Steven D. Aguzzi: Newman’s First Two Notes on Development and Patristic Millenarianism In recent years, critical discourse concerning the millenarian eschatology of the early Patristic era of Christ…More
Steven D. Aguzzi: Newman’s First Two Notes on Development and Patristic Millenarianism

In recent years, critical discourse concerning the millenarian eschatology of the early Patristic era of Christianity has called into question the common notion that millenarian concepts have been utterly rejected as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. No Ecumenical Council has ever rejected millenarian eschatology, and papal and juridical statements on the issue have been taken out of context. This essay brings forward, as testing agents, John Henry Newman’s first two notes in Development in order to determine whether Patristic millenarianism, along with a more recently explored version called Eucharistic millenarianism, is a valid example of doctrinal development of an earlier type. Eucharistic millenarianism borrows many aspects from a primitive apostolic source and has been embraced by the Catholic hierarchy, raising the question of how millenarian aspects might legitimately inform contemporary theology. Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine, particularly as seen in his first two notes, is a valuable tool for reevaluating latent concepts that have been unfairly viewed as marginal or even heretical in mainline theological discourse.
This essay examines the first two of John Henry Newman’s “Notes” as defined in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine for the purpose of discer ning whether a set of beliefs is a valid de velopment of doctrine or a corruption of its original, latent meaning. It does this in application to a unique and often glossed-over eschatological system: the millenarianism of first- and second-century Christianity. “Patristic millenarianism” is a curious case because it was uniformly and nor matively held by theologians of good repute, was passed down as the deposit of eschatological belief, and was never fully replaced by any other system in ter ms of popular piety; its incarnations still carry great weight in the Church to this day, despite the adoption of Augustine’s amillenial model in the four th century. Although the Church in the modern era has for mally rejected cer tain strands of millenarian belief, contrary to popular theological misconceptions, the overall system of millenarian eschatology – including Joachim of Fiore’s ver sion – has never been censured by the Magisterium through an ecumenical council, papal decree, or binding pronouncement. By applying Newman’s “Notes” to millenarianism, and drawing a connection between its latent, original, Patristic forms and a new interpretation labeled “Eucharistic Millenarianism” – a system the Magisterium is open to considering – we will endeavor to shed light on the ambiguities of modern Catholic eschatological belief and highlight ways in which the tension between amillenial and millenarian views in Catholicism may point to a doctrinal development that is as yet unresolved.
One aspect of reinterpretation that points to a potential ongoing doctrinal development in reference to millenarianism is a rather recent Catholic theological inquiry appropriately categorized as “Eucharistic millennialism.” In 1990, Catholic theologian Fr. Martino Penasa asked the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a direct manner, a bout an “imminent, intermediate, millenary reign of Jesus Christ, prior to the final judgment.” Cardinal Ratzinger’s answer was succinct, but consistent with past statements by the Magisterium: “Giacché la Santa Sede non si é ancora pronunciata in modo definitivo” (“The Holy See has not yet made any definitive pronouncement in this regard”). There is a degree of debate as to whether Cardinal Ratzinger meant that the past pejorative declaration on millenarianism (made by Pope Pius XII in 1944) was not a definitive proclamation, or whether he thought Penasa was referring to an End-Times, spiritualized, millenary reign of the Church rather than an era of peace constituted by a personal, eschatological reign of Jesus Christ in his resurrected body – i.e., Patristic millenarianism. It is Fr. Penasa’s version of millennialism that makes one question the exact context of his interaction with the Cardinal, as Penasa himself adheres to and openly promotes a version of Patristic chiliasm that includes a chronology of an “inter mediate Parousia” of Christ in the body, and an “earthly joyous millennium.”
It is possible that Cardinal Ratzinger knew the context of Penasa’s question and the priest’s theological commitments, and simply admitted that the Church had not declared on the matter in such a way as to for mally denounce millenarianism as heresy. However, it is more likely that the Cardinal belie ved Penasa was asking a bout a form of contemporary Catholic millennialism that differs from Patristi cmillenarianism insofar as the former does not admit of an earthly reign of Jesus in his resurrected body, whereas the latter does. In this contemporary, acceptable form of Catholic millennialism, theologians allow for a new millennial age prior to the final judgment, sometimes conceived as an era of the spiritual reign of the Virgin Mary with expectations of increased apparitions (supported by Pope John Paul II). Alternatively, this millennialism anticipates a reign of the Holy Spirit, or a renewed, invigorated, and refocused reign of Jesus Christ in his Eucharistic Presence through the sacerdotal offices of the Church – a kind of “Great Awakening” among the faithful regarding the Eucharist, all leading up to the Parousia of Jesus. Common to all three “approved” versions of Catholic millennialism is the notion that the Roman Catholic Church is expanding during the future interregnum millennial age, gaining in charisma, popularity, and converts.
Much of this new wave of Catholic millennialism is associated with the work of Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi. In his book entitled The Triumph of God’s Kingdom in the Millennium and End Times, Iannuzzi claims that although the early Fathers’ belief in an interregnum millennial period as part of the regula fidei is undisputed, it was defined by the reign of Christ in the Eucharist – thus, Jesus was conceived of as reigning bodily, but through a renewed devotion to the Mass. In this sense, Iannuzzi’s interpretation may in fact be a valid example of the development of doctrine.

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