Wait, so…pets in Heaven? (Part One)

OK, actually, no.  Not in Heaven, where I have a pretty hard time making sense of them.  But most people forget that the destination of all those rescued by Jesus and fitted by Him for an eternally satisfying friendship with God is not Heaven, but the New Earth–that is, a bodily life that continues beyond the Beatific Vision (and we do mean “vision“).  We believe, that is, in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

So my most excellent friend and Thomistic sharpshooter Matt and I had a conversation about this, and I began in the position of objecting to the premise that animals would be in heaven at all; then Matt got me to entertain the possibility that “pets” were not really considered in typical analysis, here, and my own experience of animal behavior after years of living with Sarah’s lizards kicked in, and we spent the rest of the night working out the theory…so almost nothing here is original to me, as an idea, but this is my way of working the thought out weeks later.  If I get something wrong, blame me–unless Matt is nearer, in which case blame Matt.

We can say a little more that is interesting about this, in fact.  Let’s turn to the Ox:

Man’s perfect Happiness consists in the vision of the Divine Essence. Now it is impossible for anyone seeing the Divine Essence, to wish not to see It. Because every good that one possesses and yet wishes to be without, is either insufficient, something more sufficing being desired in its stead; or else has some inconvenience attached to it, by reason of which it becomes wearisome. But the vision of the Divine Essence fills the soul with all good things, since it unites it to the source of all goodness; hence it is written (Psalm 16:15): “I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear”; and (Wisdom 7:11): “All good things came to me together with her,” i.e. with the contemplation of wisdom. In like manner neither has it any inconvenience attached to it; because it is written of the contemplation of wisdom (Wisdom 8:16): “Her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness.” It is thus evident that the happy man cannot forsake Happiness of his own accord. Moreover, neither can he lose Happiness, through God taking it away from him. Because, since the withdrawal of Happiness is a punishment, it cannot be enforced by God, the just Judge, except for some fault; and he that sees God cannot fall into a fault, since rectitude of the will, of necessity, results from that vision as was shown above (I-II:4:4). Nor again can it be withdrawn by any other agent. Because the mind that is united to God is raised above all other things: and consequently no other agent can sever the mind from that union. Therefore it seems unreasonable that as time goes on, man should pass from happiness to misery, and vice versa; because such like vicissitudes of time can only be for such things as are subject to time and movement.

(S.Th. II.I.5.4)

The final state, as Aquinas sees it, is most wholly summed up in the Beatific Vision, the ability to look upon God “face to face” and to be satisfied in friendship with Him as only a fully perfected human creature can–and, in fact, as only this particular human creature can; for the essence of a rational soul is to become itself precisely by its own free and morally significant responses to the Creator’s actualization of its being.  God makes me capable of choosing to become what God has created me to become only in the specific ways that His work of Creation and Redemption and my willing participation in His Being, my cooperation with grace, my “obedience of faith,” make real.  I can only be truly happy as, and insofar as, I become habituated too my creaturely relation to my Creator–something which requires the special work of a Redeemer, if it is to be perfected.

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So this is the essence of happiness, for any human creature.  And St. Thomas does not want us to suffer on our way to this happiness by entertaining delusions that we might become attached to and grieve, even relatively harmless ones like expecting Heaven to be a bucolic scene like the “outing in the park” from Mary Poppins:

It is written (1 Corinthians 15:53): “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality“; and consequently the world will be renewed in such a way as to throw off all corruption and remain for ever at rest. Therefore it will be impossible for anything to be the subject of that renewal, unless it be a subject of incorruption. Now such are the heavenly bodies, the elements, and man. For the heavenly bodies are by their very nature incorruptible both as to their whole and as to their part: the elements are corruptible as to their parts but incorruptible as a whole: while men are corruptible both in whole and in part, but this is on the part of their matter not on the part of their form, the rational soul to wit, which will remain incorrupt after the corruption of man. on the other hand, dumb animals, plants, and minerals, and all mixed bodies, are corruptible both in their whole and in their parts, both on the part of their matter which loses its form, and on the part of their form which does not remain actually; and thus they are in no way subjects of incorruption. Hence they will not remain in this renewal, but those things alone which we have mentioned above.

Or more succinctly, and avoiding for the moment the obviously flawed science by which Thomas was informed that “heavenly bodies are…incorruptible” (a confusion about the scale at which physics and metaphysics interact–and it should be pointed out that what we have learned since is just that we don’t yet know that scale, thanks to lots of data from astronomy, relativity, quantum mechanics, and string/M theory), Thomas held that, when all the matter in the universe was “recycled” by ages of flux and the renewal that leads to the New Earth, there was nothing except the matter of plants and “dumb animals” that could account for “this animal’s” presence on the New Earth.

That would lead to the question whether God might create “a cow” rather than restore “this cow,” of course (and this gets into the problem of supposing the New Heavens and New Earth is a new act of Creation, which at least is beyond anything Scripture and Tradition give us any reason to suspect).  But the foundational answer to the “will any of these animals be on the New Earth” question is “well, how would you know which ‘dumb animal’ it was?”  Whatever might happen, it would not be the subsistence of “this animal” across time; the human soul does have a basis for being “this human” in the Resurrection, even if all the body’s matter is completely “recycled” (though, personally, I have a sneaking suspicion there is at least some particle of bodily matter from each human who has ever existed that will still be present in “this human’s body” in the Resurrection).  The “beasts of the field” do not.

And Thomas also thought that it didn’t make sense to imagine conditions in the Resurrection that were too much like conditions now, because his understanding of perfected humans obviated all eating, sleeping, excretion, etc.  Now, it seems to me that I can believe we won’t “need” food in the sense that would make us hungry or prone to starve, but we might be capable of “enjoying” food, and even doing so without waste.  Nonetheless, Thomas reasons that because such things are needed to carry forward the purposes of this age, but are not needed for a perfected humanity, such things will not be present in the New Earth:

those natural operations which are directed to cause or preserve the primary perfection of human nature will not be in the resurrection: such are the actions of the animal life in man, the action of the elements on one another, and the movement of the heavens; wherefore all these will cease at the resurrection. And since to eat, drink, sleep, beget, pertain to the animal life, being directed to the primary perfection of nature, it follows that they will not be in the resurrection.

[…] When Christ partook of that meal, His eating was an act, not of necessity as though human nature needed food after the resurrection, but of power, so as to prove that He had resumed the true human nature which He had in that state wherein He ate and drank with His disciples. There will be no need of such proof at the general resurrection, since it will be evident to all.

(ST III.81.4)

This would be a good time to note that most of this discussion takes place in the “Third Part” or “Supplement,” much of which is authored by students of Thomas after his death.  It attempts to complete the project by drawing conclusions from earlier works by Thomas; it is less richly informed by the developing understanding of Thomas, though, and in fact seems in places to make characteristic mistakes of later interpreters of Thomas.  Nonetheless, we’ll need to assume for the  moment that Thomas meant “this or something like this,” and perhaps we can discuss the matter with The Ox in the Resurrection, should the opportunity arise.

Thomas also offers a number of specific conclusions about the distinction between animals and humans:

  • The “image of God” is not found in animals (or other creatures without rational souls);
  • The “trace of the Trinity” does appear in Creation, including animals;
  • Animals do have something properly called “hope” (surprised me!);
  • Animals cannot properly “command” others;
  • Animals cannot properly “consent” to anything;
  • Animals cannot properly “use” other things;
  • Animals can be said to “enjoy” things imperfectly, but not in the perfect sense;
  • Animals do not properly “intend” anything, or “choose” anything, nor are their actions properly “voluntary.”
  • Animals are not properly called “persons“;
  • Animals do not have subsistent souls, as mentioned above.

And I take it as given, then, that it makes little to no sense to imagine that any “beasts of the field” now living will be present in the New Earth, as there would be no basis for asserting the identity of their being in this age and their being in the next.

OK, I’m going to have to break this, now….but with that background, can you imagine where one might find a plausible case on good Thomistic grounds for pets in the Resurrection?

One thought on “Wait, so…pets in Heaven? (Part One)”

  1. Matthew Newell

    You and I have touched on a matter similar to this in the past, regarding the meaning of ‘death’ in creation. I think it’s hard to make this case strictly on Thomistic grounds. I think a competent and comfortable argument can be made for extending the hope of the general resurrection not just to pets but indeed to every living creature; but on scriptural grounds, not Thomistic. I think such an argument could be made consistent with Thomas in very many respects, but I would expect Thomists to disagree with me.

    That said, I would try to begin by doubling-down on Ia IIae, Q6, A2.

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2006.htm

    I answer that, As stated above, it is essential to the voluntary act that its principle be within the agent, together with some knowledge of the end. Now knowledge of the end is twofold; perfect and imperfect. Perfect knowledge of the end consists in not only apprehending the thing which is the end, but also in knowing it under the aspect of end, and the relationship of the means to that end. And such knowledge belongs to none but the rational nature. But imperfect knowledge of the end consists in mere apprehension of the end, without knowing it under the aspect of end, or the relationship of an act to the end. Such knowledge of the end is exercised by irrational animals, through their senses and their natural estimative power.

    Consequently perfect knowledge of the end leads to the perfect voluntary; inasmuch as, having apprehended the end, a man can, from deliberating about the end and the means thereto, be moved, or not, to gain that end. But imperfect knowledge of the end leads to the imperfect voluntary; inasmuch as the agent apprehends the end, but does not deliberate, and is moved to the end at once. Wherefore the voluntary in its perfection belongs to none but the rational nature: whereas the imperfect voluntary is within the competency of even irrational animals.

    Reply to Objection 1. The will is the name of the rational appetite; and consequently it cannot be in things devoid of reason. But the word “voluntary” is derived from “voluntas” [will], and can be extended to those things in which there is some participation of will, by way of likeness thereto. It is thus that voluntary action is attributed to irrational animals, in so far as they are moved to an end, through some kind of knowledge.

    I suppose I would try to say something like: it’s precisely that “some kind of knowledge” (per cognitionem aliquam) that breaks open the path for analogy. I would want to go from there to make some kind of claim about the intellect and will of animals that–in our experience of particular animals–might suggest a particularity to their form beyond mere expressions of the general form (instinct). And this particularity would be the “what” that is hoped to see again in the resurrection.

    The more one’s language emphasizes instinct, the more one risks drifting into mechanism (and we’re left with Descartes). The more one’s language emphasizes cognitionem aliquam, the more one risks drifting into sentimentalism (and we’re left with animals as people).

    But I am diverting this. I’m not sure the argument can be made from texts from Thomas.

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