Question:

Is it true that 'preterism' and 'futurism' were Jesuit interpretations of prophecy that were contrived during the counter-reformation? I've read that in a couple of places and wondered what your study has led you to about that. Thank you.


Answer:

Preterism is the view that the prophecies concerning destruction, especially those found in Revelation were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. There are variations of the belief, as you would expect when men are involved. Some take the extreme position that all prophesy has been fulfilled. The majority see the prophesies concerning the judgment and heaven are still in the future, but rest have been fulfilled. A few are only interested in Revelation itself and see it as mostly a discussion concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.

Futurism is the view that none of the prophecies concerning destruction have been fulfilled yet. Everything is seen as pointing to some distant future time just before Jesus returns. Thus Revelation is seen a warning whose time will come, but hasn't been reached yet. Futurism's adherents also display wide variations in their beliefs. Premillennialism is actually a form of futurism.

Continuous Historicism is the view that Revelation foretells the history of the church from the time of John to the second coming of Jesus. Various events through history are argued to match certain prophecies in Revelation. Thus the claim is that John spoke of the rise of the Roman Catholic church and the papacy, the rise of the Muslim religion, the reformation and even major wars.

Philosophical doesn't see specific events being foretold in Revelation, but a general story of the war between good and evil.

Historical sees Revelation speaking of specific events in history, though not necessarily the fall of Jerusalem, relevant to the people to whom the book was written. In other words it takes place in a specific timeframe that is within the lives of the audience Revelation was intended. They find that we who come later can learn the lessons from what happened to apply to our own lives since history tends to repeat itself, just as we can turn to the pages of the Old Testament and learn lessons from what happened then.

Advocates of each position claim that their view has been always held by Christians. They will pull quotes from early Christian writings because the beliefs are general enough that you can find in almost anyone's writings something to support your view. What you won't find is a detailed advocation of one particular view.

It is true that advocacy of preterism and futurism was championed by Jesuits in their early days. During the reformation it was popular to pin the Roman Catholic church with the label of the great harlot. Whether the Jesuits actually developed these ideas or found a solution by advocating the ideas, I can't say for certain. What we do know is that several Jesuit books are the first detailed arguments for both Futurism and Preterism.

Futurism arose first. Francisco Ribera, a Jesuit theologian, published a book on Revelation in 1590 called In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli, & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentarij. By putting everything in the distant future, then obviously the Roman Catholic church can't be the bad guy. Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit apologist, also took the futurist view in his work, Polemic Lectures Concerning the Disputed Points of the Christian Belief Against the Heretics of This Time. It was published somewhere between 1581 and 1593.

Futurism “argues that Revelation looks beyond the first century to the period immediately before the end times. Thus the book was not written for those who received it, but for those living much later. Jesuit scholars after the Reformation refined this approach to prove that current attempts to identify the Pope as the Antichrist could not possibly be true since the Antichrist will not be revealed until far into the future, just before the Parousia [the Second Coming]." [Jerry L. Walls, The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, 2007].

But the Catholic church is a large organization and other Jesuits advocated the preterits view. If everything happened before the Catholic church developed, then it can't be the bad guy. Luis De Alcazar wrote a commentary, published in 1614, called Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse where he claimed that every prophecy was fulfilled in the early years after Christ.

Preterism "is said to have been first promulgated in anything like completeness by the Jesuit Alcasar, in his Vestigatio Arcani Sensus in Apocalypsi (1614). Very nearly, the same plan was adopted by Grotius. The next great name among this school of interpreters is that of Bossuet the great antagonist of Protestantism." [Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers, 1872].

Both Futurism and Preterism can shown to be false. Like most concepts, there are grains of truth within the systems, but overall the systems of belief are not correct.