Read CHAPTER XIV of The Happiness of Heaven By a Father of the Society of Jesus , free online book, by F. J. Boudreaux, on ReadCentral.com.

Degrees of happiness in heaven.

Having seen that the Light of glory is the new power, or medium, through which the blessed see and enjoy God, we must now endeavor to understand how its different degrees of intensity become the source of vastly different degrees of happiness or enjoyment.

In order to understand how the different degrees of mental elevation produce different degrees of happiness in the Beatific Vision, we must first examine in what consist the different degrees of enjoyment in the creatures that now surround us. This will be as a mirror, in which we can see faint, but true, reflections of the vast difference there is between the highest and the lowest in heaven.

In order to receive pleasure from creatures, it is not enough to be surrounded with them, or even to possess them: we must, moreover, be endowed with organs, or faculties, through which we can receive and appropriate to ourselves the pleasures which, according to their nature, they can give. Thus, a grand concert, which pours the most exquisite pleasures into your soul, gives none at all to a deaf man, because he lacks the receiving organ, and hence the pleasure-giving object is, in his regard, as if it had no existence.

But this is not all. Not only does our pleasure depend upon the possession of receiving faculties, but the amount also, or degree, of that pleasure, depends upon the development and perfection of the same receiving organs and faculties. The more highly developed and cultivated they are, the more intense, also, will be the satisfaction and pleasure we shall receive from any given object; while persons of inferior development will receive far less, although the object is the same for all. Let us make this evident by an illustration.

Take the thousands of persons who have read some literary work, say, for instance, the Iliad of Homer. They all had eyes, and all could read; they all possessed the whole book as completely as if it had been written for each one in particular; and, no doubt, they all received pleasure from the perusal of that beautiful poem. But, did they all receive the same amount of pleasure? They certainly did not. Not even two individuals ever received the same degree of pleasure or enjoyment from the perusal of that book. Each one received and appropriated to himself his own pleasure which was great in proportion to the cultivation and elevation of his mind. Hence, while a superior and highly cultivated mind is entranced at the beauty and sublimity of some particular passage, an inferior one sees neither meaning nor beauty in it, and, perhaps, even casts the book aside in disgust.

It would be easy to multiply illustrations; but this one is sufficient to show that the amount of pleasure we derive from the use of creatures depends upon the degree of development and perfection in our receiving faculties. So it is in heaven, among the blessed. They all see and possess God; they all love and enjoy Him; but it by no means follows that they all enjoy the same amount of happiness from that blessed vision. And why so? Because each one sees and enjoys only in proportion to his individual development and elevation of mind which is given to him by the Light of glory. And, as that blessed Light is given to each one according to his own personal merits, it follows that each one sees and enjoys God in proportion to the holiness of the life he lived while upon earth.

Hence, they who have practised virtue in a heroic degree they who have sacrificed the pleasures of this world, honors, wealth, and even life itself, for God, possess the highest elevation of mind, and, consequently, the highest degree of enjoyment. They possess the most intense and perfect vision of the Divine Essence; they soar higher, and penetrate more deeply into the unfathomable being of God. They see more of the divine beauty, wisdom, goodness, and other perfections of God, and partake more largely of the Divine Nature. In a word, their higher elevation of mind, by a more intense Light of glory, is to them the source of the highest and most perfect enjoyment in the Beatific Vision; while persons of very inferior virtue, though perfectly happy too, enjoy a vastly inferior degree of blessedness.

But this is not all. We have seen, in a former chapter, that the Beatific Vision does not consist in merely gazing upon the surpassing beauty of God; and that the mere sight of Him, if it could be separated from the possession of him, could not make any one happy. Wherefore, the sight of God includes the possession of Him. It includes, moreover, the intense love to which that vision gives birth, as well as the consequent enjoyment of Him. Now, it is evident that a more intense light of glory, or a greater elevation of the mind, inflames the soul with a more intense love or God. For, it not only reveals to her more of His surpassing beauty, but it also reveals more of His unspeakable love for her; and her love for Him becomes greater in proportion. And the greater the love between the soul and God, the more perfect and complete also is the union existing between them, and, consequently, the higher is the happiness enjoyed by the soul.

Thus it is that all the blessed see, love, and enjoy God in the Beatific Vision. They are all perfectly happy; and yet, among the countless multitude of God’s children, probably not two really enjoy the same degree of happiness. Each one enjoys according to the elevation of his mind, which he has deserved by the holiness of his life. Not only is there a difference in the degrees of enjoyment, but there is a gulf between the highest and the lowest in heaven. It is, moreover, an impassable gulf, which the lowest can never cross so as to reach the highest happiness of heaven. It were far easier for the lowest and most uncouth servant-maid in a king’s palace to reach the dignity and glory of a queen, than it is for the lowest in heaven to reach the most intimate degree of union with God. Each one is happy in the degree and sphere which his life has deserved for him; but in that degree each one will and must remain forever.

I trust that you now understand something of the different degrees of happiness in heaven; and that, at the same time, you are filled with a holy ambition to reach a high degree of union with God. If so, thank God. For a high degree of glory in heaven is within the reach of us all, however poor, ignorant, or insignificant we may be here below. Heaven is not as this world, where the mere accident of birth, or the smile of fortune, instead of moral worth, generally determines a man’s position in society, as well as the amount of natural happiness he shall enjoy. Hence, no poor girl ever imagines that, if she be very virtuous, some great king will eventually espouse her, and elevate her to the dignity and glory of a queen. No poor boy ever believes that, if he behaves well, and obeys the laws of the land as a good citizen, the king will, in consequence, eventually adopt him as one of his sons, and bestow upon him the honors and pleasures which may be enjoyed by royal children. But even supposing such wild dreams could be realized in this world, these ignorant and uncouth people could not be made happy in their elevated position. And why? Because the king, who has the power to give palaces, wealth, magnificent dresses, and tables loaded with every imaginable luxury, has not the power to bestow the elevation of mind, polish of manners, and other graces which befit queens and royal children. Hence, they would feel out of place, and be unable to enjoy the happiness to which they have been elevated. Besides, they would see themselves despised, and even ridiculed, by those whose birth and education have fitted them for high society. The mere fact, therefore, of their elevation to high honors, would not clothe them with the personal qualities which are necessary to enjoy the highest honors and pleasures of this world.

How different all this is, when there is question of heaven! For, how poor and ignorant soever we may now be, we may reasonably aspire to a very high degree of glory, and to the exquisite delights which come from a more intimate union with God. How insignificant soever we may be, and however low our position in this world, we may aspire to move in the highest society in heaven. And not only may we aspire to all this, and reach it, by the grace of God and the practice of virtue, but, what is more, we shall be made fit for our high position. For the moment the vision of God flashes upon the soul, we become like Him. We shall, therefore, be educated, filled with all knowledge, wisdom, and every other perfection. We shall be clothed with the personal beauty, refinement, and other graces which befit spouses of Jesus Christ and children of God. For you must ever bear in mind that the glory of heaven, besides the elevation of our mind by the Light of glory, implies the elevation of our whole nature to the supernatural state.

Wherefore, not only is our mind elevated far beyond its present powers by the Light of glory, but our body, also, is to be exalted by the resurrection far beyond its present perfection. As we have already seen, all the just are to rise in glory, but each one in his own degree of perfection. “For, one is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars. For star differeth from star in glory. So, also, in the resurrection of the dead.” Here the Apostle of the Gentiles teaches us, in the plainest manner possible, that among the saints there is a very great difference in the degrees of personal beauty, grace, and splendor. There is as much difference between the beauty and splendor of the highest and those of the lowest, as we now see between the dazzling splendor of the surf and the pale light of the moon. As the resurrection is a portion of heaven’s rewards, it follows that the more completely we have mortified our inordinate passions, and made our life conformable to that of Jesus Christ, the more also of personal beauty and splendor shall we possess in heaven; and, consequently, the more of heaven’s happiness we shall enjoy.

These attributes of personal beauty and perfection, and elevation to a high position, in heaven, are the very marks by which we shall immediately recognize those who have been most holy, and who have done most for God, in this world. It will no longer be as now, when the wicked prosper, possess wealth, honors, and power, while the virtuous are not infrequently poor, despised, and even persecuted unto death. Hence, the appearance of a man and his surroundings are not a rule whereby we can rightly judge of his sanctity. Thus, when you see a man of great personal beauty, highly educated, and polished in his manners, surrounded with all the magnificence which the world can give, honored and idolized by his fellows, enjoying a high social position, and all the pleasures of life, you do not, you cannot judge, from all this worldly glory, that he is one of the holiest men living. He may, indeed, be a good man, but the glory which surrounds him is not the standard by which you can judge of the amount of virtue which he possesses.

In heaven, the glory which surrounds the saints is a rule, and an infallible one, by which we can tell the amount of virtue they practised while living in mortal flesh. Thus, when you enter there, you will see some who outshine others in splendor as the sun outshines the moon. You will see them wonderfully transformed into God, shining like the Divinity in His presence; partaking of the Divine Nature in a high degree, and united to Him in the most intimate manner. You will see them elevated far above others in rank, honored and loved in a special manner by the angels and saints. On seeing them, your first thought will be that these are the holiest persons in heaven. You will judge that their dazzling splendor, their wonderful resemblance to God, their intimate union with Him, the high position they occupy, and the exquisite pleasures they enjoy, are all so many proofs that, while on earth, they loved God with their whole heart, and their neighbor as themselves; that they were poor in spirit, humble, pure, patient in adversity, and that perhaps some of them laid down their lives for God, amidst the most excruciating torments. Here is a correct judgment. For it is precisely their heroic virtue, and not the mere accident of birth or the smile of fortune, which gives them the superior beauty, glory, and happiness they now enjoy.

Then, again, you will see others, who, although perfectly happy, are nevertheless far inferior in their degree of union with God and personal splendor. You will immediately infer that these practised virtue in an inferior degree. Your judgment is right again; for, in heaven, the glory which surrounds every saint is a rule by which we can judge of his moral worth, and of the amount of virtue which he practised while living in this world; because there it is all a just reward, and not the result of one’s birth, or of any caprice of fortune.