Blog participant Dev Thakur asked:
Did Enoch and Elijah really go to Heaven before Christ opened it up to us? How could that be? Or did they just go to "the heavens" and wait for Christ?I replied:
As for Enoch and Elijah, yes, they did go to heaven. I wrote about this in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [p. 134 in Sophia edition] as a roundabout argument in favor of purgatory:We know from Scripture that a few Old Testament saints went to heaven before Christ went to Sheol and led (presumably) the majority of the pre-Christian righteous there (Ephesians 4:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:19-20). Elijah went straight to heaven by a whirlwind, as we are informed in 2 Kings 2:11. It is also generally thought by all sides that Enoch went directly to heaven as well (Genesis 5:24). Moses came with Elijah to the Mount of Transfiguration to talk with Jesus (Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30-31). By implication, then, it could be held that he, too, had been in heaven, and by further logical inference, other Old Testament saintly figures.
It follows that, even before Christ, there was a "two-tiered" afterlife for the righteous: some, such as Elijah, Enoch and likely Moses and others, went to heaven, whereas a second, larger group went temporarily to Sheol. Likewise, now the elect of God can go straight to heaven if sufficiently holy, or to purgatory as a necessary stopping-point in order to attain to the proper sanctity becoming of inhabitants of heavenly glory. Therefore, it is neither true that all righteous dead before Christ went solely to Sheol, nor that all after His Resurrection went, and go, to heaven. On the other hand, the reprobate dead in Sheol (or Hades) eventually are sentenced to hell (Revelation 20:13-15).
Jason then wrote on my blog:
I must take exception to your opinion regarding Enoch and Elijah. The common teaching of the Church is that no human could enter the beatific vision before Christ. Enoch and Elijah may have entered a natural paradise (as they never died), and, as many believe, are the two "witnesses" spoken of in Revelation who will come to earth.I replied again:
"Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, 'hell'—-'Sheol" in Hebrew or 'Hades' in Greek—-because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for ALL OF the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer." (CCC 633)
Note that the Catechism does not make any exceptions.
According to Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., I am permitted to hold this opinion, as the Church has not finally determined the question. He wrote:
Presumably Elijah went to heaven without dying . . . No doubt Ecclesiasticus suggests that Enoch was directly taken to heaven.Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman made a similar argument in his book, Meditations and Devotions [linked to this exact passage]:
IV. On the Assumption
(1) May 24
Mary is the "Sancta Dei Genetrix," the Holy Mother of God
As soon as we apprehend by faith the great fundamental truth that Mary is the Mother of God, other wonderful truths follow in its train; and one of these is that she was exempt from the ordinary lot of mortals, which is not only to die, but to become earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Die she must, and die she did, as her Divine Son died, for He was man; but various reasons have approved themselves to holy writers, why, although her body was for a while separated from her soul and consigned to the tomb, yet it did not remain there, but was speedily united to her soul again, and raised by our Lord to a new and eternal life of heavenly glory.
And the most obvious reason for so concluding is this—that other servants of God have been raised from the grave by the power of God, and it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.
We are told by St. Matthew, that after our Lord's death upon the Cross "the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept"—that is, slept the sleep of death, "arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many." St. Matthew says, "many bodies of the Saints"—that is, the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times—rose again in anticipation of the last day.
Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God's own Mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.
St. Alphonsus de Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, also used the analogy of Elijah ("Elias" -- the Latin form) to the Assumption of Mary, in his book, The Glories of Mary (1750):
The prophet Elias was carried to heaven in a fiery chariot . . . "But to conduct thee to heaven, O Mother of God," says the Abbot Rupert, "a fiery chariot was not enough; the whole court of heaven, headed by its King thy Son, went forth to meet and accompany thee."
(Part the Second; Discourse VIII: Second Discourse on the Assumption of Mary; section I: "How glorious was the triumph of Mary when she ascended to heaven"; p. 425 in my edition [translated and edited by Eugene Grimm, Brooklyn: Redemptorist Fathers, 1931)
Early bishops did, too:
Theoteknos, a 6th century Bishop of Jericho . . . argued that since Elijah ascended and since a place in heaven had been prepared for the apostles, so the much the more must Mary have ascended to a place prepared for her.
Pope John Paul II stated in a General Audience on July 21, 1999 that Enoch and Elijah went to heaven:
The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11).The "Quick Questions" from This Rock (July-August 2002), dealt with the question as follows:
Q: In the Old Testament we see Elijah being taken (presumably) body and soul into heaven. I understood that according to Catholic teaching, only Mary has been assumed body and soul into heaven. Obviously, just men like Moses and Elijah could not get into heaven itself until Jesus’ time. But I’m still left with the quandary of Elijah: Was his body there ahead of Mary’s?
A: According to Scripture, Enoch and Elijah may have been assumed into heaven before the time of Christ. This is less clear in Enoch's case, since Genesis 5:24 says only that God "took" him, but doesn't say where. Sirach 44:16 and 49:14 make it clear that he was taken up from the earth, and Hebrews 11:5 adds "so that he should not see death."
In Elijah's case, 2 Kings 2:11 states that "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." 1 Maccabees 2:58 adds, "Elijah because of great zeal for the Law was taken up into heaven. " Taken at face value, these would seem to indicate that both Enoch and Elijah were assumed into heaven. But the Church teaches that heaven was not yet opened to the saints because Christ had not yet come. How can this be explained?
One possible explanation is to say that they didn't really go to heaven but to the abode of the dead where the souls of the righteous were waiting for the Messiah to open heaven. A difficulty is that the abode of the dead, or she'ol, is pictured in the Old Testament as being down (e.g., Num. 16:33 speaks of Korah and his followers going "down alive into she'ol"), yet Enoch and Elijah are depicted as being taken up.
Another possibility would be to say they were taken up but to a different kind of heaven than the one Christ opened. Or it is possible to say simply that they received entrance to heaven as a grace which came from the redemption Christ wrought – only they received it early, as did Mary when she was immaculately conceived. Like Mary, Enoch and Elijah may have been foretastes of the good things to come. In such a case, they would be exceptions to the rule. But God can do what he wants.
Valentine Long, O.F.M., in his book, The Mother of God (Franciscan Herald Press, 1976), further clarifies the issue for us:
Whether any human bodies but those of Mary and her divine Son are already in heaven, does not fall within the confines of doctrine. There may be others. But the faithful are not obliged to believe there are. The Church allows the possibility without enforcing it.
There are those, among the biblical scholars, who consider the possibility a distinct probability. They first point out an Old Testament passage which tells of Enoch suddenly disappearing from view because "God took him." and then another which specifies that "he was taken up from the earth" (Gen. 5:24; Sir. 48:9). They next quote from the New Testament this confirmative text: "Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him" (Heb. 11:5). Nor does the inquiry end with Enoch. A second prophet, who at the Transfiguration would reappear with Moses on Mount Tabor, on the hills of Moab was whisked away into the skies while his companion stood by in amazement. "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven is as plain words can say it, and the witness "saw him no more" (2 (4) Kings 2:11-12).
That Elijah departed alive in such a flurry, and momentarily reappeared at the Transfiguration, and according to a prophecy would return again to minister to his people, all reinforces the mystery of his present whereabouts. Where has he gone? Where has Enoch gone? Neither of them died. But since the heaven of heavens was closed to humanity before its Savior's death, the question arises: were they detained until then in Limbo and afterwards graduated to the beatitude of the angels? Limbo (known in the Old Testament as "Abraham's bosom") had certainly been the place of detention for departed souls fit for heaven as soon as their Savior would open it to them, but in the case of Enoch and Elijah we are dealing with animated bodies. Where now are these? Is it out of the question to suppose that the two may have been taken, body and soul, into heaven? The Church does not say.
Nor has her magisterium chosen to speak with finality on what happened to those many risen bodies of Good Friday. Did they die again? Or were they taken to heaven? Is St. Joseph there now, body as well as soul? A select group of theologians, an even larger group of mystics, and sometimes theologians who were mystics, think so. They think the Holy Family are all together again. They think that the body that labored so faithfully and lovingly to provide a livelihood for Jesus and Mary is with them in glory. Suarez does. But why go into the long enumeration? St. Francis de Sales in lauding the foster father to and beyond the skies was singing no solo but contributing to a chorus.
That should be sufficient, I think, to demonstrate that any Catholic is fully permitted to hold such a view.