Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Prophet Daniel and
the Beauty of Death
The Prophet Daniel by Aleijadinho (Congonhas do Campo, Minas Gerais - Brazil. Photo P. R. Campos)
July 21 is the feast of the Prophet Daniel. The last words that the angel said to him were: “But go thou thy ways until the time appointed: and thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot unto the end of the days.” (Dan. 12:13)
Analyzing the angel’s words, one realizes that it is the pronouncement of Daniel’s death.
Though conquerors, wise men, all people and even lions reverenced Daniel during his life, after the angel’s words, the prophet slept the sleep of death, awaiting the General Resurrection.
These angelic words contain a great and manly majesty, peculiar to the Old Testament. In the New Testament, a greater, supernatural majesty supplanted this natural one. While superior, the supernatural majesty was not focused on this manliness common in the Old Testament.
However, the angel’s words are manly: “Thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot unto the end of the days.” After this, everything is over and no appeal can be made, even for a man of Daniel’s greatness. Death’s inevitability supercedes man’s capacity to intervene. In this, one senses the divine beauty of death.
It is beautiful, because it proclaims that everything in the sensible world is delicate. It exists only with God’s intervention and through no merit of its own. Placed before the specter of death, man senses everything in him that is small and fragile. Death whispers in his ear: “Don’t you realize that everything in life is dust and ashes?” This is good for man, since he is accustomed to seeing his greatness compared to all other perishable things.
There are two other Old Testament phrases that express this same idea: “Vanity of vanities and all is vanity,” (Ecclus. 1:2) and “I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold all is vanity, and vexation of spirit.” (Ecclus. 1:14)
This voice ascends above these little perishable things, to teach man that even those things that are seemingly great, are nothing. However, there is Someone, Who hovers above all Creation, Who is a true Marvel. He is God, Our Lord in His Eternity, Inaccessibility, Intangibility and Immutability, Who touches all things without being touched.
In this spirit, the angel proclaims: “Go thou thy ways…and thou shalt rest.” In other words: “You, who were great in the eyes of God and man, you too shall go to your end. You too are perishable and your transitory state shall be broken tonight. The law that all material things must end, applies to you, too. Think of this and you will not be misled to measure Divine things by your puny grandeur.
“You must realize that you are small before the things of God, but also that you have an immortal soul. You have something that is not material, but imperishable. Thus, this end you enter tonight is temporary. In you exists the very principle of life, which is nobler than you and it shall remain.
“Moreover, your soul is good, so you will posses the happiness that things of earth cannot give. You will sleep, but afterwards will come the reconciliation between God and man and eventually your resurrection.”
God is so good that in spite of the perishability of flesh, He will resurrect the body so that it can share in the joys or torments of the soul, according to whether the man was good or bad in this life.
At the end of his announcement, the angel states: “stand in thy lot unto the end of the days.” This is a reference to this General Resurrection. One begins to hear angels sounding the trumpets and coronets that will call all men to judgment. The angel tells Daniel to sleep peacefully and wait for that day, for the death of the just is a dream that awaits the resurrection.
That is why one should always keep death before his eyes and order his life accordingly. Then, when death approaches, he can expect a joyful resurrection on Judgment Day. Living in this perspective will prepare him for the moment when Our Lord will appear with Our Lady at His side, to fulfill, perhaps His greatest promise: “I will be your reward exceedingly great.”
So, man will first be judged immediately at death, when his body is still warm. Aided by Our Lady’s mercy, he will be sentenced according to his love for and union with God, not by his position in the eyes of men. Then he shall see God face-to-face.
Man will be judged a second time, when the Son of Man will appear like a flash of light coming from the East and settle over the valley of Jehosaphat, where all men from all times will be gathered.
They will see Our Lord Jesus Christ in His Majesty, Divinity, Goodness and Mercy. They will also see Our Lady inundated with light. She will appear in her grandeur and sweetness that is so great, that even then, man will be unable to comprehend it.
Then, she will smile at all the elect, but particularly at those consecrated to her as slaves of love according to the method of Saint Louis de Montfort. She will love these gratuitously without them meriting her love in any way.
Then, together with her, they will sing the Magnificat…
(*) This text is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio gave on July 20, 1968. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. – Ed. American TFP