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On Judgment

It is written: You shall be holy, for I am holy. And if you invoke as Father him who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every one’s work: converse in fear during the time of your sojourning here. – 1 Peter 1:16-17

The Judgment. It’s something that few wish to think about in our day. It’s a concept that many in our modern-day shrug off as an old fashion myth. Many call it a “scare tactic” to frighten people who misbehave. Unfortunately, even in the Church, the concept of the Final Judgment is rarely preached on anymore.

Before my conversion to the Catholic Church, I grew up in American Evangelicalism for twenty-one years. During that time, I never once heard from the pulpit of any sect a sermon dedicated to the subject of the final judgment. It’s truly a doctrine that has been neglected.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, building off his work on the subject of Death, treats next the Subject of the judgment. In this article, we will explore his thought on the Particular Judgment and the General Judgment.

First Consideration: The Particular Judgment

Upon the individual’s physical death, man’s soul immediately goes to his particular judgment. There is not an elapsed time period of waiting, where the soul sits idle looking for its judgment. Catholics do not believe in the doctrine known as Soul Sleep. Rather, as Pope Benedict XIII taught in the Bull Benedictus Deus, souls receive immediately after death their reward or punishment. This put to an end a controversy caused by his predecessor, Pope John XXII (1316–1334), who had personally held for a while that even pure souls would be delayed in enjoying the beatific vision.

Pope Benedict teaches:

By this Constitution which is to remain in force for ever, we, with apostolic authority, define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints who departed from this world before the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and also of the holy apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins and other faithful who died after receiving the holy baptism of Christ – provided they were not in need of any purification when they died… all these souls, immediately (mox) after death and, in the case of those in need of purification, after the purification mentioned above, since the ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ into heaven, already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment, have been, are and will be with Christ in heaven, in the heavenly kingdom and paradise, joined to the company of the holy angels.

Since the passion and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature by way of object of vision; rather the divine essence immediately manifests itself to them, plainly, clearly and openly, and in this vision they enjoy the divine essence. Moreover, by this vision and enjoyment the souls of those who have already died are truly blessed and have eternal life and rest. Also the souls of those who will die in the future will see the same divine essence and will enjoy it before the general judgment.

Such a vision and enjoyment of the divine essence do away with the acts of faith and hope in these souls, inasmuch as faith and hope are properly theological virtues. And after such intuitive and face-to-face vision and enjoyment has or will have begun for these souls, the same vision and enjoyment has continued and will continue without any interruption and without end until the last Judgment and from then on forever.

Almost the same thing is taught by the Council of Lyons II (D 854-859), the Council of Florence (D 1304-1306,1314-1316). Similarly, the Council of Lyons I (D 839), John XXII (D 926), and Clement VI (D 1066-1067). The Council of Trent (D 1821) says that the saints are “reigning together with Christ,” and “enjoying eternal happiness in heaven.”

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange in his treatment of the particular judgment states:

In the divine judgment, the examination of the case is instantaneous, because it needs neither the testimony of witnesses, for or against, nor the least discussion. God knows by immediate intuition, and at the moment of separation, the soul knows itself without medium. It is enlightened, decisively and inevitably, on all its merits and demerits. It sees its state without possibility of error, sees all that it has thought, desired, said, and done, both in good and in evil. It sees all the good it has omitted. Memory and conscience penetrate its entire moral and spiritual life, even to the minutest details. Only then can it see clearly all that was involved in its particular vocation, for instance, that of a mother, of a father, of an apostle.

Secondly, the pronouncement of the sentence is also instantaneous. It does not come by a voice to be heard by the ear, but in a manner entirely spiritual. Intellectual illumination awakes all acquired ideas, gives additional infused ideas, whereby the soul sees its entire past in a glance. The soul sees how God judges, and conscience makes this judgment definitive. All this takes place at the first instant of separation. When it is true to say of a person that he is dead, it is also true to say that he is judged.

Thirdly, the execution of the sentence is also immediate. There is nothing to retard it. On the part of God, omnipotence accomplishes at once the order of divine justice, and on the part of the soul merit and demerit are, as St. Thomas says, like lightness and heaviness in bodies. Where there are no obstacles, heavy bodies fall, light bodies rise. Thus separated souls go without delay, either to the recompense due to their merit (unless perhaps they have to undergo a temporary punishment in purgatory), or to the eternal punishment due to their demerits. Charity, like a living flame, ascends on high, whereas hate always descends.[1]

When we examine this text, I see three very interesting truths.

Firstly, we cannot hide anything from God. When we die, we meet him. He knows everything, there will be no hiding of information from him. There will be no escaping from Him. Rather we will receive our judgment in a moment.

The Second thing fills my heart with joy. What will it be like for the blessed when they hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant”? Oh, the joy and bliss!

The third reality is the horrible thought and shock of the damned. They will say “What, I was a bad person”? Many will cry out on that day “But I was a good person!” Yet they shall hear those dreadful words: “Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity.  I never knew you.”

This reality that we are made and called to divine love should warm our hearts. It should make us press on to know Him more and to not fall off of the narrow path.

The Second Consideration: The General Judgment

After covering the order of the Particular Judgment, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange covers the Catholic Doctrine of The General Judgment.

Christian faith thus expresses this truth: “I believe in Jesus Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead.” The symbol of St. Athanasius makes this doctrine more precise: “At the coming of the Savior all men will rise with their bodies and will render an account of all their acts.” Councils teach a general resurrection, after which Christ will judge all men, on what they have thought, desired, said, done, and omitted, and will then give to each according to his works. Let us see what Scripture says on this point, and how theology explains this doctrine.[2]

In typical scholastic form, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange first gives proofs from the sources, starting with inspired Scripture. Contrary to popular western conceptions of Christ as a “hippie” like figure who gives pithy zen statements, Christ, Who was charity incarnate, spoke heavily on this subject.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes:

This universal judgment is presented as the work of Christ, above all in the great discourse on the end of the world, as preserved by the three Evangelists. “When the Son of man comes in His glory and all His angels with Him, then shall He sit on the seat of His majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before Him, and He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats.” Jesus, speaking of His passion, says to the high priest: “Hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God and coming in the clouds of heaven.” In St. John’s Gospel we read: “He that despiseth Me and receiveth not My words hath one that judgeth him. The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last days.” “Everyone who . . . believeth in Me . . . hath everlasting life; and I will raise him up in the last day.” “The hour cometh wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.”[3]

Contrary to what many would like to believe, Christ will be our judge at the end of time. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange then gives quotations and passing references to the Fathers of the Church as the next authority.

The Fathers, both Latin and Greek, not only teach this dogma explicitly, but most vividly describe the last judgment. Let it suffice to cite St. Augustine: “No one denies, or puts in doubt, that Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures have announced, will pronounce the last judgment.”[4]

What will the judgment be like?

The circumstances of this universal judgment are the following: the judge will be Jesus in His humanity, because His merits have opened the gates of heaven for us. The subject matter of this judgment will be the life of each one, his thoughts, his words, his deeds, his omissions, the good and the evil which he has done. The time of this judgment is certain, but only God knows it, although He has given in the Scriptures certain signs of its approach. “Nations shall rise against nation . . . and there shall be earthquakes in divers places and famines…. And unto all nations the gospel must first be preached…. And you shall be hated by all men for My name’s sake,” said Jesus to His disciples. “In those days shall be such tribulations as were not from the beginning of the creation which God created…. There will rise up false Christs and false prophets, and they shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. Take you heed therefore; behold, I have foretold you all things…. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory…. Watch and pray; for you know not when the time is.” St. Paul adds: “Let no man deceive you, . . . for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin (the Antichrist) be revealed (the judgment shall not take place).”[5]

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the judgment that Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes is that all things that are unjust will be rectified. From debts owed, to how man views his fellow man:

Reasons for the Last Judgment. St. Thomas explains these reasons. First, dead men live in the memory of men on earth and are often judged contrary to truth. Spirits, strong and false, like Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel, are judged as if they were great philosophers. False prophets and heresiarchs, such as Luther and Calvin, are considered by many to be masters of religious thought, whereas great saints and doctors are profoundly ignored.

Judgment Day will show how much value is to be assigned to certain histories of philosophies, to many studies on the origins of Christianity, written in a spirit absolutely rationalistic. It will show how their perpetual variations and contradictions come from their fundamental error, the negation of the supernatural. It will manifest all lying propaganda. It will unmask hypocrites who enslaved religion instead of serving religion. Universal history will no longer be seen as a mere horizontal line of time, passing from the past to the future, but as a vertical line which attaches each event to the unique moment of an immovable eternity. The secrets of the hearts will be revealed. The Pharisees, Caiphas, Pilate, will be judged definitively. Truth will conquer all these lies. It is clear that, if God exists, truth must be the absolutely last word.

Further, the dead have had imitators, in good or in evil. Evil is easier to imitate. Truth and justice must be vindicated. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill.”[6]

Conclusion and a Consideration of Hope

How shall we respond, brethren? These words by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange are not meant to be sacred tactics against sinners. Rather they are meant as a theological consideration of the true judgment that is to come. God is Charity and Justice and these two realities are not distinct in God’s nature. He must punish sin in the order of justice. To omit this would be against His nature. However, there is much hope even with the coming judgment. Christ does not want man to be separated from him. On the contrary, man is made to know, love and serve God. Christ has made a way for you to be one with him. During this time of Advent, keep the judgment in your sight, but also remember that Christ came during the time of Christmas to save you from eternal punishment.


[1] Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Life Everlasting (TAN: 1952), 74.

[2] Ibid., 77.

[3] Ibid., 78-79.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Ibid., 80-81.

[6] Ibid., 82-83.

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