Question for Roman Catholics

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Blair Laird | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Dec 29 2012 3:44 PM

I am wondering what are the best resources to get an understanding of the official catholic position on eschatology?


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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 29 2012 4:21 PM

an introduction from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Catholic eschatology

In this article there is no critical discussion of New Testament eschatology nor any attempt to trace the historical developments of Catholic teaching from Scriptural and traditional data; only a brief conspectus is given of the developed Catholic system. For critical and historical details and for the refutation of opposing views the reader is referred to the special articles dealing with the various doctrines. The eschatological summary which speaks of the "four last things" (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) is popular rather than scientific. For systematic treatment it is best to distinguish between (A) individual and (B) universal and cosmic eschatology, including under (A):

and under (B):

  • the approach of the end of the world;
  • the resurrection of the body;
  • the general judgment; and
  • the final consummation of all things.

The superiority of Catholic eschatology consists in the fact that, without professing to answer every question that idle curiosity may suggest, it gives a clear, consistent, satisfying statement of all that need at present be known, or can profitably be understood, regarding the eternal issues of life and death for each of us personally, and the final consummation of the cosmos of which we are a part.

Individual eschatology


Death, which consists in the separation of soul and body, is presented under many aspects in Catholic teaching, but chiefly

Particular Judgment

That a particular judgment of each soul takes place at death is implied in many passages of the New Testament (Luke 16:22 sqq.; 23:43; Acts 1:25; etc.), and in the teaching of the Council of Florence (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 588) regarding the speedy entry of each soul into heaven, purgatory, or hell.


Heaven is the abode of the blessed, where (after the resurrection with glorified bodies) they enjoy, in the company of Christ and the angels, the immediate vision of God face to face, being supernaturally elevated by the light of glory so as to be capable of such a vision. There are infinite degrees of glory corresponding to degrees of merit, but all are unspeakably happy in the eternal possession of God. Only the perfectly pure and holy can enter heaven; but for those who have attained that state, either at death or after a course of purification in purgatory, entry into heaven is not deferred, as has sometimes been erroneously held, till after the General Judgment.


Purgatory is the intermediate state of unknown duration in which those who die imperfect, but not in unrepented mortal sin, undergo a course of penal purification, to qualify for admission into heaven. They share in the communion of saints and are benefited by our prayers and good works (see PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD). The denial of purgatory by the Reformers introduced a dismal blank in their eschatology and, after the manner of extremes, has led to extreme reactions.


Hell, in Catholic teaching, designates the place or state of men (and angels) who, because of sin, are excluded forever from the Beatific Vision. In this wide sense it applies to the state of those who die with only original sin on their souls (Council of Florence, Denzinger, no. 588), although this is not a state of misery or of subjective punishment of any kind, but merely implies the objective privation of supernatural bliss, which is compatible with a condition of perfect natural happiness. But in the narrower sense in which the name is ordinarily used, hell is the state of those who are punished eternally for unrepented personal mortal sin. Beyond affirming the existence of such a state, with varying degrees of punishment corresponding to degrees of guilt and its eternal or unending duration, Catholic doctrine does not go. It is a terrible and mysterious truth, but it is clearly and emphatically taught by Christ and the Apostles. Rationalists may deny the eternity of hell in spite of the authority of Christ, and professing Christians, who are unwilling to admit it, may try to explain away Christ's words; but it remains as the Divinely revealed solution of the problem of moral evil. (See HELL.) Rival solutions have been sought for in some form of the theory of restitution or, less commonly, in the theory of annihilation or conditional immortality. The restitutionist view, which in its Origenist form was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 543, and later at the Fifth General Council (see APOCATASTASIS), is the cardinal dogma of modern Universalism, and is favoured more or less by liberal Protestants and Anglicans. Based on an exaggerated optimism for which present experience offers no guarantee, this view assumes the all-conquering efficacy of the ministry of grace in a life of probation after death, and looks forward to the ultimate conversion of all sinners and the voluntary disappearance of moral evil from the universe. Annihilationists, on the other hand, failing to find either in reason or Revelation any grounds for such optimism, and considering immortality itself to be a grace and not the natural attribute of the soul, believe that the finally impenitent will be annihilated or cease to exist — that God will thus ultimately be compelled to confess the failure of His purpose and power.

Universal and cosmic eschatology

The Approach of the End of the World

Notwithstanding Christ's express refusal to specify the time of the end (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:6 sq.), it was a common belief among early Christians that the end of the world was near. This seemed to have some support in certain sayings of Christ in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, which are set down in the Gospels side by side with prophecies relating to the end (Matthew 24; Luke 21), and in certain passages of the Apostolic writings, which might, not unnaturally, have been so understood (but see 2 Thessalonians 2:2 sqq., where St. Paul corrects this impression). On the other hand, Christ had clearly stated that the Gospel was to be preached to all nations before the end (Matthew 24:14), and St. Paul looked forward to the ultimate conversion of the Jewish people as a remote event to be preceded by the conversion of the Gentiles (Romans 11:25 sqq.). Various others are spoken of as preceding or ushering in the end, as a great apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3 sqq.), or falling away from faith or charity (Luke 18:8; 17:26; Matthew 24:12), the reign of Antichrist, and great social calamities and terrifying physical convulsions. Yet the end will come unexpectedly and take the living by surprise.

The Resurrection of the Body

The visible coming (parousia) of Christ in power and glory will be the signal for the rising of the dead (see RESURRECTION). It is Catholic teaching that all the dead who are to be judged will rise, the wicked as well as the Just, and that they will rise with the bodies they had in this life. But nothing is defined as to what is required to constitute this identity of the risen and transformed with the present body. Though not formally defined, it is sufficiently certain that there is to be only one general resurrection, simultaneous for the good and the bad. (See MILLENNIUM.) Regarding the qualities of the risen bodies in the case of the just we have St. Paul's description in 1 Corinthians 15 (cf. Matthew 13:43; Philippians 3:21) as a basis for theological speculation; but in the case of the damned we can only affirm that their bodies will be incorruptible.

The General Judgment

Regarding the general judgment there is nothing of importance to be added here to the graphic description of the event by Christ Himself, who is to be Judge (Matthew 25, etc.).

The Consummation of All Things

There is mention also of the physical universe sharing in the general consummation (2 Peter 3:13; Romans 8:19 sqq.; Revelation 21:1 sqq.). The present heaven and earth will be destroyed, and a new heaven and earth take their place. But what, precisely, this process will involve, or what purpose the renovated world will serve is not revealed. It may possibly be part of the glorious Kingdom of Christ of which "there shall be no end". Christ's militant reign is to cease with the accomplishment of His office as Judge (1 Corinthians 15:24 sqq.), but as King of the elect whom He has saved He will reign with them in glory forever.


However, eschatology isn't one of those topics that there is much reason to have an official position on.

Aquinas on Doctrine has a chapter on his eschatology.

The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology  is useful

The Catechism is useful, of course, especially for the eschatological aspects of worship and the sacraments and as an article of the Creed.

The iconography of the Byzantine Church will lead you to a somewhat different but still acceptably Catholic view. Here, unfortunate the only source that comes to mind is a somewhat controversial Russian Orthodox priest - he substitutes tollbooths for purgatory. Purgatory certainly isn't the universal name for the concept - it's distinctly Western, I think.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Matthew C Jones | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 29 2012 5:35 PM

Blair Laird:
I am wondering what are the best resources to get an understanding of the official catholic position on eschatology?

I do not know myself, but is this resource not a good one?   Eschatology, or the Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things: A Dogmatic Treatise

Logos 7 Collectors Edition

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Dec 29 2012 10:06 PM

Super Tramp:

It's an older systematic theology book - useful but more the view of a particular theologian than I thought the original poster wanted.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Dominick Sela | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Dec 30 2012 6:27 AM

There are quite a number of Catholic resources that have some discussion of Eschatology, as it is the basis for Christian hope and as such it's an always-present dimension of our journey.  Here are some of the more extensive discussions of Eschatology in my library, all in Logos so you can search on them; in total I have 50 books that have at least a Heading Text on Eschatology, with many more if you want to find a good paragraph or two on the subject.

Some of the other sources, while they may have just a small note about Eschatology, can be very useful as they may focus on it in relation to Social teaching, or morality, or something else that may be narrowly focused to your needs. I have tagged all my Catholic resources so I can easily search on the whole group, then you can often find some little nuggets that are useful.

I will also say there is an excellent publication you can find on the Internet, published by the International Theological Commission, "Some Current Questions on Eschatology". I made it into a Personal Book, I can't share sadly due to copyright but you can grab the text easily enough. It's about 30 pages and is an excellent source document for Catholic teaching on the subject.

(ranked by count of heading text occurrences):

Navarre Bible - New Testament

Jesus of Nazareth: Part 2

Letter and Spirit, Volumes 2, 4, 3, 1

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma

Eschatology, or the Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things: A Dogmatic Treatise

Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology

Sacramentum Caritatis

A Marginal Jew, Volumes 1,3,4

Vatican II Documents (Lumen Gentium)

Verbum Domini

Vita Consecrata


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