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I have heard some theologians coming from both amillennial and premillianial perspectives claiming Athanasius as one of their own. As is often the case with modern readers of the Church Fathers, there seems a great temptation to read modern-day views into the ancient texts...

Of Athanasius's works, I have read On the Incarnation and most of the festal epistles, and I don't recall reading anything relevant to the issue of the millennium. However, I read them before I had much interest in the topic and might have missed something.

Did Athanasius write anything (directly or tangentially) about the issue of the millennium?


As a refresher on the issue of the millennium, it is a question of how to interpret Revelation 20:1-10, and the corresponding picture of eschatology. Premillennialists view this as a future, this-worldly reign of Christ that begins when he returns and concludes with the final judgment. Amillennialists and postmillennialists view it as symbolic of the period leading up to the 2nd coming, and that there is no substantial gap between the return of Jesus and the final judgment. Both points of view are ancient (among authors I have read, Pseudo-Barnabas and Justin Martyr are premil, while Augustine and Eusebius are post/a-mil), though the modern debates tend to look pretty different than the discussions I find in the Church Fathers.

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  • This article has a little to say about Athanasius' views: apologus.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/… Feb 26 at 15:46
  • Sort of... nothing in the context makes the quote eschatological at all. But now I can add postmillennialists to those who have attempted to claim Athanasius :P Feb 26 at 15:50
  • It might be helpful if you were to refresh the minds of your readers as to the definitions of a- pre- and post-millenialism. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 26 at 18:53

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Athanasius lived 293 to 373. He had not even been born by the year 200 A.D. when there could well have been expectations about Christ returning very soon to start a one thousand-year reign. Except that, by the time he was mature, he would have known that Christ had not returned in the year 200.

He was only seven years old at the next potential date many may have hoped would see Christ return - 300. But by the time he was mature, he would have known that Christ had not returned in the year 300.

He may have wondered about the next date some could have been hoping would start the beginning of a one-thousand year reign of Christ - 400. But he died before then. However, by then, many thoughts seemed to have begun to turn to a one thousand-year 'millennial' rule of the church on earth.

Most modern ideas of 'the Millennium' are far removed from any of that. This means that people today reading what any of the early church fathers wrote about the reign of Christ are likely to be reading into that what they think, in context of a literal one thousand years of Jesus sitting on a throne in Jerusalem with a rebuilt temple there.

That is why there are opposing views on what Athanasius believed about the topic, different groups trying to claim him as "one of their own". Is that not a touch pathetic?

However, it is important for us today to examine "how to interpret Revelation 20:1-10" as you say, but unless we have prayerfully discovered how God would have us approach and understand the whole of that prophetic book, we waste our time. There is a 'key' to understanding what it means by the words "reigning with Christ a thousand years" (vs. 6) etc.

It is in this quote of Athanasius which I conclude with. He is quoted frequently in this book, but nothing on the subject of any millennium; this, however, applies to my paragraph above:

"In addition to study and real knowledge of the Scriptures, integrity of life, purity of soul and Christlike virtue are required... Whoever wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse and purify himself by holiness of life and imitate the saints themselves by behavior similar to theirs." De incarn. Verbi 57, as quoted in Beginning to Read the Fathers, Boniface Ramsey, p.41, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985

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  • Arguments about the interpretation of the millennium are not new (though Dispensational premillennialism definitely is). Justin Martyr explicitly affirms a literal thousand-year reign of Christ after his second coming. I understand that Irenaeus did too, though I haven't read him. Pseudo-Barnabas does too, albeit in a very different way from modern premils as he wrote before Revelation was written. Eusebius and Augustine explicitly deny premillennialism. I'm not asking "which modern camp did Athanasius fit into?" but rather "what were his own views?" Mar 1 at 15:47
  • Also, it isn't clear to me why turns of the centuries would be times of increased millennial expectations - can you elaborate on that? Mar 1 at 15:47
  • @DarkMalthorp Indeed, it does not matter whether Athanasius 'fits into' any modern camp or not. Let's hope another answer gives the quotes you are looking for. On the second point, 1st century Christians believed Christ would return very soon, perhaps shortly after the start of the 2nd century. It took a few hundred years for that expectation to wane, but the approaching 2nd millennium raised hopes again. Consider millennial hopes as the year 2000 approached! People seem to like round numbers.
    – Anne
    Mar 1 at 15:57
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Confessing that I am no expert in the debates between pre- and post-millennialists, the following information may be useful for the OP's question.

Athanasius rejected the idea that the Book of Daniel's prophecy of the 70 weeks had to do with either the rapture or the Second Coming of Jesus. According to blogger and former Reform pastor Kim Riddlebarger:

Athanasius understands the seventy weeks prophecy as fulfilled in its entirety by Jesus’ messianic mission. Since Jews do not accept that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, they are forced to push Daniel’s prophecy off into the future so as to evade implications of Daniel’s prediction coming to pass in exacting detail.

This contradicts the viewpoint of Christians who believe that the end of the 70 weeks coincides with the beginning of the tribulation and the coming of the Antichrist. It also disagrees with the idea that the tribulation begins after the rapture of the church and ends when Jesus returns to earth again.

Conclusion: I need help to say exactly how this relates to the OP question about pre- and post- millennialism. But this much is clear: to the extent that the 70 weeks of Daniel are connected to either viewpoint, Athanasius rejected this. He believed that the 70s weeks were already finished when Jesus came the first time.

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    So it is clear that Athanasius was not a dispensationalist. Mar 1 at 17:11
  • I'll trust you on that. My head spins thinking about such things. Mar 1 at 17:16
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What Athanasius wrote ca. 318 in "On the Incarnation" (55):

Since the Savior came to dwell among us, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And demons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, see, the Savior's teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Savior "Who is above all" and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.

is consistent with his holding the amillennialist view.

https://web.archive.org/web/20140519040456/http://www.theologynetwork.org/studying-theologyrs/on-the-incarnation.htm

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  • It does indeed sound like modern amillennial or reformed postmillennial views, but it's not inconsistent with a future earthly millennial reign of Christ either. Mar 2 at 11:55

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