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Prophecy and Eschatology.

Prophecy and Eschatology. Edited by Micheal Wilks. Pp. xii + 282. (Studies in Church History, Subsidia, 10.) Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. ISBN 0 631 19051 1. 37.50 [pounds sterling]/$59.95.

The professional interaction of British and Dutch church historians has long been a fruitful feature of the Ecclesiastical History Society and is reflected in more than one volume of Studies in Church History. Prophecy and Eschatology consists of seventeen papers from the fifth Anglo-Dutch Colloquium on Church History, held at Groningen in 1992 under the general auspices of the Commission Internationale d'Histoire Ecclesiastique Comparee. The volume is organized in two overlapping sections. The first consists of a dozen studies of the application of the Apocalypse to the fears, hopes, and understandings of later medieval and early modern Christendom. The second set of five has a less coherent common theme although we are told that its subject is `Death and Salvation'.

The collection begins rather disappointingly with three medieval essays which for all their closely focussed learning amount to little more than footnotes to earlier work, and especially to papers read in 1984 at an international colloquium held at Louvain on `Eschatology in the Middle Ages'. But ignition happens with a bang with the fourth essay, the contribution of the editor, Michael Wilks, `Wyclif and the Great Persecution'. Wilks demonstrates the inseparability of Wyclif and the millenarian imagination of the fourteenth century. Wyclif's third heresy, an exegetical heresy of the Last Age, was more dangerous than either his writings on lordship or De eucharistia. Wyclif was the inheritor of apocalyptic expectations and the progenitor of apocalyptic disappointments. There was, at first, no `great persecution', although according to the programme there should have been. Lollardy failed (as a national reformation) because the persecution never happened. We had not previously supposed that De haeretico comburendo achieved its objective by half measures.

Reviews of such varied collections as this can only do evenhanded justice to all the contributions by turning into mere catalogues of the contents. It may be preferable to concentrate on the two most brilliant, original, and accessible essays, particularly because there is a curious linkage between their themes, a link across seven or eight centuries which confirms one's faith in religious history as a holistic subject, Clio's seamless and sacred web. The link is Jerusalem, place and idea, the Jerusalem of history and geography, and the Jerusalem of apocalyptic prophecy. Professor Peter Raedts of Leiden in `St Bernard of Clairvaux and Jerusalem' attempts, surely successfully, a new reconciliation of what appears to have been a major contradiction in St Bernard's attitude to `Jerusalem the Golden', a `chimaera-complex'. St Bernard knew very well that the true Jerusalem was in heaven, that there are no places on earth which are intrinsically holy, and that `going places never saved a soul'. The Holy Land meant nothing to monks. Arid yet Bernard preached the Crusade. Raedts finds unsatisfactory Michaele Dier's solution (Bernhard von Clairvaux (Munster, 1991)), that Bernard dangled the bait of the earthly Jerusalem before a sub-Christian soldiery as the most that they could comprehend, a second best. This distorts by a false dichotomy the subtleties of Bernard's understanding of the relation of the literal to the spiritual, a matter of fundamental epistemology. The Holy Places were a kind of sacrament, a visible sign referring to an invisible reality. Admittedly the symbol was more helpful to the spiritual pilgrimage of laymen than of monks.

Dr Clyde Binfield of Sheffield, in the last and by far the longest essay in the collection, `Jews in Evangelical Dissent', suggests (at least to this reviewer) striking parallels in the nineteenth century to St Bernard in the eleventh. In a quintessentially Binfieldian tour-de-force, we encounter, in the shape of interconnected dynasties and cousinages, the eager expectations of premillenial evangelicals, Irvingites or semi-Irvingites, Christian Jews, a considerable feature in the early Victorian evangelical, dissenting landscape, and societies for the conversion of the Jews, an essential component in the eschatological mentality and strategy. Here the contradictions were between upward mobility in this world and the longed-for release from its bondage; and once again, Palestine as geography and as a spiritual principle. The converted Polish Jew turned Congregational Minister, Ridley Haim Herschell, whom Trollope may have had in mind when he wrote The Eustace Diamonds, married well (twice), and not only fathered the lord chancellor, Farrer Herschell, but married his daughters into families which connected with two other lord chancellors, Eldon in the past, and, four generations on, R. B. Haldane. And yet Ridley Herschell, as a Hebrew Christian, was particularly insistent on the role to be played in the eagerly expected Last Days by the return of a (converted) Jewry to Palestine. Zionism (and here we pick up George Eliot's Daniel Deronda) was godfathered by pre-millenial Christian Enthusiasts. Of course, many pre-millenialists spiritualized these prophetic motifs. Hershcell would have none of that, fully believing in the literal sense of the prophecies. But like St Bernard, he was sure that `to the believer every spot is hallowed ground'.

With the exception of Dr Virginia Bainbridge's very competent essay on late medieval English guilds, `The Medieval Way of Death', and Professor David Loades's helpful account of the confused perceptions of death and the hereafter in Cranmer's Prayer Books, all the remaining essays pick up in the contexts of their own centuries the fundamental eschatological tension between the material-historical and the spiritual. The hard core of the volume consists of a series of early modern essays on the continuum of apocalyptic exploration from Thomas Muntzer's apocalypticism and mysticism (Eugene Honee) to Jane Dawson on the formative apocalyptic thinking of the Marian Exiles, and on to Nicolette Mout on the apocalyptic element in a series of rebellions in the Hapsburg Monarchy, from the Defenestration of Prague to the Hungarian uprisings of the later seventeenth century. In these studies there is a trajectory from the spiritual to the literal, as ineffably learned theologians and chronographers succumbed to the irresistible temptation of the new mathematics. J. Van den Berg, in his account of the intellectual engagement of Joseph Mede of Christ's College and the Dutch millenarian Daniel Van Laren, reflects on `the way millenarians; tried to outbid each other in clever interpretations of the Apocalypse'. It is conventional for the early modern contributors to this volume to defer to a whiggish tradition that such wonderful interpretations were doomed by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Binfield's eschatological nineteenth century warns us to hold our fire.
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Author:Collinson, Patrick
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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