As Catholics, we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of all things when Christ comes again in glory. But what of those who have died? Do they also await these things, or have they in some sense already happened for them?
Traditionally, the Church has answered this question in terms of the souls of human beings experiencing either beatitude (immediately or after purification) or perdition – the resurrection of the body and the transfiguration of the cosmos being events that are distinct and deferred in relation to this state.
Such a view is, however, not without its problems. The first of these is the anthropology of duality which it presupposes (ie, man is a unity of body and spiritual soul), an anthropology supposedly unsupported by Sacred Scripture.
A second point is that if beatitude or perdition can be experienced in this interim state between death and resurrection, then those events associated with the return of Christ would appear to have been marginalised, in spite of their importance in Sacred Scripture.
A third difficulty is distinctively Catholic: the piety and devotions of the faithful suffer seeming violence by the idea of an interim state populated not by saints but mere separated souls. In the words of St Thomas Aquinas, anima Petri non est Petrus (“Peter’s soul is not Peter”).
In light of these problems, Catholic thinkers have proposed two main rival theories to the traditional schema. The first of these is resurrection in death into the Last Day and the consummation of all things, a thing made possible because these are realities which exist outside time. The second is resurrection in death into an interim state in which the embodied dead await, like us, the final consummation of all things.
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