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have referred to it merely to prepare the mind of the reader for the history of its continuance, and out-croppings, through the succeeding centuries, which we have now to give.
Mosheim informs us that the opinion prevailed as early as the second or third century, that Christ was to reign on earth a thousand years prior to its final destruction. In the third century, the subject of the millennium was discussed in the church with great earnestness. Both sides had able advocates. The learned Origen called into requisition all his genius and erudition to confute and silence the millennarians. In this purpose he partially succeeded. He was followed by Dionysius of Alexandria, a disciple of his, and the author of two learned dissertations on ihe divine promises. These dissertations, together with the labors of Origen, checked for a time the spread of the millennarian heresy. Their effects were transient, however. The age was credulous and superstitious, and any doctrine which taxed its credulity or addressed its superstition could not be held in check for any great length of time. Accordingly in the fourth century, the doctrine against which Origen and his disciple contended so stoutly, again rose to view and commanded attention. It appeared, however, in a form somewhat different from that which it presented in the second and third centuries. Previously, it had been mainly a matter of speculation. Now, it assumed the aspect of a solemn reality.
The Bishop of Hippo, Augustin, who flourished about the middle of the fourth century, published a work which he named “ De Civitate Dei,” in which he declared that the world would end in the year 395. He afterward discovered some error in his calculation, and postponed the event about a hundred years. The prophet did not live to see his revised prediction falsified.
We have met with no record of similar predictions made either in the fifth, seventh, or eighth centuries, though, in all probability, each had its prophets, prophecies and alarms. The sixth and ninth centuries were not destitute of prophesying fanatics, who made quite a bustle in the darkness, and then were “jostled from the stage forever.” The tenth century was distinguished, beyond all preceding centuries, by the alarms occasioned by predictions respecting the end of the world.
6 Parkman on “ End of the World.” Monthly Miscellany, p. 243.
We ought to premise here, perhaps, that the belief in a millennium was grounded, as it still is grounded, on a passage found in Revelation xx. It reads thus : And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” Now, as a thousand years since the birth of Christ had nearly elapsed, the belief arose that the end of all things was near at hand, and the day of Judgment about to begin. This doctrine was preached by the priests, doubtless, not because they believed it to be true, in all cases, but because they deemed it a profitable doctrine.—We digress to say, that a similar doctrine has been preached in our century, for a kindred reason. Christian shepherds have sanctioned, nay, secured its proclamation, not because they believed it was of God, but for the reason that it would alarm the wandering sheep and drive them into their narrow fold.
At the time of which we were writing, near the close of the tenth century, the deepest darkness rested upon the European mind. The pope, who then filled the papal chair, bore but slight resemblance to St. Peter, whose successor he claimed to be. He 'w
was distinguished for profligacy and reckless ambition, rather than by the spirit of self-denial, or by religious earnestness. His bishops and clergy were too much like their head, and were noted for their craftiness, licentiousness, and ignorance, rather than on account of those Christian graces, which should ever adorn the ambassadors of Christ-meekness, temperance, knowledge, and aptness to teach. A benighted laity, cursed with such spiritual teachers, were far more likely to suffer extortion and deception, than to receive the benefits of wholesome counsel and of correct example. The doctrine of purgatory had well served the avarice of the pope and his priests. Into their hands millions had been paid by the laity to relieve their departed friends from torment therein, and to shorten their own sojourn in the bale fires of that under-world. The doctrine which declared that the end of all things was at hand, promised a rich harvest to the spiritual head of the church. He did not forego its promises. “As all sublunary possessions," says Ramsy, “could then be of little avail, the clergy failed not to improve the moment of expectation; and multitudes, to secure some merit against that awful time, bequeathed all their estates and wealth to the church and her ministers, expressly assigning the reason,
appropinquante mundi termini,—the end of all things is at hand."? Thus, while the church was enriched by the excitement, thousands were impoverished by it.
It is impossible, at this late day, to imagine the terror which teigned throughout Christendom as the thousandth year from the birth of Christ approached. It was at the close of the thousandth year that the great catastrophe was expected. Jesus, it was supposed, would descend in Judea; his judgment-seat was to be erected on Mount Zion, and all the Christian nations were to be assembled around it. Many left all their property and friends behind them, and journeyed to Palestine, believing that the Judge would amply reward them for such sacrifices, and for performing so arduous a pilgrimage.“ The opulent," says Gregory, in his History of the Christian Church, " attempted to bribe Deity and his saints by rich donations conferred upon the sacerdotal and monastic orders, who were considered as the immediate vicegerents of heaven.” In those fearful times the historian laid aside his pen, for why record, if there are to be no future generations to read ? Noble buildings were suffered to decay. Why repair them, since they were so soon to be destroyed ? In fine, every temporal interest was forgotten by the terrified masses, whose minds, under the lash of superstition, were wrought into the highest degree of fanaticism. “Whenever an eclipse of the sun or moon happened to be visible," writes Gregory, the cities were deserted, and their miserable inhabitants fled for refuge to hollow caverns, and hid themselves among craggy rocks and in cavities
7 Ramsy's Universal History.
of mountains." Labor, both of body and mind, must have been deemed useless. Almost a total cessation of labor ensued. In view of the extensive excitement which at this time prevailed, one can truly say, with Sismondi, “ It is almost a matter of surprise that a belief so general as this appears to have been, did not bring about its own dreadful fulfilment; that it did not transform the West into one vast convent, and by causing a total cessation from labor, deliver up the human race to universal and hopeless famine." 8
But men have daily wants which must be supplied. While these were being attended to, their minds were turned for the time from the haunting spectre of their imaginations. Habits of industry were thus partially preserved, and some little provision was made for the present, if not for the future. But anxiously were the signs of the times observed. Many appeared which were considered as heralds of the coming desolation. Time, however, wore away. The extreme period designated as the last hour of the world, arrived. It passed, -and lo! as the miserable dupes of a heartless priestcraft looked up towards the heavens, they saw the sun shining as cheerily as ever! To their great joy, they beheld the planets still marching steadily along their orbits, while the stars shone as sweetly as when they sang the birth-song of our world!
They had been deceived. The Scriptures had been misinterpreted. The mistake was acknowledged, and the excitement died away-never to be repeated, one would conjecture, so long as history perpetuated the memory of that stupendous deception. But let us not be too sanguine. As if to gratify a love of deception, this old fearspectre was again called out from the shades, in the twelfth century. So clearly were its terrors made visible to the popular mind, and so extensive and terrible was the alarm which ensued, that two ecclesiastical “ Councils, with all the weight of their learning and decrees,” 9 were unable to calm the agitation. Its rolling tide cast the wrecks it made upon the strand of time, and left an ineffaceable impress of its awful energy upon the solid monuments of its era.
8 Fall of the Roman Empire, p. 467. 9 Parkman's Art. Monthly Miscellany, p. 243.
We now pass to the thirteenth century. This had its prophet-fanatics. We shall stop to notice but two of this class. The first to be introduced did not, as we are aware, foretell the time of the world's destruction ; but, on account of his fanaticism, he ranks in the category of those prophets who more properly come under our notice at the present time. Says a quaint writer, “ One ingenious seer discovered, in the year 1212, that the Mediterranean sea was to be dried up, that believers might pass to Jerusalem on foot. Italy became crowded with thousands of German pilgrims; but the sea did not budge an inch."
Waddington, in his Church History, informs us that in 1257, or about that year, a book was published by a doctor of Paris, (Guilliaume de St. Amour,) a doctor of Sorbon, against the order of mendicants, which at that time was very extensive. The sapient doctor's book was entitled, “Concerning the Perils of the Latter Times.” It was founded on the belief that the passage of St. Paul relating to the “perilous times,” which were to come in the “latter days,” was fulfilled by the establishment of the Mendicant Order. Of course the learned doctor inferred from this, that the end of the world was near at hand, even at the doors.
Bidding adieu to the thirteenth century—to its prophets and superstitions, we enter the limits of the fourteenth century. An Italian priest is mentioned by Dr. Parkman, in his dissertation on the end of the world, who, in 1335, alarmed all Italy by proclaiming that the end of the world was to come in that year. The same writer also says, that only ten years after this, 1345, “one Arnold, a Spanish Monk, wrought like effects by a like fanati
Surely, we say, the world has now learned wisdom, and will be duped no more by false prophets. It has experienced enough to guard it against similar delusion in the future. At least, one would think, ages must elapse —these impositions be forgotten, ere a kindred excitement could be raised. But no; the masses were still under the cloud of ignorance; and, thus circumstanced, they
10 Monthly Miscellany, p. 243.