The first error consists in ignoring or making little of the Beatific Vision, after the resurrection, and letting our mind pass from creature to creature, gathering exquisite pleasures from each, until practically we make man's happiness in heaven come almost exclusively from creatures. This is, substantially, the view which Protestants take of heaven. They have written books on the subject, in which they speak eloquently and even learnedly on the joys involved in the mutual recognition of friends and kindred, on the delights we shall enjoy in our social intercourse with the saints and angels, in the music that shall ravish our very souls, and other things of that nature. In a word, they maintain, as well as we do, that, in heaven, man will enjoy every possible intellectual, moral, and sensible pleasure, and that nothing will be wanting to make him perfectly happy in his whole being.
Here is the Protestant view of heaven. It is certainly far from being gross or carnal. It may even, at first sight, appear not to differ from that which is taught by the Catholic Church. But, on closer examination, the difference becomes apparent. In the Protestant view of heaven, the Beatific Vision is either entirely ignored, or, if mentioned at all, it is explained so as to mean next to nothing; at hast, it does not appear to add anything to the exquisite happiness already enjoyed in creatures. In their view heaven is really nothing more than a natural beatitude, such as might leave been enjoyed even in this world, if Adam had not sinned.
We must, therefore, be on our guard against any view of heaven which would make its principal happiness come from creatures. We must ever remember that no creature, either here or hereafter, can give perfect happiness to man. Wherefore, in our meditations on heaven, we must beware of making its chief happiness consist in delightful music, social intercourse with the saints, or in the pleasures enjoyed through the glorified senses, however pure and refined we may imagine them to be. This, then, is the first error to be avoided, and with much care; not only because it is untrue, but because also it lowers the beatitude of heaven, which consists essentially in the vision, love, and enjoyment of God himself.
The second error to be avoided consists in placing the whole happiness of man so completely and exclusively in the Beatific Vision, that neither the resurrection of the body with its glorious gifts, nor the communion of saints, nor heavenly music, nor any other creature, can increase the happiness already enjoyed by the soul in the possession of God. In this extreme and exclusive view of the Beatific Vision, man is so completely absorbed in God, and so perfectly happy in Him, that the whole creation is to him as if it were not; and if he were the only man ever created, or the only one in heaven, his joys would be precisely the same as they are, now that he is surrounded with angels, saints, and other creatures of God.
They who hold such extreme views may be very holy persons; but their opinions are far from being in accordance with sound theology. They remind us of those unskilful guides who taught St. Theresa that, in order to reach the most perfect contemplation in this world, we must raise our minds so completely above every creature, "that although it should be even the humanity of Christ, it is still some impediment for those who have advanced so far in spirituality, and that it hinders them from applying to the most perfect contemplation." It is almost needless to add that she soon discovered this to be a very dangerous error, and, as may be seen in the twenty-second chapter of her life, she expresses the deepest regret for having, even for a moment, entertained such an opinion. So will these persons of whom I speak discover their error, if they view the whole happiness of heaven, as it is taught by sound theology. Let us, then, see what theology teaches on the resurrection of the body, as increasing the happiness of the blessed, and on the accidental beatitude which comes to man from creatures.
1. It teaches, first, that the resurrection is not a mere accidental glory, which may or may not be given to the just, but that it is an essential element of man's happiness.* The soul of Abraham, for instance, that is now united to God in the Beatific Vision, is not, properly speaking, Abraham himself, but only a part of him. In order, therefore, to be perfect according to her nature, that soul must again be clothed with her own body of real flesh and blood, so that Abraham may again be a living man, and that God may be called, in the fullest sense of the word, "the God of the living." Evidently the same must be said of every other soul now basking in the light of God's countenance.
* Anima corpori naturaliter unitur; est enim secundum suam essentiam corporis forma; est igitur contra naturam animaae absque corpore esse. Nihil autem quod est contra naturam potest esse perpetuum ... oportet eam (animam) corpori iterato conjungi, quod est resurgere. Sum. contr. gent., lib.4, cap.79. .... Ad secundum, dicendum quod anima Abrahae non est proprie loquendo ipso Abraham, sed pars eius, et sic de aliis. Unde vita animae Abrahae non sufficeret ad hoc quod Abraham sit vivens, vel quod Deus Abraham sit Deus viventis: sed exigitur vita totius conjuncti, scilicet animae et corporis, quae quidem vita quamvis non esset in actu, quando verba proponebantur, erat tamen in ordine utriusque partis ad resurrectionem: unde Dominus per verba illa subtilissime et efficaciter resurrectionem profit. -- S. Thom., Suppl., q.75, art.1.
We are not angels, but men. An angel is a superior being, and of a different order from us. He is a spirit, and complete as such without a body. But the human soul, although a spirit too, is not perfect without a body; for, as such, she is only a part of the being called man. Besides, it is not the soul alone that is to enjoy the happiness of heaven; it is man. And as he is composed of both soul and body, it is necessary that the soul should again be clothed with her body, so that man may be placed in the enjoyment of heaven's happiness in his whole being.
2. Theology teaches, in the second place, that the happiness of the blessed is increased by the resurrection, because the soul is enabled to receive new pleasures by her reunion with a glorified body. And, first, the human soul, which is not only intellectual, but also sensitive, receives those organs by which she is again enabled to exercise her imagination, and other faculties of her emotional or sensitive nature; all of which are sources of great enjoyment. Secondly, by her reunion with the body, she is again empowered to receive pleasure through the glorified senses. Thirdly, the soul is made more perfect in all her operations by her reunion with a glorified body.* The human body as now constituted, or rather as injured by sin, does not, it is true, always perfect the soul in her operations; it rather impedes her, at hast in many of them. Hence, the Wise Man tells us that "The corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation presseth down the mind that museth many things."+ If therefore, a glorified soul were reunited to such a body, undoubtedly her operations would not be made more perfect than they are in her separate state. But it is not to be so. The soul is to be reunited to a glorified body, that will be entirely subject to the spirit, and will, in consequence, perfect all its intellectual operations, its moral affections, and every other act which, according to its nature, it can perform.
*... Si ergo a corpore removeatur omne illud per quod actioni animae resistit, simpliciter erit anima perfectior in tali corpore existens quam separata: quanto autem perfectius in esse, tanto perfectius potest operari. Unde et operatio animae conjunctae tali corpori erit perfectior quam operatio animae separatae. Hujusmodi autem corpus erit gloriosum, quod omnino subdetur spiritui: Unde cum beatitudo in operatione consistat, perfectior erit beatitudo animae post resumptionem corporis quam ante. -- S. Thom., Suppl. q.93, art.1.
+ Wis. ix.15.
But, perhaps, some may say: Will not the Vision of God, at hast, be lessened or obscured by the reunion of the soul to a material body? It certainly will not. If the Vision of the Divine Essence could be obscured by the risen body, then, as Suarez wisely observes, the resurrection would be a punishment to the just, rather than a reward. Hence, he maintains that even the Beatific Vision is more perfect after the resurrection than it was before. This becomes evident when we remember that the Beatific Vision consists of the three human acts of knowledge, love, and enjoyment of God. These acts are evidently more perfect after the resurrection, since the human soul acts more perfectly in union with a glorified body than when separated from it. It follows, then, that even the essential beatitude of the saints is both increased and perfected by the resurrection of the body. Let us now see what theology teaches about accidental glory.
3. It teaches that accidental glory is any perfection of supernatural beatitude coming to the blessed from any object outside of the Beatific Vision, that is, from creatures. Thus, when our Blessed Lord tells us that "There shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner doing penance,"* He manifestly speaks of a new joy which comes to the blessed from an object outside of the Beatific Vision. So then, evidently, some of heaven's joys do come from creatures, though, ultimately, we may say, they all come from God.
* Luke xv, 2.
In this world, we receive a portion of our light from the moon; but that light is still from the sun, because the moon has no light of her own. She is a mere reflector, or instrument by which, during the night, the sun conveys to us a portion of his light. So in heaven. God is the only source of happiness and joy; and no creature is or can be a source of happiness independently of Him. But He can and does make use of creatures to adorn, perfect, and complete the happiness of the whole man.
* Beatitudo accidentalis, proprie et generatim loquendo, est quaelibet beati perfectio supernaturalis quae versatur circa aliquid quod est extra objectum beatificum, prout beatificum est.... Quia nulla est essentia creata quae non egeat aliquo accidente ad consummationem suae perfectionis. Essentialis autem beatitudo est quid creatum; ergo ornatur accidentibus. Et sicut essentialis beatitudo consistit in operatione, ita et haec accidentalis. Jam vero, istius accidentalis beatitudinis causa, seu praemii accidentalis meritum provenit ex bonis operibus, quae dum merentur praemium seu beatitudinem essentialem, etiam simul merentur accidentalem tamquam proprietatem in essentiali radicaliter contentam.... Ita qui meretur beatitudinem essentialem, simul meretur accidentalem, et utramque per modem unius praemii. -- Suarez. de Beat. disput.11.
Nevertheless, though this accidental glory comes to the blessed from creatures, it is radically contained in the essential, and is given with the essential as one reward, and not as two. For there are not two beatitudes in heaven. There is only one, which comprises both the essential and the accidental. It is true, we make a distinction between them, because the one comes immediately from God, while the other comes from creatures. But it does not, in the hast, follow that this last is of little use or to be despised. Considering the needs of our nature, which is not destroyed, but perfected in heaven, accidental glory is necessary to perfect and complete the blessedness of God's children, and to gratify every rational craving of human nature.
Thus the crown of the virgins -- who sing a canticle that no one else can sing, and who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth -- is a mere accidental glory; and yet it is one so much prized that many have given life itself, amidst the most cruel torments, in order to enjoy it. Thus again, our social intercourse with the saints, and the pure joys resulting therefrom, the meeting of our kindred and friends in heaven, the ravishing music which resounds through the vaults of heaven, the pleasures of the glorified senses these and a thousand other joys are the accidental beatitude with which God perfects and completes the happiness of the whole man.
The third error which we shall now examine flows naturally from the mistaken and exclusive views which some persons take of the Beatific Vision. They imagine that the vision of God will so completely absorb and monopolize every faculty of man, that, practically, he will become motionless and inactive as a statue. There can be no greater mistake. It is true that our union with God, in the Beatific Vision, is happiness and joy, greater than mortal man can conceive; but it by no means follows that it will hinder the free exercise of our mental faculties, or the activities of our glorified bodies. Indeed, the very reverse will take place; for glory does not destroy nature, but perfects it.
We are active by nature. Action, therefore, both of mind and body, is a law of our being, which cannot be changed, without radically changing, or rather destroying our whole nature. As glory perfects our whole nature, instead of destroying it, it follows that in heaven we shall be far more active than we can possibly be here below; for there all our powers will exist in their highest perfection. Therefore, the intellect, elevated and strengthened by the light of glory, will continue to think and to contemplate the truth; for such is the natural action of the human intellect. Thus, also, the will, which is the loving power of the soul, shall continue forever to love; for its natural action is to love the good, the beautiful, and the perfect. The memory, also, will forever continue to recall the many graces received from God, thus keeping alive a deep sense of gratitude for His benefits; while the imagination will still continue to make to itself new and captivating pictures of beauty. Thus, also, the eye will continue to see material objects; for such is the natural action of that organ. The ear will continue to hear delightful sounds, and the whole body will continue to receive pleasurable sensations, and to perform all other actions which are natural to it, if we except those that belong to the animal life of man; for, as we have already seen, such actions are incompatible with a life and state of incorruption.
The soul of Jesus Christ enjoyed the Beatific Vision, even while here on earth in mortal flesh. Was He, on that account, prevented from doing anything, except contemplating the Divine Essence? He certainly was not. He labored and preached; he ate, drank, and slept; he visited his friends, and did a thousand other things, without losing sight of the Divine Nature.*
* Ad quartum dicendum, quando unum duorum est ratio alterius, occupatio animae circa unum non impedit nec remittet occupationem eius circa aliud.... Et quia Deus apprehenditur a sanctis ut ratio omnium quae ab eis agentur vel cognoscentur: ideo occupatio eorum circa sensibilia et sentienda, vel quaecumque alia contemplanda aut agenda, in nullo impediet divinam contemplationem, nec e converso. Vel dicendum quod ideo una potentia impeditur in actu suo quando alia vehementer operatur, quia una potentia de se non sufficit ad tam intensam operationem, nisi ei subveniatur per id quod erat aliis potentiis vel membris instituendum a principio vitae: et quia erunt in sanctis omnes potentiae perfectissimae, una poterit ita intense operari, quod ex hoc nullum impedimentum praestabitur actioni alterius potentiae; sicut et in Christus fuit. -- S. Thom., Suppl., q.82, art.8.
Moreover, if the Beatific Vision is to overpower us, suspend our activities, and change us into statues, what would be the use of bestowing upon us the gift of agility? As we have seen, by that wonderful gift we shall be empowered to transport ourselves, with the rapidity of thought, to the most distant parts of God's universe. Is such a power to be given as a reward to God's children, and then rendered totally inactive and useless? We might as well say that though we shall have eyes, we shall not see. Wherefore, St. Thomas maintains that the blessed will go from place to place, according to their will, to exercise the power of agility which they have received, and to enjoy the beauty of God's creatures, which eminently reflect the divine wisdom.* nor shall they, on this account, lose anything of their essential happiness, which consists in the vision of God, for they will find Him everywhere present.
* Respondeo dicendum, quod corpora gloriosa aliquando moveri necesse est ponere.... Verisimile est quod aliquando movebuntur pro suae libitu voluntatis, ut illud quod habent virtute actu exercentes, divinam sapientiam commendabilem ostendant; et ut etiam visus eorum reficiatar pulchritudine creaturarum dtversarum, in quibus Dei sapientia eminenter relucebit. Sensus autem non potest esse nisi praesentium, quamvis magis a longinquo sentire possint corpora gloriosa, quam non gloriosa: nec tamen per motum aliquid deperibit eorum beatitudini quae consistit in Dei visione, quem ubique praesentem habebunt. -- S. Thom., Suppl., q.84, art.2.
From all this sound theology it is evident that our union with God in the Beatific Vision, far from suspending or destroying the activities of our nature, will rather increase and perfect them. It will do so, first, by taking away from soul and body whatever now makes us sluggish; and, secondly, by adding to our now existing faculties supernatural powers, which will give to our nature its highest degree of perfection and similitude to God, who is all activity.
We must be careful to remember all this; otherwise it will be impossible for us ever to understand how the saints can possibly enjoy each other's society, rejoice at the conversion of sinners, listen to delightful music, enjoy the pleasures of the glorified senses, and otherwise exercise all the faculties and powers of their nature. The little glimpse of heaven given in the Apocalypse, certainly does not represent the saints and angels as inactive statues. On the contrary, all is life and a wonderful activity.
We are now prepared to meditate upon the integral happiness of heaven, which includes the resurrection of the body. This is the happiness which is to gratify every rational appetite of man.