Political eschatology

In an essay challenging the widespread notion that Tyconius was a millennialist, Paula Fredriksen notes the connections between eschatology and politics in the early church:

“Diving the signs of the End in a period of Imperial persecution gave many of the early commentaries a decidedly political aspect. Irenaeus, for example. identifies the fourth beast of Daniel 7 and the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 with the ‘imperium quod nunc regnat’; the name of the second beast, encoded in the numbers 666, is LATIUS. For Tertullian and for Victorinus of Pettau, Rome was the apocalyptic Babylon; the Emperor, the Wicked One, the Mystery of Iniquity foretold in II Thess. 2, 7.”

Constantine changed all that: “In the post-Constantinian apocalyptic commentaries, we see an abrupt volte-face, an attempt to ease both the millenarianism and the political criticism of the older tradition.” Only among Donatists maintained the older mentality: “The Emperor, an ally of the traditor clergy, and the Empire, were still the enemy,” and the Donatists were still the true church, the church of the martyrs.

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