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Hell and Its RivalsDeath and Retribution among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Early Middle Ages$
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Alan E. Bernstein

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781501707803

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501707803.001.0001

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Gregory the Great

Gregory the Great

Order in Chaos

(p.33) Chapter 1 Gregory the Great
Hell and Its Rivals

Alan E. Bernstein

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines Gregory the Great’s doctrine of hell. Gregory’s account of postmortem punishment reveals how as pope he declares dogma, as a scholar he expounds theology, and as a preacher he tells exemplary tales. His flair for paradox allowed him to pursue difficult analyses by combining opposed pairs to explain, for example, how the pains of hell could confound the damned and gratify the saints. If “things are images through which we consider the nature of their causes,” then Gregory’s statement articulates a cosmos in which a just Judge corrects all wrongs and rewards all righteousness. The balance he asserts between continuity and contrast in his punishments links the lives of sinners to their pains after death, still haunted by their old obsessions. The disorder in the desires of the damned distorts their perceptions of reality, but the confusion they suffer in hell can be understood outside. Through paradox, chaos becomes order.

Keywords:   Gregory the Great, hell, paradox, damnation, gratification, saints, punishment, death

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