The Concluding Chapters of the Summa Contra Gentiles

We face judgment immediately after death:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 91

The blessed souls remain fixed forevermore on the good:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 92

The damned souls remain fixed forevermore on evil:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 93

The souls in purgatory do not change their wills, either:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 94

The reason why we cannot change from good to evil, or vice versa, after death:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 95

The Last Judgment:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 96

The cosmos after the Last Judgment:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 97

St. Thomas wrote many books. Among them, the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles have the most-monumental status.

St. Thomas did not live to complete the Summa Theologica. He died while working on Part III, and his student completed the task, using St. Thomas’ earlier writings.

St. Thomas did, however, write the entire Summa Contra Gentiles himself. Book IV is the final book of the SCG. So: we have reached the conclusion of the most-monumental work of St. Thomas that he himself also reached.

Praise the good Lord.

Reading Book IV aloud has done me enormous good. Hopefully it has done you some good, too, dear reader/listener.

Not sure when I will record more podcasts, or what they will include. Let me know if you have any thoughts.

The Good News of the Last Judgment



After a long time the master of the servants came back and settled accounts with them. (Matthew 25:19)

Once every three years, we spend three Sundays in November reading the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel at Holy Mass. Last week we heard the parable of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom. This Sunday, the Parable of the Talents. Next Sunday, we’ll read about the separation of the sheep from the goats. [CLICK FOR SPANISH.]

The human soul longs for justice. When particularly grievous evils occur, it oppresses us; it shakes our faith. I think we all know how, two weeks ago today, a man walked into a church in Texas and shot 26 innocent people, for no reason. We might think: How can God stand idly by? How can a good God let such evil occur, and do nothing?

Okay. But how about this question first: Is the Bible true?

About 150 years ago, the truth of the Bible became a hotly debated topic. Is the Bible true, or is evolution true? Is Jesus Christ the only savior, or do all religions lead to heaven? Do we need religion at all, or is it better just to try to be a good person?

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbilliesDebates on questions like this gave rise to a particular idea of God. According to this idea, God exists, but He does not have anything directly to do with the world. He is “above” it all. “Above” all human arguments about religion; “above” all disagreements about right and wrong; “above” all the suffering in the world. It’s an idea of God that supposedly resolves all religious controversies and allows people to have Thanksgiving dinners without family bickering.

But: If we have this idea of an above-it-all God, when we think of all the evil and injustice on earth, we are left to wonder: How can God stand aloof and do nothing?

Now, we Catholics are not fundamentalists. We see clearly that the collection of ancient books called the Holy Bible contains reading material that we cannot understand without the help of careful reflection and good teachers. No one who has ever sat down and actually tried to read the book of Revelation thinks that biblical fundamentalism works.

That said, we Catholics do not and cannot accept the idea of God being “above it all.” Because that idea contradicts what Sacred Scripture clearly reveals. God is not “above” the fray. God does not stand idly by. To the contrary, we solemnly affirm these two things about God.

  1. God Himself has embraced the bitter depths of human suffering and death. Twenty-six innocent people died bloody deaths, in church, two weeks ago today. Almighty God also died a bloody death as an innocent person, in Jerusalem, in AD 33. A lot of people still mourn down in Texas. Like our Blessed Mother mourned—and she mourns with them.
  2. This same God Who died will, in the end, judge everyone with perfect justice. All crimes will receive their due punishment from the divine Judge.

Now, we do not usually think of the doctrine of hell as something that makes our Catholic religion appealing to un-churched people. But it seems to me that the full Catholic teaching about the Final Judgment is precisely what the un-churched world needs right now.

The human soul longs for justice. The idea that evil would go unpunished—we simply cannot tolerate that. Some people, thinking they make Christianity more attractive by doing so, try to present Jesus Christ as some kind of super-nice person. But He is not. He is a demanding person. He is the jealous God of Israel. He does not tolerate evil–at least not for long. The righteous holiness of Jesus can and should terrify everyone.

scales_of_justiceChrist is not an “idea” of God. He is a real Person. The Person Who will, as the man that He is, stand in judgment. His eyes penetrate to the level of absolute truth. No injustice, no matter how small or big; no act of physical or emotional violence; no exploitation or abuse escapes His gaze. He reckons it all.

What happened in Texas did not happen in a meaningless universe with a powerless and aloof God standing far away. It happened under the all-seeing eyes of Jesus Christ. Justice will be done. Bad people don’t die, and then it’s all over. No, bad people who don’t repent die, and then they go to hell.

Which hopefully reminds me that the bad person I really need to worry about is myself. And that makes me love Jesus not so much for the Final Judgment as for the cross. On the cross, the terrifyingly righteous Judge made it possible for me to find mercy at the final reckoning. He made it so that even someone like Devin Kelley could find mercy, or Osama bin Laden, or any of the famous evil people of history. On the cross, God Himself paid the price of justice for all human sin. He did it as a human being. He joined Himself to all the suffering of the innocent, in order to redeem even the guilty.

The revelation of the Final Judgment truly comes as good news, as consolation and peace—compared to the prospect of a meaningless world in which evil never gets adequately punished. And we can face the Final Judgment without fear, when Christ crucified is the love of our lives.

The Hard Man with Plenty of Money

At Holy Mass this Sunday we read verses 14 to 30 of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents. Next Sunday, when we keep the Solemnity of Christ the King, we will hear the rest of the chapter. Matthew 25 enjoys great fame as a chapter. Next week we will hear: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…He will separate the _____ (sheep) from the _____(goat)s.”

When He does, the criteria for judgment will be: “I was hungry, and…(you fed me)” “I was thirty, and…(you gave me drink)” “A stranger, and…(you welcomed me)” “Naked, and…(you clothed me)” “Sick, and you…(cared for me)” “In prison, and you…(visited me)” The sheep will ask incredulously, When did we see you so, Lord? “Amen, whatever you did for…(the least of my brothers), you did for me.”

sheep-goatsIn other words, the divine King has not left us in the dark, when it comes to the Final Judgment.

He has painted a crystal-clear picture for us. Matthew 25. Goats don’t help the poor neighbor. Sheep help, without even thinking about it. Then, the sheep die, and wake up in heaven, and only then do they realize that the Lord Jesus Himself had visited them countless times, in His distressing disguise.

Now, I bring all this up not because I want to skip over our gospel reading for this Sunday. I simply feel that we need to take proper cognizance of this fact: the Parable of the Talents appears in the famous and crucially important chapter about the Final Judgment.

The Lord actually told two slightly different versions of this parable. Matthew’s gospel has a master giving talents to his servants; Luke has a king giving gold coins to his. A “talent” equaled the annual income of a skilled wage-earner. So the master of Matthew’s parable has as much money as the king in Luke’s.

Continue reading “The Hard Man with Plenty of Money”

The Measurer

The measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you. Luke 6:38

One God reigns. One Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice to atone for all human evil. One Holy Spirit binds all of mankind in a single destiny of eternal love. One just Judge will dispose all things rightly at the final account.

scales_of_justiceA Christian knows that death is not the worst thing. Death certainly ain’t good. We would rather not have to deal with it. Nor do we particularly like parting with our comfort and convenience. But worse than anything, worse even than death is: damnation. Worse by far than death: sin.

President has referred to the terrorist militants as ‘nihilists.’ Maybe that’s true. Genuine nihilism means believing that there really is no measure for our actions. There is no judgment. There is simply doing. Conscience is nothing but irrational, superstitious timidity.

Everything within us rebels at such a conception of things. No. Someone measures. Someone sees, knows; someone with a greater mind, greater penetration, and a genuinely comprehensive plan for everything. He has our measure. Moral and immoral are truly different. Right and wrong are truly different—not just in our cowardly minds, but in the scale that balances all things.

The measure of all things transcend our minds, of course—if it didn’t, then we really could be the ultimate measurers. But we know perfectly well that we are not. Our neighbors teach us that every day. My own point-of-view takes in such a small part of the landscape. Only one mind can conceive the entire pilgrim journey of Mother Earth and everything moving on her.

Nonetheless, the great Measurer has opened the door for us, so we can see into the unfathomable righteousness of His judgment. Continue reading “The Measurer”

The Unjust Judge and the Second Coming

Frankfurt Schoolers Horkheimer and Adorno
Frankfurt Schoolers Horkheimer and Adorno

When the Son of Man comes, will He find justice on earth?

Whether or not He will find faith on earth (cf. Luke 18:8), only time will tell. But will He find justice on earth?

Will he find the virtuous fairly rewarded and criminals punished proportionately for their crimes? Will He find the world’s goods equitably distributed among honest people living in harmony, with a care for the vulnerable and reverence for the wise? Will He find people communicating discreetly, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, working out their problems gently, helping each other generously, rising above petty antagonisms with serene mutual respect? Will He find all this when He comes again?

Continue reading “The Unjust Judge and the Second Coming”

Zechariah and the Widow: Justice!

Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley
Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley

Today’s gospel reading at Holy Mass offers us a good warm-up for Sunday’s gospel. Today we hear the Lord Jesus refer to

Zechariah, who died between the altar and the temple building.

Let’s clarify a couple things: First, apparently the altar for animal sacrifice stood outside the original Temple of Solomon. The burning flesh of the lambs and other animals rose from the courtyard up to the heavens.

Second, of which Zechariah does the Lord speak here? How many Zechariahs appear in the Holy Scriptures? 1. Zechariah, father of ________. John the Baptist! 2. Zechariah, son of Berechiah, who prophesied when the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon. And 3. Zechariah, son of Jehoida, who lived 2 ½ centuries before that.

Temple aromaZechariah, son of Jehoida, condemned the people of Jerusalem for worshiping pagan idols. He warned the people that the Lord had abandoned them—because they had abandoned the Lord. Instead of listening to his righteous warnings, they stoned him to death in the temple courtyard.

Now, the connection with Sunday’s gospel reading is this: When Zechariah lay dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge.”

We can see why Zechariah would have said that. Here he was, a faithful teacher of the Law of Moses, defending the honor of God in the Lord’s own Temple—and he meets a cruel death at the hands of bad people solely because he was trying to open the door to God for them. So he prayed that the world would not descend into total meaningless chaos, but rather that the Lord act to restore justice.

This sounds like the widow we will hear about in Jesus’ parable on Sunday, the widow who pleads insistently to the judge: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary!”

We live in the great age of mercy, when all sins can be forgiven because of the blood Christ shed for us. Injustice still holds sway on earth; mercy reigns above. The mercy of God gives us hope for ourselves, in spite of all our own injustices.

But what also gives us hope is the truth that moved the praying hearts of Zechariah and the widow in the parable. The reign of injustice on earth will end. God waits for the repentance of all He has chosen. Then justice will be done. All wrongs will be righted. The meaningless chaos of a world that kills the gentle messengers of God—it will be transformed by the divine Judge into a kingdom of true and eternal peace.

The End and the Figs

Everyone seems to agree on the fact that the end will come. Sometimes our lives fall into a dull routine, a seemingly endless, profitless monotony that stretches ahead of us like a dark tunnel. But no one seriously doubts that it will, in fact, end. The disputed points are: how and when.

How will it end? Will a sudden environmental disaster overwhelm the earth? Will we all die gradually of disease or natural causes and vanish into oblivion? Will the Mayan apocalypse annihilate everything?

Continue reading “The End and the Figs”

Praise and Blame

Contemporary pop-psychology emphasizes the importance of “positive reinforcement” or praise. All of us long for the approval of our peers. By the same token, no one wants to take criticism.

The word “moral” has practically been banished from the English language. But our everyday, pop-psychology-filled lives involve constant moral evaluations. To praise or “affirm” someone almost always requires some kind of moral judgment; likewise criticism.

In fact, it seems to me as though we live in an age of moral judgments as severe as any in recorded history. Pretty much any political speech these days involves condemning someone—or even a whole group of people—as fundamentally bad. The Salem witch trials dripped with circumspection, compared with Fox News vs. MSNBC and CNN.

In other words, giving other people the benefit of the doubt seems to be a dying art. Thinking of other people first and foremost as brothers and sisters, and then secondarily as someone with whom I may have a serious disagreement—we don’t see too much of that on t.v.

What’s the answer? I think the answer lies in one of the neglected aspects of the Gospel message, the aspect to which St. Paul refers in today’s reading from I Corinthians.

Christ will judge. Christ alone knows the whole truth. He will judge with perfect fairness. In the end, at His second coming, true goodness will be praised, will be affirmed, with an unimaginably delightful reward, the smile of God Himself. And all that is genuinely evil will be condemned and thenceforth stricken from the kingdom forevermore.

It is good for us to praise those who do well. And love can also move us to condemn severely actions that an honest person would judge to be evil.

But in the grand scheme of things, the job of judge has not been given to us. We need not fear: justice will be done by the Man Who has that job.

In the meantime, the job we really have now is to do our best to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt–and worry about repenting of my own sins.

Emitte Spiritum + non-Shakespeare

St. Thomas Aquinas gave an excellent Pentecost homily. Click here.

Here is a less worthy attempt… (But shorter at least!)

Come, Holy Spirit! On our dryness pour your dew.

We live by holding fast to the doctrines of our Catholic faith. At the same time, we also see visible signs of the mysteries we believe in. Let us try to understand how the mystery of Pentecost fits into the annual rites of spring.

First, the basic facts: The Lord Jesus died on the cross. On the third day, He rose again. He remained on earth for forty days. Then He ascended into heaven. The Apostles prayed. Then Christ poured out the Holy Spirit.

Continue reading Emitte Spiritum + non-Shakespeare”

Basics from the Baptist

The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10)

The people came to St. John the Baptist, asking for basic moral guidance.

St. John gave specific answers to the various different kinds of people who asked. In each case, he outlined the basic form of an upright life.

Are you wealthy? Keep only what you need, and give the rest to those who have less. Are you in business or government? Then make sure all your dealings are fair and lawful in every way. Put in an honest day’s work, and be satisfied with what you are paid—no bribes, no schemes. Do you carry a weapon in the name of public peace and security? Then carry it peaceably. Only draw it against real bad guys.

Clear, basic moral guidance. St. John was directing people how to live reasonable, sober, honest lives in this world. We need this above all: To know how to live in a way that pleases God.

If anyone takes this knowledge for granted, so much the better. When the rich young man asked the Lord Jesus, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” the Lord spelled out the Ten Commandments. The young man was perhaps amused at so basic an answer, and he said, “Master, I have followed all these from my youth.” –If you can say the same, praise God! The Lord loved the young man for being able to say it.

Continue reading “Basics from the Baptist”