Our view on end times focuses on Christ bringing about God’s plan

Published: March 4, 2006

By Charles T. Sullivan

In Catholic theology, any speculation concerning the end of time is called eschatology, a word from the Greek meaning “study of the last or final things.” Theologians make the distinction between individual eschatology (the study of the final condition of individual human beings) and universal eschatology (the study of the final state of creation). Even as eschatology looks toward the future, the starting point for contemporary theologians is that the Risen Christ is already at work in the world to bring about God’s intended purpose. In this way, the focus remains Christocentric (centered on Christ) who is the Alpha and the Omega. Generally speaking, eschatological issues revolve around the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, the consummation of the material universe and the eternal bliss of heaven or the everlasting torment of hell. Through the centuries, a period of 1,000 years has often been linked to the second coming (parousia) and subsequent end of the created world. A quick look at history reveals that a wave of apocalyptic frenzy overtook medieval Europe as the first 1,000 years following the birth of the Lord drew to a close. And who can forget the hysteria of “Y2K,” and the myriad predictions of catastrophe and Armageddon. Even today, books in the “Left Behind” series are perennial best sellers; bumper stickers heralding the imminent “rapture” are ubiquitous. In “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” the late Pope John Paul II helps us to understand and appreciate a truly Catholic understanding of the end of time: “The truth which the Gospel teaches about God requires a certain change in focus with regard to eschatology. First of all, eschatology is not what will take place in the future, something happening only when earthly life is finished. Eschatology has already begun with the coming of Christ. The ultimate eschatological event was his redemptive death and his resurrection. This is already the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth (see Revelation 21:1). This is Christocentric eschatology.” As is the case with all our fundamental Catholic beliefs, it is crucial that we avoid viewing “the last things” merely as some isolated subdivision of theological investigation or just one more facet to our multi-faceted faith, for in fact we are an eschatological people, already living in the final days. When the Lord rose from the dead, the “end of the ages” (see 1 Corinthians 10:11) had already begun. We look expectantly for Christ’s prompt return even as we share in the holy work of making his kingdom present here and now. And since we know neither the day nor the hour when Christ will reappear, our faith calls us to stand ever-vigilant in hopeful expectation and joyful anticipation. The entire seventh chapter of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) is devoted to the eschatological nature of the pilgrim people of God, highlighting the tension between a nextworldly outlook and a this-worldly mandate: “Therefore, the promised restoration which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, and is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit, and through him continues in the Church. There we learn through faith the meaning of our temporal life as we perform, with hope of good things to come, the tasks committed to us in this world by the Father.” (48) Charles T. Sullivan, a member of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Bella Vista, has a master’s degree in theology from the University of Dallas.