Sunday, October 16, 2011

Early Christians'
grieving & mourning
for the deceased
in the light of the resurrection /

Η θλίψη & το πένθος
των πρώτων χριστιανών
για τους νεκρούς
υπό το φως της ανάστασης

What is especially noteworthy is not (or not just) the rigor of Paul’s feeling rule on grief but its rationale. Whereas the appeal of the philosophers was to the attainment of happiness in this life (however short or long) through the practice of reason in accordance with nature, with the control of the passions as a necessary corollary, Paul’s appeal is based on the practice of reason and emotion transformed by eschatological revelation issuing in hope. Drawing on eschatological motifs from the streams of his native Jewish tradition—especially the apocalyptic stream—but now significantly recast and historicized in relation to the recent epochal event of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul engages in a conversion of the emotions of the Thessalonian bereaved. It is as if the conversion of life that had begun with their transfer of allegiance to the service of “the living and true God”(1:9) had to be taken further: to the conversion of their emotions, not least emotions associated with life in the face of death. To bring this about, what Paul does is to reconstruct the event that gave rise to the emotion. Those who have died are only “asleep” (4:13, 14, 15)! What is more, those who have died are reincorporated with the living in a great eschatological drama inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Christ in time past, soon to reach its climax with his parousia in time future. In sum, if the feeling rule of severe constraint on grief appears to put Paul in the company of Stoic philosophy, the rationale he offers puts him in different company altogether: that of those whose life in the face of death is governed by resurrection hope along with its affective manifestation as joy (χαρά). To grieve and practice rites of mourning in the time-honored conventional ways would be to mix unacceptably the new with the old, thereby compromising their identity as God’s elect (cf. 1:4) and their vocation to holiness (cf. 4:1–8). Put another way, in the light of the resurrection, to grieve “like the rest” would be to behave out of time, or in a manner untimely. Thus, it would be a misrepresentation of the true, eschatological state of affairs.

* Stephen C. Barton,
"Eschatology and the Emotions in Early Christianity"
«Εσχατολογία και Συναισθήματα στην Πρώιμη Χριστιανοσύνη»,
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol./Τόμ. 130, No/Αρ. 3, Fall/Φθινόπωρο 2011,
pp./σσ. 588 (571-591).

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