Heralds of the End-Times: Medieval Reformers

Sources: Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform (Yale, 1980); Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil (Doubleday, 1992); Alexander Murray, "The Later Middle Ages" in Richard Harries and Henry Mayr-Harting, Christianity: Two Thousand Years (Oxford, 2001); F.L. Cross, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2d ed. (Oxford, 1983); Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1990).

Reading: 1 Pet. 4.

Medieval Upheavals
Famine, Black Plague reduce Europe's population by one-third
Hundred Years' War, modern warfare, agrarian and urban revolts rearrange societies
Papal schisms, growing nationalism, and strengthening monarchies change politics
For these reasons and more, reform and renewal efforts before Luther are common

Papal, Episcopal, Royal Tugs of War
Starting with Charlemagne, bishops are subservient to civil rulers
Cluny reformers (from 1048, including Gregory VII) claim pope as the cliergy's only sovereign, forbid simony and lay investiture
In Unam Sanctam 1302 Boniface VIII claimed ascendency over secular rulers
The papacy abandons chaotic Italy for more powerful Avignon, 1309-1377
In Defender of Peace 1324 Marsilius of Padua claimed power lies with "the people," and that the king and pope have different realms of responsibilities
Council of Constance 1415 deposes competing popes and asserts conciliarism
Conciliarism lasts half a century but has lasting effects

Heralds of the End-Times
Joachim of Fiore (1132-1202), Cistercian monk, teaches a new eschatology:

Texts like Eph. 4:11-13, 1 Cor. 13:9-10, Rev. 14:6 promise a new era
Adam to Christ (42 generations, Matt. 1) is the patriarchal "Age of the Father"
Jesus to Joachim (42 generations) is the clerical "Age of the Son"
So in ~1250 will begin the Millennium, the communitarian "Age of the Spirit"
As the age arrives, all are becoming monastic, mystical, contemplative
Friars, not popes, are coming to lead the Church

Following Joachim, some Franciscans interpret Francis as the forerunner of the last age
Peter John Olivi (1248-1298) sees the popes who relax poverty rules as evil
John XXII responds in 1318 with charges of Donatism, condemns mendicants 1329
"Observants" (Luther is one) carry on the ideal of poverty and retain popular respect


John Wycliffe (1330-1384) of Oxford

denies the authority of sinning church and civil leaders
holds that civil authorities could fire corrupt clergy
holds Scripture as the sole criterion of doctrine
considers monasticism unbiblical
denies eucharistic transubstantiation
advocates Bible translation

Wycliffe is condemned but inspires followers ("Lollards")

John Huss (1372-1415) of Prague

influenced by Wycliffe, translates his works
allows rulers to confiscate corrupt clergy's property
also denies the authority of sinning church and civil leaders
takes communion 'in both kinds'
is excommunicated 1410 by John XXIII
is condemned at Constance 1415 and burned at the stake
inspires national opposition to Roman power which wins local concessions
encourages nationalism and apocalyptic movements

A century later, the conditions are right for movements like these to survive