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We’re going deeper into the 1979 book VISIONS OF THE END: APOCALYPTIC TRADITIONS IN THE MIDDLE AGES by Bernard McGinn over the next few posts. Mr. McGinn has provided some translations of medieval pieces that I haven’t seen elsewhere…at least yet. He also provides some fairly decent analysis of the beliefs of the time.
The first excerpt refers to a “scheme of history” that predicts the timing of the end of the world. These schemes apparently started very early, and we will look at a couple of them in more detail a little later.
Here’s the first excerpt:
“The six-thousand-year scheme of history as revised by Hippolytus indicated that the End of the world would come about the year 500. Barbarian onslaughts and the partial collapse of Roman governmental structure, especially in the West, seemed to confirm this in the eyes of many writers of the late fourth and early fifth centuries. When Rome, ‘the restraining force,’ was dissolving before men’s eyes, could the final enemy be far off?”
I’m stopping here to add some quotations from St. Jerome (347-420); these are from the Preface of his book THE COMMENTARY OF EZEKIEL, written between 410 and 414; there were 14 volumes.
From the Preface of Book 1:
“…but alas! intelligence was suddenly brought me of the death of Pammachius and Marcella, the siege of Rome, and the falling asleep of many of my brethren and sisters. I was so stupefied and dismayed that day and night I could think of nothing but the welfare of the community; it seemed as though I was sharing the captivity of the saints, and I could not open my lips until I knew something more definite; and all the while, full of anxiety, I was wavering between hope and despair, and was torturing myself with the misfortunes of other people. But when the bright light of all the world was put out, or, rather, when the Roman Empire was decapitated, and, to speak more correctly, the whole world perished in one city. ‘I became dumb and humbled myself, and kept silence from good words, but my grief broke out afresh, my heart glowed within me, and while I meditated the fire was kindled;’[Ps. 39:34] and I thought I ought not to disregard the saying, ‘An untimely story is like music in a time of grief.’ [Ecclus. 22:6]…since opportunity has been given me which I ought to use…for devoting myself to the exposition of Scripture, I will resume my work upon the prophet Ezekiel.”
Then, Book 3 includes the following preface:
“Who would believe that Rome, built up by the conquest of the whole world, had collapsed, that the mother of nations had become also their tomb; that the shores of the whole East, of Egypt, of Africa, which once belonged to the imperial city, were filled with the hosts of her men-servants, that we should every day be receiving in this holy Bethlehem men and women who once were noble and abounding in every kind of wealth, but are now reduced to poverty? We cannot relieve these sufferers: all we can do is to sympathize with them, and unite our tears with theirs. The burden of this holy work was as much as we could carry; the sight of the wanderers, coming in crowds, caused us deep pain; and we therefore abandoned the exposition of Ezekiel, and almost all study, and were filled with a longing to turn the words of Scripture into actions, and not to say holy things but to do them…”
Time and his work go on, until the Preface of Book 7:
“There is not a single hour, nor a single moment, in which we are not relieving crowds of brethren, and the quiet of the monastery has been changed into the bustle of a guest house. And so much is this the case that we must either close our doors, or abandon the study of the Scriptures on which we depend for keeping the doors open. And so, turning to profit, or rather stealing the hours of the nights, which, now that winter is approaching, begin to lengthen somewhat, I am endeavoring by the light of the lamp to dictate these comments, whatever they maybe worth, and am trying to mitigate with exposition the weariness of a mind which is a stranger to rest. I am not boasting, as some perhaps suspect, of the welcome given to the brethren, but I am simply confessing the causes of the delay. Who could boast when the flight of the people of the West, and the holy places, crowded as they are with penniless fugitives, naked and wounded, plainly reveal the ravages of the Barbarians? We cannot see what has occurred, without tears and moans. Who would have believed that mighty Rome, with its careless security of wealth, would be reduced to such extremities as to need shelter, food, and clothing? And yet, some are so hard-hearted and cruel that, instead of showing compassion, they tear up the rags and bundles of the captives, and expect to find gold about those who are nothing but prisoners. In addition to this hindrance to my dictating, my eyes are growing dim with age and to some extent I share the suffering of the saintly Isaac: I am quite unable to go through the Hebrew books with such light as I have at night, for even in the full light of day they are hidden from my eyes owing to the smallness of the letters. In fact, it is only the voice of the brethren which enables me to master the commentaries of Greek writers.“
The remaining 7 volumes contain no further thoughts about what was happening, yet chances are that the repercussions of the fall of Rome lasted for some time, and it is no wonder that people thought the end was near. My heart cries out every time I read those passages. And when St. Jerome speaks of the “careless security of wealth”, I can’t help but think of America, and how we too, some day, possibly soon, may be in similar straits.
Mr. McGinn refers to Rome as ‘the restraining force’, and in one sense that was true: Rome’s might restrained the barbarians at the gate. But that is probably not the sense that Paul meant when he wrote:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7; NKJV)
Now, back to VISIONS OF THE END: APOCALYPTIC TRADITIONS IN THE MIDDLE AGES:
“Sulpitius Serverus (d. c.430) was the friend and biographer of Martin of Tours, the Father of Western monasticism. His popular LIFE OF ST. MARTIN was written shortly after the saint’s death in 397. Within a few years he supplemented LIFE with a mass of material about Martin, partly legendary, in three letters and two books of DIALOGUES. Whether or not the teaching on the Antichrist at the end of the first DIALOGUE goes back to the saint himself, its omission from later copies indicates that such views were popular enough to be considered dangerous by Church authorities in the later fifth century.”
[Exceprt from Supicius Severus’ DIALOGUES] “When we asked him [Martin of Tours] about the End of the world, he told us that Nero and the Antichrist were to come first. Nero will rule in the western region after subduing the ten kings. He will conduct a persecution to compel worship of the pagan idols. Antichrist will first seize the Eastern empire and will have Jerusalem as the seat and capital of his kingdom. He will rebuild the city and the Temple. His persecution will be to compel denial that Christ is God rather setting himself up as the Anointed One. He will order all circumcised according to the Law. Then Nero himself will be destroyed by the Antichrist so that the whole world and all nations may be drawn under his power until that wicked one is destroyed by the coming of Christ. There is no doubt that Antichrist, conceived by an evil spirit, has already been born. He is now a child and will take on the empire when he comes of age. We heard all this from him [Martin] seven years ago. Ponder how close these coming fearful events are!”
It’s interesting that even in the early 400’s people were still expecting Nero to show up. It was believed that when Nero reportedly committed suicide in 68 A.D., that he was either not really dead, or was raised from the dead (or saved from death) like the Antichrist in Revelation. People watched for his return for a very long time, yet 300+ years seems a bit excessive, so perhaps Martin meant that Nero would come back in the same way that Enoch and Elijah would return. If that’s the case, then I have to take exception here: God has the power to return anyone He chooses to life, Satan does not.
There are also a number of details in Severus’ account that are not specifically from the Bible: the ruling of the ‘western region’ vs. the ‘eastern empire’, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, ordering universal circumcision, and the conception of the Antichrist by ‘an evil spirit’. These details are interesting because they hint at the things that worried the people of that time. Also, as to the temple, people today believe that the temple will be rebuilt based on Revelation mentioning that the Antichrist will stop the daily sacrifices: but it does not say explicitly that it will be rebuilt. Of all the unbiblical things that Severus believed would happen, the temple being rebuilt is the most likely, but it’s still an interpretation.
We return to Mr. McGinn:
“Quintus Julius Hilarianus, an African bishop, composed two chronographical works in 397. One of these, THE PROGRESS OF TIME, shows a strong adhesion to the Hipplytan tradition and gives evidence of the strength of chiliasm at the end of the fourth century.”
[From THE PROGRESS OF TIME] “…There remain 101 years to complete the six thousand. The six thousand years will not be completed before the ten kings first go forth into the world near the End and remove from the midst of the world the daughter of Babylon who now stands firm. Immediately the One who has power over them will march against them; he is called the Dragon in Revelation. He will gain power over the ten kings — some he will destroy, others will remain under his control. ‘Then the impious one will be revealed, the Son of Perdition, who is lifted up against all that is called God or worshiped as God, so that sitting in the Temple he will show himself as though he were God’ (2 Thess. 2:8,4). This is the true Antichrist. The very powerful Dragon to whom the ten kings yielded will give over his power and might to him, and all men will be in awe of him. The times of the Antichrist will be necessarily deadly, like the times when Antiochus tried to make one people commit apostasy under his reign. The Antichrist will attempt to do what Antiochus could not, since he had not the time. When he comes, he will come for the destruction of the faithful. His time will be harsh and evil, ‘he whom the Lord Christ will slay with the breath of his mouth and destroy by his coming’ (2 These. 2:4).
“When the Antichrist has been overcome and killed at the completion of the six thousand years, the resurrection of all the saints will take place while the world still stands. . . .To the saints the resurrection will be one day, but this day of the saints will be prolonged so much that to the evil who will be living with pain in the world it will number a thousand years. this is the seventh day, the eternal and true Sabbath whose image and figure was that temporal Sabbath written in the Law of Moses, as was said to the Jews: ‘Six days do the works of the world, but on the seventh day which is called the Sabbath rest from your works’ (Exod. 23: 12). So when the six days, i.e., the six thousand years of labor and pain for the saints, have passed, the seventh day, the true Sabbath, will come for all of them who have existed from the beginning of the world… After the seven-thousandth year, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will go forth to seduce the nations of Gog and Magog. He will bring them together as if ready to fight at the Camp of the Saints. Fire will descend from heaven and all men will be consumed, and then will be the second resurrection for all flesh and all will be judged by the just judgment of God because they have not believed, but have done justice pleasing to themselves.”
The name Hilarianus is like a tickle to the brain, I love it. But I don’t love what he wrote. First of all, the world did not end in 498. Next, I’m not clear who the daughter of Babylon is; Revelation deals with the city (or 2 cities) of Babylon, and with Mystery Babylon, but I’m not recalling a daughter…I could be wrong here, but I don’t think so.
He goes on pretty well then for a short time, until he says: “The Antichrist will attempt to do what Antiochus could not, since he had not the time.” Antiochus Epiphanes was in power for 12 years, the Antichrist only gets 7. Time is not the advantage that Antichrist has over Antiochus. I would venture to guess that Antichrist’s advantages will be charm, charisma, wealth, and technology. Antiochus was always running short on funds, and appears to have had very little charm…from BibleGateway (see links on the sources page):
“…he assumed the title Theos Epiphanes meaning ‘the manifest God’ but some of his enemies called him Epimanes (which requires only one letter change in the Greek spelling…) meaning ‘mad man’ or ‘insane’.”
The last paragraph is very problematic. It states that Antichrist is ‘killed’; that’s not what happens in Revelation:
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. (Revelation 19:15; KJV)
And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshiped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20; KJV)
The sharp sword was for smiting the nations. The beast was taken alive.
The remainder of the paragraph is based on six thousand years from Adam, with the millennium being the seventh thousand years. It fit together so nicely, too bad it wasn’t true (i.e., the world didn’t end in 498). Also, the statement: “To the saints the resurrection will be one day, but this day of the saints will be prolonged so much that to the evil who will be living with pain in the world it will number a thousand years” is not in sync with Revelation at all. Revelation is very clear that the millennium is reigned over by Jesus and the saints, and it has nothing to do with ‘the evil’ living in the world in pain. The last bit about Satan comes straight from Revelation.
That’s enough for today. We’ll continue on with the Middle Ages next time, though I might be able to sneak in a piece about the “schemes of history” either before or after the next post. Take care, and I’ll be praying for The Restrainer to keep chaos from your life.