4.4. Ellen White and the Adventist vision of the end


The Millerite ash was the ideal fertilizer for the rise of several groups generically called “Adventist.” All these groups preserved, more or less, the features of Millerism and have been characterized by the obsession for the end of the world. Of all, the best-known group is the one initiated by Hiram Edson and Joseph Bates, and later completed by James and Ellen White.

In January 1845 Joseph Turner tried to explain the Great Disappointment through the “shut-door” theory based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins from Matthew 25:11-12. After the “heavenly door” was closed on October 22, 1844, people could no longer be saved. The period of the testing of the world was over. The wise virgins (the true believers) were going to be in the kingdom, while the foolish virgins (the infidels) were left outside, regardless of their subsequent actions.1123

Hiram Edson came up with an even more interesting theory, which somehow complemented Turner’s argument. After he, allegedly, had a vision the day after the Great Disappointment, Edson said that on October 22, 1844, an extraordinary event took place indeed, but in Heaven, not on Earth, where Christ entered the second part of the heavenly sanctuary. Together with Owen R. L. Crosier and Franklin B. Hahn, Edson conducted a thorough biblical study at the end of which he concluded that the “sanctuary” from Daniel 8:14 does not represent the earth or the Church as Miller previously thought, but the heavenly sanctuary.1124 Hence, the 22nd of October marked indeed the Second Coming of Christ, but on the heavenly realm. These new

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7.2.1. Popular apocalypticism


7.2.1. The popular apocalypticism

After the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the assurance of a Protestant dominion, England became an appealing refuge for the continental radicals oppressed by the long hand of Catholicism. Élie Marion’s L’Enfants de Dieu (“God’s Children”) is the best example of visionaries who, due to the religious conflicts in the French regions, went to Switzerland in 1705, and reached London in 1706. In the island they were nicknamed the “French prophets,” due to their extraordinary abilities: they had visions, made miracles, spoke in tongues and experienced ecstatic trances. At first they were welcomed, but their pessimistic sermons caused repulsion and panic. After the series of revolutions, the plague and the Great Fire, England was tired by catastrophes and millenarism. It was a period of religious and political calm, because most of the people did not want to hear about an overthrow of the Protestant monarchy or an iteration of political experiments such as the Commonwealth or the Protectorate. So, the problem of the French prophets was not their message, but rather their timing; they were arrested, found guilty of blasphemy and disturbing the peace and condemned to pillory.844

With a secure and stable Protestant government, England had no reasons to worry, and the people were able to concentrate on more secular things, such as trade and commerce. The geographical conquests were boosting the British economy and the Enlightenment was bringing fresh ideas and perspectives in all fields. The British Empire was rapidly expanding and the future looked promising. Yet, for some this shift of interest was not a reason to celebrate. On the contrary; at the beginning of the 18th century clerics such as John Wesley, his brother Charles Wesley and George Whitefield noticed that there was something wrong with the spirituality of the English people: the process of evangelization was too slow. All three began to search for answers and methods

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6.4. The sectarianism of the English Civil War


In 1625 Charles I took the throne of England as the successor of James I, and his reign proved to be an endless struggle between Royalty and the Parliament. It was a period marked by conflicts, plots, assassinations, intrigues, open violence and street movements. Between 1629 and 1640 the king managed to obtain absolute power and ruled England without the Parliament, but he gradually lost the loyalty of his supporters. As a result, amid the political and religious dissensions, in 1642 the English Civil War erupted.

The first part of the war, between 1642 and 1646, and the second part, between 1648 and 1649, were characterized by the instigation of the supporters of Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament. The third part of the war, between 1649 and 1651, consisted in the fight between the supporters of Charles II and the supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War led to the execution of Charles I, the exile of his son Charles II and the replacing of the monarchy with the republican governments. In 1649 the Commonwealth was instituted until 1653, followed then by two Protectorates of Oliver Cromwell and Richard Cromwell. The Civil War

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5.2.3. Melchior Hoffman, Jan Matthys and the Munsterite theocracy

5.2.3. Melchior Hoffman, Jan Matthys and the Münsterite theocracy

The Reformation can be likened to a revolution and Protestants to revolutionaries. The early Protestants were in fact Catholics who were dissatisfied with the status of their religion and had the courage to question the legitimacy of the Catholic Church. The purpose of their protest was to improve and order the theological universe. But, despite their intention, as in the case of any revolution, the immediate effect was the spreading of chaos. And chaos, of any kind, is always an extraordinary opportunity for delirious minds and insane ideas to come to surface, sometimes having unforeseeable effects. One such case was Melchior Hoffman, an illiterate furrier from the region of Swabia. But, unlike Müntzer, who had voluntarily led his people to death in the Battle of Frankenhausen, Hoffman involuntarily contributed to a carnage in the city of Münster.

At first, in 1522, Hoffman converted to Lutheranism and became an itinerant preacher. But later he discovered Anabaptism, which fascinated him. To make matters worse, he believed that the persecutions he was subjected to were repaid by God with dreams, visions and signs. Thus, after eight years of preaching, persecutions and so-called revelations, Hoffman came to a very clear conception about the world: the end was approaching fast, the Reformation was the final battle between good and evil, Anabaptism was the outpouring of the spirit in the last days and God had great plans with his person. Even Joachimite influences can be distinguished in his writings, because he divided the history of the Church into three periods: the period of the apostles, the period of popes, and the period of the Reformation, started with Jan Hus. This was the time when the spirit of God was being poured upon people and the two witnesses of the Apocalypse revealed themselves to challenge the Antichrist. Parousia was going to be preceded by a revival of the apostolic Christianity through the work and the influence of two people: the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli and Hoffman himself – the two witnesses of the Apocalypse. Also, Jesus Christ would not descend on the Mount of Olives

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5.2.2. Thomas Muntzer and the German Peasants’ War

5.2.2. Thomas Müntzer and the German Peasants’ War

Another personality of the Radical Reformation was Thomas Müntzer, a paranoid who saw devilish conspiracies and apocalyptic signs everywhere. When he heard about the fame of the Ninety-Five Theses, Müntzer saw the phenomenon as a divine intervention. Accordingly, he left the monastery in Frohse and began to wander looking for inspiration and answers. In 1520 he arrived at Zwickau and exchanged opinions with Nikolaus Storch. And, while the threat of the authorities banished the Zwickau prophets toward Wittenberg, Müntzer took the road to Prague, where he remained for a couple of months.449

Influenced by Storch, Müntzer adopted Anabaptism, developed an anti-intellectualist philosophy450 and claimed that his personal theology was based on divine revelations. He militated for the formation of a pure church after the model of the early Christian Church,451 but he was rejected both by the magisterial Reformists and Catholics. Constantly banished, between 1521 and 1523 he led a wandering life, until he became a parson in the village of Allsted, where he married a former nun.452 Besides contesting the sacrament of

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5.2.1. The Zwickau Prophets


5.2.1. The Zwickau Prophets

One of the weirdest apocalyptic manifestations of the German Radical Reformation was the triad of the weaver prophets in the city of Zwickau. The leader, Nikolaus Storch, was an illiterate weaver who turned into a prophet of the latter days after he had divine revelations.442 Little is known about his two lieutenants, Thomas Drechsel and Markus Stübner; the latter seems to have pretended that he had the gift of mind reading. The three were not clerics, but laymen influenced by the ideas of the Brethren of the Free Spirit.443 They preached equality between men, the community of goods and rejected infant baptism. According to them, faith is a necessary requirement for baptism, and infants are not capable of having faith – this doctrine taking the generic name of “Anabaptism.”

The three enjoyed a tremendous success among the common people of Zwickau. But, in order to avoid being convicted by the local clergy, in December 1521 they ran to Wittenberg. While Luther was being at Wartburg, the Zwickau prophets arrived in Wittenberg around Christmas and began to preach. Andreas Karlstadt, the spiritual leader of the city in Luther’s absence, was taken by surprise by the new doctrine. He agreed with some of the views of the newcomers, but he refused to entirely accept Anabaptism because he felt that it was a theological trap. Instead, Melanchthon and his colleague Nikolaus von Amsdorf were utterly impressed. After ardent discussions carried out on the 27th of December, the scriptural arguments regarding the illegitimacy of infant baptism left a profound impression on Luther’s friend, at the time a young and inexperienced teacher of theology.

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4.2.5. The Great Western Schism and the prophecies of the popes

4.2.5. The Great Western Schism and the prophecies of the popes

The catastrophes of the 13th and 14th centuries had a baneful effect on church authority. The troubles were seen as manifestations of divine anger, while the writings of the period lamented the decadence of the institution of God: “they [the priests] frequent brothels and taverns, and spend their time in drinking, revelling, and gambling, fight and brawl in their cups, and with their polluted lips blaspheme the name of God and the saints, and from the embraces of prostitutes hurry to the altar.”349 Popular pamphlets speak about monks and priests in the roughest terms. Geoffrey Chaucer, in his pilgrimages to Canterbury, offers details about the price of a monk from his time. Money became the true god of the church. Bishops sold licenses to priests so that they could keep concubines and many popes were never elected as representatives of Christ if free elections were held and if gold did not talk instead of the voters. But the all-powerful money revealed its limits within an event that profoundly altered the image of the Papacy: the Great Western Schism.

The Great Western Schism, which took place between 1378 and 1417, manifested itself only within Catholicism and, as the Great Schism in the 11th century, was not caused by theological issues, but by political ones. In 1309 the seat of the Papacy was transferred from Rome to Avignon, where seven popes succeeded until 1378. At the death of Gregory XI the citizens of Rome protested against the election of a new French pope in Avignon and constrained the bishops to choose an Italian pope in the person of Urban VI. But the French cardinals refused to recognize Urban VI, declared the election null and named Clement VII as pope. Clement settled in Avignon, while Urban remained in Rome. In this situation Western Christendom could not decide who to listen to; some nations acknowledged Urban, others Clement. The scene of the two rival popes, each one claiming to be the veritable successor of Saint Peter, continued for approximately 40 years and damaged the institution of the Papacy more than any other event. The schism was finally solved through the Council of Constance (1414-1418). At the

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3. Prediction


The end of the world was and still is a religiously overcharged subject, inseparable from the divine will. An end of the world produced by the simple mechanics of the Universe, independent of divinity, took shape only at the end of the 19th century. Scientific development allowed mankind to become aware of the material dangers that threatens its entire existence. Accordingly, the idea of an end of the world started to be more and more imagined, handled and analyzed as a scientific possibility, independent of the existence and will of a supernatural entity.

Unlike the Abrahamic religions, which state that the end is inevitable, science treats it as a possible event. Currently, there is a multitude of scientific apocalyptic scenarios and, as knowledge progresses, their number increases. The scientific apocalyptic scenarios are divided into two large groups: scenarios caused strictly by the mechanics of the Universe and scenarios caused by social mechanics (self-destructive). Naturally, intermediate situations can also be imagined. Examples of scenarios caused by the mechanics of the Universe include Earth’s collision with an asteroid or a comet, a killer virus, the eruption of a supervolcano, the destabilization of Earth’s magnetic field, solar depletion and so on. On the other hand, man can trigger an apocalypse through pollution and climate change, nuclear war or out of control biological, physical or chemical experiments. Some scenarios are more likely to happen

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2. Prophecy


No matter the language, the culture or the period of time, man always sought to see the future. And information about the future can be obtained in three ways: divine revelation, divination and deduction (anticipation). The first represents a gift from divinity, the second is pure fantasy and the third is an essential part of life, but it tends to become a scientific field.

The claim of seeing the future through divine revelation or divination is called “prophecy” (or “prevision”). The receptor of the prophecy is called “prophet” (or “seer”), and his role is to share the knowledge about the future with the others. Instead, knowing the future through deduction is named “prediction,” and this is the subject of the next point of study. So, prophecy and prediction are two distinct things.

A veritable prophecy is always the outcome (or the effect) of a divine revelation (which, basically, is a miracle). A divine revelation can

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