Millennialism

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This is an article on sociological Millennialism. You may be looking for the article on Christian Premillennialism.


Millennialism (or chiliasm), from millennium, which literally means "thousand years", is primarily a belief expressed in some Christian denominations, and literature, that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth where "Christ will reign" prior to the final judgment and future eternal state, primarily derived from the book of Revelation 20:1-6. Millennialism as such is a specific form of Millenarianism.

Among Christians who hold this belief, this is not the "end of the world", but the penultimate age, prior to when it is believed that the world will end. Some believe that between the millennium and the final end of the world there will be a brief period to allow a final battle with Satan, or a time of the Anti-Christ, followed by the last judgment.

Millennialism is also a doctrine of Zoroastrianism concerning successive thousand-year periods, each of which will end in a cataclysm of heresy and destruction, until the final destruction of evil and of the spirit of evil by a triumphant king of peace at the end of the final millennial age (supposed by some to be the year 2000). "Then Saoshyant makes the creatures again pure, and the resurrection and future existence occur" (Zand-i Vohuman Yasht 3:62).

Various other social and political movements, both religious and secular, have also been linked to millennialist metaphors by scholars.

Contents

[edit] The early church and premillennialism (chiliasm)

If millenarian beliefs are ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed in mainstream Christian theology today, this was not the case during the early Christian centuries. At least during the first four centuries, millennialism was normative in both East and West<ref>Theology Today, January 1997, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 464-476. On-line version here.</ref>. Tertullian, Commodian, Lactantius, Methodius, and Apollinaris of Laodicea all advocated premillennial doctrine. [1] (PDF file) In addition, according to religious scholar Rev. and Dr. Francis Nigel Lee the following is true, "Justin's 'Occasional Chiliasm' sui generis which was strongly anti-pretribulationistic was followed possibly by Pothinus in A.D. 175 and more probably (around 185) by Irenaeus -- although Justin Martyr, discussing his own premillennial beliefs in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 110, observed that they were not necessary to Christians:

I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.[2]

Around 220, there were some similar influences on Tertullian though only with very important and extremely optimistic (if not perhaps even postmillennial modifications and implications). On the other hand, 'Christian Chiliastic' ideas were indeed advocated in 240 by Commodian; in 250 by the Egyptian Bishop Nepos in his Refutation of Allegorists; in 260 by the almost unknown Coracion; and in 310 by Lactantius. [3]

Melito of Sardis is frequently listed as a second century proponent of premillennialism. <ref>Taylor, Voice of the Church, P. 66; Peters, Theocratic Kingdom, 1:495; Walvoord, Millennial Kingdom, p. 120; et al.</ref>. The support usually given for the supposition is that Jerome [Comm. on Ezek. 36 ] and Gennadius [De Dogm. Eccl., Ch. 52] both affirm that he was a decided millenarian.”<ref>Richard Cunningham Shimeall, Christ’s Second Coming: Is it Pre-Millennial or Post-Millennial? (New York: John F. Trow, 1865), p. 67. See also, Taylor, p. 66; Peters, 1:495; Jesse Forest Silver, The Lord’s Return (New York, et al.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1914), p. 66; W. Chillingworth, The Works of W. Chillingworth, 12th ed. (London: B. Blake, 1836), p.714; et al)</ref>.[4]

Chiliasm was, however, condemned as a heresy in the 4th century by the Church, which included the phrase whose Kingdom shall have no end in the Nicene Creed in order to rule out the idea of a Kingdom of God which would last for only 1000 literal years. Despite some writers' belief in millennialism, it was a decided minority view, as expressed in the nearly universal condemnation of the doctrine.

[edit] Christian millennialism following the Reformation

Christian views on the future order of events diversified after the Protestant reformation. In particular, new emphasis was placed on the passages in the Book of Revelation which seemed to say that Satan would be locked away for 1000 years, but then released on the world in a final battle (Rev. 20:1-6). Previous Catholic and Orthodox theologians had no clear or consensus view on what this actually meant (only the concept of an end of the world coming unexpected, "like a thief in a night", and the concept of "the antichrist" were almost universally held). Millennialist theories try to explain what this "1000 years of Satan in chains" would be like.

Various types of millennialism exist with regard to Christian Eschatology, especially within Protestantism, such as Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. The first two refer to different views of the relationship between the "millennial Kingdom" and Christ's second coming. Premillennialism sees Christ's second advent as preceding the millennium, thereby separating the second coming from the final judgment. In this view, "Christ's reign" will be physical. Postmillennialism see's Christ's second coming as subsequent to the millennium and consequent with the final judgment. In this view "Christ's reign" (during the millennium) will be spiritual in and through the church. Amillennialism basically denies a future literal 1000 year Kingdom and sees the church age metaphorically described in Rev. 20:1-6. In this view, "Christ's reign" is current in and through the church.

[edit] Pre-Christian millennialism

Although never officially recognized by the Catholic Church, millennialism, which had clearly already existed in Jewish thought, received a new interpretation and fresh impetus with the arrival of Christianity. A millennium is a period of one thousand years, and, in particular, Christ's thousand-year rule on this earth, either directly preceding or immediately following the Second Coming (and the Day of Judgement).

The millennium reverses the previous period of evil and suffering; it rewards the virtuous for their courage while punishing the evil-doers, with a clear separation of saints and sinners. The vision of a thousand-year period of bliss for the faithful, to be enjoyed here on earth ("heaven on earth"), exerted an irresistible power. Although the picture of life in the millennial era is almost willfully obscure and hardly more appealing than that of, say, the Golden Age, what has made the millennium much more powerful than the Golden Age or Paradise myths are the activities of the sects and movements that it has inspired. Throughout the ages, hundreds of sects were convinced that the millennium was imminent, about to begin in the very near future, with precise dates given on many occasions.

Premillennial sects look for signs of Christ's imminent return. Other chiliast sects, such as the prophetic Anabaptist followers of Thomas Müntzer, have believed that the millennium had already begun, with only their own members having realized this fact. Consequently, they have attempted to live out their own vision of millennial life, radically overturning the beliefs and practices of the surrounding society. In doing so, they offered a model of the good life and expressed their hope that soon the rest of the world would follow and live like they did.

See Christian eschatology for a discussion of "premillennialism" and "postmillennialism".

[edit] Transition to the Millennium

Millennial sects have typically believed that the transition from the present age to the millennium would be anything but smooth, with the Antichrist having to be defeated and Jesus' reign on earth having to be established. Millennial theories differ as to whether the battle with the Antichrist will occur before or after the 1000 years. Leaders of some movements have seen it as their responsibility to bring about the expected disastrous wars which would bring an end to the present age. Based on Revelation 20:3, some believe Satan's "Millennial Rebellion" will occur after the 1000 year peace. [5]

On the other hand, those who did not believe in the millennium also imagined the end of the world as chaotic and catastrophic. The word Apocalypse has been used for this final phase of human history as we know it, with Armageddon as the site of the last decisive battle on the Day of Judgement.

An (or the) Apocalypse [from Greek apo "off", "from", "away", "un-" and kalyptein "cover"] is,

  • in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a revelation of God's purposes with the main intention of encouraging an oppressed and suffering minority to have faith in God and of proclaiming his ultimate triumph;
  • in particular, the revelation of the future granted to John of the isle of Patmos, the author of the Bible's book of Revelation. Many consider this to be the same person as St John (one of the four evangelists), but this is now widely disputed by scholars. Revelation was written in Greek in the 1st century AD and burning with the conviction that the world is about to be destroyed and that Christ's Second Coming is at hand;

The Book of Revelation is not easy to interpret. Numerous painters and sculptors have produced works of art dealing with the Apocalypse. For example, they portrayed the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death.

[edit] Millennialism and Utopianism

The early Christian concept had ramifications far beyond strictly religious concern during the centuries to come, as it was blended and enhanced with ideas of utopia.

In the wake of early millennial thinking, the Three Ages philosophy (Drei-Reiche-Lehre) developed. Making use of the dogma of the Trinity, the Italian monk and theologian Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202) claimed that all of human history was a succession of three ages:

  1. the Age of the Father (the Old Testament)
  2. the Age of the Son (the New Testament)
  3. the Age of the Holy Spirit (the age of love, peace, and freedom)

It was believed that the Age of the Holy Spirit would begin at around 1260, and that from then on all believers would be living as monks, mystically transfigured and full of praise for God, for a thousand years until Judgement Day would put an end to the history of our planet.

In the Modern Era, with the impact of religion on everyday life gradually decreasing and eventually almost vanishing, some of the concepts of millennial thinking have found their way into various secular ideas, usually in the form of a belief that a certain historical event will fundamentally change human society (or has already done so). For example, the French Revolution seemed to many to be ushering in the millennial age of reason. Also, the philosophies of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (d. 1831) and Karl Marx (d. 1883) carried strong millennial overtones. As late as 1970, Yale law teacher Charles A. Reich coined the term "Consciousness III" in his best seller The Greening of America, in which he spoke of a new age ushered in by the hippie generation. However, these secular theories generally have little or nothing to do with the original millennial thinking, or with each other.

[edit] Millennialism and Nazism

The most controversial interpretation of the Three Ages philosophy and of millennialism in general is Hitler's "Third Reich" ("Drittes Reich", "Tausendjähriges Reich"), which, in his vision, would last for a thousand years - but which in reality only lasted for 12 years (1933-1945).

The phrase "Third Reich" was coined by the German thinker Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, who in 1923 published a book entitled Das Dritte Reich, which eventually became a catchphrase that survived the Nazi regime.

Looking back at German history, two periods were distinguished:

These were now to be followed -- after the interval of the Weimar Republic (1918 - 1933), during which constitutionalism, parliamentarism and even pacifism ruled -- by:

  • the "Third Reich" of Adolf Hitler.

In a speech held on 27 November 1937, Hitler commented on his plans to have major parts of Berlin torn down and rebuilt:

[...] einem tausendjährigen Volk mit tausendjähriger geschichtlicher und kultureller Vergangenheit für die vor ihm liegende unabsehbare Zukunft eine ebenbürtige tausendjährige Stadt zu bauen [...].
[...] to build a millennial city adequate [in splendour] to a thousand year old people with a thousand year old historical and cultural past, for its never-ending [glorious] future [...]

[edit] Millennialism and social movements

Outside of theology, the Hitler's Nazi movement has been described as Millennial or Millenarian in scholarly works. Millennial social movements are a specific form of Millenarianism that are based on some concept of a one thousand year cycle. Sometimes the two terms are used as synonyms, but this is not entirely accurate for a purist. Millennial social movements need not be religious, but they must have a vision of an apocalypse that can be utopian or distopian.

[edit] References

<references/>

[edit] Sources

  • Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, revised and expanded (New York: Oxford University Press, [1957] 1970).
  • Michael Barkun, Disaster and the Millennium (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974) (ISBN 0-300-01725-1)
  • James M. Rhodes, The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution (Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1980). (ISBN 0-8179-7131-9)
  • Robert Wistrich, Hitler’s Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985). (ISBN 0-312-38819-5)
  • Richard K. Fenn, The End of Time: Religion, Ritual, and the Forging of the Soul (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1997). (ISBN 0-8298-1206-7 or ISBN 0-281-04994-7)
  • Jeffrey Kaplan, Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997). (ISBN 0-8156-2687-8 or ISBN 0-8156-0396-7)
  • Jon R. Stone (ed.), Expecting Armageddon (London & NY: Routledge, 2000). (ISBN 0-415-92331-X)
  • Robert Ellwood, ‘Nazism as a Millennialist Movement’, in Catherine Wessinger (ed.), Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000). (ISBN 0-8156-2809-9 or ISBN 0-8156-0599-4)

[edit] External links

[edit] See also

Concepts of Heaven
Judeo-Christian Kingdom of God | Garden of Eden · Paradise | New Jerusalem | Pearly gates
Islamic Jannah | Houri | Sidrat al-Muntaha
Mormon Celestial Kingdom | Spirit world
Ancient Greek Elysium | Empyrean | Hesperides
Celtic Annwn | Tír na nÓg | Mag Mell
Norse Valhalla | Asgard
Other Indo-European cultures Paradise | Olam Haba | Svarga | Aaru | The Summerland | Myth of Er | Fortunate Isles
Related concepts Nirvana | Millennialism | Utopianism | Golden Age | Arcadia
it:Millenarismo

fr:Millénarisme sv:Kiliasm zh:千禧年主义

Millennialism

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