Sleep of the Soul

Jump to: navigation, search

Sleep of the Soul, the doctrine that the human soul passes into a state of sleep or dormancy at death, from which it will not awake until Christ appears for judgment. Many of its adherents understood it to be a state of forgetfulness, a sort of dream life without consciousness. Thus the ancient Greeks had the concept that the departed would drink of the stream of forgetfulness (Lethe), which obliterated all memory of their past life. Similar views are found in Christendom. Paulsen, for instance, says, "The imagery of the soul's sleep expresses the nature of the interim state of the soul; the idea that the soul sleeps is substantiated by those who have been roused from the dead, inasmuch as the awakened ones can give no information about death, as would be the case if they had remained fully conscious." Others, on the other hand, understand the sleep of the soul to be a sleep with consciousness (Schleiermacher in Morgenstern, No. 5, p. 98). Of Luther it is said that he "imagined the fathers and likewise the pious dead to be in a state of sleep, which was peaceful for them, because they were preserved and held in the faith in God's Word as in a womb" (Loofs, 779, note 8).

Calvin, in his Psychopannychia (1544), counts the Anabaptists as one of the groups believing in the sleep of the soul, which is, however, obviously an error (see especially Hulshof, 188, note 2). Also Friedrich Spannheim asserts that the Mennonites held the belief in the sleep of the soul; the assertion is vigorously refuted by Maatschoen. Karl Müller, the church historian of Tübingen, thought the doctrine was definitely held by the Anabaptists in the Romance countries. The fact is, there is no convincing evidence that such a belief was held by the Anabaptists or Mennonites anywhere.


Calvin, John. Psychopannychia. 1544, new edition by Walter Zimmerli, Leipzig, 1932, copies of both editions in Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, Indiana).

Fr. Loofs, Leitfaden zur Dogmengeschichte. 1906.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt; Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. IV, 144-145.

Hulshof, A. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinde te Straatsburg van 1525 tot 1557. Amsterdam.

Müller, Karl. Kirchengeschichte II. Tübingen, 1919: 121, passim.

Schijn, Hermann. Aanhangzel Dienende tot den Vervolg of Derde Deel van de Geschiedenis der Mennoniten .. . in het welke noch Negentien Leeraars der Mennoniten . . . Amsterdam: Kornelis de Wit, 1745: v. III.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neff, Christian. "Sleep of the Soul." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 21 Jun 2018.

APA style

Neff, Christian. (1959). Sleep of the Soul. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 June 2018, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 543. All rights reserved.

©1996-2018 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.