I have been finding myself in greater personal contact with a number of Catholic individuals, and would appreciate some elucidation of orthodox Catholic views on various aspects of the spiritual life. I have many questions, and can't think of any particular order in which to ask them, so why don't I start with what seems most important to me now, listen to your responses, and proceed in the discussion from there?
(Since we are discussing Catholic spirituality specifically in this thread, I would ask that the views/positions offered in response only be ones that would be approved by Church authorities. I thank you all in advance for your patience with my questions: I am, alas, slow to learn, and sometimes I need to shine a light on the same matter from a number of different angles in order to develop a sufficiently clear understanding.)
So, my first question:
What is meant by "Heaven" in Catholicism? I know that Jesus said "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you", but the Catholics I know all seem to think of it as a place outside themselves, somewhere far away, where, if they are worthy, they (well, their soul) will go after death to join their loved ones in God's presence. I am also aware of others who are identified as Catholics who speak of it more as a state of being or of union, but it is not altogether clear if this is something that can be known or attained in its fullness while alive, or only after death. What is the official Catholic view on the nature of heaven, and the means of reaching or attaining it? Is it within us now, or beyond our present state/reality? A present possibility for a Catholic, or only a future one?
I'll leave it at that for now, and I look forward to the discussion!
Nice to be here among you,
Jesus said (Luke 17,20) thatthe Kingdom of God, not of Heavens, is within Christians. The Greek word entos can mean both within and among. The mystical tradition of the Church emphasized sometimes the "within" reading, but the Church obviously believes that "among" is equally important. Jesus said that if at least two of us gather in his name, he is there with us.
However, the Kingdom of God is not the same as heaven.
Heaven used to be Understood in Christianity as both a certain place in the material universe, where the saints will live after resurrection, and the state of union with God or the visionfod God's essence. Nowadays, it is, as far as I know, more understood as a state, even though it does not mean that the universe won't become a beautiful paradise after resurrection.
If by heaven we mean "seeing God's essence (his face)", then it is not attainable in this life, according to the formulations that the Church made in 13th and 14th century. We refer to St.Paul (1 Cor 13) who said that in this life we see dimly, as if through a mirror, and only after death we'll see God face to face. In this life no-one can have an experience comparable to heaven ("the eye didn't see, the ear didn't hear, it didn't enter the heart of man"), but often in the mystical or soiritual texts Christian speak analogically (that is through a certain similarity) about experiences of intimacy with Christ as "heaven". E.g. the soul of a person united with God is called "heaven", because of the presence of God, since God makes heaven heaven by his presence. The difference is that in heaven we will not only be united to God through love, but also will know him directly. Here we can love him perfectly, God willingm but not know him directly, only dimly through faith.
There is also a distinction between cully resurrected state of man and the state of separated soul, caused by death. The souls of saints after death immediately see God, so they are in heaven, but their state is not perfect yet until their bodies will be resurrected, transformed and united with their souls again. Then, heaven will mean not only a spiritual state, but also the totality of reality enjoyed by the saved. The whole universe will be transformed, transparent to God and the saved will live there as a community. Biblical images of a feast point to that. This is heaven proper.
In heaven the human beings cannot sin, that is, cannot be separated crom God anymore, because of the nature of the vision they enjoy. The state is permanent. We don't know specifics, like the nature of our bodies and the new universe, our experience with regard to the damnated souls etc.
Welcome, Len. And great reply, Mt.
Len, you might find it helpful to consult The Catechism of the Catholic Church for some of your questions, as it's a thorough compendium of Catholic teaching with substantial references to Scripture and various Church teachings. If you don't want to purchase a copy for yourself (which I recommend, and this one is better to have as a book than eBook), then you can find the whole catechism posted online, including through the Vatican web site.
To the root of your question, however . . . Catholic spirituality. This would be difficult to distinguish from "Christian" spirituality in general, except for a few areas, mostly pertaining to the Catholic emphasis on encountering Christ in the Sacraments (a view shared by the Orthodox, Anglicans and even Lutherans, to a large extent). Maybe that's a helpful clarification.
What is your faith tradition, Len?
Phil: Thanks for the welcome and your suggestion to take a peek at the Catechism. Unfortunately, due to the peculiarities of my own mind, I find it hard to reach the understanding I seek through texts laid out in the format which the Catechism is, and much prefer a conversational format as we find here (my question and Mt's response being a good example). I understand that in many cases there will not be much difference between Christian spirituality in general and Catholic spirituality in particular, but I wanted to be sure that we were not delving into areas that might be considered unorthodox (such as practiced, perhaps, by various Baptist groups).
With regard to my own leanings, I enjoyed the good fortune of having met and spent time with a man to whom some kind of "joyous accident" had happened (without any seeking for such), but who was already quite old at the time and had no desire (or, as he put it, qualifications) to teach anyone anything or to be known or remembered at all. He was living on a pension, and we found out quite by accident that he even cancelled friendly gatherings with a few of us on several occasions because he couldn't afford to put gas in his car (he would never have thought of asking us for even a few dollars in gas money...). Prior to his "accident" he'd lived the life of a tradesman, and had never had interest in spiritual matters. After some exploration of spiritual writings from many traditions following his "accident," he discovered that the Taoist sages (Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu) seemed to offer the clearest expression of what was also his own "post-accident" perspective, and he also held the teachings of the Zen master Bankei in high regard. It probably would not be wise to say more about him, though, since he really just wanted to be completely forgotten once he was gone.
As you can see, I am coming from a rather different place than the Catholic people in my life, and I am wondering to what degree we can find some common ground. (I do not generally say anything about religious or spiritual matters -- most people would be surprised to learn that I have any interests in that direction -- but I find that other people do sometimes refer to these things, and they are troubled or perplexed by my silence when they do so in conversation with me.) I came across this forum because there had been some discussion of B. Roberts here, and it seemed like it might be a good place to ask the kind of questions I have.
I hear you, Len. Sounds like an interesting man you came across. We've had numerous discussions on zen and other eastern spiritualities, so we'd be quite at home with some of your questions.
How'd you get interested in BR's writings? Which of her books have you read? They're not your typical "Catholic" books on Catholic/Christian spirituality.
Phil, I've been aware of BR's books for a long time, but only recently bothered to finally read TEoN-S, again in the quest to identify some possible common ground between myself and the Catholics I know. (I've also explored Christian apophatic teachings in the past.)
What I found most interesting in her book were her brief comments about her much older friend who had seemingly had an experience very similar to her own, apparently as part of a natural progression of the aging process. One wonders how many people in their 80s and 90s share their viewpoint...
Thank you for the quick response!
Are both the "within" and "among" readings countenanced equally and fully by the Church? (And how can this be: surely Jesus meant one thing or the other, or perhaps something else, since the Greek word was translated from an Aramaic one that might also have had two or more meanings...)
What is the difference between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God? Is either of these "kingdom(s)" a political phenomenon in any way (as some Christian groups seem now to believe) according to the Church, or is the use of this term considered purely poetic/metaphorical by the Church?
When did the understanding of heaven change for the Church from being a certain place in the material universe into that of being a state of Union, and what was the reason for this change? Or does the Church still consider heaven to be both? Those seem like two very different things to me, and if the understanding has already changed once from being a definite physical place to a state of being, does it mean that it might possibly change back again? You say, "more understood as a state": so is it now considered mainly a state and only somewhat a place? Or do you mean to say that some in the Church consider it a place and others a state? And if so, how can that be? Does not the Church declare that it is one thing or another?
The way the Catechism is laid out makes everything seem very cut-and-dried, leaving little or nothing open to interpretation or possible modification as understanding changes. But there does seem to be more than a little ambiguity here. Can you shed some light?
You should probably know that the catholic approach to understanding our sacred texts is as a multi-layered piece of revelation,or what I have heard described as a "both/and" approach as opposed to an "either/or" approach. Therefore, the church would have no problem holding to both the "within" and "among" understanding. In fact, as I understand the meaning of "the church" in catholic faith, both MUST indeed be true, as the church (the kingdom) is among the people. I think I have heard Jesus' words also explained as the kingdom is "upon you" or "at hand", that is, it has arrived. Which would mean it wasn't there before,and indeed this is why Jesus came. All these can be and are true.
You just need to understand two things:
a) We believe in God's indwelling in the individual soul of the believer. Jesus said, "...And my father and I will come to him and make our abode(home) with him". That's certainly part of "the kingdom", and it takes place in the soul of the believer....hence, within.
b) But we believe also in a unity of the human race in Jesus, so that we are truly one and he sort of "carries" us in his very own person. This is basically the mystical meaning of the church. Tis a unity that transcends this present life and includes those already dead like our Lady, the saints and the souls in purgatory. Which is why catholivs still pray to them even after they die, we believe we are still one/together in one church...in Christ. This is obviously part of the kingdom too, which is at once personal and communal. The sacramental aspect that Phil told you about has much to do with this communal aspect together with an earthly/human aspect (both physical and spiritual just like humans and just like Jesus, who is also divine on top of it all).
I think the most important thing to highlight is that We believe that this kingdom is here only by, through, with, in Jesus. Hence, Jesus was not speaking about something that generally exists/existed in people. He was inviting them to something new. Something that HE was bringing to them. So when he says the kingdom is here, he means " I am it (the kingdom), and here I am...with/among you!"
It is a very christian understanding, not something like what Hindus would mean, for example, "You already have it, you just need to wake up to it". The kingdom Christians believe in is a personal communion with the three members of the Blessed Trinity that can only be had in, by, through Jesus,whether that person is conscious of this or not. In other words, it is a PARTICIPATION by humans in the relationship that Jesus as the eternally begotten Son has with his father, hence we speak of our adoption as sons and daughters of God etc.
Heaven is beatific vision, it means what has been said above "seeing" God "face-to-face" and only possible upon the death of a person.We also believe that at the end of the world, everything will be redeemed just as our own souls are currently being redeemed and just as their will be new resurrected bodies, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, which means the whole universe will be remade/redeemed just like ourselves and then will never end. I don't think I have heard that referred to as heaven, though it makes sense. Paradise was on earth after all in Eden. But regardless of the label we give it, this is what Catholics believe.
But typically, if you hear Catholics speak of heaven, they mean the beatific vision, or the state currently enjoyed by not only Jesus but also our lady and the saints and the angels...but them only! Not we here on earth nor the souls in purgatory. They in heaven are forever beholding God as he is, "face to face". It is the highest possible union with God that any creature can possibly enjoy and unlike other unions (like of earthly saints who have not died), it is irrevocable, irreversible and everlasting.
Many biblical sayings are ambigous, that is why we need the tradition of communal interpretation. I guess it is OK that entos has two meanings, since God really is both within and among us. We cannot know what Jesus said in Aramaic, since he wanted to handle us the Greek version.
The Greek word for kingdom, basileia, means not only or not so much a place ruled by a king as the very rule of a king, his power, dominion. So the kingdom of God means, again, a situation, both individual, but more so communal, where God rules in human heart. It is not a dictatorshio, since God, rules by love, by serving us. Anyway, the ultimate kingdom will be after resurrection, when God will be all in all, it is now perfect in the community of blessed souls and angels in heaven, and in a way it is present on this earth in the Church, which is united to God by love. Political? Not really, since Jesus before Pilate refused any claim to political power, saying his kingdom is not of this world. But I can imagine some cases in whuch political struggle is a struggle for the kingdom of God, that is, for obedience to his love and law.
I think the reason for the change in the understanding of heaven is due to the fact that now we have better knowledge of the material universe. In premodern times God was believed to dwell above the firmament. Even Jesus honoured that raising his eyes to the sky when he prayed, even though he of course knew that God is not a material being living in the sky. I dont think that naked, separated souls before resurrection have a material place to live.
Heaven is defined by the Catechism as a way of life, life with God. The Church is not nor ever was definite about any material place as heaven, it was a part of, cultural imagination.
But note that after resurrection the whole universe will be a paradise, a place we can call heaven, so heaven is not only spiritual reality.
every way of life has its expression in certain circumstances. Life of fish must be in water, life of plants must be somewhere where there is sun and water. The same for humans - ou4 civilizatiin, cities etc is an environment expressing our human existence. So it is only natural that the vision and union with God will express itself in a transformation of the material universe. The universe will be heavenly. That is why I dont see a contradiction between the state and the place - the place is a, correlate of the state, not the other way round.
I'm a bit surprised that your impression of the catechism ismthat it is cut and dry, not open to interpretation. I think that it says very little about heaven, merely that it is life with God, seeing God, that it is community, eternal, without sin, and that the universe will be renewed. All the details and specifics are left out, since we actually can only speculate. What is essential didnt change in the Church's teaching nor will it change.
I agree with Mt that we have to be clear whether you're asking about "heaven" or the "kingdom of heaven." The "kingdom of heaven" is just Matthew's redaction (if you believe the four-source hypothesis) for "kingdom of God" in Mark and Luke.
The old Catholic Encyclopedia has a good article on the "kingdom of God" (or "kingdom of heaven") that characterizes it as a "tone of mind."
|Powered by Social Strata|