When people today think of the end of the world, whether from a secular or religions, serious or fictional perspective, the role of human agency and responsibility in how apocalyptic events occur is often of central concern. In many cases, humans believe that we have some control over if, when, or how we meet our collective end, being able to cause, prevent, delay, accelerate, or alter the course of the End Times. In the early Christian Church, however, this was not a common assumption. Instead, Christians believed they were passive witnesses to God’s unfolding plan. There was nothing humans could do to change this divine plan in one way or the other. All that humans were capable of was preparing themselves and their neighbors for the common Last Judgment that everyone would face, whether or not they ever experienced the apocalyptic drama. If one were to find themselves living in the last days, Christian advice to that person was the same as if they lived under normal times. No special actions were necessary regarding the apocalypse. This “tradition” lasted for hundreds of years into the Middle Ages. In the 10th and 11th centuries, however, a new tradition emerged in the Latin West. This traditional, inspired by seventh-century Byzantine politics and Irish penitential missionary work, coalesced in the Ottonian and Capetian remnants of the Carolingian empire. Through a combination of political and religious concerns, especially involving preaching throughout the extended Gorze monastic network within and beyond Lotharingia, a new apocalyptic tradition emerged alongside the old, one that both assumed and argued for the necessity of human participation in the divine plan in order for the apocalyptic drama to begin. This tradition was involved in many large-scale social movements throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, culminating in the start of the First Crusade in 1095. From that point onward, though the old tradition never vanished, this new tradition of humans believing they could be responsible for causing, preventing, or otherwise altering the timing and course of apocalyptic events became endemic in European Christianity. This study demonstrates when, how, and why this tradition emerged.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. November 2020. Major: History. Advisors: Kathryn Reyerson, John Watkins. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 350 pages.
Final Preparations: The Emergence of Human Agency in Christian Apocalyptic Speculation in the 10th and 11th Centuries.
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