Abstract

Benjamin Arnold: Eschatological imagination and the program of Roman and ecclesiastical renewal at the end of the 10th c.



One motive for the foundation of the neo-Roman western Empire in 800 by Charlemagne and its reconstitution in 962 by Otto the Great was eschatological, to guard the Christian Church and people against the possible onset of the apocalyptic end of human history and the advent of Antichrist. Part of the program of Emperor Otto III (983-1002) and Pope Sylvester II (999-1003) known as renovatio imperii Romanorum can be understood in the eschatological sense, as a reform of Church and Empire designed to pilot them over the crucial millennial year. It is possible to show how three churchmen, Adso of Montier en Der, Gerbert of Aurillac (Sylvester II) and Thietmar of Merseburg shared a common perception of the import of the eschatological Pauline passage at 2 Thess. 2, 1-12. An inference is that Otto III, Gerbert's pupil, understood it as well, and that he conceived his imperial reign inaugurated in 996 as a preventive against the threatened Pauline discessio which would usher in Antichrist's reign.

When Otto was expelled from Rome in 1001, he and the Pope retired to Ravenna amid speculation that the emperor might travel to Jerusalem, lay down his crown on Calvary, and disappear into a monastery. According to the theory of the 'Last Emperor', this could itself have ignited the apocalyptic timebomb and have inaugurated Antichrist's rule. Otto died suddenly in 1002, and the fear of Antichrist went on. As Thietmar of Merseburg expressed it:

No one should question the coming of the Last Day or wish for its swift arrival either, because it is to be feared by the just, and much more so by those worthy of punishment.




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