Whereas the Son’s own surrender to the love of the Father, on the level of fallen creation, is consummated in his sharing of our death, our reunion in him, in this very death, consummates our ecstasy, our ravishment with the Risen One, our Ascension in his own, in which is celebrated the Marriage of the Lamb in the final universal return to the Father.
– Louis Bouyer
During my one and only visit to the Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine of Le Barroux, I heard a wonderful sermon by the abbot Dom Gerard Calvet (requiescat in pace), in which his text was from the Letter to the Colossians: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are of earth” (Col 3:2).
The thrust of the sermon was this: If we are serious about being Christians, if we really believe in what Jesus has done for us and promises to us, our only home is with Him in heaven—that is the only place we can really want to be. Everything we must do on earth we shall do as well as we can, and with genuine charity, but our heart will already be in heaven. Listen to what St. Paul says in this passage: “If then you have been raised with Christ”—this already happens mystically in our baptism—“seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). And why, according to Paul, should we be lingering there, well beyond this world, even when it makes us look ridiculous to our unbelieving neighbors? “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). When we were baptized, the old man in us, the child of Adam, underwent a spiritual death; his pride and vanity was drowned in the font, and a new man was born from the waters, with privileged access to the world of the Spirit: “hid with Christ in God.” We were inserted into His wounds, into His heart, into His being, and we were given the grace to remain there, if such was our ongoing choice.
Knowing that many would choose the polluted waters of a worldly life to the refreshing waters of life eternal, our Lord even provided an emergency exit from sin, the sacrament of penance, so that no man could aver that his foolish choice was irrevocable. All that could be done for us has been done for us. St. Paul goes on to say: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4). Our Lord’s foremost desire is to bring us to share His glory, the glory He shared with His Father before the world was made (Jn 17:5). If Christ is truly our life, then His life, and thus His glory, will truly be ours.
Christ the Model and the Mover
If it is to begin rightly, eschatology, or the study of the “last things,” must begin with the “last things” in the life of Jesus Christ: His death and resurrection and His exaltation as sovereign Judge seated at the right hand of the Father. Sacred Scripture teaches us that Christ’s resurrection is the operative and modeling cause of our resurrection, His ascension of our ascension, His glory of our glory. As St. Thomas explains, Christ merited for Himself a fourfold exaltation corresponding to His fourfold humiliation in the Passion:
Now in His Passion Christ humbled Himself beneath His dignity in four respects. In the first place as to His Passion and death, to which He was not bound; secondly, as to the place, since His body was laid in a sepulchre and His soul in hell; thirdly, as to the shame and mockeries He endured; fourthly, as to His being delivered up to man’s power, as He Himself said to Pilate (Jn 19:11): “Thou shouldst not have any power against Me, unless it were given thee from above.” And, consequently, He merited a four-fold exaltation from His Passion:
First of all, as to His glorious Resurrection: hence it is written (Ps 138:1): “Thou hast known my sitting down”—that is, the lowliness of My Passion—“and My rising up.”
Secondly, as to His ascension into heaven: hence it is written (Eph 4:9): “Now that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens.”
Thirdly, as to the sitting on the right hand of the Father and the showing forth of His Godhead, according to Isaiah 52:13: “He shall be exalted and extolled, and shall be exceeding high: as many have been astonished at Him, so shall His visage be inglorious among men.” Moreover (Phil 2:8) it is written: “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross: for which cause also God hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names”—that is to say, so that He shall be hailed as God by all; and all shall pay Him homage as God. And this is expressed in what follows: “That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.”
Fourthly, as to His judiciary power: for it is written (Job 36:17): “Thy cause hath been judged as that of the wicked cause and judgment Thou shalt recover.”
Since Christ is the Head of the Church, His Mystical Body, what He did and suffered had value not only for Himself but also, in keeping with the purpose of the Incarnation (“to seek and to save what was lost”), for all the members of this body. As St. Thomas teaches, Christ merits grace and glory for his members because it is from Him that they receive their very life as Christians, namely, the life of grace, which, when unimpeded, blossoms into the life of glory. Thus an analogous exaltation—consisting of our own bodily resurrection, ascension, being seated in the court of the heavenly King, and participating in His righteousness as Judge—is merited for all who are baptized into the Lord’s death, then live by His grace and die in His favor. The merits of Christ become truly ours, and we cannot lose them except by grievous sin.
Numerous passages in the New Testament teach us these consoling truths. Consider the following from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians:
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thes 4:13–18)
These verses stress the virtue of hope: let not Christians grieve in the manner of pagans “who have no hope,” as if our life is swallowed up in death and there is nothing more, or perhaps a shadowy ghoulish existence. Of course we must pray fervently for the deceased, and these prayers are fittingly sombre and solemn, but we are not (or should not be) in a state of despair or despondency. The sober anguish of the prayers for the dead is a fitting response of the human heart confronted by the mystery of Adam’s sin working its way out, death by death, judgment by judgment, until the end of time, yet at the same time the Church’s liturgy and devotions are suffused with trust in divine mercy, with remembrance of the pietas of Jesus: Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.
Hope is linked with comfort, with being consoled and strengthened by Almighty God as we strive towards the “arduous goal” of the beatific vision, an end inherently beyond the strength of our own nature. In the face of death and the prospect of judgment, we must place our hope again and again in Jesus Christ, who has not only the power to forgive our sins and bring us to everlasting life, but a burning desire to do so by living in our souls. As the Apostle expresses it: “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Hope is the virtue by which, in accordance with His promises and by His merits, we expect to receive an eternal reward and inheritance from the just Judge: “rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5:12, Lk 6:23); “if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and coheirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17). As the traditional Act of Hope says:
O my God, relying upon Thy infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon for my sins, the grace to serve Thee in this world, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.
Our hope can never be in vain so long as we are conformed by grace to our Head, who, in His human nature, has already attained ultimate glory on behalf of the entire human race.
Returning to 1 Thessalonians, a second thing to notice is that the righteous, whether living or dead, will at the end of time be “caught up together . . . in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This passage calls to mind the glorious Ascension. Whither the Lord has already gone and where he now reigns triumphant, we ourselves hope to follow. This is also one of the many lessons taught to us by the Assumption of our Blessed Lady. In Christ’s Ascension, the hope, the possibility, of resurrected glory for the rest of us is shown forth: the Head has preceded the members of the body. In Mary’s Assumption, the actuality of this possibility is shown forth, the ever-consoling fact that a mere mortal has triumphed not partially but totally over death and corruption, having been drawn up body and soul into heaven: a triumphant model of what will happen at the last trump to all who are faithful to Christ, to all who imitate the faith of His Mother.
The Resurrection of the Dead
The most important eschatological text from the Apostle Paul is to be found in the famous fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians:
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor 15:19–28)
Then, skipping down a bit:
What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:42–58)
According to St. Thomas, the “resurrection of the flesh” (credo carnis resurrectionem as is stated in the Apostle’s Creed, for which the Nicene Creed has the equivalent expression exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum) is not only an Article of Faith, a mystery to be received in humble submission to God the revealer, but also a truth that can, at least partially, be arrived at by natural reason on the basis of natural knowledge. This is a surprising claim to modern readers, but that is largely because we no longer think about the ontological composition of the human person who is not only an immortal mind or soul but also a living body—a creature meant to live its life of knowledge and love in a body made alive by spirit. Man is an “incarnate spirit,” a spirit to whom it belongs to be in flesh, living and expressing itself through the flesh. If this is true, then it is supremely unfitting that death should spell the eternal frustration of the soul’s nature as co-principle, namely, to be the soul of its own body. Such a death cannot be natural from the vantage of the Creator, who has designed all things for the sake of their own perfection, which mirrors His perfection. Thus, however natural bodily death may be to man considered as an animal, it is unnatural to him as a rational or spiritual animal. Put differently, death has to be overcome if man is to achieve the full perfection that corresponds to his nature: perfection in body and soul.
Yet why, after all, should God will that man achieve the full perfection of which his nature is capable? Why, to go further, should God have willed to elevate man by grace to an end—the beatific vision—which altogether transcends human nature? The answer can only be that God the Creator, God the Redeemer who shed His blood on Calvary, willed to manifest His goodness to the fullest, holding nothing back. This is the meaning of love of friendship: to share the good with another, to will and work for the other’s good and for his sake. God gains nothing from our existence or perfection; we gain everything when we attain to God in grace and glory. That is why He is the infinitely liberal giver, and we are infinitely needy beggars; but it is also why He, who is the Father, can make us into sons who share everything that is His, in the manner befitting us as creatures.
Thus, while the fittingness of bodily resurrection can be seen by natural reason, we reach deeper into the truth if we can see that resurrection, like the suffering and death of the Lord, is a mystery of love. The first root of everything God does ad extra, toward creation, is love and mercy. Love is the root cause of the resurrection, of the human person’s need to be resurrected, and of the glory of the saints who are raised from the dead. Just as God will not suffer His Holy One (sanctus) to see corruption, so He does not wish to let His holy ones (sancti, those who are joined by love to the Son) see corruption. They, too, must rise and be united with Him in his glory, beholding His blessed and beautiful face for all eternity, rejoicing in His joy. As Aristotle says, virtuous friends most of all desire to be with each other, living under the same roof, doing noble things together. O gracious revelation, past all that Aristotle could have known: are we not told that such a friendship is ours with God, even in this life, and all the more in the life to come? “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).
How can our Lord Jesus say that He has made known to us all that He has heard from His Father—for has he not, for all eternity, “heard” from the Father nothing less than the Divine Nature, everything that God is and does? Christ knows what He is saying; He speaks these words because He wills to give us nothing less than His very self. In the gift of His holy and life-giving Eucharist, His resurrected flesh and blood, we receive the Lord, our God, King, Father, Spouse, Brother, Friend, for our pilgrimage on earth and for eternal glory in heaven. The Eucharist is esca viatorum, the food of wayfarers, and panis angelorum, the bread of angels. It is the sacrament of life and resurrection: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:54, 56). It is the sacrament, the sacred and efficacious sign, of divine intimacy and heavenly glory. In the words of the beautiful antiphon St. Thomas wrote for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi:
O sacrum convivium!
In quo Christus sumitur,
Recolitur memoria passionis eius,
Mens impletur gratia,
Et futurae gloriae
Nobis pignus datur.
O sacred banquet!
In which Christ is received,
The memory of His passion is recalled,
The soul is filled with grace,
And to us is given
A pledge of future glory.
Purgation unto Glory
The love that brings us at last to the heavenly city is the same love that purifies us of what is unworthy of its citizens and their King. If we cannot but say before we receive the precious Body of Christ, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” is it not all the more obvious that we are unworthy to enter under His roof, to go into the Holy of Holies in the heavenly Jerusalem? Purification is necessary. A similar notion emerges in Abraham Heschel’s comment on the vision of Isaiah: “It is pain, not joy, to behold the majesty of God. The contrast is shattering: God is holy, holy, holy, and man is of unclean lips: he cannot join the choir of the seraphim. His lips must be cleansed with fire.”
This purification should not, however, be viewed exclusively as a matter of satisfying the inexorable demands of a severe justice. It is a purification for the sake of love, by means of love. It is like the striving of a friend to be worthy of a friend who greatly excels him in virtue, in wisdom or love. This is the teaching of St. Catherine of Genoa on purgatory, which she wrote down after being granted the vision and experience of purgatory. She says, quite simply, that the soul throws itself willingly into any and every suffering if only to be ready and worthy of the light that beckons to sublime communion for all eternity.
Like judgment, heaven, and hell, purgatory has to do with the afterlife, yet unlike heaven and hell, it is essentially transitory, both for the individual soul and in the larger cosmic picture. Purgatory as a “place” cannot exist after the universal resurrection, for with the Second Coming and the Last Judgment only the permanent abodes of the saved and the damned will remain. St. Thomas generally treats of purgatory in connection with the particular judgment, with paying the debt of punishment due for sins, or with attaining heavenly glory, which can be delayed where there is need for purification. One may speak of it also in connection with the virtue of hope. The longing for heavenly glory, for the sight of God’s face, is never so intense as in the suffering souls who, confirmed in love, are justly delayed in obtaining the sovereign good towards which this love impels them with the greatest force. Purgatory is a place of terrible punishment and yet of merciful love. It is the “finishing school” of love for those whose love is not yet absolutely pure.
The Forgotten Virtue
As Josef Pieper noticed, hope is “the forgotten virtue” for moderns. It seems we know the importance of faith: “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Charity, “the greatest of these” three theological virtues, indeed the only one that passes over into the life to come, remaining specifically what it is, provides the subject of many a sermon. But hope is often lost sight of. Surely this must be one reason why Pope Benedict XVI decided to give the Church and the world an encyclical on hope.
The liturgy of the Mass, too, is a source and school of hope, in two senses. In itself, as Eucharistic sacrifice and banquet, it emanates from and makes present to us the hope of all the nations, Jesus Christ the Lord, who never ceases to teach and sanctify us through His sacramental actions. But in its due mode as sacred and solemn, traditional liturgy is a special cause of hope in the midst of a world of innovation, irreverence, and banality, all of which aggressively undermine the otherworldly, supernatural character of Christian hope. This is why the battle over the liturgy is not, in the final analysis, about personal tastes or preferences; it is about the theological virtues, the Four Last Things, and the attainment of heaven. What is at stake is nothing less than “setting our minds on things that are above, not on things that are of earth,” because our life is “hid with Christ in God.” The Apostle spoke to the Colossians of the mystery that defined his entire existence; the Church’s Tradition has jealously preserved this mystery and transmitted it to every age; the Church’s liturgy devoutly celebrates it and perpetuates it for all time. That is why the struggle for the traditional Mass has universal, cosmic, eschatological dimensions: it is not about us, it is about Him; it is not about the here and now, it is about the everywhere and forever; it has only one purpose, to commingle our bodies and souls with the living, life-giving humanity and divinity of the Incarnate Word, Savior of mankind, Judge of the living and the dead. The stakes of the “inculturation wars” that characterize Roman Catholic liturgical history in the postconciliar period are higher than most people realize: the sanctification or desacralization, and so, the salvation or perdition, of souls. The city of God and the city of man. The resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment. Kyrie eleison.
 The Christian Mystery: From Pagan Myth to Christian Mysticism, trans. Illtyd Trethowan (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 294.
 Summa theologiae III, q. 49, a. 6. As usual, St. Thomas is describing at the same time the architecture of the treatise he is composing, so that we have a bird’s-eye view of the topics he has treated or will be treating at this juncture in the Tertia Pars.
 As Pope Leo XIII writes: “That divine office which Jesus Christ received from His Father for the welfare of mankind, and most perfectly fulfilled, had for its final object to put men in possession of the eternal life of glory, and proximately during the course of ages to secure to them the life of divine grace, which is destined eventually to blossom into the life of heaven” (Encyclical Letter on the Holy Spirit Divinum Illud Munus, §1).
 It does not, needless to say, call to mind the fantastical “rapture” that some Protestants go on about.
 This Thomas says in the Summa theologiae I, qq. 20–21.
 The Prophets, 2 vols (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 2:137.