Apocalyptic thinking part of Western culture’s soul

By on April 1, 2000

From the early speculations of the church fathers to the controversies of the Protestant reformation and the advent of modern science and secular ideologies, there has always been a current of thinking about end times and the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

This book provides an extensive account of millennial beliefs over the last 2,000 years. Taking us from the book of Revelation to the present day, author Eugen Weber traces the various forms of apocalyptic thinking that have characterized Western thought and culture. He demonstrates that apocalyptic thinking is much more pervasive than most people would imagine.

What is perhaps most helpful about this book is that Weber reveals this genre of thought in the most peculiar places. He shows that, far from being limited to isolated religious groups and the fringes of society, apocalyptic thinking has been influential in the interpretation of history and the affairs of the day.

ApocalypsesProphecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs Through the Agesby Eugen Weber288 pages,

hardcover $29.95Random House0 679 30984 5

Figures like Sir Isaac Newton, Christopher Columbus, and Tycho Brahe turn up in this history, as well as events like the U.S. Civil War and the Red River Rebellion. We discover that there is no aspect of history that has not been touched by reflections on the end times and the fulfillment of history. In one way or another, these concerns have been mainstream throughout our history.

This book shows how varied are the forms of apocalyptic and millennial thinking. We move from the spiritual and often metaphorical teaching of the church fathers, like St. Augustine, to the much more literal and historical reflections on Bible prophecy by John Nelson Darby and contemporary interpreters like Hal Lindsey.

We move from medieval popular piety to the beliefs of the Puritan colonists of North America and the secular societies of the 19th and 20th centuries.

We can conclude that mystics, philosophers, scientists, prophets, and politicians have throughout the history of Western society acted on a stage very much shaped by apocalyptic motifs.

The author gives a level- headed and largely dispassionate presentation of much of the history of apocalyptic and millennial beliefs. There is a great deal of information on the subject, presented in a highly readable and engaging (although somewhat disorganized) form.

The presentation is not agenda ridden. Weber is not reasoning from within this or that apocalyptic scheme.

What he does tell us, however, is that no one should too readily dismiss an aspect of human experience and reflection which has been foundational for about 2,000 years of Western history.

Apocalyptic thinking is as natural to us as religion or science or community. It is part of the soul of Western culture and continues to be a source of self-understanding and transcendent meaning. This book is well worth a millennium year read. Dr. Brian J. Spence is rector of St. George?s Parish, Bible Hill, N.S.

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