“Will we still have faith when we are in heaven? What about those in purgatory and hell?”

There is a question I do not hear every day! To understand the answer to this question it would first be necessary to understand the three places we are talking about, and bear in mind that heaven, hell and purgatory are actually not “places” at all – not in the geographic sense in which we usually refer to a person being “in a place”. Heaven, hell and purgatory are all conditions – “states” is the word used in the Catechism – of human souls. Heaven and hell being fixed and permanent, purgatory is a temporary state of cleansing and purification.

Purgatory is the purification of the theological virtues given us in baptism – faith, hope and love. The resulting perfection allows us to enter into perfect union with God. How many of us could say that all our hope – and our only hope – is in God? Or that we love everything and everyone with a love that is absolutely free of self interest, and completely for the love of God? This is described by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (who needed quite a bit of purification it seems): “If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3: 14, 15) “Suffer loss”? It would seem that some of us, if not most of us, have quite a bit of letting go, de-junking and re-orienting to do before we can pass through “the eye of the needle.”

Heaven is the state of final and complete union with God in which the blessed no longer have need of supernatural faith. In heaven, faith, believing in God, is replaced by the vision of God: “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (I John 3:2) and by the perfect knowledge of God: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13:12)

Hell Alas, it is not as if these souls – or the demons for that matter – “don’t believe in God”. James tells us very bluntly, “the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). But their belief, ‘faith’ if you will, is not animated by the slightest glimmer of supernatural love, and so their faith can only be called ‘dead’. This complete lack of charity is indeed the cause of their damnation – “the state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God” as the Catechism defines it.

If you are interested in pursuing a better understanding of these three realities, they are treated with great clarity and simplicity in Catechism #1023 – 1037. But I am going to give the last word here to one of my favorite maxims by a saint with an exceptionally penetrating mind, St. Robert Bellarmine – who said, “Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved.”