Thomas Aquinas defined the beatific vision as the human being's "final end" in which one attains to a perfect happiness. Aquinas reasons that one is perfectly happy only when all one's desires are perfectly satisfied, to the degree that happiness could not increase and could not be lost.

"Man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek."STh I–II, q., 3, a. 8.

But this kind of perfect happiness cannot be found in any physical pleasure, any amount of worldly power, any degree of temporal fame or honor, or indeed in any finite reality. It can only be found in something that is infinite and perfect – and this is God. STh I–II, q. 2, a. 8.

And since God is not a material thing but is pure spirit, we are united to God by knowing and loving him. Consequently, the most perfect union with God is the most perfect human happiness and the goal of the whole of the human life. But we cannot attain to this happiness by our own natural powers; it is a gift that must be given to us by God, who strengthens us by the "light of glory" so that we can see him as he is, without any intermediary. (Thomas quotes Psalm 35:10 on this point:

"In your light we shall see light.")STh I, q. 12, a. 4.

Further, since every created image or likeness of God (including even the most perfect "ideas" or "images" of God we might generate in our minds) is necessarily finite, it would thus be infinitely less than God himself.STh I, q. 12, a. 2.

The only perfect and infinite good, therefore, is God himself, which is why Aquinas argues that our perfect happiness and final end can only be the direct union with God himself and not with any created image of him. This union comes about by a kind of "seeing" perfectly the divine essence itself, a gift given to our intellects when God joins them directly to himself without any intermediary. And since in seeing this perfect vision of what (and who) God is, we grasp also his perfect goodness, this act of "seeing" is at the same time a perfect act of loving God as the highest and infinite goodness"

  • Wikipedia 'Beatific Vision'.

Is this largely accepted in the 'present' or are there other popular philosophies of theology that combat this?

  • As far as I know, most Catholic theologians would accept all of this except possibly the part, in the last quoted paragraph, about "seeing perfectly the divine essence". That depends on what "perfectly" would mean. The blessed in heaven see God directly and as perfectly as is possible for them, but that's not an absolutely perfect and complete vision of God. The latter is beyond the capacity of creatures, even with the light of glory. Dec 3, 2013 at 2:05
  • In which christianity? there are many denominations of the different dogmatics. Jan 29, 2014 at 10:36
  • I have never really encountered any popular ideas before or after Thomas aquinas that argues against this, more or less. I think Thomas Aquinas is just one of several who describe something that all Christians believe, namely God is the highest good and our highest happiness can therefore only be derived from Him. Its hard to provide a real answer to your question though without doing a historical survey of some of the giants who present this view through their own lens. might have to wait for someone to put the sweat and toil in finding those references. I know one is Jonathan Edwards.
    – Mike
    Mar 28, 2014 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


Relationship with God is generally understood as being the most important thing we can hope for in all the Christian circles I am familiar with (a wide variety of Protestant denominations and movements. Often a simplistic view of the Gospel focuses on the negative, avoiding condemnation. Even here, the most consistent view of being condemned is that it means "eternal separation" from God; implying that not being separated must be a great benefit.

Slightly more advanced views emphasize the benefits of relationship. Although Christ said we would suffer in this world, He assures us of God's continual presence -- primarily of the Holy Spirit during our Earthly life; presumably learning to relate to all aspects and the three persons of God in the hereafter.

Some emphasize the joys available during this life, others the benefits of Heaven. It seems that most of the time figurative speech is used, comparing our relationship with things we can understand from a worldly viewpoint.

Not a lot is said about our final state in the scripture, so the connection between relationship with Christ now and our permanent estate may not be as clear as one would like. In my own opinion, it is desirable to understand the "Beatific state" as the joy of relationship, available to us now to considerable degree, and our glorified state as a continuation with a deeper relationship far beyond the limits of what we can now understand. The idea of "blessedness", from the Hebrew word Shalom, is an attempt to express this.

I found the book, "God is the gospel" by john piper. Its subtitle is, "MEDITATIONS ON GOD’S LOVE AS THE GIFT OF H IMSELF". It is online at: http://www.slideshare.net/FreeLeaks/god-is-the-gospel-by-john-piper-28686854

Piper's book is for inspirational reading, not theology. Neither Piper nor Aquinas use the term "relationship" consistently, which I see as the central point. Nevertheless I hope some short quotes will show the similarity between Aquinas' view and Piper's.

"God loves as no other being can or should love. No one else in the universe can or should love by giving us the gift of himself." (Piper, p. 165)

"If I would love you, I must do what Jesus did. I must live and die to give ou God. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what God does. God’s highest act of love is giving us himself to love."

"[The Gospel brings] us to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as our supreme, all-satisfying, and everlasting treasure." (Piper, p. 167)

Piper quotes 1 Pet 3:18 as, "Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God"

Piper refers to (Acts 26:17b-18; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6), saying we can see in the gospel “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (p. 168)

"[T]he best and highest and final good in the gospel ... is the glory, the worth, the beauty, the treasure of Christ himself who is true God and true man."

Piper refers to a number of hymns which reinforce the idea that God is seen as the source of the joys of Heaven.

"Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art; Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light."

The last verse relates this clearly to Heaven, but can add nothing to the expression of the joy of the relationship. The final line is, "Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."

Other hymns quoted are "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee", "Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts", and "Fairest Lord Jesus".

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