Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Constructing Antichrist: Paul, Biblical Commentary, and the Development of Doctrine in the Early Middle Ages

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Constructing Antichrist: Paul, Biblical Commentary, and the Development of Doctrine in the Early Middle Ages

Article excerpt

Constructing Antichrist: Paul, Biblical Commentary, and the Development of Doctrine in the Early Middle Ages. By Kevin L. Hughes. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 2005. Pp. xxiv, 278. $59.95.)

This handsome volume grew out of a dissertation written under Bernard McGinn, master mentor of many students of medieval theology. The title presents it as a study of the "doctrine" of Antichrist, that enigmatic figure of the apocalyptic tradition that kept the imagination of theologians, preachers, and common people busy for centuries. McGinn himself has interpreted the antichrist theme socio-theologically as "two thousand years of the human fascination with evil." Hughes's study moves in a different direction. On the assumption that Christian doctrine is based on biblical texts and their interpretation, the author follows step by step and with impressive learning the history of just one particular biblical text which is of prime importance for all antichrist lore and speculation, Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians-not just its famous second chapter but the entire letter.With this approach he joins the growing number of scholars, especially medievalists, who are taking up the history of biblical exegesis as a field of research that can throw new light on the history of Christian thought. Methodologically, Hughes is aware that working in this field stretches the skills of the historian to the limits, analytically as well as synthetically. He proceeds with great caution and knows the importance of being open to surprises. The surprise in this case is that the early and medieval commentaries do not reflect the burning contemporary concerns of an age when apocalyptic emotions and fears reached new peaks time and again. As the author explains, medieval commentators saw Paul primarily as a teacher, not as a prophet, and tried to extract coherent doctrine from the text, not predictions of their own contemporary situation. Hughes finds two major strands in the early exegesis of the letter: an apocalyptic realism that considers Antichrist as an individual figure, tyrant or deceiver, whose appearance will be part of the actual events at the endtime, and a spiritual interpretation, typical of the Latin tradition, which reflects on interior dangers in the individual soul and speaks of a communal "body of antichrist" in contrast to, but also within, the Church, the "body of Christ" throughout history. …

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