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From Hell to the Road to Heaven: Effects of the invention of Purgatory to the Mentalities of Middle Ages

From Hell to the Road to Heaven: Effects of the invention of Purgatory to the Mentalities of Middle Ages

By Outi Nieminen

Expanding Horizons: Travel and Exchanging Ideas through the Ages, Journal of the XIIIth annual ISHA conference (Nijmegen, 2002)

Introduction: When ever Middle Ages is regarded one has to bear in mind, that the society was different. Things that are evident to us are not evident in the Middle Ages. The whole concept of human society has to be thought over.

In the Middle Ages God was the centre. The world was created by God, it was part of God’s belongings, the purposes of it’s existence were aimed only to God. God and religion were not matters of belief, they were facts. The human mentalities were constructed upon the idea of God’s character. What was here on the Earth was not important, when it was compared to the Heaven and so the life of human beings were aimed to the time after death.

This means that the death wasn’t distant to middle age people but rather something that was constantly present (also the short prediction of lifetime made death to be present in everyday life). After the short life on earth was coming the much more important eternity.

The doctrine of the Church was clear. Those who lived their life according to the rules made by God and the Church ended up to the Heaven for the eternity and those who sinned were put to the Hell for eternity. So there were two doors waiting after the death and after that all the decisions had been made, no turning back, no second changes, just the eternity. God gave to man a freedom of choice, but He also punished man for wrong choices by throwing him to Hell. The death were separated into two groups, to good and to bad.

From the first centuries onwards there had been a hope, that prayers and offerings of living would help the dead in their agony or at least put them to an easier layer of Hell. Also penance (katumusharjoitus) freed man from his sins, but it didn’t take away the fear of Last Judgement. The belief to redemption (lunastus) was vague, and it wasn’t to be trusted. The doctrine of sins, redepmtion and afterlife hadn’t yet taken its shape.

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