On Development of Hell in the East and the West

Once upon a time, all of Christianity was united and believed everything the exact same way. Not really.

During the first millennium, Christianity become divided among the East and the West, generally along the lines of the Godhead and finally, after the primacy of the pope, the Great Schism happened. A lot of stuff there, actually, one which I wouldn’t dare to reignite.

This is the result of a conversation with Jeremy, so blame him.

But, in looking at the development of hell, I note that West has a fully fleshed out doctrine of eternal. The West is the Roman Catholic Church and all of the Protestants which inherited the doctrine. The West also has a doctrine on purgatory. The East, the various Orthodoxies, has a hell which is more akin to the West’s purgatory, in which there is remedial punishment which is limited.

The Jewish belief, generally, follows this line of thinking. (Yes, I am away of nuances, but I am going about the issue as an overarching premise.)

Is there a connection?

Let me try to put down on my paper (or a blog post) what is meandering through the skull.

  • The West was Latin, the East was Greek.
  • The West was centered in Rome, a metropolitan city which inherited the Roman and Greek philosophers. The East was not centered in one city, but spread out over Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
  • The West was ecclesiastically centered. The East was not. Each nation had its only ‘state church’.
  • The West diverted from the Semitic roots of Christianity. The East was forced to hold ties with the Semitic roots of Christianity
  • Because of the geographical locations, and the changing of languages and understanding of base languages, some things were taken literal, others not. Where as the West lost the Semitic root the East was able to maintain some of it.

So, does this help to explain why the doctrine of hell developed differently in the West and the East?….because the East actually was able to retain a very slim connection to Judaism?

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22 Replies to “On Development of Hell in the East and the West”

  1. “The West was centered in Rome, a metropolitan city which inherited the Roman and Greek philosophers.”

    I appreciate this point because Greco-Roman culture seems to have some version of eternal punishment. I’m not sure who all it’s for, but there was this one character who had to roll a stone around for all eternity.

  2. “The Jewish belief, generally, follows this line of thinking.”

    If by this you mean that Judaism “generally” taught a kind of purgatorial view, where did you get that idea? As far as I know, first century Judaism taught eternal torment and annihilationism as the dominant views, with eternal torment as a little more dominant. Any purgatorial view, again, as far as I know, was a minority report.

    1. Many Judaisms. Further, Hillel, from what I have read, taught at least some form or purgatorial views – granted, the Gentiles generally didn’t work out that well. Further, as Judaism developed, those views became more pronounced.

      1. I haven’t done too much reading on what happens to Gentiles in rabbinic literature—except to say that there’s a strain of thought saying they could enter the World to Come by keeping the seven Noachide laws. But there’s a person who comments on my blogger blog—Emet—who’s studied with an orthodox rabbi, and he says the rabbi told him that the purgatorial nature of Gehenna applies to Gentiles, too.

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