Catholic Candle note: Catholic Candle normally examines particular issues thoroughly, at length, using the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and the other Doctors of the Church. By contrast, our feature CC in brief, gives an extremely short answer to a reader’s question. We invite readers to submit their own questions.
The Existence of Time in the Afterlife
Q. While sanctifying the Sunday at home, I read in a sermon recently that stated:
“Time is a blessing which we enjoy only in this life; it is not enjoyed in the next; it is not found in heaven nor in hell.”
Is this true that there is no time in heaven or in hell?
A. There is time in heaven and in hell.
Anywhere that there are bodies which move, there is time. In fact, time is the measure of the motion of a body. When a body moves, there is a “before” and an “after” of time, with the movement continuing between this beginning and its ending. By contrast, angels are not, properly speaking, in time because they do not have bodies.
We hold that it will be possible for the blessed to move their bodies in heaven. We hold that they will be able to smile, to sing, and to move from place-to-place. In fact, they will have the gift of agility in their glorified bodies. This will make their movement effortless and extremely fast. We reject the idea that the bodies of the blessed will be frozen in perpetual immobility. Because the blessed will move their bodies, there will a “before” and an “after” to these movements and there will be time in heaven.
Further, we hold that it will be possible, e.g., for Our Lord and the Blessed Mother to turn their heads and to smile upon the saints.
Because of all such movements, there will certainly be time in heaven.
The limbo of the babies is a part of hell (but is not a part of the hell of the damned). We hold that limbo is a place of natural happiness. We hold that the resurrection of the bodies at the end of the world will include the bodies of those in limbo. We hold that those persons in limbo will be able to move their bodies.
Perhaps those in limbo will stroll in beautiful surroundings. Perhaps they will sing or talk together. Any such activities (which are part of living in natural happiness) will involve their bodies and will require movement and, thus, time.
In the hell of the damned
It would seem that the damned in hell will not be able to do any activities which will give them relief or enjoyment. So, in that regard, they might be fixed in immoveable pain and misery.
However, there are some bodily activities that might occur in hell. Perhaps the damned will torture each other, or scream at each other, or shout curses and words of hatred at each other.
So, is there time in heaven and hell?
Thus, we hold that there is unending time in heaven, in the limbo of the babies, and in the hell of the damned.
Where is there eternity?
In fact, one could ask whether there is any eternity in hell. Loosely speaking, never-ending time is sometimes called eternity. Since the time in hell is literally unending, we could loosely call it “eternal” in this way.
Further, we talk about an unpleasant experience being eternal. For example, if the dentist was drilling my tooth for a long time, we might say, as a manner of expression, that “I sat in the dentist’s chair for an eternity.”
But strictly speaking, it seems that eternity belongs most properly only to heaven, and not to hell. Whereas time is similar to a point moving along a line, and for which there is a “before” and an “after”, by contrast, eternity is an ever-present “now” which is like a point that does not move.
Thus, properly speaking, God is in eternity. He never moves in any way. He thinks only one thought and has only one act of love without end.
The blessed in heaven are also, properly speaking, in eternity not as they smile at Our Lord (or whatever other acts they do which involve their bodies), but rather as they are immersed in the greatest happiness of heaven, which is the Beatific Vision.
In this vision, their minds will see God in His essence, without any movement. As the blessed see God, their minds will not go from “point to point” in the manner in which we think on this earth. Their minds will see a single vision of God’s essence without movement or weariness, without end.
Thus, in summary, God, the angels, and the saints are in eternity, properly speaking in the Beatific Vision. The blessed in heaven are also in unending time, along with all humans in limbo and in hell.