What is a Beatific Vision?


#1

I hear this term every once in a while but I never really understood what it means.

I looked around and from what I understand it has something to do with God creating man with a level of understanding what Heaven and God must be like, and even though they cant fully comprehend they know it is the greatest good/reward.

Im not sure though, any help would be great.


#2

I think you got it right, an analogy is the dim mirror that we look into but can’t quite see. The Beatific Vision is our goal.


#3

The beatific vision is the vision of God, face to face, experienced by the angels and saints in heaven for all eternity. It is called the beatific vision because it is a vision that produces beatitude (or happiness).

In order to better understand the idea of the beatific vision, it is useful to understand other ideas first.

Human knowledge of things is limited by the means in which it is acquired. We learn everything through our senses. There is a famous expression that says: “there is nothing in the intellect that is not acquired first through the senses.” It is part of human nature to learn trough the senses because we are body and soul, material and immaterial, matter and spirit. Human beings are capable of knowing things in a spiritual way (in their essence) because we have immortal souls with an intellectual faculty capable of spiritual (immaterial) knowledge, but only by means of abstraction from the particular and material to the immaterial and universal.

We see a thing, for instance: an oak tree. It is a material and particular thing, an individual tree. Then our imagination (which is basically a picture making power) produces for us an image in our mind of the tree. The image is still material, because it can be seen and is still an individualized picture of the particular tree in question, but it is less individual than the tree outside our imagination because it is a copied image, not the complete original. Then, a faculty Aristotle called the possible intellect extracts the particular image of this tree and compares it to other known essences of its kind. So in this instance, other types of trees, e.g. fir trees, apple trees, palm trees, etcetera. From this, the faculty Aristotle calls the agent intellect extracts the abstract, immaterial, universal idea of the essence of what trees are by nature. When comparing all particular known trees in the possible intellect, the agent intellect is then able to grasp and extract what is essential to the nature of a tree in order to be a tree, and what is accidental about this oak tree or any other particular tree. The idea of “treeness” understood by the agent intellect is abstract and completely intellectual and immaterial (immaterial in this sense means not material, not unimportant). So now the person has an abstract idea of the universal essence common to all tress that makes this tree or any other fit the definition of what it is to be a tree. This idea isn’t the tree itself, but an abstraction from the oak tree. In this way, we know both the particular tree, and the essence or nature of all trees. The same process occurs for all abstract concepts human beings come to know, even things like unity, goodness, truth, and beauty.

It’s a pretty complicated process, and the knowledge we have of the particular tree, as well as the nature (or essence) of all trees is still limited. We don’t know the tree intimately in itself. There is an idea between the tree and us.

In the beatific vision, there is an immediate vision of the Divine essence without the aid of the senses or any intermediate idea. It is a way of knowing God that is more akin to the way that God knows things than the way human beings naturally know them.

God’s knowledge of a thing is different than our knowledge. God knows things in themselves, without intermediary ideas translating the thing known to the knower (in this case, God). So, God knows this particular oak tree, and it exists because God knows it. God’s knowledge of the tree is the tree.

continued…


#4

This is why God is Triune (a Trinity of Persons) because God, knowing all things perfectly, also knows His own infinite essence perfectly (and He alone is capable of complete knowledge of His own infinite and eternal Divine Nature). The Father’s eternal knowledge of Himself, His eternal self-reflection, His eternal Thought of Himself, literally is Himself. The Son is the eternal Thought, Word, or Logos, of the Father. This is why the beginning of St. John’s Gospel says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” (John 1:1-3) The Father knows all things in Himself, including Himself. The “Self” known is the Son, and the created things known are creatures. This is why it says, “all things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be”. Apart from God, there literally is no thing. Nothing exists of itself except God, and all things that exist or can possibly exist, are known eternally in the infinite Mind of God; the infinite Thought of the Father.

The Son is the mirror image of the Father. Sacred Scripture says: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17) We also read: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). The Eternal Son reflects the Eternal Father; all the Love, Beauty and Goodness in the Son originated in the Father; since Two are One in Essence, hence, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) The Son is Infinite, Omnipotent, and Eternal, just like the Father. He is the equal of the Father in every way. This is why Jesus said: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). And again, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority…and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:10,24). Notice how Jesus says that the Son sees all that the Father sees and does in like manner. This would be possible only if the Son were equal to the Father, as only God can see and know all that the Father sees and knows.

You may be thinking that this is good to know, and hopefully interesting, but still wondering what this has to do with the beatific vision, but I promise, we are getting to that. Please bear with me.

continued…


#5

Now, with God, everything is perfectly simple (whereas creatures are complex and composed of various faculties and even parts). In God, all things are one. So God’s Knowledge is His Love, His Justice, His Mercy, and so forth. Every Divine attribute exists simultaneously and simply in God. That’s why in knowing things; God wills them to be (or not to be, as God knows not only everything actual, but also everything possible) and the thing God knows exists. The Father’s eternal Knowledge of Himself is Himself, in the Person of the Son. The Father and Son’s infinite eternal love of Each Other is also a Divine Person: the Holy Spirit. Their infinite eternal love for each other spirates the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son”. Remember, this process is eternal. The Father was never alone. His Essence is such that He is always, from all eternity, reflecting on His own infinite adorable Self in the Person of the Son, and the infinite eternal loving gaze between the Father and the Son has always been the Person of the Holy Spirit. If you think about it, God would have to be a Trinity, or he wouldn’t be God.

We would have never known about the Trinity unless God revealed it to us. The mystery of the Trinity is unfathomably deep; too deep for any created intellect, human or angelic. Yet God reveals this mystery to His creatures because He loves us, and the lover always wishes to communicate Himself to His beloved.

What I have said to this point should help in understanding the beatific vision, because the beatific vision involves knowing God in a way that more closely resembles the way God knows things, including His own infinite adorable Divine Essence.

The direct vision of God is not natural to any creature, even angels. God is the Supreme Being, and it is proper to God alone to possess the power of the intellectual vision of His Divine Essence. God is the author of nature, but He exists on a plane above every created nature, and no creature can or does exist who by right, possesses the vision of the Divine Essence. All creatures granted the beatific vision are enabled to do so by the elevation of their natures above the natural through the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace (also called habitual grace) elevates human beings and angels into the divine life. Through sanctifying grace created spirits like angels and human souls, are divinized. They are literally given a share of God’s own divine life. It is a created share, but a real share which makes angels and human persons actual children of God in a way that is even more profound and intimate than by merely being God’s child by creation (meaning God’s child because the being in question, angelic or human, is a creature that exists by God’s almighty power).

continued…


#6

Sanctifying grace gives creatures the power to know God intimately in His essence without intermediate ideas between the knower (the creature) and the known (the Infinite Almighty God). After the period of probation ended for the angels those who retained sanctifying grace were admitted to the vision of God. The same happens to all human persons at the end of their time of probation in this life (unless they have temporal punishment to expiate in Purgatory). It should be understood that as I have said previously, only God can know Himself completely, because God alone is infinite. So only the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, know the entire Infinite Divine Nature in its Essence. Creatures can only know God in a limited, finite capacity. However, this knowledge is real, and it is immediate (without any intervening ideas or concepts). It is a face-to-face vision of the Divine Essence. The closest approximation we have in this life to the immediate knowledge of a thing with as few intermediate concepts between the knower and the known entity is our own knowledge of ourselves. We will know the Divine Essence in an intimate way without intermediary concepts in a way similar the intimate and immediate way in which each of us know our own selves. This is what St. Paul refers to when he says: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (see 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 for the full context)

The degree to which varying created beings will grasp and penetrate the depths of Divine Goodness is proportionate to the sanctifying grace indwelling in the particular angel or human being. Sanctifying grace is merited by acts of love during our time of probation, and it exists in the soul by God’s generous reward in a quantity of increments (although that is a crude way of expressing it) proportionate to the merit obtained by each act done for the love of God. This quantity of sanctifying grace then enables the creature to greater love and capacity for understanding the Divine nature. Each creature that possesses the beatific vision will possess it to their own complete capacity, but varying creatures will possess varying degrees of such a capacity based on their love of God that is reflected by their share of sanctifying grace. By comparison, some may possess a thimble full of sanctifying grace and be filled to capacity and completely happy. Others will possess an ocean’s depths. No creature possessing the beatific vision will envy those with a greater capacity, because all will be as filled with happiness through the beatific vision as they are capable of being, so there will be no room for sadness (and certainly no possibility of the sin of envy, which is sadness at the knowledge of the good of another that we ourselves lack). Moreover, in heaven, all will share in love and glory, and all will be one in love of God and neighbor. Each human and angelic being will be as happy as they can be, and they will want for nothing.

With God, to know Him is literally to love Him. The eternal loving gaze between the Father and the Son is the Person of the Holy Spirit, Love Itself. God cannot help but Love His own infinite Divine Goodness. So it will be with creatures. Creatures that know God, in His essence are compelled to love Him (and never again tempted to choose less than Him). Every created thing is only a finite reflection of a perfection that exists in an infinite and super immanent way in the Divine Essence. Our love of created things only hints at the Divine Beauty and Goodness of the Triune God. Once we possess the vision of the Divine Essence in all Its infinite glory, no created thing can ever again distract our attention and tempt us to prefer it in love to the Creator of all things.

As I said at the beginning, the beatific vison is called the beatific vision because it is a vision that produces beatitude (or happiness). Happiness doesn’t exist in itself. It is rather the natural effect that flows from the possession of some good thing. So when we get something good, it naturally causes happiness. Now the possession of the vision of the Essence of the Infinite Good Triune God is so super abundantly good, that it causes happiness that is indescribable. That is what we call the beatific vision.

continued…


#7

St Paul speaks of the Beatific Vision in 1 Corinthians:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

“…but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:10-12)

Sorry to have gone on so long. I hope what I have written helps answer your question, as well as sparks a desire to know more! To know Him is to love Him!

One more thing: You might ask how we increase in sanctifying grace so as to merit deeper love and more intimate union with the Blessed Trinity in eternity. The chief means of obtaining sanctifying grace are prayer and the sacraments. We can ask for an increase in sanctifying grace through prayer. We also grow in sanctifying grace through the seven sacraments. A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, which gives grace. Each of the sacraments confer upon us an increase in sanctifying grace, which is why we should receive the sacraments that can be repeated as frequently as we are able, especially the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist wherein we receive an intimacy with God in this life that is a foretaste of heaven! We can also grow in sanctifying grace by the performance of morally neutral or good acts with the intention of doing them for the love of God.


#8

Michael T,

Thanks a lot that was very helpful.


#9

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.