How clean is Heaven?
The early views of the church is far different than what most think. I was reading an address by Dr. Hugh Nibley that delved into this in a paper on what some of the earliest Christians believed based on early extra-biblical accounts. Here is an excerpt:
The first thing to get clear, when we start talking about other worlds, is that we know nothing about them. It comes only by revelation. These things are not the extent or the projection of our own scientific world or literary experience, and not the production of our own imagination. Those who have seen other worlds in vision tell us that we simply cannot imagine what they are like.
Remember what Paul said after he talked about going to the third heaven: I can talk about one who was caught up. I've seen those things. And what about it? "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man." Nobody has seen anything like it. Nobody has heard anything like it. You can't imagine what it is like -- it has not "entered into the heart of man." So you shouldn't try to make yourself a picture of what heaven is like. You'll be completely wrong. And that's good, because I don't want it to be more of the same, more of this. It would be an awful bore, wouldn't it?
The Pistis Sophia: "Other worlds cannot possibly be described in terms of this world. Not only is there less in common between other worlds and this world, they differ as widely among themselves as any of them does from us."
"In the limited confines of the flesh," the new and valuable writing of James explains, "which condition all our thinking, we can't possibly grasp the nature of other existences or even begin to count the number of other worlds.
"We are necessarily prone to think in terms of our world. Of course we can't think in any other terms. We haven't the remotest idea of what it's like. We use the words we do because we don't have any others. As St. Augustine says, "This is the wrong picture I have given you, but at least it's a picture." (lmpar imago, sed imago.)
"When we say Light," says the Sophia Christi, "we think of our kind of light. "But that's wrong. When we say marriage, for example, in the other world, it'll be entirely different from what it is here, though of course we must designate earthly and heavenly marriage by the same name. Even though spirits may be eternal and thus equal in age, this writing explains, they differ in intelligence, in appearance, and in other things. And these differences are primary, as unbegotten as the spirits themselves. It is not something that's acquired. We are just different, primary and unbegotten, and no two alike.
The Lord tells the Apostles in the Epistle of the Apostles, "Where my Father is, is entirely different from this world. There you will see lights that are nobler than your kind of light. In the millions of worlds that God has made for his son, every world is different from the others and wonderful in its own radiance." Quoting the Odes of Solomon: "Hence, one of the joys of existence is that the worlds constantly exchange with each other what they have, each possessing don't see two faces alike here." Isn't it marvelous. No two alike. "Vive la difference!"
"In the Hebrew Universe," writes Pederson, "the world consists of a number oF lives that are intermixed but can never become merged because each has its special character. Individuals remain forever themselves." Among ten thousand times ten thousand worlds, says the Ginza, you will find no two alike.
A prayer from the Mandaean Prayer Book reads, "Before this world there were already a thousand thousand mysteries and a myriad myriad planets, each with its own mysteries." The multiplicity of worlds, as taught by the Early Church, formed a perfect unity as do the strings of a lyre. Each plays a different note; together they make marvelous harmony. If two strings play the same note, there is not much point to that. There must be a great orchestration. This is a common idea among the ancients. Plotinus taught that each star existed for the sake of the whole, to which it contributed its individuality. Each has its particular part to play; by being uniquely itself it can make a contribution of maximum value.
There is the great difference, and among the differences there is a hierarchy. Some are greater than others. That is the concept of the three degrees of glory. The one thing they all have in common is that there are three main degrees. "You can visit the orders below you," says the Pistis Sophia, "but not the level or orders above you."
The three degrees are described in a great number of manuscripts. Ignatius, writing to the Trallians, says the same thing. Ignatius was the last church father who knew the mysteries of the church; the Saints have asked him to tell them about some of these mysteries and the levels of other worlds.
And this is what he says in reply: "I could write to you about the mysteries of the heavens, but I am afraid to do so. It would do you harm. I am able to understand the orders of the heavens, the degrees of the angels, the variations among them, and the differences of dominions, of thrones and powers, and of the elevation of the Holy Ghost and of the kingdom of the Lord, and the highest of all rules of God over everything else. There is an infinity of hierarchy in the world." But he died and took his knowledge with him. "You're not ready for it yet," he said, "and the Church is not going to have it." An early hymn says, "Christ rules in second place. His rule exactly duplicates the Father's but over a more limited number of cosmoses." Methodius explains this, he being in my opinion the last church father to correlate what stuff remained of the concept. He says, "If other stars are greater than our world, then it is necessary that they contain life greater than ours, and greater peace, and greater justice, and greater virtue than ours."