Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
This subject will be treated under seven headings:
I. Name and Place of Heaven;
II. Existence of Heaven;
III. Supernatural Character of Heaven and the Beatific Vision;
IV. Eternity of Heaven and Impeccability of the Blessed;
V. Essential Beatitude;
VI. Accidental Beatitude;
VII. Attributes of Beatitude.
Heaven (Anglo-Saxon heofon, O.S. hevan and himil, originally himin) corresponds to the Gothic himin-s. Both heaven and himil are formed from himin by a regular change of consonants: heaven, by changing m before n into v; and himil, by changing n of the unaccented ending into l. Some derive heaven from the root ham, "to cover" (cf. the Gothic ham-ôn and the German Hem-d). According to this derivation heaven would be conceived as the roof of the world. Others trace a connection between himin (heaven) and home; according to this view, which seems to be the more probable, heaven would be the abode of the Godhead. The Latin coelum (koilon, a vault) is derived by many from the root of celare "to cover, to conceal" (coelum, "ceiling" "roof of the world"). Others, however think it is connected with the Germanic himin. The Greek ouranos is probably derived from the root var, which also connotes the idea of covering. The Hebrew name for heaven is thought to be derived from a word meaning "on high"; accordingly, heaven would designate the upper region of the world.
In the Holy Bible the term heaven denotes, in the first place, the blue firmament, or the region of the clouds that pass along the sky. Genesis 1:20, speaks of the birds "under the firmament of heaven". In other passages it denotes the region of the stars that shine in the sky. Furthermore heaven is spoken of as the dwelling of God; for, although God is omnipresent, He manifests Himself in a special manner in the light and grandeur of the firmament. Heaven also is the abode of the angels; for they are constantly with God and see His face. With God in heaven are likewise the souls of the just (2 Corinthians 5:1; Matthew 5:3, 12). In Ephesians 4:8 sq., we are told that Christ conducted to heaven the patriarchs who had been in limbo (limbus patrum). Thus the term heaven has come to designate both the happiness and the abode of just in the next life. The present article treats as heaven in this sense only.
In Holy Scripture it is called:
Where is heaven, the dwelling of God and the blessed?
Some are of opinion that heaven is everywhere, as God is everywhere. According to this view the blessed can move about freely in every part of the universe, and still remain with God and see everywhere. Everywhere, too, they remain with Christ (in His sacred Humanity) and with the saints and the angels. For, according to the advocates of this opinion, the spatial distances of this world must no longer impede the mutual intercourse of blessed.
In general, however, theologians deem more appropriate that there should be a special and glorious abode, in which the blessed have their peculiar home and where they usually abide, even though they be free to go about in this world. For the surroundings in the midst of which the blessed have their dwelling must be in accordance with their happy state; and the internal union of charity which joins them in affection must find its outward expression in community of habitation. At the end of the world, the earth together with the celestial bodies will be gloriously transformed into a part of the dwelling-place of the blessed (Revelation 21). Hence there seems to be no sufficient reason for attributing a metaphorical sense to those numerous utterances of the Bible which suggest a definite dwelling-place of the blessed. Theologians, therefore, generally hold that the heaven of the blessed is a special place with definite limits. Naturally, this place is held to exist, not within the earth, but, in accordance with the expressions of Scripture, without and beyond its limits. All further details regarding its locality are quite uncertain. The Church has decided nothing on this subject.
There is a heaven, i.e., God will bestow happiness and the richest gifts on all those who depart this life free from original sin and personal mortal sin, and who are, consequently, in the state of justice and friendship with God. Concerning the purification of those just souls who depart in venial sin or who are still subject to temporal punishment for sin, see PURGATORY. On the lot of those who die free from personal sin, but infected with original sin, see LIMBO (limbus pervulorum). On the immediate beginning of eternal happiness after death, or eventually, after the passage through purgatory, see PARTICULAR JUDGMENT. The existence of heaven is, of course, denied by atheists, materialists, and pantheists of all centuries as well as by those rationalists who teach that the soul perishes with the body — in short, by all who deny the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. But, for the rest, if we abstract from the specific quality and the supernatural character of heaven, the doctrine has never met with any opposition worthy of note. Even mere reason can prove the existence of heaven or of the happy state of the just in the next life.
We shall give a brief outline of the principal arguments. From these we shall, at the same time, see that the bliss of heaven is eternal and consists primarily in the possession of God, and that heaven presupposes a condition of perfect happiness, in which every wish of the heart finds adequate satisfaction.
Revelation also proclaims the existence of heaven. This we have already seen in the preceding section from the many names by which the Bible designates heaven; and from the texts of Scripture, still to be quoted on the nature and peculiar conditions of heaven.
(1) In heaven the just will see God by direct intuition, clearly and distinctly. Here on earth we have no immediate perception of God; we see Him but indirectly in the mirror of creation. We get our first and direct knowledge from creatures, and then, by reasoning from these, we ascend to a knowledge of God according to the imperfect likeness which creatures bear to their Creator. But in doing so we proceed to a large extent by way of negation, i.e., by removing from the Divine Being the imperfections proper to creatures. In heaven, however, no creature will stand between God and the soul. He himself will be the immediate object of its vision. Scripture and theology tell us that the blessed see God face to face. And because this vision is immediate and direct, it is also exceedingly clear and distinct. Ontologists assert that we perceive God directly in this life, though our knowledge of Him is vague and obscure; but a vision of the Divine Essence, immediate yet vague and obscure, implies a contradiction. The blessed see God, not merely according to the measure of His likeness imperfectly reflected in creation, but they see Him as He is, after the manner of His own Being. That the blessed see God is a dogma of faith, expressly defined by Benedict XII (1336):
We define that the souls of all the saints in heaven have seen and do see the Divine Essence by direct intuition and face to face [visione intuitivâ et etiam faciali], in such wise that nothing created intervenes as an object of vision, but the Divine Essence presents itself to their immediate gaze, unveiled, clearly and openly; moreover, that in this vision they enjoy the Divine Essence, and that, in virtue of this vision and this enjoyment, they are truly blessed and possess eternal life and eternal rest" (Denzinger, Enchiridion, ed. 10, n. 530--old edition, n, 456; cf. nn. 693, 1084, 1458 old, nn. 588, 868).
The Scriptural argument is based especially on 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (cf. Matthew 18:10; 1 John 3:2; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, etc.). The argument from tradition is carried out in detail by Petavius ("De. theol. dogm.", I, i, VII, c. 7). Several Fathers, who seemingly contradict this doctrine, in reality maintain it; they merely teach that the bodily eye cannot see God, or that the blessed do not fully comprehend God, or that the soul cannot see God with its natural powers in this life (cf. Francisco Suárez, "De Deo", l. II, c. 7, n. 17).
(2) It is of faith that the beatific vision is supernatural, that it transcends the powers and claims of created nature, of angels as well as of men. The opposite doctrine of the Beghards and Beguines was condemned (1311) by the Council of Vienne (Denz., n. 475 old, n. 403), and likewise a similar error of Baius by Pius V (Denz., n. 1003 old, n. 883). The Vatican Council expressly declared that man has been elevated by God to a supernatural end (Denz., n. 1786 old, n. 1635; cf. nn. 1808, 1671 old, nn. 1655, 1527). In this connection we must also mention the condemnation of the Ontologists, and in particular of Rosmini, who held that an immediate but indeterminate perception of God is essential to the human intellect and the beginning of all human knowledge (Denz., nn. 1659, 1927 old, nn. 1516, 1772).
That the vision of God is supernatural can also be shown from the supernatural character of sanctifying grace (Denz., n. 1021 old, n. 901); for, if the preparation for that vision is supernatural. Even unaided reason recognizes that the immediate vision of God, even if it be at all possible, can never be natural for a creature. For it is manifest that every created mind first perceives its own self and creatures similar to itself by which it is surrounded, and from these it rises to a knowledge of God as the source of their being and their last end. Hence its natural knowledge of God is necessarily mediate and analogous; since it forms its ideas and judgments about God after the imperfect likeness which its own self and its surroundings bear to Him. Such is the only means nature offers for acquiring a knowledge of God, and more than this is not due to any created intellect; consequently, the second and essentially higher way of seeing God by intuitive vision can but be a gratuitous gift of Divine goodness.
These considerations prove, not merely that the immediate vision of God exceeds the natural claims of all creatures in actual existence; but they also prove against Ripalda, Becaenus, and others (Recently also Morlias), that God cannot create any spirit which would, by virtue of its nature, be entitled to the intuitive vision of the Divine Essence. Therefore, as theologians express it, no created substance is of its nature supernatural; however, the Church has given no decision on this matter. Cf. Palmieri, "De Deo creante et elevante" (Rome, 1878), thes. 39; Morlais, "Le Surnaturel absolu", in "Revue du Clergé Français", XXXI (1902), 464 sqq., and, for the opposite view, Bellamy, "La question du Surnaturel absolu", ibid., XXXV (1903), 419 sqq. St. Thomas seems to teach (I.12.1) that man has a natural desire for the beatific vision. Elsewhere, however, he frequently insists on the supernatural character of that vision (e.g. III.9.2 ad 3um). Hence in the former place he obviously supposes that man knows from revelation both the possibility of the beatific vision and his destiny to enjoy it. On this supposition it is indeed quite natural for man to have so strong a desire for that vision, that any inferior kind of beatitude can no longer duly satisfy him.
(3) To enable it to see God, the intellect of the blessed is supernaturally perfected by the light of glory (lumen gloriae). This was defined by the Council of Vienne in 1311 (Denz., n. 475; old, n. 403); and it is also evident from the supernatural character of the beatific vision. For the beatific vision transcends the natural powers of the intellect; therefore, to see God the intellect stands in need of some supernatural strength, not merely transient, but permanent as the vision itself. This permanent invigoration is called the "light of glory", because it enables the souls in glory to see God with their intellect, just as material light enables our bodily eyes to see corporeal objects.
On the nature of the light of glory the Church has decided nothing. Theologians have elaborated various theories about it, which, however, need not be examined in detail. According to the view commonly and perhaps most reasonably held, the light of glory is a quality Divinely infused into the soul and similar to sanctifying grace, the virtue of faith, and the other supernatural virtues in the souls of the just (cf. Franzelin, "De Deo uno", 3rd ed., Rome, 1883, thes. 16). It is controverted among theologians whether or not a mental image, be it a species expressa or a species impressa, is required for the beatific vision. But by many this is regarded as largely a controversy about the appropriateness of the term, rather than about the matter itself. The more common and probably more correct view denies the presence of any image in the strict sense of the word, because no created image can represent God as He is (cf. Mazzella, "De Deo creante", 3rd ed., Rome, 1892, disp. IV, a. 7, sec. 1). The beatific vision is obviously a created act inherent in the soul, and not, as a few of the older theologians thought, the uncreated act of God's own intellect communicated to the soul. For, "as seeing and knowing are immanent vital actions, the soul can see or know God by its own activity only, and not through any activity exerted by some other intellect. Cf. Gutherlet, "Das lumen gloriae" in "Pastor bonus", XIV (1901), 297 sqq.
(4) Theologians distinguish the primary and the secondary object of the beatific vision. The primary object is God Himself as He is. The blessed see the Divine Essence by direct intuition, and, because of the absolute simplicity of God, they necessarily see all His perfections and all the persons of the Trinity. Moreover, since they see that God can create countless imitations of His Essence, the entire domain of possible creatures lies open to their view, though indeterminately and in general. For the actual decrees of God are not necessarily an object of that vision, except in as afar as God pleases to manifest them. Therefore finite things are not necessarily seen by the blessed, even if they are an actual object of God's will. Still less are they a necessary object of vision as long as they are mere possible objects of the Divine will. Consequently the blessed have a distinct knowledge of individual possible things only in so far as God wishes to grant this knowledge. Thus, if God so willed, a blessed soul might see the Divine Essence without seeing in it the possibility of any individual creature in particular. But in fact, there is always connected with the beatific vision a knowledge of various things external to God, of the possible as well as of the actual. All these things, taken collectively, constitute the secondary object of the beatific vision.
The blessed soul sees these secondary objects in God either directly (formaliter), or in as far as God is their cause (causaliter). It sees in God directly whatever the beatific vision discloses to its immediate gaze without the aid of any created mental image (species impressa). In God, as in their cause, the soul sees all those things which it perceives with the aid of a created mental image, a mode of perception granted by God as a natural complement of the beatific vision. The number of objects seen directly in God cannot be increased unless the beatific vision itself be intensified; but the number of things seen in God as their cause may be greater of smaller, or it may very without any corresponding change in the vision itself.
The secondary object of the beatific vision comprises everything the blessed may have a reasonable interest in knowing. It includes, in the first place, all the mysteries which the soul believed while on earth. Moreover, the blessed see each other and rejoice in the company of those whom death separated from them. The veneration paid them on earth and the prayers addressed to them are also known to the blessed. All that we have said on the secondary object of the beatific vision is the common and reliable teaching of theologians. In recent times (Holy Office, 14 Dec., 1887) Rosmini was condemned because he taught that the blessed do not see God Himself, but only His relations to creatures (Denz., 1928-1930 old, 1773-75). In the earlier ages we find Gregory the Great ("Moral.", l. XVIII, c. liv, n. 90, in P.L., LXXVI, XCIII) combating the error of a few who maintained that the blessed to not see God, but only a brilliant light streaming forth from Him. Also in the Middle Ages there are traces of this error (cf. Franzelin, "De Deo uno", 2nd ed., thes. 15, p. 192).
(5) Although the blessed see God, they do not comprehend Him, because God is absolutely incomprehensible to every created intellect, and He cannot grant to any creature the power of comprehending Him as He comprehends Himself. Francisco Suárez rightly calls this a revealed truth ("De Deo", l. II, c. v, n. 6); for the Fourth Council of the Lateran and the Vatican Council enumerated incomprehensibility among the absolute attributes of God (Denz., nn. 428, 1782 old nn. 355, 1631). The Fathers defend this truth against Eunomius, an Arian, who asserted that we comprehend God fully even in this life. The blessed comprehend God neither intensively nor extensively — not intensively, because their vision has not that infinite clearness with which God is knowable and with which He knows Himself, nor extensively, because their vision does not actually and clearly extend to everything that God sees in His Essence. For they cannot by a single act of their intellect represent every possible creature individually, clearly, and distinctly, as God does; such an act would be infinite, and an infinite act is incompatible with the nature of a created and finite intellect. The blessed see the Godhead in its entirety, but only with a limited clearness of vision (Deum totum sed non totaliter). They see the Godhead in its entirety, because they see all the perfections of God and all the Persons of the Trinity; and yet their vision is limited, because it has neither the infinite clearness that corresponds to the Divine perfections, nor does it extend to everything that actually is, or may still become, an object of God's free decrees. Hence it follows that one blessed soul may see God more perfectly than another, and that the beatific vision admits of various degrees.
(6) The beatific vision is a mystery. Of course reason cannot prove the impossibility of such a vision. For why should God, in His omnipotence, be unable to draw so near and adapt Himself so fully to our intellect, that the soul may, as it were, directly feel Him and lay hold of Him and look on Him and become entirely immersed in Him? On the other hand, we cannot prove absolutely that this is possible; for the beatific vision lies beyond the natural destiny of our intellect, and it is so extraordinary a mode of perception that we cannot clearly understand either the fact or the manner of its possibility.
(7) From what has been thus far said it is clear that there is a twofold beatitude: the natural and the supernatural. As we have seen, man is by nature entitled to beatitude, provided he does not forfeit it by his own fault. We have also seen that beatitude is eternal and that it consists in the possession of God, for creatures cannot truly satisfy man. Again, as we have shown, the soul is to possess God by knowledge and love. But the knowledge to which man is entitled by nature is not an immediate vision, but an analogous perception of God in the mirror of creation, still a very perfect knowledge which really satisfies the heart. Hence the beatitude to which alone we have a natural claim consists in that perfect analogous knowledge and in the love corresponding to that knowledge. This natural beatitude is the lowest kind of felicity which God, in His goodness and wisdom, can grant to sinless man. But, instead of an analogous knowledge of His Essence He may grant to the blessed a direct intuition which includes all the excellence of natural beatitude and surpasses it beyond measure. It is this higher kind of beatitude that it has pleased God to grant us. And by granting it He not merely satisfies our natural desire for happiness but He satisfies it in superabundance.
It is a dogma of faith that the happiness of the blessed is everlasting. This truth is clearly contained in the Holy Bible (see Section I); it is daily professed by the Church in the Apostles' Creed (credo . . . vitam aeternam), and it has been repeatedly defined by the Church, especially by Benedict XII (cf. Section III). Even reason, as we have seen, can demonstrate it. And surely, if the blessed knew that their happiness was ever to come to an end, this knowledge alone would prevent their happiness from being perfect.
In this matter Origen fell into error; for in several passages of his works he seems to incline to the opinion that rational creatures never reach a permanent final state (status termini), but that they remain forever capable of falling away from God and losing their beatitude and of always returning to Him again.
The blessed are confirmed in good; they can no longer commit even the slightest venial sin; every wish of their heart is inspired by the purest love of God. That is, beyond doubt, Catholic doctrine. Moreover this impossibility of sinning is physical. The blessed have no longer the power of choosing to do evil actions; they cannot but love God; they are merely free to show that love by one good action in preference to another. But whilst the impeccability of the blessed appears to be unanimously held by theologians, there is a diversity of opinion as to its cause. According to some, its proximate cause consists in this that God absolutely withholds from the blessed His co-operation to any sinful consent. The beatific vision does not, they argue, of its very nature exclude sin directly and absolutely; because God may still displease the blessed soul in various ways, e.g., by refusing a higher degree to beatitude, or by letting persons whom that soul loves die in sin and sentencing them to eternal torment. Moreover, when great sufferings and arduous duties accompany the beatific vision, as was the case in the human nature of Christ on earth, then at least the possibility of sin is not directly and absolutely excluded.
The ultimate cause of impeccability is the freedom from sin or the state of grace in which at his death man passes into the final state (status termini), i.e. into a state of unchangeable attitude of mind and will. For it is quite in consonance with the nature of that state that God should offer only such co-operation as corresponds to the mental attitude man chose for himself on earth. For this reason also the souls in purgatory, although they do not see God, are still utterly incapable of sin. The beatific vision itself may be called a remote cause of impeccability; for by granting so wondrous a token of His love, God may be said to undertake the obligation of guarding from all sin those whom He so highly favours, whether by refusing all co-operation to evil acts or in some other manner. Besides, even if the clear vision of God, most worthy of their love, does not render the blessed physically unable, it certainly renders them less liable, to sin.
Impeccability, as explained by the representatives of this opinion, is not, properly speaking, extrinsic, as is often wrongly asserted; but it is rather intrinsic, because it is strictly due to the final state of blessedness and especially to the beatific vision. This is substantially the opinion of the Scotists, likewise of many others, especially in recent times. Nevertheless the Thomists, and with them the greater number of theologians, maintain that the beatific vision of its very nature directly excludes the possibility of sin. For no creature can have a clear intuitive view of the Supreme Good without being by that very fact alone irresistibly drawn to love it efficaciously and to fulfil for its sake even the most arduous duties without the least repugnance. The Church has left this matter undecided. The present writer rather inclines to the opinion of the Scotists because of its bearing on the question of the liberty of Christ. (See HELL under the heading Impenitence of the Damned.)
We distinguish objective and subjective beatitude. Objective beatitude is that good, the possession of which makes us happy; subjective beatitude is the possession of that good. The essence of objective beatitude, or the essential object of beatitude is God alone. For the possession of God assures us also the possession of every other good we may desire; moreover, everything else is so immeasurably inferior to God that its possession can only be looked upon as something accidental to beatitude. Finally, that all else is of minor importance for beatitude is evident from the fact that nothing save God alone is capable of satisfying man. Accordingly the essence of subjective beatitude is the possession of God, and it consists in the acts of vision, love, and joy. The blessed love God with a twofold love; with the love of complacency, by which they love God for His own sake, and secondly with the love less properly so called, by which they love Him as the source of their happiness (amor concupiscentiae). In consonance with this twofold love the blessed have a twofold joy; firstly, the joy of love in the strict sense of the word, by which they rejoice over the infinite beatitude which they see in God Himself, precisely because it is the happiness of God whom they love, and secondly, the joy springing from love in a wider sense, by which they rejoice in God because He is the source of their own supreme happiness. These five acts constitute the essence of (subjective) beatitude, or in more precise terms, its physical essence. In this theologians agree.
Here theologians go a step farther and inquire whether among those five acts of the blessed there is one act, or a combination of several acts, which constitutes the essence of beatitude in a stricter sense, i.e. its metaphysical essence in contradistinction to its physical essence. In general their answer is affirmative; but in assigning the metaphysical essence their opinions diverge. The present writer prefers the opinion of St. Thomas, who holds that the metaphysical essence consists in the vision alone. For, as we have just seen, the acts of love and joy are merely a kind of secondary attributes of the vision; and this remains true, whether love and joy result directly from the vision, as the Thomists hold, or whether the beatific vision by its very nature calls for confirmation in love and God's efficacious protection against sin.
Since eternal happiness is metaphorically called a marriage of the soul with Christ, theologians also speak of the bridal endowments of the blessed. They distinguish seven of these gifts, four of which belong to the glorified body — light, impassibility, agility, subtility (see RESURRECTION); and three to the soul — vision, possession, enjoyment (visio, comprehensio, fruitio). Yet in the explanation given by the theologians of the three gifts of the soul we find but little conformity. We may identify the gift of vision with the habit of the light of glory, the gift of possession with the habit of that love in a wider sense which has found in God the fulfilment of its desires, and the gift of enjoyment we may identify with the habit of love properly so called (halitus caritatis) which rejoices to be with God; in this view these three infused habits would he considered simply as ornaments to beautify the soul. (Cf. St. Thomas, Supp:95)
There are various degrees of beatitude in heaven corresponding to the various degrees of merit. This is a dogma of faith, defined by the Council of Florence (Denz., n. 693 old, n. 588). The Bible teaches this truth in very many passages (e.g., wherever it speaks of eternal happiness as a reward), and the Fathers defend it against the heretical attacks of Jovinian. It is true that, according to Matthew 20:1-16, each labourer receives a penny; but by this comparison Christ merely teaches that, although the Gospel was preached to the Jews first, yet in the Kingdom of Heaven there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and that no one will receive a greater reward merely because of being a son of Judah. The various degrees of beatitude are not limited to the accidental blessings, but they are found first and foremost in the beatific vision itself. For, as we have already pointed out, the vision, too, admits of degrees. These essential degrees of beatitude are, as Francisco Suárez rightly observes ("De beat.", d. xi, s. 3, n. 5), that threefold fruit Christ distinguishes when He says that the word of God bears fruit in some thirty, in some sixty, in some a hundredfold (Matthew 13:23). And it is by a mere accommodation of the text that St. Thomas (Supp:96, aa. 2 sqq.) and other theologians apply this text to the different degrees in the accidental beatitude merited by married persons, widows, and virgins.
The happiness of heaven is essentially unchangeable; still it admits of some accidental changes. Thus we may suppose that the blessed experience special joy when they receive greater veneration from men on earth. In particular, a certain growth in knowledge by experience is not excluded; for instance, as time goes on, new free actions of men may become known to the blessed, or personal observation and experience may throw a new light on things already known. And after the last judgment accidental beatitude will receive some increase from the union of soul and body, and from the sight of the new heaven and the earth.
APA citation. (1910). Heaven. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07170a.htm
MLA citation. "Heaven." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07170a.htm>.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.