Heaven's Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity

By McGuire, Brian Patrick | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Heaven's Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity


McGuire, Brian Patrick, The Catholic Historical Review


Heaven's Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity. By Isabel Moreira. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. Pp. x, 310. $65.00. ISBN 978-0-199-73604-1.)

This is an important and thoughtful study of a subject plagued by the success of Jacques Le Goff's The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago, 1984), which tried to prove that purgatory did not exist in Western consciousness until the twelfth century invented the noun. Isabel Moreira gets far beyond this oversimplification, thanks to a faithful reading of many difficult sources. Her book is a model for work in the humanities, with an interdisciplinary approach to law, theology, and visionary literature. Her conclusions are clear and succinct. However, the use of the term late antiquity for the Western world until the 700s results in a chronological misunderstanding and confuses the reader. In addition, in the first chapters there are frequent references to other scholars without presentation of their views. A separate chapter summarizing Stand der Forschung would have been helpful. However, the endnotes are helpful in substantiating the conclusions of the well-written text.

In a short review it is not possible to convey the rich layers of this monograph, but the reader can look forward to many fresh interpretations of a varied source material. The author largely rejects Peter Brown's attractive view that the concept of purgatory arose from an Irish context. The evidence is lacking that the classical idea of amnesty was exchanged for an Irish belief in the purgation of the individual (p. …

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