Prophecy Since The Third Century – Bruce Yocum

This is extracted from Bruce Yocum’s Prophecy, pp. 9-10.

Bruce Yocum - ProphecyIt is clear that since the third century prophecy has been neither continuously manifest in particular churches, nor common to the whole church at any one time. There have been, however, regular recurrences of prophetic activity in the history of the Christian people, most commonly in certain movements of renewal. In such movements, prophecy did not occur as an isolated spiritual phenomenon, but rather as an clement of a broader manifestation of “charismatic” power. Healings, miracles, inspired preaching, and other “charisms” were all witnessed by the participants in these renewal movements.

The first, and most outstanding, of these movements was the ascetic movement which swept through the whole church, particularly in Egypt and Asia Minor, dining the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. There are numerous accounts of healings, prophecies, exorcisms, and miracles in the histories of this movement (see Palladius, The Lausiac History, Athanasius’ Life of Antony, the Historia Monachorum, the histories of Socrates and Sozomen, etc.).5 The movement maintained a high degree of vitality for two centuries and culminated, in the West, in the Benedictine movement (of Benedict there are again miracles and prophecies recorded) and in the East in numerous monasteries.

Perhaps the most outstanding prophet of this period was John of Lycopolis. His prophetic powers were attested by Palladius, Sozomen, Augustine, Cassian, and the Historia Monachorum.6 Palladius, for instance, says that John “was deemed worthy of the gift of prophecy. Among other things, he dispatched various predictions to the blessed emperor Theodosius in regard to Maximus the tyrant, that he would conquer him and return from the Gauls.” John also prophesied that Palladius’ brother had been “converted” and that Palladius himself would become a bishop. All this proved true.7 Sozomen records that John correctly prophesied the deaths of Theodosius and Eugenius.8

Numerous other ascetics possessed the gift of prophecy, or at least prophesied at one time or another (for example, Didymus,9 Marcarius of Egypt,10 and Isidore11). The ascetics considered the gift of prophecy to be a great blessing, but not an unexpected one for people who sought to follow God.

A second movement of renewal involving similar charismatic activity swept through the Western church in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Cistercian movement, which arose in France during the twelfth century, and the Franciscan and Dominican movements, beginning in Italy at the start of the thirteenth century, wrought a massive change in the Western church. All three of these movements (which appeared as components of a broader movement of the time) were accompanied by prophecy, healing, miracles, and other manifestations of charismatic activity.12

Other major and minor movements of renewal in the church among the Christian people could be included in such a review of prophetic activity (for example, the Hesychasts in the East, and even the American “Second Great Awakening”).13 There have, of course, been many other incidents of prophecy, either manifested in the life of a particular individual or in groups of people for short periods of time. But, taken as a whole, the history of prophecy since the third century is characterized primarily by movements of renewal which exhibited a wide variety of charismatic activities.

In the twentieth century this phenomenon has been repeated in “Pentecostal” and “charismatic” movements originating in the United States in the first decade of the century and increasing in size and scope over the last seventy years. At the present time this movement comprises well over twenty million people in “Pentecostal” denominations, hundreds of thousands of persons in the Orthodox and Protestant churches, an indeterminate number in “independent charismatic” congregations, and perhaps as many as twenty million Roman Catholics.

There are two observations worth making about prophetic activity since the early days of the church. The first is that it mainly resurfaced in the context of a broader revival of charismatic gifts. That is not at all surprising, since Paul treats such gifts as prophecy, healing, and miracles (for example, 1 Cor. 12) as basically one type of gift. Where charismatic activity is prevalent one should not be surprised to see it take many forms. The second observation is that prophecy and other charismatic gifts flourish in an atmosphere of expectant faith. That is, they operate mainly where they are expected by those who receive them. Healing occurs most often when people believe that healing is possible. Francis of Assisi, John of Lycopolis, and Bernard of Clairvaux all expected that God would speak to them. And he did.

5. Palladius, Lausiac History, trans. Robert T. Meyer, Ancient Christian Writers, no. 34 (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1965); Athanasius, Life of Antony, Early Christian Biographies, Fathers of the Church, Vol. 15 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1952), 125-216; Historia Monachorum, The Paradise of the Fathers, trans. E. Wallis Budge (London: Chatto and Windus, 1907); Socrates, Ecclesiastical History and Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, vol. II (New York: The Christian Literature Co., 1890).

6. Palladius, Lausiac History, 98-103, Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, 392. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda ad Paulinum episcopum 17, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (41.655); Cassian, Conferences (24.26) and Institutes (4.23-26), A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. XI (New York: The Christian Literature Co., 1890), 545, 226-27. Historia Monachorum, chapter two.

7. Palladius, Lausiac History, ch. 35; Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, VI, 28.

8. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, VII, 22.

9. Palladius, Lausiac History, IV.

10. Palladius, Lausiac History, XVII.

11. Palladius, Lausiac History, IX, 10.

12. See for instance, on the Cistercians, W. W. Williams, St. Bernhard of Clairvaux (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1935), 275; on (Garden City, New York: Image/Doubleday, 1958), 96-99, 130-31, Omnibus of Sources, ed. Marion Habig (Chicago: Franciscan Herald 1973), 711-20; on the Dominicans, Bede Jarret, Life of St. Dominic (Garden City, N.Y.: Image, 1924), 87, 118, and Henri Gheon, St. Vincent Ferrer (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954), 108, 115.

13. The history of hesychasm in the Eastern church is not actually that of a clearly defined movement. Rooted as far back as the fourth-century ascetic movement, it became a significant spiritual force in the East, especially between 1000 and 1453. While certain elements of hesychasm do not lend themselves to extensive prophetic activity, manifestations of prophecy can be found in the lives of different Greek and Russian hesychasts, most notably St. Symeon the New Theologian. See George Maloney, The Mystic of Fire and Light (Denville, N.J.: Dimension Books, 1975), 73, 170-71. For an example from the “Second Great Awakening” see Charles Finney, Charles G. Finney: An Autobiography (Old Tappen, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1876), 114-22.

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