June 23, 2004

Quidquid latet apparebit, nil inultum remanebit

The four last things, in traditional Catholic theology: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Death needs no explication. Judgment is conducted both at the instant of death and at the end of time: the first time, before only God and the angels, to determine whether the soul will go to hell, purgatory, or heaven; the second time, before all souls, in the Final Judgment.

The judgment is the same both times, of course. If this seems a bit silly, it's understandable, but this was the only way the Church could find to solve with consistency both the problem of where the soul goes when it dies and the problem of Christ's descriptions of judgment. It offended the sensibilities of the Council that decided this issue that a damned soul should get to go to a painless limbo for centuries or even millenia before the judgment.

In traditional Catholic theology, again, Heaven is a place of peace, joy, and love of God. There's none of this "you'll be reunited with all the people you love and be happy forever" touchy-feely crap that the Protestant sects spout all the time. It's very straightforward: all souls, united, praise God forever. Nothing else happens. The Talking Heads song Heaven is theologically spot on (though I have a feeling several Church Fathers would lose their halos over "the bar is called Heaven.")
If this sounds boring to you, well, too bad.

Hell, likewise, is not the creative theme park Dante created, but a lightless morass of unmitigated suffering. There are no sensations but pain; the physical pain is such that "the strongest of living men could not stand it", but it pales in comparison with the spiritual pain. The damned soul is consumed with shame, for having sinned against God; hatred towards God and all creation, foremost himself and his fellow damned souls; and, worst of all, the feeling of separation from God, a feeling unlike any the living can imagine. All of this is amplified by a complete and unescapable awareness that he is personally responsible for the pain. Each moment is amplified by the awareness of an eternity ahead.

I apologize if I got any of this wrong, but I'm pretty certain it's accurate. I saw a dead man yesterday. Cold, dead lips and a dead face where little more than a month ago there was a ready smile and an open, engaging countenance. All I could think was, "Idiotic." I hope his life fulfilled him.


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