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Topic: The Premillenialism of the Church Fathers

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The Premillenialism of the Church Fathers


The Premillenialism of the Church Fathers per George Peters Volume One Pages 480-494

Obs. 4. The evidence in favor of the general perpetuation of the doctrine is strengthened by the concessions of those who were among the first, and most bitter, opposers. Thus e.g. Jerome (Com. on Jes., 19 :10), says, "that he durst not condemn the (Millennial) doctrine, because many ecclesiastical persons and martyrs affirm the same."

Obs. 13. Since many of our opponents, in order to make an erroneous impression on those unacquainted with Eceles. History, purposely mingle the later Fathers with the earlier (as if they were contemporary), it will be proper to give the Fathers in chronological order, so that the ordinary reader can see for himself when they lived, and form his own judgment respecting their position in history. This decides the question of priority, and also that of the later introduction of opposing influences. We will, therefore, mention those that are expressly named by both ancients and moderns.

1. Pre-Mill Advocates of the 1st Century

a 1. (1) Andrew, (2) Peter, (3) Philip, (4) Thomas, (5) James, (6) John, (7) Matthew, (8) Aristio, (9) John the Presbyter — these all lived between A.D. 1-100 ; John, it is supposed — so Mosheim, etc.— died about A.D. 100. (All these are cited by Papias, who, according to Irenœus, was one of John's hearers, and intimate with Polycarp. John is also expressly mentioned by Justin. Now this reference to the apostles agrees with the facts that we have proven : (a) that the disciples of Jesus did hold the Jewish views of the Messianic reign in the first part of this century, and (b) that, instead of discarding them, they linked them with the Sec. Advent.) Next (10) Clement of Rome (Phil. 4:3), who existed about A.D. 40-100. (His Chiliasm, in the small remains left, is apparent from three particulars : (a) "preaching the Coming of Christ;" (b) rebuking scoffers at the alleged delay of that Coming, and expressing the hope "that He shall come quickly and "not tarry;" (c) and occupying the Chiliastic posture of "every hour expecting the Kingdom of God." Such sentiments only accord with the then prevailing Millenarian views; if opposed to it, as some too eagerly affirm because no detailed expression of eschatological opinions have reached us, how could he, when Jewish views were all around, thus employ language pre-eminently adapted to confirm Chiliasm, unless in sympathy with it.) (11) Barnabas, about A.D. 40-100. (Whether the Epistle is that of Barnabas who was with Paul, or of some other one, makes no material difference, seeing that all concede him to us, and admit that it was written quite early, and must be indicative of the views then held.) (12) Hennas, from A.D. 40 to 150. (We give this lengthy date to accommodate the dispute respecting the Hermas who is the author of the Pastor. Some who do not receive Chiliasm make him the earlier mentioned Rom. 16 :14; others, a later Hermas, who wrote about A.D. 150. All agree that he is a Chiliast, and his location as to time is, probably, decided by our doctrinal preferences.) (13) Ignatius, Bh. of Antioch, died under Trajan, about A.D. 50-115 (some date his death A.D. 107). (His references, in the brief fragments, to "the last times" and the exhortation in those times to "expect Him," is in correspondence with our doctrine.) (14) Polycarp, Bh. of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John, who lived about A.D. 70-167. (In view of his association with Chiliasts, and, in the few lines from him, locating the reigning of the saints after the Coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the saints, has led Dr. Bonnet and others to declare him a Millenarian.) (15) Papias, Bh. of Hierapolis, lived between A.D. 80-163. (His writings come chiefly through an enemy — Eusebius — but all concede him to be a Chiliast, and declare that he was the disciple and pupil of St. John, and the companion of Polycarp.) This is the record of names in favor of Millenarianism — names that are held in honorable esteem because of their faith and works in the Christ, extending to death.

b 1. Now on the other side, not a single name can be presented, which (1) can be quoted as positively against us, or (2) which can be cited as teaching, in any shape or sense, the doctrine of our opponents.

2. Pre-Mill. Advocates of the 2nd Cent

a. (1) Pothinus, a martyr, died aged 99 years (A.D. 177, Mosheim, vol. 1, p. 120), hence A.D. 87-177. (His Chiliasm is evident from the churches of Lyons and Vienne, over which he presided, being Chiliastic, from his associate Irenreus being his successor, who describes the uniformity of faith, Adv. Hœres, 50, 1. 10.) (2) Justin Martyr, about A.D. 100-168 (although others, as Shimeall, give A.D. 89-165). (He needs no reference, as we largely quote him. Соmp. Semisch's Art. on him in Herzog's Real Encylop.) (3) Melito, Bh. of Sardis, about A.D. 100-170, a few fragments alone preserved. (Shimeall, in his Reply, says,"Jerome and Genadius both affirm that he was a decided Millenarian.") (4) Hegisippus, between A.D. 130-190. (Neander, Genl. Ch. His., vol. 2, pp. 430, 432, designates him "a church teacher of Jewish origin and strong Jewish prepossessions," and an advocate of "sensual Chiliasm.") (5) Tatian, between A.D. 130- 190. (He was converted under Justin, and is designated by Neander as "his disciple.") (6) Irenaeus, a martyr (being, Mosheim, Ch. His., vol. 1, Amer. Ed., note, p. 120, "born and educated in Asia Minor, under Poly- carp and Papias, must therefore be), about A.D. 140-202. (We frequently and largely quote from him.) (7) The Churches of Vienne and Lyons, in a letter A.D. 177 (which some attribute to Irenaeus and others to a Lyonese Christian—author unknown) has distinctive traces of Chiliasm in the allusion to a prior or first resurrection. (8) Tertullian, about A.D. 150-220. (We frequently give his views.) (9) Hippolytus, between A.D. 160-240. (He was a disciple of Irenœus, and - according to Photius — he largely adopted Irenœus in his work against Heresies, and in his Com. on Dan., fixed the end of the dispensation five centuries after the birth of Jesus.) (10) Apollinaris, Bh. of Hierapolis, between A.D. 150-200. (He is claimed by us, and conceded by e.g. Hagenbach, His. of Doc., Sec. 139.) Nearly every witness is a martyr.

b. Now on the other side, not a single writer can be presented, not even a single name can be mentioned of any one cited, who opposed Chiliasm in this century, unless we except Clemens Alexandrinus (see 3); much less of any one who taught the Whitbyan view. Now let the student reflect : here are two centuries (unless we make the exception stated at the close of the 2d), in which positively no direct opposition whatever arises against our doctrine, but it is held by the very men, leading and most eminent, through whom we trace the Church. What must we conclude? (1) That the common faith of the Church was Chiliastic, and (2) that such a generality and unity of belief could only have been introduced — as our argument shows by logical steps — by the founders of the Ch. Church and the Elders appointed by them.

3. Pre-Mill Advocates of the 3rd Cent

a. (1) Cyprian, about A.D. 200-258. (He greatly admired and imitated Tertullian. We quote him on the nearness of the Advent, the Sabbatism, etc. Shedd, in his His. of Doc., vol. 2, p. 39-1, says that "Cyprian maintains the Millenarian theory with his usual candor and moderation.") (2) Commodian, between A.D." 200-270. (Was a decided Millenarian. Соmр. e.g. Clarke's Sac. Lit. Neander, Genl. Ch. His., vol. 2, p. 448— censures him as follows : " The Christian spirit, however, in these admonitions, which otherwise evince so lively a zeal for good morals, is disturbed by a sensuous Jewish element, a gross Chiliasm ; as for example, when it is affirmed that the lordly masters of the world should in the Millennium do menial service for the saints." Neander overlooks how early childlike piety might contemplate Ps. 149:5-9; Isa. 60:6-10; Mic. 7 :16, 17, and "kindred passages.) (3) Nepos, Bh. of Arsinoe, about A.D. 230-280. (Jerome, Whitby, Shedd, etc., make him a pronounced Chiliast.) (4) Coracion, about A.D. 230-280. (He is always united with Nepos by various writers, comp. Hagenbach's His. of Doc.} (5) Victorinus, about A.D. 240-303. (He is expressly called a favorer of Nepos and the Chiliasts by Jerome, de Viris Ill., c. 74.) (6) Methodius, Bh. of Olympus, about A.D. 250-311. (Of whom Neander — Genl. Ch. His., vol. 2, p. 496 — says, he had "a decided leaning to Chiliasm." Conceded to us by Whitby, Hagenbach, and others.) (7) Lactantius (although his works were chiefly composed in the next cent., yet being contemporary with Chiliasts so long in this century, we include him), between A.D. 240-330. (We quote from him, although Jerome ridicules his Millenarianism. Prof. Stuart calls him, "a zealous Chiliast.") Others, whom we strongly incline to regard as Millenarians, owing to their constant association with Chiliasts, etc., we omit, because the remains and the statements that we have are so meagre as to make it impossible to give a decided expression of opinion.

b. In this century we for the first time, unless we except Clemens Alexandrinus, come to opposers of our doctrine. Every writer, from the earliest period down to the present, who has entered the lists against us, has been able only to find these antagonists, and we present them in their chronological order, when they revealed themselves as adversaries. They number four, but three of them were powerful for mischief, and speedily gained adherents (comp. Prop. 76). The first in order is (1) Caius (or Gaius), who is supposed, by Kurtz (Ch. His.), to have written about A.D. 210, or as Shedd (His. Doc.), in the beginning of the 3d cent. (Much that he is alleged to have said comes to us through bitter Anti-Chiliastic sources, and must be correspondingly received with some allowance.) (2) Clemens Alexandrinus, who succeeded Pantœnus (died A.D. 202, so Kurtz), as preceptor in the Catechetical School of Alexandria, and exerted a powerful influence (on Origen and others) as a teacher from A.D. 193-220. (He became a Christian under Pantœnus, after having devoted himself to Pagan philosophy, and only during the latter part of his life made the disciples, who so largely moulded the subsequent interpretation of the Church.) (3) Origen, about A.D. 185-254. (We shall refer to him under the next Prop.) (4) Dionysius, about A.D. 190-265. (See next Prop.) There is no doubt but others were largely led to accept of Anti-Chiliastic teaching (seeing what an opposition sprung up in the 4th cent.), but these are the champions mentioned as directly hostile to Chiliasm. Now let the student carefully weigh this historical record, and he will see that the Church history indubitably seals our faith as the general, prevailing belief, for the most that can possibly be said respecting the opposition is, that in the closing years of the 2d century men arose who started an antagonism distinctively presented and urged in the 3d cent., and which culminated in the 4th and succeeding centuries. Hence, our Prop, is abundantly confirmed by the doctrinal status of the early Church; indeed, it is — if our line of argument respecting the apostolic belief remaining unchanged concerning the Kingdom is conclusive — the very position that the Church in its introduction must occupy. How illogical and unscriptural, therefore, for men to strive to weaken the testimony of those Fathers, and to apologize in their behalf, by making them ignorant, superstitious, sensual, etc., thus tracing the Church, established by inspired men and their selected successors, though ignorant, superstitious, and sensual believers, until the learned, enlightened, and spiritual Clemens, Caius, Origen, and Dionysius arose and brought light which "the consciousness of the Church" appreciated.

Obs. 14. When surveying the historical ground, which so accurately corresponds with the Scriptural, we are forced to the conclusion that those writers — both friends and foes — who insist upon the great extent of Chiliasm in the Apostolic and Primitive Church are most certainly correct. We, therefore, cordially indorse those who express themselves as Muncher (Ch. His., vol. 2, p. 415), that "it (Chiliasm) was universally received by almost all teachers," and (pp. 450, 452) refers it, with Justin, to "the whole orthodox community," summing up with this decided conclusion : "With these observations, the result of criticism is manifest, that in the Catholic Church the doctrine of the 1000 years' Kingdom was the dominant doctrine, and the rejection of it was regarded as an approach to Gnosticism. That the defenders of Chiliasm were fewer than Justin has represented — as Schiroeckh asserts — is a position which cannot be historically maintained." With this statement every unbiassed, unprejudiced mind must coincide when regarding the historical facts which support it.


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