What do you think?
Rate this book
416 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1957
“In almost every new monarch his subjects tried to see that Last Emperor who was to preside over the Golden Age, while chroniclers bestowed on him the conventional messianic epithets, rex justus or maybe David. When each time experience brought the inevitable disillusionment people merely imagined the glorious consummation postponed to the next reign and, if they possibly could, regarded the reigning monarch as a ‘precursor’ with the mission of making the way straight for the Last Emperor.”
Millenarian sects or movements always picture salvation as
a) Collective, in the sense that it is to be enjoyed by the faithful as a collectivity;
b) Terrestrial, in the sense that it is to be realised on this earth and not in some other-worldly heaven;
c) Immanent, in the sense that it is to come both soon and suddenly;
d) Total, in the sense that it is utterly to transform life on earth, so that the new dispensation will be no mere improvement on the present but perfection itself;
e) Miraculous, in the sense that it is to be accomplished by, or with the help of, supernatural agencies.
The men beat themselves rhythmically with leather scourges armed with iron spikes, singing hymns meanwhile in celebration of Christ's passion and the glory of the Virgin. [...] Each day two complete flagellations were performed in public; and each night a third was performed in the privacy of the bedroom. The flagellants did their work with such thoroughness that often the spikes of the scourge stuck in their flesh and had to be wrenched out. Their blood spurted on to the walls and their bodies turned to swollen masses of blue flesh.
A boundless, millennial promise made with boundless, prophet-like conviction to a number of rootless and desperate men in the midst of a society where traditional norms and relationships are disintegrating - here, it would seem, lay the source of that subterranean medieval fanaticism which has been studied in this book. It may be suggested that here, too, lies the source of the giant fanaticisms which in our day have convulsed the world.