The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas
THE TWELFTH ARTICLE: “Life everlasting. Amen.”
WHAT IS EVERLASTING LIFE?
We must first consider in this Article what is everlasting life. And in this we must know that in everlasting life man is united to God. God Himself is the reward and the end of all our labors: “I am thy protector, and thy reward exceeding great.” This union with God consists, firstly, in a perfect vision: “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face.” Secondly, in a most fervent love; for the better one is known, the more perfectly is one loved: “The Lord hath said it, whose fire is in Sion, and His furnace in Jerusalem.” Thirdly, in the highest praise. “We shall see, we shall love, and we shall praise,” as says St. Augustine. “Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of praise.”
Then, too, in everlasting life is the full and perfect satisfying of every desire; for there every blessed soul will have to overflowing what he hoped for and desired. The reason is that in this life no one can fulfill all his desires, nor can any created thing fully satisfy the craving of man. God only satisfies and infinitely exceeds man’s desires; and, therefore, perfect satiety is found in God alone. As St. Augustine says: “Thou hast made us for Thee, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” Because the blessed in the Fatherland will possess God perfectly, it is evident that their desires will be abundantly filled, and their glory will exceed their hopes. The Lord has said: “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” And as St. Augustine says: “Complete joy will not enter into those who rejoice, but all those who rejoice will enter into joy.” “I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear.” And again: “Who satisfieth thy desire with good things.”
THE FULLNESS OF DESIRES
Whatever is delightful will be there in abundant fullness. Thus, if pleasures are desired, there will be the highest and most perfect pleasure, for it derives from the highest good, namely, God: “Then shalt thou abound in delights in the Almighty.” “At the right hand are delights even to the end.” Likewise, if honors are desired, there too will be all honor. Men wish particularly to be kings, if they be laymen; and to be bishops, if they be clerics. Both these honors will be there: “And hath made us a kingdom and priests.” “Behold how they are numbered among the children of God.” If knowledge is desired, it will be there most perfectly, because we shall possess in the life everlasting knowledge of all the natures of things and all truth, and whatever we desire we shall know. And whatever we desire to possess, that we shall have, even life eternal: “Now, all good things come to me together with her.” “To the just their desire shall be given.”
Again, most perfect security is there. In this world there is no perfect security; for in so far as one has many things, and the higher one’s position, the more one has to fear and the more one wants. But in the life everlasting there is no anxiety, no labor, no fear.
“And My people shall sit in the beauty of peace,” and “shall enjoy abundance, without fear of evils.”
Finally, in heaven there will be the happy society of all the blessed, and this society will be especially delightful. Since each one will possess all good together with the blessed, and they will love one another as themselves, and they will rejoice in the others’ good as their own. It will also happen that, as the pleasure and enjoyment of one increases, so will it be for
all: “The dwelling in thee is as it were of all rejoicing.”
WHAT IS EVERLASTING DEATH?
The perfect will enjoy all this in the life everlasting, and much more that surpasses description. But the wicked, on the other hand, will be in eternal death suffering pain and punishment as great as will be the happiness and glory of the good. The punishment of the damned will be increased, firstly, by their separation from God and from all good. This is the pain of loss which corresponds to aversion, and is a greater punishment than that of sense: “And the unprofitable servant, cast ye out into the exterior darkness.” The wicked in this life have interior darkness, namely sin; but then they shall also have exterior darkness.
Secondly, the damned shall suffer from remorse of conscience: “I will reprove thee, and set before thy face.” “Groaning for anguish of spirit.” Nevertheless, their repentance and groaning will be of no avail, because it rises not from hatred of evil, but from fear and the enormity of their punishments. Thirdly, there is the great pain of sense. It is the fire of hell which tortures the soul and the body; and this, as the Saints tell us, is the sharpest of all punishments. They shall be ever dying, and yet never die; hence it is called eternal death, for as dying is the bitterest of pains, such will be the lot of those in hell: “They are laid in hell like sheep; death shall feed upon them.” Fourthly, there is the despair of their salvation. If some hope of delivery from their punishments would be given them, their punishment would be somewhat lessened; but since all hope is withdrawn from them, their sufferings are made most intense: “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched.
We thus see the difference between doing good and doing evil. Good works lead to life, evil drags us to death. For this reason, men ought frequently to recall these things to mind, since they will incite one to do good and withdraw one from evil. Therefore, very significantly, at the end of the Creed is placed “life everlasting,” so that it would be more and more deeply impressed on the memory. To this life everlasting may the Lord Jesus Christ, blessed God for ever, bring us! Amen.
(For “Questions for Discussion” see Chapter 6.)
1. Ps. xlviii. 21.
2. Wis., ii. 22-23. Note also: “And though in the sight of men they suffer torments their hope is full of immortality” (“ibid.,” iii. 4).
3. Gen., xv. 1.
4. I Cor., xiii. 12. “The blessed always see God present, and by this greatest and most exalted of gifts, ‘being made partakers of the divine nature’ (II Peter, i. 4), they enjoy true and solid happiness” (“Roman Catechism,” Twelfth Article, 9)
5. Isa., xxxi. 9. Note: This second consideration is found in the vives edition Chapter XV
6. “Ibi vacabimus, et videbimus: videbimus, et amabimus: amabimus, et laudabimus” (“There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise,” in “The city of God,” Book XXII, Chapter xxx).
7. Isa., li. 3.
8. “Confessions,” Book I, 1.
9. Matt., xxv. 21.
10. Ps. xvi. 15.
11. Ps. cii. 5.
12. Job, xxii. 26.
13. Ps. xv. 11. “To enumerate all the delights with which the souls of the blessed will be filled, would be an endless task. We cannot even conceive them in thought. The happiness of the Saints is filled to overflowing of all those pleasures which can be enjoyed or even desired in this life, whether they pertain to the powers of the mind or the perfection of the body” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 12).
14. Apoc., v. 10
15. Wis., v. 5. “How distinguished that honor must be which is conferred by God Himself, who no longer calls them servants, but friends, brethren, and sons of God. Hence, the Redeemer will address His elect in these infinitely loving and highly honorable words: ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you’ ” (“Roman Catechism.” “loc. cit.,” 11).
16. Wis.. vii. 11.
17. Prov., x. 24.
18. Isa., xxxii. 10. This is in the Vives edition, Chapter XV.
19. Prov., i. 33.
20. Ps. lxxxvi. 7.
21. Matt., xxv. 30.
22. Ps. xlix. 21.
23. Wis., v. 3.
24. Ps. xlviii. 15.
Isa., lxvi. 24.