Saturday, February 13, 2010

Τι συνέβη στον πρωτοχριστιανικό Χιλιασμό; /
What happened to the early Christian Chiliasm?


CHILIASM
From the earliest times no doubt the Christian conception of salvation centred round two main ideas, one of which was the more intellectual or spiritual, and the other the more practical and material. The one was based on the conviction that in the person of the Christ there was given a full revelation of God—he was the Truth—and so salvation consisted essentially in the knowledge of God, as contrasted with the errors of heathendom and the defective conceptions of even the chosen people; a knowledge which included the gift of eternal life and all the privileges and joys of the highest spiritual illumination. This is obviously an idea which requires for its full appreciation more cultivation of the mind and the spiritual faculties than the masses of men possess. More widely attractive was the other idea which saw in salvation membership of the glorious kingdom which Christ was about to establish on earth on his return, when a new order of things would be inaugurated, and for a thousand years his disciples would share the blessedness of human life under the happiest conditions. In this connexion the highest importance was attached to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. This conception of the reign upon earth of the Christ differed little from the common Jewish expectation, only the kingdom would be composed of Christians instead of the nation of Israel  and the Christian hopes in regard to it were largely derived from the Jewish apocalyptic writings, as were their conceptions of the fate of the enemies of their Lord and all who rejected his claims. The imagination pictured, and hopes were fixed on, a fairyland of ease and pleasure and delight. This was 'the great inheritance which the Gentile Christian communities received from Judaism, along with the monotheism assured by revelation and belief in providence', and though it was destined to be gradually dissipated—partly through the antijudaistic spirit of the Greek and Roman communities, and partly through the growth of higher moral and spiritual conceptions—it was for a long time enjoyed and tenaciously held in wide and influential circles of Christian life. The second coming, in glory, involving the resurrection of the dead, judgement of living and dead, was probably deemed imminent by the great mass of early Christians, and the hope of it was their stay in persecution, and must have greatly aided them to bear their suiferings, whether associated with the further belief in the thousand years' reign upon earth or not. (It was equally foretold as the first coming in dishonour and suffering; cf. Justin Apol. i 52, and Iren. i 10, who distinguishes it as παρουσία from the first έλευσις.) This belief (so far as it was Christian rather than Jewish in origin) was based on sayings of Christ such as those in which he speaks of drinking with his disciples in his Father's kingdom (Matt. 26:29), and promises that those who now hunger and thirst shall hereafter be satisfied (Matt. 5:6), and that faithful service shall be rewarded by rule over many cities (Luke 19:17, 19),—sayings which received a literal material interpretation. And the definite assignment of a thousand years as the extent of the duration of the kingdom was made by the author of the Apocalypse (20:1-10). For a thousand years the devil would be imprisoned, and martyrs and all who had not worshipped the beast and were free from his mark would come to life again and reign with Christ. This was 'the first resurrection', and only these—it appears—would have a share in the millennial kingdom, of which apparently Jerusalem 'the beloved city' was to be the centre. Among earlier writers the belief was held by the authors of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd, the second Epistle of Clement, by Papias, Justin, and by some of the Ebionites, and Cerinthus, according to the accounts of the Roman presbyter Caius in his treatise against the Montanists, quoted by Eusebius (H.E. iii 28). Of these Papias is one of the chief landmarks. Because of his belief in the millennium, Eusebius passed a disparaging criticism on his sense : "I suppose he got those ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of a very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses." The materialistic character of their expectations is illustrated by the famous parable which he gives: "The days will come when vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty measures of wine."

Justin shews the belief in exacter form. The Lord, Jesus Christ, was to return to Jerusalem, which was to be rebuilt, and there to eat and drink with his disciples, and the Christian people were to be gathered together there and live in happiness with him and with the patriarchs and prophets. This belief is not regarded by Justin as an essential part of the Christian faith (he acknowledges that many genuine Christians do not hold it), but he suggests that many who reject it reject also the resurrection of the dead (i.e. of the body), which is essential. For a thousand years the kingdom at Jerusalem would last for all believers in Christ, and then would take place the universal and eternal resurrection of all together and the judgement. In support of the belief he cites the prophet Isaiah and the apostle John, and applies the imagery of the prophet Micah to describe the happiness of the time when heaven and earth will be renewed, but it will still be the same earth, and all who have faith set on Christ and know the truth expressed in his and his prophets' words will inherit in it eternal
and imperishable blessings.

These hopes were fully shared by Irenaeus (who derived them from Papias direct perhaps), Melito, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Lactantius.

The Gnostics were the first to reject such conceptions (Marcion referred them to the prompting of the God of the Jews—the only resurrection possible was spiritual, partial here in this world, and in perfection hereafter). The Gnostics were followed by 'Caius' and by Origen, who condemns the views as most absurd; but the most formidable assault upon Chiliastic teaching was made by Dionysius of Alexandria in his treatise On the Promises, rejecting the apostolic origin of the Apocalypse, which was the strongest support of all Chiliastic ideas. To this work he was roused by one Nepos, a bishop in the district of Arsinoe, who in the Chiliastic interest had written against the allegorical interpretation of the Apocalypse, insisting that it must be taken literally. The opposition of Dionysius seems to have been widely influential and effective in banishing all such materialistic expectations from the common faith of the Church. The Alexandrian theology made them impossible. By the middle of the fourth century they had come to be considered heretical, and a final blow was struck by Augustine, who taught that the millennium was the present reign of Christ, beginning with the Resurrection, and destined to last a thousand years.

* James Franklin Bethune-Baker,
An introduction to the early history of Christian doctrine,
[Εισαγωγή στην πρώιμη ιστορία του Χριστιανικού δόγματος],
1920, pp./σσ. 68-71. [English/Αγγλικά, PDF]

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