Our faithful dog of 14 years died two nights ago. Rosie was a good dog. As my wife put it, she was of all the members of our household morally the best, and most blameless. Certainly Rosie tried harder and more diligently than any of the rest of us to be good. And so she was, God bless her. She was an excellent instance of goodness, and of the general creaturely will toward the good. This made her a thing of beauty. Her humble obedience sanctified our house, albeit sometimes in quite a stinky, filthy way. I smile now to think of the horrible smells she used to carry home from her jaunts in the forest, the trophies of some deliciously rotten mélange. How odd, to miss those disgusting odors; to wish them back, with her.
It is indeed deeply, deeply odd that the world now proceeds without her; so much so, that the oddity is almost a violence, her absence a positive factor in the composition of each moment. It is not as if a bunch of rocks had moved from one arrangement to another on the beach, as the materialists would say has happened. It is as if a fairly sizable and remarkable rock had winked out of concrete existence altogether – a sheer impossibility, when you think about it, at least in a coherent, orderly world, where momenta are conserved. Rosie was a concrete fact, discrete from and supervenient to her constituent material facts, that expressed the substance of her life. Those constituents are still around, and rearranging, their momenta perfectly conserved; meanwhile the fact of Rosie is gone. She is now absent – literally, “away from being.” Where she was, there is now an ontological hole. It’s spooky.
After Rosie died, my children turned and asked me, being as patriarch also the priest of the family, whether she was going to heaven. St. Thomas argued that heaven is only for rational animals, and that while dogs have souls, they have not rationality. And this makes sense, so far as it goes. But it does not, it seems to me, go far enough.
For, we are not to be resurrected as merely rational beings, but also, being in Heaven perfect completions of our natures, as embodied rational beings. The doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body has startling consequences, and turns out to be connected with the redemption of the world, both as a whole and in each of its particulars.
The human body is not, after all, an ontological island. It is a process of, and integral to, the whole created order. Think of a man’s body floating in a vacuum, and you get some glimmer of what life would be like for him without any environing world at all, even so much as a vacuum, a place and time, an extensive continuum. It would be, simply, impossible for him to exist that way. For, where the heck would such a man be? Indeed, the more carefully one tries to imagine such a situation, the more it begins to seem in the end utterly inconceivable. The notion of an unenvironed body is just incoherent. You can say, “a body that is not in a world,” but you can’t mean anything by it, because the notion is just nonsense, like “square circle.”
As the human soul must be embodied to be fully expressed, then, so likewise the human body must be environed by a world. And not just any world, but a world very like the sort of world in which we now find ourselves. Our bodies are products of, and fitted to, worlds of the type we inhabit. It is in the nature of man to exist in worlds such as ours. Our nature cannot, therefore, find complete expression, except in such a world.
We shall be raised incorruptible, not some other guys; in our bodies shall we see God, not in some other bodies that belong to different sorts of creatures altogether. We shall be raised as men and women, with hair and teeth, who eat and dance and sing. We cannot then be raised, and yet still be properly ourselves, except in a world such as ours, that has a history, a causal order, and more: weather, food, and living things other than human beings, like plants and animals. Heaven, then – or, at least that portion of Heaven apt to such as we – is not unlikely to be quite similar to Earth on its best days, and with all its best features, but realized to perfection.
There is no particular reason why such a world might not have dogs. And there is a very good reason to think that it will have dogs, including Rosie, with all their doggy virtues – namely, the love of God, that would not stint at providing any good thing to worlds with which it is compossible, and that could not in any case anywise be stinted, being limitlessly potent. An infinite Creator can pour out perfect worlds without end or limit, without being at all exhausted. Why should He refrain from creating dogs in a perfect, maximally good world, when He has already seen fit to create them in this its sublunary, fallen, defective and corrupt derogation?
The same goes for every natural good of our world. Which of His good works would the infinite Good prefer not to salve and redeem? Thus the Church insists that the sacrifice on the Cross effected the redemption of the world. Thus it is that at the triumphant coda of the Creed, we avow that we believe in the life of the world to come. The Ascension is the van of a general procedure, already under way, that will eventually involve all created things that agree thereto. I feel sure that Rosie is already numbered among them. Perhaps I shall be, too, if I am not too stiff-necked. If so, then I am confident that I shall meet her again in that immaculate wilderness, where she runs forever and ever with that same unbelievable speed she had as a youngster, sprinting joyfully up and up an immense and perfect hill to meet her Master under the endless blue sky.
It would be good to see her again, and there to run with her. I hope it may be so.