Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Longing for the End: A History of Millennialism in Western Civilization

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Longing for the End: A History of Millennialism in Western Civilization

Article excerpt

Longing for the End: A History of Millennialism in Western Civilization. By Frederic J. Baumgartner. (New York: St. Martin's Press. 1999. Pp. xi, 286. $26.95.)

Frederic Baumgartner has taken on the daunting task of examining millennial ideas from their biblical origins to the present, in fewer than 300 pages. To a considerable degree, he has succeeded in presenting a coherent and informative survey. He makes no claims to original research, relying on a limited but well chosen bibliography of works by other historians.

Baumgartner is the author of two monographs on sixteenth-century France, but he says in the preface that the decision to write this book came from a seminar he offered to seniors at his (unnamed) college, presumably Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. While it is never intrusive, there is throughout the book a Catholic perspective on millennialism. This affords some useful insights, since millennialism has been predominantly a Protestant phenomenon.

After presenting a glossary of the rather arcane terminology of millennial believers, he introduces his topic by emphasizing the tendency of those believers to form themselves into cults. It is a useful theme, although throughout the book the author tends to overstate the tendency of millennialists to resort to violence. There follows in the first chapters a clear presentation of the evolution of ideas of the Millennium from the Bible through their several important manifestations in the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. His presentation would have benefited, however, by utilization of Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium, a book whose theme is virtually identical with Baumgartner's and while questionable in some of its conclusions, is rich in its evocation of the broader historical context. …

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