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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  September 1996

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION September 1996

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Subject:

Re: Heaven and the "harrowing"

From:

[log in to unmask] (Otfried Lieberknecht)

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 17 Sep 96 23:19 MET DST

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>I'm new to this list and have been lurking for a few days.  It seems a
>very amenable--not to say knowledgable--place, so I thought I'd come to
>you all with a problem.
>
>While rereading Dante's _Inferno_ and preparing for class, I was struck
>with a question I'd never considered but feel I should know the answer to
>(both as a medievalist and as someone who spent a purgatorially long time
>in Catholic school).  When were heaven and hell, the heaven and hell of
>the later Middle Ages, split from Hades/Sheol (I realize these aren't
>necessarily synonymous), and when did heaven start receiving souls?  Were
>the virtuous Hebrews Christ took from the netherworld in _The Gospel of
>Nicodemus_ the first admitted? 
>
>I looked to Alan Bernstein's excellent _The Formation of Hell_, where he
>writes: "This action [the 'harrowing'] simultaneously sealed the conquest
>of death and anticipated the Last Judgment.  All involved went either with
>Christ to paradise or with Satan (and Hades) into Tartarus ([_Gospel_]
>9.25)" (278). 
>
>Was this, for folks like Dante, the moment of division and the opening of
>heaven for "business"?
>

Dan,

I don't know Bernstein's book, and don't know what kind of belief his
statement intends to summarize, but if he is referring to the medieval
period, you should rather consult other sources.

There had been various and contradicting notions in early patristic times,
e.g. about the question whether the pains of hell start immediately after
death or only, after an intermediate period of rest for both damned and
just, on the day of the last judgement, and whether the damned have to
suffer in eternity or will be redeemed in the end (or maybe destroyed
together with this world), but these questions had been settled, more or
less, by the fathers, and from Gregory onwards you can expect to find a
relatively consolidated doctrine. I have never read or heard about a
patristic or medieval author who claimed that it was the harrowing from
which on Satan/Lucifer and the damned had to suffer their punishment.

As you know from Dante's own depiction of Satan/Lucifer, his punishment and
the punishment of those angels who followed him began right with their fall.
Before the coming of Christ, there was no way for the just to heavenly
paradise -- not even for Elias and Henoch, who were said to have been
transferred to a 'secret place' or to earthly (I hope this is the correct
English word for "terrestris") paradise during their lifetimes, to wait for
their return in apocalyptic times --, but the most important biblical text
describing the afterlife of the damned and of the just for the time *before*
the harrowing of hell, the story of Lazarus and the rich man told by Jesus
himself before his passion (Lc 16,19-31), provided the notion of the "sinus
Abraham" as a dwelling place in or near hell where the just were kept in a
sort of proto-beatitude to wait for their final deliverance in the harrowing
and could even watch the sufferings of the damned. This distinction started
with Abel (the first to populate this realm) and Kain (presumably the first
human inhabitant of real hell). The inhabitants of the "sinus Abraham",
usually represented as the just souls from OT history (but comprising also
Lazarus, who was regarded as representant of just paganity; you know how
Dante extended this possibility in his depiction of the limbus), together
with the just one of the two thieves who had died with Jesus, were saved to
heavenly paradise in the night after crucifixion, and from this time on
there was a *possibility* for the just after their death to go straight to
heavenly paradise. It took some more centuries to develop a unified doctrine
of an intermediary state of purgation, as it was found indicated already in
the OT distinction of 'upper' and 'lower' hell (somewhere in the Psalms, I
forgot where), and as far as I know it was never very unified with regard to
the question what kind of purgation, if any, there had been possible in
pre-Christian times, but if we discard this problem, it was well established
in Dante's time -- and long before -- that the eternal punishment of the
damned and the temporary proto-salvation of the just in pre-Christian times
started right after their death. The harrowing made no difference for the
damned, except that from now on they knew even better what they had lost.

  Otfried Lieberknecht

------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Otfried Lieberknecht
 Schoeneberger Str. 11
 D-12163 Berlin
 Tel.: ++49 30 8516675 (fax on demand)
 E-mail: [log in to unmask]                                      
 Homepage for Dante studies: http://members.aol.com/lieberk/welcome.html
------------------------------------------------------------------------



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