Pope Discusses New Heaven and New Earth for Very First Time in Catholic History

Pope Discusses New Heaven and New Earth for Very First Time in Catholic History December 10, 2014

I remember when Benedict gave a homily on our responsibility for creation a few years ago and the press reported that he wore special green vestments as a sign of his commitment to environmentalism.

That’s the calibre of informed theological awareness we are nearly always dealing with when the press reports on the Church.  That, and the press’ love of narratives of conflict, is what drives nearly all reportage on this pope too.

So, f’rinstance, a few weeks back, Francis remarked on the immemorial Catholic teaching about the promise of a New Heaven and New Earth and the press managed to a) decide that Francis was saying something revolutionary in the history of Catholic teaching and b) read it as an attack on Mean Ol’ Benedict. Two birds with one stone! Let’s take a look in slo-mo at the car wreck of reportage (and bear in mind that this is but one out of a vast mosaic of similar mosaic pieces the media creates as it crafts the narrative of Francis vs. Mean Benedict and the Church):

It’s a dog’s afterlife: Pope Francis hints that animals go to heaven

The pontiff’s remarks were interpreted by some as bringing ‘hope of salvation … to animals and the whole of creation’

“Some say” is the standard approved media way of inserting whatever barking crazy spin you want on a story.
Animals, too, go to heaven. That, at least, was one interpretation of remarks made by Pope Francis in his weekly general audience in the Vatican.

Okay, so now we’ve gone from the pope “hinting” to somebody else interpreting.  Even less There there.

The endlessly controversial 77-year-old pontiff said: “The holy scripture teaches us that the fulfilment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.”

Subtext, this revolutionary statement is “controversial”.  Except that this is only true if you don’t know what the Church teaches.  If you do, it’s entirely uncontroversial because Scripture does, in fact, say this.

The pope went on to quote from St Paul, St Peter and the Book of Revelation in support of the view that “what lies ahead … is therefore a new creation”.

Yes.  A new heaven and a new earth are foretold in Revelation and St. Paul speaks of creation groaning in anticipation of the revelation of the children of God.  Message: the power of Christ’s redemption doesn’t just affect us.  It will renew all of Creation.

He added: “It is not an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us. Rather it brings everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty.”

Again, yep.  Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.

Italian daily Corriere della Sera was in no doubt about his meaning. “It broadens the hope of salvation and eschatological beatitude to animals and the whole of creation,” wrote the paper’s Vatican specialist in an article published on Thursday.

It’s pretty loosey goosey to talk of animals being “saved” since animals are incapable of sin.  Salvation is about salvation from *sin*.  Non-rational creatures can’t be “saved” since they have no sin to be saved from.  Similarly, “beatitude” in the theological sense ain’t happening since the ability to enjoy contemplation of God is no more in their nature than the ability to enjoy the works of Dostoeyevsky.  That’s not an insult to non-rational creatures.  It’s just reality.

That doesn’t mean that the rest of creation has no place in the scheme of redemption.  The whole point of talking about a new heaven and a new earth is to say that it has.  But talking about “animals going to heaven” in the sense of enjoying salvation as human shall is nonsense.  Your dog is capable of enjoying a lot of stuff and may well be capable of enjoying a new earth.  But he will never be capable of contemplating the face of God in the way that an angel or a redeemed human being will.

Others were not convinced.

“We all say that there will be a continuity between this world and the joyful one of the future, [but also] a transformation,” said Gianni Colzani, an emeritus professor of theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.

“It is the balance between the two things that we are not in a position to determine. For that reason, I think we shouldn’t make [Pope Francis] say more than he says.”

Exactly.  Notice that the sane approach here is to *listen to the pope* and not to listen to what “some say” they speculate the pope means.

Though a noted cat-lover, Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, seemed to close the doors of heaven firmly to pets and other animals in a sermon he gave in 2008. “For other creatures, who are not called to eternity, death just means the end of existence on Earth,” he said.

And now we begin the Francis vs. Mean Benedict part of our show.  Here is Benedict in context without the all-imported “seemed” to strengthen the narrative of conflict with what Francis likewise allegedly “seemed” to say:

Sooner or later everything that begins on earth comes to its end, like the meadow grass that springs up in the morning and by evening has wilted. In Baptism, however, the tiny human being receives a new life, the life of grace, which enables him or her to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator for ever, for the whole of eternity. Unfortunately, human beings are capable of extinguishing this new life with their sin, reducing themselves to being in a situation which Sacred Scripture describes as “second death”. Whereas for other creatures who are not called to eternity, death means solely the end of existence on earth, in us sin creates an abyss in which we risk being engulfed for ever unless the Father who is in Heaven stretches out his hand to us. This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of Baptism: God desired to save us by going to the bottom of this abyss himself so that every person, even those who have fallen so low that they can no longer perceive Heaven, may find God’s hand to cling to and rise from the darkness to see once again the light for which he or she was made. We all feel, we all inwardly comprehend that our existence is a desire for life which invokes fullness and salvation. This fullness is given to us in Baptism.

What we notice here is that Benedict’s purpose is to contrast natural life (bios) with supernatural life (zoe).  In particular, he is at pains to point out that the main death Jesus comes to rescue us from is the Second Death, not the first.  Animals, being incapable of both communion with God and, therefore, of sin against him also are incapable of suffering the Second Death.  They cannot destroy the communion that rational creatures like angels and humans can enjoy because they are not rational creatures.  We can.  And so the gift of baptism is given to us because we need it.

That’s not to say that I believe Benedict secretly believes animals will be in heaven.  It’s simply to say that the purpose of the homily is not to establish any hard and fast doctrine about what critters (if any) will be in the new heaven and the new earth.  It is, rather, to emphasize the reality that *we* are rational creatures who are playing for far higher stakes: eternal communion with God or eternal loss of God. Neither Francis nor Benedict are saying what is being put in their mouths and there is, at most legitimate diversity, not conflict happening here.  And likely not even that.  After all, Benedict knows about the New Heaven and New Earth too.

Certainly, the Catholic catechism holds out little hope for the animal kingdom in the next life – and not much for it in this life either. The keynote is the absolute primacy of mankind as the species which, according to Christian doctrine, was created in God’s image.

This is like saying the Catechism holds out little hope for Andromedans.  The Catechism does not discuss the destiny of animals because the Bible is not the Big Book of Everything.  We simply have no idea what God is up to with the rest of creation. Revelation is given in order to save our desperately depraved race.  The divine answer to “What about my dog?” is “What is that to thee?  Follow thou me.”  We are given enough information to know things like “Don’t be cruel to animals”  and “It’s okay to use them for food, clothing, and medicine”.  We are not told anything about what God intends for them beyond that.

“Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity,” it says, while cautioning that “animals are God’s creatures”, and therefore “men owe them kindness”.

But it is clear in its view that it is “legitimate to use animals for food and clothing”. And it backs scientific experimentation on animals “if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives”.


Pope Francis is known to be writing an encyclical that will deal with environmental issues. But it is unclear whether it will decide for once and all whether those who get to meet St Peter can expect to find a dog nearby lifting its leg on the pearly gates.

Actually, it’s perfectly clear: he won’t.  The faith is not the Pope’s personal possession to which he can add new invented doctrines about things God has told us nothing about.  God has not told much one way or t’other about the destiny of other creatures beyond “There will be a new heaven and a new earth”.  Francis can’t discuss things God has not told us for sure.  He can speculate a bit, but that’s about it.

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  • antigon

    Remember that dog that brought food to St. Rocco that pulled him through when he thought he was dying from the bubonic plague? Yeah, the one in all the statues in the Italian churches. To whom I lit a candle – well, actually to St. Rocco, tho I find it hard to believe those two don’t still romp together – when me own pup died? Just thought Rocco’s might help mine with whatever transition dogs make.
    So sue me.
    Also congrats on writing a fun & interesting post about our Popes without – not even once! – denouncing the misapplication of fire as regards hair!

  • Dick Haaker

    Saint John Bosco had a dog (an angel?), Grigio, who would show up in times when he was in danger You can read about it here: http://www.fisheaters.com/animals11.html

  • All I can say is it’s lucky for my cat that he can’t go to Heaven – because he is evil personified; he would go to Hell.


    • Rob B.

      Aren’t all cats damned, in the end?

  • bb

    Good article. I just want to mention that while the catechism does say it is, “legitimate to use animals for food and clothing”, it also places restrictions on that use, CCC 2418 “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly”.

  • Robert Fisher

    Animals do not have immortal souls. When they die their anima perishes. Animals are not in heaven because they have no capacity to appreciate or comprehend God.
    They have no divine life within them. Anthropomorphism, or personification, is attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. It is sentimentality and projection of meaning onto animals where none exists. With all due respect the Pope is moving into the realms of fantasy when he imagines what the future holds. He does not know. Figurative imagery is not reality. It is symbolic. Lions eat other animals, cats kill and toy with dead birds, they even eat people. There is nothing but instinct, appetite and survival. Their lives are terrestrial.

    • one comment

      Robert: Are you sure when you say: “they have no capacity to appreciate or comprehend God”??

      Isaiah 11: 6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
      and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
      and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
      and a little child shall lead them.
      7 The cow and the bear shall feed;
      their young shall lie down together;
      and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
      8 The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
      and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
      9 They shall not hurt or destroy
      in all my holy mountain;
      for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
      as the waters cover the sea.

      Genesis 1: 24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind:cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 26 Then
      God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky
      and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping
      thing that creeps on the earth.”…

    • Well someone didn’t have a dog or cat growing up.

    • Steve

      Let us not mistake Aquinas (or Aristotle) for Revelation. We don’t know what kind of souls animals have, if they have souls, or what souls are, in relation to what we know of as things that are alive. We don’t have a lot of data in terms of what a “soul” is other than a human soul. Animals were in Eden, and perhaps they didn’t eat one another. Animals were on the ark, and presumably they didn’t eat each other (and presumably these events happened in some way that animals that normally eat each other didn’t). Animals might be in the New Earth, and presumably they won’t eat each other. Aquinas makes the argument in favor of the existence of angels because they “fill out” the beauty of creation (in an argument too long and complex for me to fully remember, much less give here). I imagine that a heaven without animals would be a less-than-super-abundant privation of God’s normal modus operandi, especially since we’re talking about heaven/New Earth/New Heavens being the fulfillment of which this world is only a promise.

  • Clare Krishan

    re: “What we notice here is that Benedict’s purpose is to contrast natural life (bios) with supernatural life (zoe).” you know that would be a really neat thing for some Vatican ecumenical group to put together – a phrase book or type of concordance for all the terms in use in several modern liturgical languages (e.g, what is the word for ;consubstantial’ in the various creeds of all the churches in Communion with Rome, and in those not in Communion with Rome) in light of Pope Francis’ promise to the ecumenical Patriarch (that shared common faith is all thats required… what is ‘shared’ or ‘common’ in our Western loosy-goosy use of the same word (the Nicene formula: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver-of-life vivificántem in Latin but “Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζῳοποιόν” expressed in triplicate ‘Spirit the Holy, the Lord, the Zoopoion’ ie the eternal-life-maker) for two such very different concepts? Thus, its more than the mere word ‘filioque’ that separates us cognitively-speaking? We in the West have much we can still learn from the Eastern liturgical life!

  • It may be the first time a Pope spoke about the concept of a new heaven and a new earth (I doubt it), l but for sure it is not the first time it has been expressed in writing. Joseph Ratzinger in his book Eschatology (pp. 169-179) wrote about it in a very clear and interesting way in relation to the question of the resurrection of the dead, which we profess in the Creed. Ratzinger combines St Paul’s discourse from 1 Cor 15 and Isaiah, St Peter, and Revelation’s prophecy of the new heaven and the new earth, putting it in the context of St Thomas Aquinas’ theology of the soul/body relationship. Ratzinger proposes that the current body made of the materiality of the current creation (i.e. heaven and earth) is corruptable (subjected to futility cf. Rom 8:18-30) and that at the resurrection God will raise up bodies made of the materality of the new creation (the new heaven and new earth.) Very, very interesting and contains a better understanding that the resurrection has to wait until the Second coming because it is not until then that the new materiality will come into being or at least be available for population.

    • Peregrinus

      I assume, Deacon Peter, that your resume of Ratzinger’s argument is inaccurate, for Aquinas or the author of the Supplement to the Summa actually argues against the position you describe (see Suppl. IIIa, q. 82, a. 1). The existence of the resurrected Christ’s glorified body, which is of the same general quality as the bodies of the saints will be, also seems to provide evidence contrary to the notion that the “materiality” of the new Heaven and new Earth must “come into being” before the impassible bodies of the resurrected saints can exist.

      • The general quality of the Risen Lord, prior to the New Heaven and the New earth, does not preclude the notion that Ratzinger expresses (or St Paul for that matter cf. 1 Cor 15.) The Risen Lord’s resurrected body can very well be of the new materiality, in the same respect that when He said “This is my Body . . . this is my Blood,” transformation happened even though it was prior to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. All moments of time are present to God in their immediacy (cf. CCC #599-600). I will look into your reference to the Summa, but I’m sure it will not contradict Ratzinger’s notion of new materiality. Again, the Lord is not restricted by time or space, and yes, his resurrected body has “the same general quality (materiality) as that of the saints.” You are very correct about that. Thank you for the dialogue.

        • Peregrinus

          The eternal existence of God does not allow material or
          matter actually to exist prior to its coming into being (law of non-contradiction); nor does the confection of the Eucharist prior to the crucifixion provide evidence that it does. The Son’s eternal offering of Himself to the Father, it is true, allowed the Eucharistic celebration at the Last Supper to be a true sacrifice in advance of the Cross, but it did not change the quality of the body then offered (see CCC, Para. 1085). The bread consecrated in the Upper Room became the actual body of the Christ as it was at the time, i.e., His unglorified body (see the Summa contra gentiles, IV, 64). All subsequent celebrations of the Eucharist have made present our Lord’s glorified body because it was, in fact, glorified at the time of those celebrations.

  • TerryC

    Absence of proof is not proof of absence. The truth is we know nothing about whether or not the New Earth will be populated by animals or not, nor whether the afterlife has non-sentiant spiritual creatures or not. Nor do we know whether or not the higher animals, dogs, cats, dolphins or apes know or contemplate God. For all we know they might have an intimate relationship with their creator. Since they don’t have the ability to sin, being simply the creatures that God made them to be, why shouldn’t that be as aware of God as they are of us?
    On the perishablility of animal souls we do have pretty solid theological knowledge. Like us animals have a soul. Unlike our soul their souls are not immortal, and are not made in God’s image.
    It makes me sad that the pets I have had over my life are no more, their souls dissipating as life leaves their bodies, the spark of spiritual energy returning to God at their death. Sad, but resigned to the fact that they were not built for eternity as were the friends and family that have already past. Such was God’s plan.

  • Meggan

    Thank you for this Mark. But I have a question. The newspapers are “reporting” on something he said in his General Audience of November 26. But where are some of the newspapers getting this: “Francis comforted a boy whose dog had died, noting, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” I watched that whole General Audience. I read the transcript. When did this comforting of a boy whose dog had died happen? Are there two different incidents being described in the papers??

    • chezami

      Beats me. The conversation was like in Italian, if it happened at all.

  • At last we have the official, theologically-correct answer:



  • sam beach

    new means new so He will “restore all things” I betcha happy for 4evah

  • AJ

    RNS Reports this:

    Sorry, Fido. Pope Francis did NOT say our pets are going to heaven