Catholics Robbed of the Millennial Hope
HEAVEN or hell! What an alternative! Yet those are the two prospects placed before millions of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims. As for Catholics, there is also purgatory en route to heaven. But even this fear and this hope are so vague that many sincere believers doubt if they are valid.
Little wonder that French religious writer Jacques Duquesne was able to record the following conversations with two practicing Catholics: (With a man) “Do you believe in hell?—Not at all, ah no! . . .—And heaven?—I don’t think it exists, any more than hell.” (With a woman) “In your opinion, what happens to us when we die?—When we die? Well, for several years now I have ceased to believe there is anything.—What do you mean?—Nothing survives. Of course, everyone can see that the body is dead. Well, it’s the same for the soul. I don’t know. I really don’t know. . . .—But you still believe firmly in God?—Yes, definitely.—What moves you to believe?—So as to have hope.”—God for Men of Today (French).
Very evidently the Catholic Church has not given its members a hope that engenders firm belief. In fact, doubts and even unbelief are some of the bad fruits now being reaped by all the traditional religions of Christendom. In many predominantly Catholic countries the vague and hazy hope of “heavenly bliss” has proved insufficient to prevent millions of people from losing faith and turning to Communism for the fulfillment of their natural and legitimate desire for a decent life on earth. In exchange for an uncertain hope of “eternal felicity” in heaven, many appear to be willing to settle hopefully for “threescore years and ten” of happy life on earth. And even that hope is proving to be illusive.
CONTEMPT FOR “MILLENNIALISM”
Many people today have become lukewarm “Christians,” more interested in the here and now than in the fulfillment of the Christian hope. One reason is that Christendom’s churches have distorted that hope. They speak with contempt of sincere Christians who place their hope in the millennium or 1,000-year reign of Christ. For example, the very highly respected and voluminous French Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique defines “millennialism” as follows: “False belief professed by those who were awaiting a temporal reign of the Messiah, the length of which was sometimes considered by them to be a thousand years. . . . Since the fifth century, millennialism has no longer been spoken of, or very rarely, by a few cranky sects.”
Yet, while speaking contemptuously of those who believe in the 1,000-year reign of the Messiah, this authoritative Catholic work admits that millennialism was spoken of before the fifth century. In other words, the millennial hope was lost sight of during the fifth century. Why? Does history confirm what the Bible itself reveals, namely, that the early Christians believed in the 1,000-year reign of Christ? And if so, how were millions of Catholics and Protestants robbed of the millennial hope? Let us see what reputable reference works and history books reveal in answer to these questions.
TESTIMONY FROM “CHURCH FATHERS”
Catholic reference works recognize that many of the earliest “Church fathers” believed in and taught the 1,000-year reign of Christ, or millennium. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Later among Catholics, Bishop Papias of Hierapolis, a disciple of St. John [the apostle], appeared as an advocate of ‘millenarianism.’ He claimed to have received his doctrine from contemporaries of the Apostles, and Irenæus narrates that other ‘Presbyteri’ [elders], who had seen and heard the disciple John, learned from him the belief in millenarianism as part of the Lord’s doctrine. . . .
“Millenarian ideas are found by most commentators in the Epistle of St. Barnabas [early second century] . . . St. Irenæus of Lyons, a native of Asia Minor, influenced by the companions of St. Polycarp, adopted millenarian ideas, discussing and defending them in his work against the Gnostics . . . St. Justin of Rome, the martyr, opposes to the Jews in his Dialogue with Tryphon (ch. 80-81) the tenet of a millennium . . . A witness for the continued belief in millenarianism in the province of Asia is St. Melito, Bishop of Sardes in the second century. . . .
“. . . Tertullian, the protagonist of Montanism, expounds the doctrine . . . that at the end of time the great kingdom of promise, the new Jerusalem, would be established and last for the space of one thousand years. All these millenarian authors appeal to various passages in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, to a few passages in the Letters of St. Paul and to the Apocalypse [Revelation] of St. John.”—Italics ours.
WHO ARE TRULY “APOSTOLIC”
Now one of the main arguments of the Roman Catholic Church in favor of its superiority over the Protestant churches, and also over Jehovah’s Witnesses, is its claim to be the sole guardian of Christian tradition as handed down from the time of the apostles. As A Catholic Dictionary puts it: “The Roman Church is Apostolic, because her doctrine is the faith once revealed to the Apostles, which faith she guards and explains, without adding to it or taking from it.”—Italics ours.
Yet the men quoted by The Catholic Encyclopedia as teaching the millennial hope are recognized by the Catholic Church itself as being among the earliest “Church fathers.” Two of them (Polycarp and Papias) are said to have seen and heard the apostle John and to have met disciples who knew Christ himself and other apostles. All the others quoted are second-century or early third-century “Fathers” or “Doctors,” and they all believed in the 1,000-year reign of Christ.
The very authoritative Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique goes so far as to say that contemporaries of Papias who were even more “intelligent” and “shrewd” than he was “shared his belief in the thousand-year reign and considered this belief to be one of the essential dogmas of the Christian faith.” This same Catholic reference work says of Justin Martyr that although he knew that some of his contemporaries did not share his views on the millennium, he considered that on this matter he was the “guardian of the more completely orthodox doctrine.” Referring to Irenaeus, this dictionary states: “For him, millennialism is a part of traditional teachings. . . . Saint Irenæus appears to think that one cannot give a correct explanation of the Scriptures without millennialism.”—Volume X, columns 1761, 1762 (Italics ours).
So who is closer to the true apostolic teaching and tradition, the Roman Catholic Church that slightingly calls those who still believe in the 1,000-year reign of Christ a ‘cranky sect’—or Jehovah’s Witnesses, who cherish the millennial hope? How did it come about that this hope was dropped from Catholic dogma?
APOSTASY DISTORTS THE CHRISTIAN HOPE
In the previous article we have seen that through the apostasy that took place in the latter centuries before the Common Era the Jews replaced their hope in the resurrection with the pagan belief in the inherent immortality of the soul and transformed their original Messianic hope into a political hope. Similarly, the apostasy that was foretold to occur among Christians (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 John 2:18, 19) brought about a distortion of the millennial hope.
Jewish scholar Hugh J. Schonfield states: “Christian shifting away from the hope of the terrestrial Kingdom of God did not prevail until the second century.” “Despite pleas for constancy, loyalty and endurance, many more Christians were disillusioned and either left the Church or followed those teachers who offered less earth-bound interpretations of the nature of Christianity.”
Concerning this “shifting away” from the hope of paradise restored on earth by means of the heavenly Messianic kingdom or government, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states (Vol. 2, under “Paradise”): “In the further course of church history many extra-biblical motifs, pictures and ideas were absorbed into the conception of paradise. . . . The speculations in the church concerning paradise and the conceptions of popular piety are also linked with the fact that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came in to take the place of NT [New Testament] eschatology with its hope of the resurrection of the dead and the new creation (Rev. 21 f.), so that the soul receives judgment after death and attains to paradise now thought of as other-worldly.”—Italics ours.
Thus, with the infiltration of the Greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul apostate Christians transferred paradise from earth to heaven and abandoned the original millennial hope. Confirming this, The Encyclopædia Britannica (1977) admits: “The influence of Greek thought upon Christian theology undermined the millenarian world view.”
NEOPLATONISM REPLACES THE MILLENNIAL HOPE
The millennial hope was, therefore, a victim of the apostasy. Its enemies stopped at nothing to combat it. Listing the adversaries of millennialism, the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique says of Roman priest Caius (end of second century, beginning of third) that “in order to conquer millennialism he unequivocally denied the authenticity of the Apocalypse [Revelation] and of the Gospel of St. John.” This same authoritative Catholic reference work also reveals that “Saint” Dionysius, third-century bishop of Alexandria, wrote a treatise against millennialism, and, “in order to prevent those who adhered to this opinion from basing their belief on the Apocalypse of Saint John, did not hesitate to deny its authenticity.”
We further learn in that 15-volume Catholic dictionary that third-century “Church Father” Origen condemned those who believed in the earthly blessings of the millennium because they “interpret the Scriptures like the Jews.” Why else was Origen so opposed to millennialism? The Catholic Encyclopedia informs us: “In view of the Neo-Platonism on which his doctrines were founded . . . , he [Origen] could not side with the millenarians.” Sharing Plato’s belief in the inherent immortality of the soul, Origen was obliged to transfer the earthly blessings of the 1,000-year Messianic reign to the spiritual sphere.
AUGUSTINE DECIDES THAT “THERE WILL BE NO MILLENNIUM”
But the man who gave the coup de grace to the millennial hope for Catholics and even Protestants was doubtless “Saint” Augustine, described by The Encyclopædia Britannica as “the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity” and “the crucible in which the religion of the New Testament was most completely fused with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy.” Augustine came out energetically against the original hope of paradise restored on earth during the 1,000-year reign of Christ. To quote The Catholic Encyclopedia: “St. Augustine finally held to the conviction that there will be no millennium. . . . the great Doctor . . . gives us an allegorical explanation of Chap. 20 of the Apocalypse. The first resurrection, of which this chapter treats, he tells us, refers to the spiritual rebirth in baptism; the sabbath of one thousand years after the six thousand years of history, is the whole of eternal life . . . This explanation of the illustrious Doctor was adopted by succeeding Western theologians, and millenarianism in its earlier shape no longer received support.”
Not only have Catholics thus been robbed of the original, Scriptural millennial hope, but so have Protestants. The 1977 Britannica Macropædia reveals: “Augustine’s allegorical millennialism became the official doctrine of the church, and apocalypticism [expectation of the ultimate destruction of evil and triumph of good] went underground. . . . The Protestant Reformers of the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican traditions were not apocalypticists but remained firmly attached to the views of Augustine.”
Catholic and Protestant theologians mistakenly apply to all the righteous the heavenly hope held out in the Bible to a limited number of Christians called to rule with Christ as kings, priests and judges. (Rev. 20:4-6; Luke 22:28-30) These theologians offer their “faithful” a vague hope of “eternal felicity” in heaven. God’s purpose to have his will “done in earth, as it is in heaven” is totally absent from their expectations. (Matt. 6:10, Authorized Version) Yet the Bible offers the wonderful hope of eternal life, not only in heaven for a chosen few but also on earth for countless others. This twofold hope, closely related to Christ’s 1,000-year reign or millennium, will be discussed more fully in the two following articles.
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Tertullian believed that the kingdom of promise would be established and last for 1,000 years
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Origen shared Plato’s belief in an immortal soul, denying the 1,000-year reign over earth
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Augustine fused Greek philosophy with Bible teachings and held that there will be no millennium