Antichrist in the Scriptures

by Michael J. Gruenthaner, S.J.

Description

When it comes to the word "antichrist", many modern theologians concur with the early Church Fathers, who borrowed the term to describe an individual human nemesis of Jesus Christ. However, others disagree with this description. In the Introduction to his Commentary on the Apocalypse, Allo concludes that "the man of lawlessness" is not an individual but a collective personality. The purpose of this essay, written in 1942 by Michael Gruenthaner, is to examine all the relevant passages of the Old and New Testaments in an effort to determine whether they predict the advent of an individual or collective Antichrist.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review

Pages

448 – 460

Publisher & Date

Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York, NY, February 1942

The only inspired books which contain the word "antichrist" are the Epistles of St. John (I, ii. 18, 22, iv. 3; II, 7). As far as we can ascertain, he is the first Christian writer to employ the term. Whether he coined it to express an idea already familiar to his readers under another designation, or found it ready-made in Christian tradition, remains uncertain. Etymologically, in accordance with one meaning of the Greek preposition anti, it denotes an "opponent of Christ." Hence, St. John uses it in the plural, without the article, to characterize certain apostate members of the Christian community (I, ii. 18). In addition, he speaks of the Antichrist, using the noun in the singular with the article to designate an opponent of Christ in the preeminent sense, whose coming at the end of time his readers had been taught to expect.

From the passages referring to Antichrist, par excellence, the Fathers of the Church borrowed the term to designate an individual human adversary of Christ, of unequalled malevolence, who is to come at the end of time. This Patristic doctrine is reaffirmed by practically all the theologians both ancient and modern. The picture which the Fathers draw of Antichrist is based partly upon conjecture, partly upon Jewish apocalyptic literature, partly upon the Scriptures, and partly upon unknown sources. It follows that the only part of their teaching on Antichrist which can lay any claim to our acceptance is that which is derived from the Scriptures. The Biblical interpretations of the Fathers and the theologians are binding only if they are proposed with moral unanimity as pertaining to the deposit of faith or as necessary to guard this deposit. It is difficult, however, to found an argument on the agreement of the Fathers, for they frequently commingle details concerning Antichrist, without stating which particular feature is derived with certainty from Biblical sources.

Modern theologians1 base their definition of Antichrist on the passages of St. John's Epistles cited above and on the words of St. Paul in II Thess., ii. 1-12. On the authority of these texts they regard it as certain that Antichrist will be an individual human being endowed with the qualities outlined in these texts, who will appear at the end of time and will be destroyed by Christ at His second coming. It is apparent that this explanation of the texts in question does not belong to the deposit of faith and is not necessarily connected with this deposit, for the theologians do not declare that it must be accepted as such; they merely pronounce it as certain.

Nor are there any other reasons for thinking that the doctrine of an individual Antichrist is an article of faith. Suarez,2 indeed, pronounces it to be such, but he stands alone in his opinion. The Church has not defined the nature of Antichrist nor the meaning of any of the texts commonly alleged to prove his character and existence. In view, however, of the unanimous consent of the Fathers and the theologians, it would be imprudent to deny that the doctrine of an individual Antichrist is contained either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures, unless we have cogent arguments to the contrary.

Within recent years a novel and arresting explanation of the Scriptural data relating to Antichrist has been proposed by two Catholic scholars of ability and distinction. In the Introduction to his Commentary on the Apocalypse, Allo examines the passage of St. Paul concerned with "the man of lawlessness" (II Thess., ii. 3-12), about whose identity with the Antichrist of St. John there can scarcely be any doubt. He concludes that "the man of lawlessness" is not an individual but a collective personality, denoting the entire series of those working in behalf of Satan to the end of time, a series terminating perchance in some outstanding man of lawlessness after whom it has been named.3 In his article on Antichrist in the Supplement to Vigouroux's "Dictionnaire de la Bible," Buzy denies that an individual Antichrist is explicitly portrayed in any part of the Old or New Testament.4 He agrees with Allo in referring the passage of St. Paul mentioned above to a series of antichrists,5 but he approves the view of Allo that this interpretation of the text does not prevent us from assuming that the malevolent power exercised by these successive antichrists will reach its culmination in some individual man, who will incorporate in himself all the forces of iniquity.6 This assumption renders the interpretation unobjectionable from a doctrinal viewpoint, for it admits that the Scriptures may refer implicitly to an individual Antichrist.

The appalling manifestations of atheism, paganism, cynical contempt for moral principles, and of savage hatred for the Catholic Church which we have witnessed in the present age naturally quicken our interest in Antichrist. If the new theory be true, all the leaders of these anti-Catholic movements are nothing but a partial revelation of "the man of lawlessness" described by St. Paul. It is our purpose, therefore, to reexamine all the relevant passages of the Old and New Testaments in an effort to determine whether they predict the advent of an individual or collective Antichrist.

The Old Testament

Ezechiel. — Ezechiel is the first inspired writer of the Old Testament to portray a character similar to Antichrist in his two discourses against Gog. The second (xxxix. 1-22) is not a continuation of the first (xxxviii. 1-23); it describes the same event with some repetition of detail and from a different standpoint. Both are apocalyptic in character; they do not concern Ezechiel's contemporaries but deal with a final onslaught on the people of God after they have returned from exile, have been purified from their sins, and have lived peacefully in their land for a considerable time. This onslaught is made by barbarian hordes from the north. God Himself intervenes in behalf of His people, destroys the invaders, and establishes a final era of peace.

The leader of the barbarians bears the puzzling name of Gog, and his coming is said to have been foretold by Prophets anterior to Ezechiel (xxxviii. 17; xxxix. 6). But none of the pre-Exilic Prophets mentions Gog, nor does any of them allude to a character resembling him. They speak of judgment upon the nations (Is., xxiv. 1-12, 16b-20; Soph., i. 1, 2, iii. 8-20), of victory over them by Israel (Mich., iv. 11-13, v. 7-9), and of a final conflict between the nations and the Lord (Joel, iii. 9-21). Perhaps the fate of Gog is implicitly predicted in these prophecies, but the reference may be to unknown prophets.

Hence, Ezechiel may have invented the name of Gog or may have found it in a preexisting tradition. In either supposition it may be based on any one of similar names occurring in the records of the ancient Near East, such as Gyges (called Gugu by the Assyrians), a king of Lydia in the eighth century B.C.

Gog's country and people are both denominated Magog (xxxviii. 2, xxxix. 6). According to Gen., x. 2 (I Par., i. 5), Magog was a descendant of Japheth. Josephus ("Ant.," I, vi, 1) and St. Jerome (in his Commentary) identify Magog with the Scythians, who lived north of the Black Sea. Gog, also, is the chief prince of Mosoch and Thubal, two peoples of Japhetic origin, known to the Assyrians as Mushki and Tabal, respectively. Both were driven from their homes in the Anti-Taurus by the Cimmerians and later settled along the shores of the Black Sea.

Gomer, Beth-Thogorma, Persia, Kush, Put, and many other unnamed nations are also said to have furnished contingents for Gog's army. Gomer, of Japhetic origin (Gen., x. 2), most probably represents the Cimmerians or Gimirrai of the Assyrian records. About the eighth century B.C., they were forced from their land along the northern coast of the Black Sea by the Scythians. They then overran Asia Minor, conquered Phrygia, and were a great power for over thirty years. Their memory is preserved in Gamir, the Armenian name for Cappadocia. Beth-Thogorma seems to be ancient Armenia (cfr. Ezech., xxvii. 14). Kush is the region south of the first cataract of the Nile, whilst Put denotes the African coast roughly corresponding to Somaliland. It is surprising to find Africans in the predominately northern host of Gog. Perhaps their names are a later interpolation from Ezech., xxvii. 10, xxx. 5.

An empire consisting of the nations attributed to Gog never invaded the Promised Land; in fact, it never even existed. It follows that Ezechiel used the name of Gog to designate some person or collection of persons whom he could not identify in his vision. Similarly, the names of the nations constituting his army must be purely symbolic, representing nations unknown to the prophet; they were chosen to lend vividness to the narrative. Nor need we suppose that these invaders will actually have their home in Asia Minor or in the remote recesses of the north; this, too, may be an imaginative touch for the purpose of adding concreteness to the picture. Nor is it necessary to take the description of their annihilation literally. In the first discourse the agents of destruction are: panic, mutual slaughter, earthquake, hailstones, fire and brimstone; in short, all the means which God used in the history of Israel to discomfit His foes (xxxviii. 21-23). In the second, the Lord first disarms the invaders and then sends fire upon them (xxxix. 3, 6). There is no discrepancy between these accounts: each is a concrete, poetic representation of utter defeat and annihilation. Literalness is as much out of place here as it is with regard to the invitation which God issues to the carrion birds and beasts to gorge themselves upon the warriors, princes, and horses of Gog's army (xxxix. 17-20). This means no more than that the fate of God's enemies will be disgraceful and ghastly. St. John certainly does not intend to be taken literally when he borrows some features of Ezechiel's scene of horror in the Apocalypse (xix. 17, 21).

It is certain, however, that some momentous event or series of events in Jewish or Christian history underlies the imagery of Ezechiel. Now, in the Apocalypse of St. John, Gog and Magog are two nations which come from the four corners of the earth to make a final assault upon the new Jerusalem (xx. 7-10). They symbolize all the forces hostile to the Church in the final period of her history.

This suggests that Ezechiel's Gog may be Antichrist. There are some indications in the text which favor this opinion. With the overthrow of Gog a new era will begin: the holy name of God will be profaned no more; all the nations will recognize Him as the Holy One in Israel (xxxix. 7). This seems to point to the consummation of the world.

The presence of traders from Saba, Dedan, and Tharsis in Gog's army cannot be cited to prove the contrary (xxxviii. 13). For these names may be merely symbolic of unknown peoples, and the traders may figuratively represent those who try to profit from the persecutions of the Church, without directly participating. Moreover, the traders may have been introduced to give realism to the picture and may be without historical significance.

A more serious difficulty arises from the scene of Gog's invasion and destruction: this is laid in Palestine exclusively (xxxviii. 8, 15, 18, 20, xxxix. 2). But we cannot suppose that the Church of the last days will be concentrated in this country. The land of Israel, however, may be a symbol for the Church, just as the New Sion represents the body of the faithful in the Apocalypse (xx. 9).

Another objection may be founded on the fact that in St. Paul the ultimate destruction of the foes of Christianity coincides with the parousia, an event which marks the end of ordinary human activity and the beginning of a new life of glory (II Thess., ii. 8). But in Ezechiel (xxxix. 9-10) the people are told that the weapons of their fallen enemies will suffice them as firewood for seven years or an indefinite period of time. But this may not be intended to be a literal statement of fact. It may be a figurative expression, denoting the magnitude of Gog's host and the state of peace which will follow its overthrow when all arms will be superfluous.

Ezechiel, however, lays down another regulation which seems to show that he contemplates the Jewish people exclusively. The corpses of Gog and his warriors are to be buried in a specially designated valley on the eastern side of the Jordan and outside the limits of the Promised Land (xxxix. 11-16). All classes of the people are to engage in this task for seven months. After its completion a special commission is to be appointed with the duty of searching through the land for any unburied bone and procuring its interment in the valley of Gog's mob. The purpose of these measures is to cleanse the land. There was danger that the people might come in contact with an unburied bone and so contract ritual defilement (Lev., v, 2, xi. 24-28, xxi. 10 sqq., xxii. 4-7; Num., vi. 6-12, ix. 6 sqq.). The fact, however, that the remains of these invaders are to be sought with such meticulous care and to be buried outside the Promised Land shows that they were considered to be exceptionally unclean.

What interest can these directions have for Christians who are to be gladdened by the coming of Christ? The difficulty is solved if we assume that these prescriptions were never intended to be obeyed. They may merely express the thought that the iniquity of Gog's hordes is so great that even their bodies must be regarded with the horror reserved for pestilential objects.

Finally, it may be objected that the invasion of Gog occurs after a long period of peace (Ezech., xxxviii. 8-14). We cannot imagine, however, that the peace of the Church will not be disturbed until the last day. This security, on the other hand, may be merely relative: it may signify that the existence of the Church as an institution or moral entity will not be vitally threatened until the advent of Antichrist. The Apocalypse contains a similar idea. The Woman who represents the Church is secure in the wilderness from the attacks of Satan, although many of her children die as martyrs (Apoc., xii. 6 sqq.).

The identification, therefore, of Gog with Antichrist is still probable, though it is not without difficulty. There is, however, an alternative interpretation which merits consideration. Gog may impersonate all the powers hostile to God from the restoration of the Jews to the last day. That the Christian era must be included seems evident from the fact that the downfall of Gog marks the beginning of a new era in which the name of the Lord is no longer profaned (Ezech., xxxix. 7). It is easy to understand why Ezechiel may have resorted to such a personification. Each one of these adversaries of God manifests the same Satanic spirit of revolt; their individual assaults are parts of one great assault against God; their individual defeats sum up to one final and complete triumph of God. Personification, also, is not alien to the style of Ezechiel. Thus, Nabuchodonosor represents all the conquerors who brought about the downfall of Tyre (xxvi. 7-21); the Prince of Tyre typifies its people and its rulers (xxviii. 1 sqq.); the Pharaoh denotes the people as well as the kings of Egypt (xxxi. 1-18).

If Gog is a collective personality, his overthrow symbolizes all the disasters of God's enemies to the end of the world. If, therefore, we can prove from other sources that there will be an Antichrist, his destruction is implied in the symbolism.

Daniel. — A delineation of Antichrist has been found by some in Daniel's vision of the four beasts rising from the Great Sea (vii. 1-28). The characteristics of the fourth beast are so different from those of any animal known to the prophet that he does not venture to state what it resembles. It is dreadful, terrible, and exceedingly strong, with claws of brass and teeth of iron (verses 7, 19). It devours and crushes its prey, and tramples the residue with its feet. Upon its head are ten horns, among which rises up a little horn, which displaces three of them. The little horn has human eyes and a mouth speaking great things, symbols showing that it denotes a human being of sagacity and supreme arrogance (vii. 1-8).

The scene changes. The heavenly court convenes to pass judgment on the beasts. God Himself, in the guise of a venerable old man of majestic appearance, presides over the court. The fourth beast is slain and consigned to the flames (vii. 9-12).

Then one like a "son of man" comes with the clouds of heaven to the divine throne and is presented to God. To this "son of man" are given dominion and glory and sovereignty so that all peoples, nations, and tongues should serve him; his dominion is to be everlasting and his sovereignty is never to be destroyed (vii. 13-14).

An angelic interpreter explains the meanings of the fourth beast to Daniel. It represents a fourth empire upon the earth. The ten horns denote ten kings who shall arise from this empire. The little horn is another king who shall succeed them but shall displace three of his predecessors. He shall speak against God, persecute His saints, and attempt to change seasons and law. The saints shall be delivered in his hand for a time, times, and a halftime.

It is quite possible to give a rational explanation of this symbolism of the fourth beast without recurring to the hypothesis of Antichrist. It may represent the Seleucid Empire, to which the Jewish state was subject for some time. Being pagan, it was a beast like the other three empires; the brutal persecution which it waged against the religion of the Jews made it appear a different and more destructive beast than any of the other empires, which did not interfere with the religious practices of the Jews. The little horn, therefore, is Antiochus Epiphanes, the author of this persecution. He had exactly ten predecessors upon the throne. Three were displaced by him: his brother, Seleucus IV, who was assassinated by Heliodorus; Demetrius, the youthful son of Seleucus, whose claim to the throne Antiochus ignored, and Antiochus V, the infant son of Seleucus, whom Antiochus proclaimed joint-king and who was murdered after some years.7

Antiochus spoke against God by proclaiming himself Epiphanes or Theos Epiphanes ("God Manifest"), by rededicating the Temple at Jerusalem to Zeus Olympios, and by setting up in this Temple a statue of Zeus, which probably bore the features of Antiochus himself. He changed seasons and law by suppressing the Sabbath, the festivals, and sacrifices of the Jews and commanding the latter to practise idolatrous cults. Anyone discovered observing the Law or even keeping a copy of the Pentateuch in his home was liable to the death penalty. During this persecution thousands of the Jews were murdered, enslaved, or forced to flee to the desert.

The two persecutions, also, correspond in duration. The little horn afflicts the saints for a time, times, and a half-time. The fury of Antiochus' assault had spent itself in December, 165 B.C., when Judas rededicated the Temple exactly on the third anniversary of its profanation (I Mach., i. 54, iv. 54). But the persecution had raged before this date, so that the period preceding the profanation may be expressed by the half-time of Daniel.

In the vision of the ram and the he-goat (viii. 1-27) Daniel again uses the symbol of the little horn; all commentators agree that in this chapter it denotes Antiochus Epiphanes. The evil qualities which he attributes to this little horn are so similar to those of the previous little horn that they seem to refer to the same person. It is useless to argue that the first little horn exhibits features not found in the second. These features, as we have seen, are applicable to Antiochus Epiphanes, and there is no reason why they should be repeated in a subsequent vision. Their absence merely proves that the two visions are complementary, and that they describe the career of the same person from different standpoints.

Nor does the persecution in the eighth chapter differ in length from that of the seventh. The former refers merely to the period during which the sacrifices are to be suspended: this is to endure for 1150 days (viii. 14). The latter contemplates an interval beginning before the suspension of the sacrifices and ending with their resumption (vii. 25). Hence, this discrepancy does not prove that the persons represented by the respective little horns are diverse.

A difficulty is suggested by the person like a "son of man," who receives universal sovereignty after the destruction of the fourth beast (vii. 13, 14). He comes with the clouds of heaven, a position sometimes attributed to the deity (Is., xix. 1; Ps. cii. 3). For this reason he probably symbolizes the Messiah. On the other hand, the same universal dominion is bestowed on the people of God in vii. 27. Hence, he may stand for the people of God explicitly and implicitly for their head, the Messiah; or he may denote explicitly both the people and the Messiah. In any case the text declares that the Messianic kingdom will succeed the Seleucid, but it does not say that it will do so immediately. Hence, there is no reason to relinquish the position which we have taken thus far.

Every detail, therefore, of the vision relating to the little horn of the seventh chapter may be satisfactorily applied to Antiochus Epiphanes. If we assume that it designates Antichrist, the ten horns constitute an exegetical problem. Three of them must be contemporaneous with Antichrist, for they are displaced by him. But who will they be? What about the other seven? Are they contemporary despots or predecessors of Antichrist? If so, who could they be? Since no satisfactory answer can be given to these questions, we think that the identification of the little horn with Antichrist should be abandoned.

The post-Exilic books of the Old Testament throw no further light on the problem. Two visions of Zacharias describe a siege of Jerusalem by the nations, but the leader of the hostile forces is not mentioned (xii. 1-13, xiv. 1-21).

The New Testament

The Gospels. — There is no explicit reference in the Gospels to Antichrist in the preeminent sense. Christ tells the Jews that "if another will come in his own name, him will you receive" (John, v. 43). These words are general, and may be understood of all the pseudo-Christs who will come without proper authorization from God. In His eschatological discourse Jesus warns against false Christs and false prophets who are to come before the end of the world, without singling out any of them for special attention (Matt., xxiv. 5, 23-26).

St. Paul. — The crucial passage upon which the solution of our problem chiefly depends is contained in St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (ii. 1-12). The Thessalonians were deeply agitated by an opinion current among them and allegedly supported by the authority of St. Paul that the second coming of Christ was imminent. On hearing of their perturbation, St. Paul writes to them, emphatically denying any responsibility for this opinion and exhorting them not to allow themselves to be beguiled into such a belief by any means whatever (ii. 1-3a). To calm their fears still more, he recalls the events which, according to his previous teaching, are signs of the imminence of Christ's second coming.

First of all, there will be the apostasy of which he has already spoken to them. Apparently, at the same time there will be revealed "the man of lawlessness" (explained as " the lawless one" in verse 8), the son of perdition (meaning that he is destined for perdition), "the one who shall oppose and exalt himself against all that is called God or is worshipped" (ii. 3b-4a). The first of these four phrases characterizes him as a human being; the article repeated with each of these phrases shows that a definite, unique person is intended.

The spirit of revolt and conscious superiority to every form of religion, true or false, will impel this person to attempt to seat himself in the Temple of God, thus proclaiming himself to be the only God (ii. 4b). The text does not tell us whether this attempt will be successful. Its meaning, also, is uncertain. It may merely signify an effort towards self-deification, so that the reference to the Temple need not be pressed. But the Heavenly Temple may be meant; in this case an attempt to usurp the divine throne is depicted.

St. Paul reminds his readers that they are informed about the influence which prevents "the lawless one" from being revealed at the present time; the purpose of this influence is to reserve the revelation for the time set by God (ii. 6). The way for this revelation is being prepared by the mystery of lawlessness, which is already at work. This probably refers to the spirit of lawlessness which is ever present in the world and which manifests itself with varying intensity, until it will reach its culmination in the apostasy and the appearance of "the lawless one."

A perfectly satisfying explanation of the person who restrains and the influence which restrains has not been found. It is immaterial to our present purpose what the true sense of these terms may be. Prat's suggestion that St. Michael and his guardianship of the Church are meant is not without merit.8

When all restraint has been removed, "the lawless one" will be revealed, only to be slain by the breath of Christ's mouth (i.e., the power of His word) and to be destroyed by the manifestation of His coming (ii. 8). The advent of "the lawless one" will be the work of Satan, who will endow his instrument with all the power to perform signs and portents which falsehood can devise and with all the deceit that wickedness can inspire (ii. 9, 10a). The advent of "the lawless one" will be intended for those who are doomed because they refused to believe in Jesus Christ (ii. 10b-11).

The portrait, therefore, which St. Paul draws is that of an individual. Is he a symbolic individual, uniting in his person traits possessed singly or in varying combination by members of a series of antichrists? This view is admissible if such a series can serve as a sign of Christ's coming, for this is the function which St. Paul assigns to the advent of "the man of lawlessness." But to be able to use this series as a sign, we must know the characteristics of the last member of the series. If we assume that he alone will possess all the evil qualities attributed to "the lawless one," he alone will suffice as a sign; it will be unnecessary to suppose that "the lawless one" also represents other lesser antichrists who will precede him at various intervals in the course of the centuries. If, on the other hand, the last antichrist in the alleged series is to have only some of the attributes of "the lawless one," there is no way of determining from the text what these will be, so that the series ceases to be a reliable sign. Consequently, "the lawless one" cannot symbolize a series; he must be a definite, unique, historical personage.

There is, undoubtedly, a parallelism between the mystery of lawlessness and the restraining influence, as well as between "the man of lawlessness" and the person who restrains. Now, the person who restrains presumably exercises the restraining influence; it is inferred,9 therefore, that "the man of lawlessness" must be the cause of the mystery of lawlessness and must be coexistent with St. Paul. But this conclusion is invalid. The parallelism between these pairs of ideas may subsist, although the mystery of lawlessness is set in motion by Satan.

If "the lawless one" denotes a series, it is difficult to explain the self-deification ascribed to him. This implies that he is an individual. But the same charge of self-deification is brought against the Prince of Tyre by Ezechiel (xxvii 2) and against Antiochus Epiphanes by Daniel (xi. 36). In fact, St. Paul borrows the language of Daniel to depict the overweening pride of "the lawless one," although he modifies it slightly. Are we to conclude from this that his portrayal is a prophetic metaphor rather than a description of historical reality?10 The accusations of Ezechiel and Daniel are based on historical facts and are not mere figures of speech. Hence, there can be no doubt that St. Paul intends actual self-deification.

St. Paul declares that there is a person and an obstacle which prevent "the lawless one" from being revealed (ii. 6, 7). But if Antichrist is an individual still to be born, how can he be hindered from coming into existence? God alone can prevent someone from being born, but He is not the person and obstacle mentioned by St. Paul. It is inferred," therefore, that "the lawless one" must represent a series of antichrists, one or more of whom must already have appeared in the days of St. Paul.

It is true that no creature can prevent an individual from being born if God has decreed this birth absolutely. But if God makes His decree contingent upon the fulfillment of certain conditions, and if He allows creatures to impede these conditions until He decides otherwise, these creatures may be said to be an obstacle to the birth of the person in question. This is the case with "the lawless one." The conditions favorable to his birth and revelation are to be continually impeded by the person and the obstacle that restrains, until these are removed at the time set by God. Consequently, it is pointless to argue that the continued presence of the obstacle throughout the world's history supposes the coexistence of Antichrist.

It is insinuated12 that St. Paul is wont to attribute to an individual what is actually done by many. But only one instance of this alleged practice is cited, and on this occasion St. Paul states explicitly that he is using this device (I Cor. iv. 6).

The Apocalypse. — That a personal Antichrist is not found in the Apocalypse, hardly requires any proof. But its two Beasts command our attention, because they are said to present a striking parallel to "the lawless one" of St. Paul.13 In Apoc., xi. 7 sqq., the First Beast rises from the abyss, makes war upon the Two Witnesses, and slays them. They symbolize the testimony which the Church renders to the truth by her preachers, doctors, confessors, and martyrs and by the miracles performed to confirm this testimony. The First Beast represents the hostile political forces of this world manifesting themselves in the pagan Roman Empire, which endeavors to suppress this testimony by brutal persecution. It will be noted that the Two Witnesses do not prevent the coming of the First Beast. For this reason they cannot be identified with the person and the obstacle of St. Paul which prevent "the lawless one" from being revealed.

The First Beast is again pictured as rising from the sea in Apoc., xiii. 1 sqq. Its seven heads and ten horns show that it primarily denotes the Roman Empire. It is the tool of the Dragon or Satan. Through its emperors it seeks divine honors, makes war on the saints, and conquers them. Ultimately, all the inhabitants of the earth, except the predestined, adore this Beast. This adoration is actively promoted by the Second Beast, which rises from the earth or native soil of Asia. This Beast is the interpreter and servant of the First, although it derives its inspiration from Satan. In Apoc., xvi. 13, it is called the False Prophet. It has the power to work false miracles in behalf of the First Beast. Its significance is primarily religious: it denotes all the trickery, magic, and superstition employed by the ministers of false religions to impose Cæsar-worship upon the Roman provinces of Asia.

There is, undeniably, some resemblance between "the lawless one" and the Two Beasts. But it is not close enough to suggest identity. The seduction of the pagan world to Cæsar-worship does not quite correspond to the apostasy mentioned by St. Paul, which seems to be a sudden phenomenon. Moreover, the First Beast does not claim preeminence over every form of worship like "the lawless one."

The fate, also, of the Two Beasts is not quite the same as that of "the lawless one." The latter is destroyed by the breath of Christ's mouth (II Thess., ii. 8). The Two Beasts, however, are flung alive into the fiery lake of burning brimstone. Only their adherents are killed by the sword that comes from the mouth of Christ (Apoc., xix. 19, 20). Hence, the parallelism between the Two Beasts and "the lawless one" is not sufficient to prove identity.

The Epistles of St. John. — The passages of St. John's Epistles in which the Antichrist is mentioned show that belief in an individual Antichrist was part of the instruction imparted to the first Christians. None of them proves that St. John conceived this Antichrist to be a collective personality. In his First Epistle, ii. 18, he writes: "It is the last hour, and even as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have arisen; whence we know that it is the last hour." This may mean that the many antichrists already present are, like the Antichrist of whom they have heard, a sign that the world has entered a final period of its history. In the same chapter (ii. 22) he declares: "This is the Antichrist that denies the Father and the Son." He, therefore, who denies the teaching of the Church regarding the Father and the Son exhibits the character of Antichrist. In the fourth chapter of the same Epistle (verse 3) he states: "And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God: it is the spirit of Antichrist, whereof you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world." Obviously, the spirit of Antichrist may be in the world, without Antichrist himself being present or even existent. Speaking of those who confess not the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh, he says: "Such a one is the deceiver and the Antichrist" (i.e., he has the same character as the Antichrist, who was also known to his readers as the arch-deceiver).

This investigation, therefore, seems to show that the so-called bugbear of an individual Antichrist has not been banned or relegated to a subordinate position as was thought in some quarters.14 His advent is certainly taught by St. Paul and probably predicted by Ezechiel. St. John recognizes it as an accepted part of early Christian teaching.

End Notes

  1. E.g., Beraza, "De Deo Creante," 617 sqq.; Lenerz, "De Novissimis," 171 sqq.; Pesch, "Tractatus Dogmatici," IX (4th and 5th ed.), 350 sqq.; Diekamp, "Theol. Dogm. Manuale," IV 467; Lépicier, "De Novissimis," 351.
  2. "De Myst. Vitæ Christi," disp. liv, sect. 1, n. 7.
  3. "Commentary," pp. cxii-cxiv, especially pp. CXII-CXIV, especially p. CXV.
  4. "Antéchrist," col. 297.
  5. Col. 301-302.
  6. Col. 302.
  7. "Cambridge Ancient History," VIII, pp. 497 sqq.
  8. "Théologie de Saint Paul," I (10th ed.), p. 98.
  9. Allo, "Apocalypse," p. cxiii.
  10. Buzy, "Antéchrist," col. 302.
  11. Buzy, loc. cit., col. 302.
  12. Buzy, loc. cit., col. 302.
  13. Allo, op. cit., p. cxiv.
  14. Buzy, loc. cit., col. 305.

© Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.

This item 7705 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org