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Chapter 34: Christian Life Animated with Hope of Everlasting Life

Question E: How is Christian life in this age both continuous with and discontinuous from everlasting life?

1. In maintaining the moral seriousness of Christian life in the world, the classical view had the merit of orthodoxy. In effect, it affirmed (for those who are saved) both continuity and discontinuity between this life and eternal life: essential continuity in regard to basic moral disposition and divine life itself, essential discontinuity in regard to the change from faith and mortal life now to the beatific vision and, in or out of the body, a spiritualized existence later. However, it failed to show how this life makes an intrinsic contribution to fulfillment in the Lord Jesus.

2. A more adequate view of the relationship between this life and the next must do three things: It must explain the relationship in view of the actual end of creation, namely, the fulfillment of everything in Jesus; it must clarify the continuity between this life and the next in regard to all three of the ways a Christian is united with Jesus; and it must consider more exactly in what the discontinuity consists. This question will do these three things as a basis for question F, which will show how this life is intrinsically related to everlasting life, but is not merely an early stage in a continuous process inevitably ending in heaven.

3. The basic principle of continuity is this: The goods in which we participate during this life will also be included in fulfillment in Jesus. This principle, not fully recognized in the classical view, has been clearly affirmed by Vatican II (see GS 39).

4. There is also discontinuity, of two sorts. First, the discontinuity of maturation: Goods shared in imperfectly in this life will be shared in more perfectly in everlasting life. Second, a radical discontinuity: Evil, which now disrupts Christian life, will be eliminated from creation or wholly overcome. Evil will be so completely removed from its basis in good that the separation will be final (last judgment), the universe will be created anew (the transformation of creation on the model of Jesus’ resurrection), and those who have constituted themselves in alienation from God will be rendered permanently harmless (the condemnation of the wicked).

The coming of Jesus will be unmistakable; the reign of God already begun in him will become apparent in this world as he reveals himself in the glory and power of his resurrection (see Mt 24.27; Lk 17.20–35). The universe as a whole will be transformed, and new heavens and a new earth brought into being (see 2 Pt 3.11–13). The Church, the human race, and the entire world will be perfectly fulfilled in the Lord Jesus (see LG 48; GS 39).

The prayer of ages that God reign on earth as in heaven will be fulfilled; a new and beautiful community will be formed on earth, in which God will dwell with his people in lasting fellowship. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rv 21.4). “He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son” (Rv 21.7). The treasures and wealth of nations will be found in the new community, and it will be illumined with the light of God himself (see Rv 21.23–26). The whole created world will share in this wonderful transformation (see Rom 8.19–22).

5. There is a fundamental continuity between this life and fulfillment in Jesus in respect to divine life, since the real share in divine life which Christians now enjoy by the gift of adoption is intended to last. Since in this respect there is no evil to be eliminated, there is no radical discontinuity between the Christian’s share in divinity in this life and in everlasting life. The divine life of the Christian need not be re-created: Charity does not pass away. There is, however, discontinuity of maturation in respect to divine life, since we now have faith, whereas then we shall be like God for we shall see him as he is.

6. There is also a fundamental continuity in respect to human acts. The Christian’s acts of self-determination and faithful communion with and in Jesus will last. The discontinuity of maturation here concerns the fact that the saints will be confirmed in their faithfulness: Temptation and sin will no longer be possible. But there is also a radical discontinuity: Re-creation will eliminate imperfection and venial sin, defects in interpersonal communion, and, in general, all the existential effects of sin. Every source of disharmony and discontent will be overcome.

The ultimate elimination of all conflict and disharmony, the permanent establishment of perfect harmony, is expressed poetically: “The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11.8–9). The whole richness of the many distinct aspects of creator and creatures, self and others, and dimensions of the self will be perfected in perfectly harmonious unity.

7. In respect to bodily life, there is a continuity between this life and everlasting life in two respects (see S.c.g., 4, 79–81; S.t., 3, q. 56, a. 1; q. 79, a. 2). First, one rises in one’s own body; second, even now one shares by the sacrament of the Eucharist in Jesus’ resurrection life, by which one will rise and live forever. The discontinuity of maturation is that in everlasting life one will share so fully in the resurrection life of Jesus as to have positive immortality. The radical discontinuity lies in the fact that God’s re-creative act will eliminate all the evils consequent upon sin which extend beyond the existential domain. Death is the epitome of such evil, but every other sort of disorder will also be eliminated. Thus the blessed will be richly fulfilled in all the substantive human goods, and the present lack of correspondence between uprightness and success, moral goodness and human fulfillment, will come to an end.

Even now, the Christian is blessed with a share in God’s knowledge. The disciples of Jesus are his friends, not his servants, for he makes known to them everything he has heard from the Father (see Jn 15.15). The plan of God is now clear: “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1.9–10). Perfect knowledge will be given (see 1 Cor 13.9–12).

Jesus is the resurrection and the life (see Jn 11.25), come to give life and more abundant life (see Jn 10.10). The Christian is promised: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6.54). And so in the new Jerusalem “death shall be no more” (Rv 21.4).

8. None of the preceding aspects of continuity and maturation is merely individual. The life of Christians is social, lived in the communion with Jesus which we call “Church.” The Church herself lasts forever, but she will be perfected in glory. In other words, what is going to last is the whole Lord Jesus. The Mystical Body of Jesus will be perfected by growing to maturity, so that in him we shall form one mature person.

The goal of God’s entire magnificent plan is a communion of divine persons and created persons, not a large number of separate relationships between a monadic deity and saved individuals. This communion is incipient in the Church. Hence, the Church is no mere temporary vehicle of the Christian’s pilgrimage toward an altogether other-worldly heaven.

We are not adopted as isolated individuals, but as members of the Church. This is so because one and the same Holy Spirit communicates divine life to all God’s adopted children. Thus he not only vivifies the Church but also unifies her. The Spirit is to the Mystical Body of the Lord Jesus as a soul is to an organic body (see LG 7). The unity in multiplicity of the Church is itself a reflection of the Holy Trinity, upon which the Church is modeled by the Holy Spirit (see UR 2). Thus the fellowship of adopted children of God in the life of the Church will last forever.

This point is made clear by Vatican II. The Church will achieve her fulfillment at the end of time, when she will include every just person (see LG 2). The Church is identified with the kingdom of God already present in mystery (see LG 3). The Church is the initial budding forth of the kingdom on earth (see LG 5). The fullness of the life of the Church is now hidden with the Lord Jesus; she will appear with her spouse in glory (see LG 6).

This is not to say that the Church and the kingdom are entirely identical. There is a difference, since the Church is fully visible in the present world, working toward fulfillment yet to be realized, while the kingdom is hidden and already realized in Jesus. But this distinction should not be exaggerated. Although not of this present world, the kingdom of God is very much in it. Some of the parables concerning the kingdom indicate that at present it includes both the good and the bad (see Mt 13.24–50), and many others show that the kingdom is growing slowly to maturity by divine power (see Mt 13.31–33; Mk 4.26–32). Also, when Jesus gives Peter his unique role, “church” and “kingdom” are used with the same reference (see Mt 16.18–19).

The heavenly Church (or the kingdom in its perfection) includes all created persons, angels as well as human persons, who enjoy eternal life with God (see DS 1000/530). We acknowledge in the Preface of every Mass the inclusion of angels. But as the communion of the adopted children of God, the heavenly Church does not include the cosmos, which is the environment of human persons, or those created persons who refuse to cooperate in the divine plan. Absolute fullness somehow includes all these, but they are not part of the extended family of God.23

23. See Pierre Benoît, O.P., Jesus and the Gospel, vol. 2, trans. Benet Weatherhead (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1974), 58–67. The fundamentally social character of salvation according to authentic Christianity is stressed by Henri de Lubac, S.J., Catholicism: A Study of Dogma in Relation to the Corporate Destiny of Mankind (New York: Longmans, Green, 1950), 51–63.