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Eschatology or the Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things
A Dogmatic Treatise
Rev. Joseph Pohle Ph.D. D.D

1. DEFINITION.—By “judgment” we mean the investigation, sentence, and final order of a civil or criminal court. God pronounces judgment upon the soul immediately after its separation from the body. This Judgment is called Particular, to distinguish it from the General Judgment which takes place at the end of the world.

The essential point in the Catholic dogma of the Particular Judgment is that the soul becomes aware of God’s final decision immediately after death. In the General Judgment the emphasis rests rather upon the sentence as such. The Particular Judgment is not necessarily a formal sentence. It may be merely a clear perception of guilt or innocence, whereby the soul is moved of its own accord to hasten either to Heaven, or Hell, or Purgatory, according to its deserts. The Scriptural “Book of Judgment,” with its record of good and evil deeds, is a metaphor, just like the description which pious writers give of the judgment scene, where the devil accuses, while the guardian angel either confirms the accusation or defends his former client.

Where the Particular Judgment will take place no one knows. Probably each soul is judged on the spot where it leaves the body. Though Divine Revelation does not expressly say so, we may assume that the God-man Jesus Christ will act as judge both at the Particular and at the General Judgment.

2. PROOF FROM REVELATION.—Sacred Scripture teaches that the fate of each departed soul is decided before the General Judgment. If this is so, there must be a Particular preceding the General Judgment. Calvin and the Chiliasts hold that the fate of the departed souls remains undecided till the second coming of Christ. The Hypnopsychites maintain that these souls spend the interval between death and the General Resurrection in a state of unconscious or semi-conscious sleep,—a view which, Father Hunter thinks, is shared by most Protestants who have any conviction about the matter at all. Eusebius tells of a strange sect, called Thnetopsychites, who believed that the disembodied souls await the General Judgment in a state of temporary annihilation. The teaching of the Church is that the fate of every man is determined sometime before the General Judgment.

a) St. Paul says: “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” This text may be quoted in favor of our thesis, though it is not conclusive because we do not know for certain whether the Apostle refers to the Particular or to the General Judgment. A more convincing proof for our dogma is furnished by the parable of Lazarus, Luke 16:22: “And the rich man also died, and he was buried in hell.” Dives must have been judged before he was punished. The same is true of Judas, who, according to the sacred writer, “went to his own place.” Ecclesiastes says that the body “returns into its earth, from whence it was, while the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

b) The teaching of the Fathers is in full accord with that of Sacred Scripture. St. Augustine (to quote but one of them) says the departed souls are judged as they leave the body and before they appear at the final judgment, which takes place at the end of the world.

A further confirmation of our dogma will be found below in Section 2, where it is shown that the Particular Judgment takes place immediately after death. If the fate of the departed souls is determined immediately after death, it follows that they are judged immediately after death.








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