Advertisement

The Emergence of Evangelical Millennialism, 1500–1600

Chapter

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Christian Theology Chronological Framework Popular Imagination Canonical Boundary 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Cohn, Pursuit of the millennium, 278–9. See also, more recently, Tal Howard, ‘Charisma and history: The case of Münster, Westphalia, 1534–1535,’ Essays in History 35 (1993), 48–64.Google Scholar
  2. Thomas Flanagan, ‘The politics of the millennium,’ Terrorism and Political Violence 7:3 (1995), 164–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Frederic Baumgartner, Longing for the end: A history of millennialism in Western civilization (New York: Palgrave, 1999).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Cohn, Pursuit of the millennium, 278–306; Ian M. Randall, Communities of conviction: Baptist beginnings in Europe (Schwarzenfeld, Germany: Neufeld Verlag, 2009), 8–9.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The ancient, biblical and medieval roots of apocalyptic and millennial ideologies are generally described in Ernest Lee Tuveson, Millennium and utopia: A study in the background of the idea of progress (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949).Google Scholar
  6. Eugene Weber, Apocalypses: Prophecies, cults, and millennial beliefs through the ages (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  7. Michael Wilks (ed.), Prophecy and eschatology: Studies in church history, Subsidia 10 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).Google Scholar
  8. and specifically described in Norman Cohn, Cosmos, chaos and the world to come: The ancient roots of apocalyptic faith (London: Yale University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  9. Christopher Rowland and John Barton (eds), Apocalyptic in history and tradition (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  10. Christopher Rowland, ‘Afterword,’ Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25:2 (2002).Google Scholar
  11. and Richard Landes et al. (eds), The apocalyptic year 1000: Religious expectation and social change, 950–1050 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  12. For a general survey of their early modern application, see, with appropriate qualifications, L.E. Froom, The prophetic faith of our fathers: The historical development of prophetic interpretation, 4 vols (Washington: Review and Herald, 1948).Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    Richard Muller has noted that, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, ‘Reformed theology appears not as a monolithic structure — not, in short, as “Calvinism” — but as a form of Augustinian theology and piety capable of considerable variation in its form and presentation’; Christ and the decree: Christology and predestination in Reformed theology from Calvin to Perkins (Durham, NC: Labyrinth, 1986), 176.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    John Calvin, The epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, trans. Ross Mackenzie (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 401.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Backus, Reformation readings of the apocalypse, 3. On reformation millennialism more generally, see T.F. Torrance, ‘The eschatology of the reformation,’ Eschatology: Scottish Journal of Theology Occasional Papers 2 (1953), 36–62.Google Scholar
  16. Heinrich Quistorp, Calvin’s doctrine of the last things (London: Lutterworth Press, 1955).Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian religion, eds J.T. McNeill and F.L. Battles (1559; rpt. London: SCM, 1960), iii. xxv. 5; Quistorp, Calvin’s doctrine of the last things, passim.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    Backus, Reformation readings of the apocalypse, 35; Irena Backus, ‘The Church Fathers and the canonicity of the Apocalypse in the sixteenth century: Erasmus, Frans Titelmans, and Theodore Beza,’ Sixteenth Century Journal 29 (1998), 662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 23.
    John Bale, The image of both Churches (1547); rpt. in Select works of John Bale, ed. Henry Christmas (Cambridge: University Press, 1849), 251–2.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Kenneth Austin, From Judaism to Calvinism: The life and writings of Immanuel Tremellius (c. 1510–1580), St Andrews Studies in Reformation History (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).Google Scholar
  21. Quistorp, Calvin’s doctrine of the last things; B.W. Ball, A great expectation: Eschatological thought in English Protestantism to 1660 (Leiden: Brill, 1975).Google Scholar
  22. Paul Christianson, Reformers and Babylon: English apocalyptic visions from the reformation to the eve of the Civil War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  23. Richard Bauckham, Tudor apocalypse: Sixteenth-century apocalypticism, millenarianism and the English reformation: From John Bale to John Foxe and Thomas Brightman (Appleford: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  24. Katherine Firth, The apocalyptic tradition in Reformation Britain, 1530–1645 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  25. C.A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich (eds), The apocalypse in English Renaissance thought and literature: Patterns, antecedents and repercussions (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  26. Rodney L. Peterson, Preaching in the last days: The theme of ‘two witnesses’ in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  27. Backus, Reformation readings of the apocalypse; Crawford Gribben, The puritan millennium: Literature and theology, 1550–1682 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000).Google Scholar
  28. Howard Hotson, Johann Heinrich Alsted, 1588–1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. idem, Paradise postponed: Johann Heinrich Alsted and the Birth of Calvinist Millenarianism (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000).Google Scholar
  30. John Christian Laursen and Richard H. Popkin (eds), Continental millenarians: Protestants, Catholics, heretics (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001).Google Scholar
  31. and Jeffrey K. Jue, Heaven upon earth: Joseph Mede (1586–1638) and the legacy of millenarianism (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publications, 2006).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 27.
    Peter Hall (ed.), Harmony of the Protestant confessions (1842; rpt. Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992), 106.Google Scholar
  33. 31.
    Christopher Hill, Antichrist in seventeenth-century England (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 3–4.Google Scholar
  34. 32.
    Palle J. Olsen, ‘Was John Foxe a millenarian?’ Journal of Ecclesiastical History 45:4 (1994), 600–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 33.
    Michael Jensen, ‘“Simply” reading the Geneva Bible: The Geneva Bible and its readers,’ Literature and Theology 9 (1995), 30–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 40.
    See Philip Almond, ‘John Napier and the mathematics of the middle future apocalypse,’ Scottish Journal of Theology 63:1 (2010), 54–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 41.
    John Napier, A plaine discovery of the whole Revelation (1593; 2nd ed. 1611), sig. A2r.Google Scholar
  38. 42.
    See, for an illuminating exposition of this context, Tom Furniss, ‘Reading the Geneva Bible: Notes toward an English revolution?’ Prose Studies 31:1 (2009), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 52.
    John Preston, The breastplate of faith and love (1630), 131.Google Scholar
  40. 55.
    Richard Sibbes, Works, ed. A.B. Grosart, 6 vols (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862–64), 4: 43.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Crawford Gribben 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trinity College DublinIreland

Personalised recommendations