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The End of the World?
Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 17, 2013

The end of the world was a very real concept in the Middle Ages, often expressed in terms as imaginative and horrific as today’s Hollywood films. Dante’s Inferno and the paintings of artists such as Breughel and Bosch are some examples. The religious imagination of the day reflected not only a perception of deep sinfulness but the eternal punishment that would follow.

Francis would have understood these portrayals, and the theology behind them, quite well. Life was often brutal and short due to both violence and disease.

Roving bands of penitents, particularly during times of plague, made a show of undergoing physical punishments for their own sins and those of others. Francis himself used various physical scourges to discipline his body.

We have a different understanding of these things in our own day. But it can be helpful even now to reflect on the ways in which our own personal sin and the sins of our society can lead to death and destruction, whether physical or spiritual. The violence of the 21st century is different than that of the Middle Ages, but no less pervasive.

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