On “Puppies in Paradise”

The antiphon of the Sunday Night Prayer (Breviary Psalm 91) is from Luke (10:19): “I give you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions.” I have always avoided both of these “beasties.” I once saw a scorpion, an ugly little critter. Thus, I have never paid attention to this passage. I have wondered why it is found in the Night Prayer. If I do have this “treading” power, I would probably hesitate to use it. I am rather of little faith here.

I came across an essay of David Bentley Hart in First Things on the “great chain of being.” Hart was pleasantly annoyed with some hapless Thomist who argued, on the basis of lack of “rationality,” that dogs would not be found in heaven.

Hart’s own dogs were named Honeychild, Blossom, and Barbarossa. Whatever we call it, some animals, like horses and dogs, show signs of “intelligence.” Though he concedes that the issue of animal immortality need not be resolved till the Last Day, still Hart affirms: “I hope to see puppies in Paradise.”

In defense of his view, Hart recalls the famous passage in Isaiah about the lions and the lambs lying down together. The one about babies playing with cobras has worried me. Hindu snake charmers come to mind.

Actually, in case I make it, I have always hoped that “heaven” is not full of “hounds,” to recall Francis Thompson’s famous poem. The passages in Paul that promise “a new heaven and a new earth” seem to back Hart’s thesis.

The pet cemeteries are a well-known and often derided phenomenon: I visited one once, appropriately in San Francisco. Prosperous European women are sometimes chastised for preferring dogs to children. But while I am not particularly enamored of pets that happily jump all over you, pets and children, no doubt, have a certain compatibility with each other.

Whether puppies are found in heaven probably cannot be solved by numbers. Let’s suppose the average dog lover had ten or eleven dogs during his lifetime. Does he get all ten of them, plus their offspring?

Presumably if no begetting for mortals is found in heaven, this fact a fortiori would apply to mutts, like my niece’s two pit bulls. Perhaps animals would continue in the normal way. But this implies a never-ending supply of new puppies, not to mention tons of dog food. The notion of heaven being populated with – among other beings – immortal dogs, let alone scorpions, does not appeal to me.

Psalm 91 reads: “On the lion and the viper you will tread, and trample the young lion and the dragon.” Pace the Book of Revelation, dragons in Paradise require even more subtle thinking. Now, we find ourselves treading and trampling on vipers, lions, serpents, and scorpions. If we are going to go all the way with this reflection, I once read that some 60 percent of the earth’s living creatures by weight are bug-like, rather slimy crawlers.

Can we draw any theological conclusions from these esoteric considerations? Charles Schulz wrote a book with a title reminiscent of Isaiah: And the Beagles and the Bunnies Shall Lie Down Together. The book’s sub-title is: The Theology of Peanuts. Now in Paradise, we have puppies, un-tread upon scorpions and serpents, but also vipers, lions, dragons, horses, pit bulls, cobras, various creeping and crawling creatures, plus beagles and bunnies.

Linus and Snoopy are standing in the rain. Linus throws up his hands. To a sad Snoopy he says: “So you’re getting a little wet?” As the rain continues, he adds cheerily: “Don’t look so depressed.” And, while walking away, he explains why: “Remember, it rains on the just and the unjust.” The final scene shows a drenched Snoopy saying to himself: “But why us in-betweens?”

This query brings us back to Hart’s original question about the intelligence of the puppies he has known. Does Snoopy mean here that he is “between justice and injustice”? Or between a vegetative life and a rational being? If it’s the first, he is already “rational”!

The destiny of the animals is probably not one on which we need spend a lot of time. The ease with which we project human attributes onto animals is well known.

“Man is the only creature whom God willed for itself” – so Vatican II stated. Some species-lovers call this human hubris. Vatican II was just passing on what it heard from the “beginning.”

“God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. God saw how good it was” (Genesis 1:25).

“God created man in His own image, in the divine image He created him, male and female He created them.” It looks like man himself is also an “in-between” creature, the one required to distinguish between the just and the unjust to become what he is created to be.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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