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NYRB features “Heaven’s Purge” by U’s Isabel Moreira

Moreira_Heaven's Purge

An ever-tantalizing subject – sin – has been revisited in the Dec. 20 issue of the New York Review of Books with help from two books, one by University of Utah professor of history Isabel Moreira.

Moreira_Heaven's PurgeMoreira’s Heaven’s Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2010) is discussed in depth in a feature article entitled “The Risks of Being Christian” by Peter Brown as he traces the history of sin in the early church. Brown, noted scholar and professor of history emeritus at Princeton, turns to Moreira’s work following a discussion of sin in the earliest years of Christianity.

Pivoting mid-essay, he continues: “This is where we leave Augustine in 430. For the next chapter in the history of sin in Western Europe, we can turn to the recent important work of Isabel Moreira, Heaven’s Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity. Moreira picks up the story of sin … and carries it deep into the early Middle Ages in the West. She deals with the emergence, between 400 and 800 CE, of a highly distinctive solution to the problem of sin, which we commonly associate with the Western, Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.” Considering why the “world beyond the grave slowly but surely filled up with vivid scenes that would nourish the imagination of Catholic Europe up to the present…” Brown allows that “Moreira answers this question with a book that is thoughtful, learned, and refreshingly independent-minded” noting further that “what she presents instead is worthy of attention.” The complete review is available online.

Isabel Moreira is professor and chair of history at the U. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in history from the University of St. Andrews. She is the author of numerous studies of religion and society in late antiquity and the early middle ages. Heaven’s Purge is her latest book.