Lawrence Besserman

title.none: Hughes, Constructing Antichrist (Lawrence Besserman)

identifier.other: baj9928.0606.015 06.06.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lawrence Besserman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Hughes, Kevin L. Constructing Antichrist: Paul, Biblical Commentary, and the Development of Doctrine in the Early Middle Ages. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005. Pp. xxi, 278. $59.95 (hb). ISBN: 0-8132-1415-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.06.15

Hughes, Kevin L. Constructing Antichrist: Paul, Biblical Commentary, and the Development of Doctrine in the Early Middle Ages. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005. Pp. xxi, 278. $59.95 (hb). ISBN: 0-8132-1415-7.

Reviewed by:

Lawrence Besserman
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Kevin L. Hughes's Constructing Antichrist makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the growth and development of the idea of Antichrist from Late Antiquity to the High Middle Ages. As Hughes' too ambitious subtitle indicates, it was the Apostle Paul who became early Christianity's major authority on Antichrist (as of so much else in the first doctrinal elaborations of what New Testament scholars call "the Jesus event"). Yet despite the subtitle, the principal subject of this book is neither Paul nor 'doctrine' per se, but the very specific question of 2 Thessalonians and its fascinating exegetical history, from the late fourth and into the twelfth century. The book covers this territory extremely well.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul makes enticing and provocatively obscure predictions of apocalyptic events that were to be the subject of numerous commentaries. No verse in the Bible was more consequential for later speculation about Antichrist than 2 Thessalonians 2:3:

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come,except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin berevealed, the son of perdition; of the truth, that they might besaved. [King James Version]

A particularly useful heuristic device is Hughes's classification of the authors he treats as either 'realist' or 'spiritualist' in their responses to 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and its context. According to Hughes, "apocalyptic realists" are those writers who imagine the Antichrist predicted in 2 Thessalonians as "imminent and external ", with real historical events being predicted, whereas the "apocalyptic spiritual" approach understands the text with "the present life of the church and the soul" as its principal referent, and it places major "emphasis upon [the] moral authority of the text rather than its prophetic historical truth". The interplay of these two principal approaches to the interpretation of apocalyptic events is a recurring theme in exegesis of 2 Thessalonians.

After brief notice of Irenaeus and his disciple Hippolytus of Rome, Hughes begins his survey in earnest with the late-fourth century exegete known as Ambrosiaster, first among the "apocalyptic realists" to be considered. Ambrosiaster's commentary on 2 Thessalonians (c. 375 C.E.) speaks of a coming false messiah of Jewish origin (as did his predecessors Irenaeus and Hippolytus of Rome); but Ambrosiaster "is far less concerned with [Antichrist's] role among the Jews than with his restoration of paganism". (50) Ambrosiaster is thus a 'realist' who imagines the "mystery of iniquity" that Paul refers to as the persecution of the Church by Rome. Focusing on "concrete historical realities", and specifically targeting the imperial Roman pantheon and mystery religions as the object of Paul's prophetic words, Ambrosiaster also offers an interesting discussion of each individual's free will when it comes to following or resisting Antichrist. (48)

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Pelagius, and Jerome round out Hughes' survey of the 'realist' tradition. As Hughes demonstrates, each brought something new to the 'realist' approach. Theodore's most notable departure from previous commentators was his elimination of any suggestion that Antichrist will have a specific connection to the Roman Empire or the Jews. Theodore depicts Antichrist as a real historical figure, but in imagining how Antichrist will act he "refrains from any and all extra-ecclesial apocalyptic referents" (63)--the devilish work of Theodore's Antichrist will be to lead the faithful away from the true Church. Similarly, Pelagius--in an apparently purposeful move away from Ambrosiaster's commentary-- stressed Antichrist's promulgation of "deception and error", rather than political persecution. (73) More straightforwardly 'realist' is Jerome's commentary on 2 Thessalonians, which is found in a letter to a Latin laywoman named Algasia, who had asked the meaning of Paul's apocalyptic prophecies. The Fall of Rome, conflict between Christ and Antichrist, and the reiterated punishment of the Jews for rejecting salvation are leading motifs in Jerome's "apocalyptic realism", marked as it is by "a distinctive anti-Jewish strain". (80)

"Spiritual exegesis" of 2 Thessalonians is seen first in Tyconius' typological reading of Paul's letter in relation to events within the Church of Tyconius' day. Likewise, Augustine, with Tyconius very much on his mind, expounds the significance of 2 Thessalonians in Book 20 of The City of God . For Augustine, the eschatological expectation of Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians is literally true. Christ will not come in judgment before Antichrist comes. But there is also a spiritual sense to this apocalyptic prophecy. "Augustine clearly reads [2 Thessalonians] through the eyes of Tyconius. Antichrist for him is present within the Church now, as the body of potential schismatics, as much as he will come in the future as a historical figure seated in the Church or restoring the Jewish Temple cult." (103) The idea that Antichrist was immanently present "in the midst" of the Church went back to Tyconius, but its wide distribution was due to Augustine. As Hughes next demonstrates, Gregory the Great produced a unique blend of the Tyconian and Augustinian views of Antichrist, adding his authority to that of Augustine, lending support to an interpretation of Antichrist which became "the great counterpoint to the apocalyptic realism that survived under the mantels of Jerome and Ambrose". (113)

Carolingian interpreters such as Rabanus Maurus, Florus of Lyons, and Sedulius Scotus are rapidly surveyed, and shown to excel mainly in their fidelity to the patristic tradition, with each also arriving at his own nuanced blend of the realist and spiritualist apocalyptic approaches. Hughes expands his account in an original look at the Thessalonians commentary of Haimo of Auxerre, who believed that the fall of Rome had already occurred and that Antichrist, a fully human historical individual, would "come to persecute the elect and lead astray those who have already rejected Christ". (163) Though seemingly an apocalyptic realist, in his commentary on the Apocalypse Haimo "recapitulates the Tyconian interpretation of the text, carried through Bede and Ambrose Autpertus, casting the Apocalypse as an allegory for the present and future Church". (ibid.) (Hughes is so moved by Haimo's contradictory readings of the apocalypse according to Thessalonians and St. John's Apocalypse that he bizarrely jokes "that one might wonder if Haimo has attempted a deception of his own worthy of Antichrist!" [!] [ibid.].)

A final chapter treats eleventh-twelfth century developments, focusing mainly on Lanfranc of Bec, Bruno the Carthusian, the Glossa Ordinaria , and Peter Lombard. Whether or not we agree with the tenuous and too abstract claim that (frustrated) apocalypticism contributed to the birth of scholastic theology, Hughes convincingly demonstrates the novelty of Lanfranc's close grammatical analysis of 2 Thessalonians-his "rediscovery of the direct encounter with the text and the formal distinction between this encounter and the supporting evidence of tradition that marks the first step toward scholastic interpretation". (192) Similarly, Hughes shows how Bruno comes to Paul's epistle with "fresh eyes", mixing his own commentary with traditional authorities in a manner that sets him apart from Lanfranc.

In the Glossa Ordinaria , the gloss format used by Lanfranc and Bruno was adopted and extended throughout the entire Bible. In the section of 2 Thessalonians 2, material is compiled "from Ambrosiaster, Augustine, Haimo, and Lanfranc in roughly equal measure, with a few points from Jerome and a few more from Bruno's commentary". (214) Providing "an index of the exegetical tradition rather than a theological commentary in its own right" (215), the Glossa Ordinaria "could function as the comprehensive reference index to the exegetical tradition". (222) Peter Lombard summarizes material from the Glossa Ordinaria but goes well beyond it, expanding its quotations in numerous places, representing "the culmination of the integrative exegetical style found in Gregory and honed in the Carolingian period, which brings the twin traditions of apocalyptic realism and Tyconian spiritualism into some balance". (238)

To sum up: this book contains a wealth of information on the early medieval exegetical traditions of Antichrist (not every commentator briefly discussed by Hughes has been mentioned). Anyone interested in early medieval exegesis in general, and the theme of Antichrist in particular will learn a great deal from it. That having been said, one must point out that the book still shows unwanted signs of its presumed origin as a doctoral dissertation--for example, we are provided with summaries of elementary information derived from standard authorities (regarding the four-fold method of exegesis, on a variety of terms relating to apocalyptic thought and literature, on Antiochene exegesis); and there are occasional patches of ungrammatical or wooden prose (see below). On balance, however, the pluses considerably outweigh the minuses.

The Latin quotations I spot-checked were accurate. A partial list of minor errata: 11n19 read: methods builds; 15n26 specific page numbers needed; 21n42 read: of a particular; 21-22 the sentence "The commentaries on 2 Thessalonians...Matthew commentaries" is incomprehensible; 25n1 The sentence is too long; 35n20 is unclear; 45 translation of arte as 'flair' is problematic; 51n67 needs further explanation; 85nn8-9 should be combined; 88n14 add chap./verse reference to Matthew; 237n143 for discern read foreground or make evident; 250n14 the reference to Ch. 1, n. 41 isn't helpful.