The fresco of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo
Whilst reading a customer review of Stephen Walford's intriguing new book on Catholic eschatology Heralds of the Second Coming (which I hope to be able to cover in more detail myself in the near future), I was surprised to note that he was criticised by a reader for failing to adhere to the concept of a purported future Eucharistic Reign of Christ. The idea of a future Eucharistic Reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years after an intermediate Paraousia (during which time Our Lord would supposedly rule invisibly on earth from heaven), is a concept which was first proposed in the writings of contemporary Catholic theologian Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi. It is of great importance here to realise that this work should be considered separately from the traditional Catholic amillennialist of the Apocalypse - a line of interpretation which has been followed by mainstream theologians since St. Augustine first clearly elucidated the true meaning of the millennium in the Book of Revelation.
According to Fr. Iannuzzi and his followers, who like the Protestant dispensationalists, hold to an overly literal view of the chronology of the Book of Revelation, there will a thousand year millenary reign of Christ following the defeat of the Antichrist - a historic triumph of the Church which is to be equated with the era of peace foretold in the Secret of Fatima. Much in line with the postmillennial view forwarded by some Protestant commentators, Fr. Iannuzzi suggests that after this glorious future thousand year reign of Christ is over, Satan will once again be let loose from his chains during his "little while" in order to deceive the inhabitants of the earth, before finally being thrown into the lake of fire by Christ at his final Coming.
In an attempt to lend his argument an air of credibility, Fr. Iannuzzi relies on the writings of a select few of the early Church Fathers before St. Augustine who had adhered to the concept of a future millennial reign of Christ on earth. Yet although some of the early Church Fathers clearly forwarded millenarian/chiliastic views, they were not viewed by later theologians to be heretical, since they had lived in an age before the Holy Spirit revealed the true meaning of the millennium to the Church in the writings of St. Augustine. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the full truth of Scripture is something that is only revealed to the Church in stages over the course of the centuries:
Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.
So the evident chiliasm in the writings of some of the early Church Fathers can be put down to the fact did not yet possess any special insight into parts of Scripture that were still not fully illuminated by the Holy Spirit. They were merely attempting to make the best sense they could out of what is one of the most mysterious aspects of Christian eschatology. But after St. Augustine had revealed that the millennial reign of Christ started with His earthly ministry and that it encompassed the age of the Church, the chiliastic idea that Christ would reign for a thousand years with the saints on earth was subsequently recognised as a dangerous heresy which unduly emphasised the importance of the worldly realm over the spiritual. This was in keeping with Christ's declaration that "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
Fr. Iannuzzi attempts to bypass the charge of millenarianism by making a distinction between Christ reigning visibly on earth in the flesh for a thousand years (which is the straight, undiluted form of chiliasm), from the notion that he could reign invisibly for a thousand years from heaven in His presence in the Eucharist. This slight modification of millenarian ideas has enabled his work to escape from being immediately condemned by the Church. Stephen Walford contends in his book Heralds of the Second Coming that Fr. Iannuzzi's work falls into the category of "mitigated millenarianism", which was ruled out by Pius XII in 1944. I would argue that Fr. Iannuzzi's work is an example of the "modified forms" of millenarianism condemned by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
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, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
Ever since St. Augustine of Hippo presented his understanding of the Apocalypse in the monumental work City of God, Catholic theologians have unswervingly adhered to the amillennialist position, which holds that the "millennium" began with the binding of Satan in the ministry of Christ, and that this "1000 years" symbolises the age of the Church as the kingdom of Christ on earth. For Catholics, Christ is already the King who reigns from heaven forever, and has done since the Incarnation - we do not need to wait until some point in the future for His millennial reign from heaven. Indeed accepting the amillennialist position outlined by St. Augustine (who as a doctor of the Church, is considered by Catholic theologians to be the ultimate authority on this matter) is a vital key to understanding the significance of the "little while" given to Satan - when he is unleashed after the "1000 years" are over. I believe that this "little while" of the unbinding of the Devil directly corresponds to the period of the Great Apostasy and Pope Leo XIII's vision of the 100 years of Satan's greater power, and is consequently related to the horrors of the 20th century.
Given that there are a significant number of Catholics who follow Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi's concept of a millennial Eucharistic Reign of Christ on earth after the defeat of the Antichrist, I thought I should link to a more critical (and orthodox) review of his one of his books - The Splendor of Creation, before commenting in some more detail on St. Augustine's view of the millennium in a later post.
The full review can be found at newtorah.org. I'll post a section of it below:
The author’s main purpose in this book is to convince us that, in the very near future, we will witness a historical and universal ‘era of peace’, driven by a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost: “As humankind enters the third millennium, it will witness an explosion of mystical gifts, particularly that of ‘Living in the Divine Will’. By means of this most powerful gift that elevates man’s internal powers to God’s continuously eternal activity, all creation will be set free from its former slavery to corruption and glory and enjoy the glorious freedom of the sons of God. This liberating process of man and the cosmos introduces God’s sons and daughters to the splendor of creation, where a ‘new Pentecost’ will assist his creatures to live in harmony and in holiness.”(pp. 187-188).
He sets out to persuade us of this attractive prospect by arguing that the ‘era of peace’ (an expression taken from the Fatima apparitions in 1917, see note 22) has been prophesied by a formidable array of authoritative sources since the early days of the Church, and has been further confirmed and clarified over the last century in the ‘approved’ writings of a variety of Catholic mystics. He quotes extensively from the writings of these mystics, especially when explaining how the Holy Spirit’s work of divinization will bring all men to behave peacefully, during the imminent ‘era of peace’, through a voluntary and loving adherence to the divine will. The strength of this book lies in the author’s evident desire for the imminent ‘era of peace’ and his ardent conviction that this ‘period of triumphant Christianity’ corresponds to Christ’s reign of one thousand years prophesied in chapter 20 of the book of Revelation. One hesitates to criticize a book that anticipates such a pleasant and painless interim for the Church and for mankind, but it must be said that the force of the author’s conviction should not obscure our vision of the truth and our understanding of reality. Even though a host of worthy churchmen and women may wish for Christianity to be seen to triumph in this world, and for this triumph to be expressed in a historical and lengthy ‘era of peace’, one must seriously consider whether their wish truly conforms to reality, or whether it simply reflects a form of ecclesiastical idealism, or wishful thinking, that has become isolated from the ‘real world’, and especially from the ugly presence of unforgivable or ‘eternal’ sin (cf. Mk 3,29; Mt 12,32; 1Jn 5,16-17; Heb 6,4-6; 10,26-31; Rev 16,9-11.21). Given that this kind of sin can only be removed from the creation at the final judgment, and also that it is implacably hostile to God’s kingdom, it follows that before the final judgment there can be no historical realization, or consummation, of God’s kingdom. In the symbolical language of the book of Revelation, this means that the chaining of Satan in the abyss during the ‘millennium’ does not stop him from exerting his influence through spiritual (angelic) deputies and willing humans. In this way Satan is still able to oppose the Kingdom of God and impede its full realization. This is confirmed by the Catechism when it says “the kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil…God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world” (CCC 677b). So instead of the ‘historic triumph of the Church’ we should rather expect that “The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection” (CCC 677a). The inescapable conclusion is that the long-awaited and greatly desired consummation of God’s kingdom will be attainable only through a grueling persecution of the Church followed closely by the final judgment. The author’s ‘era of peace’ is exposed as a pious pipedream, an illusory escape from the hard realities that we should even now be spiritually preparing for. Far from being a miraculous placebo inducing a global ‘era of peace’ and a ‘historic triumph of the Church’, the new Pentecost (Rev 8:5) is actually granted to the Church to prepare and strengthen her for the last and greatest tribulation she will ever have to face, “her final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection” (CCC 677a), a persecution that to all the world will seem like a humiliating defeat. Related to this general theological objection to the author’s proposal for an imminent, historical ‘era of peace’, is the claim that it represents the millennial rule of Christ with his saints described in chapter 20 of the book of Revelation. Throughout the book, the author takes pains to distinguish his futuristic interpretation of the millennium from the various forms of millennialism that the Church has robustly condemned (chapter 7). Although he does not spell it out, the author’s proposal clearly conforms to the class of interpretations defined as ‘postmillennial’, which is to say that it expects the Second Coming of Christ to occur after a millennial ‘era of peace and triumphant Christianity’. One great weakness of his work is that he does not deal with the classical objections to this form of interpretation, namely that New Testament writers do not anticipate a millennial age to dawn on earth. As noted recently by a Protestant Scholar, “There is no biblical evidence that the nations as a whole will become Christianized. In fact, just the opposite appears to be the case. After all, we read the great lament of our Lord. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Indeed the Bible teaches that Christ will judge the nations when he returns because of their unbelief and hostility toward his kingdom (Matt. 25:31-32; Rev. 19:15; 20:11-12). It is hard to attribute this deplorable condition to a brief period of apostasy after Jesus Christ and his saints have ruled over these nations for a thousand years and, according to postmillennial expectations, the nations have become Christianized. Therefore, postmillennial expectations do not fit easily with the New Testament’s emphasis on our Lord’s return to judge the unbelieving world.” (A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, Kim Riddlebarger, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; Leicester, UK: IVP, 2003, p.237). And again, “But postmillenarians err when they attempt to locate the triumph of the kingdom in the Christianizing of the nations and the economic, cultural, and religious progress associated with an earthly millennium. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. But one day, John said, the kingdoms of the world will “become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). That day will come when Jesus Christ returns but not before.” (op.cit. p. 239). Rev. Iannuzzi may be correct in asserting that postmillennial interpretations have not yet been censured by the Church’s Magisterium, but he appears to be blissfully unaware of the fact that they are not consistent with rest of the New Testament. While arguing against other interpretations of the millennium in chapter seven of his book, the author rather too hastily sweeps aside the traditional amillennialist view, according to which the millennium corresponds to the present Church age: “Not only did the Amillenarians disavow belief in the Pre- and Postmillenarians’ literal views of biblical eschatology, they denied and opposed the possibility of the magisterial ‘historic period of triumphant Christianity’. Needless to say, the Magisterium condemned their beliefs due to faulty interpretations of the 20th Chapter of the book of Revelation.” (p.200). This comment is contentious for several reasons: firstly because the Magisterium has never declared itself in favour of a ‘historic period of triumphant Christianity’ as the author claims. On the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that “…the kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church…” (CCC 677) as already seen above. Secondly, it should be observed that the author’s lengthy descriptions of the proposed future ‘era of peace’ are equally applicable to the present Church age (e.g. ‘the first resurrection’, pp. 69-72). In this way, the author goes a long way in recognizing the arguments in favour of the amillennial interpretation. Thirdly, to the best of my knowledge, the Magisterium has never condemned the amillennialist interpretation of Rev. 20, and is never likely to condemn it, because this was the interpretation long ago proposed by St. Augustine (City of God, book 20, chs. 7-10) and adopted by the Church to oppose millennialism. Noteworthy in this regard is the absence of a reference in the endnotes to any document confirming this erroneous assertion. This last objection raises doubts about the veracity of the author in promoting his ‘era of peace’. Regrettably, there are several other instances in this book where the author seems to be drawing false conclusions from his sources. He does this, deliberately it would seem, by selectively quoting from the writings of ancient authors, in order to make them appear to support his postmillennial ‘era of peace’, even though they do not. In some cases this means hiding dissonant features and, in other cases, inventing consonant features.... (Read the full article here).