Caveat Emptor: Pre- and Postmillennialism in the Late Reformation Period

  • R. Smolinski
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 175)


The study of late Reformation eschatology is frequently bogged down in a quagmire of terminology which can be as puzzling to novices as it is to those who plumb its depth. All too often modern assumptions about, and definitions of, the terms “premillennialism” (whose adherents place Christ’s Second Coming at the beginning of the thousand years during which Satan is bound in the “abyss” according to Rev. 20:1–3) and “postmillennialism” (whose adherents place Christ’s reappearance at the end of the millennium) are rigidly superimposed upon the developing historical context in the early modern era. Modern interpreters frequently characterize sixteenth- and seventeenth-century postmillennialists as forward looking thinkers who welcome scientific innovation and engage in literally transforming the fallen world into a terrestrial paradise; on this view, postmillennial progressivists know that they already live in the golden age of “the world’s conversion under an increased potency of grace” prior to Christ’s visible reappearance at the Day of Judgment.1 Postmillennialist activism became the predominant eschatological ideology of the nineteenth century, historians have usually argued, because it appealed to the intellectuals among the apostles of progress who embraced science, democracy, and human perfectibility as God’s ultimate gift to mankind.2 An inverse rationale is generally applied to premillennialism which, so the story goes, appealed to a more conservative contingent whose voluntaristic fundamentalism demanded nothing less than supernatural intervention to offset the chaos of human affairs. The supposed gloom-and-doom of the premillennialists, these modern critics explain, was engendered by their trepidation as they passively awaited their wrathful King of Kings to return at the beginning of the millennium, a prospect which inspired in them, according to the “official” interpretation, little more than abject terror or a dour melancholy.


Seventeenth Century Admission Test Church Membership Church Militant Roman Emperor 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Smolinski
    • 1
  1. 1.Georgia State UniversityUSA

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