Monday, June 1, 2020

3 Models of Heaven in the Early Church

by Michael J. Vlach

Lately, I have been reading a book called A History of Heaven by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang. I am fascinated with their 22-page chapter, "Irenaeus and Augustine on our Heavenly Bodies." 

The authors compare the eschatology views of Irenaeus, the early Augustine, and the later Augustine.  Irenaeus represents the early church's premillennialism. Augustine represents the later amillennial view. You can see the stark contrast between these two men. Also helpful is the distinction between earlier and later Augustine. The early Augustine held very much to a Spiritual Vision Model approach, while the later Augustine was slightly less so. I have charted out some of the differences in the perspectives. Hope you find this helpful. See below:


3 Models of Heaven in Early Church

Irenaeus
Early Augustine
Later Augustine
Main theme: Glorified Material World
Main theme: The Ascetic Promise—A Heaven for Souls
Main theme: The Ecclesiastical Promise: Physical Beauty Eternalized
Reliance on kingdom view coming from John the Apostle and Polycarp
Heavy reliance on Neoplatonism worldview
Views largely the same as the early Augustine with some modifications as mentioned below
Historical Situation: Persecution and martyrdom were main issues facing Christians of Irenaeus’s day; showed your allegiance to Christ via suffering and martyrdom
Historical Situation: Christianity is an accepted part of society; show spirituality by fleeing society and its comforts and delights
Historical Situation: Mostly same as early Augustine but Augustine became more comfortable interacting with society
Hermeneutic: Prophecies about earthly kingdom and physical blessings should be taken literally and not allegorized
Hermeneutic: a mix of literal and allegorical interpretation; don’t take Revelation literally
Hermeneutic: Mostly same as early Augustine
Heaven will be on a renewed, restored earth
Heaven has nothing to do with earth; only a spiritual realm
A renewed, restored earth will occur after Jesus’ return
Earth and material things viewed positively and will be restored in the future
Earth and material things viewed negatively and will not exist in the future heaven
Softening of dualism between physical and spiritual matters
Physical bodies viewed positively now and will exist in the future

Physical bodies viewed negatively and will not exist in the future (came close to denying bodily resurrection)
Physical bodies not viewed as negatively with later Augustine, and will exist and be beautiful in Heaven; yet must obey the will of the spirit
Food, culture, and society are often good and can be enjoyed now and in Jesus’ messianic kingdom

Food, culture, and society hinder the pursuit of God; ascetic ideal should be sought; those matters do not exist in Heaven; no social interactions
Seeing God is primary but some eating and drinking will occur, but not out of necessity; societal interactions will occur
Civilized urban life in the present can be good, is not all bad
Urban life in the present is corrupt and bad; escape it
A somewhat softening from the early Augustine; some appreciation of civilized life
Jesus’ kingdom is compensation for lost life and production in this world
Heaven is a glad escape from the present world
Mostly early Augustine
Those loyal to Jesus will regain life on earth in the future world
Those loyal to Jesus will be rewarded with a heavenly escape from the world
Mostly early Augustine
The physical body will be a major part of Jesus’ kingdom; Believers will do much with their bodies
The human body is not part of Heaven
More place for physical,  resurrected body; physical eyes will be part of seeing God
3 main eras: 1. Present era; 2. Kingdom of Messiah (millennium); 3. Kingdom of the Father (Eternal State)
2 main eras: 1. The present era is Jesus’ kingdom. 2. Then eternal state
Same as early Augustine
Not much discussion of what the Kingdom of the Father will be like after Jesus’ messianic, millennial kingdom
This is the era of Jesus’ kingdom; spiritual Heaven is the eternal state
Same as early Augustine but Augustine open to a renewed earth
Marriage, family, childbearing occur in Jesus’ kingdom (future millennium)
No marriage, family, childbearing in eternal Heaven
Same as early Augustine but some recognition of previous relationships could occur
Distinctions in genders exist in the future
No distinctions in gender
Distinctions in gender will exist in the future; gender body parts will exist, but are beautiful and lust will not occur

2 comments:

  1. Hello Dr. Vlach God Bless you. I've been watching your videos on Theology IV and Apologetics posted through the TMS YouTube channel. I think your lectures are incredibly helpful and insightful. I was wondering if there is any possibility that you could facilitate me the course syllabus or the doc/pdf document you used to teach the class. It will really enhance my learning of the subject. Nevertheless, thank you for the exceptional work you have done over the years. Hope you're well and God Bless your ministry and family.

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