The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity by Peter Brown - review by Miri Rubin

Miri Rubin

Conversations with the Dead

The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity

By

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In the year 688, Bishop Julian of Toledo created a compilation of Christian teachings on the afterlife. This was an act of friendship for his fellow bishop Idalius, who was on his deathbed and filled with anxieties. The result was the Prognosticon futuri saeculi (‘A Medical Report on the Future World’). As its title suggests, it was meant to comfort the sick man, as a doctor might do. Julian traced the journey of the soul after death with the help of every authoritative work he could read in the rich library of Toledo Cathedral. He presented over four centuries of Christian thought on death and the afterlife as if it were a harmonious unfolding of a soul-reassuring vision.

Peter Brown, the most erudite and elegant historian of Christian life in late antiquity, uses the Prognosticon as the vantage point from which to consider centuries of confrontation with the great mysteries of life and death in all their fullness and diversity. While Christians could look forward to the Last Judgment and its promise of resurrection, what was to be done in the present?

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