The Grammar of Heaven 


Liturgical readings in the Easter season often couple the Book of the Acts of the Apostles with the Book of Revelation.

They are so different that at first you might think it is like putting a history of Dutch New Amsterdam alongside a science fiction novel.  The Acts seem so human, with charming details, such as the fine needlework done by Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42).  There is none of that in the Revelation of St. John.  But think again:  Dorcas the seamstress was raised from the dead.  That is as astonishing as St. John's descriptions of Heaven, which — since they are being filtered from eternity into time — seem almost like hallucinations.

St. John was not given to fantasizing, but he was shown truths to which the most bizarre fantasies compare only as frail shadows.  The very practical historical details in the Book of Acts are but the other side of the coin of the great mysteries privileged to St. John.  They are clues to a more solid world than this perishable one, in which mortal eyes can only see "through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12).  There is a biological parallel of this in the way a baby can see only shades of gray at birth, with between 20/200 and 20/400 vision.  After three months, however, the baby can recognize faces even at a distance and can tell bright colors.  In Heaven there are no pastels, but all is bright, like the primary colors of a "rainbow shining through an emerald" (Revelation 4:3). If St. John's description seems confused, it is because human words cannot diagram the grammar of Heaven.

Socrates, whose mother was a midwife, described education as something like bringing eternal wisdom out from latency into articulate consciousness.  A new baby can look very old, and Socrates sensed that the life of this little one was coaxed from eternity into this mortal world.  The teacher, acting as a midwife (maieutikos) lets hidden knowledge breathe.

Having come down from Heaven, Jesus shot his sharpest language at those who would harm the littlest children, whose lives are endowed from Heaven.  Even selfish people with a shred of conscience need verbal fig leaves, euphemisms, to cover their shame when they sanction unholy acts against life.  Sometimes they call babies killed in "partial-birth" abortions "viable fetuses."  On April 18, The New York Times referred to newborn babies murdered by an abortionist as "neonates."  You might then call Herod's Massacre of the Innocents, the Termination of the Neonates.  But the same issue of that newspaper, in an article on page 24 about diaper training, spoke of "babies" as did an Op-Ed essay on gun control.

Our Lord knows more about it than we do, and that is why he said: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10).




Father George William Rutler. "The Grammar of Heaven."  From the Pastor (April 28, 2013).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001. 

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2013 Father George W. Rutler

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