Towards Understanding Revelation


Good day. We’re moving from the tenth to the twelfth century, and things are beginning to change. The first millennium after Christ’s death is passing and the world isn’t coming to an end. We are going to see some cynicism, some mysticism, and the start of the Crusades. We are still in VISIONS OF THE END: APOCALYPTIC TRADITIONS IN THE MIDDLE AGES by Bernard McGinn from 1979, and will be a bit longer.

I’ve updated the Early Church Fathers through Middle Ages timeline, so if you need a visual of the names and dates, look there.

Here is Mr. McGinn’s summary of the eleventh century:

“The eleventh century has frequently been seen as an age of strong apocalyptic expectations. Basing themselves upon two wide-spread historical myths, the legend of the year 1000 and the claim for the apocalyptic motivation of the crusading movement, many accounts, both old and new, stress the revival of apocalypticism at this time. Both myths contain germs of truth, but in the forms in which they have generally been presented they are more misleading than helpful. The eleventh century did not produce anything new in the history of apocalypticism, and in comparison with the following centuries it should not be singled out as an era of especially fervent hopes of the End of the World.”

Mr. McGinn goes on to throw more cold water on the idea that people were really thinking the world would end at the turn of the millennium. He thinks that because the theologians since Augustine were not treating the Millennium literally, that people really wouldn’t get that worked up about the year 1000. But let’s take a minute to think about how people reacted to the year 2000. Despite our technology and supposed sophistication, there was quite a bit of excitement and fear around the start of the second millennium. 

The people approaching the year 1000 were very subtle in their thinking, and they were deep thinkers. It made sense to them that if Christ had said He was coming back “soon,” and He hadn’t come back during the first thousand years, then coming back at the turn of the millennium was a distinct possibility…even a probability. So, while the people of that time were not crazy enough to throw themselves off of cliffs or commit mass suicide at the approach of the new millennium, I have no doubt at all that there was a rise in anticipation and perhaps some anxiety. There was enough anxiety, for example, that a large amount of land was donated to the Cluny monastery by the local aristocrats from 980 and into the 1030’s. Obviously something was worrying them!

When Christ didn’t arrive, there’s a good chance that the let-down was palpable. The faith of many probably waned some, but Western culture was very wrapped up in the Church at that time, so most probably didn’t fall away completely. But of course they temporarily lost some interest in apocalypticism, and no longer looked for the imminent End of the World, at least for a while. If this topic interests you, there is a great paper from 2011 on it on the Online Source page called FEAR OF AN APOCALYPTIC YEAR 1000. Briefly, scholars in the mid-19th century believed that people were affected by fear of the year 1000. But, those in the 19th century went a bit overboard with their dramatic imaginations, as they often did, leading to a complete reversal of thought around 1900. Since 1900 it’s been generally believed that the year 1000 was “just another year,” and this has been academically accepted with very little thought or scholarship. The author, Richard Landes, goes into a lot of aspects about this topic looking at them realistically and with scholarship.

Let’s look at what Mr. McGinn has to say about the Great Crusade:

“The Great Crusade was fundamentally a papal plan for the reestablishment of the Mediterranean Christian empire under the leadership of the pope. Insofar as it formed a part of Gregory VII’s plans for the realization of an ideal world order, it might be described as having important eschatological, but not directly apocalyptic, implications. As a major form of organized lay piety, the crusade was not so much the result of apocalypticism as it was a notable stimulus to the revival of apocalyptic ideal, and changes that affected the political situation of the city were bound to suggest apocalyptic implications after 1100.”

Notice that Pope Gregory VII was going for a ‘world order.’  Where do we see reference to that in Bible?  Of course Daniel refers to the world systems, but it’s Revelation that heavily alludes to a one-world order. I have to wonder if the Pope was trying to push forward the end times, or if he actually thought that he could ‘improve’ on the Bible and achieve a ‘world order’ that was ‘good’? This rabbit hole leads to some pretty confusing thoughts!

Let’s look at the representative works from the late 10th to early 12th centuries. We’ll begin with an excerpt from Abbo of Fleury who was a monk and abbot of a Benedictine monastery in France. He was one of the great scholars of his time, and interestingly (see Online Source page) he was killed with a lance in his side while trying to quell a riot of monks! Apparently he was trying to change how they did things, and they weren’t happy about it. 

The excerpt is from his APOLOGETIC WORK, written in 995:

“When I was a young man I heard a sermon about the End of the world preached before the people in the cathedral of Paris. According to this, as soon as the number of a thousand years was completed, the Antichrist would come and the Last Judgment would follow in a brief time. I opposed this sermon with what force I could from passages in the Gospels, Revelation, and the Book of Daniel. Finally my abbot of blessed memory, Richard, wisely overthrew an error which had grown up about the End of the world after he received letters from the Lotharingians [a narrow, short-lived, post-Carolingian kingdom, extending from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, located between West Francia (known earlier as the Aquitaine, or roughly France) and East Francia (known earlier as Saxony, or roughly Germany/Austria)] which he bade me answer. The rumor had filled almost the whole world that when the feast of the Annunciation coincided with Good Friday without any doubt the End of the world would occur.”

One of Abbo’s listed achievements is the calming of fears about the coming change of millennium, and he refers to that activity here. This quote only strengthens my point of view that the millennium was more influential than Mr. McGinn seems to think. If this was not a widespread idea, then why would Abbo need to fight against it?  And, Abbo was right, by the way: the 1000-year concept before the appearance of the Antichrist was not really Biblical.

Next we meet Rodulfus Glaber. He is sometimes referred to as ‘Ralph Glaber,’  and he was also known as Rodulfus the Bald (Glaber being Latin for ‘bald’). He was a French monk who had a reputation for being “unruly;” I’m getting the idea that French monks of this time were pretty feisty. Rodulfus probably had trouble submitting to monastic rules as evidenced by the fact that he was kicked out of his first monastery for disobedience, but maybe he just liked traveling, because he wandered quite a bit and, while he stayed in various monasteries, it doesn’t look like he stayed very  long in each one. He is known as a chronicler and for writing his five volume HISTORIAE. However, HISTORIAE was so poorly done (the words used to describe it are: “lacking critical sense and order”) that it was ignored for a very long time. In modern times it is considered valuable as historical documents, probably not so much for interpreting his times, as rather just providing names, dates and places.

The excerpt is from his HISTORIAE, which was completed around 1040:

“When some of the more truthful of that time were asked by many what might be the meaning of such a great flocking together of people to Jerusalem, unheard of in previous centuries, they cautiously responded that it presaged nothing else but the coming of the Lost One, the Antichrist, who according to divine authority stands ready to come at the End of the age. Then the road to the eastern region from which he was to come was opened to all nations, so that all might go forth to meet him without delay. Truly that prophecy of the Lord will be fulfilled which says: ‘Then even the elect, if it be possible, will fall into temptation (Matt. 24:24).’”

This is an interesting quote, and, again, suggests that people were disturbed by the approaching millennial change. There is a certain smugness about this quote, particularly how it ends. Rodulfus would have been about 15 (and already in monastery from the age of 12) at the turn of the millennium. He probably remembered the hype, but at 15 he may not have thought about it too deeply, and thus may have thought himself free of the “temptation.”

What is really interesting though is his reference to all the people “flocking” to Jerusalem. This is well before the first crusade, and I hadn’t thought about it before, but it makes sense that this was happening. Attacks on Christian pilgrims (who were most often the rich and powerful of Europe) to the Holy Land was one of the stated reasons for the crusades in the first place. Muslims had taken over Jerusalem in the 7th century, and over the years did a lot to destroy the Christian presence there. Different caliphates had differing attitudes towards Jews and Christians, some more tolerant that others. There was  a lot of skirmishing and warfare as different Muslim groups took or lost control. The next to the last group in control was a war-like group of ‘Turkman’ tribes, who killed each other and many of the populace pretty regularly for about 20 years. As the crusaders approached, the Fatimid caliphate was able to regain control of Jerusalem (a somewhat more tolerant and stable group) until the crusaders freed Jerusalem from Islamic control. Interestingly, the Jews fought on the side of the Fatimid caliphate, which was used against them by Christians. But it must be remembered that the Christians were quite anti-Semitic already, and the Fatimid caliphate probably looked more tolerant at that moment.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Pope Gregory VII had his ‘one world’ plans, but King Henry IV of Germany was standing in his way. I’m not going to go deep down this rabbit hole, but it needed to be mentioned because: remember the ‘mysticism’ I said we would see? Well, this next quote is about as airy-fairy as it gets. It’s from PANEGYRIKUS by Benzo of Alba, an Italian bishop, and was written in 1086:

“For a long road still remains to him [Henry IV] as the prophecy of the Sibyl testified…Then he will lead an expedition to Jerusalem and having rescued the Sepulcher and the other sanctuaries of the Lord he will be crowned to the praise and glory of the One who lives forever and ever. Babylon in amazement will come to Sion desiring to lick the dust of his feet. Then will be fulfilled what is written: ‘And his sepulcher  will be glorious’ (Isa. 11:10). Caesar, why do you wonder about this? He who created you has decided without you what he will do in your case. You should say: ‘O Lord, my God, you have done many wonders; in your deep thoughts there is none like you’ (Ps. 39:6)…These things will take place as the song of the Sibyl foretells. You, fellow priests of the emperor’s ear, do not think the Sibyl’s words the voice of a screeching crow! Where you hear that the sea is to be crossed, you should think upon deep things. If you are doubtful in any way ‘…ask in Abel…’ and  when the veil has been rent those things that were hidden will be clear.”   

Today we would hardly recognize this as having been written by a Christian. Benzo apparently did a lot of fawning over the leaders of Europe that he approved of. Even female leaders, though he made it very clear that they were still beneath the male leaders. The line “You, fellow priests of the emperor’s ear” sounds distinctly pagan, as if they are the priests of Henry rather than Christ.

Unfortunately, Henry did not live up to Benzo’s flattery. If you’d like to see how spectacularly Henry failed, look at the short HENRY IV SUMMARY from; the link to that page is on the Online Sources page.

Now we start with the crusades. Again, I don’t want to go too deeply into this because there is just too much and we’ll never get to Revelation. I will just say that there are multiple sides to any issue, and that there were/are as many people who were grateful for the crusaders as there were who hated them, despite their many blunders. And there were probably as many reasons for going on crusade as there were crusaders. There will be more about the crusades, but only in regard to Revelation and apocalypticism.

Our next excerpt is from Ekkehard of Aura, a German bishop who, as a young man, went on crusade in 1101. He wrote JERUSALEM JOURNEY in 1105:

“After the sign in the sun that had been foretold was seen, many portents appeared in the sky as well as on the earth and excited not a few who were previously indifferent to the Crusade. We thought that some of these signs could be usefully inserted here: to give all of them would be very tedious. About the fifth of October we saw a comet in the south, its tail extending sideways like a sword. In the third year after these events, on February 24, we saw another star in the east changing its position by leaps and bounds after a long interval. We and many witnesses attest to have seen blood-red clouds rising from the west as well as the east and rushing together in the center of the sky, as well as brilliant fires from the north in the middle of the night, and frequently even sparks flying through the air. Not many years before, a priest of venerable life by the name of Siger one day at about three in the afternoon saw two knights charging against each other in the sky and fighting for a long time. the one was carrying a good-sized cross with which he struck the other turned out the victor. At the same time the priest G. (now a monk with us…) was walking in the woods with two companions about noon. He saw a sword of marvelous length, arising from an unknown source, borne off into the heavens in a whirlwind. Until the distance hid it, he heard its din and saw its steel. Others who kept watch feeding horses reported that they saw the likeness of a city in the air and that they beheld various crowds hurrying to it from different places both on horseback and on foot. Some showed the sign of the cross stamped by divine influence on their foreheads or clothes or on some part of their body, and by that mark they believed themselves to be ordained for the army of God. Others who were converted by a sudden change of heart or instructed by a vision in the night sold their manors and household possessions and sewed the sign of mortification on their clothes. In the midst of all of this, more people than can be believed ran to the churches in crowds, and the priests blessed and handed out swords, clubs, and pilgrim wallets in a new ritual. Why should I report that at that time a woman, pregnant for two years, gave birth to a son already speaking when her womb finally opened? Why should I speak of the infant born with two members in all parts, or of another with two heads, or of the lambs with two heads, or the foals who at birth put forth the large teeth which are commonly called ‘equine,’ and which nature grants only to three-year-olds?”

So first I have to tell you about a book I read a number of years ago called EIFELHEIM by Michael Flynn. It’s a novel that explores the idea of an alien space craft crashing near a small German town in the 14th century. What would they think? What would they do? It’s a fascinating story, but I wondered how this author came up with this idea. And now, go back and read this passage again with the thought: that the comet/star was a space ship, the weird clouds and fires were it crashing, the sword in the whirlwind was it taking off again, and all those birth defects were from the radiation. Freak you out much? I can’t help but wonder if Michael Flynn read this quote…

The main reason I included this excerpt is, of course, that it shows what people were thinking. They thought all these things were omens and signs about the End of the world. So of course they needed to go crusading and save Jerusalem from the pagans.

The last excerpt is basically a call to arms for the crusades. It is from a book called THE DEEDS OF GOD THROUGH THE FRANKS by Guibert of  Nogent. Guibert was a French abbot who never crusaded himself, but knew many French crusaders and used their stories to write this history of the crusades in 1108.

“You ought to consider with deep deliberation whether, as a result of your pains, with God acting through you, it should happen that the mother church of all churches begins to bloom again to the Christian religion. You ought also consider whether perhaps he may not wish other parts of the East restored to the faith against the approaching times of the Antichrist. For it is clear that Antichrist will not wage war against Jews and pagans, but, according to the etymology of his name, he will attack Christians.  If he finds no Christians there (as today there are scarcely any), there will be no one to oppose him or whom he may legally overcome. According to Daniel and his interpreter Jerome, he will fix his tents on the Mount of Olives, and it is certain, as the Apostle teaches, that at Jerusalem he will sit ‘in the Temple of God, as if he were God’ (2 Thess. 2:4)…Lo, the Gospel calls out: ‘Jerusalem is to be trodden down the nations until the times of the nations are fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24). ‘The times of the nations’ can be understood in two ways. First, either because the nations have dominated the Christians at will, and for the satisfaction of their passions have chased after the sloughs of every shamefulness and found no obstacle. (For they who have everything at their pleasure are said to have their time,’ as the text: ‘My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready’ (John 7:6), and as we say to voluptuaries, ‘You’re having your time!’) Or second, ‘the times of the nations’ are the fullness of those nations that will steal in before Israel will be saved. Dearly beloved, these times will now perhaps be fulfilled while you repel the pagan powers with God’s cooperation. The End of the world is already near, even if the pagans are no longer being converted to God, for as the Apostle says, there must first come a falling-away from the faith (2 Thess 2:3). According to prophecies, before the coming of the Antichrist it is first necessary that the Christian empire be renewed in those parts, either through you or through those whom God pleases, so that the head of all evil who will have his imperial throne there may find some nourishment of faith against which he may fight. Think then that the Almighty has perhaps prepared you to rescue Jerusalem from such subjugation! I ask you to consider what hearts could conceive the joys when you have seen the Holy City raised up by your aid, and the prophetic, nay divine, oracles fulfilled in our times!”

First of all, just because the Son of Perdition is sometimes called the Antichrist does not mean that Christians are the only peoples he will strive against. They are probably the main people he will go up against, but I doubt they will be the only ones. And certainly, there are no “legal” bonds on him to only fight against Christians. 

The statement: “According to Daniel and his interpreter Jerome, he will fix his tents on the Mount of Olives” was interesting. Remember when I said I didn’t know where they got the idea that the Antichrist was on the Mount of Olives? Well, here it is, it came from Jerome.

Then he mentions the “falling away,” as if this falling away is to be characterized by pagans “no longer being converted.” He apparently cannot conceive of Christians actually “falling away.” Then, in the next breath, he talks about the necessity of the Christian empire “being renewed” before the Antichrist comes (of course, followed by Christ). That was a not-so-clever twist to lead us to believe that we must improve the world for Christ to consider returning. Propaganda is a very old art.

I will leave it here today. I’m praying that you are seeing that the Middle Ages was a time of eyes pointed skyward rather than down in the mud.

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