For the first millennium of Christianity’s existence, Western Christians were unclear about where their soul would go after death. Biblical evidence indicated that saints and sinners who could not be completely reformed were immediately sent to Heaven and Hell, but also made it clear that the rest of mankind—the vast majority—would face final judgment. Where were they during this time? The answer to this question was wrapped up in another. How many people were likely to go to heaven: the many believing Christians or a small minority of the more or less perfect?
Much intelligent concern was spent on these subjects in the first millennium AD, with no apparent result. According to the best estimates of early medieval Western Christians, there were effectively two waiting rooms: ‘Near Heaven’ for the upwardly mobile and ‘Near Hell’ for the less fortunate. But this was not a universally accepted theory, and opinions differed on the practical implications. Early Medieval Christians disagreed over whether individuals would recognize which waiting rooms were assigned to them, and whether it was possible to transfer a soul between the two, for repentance or the good offices of others.
It was only in the twelfth century that the problem received a complete and final solution, when Latin Christianity adopted the idea that there was only one intermediate destination between Heaven and Hell: the aptly named Purgatory. This brand new concept collapsed the two waiting rooms into one, and also solved the issue of numbers pressure. It vastly expanded the possible number of the ultimately blessed, but also taught that most of Heaven’s occupants were previously destined for an extended period of suffering in this new combination-destination, literally to atone for their sins. To purify and prepare them for the heavenly choir. Fascinating as a case study in the resolution of biblical inconsistency, the Purification is still more interesting in the context of a central component in the radical reconstruction of Latin Christianity.
universities and the wages of sin
The new doctrine was largely the work of two generations of theologians who taught in the cathedral schools of Paris in the early decades of the twelfth century: their collective efforts were chronicled by Peter Lombard in his book. Sentence of c.1150. Purgatory was a brilliantly logical – if not the only possible – reconciliation of many disparate, disparate passages of the Old and New Testaments, driven by the application of newly-rediscovered principles of Aristotelian logic, which had been lost in the West since the fifth century. I went. , when the first knowledge of many Greek classics had faded with the settling of the Roman imperial system.
Adopting Purgatory depends not only on reading Aristotle again completely, but also on being willing to apply his principles of logical analysis to the outstanding problems of Christian theology. And this, too, would have been largely impossible before the twelfth century, when Western intellectuals (preoccupied with re-establishing much wider Mediterranean cultural contacts: partly a knock-on effect of the Crusades) fell in love with classical learning. : Much of it was preserved and developed in the interim in the courts of the Islamic world. This intellectual revolution—the Renaissance of the twelfth century—initially unfolded in many different centers of learning, and in its early years students moved around in search of the best teachers of particular subjects. But Paris and Bologna quickly emerged as new models of Latin Christian intellectual excellence: ‘universities’ where everything (or everything worth knowing to Christian intellectuals) could be studied, within a defined curriculum— trivium And geometry leading to a higher level of subjects such as theology and law by a specialized reading of the subjects and methods of classical education.
The rewriting of some key elements of Christian theology, with Purgatory in a prominent role, was an important consequence. Peter Lombard Sentence It was the first systematic text of Christian theology ever composed. Previously, Christian intellectuals taught and wrote about theology, going through the Bible verse by verse and commenting on whatever point a particular passage raised. SentenceThe , in contrast (reflecting the teaching methods of Paris), dealt with major Christian themes such as creation, incarnation, and salvation in thematically ordered sections, and would remain the basic theological primer of Latin Christendom until the seventeenth century. The Parisian Purgatory was therefore not an isolated teaching, but served as a central element in a new holistic vision of salvation for the vast majority of mankind who were not genuine saints.
Not only was the soul’s potential destination officially recognised, but sin interrogated with a new intensity: eventually leading to a list of tariffs – first introduced by Alexander of Helles (d. 1245) in his influential commentary on Peter the Lombard. elaborated by. Multiplying how long a particular crime lasted in Purgatory, and making important distinctions between less petty sins and their mortal counterparts, which, if unconfessed, would land the soul in Hell. The emphasis on sin was balanced by a new doctrine of seven defined sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Confession, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Anointing), which were no longer used as mere symbols but as actions that channeled divine power. It is understood as a means by which – if mobilized by a sinful person or their loved ones after death – the deadly effects of mortal sin can be mitigated and a particular Christian’s stay in Purgatory can be shortened. Thus, Purgatory stood at the center of a new model of approved Christian piety—an economy of salvation in which the consequences of sin could be partly paid for by holy atonement (above all confession, communion, and the anointing of death)— What determines the essential nature of personal ritual action and virtuous behavior at the level of the tens of thousands of constituent parishes of Western Christendom from the twelfth century until the Reformation, and, in many parts of the world, far beyond.
This dramatic, theologically inspired rewriting of the laws of Christianity was only one element in a much broader theological reorganization that made later medieval Latin Christianity completely different from everything that came before it. Essential to the entire process was the simultaneous emergence of a new centralized authority structure—the papacy—to validate the teachings being developed in Paris. Prior to this, ultimate religious authority on earth had been vested in the hands of the kings and emperors of Europe—following a model developed in late Roman times, and, even though a particular group of intellectuals came up with a concrete vision of the path to salvation, There is no centralized Christian authority structure to give it universal recognition. Purgatory, religious piety, and the proper tariffs associated with individual sins could only be so effective because they were duly licensed by a papacy, whose authority to provide official attestation gained recognition among Western churches about 1050 and 1200 AD. of Rome, who made himself the episcopal arms to assume an entirely new leadership role. This process reached its climax when the regional religious leadership of Western Europe entered Rome in 1215 to participate in a new type of general (ecumenical) council held by the papal remit at the Lateran Palace, the fourth part: a gathering of Christian leaders. Big gathering.
The Lateran IV formally endorsed Purgatory and new patterns of purity built around it. But both Purgatory and papal authority were equally new phenomena, and as the thirteenth century unfolded the papacy of the new model became more mobilised, helping to overcome initial resistance both among the laity and the clergy at the parish level. It took an extraordinarily sustained campaign combining both positive incentives and highly repressive discipline, but by 1300, the new economy of salvation, with Purgatory at its heart, had been adopted all the way from Iceland to Sicily and from Scandinavia to southern Spain. : a vast expanse of territory where the newly emerging papal authority held undisputed sway. Viewed over the long term, however, even this extraordinary revival of Latin Christianity in the late Middle Ages was only the last of three periods of rapid religious revolution, which were credited with transforming a small religious sect from the eastern Mediterranean into a defining cultural force. was needed. of the entire European territory.
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