The Religion of the Antichrist: Cardinal Newman’s Second Advent Lecture

The Religion Of The Antichrist.

St john tells us that “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come on the flesh, is that spirit of Antichrist, which even now already is in the world.” It was the characteristic of the Antichrist, that he should openly deny our Lord Jesus Christ to be the Son of God come in the flesh from heaven. So exactly and fully was this description to answer to him, that to deny Christ might e suitably called the spirit of Antichrist; and the deniers of Him might be said to have the spirit of Antichrist, to be like Antichrist, to be Antichrists. The same thing is stated in a former chapter. “Who is the Liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? he is the Antichrist, that denieth the Son, the same has not the Father;” from which words, moreover, it would appear that Antichrist will e led on from rejecting the Son of God to the rejecting of God altogether, either by implication or practically.

I shall now make some further observations on the characteristic marks of the predicted enemy of the Church; and, as before, I shall confine myself to the interpretations of Scripture given by the early Fathers.

My reason for doing so is simply this,-that on so difficult a subject as unfulfilled prophecy, I really can have no opinion of my own, nor indeed is it desirable I should have, or at least that I should put it forward in any formal way. The opinion of any one person, even if he were the most fit to form one, could hardly be of any authority, or be worth putting forward by itself; whereas the judgment and views of the early Church claim and attract our special regard, because for what we know they may be in part derived from traditions of the apostles, and because they are put forward far more consistently and unanimously than those of any other set of teachers. Thus they have at least greater claims on our attention than those of other writers, be their claims little or great; if they are little, those of others are still less. The only really strong claim which can e made on our belief, is the clear fulfillment of the prophecy. Did we see all the marks of the prophecy satisfactorily answered in the past history of the Church, then we might dispense with the authority in the parties setting the proof before us. This condition, however, can hardly be satisfied, because the date of the Antichrist comes close upon the coming of Christ in judgment, and therefore the event will not have happened under such circumstances as to allow of being appealed to, Nor indeed is any history producible in which are fulfilled all the marks of Antichrist clearly, though some are fulfilled here and there. Nothing then is left us, (if we are to take up any opinion at all,-if we are to profit, as Scripture surely intends, by its warnings concerning the evil which is to come), but to go by the judgment of the Fathers, whether that be of special authority in this matter or not. To them therefore I have had recourse already, and now shall have recourse again. To continue, then, the subject with the early Fathers a my guide.

1.

It seems clear that St Paul and St John speak of the same enemy of the Church, from the similarity of their descriptions. They both say, that the spirit itself was already at work in their day. “That spirit of the Antichrist,” says St John, “is now already in the world.” “The mystery of iniquity doesa lrea d y work,” says St Paul. And they both describe the enemy as characterized by the same especial sin, open infidelity. St John says that “he is the Antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son;” while St Paul speaks of him in like manner as “the adversary and rival of all that is called God, or worshipped;” that “he sitteth as God in the Temple of God, setting forth himself that he is God.” In both these passages, the same blasphemous denial of God and religion is described; but St Paul adds, in addition, that he will oppose all existing religion, true or false, “all that is called God, or worshipped.”

Two other Scripture passages may be adduced, predicting the same reckless impiety; one from the eleventh chapter of Daniel: “The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished…Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, no the Desire of women, nor regard any god-for he shall magnify himself above all.”

The other passage is faintly marked with any prophetic allusion in itself, except that all our Savior’s sayings have a deep meaning, and the Fathers take this in particular to have such. “I am come in My Father’s Name, and ye receive Me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” This they consider to be a prophetic allusion to Antichrist, whom the Jews were to mistake for the Christ. He is to come “in his own name.” Not from God, as even the Son of God came, who if any might have come in the power of His essential Divinity, not in God’s Name, not with any pretense of a mission from Him, but in his own name, by a blasphemous assumption of divine power, thus will Antichrist come.

To the above passages may be added those which speak generally of the impieties of the last age of the world, impieties which we may believe will usher in and be completed in Antichrist:-

“Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased…Many shall be purified and made white, and tried: but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” “In the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” “Scoffers walking after their own lusts, and saying, ‘where is the promise of His coming?’” “Despising government, presumptuous…self-willed, not afraid to speak evil of dignities…promising men liberty, while themselves servants of corruption,” and the like.

2.

I just now made mention of the Jews: it may be well then to state what was held in the early Church concerning Antichrist’s connection with them.

Our Lord foretold that many should come in His name, saying, “I am Christ.” It was the judicial punishment of the Jews, as of all unbelievers in one way or another, that, having rejected the true Christ, they should take up with a false one; and Antichrist will be the complete and perfect seducer, towards whom all who were previous are approximations, according to the words just now quoted, “If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” To the same purport are St Paul’s words after describing the Antichrist; “Whose coming,” he says, “is…with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, becuase they receive not the love of the Truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the Truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Hence, considering that Antichrist would pretend to be the Messiah, it was of old the received notion that he was to be of Jewish race and to observe the Jewish rites.

Further, St Paul says that Antichrist should “sit in the Temple of God;” that is, according to the earlier Fathers, in the Jewish Temple. Our savior’s own words may be taken to support this notion, because He speaks of “the Abomination of Desolation” (which, whatever other meanings it might have, in its fullness denotes Antichrist) “standing in the holy place.” Further, the persecution of Christ’s witnesses which Antichrist will cause, is described by St John as taking place in Jerusalem. “Their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, (which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt), where also our Lord was crucified.”

Now here a remark may be made. At first sight, I suppose, we should not consider that there was much evidence from the Sacred Text for Antichrist taking part with the Jews, or having to do with their Temple. It is, then, a very remarkable fact, that the apostate emperor Julian, who was a type and earnest of the great enemy, should, as he did, have taken part with the Jews, and set about building their Temple. Here history is a sort of comment on the prophecy, and sustains and vindicates those early interpretations of it which I am reviewing. Of course I must be understood to mean, and a memorable circumstance it is, that this belief of the Church that Antichrist should be connected with the Jews, was expressed long before Julian’s time, and that we still possess the works in which it is contained. In fact we have the writings of two Fathers, both Bishops and Martyrs of the Church, who lived at least one hundred and fifty years before Julian, and less than one hundred years after St John. They both distinctly declare Antichrist’s connection with the Jews. The first of them, Irenaeus, speaks as follows: “In the Temple which is at Jerusalem the adversary will sit, endeavoring to show himself to be the Christ.” And the second, Hippolytus: “Antichrist will be he who shall resuscitate the kingdom of the Jews.”

3.

Next let us ask, will Antichrist profess any sort of religion at all? Neither true God nor false god will he worship: so far is clear, and yet something more, and that obscure, is told us. Indeed, as far as the prophetic accounts go, they seem at first sight incompatible with each other. Antichrist is to “exalt himself over all that is called God or worshiped.” He will set himself forcibly against idols and idolatry, as the early writers agree in declaring. Yet in the book of Daniel we read, “In his estate shall he honor a god of forces; and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honor with gold and silver, and with precious stones and pleasant things. Thus shall he do in the most strongholds with a strange god whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory.” What is meant by the words translated “god of forces,” and afterwards called “a strange god,” is quite hidden from us, and probably will be so till the event; but anyhow some sort of false worship is certainly predicted as the mark of Antichrist, with this prediction the contrary way, that he shall set himself against all idols, as well as against the true God. Now it is not at all extraordinary that there should be this contrariety in the prediction, for we know generally that infidelity leads to superstition, and that the men most reckless in their blasphemy are cowards also as regards the invisible world. They cannot be consistent if they would. But let me notice here a remarkable coincidence, which is contained in the history of that type or shadow of the final apostasy which scared the world some forty or fifty years ago,-a coincidence between actual events and prophecy sufficient to show us that the apparent contradiction in the latter may easily be reconciled, though beforehand we may not see how; sufficient to remind us that the all-watchful eye, and the all- ordaining hand of God is still over the world, and that the seeds, sown in prophecy above two thousand years since, are not dead, but from time to time, by blade and tender shoot, give earnest of the future harvest. Surely the world is impregnated with the elements of preternatural evil, which ever and anon, in unhealthy seasons, give lowering and muttering tokens of the wrath to come!

In that great and famous nation over against us (France), once great for its love of Christ’s Church, since memorable for the deeds of blasphemy, which leads me here to mention it, and now, when it should be pitied and prayed for, made unhappily, in too many respects, our own model-followed when it should be condemned, and admired when it should e excused,-in the Capital of that powerful and celebrated nation, there took place, as we all well know, within the last fifty years, an open apostasy from Christianity; nor from Christianity only, but from every kind of worship which might retain any semblance or pretence of the great truths of religion. Atheism was absolutely professed;-and yet in spite of this, it seems a contradiction in terms to say it, a certain sort of worship, and that, as the prophet expresses it, ‘a strange worship,’ was introduced. Observe what this was.

I say, they avowed on the one hand Atheism. They prevailed upon a wretched man, whom they had forced upon the Church as an Archbishop, to come before them in public and declare that there was no God, and that what he had hitherto taught was a fable. They wrote up over the burial places that death was an eternal sleep. They closed the churches, they seized and desecrated the gold and silver plate belonging to them, turning, like Belshazzar, those sacred vessels to the use of their impious revelings; they forced mock processions, clad in priestly garments, and singing profane hymns. They annulled the divine ordinance of marriage, resolving it into a mere civil contract to be made and dissolved at pleasure. These things are but a part of their enormities.

On the other hand, after having broken away from all restraint as regards God and man, they gave a name to that reprobate state itself into which they had thrown themselves, and exalted it, that very negation of religion, or rather that real and living blasphemy, into a kind of god. They called it LIBERTY, and they literally worshipped it as a divinity. It would almost be incredible, that men who had flung off all religion should be at pains to assume a new and senseless worship of their own devising, whether in superstition or in mockery, were not events so recent and so notorious. After abjuring our Lord and Savior, and blasphemously declaring Him to be an impostor, they proceeded to decree, in the public assembly of the nation, the adoration of Liberty and Equality as divinities: and they appointed festivals in honor of Reason, the Country, the Constitution, and the Virtues. Further, they determined that tutelary gods, even dead men, may be canonized, consecrated, and worshiped; and they enrolled in the number of these some of the most notorious infidels and profligates of the last century. The remains of the two principal of these were brought in solemn procession into one of the churches, and placed upon the holy altar itself; incense was offered to them, and the assembled multitude owed down in worship before one of them-before what remained on earth of an inveterate enemy of Christ.

Now, I do not mention all this as considering it the fulfillment of the prophecy, nor, again, as if the fulfillment when it comes will be in this precise way, but merely to point out, what the course of events has shown to us in these latter times, that there are ways of fulfilling sacred announcements that seem at first sight contradictory,-that men may oppose every existing worship, true and false, and yet take up a worship of their own from pride, wantoness, policy, superstition, fanaticism, or other reasons.

And further, let it be remarked, that there was a tendency in the infatuated people I have spoken of, to introduce the old Roman democratic worship, as if further to show us that Rome, the fourth monster of the prophet’s vision, is not dead. They even went so far as to restore the worship of one of the Roman divinities (Ceres) by name, raised a statue to her, and appointed a festival in her honor, This indeed was inconsistent with exalting themselves “above all that is called god;” but I mention the particular fact, as I have said, not as throwing light upon the prophecy, but to show that the spirit of old Rome has not passed from the world, though its name is almost extinct.

Still further, it is startling to observe, that the former Apostate, in the early times, the Emperor Julian, he too was engaged in bringing back Roman Paganism.

Further still, let it be observed that Antiochus too, the Antichrist before Christ, the persecutor of the Jews, he too signalized himself in forcing the Pagan worship upon them, introducing it even into the Temple.

We know not what is to come; but this we may safely say, that improbable as it is that Paganism should ever be publicly restored and enforced by authority for any period, however short, even three years and a half, yet it is far less improbable now than it was fifty years ago, before the event occurred which I have referred to. Who would not have been thought a madman or idiot, before that period, who had conjectured such a portentous approximation towards Paganism as actually then took place?

4.

Now let us recur to the ancient Fathers, and see whether their further anticipations do not run parallel to the events which have since happened.

Antichrist, as they considered, will come out of the Roman Empire just upon its destruction;-that is, the Roman Empire will in its last days divide itself into ten parts, and the Enemy will come up suddenly out of it upon these ten, and subdue three of them, or all of them perhaps, and (as the prophet continues) “shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws, and they shall be given into His hand until time, and times, and the dividing of time.”

Now it is very observable, that one of the early Fathers whom I have already cited, Hippolytus, expressly says that the ten states which will at length appear, though kingdoms, shall also be democracies. I say this is observable, considering the present state of the world, the tendency of things in this day towards democracy, and the instance which has been presented to us of democracy within the last fifty years, in those occurrences in France to which I have already referred.

Another expectation of the early Church was, that the Roman monster, after remaining torpid for centuries, would awake up at the end of the world, and be restored in all its laws and forms; and this, too, considering those same recent events to which I have referred, is certainly worth noticing also. The same Father, who anticipates the coming of democracies, expressly deduces from a passage in the 13th chapter of the Apocalypse, that “the system of Augustus, who was founder of the Roman Empire, shall be adopted and established by him (Antichrist), in order to his own aggrandizement and glory. This is the fourth monster whose head was wounded and healed; in that the empire was destroyed and came to naught, and was divided into ten diadems. But at this time Antichrist, as being an unscrupulous villain, will heal and restore it; so that it will be active and vigorous once more through the system heestablishes.”

I will but notice one other expectation falling in with the foregoing notion of re-establishment of Roman power, entertained by the two Fathers whom I have been quoting; viz ., one concerning the name of Antichrist, as spoken of in the 13th chapter of the Revelation: “Here is wisdom,” says the inspired text; “let him that hat understanding count his number, for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred threescore and six.” Both Irenaeus and Hippolytus give a name, the letters of which together in Greek make up this number, characteristic of the position of Antichrist as the head of the Roman Empire in its restored state,viz ., the word Latinus, or Latin king.

Irenaeus speaks as follows: “Expect that the empire will first be divided into ten kings; then while they are reigning and beginning to settle and aggrandize themselves, suddenly one will come and claim the kingdom, and frighten them, having a name which contains the predicted number (666); him recognize as the Abomination of Desolation.” Then he goes on to mention, together with two other words, the name of Lateinos as answering to the number, and says of it, “This is very probable, since it is the name of the last empire;for the Latins” (that is, the Romans) “are now in power.” (he adds that he himself prefers one of the other words).

And Hippolytus: “Since…the wound of the first monster was healed…and it is plain that the Latins are still in power, therefore he is called the Latin King (Latinus), the name passing from an empire to an individual.”

Whether this anticipation will be fulfilled or not, we cannot say. I only mention it as showing the belief of the Fathers in the restoration and re-establishment of the Roman Empire, which has certainly since their day been more than once attempted.

It seems then, on the whole, that, as far as the testimony of the early Church goes, Antichrist will be an open blasphemer, opposing himself to every existing worship, true and false,-a persecutor, a patron of the Jews, and a restorer of their worship, and further, the author of a novel kind of worship. Moreover, he will appear suddenly, at the very end of the Roman Empire, which once was, and now is dormant; that he will knit it into one, and engraft his Judaism and his new worship (a sort of Paganism, it may be) upon the old discipline of Caesar Augustus; that in consequence he will earn the title of the Latin or Roman King, as best expressive of his place and character; lastly, that he will pass away as suddenly as he came.

5.

Now concerning this, I repeat, I do not wish to pronounce how far the early Church was right or wrong in these anticipations, though events since have seriously tended to strengthen its general interpretations of Scripture prophecy. It may be asked, however, what practical use is there in speaking of these things, if they be doubtful?

I answer, first, that it is not unprofitable to bear in mind that we are still under what may e called a miraculous system. I do not mean to maintain that literal miracles are taking place now every day, but that our present state is a portion of a providential course, which began in miracle, and, at least at the end of the world, if not before, will end in miracle. The particular expectations above detailed may be right or wrong; yet an Antichrist, whoever and whatever he be, is to come; marvels are to come; the old Roman Empire is not extinct; Satan, if bound, is bound but for a season; the contest of good and evil is not ended. I repeat it. in the present state of things, when the great object of education is supposed to be the getting rid of things supernatural, when we are id to laugh and jeer at believing everything we do not see, are told to account for everything by things known and ascertained, and to assay every statement by the touchstone of experience, I must think that this vision of Antichrist, as a supernatural power to come, is a great providential gain, as being a counterpoise to the evil tendencies of the age.

And next, it must surely be profitable for our thoughts to be sent backward and forward to the beginning and the end of the Gospel times, to the first and the second coming of Christ. What we want, is to understand that we are in the place in which the early Christians were, with the same covenant, ministry, sacraments, and duties;-to realize a state of things long past away;-to feel that we are in a sinful world, a world lying in wickedness; to discern our position in it, that we are witnesses in it, that reproach and suffering are our portion,-so that we must not “think it strange” if they come upon us, but a kind of gracious exception if they do not; to have our hearts awake, as if we had seen Christ and His Apostles, and seen their miracles,-awake to the hope and waiting of His second coming, looking out for it, nay, desiring to see the tokens of it; thinking of ten and much of the judgment to come, dwelling on and adequately entering into the thought, that we individually shall be judged. All these surely are acts of true and saving faith; and this is one substantial use of the Book of Revelation, and other parts of Scripture, quite distinct from our knowing their real interpretation,viz ., to take the veil from our eyes, to lift up the covering which lies over the face of the world, and make us see day by day, as we go in and out, as we get up and lie down, as we labor, and walk, and rest, and recreate ourselves, the Throne of God set up in the midst of us, His majesty and His judgments, His Son’s continual intercession for the elect, their trials, and their victory.

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One Response to The Religion of the Antichrist: Cardinal Newman’s Second Advent Lecture

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Sundays of Advent, Year C (and Other Resources) | stjoeofoblog

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