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Lord was immediately at hand in their time, as may be proved both by the writings of St. Paul and by the ancient fathers; and in that belief they boldly encountered persecutions and death *. The lapse of centuries has corrected their mistake: may we not have fallen into another? or have we not sometimes appeared to ourselves, I ask, rather as if we were intruding into heaven, and invading its holy precincts, or "overleaping the order of the promotion of the just " (as Irenæus expresses it, lib. 5, c. 31), than as children patiently awaiting their inheritance? Whereas, now that the evening of this world's duration is drawing to a close; now that "He is near, even at the doors" (Matt. xxiv. 14 and 38), what other consolation ought we to require, but his own words, "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Even so: Come, Lord Jesus! O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
So much concerning deceased saints from the holy Scriptures. But on controversial points it is of no small weight with many persons, to shew what was the belief of the primitive church in its uncorrupted antiquity. For although (the Apostles excepted) we may not attribute infallibility to any man, or to any age, either the first or the middle or the last, yet certainly before the Christian religion was exalted into imperial authority, or changed into an art, the naked truth was pursued with more simplicity and sincerity than since. It is therefore worth our while to inquire what the primitive Christians have left on record concerning the proximate condition of departed saints; or concerning the state of human spirits until the resurrection.
The nearer to its source, the purer the stream; and those fathers who lived nearest to the times of the Apostles are unquestionably to be consulted (ceteris paribus) as the best evidence for the orthodox faith: and hence, although, for my own part, I do not doubt that almost all the Greek fathers entertained the sentiments which I advocate, I shall content myself in this chapter with a review of the first three centuries; in which I am convinced (unless I deceive myself) that you will find neither a Greek nor a Latin author pretending that the human spirit is transferred to the vision of God immediately after the death of the body; or to the possession of glory in heaven, as taught by the Romans; unless indeed it be the heretics, or one Cyprian of that day.
That it was the opinion of many heretics in the first ages,
* It may be doubted whether any man ever so believed in the immediate possession of consummate glory and bliss to the deceased, as to desire it in a degree proportionate to the idea commonly entertained of its ineffable excellence. St. Stephen, who saw the glory of God, has been proved above to have expressed no such hope.
(namely, of such as also denied the resurrection), is abundantly manifest from the works of Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Trypho, and others. In his dialogue with Trypho, Justin writes as follows: "Esteem them not as Christians, who say that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that the spirits of the deceased are received into heaven as soon as they depart this life*." Here we see the denial of the former point, conjoined with the acceptation of the latter, by Justin; or, at all events, that the same ancient heretics who denied the resurrection, did also hold that the departing spirit is transported forthwith into heaven.
Much light is thrown upon this passage of Justin by Irenæus, who attributes both these errors to the heretics of his time, in his fifth book, cap. 31. He writes †, "........There are some whose creed is thought orthodox, while yet they overleap the order of the promotion of the just, being ignorant of the means of meditation unto incorruption, and entertaining heretical sentiments in their hearts. For certainly those persons are heretics who contemn God's disposal of future events; who refuse the salvation of their flesh; who despise the covenant of the Almighty; and maintain that as soon as they die they are transported above the heavens and the visible creation, and conducted into the presence of their mother, or of him whom they call Father. They altogether reject the general resurrection, and it is not wonderful that they know not its order. They will not understand, that if their opinions were true the Lord himself (in whom they say they believe) certainly would not have risen on the third day, but, expiring on the cross, would have departed forthwith into heaven, leaving his body on the earth," &c.
That the HERETICS-namely, the Gnostics, the Basilidians, Valentinians, Marcionites, and others of the same kennel-were the authors and first advocates of the opinion which we have refuted, is evident from the primitive fathers, and other writers on the heresies. We have seen that neither Justin nor Irenæus believed human spirits, escaping from the body, to be translated into the highest heaven and the seat of glory. The former also
* Οι και λεγουσι μη ειναι νεκρῶν αναςασιν, αλλα αμα τῷ αποθνησκειν τας ψυχας αυτῶν ανᾶλαμβανεσθαι εις τον ουρανον μη υπολαβητε αυτους χρισιανους. Μ. p. 307.
+ Quoniam autem quidam ex his qui putantur recte credidisse, supergrediuntur ordinem promotionis justorum, et modos meditationis ad incorruptelam ignorant hæreticos sensus in se habentes. Hæretici enim dispicientes plasmationem Dei, et non suscipientes salutem carnis suæ, contemnentes autem et repromissionem Dei, simul atque mortui fuerint dicunt se supergredi cœlos, et Demiurgum, et ire ad Matrem, qui ab iis affingitur Patrem. Qui ergo universam reprobant resurrectionem quid mirum si nec ordinem resurrectionis sciant? Nolentes intelligere quoniam si hæc ita sint, ut dicunt, ipse utique Dominus, in quem se dicunt credere, non in tertia die fecisset resurrectionem, sed super crucem expirans, confestim utique abiisset sursum, relinquens corpus terræ, &c.
bears testimony to the same effect (D. cum Tryphone, M. p. 223) in these words*, "The souls of the pious remain in some better place: the unjust and depraved in a worse, expecting at last a time of judgment." Irenæus also, at the end of the chapter quoted above, pursues in many ways the same argument †. "If therefore the Lord kept," saith he," the law of death, that he might become the first-born from the dead; and remained until the third day in the lower parts of the earth, afterwards arising in the flesh, and even shewing to his disciples the wounds in his hands; and then at length ascending to the Father; how is it that they are not ashamed who maintain that the world in which we live is signified by the term infernal;' and that the inner man upon quitting this body ascends into some place above the heavens? For since the Lord went into the midst of the shadow of death, where were the spirits of the dead, and afterwards rose again with his body, and lastly ascended; it is obvious that the spirits of his disciples (for whose sake the Lord performed those things) shall also go into an invisible place appointed of God for them, and shall there abide until the resurrection, awaiting, and ultimately receiving, the restoration of their bodies, in which they shall positively and bodily be raised up (as the Lord also rose), and shall so come into the sight of God." Very similar is the language of Tertullian ‡, (de Anima, cap. 54), Forasmuch as God the Christ, because he is also man, according to the Scriptures, died, and was buried, and satisfied this law also, transacting in the infernals, in the form
* Τας μεν τῶν ευσεβων ψυχας εν κρειττονι ποι χωρῳ μενειν· τας δε αδικους και πονηρας εν χειρονι, τον της κρισεως εκδεχομενας χρονον τοτε.
Si ergo Dominus legem mortuorum servavit, ut fieret primogenitus à mortuis, et commoratus usque ad tertiam diem in inferioribus terræ, post deinde surgens in carne, ut etiam figuras clavorum ostenderit discipulis, sic ascenderet ad Patrem ; quomodo non confundentur qui dicunt inferos quidem esse hunc mundum, qui sit secundum nos; interiorem autem hominem ipsorum derelinquentem hic corpus, in supercolestem ascendere locum? Cum enim Dominus in medio umbræ mortis abierit, ubi animæ mortuorum erant, post deinde corporaliter resurrexit, et post resurrectionem assumptus est: manifestum est quia et discipulorum ejus, propter quos et hæc operatus est Dominus, animæ abibunt in invisibilem locum, definitum eis a Deo, et ibi usque ad resurrectionem commorabuntur, sustinentes resurrectionem, post recipientes corpora, et perfecte resurgentes, hoc est corporaliter quemadmodum et Dominus resurrexit; sic venient ad conspectum Dei,— His simillima habet Andreas Archiepiscopus Cretensis sermone in vitam hum: et in defunctos (sed erat opinor sexti seculi) impressus est Lugd. Bat. 1619, in 4to. B. B. Oxon.
Quod si Christus Deus, quia et Homo, mortuus secundúm Scripturas, et sepcultus secus easdem, huic quoque legi satisfecit, formâ humanæ mortis apud inferos functus: nec antea ascendit in sublimiora cœlorum, quàm descendit in inferiora terrarum, ut illic patriarchas, et prophetas compotes sui faceret : habes et regionem inferum subterraneam credere, et illos cubito pellere, qui satis superbè non putant animas fidelium inferis dignas; servi super dominum, et discipuli super magistrum, aspernati si forte in Abrahæ sinu, expectandæ resurrectionis solatium capere.
of human death; and not ascending into the highest heavens until after that he had descended into the lower parts of the earth, as the patriarchs and prophets, partakers of the same promises that are his, had also done; you are to believe in the subterraneous region of the infernals, and to drive away from you those who (proudly enough) esteem the spirits of believers too good for the same. Servants above their Lord, and disciples above their Master, they disdain to accept the comfort of anticipating the resurrection in Abraham's bosom." Then, lower down in the same chapter, he speaks still more plainly, saying, "Heaven is open to no one; (the saints) are safe, for I would not say that they are shut up, in the earth; and the kingdoms of heaven shall be first discovered in the transaction of this world's renovation." Also, in the end of the same chapter, from his little book on Paradise (by the loss of which we suffer no small disadvantage), he says, "He had established that all human spirits are sequestrated in the infernals, until the day of the Lord." In many parts of this treatise De Animâ, he testifies to the same thing in other words, and especially in his " Defence," chap. xlvii. : "And if we name paradise," he says, we mean by that word, not heaven, but a place appointed in the good pleasure of the Most High to receive the spirits of the saints." And in the fourth book against Marcius (chap. xxxiv. §), “I call that region, then, the bosom of Abraham which, though not celestial, is nevertheless superior to the infernals, and a place of refreshing provided for the spirits of the just, until the consummation of things shall accomplish the resurrection of all in the plenitude of reward." Parallel passages to these may be found in his De Resurrectione Carnis, cap. xxiii. But enough
of Tertullian; we can henceforth have no doubt of his sentiments on this point.
Origen agrees with the fathers already quoted, attributing to the spirits of the saints, both of the Old and New Testaments, only an inferior degree of felicity. In the seventh Homily upon Leviticus he expresses his sentiments as follows: "For they have not yet received their joy, nor indeed have the Apostles; but even these expect that I also should be a partaker of the same felicity with them :" and for this he adduces the authority of St. Paul, the master of the
* Nulli patet cœlum, terrâ ad huc salvâ, ne dixerim clausâ ; cum transactione enim mundi reserabuntur regna cœlorum.
Se constituisse omnem animam apud inferos sequestrari, in diem Domini. Et si paradisum nominemus, locum divinæ amanitatis, recipiendis sanctorum spiritibus non cœlum intelligimus.
§ Eam itaque regionem sinum dico Abrahæ, etsi non cœlestem, sublimiorem tamen inferis, interim refrigerium præbituram animabus justorum, donec consummatio rerum resurrectionem omnium plenitudine mercedis expungat.
Nondum enim receperunt lætitiam suam, ne Apostoli quidem; sed et ipsi expectant, ut et ego lætitiæ eorum particeps fiam.
Gentiles (Heb. xi. 40). * "You see," saith he, "that Abraham is still expecting the things that are perfect; and Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets, are expecting us, that with us they may receive perfect blessedness."
At the end of the third century, Victorinus Martyr, and Lactantius, adopted the same opinion. The latter, in the seventh book of his Institutiones, sect. 21 t," Nor yet can any one think that the human spirit is judged immediately after death for all are detained until the time shall come, in which the Supreme Judge shall make trial of their works, and give eternal life to all those in whom righteousness is discovered." The same author (when treating of Rev. vi. 9), in speaking of "the souls under the altar"-in which place he would have it observed, that they are not to be understood as within the altar, viz. in heaven, but without it; where he believes that the spirits wait until the last time shall come, in which rewards and punishments are distributed :"But because the everlasting remuneration of the saints, and the future damnation of the wicked, is in the last time, therefore it is said to the former, WAIT;' and for the consolation of their bodies they receive white robes, viz. the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Moreover, many of the most ancient fathers, if not altogether all, have said that human spirits descend into HADES §; whereby they testify their opinion that they are not immediately transported to the highest heaven and supreme glory. For although hades be of wide signification, including both just and unjust, yet no one ever pretended that any spirits therein confined might there enjoy the beatific vision;-so that the ancient fathers, in disposing of all departed spirits in HADES, do in effect exclude them, for the time being, from that vision and from glory. We have seen how Justin, Irenæus, and Tertullian, demonstrate from the descent of Christ that of all his servants; "for the disciple is not above his Lord." And by the converse of this argument, Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, in the Nicene Council expounding philosophically the
* Vides igitur quia expectat ad huc Abraham ut quæ perfecta sunt consequatur. Expectat et Isaac, et Jacob, et omnes prophetæ expectant nos, ut nobiscum perfectam beatitudinem capiant.
Nec tamen quisquam putet animas post mortem protinus judicari: omnes enim in unâ communique custodiâ detinentur, donec tempus adveniat quo maximus Judex meritorum faciat examen; tum quorum fuerit probata justitia, ii præmium immortalitatis accipiunt.
Sed quia in novissimo tempore sanctorum remuneratio perpetua, et impiorum ventura damnatio, dictum est iis EXPECTATE. Et pro corporis sui solatio, acceperunt stolas albas, i. e. donum Spiritûs Sancti.
§ Εις· ̓́Αδου.
Matthew x. 24.