Fr. Sharkey had been approached some weeks earlier, he told us, by a devout elderly woman who asked him whether dogs would be admitted into Heaven. No, he had replied, there was no scriptural authority for animals getting into Heaven. “In that case,” the lady had said to him, “I can never be happy in Heaven. I can only be happy if Brownie is also there.”
“I told her” — Fr. Sharkey spoke with mesmerizing authority — “that if that were the case — that she could not be happy without Brownie — why then Brownie would in fact go to Heaven. Because what is absolutely certain is that, in Heaven, you will be happy.” That answer, I am sure, sophisticated readers [will find] jesuitical. Yes. But I have never found the fault in the syllogism.
William F. Buckley, Jr., Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith (1998).
Some believe strongly that animals will be in heaven. I don’t know that the Church has ruled on the question. My feeling, based on St. Thomas Aquinas, is that animals don’t go to heaven because they don’t have spirits. In a nutshell, every living thing has a soul, in the sense of the vivifying principle of a body. But a spirit is a soul with an intellect. God is a spirit, as are angels. The human soul is a spirit, but animal souls are merely souls. Since spiritual union with God is the essential component of heaven, and animals can’t enjoy spiritual union with God, they can’t experience heaven in its essentials.
As far as I can see, this doesn’t definitively dispose of the question. The Bible speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, and we will have resurrected bodies; all of which seems to imply that we will live a physical existence in heaven, and not merely a spiritual one. Can’t animals then be physically present in the “new earth”?
My problem is not with the idea of animals being there per se, but that the same animals we have known and loved will be there, i.e. our pets. In other words, that they are to be resurrected like us. This seems absurd when taken to its logical conclusion. When we say animals will be resurrected, do we mean all animals? Not just all kinds of animals, but every animal that has ever lived? Not only every cat and dog, but every cow, chicken, snake and rat that has ever lived? How about insects — every beetle, fly, ant and cockroach? All animals that have ever lived through eons of time, living on the same planet at the same time?
If not all these, then where are we drawing the line, and on what basis? Are we allowing only mammals?
Aquinas’s position provides a reasonable place to draw a non-arbitrary line between creatures that can go to heaven and those that can’t: Those that are capable of spiritual union with God can; those that aren’t, can’t. Any other line that you could draw, between these animals and those, seems arbitrary.
Maybe we only mean animals that were important to people in some way, i.e. pets. That takes away some of the absurdity of including all animals that have ever lived. But in that case aren’t we saying something like, our love for our animals gives them eternal life? If an animal pleases his master he may go to heaven but if not, he is doomed to annihilation? If so, that seems like an unjustified doctrinal assertion absent any revelation on the matter.
I’m willing to stay openminded on the issue, but I’m not convinced that it’s something we should believe in or tell others to believe. What do you think?