"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it."

St Philip Neri

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"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."

St Louis Bertrand

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.


By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP





Heaven means the place, and especially the condition, of supreme beatitude. Had God created no bodies, but only pure spirits, heaven would not need to be a place; it would signify merely the state of the angels who rejoice in the possession of God. But in fact heaven is also a place. There we find the humanity of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels, and the souls of the saints. Though we cannot say with certitude where this place is to be found, or what its relation is to the whole universe, revelation does not allow us to doubt of its existence. (A pure spirit can be in place only so far as it exercises an action on a body in that place, but of itself the spirit lives in an order higher than that of space.)

We shall speak first of the existence of heaven, then we shall see what is the nature of this beatitude: beatific vision, beatific love, and accidental beatitude.

The Church teaches as a doctrine of faith, defined by Benedict XII: "The souls of all the saints are in heaven before the resurrection of the body and the general judgment. They see the divine essence by a vision which is intuitive and facial, without the intermediation of any creature in that view. By this vision they enjoy the divine essence, they are truly blessed, they have eternal life and repose." [499] The Council of Florence [500] says that souls in the state of grace, after being purified, enter into heaven, see God the triune as He is in Himself, but with a degree more or less perfect, according to the diversity of their merits.

The Testimony of Scripture

In the Old Testament we find a progressive revelation regarding the remuneration of the just after death. [501] This revelation is still obscure in the first books of the Old Testament, because the Old Testament itself was given, not immediately as preparation for eternal life, but as preparation for the coming of the promised Savior, who after His death would open to the just the gates of heaven. Here lies a very great difference between the Old Testament and the New. In the New Testament the expression "eternal life" is frequent, whereas it is rare in the Old Testament.

Before the time of the prophets Scripture speaks of the souls of the dead which descend into Sheol, where they can no longer merit. But the recompense reserved for the good becomes in time more precise in opposition to the suffering of the wicked. Thus we read in Genesis [502] that Abraham, after his death, "was gathered to his people." The Lord is called "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Again we read often that Jahve "bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again." [503] We read that He "killeth and maketh alive." Moses, [504] after death, "was gathered to his people."

The prophets speak more clearly of the recompense reserved for the just after death. Isaias speaks thus: "The new heavens and the new earth . . ., a rejoicing, and the people thereof, joy." [505] In Daniel we read: "The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed." [506] "The saints of the most high God shall take the kingdom and they shall possess the kingdom forever and ever." [507] "And all kings shall serve Him and obey Him." [508] In the Book of Wisdom we read: "The souls of the just are in the hand of God, ... they are in peace.... God hath tried them and found them worthy of Himself.... They that are faithful in love shall rest in Him, for grace and peace is to His elect." [509]

In the psalms we read: "The Lord is just and hath loved justice; His countenance hath beheld righteousness." [510] "Thou shalt fill me with joy with Thy countenance, at Thy right hand are delights even to the end." [511] "But as for me I will appear before Thy sight in justice; I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear." [512] "God will redeem my soul from the hand of hell, when He shall receive me." [513]

In the New Testament [514] we read of the kingdom of heaven, where those who have a pure heart will see God, and will resemble the angels who "see the face of My Father." Only the just will have part in this kingdom and will reign WITH Jesus Christ who has already ascended into heaven. [515]

St. Paul speaks as follows: "Charity never falleth away.. . . We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known." [516] God knows us without a medium, hence we shall also know Him without any medium. Again St. Paul [517] says that the object of this vision surpasses all that the ear can hear, that the eye can see, and that the heart can desire. [518] And again he speaks as follows: "Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor." [519] St. John speaks as follows: "This is eternal life: that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." [520] In his First Epistle he says: "We shall be like to Him (God), because we shall see Him as He is." [521] In the heavenly Jerusalem we shall see the throne of God and of the Lamb "and His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face." [522] .

Thus we see that, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, from the first book of Scripture to the last, there is a continuity of revelation. Revelation is like a river. At its source we cannot see what it will be in the future. But, little by little, it becomes wider, more majestic, more powerful. The sense of the divine words manifests itself more and more to the contemplation of interior souls, but will not appear in its fullness until the moment of entrance into heaven.

Witness of Tradition

The existence of the beatific vision is affirmed in clear and explicit fashion by the Fathers of the apostolic age. [523] St. Ignatius [524] is penetrated by this thought, the possession of God in pure light. St. Polycarp [525] expects the recompense promised to the martyrs, namely, reunion with Christ at the right hand of God. It is true that the millenaristic error is accepted by St. Justin and Tertullian, since they think that the entrance of the just into the kingdom of heaven will be retarded until the time of the general resurrection and the last judgment. Nevertheless these early writers defend the existence of heaven, even the most millenaristic among them. And many of these early Fathers affirm that the souls of the martyrs enjoy the possession of God immediately after death, before the general resurrection. In the fourth century this doctrine is the one commonly received. [526] Among the ante-Nicean Fathers who most firmly declare the existence of the beatific vision we must signalize St. Irenaeus. [527] He writes: "That which God gives to those who love Him is the gift of seeing Him, as the prophets have announced. Man of himself cannot see God, but God wills to be seen by us and He grants to us what He wills, when He wills and as He wills." St. Hippolytus speaks in the same manner.

Clement of Alexandria [528] says that to the elect is reserved the vision of God by the grace of Christ. Also Origen [529] affirms that they have a clear vision of God.

St. John Chrysostom [530] is less clear, but he repeats the words of St. Paul: "We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face."

St. Cyprian writes: "What glory and what joy to be admitted to see God, to be honored with Christ our Lord! This is the joy of salvation, this is eternal life: to live with the just, with all the friends of God in the kingdom of immortality. When God shall shine upon us we will rejoice with inexpressible gladness, sharing forever the kingdom of Christ." [531]

St. Augustine [532] often emphasizes the thought that all the saints in heaven, like the angels, rejoice with Christ in the vision of God.

Reasons of Appropriateness

In the Middle Ages, certain heretics, Amaury de Bene, for instance, held that no created intelligence, even when aided by supernatural light, can ever see God without medium. Created intelligence, they say, can see only the created radiance of the divine essence, just
as the eye of the owl is too feeble to see the sun. Others, on the contrary, like the Beguards, said that the beatific vision is due our nature and needs no supernatural light. [533] The teaching of the Church is here again a summit, elevated above these contrary positions. In other words, the beatific vision is a vision of God without medium, but it is an essentially supernatural vision. [534] What does this mean for the question which now occupies us?

Reason, left to itself, cannot demonstrate even the existence of the beatific vision, because this vision is a gratuitous gift, which depends upon the free will of God. It is a gift, not due to our nature, not even
to that of the angels. This truth is affirmed by the Church against Baius. [535] The object of the beatific vision is nothing less than the object of the uncreated vision of God. Hence it surpasses the natural object of every created or creatable intelligence, since every created intelligence is infinitely inferior to God.

Reason, left to itself, according to the greater number of theologians, especially Thomistic theologians, cannot prove positively and apodictically the possibility of the beatific vision, because this vision
is not only gratuitous, as are miracles but it is essentially supernatural just as is the grace which it presupposes. It is a mystery, as are the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption. [536] Hence it lies beyond the sphere of demonstration. [537] A miracle is naturally knowable, since it is supernatural only in the mode of its production, for example, in the restoration of life to a corpse. But the beatific vision, just like grace and the light of glory, is supernatural in its very essence.

Nevertheless theologians, and in particular St. Thomas have given reasons of appropriateness for the possibility and the existence of the beatific vision. We shall dwell on one reason which constitutes a very serious probability, and which can ever be scrutinized anew with advantage, though it can never furnish a rigorous demonstration, just as the sides of a polygon inscribed in the circumference can never be identified with that circumference.

The argument runs thus: [538] There is in man a natural desire to know the cause when he sees an effect. From this natural desire arises wonderment, which lasts as long as the cause is not known. If therefore man's intelligence cannot arrive at a knowledge of the first cause of all things, his natural desire would be in vain.

St. Thomas [539] says more explicitly: "The object of the intelligence is the essence or nature of things, and this faculty grows more perfect the more it knows the essence of things. When we know an effect there arises in us a natural desire to know the essence or nature of its cause. [540] If, therefore, we know, not the essence of the first cause, but only its existence, this natural desire would not be completely satisfied and man would not be completely happy." [541]

This natural desire cannot be an efficacious desire, a necessitating desire, because the beatific vision is a gratuitous gift, as the Church has defined against Baius. [] But it is a conditional and inefficacious desire: If it pleases God to grant us this gratuitous gift. Thus, in illustration, the farmer desires rain if Providence wills to give it to him. Now this desire supports a serious argument of appropriateness in favor of the existence of the beatific vision. But it does not prove positively and apodictically even the simple possibility of such a vision. This vision is essentially supernatural, as is grace and the light of glory which it presupposes and requires. To prove its possibility would be the same thing as proving apodictically the possibility of grace and the light of glory, and these two truths are beyond the sphere of demonstration. But at least our argument shows that it is not possible to prove the impossibility of the beatific vision. Further, it enables us to refute the contrary reasons, and this is a great gain.

We may understand this argument better if we note that philosophy, reason alone, can prove with certitude the existence of God and of His chief attributes. But there remains for reason a great obscurity in the intimate harmonizing of these attributes, in particular in the harmonizing of absolute immutability and sovereign liberty, of infinite justice and infinite mercy, especially of omnipotent goodness and the divine permission of the greatest evils, physical and moral. Hence arises the natural desire, conditional and inefficacious, to see the very existence of the first cause, because this vision, without medium, would show the intimate reconciliation between these attributes, which flow from the essence of God.

This natural desire to see God is admirably expressed by Plato. [542] He says that we must rise from the love of sensible beauty to the love of intellectual and moral beauty, to the love of the supreme beauty existing eternally in itself. He concludes: "What would we think of a mortal to whom it would be given to contemplate pure beauty, simple, without any mixture, and not garbed in flesh and human colors and other perishable vanities, but the very divine beauty itself ? Do you not think that this man, being the only one who sees the beautiful by the faculty to which beauty is perceptible, could bring forth, not mere images of virtues, but veritable virtues, since he is attached and united to truth ? Now man who brings forth and nourishes true virtue is deserving of being cherished by God. If any man can be immortal, it is this man."

These words of Plato are confirmed by the aspirations of the human soul, which are found, even though in an enfeebled state, in many religions.

This argument of appropriateness in favor of the possibility and existence of the beatific vision can be proposed independently of divine revelation, without supposing that we have been called to the life of grace. Further, this argument shows the suitableness of our elevation to supernatural life.

But, supposing this elevation, we can also say that we now have a connatural desire to see God, a desire which proceeds from grace, as from a second nature. Grace is indeed the seed of glory, and this seed tends of its own accord to its final development. From this viewpoint our desire is not now a conditional and inefficacious desire, but a desire which is intended to reach its goal, and does in fact reach it, even if many refuse to respond to the divine appeal.

This reason becomes stronger if we recall what Jesus Himself has said in the Gospel of St. John: "He that believeth in Me hath everlasting life." [543] He has eternal life already in its commencement. Infused faith tends of its own accord to the vision which we await. Further, sanctifying grace and charity are of their own nature everlasting, and will in fact last always, unless the fragile vase in which they are received be broken, when the will turns away from God by mortal sin, sometimes forever. But whatever we think of these falls, the life of grace here below is of the same essence as the life of heaven, just as the germ contained in the acorn is of the same nature as the oak fully developed from the germ. Faith will give place to vision, and hope to possession. But sanctifying grace and charity will last forever. "Charity never falleth away." [544]

This desire, connatural and supernatural, proceeding from grace, which is the second nature of the soul, is continually renovated in us by the word of the Savior: "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find." [545] It is this desire which St. Augustine expresses when he says: "Thou hast made us, O Lord, for Thee, and restless is our heart until it rests in Thee." [546]

This is what revelation says to the believer. This view confirms greatly the argument of appropriateness which we have developed above. Hence we understand how decisively the Church [547] condemns those who say that immediate vision of God is impossible, just as it is impossible for the owl to endure the splendor of the sun. This position is true of every created or creatable intelligence, left to its own natural forces, but it is not true of the created intelligence when it is supernaturalized by consummated grace and the light of glory, which are a participation in the intimate life of God Himself.


499 Denz., no. 530.
500 Ibid., no. 693.

Dict. theol. cath., "Ciel", and "Intuitive" (A. Michel).

502 Gen. 25:9. Also 26:24; 46:1-3; Exodus 3:6; 4:5.
503 Deut. 32:39; I Kings 2:6; IV Kings 5:7.
504 Deut. 30:11, 50.
505 Isa. 65:17; 30:10.
506 Dan. 2:44.
507 Ibid., 7:18.
508 Ibid., 7:27.
509 Wis. 3:1-9.
510 Ps. 10:7.
511 Ibid., 15:11.
512 Ibid., 16:15.
513 Ibid., 48:16.
514 Matt. 5:3, 8, 12; 16:27; 12:30; 18:10, 43; 25:24; Mark 12:25; Luke 16:22-25; 19:12-27.
515 Acts 1:2, 9, 11; Heb 7:26.
516 I Cor. 13:8-12.
517 Ibid., 2:9.
518 II Cor. 5:6-8.
519 I Cor. 3:8.
520 John 17:3.
521 I John 3:2.
522 Apoc. 22:1-4.
523 Dict. theol. cath., "Ciel", cols. 2478-2503. Also "Intuitive", cols. 2369 ff. De Journel, Enchir. patrist., Index theologicus, nos. 606-12.
524  Rom. 2:2, 4:1, 6:2. Eph. 10:1. Smyrn., 9:2.
525 Phil. 2:1; 5:2; 9:2.
526 The millenarians believed that Christ would reign a thousand years on earth, either before or after the last judgment. This view is contrary to one entire chapter (25) of St. Matthew and to chapter 16 verse 27 in St. Matthew. These two texts say that the second coming of Christ will take place just before the last judgment. Now after this event there is no place for a reign of a thousand years on earth. The millenarian error was refuted by Origen, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and the Scholastics.
527 Adversus haereses, Bk. IV, 20, 5 (Journel, no. 236). Cf. Ibid. Bk. V, 31, 2, and Bk. III, 12, 3.
528 Stromata, Bk. V, 1.
529 De principiis, Bk. II, chap. 11.
530 Ep. V, ad Theodorum lapsum, chap. 7.
531 Ep. LVI, ad Thibaritanos, 10 (Journel, no. 579).
532 De civ. Dei, Bk. XX, chap. 9, note. Cf. also Enarrationes in psalmos, in psalmum 30, sermo III, 8, also Ep. 112.
533 Denz., no. 475.
534 Ibid., nos 475, 530.
535 Ibid., nos. 1001-4; 1021-24.
536 Ibid., no. 1816.
537 Cf. our work, De Deo uno, 1938, pp. 264-69.
538 Ia, q. 12, a. 1.
539 Ia IIae, q. 3, a. 8.
540 Contra Gentes, Bk. III, chap. 50.
541 Cf. our work. De revelatione, 1925, I, 384-403.
542 Banquet, chap. 29 (211, c).
543 John 3:36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 20:31.
544 I Cor. 13:8.
545 Matt. 7:7; Lk. 11:9.
546 Confessions, Bk. I, chap. 1.
547. Denz. no. 530.