SCIENCE AND THE RIVER STYX

(This is for you, Dear  Friend-With-The-Camera, Air Force Academy Graduate, and DEQ  Scientist for our state, retired):

I found it !    I finally found it!     I have at times brought conversations in my classes to a screeching halt by asking the “simple”  question:  “What is Time?”   Now I’ve found a definition.

It wasn’t one of those “teaching questions.”      For decades,  I really wanted to know.    And now on this Saturday in  Easter Week,  the satisfaction of having a good definition for Time helps me understand what happened on this day so long ago.

Banner Easterthur

Because here’s what happened on the day after Good Friday, almost 2,000 years ago.   We say it in the Creed,  after Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried.”  Then:  “He descended into hell. . .”

This “hell” –

limbo

Not the Hell of the damned, as they say,  eternal banishment, punishment, and the horror of “flames” and torture —  but the  unspecific word “hell”  that is the Place of the Dead –  a state-of-being which is before our Judgment that we don’t know.     The book of Jude calls it the “prison”  where souls go after death . . .  shadowy,  unspecific,  indistinct,  not “lively” like human souls are supposed to be.

Before Christ died,  Heaven was not open to human life.     Wasn’t appropriate yet.   Wasn’t possible yet.      But human souls who looked for and hoped for the Messiah,  longed for the coming of Christ,  would not be lost in Hell,   yet what happened to them?

We don’t know.

The Greeks had it figured out:  when humans died,  their souls were transported across the River (the River Styx)  into a shadowy,  dimly conscious frozen state of being.

styx

 

The teaching of the Church, though, is these souls went to a kind of “limbo” –  neither here nor there;  specifically the Limbo of the Patriarchs,  those faithful souls who lived their lives according to the promises from God . . .  and then died.

Human souls had no power to leave.   That’s why it was called “a prison.”   Not even Orpheus with his exquisitely beautiful music  could really release any soul from Hades.

Until  Jesus.  Jesus died, in His Human Nature;  but in His Divine Nature He had power to “lay down His life and to take it up again”  —   He has power over life and death,  His and ours.  He is the Resurrection (from the dead).

So it is, on  the “day”  after Good Friday He went to this Place of the Dead, to Hades,  to Sheol  (in the Hebrew language),  the souls there woke and saw the Christ they had believed in when in this life  and  recognized Him and were able to follow Him —  out of Hades. . . into Heaven with Him.

Now here we have to stop again, because we know so little.  Not much has been revealed to us and we can’t know this on our own — and certainly not by experience.

sand dial

Since the moment of our conception,  we’ve experienced only Time.      We’ve never been outside of Time.    So those souls who died still looking for their coming Messiah?   Where are they  “now”?     “When”  did they see Christ?     “When”  is their Judgment?

They are with the One who has always been apart from and outside of Time.

Here’s the definition which helps  us think about this:

Time is a measure of motion in reference to “before”  and  “after”   and therefore applies only to those things that are capable of being in a state of potency.

(Sorry to get all Aquinas-y on you,  but you must use the powers of reason and its vocabulary .)

There is no “potency” in God, the Eternal Trinity.     He never changes into something else.  He has no “before” or “after.”   He always is Who He is,  so much so that He is Be-ing itself:    His Name is  I AM.

Since the Son of God is outside of Time — even during the “time” He spent  here on earth —  then everything that He does is also done in Eternity.

Therefore,   every moment of Time can connect with the One who upholds all things and keeps them in existence,  moment by moment.    Those who are “dead and gone” in Christ are not really “gone” from us.    In Christ, they are here, at this moment.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the One Self-Sacrifice of Christ, as were all the sacrifices made by the Jews before Christ died.    All sacrifices in Time including Masses participate in  this same Eternal Sacrifice.

Every Saturday we remember that Jesus too was “dead and gone”  from us  but not really absent.    While His mother and all the disciples were feeling His absence,   He was visiting our brother and sister believers and inviting them to live with Him for-ever,  without any ending.

And tomorrow —   He is back on Earth, visiting the most famous unbeliever in Time!

 

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