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.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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