The Phantom Heresy: Did the Council of Ephesus (431) Condemn Chiliasm? -- By: Michael J. Svigel

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 24:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: The Phantom Heresy: Did the Council of Ephesus (431) Condemn Chiliasm?
Author: Michael J. Svigel


The Phantom Heresy:
Did the Council of Ephesus (431)
Condemn Chiliasm?

Michael J. Svigel

Michael J. Svigel is a Ph.D. student at Dallas Theological Seminary in the Theological Studies program.

I. Introduction

One Catholic apologetic resource states,

As far as the millennium goes, we [Catholics] tend to agree with Augustine and, derivatively, with the amillennialists.. .. In the 1940s the Holy Office judged that premillennialism “cannot safely be taught,” though the Church has not dogmatically defined this issue.1

On the other hand, one writer commenting on the history of millennial thought notes,

Following Augustine, the Church had long believed that the reign of the saints foretold by Revelation was already in operation through its own good offices, and shown little enthusiasm for the idea that Christ would return imminently to set up an earthly kingdom: indeed, the Council of Ephesus declared such a belief heretical in 431.2

The problem here should be immediately evident. Did the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 condemn chiliasm as heresy or not? Surely, the

truth of the matter must lie somewhere between “the Church has not dogmatically defined this issue” and “the Council of Ephesus declared such a belief heretical.”

II. The Phantom Heresy: Two Traditions

The student of the history of millennialism will soon learn that two separate traditions regarding this issue are currently being propounded. The oldest tradition of writers on the history of millennialism appears to be unaware of an alleged condemnation of chiliasm in any official and dogmatic capacity in early Christian history.3 Any mention of an official condemnation at the Council of Ephesus is conspicuously missing from what appear to be otherwise thorough treatments of the history of millennialism.4 Although D. T. Taylor suggests that Pope Damasus “formally denounced chiliasm” at Rome in A.D. 373, he refers to no condemnation by the third ecumenical council.5 Likewise, D. H. Kromminga makes no mention of the alleged condemnation in his classic work on millennialism, but rather describes a “gradual subsidence of chiliasm in the ancient church,” and writes, “Of suppressive efforts against chiliasm no trace appears.”6 C...

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