Christian Eschatology and Social Thought: A Historical Essay on the Social Implications of Some Selected Aspects in Christian Eschatology to A.D. 1500

By Ray C. Petry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
Last Things, the Resurrection, the Last Judgment, and the End of History

1. Preview of Basic Principles

IT IS NATURAL THAT THE MEDIEVAL MAN, LIKE THE EARLY CHRISTIAN, should think of his temporal existence in terms of ends as well as beginnings. Both Jewish and Christian traditions had emphasized the significance of ultimate destiny as being even more important than human genesis. The Christian was frequently reminded that his main concern was the preparation for the end of time. Thus the faithful Christian looked to the end of history, not as marking the completion of his life, but as fixing the transition to a new order. He was taught to believe that his whole personal and social destiny was at stake in his preparation during temporal existence for an eternal order of experience. The Last Times, therefore, were thought of as completing one life cycle and making ready for a new one.

Last Things as the Christian conceived of them were, however, final only in the sense that they represented the conclusion of history and its temporal institutions. They signified the truly ultimate world only in the sense that they were thought of as being the gateway to the heavenly kingdom. Man had been created for a destiny which lay beyond the terrestrial orbit. In order to reach a more completely unified existence in heaven, he must run out his course until he as an individual reached an end to his physical life and until the race as a whole was summoned to the bar of judgment. The end of history for humankind would mark the point where preparation for a new world was no longer possible. Individuals and temporal society as well would have come to the end of time.

The whole purpose of man's being given a span of years to live in was that he might have a period in which to make ready for his eternal destiny. The significance of the Last Days, therefore, lay in the suggestion which they carried as to man's responsibility, individual

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