Thursday, February 17, 2011

Different Levels To Heaven?

Q - I was reading your response to the question about hierarchy in heaven, and I was really confused by one of the sentences. it says
These both are referring to the fact that even though all in Heaven will see God face-to-face (the beatific visions), those who lived more virtuous and holy lives, will be more perfectly united to Him. 
This confuses me because I thought that through Purgatory, we are cleansed of our original sin and w/e else we might've clung to on Earth, and then purified, ready for Heaven. It doesn't make sense to me that some people would be more "perfectly united" with God than others? Wouldn't that be like ranking people and what they do?

A - Thanks for the question. There are not "levels" to heaven, as if we are in different places. Rather, each of us who make it to heaven will enjoy "degrees" of heaven. So, depending on what level we lived a life of holiness on earth, we will be perfected in that holiness in heaven.

The bible implies this in the following passages:
"For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct." -Matt 16:27
"The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor." -1 Cor 3:8
"Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." - 2 Cor 9:6
Think of our holiness on earth in this way. God gives us His grace, which is His divine life poured into our souls. When He gives us His life, He gives an infinite amount - similar to a never-ending waterfall of grace.

We are the containers who catch His grace. Those who are more holy will catch more grace. John Paul II and Mother Teresa are swimming pools. I am a dixie cup. To the degree we cooperate with God's grace on earth at the moment we die - we will be made perfect in that grace and holiness. This is the reason there are "degrees" of heaven for us. We will all experience it to the level we are made capable and to the level we merit. But, all of our containers will be full.

I hope this helps.


John Witschen said...

Interesting. The Gospel parable about the Vineyard owner hiring workers at different times and then paying the same wage springs to mind. How does that fit with your point?

Marcel said...

John - two different items of emphasis. In the parable of the vineyard owner who goes out and finds workers late in the day - the owner is God who gives the same payment (heaven) to all who come and work for Him. The point here is that all will get their just reward - heaven - and we have nothing to be jealous about if someone comes late.

Geoffrey Miller said... other words, yes, there are different levels and ranks in Heaven.

Marcel said...

Not exactly. A level would imply separation from others. The Bible says there are "many mansions" in heaven (John 14:2).

Think of heaven as the dwelling place of the family of God. There are many different places to live, but God doesn't play "favorite" with His children.

Of course, He doesn't have a mother-in-law either. :P

Ryan said...

Heaven is often confused with paradise; just like Hades is often equated with damnation. These things are not the same, never have been. We look forward to "the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come". Such is salvation: when hell is thrown into the fire, and we live, united with God, in the new heaven and the new earth.
Jesus told the thief: "this day you will be with me in paradise" (no comment on how late in the day the thief "worked" in the Vineyard"). We know that Jesus descended to the realm of the dead (hades/sheol) after His crucifixion. Where then is paradise, but in Hades itself! It is to Hades that the Old Testament patriarchs descended, and it is to Hades that we'll descend as well. What we experience there may vary greatly depending on the lives we have led on earth.
As to Marcel's post, I think he is simultaneously right and wrong. Our God is a "consuming fire", and the "fire will prove the work of each, what sort it is". Thus what Marcel describes as heaven (and what may be our experience at the general judgement) is better understood as "purgatory". We will all experience God is His Fullness (and not a dixie cup worth!). And it is that Fullness for which we should tremble - for some of us it will be Hell indeed.

Marcel said...


Hades does not = purgatory. Hades is the abode of the dead before the time of Christ. It is not the cleansing fire of Purgatory. See the Catechism 633.

Ludwig Ott writes about the Council of Florence on the degrees in heaven:
"The Council of Florence (1439) declared the souls of the perfectly just clearly behold the Triune and One God as he is, but corresponding to the difference of their merits, the one more perfectly than the other. The Council of Trent defined that the justified person merits an increase of the heavenly glory by good works."
-Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 479

Nick said...

Original Sin is not a personal sin, but it is a state which Baptism cleanses us; ergo, no one is purified of Original Sin in Purgatory, for Purgatory is the purification of the saved, who would not be saved except in Christ, Whose Body, the Church, they are members of by the same Baptism, whether by water, blood or desire.

The saints join the choirs of holy angels according to their souls' holiness, save Mary, who is above the angels, sitting, as she does, at the Right-Hand of the Son of God made Son of Man, Jesus Christ. She sitteth such because she is the All-Holy Mother of God. Love is the measure of heavenly glory, for love is the apex of holiness.

Michael Hallman said...

I don't think "more perfectly" is the right way of saying it. Rather, I would suggest that everyone enjoys the beatific vision perfectly, according to their soul's capacity. Kind of like St. Therese of the Child Jesus' image of the glasses filled with water. A smaller glass filled completely cannot wish for as much water as a larger glass also filled completely. Each is perfectly full. So it is with souls: every soul in heaven has the absolute perfect enjoyment of the vision of God, yet not all souls enjoy the vision of God equally.

Tap said...

OF course there is degrees of happiness in Heaven just like there is degrees of punishment in Hell. Anyone that has even read the Cliff Notes of Dante's novel knows that and it makes perfect sense.
Why shouldn't the one who gave their life for their faith feel a greater sense of Joy than the one who just 'got by' and did just enough to get their foot in the gate?
We will all see the face of God in Heaven but our joy will depend on the prayers and sacrifices that we did in our lifetime.
(Hades never was Purgatory, again its a level of Hell for those who were part of the old covenant, who had to wait until the Resurrection before anyone could enter the gates of Heaven). Hell is a place that God is not when you understand that you understand the Creed better.

gedda fan said...

Ryan, close but no cigar- - /ˈheɪdiːz/; from Greek ᾍδης, Hadēs, originally Ἅιδης, Haidēs or Άΐδης, Aidēs (Doric Ἀΐδας Aidas), meaning "the unseen"[1]) refers both to the ancient Greek underworld, the abode of Hades, and to the god of the underworld.

Hades is the Greek land of the dead- Christ went to the limbo of the fathers - Abraham, Joseph and other just were there- He did not stay there.... He led the just into Paradise - His kingdom - Mary is the daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son and bride of the Holy Ghost- her place in heaven is higher than mine could be - but i can be fully completely happy -

gedda fan said...

marcel- excellent and well put! - tip of the hat to you

Kathleen said...

I agree with Michael Hallman.
Here's a true story.

I attended a concert by the Chicago Youth Symphony. It was terrific. I felt relaxed and contented as I listened, daydreaming and maybe even dozing a bit. Two rows ahead of me was Joan, a music teacher. Unlike me, she knew something about the composer, understood the structure of the composition, and recognized what the clarinets and oboes were doing.
During the intermission, I overheard a woman behind me recount a witty remark her daughter, one of the violinists, had heard from the conductor at rehearsal.
All of us, on and off the stage, were enjoying the concert.

I think that part of our adventure on earth is to learn to love the good, the true, the beautiful, and the personalities of other people as well as the heart of God. To the extent that we do so any and all these things, we will appreciate the glory of heaven, each in a unique way, in the company of the saints and angels, who will stir in us further praise of God by sharing their own unique perspectives.

D. V. Andrews said...

I'm inclined to agree with something I heard Fr. Benedict Groeschel explain of the perfect ordering of heavenly souls on Sunday Night Live a couple of years back, which I can only today paraphrase: If my seat in heaven is in row ZZ at the very back, I will be overjoyed.

The point being that where one is in heaven is where they are most perfectly supposed to be, which is more than I can say I deserve, for to be judged worthy of such a relationship with God is no small accomplishment. Strive for the narrow gate.

Ryan said...

@MARCEL: I don't disagree that you are in a sense stating the Roman Catholic Church's position on this, just that I believe this position is inconsistent with the Scriptural text and the Patristic understanding of it.
One of the reasons that I left the Roman Catholic Church is that it became abundantly clear to me that some things got lost in translation. (I am Eastern Orthodox). @GEDDA FAN: You know the right words, so please also understand that the word "Hades" was used 9 times in the New Testament, most frequently in Revelations, but also in Jesus' famous phrase "and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it". Most of the time Jesus referred to eternal punishment, He used the term Gehenna (Valley of Hinnom in the OT; an "eternal fire"). St Jerome, unfortunately, translated both of these terms as "infernus" in his Vulgate edition, and consequently translated again as Hell in the KJV.
The idea the Hades has somehow gone away already is completely non-Scriptural: "And death and Hades gave up the dead in them. And they were judged according to their works. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And *if* anyone was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Rev 20:13-15)
Whether the purgatorial experience occurs at the 1st death or second death, or geographically *where* it occurs is purely speculative. No disagreement on whether it happens.
@TAP: sorry, but there is no place that God isn't, even Hell (Psalm 139:8). After all, Jesus is God the Son, and in the very Creed you mention "He descended into Hell", not Limbo. Limbo is a nice idea, (Aquinas had some interesting things to say about it) but wasn't it officially discarded by the Vatican a few years back? As for Dante (great poem!), nothing he wrote was canonical, regardless of how much his imagery has affected the Western view of the afterlife.

And lastly, @ GEDDA FAN: I agree that Mary, the Old Testament Patriarchs and the Saints experience something higher than we hope for. They are in heaven now: By dying for Him as He died for us, death has no power over them at all. And by God's grace, we hope to be unified with them at the final judgement. May all of our names be written in the Book of Life!

Peace to you all. Hope this gives you all a little bit different perspective than you might have been taught