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

1. The Catholic Church teaches that on the Last Day all men shall rise in the flesh,—the just to be rewarded with eternal life, the wicked to be punished with eternal death.

Though the early creeds stress the fate of the just, the Church has never permitted her children to doubt that the wicked also will rise in the flesh. The so-called Athanasian Creed says: “All men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their works; and they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.”

The Fourth Council of the Lateran defines: “All men shall rise again with their own bodies, which they now have, to receive according to their deeds, whether good or bad: the latter, everlasting punishment with the devil, the former, eternal glory with the Lord.” Hence it is an article of faith that the souls of the damned as well as those of the Elect will be reunited to their bodies on the last day.

a) This teaching can be convincingly demonstrated from Holy Scripture. Cfr. Dan. 12:2: “And many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always.” Our Lord Himself says: “They that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.” St. John writes in the Apocalypse: “And the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead that were in them; and they were judged every one according to their works. And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire.” St. Paul, when brought before Felix, the governor, openly professed his belief in “a resurrection of the just and the unjust.”

A difficulty has been raised in view of Ps. 1:5: “Therefore the wicked shall not rise again in judgment.” But this difficulty is apparent rather than real. The Royal Psalmist does not except the wicked from the General Resurrection; he merely wishes to say that they will be unable to stand judgment. This is clearly apparent from the Hebrew text, which says: “The wicked shall not stand, but be as dust which the wind driveth from the face of the earth.”

b) Though the Fathers devote more attention to the Resurrection of the just, there can be no reasonable doubt that they believed also in the Resurrection of the wicked.

Clement of Rome admonishes the Corinthians: “Keep the flesh pure and the seal undefiled, that we may obtain eternal life, and let none of you say that this flesh is not judged and does not rise again.” His meaning evidently is that impurity will be punished, as purity is rewarded, in the flesh. Tertullian testifies to the early belief in Christ’s return to judge the wicked and the just, rewarding the latter with eternal life and punishing the former with eternal fire, after they have all arisen from the dead and resumed their bodies.

c) Though reason cannot prove the necessity of the Resurrection, it can show its congruity.

“It is against the nature of the soul,” says St. Thomas, “to be without the body. But nothing that is against nature can be lasting. Therefore the soul will not be forever without the body. Thus the immortality of the soul seems to require the resurrection of the body.” However, this argument must not be strained. It does not prove the impossibility of an eternal separation between body and soul. If it did, a natural resurrection of the flesh would have to be postulated for the pure state of nature, and the dogma of the Resurrection could be conclusively proved from philosophy. Some Catholic writers have indeed asserted this to be so. Scheeben shatters their arguments by showing the essentially supernatural character of the Resurrection. Man has no natural claim to be restored to life after death, least of all in a transfigured body, and to say that God might allow the souls of the dead to live forever without their bodies involves no contradiction, either against the order of nature or against any divine attribute. The souls of the Old Testament patriarchs have been living without their bodies for several thousand years and will continue in a disembodied state until the day of Judgment. There is no reason for assuming that they could not exist in this way forever.

A second argument for the congruity of the Resurrection is derived from the attribute of divine justice and may be tersely formulated as follows: “Reward and punishment are due to men both in soul and body. But in this life they cannot attain to the reward of final happiness, and sins often go unpunished: nay, here ‘the wicked live, and are comforted and set up with riches’ (Job 21:7). There must, then, be a second union of soul and body, that man may be rewarded and punished in both.”

2. In conclusion we may add a few words concerning the raising of Lazarus and other dead persons by Christ during His earthly sojourn, and similar miracles performed by Saints. The persons thus miraculously raised were restored to life only to die again, and now await their final resurrection with the remainder of humanity.

Some doubt exists with regard to the saints who came forth bodily from their graves at the death of our Saviour. There have been theologians who thought that these privileged persons anticipated, as it were, the General Resurrection and ascended to Heaven with Christ; others (e. g. Theodoret and St. Augustine) hold the more probable opinion that they were revived only for a time and died again. This latter theory is preferable to the former because it agrees with the Catholic belief that the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an altogether unique privilege.








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