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Chiliastic Expectations

Primitive Christianity was marked by great chiliastic enthusiasm, traces
of which may be found in the New Testament. By chiliasm, strictly
speaking, is meant the belief that Christ was to return to earth and reign
visibly for one thousand years. That return was commonly placed in the
immediate future. With that reign was connected the bodily resurrection of
the saints. This belief, in somewhat varying form, was one of the great
ethical motives in apostolic and post-apostolic times. It was a part of
the fundamental principles of Montanism. It disappeared with the rise of a
"scientific theology" such as that of Alexandria, the exclusion of
Montanism, and the changed conception of the relation of the Church and
the world, due to the lapse of time and the establishment of Christianity
as the religion of the State. From the fourth century it ceased to be a
living doctrine.

(a) Papias, in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., III, 39. (MSG, 20: 300.)

Papias, from whom two selections have been taken, was bishop of
Hierapolis in Phrygia during the first part of the second century.
He was, therefore, an elder contemporary of Justin Martyr. His
work, The Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, has perished,
with the exception of a few fragments. The comments of Eusebius in
introducing the quotations of Papias are characteristic of the
change that had come over the Church since the post-apostolic
period. That Papias was not to be regarded as a man of small power
simply because he held chiliastic ideas is sufficiently refuted by
the fact that Justin Martyr falls but little behind Papias in
extravagance of expression.

"I shall not hesitate, also, to set in order for you with my
interpretations whatsoever things I have ever learned carefully from the
elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing the truth of them. For I
did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as
much as what came from the living and abiding voice." The same writer
gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten
traditions, certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour and some
other more mythical things. Among these he says that there will be a
period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, when the
kingdom of Christ will be set up in a material form on this very earth. I
suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic
accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken
mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of very limited
understanding, as one can see from his discourses, though so many of the
Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their support
the antiquity of the man; as, for instance, Irenaeus and any one else that
may have proclaimed similar views.

(b) Irenaeus. Adv. Haereses, V, 33. (MSG, 7:1213.)

The elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, relate that they heard
from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to those times, and say:
"The days will come in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand
branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each twig ten
thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and
on every cluster ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will
yield five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints
shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, 'I am better cluster,
take me; bless the Lord through me.' In like manner [the Lord declared]
that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear
would produce ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds
of clear, pure, fine flour; and that all other fruit-bearing trees, and
seeds and grass would produce similar proportions, and that all animals
feeding [only] on the productions of the earth would [in those days]
become peaceful and harmonious with each other and be in perfect
subjection to men." And these things are borne witness to in writing by
Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth
book; for there were five books compiled by him. And he says in addition:
"Now these things are credible to believers."

(c) Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Tryphone, 80 f. (MSG, 6:665.)

Ch. 80. Although you have fallen in with some who are called Christians,
but who do not admit this truth [the resurrection] and venture to
blaspheme the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of
Jacob,(14) and who say that there is no resurrection of the dead and that
their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven, be careful not to regard
them as Christians. But I and whoever are on all points right-minded
Christians know that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a
thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and
enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare.

Ch. 81. And, further, a certain man with us, named John, one of the
Apostles of Christ, predicted by a revelation that was made to him that
those who believed in our Christ would spend a thousand years in
Jerusalem, and thereafter the general, or to speak briefly, the eternal
resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.

Next: The Church And The World

Previous: The Position Of The Roman Commun

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