Eschatology and Space: The Lost Dimension in Theology Past and Present

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Through his bodily composition he gathers to himself the elements of the material world; thus they reach their crown through him, and through him raise their voice in free praise of the Creator Now, man is not wrong when he regards himself as superior to bodily concerns, and as more than a speck of nature or a nameless constituent of the city of man. For by his interior qualities he outstrips the whole sum of mere things. He plunges into the depths of reality whenever he enters into his own heart; God, Who probes the heart, awaits him there; there he discerns his proper destiny beneath the eyes of God.

This anthropology makes possible the already noted eschatology of the twofold phase. Moreover, Christian anthropology cannot be confused with Platonic dualism inasmuch as in the former, person is not a mere soul such that the body ought to be abhorred as a prison. Christians are not ashamed of their bodies, as Plotinus was. But this hope of the resurrection is central to the New Testament. Rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. It is not surprising that these words of the Lord were spoken in the context of giving a teaching about martyrdom.


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Biblical history shows that martyrdom for the truth constitutes a privileged moment in which the creation accomplished by God, the future eschatological resurrection, and the promise of life eternal are all illuminated by the light of faith cf. This eschatology of souls is joined in the same book with the clear affirmation of the power of God to effect the resurrection of people cf. Wis And thus there belongs to it neither the definition nor the name of person.

Indeed, this ought to be held so that the traditional line of Christian anthropology can be maintained. Therefore, arguing from this, Saint Thomas deduced in the separated soul an appetite for the body or for the resurrection. Through the separated soul the acts of the intellect and will that were done on earth remain after death. Although separated, it performs personal acts of understanding and will. Moreover, the subsistence of the separated soul is clear from the practice of the Church, which directs its prayers to the souls of the blessed.

Then the whole of creation will be subject to Christ cf. The characteristically Christian anthropological conception offers a specific understanding of the meaning of death. Since in Christian anthropology the body is not a prison from which a prisoner hopes to escape, nor a kind of vestment that can easily be put aside, death, naturally considered, is not an object of human hope or an event that human beings can tranquilly embrace without overcoming their antecedent natural repugnance. Death intrinsically tears people asunder.

Indeed, since the person is not the soul alone, but the body and soul essentially united, death affects the person. The absurdity of death appears even more radically if we consider that death, though natural, exists in the historical order against the will of God cf. It is also natural that Christians suffer at the death of persons whom they love.

We too can and ought to weep over our dead friends. The repugnance that people experience in the face of death and the possibility of overcoming this repugnance constitute a characteristically human attitude utterly different from that of any other animal. In this way death is an occasion in which people can and ought to show themselves as people. Christians can, moreover, overcome the fear of death, relying on other motives. Faith and hope teach us another face of death. Jesus faced the fear of death under the light of the will of his Father cf. This mystical hope of a communion after death with Christ, which can coexist with a natural fear of death, appears again and again in the spiritual tradition of the Church, especially among the saints, and must be understood in its true meaning.

When this hope leads one to praise God for death, such praise is in no way rooted in a positive estimation of the state in which the soul lacks the body, but in the hope of possessing the Lord through death. In the Eastern tradition there is frequently thought of the goodness of death inasmuch as it is the very condition of and way to a future glorious resurrection.

The pain and sickness that are the beginning of death ought also to be taken up by Christians in a new way. In themselves they are endured as vexatious, but even more so insofar as they are signs of the gradual dissolution of the body. Thus life on earth is ordered to communion with Christ after death, a communion which is already effective in the state of the separated soul, although ontologically imperfect and incomplete.

This justifies that mystic hope of death which, as we have said, is frequent among the saints. Through a holy life, to which God calls us by his grace and helps us by his aid, the original bond between sin and death is as it were broken, not because death is physically overcome, but inasmuch as it begins to lead to life eternal. Such a way of dying is a participation in the paschal mystery of Christ. The sacraments prepare us for such a death. The baptism in which we die mystically to sin consecrates us for participating in the resurrection of the Lord cf.

Rom Death in the Lord implies the possibility of another way of dying, namely death outside the Lord, which leads to a second death cf. For in this death, the power of sin through which death entered cf. Rom manifests to the fullest extent its capacity to separate us from God. Christian customs relative to the burial of the corpses of the faithful were quickly formed, and indeed were formed under the influence of faith in the resurrection of the dead. For a long time the cremation of corpses was forbidden, 76 because historically this was seen to be connected with a Neoplatonic mentality which intended the destruction of the body as a way of freeing the soul more promptly from prison 77 more recently, however, it implied a materialistic or agnostic attitude.

The souls of the blessed take part in it. This is shown in the Roman anaphora, not alone in the Communicantes prayer at least in its present form , but in the transition from preface to canon and in the prayer within the canon, Supplices te rogamus , where the petition is made that the earthly offering be taken aloft to the altar in Heaven.

This heavenly liturgy however is not simply a matter of praise. The Lamb who was slain is at the centre cf. Heb Since God is the source of all love cf. Rom , any invocation of the saints is an acknowledgement of God as the ultimate foundation of the charity of the saints, and tends in the last analysis towards Him. This concept of invocation is completely different from the notion of evoking spirits.

In the New Testament the Apostles sustain this prohibition and banish all magical practices Acts ; ; As often as not—as the response referred to makes clear—the intention is to use the evocation of spirits to obtain hidden information.

Eschatology And Space: The Lost Dimension In Theology Past And Present

Any further curiosity about postmortem affairs would be utterly foolish and should therefore be simply repressed. There are sects today who reject the Catholic invocation of saints by claiming it falls under the biblical prohibition. In so doing they are failing to distinguish it from the evocation of spirits. On our side, as we urge the invocation of the saints to the faithful, we must teach them the nature of that invocation in such a way as to give the sects no handle for such misunderstanding.

When the magisterium of the Church asserts that the souls of the sanctified will enjoy the beatific vision of God and perfect union with Christ shortly after death, there is a presupposition: it is souls which are purified that are meant. Who will find rest on your holy mountain? He who enters without a blemish. These words express a consciousness of a reality which is so fundamental that, one way or another, a certain surmise of the necessity of postmortem purification exists in many of the great historical religions.

The Church also holds that any stain is an impediment when it comes to our intimate meeting with God and Christ. This principle is not concerned only with stains which break or destroy friendship with God and which, therefore, should they persist in death, make a meeting with God definitively impossible grave sins , but also with those which darken such a friendship and require a prior purification, so as to make possible such a meeting with God and Christ.

For that reason, we are bidden to seek purification. Even those who are washed, must also free their feet of dust cf. Jn The theology of that state began to develop in the third century in the case of those who had been restored to peace with the Church without having made the full penance before death. The practice of praying for the dead must be fully retained. It contains a profession of faith in the existence of such a purificatory state. This too is the meaning of the burial liturgy, a meaning we may not forget: the justified may still need further purification. The Church believes that the definitive state of damnation awaits those who die burdened with grave sin.

The justified are alive in the love of Christ. Death strengthens the consciousness of such a love. When there is a delay in reaching the possession of the beloved, there is sorrow, a sorrow that purifies. It has, that is, a new incarnation or enfleshment. This is a child of paganism in direct opposition to Scripture and Church tradition, and has been always rejected by Christian faith and theology.

It has great currency in the media, and, increasingly, the influence of Eastern religions and philosophies which have a reincarnational character is spreading. The reason for this is the growth of a syncretistic mentality. The reason for its acceptance by many people is possibly due to an instinctive and spontaneous reaction to the rampant materialism of the present day. The Catholic faith has a full response to this way of thinking. It is true that human life is too short to correct and surpass its failures and deficiencies.

But the eschatological purification will be perfect. It is granted that a single earthly life is too short to realise all human potential in time. But the final, glorious resurrection will lead people to a state surpassing all their desires. It is not possible to give in detail here all aspects of present reincarnational systems. The main thrust of reincarnationalism, however, in the West today may be summarised under four heads. There are many earthly existences. Our present existence is not our first bodily existence, nor our last. We lived before, and again and again we shall inhabit new bodies.

There is a law in nature which impels us to an enduring progress towards perfection. This same law leads souls to newer and newer lives. No regression is allowed, nor indeed any definitive standing still. A fortiori, any thought of a definitive state of eternal damnation is unthinkable. After many, or fewer, ages, they hold, a final perfection of pure spirit will be reached a denial of hell.

The ultimate destination is achieved by ones own merits. In each and every new existence, the soul progresses in virtue of its own strivings. Whatever evil was done is atoned for by personal expiations which each spirit meets and suffers in new and difficult incarnations a denial of redemption. This means that the soul has an innate tendency to definitive bodiless existence. Along this way, the soul will reach a definitive status, forever free of the body and independent of all matter a denial of resurrection.

These four elements which constitute reincarnational anthropology are an outright negation of the central affirmations of Christian revelation. There is no need to insist further on how different it is from the characteristically Christian anthropology. Christianity defends duality , reincarnation defends a dualism in which the body is simply an instrument of the soul and is laid aside, existence by successive existence, as an altogether different body is assumed each time.

As far as eschatology is concerned, the doctrine of reincarnation denies both the possibility of eternal damnation and the idea of the resurrection of the body. But the fundamental error is in the rejection of the Christian doctrine of salvation. For the reincarnationist the soul is its own saviour by its own efforts.

Its soteriology is one of autoredemption, which is diametrically opposed to the heteroredemption of Christian soteriology. In fact, if such a heteroredemption is suppressed, any talk of Christ the Redeemer is null and void. In Christ our release is secured and our sins forgiven through the shedding of his blood.

The whole doctrine concerning Church, sacraments and grace stands or falls on this central point. The Second Vatican Council appealed to this text when teaching that we have only a single life on earth. In the phenomenon of reincarnation there may well be certain aspiration towards disavowing materialism.

The Lost Dimension in Theology Past and Present

Since we have our human lives once only, it is clear how serious a matter our lives are. There is no second time around. Since our earthly life is the way to the reality of the last things, our behaviour in life has irrevocable consequences. Our life in the body has an eternal destiny. The truth is that people begin to recognise the meaning of their final destiny only when they realise the divine origin of their own nature.

Eschatology And Space The Lost Dimension In Theology Past And Present

What is implied here is that God has given people the capacity of knowing God and freely loving him, and of ruling over the other earthly creatures, of making them subject, and making use of them. Since each human soul is a direct creation by God in each person, each person is a product of a single concrete act of Gods creative love.

God did not only make people, but placed them in Paradise Gen , a biblical way of saying that the first person had the closest bonds of friendship with God. A promise of salvation follows the sin of the first person cf. Gen , which according to both Jewish and Christian exegesis will be brought by the Messiah cf.

The forgiveness of sin won by the death and resurrection of Christ cf.

Negative eschatology and inter-religious dialogue

Rom is not a legal thing merely but an inward renovation of the human being. In revealing the Fathers secrets to us, Jesus wants to make us his friends cf. But friendship cannot be forced on us.


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Friendship with God like adoption is an offer, to be freely accepted or rejected. This consummated and freely accepted friendship implies a concrete possibility of rejection. What is freely accepted can be freely rejected. This doctrine of faith shows equally the importance of the human capacity of freely rejecting God, and the gravity of such a freely willed rejection. Only in the presence of Christ and by the light he conveys, can that mystery of iniquity which is resident in the sins we commit be understood. Since we have only one lifetime Heb , in which the gift of divine friendship and adoption is offered gratuitously to our freedom, and since there is a danger of losing these, the serious nature of our life is obvious.

Decisions we now make have eternal consequences. Although he invites us to the way of life by prevenient and cooperative adiuvians grace, we can choose the other way When we choose, God genuinely respects our liberty, without failing to continue to offer his saving grace even to those who are turned away from him. It must be stated that in fact God genuinely respects whatever we on our part freely will to do, whether we accept or reject grace. It follows that in a certain way salvation and damnation each begin on earth in that people by their moral actions open or close themselves to God.

On the other hand, the greatness and the ensuing responsibility of human liberty is clear. Every theologian is aware of the difficulties that people now, and in every former period, find in accepting the New Testament teaching on hell. For that reason there is much merit in keeping a mind open to the sober teaching of the gospel, whether in expounding it or in believing it. Such sobriety should content us, and we should avoid attempts to grasp in concrete detail how to reconcile Gods infinite goodness and human liberty. The Church takes seriously both human liberty, and the divine Mercy which gives people the liberty which is a condition for obtaining salvation.

Since the Church prays for the salvation of all people living, by that fact it is praying for the conversion of all. The Church has always believed that such a universal salvific will on Gods part has an ample efficacy. The Church has never once declared the damnation of a single person as a concrete fact. But, since hell is a genuine possibility for every person, it is not right—although today this is something which is forgotten in the preaching at exequies—to treat salvation as a kind of quasi-automatic consequence.

For these reasons, we should, where this doctrine is concerned, make Pauls words our own. How inscrutable his judgements, how unsearchable his ways! Reincarnationalists believe our earthly life too brief to constitute our only life. This is why they insist on repeatability. The Christian ought to be aware of the brevity of life since he knows we have one life only.

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The Christian then as an alien and a pilgrim cf. Heb , where he will be with the Lord cf. Since a full investigation of the doctrine of the Last Things in the liturgy is not possible here, we shall attempt a synthesis of the main ideas which are found in the renewed liturgy which followed the Second Vatican Council. The first thing to observe is that in the liturgy for the dead the resurrection of Christ is the ultimate reality which lights up all the other realities concerned with Last Things.

As a result the resurrection of the body is our supreme hope. Since the resurrection of the body will take place at the end of time, there is in the interim an eschatology of souls. There are other forms of prayer of the same tenor with regard to the soul. The formulas used in prayers of this kind include a petition which would be unintelligible if there were no postmortem purification.

We wanted to conclude this exposition of ours on certain contemporary eschatological questions with the testimony of the liturgy. That testimony has made it clear that the liturgy serves to strike a balance between the individual and collective elements in eschatology and to bring forth the christological meaning of the ultimate realities, without which eschatology would be reduced to mere human speculation.

It is now in order, as we end this exposition, to introduce, by way of a final doctrinal synthesis, the paragraph with which the Introduction to the book of the Order of Burial begins, and in which moreover the spirit of the new Roman liturgy is crystal clear:. Candido Pozo, S. Ambaum, G. Gnilka, J. Ibanez Langlois, M. Ledwith, S. Nagy, C. Kloppenburg, J. Medina Estevez and C. After it was submitted to debate in the plenary session of December it was fully approved by written vote in forma specifica.

Paris, and LG 15f. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds , 2nd ed. London, , pp. Council of Trent, sess. Benedict XII, Const. Also, in section 4. Confessio Augustana, 17, in Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangilisch-lutherischen Kirche , p. The text for this comes from the Babylonian Talmud: cf.

Seder R. Hedegard Lund, , p. Porphyry, De Plotini vita 1; Plotins Schriften , ed. Harder, vol. Cai, vol. When St. Whence the soul, cut off from the body, while it is without the body is imperfect. But it is impossible that that which is natural and per se be finite and as it were nothing, that that which is contrary to nature and per accidens be infinite, if the soul were to endure forever without a body. Esser Grottaferrata, , pp. Blessed are those whom death finds in your most holy will, because a second death will not bring them evil. Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio consolatoria in Pulcheriam, in Sermones, ed.

Heil, A. Van Heck, E. Gebhardt, and A. Spira, Gregorii Nysseni opera 9 series eds. They do not refuse their pay cheques or reject the use of seatbelts! Each of these things has a bearing on wider political life, and Christians have an interest in those things being done honestly and well. As in theory, so in history: postmillennialism did not last as a thoroughly evangelical framework for life and Christian engagement with the world.

While most eschatological belief systems have less impact on political engagement than we might expect, and few logically issue in any precise programmes, there is one that is currently popular and tightly bound to a particular active political programme. Some dispensational premillennialists give a ready ear and ready cash to usually American televangelists and parachurch movements calling for aid to Jews seeking to emigrate to Israel, and to various charitable bodies operating there.

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They are also strident in their political lobbying, seeking to ensure that pro-Israel politicians are elected to office and ensure that the US government supports Israel. Furthermore, it is far from clear that aggressive policies of settlement, land seizure and discrimination are actually in the long-term interests of the Zionist cause, however strong Israel appears to be in relation to the Arab states today. Christians must not contribute to this issue by simplistic and one-sided policy extrapolations from an eccentric eschatology.

Eschatology is neither remote nor esoteric, but is highly relevant to Christian living. Worldly politics influences our lives whether we like it or not, and Christian politics i. Be inspired that your labour in the Lord is not in vain, and that how you conduct your relationships and wield the influence God has granted you truly matters both now and in the everlasting future.

The disputed details of millennial schemes should not deflect us. The agreed contours of eschatology, including the certainty of final judgement, should shape our political engagement. See, e. See also Ezek. A more cautious approach to this theme is found in the works of Seyoon Kim and John Barclay. Against the frequently-heard claim that 2 Pet. There is not space to discuss the important and related role played by providentialism the belief that God is particularly blessing and guiding this nation in this direction right now in British and American intellectual history.

Category : Cambridge Papers. Your email address will not be published. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Eschatology and Politics: the last things we want to talk about? The Christian account of history is eschatological not only in the sense that it comes to a definitive and everlasting end, but in the sense that the end is a glorified beginning, not merely a return to origins. Peter Leithart 1. To expect a transformation of society that results from changed people is not an idealistic hope that can never come to pass; it is a matter of historical record.

Herbert Schlossberg 2. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. Why drag God into Justice and Society? Sign up to receive the latest Cambridge Papers. These are sent quarterly by post, and include Engage News Magazine. Notice: JavaScript is required for this content. Related Posts Engage news magazine - July Living wisely in uncertain times A new heaven and a new earth - lecture by Richard Middleton.

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