THE REIGN OF ANTICHRIST BY REV. FATHER R. GERALD CULLETON ~ INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER
THE REIGN OF ANTICHRIST
BY REV. FATHER R. GERALD CULLETON
Since the author or rather the compiler of this book has no merit as a theologian, he has felt that he will perform a better service if he lets others do most of the talking. For this reason, even this introduction will come almost entirely from the mouths of men whose knowledge and ability are beyond doubt.
The fundamentals of the Christian idea of Antichrist are in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians and in the Apocalypse, so we will hear what Father Prat has to say about the former and Father LeFrois about the latter. Most theologians devote very little space to Antichrist so we have chosen to translate from the work of Father Hervc whose comments are typical. I have interjected a few remarks in parenthesis. Neglect them if you wish.
The only point I am forced to make deals with an opinion now quite widespread, that the times of Antichrist are upon us. The only reason I speak is because I have found no one without preconceived ideas whom I can quote.
First: Several have told me that Antichrist is already born. One puts him in Pennsylvania, another in Illinois, a third in Iraq; a fourth has informed me that he already has temples in the four corners of the earth, one corner being Chicago and another Los Angeles. Christ has said, "If they say, lo, here is Christ or there, go ye not out to look." If I err not, this means we should not bother with these rumors. When Antichrist comes, the whole world will know him, the elect for what he is, the rest for what he is not.
Second: It is said that the times in which we live fit very well into those which will immediately precede the coming of Antichrist. This is not for me to judge. They are indeed evil times. They are more intensely and widespreadly evil than any that have existed since Constantine. They will, no doubt, get worse. The Church will suffer much more than She now suffers. But whether what we now see or may live to see is any more than one of the numerous eras which are to precede Antichrist, I do not know. There are those quoted in this book who say we are near the times of Antichrist. Who am I to say they are wrong? But on the other hand, who are they, that we are to believe them. We do not doubt their good faith. The value of their word we know not.
Antichrist According to Saint Paul's Epistles In 2 Thess. 2 :3-12 Saint "Paul merely recalls here, with a few allusions, some features of his oral preaching. He takes it for granted that the Thessalonians are familiar with these ideas, for the instructions given to the neophytes always included a chapter on the last things associated with the parousia. (1) The Apostle contents himself with refreshing their memory of them. He formerly taught orally, and now he repeats in writing — but in terms the conciseness of which makes them enigmatical f cr us — that the last day is to be preceded by two great crises — the apostasy and the appearance of Antichrist. He speaks of both as of things well known which do not need explanation.
(1) Second coming of Christ.
"The apostasy indicates certainly a religious defection, a revolt against God or his representatives. It appears to be closely connected with the acts and wonders wrought by the great adversary. The latter, formally distinguished from Satan, who lends him his aid and uses him as an agent, is described with the traits and characteristics of the per- sons of whom he is the antitype. He will lift himself up above all that is God or is called God, like Antiochus Epiphanes; he will give himself out for God and will wish to be treated as God, like the Prince of Tyre in Ezechiel and the King of Babylon in Isaias ; he will sit in the very Temple of God, like the abomination of desolation predicted by Daniel. "These reminders are not so much new prophecies as allusions to old texts ; it is not necessary to expect the literal verification of them, they are symbols realizable according to a law of proportion unknown to us. When we read that the Lord Jesus 'will destroy the wicked one with the spirit (breath) of his mouth/ these words recall to us the way in which the Son of David, according to Isaias, is to destroy im- piety; but what can we conclude from them as to the real way in which those things will take place? What is said, aside from figures cf speech, is that Antichrist will work false miracles, signs and wonders, will seduce a great many souls, and also cause a schism in the Church, but that he will finally be conquered, and that his fall will be the signal for the parousia.
"In one point only does Paul go beyond his predecessors. He speaks of an obstacle which hinders the immediate coming of Antichrist, and gives us the following description of it: It is a person or something personified (masculine), and at the same time a physical or moral force (neuter). The obstacle is already active and it checks the mystery of iniquity; it prevents the advance of the wicked one. As soon as this obstacle disappears the field will be open to Anti- christ whose appearance seems likely to precede but shortly the appearance of the Son of God. What is this obstacle? The Thessalonians had learned what it is from the mouth of the Apostle, but we are ignorant of it now, and everything leads us to suppose that we shall always be ignorant of it. The proverbial obscurity of this passage has given rise to in- numerable solutions.
"With brotherly unanimity, Albigenses, Waldenses, Hus- sites, the disciples of Wyclif, of Luther and Calvin, and ancient and modern Anglicans, down to the nineteenth century, have seen in Antichrist the Pope and in the obstacle which opposes the triumph of the former, first the Roman Emperor and later the German Emperor. In 1518, when the first ideas of revolt were fermenting in him, Luther had a slight suspicion that the Pope might indeed be Antichrist; in 1519, he was almost sure of it, and at the end of that year, when the rupture with Rome was complete, he had become entirely certain of it. Ten years later, he was indignant that the Augsburg confession had made no mention of such a fundamental article of faith. The mistake was remedied at Smalkalde, where it was declared that 'the Pope is the true Antichrist who has elevated himself against Christ and above him "The only divergence among the Protestants is that some have admitted two Antichrists — one for the East, namely Mohammed and Islam ; the other for the West, the Pope and the Papacy. One bolder commentator has even discovers I that if the Pope is always Antichrist, of course the mystery of iniquity is Jesuitism, while the temple of God is the pure Lutheran doctrine, and the obstacle which resists the advent, not of Antichrist, as the text of St. Paul requires, but of Jesus, is still the Pope. It is not long since the Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans gave up this exegesis, which was for them more sacred than the most solemn definition of faith is for us. So difficult to uproot are the prejudices of sect and caste, strengthened by habit and education !
"As for the rationalists, they all declare that the prophecy of St. Paul has not been fulfilled and never will be. It is only a dream of the Apostle. But when they try to say precisely what the object of this dream is, they are so divided that it is impossible to find two of them with the same opinion.
"Nor can we say that Catholic commentators are any more agreed. However, in spite of infinite divergences of detail, they almost all regard the parousia as the personal return of Jesus Christ coming to judge the living and the dead; they see in Antichrist an individual, although St. Augustine thinks rather of a tendency; in the apostasy they see a defection and a revolt, either religious or political, or both at the same time ; in the mystery of iniquity, either Nero and the persecutors, or heretics and schismatics ; in the temple of God, either the Temple of Jerusalem rebuilt or the Christian Church; finally, in the obstacle, they see either the Roman Empire or its heir, the Christian State. But what State today constructs a dyke against the invasion of evil 7 In despair of finding any other solution, some are forced to hold that it is the faith still living in many hearts or the command to preach the Gospel throughout the world.
"Not only is the 'obstacle' not yet found, but we doubt whether it has ever been looked for in the right direction. Paul keeps to the ideas of Jewish and Christian eschatology. Like Daniel and St. John, he describes a conflict between good and evil, which has its echo on the earth, but the scene and principal seat of which are elsewhere. It is, in fact, Satan who begins it and maintains it, helping his tool with all his might. The antagonist must be a power of the same order. In the prophecy of Daniel it is the commander of the heavenly hosts, the chief of the people of God, Michael, who takes up the cause of the holy nation, especially at the time of the great tribulation and on the eve of the resurrection of the dead. In St. John it is still Michael at the head of his angels who fights against the Dragon, the old Serpent, Lu- cifer, the Devil, Satan, and who finally wins the victory for Christ.
"The struggle between Michael and Satan goes on through the centuries. There is no need of interrogating the Apocrypha — the Book of Enoch, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, or the Apocalypse of Moses — to know what a leading role the Archangel Michael is to play at the last day. It is he, according to St. Paul — the thing is scarcely doubtful — who will give the signal for the resurrection and the judgment. Will it not be also he — the protector first of the Synagogue and then of the Church — . who with his legions will bar the passage of the powers of hell until the fullness of time? All the features of Paul's description are applicable to him ; a personal being, he commands an army and represents a force ; he is immortal, and his fight against Satan, begun in the apostolic epoch, runs on through history to its final climax. If his momentary disappearance signified a defeat or a destruction this character would not be applicable to him, but the Apostle's words do not mean this, and need not be thus understood. Until the baffled exegesis have found a better solution it is here that we shall seek for the mysterious 'obstacle' that retards the appearance of Antichrist." (Fernand Prat, S.J., The Theology of St. Paul, 1927. Vol. I, pp. 79-83).
Antichrist According to the Apocalypse
"Despite the fact that the spiritual or ideal interpretation of the Apocalypse, elaborated chiefly by Father Alio, O.P., has gained many adherents in the past forty years, there is an ever increasing number of authors who, along the lines of the earliest Church Fathers, prefer to give an eschatological interpretation to the greater part of that prophetical book of the New Testament. It would be interesting to see what such an interpretation would offer in detail. A summary picture would probably result as follows.
"The Apocalypse is chiefly the grand finale of the Kingdom of God on earth, the completion of all prophecies in a final synthesis.
"Part I (1:9-3:22) depicts the First Age of the Church with its needs and impending trials. Part II (4:1-20:15) sets forth the Final Age of the Church. Such a combination of events widely separated in time is common to the prophetic vision. However, a connecting bridge between the two eras is probably given in a second fulfillment of Part I, namely, the typical sense of the Seven Letters.
"Part II opens with the Almighty Judge seated in judgment together with His heavenly court (Apoc. 4 :l-5 :14) . His final decrees for mankind are in the sealed scroll. But He has given all judgment to the Son (John 5:22), so it is the Lamb, once slain by man, who executes these decrees on man, through the mediation of the angelic world. Part II has two sections.
"Section One (6:1-11:19) portrays the great distress among the nations on account of the calamities which the Lamb allows to overtake the world in punishment for unbelief. These calamities are in origin terrestrial (ch. 6), celestial (ch. 8), and infernal (ch. 9). Even a foretaste of hell is given to mankind before the great day of reckoning. Also in St. Luke's eschatological chapter, there is a clear distinction made between ordinary wars and insurrections on the one hand, and universal war, calamity, famine and death on the other. The latter is the sign of the coming judgment (Luke 21:9 and 10-11).
"The period of great distress coincides with the 'Major Apostasy' of 2 Thess. 2 :3 and with the end of the Time of the Gentiles/ After describing the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus said: 'And Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the nations to be fulfilled' (Luke 21:24). The great distress brought physical death to many on earth, but like in the days of the flood (see 1 Peter 3:20), many found repentance before death and washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and an innumerable crowd remained faithful to Him unto death (Apoc. 7:9-14).
"At this juncture there is place for the conversion of the Jews (as a whole) (see Rom. 11:13-25). 'A partial blindness only has befallen Israel until the full number of the Gentiles should enter, and thus all Israel should be saved' (Rom. 11: 25). So the Church of the Last Age (represented by the 144,000 of chapter 7, sealed from both spiritual and physical harm) shall come through unscathed, and shall once more be (predominantly) Israelites. It shall continue so to the end, marked (sealed) by God, like Israel of old in Egypt, as His own people. But the nations fall back into unbelief (Luke 18:8).
"Israel's conversion is brought about by the preaching and miracles of Elias during the great distress. 'Behold I will send you Elias the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the children to the fathers ; lest I come and strike the earth with anathema' (Mai. 4:5-6). 'Elias is indeed to come and will restore all things' (Mt. 17:11). True Israel is now spirit ual ; the material-minded and worldly Jews are rejected, as symbolized in the measuring cf the Temple (Apoc. 11:1-2)
"Henoch is the second witness sent back to preach penance in preparation for the coming of the reign of Antichrist. It seems that his mission is to the nations, so that they have an opportunity of salvation to the end (see Sir. 44:16). Jude 14-15 also hints at Henoch's mission in the latter days. The ministry of the two witnesses lasts 'three and a half years' (Apoc. 11:3), which coincides with the first half of Daniel's last 'year-week' (Dan. 9:26-27), where- as the second half of that 'year-week' coincides with the reign of Antichrist (who also reigns for three and a half years or 42 months in Apoc. 13:5) and makes desolate all religion, only to sit in the temple of God and give himself out to be God (2 Thess. 2:4). This is either a typical fulfillment of Daniel's last year-week, or there was a suspension in Daniel's vision after the seven plus sixty-two weeks until the time of the nations be fulfilled, and then the vision is resumed with the last year-week concerning Daniel's own people: Israel.
"Section Two of Part II (12:1-20:15) portrays the god- less reign of a personal Antichrist, and the subsequent utter destruction of his kingdom, metropolis, and devotees. The stage is prepared by showing the Church of the Consummation fitted out with the characteristics of the Virgin- Mother, invulnerable in this attire against the attacks of the fierce dragon. Yet the dragon prepares to engulf her in a last supreme onslaught (ch.12).
"Beast number one is collective Antichrist persecuting the People of God from its very beginnings on earth down through the centuries (ch. 13). This it does through its seven heads but chiefly through him who caps all seven, namely, personal Antichrist, who sums up in himself all the perversity of the seven. Thus he is the eighth (Apoc. 17: 11). Seven heads which endeavored to engulf God's people on earth from the beginning of its existence are: Egypt (Pharao), Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia (under Artaxerxes Ochos), Greco-Macedonia (in the Seleucides), Totalitarian pagan Rome (the sixth head) and a world empire of latter times. Symbolism (like in Daniel) fluctuates between a collective and a personal being, namely, an empire and a chief representative of that empire, e.g., the sixth head is represented as both empire and chief head of that empire (see 17:9). Daniel's fourth beast with the ten horns (Dan. 7:17-25) coincides with this beast of the Apocalypse in its sixth head (Apoc. 17:10). Ten horns are those state- kingdoms which follow upon the break-up of the Roman Em- pire and (eventually) persecute the Church.
"Beast number two is a false Elias heralding the advent of the false Christ (Antichrist in person). By diabolical signs he succeeds in bringing over the infidel world to Antichrist. St. Paul states that this deception is also a punishment for unbelief in Christ's Gospel of truth and love (2 Thess. 2: 9-12). Antichrist's name is given a numerical value: 666. Fulfillment alone can give certitude to this riddle. The He- brew letters of Nero (n) Kaisar amount to 666. If this is the meaning of St. John, then Antichrist will come in the spirit of Nero (the sixth head), so that the horrible beast lives again (Apoc. 13:3).
The Marian Church of the Consummation has nothing to fear from the Antichrist, for he cannot extinguish her. God gives her supernatural aid (Apoc. 12:6). She is now virginal in the purity of her conduct and her devotedness to the Lamb. Her imitation of the Lamb is unexcelled (14:4) . Mindful of the advice of St. Paul (1 Cor. 7:26-31), all live the virginal ideal. The time is at hand.
"Destruction of Antichrist's metropolis and works is accomplished by angelic powers in the pouring out of the bowls of God's wrath (ch. 16). Personal Antichrist and False Elias are overcome and cast into hell by the personal coming of Christ in glory (19:11-21).
"Millenium: Since the Holy Office decreed (July 21, 1944) that it cannot be safely taught that Christ at His Second Coming will reign visibly with only some of His saints (risen from the dead) for a period of time before the final and universal judgment, a spiritual millenium is to be seen in Apoc. 20 :4-6. St. John gives a recapitulation of the activity of Satan, and the spiritual reign of the saints with Christ in heaven and in His Church on earth. When Christianity triumphed over the Beast (in its sixth head, the pagan Roman empire) Satan was chained. With the reappearance of the Beast in the anti-Christian world empire (the seventh head), he will be unchained, and muster all his forces against the Church until the peak of the persecution under Antichrist (the eighth). Meanwhile, the church enjoyed the millennium with Christ enthroned among the nations.
"Part III (Apoc. 21-22) deals exclusively with the new heaven and the transformed earth, the new Jerusalem, Paradise, and eternal happiness. It harkens back to the first three chapters of Genesis. Mankind is restored forever to God's love and friendship, but through the Lamb and the Virgin (22:1-3). And the river of God's Love shall quench the thirst of the sons of God forever. And they shall be like unto God (22:4-5)."
(Bernard J. LeFrois: "Eschatological Interpretation of the Apocalypse" in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. XIII, pp. 17-20. This text has been added by the editor) .
Antichrist and the End of the World
"Christ Himself has given the signs which precede the end of the world, adding, 'When you see all these, know that it is near, (yes) at the door'. (Matt. 24:14)
"The chief signs follow :
I. The preaching cf the Gospel in the entire world — 'This Gospel will be preached in testimony to all nations, and then will come the end' (Matt. 24:33). From this it is certain that the end of the world will not occur before the Gospel has been preached in all nations ; but it does not follow the end will be immediately after that. (Neither do we know what preaching cf the Gospel implies ; but it likely means that every community in the world must be given sufficient in formation on the true and only Church of Christ that the people will be guilty of grave sin if they do not accept the truth).
II. The great defection from the Faith and the appearance of Antichrist — 'Unless the defection comes first and the man of sin be revealed . . . the day of the Lord is not imminent (II Thess. 2:1-4).
This defection or apostasy is one from God and his Christ, one of nations which will combat and try to abolish the Church. The Church, of course, will be preserved to the very end ; although those who are not among the 'elect' and 'whose names are not written in the book of life' will follow Antichrist (Matt. 24:12; Luke 18:8; Tim. 4:1; Apoc. 13:8).
It is when this apostasy is at its highest that 'there will appear the evil one, whom (however) the Lord Jesus will (a) slay with the breath of His mouth and (b) destroy by the light of His coming' (II Thess. 2:8). (Whether these two judgments of Christ are one and the same or two different punishments is not clear nor if two is there anything here to indicate that they are contemporary. If one refers to death of the body and the other to a formal condemnation to Hell on the last day, there is nothing indicating the time that is to elapse between the two) .
Antichrist has precursors for already from the beginning the fight against Christ was begun; but it will be greatest at the end of the times when the man of sin ap pears (This phrase end of time or latter times could mean the whole Christian era or any part of it at least so it was used by St. John who told his followers: Because Christ is now opposed, we know we are in the latter times. I John 2:18).
This adversary of God will pass himself off as God and, 'according to the operation of Satan', he will be strong 'in every power and signs and lying wonders and in every seduction of evil' (II Thess. 2:9-11). Antichrist is not a personification of persecution against the Church ; but a special definite person. He is so referred to by St. John and segregated from indefinite antichrists. The Apostle always refers to him in the singular, for example, man of sin, son of perdition, the adversary, the evil one, etc. On the other hand a group could not propose itself for worship in a temple. Moreover, the Fathers and theologians traditionally have referred to him as a single definite person.
III. The return of Elias and Enoch — Two witnesses precede the coming of Christ as Judge and fight against Anti- christ (Apoc. ll:3ss). One of them is Elias as is clear from Malachias (4:5-6), St. Matthew (17:10ss), and St. Luke (1:17). The other will be Enoch according to many Fathers, based on Ecclesiasticus (44:16) 'Henoch was transferred in- to Paradise that he may give repentance to the nations/ Others, however, think the second witness will be Moses or Jeremias.
IV. The conversion of the Jews — This conversion will be made chiefly by the preaching of Elias. St. Paul says, 'Blindness in part has happened in Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved as it is written, He shall come out of Sion and deliver and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob'. This is the origin of the Christian persuasion of the conversion of Israel at the end of the world.
V. Many prodigies in the heavens and on earth (Luke 21:25-26)." Father Hervc adds, "These signs are, of course, rather indefinite and the time of Christ's Second Coming cannot be known for certain from them."
(J. M. Hervc :* Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae, Vol. IV, Sec. 623.)