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This diversity of opinion could be resolved, ideally, through the study of Tradition. But it is precisely here where we come upon a majore difficulty: the obscurity of early traditions relative to the truths which establish the existence of life after death.
This article is part of a more extensive work which is dedicated to the study of the tradition of the first three centuries of the Church as contained in the Acts of the Martyrs, which has a special bearing on the problem at hand. It deals with the eschatological truths which, though already formulated, had not as yet been conceptualized during this early historical period of the Church. With this as a point of departure and by means of an existencial methodology we could reason to what these first qualified witnesses to the faith thought about as they were approaching death.
The article begins with an examination of the underlying anthropology, because, as in well known, the multiple anthropological interpretations condition not only the subject of the so called "intermediate eschatology" but also the truths of eschatology.
The result being that the Acts of the Martyrs makes itself understood in terms of a dualistic anthropology. The implicit idea here is not platonic dualism but simply a realistic interpretation based on personal experience which distinguishes between body and soul; while the body is being subjected to death and dissolution, the soul remains at peace awaiting its encounter with Christ.
Employing this distinction made in the Acts of the Martyrs as a point of departure, the author reasons to the the belief that not only the martyrs but all those who die must undergo judgement before God, thus immediately initiating a state of reward or punishment. This conclusion sheds light on the much debated question of the intermediate state.
Likewise, here in the Acts of the Martyrs, the fundamental truths of the faith are asserted: besides the endurance of the life of the soul after death and its immediate retribution, there are references to the particular and universal judgement, the future resurrection of the body, heaven and hell as the final state of man, after death, as well as the outstanding regard for the Parousia in the faith of these first centuries. All of these truths, and others as well, are found to be repeated again and again in the many dialogues held between the martyrs and their judges during their trials.
The author also refers to texts which hold to the belief of purification after death. These testimonies are enlightening as regards the subject of purgatory, which various authors commonly ascribe to a later period, that is, to the works of St. Cyprian.
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