Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What Remains in the Undiscover'd Country?

In Christ in Shakespeare, George H. Morrison says, "There is a spiritual as well as a material gravitation. Immerse yourself in any study, and you find references to it in every newspaper you open. Let some one dear to you fall ill, with some trouble of which you never heard before, and cases spring to your notice every day." We've all experienced this "spiritual gravitation." Someone uses and explains a strange word we're sure we've never heard, and then we come across it in reading two or three times within as many weeks.

I seem to have created a gravitational well by something I wrote. In a recent post, I asked whether either Christ's wounds or dissonance will remain in Heaven. Since then, I've read several times about what might or might not survive into the Land of Eternal Glory -- mostly in Aquinas where, admittedly, such questions come as no surprise.

According to Aquinas, the Blessed will possess the cardinal virtues -- prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude -- even in Heaven. The temptations and imperfect conditions that call for these virtues cast no shadow on the blissful shores, but the cardinal virtues keep the appetites in conformity with reason, and the appetites of the souls in Heaven will perfectly align with reason. Thus, the cardinal virtues will continue.

Similarly, what Aquinas calls the gifts of the Holy Spirit (qualities listed in Isaiah 11:2-3) will still abide with the faithful in Heaven. Just as the virtues dispose people to obey reason, the gifts dispose God's children to obey his direct promptings. Again, although they won't have to deal with the distractions and doubts of the earthly life any more, they will be perfectly ready to please God when they see Him face to face, so the gifts must remain.

In a beautiful and helpful analysis of the Beatitudes, Aquinas explains that the rewards promised there follow the virtues and gifts. The virtues dispose humans to moderate their desires according to reason. The gifts dispose those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells to renounce earthly delights even farther, to live according to a rule higher than that of reason. But the Beatitudes differ from both the virtues and the gifts as act from habit. The virtues and gifts only dispose us to right action; the Beatitudes refer to the actions themselves -- thirsting after righteousness, being merciful, and so on. Aquinas shows that the authorities disagree on whether the rewards mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew's version) pertain to the present life or the life hereafter. (As I've pointed out before, just a little time with Aquinas should cure anyone of the false notion that medieval Christians believed everything they believed only on the basis of authority. Aquinas cites disagreement among Ambrose, Augustine, and Chrysostom -- just about the three biggest authorities he could name apart from Bible authors -- so he has to appeal to reason.) In Aquinas's view, the rewards of the Beatitudes begin in this life as a type of promise but become more perfectly fulfilled in Heaven.

Curiously, after the nuanced arguments he gives for cardinal virtues and gifts remaining past death, Aquinas teaches that two of the theological virtues will definitely and completely disappear. Charity will grow in the hearts of those who enjoy the presence of God. But faith is firm adherence to imperfect knowledge, and the saints in Heaven don't have imperfect knowledge: they will know as they are known. In the presence of perfect knowledge, faith will disappear. Similarly, hope is a movement toward what one does not possess. But the Blessed in Heaven possess the enjoyment of God, so they no longer need hope.

These conclusions strike me as wrong. In Thomist fashion (my very awkward imitation of it) I argue:

On the contrary the Apostle says: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

I answer that, The Blessed in Glory will not know everything about God, because God is beyond the comprehension of the human mind, even the glorified human mind. Their knowledge will be perfect in proportion to their potential, but not absolutely perfect. Each worshiper, for instance, will know the name on his own white stone, but not that on any other. Since their knowledge will be imperfect, God may well tell them things that they will have to accept in faith. In the same way, while the triumphant saints fully possess the eternal presence of God, they may not possess everything God has planned for them at once. If there is anything like time or growth there, they will surely have the most joyful hope possible.

Because spiritual gravity attracts various broken bits of asteroids as well as major planets, I've also noticed a couple of passages only loosely connected to the theme of things we take into the afterlife. When Pericles finds his daughter again after believing her dead for many years, he claims to hear the music of the spheres,which he calls "heavenly music." And Macbeth both notices some things that Banquo has given up by dying (a ruddy complexion, for instance) and trembles to think what he might have retained (memory of murder).

As the Prince of Denmark says,"What dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause." And so I pause.

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