Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Meeting in Heaven: Modernising the Christian Afterlife, 1600-2000

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Meeting in Heaven: Modernising the Christian Afterlife, 1600-2000

Article excerpt

Meeting in Heaven: Modernising the Christian Afterlife, 1600-2000. By Bernhard Lang. (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2011. Pp. 166. $41.95. ISBN 978-3-631-62000-7.)

This book can be read as a supplement to Bernhard Lang and Colleen McDannell's much valued Heaven: A History (London, 1988). The key to that work, as to this one, is the distinction between anthropocentric and theocentric notions of life everlasting, the latter concentrated primarily or even exclusively on the vision of God, the former on views of life after death as encompassing communality-especially the reunion of families, love, and work-in an environment not radically different from that in which we now live.

Twentieth-century theology may be characterized by an increasing diffi- dence about elaborating upon the nature of life after death. Until the end of the seventeenth century, it was dominated by a theology of the afterlife focused on the beatific vision and the worship of God. Lang's significant con- tribution to the history of the afterlife both in this work and in his previous one is to draw attention to the development within Western religious thought since 1600, but especially in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, both at the "popular" and "elite" (although occasionally esoteric) levels, of an afterlife typified by the progress and development of the individual, and by the re-union in heaven of persons with their loved ones.

This work comprises a series of essays around the theme of the modern anthropocentric heaven published previously in whole or in part. These include a somewhat inchoate essay on the modernization of life after death from 1644 to 1791, an enjoyably provocative reading of the second part of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress as suggesting an anthropocentric heaven with an interesting reading of William Blake's engraving of The Marriage of a Family in Heaven as influenced by it, an essay on opposition to the modern heaven in Spanish writing, and an exploration of American heavens via cemeteries from 1740 to 1850. …

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