By the time of the early Medieval period, the conception of heaven as the place of beatific vision was firmly established by authors such as Pseudo-Dionysius and Gregory the Great (Russell, 93, 96). Nonetheless, it is important to note theologians still affirmed physicality of the resurrected body (Russell, 95). In popular discourse, people still described heaven in physical terms and often as a garden or a city. With the revival of towns, heaven was more often described as a city (McDannell and Lang, 72-73). It is not clear whether these physical paradises were conceived to be located in the present world or in heaven. The latter is most likely.
As interest in astronomy grew, theologians began to locate heaven in the outermost of the heavenly spheres as a realm of pure light. Thomas Aquinas did not deny the existence of a future new earth (though he did deny that it would have any plant or animal life). Nonetheless, in Aquinas’ thought the saints will do nothing but contemplate God in the eternal state (McDannell and Lang, 82-83, 89).
During the Renaissance the conception of heaven as a static place of contemplation gave way to a two-tiered vision of eternity. Above was the New Jerusalem as the dwelling of God and below was a garden paradise. The redeemed could move between contemplation of God above and the joys of human reunion and companionship below (McDannell and Lang, 119, 142-43).
The reformers Luther and Calvin both affirmed the restoration of earth and the access of the saints to both the restored earth and heaven. Unlike Aquinas, Luther and Calvin believed plants and animals would exist on the restored earth. The focus of the eternal state remained the worship of God (McDannell and Lang, 154f.). Diversity of views existed among the theological descendants of the Reformers. In his The Saints Everlasting Rest, the puritan Richard Baxter emphasized the delight in and knowledge of God that the saints will experience. The puritan Cotton Mather spoke of a re-created earth, but it is difficult to tell if he saw this as a millennial or eternal habitation (Smolinski, ed., 268ff.).
McDannell, Colleen and Bernhard Lang. Heaven: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
Russell, Jeffery Burton. A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
Smolinski, Reiner, ed. The Threefold Paradise of Cotton Mather: An Edition of ‘Triparadisus.’ Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.