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This is also confirmed by St. Paul, who thus describes Christ's second advent: « The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of His power : in a flame of fire yielding vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ : who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His power: when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be made wonderful in all them who have believed: because our testimony was believed upon you in that day."i And again : “Every man's work shall be manifest: for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire." 2 This great event of the burning of the earth at the second coming of Christ had been distinctly predicted by the ancient prophets.
“God shaīl come manifestly," says holy David, “our Lord shall come and shall not keep silence. A fire shall burn before Him : and a mighty tempest shall be round about Him. He shall call heaven from above, and the earth to judge His people. Gather ye together His saints to Him: who set His covenant before sacrifices. And the heavens shall declare His justice, for God is judge.
And again :
« The Lord hath reigned, let the earth rejoice, let many islands be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about Him, justice and judgment are the establishment of His throne. A fire shall go before Him, and shall burn His enemies round about. His lightnings have shone forth to the world, the earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence 1 2 Thess. i. 7-10.
? 1 Cor. iii. 13. 3 Psalm xlix. 3-6.
of the Lord of all the earth. The heavens declared His justice, and all people saw His glory. Let them be all confounded that adore graven things, and that glory in their idols. Adore Him all you His angels. Sion heard and was glad, and the daughters of Juda rejoiced because of Thy judgments, O Lord. For Thou art the Most High Lord over all the earth: Thou art exalted exceedingly above all gods.” 1
Behold,” says the prophet Isaias, “the Lord will come with fire, and His chariots are like a whirlwind, to render His wrath in indignation, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the Lord shall judge by fire, and by His sword unto all flesh, and the slain of the Lord shall be many."
In conformity to these scriptural predictions, the Holy Church thus prays to God in the office for the dead. “ Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death in that awful day when heaven and earth shall be moved, and Thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.”
It is then evident that at Christ's second coming " the fashion of this world shall pass away ; namely, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth shall be burnt up, and be at once changed into “a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
Holy Scripture says, that at the time of the flood, all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the floodgates of heaven were opened.” ' In like manner, at the time of the coming of Christ, fire will furiously burst out from its subterraneous prison, and swiftly consume the whole earth. It is remarked by the most 1 Psalm xcvi. 1-9.
2 Isa. lxvi. 5, 6. 3 Gen. vii. 11.
distinguished geologists that this our terrestrial globe is merely a hard crust, and that the interior of it is one rolling ocean of liquid fire. God has only to let loose the imprisoned element, and the whole earth will melt with fervent heat, and a new heaven and a new earth take its place. Holy David, foreseeing by his prophetic spirit this great change which is to take place at the last day, thus addresses Almighty God: “In the beginning, O Lord, Thou foundedst the earth : and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest; and all of them shall grow old like a garment: and as a vesture Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed. But Thou art always the selfsame, and thy years shall not fail.” 1 Blessed is he who from this learns to despise the perishable things of this world, and sets his whole heart upon the eternal treasures which are to come. This is the highest wisdom, by despising the world, to tend to the everlasting kingdom. “Seeing that all things are to be dissolved," writes St. Peter, “what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness : looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat? But we look for new heavens and a new earth according to His promises, in which justice dwelleth. Wherefore, dearly beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent, that ye may be found undefiled and unspotted to Him in
Let us, therefore," seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God;" let us “mind the things that are Psalm ci. 26, 27, 28.
2 2 Pet. iii. 11-14.
above, not the things that are upon earth. For we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is our life, then we also shall appear with him in glory." í But here the following questions arise, which call for our attentive consideration.
QUESTION I. Will the earth be absolutely destroyed and annihilated by the fire ?
The fathers and doctors of the Church commonly teach that the universal conflagration which shall happen at the coming of Christ will only change the heavens and the earth as to their present condition and form, without destroying them as to their essence. “ Both heaven and earth,” says St. Gregory, "pass away as to the form which they have at present, but as to their essence they continue to subsist for ever. “ This world," writes St. Austin, “shall pass away by a change of things, but not by an absolute destruction ... for the figure thereof passes away, but not the essence." 3 St. Jerome, commenting on the words of Isaias, “ The light of the moon will be as the light of
," writes thus: “ When the Lord shall have made a new heaven and and a new earth, and when the form of the present world shall have passed away, then the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun.' St. Cyril distinctly
i Col, üi. ? Utraque hæc (coelum et terra) per eam quam nunc habent imaginem transeunt, sed tamen per essentiam sine fine subsistunt. (Lib. 17, Moral. iii.)
3 Mutatione namque rerum, non omnimodo interitu transibit hic mundus . figura enim præterit, non natura. (Lib. 20 de Civ. Dei, xvi.)
4 Erit lumen lunæ sicut lumen solis, quando dederit Domi. nus cælum novum et terram novam, et transierit habitus hujus mundi. (In cap. xxx. Is.)
teaches, that the earth will undergo the same process as our bodies undergo. Our present body, by the principle of dissolution which took possession of it since the sin of our first parents, is destined to become a lifeless form. It must be laid in the grave where rottenness must be its father, and the worms its mother and sister. But out of its bed of corruption, out of its disorganized elements, God will construct the same identical body as to its essence, but in an entirely different condition. So will it be with this world. God will not destroy it as to its essence and substitute another in its place. But He will renew it with fire and change it as to its present condition and form. Let us hear the words of the holy father. " Isaias," says he, "properly and fitly calls the destruction of the elements a change into better, as Paul also declares, that the creature shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption. How this deliverance shall be effected is shown by the disciple of Christ, who says, The day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat. The creature therefore shall be renewed as it happens to human bodies after the resurrection." i
The celebrated Cornelius a Lapide, after quoting those words of Isaias : “ Behold I create new heavens and a new earth;" 2 and also those words of St. John, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were gone;
» 3 thus writes : “ In the resurrection, though the same individual shall rise, still he will St. Cyril in Isa. li.
2 Isa. lxv. 17. 3 Apoc. xxi. 1.