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Posted May 6, 2012

Book: The Last Things
Author: Romano Guardini
Pantheon Books. New York. 1954. pp. 112

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In this book, Monsignor Guardini treats of some of the gravest issues that confront the thinking man: death and the hereafter. In giving an outline of the Church's teaching concerning death, purification after death, resurrection, the Last Judgment, and eternity, the author addresses himself to man today. The change that has come about in our vies of the universe and in our knowledge about life give rise to many questions and contradictions.

Monsignor Guardini takes them up one by one, illuminating them in the light of revelation. Christians, he says, must not suppose that they are forced by divine authority to accept nonsense, but should perceive that they have been admitted to a higher view than that of natural science, a view which, though mysterious, is yet real. From this point of view, the reader is shown his position in time, and taught to think and act in accordance with a higher reality.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Time and Eternity

What is the real meaning of "eternity?"

Our first reaction to this question is that it means unending time. We speak of the eternal stars, of man's eternal suffering, of the eternal recurrence of things. This is much the sense in which the term is used in the mythological representations of the after-life. In the belief of hunting and herding peoples, the deal will go to the happy hunting ground and pursue there the same life they lived on earth, only in a higher and more wonderful fashion, and lasting forever. Other peoples, by placing in their graves the things the dead had valued in life --- jewels, furniture, boats, slaves --- the real objects or representations of them --- showed that they thought of eternity as a never-ending continuation of earthly experience.

Ostensibly, eternity signifies time prolonged forever. This is a misconception we can hardly dispense with in ordinary thinking. We know that time is limited, that it is measured by hours, days, and years, and however we increase or decrease the unit of measurement, it still remains limited. Yet we can no more represent to ourselves an end of earthly time than we can a beginning. The beginning and the end --- both are mysteries with which, of ourselves, we are not equipped to deal. To our sense time goes on and on, backwards as well as forwards. Religious mythology makes a mystery of this continuation, and religious sentiment veils the inconsistency.

Yet the authentic meaning of eternity is the abolition of time. That is easily said, but impossible to imagine. It can be grasped only intellectually, in the way a mathematical statement is grasped. Is timelessness compatible with existence? What would be left of life with time removed? Could a state of things be real which neither comes into being nor ceases to be, knows no change and, yet, is without fixity, is alive and fruitful? Perhaps it might; "timeless moments" have been experiences which give at least an intimation of what such a state might be.

There is such a thing as mechanical time. It is a mere succession of moments, regardless of their content --- comparable to the riverbed run dry. It is represented by the clock with its indifference to what passes, with its cold insensibility, which, though so alien to the joys and sorrow of the human heart, yet for that very reason impresses us so powerfully.

But his is not time as we humans experience it; that time, as we live it, is alive also. It is really the only time we know, and the threat we sense in the irrevocable, impassible movements of the hands of the clock derives from the fact that it is our life-time that it is measuring out. Mechanical time stands, as it were, as a margin around our lifestream, as an external means of measurement. But in the immediate experience of our own temporal passage, time is an entirely different thing. An hour filled with rich experience and an hour spent in boredom and emptiness are not perceived as time segments of equal length. One passes in an instant, the other drags on endlessly. In retrospect the impression is reversed. The hour that passed so tediously shrinks to nothingness; the hour that sped by with the momentum of strong emotion expands in the memory. Consequently, when one's own life is concerned, times takes on a new character. It is a succession of events, but it is not, as with the mechanical propelled hands of a clock, a meaningless sequence. Time-experience varies in meaning, depth, intensity, as it bears upon our own unique existence --- an existence linked to the dignity and responsibility of the person. It is measured not only by the hands of the clock, but also by what is contained within it.

Table of Contents:

The Christian position
Death as a natural phenomenon
Death and sin
Death and the Redemption
The meaning of death for the Christian

Purification after death
The doctrine of the church
The intention
Doing and being
Suffering as purification

Resurrection The resurrection in revelation
The Christian gospel and man
The spiritual body
The body in Christian doctrine

Judgment The nature of history
General views of world judgment
The last judgment in Revelation

Eternity Time and Eternity
Eternity in Revelation