Heaven and the Heavens

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For the authors of the Hebrew scriptures, "the heavens" are a physical reality. "Hashamayim" is plural in Hebrew, just as "heavens" is plural in English.

The Christian concept of Heaven is an eternal state of complete, perfect, everlasting bliss caused by unblemished union with God. "Heaven" in this sense is not a part of the physical universe at all.

The Heavens

Ps 19:2
οἱ οὐρανοὶ διηγοῦνται δόξαν θεοῦ ποίησιν δὲ χειρῶν αὐτοῦ ἀναγγέλλει τὸ στερέωμα
The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.

Heaven

2 Cor 12:2
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.

God Himself dwells in the "highest heaven" (sheme hashamayim, the "heaven of heavens").

Hebrew constructs superlatives by using the bound form. So, for example, "King of Kings," "Lord of Lords," and "God of Gods" may be translated as "the highest King," "the greatest Lord," and "the supreme God." The "highest heaven" is "sheme hashamayim," the "Heavens of the Heavens" or the "Sky of the Skies." There is always a sky of sorts involved in our imagination. We cannot picture any thing at all without supposing (or imposing) a background and horizon behind it. Logically, there must be a highest heaven, a sky that bounds all skies, a background that has no background. And, as Thomas says at the end of each of His Five Ways, "and this everyone understands to be God." God is not in the Heavens; the Heavens are in God.

What we mean by "heaven" in ordinary discourse is union with God in eternity.

"Heaven" in this sense is a state, not a place.

Catechism

Emphasis added in bold and italics in some of these passages.

#1023
Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face:[1]
By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven - have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.[2]
#1024
This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
#1025
To live in heaven is "to be with Christ." The elect live "in Christ,"[3] but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name.[4]
For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.[5]
#1026
By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has "opened" heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.
#1027
This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him."[6]
#1028
Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man's immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory "the beatific vision":
How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God's friends.[7]
#1029
In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God's will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with him "they shall reign for ever and ever."[8]
#2802
"Who art in heaven" does not refer to a place but to God's majesty and his presence in the hearts of the just. Heaven, the Father's house, is the true homeland toward which we are heading and to which, already, we belong.

Peter Kreeft

The man to whom I look to teach me how to think about Heaven is Peter Kreeft. He reasons from the Catholic Deposit of Faith, which includes Scripture and Tradition.

"How Heaven Transforms Our Lives."
Restoring a practical and operative faith in heaven would go very far toward restoring vigor, joy and spiritual health to our society. But we can’t give what we don’t have. We must be sure we are living this central article of our faith first. If the salt has lost its saltiness, it is good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot on icy sidewalks.
The fundamental reason heaven is so life-transforming is not what is there but Who is there. Heaven does not contain God. God contains heaven. Heaven is relative to God, God is not relative to heaven. Heaven is heaven only because it is the full presence of God. Without God, whatever else heaven may have becomes completely worthless. So does earth. (St. Paul’s word for it, in Philippians 3, was skubala, which the old Douay and King James Bibles translated "dung.") And with God, nothing else is needed.

References

  1. 1 Jn 3:2; cf. 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4.
  2. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000; cf. LG 49.
  3. Phil 1:23; cf. Jn 14:3; 1 Thess 4:17.
  4. Cf. Rev 2:17.
  5. St. Ambrose, In Luc.,10,121:PL 15 1834A.
  6. 1 Cor 2:9.
  7. St. Cyprian, Ep. 58,10,1:CSEL 3/2,665.
  8. Rev 22:5; cf. Mt 25:21,23.

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