Tag Archives: hell

Neat series on John Milton’s Christian poem, Paradise Lost


English: Picturefirst published in the 1861's ...

Image from 1861 British edition of Paradise Lost

Found on Alan Jacobs’ excellent blog filled with snippets from the cyberworld, this neat series in the Guardian on John Milton’s Paradise Lost. A snippet (the one Alan presents, too):

By the time Milton reaches Book VII he has come to a kind of accord with his own frustration. All right, he says: I can’t get up to heaven, and if I try I “fall/Erroneous”. Writing purely about God, he comments, is like being an amateur rider on a particularly frisky winged horse. Humanity is the proper perspective for poetic endeavour; so he asks the Christian muse, Urania, to carry him downwards and deposit him safe in his “Native Element”. He will write now about the earth: about its nature, its making; about its creatures; about relationships and sex and intellectual curiosity and mistakes and sorrow and “the human face divine”.

This is most deeply God’s place to speak through his poet, he points out; singing amid violence; taking love into hell; readying himself for sacrifice, to be destroyed by the blind desires of an angry mob. The figure with whom he identifies in connection with this role is Orpheus, the prototype poet of myth. But, of course, he is thinking about Christ too, who in Christian theology is God suffering all that humans inflict on each other. There won’t be much explicit scope for Christ in Paradise Lost. But Milton sees his own position – surrounded by rabid Royalists, “fall’n on evil dayes”, slandered by “evil tongues” – as Christlike. In the face of violence, Milton too will sing.

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Getting medieval on the doctrine of hell


I’ve posted several times on the new resource from the publishers Christian History, a compact little survey and resource guide on the history of Christian thought about hell. The project was ably managed by Jennifer Trafton and written by Jennifer, myself, and that redoubtable pair Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait. Jennifer Trafton wrote a splendid annotated bibliography containing brief summaries of over 50 books contributing to the modern debates on hell. For the main, “timeline” section of the publication, the four of us divvied things up chronologically.

Hortus Deliciarum - Hell (Hölle) Herrad von Landsberg (about 1180)

My section was the medieval one, the substance of this post (previously posted in draft form, here). If you would like to read the whole guide in all its fully designed glory, simply go here and you can flip through it, starting with the harrowing Gustav Dore illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost that appears on the cover (folks with old eyes, like mine, can click to zoom in):

The medieval period saw a shift in em­phasis from the early church’s focus on the biblical “Last Things”—the Second Coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment—to a new concentra­tion on the afterlives of individuals. Until the 400s and even beyond, Jesus’ return was still expected imminently; thus those who died in the intervening generations could be thought of as simply sleeping or awaiting the resurrection. There was not much written during this early period about the immediate fate of those who died before Jesus returned.

As the Second Coming came to seem more remote, however, Chris­tians increasingly focused on the doc­trine of the immediate judgment of each soul at death. The Book of Rev­elation in particular began to guide Christian imagination on people’s fate after death. This emphasis on the af­terlife resulted in a lavishly visual and grotesque new genre of literature: the vision of the otherworldly journey, of which Dante’s Divine Comedy repre­sented the pinnacle. Continue reading

New from Christian History magazine: The history of hell


The editorial team at Christian History magazine is working away on our Issue #101 on Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church, which will release this fall.

Meanwhile, project editor Jennifer Trafton and a writing team including myself, Jennifer and Edwin Woodruff Tait, and Jennifer Trafton have finished work on “The history of hell: A brief history and resource guide.” You can check it out here.

Hell handbook cover – sneak preview


This is not final, but a sneak preview of one possible way the forthcoming (July 2011) “resource guide” to Christian thought on hell might look.

Medieval images and doctrines of hell


Dante's heavens and hells symbolised the astra...

Coppo di Marcovaldo, Hell (ca 1225 - 1274, Mosaic, Baptistry, Florence)

Folks, here’s a sneak preview of some work I did for the forthcoming Christian History magazine Handbook to Christian Thought on Hell. It’s not edited yet, but the guide, which will survey Christian thought on hell from the earliest church to the 21st century, will include something like what follows. If you are interested in getting the entire guide, which will be in a half-size  (roughly 5 x 8.5) magazine format complete with timeline and illustrations, go to www.christianhistorymagazine.org and get on the mailing list.

The Middle Ages

The medieval period (roughly 500 – 1500 AD) saw a shift in emphasis from the early church’s focus on the biblical “Last Things”—the Second Coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment—to a new concentration on the afterlives of individuals. Until the 400s AD and even beyond (as in the thought of Gregory the Great (540 – 604)), the “Parousia” (second coming and all its associated events) was still expected imminently, and so those who died in the intervening generations could be thought of as simply sleeping or awaiting the resurrection. There simply wasn’t much written during this early period about the immediate fate of those who died before Jesus returned.

However as the Second Coming came to seem, potentially, more remote, the question of the reward of the saved and the punishment of the damned heated up, and the doctrine of the immediate judgment of each soul at death came into more prominence. The Book of Revelation in particular, which tremendously influenced medieval culture, began to be pressed into service to imagine the shape of people’s fate after death. As we will see, this emphasis on the afterlife and its support from the Book of Revelation resulted in a lavishly visual and grotesque new genre of imaginative literature: the vision of the otherworldly journey, of which Dante’s Divine Comedy was the pinnacle. Continue reading

The revived Christian History magazine gets some press . . . and keep your eye out for the “Handbook of Christian Thought on Hell”!


Nice of Bethel University to recognize the re-starting of Christian History magazine. Yesterday Bethel posted the following on their internal website. Note the upcoming handbook (July) and issue (September) listed at the end of the article. The CH team is excited to be bringing them to readers; if you’re not on the mailing list, visit www.christianhistorymagazine.org and you can get on.

I’m especially excited about the little “Christian History Handbook of Christian Thought on Hell” that the intrepid Jennifer Trafton is putting together right now for printing next month. It will include a full timeline of Christian interpretations of the scriptural evidence on hell, profiles of key thinkers and their ideas, and a bibliography for further reading. (And I get to do the medieval profiles on folks like Anselm, Aquinas, and Dante.)

I hope many in the church who have been prompted by “the Rob Bell controversy” to look more deeply into this doctrine will find in this handbook a helpful guide to key ideas and sources. In keeping with Christian History‘s usual style, the handbook is intentionally descriptive rather than evaluative or argumentative (a rarity in this field), so, we hope, a particularly helpful resource for those looking for unbiased information on a controversial topic.

[UPDATE: Looks like the following is also on Bethel’s public website, here.]

Reviving Christian History

June 10, 2011 | 9 a.m.

By Heather Schnese

Chris Armstrong, professor of church history at Bethel Seminary
St. Paul, is managing editor of “Christian History” magazine

The magazine Christian History, formerly owned by Christianity Today International, ceased publication in 2008 due to recessionary pressures. But Christian History is now being published again thanks in part to Chris Armstrong, Bethel Seminary St. Paul’s professor of church history. Continue reading

Handbook to Hell


Hortus Deliciarum - Hell (Hölle) Artist: Herrad von Landsberg (c. 1180)

Dear readers,

Christian History magazine is now considering putting together a sort of handbook, resource guide, or annotated bibliography on the history of Christian thought about hell. This should aid the research of folks whose interest in the topic has been stirred by Rob Bell‘s Love Wins, which has the Christian blogosphere buzzing and as of this writing sits as www.amazon.com’s  #16 book.

So next to my desk is an ample box of books on hell, and many more will arrive soon through interlibrary loan–because when I started searching the online catalogues of Twin Cities’ consortium of theological schools, I discovered an interesting thing: most local library copies of most books on this topic are now marked as “out.” This is no coincidence. It’s amazing how much influence a single book (e.g. Bell’s) can have in stirring up conversation and research on a single topic!

So for now, this post comes in the form of a request: Oh erudite reader, what Christian thinkers, movements, books, articles, must we not fail to consult in constructing our proposed “Handbook on the History of Hell in Christian Thought”? I look forward to hearing from many of you.

Yours in the hope of heaven,

Chris