Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

George A. West


The world of the Middle Ages was one which constantly reminded man of his temporary nature and uncertain future. All around him, the medieval man witnessed disease, disaster and death. The bubonic plague mysteriously appeared in the fourteenth century to claim, according to some estimates, as much as one third of the population of the unknown world. Earthquakes, storms and droughts were considered by many as the signs of God’s displeasure with man, and he natural explanations of these phenomena were left to the later generations. Poor hygiene and inadequate knowledge of how to deal with the problems of overpopulation contributed to a death toll already boosted by wars. Death was an omnipresent possibility, and suffering was often its companion. Although women often outlived their male counterparts, the life expectancy of medieval man “fell short of the psalmist’s three score years and ten. Such life-spans were for the vigorous and robust. The heavy toll of infantile mortality exercised a natural selection for the survival of the fittest.” Each person was touched by the Great Leveler, and such an experience surely encouraged the contemplation of life’s brevity. Through the examination of the possibilities of a Christian afterlife, medieval man was first confronted with some basic questions about his god and an earthly experience. The resulting versions of Doomsday created by the artists and Church leaders sprang from the medieval attempts to understand the eternal punishment or reward in the terms of the temporary rewards of earthly life.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Literature, Medieval -- History and criticism
Confession in literature



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University