AUGUSTINE, OPTIMISM, AND POSTMILLENNIALISM

AugustinePMT 2015-026 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Modern postmillennialism is the result of a growing understanding of biblical eschatology. And though it undergoes much systematization from its nascent beginnings to the present, in its most basic form, clear adumbrations of it appear in antiquity.

Scholarly Analysis

Most scholars would agree with Millard J. Erickson that “all three millennial positions have been held virtually throughout church history” (he collapses dispensationalism into premillennialism in mentioning only three basic views) (Erickson, Christian Theology, 1212). Robert G. Clouse writes: “Whereas the other strains of millennialism all have deep roots in the history of the church, the dispensational variety is of recent origin” (Clouse, et al. New Millennial Manual, 56). Donald G. Bloesch goes even farther: “Postmillennialism has been present throughout Christian history” (Bloesch, Last Things, 102).

Augustine (AD 354–430) looms as the greatest Christian thinker in the early church and one of the greatest of all time. Originally a premillennialist, Augustine turned away from the system (Augustine, Sermons, 259; City of God 20:7). Many assume his views correspond more closely with amillennialism, some rather strong evidence of postmillennial-type thinking appears in his writings, as various scholars note. See:

John O’Meara, “Introduction,” in Augustine, City of God, viii.

S. LaSor, The Truth About Armageddon, 160.

David W. Bebbington, Patterns in History, 54.

Adolf von Harnack, “Millennium,” Encyclopedia Britannica (9th ed.) 16:314ff.

Thomas N. Finger, Christian Theology, 113–115.

Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory, 19, 22, 161, 239.

Loraine Boettner, Millennium, 10.

Paul Erb, Bible Prophecy, 101–102.

Even Walvoord is aware of these tendencies in Augustine: Millennial Kingdom, 8.

According to religion journalist Wendy Zoba, Augustine believes that history “would be marked by the ever-increasing influence of the church in overturning evil in the world before the Lord’s return” (Zoba, “Future Tense,” Christianity Today [October 2, 1995]), 20).


He Shall Have Dominion
(paperback by Ken Gentry)
A classic, thorough explanation and defense of postmillennialism (600 pages)

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Literary Evidence

Several statements in Book 18 of The City of God certainly express a postmillennial-like optimism. Of Nahum 1:14 and 2:1 Augustine states:

Moreover, we already see the graven and molten things, that is, the idols of the false gods, exterminated through the gospel, and given up to oblivion as of the grave, and we know that this prophecy is fulfilled in this very thing. (City of God 18:31)

“The tents of Ethiopia shall be greatly afraid, and the tents of the land of Midian;” that is, even those nations which are not under the Roman authority, being suddenly terrified by the news of Thy wonderful works, shall become a Christian people. “Wert Thou angry at the rivers, O Lord? or was Thy fury against the rivers? or was Thy rage against the sea?” This is said because He does not now come to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (City of God, 18:32)

Augustine comments on Haggai 2:6:

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet one little while, and I will shake the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will move all nations, and the desired of all nations shall come.” The fulfillment of this prophecy is in part already seen, and in part hoped for in the end. . . . so we see all nations moved to the faith; and the fulfillment of what follows, “And the desired of all nations shall come,” is looked for at His last coming. For ere men can desire and wait for Him, they must believe and love Him.” (City of God, 18:35)

We may also reference his comments on Psalm 2. Regarding the Lord laughing at the nations (Ps 2:4) he writes: “it is to be understood of that power which he giveth to His saints, that they seeing things to come, namely, that the Name and rule of Christ is to pervade posterity and possess all nations.” At v. 7 he writes: “‘Ask of Me,’ may be referred to all this temporal dispensation, which has been instituted for mankind, namely, that the ‘nations’ should be joined to the Name of Christ, and so be redeemed from death, and possessed by God. ‘I shall give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance,’ which so possess them for their salvation, and to bear unto Thee spiritual fruit” (Augustine in Nicene and Post-Nicene Father 8:3).


Postmillennialism Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Basic introduction to postmillennialism

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


In one of his sermons he proclaims:

Lately, kings are coming to Rome. A great thing, brothers, in what manner it was fulfilled. When it was spoken, when it was written, nothing of these things was. It is extraordinary! Pay attention and see; rejoice! May they be curious who do not want to give attention to it; for these things we want them to be curious. . . . Let them discover that so many things which they see of late were predicted beforehand. . . . Every age [of individual] has been called to salvation. Every age has already come — every dignity, every level of wealth and human capacity. Soon let them all be inside. Presently a few remain outside and still argue; let them wake up at some time or another to the rumbling of the world: the whole world clamor.

(Cited in John A. Maxfield, “Divine Providence, History, and Progress in Augustine’s City of God,” Concordia Theological Journal 66:4 [October 2002], 340–41.


Free Gentry sermon for listening or downloading: “The Future Hope of Christ’s Church


Indeed, Augustine taught that history would eventually issue forth in a “future rest of the saints on earth” (Sermon 259:2) “when the Church will be purged of all the wicked elements now mixed among its members and Christ will rule peacefully in its midst” (Brian Daley, Hope of the Early Church, 133).

Interpretive Caution

I must provide a cautionary word here: I am not claiming that Augustine is a full-blown postmillennialist. I am simply pointing out elements in his views that suggest a postmillennial-like optimism. He is one of the “adumbrations” of postmillennialism “in its simplest form,” as I state above.

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One thought on “AUGUSTINE, OPTIMISM, AND POSTMILLENNIALISM

  1. Greg Harvey February 27, 2015 at 8:49 am

    When I taught an eschatology series last summer I commented that optimism doesn’t mean that events will usually end up positively by force of will but, on the other hand, pessimism is more often much more self-fulfilling. Pessimism can pull defeat out of the jaws of victory.

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