Skip to comments.Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity
Posted on 11/09/2007 9:25:22 PM PST by restornu
Christianity is a religion of salvation in which believers have always anticipated post-mortem bliss for the faithful and non-salvation for others. Here, Trumbower examines how and why death came to be perceived as such a firm boundary of salvation. Analyzing exceptions to this principle from ancient Christianity, he finds that the principle itself was slow to develop and not universally accepted in the Christian movement's first four hundred years. In fact, only in the West was this principle definitively articulated, due in large part to the work and influence of Augustine.
About the Author
Jeffrey A. Trumbower is at St. Michael's College, Colchester, VT.
A Few reviews
An Unfamiliar history, March 23, 2004 By A Customer
The relationships between the living and the dead have always been in the center of religious experience and have always provided privileged material for reflection, both in the ancient world and in Christianity, from the origins up till the present day. Due to its mysterious nature, the borderline experience of death has always aroused not only curiosity for the unknown, but also the desire of the living not to allow the link of solidarity that binds them to those who have passed on to be interrupted, but to perpetuate it in some way. Trumbower's fine work, newly published in the prestigious "Oxford Studies in Historical Theology" series, is dedicated to this fascinating theme. The author's interest was stimulated initially by the need to understand the real implications of the at first glance "surprising" prayer of the virgin Thecla, the disciple and companion of the apostle Paul, in favor of the deceased pagan Falconilla, a prayer quoted in the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (28-31) of the second century C.E. After a rapid but effective panoramic review of the Greco-Roman and Jewish world, Trumbower deals with the theme of the "posthumous salvation of the non-Christian dead," starting from the New Testament and arriving at the late discussions on purgatory at the Council of Ferrara (1438), with some interesting observations even on modern and contemporary documents: a very long period of time, indeed! In eight agile chapters, he analyzes the developments of that belief over the centuries, its possible social implications, and the various cultural and theological environments in which it was expressed, and identifies at least four different types of doctrine on the salvation of non-believers after death: (1) scenarios of the last judgement in which the chosen can save part of the damned; (2) intercession for non-Christian dead by characters (fictitious ones such as Thecla or historic ones such as Perpetua), who possess the particular spiritual power of the confessors of the faith; (3) a general offer of salvation to the dead during Christ's descent to Hell; (4) philosophical and theological speculations on the justice of God and on the possibility of a final universal salvation even for the wicked.
The central thesis of the book is that, after the great variety of positions expressed in the first four centuries, especially due to the decisive influence of Augustine, in the medieval Latin West death was considered as an insuperable boundary beyond which no form of recovery is possible for those who have not been baptized and have not taken active steps to ensure their own salvation. On the other hand, the Byzantine East, while rejecting the idea of universal salvation, seems to have been on the whole more open towards alternative forms of salvation after death.
This work, carried on with sympathy and keen personal participation in the topic, is well written and a pleasure to read. The numerous ancient sources analyzed in the discussion are of various nature and origin: literary and epigraphic, pagan, biblical and Judaic, apocryphal, Gnostic, hagiographie; their interpretation is often problematic and controversial, but they are generally treated with prudence and equilibrium, thanks also to the use of a vast and highly qualified bibliography. A few slips may be easily corrected in a second edition: for instance, "Pausanius" (12 and 21) instead of the correct "Pausanias"; "Perenzo" (77) instead of "Parenzo"; "lude more infantum, 8.3" (86) instead of "ludere more infantium, 8.4"; "Gosp. Thorn. 112" (165, note 27) instead of "114"; "Gregory Hoffmann" (175, note 33 and 187: co-editor with L. Petit of the documents on Purgatory issued at the Ferrara/Florence Council), instead of George Hofmann; "Pontificorum" (187) instead of "Pontificium" (Institutum Studiorum Orientalium).
The prospects drawn up and the explanations proposed by Trumbower may also be enriched, confirmed or modified, by an apt reference to, and an in-depth study of, further texts that have not been directly considered in this book. For example, Pseudo-Hippolytus's homily, In Sanctum Pascha, chapter 58, could be usefully added to the already rich dossier of texts on the descensus ad inferos (chapter 5): here it is claimed that the purpose of Christ's descent to Hell was to save the entire human race that had lived before the Law, under the Law, and after the coming of Christ. As far as concerns the decisive role of Augustine, which is well illustrated in chapter 7, the Pelagian controversy certainly offered him more than one opportunity to define his rejection of the idea of a "posthumous salvation." However, it should not be forgotten that this rejection was in some way connected with the criticism of the pagan survival of the cult of the dead, which Augustine had already developed during the last decade of the Fourth century. (See the classic book by V. Saxer, Morts, martyrs, reliques en Afrique chretienne aux premiers siecles. Les temoignages de Tertullien, Cyprien et Augustin a la lumiere de l'archeologie africaine [Paris: Beauchesne, 1980]). And quite apart from contingent polemical motivations, it was part of his doctrine of the "universal damnation" of the massa peccati, already clearly stated in the treatise Ad Simplicianum (396 C.E.). The difficulty Western theology at the end of the Fourth century had in understanding and preserving the traditional message of redemption implicit in the old doctrine of the descensus ad inferos is also proved by Rufinus of Aquileia's Commentary on the Apostles' Creed, chapter 18: here he claims that the meaning of the clause on the descent into Hell is the same as that contained in the clause on Christ's burial.
On the whole, Trumbower has written a dense and stimulating book, a clear and accessible synthesis. On the one hand this study reveals the author's familiarity with the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian sources, while on the other it offers excellent updated historic information and casts new light on a delicate and important theme of Christian theology that every now and then returns strongly to the fore. The author seems to have perfectly achieved his aim.
Pier Franco Beatrice
University of Padua, Italy
Fascinating, January 3, 2007
By Pianissimo "pp" (Arizona)
I found the information in this book both fascinating and well researched in its revelation on the various concepts of "posthumous salvation" that existed in the earliest days of the Christian Church. Anyone interested in this subject should definitely take the time to read "Rescue for the Dead" by Jeffrey A. Trumbower
Non LDS Author
Are the mainstream attack dogs asleep? They haven’t attacked this as heresy and accused the author of being LDS yet?
I think I will give this book a read.
Its appointed man once to die, and after that the judgment Heb 9:27
Catholics with their purgatory and limbo, Mormons with their pray me out of hell scenarios become null an void via Heb 9:27.
The LDS beliefs that are similar to this book have to do with the saving ordinance of baptism for the dead, an ordinance done vicariously here on earth, and is either accepted or rejected by the subject who's work is done in the next life. It’s referenced briefly in Corinthians as well.
1 Corinthians 15:29
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
tagged for later
And I stand by Heb 9:27
Catholics with their purgatory and limbo, Mormons with their pray me out of hell scenarios become null an void via Heb 9:27.
Jesus paid the price for those preceding as well as those not yet born!
1 Peter 3
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
and in verse Heb 28 it is said and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
And Jesus, God of the Universe, cant handle these things? I trust Him to handle things in his way doesnt nullify Heb 9:27.
I would add that when Chirst comes again, He will reign on the earth for a thousand years, the millennium, and all the work for mankind will happen.... but it’s started now. There is much to be done.
I haven’t seen that one, I’ll check it out. Thanks.
Thanks for the post! I think I will buy a copy. Quite fascinating!
Ah, I love theological arguments. They’re so... refreshing. Kind of like a slap in the face with a cold, dead bass, early in the morning. :-)
12Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
24Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
29Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
The verse you referenced, v.29, has nothing to do with baptism of dead people. It is saying the Jesus is resurrected and that those who are baptized are not baptized because of a dead man, but because of the very much alive Son of God. There are some stand alone verses in the Bible, but this is not one of them. Throwing out context does nothing but confuse and deceive, even when it's not intentional.
Those who awaited the Messiah but died before He came cannot be baptized by anything we do; God has taken care of them, as He knows who would've believed and who wouldn't have. The dead cannot be prayed into or out of Heaven or Hell.
There's no bass so cold, so dead that somewhere, someone won't get baptized for it for some reason.
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