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The Birth of Purgatory Paperback – December 15, 1986

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jacques Le Goff is the author of Time, Work, and Culture, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (December 15, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226470830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226470832
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #813,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 24, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't want to quibble with the previous reviewer about what Le Goff's actual aims in writing this book were, or whether he should be penalized for not completely fulfilling his goals. But I will insist that this is a extraordinarily fascinating and highly successful survey of the gradual development of the idea of purgatory from the earliest wonderings about the relation between the Christian dead and the problems of purification of sin and the effects of the prayers of the living on the fate of the dead. Indeed, in all of this he succeeds remarkably. I'm not sure why the previous reviewer would imagine more than this would even be possible. There is a remarkable lack of primary and archival resources to make such a project possible. Even in tracing the theology, there are several centuries for which there is little evidence to assess. My own belief is that Le Goff has succeeded as well as we could ever hope for someone to do so in such a difficult concept.

The account falls into two rather uneven parts. Le Goff spends much time on the prehistory of the idea of purgatory, focusing on such "fathers" of purgatory as Clement of Alexandria, Origin, and especially Augustine. The story is a complex one, and I will not attempt to rehearse it here. The significant thing to point out is that from the period of Augustine there was remarkably little development of the idea of purgatory until the 12th century, when the Scholastics and other theologians resurrected the issues that had troubled Augustine and others and came to a general consensus on them.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on October 30, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
_The Birth of Purgatory_ is an English translation of the work of French medievalist Jacques le Goff on purgatory, published in 1984 by The University of Chicago Press. This study of the development of the idea of Purgatory is not meant to be a theological one but rather a discussion of how the development of the idea of Purgatory relates to belief and culture. While le Goff writes from a secular perspective, he is sufficiently sympathetic to Catholic belief and to the civilization of the medieval world to make this book a particularly important and interesting one for both Catholic and non-Catholic alike. As such, this book offers an excellent study of the birth, growth, and development of the idea of Purgatory as a place from ancient times to the culmination in Dante and church doctrine. The book tends to take a neutral perspective regarding Catholic doctrine and thus can be profitably read as a useful history of the development of Catholic doctrine concerning the afterlife and the role of Purgatory.

Le Goff begins his book by considering "The Third Place" and the role of Purgatory as it developed in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Le Goff argues that a great deal was at stake in this conflict, including the underpinnings of an entire social structure. Le Goff also examines "Before Purgatory", the role of such otherworldly locations as the Hebrew sheol, the Roman Hades and the Elysian Fields. Following this, le Goff considers the role of space in the formation of the concept of Purgatory, the logic and genesis of the idea of Purgatory, and the idea of the intermediate (mentioning the notion of the "refrigerium") and the role of penal imagery including fire.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JOHN A. BROUSSARD on April 21, 2010
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Europe at the turn of the 13th Century was on the cusp of a new era. Population was booming. Aristotle was rediscovered. Scholasticism was emerging. The Crusades were bringing back novelties and new ideas from the killing fields of the Near East. And Spain with its Moslem rulers was a haven for the new learning. All these factors combined to solidify a concept that had been aborning for almost a thousand years--the notion of a place where the souls of the not quite bad and the not quite good could be purged of their sins in the fires of Purgatory. Theologians and canonists had wrestled with the problem of what to do with this vast majority of mankind after departing from this earth. Now the solution was at hand. And the Eternal Church welcomed the idea and profited enormously from the fact that the living could now help the souls in Purgatory to gain access to Heaven. Le Goff has painstakingly accumulated the evidence for the evolution of this novel idea,from the first hints of it by Augustine and some other early church fathers to its final acceptance by the pope. All in all, a masterful accomplishment, thoroughly documented with a revealing look into how this concept finally became part and parcel of the belief systems of millions upon millions of the Catholic faithful.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Teddy W. Booth on May 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
Le Goff's book explores the role of Purgatory in Medieval Europe. He traces its development and use in Medieval Christianity from ghost stories to Biblical precedents. Overall, an excellent treatment of a medieval phenomenon and its far reaching effects.
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