CHAPTER XX — ETERNAL BEGINNINGS
(Suppl., Q. 92-99)
THE one completely certain thing about any hour is that it will come to an end. The next most certain thing is that its end will mark the beginning of still another hour. If the passing moments measure agony, an hour’s death-struggle is a long drawn-out affair, the next hour comes too slowly and stays too long; if it is joy that passes under the scrutiny of time, the death of an hour seems like an echo of its birth; the next one comes much too quickly but is welcomed as a reprieve of joy. Welcomed or dreaded, every hour, in common with all passing things, comes to an end and marks a beginning.
Promise of the transient: An end
Men are familiar enough with this truth to mark its occurrence throughout the rough sections life is ordinarily cut up into: infancy, childhood, adolescence, manhood, senescence. Indeed, they find the same truth in every day, and every moment of every day, in the smile that introduces a laugh, the tears that end a pent-up storm, the last hammer blow that completes a work, or the first kiss that begins love’s consecration. For this is the mark of all things passing; and there is little man is more familiar with than things that do not last. It would be strange, indeed, if a man, recognizing the inevitability of the end of his life, did not look to what that end begins; for all of his experience rises up in protest against one such exception to the general rule of things that pass.
As a matter of fact, no man has been able to resist at least one quick glance; no man has been able to resist the formulation and statement of the beginning that springs from the end of a human life. Sometimes the eyes were blinded, lest they see too much; at others, the glance was taken through a smoke-screen of discouragement, or through a bright fog of unfounded optimism. At no time could men get their hands on evidence that would satisfy their minds beyond the one point of the indestructibility of the soul of a man; all else has to be taken from the mouth of God, and there has always been a great reluctance on the part of many men to take their stories from anyone but other men or the devil.
Some concrete promises. Unchristian beginnings: Their variety
At any rate, the opinions of men on the beginnings introduced by death may be roughly divided into ones framed for comfort and the one framed by truth. Some men like their beds hard, others soft; some will insist on their eggs done one way, some another; a cold shower is heroism to one man, plain common sense to another, and so on. For men’s ideas of comfort run a strange gamut. Naturally then, the comfortable beginnings assigned for death are a strange lot to be crowded into one hostelry except for their common and profound aversion to facing the truth.
Perhaps the strangest comfort is offered by the promise of oblivion as the sequel to death. This end of all beginnings, because a beginning of nothingness for the individual, may be reached by the shattering blow of annihilation, or the slow, insidious, dreamlike caresses of absorption that soothes the victim into complacency as pleasantly as the death-stroke dealt by bitter cold. It makes little difference whether the individual is absorbed into a future humanity, a present class, a future race, or a monstrous political ideal; the point is that for him, death begins nothing but nothingness.
Others, particularly those whose feet have dragged through a life that has never seen the sparkle of a star or the threat of a raging storm, find their strange comfort in having death introduce a life pretty much like the one they had been used to: a little vaguer perhaps, a little more befuddled, a little more pointless, but the same dull, hopeless routine. How desperately this petty comfort is desired is testified to by the prospering trade of tricksters and the steady, contemptuous cooperation of the devil in ministering it freely to people dulled enough by monotony to find it satisfying. Still others are by no mean. discouraged, not even by solid facts; they are the cheery ones who banish unpleasant things by refusing to look at them. With the best intentions, they set out to flatter humanity, never realizing that their blundering compliments are really unveiled insults. For them, death is the beginning of a state where all men of all time will gather around and just be happy, like the good, sunny, little children they are at heart; they just know that no man is nearly as bad as he thinks he is or as he tries to be. Mischievous, perhaps, but really bad? Impossible; so unpleasant to think about. Besides, God couldn’t punish men forever, He just couldn’t; think of our sensibilities!
As God tells the story of death’s sequel, there is enough in it for unlimited inspiration or downright terror; but little indeed for the relaxation implied by comfort as we make our way to it through the maze of life. For the divine account insists that life, in common with all transient things, comes to an end that is indeed a beginning, and a beginning that never ends: death marks the end of man’s merit and demerit and begins either the eternal happiness of heaven which he has won by his virtues or the eternal misery of hell which he has chosen by his sins. Once the story has been given us by God, it is not difficult to see its harmony with what we know of man and of God. For our spiritual soul demands eternal life, our composite nature declares there is an end to personal merits; our acts cry out for justice, for reward or punishment; while the nature of God insists that the punishment be eternal and awful, the reward eternal and ineffable.
Every now and then, some utterly degrading evil dares to rear its head in the company of men; the revulsion is complete and the energetic attack to stamp the unspeakable thing out of existence is normally as prompt as a man instinctive gesture to ward off a blow. Every now and then, some vagrant breeze lifts the veil for an instant from the face of heroic virtue and gives men a passing glimpse of the beauty of God; it brings a serene peace, an inspiring lift, a sense of triumph as though men were suddenly made aware again of the ineffable things within their grasp. In each case, men are brought face to face for just an instant with the climaxes of human life and they know deep in their hearts precisely what death means for the future; unmitigated misery of evil, or unalloyed happiness in goodness.
Beginnings of life. Essential happiness of heaven: Its nature
For some men, then, death begins the life of heaven. Much has already been said about the essential, constitutive happiness of heaven, particularly in the beginning of the second volume of this work where the question was treated at considerable length. It will be enough here to recall that the fundamental happiness of heaven consists in the possession of God, the faint shadows of Whose perfection, beauty, and goodness accounted for all that was real, all that was beautiful, all that was good in the space of our mortal days. Another way of saying the same thing, but from the side of man, would be to point out that heaven is the highest perfection of man’s highest faculties constituting his complete fulfillment. The two are seen as one when we remember that we possess God through the beatific vision, that face to face, intuitive knowledge which comes from the immediate union of the essence of God with the intellect of man; from that grasp of God flows the unceasing joy of heaven into the will of man, marking the full satisfaction of all his deepest desires and leaving him at complete peace.
That vision of God is an act that begins but never ends. Divinity is not enclosed in the finite limits of a human concept enabling man to say “I know it all.” Rather the act of knowledge begun by the union of the divine essence and the human intellect is an eternally enduring moment of penetration into the depths of divine riches; man will never be finished seeing what he will never fully comprehend, though the simplicity of the divine essence assures him of seeing it all. In the essence of God, each man also sees all that pertains to him, all to which he has any link; and along with this knowledge, there is, of course, the knowledge he has gathered in this life and that which comes by the infusion of species directly by God.
There are several points to be noted here, though they have been brought out before. There is, for instance, the fact that heaven demands the most intense and unceasing activity of mind and will from every man; it is not an eternal vacation in the sense of there being absolutely nothing to do. The deep and lasting peace of heaven is not a statement of eternal stagnation but of complete coordination of all man’s faculties operating at their fullest; it is a statement of absence of conflict, not of the absence of any signs of life. The complete satisfaction of man’s desires in heaven is not to be confused with the satiety that strikes a man down into heavy slumber after a full dinner, or disgusts him with the thing that has satisfied his appetite; these things are true only of the sense appetites in this life. The spiritual appetites of man, whose echoes will be so completely satisfying to man’s senses, are not dulled by satisfaction but made more alert, their quiet is not that of a dozing incapacity for further activity but the quiet of a love that has found all its energies engaged in adequate expression of that love.
Time of its bestowal
As every man is judged immediately after death, he is immediately rewarded or punished. Our faith teaches us that there is no long period of waiting, as though the box-office of heaven could not handle the volume of business; man does not have to stand outside of heaven until his body is united to his soul after the resurrection and the last judgment is pronounced. Immediately after sentence has been passed on his soul separated from his body by death, the eternal reward is his. Nor is there any uneasiness in heaven before the last judgment, as though the sentence might be reversed, any more than there is desperate hope in hell that the first judgment might have been a mistake. The first sentence is final; the last judgment will include the body of man in his reward or punishment and vindicate that sentence before the whole world.
The first judgment has to be final for there is no way in which the happiness of heaven can be lost. Certainly divinity is not going to grow feeble or ugly, slow down, wear out, or die. On the side of man, nothing is going to catch a man’s eye, tempting him to greener fields for he will be in possession of all goodness, his every desire fully satisfied, his mind will have fast hold on the supreme truth; the mistakes prompted by ignorance, passion, unfulfilled desires are all ruled out by the very nature of happiness. That this final goal might be snatched from him by some external force is altogether out of the question: men or devils cannot do this, nor can God with out going back on His divine word — that is, without ceasing to be God. Indeed, if there were not that complete assurance of the eternal duration and complete security of his happiness, it would be absurd to talk of a man’s being supremely happy; for as long as there is the slightest chink in the armor of happiness, man will insert the wedge of worry to make himself miserable.
Despite the definite inequalities that will be found in heaven, there will be no cause for rumblings of discontent. Arguing from our own experience with men, it might seem close to a miracle that there be different mansions in heaven, one greater than the other, and yet there be no envy and everyone perfectly satisfied. It is beyond question, assured by the faith, that there will be a distinct gradation of perfection in heaven, based radically on the degree of charity possessed by each man at death, and immediately on the degree of the light of glory given to each man in proportion to his charity. Each will see the same divine essence; but each will penetrate it in proportion to the degree of that supernatural light of glory which makes the vision possible at all. The difficulty comes up only because it is forgotten that every man will see to his fullest capacity, will drink a full cup of his happiness, will have as much of eternal bliss as he can possibly have or possibly want. Under such conditions, it is difficult to call up any vaguest image of a discontented man.
What seems like an even more serious impediment to heaven’s happiness is the clear vision the blessed will have of hell. How can a man be happy seeing all those others enduring the eternal and unspeakable miseries of hell ? The very prospect sounds inhuman, even brutal. Certainly it would require a considerable degree of corruption and perversion to enjoy the sufferings of others, let alone endure them, precisely as sufferings. On the other hand, pity must be reasonable or we are ashamed of its appearance, conscious that it is sentimentality of the flabbiest sort. A surgeon can deliberately inflict pain on his patients because it is a reasonable thing to do in the interests of health; while the mother who allows an abscess to eat away the life of her child because she cannot bear to submit it to the pain of the surgeon’s knife is being eminently unreasonable, inhuman, and brutal. In heaven, there is nothing of the unreasonable; even pity responds to reason’s control and never edges over into inhuman sentimentality. Looking at the damned from heaven, the blessed see men, and angels who bombard them with hate, who desire nothing better than that the blessed be dragged down to their misery; they see men in the tortures they have chosen, being punished for sins they still refuse to renounce, undergoing the justice of an absolutely just God because they would have it that way. Under such circumstances, pity is unreasonable; a joy that gloats over this misery is utterly inhuman and has no place in heaven; but a joy in the perfection of the justice of God is quite another thing.
Accidental happiness of heaven: Dowries
The divine virtues of faith, hope, and charity find their counterpart and perfection in the vision, the attainment, and the fruition or abiding joy of heaven. If these three be taken as acts, they are an integral part of the essential happiness of heaven; but, taken in the sense of the habits from which these acts proceed, they are classed among the accidental joys of heaven and described, with a moving touch of very human simplicity, as the dowries of the soul. Since the idea of a dowry has long been extinct in America, it may not be out of place to explain that this sum of money given by the bride’s parents to the groom at marriage was calculated to make smoother the difficult task of building up a common life by relieving the husband of the added financial burden of a wife and children, at least in the beginnings of married life. At the very least, this deprived the husband of all title to grumbling at the discovery that two could not live as cheaply as one and love was not enough to support life, while it protected the wife from falling into the abjectness more or less proper to an object of charity. The dowry, of course, added nothing to her womanhood, nor did it give her any further essential capacities for wifehood or motherhood; it was an ornament which the young bride wore proudly on her wedding day.
In heaven, the soul is the spouse of God, starting out on the fullness of a common life more startlingly different than ever was married life to a bride. There is no likelihood of a grumbling husband in this case, to be sure; the bills would not pile up at the end of the month; nor will there be any cringing abjectness at the threat of a diminished allowance. Nevertheless the bride in this heavenly marriage needs a principle or habit which will make the act of vision joyously connatural; another which will make the fullness of love which is fruition an easy, almost natural thing; still another to remove all impediments to the full and complete possession of God. Not that life with God will be hard, but that it might be wholly joyous, these three ornaments of the soul are given to the bride on her entrance into the eternal marriage of heaven.
Because this whole life of heaven is so far beyond the powers of our cleverest words, we are forced, again and again, to fall back on metaphorical language. Thus, for instance, the essential reward, revolving around the uncreated Godhead, is called the “golden crown” which is given to every man who enters heaven. Obviously, this is not something perched on the side of a man’s head, but something rooted deep in his soul. The same language must be used of the accidental joys of heaven which, while not pertaining to the essence of it, make up its full integrity. The “little crowns,” or aureoles, are the joys that come, not directly from the essence of God, but from the perfection of the works a man has done, for the outstanding victories he was won; again, these are not piled one on another over a man’s head; rather, they are primarily for his soul. These “little crowns,” three in number, correspond to the outstanding victories to be won in the course of a human life: the victory of the virgin, of the doctor or preacher, and of the martyr. These are outstanding victories for they represent the successful outcome of particularly difficult fights: against the flesh, against the enemies of faith, and to the point of death itself.
The special accidental “fruits” of heaven, envisioned as the full development of the seed of the word of God in men, are the joys that follow, not from the vision of God or the perfection of a man’s labors, but from man’s own condition, his spirituality. Theologians make a definite correlation between these fruits and the virtue of continence, for it is this virtue which is the barrier to the invasion of man’s soul by unruly passion, and so the immediate means by which a man embraces the spiritual to the rejections of the carnal life.
Friends and externals
The preceding chapter has already dealt with the sublime qualities of the glorified bodies of the saints. It is necessary here to do no more than insist on the integral humanity of the blessed after the resurrection. Then, the blessed in heaven will be men and women, composed of body and soul, with the full perfection of both body and soul, perfection not only of being but of operation. When this is said, all else is said, keeping in mind the peculiar perfections of the body outlined in the preceding chapter. Thus, for instance, there is no point in asking if there will be a renewal of friendships in heaven; of course there will, for friendship is an integral part of human life. Will men talk there, laugh, walk, hear, see, stand up and sit down? Of course. These are human beings, blessed human beings, but none the less human. This is not a distortion or denial of human life, but a divine perfection of it.
Beginning of death: Existence and eternity of hell
All this is but one side of the story of what death begins. Uncomfortable as the truth may be, the fact is that there is a hell as well as a heaven, that death not only begins an eternal life, it also begins an eternal death; there is not only adequate reward, there is also adequate punishment. We have it on the authority of the infallible word of God that there is a hell and that in that hell devils and men who die in mortal sin are punished eternally. This, you understand, is not something submitted for the judgment of our individual taste; it will not do to decide that we shall accept some of the truths of revelation — pleasant truths like grace, the Incarnation, the sacraments, and heaven — and reject one that is particularly displeasing. To reject any one is to reject them all, for it is to reject the reason for accepting any one of them, namely, the infallible veracity of the God Who has revealed them all.
Nature of its punishment: Pain of loss
With the fact of an eternal hell certain from revelation, the reasonableness of the fact is by no means obscure. By mortal sin, a man breaks off his friendship with God, giving his heart to something less than God; with charity gone, then, man is in exile from God and charity is not to be recovered after death. Inevitably, the exile from divine life must endure eternally; which is precisely the very essence of hell. To look at it from another point of view, by mortal sin, a man chooses a last end other than God; dying in that sin, his will remains firm in that choice. In other words, he wants exclusion from God eternally, only by violence could he be dragged into heaven; hell assures him of getting what he wants. From the other side of the picture, his offense was committed against an infinite Being and is, therefore, infinite no matter how quickly the act was over and done with; it deserves an infinite punishment, a thing impossible to inflict upon a creature except from the angle of duration. Lest there be any question about this, let it be remembered that the whole reason of the necessity of the Incarnation was that only the Son of God could give the infinite satisfaction demanded for man’s infinite offense.
It might also be argued that as long as a man’s guilt endures, he should be punished for it; and the guilt of a man dying in mortal sin, judged immediately after death, is not wiped out by the passage of any number of ages in hell. The angle of adequate sanction, too, is no light matter; if hell were not to be eternal, a man might well offend God as he pleased and laugh at Him and His punishments, sure that there would some day be an end to them and then he could look forward to an eternity of happiness. Piling up arguments, however, does not bolster the certainty of the truth and the eternity of hell; that certainty needs no support for it rests on the word of God Himself.
To understand the nature of the punishment of hell it is necessary to recall our previous analysis of sin in Volume II of this series. In every mortal sin there is a double element: a turning away from God, and a turning to some created good in place of God. The first is punished in hell by its perpetuation, by an eternal separation from God that is the direct opposite of the eternal union with God which makes up the essential happiness of the blessed in heaven; this is the essential punishment of hell, the pain of loss. Obviously, there is no variety or gradation in this punishment; everyone in hell suffers this, and equally. This is by far the sharpest, the most penetrating pain of hell; for by it, the damned are deprived of the greatest good, God Himself, and they are keenly conscious of their loss. They know then that the goal of life, the one source of order, the one climax of living, is lost to them, not for a day, a year or a century, but forever; their desperation is complete, there is not the slightest grounds for the wildest hope. This is infinite justice, bolstered by infinite power, proceeding against an infinite offense; and there is no escape.
Pain of sense: Eternity and reality of hell fire
The turning to a created good as a last end is punished in hell by what theologians have called the pain of sense. While this has occupied the center of the stage in human considerations of hell, it is actually secondary; it has been given first place only because we find it as impossible, now, to appreciate the loss of the Supreme God as we do to express the ineffable possession of it. This pain of sense is inflicted by the fire of hell. Whatever the lengths of aversion to which sentimentality has pushed modern discussion, the reality of this fire of hell is so universal and so ancient a doctrine of the theologians that question of it would be an extreme of temerariousness. There is indeed hell-fire, and it is real fire; by it the devils and damned souls are punished until the resurrection of the bodies of men, when the punishment of the fire is extended to these risen bodies.
It is quite clear that such fire must operate supernaturally, as an instrument of divine justice and to effects entirely beyond the natural powers of fire. There can be no question of burning devils or separated souls; just how fire punishes them is by no means clear, although it was Thomas’s opinion that its action was primarily one of limiting activities, hemming in the proudest creatures of the universe. After the resurrection, fire’s natural effects will be produced on the bodies of the damned. without however consuming them, that is, there will be a miraculous effect here, too, analogous to that of the fire which named in a bush without consuming it to awake the wonder of Moses.
Inequality of pain of sense
In the punishment of the pain of sense there is plenty of room for inequality. It is inflicted in proportion to man’s conversion to created good in preference to God, and the degrees of men’s absorption in the world of creatures are practically infinite. Here, then, there is a kind of hierarchy of misery corresponding to the hierarchy of happiness in heaven; these are the mansions of hell in sharp contrast to the heavenly mansions prepared by the Savior of men. There is no easing up of either the pain of loss or the pain of sense, no gradual mitigation, for there is no change in the reason for both punishments — the perverse will of the sinner; there is no escape from the eternity of these punishments through a dulling of perception, a gradual slipping into unconsciousness, or eventual oblivion. It is of faith that these punishments are eternal and without mitigation.
Accidental sufferings: Of intellect and will
Artists are not to be taken literally when they picture the misery of hell by the medium of extreme ugliness and distortion. In fact, nothing of nature is changed or lost in hell. The devils have their full complement of perfect natural knowledge, men retain all the knowledge they have stored up in this life; yet that very knowledge, in both cases, is but another source of suffering, keeping vividly in their minds both the good they have lost and the evil that has reduced them to their present misery. They have had a glimpse of the joyous glory of the blessed, the splendor of the risen Christ, and the perfection of the justice of God at the last judgment; yet, there is not an iota of consolation in any of this for one to whom it is lost forever.
Of company of others
Rather, it is the other way around. The wills of the damned are confirmed in adversity. While there is a full cup of remorse that never empties though it is steadily drunk, the sharpest of regrets for the punishments that must be undergone, there is no repentance for the sins committed; sin is not surrendered and God embraced; rather sin is held fast while God is cursed, the more so as the justice of His punishment is beyond cavil. Love, then, is something totally foreign to the very atmosphere of hell, while hate is of the very air the damned breathe: they hate God as the inflicter of punishments, they hate the blessed as having all that they lack, they hate each other as integral constituents of their present misery, and they thoroughly hate and despise themselves. They would willingly accept annihilation, oblivion, as an escape from their torments; but they know there is no escape, not even so bitter an escape as this. It is indeed a terrible thing to fall under the justice of the living God.
The horror of hell might well strike a spark of fear from the heart of a saint; but, while we shrink from the grim prospects of it, it is well to remember that no man slides into hell, as it were by accident. This is a place that must be deliberately entered; a man must knock at the door perseveringly demanding admittance, for no man can get into hell without the passport of his own actual mortal sin which proves he has rejected God. A fifth column in hell is a complete impossibility; there are no victims of unjust court procedure there protesting their innocence. It is quite impossible, then, for an infant who is incapable of personal sins to get into hell; the same holds for idiots, the congenitally insane, and, in general, those who are incapable of sin. If these have not received the gift of supernatural life in the sacrament of Baptism, obviously they cannot get into heaven. Their’s is an intermediate place called Limbo; a place of natural happiness, free of the torments of hell, yet without the divine perfections of heaven.
Conclusion. Aversions to eternal beginnings: To hell
It is not surprising that we should shrink from hell; in fact, that very aversion is one of the first and surest guarantees of avoiding the place, particularly since a man can act into it only by deliberately choosing the road and furnishing himself with the proper identification cards. What is surprising, and not at all flattering to humanity, is that men should shrink from the truth of hell, as if the place of eternal torment could be obliterated by our denial of it. It is a triumph of unreason so to deal with any truth; it is the height of unreason to give a divine truth treatment of this kind.
There is the usual scramble of reasons behind the unreason, rendering it to some extent reasonable in the sense of explicable; but dissolving none of its unreasonableness to the consequence of making it excusable. Certainly, there is a strong dash of anthropomorphism in our modern refusal to take hell seriously; this is not the way human justice would work, so it cannot be though the whole thing is advanced, not as an implement of human, but of divine justice. There is, too, that strange modern fear of going beyond the field of the sensible; hell is not sensible, we cannot experiment with it, while eternity completely escapes our present experience, so of course there can be no hell. Unquestionably, here and there, there is an element of cowardice that shrinks in terror from the responsibility of acts possible of such momentous consequences. In the case of the first two viewpoints, a man wraps himself in a fog of unreason that allows him to approach the abyss with a certain sense of security until he has actually plunged into it. But in the third, a man begins to taste his hell long before he has swung open the infernal portals; indeed, one of the most horrible characteristics of hell is becoming a modern commonplace precisely through this fear of life. The devils and the damned would, but cannot, embrace annihilation as an escape from their punishments; living men are actually embracing the prospect of personal oblivion, not as an escape from punishment, but in preference to the risk involved in the living of human life.
It is somewhat harder to understand how the prospect of heaven can leave men uninterested, indifferent, or positively hostile. One reason may well be the materialist contentment with the world in which he moves, or rather, with that part of it which his blinded eyes can see; this world has been kind to him — for materialism is an error for the prosperous or those with a prospect of prosperity — and life seems long, with a great stretch of comforts still awaiting him. He might be willing to settle for present comforts; unfortunately for him, life does not end at death but begins there. It may be that many men have pretty well p1umbed the depths of despair; they have despaired of God and despaired of men, so they steadfastly refuse to look beyond the moment when they will leave men behind even though at that moment they must face God. But the most extensive basis of our modern American disregard of heaven undoubtedly lies in the ignorance or contempt of the supernatural — a natural consequence of positivism’s confinement of man to the prison of nature — and a thorough misunderstanding of the nature of Christian doctrine on both hell and heaven.
The truth of the beginnings
Diluted Christianity has done much to further this tragic condition. There has been a kind of heartless mercy in this dilution, the weakness of compromise, and the kindness of a lie. When fundamentals are in question, this sweetly corruptive delicacy destroys all it touches; certainly, this half-hearted Christianity is fundamentally destructive of man and his acts as well as of God and His acts, though the thing is advanced as a favor to man. Hell must be taken without appeal to sentiment, without a softening process that eliminates it; it must be taken, as truth must always be taken, literally, straight, with its full force. And heaven must be taken without dilution, with no recourse to a symbolic fog that reduces it to the level of subjective ideals or objective myths for simple people. These two are divine truths; in face of them, man does not choose, he accepts or he is lost.
Naturally all appeal is removed from the prospect of heaven if it is looked on as a giant almshouse with no quarters for the rich and fully equipped with all facilities for the poor to gorge themselves on all the things they missed in their lives on earth. If heaven is to be a place of wholesale revenge where those who were persecuted on earth have their innings doing to others what had been done on earth, it would be a good place to keep away from if a man wanted peace and quiet. If it is a kind of eternal watering-place where the fatigued can sit in the sun eternally doing absolutely nothing, it is a place of torpor rather than of happiness. The point is that heaven is none of these things. True, it has been promised to the poor, but to the poor in spirit; to the persecuted, but to those persecuted for justice sake; it has been described as a place of eternal rest, but of rest for the soul.
In other words, heaven is not at all a simple reversal of the lives men lived on earth; rather it is a completion, a fulfillment, a maturity of what was begun on earth. The poor in spirit, the persecuted for justice sake, those who have exercised their souls in virtue to the point of weariness are not the miserable men of earth; they are the most supremely happy of all the people who walk the face of the earth, regardless of the circumstances of their external life. Heaven comes to these people, not as the answer to his dream would burst on an astonished beggar, the realization of his idyll to a lazy man, or the agony of an enemy to a man on fire with hate; it comes as manhood comes to a child.
Determination of eternal beginnings
The mansions of hell, no less than the mansions of heaven, are not makeshift shacks thrown up after the darkness of death has come down upon life. Both are built slowly, carefully, stone by stone, through all the abundant moments that measure the length of a man’s life. A man does not achieve hell by a last minute quirk of divine judgment, but when he embraces sin; a man does not win heaven when God embraces Him eternally but when he embraces God despite the alluring promises of all that is contrary to God. Heaven or hell, in other words, never comes as a shock; it is the harvest that was planted so long ago, watched, cultivated, defended and now reaped in all its fullness. It is the house at the end of the road that could lead nowhere else. In the case of heaven, it is home; and all along the road there were signs marking the path, help proferred to pilgrims, and directions to be had for the asking. Arriving there, man has come home to the God Who made him.