What is the position of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?
J.S., San Diego,CA
A. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is often referred to as the "Parousia".
That section which deals with the last ends with individuals and with the last ends in general is called "eschatology".
Not many people are really concerned about their individual end. This is evident from the proliferation of self-styled "experts" in an area where angels fear to tread. Preachers and spiritual writers frequently refer to the "four last ends of man" and speak of death, judgment, heaven and hell.
Most authors do not include Purgatory in these last ends because with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the Last Judgment, Purgatory will no longer exist.
Certainly, there will be people alive at the Second Coming of our Lord. They will not be able to expiate their venial sins and temporal punishments in Purgatory because Purgatory will cease to exist.
What will happen to those people who are alive at the time of Our Lord's coming who are in the state of venial sin? Most likely, they will have to undergo tribulations and sufferings in the flesh before the immediate coming of Our Lord. For, we are instructed by the Holy Ghost through the Sacred Scriptures, that "He shall come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire."
There are many people who have already expiated for their venial sins and their temporal punishments so that upon their death, any stay in Purgatory would be very short. The first example that comes to mind are the saints who have certainly suffered greatly either in the flesh or in the spirit. Some, like St. Peter of Alcantara, mortified his flesh to the point that his whole body appeared as knotty wood.
St. Theresa of Avila whom St. Peter urged to adopt a strict observance of poverty, says that she knew that the saint had died because she saw a brilliant light ascending into the heavens. Later, word came to her that St. Peter had died.
Then, too, there are the many thousands upon thousands of politically innocent people who perished in genuine holocausts. For example, the innocent civilians in the city of Dresden that was sadistically fire-bombed by hate-filled war mongers. They were a true holocaust if in their last moments they offered this painful death as retribution for their offenses against God.
Like all those who die before the Parousia, each victim of Communist demonism entered upon his or her Particular Judgment.
This is the particular end of individuals. It was very brief because we wish to go on to what concerns the consummation of the human race. This will take place when the number of the elect is reached. That number, obviously, will be the very last number. After it, there will be no other.
There have always been and will always be those whose undisciplined curiosity pushes them to seek specific times for the "last day."
Of course, those who enjoy the notoriety of fixing a precise time will be the first to howl in disagreement with what the Church teaches. Despite the pious prattle of such pious frauds, mentally and emotionally stable individuals will follow the prudent guidelines of the teaching authority of the Church.
The following are dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the general eschatology:
1. Christ will return at the end of the world to complete the kingdom of God which He began. (De fide)
2. There will be a resurrection of the dead. (De fide).
3. All the dead, good and bad, will rise from the dead. (De fide).
4. After the resurrection of the dead at the end of the world, there will be the general judgment. (De fide).
Associated with the above dogmas are the questions of the time of the Second Coming and the consequent general judgment.
The time of the general judgment is not known. The proof of this is found, first of all, in the Holy Scriptures themselves, then in the Fathers of the Church. Subsequently, the official teaching authority of the Church has applied this evidence to stem the ever-arising attempts to contradict the Scriptures and Tradition.
Let us examine the Holy Scriptures. Jesus attributes the knowledge of the day of general judgment to "the Father alone." Consequently, to God the Omniscient: "But of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." (Mark 13, 32)
"Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time is:" (Ibid.13, 33).
"Just as a man, when he leaves home to journey abroad, puts his servants in charge, to each his work, and gives orders to the porter to keep watch." (Ibid.13,34).
"Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming. In the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or early in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all, `Watch.'" (Ibid.13, 35-37).
Then, we read in St. Matthew: "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only." (Matt.24, 36).
Also, St. Matthew writes: "If, therefore they say to you: `Behold, he is in the desert,' do not go forth; `Behold, he is in the inner chambers,' do not believe it.
For as the lightening comes forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matt.24, 26,27).
"And as it was in the days of Noe, even so will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noe entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and swept them all away; even so will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matt.24, 37-39).
Watch, therefore, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is to come" (Matt.24,42).
In the Acts of the Apostles we read: "They therefore who had come together began to ask him, saying, `Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?' But he said to them, `It is not for you to know the times or dates which the Father has fixed by his own authority;" (Acts, 1, 6,7). Following these remarks, Jesus exhorts the greatest vigilance.
St.Luke points out the need for vigilance: "But of this be assured, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would certainly have watched, and not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because at an hour that you do not expect, the Son of Man is coming." (Luke 12, 39-41).
Furthermore, St. Luke writes:
"And as it came to pass in the days of Noe, even so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noe entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Or as it came to pass in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, they were buying and selling, they were planting and building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. In the same wise will it be on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. In that hour let him who is on the housetop and his goods in the house, not go down to take them away; and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever tries to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses it will preserve it. I say to you, on that night there will be two on one bed; one will be taken, and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together; one will be taken, and the other will be left. And they answered and said to him: `Where, Lord?' He said to them: `Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.'"(Luke 17, 26-36).
Jesus gives the example of the fig tree and other trees whereby we are able to discern the coming of Spring. In this wise, He wishes to indicate that there are some signs, but that no one can fix a year, a month, a week, a day, an hour, a minute or a second.
"And he spoke to them a parable. `Behold the fig tree, and all the trees. Whey they now put forth their buds, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things coming to pass, know that the kingdom of God is near. Amen I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all things have been accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Luke 21, 29-33).
The Apostles themselves teach us that the day is unknown. Thus, St. Paul: "But of the times and seasons, brethren, we write to you, for you yourselves know well the day of the Lord is to come as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, `Peace and security,' even then sudden destruction will upon them, as birth pangs upon her who is with child, and they will not escape."(I Thess. 5, 1,2,4).
The faithful in the time of St. Paul were just as curious about the time of Christ's second coming. For this reason, St. Paul had to remind them of what they had already learned.
St.Peter, in his second Epistle writes: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; at that time the heavens will pass
away with great violence, and the elements will be dissolved with heat, and the earth, and its works that are in it, will be
burned up." (II Peter 3,10).
"Remember therefore what thou hast received and heard, and observe it and repent. Therefore, if thou wilt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief , and thou shalt not know at what hour I shall come upon thee." (Apoc. 3, 3).
"Behold, I come as a thief! Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments lest he walk naked and they see his shame." (Ibid. 16, 15).
This is what the Holy Scriptures have to say concerning the day of the general judgment and the second coming of Jesus Christ. This is what the Fathers of the Church and Scholastics likewise teach.
On determining the time of the end of the world, even our Lord refused to clearly reveal the exact time and all in vain. There will always be those individuals who must be original, as they say in French, that is, singular _ different from everyone else. They have this peculiarly amazing inclination to give numerical data on this subject. One such individual bills himself as "a respected authority of Biblical prophesy, a well known lecturer and author of numerous essays and articles, including `The Day of the Lord and the Signs of His Coming". It is claimed (by whom no one really knows) that this individual has "rendered clear why Our Lord will come back on Sunday (The Lord's Day) and which Sunday."
This is nothing new and nothing of solid foundation other than the subjective imagination of the individual. Already Lactance spoke of five hundred years before the end of the world; Tykon spoke of three hundred years. Almost everyone before St. Augustine thought the world would end after six hundred years ever since the pseudo-Barnabas.
St. Augustine indicates his calculations and rejects them completely and simply. He nevertheless divides the history of the world in periods, following the example of the six days of creation. According to this division, we are in the last period. Nevertheless, he insists, referring to Christ, on his rejection of any numeration. (Cfr. City of God, book 18, chap. 53).
Conclusion: What then is the conclusion to be drawn in comparing the constant teaching of the Church, based on the Scriptures and Fathers of the Church, and the latest "prophets" of these days?
It does not take a `vision' to know that the world is drawing to a close. This has been taking place every moment of its existence from the time of its creation to the present. Nor does it take an extraordinary intuition or insight to conclude that many of the words of Scripture are being realized in our day. These things did not yet occur in the past. For example, the reality of the Great Apostasy only became visible when the Second Vatican Council, high-jacked by heretics, put its seal of approval on heresy. Religious indifference has taken root in every place of the world by virtue of the iniquity reigning in the Vatican.
From a spiritual point of view, that is, from the point of view of the spiritual life, no genuine Catholic would have anything to do with those individuals whose only "claim to fame" is their ridiculous pretense to some "expertise" or "respected authority of Biblical prophecy" in contradiction to the Scriptures, Fathers of the Church, and constant teaching of the teaching authority of the Church.
There are even many saints who felt that the world was about to end at a fixed time. Everyone of them was wrong. The difference between the saints who entertained some such idea and the false prophets of today _ or any day, for that matter _ is that the saints lived a life of virtue and obedience to the Church. The false prophets establish themselves as the "teachers" in the Church.
It seems the wise and prudent way is to direct ones efforts to become worthy of God's grace. We must work out our salvation in fear and trembling, lest we fall into the kind of presumption in which false prophets love to bask.
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