The Creed: He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty
The most important thing to remember about this proposition is who the “He” refers to. It refers to Jesus of Nazareth in his human nature. Accordingly it does not so much refer to the Second Person of the Trinity in his divine nature (although, of course, the two aspects are inseparable). Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that he came down from heaven and will return there, making a place ready for his disciples. Again, the ‘he’ is Jesus himself, not Jesus when viewed in a more integrated manner as a divine person, but as a human nature in hypostatic union with the divine person of the Son. Nonetheless, these fine distinctions should not obscure the fact that there are not two persons here, but one: the divine person of the Son (one of the three divine persons which comprise the Trinity) in hypostatic union with a human nature; a nature manifest in Jesus of Nazareth (through whom God became incarnate). The essence of this union is a profound mystery, one that can only be hinted at by the formulae of the early Councils. Jesus Christ is a divine person with a human nature and it is with respect to this nature alone that we profess: “He ascended into heaven.”
The precision of this language is of great importance and is anything but arcane or of such high abstraction as to be irrelevant to our daily lives. It is indeed absurd to assert that the Second Person of the Trinity left heaven to take a human form on earth and then returned to heaven on the fortieth day following the resurrection. Not only is it absurd, it is heretical to so assert, for God cannot be divided in his persons. As has been stressed elsewhere in these reflections, where one person of the Trinity is, there too are the others.
It is, therefore, Jesus in his human nature who ascends into heaven. Heaven can be understood in two senses here. First, heaven is a state of being in which one is in eternal communion with God. Hence Jesus’ ascension forever brings fallen and restored humanity into communion with the Trinity. In other words, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension has reconciled fallen mankind to God, restoring the possibility that you and I can be saved. Second, heaven is a place of eternal beatitude; a place of perfection in which God is all in all. From our perspective it would be somewhat accurate to state that heaven is “currently under construction”. This means that when God perfects creation at the end of time and re-creates “a new heaven and a new earth”, Jesus will bodily be there as will the Blessed Mother. In actuality, both are there now. Heaven, inhabited by humanity, is therefore both a promise and a place of communion; a gift that you and I can choose to dwell in or not.
To be seated at the right hand of a potentate or king is to be given the authority to act on his behalf. It is to occupy a position of honor and power. To assert that Jesus (in his humanity) is so seated, is to assert that he, who is true God and true man, has been given power to intercede for us before the Father. It is therefore as our advocate and fellow human being that Jesus will ultimately judge our souls. This leads us to next week’s lesson!