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Enchiridion On Faith, Hope and Love
by Saint Augustine


CHAPTER XXIX

"THE LAST THINGS"

109. Now, for the time that intervenes between man's death and the final

resurrection, there is a secret shelter for his soul, as each is worthy of rest or

affliction according to what it has merited while it lived in the body.

110. There is no denying that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety

of their living friends, when the sacrifice of the Mediator is offered for the dead, or

alms are given in the church. But these means benefit only those who, when they

were living, have merited that such services could be of help to them. For there is a

mode of life that is neither so good as not to need such helps after death nor so bad

as not to gain benefit from them after death. There is, however, a good mode of life

that does not need such helps, and, again, one so thoroughly bad that, when such a

man departs this life, such helps avail him nothing. It is here, then, in this life, that

all merit or demerit is acquired whereby a man's condition in the life hereafter is

improved or worsened. Therefore, let no one hope to obtain any merit with God after

he is dead that he has neglected to obtain here in this life.

So, then, those means which the Church constantly uses in interceding for

the dead are not opposed to that statement of the apostle when he said, "For all of

us shall stand before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may receive according to

what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."236 For each man has for

himself while living in the body earned the merit whereby these means can benefit

him [after death]. For they do not benefit all. And yet why should they not benefit

all, unless it be because of the different kinds of lives men lead in the body?

Accordingly, when sacrifices, whether of the altar or of alms, are offered for the

baptized dead, they are thank offerings for the very good, propitiations for the notso-

very-bad [non valde malis], and, as for the very bad--even if they are of no help to

the dead--they are at least a sort of consolation to the living. Where they are of

value, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full forgiveness or, at least, in

making damnation more tolerable.

111. After the resurrection, however, when the general judgment has been

held and finished, the boundary lines will be set for the two cities: the one of Christ,

the other of the devil; one for the good, the other for the bad--both including angels

and men. In the one group, there will be no will to sin, in the other, no power to sin,

nor any further possibility of dying. The citizens of the first commonwealth will go

on living truly and happily in life eternal. The second will go on, miserable in death

235I Tim. 2:5 (mixed text).

236Rom. 14:10; II Cor. 5:10.


eternal, with no power to die to it. The condition of both societies will then be fixed

and endless. But in the first city, some will outrank others in bliss, and in the

second, some will have a more tolerable burden of misery than others.

112. It is quite in vain, then, that some--indeed very many--yield to merely

human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and

their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will

be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture--but, yielding to their own

human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to

statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth.

"God will not forget," they say, "to show mercy, nor in his anger will he shut up his

mercy." This is, in fact, the text of a holy psalm.237 But there is no doubt that it is to

be interpreted to refer to those who are called "vessels of mercy,"238 those who are

freed from misery not by their own merits but through God's mercy. Even so, if they

suppose that the text applies to all men, there is no ground for them further to

suppose that there can be an end for those of whom it is said, "Thus these shall go

into everlasting punishment."239 Otherwise, it can as well be thought that there will

also be an end to the happiness of those of whom the antithesis was said: "But the

righteous into life eternal."

But let them suppose, if it pleases them, that, for certain intervals of time,

the punishments of the damned are somewhat mitigated. Even so, the wrath of God

must be understood as still resting on them. And this is damnation--for this anger,

which is not a violent passion in the divine mind, is called "wrath" in God. Yet even

in his wrath--his wrath resting on them--he does not "shut up his mercy." This is not

to put an end to their eternal afflictions, but rather to apply or interpose some little

respite in their torments. For the psalm does not say, "To put an end to his wrath,"

or, "After his wrath," but, "In his wrath." Now, if this wrath were all there is [in

man's damnation], and even if it were present only in the slightest degree

conceivable--still, to be lost out of the Kingdom of God, to be an exile from the City

of God, to be estranged from the life of God, to suffer loss of the great abundance of

God's blessings which he has hidden for those who fear him and prepared for those

who hope in him240--this would be a punishment so great that, if it be eternal, no

torments that we know could be compared to it, no matter how many ages they

continued.

113. The eternal death of the damned--that is, their estrangement from the

life of God--will therefore abide without end, and it will be common to them all, no

matter what some people, moved by their human feelings, may wish to think about

gradations of punishment, or the relief or intermission of their misery. In the same

way, the eternal life of the saints will abide forever, and also be common to all of

them no matter how different the grades of rank and honor in which they shine

forth in their effulgent harmony.









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