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Eschatology

ESCHATOLOGY.

The concept of eschatology was created by the Lutheran theologian Abraham Calov (16121686) and became popular through the works of the Prussian Reformed theologian F. D. E. Schleiermacher (17681834). It is derived from a sentence in Jesus Sirach: "In whatever you do, remember your last days [Greek: ta eschata ], and you will never sin" (Sir. 7:36). Calov's concept is nothing but a new name for the traditional genre of Christian dogmatic treatises about "the last things" (Latin: De novissimis or De extremis ). Generally, it can be said that eschatology deals with death and the things that, according to Christian doctrine, happen after death: the resurrection, the last judgment, and the eternal life in the Beyond. Relatively recently scholars in religious studies have begun to apply the concept of eschatology to the teachings about death and immortality in virtually all religions. But a continuous tradition of eschatological doctrine exists only in Christian theology.

Jewish Roots

Christian eschatology emerges from Jewish apocalypticism. The early Jewish apocalypses, such as those in the biblical book of Daniel, were written in the Hellenist period, when the Ptolemaic, the Seleucid, and later the Roman empires ruled Palestine. A growing number of Jews no longer believed in the coming of a messiah who would renew the glorious kingdom of David. Having seen one empire follow another, they believed the Jewish people had successively lost the ability to establish an independent kingdom. The gap between their consciousness of being God's elected people and political reality led to a deep crisis of the Jewish self-understanding (best described in the apocryphal Fourth Book of Ezra). The crisis was solved by the discovery of the Beyond. Modern historians of religion emphasize that Persian, Egyptian, Greek, and other historical influences played a role in this intellectual process, but the apocalyptic authors themselves describe the paradigm shift as a revelation (apokalypsis ), gained in visionary experiences. They often give detailed accounts about the journeys they made into the Beyond.

The basic ideas of Jewish apocalypticism live on in Christian eschatology, in orthodox doctrine as well as in the preaching of sects and heretical groups. Mankind and the world are in a pathological state, for they are corrupted by original sina hereditary disease that cannot be cured. Therefore God will destroy this world and create a new one. But he will save the just believers and transfer them into the perfect order of the Beyond. Since the apocalyptics had lost all faith in national messianism, the decisive question is no longer whether a believer belongs to the elected people of Israel. The Jews might have a certain prerogative, but no guarantee of salvation. God is no longer the God of Israel but the ruler of the universe; the structure of world history is predetermined by his unchangeable plan. All the empires and political orders, the tyrants and the warlords are tools in the hand of God used to test the believers. The just ones must not partake in the political and military struggles of the corrupted world but must stay strong in their faith and wait for the annihilation of all evil and the beginning of God's kingdom.

All features of Christian eschatology that differ from Jewish apocalypticism are related to the experience of Christ. Although there is a variety of sometimes contradictory meanings of the word "Christ" already to be found in the New Testament, they all agree on one point: the presence of Christ among sinful mankind moderates the sharp distinction between this world and the Beyond. Christ answers the Pharisees, a Jewish group of apocalyptic intellectuals, who were waiting for dawn of the new eon: "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:2021).

According to Christian experience, the presence of the Savior introduces an anticipation of the Beyond; it signifies a breakthrough of the future into the present. The eschata, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, and the creation of the new world, are therefore the completion of a process already started by Christ in this world.

Pauline and Augustinian Contributions

The most influential interpretation of the experience of Christ was given by the Apostle Paul. He preached that Christ's incarnation, passion, and crucifixion redeem from sin anyone who becomes a member of the church (ekklesia ), the mystical body of Christ. Paul's concept of the church points to two specific features of Christian eschatology. First, collectivity: The eschaton is not a personal event. Salvation from death is available only for the members of Christ's mystical body. On judgment day, the dead members of the church will be resurrected and unite with the living to form a single community of salvation (1 Thess. 4:1317). Throughout Christian history, Hellenist-influenced theologians challenged Paul's collective eschatology by emphasizing the individual ascent of the immortal soul. They could justify their view with some quotations from the Gospels. Paul, however, clearly rejects the idea of the soul's solitary ascent and insists on the resurrection of the spiritually transformed body. Second, processuality: in this world the church already collects all the citizens who will establish the heavenly citizenship (politeuma ) of the Beyond (Phil. 3:20). Therefore the creation of a new world is not a single event at the end of history but can be observed now in the church (2 Cor. 5:17). The establishment and growth of the church already belongs to the eschata. Christian existence is an eschatological existence between "already now" and "not yet." The Holy Spirit transforms the "inward man" of the members of the church, but a purely spiritual existence will be achieved only in the Beyond, after the "outward man," the carnal and mortal body, has died (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:6; Phil. 3:21).

The Gospels and the letters of Paul show that the early Christians awaited the final events in the imminent future. Yet the church became a historical reality and, after the Roman emperors turned to Christianity, a powerful institution in this world. This new experience led to two different variations of Christian eschatology. First, theologians such as Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263c. 339) worked out an imperial eschatology. The basic dogma was that God chose the Roman Empire to spread Christianity all over the world. Church and empire seemed to melt together under the rulership of the Constantinian dynasty. According to Eusebius, the Roman emperors succeeded Christ to fulfill the divine plan on earth; and at the end of history, Christ would return and succeed the emperors. The eschaton, the kingdom of God, appears as the perfection of the Roman Empire. Second, other Christians returned to apocalypticism and insisted that only the just ones who did not collaborate with the worldly powers would be saved. The chiliasts, who also appeared in later epochs of Christian history, believed that Christ would return in the near future and, after the destruction of all worldly empires, would establish a kingdom lasting a thousand (Greek: chilia ) years. The Revelation of John, which was incorporated into the canon of the New Testament, seemed to confirm their view (cf. Rev. 20:4).

In the early fifth century, when the decline of the Western empire became obvious, empirical reality seemed to speak in favor of the apocalyptics. But the church father Augustine (354430) rejected the imperial theology as well as apocalypticism by reformulating the Pauline eschatology as a theology of history. In his view, all of the electedthose who had received the grace of Godform the true body of Christ, the City of God (civitas Dei ). And all wicked ones form the body of the devil, the earthly city (civitas terrena ). Sacred history is nothing but the struggle between these two cities. Augustine calls the two cities mystical communities, since they are not identical with any empirical society. Even the Catholic Church is not identical with the City of God, but a corpus permixtum, a mixed body, composed of just and wicked human beings. The elect are only pilgrims in this world and its political orders. Only after the final judgment, after the separation of the just and the wicked, will the mystical societies become visible. The citizens of the City of God will be seen going to heaven and the others, to hell.

The Joachimite Turn

Augustinian eschatology governed the self-understanding of the Catholic Church until it was heavily shaken by the theology of an Italian abbot, Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135?1202) and the numberless movements that referred to him. Joachim was convinced that God had revealed to him a new understanding of the Bible. He predicted the beginning of a third age (tertius status ) of the Holy Spirit that would follow the first age of the Father, as described in the Old Testament, and the second age, which ran from the incarnation of Christ to Joachim's present. The abbot taught that the Trinity reveals itself in three progressive stages. The revelation of the Father had formed the patriarchal society of Israel; the revelation of the Son had formed the church of the clerics. And soon the revelation of the Holy Ghost would create the new spiritual church (ecclesia spiritualis ), a church dominated by monks. In Joachim's view, the third age appears as an anticipated realization of the perfect order of the Beyond.

Several scholars of the twentieth century, such as Karl Löwith (18971973), Eric Voegelin (19011985), Norman Cohn (1915), and Jacob Taubes (19231987), claimed that Joachim of Fiore started a process in which Christian eschatology was "immanentized" (Voegelin) or "secularized" (Löwith). The four authors recognized the transformation of Christian eschatology into ideologies of inner-worldly progress as the decisive formative power of modernity. The third stadium of Auguste Comte's positivism was to be seen as a modern transformation of Joachim's third age, as well as the Third Reich of the National Socialists and the Marxist realm of freedom.

See also Christianity ; Judaism ; Millenarianism ; Mysticism .

bibliography

PRIMARY SOURCES

Augustine. The City of God against the Pagans. Ed. and trans. R. W. Dyson. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol 1. Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments. New York: Doubleday, 1983.

McGinn, Bernard, trans. Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier-en-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Franciscan Spirituals, Savonarola. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Bultmann, Rudolf Karl. History and Eschatology. Edinburgh: University Press, 1957.

Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. Rev. and expanded ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Löwith, Karl. Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.

Reventlow, Henning Graf, ed. Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Taubes, Jacob. Abendländische Eschatologie. Munich, Germany: Matthes and Seitz, 1991.

Voegelin, Eric. Modernity without Restraint, edited by Manfred Henningsen. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Matthias Riedl

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Eschatology

Eschatology


Eschatology, from the Greek word eschaton (the last), is the theological study of the last things, the final state of each individual, of the community of all individuals, and of reality itself. Thus, traditionally eschatology has dealt with the themes of death, judgment, heaven, hell, purgatory, the resurrection of the dead, the end of the world, and "the new heavens and the new Earth." Generally, eschatology deals with the ultimate destiny of individuals and creation, and what it is legitimate to hope for. For Christians, that destiny is envisioned as the resurrection of each individual with Christ and the transformation and unification of all things with him in God forever. In theological reflection since late 1960s, there has been a shift in stress to the present realities, which through God's active presence in the risen Christ and in the Spirit are considered the seeds or partial realizations of this ultimate destiny (realized eschatology). Full flowering and completion will only be achieved after death and the "final consummation" of the universe.

It is at this point that the natural sciences have a contribution to make. Biology, paleontology, geology, and astronomy help one appreciate the transience and fragility of all that exists, even though nature is continually bringing new things and new life out of dissolution and death. No individual entity or species continues forever. Cosmology assures that the observable universe itself will eventually become sterile and evanesce as it expands forever, undergoing heat death. The natural sciences are, of themselves, unable to discern anything beyond physical dissolution and biological death. However, because theologically there must be a continuity between present reality and its final transformation at the eschaton, certain key characteristics of reality, such as relationality and pattern, will undoubtedly be the enhanced basis for its eschatological completion.


See also Death; Eternity; Life After Death



Bibliography

polkinghorne, john, and welker, michael, eds. the end of the world and the ends of god: science and theology on eschatology. harrisburg, pa.: trinity press international, 2000.

william r. stoeger

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Eschatology

Eschatology (Gk., eschatos, ‘last’). That which is concerned with the last things, the final destiny both of individuals and of humanity in general, and of the cosmos. The word was first used in the 19th cent., in discussing the Bible, but it refers to a concern in those religions which have a sequential (from a beginning to an end) understanding of time, and by application to religions which envisage an end to this particular cosmic cycle.

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eschatology

es·cha·tol·o·gy / ˌeskəˈtäləjē/ • n. the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. DERIVATIVES: es·cha·to·log·i·cal / eˌskatlˈäjikəl; ˌeskətl-/ adj. es·cha·tol·o·gist n.

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eschatology

eschatology the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind (the four last things).

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eschatology

eschatology XIX. f. Gr. éskhatos last + -LOGY.

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