John Mason and the End of the World

Christopher Hill examines the millenarian religious ferment of the seventeenth century and finds that it threw up many strange figures—among them an eccentric Anglican divine who prophesied that the second coming was soon to occur in his own parish, where he gathered a large community of religious squatters.

The doctrine that the end of the world is approaching, that Christ is coming to rule with his saints in the millennium, is as old as Christianity. It can be a harmless hope for a kingdom that is not of this world. But in moments of acute social crisis some of the devoutest believers may see signs that the kingdom is at hand, and may decide that it is their duty to expedite its coming. At such moments millenarian doctrines become equivalent to social revolution. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the popular form of this revolutionary doctrine was Fifth Monarchism. The four monarchies of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome had passed away; the monarchy of Christ was imminent. Earnest men studied Daniel and Revelations, and identified the Little Horn of the Beast with whoever was their enemy of the moment. Since God’s kingdom was about to be established, all earthly power which might compete with it must be rejected, nay overthrown. So Fifth Monarchism had the effect of a theory of anarchism. The state was evil.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.