The teaching that before the Last Judgment [see judgment, divine (in the bible)] Christ will return to the earth in order to establish an earthly kingdom, a kingdom which will last for 1,000 years, the "millennium." This term is derived from mille, the Latin word for 1,000; the doctrine is also called chiliasm, from χιλάς, Greek for the number 1,000.
In the Bible. This teaching is based on a strictly literal interpretation of Rv 20.1–15. Thus, it teaches that while Satan is chained for 1,000 years, the martyrs and all who have been faithful to Jesus will come to life (the "first resurrection") and for 1,000 years share His royal priesthood in a messianic kingdom. As the 1,000 years near their end, Satan will be permitted to resume his activity. After a bitter struggle Satan will be conquered definitively by Christ in the Last Judgment. Sinners will then rise from the grave to be plunged forever into the pool of fire (the "second death"). The just will enter into the eternal happiness of heaven.
Millenarianism can be found in non-biblical Jewish writings, e.g., 4 Esdras, but Jewish authors do not always distinguish carefully between the messianic kingdom (see kingdom of god) and the eschatological period [see eschatology (in the bible)]. Millenarianism was taught by some heretics, such as Cerinthus (see heresy, history of, 1) and the ebionites, as well as by several Church Fathers, e.g., papias of hieropolis and St. justin martyr. Their interpretation of Rv 20.1–15 was that after a
"first resurrection" of the just, Christ will return to earth to establish a kingdom of 1,000 years duration. Only after these 1,000 years will there be the Last Judgment.
The true interpretation of Rv 20.1–15 stresses the literary form of the Book of revelation, with its allimportant use of symbolism. The millennium is to be understood in a symbolic sense. The "first resurrection" symbolizes Baptism [see baptism (in the bible)], by which one shares in Christ's Resurrection (see Rom6.1–10). All the faithful, both those on earth and those in heaven, share in the 1,000-year reign of Jesus, a symbol for the entire life span of the Church considered in its glorious aspect from the Resurrection of Christ until the Last Judgment, just as three-and-a-half years symbolizes the Church's life in struggle and persecution (Rv 11.2–3;12.14). The chaining of Satan during this same period signifies that the influence of Satan has been notably reduced, not completely removed. The lessening of Satan's influence is the result of the effectiveness of Christ's Redemption. After a final struggle near the end of time (a constant of the apocalyptic pattern; see antichrist), Satan will be definitively conquered by Christ. Then follows the Last Judgment. Those who have not been faithful to Jesus will experience the "second death," the symbol of eternal punishment in hell. The faithful with resurrected bodies will enter into the bliss of heaven.
Bibliography: j. michl and g. englhardt, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 2:1058–62. h. kraft, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 1:1651–53. See following comment. on Rv 20.1–15: e. b. allo (3d ed. Paris 1933). h. b. swete (New York 1906). m. e. boismard, Bible de Jérusalem 43 (1950). a. wikenhauser, "Die Herkunft der Idee des tausendjährigen Reiches," Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte 45 (1937) 1–24. d. j. leahy, "The Millennium," Scripture 5 (1952–53) 43–46. g. e. ladd, "Revelation 20 and the Millennium," The Review and Expositor 57 (1960) 167–175. r. summers, "Revelation 20: An Interpretation," ibid. 176–183.
In Church History. That theory that the Christ will reign on earth for 1,000 years, during which time the saints will be raised from the dead and Satan will be subdued, is rooted deeply in early Jewish apocalyptic tradition and persists in religious movements today.
Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition. In several ancient passages of the earliest prophetic books (c. 700 b.c.) allusions are made to a millennial kingdom, a veritable paradise, that will be ruled over by the Deliverer and a "saved" remnant of Israel. The emergence of this new Eden will follow the last days of cosmic holocaust after which Yahweh will defeat the forces of evil and provide protection for the elect.
Early eschatological works describe Yahweh not as a vengeful Deity, but rather as a merciful king who will bring to the just a 1,000-year reign of peace and material abundance. The efficacy of these eschatological prophecies was reaffirmed in the Books of David written at the height of the Machabean revolt (165 b.c.). In the "dream" of David, the Deliverer is a powerful Messiah who would rule not only Israel, but the entire world.
Messianic prophecy intensified as the political lot of the Jews became more intolerable and, from the annexation of Palestine (63 b.c.) to the war of a.d. 66–72, the wise Messiah of Davidic origin was replaced by the superhuman "warrior king" in the Apocalypses of Ezra and Baruch (1st century a.d.). Throughout this period various "messiahs" appeared, and, even in the last great Jewish uprising of a.d. 131, its leader, Simon bar kokhba, was hailed as the true "Messiah."
Early Christian Apocalyptic. Like the Jews, the Christians of the early Church (50–150) suffered persecutions at the hands of their Roman overlords, and in their plight they readily utilized the Jewish eschatological tradition. Around a.d. 93 Christians evoked the millennial message in the Revelations in which the "Tyrant of the Last Days" is depicted as a hideous 10-horned beast. To the members of the early Church, this beast, or Antichrist, easily symbolized the oppressive Roman state, and millenarists hopefully anticipated its defeat at the Second Coming of Christ.
It was partly in reaction to the Roman persecution that Montanism, the New Prophecy as an eschatological theory, held that the Second Coming would soon take place in the Phrygian city of Pepuza. In 156 Montanus claimed to be divinely inspired by the "Spirit of Truth" and therefore capable of prophesying the parousia. All Christians were urged to gather in Pepuza and await the Second Coming in prayer and fasting. Within a few years the Phrygian prophet's eschatological summons was carried throughout Asia Minor and retold in Africa and Gaul.
tertullian (d. 220), the greatest theologian in the West at that time, was attracted to Montanism's high regard for divine inspiration, and by his prestige alone he added new converts to the movement. However, he rejected much of the radicalism of the early Montanists and never did believe in the prophecy of the Phrygian Parousia.
Montanism encountered sharp criticism from dionysius of alexandria, who attacked the theory at its roots by questioning the Apostolic origins of the Revelation. The doctrines of Montanus were finally declared heretical by Pope zephyrinus (d. 217).
Despite the eventual collapse of Montanism, chiliasm or the doctrine of an eschatological kingdom prophesied in Isaiah and Ezekiel was accepted literally by many in the early Church, including justin martyr. irenaeus, in his lengthy exposition Adversus Haereses, averred that divine justice demanded that the chiliastic revelation be realized. lactantius and the poet Commodianus gave impetus to chiliasm by emphasizing the demoniac Antichrist and his eventual defeat in the Second Coming. First attempts to discredit radical chiliasm were made by origen (d. 254) in his assertion that eschatological change came about only in the soul. St. augustine in the City of God advanced the theory that the millennium had actually begun with Christ's nativity.
Although attempts had been made at various times to question the authenticity of the Revelation, these apocalyptic writings were in fact reinforced by the Judaeo-Christian Sibylline Books, especially the Tiburtina (c.350). Unlike previous eschatological theories, the Sibylline tradition prophesied two warrior-saviors. In the Pseudo-Methodius an earthly emperor rises from his grave, slaughters the forces of evil, and introduces an era of relative tranquillity until the demoniac Antichrist appears. At this critical juncture the Christ descends, slays the Antichrist, and the Last Judgment begins.
The eschatological tradition was preserved in the commentaries on the Apocalypse of Bede, Walafrid Strabo, Anselm of Laon, and Bruno of Segni, but chiliasm was rejected as heresy by thomas aquinas (Summa theologiae 3, 77, 1 ad 4). On the basis of the Rv 7.2 and 14.6, joachim of fiore (d. 1201) predicted that the 1,000-year reign of the Holy Spirit would begin in a.d. 1260, and his influence was felt among the early Dominicans, Spiritual Franciscans, Beguines, and Fraticelli.
Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages many a powerful king was mistaken for the "Last Emperor," and the invading hordes of Huns, Saracens, and Turks played the role of Antichrists. As the year 1000 neared, millenarianism became more prevalent because many eschatologists believed that the 7th day of creation was to be realized in human history in a.d. 1000 and that there would follow a glorious 10-century reign of the Christ.
In the later Middle Ages, millenarianism was clearly evident in the populous regions of northern France, the Low Countries, and in the Rhine Valley. From a combination of factors—overpopulation, the rise of merchant capitalism, and improvements in agricultural technology—there arose a class of unemployed urban dwellers who possessed neither the native skill nor the professional training with which to secure for themselves a stable place in a competitive society. These people, ever conscious of their desperate condition, became extremely susceptible to the eschatological phantasies of prophets claiming to be divinely inspired saviors, or even gods. Thus the chiliastic tradition was not lost, but instead adapted for social reform. tanchelm (d. 1115) appeared in Antwerp announcing that he was God to the same degree that Christ was. He quickly gained the confidence of the artisans and it was only after many massacres that he was finally apprehended and executed. In Brittany, a generation later, Budo de Stella attracted a large following of peasants by exposing himself to them as the "Son of God" who would judge the living and the dead. Both Tanchelm and De Stella considered the Church a formidable obstacle to their chiliastic movements and for them the Church became the Antichrist.
Another ancient chiliastic prophecy that appeared in medieval millenarianism was the Sibylline Emperor of the Last Days. At one time or another this title was attributed to Count Baldwin IX of Flanders, Philip II Augustus, Frederick II, Louis IX, Sigismund, Maximilian, and Charles V. Frederick II was the most important of these precursors of the millennial kingdom, because he alone never denied his "divinity" and, even after his death (1250), German eschatologists as late as 1500 believed the prophecy contained in the Book of 100 Chapters.
During the plague epidemics of 1348–49, new self-flagellant sects passed through Germany and Thuringia. In Thuringia Konrad Schmid (d. 1368), averring to be the Frederick of the eschatological prophecies, preached self-flagellation as a means of preparing for the millennium. The eschatologist Schmid was intimately associated with the heretical Brethren of the Free Spirit, who considered themselves one with the Holy Spirit. This theory, Neoplatonic in accent, was originated in the early 13th century by Amaury, a theologian at the University of Paris. The Amaurians claimed to be the reincarnated Christ whose mission it was to preach the coming millennium in which all mankind would fully recognize their oneness with the Spirit.
Millenarianism lay beneath the surface in England's Peasant Revolt (1381) and the Jacquerie uprising (1358), but it was in the Taborite movement that egalitarian millenarianism first became fully evident. The taborites, a revolutionary offspring of the hussites, after John hus (d. 1414), adopted the chiliastic tenets of the Free Spiritualists, denounced the pope as an Antichrist, and lived in constant anticipation of the Second Coming. Another precursor of egalitarian millenarianism was one Hans bÖhm (d. 1476), the Drummer of Niklashausen, a simpleminded popular entertainer, who became the object of the machinations of the local lords. Böhm averred that the Virgin had instructed him that Niklashausen was the "new salvation city," and only there could man find Divine Grace.
Reformation. During the Reformation chiliastic millenarianism reached a new emotional peak in the peasants' WAR of 1525 and in the anabaptist movement. The uprising of 1525 was an insurrection of peasants led by Thomas mÜnzer, a man firmly committed to a literal interpretation of the chiliastic theories in the Books of Revelation. According to Münzer, the people destined to live in the millennial kingdom were the poor because they had not been corrupted by greed and wealth. The means he chose to attain his end were the sudden overthrow and violent annihilation of the wealthy, ecclesiastical and secular. The Anabaptists tried to live as closely as possible to the precepts of the New Testament, and the more radical members prophesied the millennium. However, the almost fanatical exclusivism of early Anabaptism eventually alienated the militant millenarists in the movement.
In northwest Germany two Anabaptist preachers, Melchior Hoffmann and Bernt Rothmann, acquired converts in the prosperous city of Münster. But they were soon replaced by Jan Matthys (d. 1534) and Jan Bockelson (d. 1537), two chiliastic revolutionaries who were so caught up in their own fervor that they proclaimed that only in Münster were Christians leading a life worthy of salvation. The rest of the world around the "New Jerusalem" would perish in the Parousia that was close at hand.
Anabaptists flocked to Münster and shortly Matthys and Bockelson controlled the town. After Matthys's death, Bockelson declared that by God's will he was the "King of the World." However, his reign came to an abrupt end when the authorities recaptured Münster in 1537.
Modern Period. Millenarianism persisted in the 16th and 17th centuries mainly through the efforts of Valentin Weigel in Germany, Pierre jurieu in France, and Jane Lade in England. On the Continent, Germany became the most important base of millenarian theory primarily due to the work of Johann Bengel, Frederick Oetinger, Johann Jung-Stilling, and Johann Kurtz.
In the United States, the millenarist William miller gathered a large following in the first half of the 19th century. Chiliastic views are still found in the doctrines of the premillenarian Adventist sects that hold that Christ will appear before the millennium. The following religions contain at least part of the premillenarian concept: the seventh-day adventists, the Southern Baptist Convention (see baptists), the Second adventists, the Primitive Baptists, and the Mormons (see latter-daysaints, church of jesus christ of the).
Bibliography: j. michl and g. englhardt, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 2:1058–62. f. e. hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith (Grand Rapids 1942). h. schoeps, Theologie und Geschichte des Judenchristentums (Tübingen 1949). r. frick, Die Geschichte des Reich-Gottes-Gedankens in der alten Kirche (Giessen 1928). f. alcaÑiz, Ecclesia patristica et millenarismus (Granada 1933). n. r.c. cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (London 1957). t. f. glasson, The Second Advent (London 1945). h. kraft, "Die Altkirchliche Prophetie und die Enstehung des Montanismus," Theologische Zeitschrift 11 (1955) 335–372.
[j. p. dolan]
Millennialism constitutes the belief that at some point in the future the social world will be transformed into a utopian world of peace, justice, prosperity, and fellowship. The revolutionary quality of the idea derives from the focus on this "worldly" transformation (as opposed to the "other-worldly" promises of spiritual salvation after death) and its ultimately optimistic vision of a humanity that is redeemable "in the flesh." The vision takes both religious forms, such as Christianity's "thousand year reign of the saints," and secular forms, such as utopianism, communism, and Nazism. Both because it has always proved wrong (that millennium has still not arrived) and because of its radical and often violent forms, millennialism has provoked the hostility of many people, especially writers who view it retrospectively. As a result, millennialism has left only a vestigial trace in the documentary record, and it seems to have played a significantly larger role in the oral discourse and actions of the time, especially during periods before the expectations proved false. Historical writing was a hostile medium for the recording of millennial passions, and retrospective accounts often strip millennial commitments from major figures such as Charlemagne and Isaac Newton. Historians have just begun to reconsider this body of documentation and assess its larger role.
Millennialism is, at base, a profoundly optimistic view of a perfectible future. It takes a wide variety of forms, from a hierarchical vision of imperial perfection imposing order and harmony from above, to a demotic world of "holy anarchy" where there is no state and self-regulating saints live in perfect equality. Moreover, the anticipated apocalyptic transformation that moves humankind from its current "fallen" condition perfection can range from a cataclysmic one of immense destruction that leaves only a tiny remnant of saved "saints," to a vast, pacific, and voluntary transformational one that embraces "all the nations of the world" which no longer "lift up sword against [other] nation[s], nor study war any more" (Isa. 2:2–4; Mic. 4:1–4). Finally millennialism can endorse various combinations of a passive stance, in which, for example, God will act and humans should wait in penitence, or an active stance, in which chosen agents fulfill God's apocalyptic vision. Depending on how peaceful or violent the apocalyptic scenario, active behaviors can range from revivalism and proselytizing (e.g., Peace of God in France, 980s–1030s; Year of the Great Allelulia in Northern Italy, 1233; the Great Awakenings in America, 1730s–1740s and 1820s–1840s) to holy war and genocidal slaughters of the enemies of good (e.g., the Crusades of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries; the Jihads of the seventh century onward; totalitarian purges of the twentieth century).
Although in contemporary usage the term millennialism refers to any form of this-worldly collective salvation, its original meaning, from the Latin mille (one thousand) and anni (years), came from the marriage of messianic expectations and apocalyptic "world-ending" beliefs in the crucible of postexilic Judaism under the rule of first Persian, then Greek, then Roman imperial authorities. Here the Babylonian notion of a "great cycle" of seven (planetary) thousand-year ages joined with the biblical notion of a seven-day creation to produce a vision of the fate of the physical universe (creation) from genesis to consummation, passing through six thousand-year days/ages of travail, and climaxing at the completion of 6,000 years with the advent of the sabbatical millennium, the thousand years where the "saints" would reign.
Millennialism and chronology
This marriage of millennialism with chronology became especially strong in early Christian circles, and contributed significantly to the immense interest of Western Christian chronographers in precisely calculating both the history of the world and the patterns of yearly and liturgical cycles (computus ), with which the larger cycles were expected to harmonize (which they do not). For the first thousand years of Christian history, the sabbatical millennium served primarily to delay apocalyptic expectations of an imminent end by using chronologies that pushed the apocalyptic year off by centuries.
Problems arose when the several-century long buffer of the anti-apocalyptic early adopters of the era mundi (the age of the world) approached its end, leaving those who inherited these increasingly apocalyptic chronographies in their sixtieth century. Although scholars have not yet been able to get a sense of the process in any detail, the long-term record over the course of the first Christian millennium (first to eleventh centuries) indicates clearly that at the approach of the millennial date, chronographers chose to "correct" their calculations, consistently adopting new systems that "put off" the end yet another several centuries. Thus, around 200 c.e., chronographers adopted an era mundi that located the present in 5,700 and the year-6,000 in 500 c.e. At the approach of that date in the fifth century, chronographers adopted a second era mundi that pushed the year-6,000 off until 801 c.e. At the approach of this second millennial date in the eighth century, chronographers adopted the anno Domini system, putting off the end the current millennium (and, by implication, the sixth and last "age") another two to three centuries to the year 1000 or 1033. These crises, inspired both by approaching apocalyptic dates and by the intractably asymmetric nature of planetary movement, had the unintended but significant consequence of intensifying Western European abilities to measure time, the only science to progress in the early middle ages.
Transformative apocalyptic beliefs and the "making" of the millennium
The apocalyptic scenarios accompanying the sabbatical millennium tended, as do most Christian and Jewish scenarios, to emphasize passive, cataclysmic apocalyptic expectation, since both the date and the actions were in God's hands. But already by the second year-6,000 (801 c.e., the year following Charlemagne's imperial coronation), there emerged a new and unusual form of active, transformational millennialism that channeled the disappointment of failed expectations into projects aimed at transforming the world. Some of the Carolingian theologians, normally known for their lack of originality, demonstrate an innovation that treats the "mechanical arts" as a form of redemptive knowledge and activity. This attitude reverses a classical disdain in Greco-Roman high culture for manual labor, and reflects a biblical respect for manual labor that was part monastic, part millennial ("swords into plowshares …").
At the turn of the millennium, demotic active millennialism had an extraordinary period of some fifty years (980s to 1030s) in France, during which large crowds gathered in open fields and the weapons-bearing elite took public oaths to exempt the unarmed (peasants and clerics) from their violence and rapine. This wave of popular millennialism, unusually affirmed and encouraged by the ecclesiastical and lay ruling groups (bishops, abbots, dukes, counts, kings), produced the largest active, transformational, demotic millennial movement in recorded history and seems to have aroused a great deal of energy among the commoner class, both in terms of their passion for Christianity and in their economic and social initiatives over the next three centuries.
The rise and spread of radically egalitarian (often heretical) apostolic movements that engaged in technology-based work (e.g., weaving) characterizes the centuries after 1000 c.e., a period of widespread and vigorous social, technological, and economic revolutions in Western Europe that transformed both urban and rural regions over the course of the next three centuries. In this period, especially with the "renaissance of the twelfth century," ecclesiastical writers invoked technology as a salvific and growing body of knowledge, and utopian fantasies appear in which automatons animated with magical arts play prominent roles.
By the late twelfth century, the visionary exegete Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202) had brought a revival of millennial thinking and action back to the most elite ecclesiastical circles with his notion of the dawning of the third age of "spiritual men." The power of this way of reading history as a process of (three) stages, with the present poised on the transition to the final, perfected age, to be brought about by active individuals (spiritual men), has proved one of the most potent in Western history (consider, for example, Karl Marx's historical dialectic). Such a system has remarkable resilience in dealing with disappointment: Every failure could take refuge in a renewal and reformulation of the preparatory project of spreading the working of the spirit. And in each new formulation, the role for human action increased and the role for a God, who did not deliver on the promises that prophets repeatedly made in his name, decreased. This drove European Christians on a steady path from a passive scenario, in which God created the millennium (premillennialism ), toward an increasingly active, humanly driven one (postmillennialism ).
And the most effective scenarios—effective not in actually bringing about the millennium, but, in their unintended and long-lasting consequences—involved technology. The millennial origins of the West's peculiar passion for technology seem to derive from a notion that if humankind could regain the knowledge it had before the Fall, it could recreate Eden. While there are multiple traces of this belief in the Middle Ages, its conflict with Augustine of Hippo's (354–430) doctrine of original sin kept it at the margins of official culture. But this desire to regain pre-lapsarian knowledge gained great force in the latter half of the fifteenth century with the translation of the Corpus Hermeticum, a Gnostic text from the first century c.e. attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. The self-styled magus, who turned to this text to gain the original knowledge (prisca theologica ) of humankind, believed that at last the time had come to create and transform nature.
Francis Yates argues that these men, the hermetic magi, played a central role in the emergence of modern science, not so much by developing rational thought, but by "changing the will," unleashing the passion for the knowledge to transform and perfect nature. Even Francis Bacon (1561–1626), a vocal opponent of the magi, invoked hopes of pre-lapsarian knowledge through science in his call for the Royal Historical Society, as well as his utopian work The New Atlantis (1626). Utopian thought represented the first stirrings of secular millennialism, and, beginning with Bacon, they increasingly featured technology and scientific research. The rational, demythologized scientific tradition that is identified as beginning in the early modern period (sixteenth century to eighteenth century) appears to have arisen as an unintended consequence of this passion for esoteric knowledge. For almost a thousand years, Augustine had enforced on intellectuals the humility of original sin: "Fallen man" should not seek to change this world. That enforced humility ceded to a wave of active, transformational millennial enthusiasm that remains to the present.
The links between activist millennial hopes for creating a more perfect society on Earth and the advancement of science and technology from the fifteenth century onward are legion. The most striking link concerns Isaac Newton (1642–1727), a figure who, retrospectively, represents the giant of modern science and rationality. The millennial visionary poet and artist William Blake (1757–1827) heaped contempt on Newton, describing the constricted view of the world in Newton's cosmogony as "single vision and Newton's sleep." But a closer look at the vast and largely unpublished work into which Newton poured so much energy reveals a man at once magus (alchemical work) and classic biblical millennialist (ancient chronology designed to calculate the advent of the Parousia [the Second Coming of Jesus Christ]). Similar millennial dimensions can be found when one examines closely the careers of other great scientific figures, revealing the role of millennial hopes as a motivator for the scientist, as well as millennial rhetoric as a useful way to attract large sums of funding. Even Roger Bacon (1219–1294) linked the Antichrist to science as part of an appeal to the pope to fund his projects concerning teaching, learning, and disseminating scientific knowledge.
Modern millennialism and scientific megaprojects
Nor has this millennial dimension waned with time. On the contrary, one of the greatest and most portentous projects in history, the invention of atomic bombs, took place in the framework of a war of democratic Western culture against the aggression of technologically empowered Nazi millennialists (tausendjähriger Reich means "millennial kingdom"). The Manhattan Project, the United States initiative during the early 1940s to produce the first atomic bomb, has served as the standard for all subsequent grand scientific projects (e.g., space exploration) that raise enormous funds and create a cultural faith in the powers of science and technology, new stages in the "religion of technology." As an unintended consequence, the atomic bomb has revivified apocalyptic fears of the cataclysmic end of the world, just when conceptual scientific schemata had robbed earlier apocalyptic scenarios of any credibility.
Millennial dreams continue to breathe their inspirations into the great undertakings of modern humans, from the messianic belief in "modern civil society" spread the world over (the biblical quotation "nation shall not lift up sword against nation" is inscribed on a wall at United Nations Plaza in New York) to the fear of the apocalyptic annihilation of humankind, whether from environmental pollution and global warming, nuclear threats from the cold war, or terrorism. But this millennial thinking continues to inspire new directions in science as well. New fields of research, such as artificial intelligence and artificial life, have secured funding by appealing to the millennial dreams of both scientists and their backers. The pioneers of artificial intelligence speak about downloading the brain from the troublesome mortal coil and into nearly immortal silicon bodies, of launching an evolutionary step that would compare with the creation of the universe and the emergence of life, or more modestly, with the emergence of homo sapiens. Their visionary enthusiasm, simplistic dualism, and boundless megalomania are typical millennial characteristics and make clear how important it is for scientists to better understand their own millennial past. Then scientists and the broader culture might not make naïve and, in this age of immense technological potency, potentially dangerous choices.
But avoiding the dangers of millennial hubris should not lead, as many rationalists argue, to the jettisoning of the millennial vision. On the contrary, the millennial vision serves as one of the great inspirations for scientific and technological development. As Blake commented in Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), "what is now proved was once only imagined." Of course, not all that is now imagined will be proved, just as not every millennial idea leads to science. But the reverse—how, how much, and what kind of millennial imagination leads to science?—poses interesting questions, well worth trying to answer.
See also Artificial Intelligence; End of the World, Religious and Philosophical Aspects of; Eschatology
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Millennialism theoretically refers to a period of one thousand years. In Christian thought, the millennium is associated with the Second Coming or Second Advent of Christ. All expressions of millennialism are linked to adventism, or the return of Christ. Premillennialism holds that Christ will return and reign over the earth for a thousand years after a time of great tribulation. Then the final confrontation between good and evil will occur. Postmillennialism sees the world evolving into an ideal realm; then, after a thousand years of prosperity and happiness, Christ will return. While both premillennial and postmillennial ideas have had advocates in the twentieth century, most Christian religious groups have opted for a less precise understanding called amillennialism. This view sees the millennium more in symbolic terms, emphasizing the presence of Christ's spirit in the church and the efforts of the church to bring human society in harmony with religious ideals. In the popular mind, however, millennialism is inseparable from concerns about the end of the world and Christ's return in judgment.
Premillennialism in the later twentieth century gained fresh currency in the resurgence of fundamentalism. Much of fundamentalism's approach derives from a particular theological understanding called premillennial dispensationalism. That view insists that all history, from creation to final judgment, is divided into time blocks or dispensations. In each God offers humanity a means of salvation, but every age ultimately becomes one of decline and increasing hostility to the ways of God. The present age is the sixth of seven dispensations leading up to Christ's return. Premillennial dispensationalism looks to the apocalyptic books of the Bible, especially Daniel and Revelation, as coded guides to contemporary historical events. Unraveling the code enables believers not only to see the significance in current events but also prepares them for the "rapture" when the faithful will soar through the air to their heavenly reward, and the Antichrist or the embodiment of evil will be revealed.
Premillennial dispensationalism reached millions through the Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909. That study Bible contained cross-references and time lines reflecting dispensationalist assumptions. The Scofield Reference Bible remains among the best-selling editions of Christian scriptures at the end of the twentieth century. Evangelist Billy Graham also drew on dispensationalism thinking for much of his critique of modern culture in the early decades of his career as a revivalist. In the 1970s, popular religious writer Hal Lindsey also revived dispensationalist ideas in his best-selling (with Carole C. Carlson) The Late Great Planet Earth and its sequel, Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. The former became the basis for a feature film.
If premillennialism was pessimistic about the present, seeing decline in society and ever-growing sin as signs of the nearness of Christ's return, postmillennialism tended to be optimistic. Early in the twentieth century, Social Gospel thinkers such as Walter Rauschenbusch championed technological advance and reform of social structures to transform American society into the millennial kingdom. But the devastation of two world wars, global economic depression in the 1930s, and the seeming inability of humans to use scientific and technological gains to alleviate human suffering undermined that optimism. Many theological thinkers therefore dismissed postmillennialism for its overestimation of human potential.
But from the 1970s on, Christian Reconstructionism revived postmillennialism, albeit with a new twist. Centered on the thinking of Rousas J. Rushdoony, Reconstructionism calls for the reinstitution of biblical law (theonomy) and the refashioning of all elements of society, from government to economics, according to a particular understanding of biblical teaching. A system based on biblical authority, not democracy, would thus pave the way for the millennial age. Reconstructionism attracted some who were dismayed by the presumed moral decay and erosion of religious values in the later decades of the twentieth century, but who saw dispensationalism and the popularized ideas of Hal Lindsey and others as overly simplistic.
Some religious communities have sustained particular versions of millennialism in their own doctrine. Two with roots in adventist thinking in the nineteenth century are the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists. Both showed significant growth in the second half of the twentieth century not only because of their aggressive proselytizing but also because of the same societal malaise that fueled fundamentalism's resurgence. Jehovah's Witnesses once insisted that Christ would return and the world would end in 1917; when such did not occur, the group suffered some problems of plausibility. Seventh-Day Adventists insist that humans must adhere strictly to biblical norms, including worship on the seventh day (Saturday) rather than the first day (Sunday) and Hebrew dietary codes, to pave the way for Christ's return. Both groups tend to see society as fraught with evil and therefore call for high standards of moral and ethical behavior for members by contrast; as a result, they gained currency as other millennialist thinkers likewise dismissed the social order as evil.
As the twenty-first century approached, popular millennialism soared, for the new century would also bring the dawn of the third millennium after the birth of Jesus. Hence speculation about the nearness of the end abounded, most of it ignored or criticized by theologians and religious leaders.
In the last analysis, whether premillennialism, post-millennialism, or amillennialism most accurately reflects biblical teaching matters little. What is significant is how all variations of millennialism see the present as a prelude to a more glorious future. All therefore tend to devalue empirical history, seeing some idealized society coming in the future as the goal of present endeavor. Whether that ideal world issues from gradual social change or follows cataclysmic upheaval or whether its arrival precedes, follows, or has no real relation to the anticipated Second Advent of Christ are really secondary issues. What matters is the conviction that society and its institutions will become what was intended at creation. The end will thus be like the beginning.
Boyer, Paul S. When Time Shall Be No More: ProphecyBelief in Modern American Culture. 1992.
Carpenter, Joel A. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening ofAmerican Fundamentalism. 1997.
Clouse, Robert G., ed. The Meaning of the Millennium:Four Views. 1977.
Gaustad, Edwin S., ed. The Rise of Adventism in America. 1977.
Lindsey, Hal, with Carole C. Carlson. The Late GreatPlanet Earth. 1970.
Lindsey, Hal, with Carole C. Carlson. Satan Is Alive andWell on Planet Earth. 1972.
Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and AmericanCulture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870 –1925. 1980.
Weber, Timothy P. Living in the Shadow of the SecondComing: American Premillennialism, 1875 –1982. Enlarged ed., 1983.
Charles H. Lippy
Millennialism is the belief, based on an interpretation of Revelation 20, that there will be a distinctive one-thousand-year period (the millennium) before the Last Judgment. This belief was especially popular in America from the 1750s to the 1840s.
Because the Book of Revelation is written in highly figurative language, believers differ over the details of the millennium. One fundamental point of difference is whether it will be ushered in by a fiery apocalypse, with only a faithful remnant saved to reign with Christ for one thousand years (premillennialism), or if it will be a peaceful interlude that precedes the Second Coming of Christ (postmillennialism).
The significance of this distinction is that post-millennialists are generally more optimistic about human progress: human agency through the reform of societal ills can help bring about the millennium. Premillennialists are generally more pessimistic about the ability of human agency to effect the millennium and therefore are more likely to focus on cultivating their own spirituality. Protestants were drawn to both kinds of millennialism in unprecedented numbers during the era of the new nation. According to Nathan O. Hatch in The Democratization of American Christianity (1989), "the first generation of United States citizens may have lived in the shadow of Christ's Second Coming more intensely than any generation since" (p. 184).
Although interest in the millennium in America goes back to the first generation of Puritans, throughout the colonial period most of that interest was confined to ministers. Ordinary laymen and -women wrote next to nothing in their spiritual journals concerning the millennium. The Seven Years' War from 1756 to 1763 ushered in a period of increasingly widespread interest in the millennium. That war pitted Protestant Great Britain against Catholic France and included a great many battles in the American colonies, where it became known as the French and Indian War. Some ministers in the colonies, in keeping with a 250-year Protestant tradition, argued that the Antichrist mentioned in the Book of Revelation was in fact the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, the Seven Years' War was a war against the Antichrist and the defeat of France might help usher in the millennium. Because thousands of American colonists fought in this war, the ministerial rhetoric seems to have touched a nerve among the populace.
After the American Revolution (1775–1783) and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1787), millennial interest increased. What was once the preserve of learned ministers became a concern for many laymen and -women. In the new Republic, most Protestants were optimistic postmillennialists, believing that if they worked to rid the nation of sin they might help initiate the millennium. This partly accounts for the connection between religion and reform in this period. Many churchgoers participated in reform movements such as abolition and temperance; a large number of them did so with one eye toward the future, hoping their efforts might help begin Christ's reign on earth. But most mainstream Protestants, though hopeful that the millennium would someday arrive, believed that that day was nonetheless far off. Many in the new Republic still followed the computations of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), who had calculated that the millennium would begin around the year 2000.
But there were smaller, more radical groups of premillennialists, many of whom believed the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. Not only was the Second Coming near at hand, but when it came only true believers would survive the fiery apocalypse. The Shakers and Free Will Baptists of northern New England, for example, believed that the millennium was imminent. Indeed, before the death of their founder Ann Lee in 1784, the Shakers had believed that Lee was the messiah, returned to earth to initiate the millennium. Throughout the early national period, this strain of millennialism persisted, reaching its peak in the Millerite movement of the early 1840s. Followers of William Miller, a Baptist preacher from New York, believed that an apocalyptic Second Coming of Christ was going to occur in 1843 or 1844. The radical possibilities of millennial belief can be glimpsed in the Millerites' openness to female preaching: since they felt that the end times were so near, it seemed imperative for all believers to spread the word, whether they were male or female.
Ultimately, of course, the Millerites were disappointed. Christ did not return in 1844. Indeed, at the time people referred to their situation as the Great Disappointment. But even among mainstream Protestants, active speculation regarding the millennium declined after the 1840s. In two thousand years of Christian belief, interest in the millennium has waxed and waned. Rarely has that interest captured the imagination of a people as it did during the era of the new nation.
See alsoReligion: Overview .
Brekus, Catherine A. Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740–1845. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Erik R. Seeman
Millennial movements occur inside all religions, including early Christianity and Islam, but also develop outside organized religions. Millenarianism therefore can take many different forms. However, it usually involves explosions of discontent, a rejection of the status quo, and the proposal that the coming millennium will see the installation of a new social order. This new society is usually constructed as egalitarian and just. Millenarianism often develops in a colonial situation and can have grave consequences for the dominant political order. There is little chance of political compromise since the followers of millenarian movements are not afraid of death; for example, they have been known to run against the guns of an army, believing that the millennium is about to end anyway. Millennial doctrines are often anti-reproduction, and ban sexual intercourse and the planting of crops, since there will be no next year. There is always the tension within millenarianism between an other-worldly message with no earthly content and one where the divine returns into the political process to rule justly. Inevitably, the millennium does not come, and the movement collapses. It either fades away or part of the message is recovered and institutionalized–as in the case of Christianity.
The best-known modern examples of millenarianism are the so-called cargo cults in Melanesia. These usually believe that the ancestors or a culture hero are on their way back to this world in a magic ship to create a timeless order which has been interfered with by Europeans. There will be the return of a cargo of precious material goods to their rightful Melanesian owners, bringing about an era of universal happiness and plenty, where the colonized people will be liberated from White domination. Explanations of the emergence of these cults abound. Peter Worsley (The Trumpet Shall Sound, 1957) argues that Melanesian cargo cults are not irrational ‘madness’, but are the result of frustrations caused by colonialism. The movements are fundamentally opposed to imperialism and use a religious idiom to attempt to explain the power of colonizers. This mystical power comes from the ability of Whites to intercept riches (cargo) bound for local peoples. Millenarianism is invoked as a last resort in dealing with this power when political opposition has failed. Alternative interpretations include those of Kenelm O. L. Burridge (Mambu, 1960), who argues that cargo cults express certain moral and emotional imperatives in Melanesian society, and Peter Lawrence (Road Belong Cargo, 1964), who offers a historical and structural account which emphasizes the ‘mismatch’ between Western and Melanesian norms of reciprocity and exchange.
At a more general level, the numerous theories of millennial movements as a whole include interpretations in terms of relative deprivation; those which see such movements as being rooted in the strains associated with rapid social change; and some which emphasize the social isolation, disruption, and normlessness characteristic of situations of anomie. A fairly representative selection of such accounts will be found in the collection edited by Sylvia L. Thrupp (Millennial Dreams in Action, 1962).
MILLENNIALISM, or millenarianism, focuses on a thousand-year period of unprecedented peace and righteousness that some Christians believe will either precede or follow the return of Christ to earth, marking the end of history. Millennial thinking has traditionally followed one of two patterns. For the premillennialists, God alone would choose the time of the Second Coming; final judgment would come swiftly and without warning; and human beings could do nothing to postpone or hasten it. Postmillennialists, on the other hand, downplayed the apocalyptic nature of the end time, stressed the one-thousand years of bliss promised in Revelations, and theorized that mankind could demonstrate its fitness for Christ's return by remaking the world in His image. The more optimistic outlook of postmillennial thinking made it the preferred theological position for nineteenth-century reformers. More recently, those wishing for radical change have been drawn to premillennialism. Inspired especially by events in the Middle East since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, premillennialism has produced a vast literature speculating about current events and the end of history. Some believers watch current events carefully and set dates for Christ's coming (later to revise their predictions), as in Harold Camping's 1994? (1992) or Edgar Whisenant's Eighty-Eight Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 (1988).
Bloch, Ruth H. Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought 1756–1800. Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Boyer, Paul S. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.
John F. C. Harrison
In a more general sense, millenarian movements are those which envisage a coming age (usually imminent) in which a faithful group will be particularly rewarded on this earth. Such movements are extremely common. Some are derived from Christianity (e.g. some elements of Tʾai-ping, Adventists), but others have no such connection.
The term may also be used more generally for belief in a future golden age of peace, justice, and prosperity.