Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Eternal Happiness of the Saints by St Robert Bellarmine, Part 1, The Extent Of The Kingdom Of God.




WE may learn How important is a know ledge of the kingdom of heaven from this circumstance, that Christ, our heavenly Master, began His preaching with these words: "Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." He also delivered nearly all His parables concerning the kingdom of heaven, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is likened," &c. And after His resurrection, during the forty days before His ascension, appearing to His disciples, He spoke to them of the kingdom of God, as St. Luke mentions in the Acts of the Apostles. This kingdom therefore formed the beginning, continuation, and end of the discourses of Christ. But I do not intend to enter upon all the points connected with heaven, but only to explain those that relate to the "place and state" of the Blessed. In the first place, I will endeavour to show why the " habitation" of the blessed is called the "kingdom of heaven" in the Holy Scriptures.

The habitation of the saints is called a kingdom for many reasons. First, because it is a land the boundless extent of which cannot be conceived by human imagination. This earth, though but a point, as it were, in comparison with heaven, contains many and great kingdoms that can scarcely be numbered: how great, therefore, must that "one kingdom" be, which extends through out the length and breadth of the heaven of heavens ! But the kingdom of heaven does not only include the heavenly region, but also the whole extent of it. This heavenly country, which is properly called the kingdom of heaven, is the first "province," as it were, of the kingdom of God, in which the highest princes reside, who are all the sons of God. The second province may be called ætherial, in which the stars dwell; all of which, though not animate, yet are so obedient to the voice of their Creator, that they may be said to be living creatures, according to Ecclesiasticus, " Come, let us adore the King, for whom all things live."

The third province is aerial, in which winds and clouds pass, and storms, rain, snow, hail, thunder, and lightning are produced, and where birds of various kinds sport and fly. The fourth province is watery, and contains seas, fountains, and lakes, in which fishes multiply, " that pass through the paths of the sea." The fifth is earthly, which, emulous as it were of heaven, contains the most noble inhabitants, but not the most blessed—I mean men, endowed with reason, but mortal; these have dominion over the beasts of the earth and the fishes of the sea. The last province is subterraneous, which, like the desert of Arabia, produces no good fruit whatever, but only thorns and briars; there wicked spirits dwell on account of their pride; they wished to be the first, but they became last—they strove to exalt their throne above the stars of heaven, but they were cast down to the lowest hell. And here, also, those will be confined, who, having imitated the wickedness of those bad spirits, die without true repentance. Now, all these provinces God rules by His power, of whom the Psalmist speaks, " All things serve Thee." This vast and mighty kingdom God will share with those that love Him.

Wherefore, Christian soul, rejoice, and be not confined within the narrow limits of things present. Why dost thou labour and toil so much, merely to gain a small part of this world, whilst, if thou wish, thou canst possess the whole? Truly, if men would seriously aspire after this kingdom, if they would attentively meditate upon it, they would blush to wage war for such narrow portions of the earth. 0 man! God offers thee the possession of His immense and eternal kingdom,, whilst thou fightest for one small city, wherein many crimes are committed, and other innumerable sins, by which the King of Kings is justly provoked to anger. Where is thy prudence? where thy judgment? But I do not speak in this manner as if I supposed, that it was unlawful for Christians to enter into war for the defence of their cities. I know that just wars are allowed, not only by the holy Fathers, (especially St. Austin and St. Thomas, the prince of scholastic writers,) but also by the precursor of pure Lord—"greater than whom hath not arisen amongst those born of woman He said to,the soldiers not that they should desert their service as being unlawful, but that, being content with their pay, they should "do violence to no man (St. Luke, iii. 14.) " "In my "Controversies" I have also defended just wars. I do not therefore speak against war simply in itself; but I exhort you to follow that which is more perfect, and often more useful, according to what St. Paul says to the Corinthians : "Already indeed there is plainly a fault among you, that you have lawsuits one with another. Why do you not rather hate wrong ? Why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" (1 Epist. to Corinthians v. 7.) And, St. James adds in his Epistle: "From whence are wars and contentions among you ? Are they not hence from your concupiscence? You covet, and have not: you kill, and envy, and cannot obtain. You contend and war, and have not, because you ask not." (chap, iv.) Whoever earnestly aspires after the kingdom of heaven, would not easily be moved to war by the loss of one city; but he would seek after those who could settle the dispute without expense and danger. But let us proceed to other points.