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What are the “four last things”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 02, October 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Last four things
The Last Judgment, deserving of its capital letters, is defined as the event after Jesus returns in glory to pronounce the last word on human history and all of its participants. 

Older Catholics may view this as a simple question. Traditionally, the four last things were: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The concern was for the ultimate destination of the individual soul. It was understood that, at death, a particular judgment determines a person’s immediate fate: Ready for heaven? Need more purification time? A lost cause? The Last Judgment, deserving of its capital letters, is defined as the event after Jesus returns in glory to pronounce the last word on human history and all of its participants. Heaven, or total unity with the God of love, is the logical result of lives that can be summed up by love. Hell, the complete absence of God, is the final result of lives that prefer an existence of indifference to divine love and its ways.

What happens at the end of life and time is technically known as eschatology—Greek for “furthest”. The four things were compiled in the Middle Ages by Hugh of St. Victor, and affirmed by the Councils of Florence (1439) and Trent (1563). The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes them in sections 1020-1050. Twentieth-century theologian Karl Rahner regarded the last things as a way of underscoring the “fundamental option” free beings have to determine their fate. What we become, here and always, is in our hands and nowhere else.

Bible scholars widen the conversation. They trace how biblical faith assumes a “future consciousness.” History can’t be seen as a random series of events; it’s going somewhere. For believers, history seeks its fulfillment in God’s original intentions for it. The Bible is clear on what those intentions are: unity, justice, peace, reconciliation, life in abundance. Biblical eschatology isn’t focused on individual redemptions, yours or mine, but rather the rescue of the world altogether. There’s a kingdom, a mansion, a banquet, a new creation out there!

In the writings of Vatican II, eschatology has shifted away from a preoccupation with personal survival in an otherworldly realm. The church’s mission in the here and now is the proper focus of the believer. As the Council affirms, Jesus sums up the meaning of history: God and humanity are to be united in goal and will. The coming kingdom is not something we can build with our own hands and bring into being, as some contemporary prayers seem to suggest. But a collaboration of faithful human effort and radical divine transformation will bring us to last things that will certainly surprise us all.

Scripture: Isaiah 2:2-4; 19:18-25; 56:6-8; 60:1-22; 65:17-25; Zephaniah 3:8-13; Zechariah 9:1-10; Wisdom 2:1—3:12; Daniel 12:1-3; 2 Maccabees 6:12-17; 7:1-42; 12:38-46; Matthew 5:1-12; 6:19-21; 7:13-14; 13:24-30, 44-50; 21:28-32; 22:1-14, 23-33; 25:1-46; Revelation 20:11—22:21

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on the Last Four Things, by Joseph Kelley (Paulist Press, 2006)


What is canon law and why do we have it?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 02, October 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Canon law
What territory is governed by canon law? Norms for the sacraments, worship, preaching, clerical and religious life, Catholic education, the use of church property, how to resolve internal conflicts, when to administer penalties, and both the rights and obligations of the faithful.

I didn’t do well in canon law class, so here’s a chance to redeem myself. Canon comes from the Greek word for rule; the church applies it to its own unique law. The early church began to develop codes and standards as early as the household codes recommended by St. Paul. Church fathers in the first several centuries added their recommendations. Church Councils throughout history augmented these. Different regional bishops assembled their own regulations, and for a long time, the church had competing laws in different places.

Then came Gratian, an Italian canonist of the twelfth century. He organized and reconciled some 4000 rulings in a compilation that remained in wide usage until 1917. In that year, the first codified universal canon law was put into effect. While intended for periodic updating, such evolution was neglected until the present code of 1983.

The use of the word canon in regard to church law can be confusing. The canon of Scripture, for example, doesn’t change, and canonized saints are presumed to be in place for good (but remember what happened to poor St. Christopher!) Canon law, by contrast, is obviously not permanent. Much of canon law concerns church discipline, which certainly does evolve over time. Even laws presently in force can be dispensed for “due cause”. Some laws, however, are considered representative of “natural law”: reasoned according to the created order. Some follow “divine positive law”: revealed by God, as in Scripture. These latter two kinds of law within canon law are considered unchangeable.

What territory is governed by canon law? Norms for the sacraments, worship, preaching, clerical and religious life, Catholic education, the use of church property, how to resolve internal conflicts, when to administer penalties, and both the rights and obligations of the faithful. It’s a big book, and if you’re intent on viewing it, my recommendation is to go to a library, and get a volume that includes the very helpful commentary.

Pope John XXIII called for the revision that emerged by 1983. Pope Paul VI oversaw ten guiding principles for that new version. Three are especially helpful for our understanding: Law is necessary so long as it’s employed pastorally. Law is subsidiary; that is, rulings are not created equal and some are clearly more urgent. And finally, protecting the rights of the faithful is paramount.

Scripture: Exodus 20:22—24:18; 34:17-27; Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Matthew 5:17—6:8; 15:1-9; Luke 10:25-28; Galatians 2:21; Romans 2:12-24; James 2:8-13

Books: The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, by Canon Law Society of America, edited by James Coriden, et. al. (Paulist Press, 1985)

A Concise Guide to Canon Law: A Practical Handbook for Pastoral Ministers, by Kevin McKenna (Ave Maria Press, 2000)
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