Millennialism (from millennium, Latin for "thousand years"), or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" prior to the final judgment and future eternal state (the New Heavens and New Earth). This belief is derived primarily from the book of . Millennialism as such is a specific form of Millenarianism.
Among Christians who hold this belief, this is not the "end of the world", but rather the penultimate age, the age just prior to the end of the world when the present heavens and earth will flee away (Rev. 21:1). Some believe that between the millennium proper and the end of the world there will be a brief period in which a final battle with Satan will take place. After this follows the Last Judgment.
Millennialism is also a doctrine of medieval Zoroastrianism concerning successive thousand-year periods, each of which will end in a cataclysm of heresy and destruction, until the final destruction of evil and of the spirit of evil by a triumphant king of peace at the end of the final millennial age (supposed by some to be the year 2000). "Then Saoshyant makes the creatures again pure, and the resurrection and future existence occur" (Zand-i Vohuman Yasht 3:62).
Various other social and political movements, both religious and secular, have also been linked to millennialist metaphors by scholars.
If millenarian beliefs are ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed in mainstream Christian theology today, this was not the case during the early Christian centuries. At least during the first four centuries, millennialism was normative in both East and West. Tertullian, Commodian, Lactantius, Methodius, and Apollinaris of Laodicea all advocated premillennial doctrine. In addition, according to religious scholar the Rev. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee the following is true, "Justin's 'Occasional Chiliasm' sui generis which was strongly anti-pretribulationistic was followed possibly by Pothinus in A.D. 175 and more probably (around 185) by Irenaeus -- although Justin Martyr, discussing his own premillennial beliefs in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 110, observed that they were not necessary to Christians:
Melito of Sardis is frequently listed as a second century proponent of premillennialism. The support usually given for the supposition is that Jerome [Comm. on Ezek. 36 ] and Gennadius [De Dogm. Eccl., Ch. 52] both affirm that he was a decided millenarian.”
In the early third century, Hippolytus of Rome wrote:
Around 220, there were some similar influences on Tertullian though only with very important and extremely optimistic (if not perhaps even postmillennial modifications and implications). On the other hand, 'Christian Chiliastic' ideas were indeed advocated in 240 by Commodian; in 250 by the Egyptian Bishop Nepos in his Refutation of Allegorists; in 260 by the almost unknown Coracion; and in 310 by Lactantius.
Into the late fourth century, the Bishop known as Ambrose of Milan had millennial leanings (Ambrose of Milan. Book II. On the Belief in the Resurrection, verse 108).
The first known opponent of Christian chiliasm was Marcion, in the second century, who most Christians feel was an early heretic (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 65). The Catholic Encyclopedia noted that in the second century proponents of "Gnosticism rejected millenarianism"(Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. Millennium and Millenarianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Chiliasm was, however, according to the interpretation of non-chiliasts, condemned as a heresy in the 4th century by the Church, which included the phrase whose Kingdom shall have no end in the Nicene Creed in order to rule out the idea of a Kingdom of God which would last for only 1000 literal years. Despite some writers' belief in millennialism, it was a decided minority view, as expressed in the nearly universal condemnation of the doctrine over a gradual period of time, beginning with Augustine of Hippo. It is vigorously disputed whether or not caesaropapism had a role in the virtual annihilation of millennialism from the 4th Century onwards.
Christian views on the future order of events diversified after the Protestant reformation. In particular, new emphasis was placed on the passages in the Book of Revelation which seemed to say that Satan would be locked away for 1000 years, but then released on the world in a final battle (Rev. 20:1-6). Previous Catholic and Orthodox theologians had no clear or consensus view on what this actually meant (only the concept of an end of the world coming unexpected, "like a thief in a night", and the concept of "the antichrist" were almost universally held). Millennialist theories try to explain what this "1000 years of Satan in chains" would be like.
Various types of millennialism exist with regard to Christian Eschatology, especially within Protestantism, such as Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. The first two refer to different views of the relationship between the "millennial Kingdom" and Christ's second coming. Premillennialism sees Christ's second advent as preceding the millennium, thereby separating the second coming from the final judgment. In this view, "Christ's reign" will be physical. Postmillennialism sees Christ's second coming as subsequent to the millennium and consequent with the final judgment. In this view "Christ's reign" (during the millennium) will be spiritual in and through the church. Amillennialism basically denies a future literal 1000 year Kingdom and sees the church age metaphorically described in Rev. 20:1-6. In this view, "Christ's reign" is current in and through the church.
The Catholic Church now strongly condemns millennialism as the following shows:
Although never officially recognized by the Catholic Church, millennialism, which had clearly already existed in Jewish thought, received a new interpretation and fresh impetus with the arrival of Christianity. A millennium is a period of one thousand years, and, in particular, Christ's thousand-year rule on this earth, either directly preceding or immediately following the Second Coming (and the Day of Judgement).
The millennium reverses the previous period of evil and suffering; it rewards the virtuous for their courage while punishing the evil-doers, with a clear separation of saints and sinners. The vision of a thousand-year period of bliss for the faithful, to be enjoyed here on earth ("heaven on earth"), exerted an irresistible power. Although the picture of life in the millennial era is almost willfully obscure and hardly more appealing than that of, say, the Golden Age, what has made the millennium much more powerful than the Golden Age or Paradise myths are the activities of the sects and movements that it has inspired. Throughout the ages, hundreds of sects were convinced that the millennium was imminent, about to begin in the very near future, with precise dates given on many occasions.
Premillennial sects look for signs of Christ's imminent return. Other chiliast sects, such as the prophetic Anabaptist followers of Thomas Müntzer, have believed that the millennium had already begun, with only their own members having realized this fact. Consequently, they have attempted to live out their own vision of millennial life, radically overturning the beliefs and practices of the surrounding society. In doing so, they offered a model of the good life and expressed their hope that soon the rest of the world would follow and live like they did.
On the other hand, those who did not believe in the millennium also imagined the end of the world as chaotic and catastrophic. The word Apocalypse has been used for this final phase of human history as we know it, with Armageddon as the site of the last decisive battle on the Day of Judgement.
An (or the) Apocalypse [from Greek apo "off", "from", "away", "un-" and kalyptein "cover"] is,
The Book of Revelation is not easy to interpret. Numerous painters and sculptors have produced works of art dealing with the Apocalypse. For example, they portrayed the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death.
The early Christian concept had ramifications far beyond strictly religious concern during the centuries to come, as it was blended and enhanced with ideas of utopia.
In the wake of early millennial thinking, the Three Ages philosophy (Drei-Reiche-Lehre) developed. Making use of the dogma of the Trinity, the Italian monk and theologian Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202) claimed that all of human history was a succession of three ages:
It was believed that the Age of the Holy Spirit would begin at around 1260, and that from then on all believers would be living as monks, mystically transfigured and full of praise for God, for a thousand years until Judgement Day would put an end to the history of our planet.
In the Modern Era, with the impact of religion on everyday life gradually decreasing and eventually almost vanishing, some of the concepts of millennial thinking have found their way into various secular ideas, usually in the form of a belief that a certain historical event will fundamentally change human society (or has already done so). For example, the French Revolution seemed to many to be ushering in the millennial age of reason. Also, the philosophies of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (d. 1831) and Karl Marx (d. 1883) carried strong millennial overtones. As late as 1970, Yale law teacher Charles A. Reich coined the term "Consciousness III" in his best seller The Greening of America, in which he spoke of a new age ushered in by the hippie generation. However, these secular theories generally have little or nothing to do with the original millennial thinking, or with each other.
The most controversial interpretation of the Three Ages philosophy and of millennialism in general is Hitler's "Third Reich" ("Drittes Reich", "Tausendjähriges Reich"), which, in his vision, would last for a thousand years - but which in reality only lasted for 12 years (1933-1945).
The phrase "Third Reich" was coined by the German thinker Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, who in 1923 published a book entitled Das Dritte Reich, which eventually became a catchphrase that survived the Nazi regime.
Looking back at German history, two periods were distinguished, and identified with the ages of Joachim of Fiore:
Although van den Bruck was unimpressed by Adolf Hitler when he met him in 1922 and did not join the Nazi Party, nevertheless the phrase was adopted by the Nazis to describe the totalitarian state they wanted to set up when they gained power, which they succeeded in doing in the Brown Revolution of 1933.
During the early part of the Third Reich, many Germans referred to Hitler as being the German Messiah, especially when he conducted the Nuremberg Rallies, which came to be held at a date somewhat before the Autumn Equinox in Nuremberg, Germany.
In a speech held on 27 November 1937, Hitler commented on his plans to have major parts of Berlin torn down and rebuilt:
It may be of interest to note that after it was clear that Adolph Hitler was not going to successfully implement a thousand year reign, that the Vatican issued a statement that millennial teachings could not be safely taught and that the related scriptures in Revelation (also called the Apocalypse) should be understood spiritually. Catholic author Bernard LeFrois wrote:
Outside of theology, Hitler's Nazi movement has been described as Millennial or Millenarian in scholarly works. Millennial social movements are a specific form of Millenarianism that are based on some concept of a one thousand year cycle. Sometimes the two terms are used as synonyms, but this is not entirely accurate for a purist. Millennial social movements need not be religious, but they must have a vision of an apocalypse that can be utopian or dystopian.