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My Question: Is amillenialism an ordinary (fallible) or extraordinary (infallible) teaching of the Catholic Church?

In other words, is it possible to be Catholic while believing in the Millenium Kingdom? As many Protestants teach today.

Examples of Catholics teaching the Millenium Kingdom in the past:

The fourth century church historian Eusebius considered Papias to be a primary source for the millennial views of early fathers. He wrote:

In these [Papias' accounts] he says there would be a certain millennium after the resurrection, and that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on this very earth; which things he appears to have imagined, as if they were authorized by the apostolic narrations, not understanding correctly those matters which they propounded mystically in their representations. . . . yet he was the cause why most of the ecclesiastical writers, urging the antiquity of the man, were carried away by a similar opinion; as, for instance Irenaeus, or any other that adopted such sentiments.

The writer of the Epistle of Barnabas (cir. 117/132 AD ) held to the idea that after six thousand years of history that would correspond to six days of creation, there would be a seventh day “sabbath” rest which would last one thousand years. The following is from the Epistle of Barnabas:

Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.” This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, “Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. “And He rested on the seventh day.” This meaneth: when His Son, coming again, shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.

St. Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho (written cir. 155) describes the belief in a literal millennium as the orthodox doctrine, though admitting that some denied it. He sees the millennium centered in Jerusalem and predicted by Old Testament prophets. Justin wrote,

“But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.”

St. Justin Martyr did mention that, “many who belong to pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.” EVidently there were already others who did not believe in a literal millennium at that point in history, but Justin does not supply their names.

St. Hippolytus of Rome (cir. 170-236) wrote extensively about the end times, including, Commentary of Daniel. Hippolytus took up the idea of a day being one thousand years and applied it to history. He reasoned:

For the first appearance of our Lord in the flesh took place in Bethlehem, under Augustus, in the year 5500; and He suffered in the thirty-third year. And 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day “on which God rested from all His works.” For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they “shall reign with Christ,” when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.” Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled. And they are not yet fulfilled, as John says: “five are fallen; one is,” that is, the sixth; “the other is not yet come.

St. Irenaeus discusses Biblical prophecy in Against Heresies (written from 180 to 199 AD12 ). He mentions the “seventh day” in regard to eschatological promises. He wrote,

“These [promises given by Christ] are to take place in the times of the kingdom, that is, upon the seventh day, which has been sanctified, in which God rested from all the works which He created, which is the true Sabbath of the righteous, which they shall not be engaged in any earthly occupation; but shall have a table at hand prepared for them by God, supplying them with all sorts of dishes.”

St. Irenaeus considered the promise that Jesus made to His disciples at the last supper to one day drink the fruit of the vine again with them “in my Father's kingdom” to be proof of a future, earthly kingdom to be established after the resurrection.

Source of Quotes

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It would seem that the Catholic position is typically amillenialism, but every Catholic is not compelled to believe it. Augustine is credited with bringing the amillenial position to the forefront and Catholics tend to side with Augustine on this issue.

From Catholic.com:

As far as the millennium goes, we tend to agree with Augustine and, derivatively, with the amillennialists. The Catholic position has thus historically been "amillennial" (as has been the majority Christian position in general, including that of the Protestant Reformers), though Catholics do not typically use this term.

Of concern, however, is that you take the premillenial position, which has been specifically condemned in CCC 676

The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism [aka premillenialism].

That is to say, the Church believes explicitly that the Antichrist works and has worked throughout history, which is in contrast to premillennial eschatology. How and when she will be wrapped up in Christ at the time of the end is a mystery, but it does include a final trial, persecution, religious deception, and an Antichrist.

Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. the supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
CCC 675 ibid

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  • Could you specify in your answer what the "modified forms' are in CCC 676? Jul 4 '18 at 16:25
  • Why do you think that "millenarianism" in 676 refers only to premillenialism and not postmillenialism? Jul 4 '18 at 22:08
  • @Nathaniel I can't say I'm sure it doesn't, but I was focusing primarily on a- and pre-. Post- is often neglected in these discussions, since so few hold that position. The wording of CCC 675 seems to exclude post-, but not necessarily, and CCC 676 doesn't quite include it. However, I'm realizing now that "modified forms" may mean anything other than a-, but I cannot find anything in the canon law requiring faithful Catholics being compelled to believe a- over anything else, which is the primary point of the question.
    – fгedsbend
    Jul 4 '18 at 22:39
  • @DestynationY I'm not sure. See my above comment. I'll dig a bit further later and see what comes up. I'm hesitant to delve into the Father's writings, as they sometimes conflict and it doesn't seem the church has placed a- as an "extraordinary (infallible) teaching".
    – fгedsbend
    Jul 4 '18 at 22:40
  • So the Church has infallibly excluded pre- but not infallibly standardized a-? Now that is interesting. I know that the CCC, at least in apperance, prohibits pre- but then again CCC 390 affirms that the fall of man is figurative, yet we know that in actuality there is no prohibition against taking the fall of man literally as do all Catholic creationists. And creationism was the official teaching of the Church until very very recently. Therefore in your answer you must distinguish between ordinary Magesterium(fallible) and extraordinary Magesterium(infallible). Jul 4 '18 at 23:29
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The quotes provided in the comments below your question are very clear, showing that for a good while the initial stance on the millennial reign of Christ was a literal 1,000 year reign on earth, after the resurrection. Not every Catholic held to that, however.

The stance officially changed as time progressed (pointed out in fredsbender's answer). You commented,

"So the Church has infallibly excluded pre- but not infallibly standardized a-? Now that is interesting. I know that the CCC, at least in apperance, prohibits pre- but then again CCC 390 affirms that the fall of man is figurative, yet we know that in actuality there is no prohibition against taking the fall of man literally as do all Catholic creationists. And creationism was the official teaching of the Church until very very recently."

The puzzle thus opening up before us can be clarified by an over-view of changing views about the book of the Revelation during the centuries, so that we can then see why Catholicism changed its stance. No need to go searching for whether 'ordinary' Magesterium applies, or 'extraordinary' Magesterium. It will soon be seen that it was and remains a shrewd move, not to come down emphatically on any one side of the fence, but to incorporate a bit from both sides.

The Praeterist (Contemporary) Interpretation: Everything in Revelation was fulfilled in past history during the first century of the church.

The Historicist Interpretation: With the exception of the prologue and epilogue, Revelation is a continuing unfolding of the history of the church in the world. It commences with the apostolic age and continues to unfold to the end of time. The Reformers identified the 'beasts' of Revelation with the papacy and its influences over worldly powers. At first, Rome and its satellite European Community countered this view with the already existing Contemporary Interpretation (above).

The Futurist Interpretation: This developed as Roman Catholic counter-reformation tactics, putting everything in the future, due to their Contemporary, or Praeterist interpretation having failed to refute the Reformers’ Historicist one. This new interpretation views the church prophetically from the day of Pentecost till the second coming of Christ in historical sequence throughout chapter 2 and 3 of Revelation. In chapter 4 a secret rapture of the church is proposed. The prophetic narrative of events from chapter 4 to 22 has nothing to do with the church but is presumed to do with Israel over a future seven year period of tribulation; a literal thousand years with Israel on earth, and the church suspended in heaven above it. The O.T. priesthood, temple and sacrifices are reinstituted with the Lord being on earth reigning over Israel and the world. This astounding scheme was recovered from oblivion by J.N. Darby and other early Brethren leaders. The Plymouth Brethren adopted and propagated this originally Catholic reaction to the Reformers, from the 1830's onward. After the Plymouth division, Schofield incorporated this, also adding dispensationalism to his 'Schofield Bible'.

There is, however, another main school of interpretation - the Resumptive [Spiritual] Interpretation: Revelation repeats the period from the ascension till the judgment seven times over. The entire age of the church appears, repeated as seven parallel phases of conflict between implacably antagonistic principles. The seven-fold parallel sections show distinctive aspects of the same struggle of the Church from Christ's ascension, building up the picture, till the last judgment.

For the purpose of this question, what matters with Catholic leaders is that the threat of the Reformation interpretation be removed. They had to change from the Praeterist view to a Futurist one to counter the Reformers' attack on themselves. With what glee they must have seen developments from the 1830s onwards, when Protestants like Darby and Schofield gave the Futurist interpretation an immense boost, so that today many millions of Protestants enthuse about it, promoting it, without even realising why the Futurist interpretation was initially proposed by Catholic leaders! However, millions more Protestants stick with the Resumptive (Spiritual) interpretation.

But that is why there is no emphatic declaration in Catholicism as to Millennialism or Amillennialism being fallible, or infallible. It had to change its initial teaching, and it will change again if circumstances develop in the future to warrant that, from a Catholic perspective. Tactics must needs be flexible, and never subjected to rigid interpretations.

So, when you ask, "Is it possible to be Catholic while believing in the Millenium Kingdom? As many Protestants teach today" - the answer is, anybody can believe anything they like about the book of the Revelation prophecies about Christ's Kingdom, be it for a literal thousand years on earth, or not. Protestants have taken up the later Catholic interpretations and melded them into their own - a real dog's dinner, actually. Catholics might be very pleased to understand why, and feel a certain freedom in their own thoughts.

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  • +1 Fascinating! Can you offer sources for the roots of dispensationalism being Catholic? Aug 6 at 19:51
  • @Mike - No, it's not Catholicism that gave rise to dispensationalism and I did not mean to give that impression. Dispensationalism really started from the 1830s onwards with Darby, Schofield and others, with many Pentecostal groups taking it up too. I should have said Schofield added it. An interesting Q, and As linked to that is at christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/83193/… where I note your comment to me.
    – Anne
    Aug 7 at 10:40
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    Ah! I now see it is futurism and not dispensationalism that was first Catholic. My apologies. Aug 8 at 12:39

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