not save you without it. He never will polish your soul into a jewel fit for heaven, in spite of yourself. You must, therefore, co-operate with Him, and do his holy will in all things. However painful may be the trials He sends you, they are all so many strokes to take away some roughness or deformity which would prevent your soul from being perfectly like Him. Every act you perform, while in the state of grace, adds a new feature of beauty to your soul, and therefore prepares her the better to receive the finishing touch in the Beatific Vision, and to shine with greater splendor as a perfect image of the living God.
THE BEATIFIC VISION. (CONTINUED.)
In the Beatific Vision our intellect is glorified, and our thirst for knowledge completely satisfied.
Man was created with a thirst for knowledge which can never be satiated in this world. Sin, which greatly weakened and darkened his mental faculties, has not taken away his desire and love for knowledge. And the knowledge which he acquired by eating the forbidden fruit, rather increased than satisfied his thirst.
But all his efforts to reach the perfection of knowledge, even in the natural order, have been fruitless. With all his boasted discoveries in astronomy, chemistry, geology, mechanics, and other kindred sciences, his knowledge of nature's secrets is still very limited. But could he even master every natural science, and compel nature to reveal her most hidden secrets, his thirst for knowledge would still remain unsatisfied.
Let us, for the sake of illustration, suppose a man so gifted that he not only knows all that can be known about this world, but soars beyond it, and learns the exact size, distances, laws, and relations to each other of the countless worlds that shine in the blue sky. Supposing these distant orbs to be peopled like ours, he knows the character, manners, laws, and languages of their respective inhabitants. He knows, moreover, all their sciences, the characters of their plants, animals, and minerals. In a word, he sees and knows every star as perfectly as he knows his own house and its inmates. What vast knowledge would not that man possess! He would certainly be far more learned than all the philosophers that ever lived, taken together. But would his thirst for knowledge be completely quenched? Would he say that his mind is so completely full that he can long for no more, or that it can contain no more? No, he could never say that; for the knowledge of the creature alone can never completely fill or satisfy the mind.
We are little, and very limited, it is true, and if we are aiming at Christian perfection, we are accustomed to look upon ourselves as such. And the oftener we compare our borrowed perfections with those of God, the more deeply convinced of our littleness shall we become. But yet, how little soever we may be, we have, in a certain sense, capacity for the infinite; and for it, only the infinite is sufficient. Hence, as all the wealth of this world could never make any man perfectly happy, so neither could the perfect knowledge of every creature perfectly satisfy his cravings after knowledge. The one is as finite as the other, and consequently neither could do that for which the infinite alone is sufficient.
Yet this is not all. Not only is the full knowledge of the whole natural order incapable of satisfying man's desire for knowledge; but not even all the knowledge of God, and of the supernatural order, so far as they can be known in this world by faith and theology, ever did or ever could make a man say, It is enough; I ask for no more. Indeed, the very reverse takes place. For if there be any knowledge that intensifies thirst for more, it is precisely the imperfect knowledge of God we have by faith and the contemplation of Him in his creatures.
Theologians have studied and learned much; they have thrown much light on the dark mysteries of revelation; yet what they know is only as a drop in the boundless ocean of God's unfathomable being. With all the vast knowledge of God which they have acquired, they are still constrained to cry out with St. Paul: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!"* Do what we may, read the Holy Scriptures, study, pray, meditate; we never can see and know God as He is, so long as we remain pilgrims in this world. The saying of St. Paul will ever remain true: "We now see thorough a glass in a dark manner;"+ that is, imperfectly and unsatisfactorily.
* Rom. xi. 13. + 1 Cor. xiii. 12,
In the original Greek, St. Paul uses the word mirror, which is also the word used in the Latin Vulgate, "per speculum;" that is, by means of a mirror. The meaning, therefore, of St. Paul is not that we see through a glass by transmitted light, as when we look through a telescope, but as when we see an image reflected in a mirror. Let us suppose a man so circumstanced in this world that he has never seen the sun, nor his light, except as reflected in the moon. He has heard of his immense size, and his bewildering distance from us; of his dazzling splendor, and keen, life-imparting power, whereby he gives life, growth, and beauty to every living thing. To this man, the moon is a mirror wherein the sun is imperfectly reflected; and, through he is unable to see the sun himself, he judges from the splendor and beauty of the moon that he must be grand, glorious, and magnificent beyond the power of words to express.
This illustrates the meaning of St. Paul when he says that we now see God by means of a mirror. All creatures, the sun, the moon, and the stars, the vast expanse of the ocean, the earth, trees, flowers, animals, and man especially, are a grand mirror in which the perfections of God are reflected in a dark and imperfect manner. We see, in them all, faint reflections of His divine beauty, wisdom, goodness, power, and of His other perfections; but himself as He is, we cannot see. Therefore, all the knowledge of God which we can derive from the contemplation of creatures, adding even all that he has been phased to reveal of himself, far from satisfying, rather increases the thirst of the soul for more. They who know most of God are the saints, and they are the very ones who can say, with the royal prophet: "As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after Thee, O God. My soul hath thirsted after the strong, living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?"* This is the continual sigh and cry of the saints, because the knowledge which they have of God in creatures, and even in their visions, does not satisfy their longings. But listen to St. Paul: "We now see through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known."+
* Ps. xli. 2. + 1 Cor. xiii. 12.
How consoling are these words of inspiration! Yes, in heaven, we shall see God as He is, face to face. We shall see Him in all his adorable perfections by a clear and unclouded perception of his divine essence. We shall gaze with unspeakable delight and rapture upon that beauty, ever ancient and ever new. We shall drink in all knowledge at its living source—unmingled with error or doubt. All the darkness and ignorance caused by sin will forever vanish in the light of God's countenance, as the darkness of night disappears before the rising sun.
We shall then see, as it is, the august and awful mystery of the most Holy Trinity—the deepest, the sublimest, and the most incomprehensible of all those that God ever revealed to man. We shall then see the eternal Father, ever begetting His only Son, and the Holy Ghost ever proceeding from both Father and Son. We shall then see how they are really three distinct Persons, and yet one undivided Essence. We shall see, face to face, and as he is, this great, eternal God, in the eternity of His duration, in the abysses of his unsearchable judgments, in the sweetness of his goodness, in the tenderness of his mercies, in the spotlessness of his sanctity, in the severity of his justice, in the might of his irresistible power, in the charms of his captivating beauty, and in the splendor of his majesty and glory. In a word, we shall no longer see God as He is rejected in the mirror of creation, but as he is in himself.
This is the vision which no mortal has seen, or can see in this world. This is the vision which pours torrents of knowledge into our souls, and fills them to overflowing. No more searching of books; no more wasting away of health and strength in the pursuit of knowledge; no more going to learned men, as the beggar goes to the rich for bread. No more perplexing and torturing doubts that perhaps we have not the truth. The light of glory has opened our eyes, and we see all truth as it is, and become like God in knowledge, because we see him as He is.
But this is not yet all. The glorification of our intellect will not only enable us to see God as He is: it will also unveil us to ourselves, and make us see ourselves as we are.
In our present state of existence, we are a mystery to ourselves. In spite of the numberless learned works written on the mind, and the laws by which it operates, our knowledge of it is still very limited. We see the human soul only as reflected in a mirror, that is, in her outward manifestations. Thus, when we read a magnificent poem, or when we gaze upon a noble ship ploughing the waters of the deep, or riding safely through a fearful storm; or when we look upon grand churches, palaces, and works of art—all these are as mirrors, which reflect the greatness, wisdom, power, and ingenuity of the human soul. Again, when we enter orphan asylums, or other institutions for the unfortunate and destitute of every description, we may view them as mirrors which reflect the moral goodness of the soul; but the soul herself as she is, we cannot see. She is as invisible to us as God himself.
In heaven, we shall know and see ourselves as we are. For, as St. Paul tells us: "Then I shall know even as I am known." We shall then see and know that beautiful, living image of the Eternal in her very essence. We shall see her clothed with a surpassing beauty, adorned with the gems of grace and good works, and shining in the presence of God like a very star. This sight of ourselves and of our exceeding beauty will kindle in us none other than sentiments of unbounded gratitude to God, who is the giver of our existence and of all that we possess. Here again, as well as in the knowledge of God, the human intellect will rest satisfied; because its thirst for the complete knowledge of self will be quenched in the Beatific Vision.
Besides seeing ourselves as we are, we shall also see the beautiful angels, our elder brothers in creation. We shall also see, as they are, our fellow-men, who are now as much a mystery to us as we are to ourselves. We shall likewise see all other creatures as they are in their very essence, and not as they now appear to us. We shall see all things in the "one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all."* Thus shall our souls be filled to overflowing with all knowledge from its living source, which is God himself, the eternal Truth.
* Eph. iv. 6.
Before closing this chapter, I must remark, for fear of being misunderstood, that when we say the blessed will see all things in God, we do not mean that they will really possess all knowledge. We are finite beings, and, consequently, essentially unable to possess any attribute or perfection in an infinite degree. We can no more possess all knowledge than we can be clothed with all power, all holiness, all beauty, or any other perfection in an infinite degree. All these attributes belong to God alone. Even the angels, who are so superior to us, do not know everything.* When we say, therefore, that we shall see all things in God, we simply mean that each one's capacity, great or small, shall be completely filled, and that he shall desire nothing more. When we fill many vessels with water, the smallest is as full as the largest. So in heaven. Each one shall know according to his individual capacity, which the Light of glory will give him. Each one shall be filled to overflowing, and desire no more. But more of this when we come to speak of the degrees of glory.
* .... Angeli superiores, inferiores a nescientia purgant. Angeli autem inferiores vident essentiam divinam: ergo angelus videns essentiam divinam, potest aliqua nescire. Sed anima non perfectius videbit Deum quam angelus: ergo animae videntes Deum non oportet quod omnia videant.... Sic autem ignorantia non est poenalitas, sed defectus quidam: nec necesse est quod omnis talis defectus per gloriam auferatur. Sic enim etiam posset dici quod defectus esset in Papa Lino quod non pervenerit ad gloriam Petri.—S. Thom., Suppl. q. 92, art. 3.
THE BEATIFIC VISION. (CONTINUED.)
In the Beatific Vision our will is also to be glorified, and then we shall be happy in loving and being loved.
We have seen in the foregoing chapter that our intellectual faculties are glorified, and that our natural thirst for knowledge is forever quenched. But we have another faculty, called the will, or the loving power of the soul. This faculty is also to be glorified in the Beatific Vision. Then our continual desire for happiness, which we vainly sought in creatures, will be completely gratified. We shall now see that, in the Beatific Vision, our will or moral nature is elevated, ennobled, and made like God by a participation of His sanctity, beatitude, and love. But let us first cast a glance at ourselves, as we now are in our fallen state.
When our first parents revolted against God, they abandoned the eternal rule of rectitude, which is God's Will. Their passions, which heretofore had been under the control of reason, revolted against them, and their will was turned away from God. We, their children, have inherited all the consequences of their fall. We seek ourselves inordinately—follow our own capricious will, which leads us into excesses, at which we blush, in our sober moments. We stubbornly persist in seeking our happiness in creatures, though reason itself loudly proclaims that in them it cannot be found. Evidently, then, our will has been sadly perverted in the fall of our first parents.
One of the objects of the Christian religion was to bring back our will to a conformity with the Divine Will, and to cause it to love God above all things. Yet, in spite of its manifold teachings, in spite too of the sacraments, and the many graces we daily receive, in spite of prayer, meditation, and other spiritual exercises, this grand object is but partially attained in this world. For we find our perverse will again and again rising in rebellion against God. When a command is imposed upon us which does not chime in with our wishes, private interests, views, or natural inclination, we not unfrequently must drag ourselves by main force to perform what is commanded. And if we do obey, it is often only after doing all in our power, by excuse or pretext, to escape the obligation of obeying. Indeed, we all can say with the apostle: "I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man; but I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me under the law of sin that is in my members."*
* Rom. vii. 22.
What a tyranny this law of sin exercises over the will, even of holy persons! How often do they discover, on close examination, that their will has departed from the eternal rule, which is the will of God! How often do they find that they had been seeking their own, instead of God's glory! After doing really great things, which they fancied were done purely for God, they find, to their grief, that, to a great extent, they had been secretly and artfully seeking themselves, and their own glory. And they have reason to fear that they have already received their reward in that human applause which they sought, or in which they took such complacency when it came unsought.
It is said that persons who have been bitten by a viper, and who have nevertheless recovered by the application of timely remedies, are never again the same in health as they were before. At times they are swollen, or feel acute pains, or have a morbid and depraved appetite for what they should not eat. At other times they feel a general languor, which takes away all their energy, so that whatever they do requires a most painful effort. Evidently, some of the poison is still lurking in their system, and so long as it remains there these infirmities will never be entirely healed.
So it is with us, in a moral point of view. Our human nature was bitten and poisoned by the infernal serpent, in the earthly paradise, and although a powerful antidote was given us in the Redemption, some of the venom remained in us; and as long as we live here below, we shall feel its effects. We shall always feel the sting of concupiscence, and retain an inclination to evil, to seek ourselves inordinately, and to follow our own will. We shall always experience a certain languor in the practice of virtue, which involves a continual effort and struggle.
What an exquisite consolation it is to us to be assured that none of this poison will follow us into heaven! Yes, the day will come—blessed and glorious day!—when all that perversity of will, all that inclination to evil, and all the passions of our depraved nature will be no more! All these will die in our temporal death, and be buried—never to rise again in our glorified bodies. The Beatific Vision will glorify our will, and change us, as it were, into new creatures.
Then shall we find ourselves joyfully willing to do what God wills, as He wills it, and because he so wills it—without the hast repugnance on our part. We shall no longer have peculiar views, private interests, or natural inclinations to clash with the will and interests of God. His divine will and ours shall become so totally one, that we shall seem to have no will of our own, so completely, and, at the same time, so sweetly, shall it be identified with the will and good pleasure of God. In a word, as our intellect is elevated by the Light of glory, and filled with the purest knowledge in the Beatific Vision, so also our will is purified, sanctified, and made like God's will, in rectitude and perfect sanctity.
But not only shall our will become holy and conformed to God's will: we shall also love God above all things, purely, unselfishly, ardently, and for His own blessed sake; and in that love shall we, at last, find the perfect happiness we vainly sought in the love of creatures.
Human love is a source of partial happiness in this world, and it is in this human love, as in a mirror, that we see faint reflections of the unspeakable happiness which will inebriate our souls in the Beatific Vision. But they are emphatically faint reflections; for whether it be conjugal, parental, or fraternal love, or whether it be the love of pure friendship—whether it be even elevated by grace to the supernatural virtue of charity, it never did, and never will bestow perfect happiness in this world. It depends for its existence and perfection on conditions which can never be completely fulfilled in our present state of imperfection; and, therefore, the short-lived happiness to which it gives birth is always mingled with a certain amount of bitterness.
It is in heaven, and only in heaven, that all the conditions of love can be fulfilled; and, hence, it is there only that love will produce pure and perfect happiness, unmingled with the disappointments, cruel misunderstandings, and insufficiency of human love. First of all, the love of heaven is essentially mutual. The vision of God not only reveals to the soul His divine beauty, goodness, wisdom, and numberless other perfections, which captivate her, and set her on fire with a seraphic love; but it also reveals the intense and mysterious love of God for her. The sight of that divine love produces in her the happiness which the heart of man cannot conceive.
If a great king should speak kindly to a poor peasant, smile upon him, and even show him a real affection, a happiness which he never experienced before would take possession of his heart. A thrill of joy would run through every fibre of his frame. He would be a new man, and live a new life, simply because a great one of this world had smiled upon him and condescended to love him.
This is a faint reflection of that undying thrill of joy, of that unspeakable happiness which the loving smile of God will produce upon the soul. For, in the Beatific Vision, she sees clearly that, in spite of her littleness and insignificance, which she never saw as she now does—in spite, too, of the sins and imperfections which had stained her beauty while in the flesh, the great and thrice-holy God loves her infinitely more tenderly and sincerely than either father or mother, or any other creature ever did. Not only does she see the intense love of God beaming upon her now, but she sees, moreover, that He loved her from eternity, when she existed as yet only in the divine mind. Yes, she sees herself lying in the bosom of the Eternal, with His mysterious love brooding over her, and giving her existence in the fulness of time. This is truly and emphatically, for her, a Beatific Vision. It is vain for us to endeavor to fathom the exquisite happiness which this vision of God's love produces in the soul. For, if the mere smile of a king has the power of infusing joy into the heart of a poor and insignificant person, what shall we say of the smile of God, who is the King of kings? What shall we say of this affectionate, paternal embrace? What shall we say of the joy, the happiness that flow into the soul, when He presses her to his bosom, gives her the kiss of peace, and calls her his own beloved child? What shall we say of her exceeding happiness, when He makes her a partaker of his divine nature, and unites her to himself more intimately than two creatures ever could be united in this world?
These are all secrets of heaven. They are simply unspeakable, because they are beyond our present powers of comprehension. Eye hath not seen them, ear hath not heard them, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive them. We shall, therefore, make no further attempt to express what no human tongue can utter. But we may say that, as a pure and mutual love produces the greatest happiness we know of in this world, so also the mutual love which exists between the soul and God in the Beatific Vision, is the source of the most perfect happiness possible.
But there is another feature of that unspeakable happiness, which we must now consider. Love must not only be mutual to produce happiness; there must, besides, be neither fear nor suspicion that either of the parties will prove false. Every one knows that when a suspicion of that nature fastens upon the mind of one who loves, his happiness is at an end; and there is no telling to what extravagant excesses his jealousy may lead him.
This imperfection, which blasts so much happiness in this world, will never find its way into our heavenly home. For the soul not only sees that He who loved her from eternity will continue to do so everlastingly; she not only sees the utter impossibility of God's ever despising her; but she, at the same time, sees the impossibility of her ever proving false to Him. She not only sees God as He is, but she also sees everything else as it is. However beautiful, therefore, creatures may be in heaven, she always sees in God a beauty and perfection so vastly, so infinitely superior, that it is impossible for her to be captivated by creatures, as she was in this world. She loves all the companions of her bliss, it is true; but she loves them all in God, and for God. She loves them because they are His, and because he loves them. She loves them too, because they are so holy, so beautiful, and so much like God, and, therefore, deserving of her love. But her chiefest, her absorbing love is centred in God, and remains centred there forever. Never can there come a day when she will see a growing coldness in God for her. Never shall there dawn a day when she will discover in herself a growing coldness for God; and, consequently, there never shall be a day when her exceeding happiness will fade away or be lessened. Rather, she sees the dawn of a glorious day when her happiness will be increased, perfected, and completed in the resurrection of the body—a day when other joys and pleasures will be added to those she now enjoys in the Beatific Vision.
THE BEAUTY AND GLORY OF THE RISEN BODY.
We have seen in the foregoing chapters that, in the Beatific Vision, the human soul sees, loves, and enjoys God, and that her essential happiness consists in that unfailing, blessed vision. But, although the blessedness she now enjoys is far greater than words can express, it is not yet integral or complete, and never will be, except when she is again clothed in her own body, beautified, and glorified after the likeness of her Saviour's body.
However, although her happiness is not yet complete, you must not therefore imagine that the hast shadow of sadness or unhappiness hangs over her. For, as we have seen, her will is now totally conformed to God's will. It follows that although she sees other joys and pleasures in store for her, and desires them, these desires do not in the hast mar her exceeding happiness. She wills the resurrection of her body as God wills it, and because He wills it, and because also her body is absolutely necessary to complete her human nature, which essentially consists of both soul and body. We shall begin our meditations on the resurrection of the body by first contemplating the beauty and splendor of the glorified body. In order to form some idea of the perfect beauty and splendor of form which is in store for us, we must first look at some of the transformations which take place in the natural order. These will aid us, very materially, in arriving at a conception, more or less perfect, of the glorious transformation which the power of God will work in us at the resurrection.
When we examine the kingdoms of nature, we discover that the gross matter which surrounds us in shapeless masses, is susceptible of forms and organizations so perfect, refined, and beautiful, that we may, in some sense, call these forms glorified matter. It is, certainly, matter glorified far above inferior forms in the natural order. Let us take a few examples.
What is the diamond? It is nothing more than crystallized carbon, or charcoal. There is nothing in the whole range of science which can be so easily and so positively proved as this. The famous diamond Koh-i-noor, or mountain of light, which now sparkles in the British crown, and which is worth more than half a million of dollars, could, in a few moments, be reduced to a thimbleful of worthless coal-dust. Yet, how great a difference, in appearance and value, between that precious gem and a thimbleful of coal-dust! Again, what are other gems, such as the ruby, the sapphire, the topaz, the emerald, and others? They are nothing more than crystallized clay or sand, with a trifling quantity of metallic oxide or rust, which gives to each one its peculiar color. Yet, what a difference between these sparkling and costly jewels and the shapeless clod or sand which we trample under foot!
If we now look for a moment into the vegetable kingdom, we see this glorification of matter still more wonderfully displayed. Of what are all plants composed? They are all composed of four elements of matter, which have no remarkable beauty of their own. In scientific language they are called carbon or charcoal, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. By the power and the laws of life these are transformed into that endless variety of beauty and color, odor and taste, so striking in the vegetable world. Hence, the most beautiful flowers, and their exquisite perfumes, as well as the delicious fruits to which they give birth, are all made of the very same elements of matter as the bark, the wood, and the root of the tree that bears them. Yet, what a difference between the coarse tree and the delicate flower! What a difference, too, between the tasteless bark or the wood of the tree, and the luscious fruit that hangs in clusters from its branches!
Now if, in the natural order, God can and does transform coarse and shapeless matter into forms so beautiful and so glorious, what shall we say of the beauty and perfection into which He will change our vile bodies! For all these transformations which we now witness belong to the natural order, and are the result of the laws which govern matter in this world of imperfection; whereas our transformation in the resurrection depends on the immediate act of God's almighty power. The difference, therefore, between our present corruptible body and the glorified body, will be greater by far than the difference we now see between charcoal and the diamond, or between the exquisitely shaped flower and the coarse shrub that bears it.
Having said this much to aid us in forming some idea of the glorified body, we shall now proceed to examine one of its attributes, which St. Paul mentions, when he says: "It is sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory."* Our bodies were indeed sown in dishonor, in the company of worms, and a prey to corruption. They had been honored by the presence of an immortal spirit, the very image of the living God. They had been honored by the Holy Ghost, who made them His temple. They had been honored, too, by the presence of Jesus Christ, who made them His tabernacle, every time we received Him in holy communion. But death has struck them down; the spirit has fled; they lie cold and motionless, and corruption begins to assert its empire over them. Our nearest and dearest friends hasten to throw them into the dark and silent grave, where they return into their original dust. Then, indeed, our bodies are "sown in dishonor." But when the fulness of time shall have come, these same dishonored bodies "shall rise in glory."
* 1 Cor. xv. 43.
This word glory is one of great and manifold meanings in Holy Scripture. In this particular place and connection it means excellence and beauty, accompanied with a shining splendor. Wherefore, our bodies rising in glory, means, first, that they shall rise perfect in beauty and symmetry of form, and totally free from the defects and blemishes entailed by sin. This perfect beauty of form is evidently involved in the promise of rising conformable to the glorious body of our Blessed Saviour, "who, will reform the body of our lowness, made like the body of His glory, according to the operation whereby he is also able to subdue all things unto himself."*
* Phil. iii. 21.
The human body was created perfect in the beginning. It was the masterpiece of God's power and wisdom in this world. But sin dishonored and disfigured it. It gave birth to a host of infirmities, which mar its original beauty, and in some cases change it even into a monster. Still, in spite of sin, it yet retains, in many individuals, much of its primitive comeliness. But how perfect soever in form and feature any one may be, there is always some deficiency; some member, organ, or feature is slightly distorted, imperfect, or out of proportion with the rest.
On the resurrection day, all these defects and blemishes disappear, and the human body is again, far more than in the beginning, a masterpiece of God's creative power, wisdom, and love. For every member, organ, and feature will then be exquisitely shaped and proportioned, so as to harmonize into a perfect whole of surpassing beauty, without defect or deficiency of any kind. Oh! with what rapturous delight will the soul reunite herself with that beautiful body, and make it her temple forever! It was the companion of her sorrows and her joys in this world. But it was, too, a body of sin and death, and she had, perhaps more than once, sighed and prayed to be delivered from it. But now that it is purified, beautiful, and glorified, she re-enters it with joy, because it is become the fit companion of a beatific spirit. The fond mother meeting her long-lost child, and, in the joy of her heart, pressing it to her bosom, is a faint image of the joy which the soul will experience in the reunion with her glorified body.
But this is not all. St. Thomas maintains* that, besides rising in perfect beauty of form, all the just must rise in the bloom and vigor of youth; otherwise our bodies would not, according to promise, rise conformable to the glorious body of Jesus Christ. From this doctrine it follows that all defect, or appearance of old age, as well as the infirmities and deficiencies of infancy, will be completely removed, and all the saints will enjoy the full perfection of human nature. What consolation there is in all these glorious promises! To be forever young and vigorous, forever blessed with perfect health of mind and body, to be forever beyond the reach of time, which destroys all beauty here below; to be clothed with a body that shall forever be a stranger to suffering: these are some of the joys in store for the children of God in the resurrection of the body.
* Respondeo dicendum, quod homo resurget absque omni defectu humanae naturae: quia sicut Deus humanam naturam absque defectu instituit, ita sine defectu reparabit. Deficit autem humana natura dupliciter. Uno modo quia nondum perfectionem ultimam est consecuta. Alio modo, quia jam ab ultima perfectionis recessit. Et primo modo deficit in pueris, secundo modo deficit in senibus. Et ideo, in utrisque reducetur humana natura per resurrectionem, ad statum ultimae perfectionis qui est in juvenili aetate, ad quam terminatur motus augmenti, a qua, incipit motus decrementi.—S. Thom. Suppl. q. 81, art. 1.
However, this is not all. Rising in glory means something more than rising in mere beauty of form, bloom of youth, and the complete perfection of human nature. It also implies a radiant brilliancy wherewith the just will shine on the resurrection day. This is one of the meanings of glory in the language of Scripture. Take the following as an instance out of many: "And when Aaron spoke to all the assembly of the children of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness: and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud."* That is, a brilliant and dazzling splendor burst forth in the heavens. So, also, when Jesus was glorified in his transfiguration, "His face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as snow." Moreover, as a general rule, when celestial inhabitants appeared in this world, they were surrounded with a halo of brilliant light; as we read of the angels who appeared at the birth of Christ, and of those who appeared to the holy women that were going to embalm the body of Jesus. Hence it is that in the paintings of Christian art, the head, or the whole body of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints, is always surrounded by this halo of light.
* Exod. xvi.
This is the light, the brilliancy which is promised to the saints by our Blessed Lord himself, when He says: "Then shall the just shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."* Thus shall the soul that is now united to God, in the Beatific Vision, and already a partaker of the divine nature, communicate her own dazzling splendor to the body, and surround it with an aureola of glory, which will form a portion of her blessedness for evermore.
* Matt. xiii.
But, although all the just must rise in glory and in the perfection of human nature, you must not, therefore, infer that all shall rise in the same degree of beauty and splendor of form. For, as the resurrection is a reward to the just, it follows that each one shall have a body glorified in proportion to his own individual merits. Any contrary doctrine would sound like heresy. If you were told, for instance, that the murderer who dies on the scaffold, after making an act of perfect contrition, will rise on the last day with a body as beautiful and glorious as that of the Blessed Virgin, or of the Apostles, martyrs, and holy virgins, your whole soul would revolt at such a doctrine. You would maintain, that if the resurrection is a reward to the just, the beauty of their bodies should bear some proportion to their merits. You would certainly be right in maintaining this; for it is the very doctrine taught by St. Paul, when he says: "One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars, for star differeth from star in glory: so also in the resurrection of the dead."* Each one, therefore, shall rise in that particular degree of glory which he has deserved by the more or less holy life he has led in this world.
* 1 Cor. xv. 41.
It will no longer be as it is in this world, where personal beauty is a free gift of God, but no reward. Hence we see personal beauty in pagans and infidels, as well as in Christians. Its possession does not, in the hast, denote sanctity; nor does its absence denote moral depravity; and, therefore, beautiful persons may be very wicked, while deformed ones may be very holy. Not so after the resurrection. Perfect personal beauty, accompanied with a heavenly splendor, being one of the rewards in store for the children of God, will then denote sanctity in the just. The more holy they have been in this life, the more beautiful and conformable to the glorious body of Jesus they shall be.
Now, Christian reader, do you wish to possess faultless personal beauty in your heavenly home? Do you desire, not only to increase your own blessedness, but to be even an ornament in the kingdom of your Father? No doubt you do. Well, you have the means in your hands. Lead a holy life, a life of purity and perfect charity. Endeavor to reproduce in yourself the virtues which Jesus taught and practised; and when the angel's trumpet calls the dead to life, your body, which must first be sown in dishonor, shall rise in that degree of beauty which you have deserved by the holiness of your life.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE RISEN BODY.
Having seen the personal beauty and splendor in which the just will rise on the last day, we shall now examine some other attributes of the glorified body. St. Paul tells us: "It is sown an animal body, it shall rise a spiritual body."*
* 1 Cor. xv. 44.
Rising a spiritual body does not mean that the bodies of the just shall be changed into spirits. Our bodies, which are material by nature, must remain so forever. They must rise in conformity to the glorious body of Jesus Christ, "who will reform the body of our lowness made like to the body of His glory." And what kind of a body had Jesus Christ, when he arose triumphant over death and hell? It was certainly His own material body of real flesh and blood, and not a spirit. When he appeared to his apostles, as St. Luke tells us, "they, being troubled and affrighted, supposed that they saw a spirit. And He said to them, Why are you troubled, and why do these thoughts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see me have."* Assuredly, here is a true body of flesh and blood and bone, and not a spiritual one—in the sense that matter does or can become a spirit. It is the very same body in which He suffered such terrible tortures and agonies during his bitter passion.