Catholic View of the Afterlife


Thanks to your help I’ve discovered that Catholics are most accurately described as a-millennial in their eschatology (though some early writers were pre-millennial).

Spurred on by some comments on the *Theosis vs. Beatific Vision * thread, I would like to know some specifics on the Catholic view of the afterlife, particularly as it contrasts with views in evangelical Protestantism.

Please tell me if I am wrong here: Catholics believe that the destination of human souls is Heaven, and that, cooperating with God’s graces, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are able to “get” to Heaven, so long as we stay out of a state of mortal sin.

Where do the resurrection of the dead and the final judgement fit into all of this? Is Heaven the same thing as the New Jerusalem and the New Earth? Do Catholics believe we will have glorified resurrection bodies, or do they think we will be disembodied in Heaven?



In Eternity, your soul/mind will be fitted with a resurrectional body (Greek: pneumatikon soma; spiritual body). This is a real, moving, breathing body; just like our LORD.

The New Jerusalem is a Biblical term for Heaven. The natural earth, too, will be restored.


Thanks for your reply.

How does this relate to theosis or the beatific vision?

In order to show that perfect beatitude can only lie in the vision of God’s essence, and that this vision should not be considered impossible, St. Thomas Aquinas used a fascinating argument that has generated a very lively discussion through the centuries. He contends that every intellectual creature naturally desires to “see God” --to know the very essence of God.

The inherent interest of this argument is plain, for nothing could be more significant to man than his final end. The subject is also intriguing because of the leap that it involves from the natural to the supernatural level, making the natural desire to see God a nodal point in Christian apologetics and in understanding the relationship between the two orders. Not surprisingly, it has not failed to generate a significant amount of controversy.

From the Introduction to the The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters

Getting the answers to the questions that you are asking - that is part of “seeing” God. :wink:

Well, you will have new eyes to see Him with:):):slight_smile:


Here’s my understanding (if I’m wrong about something I’m sure someone will correct me):
At the moment of death our moral state and our eternal destiny (heaven or hell) will be determined for all eternity. This will depend on whether we are in a state of mortal sin, which means that by some act we have rejected God in some serious way and have not then repented of it. (for Catholics repentance also includes the resolution to go to confession as soon as possible) The Resurrection of the dead and our ability to enter heaven is indeed due to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, since only the Son of God could offer fitting reparation to God for our sins.
After death there is an immediate judgement for each person in which their eternal destiny is determined. If in a state of mortal sin they go to hell, which is eternal separation from God and complete unhappiness. If not in a state of mortal sin, they will go to heaven, though they may have to go first to purgatory if they have some venial (i.e. not so serious) sins for which they have not made retribution on earth. (for clarification, the afterlife is outside of time, so what kind and amount of “time” they will have to spend in purgatory is unclear)
Purgatory is a place of purification in which the soul will be washed clean of the stain of sin and made ready for Heaven. This will involve some sort of pain, but it will be a joyful and hopeful place nevertheless because the souls will be assured of salvation.
Heaven is the state of perfect happiness and communion with God, where we will see God face to face. It will last forever and be the culmination of all goodness.
We will not be reunited with our bodies after the personal judgment, but only after the final judgment which will occur at the end of the world. After this final judgment there will be “a new Heaven and a new earth” (im not sure, but i think that the “new heaven” refers in this case to the physical heavens, i. e. the universe) and we will live both in our glorified physical bodies and in heaven, in a perfect union of body and soul. Our bodies will not be merely physical bodies, but also spiritual bodies, not bound to the restrictions of the physical world and therefore perfect reflections of our souls. The damned will also be reunited with their bodies, which will be resurrected and immortal, and they will be both body and soul in Hell for eternity.
The New Jerusalem does indeed refer to Heaven, though whether it also points to a city in the new earth is more than I could tell you :smiley:

Hope this helps, I’m no theology major but I believe I put the Catholic position accurately. :cool:


Thank you. That is pretty much the narrative as I have understood it. It sounds like “beatific vision” and “theosis” are just philosophical/theological terms for an aspect of this process, rather than something entirely different. (“Beatific vision” comes from St. Thomas Aquinas and his theology of essences and knowledge, no? And “theosis” is a term from the East, which had its own philosopher-theologians?)


Hi Dan,
Beatific vision, though I’m not sure of it’s source, means the experience of seeing the face of God, which is the ultimate joy. I’m afraid I not sure what theosis means :confused: :o
im sure one of the apologists on this site could explain it to you :slight_smile:

The following is a quote from Soren1, a poster on this forum, which I thought was a great summation of theosis:

“Theosis teaches that man is created for a supernatural end, that is, man lacks divinity by nature, so God becomes man so as to fill humanity with the divine supernature it otherwise lacks - not divine attributes, but divine nature itself. This means that the divine nature is created in man by God, who is therefore “Gods of gods” and yet absolutely unique as the first and uncaused God.”

When speaking of the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment, we must always remember that we, as humans, tend to think in terms of time. God, however, and those who have entered heaven are in eternity. All of history unfolds at once in the eternal NOW. So when we leave this life, it is not as if we are waiting around for our bodies to catch up with us. I’ll admit that it is a mind bender, but then who of us have experiended eternity?

Heaven is a state of being, rather than a place. It is a sharing in the very life of the Holy Trinity (Beatific Vision) as adapted sons and daughters of God. What that really means to us we won’t know until we get there, but we do know that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived of what God has waiting for those who love Him”. No, we will not be disembodied in heaven. We will retain our identities and live in eternity with glorified bodies which will never suffer decay.

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