«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
I. Augustine’s Spiritual Interpretation Writing in the aftermath of Rome’s fall, Augustine sought to detach any connection between 2 Thessalonians, the arrival of Antichrist, and the collapse of Rome. Like Haimo, Augustine contends that one cannot know the date of the Lord’s return, even in witnessing of the signs that must precede it.
The two part ways, however, because of two emphases on the part of Augustine.
In the first case, Augustine reads refuga (exile)156 instead of discessio (falling away), which enables him to bypass including Rome in his exposition.
Second, Augustine clearly prefers to read the “temple of God,” in the Tyconian spiritual sense, as the Church. Therefore, the “mystery of iniquity” is already at work in the body of Christ as the body of Antichrist that will mature to fruition in the last days. At the same time, Augustine permits that we learn from the epistle that “Christ will not come to judge before the Antichrist comes.”157 These two crucial exegetical decisions, though, allow him to remain comfortably agnostic about the details of the eschaton and challenge the traditional perspectives that seek to read “Rome” or “Nero” as concrete textual referents. Augustine layers a sparsely literal framework with a heavily spiritual reading in allowing that Antichrist, as a figure, will come, but also that he is already present in the Church.158 Haimo adopts a spiritual reading of Revelation along with Augustine, but advances a literal reading of 2 Thessalonians against him. The reason for this appears in his perceived reasons for the writing of the respective books.
Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to assuage the fear of a persecuted congregation, supplying evidence that the end has not yet arrived.159 Literal instruction, we may even go so far as to call it catechesis, provides the comfort that they need.
Augustine, De civitate Dei 20.19 (CCSL 48:731).
Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 107.
“Augustine has endorsed the historical reality of the eschatological events in general, but he has also subverted that endorsement in his spiritual readings of texts like 2 Thessalonians 2.” Hughes, “Augustine and Adversary,” 227; McGinn locates “the heart of Augustine’s teaching on Antichrist” in both the influence of Tyconius and his reading of 1 John. McGinn, Antichrist, 77.
Haimo of Auxerre, In epist. ii ad Thess. (PL 117:777).
John, on the other hand, received a vision in which symbols “are revealed to him from heaven in his mind.”160 Hughes summarises the point well: “The difference between Haimo’s exposition of 2 Thessalonians and the Apocalypse is not one of apocalyptic perspective, but of genre. It is the difference between historical and visionary literature.”161 Because of this, Haimo must rely on different patristic sources than Augustine, and he finds congenial views in the works of Jerome and Ambrosiaster.
II. Haimo’s Apocalyptic Eschatology Before delving into 2 Thess 2, Haimo comments briefly on the eschatological content of chapter one. He notes that God permits all things to take place, including the suffering of the righteous in this life (1:4). Yet their suffering assures the reversal of their fate with the wicked in the Judgment (1:6), when the Lord afflicts the wicked (i.e. the pagans, heretics, false Christians, and the Jews) with the flame of fire (1:8). These will suffer eternal punishment (1:9), even if it should mean that they “give” punishment to one another, witnessing the coming of Christ as terrible and fierce. Here, Haimo perceives something of an apocalyptic dualism when he contrasts the twofold manner in which the single appearance of the Lord manifests to the reprobate and the righteous.
Haimo’s reading of chapter two comprises approximately 60 percent of his commentary and is dominated by a literal reading in the tone of Jerome and Ambrosiaster. After his introductory note that the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1) renders lucid the purpose of the chapter. Regarding the key phrases of the chapter, Haimo asserts that “the desertion” (discessio; 2:3) is Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 164. Haimo of Auxerre, Exposito in Apocalypsim (PL 117:940).
Hughes, “Augustine and Adversary,” 231.
the dissolution of the Roman Empire; the “man of sin” (2:3) is Antichrist; “the temple of God” (2:4) may refer to either the Jerusalem temple or the Church;
the Roman Empire is “what restrains” (detineat; 2:6); the “mystery of iniquity” (2:7) is the work of the devil in persecuting and murdering the saints through “his members” (i.e. Nero, Diocletian, and Julian), and; the Roman emperor is “the one who restrains” (2:7) as the individual representative of the corporate power of Empire, who prefigures Antichrist.162 There are several important points to his reading to draw out regarding the fall of Rome, the Millennium, and Antichrist.
Though it appears at times that Haimo sees the “rule of the Romans as not yet destroyed, nor have all the nations deserted them”163 as his reality, closer attention reveals that, in these instances, he speaks as though from the apostle’s present, clarifying his point to the Thessalonians. This makes sense of how Haimo can, at the same time, refer to the collapse of the Roman Empire, “which we already see fulfilled.”164 If this were not the case, Haimo would have no reason to account for the delay in Antichrist’s arrival.165 Given the apocalyptic climate of the ninth century and the history of exegesis with regard to the projected Day of the Lord, Haimo has made a fascinatingly unique move. One might expect at this point a discussion of the Church’s Haimo of Auxerre, In epist. ii ad Thess. (PL 117:779-81); on this argument, see Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 155–58.
Haimo of Auxerre, “Exposition,” 27.
“quod jam nos impletum videmus.” Haimo of Auxerre, In epist. ii ad Thess. (PL 117:780).
“Tunc revelabitur ille iniquus postquam fuerit destructum Romanum imperium, non est ita intelligendum, quod statim dixerit illum venturum, sed primum illud destruendum, ac deinde Antichristum venturum, tempore a Deo disposito.” Ibid., 781.
present existence in the sabbatical millennium, which should precede the arrival of Antichrist.166 The brilliance of his reading lies in the complete absence of a discussion regarding the sabbatical millennium and its relationship to the arrival of Antichrist. Even more, Haimo undermines the entire concept of the millennium and precise dating of apocalyptic events. The Christian expectation of a sabbatical millennium can be traced as early as the Epistle of Barnabas 7. “According to this theory, since the world was created in six days and God rested on the seventh, and since ‘a thousand years is as a day in the sight of the Lord,’ this fallen world of travail would last for six thousand years and then, finally, would come the sabbatical millennium.”167 In this line of thinking, the Church developed the annus mundi dating system in the third century to predict the coming (prolonged) Sabbath, which it anticipated would begin in 500 C.E.168 As this date approached, however, Christian scholars169 Haimo does precisely this in his Revelation commentary. The millennium must precede the Antichrist, but, for Haimo, 1,000 is simply an expression of perfection not to be taken literally. Haimo of Auxerre, Expos. in Apoc. (PL 117:1182).
Landes, “Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000,” 110; For more detail on Barnabas as an early source for Christian millenarianism, see Richard Landes, “Lest the Millennium Be Fulfilled: Apocalyptic Expectations and the Pattern of Western Chronography 100-800 CE,” in The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages, ed. Werner Verbeke, D. Verhelst, and Andries Welkenhuysen (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1988), 141–44.
After Barnabas, early Christian sources for millennial expectations were the chronographies of Theophilus of Antioch and Clement of Alexandria. The most influential early authors in this regard, however, were Hippolytus and Lactantius. See Hippolytus of Rome, On Daniel 4 (ANF 5:179); Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 7.14 (ANF 7:211-12); for a detailed discussion on Hippolytus as the primary source for early millenarianism, see Landes, “Lest the Millennium Be Fulfilled,” 144–49.
This began with Eusebius, whose view Jerome, Augustine, and Orosius endorsed.
None of the above supported the idea of a sabbatical millennium, but the chronology that they embraced, nevertheless, placed the year 6000 A.M. in 800 C.E. See Burgess’ translation of Eusebius’ Chronici canones for Eusebius’ summary of his own calculations. Richard W.
Burgess, Studies in Eusebian and Post-Eusebian Chronology, Historia (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1999), 65; for Eusebius’ reaction to Hippolytus, see Landes, “Lest the Millennium Be Fulfilled,” 149–56.
revised their prediction to 800 C.E., which, as it would turn out, was the year of Charlemagne’s coronation.170 As the deadline approached again, Bede proposed a new dating system (annus Domini) with the incarnation functioning as its basis. The millennium received a new lease on life, but Bede also hoped to silence the questions of “rustics” regarding the impending arrival of the millennium (i.e. 800). Though Bede sought by his work and the annus Domini system to completely undermine any millenarianism,171 this left the years between 800 and 1000/1033 in a state of suspended, eschatological expectation, punctuated with occasional and limited chiliastic outbreaks.172 Thietland of Einsiedeln (d. 965) reflects such expectation in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians when he reads the revelation of “the lawless one” (2:8) as identical with the release of the dragon, who was bound in Christ’s passion, after 1,000 years of imprisonment (Rev 20:1-3).173 The complete absence of the millennium from Haimo’s commentary, therefore, renders his discussion as contextually conspicuous. In one sense, he observes Augustine’s caution toward millennial expectations, yet different from the Church Father, Haimo does not appear to endorse any dating system The coronation took place on December 25, 800— the first day of the new millennium. Brandes and Landes observe that the confluence of this date and the coronation would not have gone unnoticed. Wolfram Brandes, “Anastasios ὁ Δίκρος: Endzeiterwartung und Kaiserkritik,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 90, no. 1 (1997): 27; Landes, “Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000,” 114–15; Hughes adds to the discussion that Leo III may have been invoking the pseudo-Methodian “last world emperor” myth in coronating Charlemagne on this date, with the expectation of inaugurating the “millennium of peace.” Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 127.
Cf. Bede the Venerable, De temporum ratione 67 (CCSL 123B:535-37).
Landes, “Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000,” 113–16.
Thietland of Einselden, “In Epistolam II Ad Thessalonicenses,” 55–56; Cartwright observes that Thietland’s preference for “release” over “revelation” allows him to incorporate the discussion on Rev 20. Steven R. Cartwright, “Thietland’s Commentary on 2 Thessalonians: Digressions on the Antichrist and the End of the Millennium,” in The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050, ed. Richard Landes, Andrew Gow, and David C. van Meter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 98.
(annus mundi or annus Domini) that would allow one to project the beginning of a new millennium. If anything, according to chiliastic expectations, the Antichrist should have arrived generations ago after the fall of Rome. Thus, Haimo has completely undercut one’s ability to reliably propose the date of the Day of the Lord. His reading allows for either the annus mundi or annus Domini dating systems, but he subverts their power in the hands of the chiliast.
In this regard, Haimo characterises a tendency that crystallises in CarolingianBedan theology: avoidance of universal history and denunciation of the sabbatical millennium.174 The former is clear in his commentary; the latter is implicit.
This approach to the millennium coheres with Haimo’s broader Augustinian- (and Scriptural-; cf. Matt 24:36) agnosticism toward the chronology of eschatological events in 2 Thess 2. Nevertheless, this does not hamper Haimo’s confidence in asserting the events that must take place and their sequence, according to 2 Thessalonians. His apocalyptic timeline looks
discessio from Rome (unknown length of time) the advent of Antichrist (unknown length of time) Christ/Michael destroys Antichrist (unknown length of time) the Final Judgment.
Furthermore, his commentary on Revelation, in which he describes all time following the redemption of the cross as eschatological, appears to nurture this uncertainty and align him even more closely with Augustine.175 That is to say, predictions about the “millennium” or even the “end” overlook the fact that we have already entered the eschatological age. Different from Landes, “Lest the Millennium Be Fulfilled,” 180–81.
Guy Lobrichon, “Stalking the Signs: The Apocalyptic Commentaries,” in The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050, ed. Richard Landes, Andrew Gow, and David C. van Meter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 73– 74.
Augustine, though, Haimo’s interpretation of 2 Thessalonians is entirely literal and punctuated with temporal uncertainties.176 Only through restoring Haimo’s horizon of expectations does Rezeptionsästhetik disclose the aesthetic high point and provocative nature of his reading.
i. Contemporary Scholarship As already noted, Haimo diverges from Bede (who simply quotes Augustine) and Thietland (who conflates 2 Thessalonians and Revelation). His reading largely resonates with Rabanus and Sedulius, who, though they largely quote Theodore and Pelagius, respectively, quote them in such a way as to advance a historical-literal reading of 2 Thessalonians. That it is to say, the three generally agree that 2 Thessalonians should be read as a literal account of events to come. Rabanus and Sedulius also do not offer any discussion of the millennium, but that can be attributed to their copying the Fathers.