Four last things

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Hieronymus Bosch's 1500 painting The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. The four outer discs depict (clockwise from top left) Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

In Christian eschatology, the Four Last Things or four last things of man (Latin: quattuor novissima[1]) are Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, the four last stages of the soul in life and the afterlife.[2][3] They are often commended as a collective topic for pious meditation; Saint Philip Neri wrote, "Beginners in religion ought to exercise themselves principally in meditation on the Four Last Things."[4] Traditionally, the sermons preached on the four Sundays of Advent were on the Four Last Things.[5]

The 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia states "The eschatological summary which speaks of the 'four last things' (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) is popular rather than scientific. For systematic treatment it is best to distinguish between (A) individual and (B) universal and cosmic eschatology, including under (A): (1) death; (2) the particular judgment; (3) heaven, or eternal happiness; (4) purgatory, or the intermediate state; (5) hell, or eternal punishment; and under (B): (6) the approach of the end of the world; (7) the resurrection of the body; (8) the general judgment; and (9) the final consummation of all things.".[6] Pope John Paul II wrote in 1984 that the "judgment" component encompasses both particular judgment and general judgment.[7]


Numerous theologians and Christian apologists have written on the Four Last Things; published accounts include:

16th century and earlier[edit]

17th century[edit]

The Four Last Things in a 1793 series of paintings by Portuguese Brazilian artist José Gervásio de Sousa Lobo, in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil; clockwise from top left: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

18th century[edit]

  • Myfyrdodau bucheddol ar y pedwar peth diweddaf ("Devout musings on the four last things") (1714) by John Morgan
  • Thoughts upon the Four Last Things (1734) by Joseph Trapp[15]
  • Four discourses on the four last things (1751) by Thomas Greene

20th century[edit]

  • The Four Last Things (1960) by Harry Williams
  • L'eternelle vie et la profondeur de l'ame (1947) by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Published in English as Life Everlasting: A Theological Treatise on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell[16]
  • The Last Things: Concerning Death, Purification After Death, Resurrection, Judgment, and Eternity (1965) by Romano Guardini[17]

A Catholic sermon on the Four Last Things features in James Joyce's novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916); a "hellfire" sermon in the Protestant revivalist tradition appears in Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm (1932).[citation needed]

The four last things[edit]


Martin of Cochem explains that "there are three principal reasons why all sensible people fear death so much: First, because the love of life, the dread of death is inherent in human nature. Secondly, because every rational being is well aware that death is bitter, and the separation of soul and body cannot take place without inexpressible suffering. Thirdly, because no one knows whither he will go after death, or how he will stand in the Day of Judgment."[18]

Or as Alphonsus Liguori wrote in his meditations: "We must die: how awful is the decree! We must die. The sentence is passed: It is appointed for all men once to die. Heb. 9:27"[19]

The Last Judgment[edit]

Of the final judgment, Alphonsus Liguori writes that, "the last day is called in Scripture a day of wrath and misery; and such it will be for all those unhappy beings who shall have died in mortal sin; for on that day their most secret crimes will be made manifest to the whole world, and themselves separated from the company of the saints, and condemned to the eternal prison of hell, where they will suffer all the agonies of ever dying yet always remaining alive."[19]


Of heaven, Richard Challoner in his famous work Think Well On't writes, " Consider, that if God's justice is so terrible in regard to his enemies, how much more will his mercy, his goodness, his bounty declare itself in favour of his friends! Mercy and goodness are his favourite attributes, in which he most delights: his tender mercies says the royal prophet, Ps. 144. are over all his works.[20]


Luis de la Puente writes concerning The nature of hell: "Hell is a perpetual prison, full of fire and of innumerable and very terrible torments, to chastise perpetually such as die in mortal sin. Or, again, hell is an eternal state, wherein sinners, for the punishment of their sins, want all that good which they may desire for their content, and endure all kinds of evils which they may fear for their torment. So that in hell is joined together the privation of all that good which men enjoy in this life and angels in the other, and the presence of all those evils which afflict men in this life and the devils in the other."[21]


The Four Last Things are a common theme of artistic and literary works as well as theological works.

Works about the Four Last Things
Work Type Creator Year Notes Refs
The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things Painting Hieronymus Bosch c.1500
Christ painting the Four Last Things in the Christian Heart Engraving Anton Wierix 1585 One of 18 copperplate engravings published as Cor Iesu amanti sacrum [22][23]
"One Thing is Needful, or Serious Meditations upon the Four Last Things" Poem John Bunyan 1683 [24]
The Four Last Things (German: Die vier letzten Dinge) Sculpture Anton Neu, based on ideas from the Asam brothers 1751 Stucco cartouches in the vestibule of Weltenburg Abbey chapel [25]
The Four Last Things Sculpture Josef Stammel c.1760 In Admont Abbey [26]
Novissima (Portuguese: Novíssimos) Paintings José Gervásio de Sousa Lobo 1792–3 Originally made for the sacristy of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men [pt] in Ouro Preto; currently in the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar [pt] in the same city. [27]
Die vier letzten Dinge Oratorio Joseph Leopold Eybler 1810   [28]
Die letzten Dinge Oratorio Louis Spohr 1826
Cantata of the Last Things of Man Cantata Ladislav Vycpálek 1920–22 Czech title Kantáta o posledních věcech člověka [29]
The Four Last Things Poetry collection Madeleva Wolff 1959 Poems with theological themes
No. 18 (unfinished) Film Harry Everett Smith 1990s Intended as his masterwork
"Die vier letzten Dinge (Quasi una Sinfonia da Requiem)" Symphony Horst Lohse [de] 1996–97 For organ and orchestra [30]


  1. ^ Mühling, Markus (2015-06-18). T&T Clark Handbook of Christian Eschatology. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-56765568-4. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  2. ^ Martin, Regis (1998). The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell, Heaven. Ignatius Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-89870662-8. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  3. ^ Pohle, Joseph (2006-02-03). Eschatology: or, The Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things: A Dogmatic Treatise. Wipf & Stock. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-59752562-6. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  4. ^ Bacci, Pietro Giacomo (1847). "Maxims and sayings". The Life of Saint Philip Neri, Apostle of Rome, and Founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. T. Richardson & Son. p. 444; February 18. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  5. ^ Cooper, Helen (1999). "The Four Last Things in Dante and Chaucer: Ugolino in the House of Rumour". In Scase, Wendy; Lawton, David; Copeland, Rita (eds.). New Medieval Literatures. Vol. 3. Clarendon Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-19818680-9. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Eschatology". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1909. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  7. ^ Wojtila, Karol (2 December 1984). "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia". Apostolic Exhortations. Holy See. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  8. ^ Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6
  9. ^ "The four last things: Thomas More (1903)". Internet Archive. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  10. ^ "Mr. Boltons last and learned worke of the foure last things, death, iudgement, hell and heaven. With his assises-sermons, and notes on Iustice Nicolls his funerall. Together with the life and death of the authour : Bolton, Robert, 1572–1631". Internet Archive. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  11. ^ "The four last things : death, judgment, hell, heaven : Martin, von Cochem, 1634–1712". Internet Archive. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  12. ^ Nancy L. Matthews (8 July 2004). William Sheppard, Cromwell's Law Reformer. Cambridge University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-521-89091-5.
  13. ^ Blair Worden (5 May 1977). The Rump Parliament 1648-53. Cambridge University Press. pp. 120–. ISBN 978-0-521-29213-9.
  14. ^ Bates, William. The Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Internet Archive. Manchester: S. Johnson. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  15. ^ Paulson, Ronald (2003-10-29). Hogarth's Harlot: Sacred Parody in Enlightenment England. JHU Press. p. 253. ISBN 9780801873911. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  16. ^ Garrigou-Lagrange, Réginald (1991). Life Everlasting and the Immensity of the Soul: A Theological Treatise on the Four Last Things : Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. Tan Books. ISBN 978-0-89555203-7. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  17. ^ Guardnin, Romano (1965). The Last Things: Concerning Death, Purification After Death, Resurrection, Judgment, and Eternity. Cluny Media. ISBN 1-94989948-9.
  18. ^ Cochem, Martin of (1899). "On Death" . The four last things: death, judgment, hell, heaven. Benziger Brothers.
  19. ^ a b Liguori, Alphonus (1836). "Part 1: On the Certainty of Death." . The Way of Salvation: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Dublin.
  20. ^ Challoner, Richard (1801). "Think Well On't/Day 17: On heaven" . Think Well On't or, Reflections on the great truths of the Christian religion for every day of the month. T. Haydock.
  21. ^ de la Puente, Lius (1852). "Meditation XVI" . Meditations On The Mysteries Of Our Holy Faith. Richarson and Son.
  22. ^ Koerner, Joseph Leo (2004-02-27). The Reformation of the Image. Reaktion Books. pp. 217–8. ISBN 9781861898326. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  23. ^ Smith, Jeffrey Chipps (2002). Sensuous Worship: Jesuits and the Art of the Early Catholic Reformation in Germany. Princeton University Press. p. 36, Fig.19. ISBN 9780691090726. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  24. ^ One thing is needful, or, Serious meditations upon the four last things, death, judgment and heaven, hell unto which is added Ebal and Gerizzim, or, The blessing and the curse : with prison meditations and a catalogue of all this author's books / by John Bunyan. London: Nath. Ponder. 1683. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Die Kirche" (in German). Weltenburg Abbey. Archived from the original on 21 November 2015. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  26. ^ "the four last things". Stift Admont. Admont Abbey. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  27. ^ Campos, Adalgisa Arantes (2012). "Notas sobre um pintor lusobrasileiro e a iconografia dos Novíssimos (a Morte, o Juízo, Inferno e o Paraíso) em fins da época colonial" [Notes on a Portuguese Brazilian painter and the iconography of the Novissima (Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven) in late colonial times] (PDF). Fênix – Revista de História e Estudos Culturais (in Portuguese). 9 (2). ISSN 1807-6971. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  28. ^ Mathew, Nicholas (2013). Political Beethoven. Cambridge University Press. p. 127. ISBN 9781107005891. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  29. ^ Newmarch, Rosa (1923). "Some Czechoslovak Choral Works. II. Vycpalek's Cantata of the 'Four Last Things,' Op. 16 (Continued)". The Musical Times. 64 (969): 762. doi:10.2307/911531. ISSN 0027-4666.
  30. ^ "Archiv". Horst Lohse Komponist (in German). Retrieved 20 November 2015.

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