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  • Olivi, Christ’s Three Advents, and The Double Antichrist
  • David Burr (bio)

A great deal of attention has been paid to Petrus Iohannis Olivi’s last great work, his Apocalypse commentary. Less has been paid to his earliest writings. Here I want to address two aspects of those earlier works that rank among Olivi’s more interesting ideas. The first is the notion of Christ’s three advents in history: first in the flesh, then in the spirit, and finally in judgment. I mentioned those three advents years ago in my book on Olivi’s Apocalypse commentary, but only briefly. Here I want to look more closely at the original context in which the three advents appeared.

Second, I intend to examine the connection between the three advents and another of Olivi’s important ideas, that of the double Antichrist. I hope to show how Olivi’s speculation on the three advents actually provided the milieu which encouraged him to posit a double Antichrist.

The Three Advents

Quaestiones de perfectione evangelica, q. 8

We begin the story sometime before August, 1279, when Olivi, still a relatively young scholar, composed the eighth of his Questions on Evangelical Perfection.1 In it he contends that evangelical poverty, which consists of owning nothing either individually or corporately, is superior to other options. His argument for that conclusion is divided into five parts, of which we will examine only the final one. Having devoted the fourth part to the institutor of evangelical poverty, Christ, in the fifth part he turns to its renewer, St. Francis, whose resemblance to Christ he portrays as like that of a wax figure to the seal through which it was produced.

Immediately after, though, Olivi changes the metaphor, comparing Francis not to Christ but to John the Baptist. Olivi says, [End Page 15]

Just as during Christ’s first advent John was elected not only a prophet but more than a prophet, and none before him among the saints more fully heralded the person of Christ in the world, so before Christ’s second advent another by the same name was elected not only a saint but more than a saint, and none of the saints before him more fully introduced and renewed the life of Christ in the world.2

Thus we have two of the three advents Olivi would refer to throughout the rest of his life, the third being Christ’s advent in the final judgment. Note that he refers to the first and second advents here so casually as to suggest that he knows his readers will understand what he’s talking about. The theme might be new to us, but not to those readers.

At this point Olivi shifts gears, switching from the three advents to the series of sevenfold patterns with which he, Joachim of Fiore and Augustine are usually identified. Augustine provides the division of world history into six periods with a seventh in eternity, while Joachim provides the division of Old and New Testament history into two sets of seven periods with a concordance between the two. Joachim also provides a threefold division of history into the ages of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By Olivi’s time the seven periods of church history were also commonly used in another context, exegesis of the Apocalypse, in ways that might or might not reflect Joachim.

Olivi has no trouble harmonizing all these patterns. The sixth period of world history corresponds to the seven periods of church history and to the ages of Son and Holy Spirit as Olivi understands them. Moreover, the sixth period of church history marks the moment of transition when the age of the Holy Spirit begins to supplant that of the Son, and thus the sixth and seventh periods of church history are more or less equivalent to the age of the Holy Spirit, although that age will not be fully realized until the seventh period. The sixth and seventh periods are also more or less equivalent to Christ’s advent in the spirit.

Olivi, like Bonaventure but unlike most exegetes of his time, sees Francis as a harbinger of the sixth period, and thus he places himself...


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pp. 15-40
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