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Apocalyptic Movements


Trends toward revolutionary eschatology, which foresee the return of Christ as imminent. Deriving sustenance from Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Book of Revelation, these movements keep alive messianic hopes and emphasize the prophetic note. Often vigorously individualistic in character, they attempt to identify the antichrist, prepare through militant asceticism for the impending end of the world and the parousia, or second coming of Christ, and indulge in visionary expectation. Socioeconomic grievances may often guide such chiliastic exaltation (see chiliasm) and sharpen an ethic built on penitence and voluntary poverty.

It is convenient to treat these movements in three periods: early Christian, high and late Middle Ages, and modern. The emergence of the visible church was accompanied by the formation of such Judeo-Christian sects as the ebionites (Poor Men). As a protest against growing

institutionalism and secularization of the Church, the montanists appeared in Phrygia in the second half of the 2d century and spread to North Africa, where they attracted the sympathetic attention of tertullian. While reaction to relaxed discipline and externalism fostered the primitivism of the apostolic Church, political failure fed millenarian hopes (see millenarianism). By the 4th century this eschatological and chiliastic stream receded, only to reappear in periods of religious and social unrest. In the medieval period crusades, war, pestilence, social instability, and clerical delinquency created the environment from which the flagellants (see flagellation) sprang in the 13th and 14th centuries. Apocalyptic literature was given fresh impetus by joachim of fiore (11301202), Cistercian abbot, hermit, and founder of the stricter Cistercian monastery of S. Giovanni in Fiore (Calabria). He proclaimed the imminent coming of the kingdom of the Spirit. Essential to Joachimism was the unfolding of history through three successive stages: the Age of the Father (Old Testament), the Age of the Son (New Testament to 1260), and the Age of the Holy Spirit (since 1260). This ascent leads to a vision that can be identified with the "everlasting gospel" to be preached to all peoples in the Last Days. Although hierarchy and Sacraments will disappear, monasticism as the essence of the primitive Church will become the vehicle of the new age. Such ideas were especially potent among the Franciscan spirituals, the Fraticelli, and the disciples of Fra dolcino. In 1254 Gerard of Borgo San Donnino completed Joachim's blueprint by proclaiming the Evangelium aeternum which would supersede both Testaments. If Emperor frederick ii served as the object of eschatological expectation in the 13th century, this apocalyptic literature found, in the political and religious scene, conditions congenial to the later visions of cola di rienzo, the Bohemian taborites, and savonarola. Since the 16th century the apocalyptic stream has been represented chiefly by a segment of the Radical Reformation: anabaptists and seventh-day adventists. In the English civil war of the mid-17th century, Fifth Monarchy Men kept alive chiliastic dreams.

Bibliography: n. r. c. cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (London 1957). a. dempf, Sacrum Imperium (2d ed. Darmstadt 1954). d. l. douie, The Nature and the Effect of the Heresy of the Fraticelli (Manchester, England 1932). h. grundmann, Studien über Joachim von Floris (Leipzig 1927). r. m. jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries (Boston 1914; repr. pa. 1959). e. anagnine, Dolcino e il movimento ereticale al-linizio del trecento (Florence 1964).

[e. w. mcdonnell]

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