The Doctrine of the Last Things

(Eschatology or the last things) [1] 





The Eschatology of the Individual Human Being


§ 1. Death

   1.   The Origin of Death


In the present order of salvation death is a punishment for sin. (De Fide)

The Council of Trent teaches in the Decree on Original Sin, that Adam became subject to sin by the transgression of the Divine commandment, that God had previously threatened him with death, and that he transmitted death to the whole of mankind. Dz 788 et seq. Cf. Dz 101, 175.

Although man, on account of his composition from several parts, is by nature mortal, he was, according to the testimony of Revelation, endowed with the preternatural gift of bodily immortality in Paradise. As a punishment for the transgression of the Divine probationary commandment, he was sentenced to the death with which he had previously been threatened. Gn. 2:17: “For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death” (=be subject to death). And in 3:19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” St. Paul teaches in the most definite manner that death is a consequence of Adam’s sin. Rom. 5:12: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.”

St. Augustine defends the clear teaching of Revelation against the Pelagians, who denied the gifts of the original state, and, therefore, regarded death as arising exclusively from the natural decomposition of the human being.

In the case of those justified by grace, death loses its penal character and becomes a mere consequence of sin (poenalitas). For Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother Mary, on account of their freedom from original sin, death was neither a punishment for sin nor a mere consequence of sin. In view of the constitution of human nature, death for them was, however, natural. Cf. S. Th. II II 164; III 14, 2.


   2. Generality of Death


All human beings subject to original sin are subject to the law of death. (De fide.) Dz 789.

St. Paul bases the universality of death on the universality of original sin (Rom. 5:12). Cf. Hebr. 9:27: “It is appointed to men once to die.”

Individual human beings can, however, by special privilege, be preserved from death. Holy Writ says of Henoch that he was translated without seeing death. (Hebr. 5; cf. Gn. 5:24; Ecclus. 44:16), and of Elias, that he drove up to Heaven in a whirlwind (4 Kings 2:11; 1 Macca, 2:58). Since the time of Tertullian (De anima 50), many Fathers and Theologians assume, in view of Apoc. 11:3 et seq., that they will come again before the end of the world and give testimony for Christ, and suffer death. However, this interpretation is uncertain. Modern Exegesis understands by the two witnesses Moses and Elias, or men who resemble them.

St. Paul teaches that those of the just who are living when Christ comes again will not “fall asleep” (= die), but will be immediately transformed. Cor. 15:51: “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep; but we shall all be changed.” Cf. Thess. 4:15 et seq.

The explanation expounded by St. Thomas also (S. Th.  I II 81, 3 ad 1) that the Apostle did not wish to deny altogether that they would die but merely implied that their death would be for a very short time, is exegetically hardly tenable.


   3. Significance of Death


With death the possibility of merit or demerit or con­version ceases. (Sent. certa.)

Against this teaching of the Church we note the “Apokatastasis” doctrine of Origen, according to which the damned angels and men will be converted and finally attain to God, and the ancient (Pythagoras, Plato, Gnostics and Manichaeans) and modern (Theosophists) widely-extended teaching of the migration of souls (metempsychosis, re-incarnation), according to which the soul, after leaving its present body, goes into another body, until it is perfectly purified and then attains to blessedness.

A Synod of Constantinople, in the year 543, rejected the doctrine of Apokatastasis (Dz 211). The definition of the doctrine of the impossibility justifica­tion after death was projected at the Vatican Council (Coll. Lac. VII 567).

It is a fundamental teaching of Holy Writ that the reward in the next world is proportional to the merits or demerits of life on earth. According to Mt. 25, 34 et seq., the Judge of the World makes His sentence dependent on the performance or neglect of good works on earth. The rich reveller and the poor Lazarus are separated from each other in the other world by an unfathom­able abyss (Luke 16:26). The period of earthly life is the “Day,” the time for work, the period after death is the “Night, when no man can work” (John 9:4). St. Paul teaches: “All must be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body according as he bath done (= on earth), whether it be good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10). Thus he enjoins us to do good, “whilst we have time” (Gal. 6:10). Cf. Apoc. 2:10. The Fathers, with the exception of individual adherents of Origen (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus), teach that the time for penance and conversion is limited to life on earth: St. Cyprian declares: “If one is departed from thence, then there is no longer any possibility of penance, and expiation has no effect. It is here below that life is either lost or won” (Ad Demetrianum 25). Cf. Ps.-Clement, ad Cor. 8, 2 et seq.; Aphraates, Demonstr. 20, 12; St. Jerome, In ep. ad Gal. 3:6, 10; St. Fulgentius, De fide ad Petrum 3: 36.

The limitation of the possibility of meriting to the period of life on earth rests on a free ordinance of God. However, it is very appropriate that time should decide the eternal fate of human beings, as body and soul are united together, because the eternal reward will also extend to both. This demands that people should make use of life on earth in order to win everlasting life.


§ 2. The Particular Judgment


Immediately after death the particular judgment takes place, in which, by a Divine Sentence of Judgment, the eternal fate of the deceased person is decided. (Sent. fidei proxima.)

Opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church is Chiliadism (Millenarism) which, invoking Apoc. 20:1 et seq., and Old Testament prophecies about the coming Empire of the Messiah, foretold a long dominion of a thousand years for Christ and the Just on earth before the general Resurrection, and asserted accordingly, that only then will the final beatification take place. This view was expounded by many of the older Fathers (Papias, St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian and others). The Church’s teaching is also opposed to the view of various ancient and modern sects which hold that souls after their separation from the bodies are, until the final re-unification with the body, in an unconscious or semi-conscious condition, the so-called soul-sleep (hypnopsychites), or that they formally die (death-sleep) and are re-awakened with the body (thnetopsychites). Cf. Dz 1913 (Rosmini).

The doctrine that there is a particular judgment for each soul immediately after death is not defined but is presupposed by the dogma that departed souls go forthwith (mox = immediately) after death into Heaven or into hell or into purgatory.


The Union Councils of Lyons and of Florence declared that the souls of the just, free from all sin and punishment, are immediately assumed into Heaven, and that the souls of those who die in mortal sin or merely in original sin descend immediately into hell. Dz 464, 693.

Pope Benedict XII, in the dogmatic constitution “Benedictus Deus” (1336), teaches that the completely pure souls of the Just immediately after death, or after their puri­fication enter heaven, become partakers us the immediate vision of the Divine Essence, and are truly blessed, while the souls of those in mortal sin immediately enter hell and are subject to the torments of hell. D 530 et seq. The decision is directed against the reaching of Pope John XXII, proposed by him as a private opinion, that the completely pure souls are indeed immediately assumed into Heaven, but before the Resurrection do not immediately enjoy the vision of the Divine Essence, but only the vision of the Transfigured Humanity of Christ. Cf. Dz 457, 493 a, 570 s. 696.


The Roman Catechism (I 8, 3) expressly teaches the doctrine of the particular judgment.

Holy Writ indirectly implies the existence of the particular judgment by teaching that the departed souls immediately after death receive their reward or punishment. Cf. Ecclus 1: 13 ; 11:28 et seq. Lazarus is immediately after death taken into the bosom of Abraham (= limbus Patrum) and the rich reveller is immediately consigned to hell, for punishment (Luke 16:22 et seq.). The dying Redeemer says to the penitent thief: “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Judas arrived “at his own place” (Acts 1:25). Death is for St. Paul the gate to blessedness and to be with Christ. Phil. 1:23 “I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” “With the Lord” in his true home (2 Cor. 5:8). With death the state of faith ceases and the state of vision commences (2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Cor. 13:12).


The views of the Early Fathers on the fate of the deceased are obscure. However, their belief in the particular judgment emerges from the general conviction that the good receive their reward and the evil their punishment immediately after death. As to the nature of the condition of reward or punishment in the other world uncertainty reigned. Many of the older Fathers (St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Sr. Hilary, St. Ambrose) assume a state of waiting between death and resurrection, in which the just indeed receive reward and the evil punishment, but do not yet achieve the final blessedness of Heaven or the final condemnation of hell. Tertullian makes an exception in the case of martyrs to whom he concedes immediate assumption into Paradise,” that is, the bliss of heaven (De anima 55; De carnis resurr. 43). St. Cyprian insists that all the just enter into the kingdom of Heaven and attain to Christ (De moralitate 26). St. Augustine doubts whether the souls of the just before the Resurrection enjoy (like the angels) the full blessedness which consists in the vision of God (Retr. I 14, 2).

The belief in a particular judgment is directly attested to by St. John Chrysostom (In Matth. hom. 54, 4), St. Jerome (In Joel 2, 11). St. Augustine (De anima et eius origine II 4, 8), Caesarius of Arles (Sermo 5, 5).

The Greek-Orthodox Church in its teaching on the fate of the departed holds fast to the rather ambiguous standpoint of the older Fathers. It assumes an intermediate condition between death and resurrection, which, however, is unequal for the just and the sinners and which is preceded by a particular Judgment. cf. The Confessio orthodoxa of Petrus Mogilas P.I, q. 61.


§ 3. Heaven


   1. Essential Bliss of Heaven


The souls of the just which in the moment of death are free from all guilt of sin and punishment for sin, enter into Heaven. (De fide.)

Heaven is a place and condition of perfect supernatural bliss, which consists in the immediate vision of God and in the perfect love of God associated with it.

The ancient Oriental Creed and the Apostles’ Creed in its later version (fifth century) contain the confession: “I believe in life everlasting.” Dz 6 and 9. Pope Benedict XII declared in the Dogmatic Constitution “Benedictus Deus” (1336), that the entirely pure souls enter Heaven, and behold the Divine Essence immediately and face to face, by the Divine Essence offering Itself to them immediately, uncovered, dear and open, and that by reason of this vision and of this happiness they are truly blessed and have eternal life and eternal rest. Dz 530. Cf. Dz 40, 86, 693, 696.


The eschatology of the older Books of the Old Testament is imperfect. According to it the departed souls descend into the underworld (scheol) where they lead a gloomy joyless existence. However, the lot of the pious is better than that of the godless. From this there emerged the thought of retribution by God in the other world, which clearly appears in the later Books. The Psalmist hopes that God will liberate his soul from the underworld and be his lot forever (Ps. 48:16; 72:26). Daniel attests the bodily resurrection to ever­lasting life, or to ignominy and eternal horror (12:2). The martyrs of the times of the Maccabees drew comfort and strength from the hope of eternal life (2 Mach. 6:26; 7:29,36). The Book of Wisdom describes the bliss and the peace of the souls of the just, who rest in the hand of God and live with Him forever (3, 1-9; 5: 16 et seq.).


Jesus vividly depicts the bliss of Heaven under the picture of a wedding feast (Mt. 25:10 ; cf. Mt. 22:1 et seq. ; Luke 14:15 et seq.) and calls it life or eternal life. Cf. Mt. 18:8 et seq. ; 19:29; 25:46; John 3:15 et seq. 4:14; 5:24; 6:35-59; 10:28; 12:25; 17:2. The condition for the achieving of life everlasting is the knowledge of God and of Christ: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent” (John 17:3). He promises the vision of God to the pure of heart: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God” (Mt. 5: 8).

St. Paul stresses the mysterious character of the future bliss: “Eye bath not seen, nor ear heard; neither bath it entered into the heart of man, what things God bath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9; cf. 2 Cor. 12:4). As a reward, the just receive eternal life (Rom. 2:7; 6:22 et seq.) and a glory, which bears no relation to the sufferings of this world (Rom. 8:18). The immediate vision of God takes the place of the imperfect knowledge of God in this world (1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 5:7).

It is a basic thought of Johannine theology that one attains to eternal life through belief in Jesus, the Messias and Son of God. Cf. John 3:16. 36:20, 31; 1 John 5:13. Eternal life consists in the immediate vision of God. 1 John 3:2: “We shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is.” The Secret Revelation places the bliss of the blessed in the communion of God and of the Lamb, that is, of the risen Christ. They are relieved from all physical evils. Cf. Apoc. 7:9-17; 21:3-7.

St. Augustine occupies himself minutely with the nature of the heavenly bliss. In his later works he erroneously conceived heavenly happiness to consist not alone in the spiritual but in the corporeal immediate vision of God. Cf. De civ. Dei XXII 29 et seq.

Scholasticism stresses the absolute super­natural nature of the vision of God, which demands an altogether supernatural elevation of the intellect, the so—called lumen gloriae (cf. Ps. 35:10; Apoc. 22:5), which makes glorified man capable of the act of the Vision of God. Cf. S.Th. I 12, 4 and 5; Dz. 475. Doctrine of God, Par. 6:3 and 4.

The acts which compose the heavenly blessedness are knowledge (visio), love (amor, caritas) and joy (gaudium, fruitio). The basic act is, according to Thomistic doctrine, knowledge; according to that of the Scotists, love. On the object of the beatific vision of God, see Doctrine of God, Par. 6,3.


   2. Accidental Blessedness of Heaven


In addition to the essential bliss of Heaven which springs from the immediate Vision of God, there is also an accidental blessedness, which proceeds from the natural knowledge and love of created things. (Sent. communis.)

An accidental bliss is achieved by the blessed in virtue of the community of life with Christ in His Human Form, with the Mother of God, and with the Angels arid Saints; in virtue of their re-unification with families and former friends from their earthly life; in virtue of their knowledge of God’s works. Further, the unification of the soul with the transfigured body at the Resurrection means an accidental increase of the glory granted to the Blessed in Heaven.

According to the teaching of the Schoolmen, three classes of the blessed receive, in addition to the essential bliss (aurea, sc. corona), a special reward for the transcendental victory gained by them, called aureola: virgins for their victory over the flesh in accordance with Apoc. 14:4; martyrs for their victory over the world in accordance with Mt. 5: et seq.; teachers of the faith for their victory over the devil, the father of lies, according to Dan. 12:3 and Mt. 5:19. According to St. Thomas the essence of the aureola consists in joy for the works performed by them in die battle against the enemies of salvation (Suppl. 96,1). On the expression aurea cf. Apoc. 4:4; 14:4; for the expression aureola Ex. 25, 25.


   3.   Properties of Heaven


    a)   Eternity


The bliss of Heaven lasts for all eternity. (De fide.)

Pope Benedict XII declared: “The vision and this enjoyment (of the Divine Essence) continues without interruption or diminution of the vision and enjoyment, and will continue until the General Judgment and thenceforth for all eternity.” Dz 530.

Opposed to the teaching of the Church is Origen’s doctrine of the moral mutability of the blessed. This includes the possibility of the diminution or die loss of bliss.

Jesus compares the reward for the good works with treasures in Heaven, which cannot be lost (Mt. 6:20; Luke 12:33). He who makes friends with the Marnmon of iniquity will be taken up in the “eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9. The just will enter  “eternal life” (Mt. 25:46; cf. Mt. 19:29; Rom. 2:7; John 3:15 et seq.).

St. Paul speaks of the eternal bliss under the picture of “an incorruptible crown“ (1 Cor. 9:25).

St. Peter calls it ”the incorruptible crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).

St. Augustine bases his proof of the eternal duration of heaven on the concept of perfect bliss: “How can one speak of true bliss, when confidence in its eternal duration is lacking?” De Civ. Dei XII 13, 1; cf. X 30; XI 13). The will of the blessed is strengthened by their intimate unification with God in love, in such a fashion that a separation by sin from God is morally impossible (moral impeccability).


   b) Inequality of Reward


The degree of perfection of the beatific vision granted to the just is proportioned to each one’s merits. (De fide)

The Decretum pro Graecis of the Union Council of Florence (1439) declared: The souls of the perfectly just “clearly behold the Triune and One God as He is, but corresponding to the difference of their merits, the one more perfectly than the other.” Dz 693.

The Council of Trent defined that the justified person merits an increase of the heavenly glory by good works. Dz 842.

Opposed to the teaching of the Church is the teaching of Jovinian, who, in­fluenced by the Stoics, taught that all virtues are of equal grade; opposed to it also is Luther’s doctrine of the external imputation of Christ’s justice. Both give rise to equality in the beatific vision.

Christ promised: “He (the Son of Man) will render to every one according to his works” (Mt. 16:27). St. Paul teaches: “And every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour” (1 Cor. 3:8). “He who soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly: and he that soweth in blessings shall also reap blessings” (2 Cor. 9:6). Cf. 1 Cor. 15:41 et seq.

The Fathers are fond of appealing to the words of Jesus concerning the many mansions in die Father’s House (John 14:2). Tertullian remarks: “Why are there many mansions in the Father’s house, if not on account of the difference of the merits?” (Scorp. 6). St. Augustine sees in the one penny which all the workers in die vineyard uniformly receive for varying durations of work (Mt. 20:1-16), an indication of eternal life, which is for all similarly of eternal duration; in the many mansions in the house of die Father (John 14:2) he sees a symbol of the various grades of remuneration in the one eternal life. To the objection that inequality gives rise to envy, he answers: “There will be no envy on account of the unequal glory, since the unity of love will reign in all” (In Ioan. tr. 67, 2). Cf. St. Jerome, Adv. Iovin. II 18-34. S. Th. I  12, 6.


§ 4. Hell


    1.   The Reality of Hell


The souls of those who die in the condition of personal grievous sin enter Hell. (De fide.)

Hell is a place or state of eternal punishment inhabited by those rejected by God.

The reality of hell is contested by those sects which teach the total annihilation of the godless after death or after the General Judgment, and also by all who deny personal immortality (materialism).

The Athanasian Creed declares: “But those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.” Dz 40.

Benedict XII declared in the Dogmatic Constitution “Benedictus Deus”: “According to God’s general ordinance, the souls of those who die in a personal grievous sin descend immediately into hell, where they will be tormented by the pains of hell.” Dz 531. Cf. Dz 429, 464, 693, 835, 840.

It is only in the Later Books that the Old Testament provides a clear assertion regarding the eternal punishment of the godless. According to Daniel 12:2, they will rise again “unto reproach, to see it always.” According to Judith 16:20 et seq., the Lord the Almighty will take revenge on the enemies of Israel and will persecute them on the Day of Judgment. “For He will give fire, and worms into their flesh, that they may burn, and may feel forever (that they cry with pain).” Cf. Is. 66, 24. According to Wisdom 4:19: “the godless shall be a reproach among the dead forever”; “They shall be in sorrow and their memory shall perish.” Cf. 3:10; 6:5 et seq.

Jesus threatens sinners with the punishment of hell. He calls it Gehenna (Mt. 5:29 et seq.; 10:28; 23:15. 33; Mk. 9:43. 45. 47 originally = valley of Hinnom), Hell of the fire (Mt. 5:22; 18:9), Hell where the worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished (Mk 9:46 et seq.), everlasting fire (Mt. 25:41), unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:12; Mk. 9:42), furnace of fire (Mt. 13:42. 50), everlasting pain (Mt. 25:46). There will be darkness there (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), wailing and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 13:42. 50; 24:51; ; Luke 13:28). St. Paul attests “They (who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel) shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9). Cf. Rom. 2:6-9; Hebr. 10:26-31. According to Apoc. 21:8, the godless “shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone”; there “they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:10). Cf. 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7.

The Fathers unanimously attest the reality of hell. According to St. Ignatius of Antioch, the person who “corrupts the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified, by evil teaching, will go into die unquenchable fire; and so will the person who listens to him” (Eph. 16:2). St. Justin bases the punishment of hell on die idea of the Divine justice, which does not allow those who trans­gress the law to escape free (Apol. II 9). Cf. Apol. 1 8, 4; at, 6; 28. Martyrium Polycarpi 2, 3 ; 11: 2. St. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV 28, 2.


   2.   Nature of the Punishment of Hell


Scholasticism distinguishes a double element in the punishment of hell: the poena damni (pain of loss) and the poena sensus (pain of sense). The former corresponds to the aversion from God inherent in grievous sin, the latter the conversion to the creature.

The poena damni, which is the essence of the punishment of hell, consists in exclusion from the Beatific Vision. Cf. Mt. 25:41: “Depart from me you cursed!” Mt. 25:12: “I know you not!” 1 Cor. 6:9: “Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God ?” Luke 13, 27:14, 24; Apoc. 22:15. St. Augustine, Enchir. 112.

Poena sensus consists in the suffering which is caused by outside material things (it is also called the positive punishment of hell). The Holy Scriptures speak often of the fire of hell, to which the damned are consigned; they describe hell as a place where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth—a picture of sorrow and of despair.

The fire of hell was conceived by individual Fathers such as Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa, and by later Theologians, like Ambrosius Catharinus, J. A. Mohler and H. Klee, in a metaphorical sense as a symbol for purely spiritual pains, especially for the torments of the gnawing of conscience.

The majority of the Fathers, the Schoolmen and the majority of modern theologians believe it to be a physical fire, but stress the difference between this fire and ordinary fire. St. Thomas, following the precedent of St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great, explains the effect of physical fire on a purely spiritual essence as a binding of the spirits to material fire, which acts as an instrument of the Divine penal justice. Through it the spirits are made subject to matter and hindered in their free movement. Suppl. 70, 3. For an explanation of the reply of the S. Penitentiary of 30-4-1890 regarding the question of hell-fire (Cavellera 1466) cf. H. Lange. Schol 6 (1931) 89 et seq.


    3.   Properties of Hell


    a)   Eternity


The punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity. (De fide.)

The Caput Firmiter of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) declares: “Those (the rejected) will receive a perpetual punishment with the devil.” Dz 429. Cf. Dz 40, 835, 840.

A Synod at Constantinople (543) rejected the Apokatastasis doctrine of Origen. Dz 211.

While Origen denied the eternity of hell-punishment altogether, H. Schell (1906) limited it to those who sin “with raised hand,” that is, from the dis­position of hatred for God, and who persist in this disposition in the other world.

Holy Writ frequently emphasises the eternal duration of hell-punishment by speaking of it as an “eternal reproach” (Dan. 12:2: cf. Wis. 4:19); an “eternal fire” (Judith 16:21; Mt. 18:8 ; 25:41; Judith 7), an “ever­lasting punishment” (Mt. 25:46), an “eternal punishment in destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9). That the word “eternal” is not to be understood in the sense of a duration which is indeed long, but limited is proved by parallel expressions like “unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12; Mk. 9:43), or Hell, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mk. 9, 45 et seq.), as well as by the contrast of ”everlasting punishment “—“ Life everlasting” in Mt. 25:46. According to Apoc. 14 (19:3), “the smoke of their torments (of the damned) shall ascend up for ever and ever,” that is, without end. Cf. Apoc. 20:10.

The “restitution of all things” announced in Acts 3:21, does not refer to the lot of the damned, but to the renewal of the world which is to take place on the coming-again of Christ.

The Fathers before Origen unanimously affirm the eternal duration of the punishment of hell. Cf. St. Ignatius, Eph. 16: 2; St. Justin, Apol. I 28. 1. Martyrium Polycarpi a, 3; a: St. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV a8, a; Tertullian, De poenit. 12.

Origen’s denial proceeded from the Platonic doctrinal opinion that the purpose of all punishment is the improvement of the delinquent. Origen was followed by St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Didymus of Alexandria and Evagrius Ponticus.

St. Augustine defends the endless duration of hell-punishment against the Origenists and against “the merciful ones” (St. Ambrose), who, in view of the Divine mercy, taught the restoration of Christians who died in mortal sin. Cf. De civ. Dei XXI 23; Ad Orosium 6, 7; Enchir. 112.

On the ground of the teaching of Revelation it is to be inferred, that the will of the damned is immovably hardened in evil and is, therefore, inac­cessible to any true repentance. The reason is that God refuses all farther grace to the damned. Cf. S. Th. I II 85, a ad 3 ; Suppl. 98, 2. 5. 6.


     b)    Inequality of Punishment


The punishment of the damned is proportioned to each one’s guilt. (Sent. communis.)

The Union Councils of Lyons and of Florence declared that the souls of the damned are punished with unequal punishments (poenis tamen disparibus puniendas). Dz 464, 693. This is probably intended to assert not merely a specific difference in the punishment of original sin (poena damni) and of personal sins (poena damni and poena sensus), but also a difference in the degree of punishment for personal sins.

Jesus threatens the inhabitants of Corazain and Bethsaida, on account of their slowness to repent, with a stricter judgment than the dwellers in Tyre and Sidon (Mt. 11:22). The Scribes are to be subject to a particularly strict judgment (Luke 20:47).

St. Augustine teaches: “In their wretchedness the lot of some of the damned will be more tolerable than that of others” (Enchir. 111). Justice demands that the punishment be commensurate with the guilt.

§ 5. Purgatory

   1. Reality of Purgatory


   a) Dogma


The souls of the just which, in the moment of death, are burdened with venial sins or temporal punishment due to sins, enter Purgatory. (De fide.)

The cleansing fire (purgatorium) is a place and state of temporal penal purification.

The reality of purgatory was denied by the Cathari, the Waldenses, the Reformers and by some of the schismatic Greeks. On Luther’s teaching, cf. the Schmalcaldic Article, Pars. II, Art. 2, Sec. 12-15; on Calvin’s teaching, Instit. 1115, 6-10; on the teaching of the Greek Orthodox Church the Confessio Orthodoxa of Petrus Moghilas, P. I, q. 64-66 (revised by Meletios Syrigos), and the Confessio of Dositheos, Decr. 18.

Against the schismatic Greeks whose objection was chiefly directed against a special place of purification, the Union Councils of Lyons and of Florence uphold the purifying fire and the expiatory character of the penal sufferings: “The souls of those who depart this life with true repentance and in the love of God, before they have rendered satisfaction for their tres­passes and negligences by the worthy fruits of penance, are purified after death with the punishments of purification.” Dz 464, 693. Cf. Dz 456, 570 5.


Against the Protestants, who asserted that the doctrine of the cleansing fire is contrary to Holy Writ (cf. Dz 777) and also rejected it from the standpoint of their doctrine of justification, the Council of Trent laid down the reality of the cleansing fire and the value of the suffrages performed for the poor souls: purgatorium esse animasque ibi detentas fidelium suffragiis ... iuvari. Dz 983. Cf. Dz 840, 998.


b) Scriptural proof

Holy Writ teaches the existence of the cleansing fire indirectly, by admitting the possibility of purification in the other world. According to 2 Mach. 12:42-46, the Jews prayed for their fallen on whom had been found donaries of the idols, that their sins might be forgiven them. Then they sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered in expiation. Therefore they were convinced that they could help the dead by prayer and sacrifice to be freed from their sins. The sacred writer app roves this course: “Because he (Judas) considered that they who had fallen asleep with god­liness had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

The Words of the Lord in Mt. 12:32: “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come,” leaves open the possibility that sins are forgiven not only in this world but in the world to come. St. Gregory the Great comments: “In this sentence it is given to understand that many sins can be remitted in this world, but also many in the world to come” (Dial. IV 39). Cf. St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei XXI 24,2. Dz 456.

In 1 Cor. 3:12 St. Paul asserts: The work of the Christian teacher of faith who continues to build on the foundation, which is Christ, but in doing so uses wood, hay and straw, that is, performs bad work, will not stand when it is tested in the fire on the last day. Verse 15: “If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss: yet he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire,” that is, in the manner of a man who, in the catastrophe of a conflagration, loses everything and barely saves his life. The Apostle is speaking of a transient punishment of the Day of the General Judgment, probably consisting of severe tribulations after which the final salvation will take place. The Latin Fathers take the passage to mean a transient purification punishment in the other world. They interpret the words “as by fire” all too literally in the sense of a physical fire. Cf. St. Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 37, 3; Caesarius of Arles, Sermo 179.

The words of Mt. 5:26: “Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence (from the prison) till thou repay the last farthing,” threaten, in the form of a Parable, the person who does not fulfil the commandment of Christian brotherly love, with just punishment by the Divine Judge. Through further interpretation of the Parable, a time-limited condition of punishment in the other world began to be seen expressed in the time-limited punishment of the prison. Tertullian understands by the prison the underworld, and by “the last farthing” the petty transgressions which must be expiated there by the postponement of the resurrection (to the millennial kingdom). (De anima 58) Cf. St. Cyprian, Ep. 55, 20.


c) Proof from Tradition

The main proof for the existence of the cleansing fire lies in the testimony of the Fathers.

The Latin Fathers especially employ the scriptural passages cited frequently as proofs for a transient purification-punishment and a forgiveness of sins in the other world. St. Cyprian teaches that penitents who die before the reception of the reconciliation must perform the remainder of any atonement demanded in the other world, while martyrdom counts as full atonement: “To be tormented in long pains and to be cleansed and purified from one s sins by continuous fire, is a different thing from expiating one’s sins all at once by the suffering (of martyrdom)” (Ep. 55, 20). St. Augustine distinguishes between temporal punishments which must be expiated in this life, and those which must be expiated after death: “Some suffer temporal punishments only in this life, others only after death, still others both in life and after death, but always before this most strict and most final court” (De Civ. Dei XXl 13). He frequently refers to an improving and cleansing fire (ignis emendatoriuss ignis purgatorius; cf. Enarr. in Ps. 37, 3: Enchir. 69). According to his teaching, suffrages benefit those who are born again in Christ, and have not lived such good lives that they can dispense with such help after death, but not such bad lives that such help is no longer of any avail to them, that is to say, to an intermediate group between the blessed and the damned (Enchir. 110; De Civ. Dei XXI 24, 2). Ancient Christian grave inscriptions beseech peace and quickening for the dead.

Speculatively, the existence of the cleansing fire can be derived from the concept of the sanctity and justice of God. The former demands that only completely pure souls be assumed into Heaven (Apoc. 21:27); the latter demands that the punishments of sins still present be effected, but, on the other hand, forbids that souls that are united in love with God should be cast into hell. Therefore, an intermediate state is to be assumed, whose purpose is final purification and which for this reason is of limited duration. Cf. St. Thomas, Sent. IV d. 21 q. 1 a. 1 q. 1; S.C.G. IV 91.

2. The Nature of the Punishment of the Cleansing Fire

On the analogy of the punishment of hell a distinction is made between poena damni and the poena sensus.

Poena damni consists in the temporary exclusion from the beatific vision of God. On the ground of the special judgment which has gone before, it is, however, associated with the certainty of the final beatification (Dz 778). The poor souls are conscious that they are children and friends of God and long for the most intimate unification with Him. Thus the temporary separation is all the more painful to them.

To the poena damni is added, according to the general teaching of the theologians a poena sensus. The Latin Fathers, the Schoolmen, and many theologians of modern times, in view of 1 Cor. 3: 15, assume a physical fire. However, the biblical foundation for this is inadequate. Out of consideration for the separated Greeks, who reject the notion of a purifying fire, the official declarations of the Councils speak only of purifying punishments (poena purgatoriae), not of purifying fire. Dz 464, 693. Cf. S. Thomas, Sent. IV d. 21 2. 1 a. 1 q. 3.


3. Object of the Purification

The remission of the venial sins which are not yet remitted, occurs, according to the teaching of St. Thomas (De malo, 7, 11), as it does in this life, by an act of contrition deriving from charity and performed with the help of grace. This act of contrition, which is presumably awakened immediately after entry into the purifying fire, does not, however, effect the abrogation or the dim­inution of the punishment for sins, since in the other world there is no longer any possibility of merit.

The temporal punishments for sins are atoned for in the purifying fire by the so-called suffering of atonement (satispassio), that is, by the willing bearing of the expiatory punishments imposed by God.

4. Duration of the Purifying Fire

The purifying fire will not continue after the General Judgment. (Sent. Communis.)

According to the judgment of the Judge of the World (Mt. 25:34.41), there will be only two states, Heaven and hell. St. Augustine says: “Let purification punishments be counted on only before that last and terrible judgment” (De Civ. Dei XXI 16; XXI 13). As to the length of the purifica­tion process for the individual souls, nothing can be said in terms of years. Cf. Dz 1143.

For the individual souls the purifying fire endures until they are free from all guilt and punishment. Immediately on the conclusion of the purification they will be assumed into the bliss of Heaven. Dz 530, 693.




Eschatology of the Whole of Mankind


§ 6. The Second Coming of Christ


1. Reality of the Second Coming

At the end of the world Christ will come again in glory to pronounce judgment. (De fide.)


The Apostles’ Creed confesses: “From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” The other Creeds agree with this. The Nicaeno-Con­stantinople Creed adds: “in glory.” Dz 86. Cf. Dz 40, 54, 287, 429.


Jesus repeatedly clearly foretold His second coming (parousia) at the end of the world. Mt. 16:27 (Mk. 8:38; Luke 9:26): “The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then will render to every man according to his works.” Mt. 24:30 (Mk. 13,:26; Luke 21: 27): “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven. And then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with much power and majesty.” According to the interpretation of the Fathers, the sign of the Son of Man is the Cross. The coming on the clouds of Heaven (cf. Dan. 7, 13) manifests His Divine might and majesty. Cf. Mt. 25:31; 26:64; Luke 17:24.26 (“the day of the Son of Man”); John 6:39 et seq. passim (“the last day”); Acts 1:11.


Most of the Epistles of the Apostles contain occasional indications of the second coming of the Lord, and they associate with it the manifestation of His majesty and His conferring of reward in judgment. St. Paul writes to the community in Thessalonica, which held the parousia to be immediately imminent, and which was exercised about the lot of those previously deceased: “For this we say unto you in the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them who have slept. For the Lord Himself shall come down from Heaven with commandment and with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air: and so shall we be always with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15-17). As the Apostle goes on immediately to teach the uncertainty of the time of the Second Coming (5:1-2), he assumes as an actuality what is clearly purely hypothetical, putting himself as it were at the point of view of his readers. Cf. Dz 2181. The purpose of the Second Coming is the re-awakening of the dead and the granting of reward to the Just (2 Thess. 1:8). Thus the just must be found “without crime“ in the day of the coming of the Lord (1 Cor. 1: 8; 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23). Cf. 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 2:28; James 5:7 et seq.; Jud. v. 14.

The testimony of Tradition is unanimous. Didache 16, 8: “Then the world shall see the Lord come on the clouds of Heaven.” Cf. 10, 6.

2.   Signs of the Second Coming

a)   The preaching of the Gospel to the whole world

Jesus asserts: “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations; and then shall the consummation come” (Mt. 24:14; cf. Mk. 13:10). The words do not assert that the end will come immediately the Gospel has been preached in the whole world.

b)  The conversion of the Jews


In Rom. 11:25-32, St. Paul reveals “the mystery”: When the fullness, that is the number ordained by God, of the Gentiles has entered the kingdom of God “all Israel” will be converted and saved. There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.

The conversion of the Jewish people is frequently brought into a causal con­nection with the coming-again of Elias, but without sufficient foundation. The Prophet Malachy announces: “Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come, and strike the earth with anathema” (4:5 et seq.). Jewry understood the passage as referring to a physical coming-again of Elias (cf. Ecclus, 48:10) but erroneously placed it in the beginning of the Messianic era, and saw in Elias a precursor of the Messiah (John 1:21; Mt. 16:14). Jesus confirms the coming of Elias, but refers it to the appearance of John the Baptist; of whom the Angel had foretold that he would go before the Lord, that is, God in the spirit and in the power of Elias (Luke 1:17): “He (John) is Elias, who (according to the prophecy of the Prophet) is to come” (Mt. 11:14). “But I say to you that Elias is already come: and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they had a mind” (Mt. 17:12; Mk. 9:13). Jesus does not speak explicitly of a future coming of Elias before the General Judgment, probably not even in Mt. 17:11 (“Elias indeed shall come and restore all things“), in which the prophecy of Malachias is simply reproduced. Jesus sees it already fulfilled in the appearance of John the Baptist (Mt. 17:12).


c)   Falling away from the Faith

Jesus foretells that in the time before the end false prophets will appear who will lead many astray (Mt. 24:4 et seq.). St. Paul asserts that before the coming-again of the Lord “the schism” must come, that is, the falling-away from the Christian Faith (2 Thess. 2:3).

d) The appearance of Antichrist

The falling-away from the Faith stands in a causal connection with the appearance of Antichrist. 2 Thess. 2:3 : “unless there be a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. Who opposeth and is lifted up above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God.” He appears in the power of Satan, works apparent miracles, in order to lead men astray into the falling-away from the truth and into unrighteousness, and to cast them into destruction (v. 9-11). The Lord Jesus will, on His arrival, kill him “with the spirit of His mouth,” that is, destroy him with a power proceeding from Him (v. 8). The name Antichrist is first used by St. John (1 John 2:18. 22; 4:3; 2 John 2:7), but he also designates the false teachers, who speak in the spirit of Antichrist, by this name. According to SS. Paul and John, Antichrist is to appear as a definite human personality who is the instrument of Satan. The Didache speaks of a “seducer of the world” (16: 4).

The historical interpretation associated with a particular time (Nero, Caligula, and others) as well as the historico-religious explanation, which seeks the origin of the idea of the Antichrist in Babylonian and Persian myths, are to be rejected. The oldest monograph on Antichrist is that composed by St. Hippolytus of Rome.

e) Severe tribulations

Jesus foretells wars, famines, earthquakes and bitter persecutions for His disciples: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted and shall put you to death: and you shall be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Mt. 24:9). Tremendous catastrophes of nature are to accompany the coming-again of the Lord (Mt. 24:29 ; cf. Is. 13:10 ; 34:4).


3. The Time of the Second Coming


The time of Jesus’ second coming is unknown to men. (Sent. certa.)

Jesus left the moment of the parousia indeterminate. At the conclusion of the parousia speech He declared: “But of that day and hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but the Father” (Mk. 13:32. In the parallel text Mt. 24:36 the words “nor the Son” are missing in part of the text-proofs). Shortly before His Ascension into Heaven, Jesus declared to His disciples: “It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in His own power” (Acts 1:7).

That Jesus did not anticipate that the second coming would be soon is shown by many assertions of the parousia speech (Mt. 24:14. 21. 31 ; Luke 21:24 cf. Luke 17:22; Mt. 12: 41), the Parables of the return, which suggest a long absence of the Lord (cf. Mt. 24,:48 ; 25:5 ; 25:19: “But after a long time the Lord of those servants came and reckoned with them “), and the Parables of the gradual growth of the kingdom of God on earth (Mt. 13:24-33). Many passages which speak of the coming of Jesus must be understood not in a literal sense but rather as referring to the revelation of His power, whether it be for the punish­ment of His enemies (Mt. 10:23: destruction of Jerusalem) or for the extension of the Kingdom of God on earth (Mt. 16:28; Mk. 9:1 ; Luke 9:27) or for the reward of His faithful ones in the blessedness of Heaven (John 14:3.18.28; 21:22). The words of Mt. 24:34: “Amen, I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done,” refer, according to the context, to the omens of the parousia, among which already the judgment of punishment on Jerusalem is counted.

The Apostles also teach that the time of the parousia is unknown to us. St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “But of the times and moments, brethren, you need not, that we should write to you. For yourselves, know perfectly that the day of the Lord shall so conic as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1-2). In 2 Thess. 2:1 et seq., the Apostle gives a warning of exaggerated anticipation of the parousia, by an indication of the omens which must precede it (a Thess. 2:1-3). St. Peter ascribes the delay of the parousia to the patience of God who wishes to give sinners time to repent. With God a thousand years are as a day. The day of the Lord will come like a thief (2 Peter 3:8-10). Cf. Apoc. 3:3 ; 16:15.

In spite of the uncertainty of the time of the parousia, people in primitive Christian days counted very strongly on the probability of its prompt occurrence. Cf. Phil. 4:5; Hebr. 10:37; James 5:8 ; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18. A testimony of the ardent longing for the parousia is the Aramaic invocation marana tha = Our Lord, come! (1 Cor. 16:16:22; Did. 10:6). Cf. Apoc. 22:20: “Come, Lord Jesus!”


§ 7. The Resurrection of the Dead


   1.   Reality of the Resurrection

   All the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodies. (De fide.)

In the Apostles’ Creed we profess: “I believe. . . in the resurrection of the body.” The Athanasian Creed stresses the generality of the resurrection: “On His coming all men with their bodies must arise.” D 40.

Opponents of faith in the resurrection of the body before Christ were the Sadducees (Mt. 22:23; Acts 23:8) and certain heathens (Acts 17:32); after the coming of Christ in the Early Church some Christians of the Apostolic era (1 Cor. 15:2 Tim 2:17 et seq.), the Gnostics and the Manichaeans; in the Middle Ages the Cathari; and in modern times Materialists and Rationalists.


In the Old Testament a gradual development of the belief in the resurrection can be noted. The Prophets Osee and Ezechiel use the symbol of the resurrec­tion of the body, in order to express the liberation of Israel from sin or from banishment (Os. 6, 3; 13, 14; Ez. 37:1-14). Isaias refers to the faith in the individual resurrection held by the pious of Israel (26. 19). Daniel fore­tells also the resurrection of godless ones, but he has in mind only the people of Israel: “And many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always” (12:2). The Second Book of the Machabees teaches the doctrine of the General Resurrection (7:; 12:43 et seq.; 14:46).


The evidence for belief in the resurrection which is found in Job 19:25-27 is weakened by the fact that the passage in the Vulgate has been changed. According to the original text, Job expresses the expectation that God will finally appear as an advocate for him as long as he lives on earth, to prove his innocence (N. Peters, P. Heinisch).

Jesus rejects as an error the Sadducees’ denial of the resurrection: “You err not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but shall be as the angels of God in Heaven” (Mt. 22:29 et seq.). He teaches not only the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14) but also the resurrection of the wicked; for these will be cast into hell with their bodies (Mt. 5:29 et seq.; 10:28; 18: 8 et seq.). “And they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life (from the graves); but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). To those who believe in Him and who eat His flesh and drink His blood, Jesus promises the resurrection on the last day (John 6:39 et seq.; 44:55). He says of Himself: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).


The Apostles preach the General Resurrection of the dead in conjunction with the Resurrection of Christ. Cf. Acts 4:1 et seq.; 17:18.32; 24:15. 21; 26:23. St. Paul inveighs against adherents of the Community of Corinth, who denied the resurrection, and derives the resurrection of Christians from the Resurrection of Christ. 1 Cor. 15:20: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. 21. For by man came death: and by a man the resurrection of the dead. 22. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23. But every one in his own order: the first fruits, Christ: then they that are of Christ, who have believed in His coming.” Death, as the last enemy, will be annihilated by Christ (v. 26:54 et seq.). In the victory of Christ over death the generality of the resurrec­tion is included. Cf. Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:14; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 4:14-16; Hebr. 6:1 et seq.; Apoc. 20:12 et seq.


The Fathers of the first centuries were urged by the manifold contradictions of Jews, pagans, and Gnostics to a very detailed treatment of the dogma of the resurrection. St. Clement of Rome bases it by analogy on nature, the tale of the wonder bird, the Phœnix, and on the writers of the Old Testament (Cor. 24:26). In defence of the Christian faith in the resurrection, St. Justin, Athenagoras of Athens, Tertullian, Origen, Methodius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, wrote their own treatises. Again, most of the early Christian apologists occupied themselves minutely with the teaching concerning the resurrection. Cf. St. Augustine, Enchir. 84-93 De Civ. Dei XXII 4 et seq.


Reason alone can adduce no compelling proof in favour of the resurrection, since it is supernatural, and therefore can only be effected by a miraculous inter­vention of God. Reason alone, however, can demonstrate its congruity:

a) From the natural unity of body and soul, on the ground of which the soul is adapted to the body;

b) From the idea of the just reward, which permits the expectation that the body as the instrument of the soul receives a share in the reward, or in the punishment.

Reason enlightened by Faith further establishes the congruity of the resurrection:


a) On the perfection of the Redemption of Christ,

b) On the uniformity of the members of the Mystical Body with Christ, the Head,

c) On the sanctification of the human body by means of grace, especially by the Holy Eucharist (cf. St. Irenæus, Adv. haer. IV 18, 5; V 2, 3) St Thomas, Suppl. 75, 1-3 S.C.G. IV 79.


2. The Body before and after the Resurrection.


The dead will rise again with the same bodies as they had on earth. (De fide.)


a) The Caput Firmiter of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) declares: “They will arise with their bodies which they have now.” Dz 429. Cf. Dz 16, 40, 287, 347, 427, 464, 531.


The material identity of the body after the resurrection with the body which was on earth was disputed by Origen.


Holy Writ attests the identity implicitly in the words “resurrection “ or “re-awakening” for such only exists when the same body that dies and decomposes, revives. It is expressly stated in 2 Mach. 7: 11: “I hope to receive these (tongue and hands) again from Him (God).” 1 Cor. 15:53: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption: and this mortal insist put on immortality.”


The Fathers of the time of Origen teach unanimously that “This flesh will rise again and be judged” and that “ we shall receive our reward in this flesh” (Ps.-Clement, 2 Cor. 9:1-5). St. Justin attests “We expect to have again our dead and the bodies interred in the earth, by maintaining that with God nothing is impossible” (Apol. 1:18). The grounds of congruity adduced by the Fathers for the fact of the resurrection presuppose the identity of body before and after the resurrection. This identity is defended against Origen by Methodius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Epiphanius (Haer. 64) and St. Jerome (Adv. Joannem Hierosolymitanum).


b) The identity must not be conceived in such a fashion that all material parts which at any time, or at a definite moment belonged to the earthly body, will be present in the body at the resurrection. As the human body always remains the same in spite of the constant changing of its constituent matter, it suffices for the preservation of the identity, if a relatively small share of the amount of matter in the earthly body is contained in the body after the resurrection. Thus the fact that the same parts of matter may successively have belonged to several bodies does not raise any difficulty against the Christian belief in the resurrection. Cf. St. Thomas, S.C.G. IV 81.


According to Durandus de S. Porciano († 1334) and John of Naples († after 1336), the identity of the soul alone is sufficient for the identity of the resurrection body. Starting from Aristotle’s theory of the body, which was adopted by the Schoolmen, according to which the materia prima is pure potency, receiving actuality and individuality through the substantial form and thereby becoming a definite body, they teach that the spiritual soul, as the only essential form of the human body, moulds every and any matter to its body. Apart from the fact that the assumption that the human soul is the only form of the body is unsafe—the Scotistic school assumes a special forma corporeitatis distinct from the soul— this explanation leads to the disquieting possibility that the skeleton of a dead person might still be on earth while he is already in Heaven with the resurrected body. In modern Theology Durandus’ view was expounded by L. Billot, but the vast majority of Theologians, with the Fathers, hold firmly to the identity of the matter.


According to the general teaching, the body will rise again in complete integrity, free from distortions, mal-formations and defects. St. Thomas teaches: “Man will rise again in the greatest possible natural perfection,” therefore in the state of mature age (Suppl. 81,1). The integrity of the body after its resurrection also demands the organs of vegetative and sensitive life, including the differences between the sexes (as against the view of Origen; Dz 207). However, the vegetative functions will no longer take place. Mt. 22:30: “They shall be as the angels of God in Heaven.”

3. Composition of the Body after Its Resurrection


a) The bodies of the just will be re-modelled and trans­figured to the pattern of the risen Christ. (Sent. certa.)


St. Paul teaches: “Who (Jesus Christ) will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of His glory, according to the operation whereby also He is able to subdue all things unto Himself” (Phil. 3:21). “It is sown in corruption: it shall rise in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour: it shall rise in glory. It is sown in weakness; it shall rise in power. It is sown a natural body; it shall rise a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15: 42-44). Cf. 1 Cor. 15:53.


Adopting the teaching of the Apostles, the Schoolmen distinguish four properties or gifts (dotes) of the resurrection bodies of the just:


1) Incapability of suffering (impassibilitas), that is, inaccessibility to physical evils of all kinds, such as sorrow, sickness, death. It may be more closely defined as the impossibility to suffer and to die (non posse pati, mori). Apoc. 21:4: “And God shall wipe away all tears 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.” Cf. 7:16 ; Luke 20:36 “Neither can they die any more.” The intrinsic reason for impassibility lies in the perfect subjection of the body to the soul. Suppl. 82, 1.


2) Subtility (subtilitas), that is, a spiritualised nature, which, however, is not to be conceived as a transformation of the body into a spiritual essence or as a refinement of the matter into an ethereal body (cf. Luke 24:39). The archetype of the spiritualised body is the risen body of Christ, which emerged from the sealed tomb and penetrated closed doors (John 20:19.26). The intrinsic reason of the spiritualisation of the body lies in the complete dominion of the body by the transfigured soul in so far as it is the essential form of the body. Suppl. 83, 1.


3) Agility (agilitas), that is, the capability of the body to obey the soul with the greatest ease and speed of movement. It forms a contrast to the heaviness of the earthly body, which is conditioned by the Law of Gravity. This agility was manifested by the risen Body of Christ, which was suddenly present in the midst of His Apostles, and which disappeared just as quickly (John 20:19.26; Luke 24:31). The intrinsic reason of agility lies in the perfect dominion over the body of the transfigured soul, to the extent that it moves the body. Suppl. 84, 1.

4) Clarity (claritas), that is, being free from everything deformed and being filled with beauty and radiance. Jesus assures us: “The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt. 13:43). Cf. Dan. 12:3. The archetype of the transfiguration is the Transfiguration of Jesus on Tabor (Mt. 17:2), and after the Resurrection (cf. Acts 9:3). The intrinsic reason for the transfiguration lies in the overflowing of the beauty of the transfigured soul on to the body. The grade of the transfiguration of the body, according to 1 Cor. 15: 41 et seq., will vary according to the degree of clarity of the soul, which is in proportion to the measure of the merits. Suppl. 85, 1.


b)  The bodies of the godless will rise again in incorrup­tion and immortality, but they will not be transfigured. (Sent. certa.)

Incorruptibility and immortality form an indispensable pre-condition for the eternal punishment of the body in hell (Mt. 18:8 et seq.). Immortality (άφθαρσία, cf. 1 Cor. 15:52 et seq.), excludes the change of matter and functions associated with change of matter, but not passibility. Suppl. 86, 1-3.


§ 8. The General Judgment


1. Reality of General Judgment

Christ, on His second coming, will judge all men. (De fide.)

Almost all the Creeds proclaim, with the Apostles’ Creed, that Christ will come again at the end of the world “to judge the living and the dead,” that is, those who at His coming are still alive, and those who have died before His coming, who will be re-awakened (according to another interpretation: the just and the sinners).

The dogma is disputed by those who deny personal immortality and the resurrection.

The teaching of the Old Testament concerning the coming judgment shows a gradual development. The general judgment 0f the just and the unjust at the end of the world is not to be found in the Old Testament with any pre­cision before the composition of the Book of Wisdom (4:20-5:24).

The Prophets frequently warn of the punishment from God in this world, which they call the “day of Jahweh.” On this day God will judge the Gentiles, and liberate the people of Israel from the hands of their enemies. Cf. Joel 3:1 et seq. But not merely the heathens, but also the godless in Israel will be judged and punished. Cf. Am. 5:18-20. The godless and the just will be separated from each other. Cf. Ps. 1:5; Prov. 2:21 et seq. ; Is. 66:15 et seq.

Jesus frequently refers to the “Day of judgment” or to the “Judgment.” Cf. Mt. 7:22 et seq. ; 11:22.24; 12:36 et seq. ; v. 41 et seq. He Himself as the “Son of Man” (= Messias) will execute the judgment: “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels: and then will He render to every man according to his works” (Mt. 16: 27). “For neither doth the Father judge any man: but hath given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, as they honour the Father. .. . And He hath given Him power to do judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” John 5:22 et seq., 27.

The Apostles teach the doctrine of Jesus. St. Peter attests that Christ is “appointed by God to be judge of the living and of the dead” (Acts 10:42; cf. 1 Peter, 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1).

In the speech of the Areopagus (Act 17:31), and in his Letters, St. Paul preaches that God through Jesus Christ will judge the world in justice. Cf. Rom. 2:5-16, 2 Cor. 5:10. As Christ will exercise the office of judge, he calls the day of judgment ”the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1: 6; 1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5). From the doctrine of the future judgment the Apostle draws practical inferences for the Christian life, by warning his readers to correct their fellowmen, and by using the judgment as a motive to exhort his readers to amend their lives (Rom. 14, 10-12; 1 Cor. 4:5), and to persevere patiently through sufferings and persecutions (2 Thess. 1:5-10). In Apoc. 20:10-15 St. John describes the process of the judgment after the fashion of a rendering of account. The opening-up of the books, in which the works of each individual person are recorded, is of course merely a symbolical expression of a spiritual process. Cf St. Augustine, De civ. Dei XX 14.


2. Completion of the General Judgment


Jesus gives a picturesque description of the General Judgment in the great portrait of the Judgment. Mt. 25, 31-46. “All nations” (that is, all mankind) “shall be gathered together before the Son of Man, sitting on the Judgment Seat. The good shall be finally separated from the bad, and immediately after the Judgment retribution shall follow: These ‘(the wicked)’ shall go into everlasting punishment; but the just into life everlasting.” (V. 46).

The General Judgment serves the glorification of God and of the God-Man Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 1:10) by revealing the wisdom of God in the government of the world, His goodness and patience towards sinners and above all His rewarding justice. The glorification of the God-Man achieves its apogee in the exercise of the office of Judge of the World.


The Fathers unanimously attest the clear teaching of Holy Writ. According to St. Polycarp: “he that denies the resurrection and the judgment is the first-born of Satan” (Phil. 7:1). The Letter to Barnabas (7,1) and the Second Letter of St. Clement (1:1) designate Christ as the Judge of the living and of the dead. Cf. St. Justin. Apol. I 8; St. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. I 10, 1. St. Augustine treats in detail of the final judgment, citing various testimonies of the Old and New Testaments, De Civ. Dei XX.

While in the particular judgment the human being is judged as an individual person, in the general judgment he will be judged as a member of the human society, before the whole of humanity. The punishment or reward will be completed by its extension to the re-awakened bodies. Cf. Suppl. 88, 1.

In apparent contradiction of many authors, who expressly attest that Christ the Son of Man will complete the General Judgment, other passages maintain that God will judge the world, for example, Rom. 2:6.16; 3:6; 14:10. As Christ in His human capacity exercises the office of judge in the order and by the authority and power of God, it is God who judges the world through Christ, as St. Paul attests: “God will judge the hidden things of men through Jesus Christ.” Cf. John 5:30; Acts 17: 31.

The angels co-operate with Him as His servants and ambassadors of Christ (Mt 13: 41 et seq., 49 et seq.: 24, 31). According to Mt. 19, 28 (“You shall also sit on twelve seats judging the twelve Tribes of Israel“), an immediate co-operation in the judgment is granted to the Apostles, and according to 1 Cor. 6:2 (“Know you not that the saints shall judge this world ?“), to all the just. In consequence of their intimate association with Christ they pronounce with Him the sentence of rejection on the godless by appropriating to themselves Christ’s judgment.

“The object of the judgment will be the doings of man” (Mt. 16:27; 12:36: “Every idle word”), as well as the hidden things and the intentions of the heart (Rom. 2: 16; 1 Cor. 4, 5). The time and place of the General Judgment are unknown to us (Mk. 53, 32). The Valley of Josaphat, named by Joel (3:2.12) as the place of judgment, which has been identified with the Valley of Kidron since the time of Eusebius and St. Jerome, is to be symbolically understood (”Jahweh judges “).


§ 9. The End of the World


1. The present world will be destroyed on the Last Day. (Sent. certa.)

Opposed to the teaching of the Church are the ancient Christian Sects (Gnostics, Manichaeans, Origenists). who assert an entire annihilation of the physical world; and the philosophical systems of antiquity (Stoics), who taught that the world will indeed be destroyed in an eternal cycle, but will emerge again in exactly the same form as it was previously.

In consonance with the teaching of the Old Testament (Ps. 105: 27; Is. 34, 4; 51: 6), Jesus foretells the destruction of the present world. In the speech of the Old Testament Apocalypse He foretells (cf. Is. 34:4) great cosmic revolu­tions (Mt. 24,:29): “And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall fall from Heaven and the powers of Heaven shall be moved.” Mt. 24:25: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass.” Mt. 28:20 “Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.”

St. Paul attests: “The fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor. 7:31: cf. 15:24).

St. Peter foretells the destruction of the world by fire: “The day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works which are in it shall be (no longer) found” (Vulg. : burned up) (2 Peter, 3:10).

In the vision, St. John sees the destruction of the world: “From the face of the Judge of the World the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was no place found for them.” (Apoc. 20:11).

In the Ancient Christian Tradition belief in the destruction of the present world is frequently attested. The author of the Barnabas Letter declares that after pronouncing judgment on the godless, the Son of God will ”transform the sun, the moon and the stars” (15:5). Tertullian speaks of a world-conflagration in which” the aged world and all its products will be consumed” (De spect. 30). St. Augustine stresses that the present world will not be entirely destroyed, but merely altered: “The form will pass away, but not the nature” (De civ. Dei  XX 54).

As to the manner of the destruction of the world nothing definite can be said either from the standpoint of natural science or from the standpoint of Revela­tion. The idea of destruction by fire (2 Peter 3:7.10.12), which is often found outside the framework of biblical Revelation, can be taken to be simply a current mode of expression in which the Revelation of the destruction of the world is clothed.


2. Restoration of the World

The present world will be restored on the Last Day. (Sent. certa.)

The Prophet Isaias foretells a new heaven and a new earth: “For behold I create new heavens and a new earth” (65:17; cf. 66:22). He depicts the blessings of the new earth under the picture of world happiness (65:17-25). Jesus speaks of the “regeneration,” that is, of the new formation of the world “I say to you who hive followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you shall also sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt. 19:28).


St. Paul teaches that the whole of Creation came under the curse of sin and awaits redemption, and that it like mankind will be liberated from the bondage of the past and translated into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:18-25).

St. Peter tells of ”a new Heaven and a new earth” concurrent with the destruc­tion of the world ”in which justice dwelleth” (2 Peter 3:13). Again the words, “the restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) refer to the renewal of the world.

St. John gives a picturesque description of the new heaven and the new earth, whose centre is the New Jerusalem, which descends from Heaven, and which is the Tabernacle of God among men. He who sits on the Throne (God) says: “Behold, I make all things new” (Apoc. 21:1-8).

St. Augustine teaches that the properties of the future world will be just as suited to the immortal existence of the transfigured human body as were the properties of the corruptible existence to the mortal body. (De civ. Dei XX 16).

St. Thomas infers the renewal of the world from the fact that the object of the world is to serve mankind. As the transfigured man no longer requires the service which the present world renders to him by the preservation of bodily life and by the promotion of the knowledge of God, it is not out of place to imagine that with the transfiguration of the human body the other bodies also will experience a transfiguration, corresponding to the state of the transfigured body. The transfigured eye of the blessed shall see the majesty of God in its operations in the transfigured physical world, in the Body of Christ, in the bodies of the Blessed and also in the other corporeal things. Suppl. 91, 1. Cf. 74, 1. The scope and the manner and mode of the destruction of the world cannot be more closely described in the light of Revelation. Suppl. 91, 3.


The end of the world and its renewal brings to a conclusion the work of Christ. As all enemies of the Kingdom of God are conquered, He surrenders the over­lordship to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:24), without however divesting Himself of the lordship and royal power founded in the Hypostatic Union. With the end of the world there begins the perfected lordship of God which is the ultimate object of the whole Creation and the final meaning of all human history.


[1] Taken from “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” of Ludwig Ott,