When a loved one dies, it is comforting to hope that we will one day be reunited with them in heaven. But when we lose a beloved pet, can we have that same hope? Do all dogs actually go to heaven? Patrick Madrid recently tackled this issue on The Patrick Madrid Show, and gave an overview of the Church’s teaching on whether animals go to heaven.
“From the Catholic Church’s perspective, there is no set teaching on this issue,” Patrick said. “So you won’t be able to open the Catechism and see where it says, ‘Animals cannot go to heaven’ and you won’t find a place where it says, ‘Animals can go to heaven.'”
“Simply, what the Church says on this issue is that human beings who have rational souls (and our rational souls are immortal), we go to heaven,” Patrick continued. “And even though our bodies are separated from our souls at death, nonetheless we will actually be reunited with our bodies at the end of the world, when the General Judgement takes place. But in the meantime, when our souls become disembodied, they continue to live on forever. However, animals do not have intellectual souls, they don’t have immortal souls.”
Though the Church does not have a set teaching on this issue, Patrick laid out reasons to think that animals may be in heaven, and some reasons they may not:
You can say that the Bible seems to suggest that there might be animals in heaven. For example, in 2 Kings we see the story where Elijah is brought up into the heavens, though not heaven itself, and Elisha saw Elijah being brought into eternity in a chariot drawn by horses. So some people say that would seem to suggest that if there are horses in that vision, then there are horses in heaven. And if there are horses in heaven, then why can’t there be dogs, cats, or other things?
St. Paul, when he talks about how all of creation is waiting to be set free from its slavery to corruption and to share in the glory of God, that phrase ‘all creation’ in Romans chapter 8 seems to suggest to some people that maybe there is a way that animals and even plants can have a place there.
St. Thomas Aquinas spent some time talking about this, and his point was simply that animals, plants, insects, and other life forms have a soul of sorts – they have a life principle, unlike inanimate objects like a rock.
So the life principle certainly is in that animal, but when the animal dies, that vegetative soul, that sensitive soul (and there are many terms to refer to the life principle of plants as opposed to the higher life forms like animals) separates from the body, the life principle stops, and it does not continue, because it is not immortal … unlike human souls.
That has been the majority opinion of Catholic theologians whenever the topic has come up. It is generally understood, and St. Thomas Aquinas has been a leader in this regard, that no, animals do not go to heaven.
He says the reason that these plants and animals will not go to heaven is because they are incapable of going to heaven – not because God doesn’t like them or God want them. But they served their useful purpose here. We loved them as pets, we enjoyed their company, we have an emotional bond with them as pets, all these things are true.
But because they don’t have an immortal soul, in essence they are incapable of living beyond death. So, when a dog dies, a cat dies, or a plant dies – that’s it. There is no more of that animal left to continue on into eternity.
Now, some people get very bothered by that, and I think much of it has to do with the fact that they do have these very close connection with their pets. And so it’s very painful for them to imagine that they don’t have a place in the afterlife.
I think the solution is to say that it is entirely possible to have animals in heaven, but every way you look at it, Biblically and otherwise, it seems essentially impossible that any animal who exists now or has existed in this mortal life could go to heaven. But maybe, in heaven, God will create these preternaturally gifted animals to be present, not beholding the Beatific Vision per se, but being there as part of the joys and beauties of heaven.
Listen to the full discussion below:
The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 9-noon Eastern/6-9 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.