Augustine's principal writing on the subject of the millennium is found in the Twentieth Book of The City of God. In discussing Rev 20:1-6, where the thousand year reign is presented, Augustine stakes out two possible positions. The first is what I call the "Present Postmillenial" position. Postmillenialism asserts that Christ will appear at the end of the millenium. Most Postmillenialist writers assume that the onset of the millennium is yet to come. Thus, most Postmillennialists are more accurately described as "Future Postmillenialists." However, Augustine suggests that the millennium has already started and will reach its climax sometime in the future; hence, he is a "Present Postmillenialist." The second position to which Augustine ascribes has been variously termed the "Spiritual," the "Amillennial, " or the "Immanent" interpretation. In this case, a literal thousand year reign of Christ is set aside in favor of a more allegorical or figurative explanation. Each of these two positions warrants further consideration.
In the City of God, Book XX, Chapter 7, Augustine writes: "Now the thousand years may be understood in two ways, so far as it occurs to me: either these things happen in the sixth thousand of years or sixth millennium (the latter part of which is now passing)..." This passage makes reference to Augustine's view of universal history in which six ages of human history are to be followed by a "chialistic" seventh age. During this seventh age, the saints and the just men of God will enjoy their sabbath on earth. In essence, Augustine viewed the age in which he lived as the millennium itself in which the "...kingdom of God (was) already manifest in the Church...the age between Pentecost and the return of Christ was the very millennium itself, marked by the ever increasing influence of the church in overturning evil..."
Or, Augustine suggests, "...he (John ) used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time." (City of God, XX,7). In this Amillennial or Spiritual interpretation, the thousand years refers to a span of time between the life of Christ (dated either from the Incarnation or Pentecost) until the Parousia. This Spiritual interpretation of the millennium is consistent with Augustine's resistance to the equating of historical events with prophecies cited in the Book of Revelation. As our text points out, in the opening book of The City of God, Augustine makes reference to the sack of Rome by the West Gothic King Alaric in 410. Given the severity and widespread consequences of this attack, it would have been quite tempting for Augustine to refer to the prophecies of Revelation as being fulfilled. He did not. Similarly, Augustine resists identification of Gog and Magog with any particular countries or political entities of the time: "For these nations which he names Gog and Magog are not to be understood of some barbarous nations in some part of the world, whether the Getae and Massagetae, as some conclude from the intitial letters, or some other foreign nations not under the Roman government" (City of God, XX, 11).
Augustine's offer of two explanations for the millennium - the Present Postmillennial and the Amillennial - may represent an incomplete shift in his thinking on the matter. In general, as he grew older, Augustine's view of Scripture became more literal in character. He worried that his use of allegorical and figurative explanations for Scripture in earlier writings were excessive and far too secular. Curiously, his acceptance of an Amillennial view of the thousand years seems inconsistent with the apparent hardening of his biblical interpretation as he aged. However, in other aspects, his later interpretation of Revelation does reflect literalism. For example, he did believe in the future appearance of an Antichrist, he anticipated a specific reign for the Antichrist of three years, six months, and he spoke at length about the binding/loosing of the devil.
With either interpretation - the Present Postmillennial or the Amillennial - Augustine believed that he lived in the period of the millennium. From the perspective of Christians, he saw the course of history as generally improving. Constantine's Edict of Toleration in the Fourth Century was clearly a triumph for the Church and may have prompted Augustine to conclude, "Therefore, the Church even now is the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven. Accordingly, even now His saints reign with Him..." (City of God, XX, 9). In Augustine's view, the Church was able to progress in stature and greatness because Satan was only partially bound. That is, Satan could influence the world but he was sufficiently tethered so that he could not mount an all out conflict with the forces of good. From Augustine's perspective, the binding of the Devil occurred each time the Church spread its influence through evangelization and each time an individual was converted to Christ. To be sure, Augustine knew that the loosing of Satan would one day come and he would wage a massive war against God. This conflict was necessary, according to Augustine, to show the pious and righteous the power of their God in overcoming the assaults of the Devil.
Though I have not read any research nor conducted any of my own to prove this assertion, I believe the Amillennial position most closely corresponds to that of typical Episcopalians. I've heard few Episcopalians espouse a Premillenialist, Postmillenialist or Dispensationalist viewpoint. Most I believe would be comfortable with an allegorical or figurative explanation of the millennium and I suspect most would struggle with the notion of a future thousand year reign. If I am correct in this assumption, then I think all of us owe a debt of gratitude to Augustine for his insights and most of us would have to label ourselves as Augustinian interpreters of millennium. So, fellow Episcopalians, when your fundamentalist friend asks, "Are you a Premillenialist or a Postmillenialist," you can answer, "An Augustinian, thank you."
John M. Hutchinson