It will purify the earth of all mankind. The earth is like a vast temple soiled by all sorts of iniquities. Moreover, there is in the present actual nature a law, in virtue of which, living beings are subject to the action of deleterious principles. This law of compatibility will, from all appearances, be destroyed on that day when all the material elements will be decomposed by this fire, which will, at the same time, remove from the earth all physical and moral evils and establish the difference that exists between the wicked, the imperfect, and the saints.
The wicked will be struck unawares by the vengeful flames. St. Paul, speaking of the event, says: "In a flame of fire yielding vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thes. 1 :8). The imperfect will be punished, for St. Paul says on the day of the Lord the fire will show forth the quality of our works. Those whose works will burn shall suffer a partial injury, but shall be saved by fire, and will in this way go through their purgatory." (1 Cor. 3 :12-15).
Finally, the saints will remain intact in the midst of the devouring flames, like the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace 'at Babylon. "If any man's work abide, which he hath built, therefore, he shall receive a reward." (1 Cor. 3:14). Hence, this fire shall possess the property of exhibiting the virtue of men.
Hence, like the plagues that scourged the Egyptians without injury tothe Hebrews, though in the same place, thus shall this fire prove terrible for some and harmless for others. It is on this occasion that these words of Our Saviour shall be verified in effect: "Of two men in the field, one shall be taken and the other shall be spared; of two women turning the mill-stone, one shall be taken and the other shall be left." (Mat. 24:4041). Of two persons in the same bed, the fire will burn one and do no harm to the other.
From all this we are led to infer that the Sovereign Judge will find men yet alive at His arrival on earth. This is the opinion held by St. Jerome, S1. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, Theophilactae, and Theodoret, which is founded on the following passage from St. Paul: "For this we say unto you in the word of the Lord. . . that we who are alive shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air, and so shall we be always with the Lord." (1 Thes. 4:15-18).
In presence of such testimony as this, the opinion of those who maintain that the earth must be consumed only after the General Judgment that takes place will evidently fall to the ground. Their reasons are first, that the earth can be conveniently renewed only after the resurrection; second, because it is difficult to understand how the saints risen from the dead will live in the midst of flames; third, because according to this hypothesis all men would be dead before the coming of Our Saviour, which is contrary to the words of the Apostle cited above.
But while we can find no proofs of any weight to sustain this last opinion, we find proofs from the authority of the Fathers and Holy Writ in favor of the other opinion; consequently, it must be the more probable.
ARTICLE III-CONSUMMATION OF THE GLORIES AND ETERNAL EMPIRE OF JESUS CHRIST
1. Resurrection of the Dead
It does not belong to the scope of this little book to expose the theological and philosophical reasons adduced in support of the truth of this dogma so full of consolation; hence, we must be satisfied with an historical exposition of the principal circumstances in order to remain within the limits of its plan.
The first incident that figures conspicuously among these circumstances is the sounding of the, last trumpet. For the last trumpet shall sound, says St. Paul. (1 Cor. 15:52). But as to whether this will be a material or allegorical sound there seems to be a difference of opinion; St. Gregory inclines to think that the sounding of the last trumpet should be taken in an allegorical sense to designate the all-powerful will of God. (17 Moral. C. 29).
That it will he a material sound appears certain toseveral of the Fathers and a great many theologians. (Anselm. Acost. Lib. 4, C. 17). Some of them. foundingtheir opinion on the Scriptures, distinguish two kinds of sounds: one, of the voice of the Son of God, who will command the dead to rise - in the trumpet of God (1 Cor. 15 :52 and according to St. John the Evangelist, 5:25); (two), the sound of the Angelic voice, which is generally believed to be that of St. Michael, who will assemble all mankind before the judgment seat of God. Others again try to show that the two voices are but one and the same in as much as the angelic voice is only the continuation or promulgation of the order given by Jesus Christ. However this may be, this voice or those voices will resound like thunder peals. (Joel 2:1). This is why some authors compare them to a trumpet; yet, according to many theologians, the distinct sound of a trumpet will be heard, while others, in admitting this, maintain that we shall subsequently hear the voice of the Son of God and finally that of the Archangel. This last opinion seems to be more in harmony with the Scriptures.
The voice of Jesus Christ, like the creative Word, will possess an all
powerful force, producing instantaneous effect. "In the beginning. . .
God said: "Let there be light' and there was light." (Gen. 1 :1&3). He shall say at the end, "Rise ye dead and come to judgment," (Hieron, Reg. Monach, C. 30), and immediately the resurrection will take place, or to use the words of St. Paul, "In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye." (1 Cor. 15 :52).
According to the scholastic opinion, the angels will prepare the material by gathering up the mouldered ashes of the dead; God will give form to those inanimated elements by commanding the souls to animate the newly arranged bodies. (Thomas, Supplem., Q. 76, A. 3). The just will have perfect bodies, renewed in youthful bloom (Ps. 102:3-5), endowed with the most exquisite qualities.
This corporal perfection will be like the mirrored reflection of the happiness and glory of the soul submerged in the supernatural fountain of eternal life. (Contra Gentil., Quest. Q. 96, A. 3). The just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father and like stars for all eternity. (Wis. 3; Mat. 13 :43). The body is born into the world sombre and opaque; it shall rise radiant and transparent. (1 Cor. 15 :53). It is born subject to corruption; it shall rise incorruptible and impassible. (1 Cor. 15 :53). God shall wipe away the tears of those who shed them for His sake; the reign of death shall be at an end. Lamentations, wailings, and sufferings shall be unknown as if they had never been. The body now is dull and heavy; then it shall possess the subtility of a spirit, unimpeded by all kinds of obstacles in its actions and movements. Finally, our bodies now are weak and slow in their movements; then they shall be strong and agile, enabled to pass swift as thought through the immensurable distance of space. We shall possess the agility of angels, says St. Anselm,. (Lib. de Similitudinibus, C. 51).
The bodies of the just, while they resemble the angels (Mat. 22:30),will conserve all the functional aptitude of the senses, to taste forever the joys of heaven in all that is most pure and holy. (D. Thom.). Theirhearing will then be charmed by the most harmonious melodies; their sight ravished by ineffable beauties, namely, those of Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother and all the celestial choir, also by the beauties of nature which they will be enabled to contemplate throughout the whole extent of creation.
It will not be the same for the wicked. They will be immortal, but their immortality will be for them a punishment; they will be black, passible, and hideous, horrible like the demons and hell which they are in future to inhabit.
It is asked, says St. Augustine, whether those whom Jesus Christ will find still alive upon earth (and whom the Apostle personifies in himself, as also those who lived during his time) are never to die, or while being borne with those risen from the dead through the air to meet Christ, if their death and resurrection will suddenly take place.
It is not impossible that this should take place, and by admitting that it will, we have no further difficulty to explain and to reconcile the words of the Apostle when he says that we shall all die and that we shall all rise to life. (De Civit., Lib. 20, C. 20).
2. The General Judgment
All mankind without exception must appear at the General Judgment. The Sacred Scriptures are quite explicit on the matter. "We shall (all) stand before the judgment seat of Christ." (Rom. 14:10). And again, it is said in the Apocalypse (20:12), "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing in the presence of the throne, and they were judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works."
The place in which the General Judgment will take place is not defined by Faith. However, that place will be truly called "Jehosaphat", which means "the Lord Judge." But that it will be that valley Jehosaphat, situated near Jerusalem, is not certain, for in whatever place The Lord Judge will judge mankind, that place will be named from His actual presence "Jehosaphat". "Let the nations come up into the valley of Jehosaphat; for there I will sit to judge all nations round about." (Joel 3:12). Again, it is said in the Acts of the Apostles (1:11), "This Jesus who is taken away from you up into heaven shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven." Some commentators argue from those texts that the valley of Jehosaphat near Jerusalem is the one designated, moreover, that having been the scene of Our Saviour's passion, death resurrection, and ascension, it should naturally bear witness to the mystery of God's justice.
Others again seem to be preoccupied with the thought that this valley will be too small to accommodate the whole human race. But we see nothing that obliges us to believe that all people must stand within the limits of its actual prescribed boundaries; hence, without doing the sacred text the least violence, we may take the valley for thecenter and then let the required space be limited to such bounderies as necessity may require.
When all preparations are made, then the Sovereign Judge will descend in the "clouds of heaven with much power and majesty." (Mat. 24:30). He will come in the clouds of heaven that His glory may appear to greater advantage. It is remarkable that all the illustrious divine apparitions which we read of in the Sacred Scriptures took place in the clouds; hence, the royal prophet speaking of them relative to God, says, "Who (Thou) makest the clouds thy chariot." (Ps. 103.3).
He will come with great power. This power will be made manifest by the destruction of the universe and by the glowing splendor of His appearance in the heavens. He appears no longer under the abject form of the helpless babe at Bethlehem, but as master of the thunders. He will come surrounded by legions of angels who shall receive and administer His orders. His raiment will be white like the snow, and He will be seated on a throne like flames of fire. (Dan. 7:9; Apoc. 20:11). "His cross shall proceed Him as the standard of His royalty."
Vexilla regis prodeunt. Fulget cruces mysterium.
This interpretation is founded on the following passage according to St. Matthew (24:30), "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn." The Fathers believe that this sign is the cross, andthe Church chants it in her sacred liturgy. "This sign will appear in the heavens when the Saviour will come to judge the world." ("Hoc signum erit in coelo, quum Dominus ad judicandum venerit.")
What will be the nature of this cross? St. John Chrysostom and St. Ephrem say that it will be the True Cross, miraculously formed out of all its particles, which are now scattered throughout the world.
But St. Augustine and St. Hippolytus say that this sign will be more brilliant than the sun, which has led St. Thomas and St. Antoninus to believe that it will be a luminous cross, miraculously formed in the air; this opinion seems to be the more probable one. According to Pope St. Clement, in the seven books of Constitutions, the Cross will be visible for many days before the Judgment, in order to convert the followers of Antichrist, while St. Anselm (in Elucidat.) inclines to the most probable opinion, which makes it appear on the day of Judgment. Some authors, as Vignier, maintain, without any proof however, that the other instruments of the passion will also be exhibited on the last day. The Cross will be a pledge of joy and consolation for the just, but a subject of horror and regret for the wicked.
The Sacred Scriptures, referring in various passages to the General Judgment, make frequent mention of thrones and assistants of Our Blessed Saviour seated upon these thrones. St. John in the Apocalypse (20:11) says, "And I saw a great white throne, and One sitting upon it," namely, Jesus Christ. And the prophet Daniel, speaking relative to the same subject, says, "I beheld till thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days sat." (7:9). But for whom were these thrones prepared if not for those whom Jesus Christ will call to sit around Him on the great day of God's justice?
St. Augustine (in Pro 86), St. Gregory (26 Moral., C. 24), Venerable Bede (in Serm. St. Benedicti) are of opinion that this honor will be conferred upon such as shall have practiced evangelical perfection. To them, and to them only, did Jesus promise a seat beside Him to judge the world with Him. "Amen I say to you that you who have followed me . . . you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Mat. 19.28).