Spätmittelalter und Frühe Neuzeit: Sterben, Tod und Jenseits – Nach dem Tod

Was erwartete den Menschen – seinen Körper, seine Seele – nun nach dem Tod?

Wenn der Tod eines Menschen nicht gerade in Zeiten des massenhaften Sterbens eintrat, vermochte der Glaube an ein Leben nach dem Tod und das Eingebundensein des Individuums in die Gesellschaft mitsamt seinen Riten und Traditionen den Tod leichter ertragbar zu machen.

Man starb, wie gesagt, nicht allein – Freunde, Nachbarn und Verwandte waren um das Bett versammelt, um dem Sterbenden beizustehen. Nach dem Dahinscheiden folgten das Einkleiden des Leichnams, Gebete, die Totenwache und das Begräbnis.

Und die Seele?

Im Laufe der Geschichte gab es bezüglich der Frage, was nach dem Tod der „sterblichen Hülle“ mit der Seele geschieht, unterschiedliche Auffassungen. Dies lag und liegt u.a. an den wiedersprüchlichen Aussagen der Heiligen Schriften. So lässt sich aus dem Matthäus-Evangelium (Matthäus 25) herauslesen, dass alle Menschenseelen nach ihrem Tod vor dem Richter Christus erscheinen und von ihm gerichtet werden: Die Guten (die Schafe) stellt er zu seiner Rechten, die Bösen (die Böcke) zu seiner Linken. Zwischen Gut und Böse gibt es nichts.

Das Weltgericht nach Johannes (Kap. 5) hingegen müssen die Guten nicht gerichtet werden: Sie gehen direkt vom Tod in das (neue) Leben über. Auf die Bösen wartet das Gericht. Damit dieses Gericht überhaupt Sinn macht, so folgerten die mittelalterlichen Theologen, besteht für die Bösen auch die Chance auf den Eingang in das himmlische Paradies. Zwischen den Guten und Bösen stehe demnach noch der „Halbgute“. (Jezler, Jenseitsmodelle, S. 15 f.)

Diese „Halbguten“ benötigen hingegen noch eine Reinigung. Diese erfolge im Fegefeuer, das im Gegensatz zu Himmel und Hölle ein endlicher Zustand sei. Nach Jacques Le Goff fand, trotz einiger Vorläufer, Ende des 12. Jahrhunderts die “Geburt des Fegefeuers” statt. Wie lange die Reinigung dauern sollte, hing nach Auffassung der Theologen von den begangenen Sünden ab – aber auch von den Gebeten und stellvertretenden Bußleistungen der (auf der Erde) Lebenden. Dadurch konnte die Leidenszeit der „armen Seelen“ verkürzt werden.

In der Ikonographie zeigte sich erst seit dem 17. Jahrhundert eine „explosionsartige Häufung der Purgatoriumsdarstellungen“, freilich v.a. in katholischen Ländern. (Wiebel-Fanderl, Fegefeuer- und Armenseelenkult, S. 243ff.) Gegen die mit der Lehre des Fegefeuers zusammenhängende Ablasspraxis formierte sich bekanntlich im Zuge der Reformation immer größerer Widerstand. So gab es im 18. Jahrhundert gar das Verbot, für die Toten zu beten. (Ariès, Geschichte des Todes, S. 587f.) Ein Anrecht auf den Himmel konnte man sich nach Ansicht der Reformatoren nicht erwerben – die unendliche Gnade Gottes war für das Eingehen ins Himmelreich zwingend erforderlich.

weiter: Nachwort

Anhang: Bilder zur Geschichte von Sterben, Tod und Jenseits

Unbekannter: Ein Sterbender empfiehlt Gott seine Seele (aus einem Stundenbuch), 15. Jh.; Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale

5555 Meisterwerke, CD-ROM, Digitale Galerie, 2001

Unbekannter: Ein Sterbender empfiehlt Gott seine Seele (aus einem Stundenbuch), 15. Jh.; Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Quelle: 5555 Meisterwerke, CD-ROM, Digitale Galerie, 2001 (Directmedia)

An einem Ort des Todes liegt ein soeben Verstorbender, dessen Seele ausgefahren ist. Seine letzten Worte lauten: „Herr, in Deine Hände lege ich meine Seele.“

Eine teuflische Gestalt hat sich die Seele gepackt, doch mehrere Engel kämpfen noch um sie: Einer, wohl der Erzengel Michael, ist hält den Teufel an dessen Schopf und schwingt das Schwert. Im Hintergrund sind schemenhaft weitere Engel zu erkennen, die auf das „böse“ Wesen einstechen.

Recht unbeteiligt schaut Gott nicht auf den Kampf, sondern zur Erde hinab.

weiter: Nachwort

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