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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 DOGMA IN SACRED SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION.—Aside from the great conflagration which is to destroy the earth, the General Judgment (iudicium universale) will be the last important event in the history of the human race. This event is so intimately connected with the Resurrection of the dead, that no room remains for a terrestrial reign of Christ and His saints (millennium) which, the Chiliasts hold, is to precede the end of the world. That there will be a General Judgment, held by Jesus Christ in Person, has always been an article of faith in the Catholic Church, as may be seen from the ancient creeds. The Apostles’ Creed expresses this belief in the words: “From whence He [Christ] shall come, to judge the living and the dead.”

a) Few truths are more clearly and insistently proclaimed in Scripture than this. The New Testament in particular speaks time and again of the “second Coming” of Christ as the Universal Judge, in opposition to His “first coming” as the Redeemer. This “second coming” is commonly called parousia, i. e. advent; sometimes “epiphany” (ἐπιφάνεια), i. e. apparition, and sometimes “apocalypse” (ἀποκάλυψις), i. e. revelation. Our Lord Himself predicted the General Judgment, and the Apostles echoed His teaching. We have already quoted St. Paul. St. James says: “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.… Grudge not one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge standeth before the door.” St. Peter writes: “The day of the Lord shall come as a thief; … what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat.”

b) Though the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are tinged with Chiliastic views, the dogma of the Last Judgment has a solid Patristical foundation. Clement of Rome refers to Christ as “judge of the living and the dead.” In the so-called Epistle of Barnabas we read that the Son of God is “destined to judge the living and the dead.” Tertullian writes: “Christ will return on the clouds of heaven, the same as He arose.”

2. CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING THE GENERAL JUDGMENT.—Sacred Scripture expressly mentions certain features of the General Judgment.

a) Our Lord Jesus Christ will conduct the trial in person. John 5:22: “The Father … hath given all judgment to the Son.” He will be assisted by the angels. Matth. 24:31: “[The Son of man] shall send his angels with a trumpet and a great voice, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them.”

b) The site of the Last Judgment, according to the prophet Joel, will be the valley of Josaphat. St. Paul says the newly risen shall be “taken up in the clouds to meet Christ;” whence some commentators infer that the judgment will be held in the air.

c) Immediately before the second coming of Christ, “the sign of the Son of man” will appear in the heavens. What may this sign be? Some Fathers think it is the cross on which our Saviour died, others, that a miraculous light will appear in the air. Neither interpretation is certain.

d) Finally our Lord Himself will “come in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.”

e) All men without exception, the just as well as the wicked, will appear before His judgment seat. Matth. 25:32: “All nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats.” Rom. 14:10: “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

Baptized infants who have done neither good nor evil will also appear, not, however, to be judged, but to behold the glory of the Judge. The unbaptized will probably appear in order to be convinced of the justice of God in denying them the beatific vision.

As for the pure spirits, the angels and demons, though they are already judged, will participate in the General Judgment to receive the accidental rewards which they have merited or the punishments they have incurred by unduly influencing the course of human events.

f) The twelve Apostles will sit in judgment over the tribes of Israel. It is probable that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the prophets of the Old Testament, John the Baptist, and other saints will also assist the Great Judge.

g) The judgment itself will embrace all the works of man, good and evil, thoughts, words, and deeds. This is necessary to manifest the mysterious dispensations of Providence and the justice and glory of the Universal Judge. It is prudent to hold with St. Thomas and the majority of Catholic theologians that the forgiven secret sins of the just will also be revealed on the Last Day, in order that the judgment may be made complete and the justice and mercy of God glorified.

h) With regard to the form of the Last Judgment observe that such expressions as the separation of the goats from the sheep, the just standing on the right and the wicked on the left hand of the Judge, etc., may be allegorical. Their object probably is to show that the conduct and deserts of every man will become clearly apparent to his own conscience and to the whole world. To interpret these texts literally would hardly do, for the reason that, as St. Thomas points out, such a process carried out literally would require an incalculable length of time. Most probably the whole procedure will be over in a few minutes. By divine illumination every man will instantly comprehend the state of his own soul and that of his fellow-creatures. “It is likely,” says St. Basil, “that by an inexpressible power, every deed we have done will be made manifest to us in a single moment, as if it were engraved on a tablet.” The words of the sentence, however, “Come ye blessed,” etc., will in all probability be actually spoken by Christ.








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