This editorial, written in 1979 by the Cardinal Archbishop of Genoa, Italy, Giuseppe Siri (1906-1989), speaks eloquently about the reality and significance of eternal life.
A recent document published by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has recalled the fundamental points of Christian certitude, which cannot be omitted. Naturally this has provoked surprise in those who retained that these should be no longer spoken of, and has ignited the anger of certain cultivators of the so-called theology of “hope.” (We are speaking of those who have kindled the hope merely of a “settlement” in this world, where it is well noted that here nothing is ever “settled” perfectly.)
We retain it the duty of our journal to make some clear and precise observations concerning all of this. All of the document cited regards “the afterlife,” in other words, eternal life, which necessarily follows earthly life. This earthly life no longer has any sense when it is disconnected from eternal life: it has no good reason, it lacks purpose, it is a bad joke in which the problems present in the human spirit remain unresolved; the aspirations of immortality the same — the labored breathing of love stretched out towards infinity; the sacred bonds of blood and friendship: all of which are the clamorous refusal of a “void” after death.
Materialists of every sort, even those disguised as theologians (and they are not few), thought they would pacify the fear and horror which the cortege of death opens: [in doing so] they have obtained this effect, sadly for them, in rendering the afterlife the most pressing of problems for human life. It is not a small thing, if you think about it, to say that without “eternal life” everything becomes a hoax, a joke, and earthly life has no purpose. With all of this, everywhere, as if dressed in a certain indifference with regard to the substance of the question, many are seeking out ways in furtive exploration of the afterlife: witchcraft, necromancy, spiritism, bearers of extra-sensorial perceptions: some, to appear different, even cast libidinous glances on the other side of the “great curtain.” Everyone, apart from the sustainers of materialistic theses, is fascinated by the adventures carried out in proximity to this curtain. It does not mean that God does not allow for extrapolations in things human, especially with the most stupid and most undisciplined creatures — the demons — it is not for nothing that exorcisms exist.
It is not at all impossible, rather it is real, that God wants true contact between Heaven and earth (the Divine Liturgy celebrates some of these illustrious and beneficial contacts), but without opening the direct vision of the afterlife to any mortal. Naturally, with this assertion subjects of elevated mysticism are not understood, when returning to the dimensions of our valley of tears, were not always able to translate that which they had perceived. It is licit then to say, rather to caution, that in all this secular intrigue on the thresholds of eternal life, one is constrained, in general, to stay within the boundaries of fancy. The reason is simple. Not one of us would be able to perceive anything material in five dimensions. To introduce into our limited receptive capacities something distinct of eternal life, is much more, infinitely more, than forcing us to reach a universe in five dimensions.
Imagination cannot be and will never be, per se, a theological source. Theology draws its information from a source that comes from eternity, that is, from Revelation or from the fonts that are explicitly authorized by Revelation. It draws from official sources which are certain. Theology speaks with certainty.
The affirmation of eternal life dominates all of Divine Revelation: original sin severs the way to eternal life. The Word becomes Man in order to open the gate of eternal life; the Kingdom, which is spoken about, above all, in the first Gospel (Matthew), gathers everything about this great divine adventure which continues into everlasting life; morality is regulated by a Law, it is subject to a judgment, which would have no sense without eternal life. The reward is eternal life; merit is ordered to eternal life. These are not opinions; they are revealed doctrines. Information about everlasting life is scarce, but sufficient enough to sustain the great effort [required] to arrive there worthily.
The affirmations related to the two antithetic states of eternity are brief, articulated by boundaries that lead to infinity. The little information we have is such as to demand more authentic exercise in Faith; the boundaries of the infinite sea oblige us to enter, giving strength to the ascent in the merit thereof. Great respect for this doctrinal complex is in desiring not to clothe it in fantasy so as to render it more human. The imagination would be harmed and is not receptive to things that go beyond representations perceived by the senses.
The descriptions of the eternal liturgy in the book of the Apocalypse are indicative of content that the intellect can only, in some way, acknowledge, and are images that launch the intellect itself toward things that cannot be represented with descriptions adapted to the senses — as in the meaning of symbols. Respect and prudence lead the journey to the afterlife. When prayerful reflection and contemplation are integrated into this theology, it may lead to the highest levels, which the imagination cannot arrive at, nor can representations constructed by elements which are perceived by the senses. The limits that are experienced in theological reflection and study, are the evidence that the realities, which we must reach in eternal life, are far beyond our intelligence. If it were different — and it is not — it would mean that we anticipate nothing greater than that which we are able to see now, even simply by intellectual representation. Mystery bears witness to the immensity that awaits us.
—Editorial, Renovatio, XIV (1979), part 4, pages 445-448.