Thursday, May 9, 2013

Does Christ "look down" upon us from heaven?

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
It is an historical fact that our Savior, after remaining with his Apostles and disciples for precisely forty days after his Resurrection, in their sight ascended into heaven. Christ is no longer physically present among the faithful on earth, but his body has been taken up into heaven.
Now, our Lord did not abandon us, for he is present in the Church not only according to his divine nature (by which he is present everywhere and especially in the soul by grace), but even according to his human nature in his sacramental species in the Holy Eucharist. Still, Christ has ascended to heaven and thus we must assert that he is no longer present on earth as he had been before the ascension. While he did not abandon us, we must assert that his humanity is no longer present in his proper or natural species on earth.
Let us consider his glorified body, present in heaven. Does our Savior “look” upon us from heaven? How are we connected to this physical body which now receives all worship in heaven?

Where did Christ ascend to?
We have written two articles (and more) on the mysteries of the Ascension and of the Assumption. They can be found [here] and [here].
We summarize these articles:
Christ’s glorified body could not fittingly remain upon the earth, but should rather have been taken to heavenly glory. Although heaven is not simply a “place” in the normal sense of the word (and this has been explicitly affirmed by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI), yet we must assert that heaven is something of a “place” since the glorified bodies of Jesus and Mary must be there.
However, we assert that heaven is not a “place” in the way that there is “place” within our universe – heaven is not out among the stars. Rather, we say that heaven is “glorified place” or “uncontained space”, meaning that it is not within our universe or contained within our universe.
Indeed, it seems most reasonable to conclude that heaven is a “place” only insofar as there are two glorified bodies present there (namely, Jesus’ and Mary’s), and that this “place” is not part of our universe in any respect but is wholly separate.
There can be no physical relation between heaven and earth
To continue the summary:
Thus, when we claim that Jesus ascended into heaven, we assert that our Savior’s body is no longer physically present within the confines of our universe. Rather, he has gone forth from contained and containing space into heavenly glory. But we must not think that Jesus is somehow beside our universe or above our universe, for there is no “space” outside the universe. Jesus is not “up there” or “out there” somewhere, for heaven cannot be thought of as having any physical or local relation to our universe.
To be very clear: Jesus cannot possibly be “up there” or “out there”, for he is not within our universe. Rather, he is “away” and “removed” and “physically separated” from us. He is not beside or above our universe, but is simply and wholly locally removed from us.
There can be no way of speaking of a local relation between the glorified body of Jesus in heaven and his people on earth.
Does our Savior “look” at us?
St. Francis de Sales, as well as many other masters of the spiritual life, recommends that we begin prayer by considering our Savior in his sacred humanity glorified in heaven and yet looking upon us with great love.
“The third way [of calling to mind God’s presence before prayer] is to dwell upon the thought of our Lord, who in his ascended humanity looks down upon all men, but most particularly on all Christians, because they are his children; above all, on those who pray, over whose doings he keeps watch. Nor is this any mere imagination, it is very truth, and although we see him not, he is looking down upon us. It was given to Saint Stephen in the hour of martyrdom thus to behold him, and we may say with the Bride of the Canticles, He looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.” (Introduction to the Devout Life II.2)
 Since we have already said that heaven cannot really be “up there” or “out there”, and further have asserted that heaven cannot be “beside” or “above” or “around” our universe, we must further assert that our Savior cannot physically look upon the earth (at least not by the natural powers of human vision).
Jesus is not millions of miles above us. He is neither further away when we are in a valley, nor closer when we are at a mountain top. Rather, the sacred Body of our Savior is in heaven – and there can be no meaningful way of speaking about any sort of physical relation between earth and heaven.
Jesus is simply not in our universe, not beside our universe, not above our universe. Rather, he is in heaven. In uncontained and glorified space. He is not here, and we cannot point to where he is.
Therefore, it is clear that Jesus cannot really be said to “look” down upon the human race – at least not with his bodily eyes. Likewise, when we lift our eyes in prayer, we do this metaphorically – we are not literally looking toward Jesus’ physical body.
Therefore, we must conclude that St. Francis (doctor though he be) is not speaking with his usual precision in this paragraph. Jesus’ bodily eyes, even glorified, cannot possibly “look” from heaven to earth, because there is no physical relation between heaven and earth, and there is no medium or space between heaven and earth across which he could gaze to see us.
But Jesus really is “looking” at us
However, if we take St. Francis de Sales in a slightly less strict fashion, we may well assert that Jesus really is “looking” at us, even in his humanity. Indeed, while his glorified bodily eyes have no power to see us, he can look at us with the eye of his human intellect.
It is most certain, in fact, that our Savior is constantly “gazing” upon us through the power of spiritual and intellectual vision. Our Lord embraced us within his Sacred Heart from the moment of his conception, and he still holds us in this loving “vision”.
“Now the only-begotten Son of God embraced us in His infinite knowledge and undying love even before the world began. And that He might give a visible and exceedingly beautiful expression to this love, He assumed our nature in hypostatic union: hence - as Maximus of Turin with a certain unaffected simplicity remarks - "in Christ our own flesh loves us."[156] But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvelous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.” (Mystici Corporis, 75)
Not merely by his divine “vision”, but even in his human intellect and in his human soul, Christ Jesus continually gazes upon each of us with immense love. If this was true while he was on earth, we know that it could not possibly cease when he entered heaven. He certainly has not forgot us!
Therefore, we assert that Jesus does “look” upon us from heaven, however this is not a physical or bodily “gazing” but rather an intellectual and spiritual vision according to which we are all help within his most Sacred and Loving Heart.


Anonymous said...

Why do we insist that heaven cannot be a place in the universe? Is it because we fear that this would conflict with the physical sciences, or is there a real theological / philosophical reason?
I often suspected that the recent Popes insistence that heaven was not a physical place in the universe was only to "modernize" the faith for a skeptical unbelieving materialistic scientific age, and was therefore perhaps misguided. This is a serious question. I hope you will answer. Thank you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please have the decency to use at least a pseudonym. I have requested this many times, including right under the words "post a comment" and just above the comment box.

To answer your question ... no serious thinker and certainly no catholic theologian has ever thought that heaven was a place in the universe. God is not contained within the confines of our universe. Further, the glorified body of Jesus must not remain in our not yet glorified universe.

Please read the articles I linked to in this post.
You will see that this point is very ancient, and is expressly affirmed also by St. Thomas. Nothing modernist about it.

Marko Ivančičević said...

Father Ryan, i will pray that you become a saint and a doctor of Church.
Excellent article as always.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father, please comment on the following quotation: "We must not, as some do, picture to ourselves heaven as a purely spiritual realm. For heaven is a definite place, where not only God is, and the angels now are, but where Christ is also in His sacred humanity, and Our Lady with her human body. There, too, all the blessed will dwell with their glorified bodies after the Last Judgment. If heaven is a definite locality, it must accordingly be a visible, not a spiritual kingdom; for a place must in its nature be to some extent conformable to those who abide in it." P. 179 of Fr. Martin Von Cochem's "The Four Last Things" from TAN pub.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It looks mostly accurate to me ... I would pretty much hold it all ... except insofar as I do not believe that we should speak to strongly about angels being in a "place", however they certainly are properly said to be localized when they act on the matter in a particular place ... but the only matter in heaven right now are the bodies of Jesus and of Mary.

@Marko, Thank you for the prayers! Blessings to you! +

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that you can agree with Fr. van Cochem. I would have thought you would have rejected his statements based on your article above.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Well, I guess I don't see the conflict.
Heaven is a place, but it is not a place in our universe ... therefore, it is simply necessary to conclude that this place has no local relation to earth -- because local relation can be had only by two places contained within the one universe.

Anonymous said...

But what the contemporary popes seem to be insisting is that heaven is not a place (at all).
This is very disturbing to me personally. The implications are theologically horrifying in terms of the resurrection, the eucharist, the final advent, the incarnation, etc. Heaven, in some sense, MUST be a place (of some kind).

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. And He bears with Him always the wounds of His Passion and so do the martyrs; they will have, as it were, bright markings where their flesh and bones were mortally wounded.

Knowing that, what man would not desire the death of a martyr knowing that such a reward would be borne by them throughout eternity?

t.a. kre said...

A very thought provoking article. Just one question. Since Jesus is God,wouldn't his glorified eyes be able to see without constraints of time and space?

Happy Easter!

Chatto said...

Father, great to 'have you back', as it were!

A priest I'm friends with seems to insist that, since heaven isn't "up there", that Christ wasn't physically 'lifted up' from the earth at His Ascension. Rather, the language of being lifted up is the way the Apostles described the indescribable. Something about the insistence on this interpretation bothers me - what do you think?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful article - one question came to me, though. Where are Elijah, Enoch, and possibly Moses' bodies? I am new to Catholic teaching.

Anonymous said...

The glorified body of Jesus is present in our universe, in each and every consecrated host, as well as in Heaven.

Anonymous said...

All very interesting, and thank you Fr. for all your work.

Jesus ascended into the clouds and disappeared from sight. If your interpretation is correct, His choosing to enter the Heavens in this manner seems a trifle misleading. He could have, for instance, simply vanished in the sight of all, after announcing that He was now going to Heaven, if Heaven bears no relation to any locality in the universe.

I am also curious as to how the experience of angelic and divine presences by human beings can be reconciled with the Heaven-is-no-location idea. Assuming that these presences are intuited through some sensory means on our part [and please correct me if I am mistaken in that assumption] [and I think animals too may have some ability in this regard at least at certain times], one would be led to believe, based on the inference that what we sense, has some kind of physical existence, that when these presences go to Heaven, they go to a place that corresponds to some kind of physical location.

Must we believe, as a matter of faith, that angelic beings are entirely other than matter?


deepoctave said...

Were the saints whose bodies were raised at the death of Jesus, and who appeared in Jerusalem after his resurrection, raised in a manner like Lazarus or in a glorified body? (Mt. 27:52)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The body of Christ is present in the host according to his sacramental species (a real, true and substantial presence), but you do no help to the Catholic faith if you act as though this in some way means that he has not ascended to heaven and is no longer physically present among us in his proper and natural species.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I think that the words of that priest could be a bit misleading ... Jesus really was "lifted up" in their sight. It says so in the Bible.

However, he is correct insofar as this being "taken up" is more a sign for his departure than a directional indicator of his current location.

Peace and good! +

Anonymous said...

"It says so in the bible". Because everything in the bible is scientifically and historically correct? Taken up sounds much better than he imploded to be reassembled in another dimension.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Luke is relating history in that passage ... the context makes it clear that he is stating these things as historical facts (not mere metaphors or parables).

Of course not everything is historically accurate, excepting those things which are relates as being historical -- because the Bible is without error.

As to you "reassembled in another dimension" comment ... perhaps you should read more of the Church Fathers, and watch a little less star trek.

Howard said...

What about Enoch and Elijah? I suspect that they, too, are in a place outside our physical universe, but not the same place where Jesus and Mary are.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I would love to have seen an answer regarding the bodily presence of Elijah and Enoch who are in heaven. Elijah and Moses are mentioned in the transfiguration of Jesus in Mark and Matthew's gospel, so I would like to think that Moses is there too!

The Son of God that I know personally and love, loved me before the foundation of the world, (Ephesians 1 v 4), not after the incarnation, as you appear to have stated!

Sent with warm Christian love,

Robert Glass.

Anonymous said...

Elijah and Enoch are waiting in Paradise(of Adam & Eve)which exists above the Earth and out of human sight.

Anonymous said...

Look Father, Heaven must be a physical place, and you will not face it. It is an error to deny that heaven is a physical place. You have not responded to me above. I hope you are hunched over scholastic theology manuals trying to figure it out and have not move on to something else.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are being ridiculous, and looking for a fight.
I have already said that heaven is a place, insofar as there are two bodies present there.

But, if you think that the angels or the divine essence take up space, then you are quite wrong.

What, besides the bodies of Jesus and Mary, in heaven is physical? What other corporeal realities are there? None.
This is the teaching of St. Thomas and the classical Thomists ... it is explained very well by Garrigou-Lagrange, certainly the great tradionalist theologian of the pre-Vatican II era.

Anonymous said...

Please cite Garrigou-Langrange on this. Look at Von Cochem's book from TAN, according to which there are many other physical things in heaven.
I am not looking for a fight, I am looking for information, education, but you don't seem to be able to provide it.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I wish you would take the time to read the other articles which are cited and linked through this article ... you would find the answer there...

"The words of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (who taught Bl. John Paul II and oversaw his doctoral work) are most helpful: “Heaven means this place, and especially this condition, of supreme beatitude. Had God created no bodies, but only pure spirits, heaven would not need to be a place; it would signify merely the state of the angels who rejoice in the possession of God. But in fact heaven is also a place. There we find the humanity of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels, and the souls of the saints. Though we cannot say with certitude where this place is to be found, or what its relation is to the whole universe, revelation does not allow us to doubt of its existence.” (From Life Everlasting)"

And, From St Thomas: "In ST III, q.57, a.4, ad 2 (which is not in the oldest and best manuscripts) we read: “A place implies the notion of containing; hence the first container has the formality of first place, and such is the first heaven. Therefore, bodies need themselves to be in a place, insofar as they are contained by a heavenly body. But glorified bodies, Christ’s especially, do not stand in need of being so contained, because they draw nothing from the heavenly bodies, but from God through the soul. So there is nothing to prevent Christ’s body from being beyond the containing radius of the heavenly bodies, and not in a containing place. Nor is there need for a vacuum to exist outside heaven, since there is no place there, nor is there any potentiality susceptive of a body, but the potentiality of reaching thither lies in Christ.”"

Note the words: "THERE IS NO PLACE THERE" from the Summa, and Garrigou-Lagrange specifies that the only physical realities in heaven are the bodies of Jesus and Mary ... pure spirits do not take up space, and so heaven need not be material for their sake -- but the only spacial reality in heaven are the two glorified bodies...

Anonymous said...

WRONG! That is not what either of the quotations above say. Garrigou-Lagrange clearly says that revelation DOES NOT ALLOW US TO DOUBT the existence of the place of heaven. Please read what you've cited a few times. It does not say what you say that it says, not at all. As for the possibly spurious citation from Saint Thomas, it is rather unclear what precisely is being said, and the "there is no place there" is not clearly a denial that heaven is in fact a place.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your point isn't made any more reasonable by putting it in CAPITAL LETTERS!!!

Are you suggesting that there is material in heaven (such as land, space, etc) such that there are bodies in heaven other than those of Jesus and Mary?
(you do realize that a "body" means a piece of matter, and not just a human corpus, yes?)

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin Von Cochem's "The Four Last Things" from TAN pub. was published in 1899 and has a nihil obstat and imprimatur. Fr. Von Cochem clearly indicates in the section on heaven that there are real trees, fruit, flowers, buildings in heaven. He also clearly says that heaven is a visible place. "If heaven is a definite locality, it must accordingly be a visible, not a spiritual kingdom; for a place must in its nature be to some extent conformable to those who abide in it." You may be to advance and enlightened to accept such a claim, but certainly it is no error or heresy to teach this. I suppose you also deny that in hell there is a material fire?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

you are a buffoon, i have defended the existence of material fire in both hell and in purgatory on this blog ...

I don't think I'm in disagreement with Von Cochem ... I think you are misreading...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Do you notice the pathetic irony of citing a nihil obstat when you began this debate by disagreeing with the recent Papal magisterium, stating that the recent papal teaching is "deeply troubling"?
As I say, you miss-read Von Cochem, AND you miss-read the Popes.
Good day!

Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.