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This Advent, it’s time to start thinking about the end of the world

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Paradiso, Canto 31, by Gustav Dore. Image: Wikimedia Commons

This Advent, it is time to start thinking about the end of the world. While the apocalypse may not be a popular dinner topic in most households, such thinking is totally consistent with the church’s liturgical year, which culminated last Sunday with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

On this feast, we heard in the second reading (1 Cor 15:20–26) that the Lord’s resurrection is the “first fruits” of the final conquest of death, a victory that will take place “when he comes” in the final days.

And in the Gospel (Mt 25:31–46) we heard that at that time the world will behold the Son of Man separating the sheep from the goats. Indeed, he will judge each of us according to the degree of love we have had for others.

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In other words, we enter Advent meditating on the seriousness of the call to conversion, while also reflecting on the promise of Christ’s second coming. When he comes, he will eternally renew a world that is good, but marred by our failures and sins.

Faith in Christ is established in the hope that the victory that he has wrought over death and sin is anticipated within his holy body, the church.

One day—at his second coming—we trust that this victory will be made permanently available to the righteous in the final or general resurrection. That this is a cause for joyous hope is made clear by the author of Revelation (21:4):

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

The study of theme of the “last things”—death, judgement, heaven and hell—is called “eschatology,” from the Greek word eschaton, meaning last. This is understood in both a personal sense—in that we will all experience these final stages at the end of our mortal lives—and in a general sense as pertaining to the final judgement and resurrection.

Scholars approach eschatology in a variety of ways, including historically—by asking just what early and medieval Christians believed about the end of the world, and the implications their beliefs have for contemporary society.

For example, previous generations were interested in the literal reign of Christ on Earth for a thousand years, otherwise known as millenarianism—something St Augustine interpreted spiritually, as taking place within the church until the second coming.

Eschatology also has sociological implications, even in a secular world. Remember the prediction that the world would end in the year 2000, thanks to the Y2K bug?

On 9-10 February 2024, the University of Notre Dame will host its fifth Theology at the Beginning of the Third Millennium conference, with eschatology as its subject. For those who wish to delve deeper into the study of this crucial field of theology, Notre Dame is offering a bespoke course entitled Eschatology: The Living Hope of Christians.

This course will take place on Saturdays in February and will include attendance at the conference. It’s open to both current students and those who wish to enrol as auditors or not for degree.

Both the conference and course are a fantastic opportunity to come to grips with this vital and challenging subject—one that helps us to see how the baby asleep in the manger is also the one who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

For more information on UNDA’s course Eschatology: The Living Hope of Christians, contact Dr Mario Baghos, Senior Lecturer (Theology), at [email protected]

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