The closing article of the
Apostles Creed is also the opening door to our spiritual life. In fact, in one
sense everlasting life is the spiritual life.
As understood in the Sacred
Scriptures, eternal life begins at baptism (Romans 6:4). It is a new life,
initiated by union with the death of Christ, which is symbolized and effected
by baptism (Romans 6:4). It is death according to the flesh (Romans 8:12), but
it is a resurrection from the life of sin (Romans 6:13). It is therefore a life
conferred by holiness (Romans 5:18, 21). It is a life that is active within the
Christian (I Corinthians 4:11). It is the conferral of the life of the Risen
Jesus (Romans 8:11). We are thus reconciled with God by the death of Jesus, and
saved by Him through a participation in His life (Romans 8:11). All of this is
everlasting life, while still in this world and before we enter into
There is more than passing value
in seeing the two dimensions of everlasting life here on earth and in the
world to come. Not the least implication is that everlasting life is
essentially the supernatural life. Everlasting life is natural to God alone and
belongs by right only to Him. It is beyond the natural, hence above (super)
the rights or claims of any creature,
whether angelic or human. It is nothing less than a participation in the very
life of God, by grace here below and in glory and in the heavens above.
The adjective eternal applied to
life, therefore, means not only its endless duration after bodily death. It
also signifies a share in Gods own life, which is eternal because it is His
life, uniquely His own.
Time and again the Scriptures not
only speak of God as eternal. but identify Him as God because He alone in the
absolute sense is eternal. Thus Abraham is said to have invoked Yahweh, the
Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33). He
created the heavens and the earth. Although they wear out, He remains what He
is and His years are never finished (Psalm 102:26 28). The adjective
eternal (Greek = Aionios) is applied to
God to signify the kind of existence that transcends time (Romans 16:26).
God is the Alpha and the Omega
the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet because He is from
everlasting unto everlasting (Revelation 1:8). He alone is without beginning
because He always existed, and without end, because He will always exist. His
very essence is to exist. He alone cannot not exist. And it is a share in this
very life of the Trinity that we are privileged to possess in what we call
time, and destined to enjoy, with God, when He calls us into eternal (anionios) life (Matthew 25:46).
Our focus here is on eternal life
in the life to come, which is the closing article of the Nicene Creed. It is
also the Churchs main focus in her second millennium of commentary on the
Heaven as the Vision of God
The Catholic Church identified
heaven as the place and condition of perfect happiness. This happiness consists
primarily in the immediate vision of God.
What is this immediate vision of
God? In the Churchs infallible teaching (Pope Benedict XII Benedictus Deus, 1336) the souls in heaven see
the divine essence with an intuitive and even face-to-face vision, without
interposition of any creature between God and the human soul. Rather, the
divine essence immediately manifests itself to them plainly, clearly, openly.
As a result, Those who see the divine essence in this way receive great joy
from it. And because of this vision and enjoyment, the souls are truly blessed
and possess life and eternal rest.
Several words in this definition
should be further explained:
- The beatific vision of God is intuitive. This means that it is not the result of mental
reasoning or reflection.
- It is a face-to-face vision of the Blessed Trinity.
Nothing stands between the soul and God.
- It is direct perception of who God is, with no creature as the channel or medium between the
soul and its Creator.
- It is so intimate that we may compare it with our knowledge of ourselves.
- God reveals Himself plainly, openly, and clearly because He discloses Himself personally
and not merely through the finite creatures He has made.
On earth, even our deepest
knowledge of God is by contrast with the world that He made. But in heaven all
this will be changed. My dear people, the Apostle John wrote to the early
Christians, we are already the children of God. But what we are to be in the
future has not yet been revealed. All we know is that when it is revealed we shall
be like Him because we shall see Him as He really is (I John 3:2). We shall
behold the very reality of God.
Heavenly Enjoyment of God and of Creatures
Besides the immediate vision of God in heaven, we shall also
enjoy creatures. This should not seem
strange since, even on earth, God wants us to enjoy creatures always, of
course, subordinate to Himself.
At the summit of these created heavenly joys is the company
and mutual love of the glorified Christ, the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and
saints. Christ compared heaven to a wedding feast; He promised paradise to the
good thief on Calvary; and He spoke of the many mansions that He went to heaven
to prepare for us.
In heaven, we shall have the full use of our minds and
wills. And after the resurrection our bodies will share in the heavenly joys.
We may believe that knowledge we have acquired on earth will be carried into
glory, along with the memory of past experiences, provided always that such
knowledge will contribute to our happiness.
There is also communication of minds and the exchange of
affections in heaven. Why? Because heaven is a society. As described by St.
John, it is the holy city and the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2).
Few writers have improved on St. Thomas Aquinass
description of the joys of heaven in his Exposition
of the Apostles Creed:
Eternal life is the perfect
fulfillment of desire, because each of the blessed will have more than he
desired or hoped for. In this life, no one can fulfill his desires, nor can any
creature satisfy a mans craving. God alone satisfies and infinitely surpasses
mans desires, which therefore can never rest except in God. You have made us,
O Lord, for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. (Confessions,
1) Since in heaven the saints possess
God, it is evident that their desires are satisfied and their glory exceeds
[In commenting on our Lords
invitation to those on His right hand on the last day] Enter into the joy of
the Lord, St. Augustine explains, that their whole joy will not enter into
the joyful, but the joyful will enter into joy.
I shall be satisfied when your
glory shall appear, sings the Psalmist, who fills your desire with good
things (Psalm 16:15; 102:5). Why satisfied? Because whatsoever is delightful
will be there superabundantly.
Our desire for pleasure will be perfectly fulfilled because
we shall possess God, who is our sovereign Good.
Our desire for honor will be supremely achieved because all
possible honor will be there.
Our desire for knowledge will be complete because in heaven
we shall know the natures of all things. We shall know all truth and whatsoever
we wish to know, we shall know. We shall possess whatever we wish to possess,
together with eternal life.
Our desire for security will also be achieved, unlike the
situation in this world. here on earth there is no assured security. The more
one has, and the higher ones position, the more reason there is to fear, and
the more a person wants. But in life eternal, there is neither sorrow, nor
toil, nor fear.
Our desire for pleasant companionship will be experienced in
the company of all the blessed. Each person in heaven will share with others
whatever he has, and all will love one another and rejoice in the happiness of everyone
else. Thus the joy and gladness of each one will be as great as the joy of all.
St. Thomas makes sure we have no illusion about the meaning
of the alternative to eternal life as everlasting joy. In common with all the
great commentators on the Apostles Creed, he closes his exposition with a
summary of the Churchs teaching on hell.
The saints in heaven will have all
these things and many more that surpass description. The wicked, on the other
hand, will be in everlasting death. They will have no less sorrow and pain than
the good will have joy and glory. Their punishment is aggravated in several
- Through their separation from God and from all good things. This is the
pain of loss, which corresponds to aversion, and surpasses the pain of sense.
- By the remorse of conscience. Yet their regret and anguish will
be useless, for it will not be because of the hatred of sin, but because of the
grief of their punishment.
- By the intensity of the pain of sense
which is inflicted by the fires of hell and which will torture both soul and
body. They will feel as though they are always dying, but never dead and never
going to die. That is why it is described as everlasting death.
- By their despair of salvation. If only
they could hope for deliverance from their agony, their punishment would be
alleviated. But since they have lost all hope, their pains are exceedingly
For nineteen hundred years,
the Churchs masters of the spiritual life have not ceased to dwell on this
stark contrast between everlasting life and everlasting death. Augustine
and Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, Ignatius Loyola
and Alphonsus Liguori, Thomas More and Maximilian Kolbe all in their own way
drew the obvious conclusion. There is an eternal difference between heaven and
hell. For this reason, says Aquinas, man should often call these things to
mind, since he is thereby urged to do good things and draw away from evil.
That is why the Apostles Creed ends with the words, everlasting life, to
make sure it becomes deeply impressed upon our memories.
May we be brought to this
life by our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
This is not only a prayer. It is the confident hope of everyone who professes
the Apostles Creed and puts it into practice.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
Pocket Catholic Catechism