Millenarianism — What it is, and is Not


Artist Unknown

 

 

I WANT to conclude my thoughts on the “era of peace” based on my letter to Pope Francis in hopes that it will benefit at least some who are fearful of falling into the heresy of Millenarianism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism,577 especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.578 —n. 676

I deliberately left in the footnote references above because they are crucial in helping us understand what is meant by “millenarianism”, and secondly, “secular messianism” in the Catechism.

 

WHAT IT IS…

Footnote 577 is a reference to Denzinger-Schonnmetzer’s work (Enchiridion Symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum). Denzinger’s work traces the development of doctrine and Dogma in the Catholic Church from its earliest times, and is obviously seen as a credible enough source for the Catechism to quote. The footnote to “millenarianism” leads us to Denzinger’s work, which states:

…the system of mitigated Millenarianism, which teaches, for example, that Christ the Lord before the final judgment, whether or not preceded by the resurrection of the many just, will come visibly to rule over this world. The answer is: The system of mitigated Millenarianism cannot be taught safely. —DS 2269/3839, Decree of the Holy Office, July 21, 1944

Millenarianism, writes Leo J. Trese in The Faith Explained, pertains to those who take Revelation 20:6 literally.

St. John, describing a prophetic vision (Rev 20:1-6), says that the devil will be bound and imprisoned for a thousand years, during which the dead will come to life and reign with Christ; at the end of the thousand years the devil will be released and finally vanquished forever, and then will come the second resurrection… Those who do take this passage literally and believe that Jesus will come to reign upon earth for a thousand years before the end of the world are called millenarists. —p. 153-154, Sinag-Tala Publishers, Inc. (with the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur)

Renowned Catholic theologian, Cardinal Jean Daniélou, also explains that:

Millenarianism, the belief that there will be an earthly reign of the Messiah before the end of time, is the Jewish-Christian doctrine which has aroused and continues to arouse more argument than any other. A History of Early Christian Doctrine, p. 377 (as cited in The Splendor of Creation, p. 198-199, Rev. Joseph Iannuzzi)

He adds, “The reason for this, however, is probably a failure to distinguish between the various elements of doctrine,” —which is what we are doing here.

So in summary, Millenarianism in its root form was the belief that Jesus would return in the flesh to earth and reign for a literal thousand years before the end of time, an error initiated primarily by the first Jewish converts. There came from this heresy several offshoots such as the “carnal millenarians” whom St. Augustine identified as those who believe that…

…those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity…. They who believe them are called by the spiritual Chiliasts, which we may reproduce by the name of Millenarians…” (from De Civitate Dei, Book 10, Ch. 7

From this form of Millenarianism came the offshoots of modified, mitigated and spiritual Millenarianism under various sects whereby the carnal indulgences were excluded and yet some form of Christ returning to earth to reign and establish a definitive kingdom was still held. In all these forms, the Church has explicitly, once and for all, defined that this “system of mitigated Millenarianism cannot be taught safely.” The return of Jesus in glory and definitive establishment of the Kingdom will only occur at the end of time.

On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 681

Footnote 578 brings us to the document Divini Redemptoris, Pope Pius XI’s Encyclical against Atheistic Communism. While the millenarians held to some form of a utopian earthly-spiritual kingdom, secular messianists hold to a utopian political kingdom.

The Communism of today, more emphatically than similar movements in the past, conceals in itself a false messianic idea. —POPE PIUS XI, Divini Redemptoris, n. 8, www.vatican.va

 

…WHAT IT’S NOT

St. Augustine clarified that, were it not for the Chiliasts’ beliefs attached to the millenium, that a period of peace or “sabbath rest” is indeed a valid interpretation of Revelation 20. This is what the Church Fathers taught and was confirmed again by the Church’s Theological Commission in 1952. [1]Inasmuch as the cited work bears the Church’s seals of approval, i.e., the imprimatur and the nihil obstat, it is an exercise of the Magisterium.  When an individual bishop grants the Church’s official imprimatur, and neither the Pope nor the body of bishops oppose the conferral of this seal, it is an exercise of the ordinary Magisterium. 

…as if it were a fit thing that the saints should thus enjoy a kind of Sabbath-rest during that period [of a “thousand years”], a holy leisure after the labors of six thousand years since man was created… [and] there should follow on the completion of six thousand years, as of six days, a kind of seventh-day Sabbath in the succeeding thousand years… And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints, in that Sabbath, shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God… —St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.; Church Doctor), De Civitate Dei, Bk. XX, Ch. 7, Catholic University of America Presss

Such an occurrence is not excluded, is not impossible, it is not all certain that there will not be a prolonged period of triumphant Christianity before the end… If before that final end there is to be a period, more or less prolonged, of triumphant sanctity, such a result will be brought about not by the apparition of the person of Christ in Majesty but by the operation of those powers of sanctification which are now at work, the Holy Ghost and the Sacraments of the Church.The Teaching of the Catholic Church: A Summary of Catholic Doctrine, London Burns Oates & Washbourne, p. 1140, from the Theological Commission of 1952, which is a Magisterial document.

Revelation 20 therefore should not be interpreted as a literal return of Christ in the flesh for a literal thousand years.

…millenarianism is that thought which stems from a too literal, incorrect, and faulty interpretation of Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation…. This can only be understood in a spiritual sense.Catholic Encyclopedia Revised, Thomas Nelson, p. 387

It is precisely this definition of an “era of peace” that the Church has nowhere condemned in any document, and in fact, has affirmed that it is a certain possibility.

Yes, a miracle was promised at Fatima, the greatest miracle in the history of the world, second only to the Resurrection. And that miracle will be an era of peace which has never really been granted before to the world. —Mario Luigi Cardinal Ciappi, October 9th, 1994; he also gave his stamp of approval in a separate letter officially recognizing the Family Catechism “as a sure source for authentic Catholic doctrine” (Sept. 9th, 1993); p. 35

Think of the heresy of Millenarianism as an olive tree and mitigated or modified Millenarianism as a pruned olive tree. The “era of peace” is actually a different tree all together. The problem is that these trees have grown side by side throughout the centuries, and poor theology, bad scholarship, and faulty assumptions [2]see How the Era was Lost have assumed that the branches crossing over from one tree to the other are actually the same tree. The crossover point shares only one thing in common: Rev 20:6.  Otherwise, they are different trees altogether as much as the Protestant interpretation of the Eucharist is different from Catholic Tradition.

Thus, it is in this spiritual sense that the papal quotes I have used in previous writings can be understood, which explicitly refer to the hope and expectation of a period of peace and justice in the temporal realm (see What If…?). It is the reign of the Kingdom of God in the Church extending over the whole world, subsequent upon the power of the Holy Spirit and the Sacraments.

The Catholic Church, which is the kingdom of Christ on earth, [is] destined to be spread among all men and all nations… —POPE PIUS XI, Quas Primas, Encyclical, n. 12, Dec. 11th, 1925; cf. Matt 24:14

 

THE MAGISTERIUM’S POSITION

As mentioned, the theological Commission in 1952 that produced The Teachings of the Catholic Church: A Summary of Catholic Doctrine affirmed that an Era of Peace ‘is not impossible, it is not all certain that there will not be a prolonged period of triumphant Christianity before the end.’

This open position was later confirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Padre Martino Penasa spoke to Msgr. S. Garofalo (Consultant to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints) on the scriptural foundation of an historic and universal era of peace, as opposed to millenarianism. Msgr. suggested that the matter be posed directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fr. Martino thus posed the question: “È imminente una nuova era di vita cristiana?” (“Is a new era of Christian life imminent?”). The Prefect at that time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger replied, “La questione è ancora aperta alla libera discussione, giacchè la Santa Sede non si è ancora pronunciata in modo definitivo”:

The question is still open to free discussion, as the Holy See has not made any definitive pronouncement in this regard. —Il Segno del Soprannauturale, Udine, Italia, n. 30, p. 10, Ott. 1990; Fr. Martino Penasa presented this question of a “millenary reign” to Cardinal Ratzinger

 

FOOTNOTE: HOW LONG?

People have asked if the “thousand year” era of peace is a literal thousand years or not. The Church Fathers were clear on this:

Now… we understand that a period of one thousand years is indicated in symbolic language. —St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 81, The Fathers of the Church, Christian Heritage

Cardinal Jean Daniélou, expounding upon the Scriptural references of an era of peace, stated:

It implies a period of time, the duration of which is unknown to men… The essential affirmation is of an intermediate stage in which the risen saints are still on earth and have not yet entered their final stage, for this is one of the aspects of the mystery of the last days which has yet to be revealed.A History of Early Christian Doctrine, p. 377-378 (as cited in The Splendor of Creation, p. 198-199, Rev. Joseph Iannuzzi

St. Thomas Aquinas explained:

As Augustine says, the last age of the world corresponds to the last stage of a man’s life, which does not last for a fixed number of years as the other stages do, but lasts sometimes as long as the others together, and even longer. Wherefore the last age of the world cannot be assigned a fixed number of years or generations. —St. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones Disputate, Vol. II De Potentia, Q. 5, n.5; www.dhspriory.org

Thus, the “thousand years” should be understood symbolically. What is certain is that the “period of peace” prophesied by Our Lady, the “new age” spoken of by Pope Benedict, and the “third millenium” of unity anticipated by John Paul II are not to be understood as some kind of utopia on earth whereby sin and death are forever vanquished (or that Christ reigns on earth in His risen flesh!). Rather, they are to be understood as the fulfillment of Our Lord’s commission to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth [3]cf. Matt 24:14; Isa 11:9 and the preparation of the Church to receive Him in glory. [4]cf. Dear Holy Father… He is Coming! The ecclesiastically approved mystics of the 20th century tell us that it will be a period of unparalleled sanctity in the Church and a triumph of God’s mercy in the world:

…the efforts of Satan and of evil men are shattered and come to naught. In spite of Satan’s anger, the Divine Mercy will triumph over the whole world and will be worshiped by all souls.Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary of St. Faustina, n. 1789

This devotion was the last effort of His love that He would grant to men in these latter ages, in order to withdraw them from the empire of Satan which He desired to destroy, and thus to introduce them into the sweet liberty of the rule of His love, which He wished to restore in the hearts of all those who should embrace this devotion. —St. Margaret Mary, www.sacredheartdevotion.com

 

 

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1. Inasmuch as the cited work bears the Church’s seals of approval, i.e., the imprimatur and the nihil obstat, it is an exercise of the Magisterium.  When an individual bishop grants the Church’s official imprimatur, and neither the Pope nor the body of bishops oppose the conferral of this seal, it is an exercise of the ordinary Magisterium.
2. see How the Era was Lost
3. cf. Matt 24:14; Isa 11:9
4. cf. Dear Holy Father… He is Coming!
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