The Emergence of Evangelical Millennialism, 1500–1600



In the late 1520s, in the immediate aftermath of the first wave of reformation iconoclasm and in situations of exceptional social distress, radical Anabaptists in and around the city states of Holland and north-west Germany revived old and revolutionary ideas. In 1532 and 1533, a number of the preachers of this foundationally unstable ideology of social change sought refuge from their persecutors in the newly Lutheran town of Münster. Among their number were disciples of Melchior Hoffmann, a wandering prophet who had gained access to significant new spheres of influence after his recent conversion to the Anabaptist cause. Hoffmann taught his followers that a short period of signs, wonders and apocalyptic woes would precede a golden age of heaven on earth which, he argued, would begin 15 centuries after the crucifixion — in 1533. In Münster, these millennial ideas were rapidly disseminated, and turned into a ‘mass obsession, dominating the whole life of the poorer classes.’1 Among the large number responding to this new message was the leader of the town’s recently triumphant Lutheran party, Bernt Rothmann, who, having turned Anabaptist, added to Hoffmann’s millennial discourse a smattering of the principles of communism he had learned from the recently reprinted, though spuriously attributed, Fifth Epistle of Clement.


Seventeenth Century Christian Theology Chronological Framework Popular Imagination Canonical Boundary 
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Copyright information

© Crawford Gribben 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trinity College DublinIreland

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