The Sabbatical Millennium:
A Guide to the Discourse between Owls and Roosters
1. The sabbatical millennium is based on the exegetical combination of Genesis 1 (six days of creation, sabbath rest) and Psalm 89/90 (a thousand years is as a day in the sight of the Lord) to produce a chiliastic promise of 6000 years of travail followed by a sabbatical millennium of peace and plenty (Barnabas).
2. Apocalyptic discourse occurs largely along a continuum between roosters and owls. Roosters crow that the dawn is imminent and hope to rouse the barnyard to action; owls hush that it is still the middle of the night, the foxes are about, and the master yet sleeps. Owls have always proven right, but roosters return periodically, often in response to signs, wonders, prodigies, disasters, and eschatological calculations, to dominate public discourse for brief if powerful, moments. Owls, on the other hand, by right of retrospective rewrite and archiving, dominate the written record.
3. Owls are at the origins of the sabbatical millennium: they introduce and reinforce a chronology when there are still several centuries left before the target date, thus saying: "yes, a coming millennium, but no, not now" (i.e. non-apocalyptic chiliasm). The first successful effort was Hippolytus' (200 non-apocalyptic chiliasm). The first successful effort was Hippolytus' (200 CE = 5700 AM I); the second was Jerome/Augustine's (400 CE = 5600 AM II); the third, Bede's (see below # 11). Because it is favorable to owls, the sabbatical millennium is the only form of millennial discourse with a continuous written trace (hence the graph).
4. Any date-based eschatological promises (chiliastic or not) are unusual: they are theologically illegitimate ("no one can know the time"), and repeatedly denounced by theologians. They represent a kind of "balloon mortgage" in which clerics commit themselves in writing to repayment at a specific time. It is difficult to find parallel cases of such an indiscretion in other religions. One can imagine offering such calculations unofficially, orally, on an ad hoc basis; but to commit it explicitly to writing, and have that written commitment taken up by a large number of clerics over many centuriesnon-apocalyptic chiliasm). The first successful effort was Hippolytus' (200 CE = 5700 AM I); the second was Jerome/Augustine's (400 CE = 5600 AM II); the third, Bede's (see below # 11). Because it is favorable to owls, the sabbatical millennium is the only form of millennial discourse with a continuous written trace (hence the graph).
5. Some owls link the date Annus mundi it to an explicit chiliastic promise (Hippolytus, Lactantius, Hilarianus), some either disavow it or only implicitly link it (Gregory, Isidore, "Fredegar"). Note that Augustine marks the great divide in the Latin tradition; he explicitly banned any form of chiliasm, even this, the most conservative.
6. The sabbatical millennium appears to be a specifically "popular" teaching addressed to the laity (catechetical); it is rarely found in more sophisticated theological discourse. It appears when roosters crow so loudly that the owls had to hush them: affirmation or reformulation of the era mundi often occur at times of apocalyptic unrest (e.g., Hilarianus, Gregory of Tours, Julian of Toledo, Bede, Abbo). Where someone asserts a date with an implicit or explicit millennium promised sometime beyond the lifetime of the current generation, the historian should look for evidence of more urgent apocalyptic preaching.
7. The sabbatical millennium initially unites a chiliastic and non-apocalyptic sensibility, creating a "middle age" from now until that millennium, a period during which the institutional church can legitimately pursue long-range concerns.
8. While neither full-fledged roosters nor their audiences will find such long-range calculations of interest in times of waxing apocalyptic expectation, in the (inevitable) aftermath of disappointment/relief, the chronological argument gains credence. As, over the generations and centuries, all other signs and scenarios fail, the chronology becomes the single most convincing explanation for why Christ has yet to return. Thus a chronology which may have had popularity only among an elite who preached it with limited success in its early centuries, would, with the approach of its date, exercise an ever-stronger attraction on roosters and their audiences.
9. Just as roosters and their audiences will find such chronologies interesting as they approach term (apparently at the sack of Rome in 410 [ie 5910 AM I], some were invoking the advent of 6000 to pronounce the world at an end), owls will find the chronology increasingly problematic, and try and disengage from it. This gives us a twin pattern: some try to postdate the millennium -- Hilarianus' continuator (468), Julian of Toledo (685), Abbo of Fleury (982) -- while others try and postpone it (Eusebius, Jerome, Bede).
10. This explains the homeostatic pattern evident in the graph: introduced in its temperate zone, any given era found favor in our sources (i.e. reasonably prominent clergy) as long as it remained in that zone. At the turn of the final century in the millennium as the chronology "heated up", one finds the stirrings of a strong opposition within clerical circles which, growing in the course of the 5900s, replaced the old era with one that resets the clock. Efforts to postdate, which would cancel rather than reset the clock, fail. The clock, and the clerical-popular discourse it involved, was apparently too valuable to dispense with, no matter how troublesome it might prove when the mortgage fell due.
11. Bede's work offers the exception that proves the rule: up to his day, all Christian chronography had focussed on the annus mundi; it is found even in the popular catechism of Martin of Braga. Were Bede's concerns historical, his use of the Hebrew numbers would have sufficed to redate the Annus mundi. But were his real task to reset the eschatological clock (i.e. his focus was not alpha but omega), it would only accomplish half the necessary task: it would sow doubt about when the 6000 (a century away at the time) would fall; but with a new target date over a millennium in the future, his Annus mundi was deep in the frigid zone, too far beyond the temporal horizon to offer any warmth (6000 AM III = 2048). To supplement this correction of the increasingly dangerous AM II, therefore, Bede also developed a chronology which implicitly (ironically, via Augustine), offered an eschatological date precisely 300 years off: Anno Domini.
12. The silence of sources concerning the passage of a millennial date (Cassiodorus writes in the first decades of the 5700s not the beginning of the seventh millennium; Carolingian chroniclers speak of the imperial coronation of 801, not 6000), suggests that the problems posed by the sabbatical millennium were solved at the expense of a radical discontinuity between written, elite discourse and oral, popular (including clerical) discourse. We must ask ourselves how many people at the imperial coronation discussed the "fact" that it was the first day of the year 6000. If one chooses to interpret the silence of the sources on 6000 as evidence of indifference, one cannot explain this consistent and long-lived pattern of millennial redating linked to so volatile and popular a subject as chiliasm.
13. The year 1000 was the first eschatological target date that the Latin church could/did not avoid; with its advent, promises that clerics had made and repeated in public for over eight centuries, reached their term. Rather than discarding AD as Latin Christendom had done with all previous dating systems at the approach of their eschatological terms, we find that post- millennial Europe becomes uniquely wedded to this dating system (no earlier culture had ever adopted and used a chronological system with such fervor).
14. As with most eschatological target dates, the "failure" of 1000 to produce the millennium did not put an end to speculation; quite the contrary, contemporaries (Glaber calls them the wise and perceptive of the age) retargetted to the (still more Augustinian) date of 1033. These two generations before 1000 and 1033 are steeped in an eschatological culture that historians have recently begun to explore. Discovering how the members of that generation thought and spoke about these issues, how discourses between elites and commoners -- roosters, owls, and the audiences they competed for -- addressed the advent and passage of the first millennium since Christ is one of the tasks of historians of the period around 1000.
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