Credo: in vitam venturi saeculi

Our faithful dog of 14 years died two nights ago. Rosie was a good dog. As my wife put it, she was of all the members of our household morally the best, and most blameless. Certainly Rosie tried harder and more diligently than any of the rest of us to be good. And so she was, God bless her. She was an excellent instance of goodness, and of the general creaturely will toward the good. This made her a thing of beauty. Her humble obedience sanctified our house, albeit sometimes in quite a stinky, filthy way. I smile now to think of the horrible smells she used to carry home from her jaunts in the forest, the trophies of some deliciously rotten mélange. How odd, to miss those disgusting odors; to wish them back, with her.

It is indeed deeply, deeply odd that the world now proceeds without her; so much so, that the oddity is almost a violence, her absence a positive factor in the composition of each moment. It is not as if a bunch of rocks had moved from one arrangement to another on the beach, as the materialists would say has happened. It is as if a fairly sizable and remarkable rock had winked out of concrete existence altogether – a sheer impossibility, when you think about it, at least in a coherent, orderly world, where momenta are conserved. Rosie was a concrete fact, discrete from and supervenient to her constituent material facts, that expressed the substance of her life. Those constituents are still around, and rearranging, their momenta perfectly conserved; meanwhile the fact of Rosie is gone. She is now absent – literally, “away from being.” Where she was, there is now an ontological hole. It’s spooky.

After Rosie died, my children turned and asked me, being as patriarch also the priest of the family, whether she was going to heaven. St. Thomas argued that heaven is only for rational animals, and that while dogs have souls, they have not rationality. And this makes sense, so far as it goes. But it does not, it seems to me, go far enough. 

For, we are not to be resurrected as merely rational beings, but also, being in Heaven perfect completions of our natures, as embodied rational beings. The doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body has startling consequences, and turns out to be connected with the redemption of the world, both as a whole and in each of its particulars.

The human body is not, after all, an ontological island. It is a process of, and integral to, the whole created order. Think of a man’s body floating in a vacuum, and you get some glimmer of what life would be like for him without any environing world at all, even so much as a vacuum, a place and time, an extensive continuum. It would be, simply, impossible for him to exist that way. For, where the heck would such a man be? Indeed, the more carefully one tries to imagine such a situation, the more it begins to seem in the end utterly inconceivable. The notion of an unenvironed body is just incoherent. You can say, “a body that is not in a world,” but you can’t mean anything by it, because the notion is just nonsense, like “square circle.”

As the human soul must be embodied to be fully expressed, then, so likewise the human body must be environed by a world. And not just any world, but a world very like the sort of world in which we now find ourselves. Our bodies are products of, and fitted to, worlds of the type we inhabit. It is in the nature of man to exist in worlds such as ours. Our nature cannot, therefore, find complete expression, except in such a world.  

We shall be raised incorruptible, not some other guys; in our bodies shall we see God, not in some other bodies that belong to different sorts of creatures altogether. We shall be raised as men and women, with hair and teeth, who eat and dance and sing. We cannot then be raised, and yet still be properly ourselves, except in a world such as ours, that has a history, a causal order, and more: weather, food, and living things other than human beings, like plants and animals. Heaven, then – or, at least that portion of Heaven apt to such as we – is not unlikely to be quite similar to Earth on its best days, and with all its best features, but realized to perfection.

There is no particular reason why such a world might not have dogs. And there is a very good reason to think that it will have dogs, including Rosie, with all their doggy virtues – namely, the love of God, that would not stint at providing any good thing to worlds with which it is compossible, and that could not in any case anywise be stinted, being limitlessly potent. An infinite Creator can pour out perfect worlds without end or limit, without being at all exhausted. Why should He refrain from creating dogs in a perfect, maximally good world, when He has already seen fit to create them in this its sublunary, fallen, defective and corrupt derogation?

The same goes for every natural good of our world. Which of His good works would the infinite Good prefer not to salve and redeem? Thus the Church insists that the sacrifice on the Cross effected the redemption of the world. Thus it is that at the triumphant coda of the Creed, we avow that we believe in the life of the world to come. The Ascension is the van of a general procedure, already under way, that will eventually involve all created things that agree thereto. I feel sure that Rosie is already numbered among them. Perhaps I shall be, too, if I am not too stiff-necked. If so, then I am confident that I shall meet her again in that immaculate wilderness, where she runs forever and ever with that same unbelievable speed she had as a youngster, sprinting joyfully up and up an immense and perfect hill to meet her Master under the endless blue sky.

It would be good to see her again, and there to run with her. I hope it may be so.

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21 thoughts on “Credo: in vitam venturi saeculi

  1. Kristor,

    I am sorry about your family’s loss, but thank you for the post.

    I have always liked The Great Divorce by Lewis. He manifests the beauty of reality so cleverly. My favorite part is probably when the narrator sees “the Lady”:

    All down one long aisle of the forest the under-sides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this appearance as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realized my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.

    First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers-soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundred-weight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honor all this was being done.

    I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.

    But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

    “Is it? … is it?” I whispered to my guide.

    “Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

    “She seems to be … well, a person of particular importance?”

    “Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

    “And who are these gigantic people . . . look! They’re like emeralds . . . who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?”

    “Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand livened angels lackey her,”

    For Sarah Smith! I love it. Lewis was a charmer. Yet, he saw what you see, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

    * * *

    On my site, I have three poems by Kipling about man’s best friend, including “The Power of the Dog” that I reposted when my dog died. They are therapeutic, and they remind me that even a noble soul like Kipling could be touched by something so common as a dog. Yet, as another good man noted, “All that is gold does not glitter,” and a common dog’s love surely is more divine than any precious metal.

    I wish your family well.

  2. Good post.

    Walking straight past your serious religious points, let me say you have my sincere sympathy. The devotion of a good dog is a wonderful thing. May it not be lost to you, and may you meet Rosie again and forever.

  3. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Romans 8:19-22

  4. Hmmm…it seems to me as if you don’t actually address the Saint’s point. Dogs may indeed be in the New Earth (as it is called in Revelation). But a dog’s soul is not rational, and thus when it dies on Earth, according to Aquinas, it is gone because a non-rational animal’s soul is not immortal. So shouldn’t it be impossible that your particular individual dog, Rosie, is in Heaven? Her soul is gone.

    By the way, I am very sorry for your loss. My dog died a few years ago-sudden cancer at the age of 6. He was a huge golden retriever named Disney, and he was incredible. I still miss him.

    • You are right that I didn’t address Thomas. But it seems to me that I needn’t do so. That a soul is not naturally immortal is no limitation on God. Indeed, the natural properties of creatures are not natural to God, but natural in Him, and by Him, as His free acts. He created Nature, and natures, in the first place; He created Rosie’s soul, that conformed to the canine nature he had likewise created; and He sustained her in being over the course of her earthly life. That sustenance was not necessary, but contingent. And all this is true likewise for rational as for irrational souls. So I see no reason why the limitless Power that is Goodness itself would prefer not to renew Rosie’s life.

      • So are you saying that God will “re-form” Rosie’s soul after death (if so, this raises the question of whether it’s actually Rosie or merely a clone implanted with copies of Rosie’s memories)? Or are you saying that at death God will sustain her soul’s existence just as He did in life (which seems more coherent to me).

      • Yes. Both. God sustains us in life by re-forming us from one moment to the next. Reality is quantal. If it isn’t, then the Xenonian Paradoxes are insuperable. We know the Xenonian Paradoxes are superable in reality, because in reality there is really motion. So reality has to be discontinuous. This means time accretes in discrete bits. And this means that the apparent continuity of our experience, and of motion generally, is due to reiteration of the characteristics and properties of past events.

        Thus resurrection seems no more problematic to me than the fact that I continue as myself from one moment to another, quite different moment of my life. To me, the latter fact is the strangest, spookiest thing I can well think of.

    • Wait, by nature the human soul isn’t immortal either. It’s by supernatural grace alone that the immaterial operations of the soul are preserved after death and subsequently rejoined to a resurrected body. There’s no reason to suppose doggy souls are really any different in this regard.

  5. @Kristor. In my simple way, I would interpret the Xenonian Paradoxes as telling us that reality is NOT quantal!

    In other words, they are telling us that IF we try to interpret reality quantally THEN we get paradoxes.

    But I am NOT saying that therefore reality is continuous, because then we could say nothing about it.

    My own take on this is that there is on the one hand reality, then on the other hand there are the humanly limited, hence metaphorical ways that we try to understand reality.

    We can only think and communicate with metaphors, but at some point ALL metaphors break-down because they are not reality.

    • But the problem at the root of the Xenonian paradoxes is that a continuum is infinitely divisible. The distance on the number line between 1 and 2 can never be completed in a finite number of steps, if that distance is infinitely divisible, so that the corresponding steps are infinitely small. If reality is continuous, it will take an infinite number of steps to traverse that distance – or any other, including the distance traversed by any one step. And no infinite sequence of steps is completeable. So if reality is continuous, nothing can finish happening.

      But if reality is quantal, so that there are say at most 10 quantum leaps that can fit into the difference between 1 and 2, then that distance may be traversed in 10 quantal steps.

      Thus in order to proceed at all, the world must proceed as a sequence of completeable quantal steps. But this gets tricky, because while the procession must be stepwise, the result of the procession is an integral continuum of coherent facts. It is easier to parse these two statements if we remember that while the result of procession is a completed past, complete with all its tightly integrated causal relations, the procession itself is a novel creative advance from that past into a new synthesis. Each present moment is itself and nothing else (from this alone we may infer that reality must be quantal). But once it has completed its quantal procedure of becoming, each moment is what it is in virtue of its relations to its antecedents.

      Notwithstanding all that, of course, you are quite right to say that we must think with metaphors that are not really adequate to their referents.

  6. @Kristor – well, that’s another way to think about it; I was just saying how it stuck me: That one shouldn’t go even start to down the path of cutting-up reality.

    I have always rebelled against it when ‘people’ express mathematical or physical equations or concepts (such as integration) in words, as if this makes them generally understandable or common sensical! (You get this a lot in pop science.)

    For people that didn’t (deeply) understand the maths in the first place – this is a sleight of hand.

    What is needed is a common sense argument for the math.

    • I was using “integral” in its pre-Newtonian sense, derived from the Latin integer, “whole, complete, untouched;” from Proto-Indo-European in-, “not” + tag, “touch, tag, strike gently.” “Untouched” in the sense of un-cut, un-engraved. Cf. on the one hand the Zen Buddhist notion of the uncarved block which is reality itself, and on the other the ancient Hebrew notion that the Logos impresses itself upon Prime Matter in rather the way that the scribe engraves the Word on the damp clay – or that Jesus draws with his finger in the dust.

      Calculus applies the term to the operation of integration, by which Newton’s infinitesimals, generated by a reiterated continuous function, constitute a smooth, continuous curve. Calculus approaches a solution to the Xenonian Paradoxes, but because Newton’s infinitesimals are in principle divisible without limit into ever-smaller infinitesimals, it does not succeed. Indeed, Newtonian integration does nothing more than formalize Xeno. In order for the integration of calculus really to answer him, a lower bound is needed for the size of the infinitesimals. This bound is expressed in calculus in the notion of the limit. This the Planck length does; it specifies the limit. So the Planck length enables the infinitesimals to be fully definite, so that they can then be stitched together, ex post facto, into the extensive continuum apparent to their causal successors.

      Quanta may be divided in thought, but not in actuality. This is the perfect expression by material reality of what you said about metaphor: that it sooner or later breaks down because it is inadequate to reality. The Planck length shows us just where this breakdown of thought and analysis occurs. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Relation is a formalization of the limit of creaturely knowledge, of thought and understanding. No amount of analysis, of division, of touching, can tell us both the momentum and position of a quantum. Thus, no creature can know what the quantum of action is in itself except that quantum; and, obviosly, no quantum can know what it means for its successors. But God knows both what the quantum is in itself and what it means for its successors, in his Middle Knowledge.

      What I have just written attempts to be a commonsense argument, or rather an explication, for the math. The problem of course is that it is commonsensical only by virtue of a prior commonsensical explication of some pretty abstruse metaphysics, that itself looks rather counter-intuitive, prima facie.

  7. I uses Diogenes’s method for solving the so-called paradoxes of motion: I walk out of the room.

  8. Pingback: Do dogs go to heaven? |

  9. As a dog owner and lover and as a Catholic I have always taken comfort from scripture, St Paul says “Love Hopes All Things” and I hope to spend eternity after the general resurrection with all those people and creatures I have loved during my lifetime on earth. Also God says “Behold I Make ALL things new” and I firmly believe that he will renew ALL the good things in creation including the individual creatures such as pets we have enjoyed here in Him. I am no theologian, philosopher or quantum physicist, all I know is that God is Love and beauty itself and when I look at animals I see that they in some mysterious way contain him and reflect his glory. Nothing ceases to exist, all is present to God who is not subject or confined to space and time. Everything, all creation, past present and future is just one giant thought in the mind of God and he never stops thinking it.

    • Kenny I just lost my sweet daschund Lucy at the age of 3! I loved that sweet little girl so much! your words really touched me Thank you.

  10. I believe all beloved pets (cats included!) will greet us in Heaven. We will be infinitely happy in Heaven and God provides for our complete happiness, and for many, that would include their beloved pets! I have three waiting for me right now! Unfortunately, since I will be in purgatory for awhile, (actually, I’ll be the one turning out the lights and locking up…) they have a bit of a wait yet!

  11. Toad: I guess I’m slow today, but I don’t see the connection between dogs/pets going to Heaven and earthquakes and leprosy!

  12. Pingback: What Good is Pain? | The Orthosphere

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