Friday, 24 May 2019

David Bradshaw: Patristic Views on Why There Is No Repentance after Death

Although the New Testament makes it clear that there is no possibility of repentance and forgiveness after death, it offers no explanation why. Most patristic authors who dealt with this question saw the answer as in some way linked to human embodiment. Nemesius of Emessa, for example, argues that God receives human repentance in this life as a concession in view of our being subject to “bodily affections, needs, and pleasures.” Nemesius seeks thereby to explain why God accepts human repentance but not that of the demons. Yet his answer can be faulted in that it requires positing a change in God’s attitude toward sinners at the moment of death.Later authors such as Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus shift the focus of attention away from God’s reasons for forgiveness and toward the innate capacities of the soul. Maximus argues that after death the soul’s immediate awareness of God as the Good means that it can no longer be moved by subordinate goods, and so will no longer be capable of “moving” in the sense of making a morally decisive choice. John of Damascus offers a similar view, although he links it more explicitly to the soul’s lack of embodiment and incapacity for bodily action. I will argue that the view of Maximus and John is superior to that of Nemesius and, given its underlying Platonic metaphysics, provides an adequate response to the question.

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