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Deacon Michael Callea, MIC

November 21, 2001

"What we await are new heavens and a new earth. . . " 2 Peter 3:13-15a

The thought of heaven holds little appeal for the modern Christian. Deacon Michael Callea asks why? In his paper, "The Happiness of Heaven and the Resurrection of the Body" he revisits traditional views of heaven, particularly those of Thomas Aquinas. He finds that the emphasis on the human being as rational results in a somewhat individualistic notion of ultimate happiness, which does not pay sufficient attention to human communion in the resurrected state. Callea sees the relational anthropology of John Paul II as restoring human communion as an intrinsic dimension of ultimate happiness.


                A while back I attended a talk by a rather well-known moral theologian who suggested that one of the major problems facing Catholicism today is the fact that its vision of heaven is not sufficiently motivating for modern man.  This is unfortunate because, after all, at least in one sense, heaven is the goal of all our earthly striving.  He is not alone in his assessment.  Peter J. Kreeft also considers modern man’s disinterest in heaven as a crucial issue.  He sees this disinterest as the natural consequence of two equally dissatisfying conceptions of heaven: heaven as a place of endless progress and heaven as a place of changeless perfection:

The dilemma stands: Is heaven mountain climbing or the view from the top?  Frustrating or boring?  Climbing is fun, but endless climbing is frustrating; we would be sometimes arriving home.  But “home” soon becomes “domestication,” and we seek new adventures.  The most boring part of the fairy tale is the last, spectacularly unsuccessful line: “They all lived happily ever after.”  No one has ever described that happiness so as to satisfy the heart. [1]

                The issue---the lack of a satisfying description of man’s ultimate happiness---is not unimportant.  While heaven is a gift that man receives from God, it is not a gift he receives without regard for his nature as a free creature.  In response to God’s grace, man must put forth effort.  He must strive.  He must act. [2]   And since he acts, he necessarily acts for an end. [3]  That being the case, the attractiveness of the end will undoubtedly have an impact on the vigorousness with which the end is pursued. 

                Heaven is the perfect happiness of man.  The traditional Catholic understanding of heaven is that of the Beatific Vision---seeing God as He is, “face to face”, the very essence of  God.  This conception of heaven is based on an anthropology that places great emphasis on man as a rational creature.  The essential fulfilment of man is seen as the perfect satisfaction of his intellectual nature.  While this conception of heaven is certainly true as far as it goes, it would seem almost incomplete, as though not enough attention has been paid to the intrinsically relational character of man’s nature.  As far as stimulating the imagination goes, for people who like being with people, this vision of heaven may even seem boring, unattractive, and simply not worth the effort.  So the question arises:  Is there a vision of heaven sufficiently appealing to modern man---indeed to men of any time and place---that can actually motivate man to strive for heaven with all the strength of his soul?  After all, as The Cloud of Unknowing puts it, “the path to heaven is more by desire than by miles.[4]

                It is true that the reality of heaven is beyond our imagining.  Even so, aided by revelation and sound philosophical reflection, it is not completely beyond the pale of human speculation. [5] If heaven is, as we have said, the perfect happiness of man, then anything we can say about what makes man happy is, in a way, to speak about what heaven will be like.  Since man’s happiness comes about when he attains his proper fulfillment, the idea of human happiness is necessarily linked with the idea of man himself, that is, with the question of anthropology.  By means of his catechesis on the theology of the body, Pope John Paul II has presented the modern world with a new, “adequate anthropology”.  This penetrating reflection on the nature of man as made in the image of God allows for fresh conclusions to be drawn about what finally fulfills man and of what, then, his happiness consists.  These fresh conclusions open up the possibility of fresh visions of heaven as well---visions which, in the end, will hopefully prove sufficiently motivating for modern man to pursue his God-given destiny with vigor.  The future of countless souls (and bodies!) depends on it.  Whether the pope’s adequate anthropology will ultimately succeed in this regard, only time will tell.  Yet, for sure, it will only succeed if it is well known.  May this paper be a contribution in this regard!  In it I wish to show how John Paul II’s unique anthropological perspective enhances our understanding of human happiness and thus ultimately our vision of heaven.  This I will attempt to do by demonstrating how John Paul II’s “adequate anthropology” advances (without necessarily contradicting) the traditional Catholic conception of man and of man’s ultimate happiness as this has been so ably articulated by the great scholastic theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas. [6]

Happiness in General

                If heaven is man’s happiness, then what is happiness?  Roughly speaking, happiness consists in personally possessing what is good. [7]  So what is good?  Goodness is being under the aspect of its desirability.  Desirability is related to perfection.  A creature is perfect to the extent that it has achieved its full actuality (its fullness of being).  Since all creatures naturally desire their perfection (their full actuality), “the desirable” is precisely that which a creature needs for its perfection, its fulfillment as a creature. [8]

                Objective Happiness.  The good that actually perfects/fulfills a particular creature is the objective happiness of that creature.  God is the Objective Good of all creatures because God possesses in Himself all perfection and, hence, the perfection of all creatures.  Therefore, God is the final end of all creatures.  As the fulfillment of all created natures, He is, in a sense, the happiness of all creation, objectively speaking, that is, speaking of happiness as that good which is capable of giving creatures their ultimate perfection by fulfilling every one of their needs. [9] 

                Subjective Happiness.  Happiness can also be viewed subjectively, however, and as such it is proper only to creatures possessing intelligence.  This is because creatures with intelligence, unlike creatures without it, can actually know that they are possessing the good and thus delight in that fact. 

                Absolute Happiness.  Happiness belongs most properly to God in both its objective and its subjective senses because to be perfect and to possess intelligence “belong in a most excellent manner to God.” [10]  In other words, since God is Pure Act, He is also Happiness Itself: 

Happiness . . . absolutely applies to God.  God alone has the absolute actualization of all the powers of operation, especially the intellect.  God is the perfect assemblage of all good things, hence, perfect happiness where nothing is left to be desired.  God . . . is the essence of happiness.  All who enjoy the vision of this essence are happy by participation in the absolute happiness. [11]

Man in the Image of God and his Happiness According to St. Thomas Aquinas

                Just as God is the end of all creatures and thus the “happiness” of all creatures, so, too, is God the end and happiness of man but not only objectively as He is for creatures generally, but also subjectively since man is a creature endowed with an intellectual nature and thus can “enjoy” God.  That God is the happiness of man is shown by St. Thomas in two ways: from the fact that man has a will (a rational appetite) and from the fact that man has an intellect.  Each approach is worth examining in turn.  But first we must examine the anthropology upon which they are based.

                Man as God’s Image.  From the revealed Word of God, St. Thomas is aware that man is made in the image and likeness of God.  From sound philosophical reflection, he is aware that man is a unity of body and soul, the soul being the substantial form of the body. [12]  The soul possesses various powers, one of which is the intellect by which man is able to “make things intelligible, by abstraction of the species from the material conditions.” [13]  Another such power is the will, the rational appetite, whereby “the animal [man] is able to desire what it apprehends.[14] For St. Thomas, it is precisely man’s intellect and will which reveal him to be made in the image of God both as regards the Divine Nature and as regards the Trinity of Divine Persons.  Regarding the image of the Divine Nature in man, St. Thomas writes:

Some things are like to God first and most commonly because they exist; secondly, because they live; and thirdly because they know or understand; and these last, as Augustine says, . . . approach so near to God in likeness, that among all creatures nothing comes nearer to Him.  It is clear, therefore, that intellectual creatures alone, properly speaking, are made to God’s image.[15]

Regarding the image of the Trinity in man, St. Thomas writes:

If the image of the Divine Trinity is to be found in the soul, we must look for it where the soul approaches the nearest to a representation of the species of the Divine Persons.  Now the Divine Persons are distinct from each other by reason of the procession of the Word from the Speaker, and the procession of Love connecting Both.  But in our soul word cannot exist without actual thought, as Augustine says . . . .  Therefore, first and chiefly, the image of the Trinity is to be found in the acts of the soul, that is, inasmuch as from the knowledge which we possess, by actual thought we form an internal word; and thence break forth into love.  But, since the principles of acts are the habits and powers, and everything exists virtually in its principle, therefore, secondarily and consequently, the image of the Trinity may be considered as existing in the powers, and still more in the habits, forasmuch as the acts virtually exist therein. [16]

Moreover the Word of God is born of God by the knowledge of Himself; and Love proceeds from God according as He loves Himself.  But it is clear that diversity of objects diversifies the species of word and love; for in the human mind the species of a stone is specifically different from that of a horse, while also the love regarding each of them is specifically different.  Hence we refer the Divine image in man to the verbal concept born of the knowledge of God, and to the love derived therefrom.  Thus the image of God is found in the soul according as the soul turns to God, or possesses a nature that enables it to turn to God. [17]

                Image Not Via Relations.  It is important to note that for St. Thomas it is the individual man who is made to the image of God and not human beings in their mutual relations (although this latter possibility is more ignored by St. Thomas than denied by him).  He does, however, explicitly deny that man’s being made to God’s image is in any way connected to the sexual differentiation of human beings as male and female.  In reaction to those who wanted to identify men, women, and children with specific Persons of the Blessed Trinity (men with the Father, women with the Holy Spirit, and children with the Son), St. Thomas writes:

We must understand that when Scripture had said, to the image of God He created him, it added, male and female He created them, not to imply that the image of God came through the distinction of sex, but that the image of God belongs to both sexes, since it is in the mind, wherein there is no sexual distinction.[18]

                Image Not Via Body.  Although for St. Thomas it is the individual man who is made to the image of God, it is not the whole man, body and soul, who is made so, but only man insofar as he possesses the powers of knowing and loving, powers which reside specifically in the soul.  Thus, according to St. Thomas, the body does not have any role in man being made to the image of God. [19]

                Implications.  The fact that man is not made to the image of God by means of his relations to others nor in his somatic constitution has implications for St. Thomas’ understanding of man’s essential happiness as this will be possessed by man in heaven.  Regarding man’s relations with others, he writes:

[I]f we speak of perfect Happiness which will be in our heavenly Fatherland, the fellowship of friends is not essential to Happiness; since man has the entire fulness of his perfection in God.  But the fellowship of friends conduces to the well-being of Happiness.[20]

So St. Thomas sees companionship as accidental rather than essential to eternal bliss.  Such a position seems to be in harmony with St. Thomas’ general understanding of friendship: for him a man has friends so that “he may do good to them; that he may delight in seeing them do good; and again that he may be helped by them in his good work.[21]  Since none of these are required for man’s fulfillment once he has arrived at personal perfection in his “heavenly Fatherland”, none of them are essential for his happiness.

                Regarding man’s body, St. Thomas argues that since the body, specifically sensation, is not needed to see the Divine Essence and since seeing the Divine Essence is, of course, the essential happiness of man, the body is not therefore needed for man’s essential happiness.  Still, St. Thomas holds that, like the fellowship of friends, possession of the body is in fact conducive to the well-being of happiness in an accidental way.  Here St. Thomas seems to be somewhat inconsistent because, in one place, he describes this contribution of the body to the well-being of happiness as a kind of final perfection of man in his body which he distinguishes from the perfection of man in his soul, the latter being linked with essential happiness and the former with a kind of concomitant, yet accidental, happiness, but then elsewhere he states clearly:

since it is natural to the soul to be united to the body; it is not possible for the perfection of the soul to exclude its natural perfection.[22]

To repeat, St. Thomas sees the happiness which results from the perfection of the body as consequent to the perfection of man’s soul.  But the important question he seems to leave unanswered is this: If the perfection of the soul itself includes the perfection of the body and if man’s essential happiness is related to the perfection of the soul, then is it not necessarily the case that man’s essential happiness should also be thought to include the perfection of his body? [23]

                Related to the whole question of the importance of man’s body for his heavenly bliss is the issue of pleasure and especially that of bodily pleasure.  Once more St. Thomas is careful to distinguish the essence of happiness from what is merely accidental to it:

We must therefore consider that every delight is a proper accident resulting from happiness, or from some part of happiness; since the reason that a man is delighted is that he has some fitting good, either in reality, or in hope, or at least in memory.[24]

Even so, St. Thomas also affirms that delight is in some way necessary for happiness insofar as “happiness is nothing else but the attainment of the Sovereign Good, [and so] it cannot be without concomitant delight.[25] Yet, as with the relationship between the perfection of the body and the perfection of the soul, St. Thomas considers delight (the resting of the will in the good) as subsequent in rank to vision (the operation of the intellect in which the will reposes). [26]

                Bodily pleasure is a different story altogether for St. Thomas who states plainly: “Bodily pleasure is neither happiness itself, nor a proper accident of happiness.[27]  Why?  Because bodily pleasure cannot result from the perfect good which, as we will see momentarily, is oriented for St. Thomas towards the fulfillment of man’s specifically human dimension, that is, towards the fulfillment of man’s intellect and will. 

                Image Via Intellect and Will.  We have been looking at the ways in which man does not image God in the thought of St. Thomas.  But, returning to the content of the two long passages quoted at the outset of this section, we recall that, for St. Thomas, the way in which man does image God lies in the fact that he is a rational creature, a creature with an intellect and will.  Since, as was already mentioned, a creature’s desire for happiness is really the same thing as that creature’s desire for the perfection of its nature, then the happiness of a rational creature necessarily consists in its perfection precisely as a rational creature.  Hence, the perfection of man is the perfection of his powers of intellect and will which, in turn, is nothing other than their total satisfaction (= their fulfillment).  Since the object of the will is the universal good, the satisfaction of the will is loving, that is, loving the good possessed.  Since the object of the intellect is the universal true, the satisfaction of the intellect is understanding, that is, understanding the truth perceived. [28]  Both find their perfect satisfaction in God.

                Regarding the will---and here is the first of the two approaches promised at the beginning of this section---St. Thomas writes:

Now the object of the will, i.e., of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true.  Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good.  This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation.  Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man . . . .  Therefore God alone constitutes man’s happiness. [29]

Regarding the intellect---and here is the second approach---St. Thomas writes:

Two things are needed for happiness: one, which is the essence of happiness: the other, that is, as it were, its proper accident, i.e., the delight connected with it.  I say, then, that as to the very essence of happiness, it is impossible for it to consist in an act of the will. . . . [D]elight comes to the will from the end being present; and not conversely, is a thing made present, by the fact that the will delights in it.  Therefore, that the end be present to him who desires it, must be due to something else than an act of the will. . . .

            [A]t first we desire to attain an intelligible end; we attain it, through its being made present to us by an act of the intellect; and then the delighted will rests in the end when attained. 

            So, therefore, the essence of happiness consists in an act of the intellect: but the delight that results from happiness pertains to the will.  In this sense Augustine says . . . that happiness is joy in truth, because, to wit, joy itself is the consummation of happiness. [30]

So, as it turns out, perfect understanding is the good that perfectly fulfills man.  It is gained only by contemplation of God’s Essence, that is, only by means of the Beatific Vision:

Man’s perfect happiness consists not in that which perfects the intellect by some participation, but in that which is so by its essence. . . .  Now the proper object of the intellect is the true. . . .  God alone is His Being by His Essence . . .  It follows that God alone is truth by His Essence, and that contemplation of Him makes man perfectly happy.[31]

The complex relationship that St. Thomas maintains between being, truth, and goodness in relation to man’s knowing and willing is well summarized by E. G. Salmon.  His words provide a fitting conclusion to this brief survey of St. Thomas’ thoughts about man and his happiness in heaven:

Emphasizing existence as the perfection of all perfections, St. Thomas attains a deeper understanding of being and its transcendental properties.  First, he holds that “to be” is to be an existing something; but this exists as itself and not other: thus it is one.  The mind also apprehends being as intrinsically intelligible and, in its highest mode, as an intellect in act: thus being is true.  As true, it is correlative to mind and the good of mind.  But the true as good is not good merely for the intellect, but also as existent in is own right; it is that to which the intellectual appetite or will tends, and in which it rests.  Being is thus seen as both perfective and perfection.  It is good because it perfects and fills the intellectual appetite; it is good and loved because its actuality is perfection.  In its highest mode the good of the will is seen as identical with its love. [32]

Man in the Image of God and his Happiness According to Pope John Paul II

                The anthropology of Pope John Paul II shares much in common with the anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas.  The purposes of this paper require that we focus only on the ways in which John Paul II enhances the thought of St. Thomas.

                Man as God’s Image.  From the revealed Word of God, John Paul II is aware, as was St. Thomas, that man is made in the image and likeness of God.  And also like St. Thomas, John Paul II stresses the importance of man as a rational creature.  He does so, however, utilizing his own personalist language.  The Holy Father agrees with St. Thomas that the relationship between the body and soul is not a mere accidental union.  To the contrary, their substantial union constitutes the very “unity and integrity of the human being.[33]Indeed, it would seem that it is this fact in particular that underscores the pope’s whole anthropological outlook.

                St. Thomas understood man to be made in the image of God in terms of the activities of his intellect and will.  Above and beyond the categories of intellect and will, the Holy Father uses those of consciousness, self-awareness, and self-determination.  These terms bring to light more highly nuanced aspects of man’s being that were not always sufficiently considered or considered at all by the scholastic theologians and philosophers.  For the pope, man is made in the image of God first and foremost because he is a person.  Man possesses a subjectivity that animal and inanimate creatures do not possess.  Unlike all other visible creatures, man is a conscious being: he knows not only things, but also that he knows them.  He is self-aware, knowing himself not only as an object but also as an agent.  He is free and, as such, he is able to determine himself through his choices.  Whereas for St. Thomas the image of God is revealed in man by means of the activity of his intellect and will, for John Paul II the image of God is revealed in man by means of the activity of his body:

Man is a subject not only because of his self-awareness and self-determination, but also on the basis of his own body.  The structure of this body is such as to permit him to be the author of truly human activity.  In this activity the body expresses the person.  It is, therefore, in all its materiality . . . almost penetrable and transparent, in such a way as to make it clear who man is (and who man should be) thanks to the structure of his consciousness and of his self-determination. [34]

So it is that, for the pope, the image of God in man is to be found in the activity of the body whereby the person is revealed.  Whereas for Aquinas, God is the Fullness of Intellect and Will and so man images Him by himself possessing an intellect and will, for the Holy Father, God is the Fullness of Subjectivity and so man images Him by himself being a subject.  The type of subjectivity that man possesses is a bodily subjectivity: Unlike God and the angels, man is a body-person.  His subjectivity includes his being a body insofar as his body expresses his being a person.  It is the whole man, then, body and soul, who, for John Paul II, is made to the image of God.

                Image Via the Whole Man.  The preceding conclusion at first seems to be at odds with St. Thomas’ own view on the matter in which he explicitly denies that man images God in his body.  The apparent tension between the pope and St. Thomas is based upon the artificial and unnecessary split that St. Thomas makes between the body and the soul when he chooses to consider each of these two aspects of man in abstraction.  I think that the Holy Father would agree with St. Thomas’s opinion that the human body, considered simply as a physical body and nothing more, cannot image God who is Pure Spirit.  Yet, what is key here is the fact that there is no need to artificially split the body and soul in order to answer the question about how man images God.  (Even the separation of the body and soul at death is properly understood only as a real but temporary disruption of man’s natural state of being.)  Hence, the body is part of man’s imaging of God because it is the whole man who images God.  This conclusion is in accord with the first account of creation found in the Book of Genesis in which it is reported that man---and not merely man’s soul---is made in the image of God;  The Genesis account knows of no such dichotomy between body and soul.  (Indeed, it does not even operate out of these categories of thought.)  So, again, for John Paul II, man images God insofar as he is a subject and the particular type of subject that man is is a bodily one.  The body is part of man’s imaging of God insofar as it is essential to man’s being a subject. [35]

                Man as God’s Image Revisited.  For John Paul II, however, man’s being a person is not the only way that he images God.  To some extent and in a particular way, the Divine Trinity is also revealed in man when man is considered in the duality of the sexes: 

. . . [M]an became the 'image and likeness' of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning. . . .  He is, in fact, right 'from the beginning' not only an image in which there is reflected the solitude of a Person who rules the world, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons.[36]

This imaging of God as a communion of persons reveals a further truth about man: that the essence of being a person cannot be realized by man “alone”.  Rather, it is only by existing “with someone” and, even more so, “for someone” that man realizes his nature as a person or, as St. Thomas might say, his creaturely perfection.  Man, by his very nature, is constituted as a gift in order to be a gift. [37]

                Men and women share the same human nature but have different bodies.  Yet, their bodies complement one another in a way that men’s bodies alone or women’s bodies alone do not.  Hence, it is precisely by means of their bodies that men and women become aware of their fundamental orientation to the communion of persons.  It is through their bodies---and all the dynamisms that go along with those bodies---that they become aware of the call to mutual self-donation which such a communion implies and requires.  This great vocational revelation by means of the body is what Pope John Paul II calls the nuptial meaning of the body.  This vocation to give oneself as a gift requires freedom, that is, it requires self-mastery for the sake of self-possession for the sake of self-gift. [38]

                Image Via the Whole Man RevisitedWhat shall we make of St. Thomas’ explicit assertion that sexual distinction is not the way in which man images God?  Does the Holy Father mean to overrule his opinion?  I do not think so for the following reason:  Even for the pope, the image of God in man as Trinity is not most properly revealed in man and woman simply as male and female (that is, by mere sexual distinction) but only in man and woman as husband and wife (that is, male and female persons bound to one another in conjugal love) and in this latter instance only insofar as they contain within their union a fundamental orientation to bringing forth an “other”, a child, a “third”.  Insofar as men and women as male and female are oriented by their bodily constitution towards such a loving union, the Holy Trinity can even be understood to be imaged by each body-person, male or female, in a manner which is virtual.  I think that considering the matter in this way successfully resolves the apparent conflict between the pope’s thought and that of St. Thomas.  Once more we see that, for the Holy Father, it is the whole man---in this case the male and female in relationship (= husband and wife and implicit child)---that images God. [39]  This anthropological outlook, along with the previous consideration of man as an image of God in view of his personhood, constitute---albeit greatly simplified---the Holy Father’s “adequate anthropology”.

                Implications.  Naturally, this adequate anthropology has implications for John Paul II’s understanding of man’s essential happiness as this will be possessed by him in heaven.  Since man, made in the image of God, is at once a person and a person in relation to others, his fulfillment---and thus his happiness---will be as a person and as a person in relation to others.  Thus the Beatific Vision, whatever else it may be, must be---if it is going to satisfy man and make him happy---both personal and communal in character.  This is just what the Holy Father indicates:

[T]he original and fundamental significance of being a body, as well as being, by reason of the body, male and female---that is precisely that nuptial significance---is united with the fact that man is created as a person and called to life in communione personarum. . . . 

            . . . the nuptial meaning of the body in the resurrection to the future life will correspond perfectly both to the fact that man, as a male-female, is a person created in the “image and likeness of God,” and to the fact that this image is realized in the communion of persons.  That nuptial meaning of being a body will be realized, therefore, as a meaning that is perfectly personal and communitarian at the same time.[40]

                Such an assertion calls for---if not a modified understanding---at least a better articulation of what has traditionally been said to constitute the “beatifying experience”.  Whereas St. Thomas describes the heavenly reality as an intellectual vision with wonderful consequences for the whole of man’s being (but especially for his intellect and will), John Paul II describes it as God’s own Self-Gift to man (God’s Self-Communication).  The consequences which follow from this beatifying experience are wonderful not only for man considered in himself but, in an equally amazing way, also for man considered in his relation to others:

This concentration of knowledge (vision) and love on God himself---a concentration that cannot be other than full participation in the interior life of God, that is, in the very trinitarian reality---will be at the same time the discovery, in God, of the whole “world” of relations, constitutive of his perennial order (cosmos).  This concentration will be above all man’s rediscovery of himself, not only in the depth of his own person, but also in that union which is proper to the world of persons in their psychosomatic constitution.  This is certainly a union of communion. . . . We must think of the reality of the other world in categories of the rediscovery of a new, perfect subjectivity of everyone and at the same time of the discovery of a new, perfect intersubjectivity of all.  In this way, this reality signifies the real and definitive fulfillment of the nuptial meaning of the body. . . . [I]n this way eschatological reality will become the source of the perfect realization of the trinitarian order in the created world of persons. [41]

                Once more there would seem to be a tension between the thought of the pope and that of St. Thomas.  St. Thomas was convinced that the fellowship of friends in heaven was merely accidental to man’s happiness.  The Holy Father, on the other hand, in recognizing that man is able to experience fulfillment only by a sincere gift of himself, seems to place “others” in an essential relationship to man’s happiness.  This would seem to make something other than God necessary for man’s essential happiness, namely people.  Man would not be able to say, “In God alone is my ‘soul’ at rest.”  But once more the disagreement is more apparent than real.  In my mind, this is because the pope himself accepts a certain logical priority of the virginal state of the body whereby first and foremost the beatifying experience involves man’s total gift of himself to God in response to God’s gift of Himself to man.  Yet, the problem might seem to remain insofar as the nuptial meaning of man’s body cannot be properly manifested in relation to a God who is Pure Spirit.  Yet, it is precisely this purely spiritual God who has become a man in Christ Jesus precisely in order to call men to fellowship with Himself.  Still, it might argued, if the complementarity of the sexes is the very thing that makes man aware of the nuptial meaning of his body, then how can Christ’s body guarantee the fulfillment of male persons in relation to Him?  The pope answers this concern: Marriage and procreation give a concrete reality to the nuptial meaning of the body only in the dimensions of history.  In the future life, the historically-determined meaning of nuptiality by which a man and a woman give themselves to one another in an exclusive relationship is superseded by the more fundamental meaning already mentioned above.  Here, however, we discover that the more fundamental meaning is expressed in eternity by a perfectly chaste giving of self.  In the pope’s words:

In that [beatifying] vision it [the eschatological perfection of the body] will find its inexhaustible source of perpetual virginity (united to the nuptial meaning of the body), and of the perpetual intersubjectivity of all men, who will become (as males and females) sharers in the resurrection.[42]

                Another point of interest in comparing Pope John Paul II to St. Thomas is that for St. Thomas heaven consists essentially of contemplation, that is, acts of the soul with God as their Object.  For this reason, not only is the body not essentially necessary but even the activity of the practical intellect is rendered more or less without meaningful purpose. [43] The Holy Father’s anthropology, on the other hand, stresses the importance of the activity of the whole man and that especially as it is expressed through the body.  He firmly asserts that the truth about the resurrection clearly affirms “that the eschatological perfection and happiness of man cannot be understood as a state of the soul alone, separated . . . from the body.[44]  This body which will have a share in the resurrection will be, according to the pope, a spiritual body.  This spiritual body will not only be free from the hazards of uncontrolled sensuality but it will also be perfected in its own right:

. . . the spiritual body should mean precisely the perfect sensitivity of the senses, their perfect harmonization with the activity of the human spirit in truth and liberty.[45] 

All of this makes sense in light of John Paul II’s basic anthropological position in which the natural desires of man are understood as good in themselves.  The problem of sin arises only when man’s desires are not properly subjected his reason enlightened by faith.  Whereas St. Thomas denied the existence of sensual pleasure in heaven, it would seem as though the pope not only allows for it but expects it to be beyond anything humanly imaginable.


                New Visions.  Man’s inability to imagine heaven in an engaging way was the issue with which I began this paper.  I am convinced that the Holy Father’s “adequate anthropology” provides the Church with new inspiration for imagining heaven.  Yet, perhaps more important than providing man impetus for “getting himself to heaven”, John Paul II provides him with a model upon which to base even his activity in this world: man’s earthly task is not only to strive, with the help of God’s grace, for personal perfection but also to build healthy and holy relationships in the Lord in anticipation of the joys of heaven.  Along these lines the pope said in an address he gave about heaven: “We know that on this earth everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the ‘ultimate’ realities helps us to live better the ‘penultimate’ realities.[46]  May Pope John Paul II’s adequate anthropology and the new visions of heaven which it inspires within us help us to do just that!


Adels, Jill Haak, ed.  The Wisdom of the Saints.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Aquinas, St. Thomas.  Summa Theologica.  Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province.  New York: Benziger Brothers, 1948.

Hundersmarck, Lawrence F.  “Thomas Aquinas on Beatitude.”  In Imagining Heaven in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays, ed.  Jan Swango Emerson and Hugh Feiss, O.S.B., 165-183.  With an Afterword by Jeffrey Burton Russell.  New York: Garland, 2000.

John Paul II.  Blessed Are the Pure of Heart: Catechesis on the Sermon on the Mount and Writings of St. PaulBoston: St. Paul Books and Media, 1983.

________.  Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis.  Boston: Daughters of St. Paul,                                   1981.

________.  The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan.  Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1997.

Kreeft, Peter.  Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing.  San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980.

Neuner, J., S.J. and J. Dupuis, S.J. eds.  The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church.  New York: Alba House, 1990.

New Catholic Encyclopedia.  New York: McGraw Hill, 1967.  S. v. “Happiness,” by T. F. McMahon.

New Catholic Encyclopedia.  New York: McGraw Hill, 1967.  S. v. “Good,” by E. G. Salmon.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton.  A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Michael B. Callea, MIC © 2002 Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge, MA 01263.  All rights reserved.

No part of this article may be reproduced or transcribed in any form without written permission from the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception.


[1] Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980), 51.

[2] This stands in contrast to the opinion of those in the history of Christianity who have argued that the gift of heaven is given to man according to the arbitrary will of God, with complete indifference to all human behavior whatsoever---the so-called theory of “double-predestination”.

[3] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1948), I-II, q. 1, a. 1.

[4] As quoted in Jill Haak Adels, ed., The Wisdom of the Saints (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 199.   It should be noted that to speak of heaven as an object desired or as an end pursued is simply to recognize the fact that the source of happiness in man is God Himself---God who is Happiness Itself.  Thus, insofar as the happiness of heaven is identified with the personal God, heaven is rightly viewed as an end.  Insofar as the happiness of heaven is identified with man’s subject experience of delight in possessing God, heaven is properly considered a by-product of man’s striving for God, a striving made possible by God’s grace alone.

[5] What 1 Cor 2:9 says about God’s mysterious, hidden wisdom which God “predetermined before the ages for our glory” seems applicable here: “‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.  For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.

[6] Obviously the tradition is not monolithic in regards to these topics.  As Jeffrey Burton Russell notes in A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997), 64, Christian writers have “sought a metaphysical basis for the concept of heaven” even from the second century onwards.  St. Thomas Aquinas is chosen here as representative because his views have in many respects become classic in Catholic theology. 

[7] Summa, I-II, q. 3, a. 1: "Now the last end is called happiness.  If, therefore, we consider man’s happiness in its cause or object, then it is something uncreated [God]; but if we consider it as to the very essence of happiness, then it is something created [man’s enjoyment of God]” (emphasis added).

[8] Ibid., I, q. 5, a. 1 and a. 4.

[9] See New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), s. v. “Happiness,” by T. F. McMahon.  See also, Summa, I, q. 4, a. 1.

[10] Summa, I, q. 26, a. 1.

[11] Lawrence F. Hundersmarck, “Thomas Aquinas on Beatitude,” in Imagining Heaven in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays, ed. Jan Swango Emerson and Hugh Feiss, O.S.B. with an Afterword by Jeffrey Burton Russell (New York: Garland, 2000), 171.

[12] Ibid., I, q. 76, a. 1.

[13] Ibid., I, q. 79, a. 3.  See also Ibid., I, q. 79, a. 1.

[14] Ibid., I, q. 80, a. 1.

[15] Ibid., I, q. 93, a. 2.

[16] Ibid., I, q. 93, a. 7, second italicization added.

[17] Ibid., I, q. 93, a. 8, emphasis added.

[18] Ibid., I, q. 93, a. 6, reply 2.

[19] Ibid., I, q. 93, a. 6.

[20] Ibid., I-II, q. 4, a. 8.

[21] Ibid., I-II, q. 4, a. 8.

[22] Ibid., I-II, q. 4, a. 6, emphasis added.

[23] Yet, if the answer is in the affirmative, a tension may be created with the development that took place in the tradition in which Pope Benedict XII in Benedictus Deus stated definitively that the souls of the faithful departed, once duly purified, immediately enjoy the Beatific Vision though, of course, without their bodies.  The difficulty that seems to arise is this: If the body is needed for essential happiness, how can those souls who see God without their bodies be said to be essentially happy?  But if the souls who see God face to face are not essentially happy, how can it be said that the Beatific Vision is man’s essential happiness?  For a brief discussion of the historical background of Benedictus Deus see: J. Neuner, S.J. and J. Dupuis, S.J., eds., The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church (New York: Alba House, 1990), 768.

[24] Summa, I-II, q. 2, a. 6.

[25] Ibid., I-II, q. 4, a. 1.

[26] Ibid., I-II, q. 4, a. 2.

[27] Ibid., I-II, q. 2, a. 6, emphasis added.

[28] Ibid., I, q. 26, a. 2: “Now that which is most perfect in any intellectual nature is the intellectual operation, by which in some sense it grasps everything.  Whence the beatitude of every intellectual nature consists in understanding.

[29] Ibid., I-II, q. 2, a. 8.

[30] Ibid., I-II, q. 3, a. 4.

[31] Ibid., I-II, q. 3, a. 7.  See also: Ibid., I-II, q. 3, a. 8.

[32] New Catholic Encyclopedia, s. v. “Good,” by E. G. Salmon.

[33] John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1997), 240.

[34] John Paul II, Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1981), 57.

[35] How this fact is to be reconciled with Benedictus Deus and the implications of that document (see footnote 23) is a question certainly worthy of further investigation but, in this paper, it will be left unanswered since our focus here is on the final heavenly reality of man, that is, the post-general resurrection one.

[36] Original Unity, 73-74.

[37] Ibid., 107, 114.

[38] Ibid., 119.  See also: John Paul II, Blessed Are the Pure of Heart: Catechesis on the Sermon on the Mount and Writings of St. Paul (Boston: St. Paul Books and Media, 1983), 258-260.

[39] The pope is prudently cautious about going so far as to identify individual persons of the man-woman-child relationship with specific Persons of the Holy Trinity.

[40] Theology of the Body, 247-248.

[41] Ibid., 244-245.

[42] Ibid., 254.  See also: Ibid., 247.

[43] See Summa, I-II, q. 3, a. 5.

[44] Theology of the Body, 240.

[45] Ibid., 257.

[46] L’Osservatore Romano (Vatican City), 28 July 1999.

Copyright ©; Michael Callea

This version: 11th February 2003

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