Degrees of Heavenly Bliss?

Q. Someone told me that the saints in heaven will enjoy differing degrees of blessedness and glory. If all the redeemed have attained perfection in heaven, won’t they all be equal?

A. To say that the redeemed will attain perfection is not the same as saying that they will attain equality. For those of us who must, before entering heaven, first enter the intermediate state of purgatory, it will be a process of purifying the love for God which by His grace we have attained in this life.

In other words, the depth of the love we have at the moment of death is the depth at which we shall be glorified. The level of spiritual maturity we have attained by grace at the moment of death is the level at which we shall be perfected through our life in purgatory, the level at which we shall spend eternity. Our love for God and for those around us will be perfected, but will not be increased.

Consider this analogy. If we fill both a fifty-gallon drum and a thimble with water, one container is just as full as the other. But their capacity is greatly different.

This image illustrates what the Church teaches: In the lives of the redeemed in heaven there will be varying “degrees of blessedness.” Different persons will have different capacities for union with God, based on the sanctity each has achieved by grace in this life. We all will be filled to perfection, though not all of us to the same capacity.

Even so, there will of course be no envy in heaven. Those of us who will be like thimbles will forever rejoice in the saints who will be like water towers.

Jesus assured us, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (Jn 14:2). St. Augustine taught that the reference to “rooms” or “mansions” refers to differing degrees of rewards in heaven, and St. Thomas Aquinas concurred.

In 1439 the ecumenical Council of Florence taught that those who have incurred no sin after baptism, as well as those who have been cleansed of all stain from sin, will “clearly behold the triune God as He is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits” (emphasis added). The Greek version of that conciliar teaching ends with the words, “according to the worth of their lives.”

The “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” of the Second Vatican Council says this of the life of the redeemed in heaven: “All of us … in varying degrees and in different ways, share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God” (sec. 49, emphasis added).

In 1979 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Letter on Eschatology.” It stated clearly that “our charity on earth will be the measure of our sharing in God’s glory in heaven” (emphasis in the original).

True love always desires the deepest possible union appropriate to the relationship with the beloved. If we truly love God our Father, Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Lifegiver, we want to share in their life to the fullest possible extent. So you can see why the Church continually urges us to grow in sanctity. PT