WHAT IS HEAVEN LIKE:
From St. Thomas Aquinas, A Tour of the Summa, by Msgr.Paul J. Glenn, Tan Books and Publishers. Used with permission.
Summa Theologica: IIIa Supplement to the Third Part , Questions: 92, 93 & 95 & 96.
92. HEAVEN: THE BEATIFIC VISION
1. In heaven the blessed will directly see the very essence of God. "We shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). God is supremely intelligible or understandable, and is himself the determining of the creatural intellect to know hm in his essence. To know God thus is to behold the beatific vision.
2. After the general resurrection when bodies and souls will be reunited, the blessed will not behold God's essence with their bodily eyes. For bodily eyes, even when they are glorified, behold bodily things, and God's essence is not bodily. Those that see God in heaven (before or after the resurrection of the body) see him with the mind, the intellect-strengthened, elevated, and illumined by the Light of Glory.
3. No creature can know God exhaustively, so as to know all that God knows. This would mean the encompassing of the infinite by a finite understanding; this is utterly impossible. Therefore, the blessed see God in his essence, but they do not see all that God sees. Even the angels "who know all things in God", do not know all that God knows. The term "all things" means "all that they know."
93. HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN: MANSIONS
1. After the resurrection of the body, the blessed in heaven will find an increase of happiness. For then their happiness will be that of the complete man, body and soul, and not of the soul alone.
2. The degrees of heavenly happiness are called mansions. A mansion is literally a remaining. It is a goal attained in which the attainer rests or remains. It is the reaching of the home for which one strives and is a remaining in it, a dwelling there. Now the heavenly city or kingdom has "many mansions," as our Lord says (John 14:2). Each of the blessed finds his mansion in the degree of reward and happiness which he attains in heaven.
3. The various mansions of heaven are distinguished according to the degrees of charity (which is love and friendship with God by grace) in the blessed themselves. For in each of the saints or blessed, their degree of charity determines the measure of the light of glory which is imparted to them; this, in turn, determines their degree of reward and happiness, that is, their mansion.
THE ENDOWMENTS OF THE BLESSED
1. When the blessed, or the saints-for the names mean the same here-are brought to the glory of heaven, they are dowered with suitable gifts.
2. These endowments do not constitute beatitude. Beatitude is perfect happiness in the beatific vision; this happiness or beatitude is what the soul has merited through Christ and by his grace. But endowments are gifts that are not merited in any sense.
3. Christ our Lord as man has all possible perfections and every gift and endowment, for his humanity is united to Godhead. Still, strictly speaking, it is not proper to say that Christ as man is adorned with gifts and endowments. For Christ is God as well as man; endowments are his to give, not to receive.
4. Now, an endowment is a dowry, and a dowry suggests a wedding and a bride. Human nature is wedded to the divine nature in Christ; Christ himself is wedded to the Church. Hence, when speaking of human beings, we may use the term dowry or endowment with propriety to indicate the perfections of the blessed. But this is not the case when we speak of angels, for the metaphor of marriage and bride does not apply in their case. Of course, angels have all the perfections that can adorn a rational being in heaven. The point we make here is merely that the term dowry or the term endowment is not suitably employed to express angelic perfection.
5. The dowries or endowments of the blessed are: vision, love, and fruition. These gifts many be said to correspond, respectively, to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Faith is fulfilled in vision; hope, in loving possession; charity, in the fruition or full enjoyment of what is loved.
96. SPECIAL HEAVENLY REWARDS
1. The essential reward of heaven is called the aurea, that is, the golden crown. All the blessed have this aurea. Now, it seems that some saints-by reason of the special type of victory they won in saving their souls: by martyrdom, by virginity, by notable teaching of the truths of faith - have a special crown or aureola in addition to the aurea. Aureola means a little golden crown; sometimes it is called nimbus or halo. Christian art often depicts any saint, and even our Lord, with the nimbus or halo. But the precise meaning of aureola is not something general and to be attributed to all the blessed, but something special, bestowed in recognition of a particular excellence, on certain saints.
2. In addition to the aurea, which all the blessed possess, and also in addition to the aureola which certain saints have, there is a special gift called fruit which belongs as a reward to certain saints. We may say: (a) the aurea is the joy that all the blessed have in God, who is their reward exceeding great; (b) the aureola is the special joy that some saints have in the perfection of their works done on earth; (c) fruit is a special joy that some saints have in the disposition, that marked their lives on earth, to be fertile fields for the seed of God's word.
3. The fruit of fertility for the implanted seed of God's word belongs especially to those saints whose lives were characterized by continence.
4. Scripture (Matt. 13:8) tells of the planting of the seed of God's words in human souls, and "they brought forth fruit, some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, and some thirty-fold." The three fruits fittingly apply to the three types of continence, namely, the continence of virgins, the continence of widowed people, and the continence of married people. The continence of virgins is complete and perpetual and receives the fruit called "a hundredfold." The continence of widowed people is like that of virgins, but was not always so; it receives the fruit called "sixty-fold." The continence of married people is the lawful use of sex under the rule of reason and God's law; it receives the fruit called "thirty-fold."
5. Fruit, then, is the special heavenly reward of virgins, widowed persons, and faithful spouses. Virginity has both fruit and aureola. The virginity that has the reward of the aureola is not the virginity of the innocent who never knew temptation, but is rather the award for shining victory in the war where "the flesh lusteth against the spirit" (Gal. 5:17).
6. An aureola is assigned to martyrs. For martyrdom is the gaining of victory under special difficulties. It is a notable triumph. And so it has its special little crown.
7. Those who have been notable teachers of God's truth have gained much, not alone for themselves but for all who profitably heard their teaching or preaching. Such teachers are the saints called holy doctors. A special reward or aureola rightly marks their victory over error.
8. Since the aureola is the mark and reward of those who shared the victory of Christ, it is not properly assigned or ascribed to him who won the perfect victory, that is, to Christ himself. The aurea belongs to the perfect humanity of our Lord. But the aureola would indicate rather a failure to award Christ his due than to express his perfection. The aureola means participation in the work of Christ; it means conforming by grace to the perfection of Christ. But Christ does not merely participate or conform with himself and perfect works.
9. Angels have not an aureola; at least, not in the sense in which this award is found in certain saints. For an angel has by its nature as confirmed in grace what the haloed saints have by reason of their brave warring against contrary forces.
10. The aureola is a reward possessed by the soul of a saint; it is not an ornament to appear in the risen body, although the risen body may be the more beautiful by reason of the overflow of joy from the aureola. The symbols in Christian art which indicate the aurea (glow of light about the head) or the aureola (circle of gold, halo) are not actual pictures of these heavenly rewards, for as we have said, the rewards are spiritual.
11. It is suitable that aureolas should be assigned to virgins, martyrs, and doctors. These three types of saints represent, each in its own way, a special and notable conformity with Christ.
12. Speaking generally, or in the abstract, we may say that the ranking order of the aureolas seems to be this: first and greatest, that of martyrs; second, that of doctors; third, that of virgins. Yet in concrete particular cases, a virgin's aureola might be more excellent than a martyr's, or a doctor's aureola might be greater than that of either virgin or martyr.
13. The rank of the aureola in excellence depends, in individual cases, upon the greatness of the act or reality (with all implied in it-purposes, circumstances, and conditions) for which the aureola is conferred as a reward.