1. The term heaven is employed, in a general sense, to designate the boundless expanse of space that surrounds the Earth, and, more specifically, that part of the expanse which is above our horizon. The Latin name for that space, coelum (derived from the Greek coilos, hollow, concave), was given to it by the ancients, because heaven, or the sky, appeared to them to be an immense concavity. The Ancients believed in the existence of several “heavens”, placed one above the other, composed of a solid, transparent matter, and forming a succession of hollow, concentric spheres, at the center of which, immovable, stood the Earth. These spheres, turning around the Earth, carried with them the stars that were placed within their several circuits.
This belief, due to the paucity of astronomic knowledge, was the basis of the various theologies that represent those concentric “heavens” thus superposed on one another, as localization of progressively increasing degrees of beatitude, the topmost one being the region of supreme felicity. According to the general opinion, there were seven of these “heavens;” hence the saying, “to be in seventh heaven,” as the expression of the most perfect happiness. Muslims admit nine “heavens,” in each of which the happiness of the true believer is successively increased. The astronomer Ptolemy (who lived in Alexandria, in the second century of the Christian Era), counted eleven of these “heavens”; the uppermost being styled “The Empyrean” (from the Greek word, pur, or pyr, fire), on account of the brilliant light with which it was supposed to be filled: and the term is still employed as the poetic designation of the realm of eternal glory. Christian Theology assumes the existence of three “heavens;” the first is the region of the terrestrial atmosphere and the clouds; the second is the space in which the stars perform their revolutions; the third, above the region occupied by the stars, is the dwelling-place of the Most High, and the abode of the elect, who behold the Almighty “face to face.” It is in accordance with this classification that St. Paul is said to have been “caught up into the third heaven.”