The infinite justice of God has its supreme manifestation in two different judgments that await man at the end of his life: the particular judgment, to which every soul is subject at the moment of death, and the universal judgment, to which all men will be subject in body and soul, after the end of the world.
This is the faith of the Church: every human being will appear before God at the end of his life to receive either reward or punishment from the Lord and Supreme Judge. For this reason, Sirach says: Memor est judicii mei, sic enim erit et tuum – Remember my judgment if you also want to learn to judge well. (Eccl. 38)
Father Garrigou-Lagrange explains that in the particular judgment the soul understands spiritually that it is being judged by God, and in that divine light his conscience pronounces the same divine judgment. “This happens in the first instant in which the soul is separated from the body, for which reason it is true to say that if a person is dead, then that person is also judged. The sentence is definitive and the execution of the sentence is immediate.”
The judgment of God is different from that of men. There is the famous case of Raymond Diacres, the esteemed professor of the Sorbonne, who died in 1082. A multitude of people attended his funeral at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, including his student Saint Bruno of Cologne. During the ceremony, a disturbing thing happened which was examined in all of its particulars by the Bollandist scholars.
The body of Diacres was laid out in the middle of the central nave of the church, covered only by a simple veil, as was the customary practice at that time. The funeral rites began and proceeded to the point where the priest said the words of the rite: “Answer me: how many iniquities and sins do you have…?” Just then a sepulchral voice spoke from under the funeral veil: “By the just judgment of God I have been accused!”
The funeral cloth was immediately taken off the body, but the dead man lay there cold and motionless. The funeral rite, which had been unexpectedly interrupted, was immediately recommenced amid the uproar of the entire congregation. The question was repeated, and the dead man cried out with a voice even louder than before: “By the just judgment of God I have been judged!”
The terror of those in attendance reached its peak. Some doctors approached the body and confirmed that he was really dead. Amid the general fright and bewilderment, the ecclesiastical authorities decided to postpone the funeral until the following day.
The next day the funeral ceremony was repeated, but this time when they reached the same question in the rite: “Answer me: how many iniquities and sins do you have…? The body sat up under the funeral veil and cried aloud: “By the just judgment of God I have been condemned to hell for ever!”
Faced with this terrible testimony, the funeral was stopped. It was decided that the body should not be buried in the common cemetery. On the coffin of the damned man the words were written that he will speak at the moment of the resurrection: Justo Dei judicio accusatus sum; Justo Dei judicio judicatus sum: Justo Dei judicio condemnatus sum. The accusation, the condemnation, the sentence – this is what will await the reprobate on the day of the Universal Judgment.
For this reason, Saint Augustine says in The City of God: “all those who necessarily will die ought not to worry so much about how they will die as about the place where they will be forced to go after death.” And this place, we should add, is either heaven or hell.
The Message of Fatima opens with the terrifying vision of hell and reminds us that our life on earth is very serious, because it places before us a dramatic choice: heaven or hell, eternal happiness or eternal damnation. According to how we choose, we will be judged at the moment of our death, and the sentence, once it is pronounced, will be unappealable.
The Universal Judgment
But there is a second judgment that awaits us after death: the universal judgment.
The existence of a universal judgment that will follow the particular judgment is an article of faith. Saint Augustine synthesizes the teaching of the Church in these words: “No one can place in doubt or deny that Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures proclaim, will pronounce the final judgment.” It will be the Last Judgment, which no one can escape.
In the hour of the Universal Judgment, Jesus Christ, the Man-God, will appear in the heavens, preceded by the Cross and surrounded by hosts of Angels and Saints (Mt.24:30-31), seated on a throne of majesty (Mt. 25:30). The role of Judge has been given to him by his Father, as Jesus himself reveals to us in the Gospel: “By myself I can do nothing; I judge according to what I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of Him who sent me. (Jn. 5:30)
But why is a universal judgment necessary, since God judges every soul immediately after death and the universal judgment will simply confirm the sentence already given in the particular judgment? Isn’t one judgment enough?
Saint Thomas responds:
“Every man is a person in himself and is at the same time a part of the entire human race; therefore he ought to have a double judgment: one that is particular, after his death, when he will receive according to what he did in life, although not entirely, because he will receive not as regards the body but as regards the soul; but there must also be another judgment in accord with the fact that we are part of the human race: the universal judgment of the entire human race through the separation of the good from the wicked.”
The Angelic Doctor explains, in another passage, that although the temporal life of man ends with death, it is prolonged in a certain way in the future, because he continues to live in the memory of men, beginning with his children. Furthermore, the life of man continues in the effects of his works. For example, Saint Thomas says:
“As a result of the imposture of Arius and other impostors, unbelief will teem until the end of the world; and likewise up to this same point faith will expand thanks to the preaching of the Apostles.”
The judgment of God thus does not conclude with death but extends to the end of time, because the good influence of the saints and the evil influence of the reprobate extends until the end of time. Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, and Saint Dominic will merit to be repaid for all the good that their work continued to do until the end of the world, while Luther, Voltaire, and Marx will be punished for all the evil that their works have brought about until the end of the world. For this reason, there must be a final judgment, in which everything concerning each man in any way whatsoever will be perfectly and clearly judged. While in the particular judgment each person will [be] judged above all as regards the rightness of intention with which he has worked, in the universal judgment his works will be judged objectively, above all for the effects that they have had on society.
After the immediate judgment before God at the moment of death, it is necessary that there be a public judgment not only before God but also before all men, all the angels, all the saints, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, because, as the Gospel says: “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed; nothing secret that will not be known.” (Lk. 12:2) It is right that those who have gained Heaven thanks to sufferings and persecutions will be glorified, while the many wicked and perverse people who have led a happy life in the eyes of men will be publicly dishonored. Father Schmaus says that the final judgment will reveal the truth or falsehood of the cultural, scientific, and artistic works of men: the truth or falsehood of the philosophical guidelines, political institutions, and the religious and moral forces that have moved history; the significance of the various sects and heresies, of wars and revolutions. The bodies of Arius, Luther, Robespierre and Marx are already dust, but on the day of judgment their books, statues and names will have to be publicly execrated.
We add that each man is born and lives within a nation, and his action contributes to transform the nations and peoples in which he lives for good or evil, and these peoples and nations will be judged in their culture, institutions, and laws. For this reason the Gospel says that when the Son of Man comes in his glory “all the nations will be assembled before him. And He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left”. (Mt.25:31-46)
Thus the judgment will not be pronounced only over individual men and individual angels. Nations are also called to fulfill the designs of Divine Providence and therefore must conform themselves to the divine will that rules and governs the universe. At the universal judgment it will be revealed if and how much each people has fulfilled the task assigned to them by God.
Monsignor Antonio Piolanti writes:
“Reasons of wisdom keep secrets over the course of time, but, in the end, time will have to pour out its treasure before the eyes of the universal assembly. All the masks will fall and the happy Phariseeisms will bear the mark of an indelible infamy.”
The judgment will extend to all of human history, which will be publicly unveiled to the greater glory of God. It will be the triumph of Divine Providence that over the course of history guides the destinies of men and nations in an invisible and impenetrable way.
In the presence of this unappealable sentence, everyone gathered in the valley of Jehosaphat will proclaim the great word: Iustus es Domine, et rectum iudicium tuum –You are just, O Lord, and your judgment is full of equity. (Ps. 118: 137)
The particular judgment and the universal judgment are the two supreme moments in which the judgment of God is manifested over men and nations. This divine judgment is followed by a reward or a punishment. For individual people, the reward or punishment may apply either during their earthly life or in eternity, but for nations, which do not have an eternal life, the reward or punishment can be applied only only within the course of history. And because the universal judgment brings history to a close, in that moment Jesus Christ will not condemn the various nations to eternal punishment, but rather he will open the eyes of all humanity that has been gathered together to see how each nation has been rewarded or punished throughout the course of history according to its virtues or its sins.
It is important to understand that, both for individual men as well as for nations, the universal judgment is the culminating moment of divine judgment, but God does not limit himself to judging only in that hour: we may say that he judges from the moment of the creation of the universe. At the beginning of the history of the universe, there is a judgment – the judgment made by God against Lucifer and the rebellious angels – just as at the beginning of creation of man there is a judgment made against Adam and Eve. From that time on until the end of time, the judgment of God does not cease to apply to his creatures, because Divine Providence sustains the entire created universe in being and directs it toward its end. All the movements of the physical world, the moral world, and the supernatural world are willed by God, excluding sin, which is caused by the free creature alone.
Jesus says that all the hairs of our head have been counted. (Lk.12:8) Even more so is it true that every one of our actions, even the smallest, is judged by God. But God is not only infinitely just, he is also infinitely merciful, and there is no divine judgment that is not devoid of mercy, just as there is no expression of divine mercy that is not without the most profound justice. Perhaps the most beautiful example of this embrace of justice and mercy is given to us in the great gift of the Sacrament of Penance. In this sacrament, in which the sinner is judged and absolved, the priest, who acts in persona Christi, exercises the judicial power of the Church but also exercises the maternal mercy of God, absolving us of our sins. The justice of God intervenes to reestablish order by means of the penance that the fault merits, and Divine Mercy manifests itself by means of the forgiveness of our sins by which God frees from eternal punishments.
The chastisement of the nations
What applies to men also applies to nations. God is not absent from history; he is also always present in it with his immensity, and there is not a point or moment of created time in which he does not manifest his divine justice and mercy over all peoples. All the misfortunes that strike the nations over the course of their history have a significance. Their causes sometimes elude us, but it is certain that the origin of every evil permitted by God lies in the sin of man. Saint Prosper of Aquitaine, a student of Saint Augustine, says that “often the causes of the divine operation remain hidden and only the effects are seen.” One thing is certain: whatever the secondary causes may be, God is always the first cause: everything depends on Him. At this point we should ask ourselves in what way God judges and punishes the behavior of various peoples and nations in history. The response of Sacred Scripture, of theologians, and saints is univocal. Tria sunt flagella quibus dominus castigat: war, plague, and famine. With these three scourges, Saint Bernardine of Siena explains, God punishes the three principal vices of men – pride, luxury, and avarice: pride, when the soul rebels against God (Rev.12:7-9), luxury when the body rebels against the soul (Gen.6:5-7), avarice when created things rebel against man (Ps.96:3). War is the punishment for the pride of the peoples, epidemics are the punishment for their luxury, and famine is the punishment for their avarice.
The signs by which we can know that the judgments of God are near
In his Sermons, Saint Bernardine analyses Psalm 118, which says: Tempus faciendi dissipaverunt legem tuam: “It is time for the Lord to act, for they have dispelled your Law” (Ps. 118:26). In this expression of the Psalmist, Saint Bernardine distinguishes three moments. Tempus – the time that the mercy of God gives to people to change their ways. In this space of time God offers sinners the possibility of suspending the sentence, revoking the penalty, remitting the offense, receiving grace. God waits because he desires the conversion of sinners. The time of waiting may be long, but it has a limit. If during this time there is no repentance, punishment is logical and necessary.
In the second moment, God prepares punishment for impenitent sinners: a time that is expressed by the words faciendi Domine, which summarise, according to Saint Bernardine, “the bitter revenge and the harsh punishment of God”, if the people do not wish to change their ways. The punishment however is an act of the Father’s mercy. He does not wish the eternal death of sinners but their life, and through the scourges he inflicts on them he still tries to obtain their conversion. It is the time in which the axe is placed at the root of the tree: securis ad radicem arboris posita est. (Mt. 3:10)
The third moment is when the offense is complete: dissipaverunt legem tuam. It is the hour of taking up the sickle and reaping the harvest, as the angel says in the Book of Revelation: “Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe”. (Rev.14:15) What are the signs that indicate the harvest is ripe? Saint Bernardine lists seven:
1. The existence of many horrendous sins, like in Sodom and Gomorrah
2. The fact that the sin is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent
3. That these sins are committed by entire people as a whole
4. That this happens in a public and shameless manner
5. That it happens with all the affection of the heart of sinners
6. That the sins are committed with attention and diligence
7. That all of this is done in a continuous and persevering way.
This is the hour in which God punishes the sins of pride, luxury, and avarice with the scourges of plague, war, and famine.
Tempus faciendi Domine, dissipaverunt legem tuam
It is time to act, O Lord, for they have violated your law. Another great saint with a prophetic voice that echoes Saint Bernardine, Saint Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, exclaims in his Fiery Prayer For The Apostles of the Latter Times:
“It is time to act, O Lord, they have rejected your law. It is indeed time to fulfill your promise. Your divine commandments are broken, your Gospel is thrown aside, torrents of iniquity flood the whole earth carrying away even your servants. The whole land is desolate, ungodliness reigns supreme, your sanctuary is desecrated and the abomination of desolation has even contaminated the holy place. God of Justice, God of Vengeance, will you let everything, then, go the same way? Will everything come to the same end as Sodom and Gomorrah? Will you never break your silence? Will you tolerate all this for ever?”
Saint Louis Marie wrote these words at the beginning of the 18th century. Two centuries later, the Blessed Mother appeared at Fatima to announce that if the world continued to offend God it would be punished through war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and the Holy Father and that “various nations will be annihilated”.
But today, one hundred years after the apparitions at Fatima, three hundred years after the death of Saint Louis Marie, has the world ceased offending God? Is the divine law perhaps less transgressed, the Gospel less abandoned, the sanctuary less profaned? Do we not see sins that cry out for vengeance before the face of God such as abortion and sodomy justified, exalted, and protected by the laws of nations?
Have we not seen the Pachamama idol welcomed and venerated even within the holy precincts of the Vatican? Should all of this not be judged by God by now? And should not whoever loves God also love and desire the hour of his justice, so as to respect, as on the day of the final judgment: Iustus es Domine, et rectum iudicium tuum: You are just, O Lord, and your judgment is full of equity? (Ps. 118:137)
Why the peoples do not realize the punishments that are looming over them
Among Catholics, whenever an affliction happens to a certain people or nation, there are those who say that they do not know if this is a punishment or a trial. But in contrast to trials that befall individual men, evils that afflict nations are always punishments. It may happen that a virtuous man must suffer much in order to be proven in his patience, as happened to Job. The sufferings that individual men encounter in their lives are not always a punishment; more often they are a trial that prepares them to gain eternal happiness. But in the case of nations, the sufferings due to war, epidemics or earthquakes are always a punishment because nations do not have an eternal existence. To say that a scourge could be “a trial” for a nation does not make any sense. It could be a trial for the individual men of a particular nation, but not for the nation as a whole, because nations receive their punishment in time, not in eternity.
The punishments of a nation increase in proportion to the sins of a nation. And in proportion to the increase of their sins, the wicked also increase their rejection of the idea of punishment, as Voltaire did in his blasphemous Poem on the Disaster in Lisbon, written after the terrible earthquake that destroyed the capital of Portugal in 1755. The Church has always responded to the blasphemies of the atheists by recalling that everything that happens depends on God and has a meaning. But when it is the very men of the Church who deny the idea of divine punishment, this means that the punishment is already underway and is irremediable. In the days of the coronavirus outbreak, Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan even went so far as to say that “it is a pagan idea to think that God sends scourges”. In reality, thinking that God does not send scourges makes someone not a pagan but an atheist. The fact that this is exactly what many bishops throughout the world think means that the Catholic episcopate throughout the world is immersed in atheism. And this is a sign of a divine chastisement that is already under way.
Saint Bernardine explains that the more the punishment of God draws near, the less the people who deserve it are aware of it. The reason for this blindness of the mind is pride, initium omnis peccati (Eccl. 10:15). Pride darkens the intellect, prevents it from seeing how near the destruction is, and God desires by this blindness to humiliate the proud.
With the help of Saint Bernardine we can also interpret a line from the Book of Psalms that was incorporated by Leo XIII in his Exorcism Against the Rebel Angels: “Veniat illi laqueus quem ignorat, et captio quam abscondit, apprehendat eum et laqueum cadat in ipsum” (Ps. 34:8). The free translation of this passage could be: “Let the snare come, the trap he is not thinking of. Let the maneuver he is hiding seize him and let him fall into his own snare of death.”
Saint Bernardine says that this passage of the Psalms can be interpreted under three aspects.
First, from God’s viewpoint: Veniat illi laqueus quem ignorat. The first cause of this ignorance comes from God, who in order to conceal his plans uses epidemics and famines: “laqueus est pestis vel fames et consimilia”, says Saint Bernardine: “the snare is plague or famines and similar things”. First of all, God takes away the people’s guides, not only their political and spiritual guides, but also the angels who preside over nations. God then takes away the lumen veritatis, which is a grace like every good that comes from God. Finally, God permits the sinful people to fall into the hands of their own vices, of demons who replace the angels, and of the wicked, who lead them towards the abyss.
Et captio quam abscondit, apprehendat eum. Once every guide has been taken away from them and also the light of truth, the impenitent people not only do not change when God announces the chastisement but they actually increase their sins. And this multiplication of sins increases the blindness of the peoples.
Et laqueum cadat in ipsum. The sinful people are unaware of the hour of punishment, which comes upon them suddenly and unexpectedly. The maneuvers with which they attempted to destroy the good turn against them. They are not only punished but humiliated. Thus the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled:
“Upon you shall come a disaster, nor shall you know where it comes from; upon you shall fall a calamity you cannot ward off; upon you shall suddenly come a catastrophe you cannot imagine.” (Is.47:11)
The fear of God and human terror
When then the chastisement begins, the demon, seeing his plans being upset, spreads the sense of terror among the peoples, the antechamber of despair. The wicked deny the existence of the catastrophe; the good understand that it has arrived, but instead of seizing the opportunity of their rebirth, they are tempted to see in it only the hour of their own ruin. This happens when they refuse to see behind the events the wise hand of God in order to chase after the maneuvers of men. An author dear to the heart of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, the archdeacon Henri-Marie Boudon writes: “Dieu ne frappe que pour être regardé; et l’on n’arrête les yeux que sur les créatures” – “God strikes so as to be contemplated, but instead of turning our gaze to him, we turn it to creatures.”
This does not mean that the maneuvers of the revolutionary forces should not be observed, analysed and combated, but never forgetting that the Revolution is always defeated in history by the self-destructive nature it intrinsically possesses in itself, while the Counter-Revolution always wins because of the fruitfulness of the good which it likewise possesses within itself.
Atheism is the expulsion of God from every aspect of human activity. The great victory of the enemies of God does not lie in suppressing our lives or restricting our physical liberties, but rather in removing the idea of God from our minds and hearts. All human reasoning and philosophical, historical, and political speculation in which God does not hold the first place is false and illusory.
Bossuet says that: “Toutes nos pensées qui n’ont pas Dieu pour objet sont du domaine de la mort” – “All of our thoughts that do not have God for their object belong to the domain of death.” This is true, and we can also say that all of our thoughts that do have God for their object belong to the domain of life, because Jesus Christ, the Judge and Savior of the human race, is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. (Jn.14:6) To speak of the judgment of God in history and over history is therefore not to speak of death but life, and whoever speaks of divine judgment is not a “prophet of doom” but rather a herald of hope.
Those who today with ever greater force reject the idea of divine punishment are the men of the Church. They reject punishment because they reject the judgment of God, which they replace with the judgment of the world. But the fear of God is born from humility, while the fear of the world is born from pride.
To fear God is the highest wisdom: TimorDomini initium Sapientiae says the Book of Ecclesiastes, which concludes with these words: Deum time, et mandata ejus serva: hoc est enim omnis homo (Eccl. 12, 13) – “Fear God and observe his commandments, because this is everything for man.” Whoever does not fear God replaces the divine commandments with the commandments of the world, for fear of being isolated, censured and persecuted by the world. The fear of the world, which is a consequence of sin, drives men to run away from battle, while the fear of God incites men to fight.
A great French author, Ernest Hello, says: “Fearing the name of God does not mean not being afraid of anything.” And Hello also reminds us of a word of Sacred Scripture whose depth will never succeed in fully understanding: laetetur cor meum ut timeat nomen tuum (Ps. 85:11) – “my heart rejoices that it may fear your name”.
Joy exists only where there is the presence of God, and God cannot be present if the fear of the Lord is not present. The Holy Spirit says that there is nothing greater than the fear of the Lord: Nihil melius est quam timor Domini (Eccl. 23:27); the Holy Spirit calls the fear of the Lord the fountain of life: Timor Domini fons vitae (Prov. 14:27); as well as jubilation and joy: Timor Domini gloria, gloriatio et laetitia et corona exultationis! (Sir. 1:11).
It is this fear of God that leads us to recognize the divine hand in the tragic events of our time and to enter into the battle with tranquil courage.
The horseman, death, and the devil
The Horseman, Death, and the Devil is a copperplate engraving made by Albrecht Dürer in 1513. The work shows a horseman with a helmet on his head, armed with a sword and lance, riding on a majestic steed, defying death, who shows him an hourglass containing the timespan of life that is fleeting, and the devil, who is depicted as a horned animal holding a halberd.
Almost seventy years ago, in an article published in the journal Catolicismo in February 1951, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira used this image to illustrate the clash between the Revolution that cannot go back and the Church that, despite everything, has not managed to triumph. He wrote:
“War, death and sin are preparing once again to destroy the world, this time in greater proportions than ever. In 1513 the incomparable talent of Dürer represented them in the form of a knight that is leaving for war, fully dressed in his armour, and accompanied by death and sin, the latter portrayed by a unicorn. Europe, which was even then immersed in the disturbances that preceded the Pseudo-Reform, was heading for the tragic age of the religious, political and social wars that Protestantism triggered off.
“The next war, without being explicitly and directly a war of religion, will so affect the sacred interests of the Church that a true Catholic cannot fail to see in it mainly the religious aspect. And the devastation that will be unleashed will certainly be incomparably more destructive than those of the past centuries.
“Who will win? The Church?
“The clouds we have before us are not rosy. But they animate us with an unconquerable certainty and that is that not only the Church – which is obvious, given the divine promise – will not disappear, but in our days it will obtain an even greater triumph than that of Lepanto.
“How? When? The future belongs to God. Many reasons for sadness and anxiety appear before us, even when we look at some of our brothers in faith. In the heat of the struggle it is possible and even probable that there will be terrible defections. But it is absolutely certain that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire in the Church admirable and indomitable spiritual energies of faith, purity, obedience and dedication, which at the opportune moment will once more cover the Christian name with glory.”
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira concluded his article with the hope that the 20th century would be “not only the century of the great battle, but above all the century of the immense triumph”. We ourselves echo this hope, that extends into the 21st century, our century, the era of the coronavirus and of new tragedies, but also the time of a renewed faith in the promise of Fatima, a faith that we wish to express with the words that Pope Pius XII addressed to Catholic Action in 1948:
“You know, beloved sons, the mysterious horsemen of which the Book of Revelation speaks. The second, third, and fourth horsemen are war, hunger, and death. Who is the first horseman on the white steed? ‘Its rider had a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode forth victorious’ (Rev. 6:2). He is Jesus Christ. The visionary-evangelist did not see only the ruin caused by sin, war, hunger, and death; he also saw first and foremost the victory of Christ. And indeed the path of the Church down the centuries is but a via crucis, but it is also in every age a triumphal march. The Church of Christ, the men of faith of Christian love, are always those who bring light, redemption and peace to humanity that is without hope. Iesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula (Heb. 13:8). Christ is your guide, from victory into victory. Follow him.”
[Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino]