The Lowest Soul in Heaven: A Fairy Tale
Let me tell you about my trip to Chicago. After I completed my business, I went to the university to see my old mentor, Professor Jones. We traded news of our families and careers and, at the end of our meeting, he offered to share his latest project with me. Intrigued, I agreed to listen.
An old colleague from Cambridge had recently surveyed a private library at the former estate of an English lord. His friend sent one manuscript to Professor Jones for translation. Jones is a renowned expert in Old English, and served as a visiting professor at Cambridge years ago.
The manuscript was a 16th century copy of an English monk’s journal, which was tentatively dated to the pre-Norman period. Jones speculated that the original manuscript (now lost) had been removed from its home during King Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries. The new owner, perhaps a crypto-Catholic, had copied it and concealed it in his library for posterity.
It included a short autobiography of the monk and his advice on running a monastery. However, the most interesting part was a description of an alleged angelic visitation, and the angel’s message. This event inspired the monk to write his testimony, and this feature was perhaps why the manuscript had been preserved over the centuries.
What follows is my recollection of our conversation:
Professor Jones: “The angel confirmed, as many others have written, that in Heaven there is a hierarchy of being. There are orders of angels, each with different purposes and abilities. The archangels are the highest, for example.”
There is also a hierarchy of souls, which corresponds to the merit accumulated on Earth. All souls in heaven know joy and rest. However, the greater the merit, the more you can partake of the Beatific Vision
“Like having larger stomach?” I asked.
“You might say that. A man and child can both experience joy, but the man’s joy can have greater depth, because he can understand the why and the how of it.
Those great in faith and works earn more merit than those who were not. Individual circumstance and talent is, of course, taken into account. To those who are given much, a higher standard exists. Those who had every form of spiritual and material obstacle in their path might earn more merit than those who seemed, superficially, to have lived a more holy life.”
“The Parable of the Talents. I know it. What’s so special about this particular vision?
“This. The angel told the monk that there will exist, after the Last Judgment, a person known as ‘The Lowest Soul in Heaven.’”
“The Lowest Soul? Let me guess, it will be a local lord that harassed the monastery, or some famous enemy of the Church from that time.”
“No. A specific individual was not identified. The Lowest Soul will be that person, who though saved, clearly had the least merit of any soul in heaven.”
“Huh. In the NFL draft, they call the last player chosen ‘Mr. Irrelevant.’ It’s because no one expects him to make it in the league.”
“Well, I don’t know much about football. But according to the angel, the Lowest Soul does in fact ‘make it’ in heaven. His or her place is assured for all time, and the soul enjoys complete peace and joy.”
“But he, and its probably a he, is the lowest. That doesn’t sound so great.”
“Yes. The Lowest Soul experiences the Beatific Vision in its most basic form. But he, and I agree that it’s probably a he, would still enjoy an existence that is unfathomably better than what we experience on Earth.
The angel then explained the Lowest Soul’s special purpose. Every soul is unique, and has some special attribute, knowledge, or role given by God to use in Heaven. Much of the joy in heaven is the sharing of those blessings with others. Those lower in the hierarchy have a limited ability to share with those above them. The angel said this does not cause jealousy, but it is a limitation of sorts.
The Lowest Soul has no unique talents. All he has is what has been temporarily lent him. The Lowest Soul provides an opportunity for every other person in Heaven to practice an exquisite form or charity, or agape.
The Lowest Soul, in turn, receives great satisfaction in being the beneficiary of this charity. His gift is that he can offer nothing in return accept for his total need. In a way, the Lowest Soul, through his sanctification, becomes almost a personification of the virtue of humility.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“No, and this is the best part. The angel told the monk that there are special feasts in heaven for all souls. And this is where the monk learns the answer to one of what I think of, somewhat humorously, as one of theology’s greatest riddles.”
“I love riddles, let me guess.”
“Who sits at God’s left hand? The Bible says that Jesus Christ is at God’s right hand. It’s a metaphor of course, but the monk claims to have learned the answer.”
“Well, I think you spoiled your riddle, the Lowest Soul?”
“Exactly, the Lowest Soul sits at God’s left hand on some occasions. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. I am no theologian, and I think the monk’s angelic visitation was just a dream or outright invention. But it was something new, and a fascinating idea.”
“Yes. Even if it was true, I don’t believe I’d want the honor. I never liked being the center of attention, even when you called on me.”
“Ha! I would not want the honor either. I think I can safely assume that no professor will ever serve as the personification of humility.
I spoke, “But in the end, it might be you, or it might even be me.”
“It might, my friend. And do you find that comforting, or terrifying?”