Mortalism 3: The Medieval Era

Conditional immortality was retained through the late medieval era and early Middle Ages by Jewish commentators such as Isaac of Nineveh[1] [2] (d.700), Abraham Ibn Ezra[3] [4] (1092-1167), Maimonides [5] [6] (1135-1204), and Joseph Albo[7] (1380-1444).

Persian Christian Ab al-Farag Hibat Allah ibn Al-‘Assal, believed souls (though conscious when dead), would not receive final reward or punishment until the resurrection.[8]

Views also changed as purgatory was rejected,[9] and defending the immortal soul from ‘Scripture alone’ proved difficult,[10] with serious consequences.[11]

Notable conditionalists of this era include:

l  -1384: John Wycliffe [12]

l  1490-1527: Michael Sattler[13] [14]

l  1527-1700[15]: Anabaptists[16] [17]

l  1494-1536: William Tyndale[18]

l  1540: Camillo Rentao[19]

l  1500-1545: Matyas Devai[20]

l  1511-1553: Michael Servetus[21]

l  d. 1562: Laelius Socinus[22]

l  1563: Faustus Socinus[23]

l  1565: Polish Brethren[24]

l  1504-1568: Dirk Philips[25]

l  1568: Gregory Paul[26]

l  1570-1800: Socinians[27]

l  1573: John Frith[28]

l  1574: George Schomann[29]

l  1576: Simon Budny[30]


[1] Also known as ‘Isaac the Syrian’, or ‘Isaac Syrus’.

[2] ‘”Isaac,” too, is convinced that the final reward and punishment for human deeds awaits the resurrection (e.g., Bedjan 724.4 from bottom). Then those who died in “peace and quiet” with the lord will find eternal peace (Bedjan 276.15), while sinners will be banished to a darkness far away from God (Bedjan 117f.). Gehenna, the kingdom of the demons (Bedjan 203.4 from bottom), is a place of fire, and on the day of judgment this fire will burst forth from the bodies of the damned (Bedjan 73.4.; 118.3-7). Until the resurrection, the dead must wait in Sheol, which the author seems to imagine as a collective grave (Bedjan 366.3 from bottom; 368.5; 369.4). Some passages in the corpus suggest that the dead continue to act, in Sheol, as they have during life (e.g., Bedjan 90.13; 366.10-18). Others declare that action for good or ill is no longer possible after death (e.g., Bedjan 392.4 from bottom), and even envisage Sheol, before the judgment, as a place of fire ruled over by Satan (Bedjan 93.4f.).’, Daley, ‘The hope of the early church: a handbook of patristic eschatology’, pp. 174-175 (1991).

[3] ‘But Ibn Ezra held that the souls of the wicked perish with their bodies.’, Davidson, ‘The Doctrine of Last Things Contained in the New Testament, Compared With Notions of the Jews and the Statements of Church Creeds’, p. 139 (1882).

[4]The medieval thinker who most approximates Maimonides’ own view is Abraham ibn Ezra (1092–1167). In his commentary to Dan. 12:2, he accepts the notion of a double dying, with the second resurrection remaining totally spiritual.’, Gillman, ‘Death and Afterlife, Judaic Doctrines Of’, in Neusner, ‘The Encyclopedia of Judaism’, volume 1, p. 206 (2000).

[5] ‘Maimonides claims that since the greatest punishment would be to lose one’s immortal soul, the souls of the wicked are destroyed along with their bodies.’, Rudavsky, ‘Maimonides’, p. 105 (2010).

[6]His view posits a theory of a double dying: we die once, we are then resurrected sometime around the coming of the Messiah (which, for Maimonides, is a period independent of and prior to “the age to come”); we then die a second time, and, after that, in the age to come, the souls of the righteous achieve the ultimate reward reserved for souls alone, as he described in Helek. Resurrection and spiritual immortality are both true, but they emerge sequentially.’, Gillman, ‘Death and Afterlife, Judaic Doctrines Of’, in Neusner, ‘The Encyclopedia of Judaism’, volume 1, p. 205 (2000).

[7]Maimonides’ views are reasserted by Joseph Albo (1380–1444) in his Book of Principles.’, ibid., p. 206.

[8] ‘The author advocated the belief that souls, though conscious of their destiny during the period between death and resurrection, enter the final state of blessedness or punishment only after reunion with the body.’, Meinardus, ‘Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity’, p. 59 (2010).

[9] ‘Beliefs and practices relating to the dead represented a thread visibly protruding from the theological and devotional apparel of traditional religion. It did not take long for both defenders and assailants of the old order to understand that if this thread were pulled upon vigorously enough, the entire fabric might start to unravel.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England’, p. 47 (2002).

[10] ‘As did Calvin, Martyr took upon himself a Herculean task in trying to uphold the immortality of the soul with a handful of vague New Testament texts (e.g. Luke, 23:43) against the defenders of soul sleep who had a plentiful supply of denials of immortality garnered from the early strata of the Old Testament.’, Donelley, ‘Calvinism and Scholasticism in Vermigli’s doctrine of man and grace’, pp. 99-100 (1976).

[11] ‘Beliefs and practices relating to the dead represented a thread visibly protruding from the theological and devotional apparel of traditional religion. It did not take long for both defenders and assailants of the old order to understand that if this thread were pulled upon vigorously enough, the entire fabric might start to unravel.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England’, p. 47 (2002).

[12] ‘During the pre-Reformation period, there seems to be some indication that both Wycliffe and Tyndale taught the doctrine of soul sleep as the answer to the Catholic teachings of purgatory and masses for the dead.’, Morey, ‘Death and the Afterlife’, p. 200 (1984).

[13] ‘He has written at length on psychopannychism, the doctrine of soul sleep, widely held in the sixteenth century by such diverse figures as Camillo Renato, Michael Sattler, and for a while, Martin Luther.’, Williams, Petersen, & Pater (eds.), ‘The contentious triangle: church, state, and university: a festschrift in in Honor of Professor George Huntston Williams’, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, volume 2, p. (1999).

[14] ‘It appears that Sattler came to hold the doctrine of psychopannychism, or sleep of the soul’, Synder, The life and thought of Michael Sattler’, p. 130 (1984).

[15] Generally accepted date of the Anabaptists’ emergence as a distinctive community, represented by the Schleitheim Confession, a statement of faith written by Swiss Anabaptists at a meeting led by Michael Sattler.

[16] ‘Many who became Anabaptists also believed that the soul is not naturally immortal but “sleeps” between death and the final resurrection. Some affirmed, further, that only the righteous would be resurrected, while the unrighteous would simply remain dead. Many denied hell. The Venice Synod affirmed soul sleep and rejected hell (ibid., pp. 871-72).’, Finger, ‘A contemporary Anabaptist theology: biblical, historical, constructive’, p. 42 (2004).

[17] ‘At a synod of 1550 in Venice, the unorthodox Italian Anabaptists denied the existence of the Devil and hell, as well as the existence of angels, the virgin birth, and the divinity of Christ.’, Russell, ‘Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World’, p. 49 (1990)

[18] ‘The belief that the soul goes to sleep at the death of the body to await eventual resurrection was held by both Martin Luther and William Tyndale’, Watts, ‘The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution’, p. 119 (1985).

[19] ‘The Italian Anabaptist movement has been traced to the leadership of Camillo Renato, a Sicilian scholar who escaped from imminent danger in Italy to settle in southern Switzerland and who, in the 1540s, held the position “that the soul of man is by nature mortal, and dies with the body, to be raised at the last day in another forum, though the souls of the wicked will perish.”’, Simmonds, ‘Milton Studies’, volume 8, p. 193 (1975).

[20]One might add that the sleep of the dead was affirmed by the Hungarian reformer, Matyas-Biro Devay (ca. 1500 – ca. 1545).’, Vauchez, ‘The History of Conditionalism’, Andrews University Seminary Studies (4.2. 198-199), 1966.

[21]Servetus also believed the soul to be but mortal, with immortality bestowed only by the grace of Christ at the resurrection. In other words, he also held to Conditional Immortality.’, ibid., p. 115.

[22]In Poland and Lithuania the mortalist cause was advanced by Laelius Socinus, who left among his papers a work concerning the resurrection, De resurrectione corporum, which, “following Camillo Renato . . . attempted to replace the V Lateran teaching of the natural immortality of the soul”.’, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 36 (2008).

[23] ‘Faustus himself came to hold the Paduan view of man’s natural mortality and the death of the soul with the body,’, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 37 (2008).

[24] ‘When Sozzini arrived in Poland, the Polish Brethren already shared many of his beliefs, such as antitrinitarianism, the denial of the literal preexistence of Christ, psychopannychism [soul sleep] and the emphasis on the moral commandments of the Gospel.’, Snobelen, ‘Revelation and Reason: The Development, Rationalization and Influence of Socinianism’, honors thesis, p. 46 (1993).

[25] ‘Resurrection, moreover, would be a future historical event, not simply the soul’s entrance into heaven or hell at death. Soul sleep would apparently precede the resurrection, for this would awaken all people, who had been “at rest from death.”‘, Finger, ‘A contemporary Anabaptist theology: biblical, historical, constructive’, p. 536 (2004).

[26] ‘Gregory Paul had followed Laelius and, since 1568, had taught that the soul, like the body, is mortal, awaiting the resurrection.’, Williams, ‘The Radical Reformation’, p. 739 (1962).

[27] ‘But among philosophers they were perhaps equally notorious for their commitment to the mortalist heresy; this is the doctrine that denies the existence of a naturally immortal soul.’, Jolley, ‘The relation between theology and philosophy’, in Garber & Ayres (eds.), ‘The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century philosophy’, volume 1, p. 383 (2003).

[28] ‘Tracy had looked forward to the ‘resurrection of body and soul’, a phrase that left him open to charges of denying the soul’s immortality. Frith defended him from this, but glossed the phrase to refer to ‘the soule whiche in the meane ceason semeth to lye secret‘. According to the hostile account of Germaine Gardiner, Frith stated during his last imprisonment ‘that he thought no sayntes soule came in heven before the day of dome/but in the meane season reposed hym selfe he wiste not where‘.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the dead in Reformation England’, p. 223 (2002).

[29] ‘…Schomann outlined a number of distinctive beliefs, including believers’ baptism by immersion, psychopannychism, [soul sleep]’, Snobelen, ‘Revelation and Reason: The Development, Rationalization and Influence of Socinianism’, honors thesis, p. 34 (1993).

[30]There is no possible ambiguity, however, with the energetic Simon Budny, the anti-Trintiarian leader in Lithuania and Little Poland, who in 1576 openly advocated a form of thnetopsychism, declaring that the soul was nothing more than the life of the body and had no independent existence.’, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 37 (2008).

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