Apocalyptic thought was an important part of religious reform among Christians in early medieval times. Apocalypse in the Middle Ages made a distinctive impact of ideas about time, power, and evil in church and society. Radical preaching, crusading, and prophetic traditions expressed apocalyptic ideas through class in the Middle Ages.
The endtime framed a crucial part of the medieval mental landscape. (Baumgartner 56) “The true Church consisted of those who followed the apostolic life, in poverty and simplicity; love of one’s neighbor was the essence of true religion.(Cohn 40)” Charismatic preachers, such as Aldebert, used these ideas to influence the simple rural folk with his “miraculous cures. (Cohn 42)” He practiced apostolic poverty preaching to his followers that he was equal to saints and apostles. “Aldebert’s impact was certainly great; his hold was absolute. (Cohn 43)” He portrayed himself as a messiah claiming to have some of Christ’s distinctive attributes. He said that “before his birth his mother dreamed that a calf came out of her right side. (Cohn 43)” This led his followers to think of him as the Lamb of God just like Jesus. (Cohn 43) Like many apocalyptic believers, Aldebert’s followers became infatuated with millennial beliefs presented by him. Rural folk may have felt that they would be guaranteed peace and prosperity after the endtime by following this alleged messiah. Aldebert had such an impact on the disoriented poor that he became an imminent threat to the Church, and so was excommunicated.
Among the crusading poor, millennialism played a role in many of the enormities they committed. One millennial belief was “that the success of their efforts to bring about the Second Coming required the deaths of the ‘enemies of Christ.’ (Baumgartner 60)” The Tafurs, who participated in the First Crusade, are a great example of this. “The Tafurs were said to have exalted poverty and forced out of their company anyone carrying money, for God chose the poorest of the poor to win his city back. (Baumgartner 61)” Apocalyptic ideas gave poor peasants the belief that divine intervention would punish those who could be identified as the enemies of God. The massacre of Jews and Muslims was believed to be a sign of the coming of the Messiah and a necessary condition of the Second Coming. (Baumgartner 60, 62) “With the crusades, violence became a common part of millennialism. (Baumgartner 62)”
Joachim of Fiore was the most influential figure in medieval apocalyptic prophecy. He was fundamentally a scriptural commentator on the Book of Revelation and on the Apocalypse. “His view of history is complex. (Baumgartner 64)” Joachim envisioned three eras of history after the crisis of the Antichrist which included the age of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Baumgartner 64) Essentially, there would be an end to all class divisions in the coming millennium after the apocalypse. Joachim’s ideas played a prominent part in the crisis of feudalism. His followers used his interpretation of the Apocalypse in revolutionary uprisings against the ruling elite. (Baumgartner 66) Thus, the idea of the coming of a classless utopia led to the rejection of the existing religious and political authorities.
According to Cohn and Baumgartner, radical preaching, crusading, and prophetic traditions caused an outbreak of millenarian enthusiasm among a large mass of dispossessed and marginalized people. The belief of Aldebert being a messiah gave the disoriented poor a sense of security for the Second Coming. Succeeding in the deaths of God’s enemies was a strong apocalyptic belief of the Second Coming among the crusading poor to bring about a kingdom of peace for the meek and defenseless. Joachim’s visions of a utopian, classless society emphasized how religious radicalism justified social revolution. Thus, apocalyptic millennialism possessed its believers into thinking God’s plan for human salvation would create social transformation.