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Pauline And Augustinian Contributions

The most influential interpretation of the experience of Christ was given by the Apostle Paul. He preached that Christ's incarnation, passion, and crucifixion redeem from sin anyone who becomes a member of the church (ekklesia), the mystical body of Christ. Paul's concept of the church points to two specific features of Christian eschatology. First, collectivity: The eschaton is not a personal event. Salvation from death is available only for the members of Christ's mystical body. On judgment day, the dead members of the church will be resurrected and unite with the living to form a single community of salvation (1 Thess. 4:13–17). Throughout Christian history, Hellenist-influenced theologians challenged Paul's collective eschatology by emphasizing the individual ascent of the immortal soul. They could justify their view with some quotations from the Gospels. Paul, however, clearly rejects the idea of the soul's solitary ascent and insists on the resurrection of the spiritually transformed body. Second, processuality: in this world the church already collects all the citizens who will establish the heavenly citizenship (politeuma) of the Beyond (Phil. 3:20). Therefore the creation of a new world is not a single event at the end of history but can be observed now in the church (2 Cor. 5:17). The establishment and growth of the church already belongs to the eschata. Christian existence is an eschatological existence between "already now" and "not yet." The Holy Spirit transforms the "inward man" of the members of the church, but a purely spiritual existence will be achieved only in the Beyond, after the "outward man," the carnal and mortal body, has died (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:6; Phil. 3:21).

The Gospels and the letters of Paul show that the early Christians awaited the final events in the imminent future. Yet the church became a historical reality and, after the Roman emperors turned to Christianity, a powerful institution in this world. This new experience led to two different variations of Christian eschatology. First, theologians such as Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263–c. 339) worked out an imperial eschatology. The basic dogma was that God chose the Roman Empire to spread Christianity all over the world. Church and empire seemed to melt together under the rulership of the Constantinian dynasty. According to Eusebius, the Roman emperors succeeded Christ to fulfill the divine plan on earth; and at the end of history, Christ would return and succeed the emperors. The eschaton, the kingdom of God, appears as the perfection of the Roman Empire. Second, other Christians returned to apocalypticism and insisted that only the just ones who did not collaborate with the worldly powers would be saved. The chiliasts, who also appeared in later epochs of Christian history, believed that Christ would return in the near future and, after the destruction of all worldly empires, would establish a kingdom lasting a thousand (Greek: chilia) years. The Revelation of John, which was incorporated into the canon of the New Testament, seemed to confirm their view (cf. Rev. 20:4).

In the early fifth century, when the decline of the Western empire became obvious, empirical reality seemed to speak in favor of the apocalyptics. But the church father Augustine (354–430) rejected the imperial theology as well as apocalypticism by reformulating the Pauline eschatology as a theology of history. In his view, all of the elected—those who had received the grace of God—form the true body of Christ, the City of God (civitas Dei). And all wicked ones form the body of the devil, the earthly city (civitas terrena). Sacred history is nothing but the struggle between these two cities. Augustine calls the two cities mystical communities, since they are not identical with any empirical society. Even the Catholic Church is not identical with the City of God, but a corpus permixtum, a mixed body, composed of just and wicked human beings. The elect are only pilgrims in this world and its political orders. Only after the final judgment, after the separation of the just and the wicked, will the mystical societies become visible. The citizens of the City of God will be seen going to heaven and the others, to hell.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical BackgroundEschatology - Jewish Roots, Pauline And Augustinian Contributions, The Joachimite Turn, Bibliography