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Death be not Proud

The Problem of the Afterlife


Mark Corner

Might people one day live for ever? Would they want to? What sense can be made of ideas commonly referred to in terms of an ‘afterlife’? What about notions of Heaven and Hell, of Purgatory and reincarnation? And in what sort of state are human beings expected to be during this ‘afterlife’ – immortal souls or resurrected bodies (and does either notion make sense)? What about the fact that any ‘afterlife’ concerns not just the fate of individuals but of society (‘communion of saints’) and even the physical universe itself?
This book tries to survey some of the existing arguments about life ‘after’ death, with chapters on material from Christian tradition (particularly the New Testament and the Early Church) and from the philosophy of religion. It then attempts to reach its own conclusions, drawing on Kant and Barth in order to suggest that death is to be overcome rather than survived.


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Chapter Ten The Post-Biblical Period 157


Chapter Ten The Post-Biblical Period Did the end of the apostolic era and the growing (though never final) acceptance of a delayed Parousia lead to any changes in the perception of Christians concerning the ‘intermediate state’? What about the develop- ment of a belief in Purgatory? Did that not mean an ef fective acceptance (in Western but not Eastern Christianity) of the idea of an ‘intermediate state’? This chapter will attempt a (necessarily limited) survey of the post- biblical period. Post-biblical perspectives on the ‘intermediate state’ ‘The history of Christian ref lection on death’, writes Douglas Davies, ‘has, for its greatest part, often dwelt on the themes of heaven and hell as environ- ments of the afterlife, often with deep interest in some transitional stage whether in “soul sleep”, a “spirit prison”, limbo or purgatory’.1 It is impos- sible to cover all the dif ferent ideas concerning this transitional stage in the post-biblical period. However, some of the most important ones can certainly be considered. This chapter will highlight three – firstly the notion of ‘reassemblage’ (though not, strictly speaking, referring to a transitional stage, this provides a useful indication of why a transitional stage might be felt necessary), widely held during the millennium or so after the biblical period, secondly the idea of Purgatory and thirdly the idea of ‘soul sleep’, 1 Douglas Davies, The Theology of Death (London: T. & T. Clark, 2008), p. 75. 158 Chapter Ten a dormant period between death and resurrection which was an interesting bone...

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