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The Chiliastic Controversy

During the third century the belief in chiliasm as a part of the Church's
faith died out in nearly all parts of the Church. It did not seem called
for by the condition of the Church, which was rapidly adjusting itself to
the world in which it found itself. The scientific theology, especially
that of Alexandria, found no place in its system for such an article as
chiliasm. The belief lingered, however, in country places, and with it
went no little opposition to the "scientific" exegesis which by means of
allegory explained away the promises of a millennial kingdom. The only
account we have of this so-called "Chiliastic Controversy" is found in
connection with the history of the schism of Nepos in Egypt given by
Eusebius, But it may be safely assumed that the condition of things here
described was not peculiar to any one part of the Church, though an open
schism resulting from the conflict of the old and new ideas is not found

Additional source material: Origen, De Principiis, II, 11 (ANF,
IV); Lactantius, Divini Institutiones, VII, 14-26 (ANF, VII);
Methodius, Symposium, IX, 5 (ANF, VI); v. infra, 48.

Eusebius, Hist. Ec., VII, 24. (MSG, 20:693.)

Dionysius was bishop of Alexandria 248-265, after serving as the
head of the Catechetical School, a position which he does not seem
to have resigned on being advanced to the episcopate. His work On
the Promises has, with the exception of fragments preserved by
Eusebius, perished, as has also the work of Nepos, Against the
Allegorists. The date of the work of Nepos is not known. That of
the work of Dionysius is placed conjecturally at 255. The
"Allegorists," against whom Nepos wrote, were probably Origen and
his school, who developed more consistently and scientifically the
allegorical method of exegesis; see above, 43, k.

Besides all these, the two books On the Promises were prepared by him
[Dionysius]. The occasion of these was Nepos, a bishop in Egypt, who
taught that the promises made to the holy men in the divine Scriptures
should be understood in a more Jewish manner, and that there would be a
certain millennium of bodily luxury upon this earth. As he thought that he
could establish his private opinion by the Revelation of John, he wrote a
book on this subject, entitled Refutation of Allegorists. Dionysius
opposes this in his books On the Promises. In the first he gives his own
opinion of the dogma; and in the second he treats of the Revelation of
John,(73) and, mentioning Nepos at the beginning, writes of him as

"But since they bring forward a certain work of Nepos, on which they rely
confidently, as if it proved beyond dispute that there will be a reign of
Christ upon earth, I confess that in many other respects I approve and
love Nepos for his faith and industry and his diligence in the Scriptures,
and for his extensive psalmody with which many of the brethren are still
delighted; and I hold the man in the more reverence because he has gone
before us to rest. But as some think his work very plausible, and as
certain teachers regard the law and the prophets as of no consequence, and
do not follow the Gospels, and treat lightly the apostolic epistles, while
they make promises as to the teaching of this work as if it were some
great hidden mystery, and do not permit our simpler brethren to have any
sublime and lofty thoughts concerning the glorious and truly divine
appearing of our Lord and our resurrection from the dead, and our being
gathered together unto Him, and made like Him, but, on the contrary, lead
them to a hope for small things and mortal things in the kingdom of God,
and for things such as exist now--since this is the case, it is necessary
that we should dispute with our brother Nepos as if he were present."
Farther on he says:

"When I was in the district of Arsinoe, where, as you know, this doctrine
has prevailed for a long time, so that schisms and apostasies of entire
churches have resulted, I called together the presbyters and teachers of
the brethren in the villages--such brethren as wished being present--and I
exhorted them to make a public examination of this question. Accordingly
when they brought me this book, as if it were a weapon and fortress
impregnable, sitting with them from morning till evening for three
successive days, I endeavored to correct what was written in it. And
finally the author and mover of this teaching, who was called Coracion, in
the hearing of all the brethren present acknowledged and testified to us
that he would no longer hold this opinion, nor discuss it, nor mention it,
nor teach it, as he was fully convinced by the arguments against it."

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Previous: The Period Of Peace For The Chur

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