In our time it is becoming increasingly clear that man himself, his very existence, is in question, and it is becoming increasingly clear that we are living in a critical, extremely critical moment in history, and it is possible (and even probable) that we are living in the end times.
Epidemics and wars are decimating millions of lives, in the SMO, the world has been brought to the brink of a nuclear war that, once started, could end humanity's existence.
At the same time, the horizons of the post-human future are becoming clearer in philosophy and science. The theory of the singularity, the transfer of initiative to the artificial intellect, advances in genetic engineering, the refinement of robotics, attempts at the fusion of man and machine (creation of cyborgs) - all of these are calling into question the very existence of man, suggesting that we should turn this page of history and decisively enter the era of post-humanism, of transhumanism.
In such a situation, it is extremely important to address anthropological questions again, with the utmost seriousness. If man is on the brink of extinction, of annihilation, of fundamental and irreversible mutation, then what is he? What was he? What is his essence and mission? By approaching the limit, man can better revise his forms and thus know his essence, his eidos.
This revision can be done in many different ways. It all depends on the original point of view. Each scientific or ideological paradigm will proceed from its own structures. In this article, we aim to make sense of man above all in the context of Christian eschatology, but in order to clarify how Christian doctrine represents man, his nature and destiny in the last times, an excursion into a more general problem of religious anthropology in general is necessary first.
The dualism of humanity in the Last Judgement
The end of the world in the Christian tradition (as well as in other versions of monotheism) is described in detail. The culmination of all world history will be the moment of the Last Judgement. And here we encounter a main feature of eschatological anthropology: dualism, the final division of humanity into two groups, represented by the images of lambs (cattle, flock - πρόβατον) and goats (ἔριφος). The lambs are the elect who will receive a good response at the Last Judgement. The goats are the damned, destined for eternal destruction. The lambs go to the right, towards salvation, the goats go to the left, towards damnation.
The Gospel of Matthew [ch. 25, verses 31-36] describes this division in this way:
31. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne, and all the nations will be gathered before him;
32. He will separate one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
33. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
34. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
35. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me;
36. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
35. ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγει̃ν ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με
36. γυμνòς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με ἐν φυλακη̨̃ ἤμην καὶ ἤλθατε πρός με.
This formulation suggests that the division occurs between nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη), but tradition interprets it as a division between persons on a deeper - ontological - principle. The sheep are those whose nature proves to be good. The goats - and here the reference to the Jewish rite of the expiatory goat's banishment is clear - are those who have turned decisively to the side of evil.
Eschatology therefore sees the end of human history not as a unity, not ex pluribus unum, but precisely as a division, a bifurcation, a fundamental crossroads.
Humanity is bifurcated in the Last Judgement, completely and irreversibly. The result of its existence in time is the distribution into two wholes, which in this state of bifurcation enter eternity. This is no longer a stage, nor an intermediate position, but precisely an irreversible end. Man's end is the absolute and irrevocable decision of God in the Last Judgement.
Thus, eschatology strictly states that the omega point for humanity will be its bifurcation, its division into sheep and goats. On the damned - as scapegoats - will be symbolically placed all the sins of humanity, and as such they will be separated from the others, whose sins will instead be forgiven by divine Grace.
The special unity of the Church
Thus, man's end will be his bifurcation. Biblical tradition makes human history begin with Adam and Paradise. Man was created as a whole and his division into man and woman (Eve's creation) was the prelude to the fall into sin and further fragmentation. The end result of the entire historical process will be the Last Judgement. It can be said that the general vector of history moves from unity to duality.
Christian teaching is based on the fact that, in the final stages of sacred history, the process of falling into sin was overcome by the voluntary sacrifice of the Son of God, Christ, who re-established - but on another ontological level - the original unity, uniting the dispersed people into a new totality - the Church of Christ. The unity of the Church restores the unity of Adam and transforms that part of humanity that at the Last Judgement will be counted among the sheep, the flock of Christ.
However, this unity is not mechanical, it is not the result of the sum of all. The unity and integrity of the Church, as emphasised in the Creed ('I believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church'), includes only those who are saved. The Gospel parable about the guests at the wedding banquet tells this: "Many are the guests, but few are the elect" (Matthew 22:14).
In the end, the unity of the Church consists in the communion of the elect - the saints, the saved, those who have accepted Christ and remained faithful to this choice until their last breath. Sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God, but will be cast out of it; they have no part in the 'next age'. Their fate is total ruin, sinking into the abyss. Therefore, the unity of the Church does not include those who have departed from it of their own accord.
One should look more closely at the Gospel image of the division into sheep and goats. Obviously, there is a clear reference here to the Old Testament rite of sacrifice, in which an animal (sheep and bulls) was separated from the sacrificial animals, which became the 'scapegoat' (in Hebrew 'azazel' - עֲזָאזֵֽל; the expression לַעֲזָאזֵֽל is literally 'for complete removal'). In the Septuagint this expression was translated as ἀποπομπαῖος τράγος, in Latin caper emissarius.
The book of Leviticus gives this description of Aaron's sacrifice:
21. And Aaron shall put both his hands upon the head of the living goat, and shall confess upon it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their sins, and shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send it away with a messenger into the wilderness:
22. The goat shall bring all their iniquities into the impenetrable land, and he shall send the goat into the wilderness.
On other occasions, the 'scapegoat' was thrown off a cliff. This ritual clearly resonates with the Gospel account of how Christ healed a possessed man in the village of Gardarins by commanding the demons to come out of him and inhabit a nearby herd of pigs. The demons obeyed, and then the herd rushed towards the precipice and fell into the abyss. In this case, the role of the scapegoat was that of a herd of pigs, which took upon itself the sins for which the possessed person suffered.
According to tradition, a piece of red wool was tied to the goat to be sent into the desert. The Old Testament priest would tear off part of it as the goat passed through the city gates and hang it in plain sight. If God had accepted the purification sacrifice, the cloth would have miraculously turned white.
It is important to note that the scapegoat was separate from the sacrificial animals, which were considered pure, and represented a special sacrifice. The complex symbolism of the scapegoat associated it with the fallen angel, Satan, but remained entirely within the structure of Jewish monotheism. In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (Book of Enoch, chapter 8:1) Azazel appears as the name of one of the 'fallen angels'.
In ancient Greece, a similar rite was associated with the ritual execution of a criminal who took away the sins of the community (φαρμακός, κάθαρμα, περίψημα). In this we can probably recognise echoes of the ancient cults of Dionysus (the French philosopher René Girard based his philosophical system on an analysis of the figure of the scapegoat). Here it must be emphasised that the final destiny of humanity at the Last Judgement divides it into a sacrifice pleasing to God (the sheep, and it is no coincidence that the lamb symbolises Christ himself), and those who are removed, separated, cut off, fallen from the main flock (humanity). The sheep are not pleasing to God, are not accepted by Him and are therefore rejected - they perish without a trace in the wilderness or fall into the abyss.
One may recall the story of the two sons of Adam (the unity of mankind), Abel and Cain. Abel's sacrifice is accepted and Cain's is rejected. The creation of Eve (the division of mankind), the eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (once again the duality opposed to the unity of the tree of life) and the birth of Cain and Abel (the story of the first murder) are all initial prototypes of the end of human history, the final sacrifice in the Last Judgement.
Thus, at the end of the world, the duality of humanity, manifested in its irreversible division, becomes fully explicit, explicit, but implicitly this division already begins in paradise.