Others would extend this honor to all the saints, in proof of which they cite the following passage from the Psalmist (149 :6-9): "They shall bear in their hands two-edged swords; To execute vengeance upon the nations, chastisements among the peoples. To bind their kings with fetters, and their nobles with manacles of iron. To execute upon them the judgment that is written; this glory is to all the saints."
Properly speaking, the saints will not judge, for judgment is an act of personal jurisdiction which belongs to Jesus Christ only. They will only participate in the honor reflected from the exercise of this power by the divine Judge and by their ratification of the sentence that He will pronounce: "Thou art just, O Lord, and thy judgments are equity." (Ps. 118:137); and by their vindication of divine Providence: "For the just that are dead condemneth the wicked that are living" (Wis. 4:16) by their co-operation with divine grace during life. Probably those who have led a perfect life upon earth will be called on to reproach the wicked for their crimes before the Sovereign Judge will pronounce their sentence.
The wicked shall be judged, some rigorously, other favorably, according to the nature of their crimes. Those who will receive the most favorable judgment are children who died without baptism and infidels; the reason is obvious and is also mentioned by the Evangelist. (Mat. .12 [esp. v. 31)). The next in order are those Christians who have been the most favored and consequently the most culpable. Finally, all those who have wielded power and authority in this world; those of this last category shall be rigorously judged, as it is specifically mentioned in the book of Wisdom (6:6-7), "For a most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule," whilethe humble and lowly shall receive a favorable judgment, "For to him that is little mercy is granted." "God hath stood in the congregation of gods; and being in the midst of them He judgeth gods." (Ps. 81 :1). By "gods" are meant those who are invested with authority. Of all those, none have abused this authority nor committed such horrible crimes as did Antichrist; consequently, his judgment shall be the most terrible of all. "For the mighty shall be mightily tormented." (Wis. 6:7).
We shall all be judged according to our works. Each one shall render a strict account of all the good and evil that he has done in this life. (2 Cor. 5:10). "The Lord. . . will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the breast." (1 Cor. 4:5). "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; nor hid, that shall not be known." (Mat. 10:26). The law of secrecy resorted to for the government of this world shall then be abolished. We shall see all the thoughts that have been entertained and meditated, everything that has been said and done in this world. "The books shall be opened," (Apoc. 20:12), which, according to the interpretation given by Venerable Bede, corroborated by the majority of theologians, designate the conscience of each one, which shall be unfolded to the gaze of all and in which may be read every thought, word, and deed, as from a book. St. Thomas and Richard of Saint Victor hold a different opinion, however, and pretend that the opened books mentioned in the Apocalypse are the deeds of men. As the sun by his brightness renders all objects visible, so will Jesus Christ, by His presence, disclose to the view of all men the conscience of every single person. "For God who commandeth the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts." (2 Cor. 4:6).
The Master of Sentences (in 4 Sent. dist. 43) maintains that the secret but pardoned sins of the just will not be revealed on the last day, on account of the shame and confusion that would cause them. This opinion, however, is erroneous. The passages quoted above from the Sacred Scriptures are explicit on the matter so far as to leave no room for any distinction whatever. Everything shall be revealed without exception. St. Augustine (De Civita. C. 14), St. Anself (Hieron, in C. 7 Dan.), and St. Thomas, with other theologians, unanimously admit that the conscience of the just as well as that of the reprobate shall be laid bare to the view of the whole world.
The reasons which the Master of Sentences adduces in vindication of his opinion are purile. The manifestation of the secret but pardoned sins of the just, so far from being a subject of confusion for them, will redound to the greater glory of God and their own happiness since that will make known their penitential labors also. St. Paul says that all things turn to the advantage of the just: "We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good." (Rom. 8:28).
For eighteen hundred years the Church has never ceased to publish the sins of Mary Magdalen, Peter's denial of Our Saviour, the incredulity of Thomas, Saul's persecution of the Christians. St. Augustine publically defamed himself in his Confessions. Has it diminshed in the least their glory and happiness in heaven? Moreover, on that day we shall be able to judge things rightly, as we shall consider them from a just point of view. We will judge things like God Himself: We will praise whom He praises, (1 Cor. 4:5), and we will condemn whom He condemns. "Thou art just, a Lord, and Thy judgment is right." (Ps. 118:137). Then for the first time shall we comprehend the mystery of "predestination", which is the mystery of divine Providence. (Bede in Apoe. 20).
While all that we have ever done will be strictly discussed at the Last Judgment, nevertheless, Jesus Christ has given us to understand that a special mention will be made of all our works of mercy (Eccl. 12:4) because charity was His great commandment and the distinctive mark of His disciples. (Jn. 13:35). The examination being finished, Jesus will pronounce the eternal sentence in a voice that will re-echo throughout the vault of heaven. He will say to the wicked, "Depart from me ye cursed into -everlasting fire," and to the just, "Come ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you." The wicked shall go into everlasting pains, and the just into everlasting life. (Mat. 25 :34, 41, 46).
3. Renewal of Heaven and Earth
The renewal of heaven and earth will take place immediately after the General Judgment.
It is of Faith that this world will be succeeded by a new heaven and a new earth; this belief is founded on the following passages of Holy Writ: "Behold I create new heavens and a new earth." (Is. 65:17); "I saw a new heaven and a new earth." (Apoe. 21:1).
Will there be simply a modification only of the heavens and the earth, or will there be a new creation? On this point there is a difference of opinion. Some believe that the actual world shall be annihilated and replaced by a new one which God will create out of nothing. (Hilar. in Ps. 118; Chrysot., Horn. 14 in Rom.; Ambros., Cathar. Comm. in Hebr.). This opinion is founded on the following passages of Holy Writ, "Heaven and earth shall pass away." (Mat. 24:35). St. John uses the same expression as Our Saviour when he says, "For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea was now no more." (Apoc. 21: 1). Heaven and earth shall perish, says the Psalmist (101 :26-27); Ecclesiasticus exclaims: "What is brighter than the sun? Still it will be eclipsed." (17:30). Finally, the expression of Isaias, "Behold I create," seems to indicate a substantial renovation.
Others, as St. Jerome (in Is. 61), St. Augustine (in Ps. 101), St. Thomas (in 4 distinct, 47 et 48, etc.), are of opinion that the world will not be substantially destroyed, but that it will undergo an accidental modification. This opinion is certain and is in perfect harmony with the Sacred Scriptures and the analogy of faith. The Scriptures often employ the word "new" not to indicate a different object, but to indicate the same object with some accidental modifications, Thus it exhorts us to put on the "new man", which means that we should be united to Jesus Christ by grace, that we should supernaturalize our being, while it is certain that the transfiguration operated by grace makes no substantial change in man, being only a noble and glorious accident that adorns his nature.
Moreover, the Scriptures bear out philosophy in its assertion that God annihilates nothing of what He has created. "I know," says Ecclesiastes (3:14), "that all what God has created will last forever."
We can reasonably admit the absolute possibility of annihilating the world, but we fail to discover ,any motives for which the divine Wisdom would do it. St. Epiphanus says the Scriptures often employ the word "perish" to indicate a simple modification of a thing.
Hence, it follows that what will perish, what will pass away, what will disappear, is not the substance, but the figure, that is to say, the exterior phenomenon or the actual aspect of the world. The same elements will remain with the essential properties, but the positive and accidental laws of nature will be changed and adjusted to a state of humanity. For since all things were made for man (1 Cor. 3 :22), when his condition changes, the world must also, to correspond or agree with his condition. God will not only modify the laws of nature but He will also, by a positive act of His omnipotent power, associate new and better properties with the elements. Such is the import of the word "create" in the passage from Isaias (65 :17), "Behold I create new heavens and a new ,earth."
What will be the nature of this renovation of the world? The frequent and varying changes which take place in the universe not being consistent with the immutable condition of the blessed, theologians say that the world shall then be in an immutable state and that the present succession of forces in the transmutation of matter will no longer exist. In order to explain this phenomenon, the scholastics suppose that the movement of the heavens will cease because, according to their system, this movement is the first cause of all physical or material alterations. This explanation is founded upon a basis too problematic to be received or entertained. There is no doubt that a great change will be effected in the laws which at present govern the heavenly bodies, since the "stars shall fall from heaven;" the sun and moon shall present new phenomena. But does this mean that the movement of the heaveny bodies shall cease to exist? This is still a problem to be solved. It must, however, be admitted that the following passage from Isaias (60:20), "Thy sun shall go down no more, and thy moon shall not decrease," furnish the scholastics with a plausible proof for their opinion. Again, St. John says in the Apocalypse (10:6) "that time shall be no longer." And time being the succession of materialmovements, it is the movement of superior bodies that must regulate that of inferior bodies. Hence the heavenly bodies must cease to move. This conclusion could not be gain said if the premises were certain. But the words of the Apocalypse can be explained in another way, by which the scholastic theory would fall to the ground.
According to this opinion, the heavenly bodies will not alone be immovable, but also the earth, which will participate in the glorious immutability of the elect. The animals and plants subject to material changes will disappear, and the earth in its renewed state will henceforward be the abode of Jesus Christ, the angels, and the elect. (Contra Gentiles, Lib. 4, C. ult.). This opinion, though held by the majority of the scholastics, and on that account worthy of the greatest respect, seems, however, open to serious objections from a scriptural, traditional, and philosophical point of view. The Scriptures positively say that all the works of God shall last for ever. (Ecclesiastes 3 :14). St. Paul says that "every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain …" waiting for their redemption. (Rom. 8:22). Now we must remember that the plants and animals form a part of God's works, and they are creatures; and if they must cease to exist, how then shall the words of the sacred text be verified? To the above texts may be added also those of the royal Psalmist, "Sing joyfully to God all the earth. . . Let the sea be moved and the fullness thereof; the world and all that dwell therein. The rivers shall clap their hands, the mountains shall rejoice together at the presence of the Lord, because he cometh to judge the earth." (Ps. 97:4-9). Some of the Fathers and some theologians explicitly state that the vegetable kingdom will have a place in the new world. St. Anselm states in his Elucidations that the earth, which contained the body of Our Saviour, will resemble Paradise, and because it was sprinkled with the blood of martyrs, it shall perpetually produce fragrant flowers, with roses and violets that shall never wither. William of Paris (apud Carthus. in 4 d. 48) speaks in similar terms, stating that the Fathers, the most renowned for their profound erudition, hold that the earth shall be forever clothed with verdure and charming flowers which shall never fade. It is true there is no question in these texts of animals, but if we admit the existence of the vegetable kingdom, analogy would lead us to believe in the existence of the other.
Finally, the harmony of the visible world and the pleasure of the senses seems to require the existence of the animal kingdom as creatures to which God may impart the quality of incorruptibility, to correspond with the state of the children of God. This last explanation is well calculated to reconcile the two opinions.
Not only will the laws of nature be modified, but the very elements will be endowed with admirable properties to increase the felicity of the elect, delighting the senses in their noblest instincts. The touch and taste either will cease to ,be channels of delight, or they will be estranged to all sordid pleasure. The sweetest melodies shall charm the hearing, while objects of ravishing beauty shall delight the sight. The Scriptures often speak of celestial concerts, and there is no reason why these words may not be literally interpreted.
It often makes mention of the brilliant light that we will see in the mansions of eternal glory when all the filth of the world will be cast into hell. The fire will employ those properties that are painful to torment the wicked and its light for the happiness of the blessed. The interior of the earth, where will be probably the abode of the damned, will be the scene of devouring flames and impenetrable darkness. But exteriorly every material element will possess in itself the property of light, thus illuminating itself and shedding at the same time its beneficent rays on surrounding objects. The light of the moon will be equal to that of the sun, and the brightness of the sun will be seven times more brilliant. (Is. 30:26). There shall be no opaque bodies found on the earth's surface; the earth itself shall be transparent like glass. (Apoc. 21:21). Of all the visible objects the earth will, however, present the most ungainly appearance since all objects will receive an illumination equal to their own transparency. (D. Thomas, 4 Digt., 48, Q 2, A. 4). Hence, this new terrestrial Jerusalem, built up by the hand of God, will no longer need the sun to give it light. (Apoc. 21:23). The Lamb is its luminous torch, and the innumerable multitudes of the elect walk in His light.
Thus shall the mystery of God be consummated; order is established; the wicked are punished; the just are rewarded; Jesus Christ reigns over the visible world forever and ever.
O JESUS, MAY THY KINGDOM COME!