Eschatology—The First Period

(80 250 A.D.)

In our preceding article we had called the attention of our readers to the statement of the late Rev. H. Hoeksema, to the effect that the answer which the Apostolic Fathers gave to the question concerning the condition of the souls before the resurrection and immediately after death was rather vague. And then we quoted from Philip Schaaf, Vol. 11, 599 ff., verifying this observation of Rev. Hoeksema. We now continue this quotation:

8. With the idea of the imperfection of the middle state and the possibility of progressive amelioration, is connected the commemoration of the departed, and prayer in their behalf. No trace of the custom is found in the New Testament nor in the canonical books of the Old, but an isolated example, which seems to imply habit, occurs in the age of the Maccabees, when Judas Maccabaeus and his company offered prayer and sacrifice for those slain in battle,

“that they might be delivered from sin.” In old Jewish service books there are prayers for the blessedness of the dead. The strong sense of the communion of saints unbroken by death easily accounts for the rise of a similar custom among the early Christians. Tertullian bears clear testimony to its existence at his time. “We offer,” he says, “oblations for the dead on the anniversary of their birth,” i.e. their celestial birth day. He gives it as a mark of a Christian widow, that she prays for the soul of her husband, and requests for him refreshment and fellowship in the first resurrection; and that she offers sacrifice on the anniversaries of his falling asleep. Eusebius narrates that at the tomb of Constantine a vast crowd of people, in company with the priests of God, with tears and great lamentation offered their prayers to God for the emperor’s soul. Augustine calls prayer for the pious dead in the Eucharistic sacrifice an observance of the universal church, handed down

from the fathers. He himself remembered in prayer his godly mother at her dying request.

This is confirmed by the ancient liturgies, which express in substance the devotions of the ante Nicene age, although they were not committed to writing before the fourth century. The commemoration of the pious dead is an important part in the Eucharistic prayers. Take the following from the Liturgy of St. James: “Remember, O Lord God, the spirits of whom we have made mention, and of whom we have not made mention, who are of the true faith, from righteous Abel unto this day; do Thou Thyself give them rest there in the land of the living, in Thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise, in the Bosom of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, our holy fathers; whence pain and grief and lamentation have fled away: there the light of Thy countenance looks upon them, and gives them fight for evermore.” The Clementine Liturgy in the eighth book of the “Apostolical Constitutions” has likewise a prayer “for those who rest in faith,” in these words: “We make an offering to Thee for all Thy saints who have pleased Thee from the beginning of the world, patriarchs, prophets, just men, apostles, martyrs, confessors, bishops, elders, deacons, subdeacons, singers, virgins, widows, laymen, and all whose names Thou Thyself knowest.”

To Be Continued