The Person in Christian Theology
Critical church history in the Modern period has recognized
significant doctrinal developments. These developments, largely
revolving around semantic difficulties in language translations,
have had a strong bearing on how we have come to our own human
makeup. One important aspect is the recognition of the Hellenization
of Christian thought -- the `translation' of doctrines into the
thought-forms and language of Greek culture. This process, already
begun in New Testament times, accelerated in the Patristic era
and continued at least until the Reformation.
One response to this recognition was a call to purify theology
of its Greek accretions, and to return to the original Hebraic
understanding of Jesus and his significance. This movement has
led to questions over whether body-soul dualism was in fact biblical
teaching. That is, whether both Old and New Testament conceptions
of the person have been distorted by the translation of the original
Hebrew and Greek into modern languages, and the modern interpretation
of those scriptures in accordance with dualistic philosophies.
Nonetheless, Christian theologians such as Augustine soon adopted
the dualist picture of human nature, and this came to be the most
common Christian view until the present century.
The doctrine of the intermediate state continues to be a critical
issue for some Christians. Historically, Thomas Aquinas went to
great lengths to make room in his theology for such a doctrine,
and it was made official for Catholicism by the Fifth Lateran
Council in 1513. Calvin seems to have settled the issue for members
of the Reformed tradition. His work Psychopannychia (1542)
was written against other reformers who were teaching, either
that the soul simply dies with the death of the body, or that
it goes into an unconscious "sleep" between death and
the general resurrection. Despite the fact that psychopannychia
literally means a watchful or sentient "wake" of the
soul -- ordinarily used to designate a position such as Calvin's
own -- Calvin's treatise has, instead, been applied to his opponents.
Early psychopannychists included Luther, Michael Servetus,
and Carlstadt, as well as a variety of lesser-known Radical Reformers,
such as Westerburg; some were banished or put to death for their
support of this position.
Finally, is there any meaning to the question of an intermediate
state? If God is not `in time'; perhaps those who are with God
after death are therefore not in time, either. Thus, we may not
know what it means to distinguish between immediate resurrection
and resurrection after a period of waiting.
A theological issue, then, the intermediate state concerns
the relation between anthropology and the doctrine of salvation.
Critics of dualism claim that it fosters an overly-narrow conception
of salvation, as merely saving souls for the after-life. They
argue that a more biblical -- and generally more adequate -- account
of salvation involves saving the whole person. Further, this alternative
account is as much a this-worldly concern as a concern for the
final state. It can be argued that the conception of salvation
as "getting to heaven" is a Neoplatonic idea, closely
related to Plato's view that the proper abode of the soul is the
realm of the Forms. It is important to emphasize that the original
Christian account of hope for life after death was the expectation
that all would enjoy the resurrection of the body. Wolfhart Pannenberg
proposes that a more authentic Christian view involves the ultimate
transformation of the entire cosmos, similar to the transformation
that Jesus' body has already undergone in the Resurrection.
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| Contributed by: Dr. Nancey Murphy