Monday, 19 November 2012


When the present writer was a small boy, he was given a booklet about Antichrist. It purported to interpret St. John's Apocalypse, and decided that the Seer had prophesied the career of Prince Jerome Napoleon, whose name it succeeded in adding up into 666, the Number of the Beast. On the back of this booklet were gory representations of a guillotine set up in the Place de la Concorde, Paris. It was surrounded by Catholic priests, while vast crowds of people, stamped on their foreheads with the sinister number, were watching the others, a select few, presumably all Huguenots, being led up to execution. This book so frightened us that it became quite impossible so much as to go down the passage into which the door of the room, where it was kept, opened, and we adopted all sorts of circuitous routes and a most inappropriate staircase to avoid it. The imaginations of thousands of children must, in past generations, have been similarly tortured, and though that is not likely to happen now, so has the grim old Protestantism disappeared from among us, it may be interesting to try to ascertain what really the Scriptures and Catholic tradition do teach on the subject of Antichrist. We cannot refer Catholic readers to any first-rate book directly on the point, but for those who can read French, Fr. F. Prat's fine work, Theologie de St. Paul, and Fr. Allo's quite admirable one upon the Apocalypse, place the whole matter in a proper light, and illustrate it with an erudition that none could wish to better. We make no apology for not repeating in this booklet all the fantastic legends that have from time to time haunted the feverish imaginations of students or of writers concerning Antichrist; it has seemed to us far better to try to state what is positive and right, than to mention all sorts of views, entertaining though they might be, merely forthwith to deny them. So far, the earliest writing in which the name Antichrist appears is the First Epistle of St. John, and it recurs in his Second Epistle. St. John says: "Little children, it is the last hour, and even as you have heard that 'Antichrist is coming,' why, even now many Antichrists have come into being. Whence we know that it is the last hour. They went out from among us, yet they were not from among us; for had they been from among us, they would have remained with us. . . I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no Lie comes from the truth. Who is the Liar, if not he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist—he who denies the Father and the Son. Every one who denies the Son, hath not the Father either. He who acknowledges the Son hath the Father too." (1 John ii. 18-23.) "Beloved, do not trust every spirit, but test the spirits (to see) if they are from God, because many false prophets have come forth into the world. By this do you recognise the Spirit of God. Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come-inthe-flesh [incarnate] is from God: and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus [or, divides Jesus: see below], is not from God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he is coming, and [in fact] he is already in the world." (1 John iv. 1-3.) "Now many Deceivers have come forth into the world, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ come in the flesh. This is the Deceiver and the Antichrist." (2 John 7.) St. John does not say here that what the Christians have heard about Antichrist is a Christian doctrine about Antichrist; he does say that they are familiar with a doctrine on the subject, or at least a tradition. Nor does he say that there will ever be an Antichrist, But he affirms that the collectivity of those who deny the Incarnation, and the spirit that animates them, are Antichrist, and that this is already active in the world, and is a sign that we are even now in " the last days." Such "Anti-christians" are in general those who deny the Incarnation, and in particular are heretics—men who once professed themselves Christians and have apostatised. If the reading "divide Christ" be the true one, he is alluding to those contemporary heretics who taught that our Lord was not truly one Person, God and Man, but (perhaps) a man on whom the Spirit of God had descended, e.g. at the Baptism, or, true God indeed, but merely surrounded with a sort of phantom body. There may be more Christian doctrine than this, concerning Antichrist; but St. John does not state it here, but rather obviously, to our mind, refrains from sanctioning explicitly any current belief about the coming of an Antichrist. St. John's epistles, which may have been written about A.D. 90 or 95, recall at once a passage in St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, written in A.D. 51: "We beg you, brethren, for the sake of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ and of our gathering together unto Him, not to be swiftly tossed out of your wits nor to be scared, whether by means of a spirit [in the concrete, prophecy], or preaching, or by a letter quoted as coming from me [this may mean, by a forged letter, purporting to come from me; or, by means of a letter, i.e. my own first one to you, so that as it were through me myself you had been scared], to the effect that the Day of the Lord is imminent. Let no one deceive you in any way; for unless the Apostasy have come first, and the Man of Lawlessness be unveiled, the Son of Destruction, the Antagonist, he who exalts himself over all that can be called God or Worshipful, so as to set himself down in the Temple of God, exhibiting himself as being God— (the End shall not come). Do you not remember that while I was still with you I told you this? And you know too, that which is holding [him] in, so that he shall be revealed [only] at his proper time. For the Mystery of Lawlessness is already at work—let but him who holds [it] in so far, be removed out of the way. Ah! then shall be unveiled the Lawless One, whom the Lord Jesus shall destroy with the breath of His mouth, and shall bring to naught by the manifestation of His Advent—even him whose [own] 'advent' is according to the activity of Satan with all [sorts of] power and signs and lying miracles, and with all sorts of wicked deceit unto those who are destined to destruction, because they have not accepted the love of the truth unto their salvation. And that is why God sends them an activity of deception [practically, a tendency or bias towards being deceived] so that they should believe the Lie." (2 Thess. 1-12.) It is certain that St. Paul here is not even meaning to speak very clearly. He had told something to the Thessalonians to which he alludes in veiled language, because it might be dangerous for him or for them to write about it in so many words. So we shall be wise not to try to decipher him—to de-code him, so to say—with the help only of such clues as his letter taken by itself provides, but to see if similar language is used elsewhere in a clearer way. Somewhat similar ideas will be expressed, no doubt, by St. John in his Apocalypse, written about half-way between St. Paul's letter and St. John's own first epistle; but the Apocalypse is itself obscure, and St. Paul, by quoting Daniel (xi. 36, in verse 4 of this chapter) shows that he is using a traditional language that our Lord Himself made use of when speaking of the "last days." Anyhow, what St. Paul does say here is, that the End of the World is not due till much has happened first—there is to be an Apostasy; and the Advent of Christ will be prefaced by a pseudo-advent, accompanied with deceptive miracles, and that he, or "that" which thus "comes" is here and active already—or would be so, were he, or it, not held in check. When he, or "that," which now acts as check, is removed, then will be the manifestation of the Antagonist. This is where Paul goes nearest to the word Antichrist. His word anti-keimenos means, practically, He who establishes himself against—a kind of (evil) counterpart, like convex to concave, though the "evilness" is not contained in the word itself, but is implied by the fact that this Power acts lyingly and in opposition to Christ by whom it will ultimately be destroyed. And that this power is not the Devil, though it works for him we must wait to see what more than this is implied in St. Paul's words. But our Lord Himself had quoted Daniel: "When therefore you shall see the Abomination of Desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the [a] holy place (let him that readeth understand)—then let him that is in Judea flee into the mountains, etc. . . . There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." (Matt. xxiv. 15.) It is clear that our Lord, too, alludes to the words of Daniel, though St. Paul makes them a little more explicit, and He exhorts readers to apply their intelligence and discern their true meaning, which He does not make obvious any more than St. Paul does. But He goes on to say that this will be the preface to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, and after that, of the End of the World and the Last Coming of the Messiah, though He definitely asserts that no man knows the date of this—only, it shall be sudden, which is exactly what Paul teaches.- Our Lord then refers us back to Daniel. In Daniel, chapter vii., we read of four wild beasts (who are four successive empires), and from the fourth rises a king who shall speak "great—i.e. insolent —things," shall speak "words" against the Most High, and "wear out" the Saints of the Most High. This persecution lasts "a time, times, and half a time," that is, three and a half years. After his death and defeat comes the triumph of God and of the holy People. In chapter viii., another vision shows a king who waxes great "even to the prince of the host," who takes away the daily sacrifice and gives sanctuary and people alike to be trampled under foot for the space of 1150 days. This event is alluded to in verse 13 as "the abomination of desolation" possibly, the Abomination that Desolates. Again in Daniel, in chapter ix., a vision further shows the daily sacrifice taken away from Jerusalem for "half a week"—in Daniel's language here, this means three and a half years—and of that period a phrase is used that seems best translated: "and on the pinnacle of abomination (shall stand) one that maketh desolate." After this, the conqueror is in his turn defeated. In chapter xi., the wicked king shall "profane the sanctuary, and shall take away the continual burnt offering, and they shall set up the abomination that maketh desolate." This king, moreover, shall magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against (i.e. blaspheme) the God of gods. But he comes to a sudden and disastrous end; the Judgement and the Resurrection follow, and God and His People triumph. Now in Isaiah xi. 4, God is described as "slaying the wicked" at the last Day "with the breath of His (quoted by St. Paul, supra); and in xiv. it is definitely the King of Babylon who exalts his throne above the stars of God, saying: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like unto the Most High "—and in Ezekiel xxviii. it is the King of Tyre who, God says, has "lifted up his heart," and has said, "I am a god, I sit in the seat of God . .. yet thou art man, and not God "; and similarly in Daniel the wicked blasphemous king who for a while conquers the Holy City and replaces the divine sacrifice with an abomination, is throughout, we hold, Antiochus Epiphanes. This king after being for fourteen years a hostage at Rome succeeded to the throne of Syria in 175 B.C. In 172 he marched against Jerusalem, took it, and stripped the Temple of its treasures, though hitherto he had been on good terms with the High Priest who had been ready to co-operate with Antiochus's scheme of introducing Greek culture into Palestine. However, hearing a suspicion of treachery, he attacked it as we have said. In 168 B.C. the city was even worse devastated, the men were killed, the women and children sold into slavery, and the city burned and its walls pulled down. Antiochus then decreed that "all should be one people," even in religion. Observance of the Sabbath and circumcision were forbidden on pain of death; on December 15, 168, a small altar was built upon the altar of burnt sacrifice, and sacrifice was offered on it to Olympic Zeus. In the first book of the Maccabees this altar is called by Daniel's expression, The Abomination of Desolation. Now the first of these words is, no doubt, constantly used in the Old Testament of idolatrous practices, etc.; but taken together the words make, in Hebrew, a very good "pun" or assonance with the words meaning Baal of Heaven, which is the Hebrew equivalent for Zeus Olympios, Antiochus's patron deity, whose image, no doubt, was placed on the altar, and was also, no doubt, identified more or less closely with Antiochus himself. This desecration lasted till December 25, 164. Antiochus put, then, an image of himself, as incarnating his Empire, fashioned in the likeness of Zeus Olympios, in the Temple itself, and this was treated with divine honours. The Jews never forgot this desecration of the Temple, invitation to Idolatry, and to apostasy from their Vocation to be God's unique and chosen People. Clearly we have no space to go into more details than this. But it is certain that Daniel's phrases became part of a recognised style, which was used by writers who may be called Apocalyptists, and must now be explained. Any careful reader of Daniel will see at once that he does not intend to refer only to Antiochus Epiphanes. He sees, behind the invading pagan king, the forces of right and wrong, of God and His enemies. You may say that a writer like Daniel will have four planes, so to call them, in his vision—he will see something quite concrete; like this or that king, this or that invasion or persecution, and this may be called the historical level; or, he may see the conflict of right and wrong, and this is the ethical or moral level or plane; or, he may see all this at its consummation, at the End of the World, and this is called the eschatological planer: finally, he may see the history of the world, or of the soul, as it were universally, and no more than typified or symbolised by any particular conflict, and the triumph of God in the whole series of creation. This might perhaps be called the universal or cosmic plane. Such a writer will find his gaze focussing and refocussing itself very rapidly, sometimes nearer, sometimes at a more distant point, or rather, now on the more concrete, and now on the more spiritualised plane. Isaias, then, and Ezekiel saw not only the impious triumph and ultimate defeat of the kings of Babylon and of Tyre, but God's triumph and that of His People and of righteousness; Daniel saw beyond Antiochus, though his gaze was primarily fixed on him; our Lord, we dare reverently to say, was using this same traditional way of speaking, with its accustomed formulae, which Jews of His time perfectly well understood, when in the concrete and immediate future He saw and spoke of the sack of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, but, also, the ultimate fate of the world and the last great contest of good and evil, and the triumph of the former and of His Church. Does the Old Testament, then, so far teach, or even lead us to expect, an individual person who, at the end of time shall act as an evil counterpart to the Messiah, or even as the professed supreme enemy of God? No. The inspired writers proclaim the world-enduring struggle of good and evil, and the ultimate triumph of good, and they sometimes express this in terms of warfare, and in particular under the symbolism of, or as working itself out in, a contest actual or in the more or less remote future—thus serving the double purpose of instructing the Chosen People in what might pedantically be called the spiritual interpretation of the universe, and of encouraging them in view of a crisis in their national history sooner or later to be experienced by them. From the imaginative standpoint, or that of dramatic appropriateness, it will be clear how naturally the great Protagonist, God, could be represented as ultimately confronting an individual foe; but the canonical writers do not do this; the drama, thus set forth, developed outside them. All prophets foretold, at times, the future, and also exhorted the people, and variously "foretold" God's word. But those who by preference "unveiled" the underlying spiritual truth of things, particularly with reference to the End of the World, and often in the hour of the Chosen People's disasters when it needed special encouragement, and, finally, as a rule, in a very. special symbolical "dialect," have come to be called "Apocalyptists," owing to St. John's great writing, which was the first document of the sort, I think, to bear the name of Apocalypse. Almost all prophets contain apocalyptic passages: but, during the century and a half both preceding and following the Christian era, there were many entire books which were Apocalypses. Those which St. John, and perhaps St. Paul, may have known, since they were written before their date, were, The Book of Jubilees, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Ethiopian Enoch, the Slavonic Enoch, and the Assumption of Moses, and parts also of the Sibylline Oracles. Roughly contemporary with St. John are the Fourth Book of Esdras, other parts of the Sibylline Oracles, the Apocalypse of Abraham, etc. Later are the Odes of Solomon, the Apocalypse of Peter, Shepherd of Hermas etc.; and others much later, like the Apocalypse of Paul. In many of these there are Christian elements, and it is in these classes of literature that the motif of the Antichrist is developed. One element in it is the advent of a pagan chieftain; the kings of Babylon, Tyre and Syria were followed by Herod the Great, Pompey or some Roman emperor (like Gaius (Caligula), and with quite extraordinary consequences as we shall see after the sensational reign of Nero); and this facilitated the idea that the Enemy of God should manifest himself in Jerusalem itself, since these personages either took and dismantled it, or were expected to do so. There was also a tradition that this enemy should be an apostate Jew, perhaps from the tribe of Dan. There was a different idea, which seems to have been felt as more than a mere metaphor, that the Enemy should be Satan himself, either incarnate, or at least acting through a definite lieutenant. Thus, in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Assumption of Moses, it is Belial, or Satan or the Devil who is overthrown or bound by God or the Messiah; whereas, in the Psalms of Solomon, Pompey is described as the Dragon. In the last case, we can see how the two motifs are intertwining; Satan and his instrument are not clearly distinguished. We may interpolate here that non-Catholic writers are fond at this point of assigning pagan origins to this idea, and to the imagery in which it is clothed. Thus the whole idea of a fight between God and the principle of Evil is supposed to be Persian, and all dragon-imagery, etc., is supposed to be borrowed from Babylonian myth. Enough to say that at this date the Jews not only had no need to borrow any such metaphors at all, for they had long possessed them, but the metaphors themselves were very natural ones to be developed precisely when the Jews were continually being attacked and defeated; and, that they were almost as unlikely as actual Christians to borrow religious ideas from others just when the sense of their peculiar privileges and vocation was felt more and more intensely by them; while not only had this imagery long been traditional in substance, but meant no more to a Jew than the word " Titan " did to Milton when he so described the archangels Gabriel and Abdiel; nor would we ourselves be committed to any kind of belief in the storming of Olympus by the Giants if we spoke of the gigantic struggle of right with wrong. We are now, I think, in a much better position for understanding St. Paul, whose letters to the Thessalonians come next in chronological order. St. Paul's language is certainly both "eschatological" and in part "apocalyptic." We may, then, almost assert that they are certainly wrong who try to make him allude either to a contemporary concrete fact alone, or to the ending of the world alone. It is extremely probable that he will be alluding, indeed, to the consummation of all things (as, indeed, he obviously does), and to some present or imminent hostile influence or person. (This view will be immensely corroborated when we speak of St. John's Apocalypse.) Suppose Paul were alluding only to a contemporary person, he would not only be expecting the consummation of the world to be destined to occur within the lifetime of that person (for all that was necessary for his "manifestation" and full persecuting activity was the removal of a certain mysterious "check"), but asserting that it would so occur, whereas the whole point of the letter is that no one has any idea when it will occur, and he is warning the Thessalonians not to act as if it were known to be imminent. Moreover, though this is not the place to argue this matter out, I hold that St. Paul did not think that the End was to come immediately, or even soon, and, in fact, that while he continued to fix no dates, he thought it was very far off indeed, as we reckon "far." For from the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, he seems to say definitely that the conversion of the Jews is to take place before the End (and even then he does not say, or hint, that it is to take place just before), and that before this conversion, the Gentiles, that is, the world at large, are to have been converted. But it is certain that he did not expect to convert the world in his own life-time, or anything like. To my mind, then, Paul is very likely considering some actual persecuting agency, held for the time being in check, but likely soon to break out, and, the enduring series or collectivity of such agencies, continually checked until for a brief space the restraining power is withdrawn, and, finally, the consummation of the world-long struggle between God and all that is anti-God, and the divine triumph. What, then, on this hypothesis, does St. Paul regard as the contemporary evil influence which is "from now on," “already," energizing, but held in check for the while? and what is it that holds it in check? I think he almost certainly saw that within the Roman Empire was a tendency, already operative, which very soon revealed itself, to set itself up, as it were, incarnate in its Emperor, as absolute and supreme even in the realm of conscience. To refuse to worship the Emperor, meant that one made one's life, in army, in commerce, in society, in the rapidly developing bureaucracy, unlivable, and at frequent crises, involved oneself in actual martyrdom. What was at the moment restraining this influence? Perhaps the personality of the contemporary Emperor himself, Claudius, who did not like Emperor-worship, and reacted against the policy of his mad predecessor Gaius; or, the spirit of the governing class of officials, who had not yet yielded, as they did later, to the insane orgy of flattery with which the Emperor became surrounded. But since St. Paul uses the vague neuter both for the "mystery of Lawlessness," and for "That which acts as check," as well as the masculine, and since the Old Testament models are at least as much a collectivity of enemies as any one man, though they may be led by, summed up in, or typified in, one man, and since it will be seen that St. John uses his personal symbols to stand for such a collectivity quite as much as, and more than, for an individual, we take it that St. Paul also alludes hereto that enduring Opposition to the Triumph of God. This is ever appearing to come to a head, is ever defeated or at least checked in part and for a while, primarily by the Christian preaching and supernatural influence, and is destined to be utterly overwhelmed by the Truth as revealed by the Son of God Incarnate, the Messias, the Word made Flesh. I will add that it is quite possible that St. Paul's mind, moving thus in a realm of apocalyptic thought, may have had in it, as Fr. Prat holds, the very special apocalyptic symbolism connected with the archangel Michael. This would make another link with the Apocalypse. The floating thought of the Jews not only set God, or the Messias Himself, in opposition to the AntiMessias, or to Satan, but also, St. Michael. Not only in the extra-canonical apocalypses does Michael play a great role, but in the book of Daniel himself, Michael is the leader of God's armies and takes the Chosen People in charge (chapters x. and xii.). Paul certainly had him in mind when he describes the Last Day, and "at the voice of an archangel, at the sound of a trumpet," the dead rise. Not only was Michael regularly conceived as the great protector of the Chosen People in battle, especially the last Battle, but in pre- and post-Christian apocalypses he is seen as a Recording Angel, setting down the works of nations and their presiding angels, and is held to have been the medium through whom God gave the law to Moses, and the constant intercessor on behalf of humanity, the mediator between God and the race on behalf of the peace of Israel; while in the letter of St. Jude he is seen fighting with Satan for the body of Moses, and in St. John's apocalypse it is he who carries on the great mystical war with Satan. So Paul, on yet another plane of thought, may here well be seeing the World-Struggle in terms of a fight between Satan and the Archangel, and Michael will then be the "check."