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§ 156. Between Death and Resurrection.


Dav. Blondel: Traité de la créance des Pères touchnt l’état des ames après cette vie. Charenton, 1651.

J. A. Baumgarten: Historia doctrinae de Statu Animarum separatarum. Hal. 1754.

Höpfner: De Origine dogm. de Purgatorio. Hal. 1792.

J. A. Ernesti: De veterum Patrum opinione de Statu Animarum a corpore sejunctar. LiPs. 1794.

Herbert Mortimer Luckock (Canon of Ely, high-Anglican): After Death. An Examination of the Testimony of Primitive Times respecting the State of the Faithful Dead, and their Relationship to the Living. London, third ed. 1881. Defends prayers for the dead.


Among the darkest points in eschatology is the middle state, or the condition of the soul between death and resurrection. It is difficult to conceive of a disembodied state of happiness or woe without physical organs for enjoyment and suffering. Justin Martyr held that the souls retain their sensibility after death, otherwise the bad would have the advantage over the good. Origen seems to have assumed some refined, spiritual corporeity which accompanies the soul on its lonely journey, and is the germ of the resurrection body; but the speculative opinions of that profound thinker were looked upon with suspicion, and some of them were ultimately condemned. The idea of the sleep of the soul (psychopannychia) had some advocates, but was expressly rejected by Tertullian.11161116    De Anima, c. 58. The doctrine of the psychopannychia was renewed by the Anabaptists, and refuted by Calvin in one of his earliest books. (Paris, 1534.)116 Others held that the soul died with the body, and was created anew at the resurrection.11171117    Eusebius, VI. 37, mentions this view as held by some in Arabia.117 The prevailing view was that the soul continued in a conscious, though disembodied state, by virtue either of inherent or of communicated immortality. The nature of that state depends upon the moral character formed in this life either for weal or woe, without the possibility of a change except in the same direction.

The catholic doctrine of the status intermedius was chiefly derived from the Jewish tradition of the Sheol, from the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19 sqq.), and from the passages of Christ’s descent into Hades.11181118    Luke 23:43; Acts 2:31; 1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6.118 The utterances of the ante-Nicene fathers are somewhat vague and confused, but receive light from the more mature statements of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, and may be reduced to the following points:11191119    Comp. among other passages Justin M. Dial. c. 5, 72, 80, 99, 105 (Engelhardt, l.c. p 308); Irenaeus, IV. 27, 2; V. 31; Tertullian, De Anima, c. 7, 31, 50, 55, 58; Adv. Marc. IV. 34; Cyprian, Ep. 52; Clemens Alex., Strom. VI. 762 sq.; Origen, Contra Cels. V. 15; Hom. in Luc. XIV. (Tom. III. 948) Hom. in Ez I. (III. 360); Ambrose, De Bono Mortis and Ep. 20.119

1. The pious who died before Christ from Abel or Adam down to John the Baptist (with rare exceptions, as Enoch, Moses, and Elijah) were detained in a part of Sheol,11201120    The mediaeval scholastics called that part of Sheol the Limbus Patrum, and assumed that it was emptied by Christ at his descent, and replaced by Purgatory, which in turn will be emptied it the second Advent, so that after the judgment there will be only heaven and hell. The evangelical confessions agree with the Roman Catholic in the twofold state after the judgment, but deny the preceding state of Purgatory between heaven and hell. They allow, however, different degrees of holiness and happiness as well as guilt and punishment before and after the judgment.120 waiting for the first Advent, and were released by Christ after the crucifixion and transferred to Paradise. This was the chief aim and result of the descensus ad inferos, as understood in the church long before it became an article of the Apostles’ Creed, first in Aquileja (where, however, Rufinus explained it wrongly, as being equivalent to burial), and then in Rome. Hermas of Rome and Clement of Alexandria supposed that the patriarchs and Old Testament saints, before their translation, were baptized by Christ and the apostles. Irenaeus repeatedly refers to the descent of Christ to the spirit-world as the only means by which the benefits of the redemption could be made known and applied to the pious dead of former ages.11211121    Adv. Haer. IV. 27, § 2: "It was for this reason that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching His advent to them also, and [declaring] the remission of sins to those who believe in Him. Now all those believed in Him who had hope towards him, that is, those who proclaimed His advent, and submitted to His dispensations, the righteous men, the prophets, and the patriarchs, to whom He remitted sins in the same way, as He did to us, which sins we should not lay to their charge, if we would not despise the grace of God." This passage exists only in the Latin version121

2. Christian martyrs and confessors, to whom were afterwards added other eminent saints, pass immediately after death into heaven to the blessed vision of God.11221122    The Gnostics taught that all souls return immediately to God, but this was rejected as heretical. Justin, Dial. 80.122

3. The majority of Christian believers, being imperfect, enter for an indefinite period into a preparatory state of rest and happiness, usually called Paradise (comp. Luke 23:41) or Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:23). There they are gradually purged of remaining infirmities until they are ripe for heaven, into which nothing is admitted but absolute purity. Origen assumed a constant progression to higher and higher regions of knowledge and bliss. (After the fifth or sixth century, certainly since Pope Gregory I., Purgatory was substituted for Paradise).

4. The locality of Paradise is uncertain: some imagined it to be a higher region of Hades beneath the earth, yet "afar off" from Gehenna, and separated from it by "a great gulf" (comp. Luke 16:23, 26);11231123    So apparently Tertullian, who calls Gehenna "a reservoir of secret fire under the earth," and Paradise "the place of divine bliss appointed to receive the spirits of the saints, separated from the knowledge of this world by that fiery zone [i.e. the river Pyriphlegeton as by a sort of enclosure." ] Apol. c. 47.123 others transferred it to the lower regions of heaven above the earth, yet clearly distinct from the final home of the blessed.11241124    So Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. V. 5, § 1: "Wherefore also the elders who were disciples of the apostles tell us that those who were translated were transferred to that place (for paradise has been prepared for righteous men, such as have the Spirit; in which place also Paul the apostle, when he was caught up, heard words which are unspeakable as regards us in our present condition), and that there shall they who have been translated remain until the consummation [of all things], as a prelude to immortality."124

5. Impenitent Christians and unbelievers go down to the lower regions of Hades (Gehenna, Tartarus, Hell) into a preparatory state of misery and dreadful expectation of the final judgment. From the fourth century Hades came to be identified with Hell, and this confusion passed into many versions of the Bible, including that of King James.

6. The future fate of the heathen and of unbaptized children was left in hopeless darkness, except by Justin and the Alexandrian fathers, who extended the operations of divine grace beyond the limits of the visible church. Justin Martyr must have believed, from his premises, in the salvation of all those heathen who had in this life followed the light of the Divine Logos and died in a state of unconscious Christianity, or preparedness for Christianity. For, he says, "those who lived with the Logos were Christians, although they were esteemed atheists, as Socrates and Heraclitus, and others like them."11251125    Apol. I. 46: οἱ μετὰ Λόγου βιώσαντες Χριστιανοί εἰσι, κἂν ἄθεοι ἐνομίσθησαν, οἶον ἐν Ἕλλησι Σωκράτης καὶ Ἡράκλειτος καὶ οἱ ὅμοιοι αὐτοῖς. . Comp. Apol. I. 20, 44; Apol. II. 8, 13. He does not say anywhere expressly that the nobler heathen are saved; but it follows from his view of the Logos spermaticos (see p. 550). It was renewed in the sixteenth century by Zwingli, and may be consistently held by all who make salvation depend on eternal election rather than on water-baptism. God is not bound by his own ordinances, and may save whom and when and how he pleases.125

7. There are, in the other world, different degrees of happiness and misery according to the degrees of merit and guilt. This is reasonable in itself, and supported by scripture.

8. With the idea of the imperfection of the middle state and the possibility of progressive amelioration, is connected the commemoration of the departed, and prayer in their behalf. No trace of the custom is found in the New Testament nor in the canonical books of the Old, but an isolated example, which seems to imply habit, occurs in the age of the Maccabees, when Judas Maccabaeus and his company offered prayer and sacrifice for those slain in battle," that they might be delivered from sin."11261126    2 Macc. 12:39 sqq. Roman Catholic divines use this passage (besides Matt. 5:26; 12:32 and 1 Cor. 1:13-15) as an argument for the doctrine of purgatory. But it would prove too much for them; for the sin here spoken of was not venial, but the deadly sin of idolatry, which is excluded from purgatory and from the reach of efficacious; intercession.126 In old Jewish service-books there are prayers for the blessedness of the dead.11271127    See specimens in Luckock, l. c. p. 58 sqq.127 The strong sense of the communion of saints unbroken by death easily accounts for the rise of a similar custom among the early Christians. Tertullian bears clear testimony to its existence at his time. "We offer," he says "oblations for the dead on the anniversary of their birth," i.e. their celestial birthday.11281128    De Cor. Mil. c. 3: "Oblationes pro defunctis, pro natalitiis annua dei facimus." Comp. the notes in Oehler’s ed. Tom. I. 422.128 He gives it as a mark of a Christian widow, that she prays for the soul of her husband, and requests for him refreshment and fellowship in the first resurrection; and that she offers sacrifice on the anniversaries of his falling asleep.11291129    De Monog. c. 10: "Pro anima ejus orat et refrigerium interim adpostulat ei et in prima resurrectione consortium."129 Eusebius narrates that at the tomb of Constantine a vast crowd of people, in company with the priests of God, with tears and great lamentation offered their prayers to God for the emperor’s soul.11301130    Vita Const. IV. 71: σὺν κλαυθμῷ πλείονι τὰς ευχὰς ὑπὲρ τῆς βασιλέως ψυχῆς ἀπεδίδοσαν τῷ θεῷ.130 Augustin calls prayer for the pious dead in the eucharistic sacrifice an observance of the universal church, handed down from the fathers.11311131    Sermo 172. He also inferred from the passage on the unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:32) that other sins may be forgiven in the future world. De Civit. Dei, XXI. 24. In the Council of Chalcedon (452), Dioscurus was charged with a breach of trust for not having executed the will of a saintly woman who had left large sums of money to monasteries, hospitals, and alms-houses, in the hope of being benefited by the prayers of the faithful recipients.131 He himself remembered in prayer his godly mother at her dying request.

This is confirmed by the ancient liturgies, which express in substance the devotions of the ante-Nicene age, although they were not committed to writing before the fourth century. The commemoration of the pious dead is an important part in the eucharistic prayers. Take the following from the Liturgy of St. James: "Remember, O Lord God, the spirits of whom we have made mention, and of whom we have not made mention, who are of the true faith,11321132    τῶν πνευμάτων ... ὀρθοδόξων. The Greek church lays great stress on orthodoxy; but it has here evidently a very wide meaning, as it includes the faith of Abel and all Old Testament saints.132 from righteous Abel unto this day; do Thou Thyself give them rest there in the land of the living, in Thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise,11331133    Not Purgatory. This shows the difference between the ante-Nicene and post-Nicene faith. See below.133in the Bosom of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, our holy fathers; whence pain and grief and lamentation have fled away: there the light of Thy countenance looks upon them, and gives them light for evermore." The Clementine Liturgy in the eighth book of the "Apostolical Constitutions" has likewise a prayer "for those who rest in faith," in these words: "We make an offering to Thee for all Thy saints who have pleased Thee from the beginning of the world, patriarchs, prophets, just men, apostles, martyrs, confessors, bishops, elders, deacons, subdeacons, singers, virgins, widows, laymen, and all whose names Thou Thyself knowest."

9. These views of the middle state in connection with prayers for the dead show a strong tendency to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which afterwards came to prevail in the West through the great weight of St. Augustin and Pope Gregory I. But there is, after all, a considerable difference. The ante-Nicene idea of the middle state of the pious excludes, or at all events ignores, the idea of penal suffering, which is an essential part of the Catholic conception of purgatory. It represents the condition of the pious as one of comparative happiness, inferior only to the perfect happiness after the resurrection. Whatever and wherever Paradise may be, it belongs to the heavenly world; while purgatory is supposed to be a middle region between heaven and hell, and to border rather on the latter. The sepulchral inscriptions in the catacombs have a prevailingly cheerful tone, and represent the departed souls as being "in peace" and "living in Christ," or "in God."11341134    Sometimes, however, this is expressed in the form of a wish or prayer: Mayest thou live in God" (Vivas in Deo, or in Christo); " May God refresh thy spirit"(Deus refrigeret spiritum tuum); " Mayest thou have eternal light in Christ," etc. Comp. § 86, (this vol.).134 The same view is substantially preserved in the Oriental church, which holds that the souls of the departed believers may be aided by the prayers of the living, but are nevertheless "in light and rest, with a foretaste of eternal happiness."11351135    Longer Russian Catechism, in Schaff’s Creeds, vol. II. p. 503.135

Yet alongside with this prevailing belief, there are traces of the purgatorial idea of suffering the temporal consequences of sin, and a painful struggle after holiness. Origen, following in the path of Plato, used the term "purgatorial fire,"11361136    πῦρ καθάρσιον. It is mentioned also before Origen in the Clementine Homilies, IX. 13. The Scripture passage on which the term ignis purgatorius was based, is 1 Cor. 3:13, 15, ’the fire shall prove each man’s work he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire. (ὡς διὰ πυρός).136 by which the remaining stains of the soul shall be burned away; but he understood it figuratively, and connected it with the consuming fire at the final judgment, while Augustin and Gregory I. transferred it to the middle state. The common people and most of the fathers understood it of a material fire; but this is not a matter of faith, and there are Roman divines11371137    As Möhler, Klee, and others.137 who confine the purgatorial sufferings to the mind and the conscience. A material fire would be very harmless without a material body. A still nearer approach to the Roman purgatory was made by Tertullian and Cyprian, who taught that a special satisfaction and penance was required for sins committed after baptism, and that the last farthing must be paid (Matt. 5:20) before the soul can be released from prison and enter into heaven.



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