6.5. The year 1666: the Black Plague and the Great Fire of London

6.5. THE YEAR 1666: THE BLACK PLAGUE AND THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON

It is strange that in the first part of the Middle Ages historical documents said nothing about apocalyptic manifestations related to the year 666, but there were fears related to 1666. The year 1666 is no more apocalyptic than the year 666, although it might be seen as the sum between the Millennium (1,000) and the number of the Beast (666). The similarity between the year 1666 and the number of the Antichrist was obvious, but it came in contradiction with the apostle’s words: “here is wisdom”; there was nothing wise in looking in the calendar and seeing that the year 1666 was approaching.753 And yet, as a strange coincidence, the year 1666 hosted three major apocalyptic manifestations, independent of each other: in Asia Minor, the Jew Sabbatai Zevi reached the apex of his messianic career;754 in Russia, the reform of the Orthodox Church broke the community of believers in two, leading to antichristical slanders and a long civil war;755 and in England the Black Plague and the Great Fire of London created a hellish atmosphere.

Same as in the 14th century, the havoc of the plague represented God’s tangible and immediate fury. The years 1665-1667 were years of horror for the Londoners. The writings of the time portray a terrifying picture of the society affected by this ruthless disease. Although it is considered to be a work of fiction, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year from 1722 is based on a solid documentation and describes

Continue reading

6.4. The sectarianism of the English Civil War

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

Continue reading

6.3.1. The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel

6.3. HEBRAISM

6.3.1. The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel

Since the early days of Christianity until the Enlightenment, all Christians, regardless of confession, blamed the Jews for being the allies of the devil. The Jews had been a sort of universal scapegoat: whenever there were times of panic or “divine” plagues, they were automatically accused and killed. And yet, the traditional Christian eschatological scenario requires a return of the Jews to the Holy Land so that the Antichrist can manifest himself among them: “And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint themselves one head, and shall go up from the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:11). But the materialization of this grandiose project raised special problems of logistics, sociology, demography and geography. Of the 12 tribes of Israel, as they are described in Genesis 35:21-26, apparently ten were scattered and lost in the mists of history beginning with 720 BC, during the Assyrian domination. The biblical books of Chronicles and Kings offer the most details on this subject. Furthermore, there is a historical gap: it cannot be said for certain how many and which tribes were scattered. Only the century-old tradition, aided by religious beliefs, supported the presence of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin at the moment of the Savior’s birth (hence the name of “Judaism” for the religion of the Jews). This means that the other ten tribes of Israel, considered lost and scattered across the world, are those of Reuben, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. And the Antichrist cannot reveal himself until there is a repatriation of the Jews to the Holy Land, especially of the tribe of Dan.

The prospect of repatriating the Jews gained momentum in the 16th century. The geographical discoveries questioned the old conceptions about the Universe and generated new theories regarding the shape, the dimension and the appearance of Earth. The problem was that God’s omnipresence demanded everything to have a purpose. After Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, Christians had to find the theological purpose of this new land. In this way America became an attractive spatial and temporal framework, free to be filled with anyone’s needs and ideas. Columbus himself believed that the new land was part of Asia and it was sheltering

Continue reading

6.2. Joseph Mede and the development of the English millenarism

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

Continue reading

6.1. The Henrician Reformation, Anglicanism and Puritanism

6. THE ENGLISH EVANGELICAL REVIVAL

6.1. THE HENRICIAN REFORMATION, ANGLICANISM AND PURITANISM

The Reformation in Britain began more than half a century after the Ninety-Five Theses and it had a distinct evolution compared to the one on the mainland. In fact, what happened in England’s religious life was not a reform, but a half-reform which degenerated into a movement of religious revival, renascence or awakening. It was a period of religious euphoria which later served as a model for the American great awakenings. The “Christian awakening” (or reawakening) is an expression which refers to a specific period of growing interest in the spiritual domain or a renovation of the life of a church or a congregation. The awakenings are seen as a restoration of the Church itself to a vital and ardent relation with God after a period of decline (here the Church refers to the mass of believers and not to an institution or a certain group).

The separation of the Church of England from Rome – started in 1529 and finished in 1536 – brought England alongside the general movement of Reformation. Nevertheless, the religious changes in the isle were made much more conservatively than anywhere else in Europe. Between a radical anti-papal tradition expressed by John Wycliffe and

Continue reading