Catholics and Millennialism

A Theo-Linguistic Guide

by Warren A. Kappeler III (Author)
©2017 Monographs CCLVIII, 10 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 350


Philosophers of religion such as Mark Kingwell regard millenarian dreams as humanity’s most powerful hopes for transformation, transcendence, apocalypse, and utopia. In Catholics and Millennialism: A Theo-Linguistic Guide, Warren A. Kappeler III explores the insights of critical discourse theory to examine the impact of millenarian groups upon Catholics. He examines theo-linguistic practices among present-day Catholics through allegorical interpretation, fundamentalism, and neo-literalism. Utilizing surveys of pre-millennial movements as revealed in academic research by Michael Cuneo, William Dinges, and Sandra Zimdars-Swartz, as well as post-millennial collaboration by progressive Catholics such as Hans Küng, Matthew Fox, and Karen Armstrong; Kappeler argues that apocalyptic stories and media images in today’s popular culture promote a self-dramatization that encourages sympathetic Catholics to interpret their life experience within the grammar of the millennium myth.
While some commentators argue that the new age audience is driven by populist reasoning inside church history and culture, a critical discourse analysis perspective reveals that millenarian movements have provided a language resource for a great number of social, cultural, and political conflicts in the history of Western civilization. Consequently, the mainstream history of the Catholic Church has been dedicated to the a-millennial viewpoint of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Considering these platforms, Kappeler sketches a mediating position between the church’s millennial factions called Proleptic Adventism based upon a dialectical approach to both eschatology and incarnational spirituality. Ultimately Kappeler’s findings offer hope to a postmodern world by looking to the future instead of the past, by analyzing popular culture in its dynamism and its contradictions, stressing the spiritual elements of liberation and participation, and by expressing itself in sacramental action and analogical reasoning.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Post-Modern Semiotic Perspectives on Catholic Humanism & Liturgical Calendrics
  • 1 Catholic Realism & Augustinian ‘Anti-Millennialism’
  • 2 Rhetorical Controversies in Catholic Eschata: The Millennium Myth & Inter-textual Historiography
  • 3 Pre-Millennialism, Tradition, & Conservative Catholics
  • 4 Post-Millennialism, Liberal Catholics, & Social Progress
  • 5 Proleptic Ethics: From Moral Panics to Apologetics
  • Conclusion: Theo-Poetics & Post-Catholic Worldviews
  • Bibliography

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“Theo-linguistics is a term which has been used for the study of the relationship between language and religious thought and practice, as illustrated by ritual, sacred texts, preaching, doctrinal statements and private affirmations of belief.”—David Crystal. Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (2008)

In 1981 the Belgian linguist Jean-Paul van Noppen explained that theo-linguistics refers to interest in language whose origins can be traced back to the late 1800s, and which was to result in the crucial church-wide debate over religious language—a debate which gained momentum on the eve of the ‘Death of God’ movement and which, unabated by more recent trends on the theological scene, claimed for years a priority in theological thought. Van Noppen identifies theologians and philosophers, linguists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists as the most relevant contributors to this subject.

In my journey across academic writing I’ve prepared two documents for graduate degrees, published with Peter Lang, and have had two insightful and helpful research supervisors; namely Maurice Boutin and Johann Roten. I received my Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from McGill University; my M.A. in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton; and my B.A. in Communication from Bowling Green State University. My gratitude goes to all for their commitment to knowledge, wisdom, and education. During my doctoral studies, I was the editor-in-chief of the ← vii | viii → academic periodical, ARC: The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University for several editions, including the publication of a volume dedicated to the work of Frederik Wisse, emeritus professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies. During my graduate studies, I also served as a research assistant for the International Marian Research Institute and the Marian Library in Dayton, Ohio. My experience as instructor of courses in Humanities, Philosophy, and Religion includes working with many students from several colleges and universities in Canada and the United States, including: McGill University, Ohio Dominican University, Shawnee State University, Strayer University campuses in Cincinnati and Mason, Wright State-Lake Campus, and Sinclair Community College. My appreciation also goes to the editorial staff at Peter Lang for helping me in constructing this book and because they also published my earlier (prequel or sequel) book Communication Habits for the Pilgrim Church: Vatican Teaching on Media & Society (2009). I thank my family, friends, colleagues, and supervisors for all their support and encouragement in my intellectual and educational endeavors. Special mention should made here of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University (1996–2003) which promoted groundbreaking research and reminded the public that millennial studies is a topic of immense cultural importance.

Credit is given to pioneers who have approached millennial issues within religion from a literary critical perspective, such as the influential Professor of Humanities at Yale University, Harold Bloom. Bloom, in his book The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (1992), famously contributed to millenarian studies by applying the tools of literary analysis/criticism to religion. His argument is that, because religions are the creation of human imagination, the types of critical tools that analyze and criticize other types of human imaginative output should produce value when used on religions as well. Claiming to have read everything of importance on American religion, Bloom engages in “religious criticism” in order to elucidate what is distinctive about national faith in the USA. Bloom defines “the American Religion” as a Gnostic creed stressing knowledge of an inner self that leads to freedom from nature, time, history and other selves. He argues that mainline Protestants, Jews, Roman Catholics and secularists are also much more Gnostic than they realize. He sees this American Gnosis expressed most powerfully in early Mormonism and in the moderate Southern Baptist tradition, though it thrives in virtually every denomination and cult. Every American, he writes, assumes that God loves her or him in a personal, intimate way, and this trait is the bedrock of our national religion, a debased Gnosticism often tinged with selfishness. His work shows that the great revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801 and the momentous writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James are key moments in the creation of America’s central religious doctrine. Later in his subsequent book, Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection (1996), Bloom explained ← viii | ix → the connections between Gnosticism and Millenarianism in American popular culture in the 20th century. At the dawn of the third millennium, Bloom document Western culture’s fascination with near-death experiences, alien abductions, angels and prophetic dreams. Bloom contends that such “omens of the Millennium” are in fact debased forms of Gnosticism. Gnosis, he writes, is a spiritual orientation at odds with orthodox religion. It eschews faith in an outward God for knowledge of the divinity of the deepest self and retells the story of creation as a fall away from a Godhead and a Fullness that, Bloom says, is more humane than the God of institutional religion. Furthermore, Bloom explores how images of angels, prophecies and resurrection have always mirrored anxieties about the end of time, and how these images have been domesticated by popular culture.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) provides a method to understand the process of regulated practices within traditional Christian discourse. In order to analyze the discourses of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’, historian Karen King argues that we can conceptualize religion in terms of field, a site of struggle with its own goals, strategies, and institutions, as well as its own ideological-theoretical frameworks in which certain kinds of faith practices are rationalized and contested. Her pioneering research is presented in What Is Gnosticism? (2003) which attempts to untangle modern historiography from the discourses of orthodoxy and heresy that have distorted and pervaded the history of Christianity. Struggles within the religious field in question can be analyzed King argues in order to determine the cognitive discourses within which the field operates, the practices it generates, as well as whose interests and ends it serves. This approach is helpful King contends for gaining a more general comprehension of the dynamics of orthodoxy and heresy across the history of Western civilization. King finds that the taxonomies of orthodoxy and heresy contribute to producing the divisions of the social order of which they are a product in such a way as to establish that arbitrary order as the ‘natural order of things’.

Finally in communication studies, Stephen O’Leary’s Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (1994), exemplifies the rhetorical approach to apocalyptic in claiming that religious “discourses of apocalypticism and millennialism can usefully be viewed as rhetoric” (3, 1994). His focus is specifically on the argumentative dimension of apocalypticism. The categories of O’Leary’s analysis are consistently applied throughout his research, and are two types. First, he analyzes apocalyptic argument in terms of three topoi, which he identifies as time, evil, and authority. Second, he presents different varieties of apocalypticism dramatistically, following Kenneth Burke’s theory of tragic and comic discourse. Many rhetorical scholars seek to understand why for thousands of years, ordinary people have from time to time been taken up by apocalyptic fervors; expectations that the world is about to end because of the arrival of the Messiah, the return of Christ, or more recently, ecological disaster or World War III. ← ix | x →

Throughout this study, attention has been given to the productive insights offered by Biblical hermeneutics and theo-linguistics for deeper understanding of millenarian movements. Paul Ricoeur has distinguished between a hermeneutics of tradition and a hermeneutics of suspicion. The former aims to listen intently to what is communicated in order to gain insight from of a message hidden under the surface. A representative of this tendency is Augustine, the Vatican and Roman Catholic teachings on eschatology. The latter is subversive, attempting to show that, properly understood, texts and human action are not as innocuous as they may seem to be, but may be reflections of hidden drives and class interests. Representatives of this tendency are millenarian movements inside and outside the Church today. The aim of this counter-cultural approach is to criticize existing social, political, and cultural conditions by interpretations that are at the same time a kind of demystification. Ricoeur’s interest in symbols and interpretation includes psychoanalytic interpretation and the ‘semantics of desire’, insightful tools for analyzing millenarianism. Hans Jonas pointed out that Gnosticism could be understood best in terms of alienation within human affairs and existentialism. Critics saw existentialism has having had its day in the 1970s, and finally collapsing into sociology and anthropology. We can only hope today that a revived existentialism can help to humanize millennialism, thereby promoting a holistic and positive transformation of the international world in the future.

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Post-Modern Semiotic Perspectives on Catholic Humanism & Liturgical Calendrics


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. X, 258 pp.

Biographical notes

Warren A. Kappeler III (Author)

Warren A. Kappeler III received his Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from McGill University; his M.A. in theological studies from the University of Dayton; and his B.A. in communication from Bowling Green State University. His previous accomplishments include serving as the editor-in-chief of the academic periodical ARC: The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University for several years, and serving as a research assistant for the International Marian Research Institute and the Marian Library in Dayton, Ohio. Kappeler has taught courses in humanities, philosophy, and religion at several colleges and universities, including McGill, Ohio Dominican, Shawnee State, Strayer, Wright State, and Sinclair Community College. He is also the author of Communication Habits for the Pilgrim Church: Vatican Teaching on Media and Society (Lang, 2009).


Title: Catholics and Millennialism
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