Eschatological Debates in the late 6th Century

Thesis author: 
Holger Hespen
Year of enrollment: 
Duration of thesis project: 
Sep, 2013 - Sep, 2019
Thesis supervisor: 
György László Geréby
Thesis supervisor: 
István Perczel
Thesis abstract: 

In the first centuries of Christianity, eschatology had been rarely treated in a dogmatic way. Although some basic assumptions could not be neglected, ambiguities in Scripture left sufficient room for interpretation. Towards the end of the 6th century, the debate about the destiny of the soul after death became a matter of urgency. The two most outstanding authors dealing with this problem were Pope Gregory the Great and the Constantinopolitan presbyter Eustratius. While both author's works differ in style and focus, they betray an astonishing amount of similarities, especially concerning their refutation of the idea of a “soul sleep” after death. Their works indicate an interest in eschatological issues among the contemporaries that was transgressing the boarders between the so-called East and West. This should not surprise us: Neither politically nor economically, and even less culturally, have the Eastern and Western areas been strictly detached from each other, at least not in the period I am dealing with.
However, both Gregory and Eustratius were not only shaped by their historical circumstances, but also based their thoughts (implicitly or explicitly) on the works of their theological predecessors. The importance of Augustine for Gregory's theology has been well-established by scholarship, and his thoughts might be also reflected in Eustratius work. Other authors have been important for 6th century eschatology as well. In order to contextualize the developments of the late sixth century appropriately in a diachronic perspective, it is inevitable to get an idea of the broader developments of the conceptions of the afterlife in Christianity, starting from as early as the Apostolic fathers up to at least the early seventh century.
Although scholarship has broadened our knowledge about 6th century eschatology in the last decades, there is still the lack of a wider interpretative historical synthesis. Therefore, I attempt to analyze the thoughts of selected Christian authors about the life after death against a cultural and historical background, using as a starting point the works of Gregory the Great and Eustratius of Constantinople. Such an analysis requires a cultural historical approach, focusing not only on the intellectual influences but also on the social and cultural circumstances of each theologian dealing with the afterlife. What is more, it can just be successfully accomplished if it is based on a scrutinizing philological examination of the relevant sources.
Within this proposed framework, it will be possible to specify the particularities of (late) 6th century eschatology. What were the important topics discussed among the contemporaries about the afterlife? In what respect were these debates continuations of long-lasting theological disputes? What were their innovative aspects, and what issues were ignored? Do eschatological conceptions differ between the various regions, between East and West, or can common debates be traced? What are the reasons for differences or similarities? A detailed analysis of the relevant sources together with a close investigation of the contemporary social and cultural circumstances will hopefully offer satisfying new answers to these intriguing questions.