6.2. Joseph Mede and the development of the English millenarism


Toward the end of 16th century the Protestant-Catholic conflict turned into a war of attrition; the Counter-Reformation initiated by Pius IV began to bear fruit, while the Protestant Reformation showed signs of exhaustion. This made Britain, the place where Protestantism was officially tolerated, one of the favorite refuges of mainland radicals. A wave of apocalyptic teaching invaded the island, and the English scholars took it and adapted it to their own needs. Joseph Mede, one of the greatest scholars the Church of England has ever produced, is considered to be the father of the English millenarism. Mede was inspired by the work of Johann Heinrich Alsted, Carolus Gallus or Johannes Piscator. In 1627 Alsted published the first edition of Diatribe de mille annos apocalypticis, non illis Chiliastarum et Phantastarum, sed beatorum Danielis et Johannis, a work that reached the hands of the English Puritans due to Mede. In the same year Mede published his own work, Clavis apocalyptica ex innatis et insitis visionum characteribus eruta et demonstrata. Republished in 1632 together with a complete commentary, Clavis apocalyptica… became a landmark and an authority of the British eschatological exegesis.

Mede followed the classic Protestant doctrine with the Papacy in the role of the Antichrist. The great tribulation was identified with the exercise of papal power for 1,260 years, with the Millennium beginning in 1654 or 1716.651 Nevertheless, Clavis apocalyptica… is not a complete commentary on Revelation, but rather the explanation of a method of interpretation. Mede believed that his great theological achievement consisted in the discovery of the “synchronisms”: “I call a synchronism of the prophecies a concurrence of events predicted therein within the same time; which may be called a contemporary or coetaneous period; for prophecies of contemporary things synchronize.”652

Behind the synchronism sits the geometrization of Revelation and its partition into three distinct parts. The purpose of this partition was to determine which apocalyptic events evolve simultaneously and which ones flow one after another. For example, according to Mede, the sound of the sixth trumpet from Revelation 9 synchronizes with the pouring of the seven vials of God’s wrath from Revelation 16 and they both mark the stages of the Antichrist’s falling. The pouring of the first three vials – representing the heretics from the end of the Middle Ages, the Reformation and the defeat of the Spanish Armada – had already happened. But the pouring of the last four vials – consisting in the destruction of the Holy Roman Empire, the Papacy, the Turks and Satan himself – all were about to be fulfilled. The pouring of the seventh vial of wrath had to coincide with the sound of the sixth trumpet and the establishment of the Millennium.653 In addition, Mede believed that a large part of the Book of Revelation is allocated to the evolution and fall of the Roman Empire: …

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