Advent and Anti-Christ, Part II

 

 

Part II of my presentation of the four sermons on the Anti-Christ given by John Henry Cardinal Newman during Advent in 1835 before his conversion.  Part I is here.

In this second sermon Newman concentrates on what we can glean of  the Anti-Christ  from Scripture and from the writings of the Fathers of the Church.  One thing stands out in this sermon for me.  The idea that the reign of the Anti-Christ may involve both ferocious atheism and a return to paganism.  This seems like a contradiction, but Newman points to the French Revolution:

In that great and famous nation which is near us, once great for its love of CHRIST’S Church, since memorable for deeds of blasphemy, which lead me here to mention it, and now, when it should be pitied and prayed for, made unhappily our own model in too many respects,-followed when it should be condemned, and admired when it should be 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; not 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; -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 an unhappy man, whom their proceedings 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 these sacred instruments, like Belshazzar, to the use of their impious revellings; they formed 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 le made and dissolved at pleasure. These things are but a part of their enormities.”

Yet at the same time the French Revolutionaries made an idol of the State and of abstractions.  Think  of the worship of the Goddess of Liberty.

After abjuring our LORD and SAVIOUR, 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 besides in honour of Reason, the Country, the Constitution, and the Virtues. Further, they determined that tutelary gods, even dead men, may be canonized, consecrated, and worshipped; 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 their Churches, and placed upon the holy altar itself; incense was offered to them, and the assembled multitude bowed down in worship before one of them,-before what remained on earth of an inveterate enemy of CHRIST.

This is all fascinating when we consider what has happened since Newman’s day.  Communist regimes have brutally assaulted the Church and proclaimed the reign of atheism.  The Nazis were hostitle to Christianity, Hitler considering it to be a Jewish fable and only waiting for the end of the war to settle accounts with the Churches.  The collapse of religious faith in Europe and the rise of militant atheism are facts of life in our time.  Yet at the same time we see a growth in paganism:  Gaia worship, Wicca and all of the New Age mumbo-jumbo.  Heinrich Himmler, chicken farmer turned Reichsfuhrer SS, was ahead of his time in his attempts to revive Nordic paganism.  A regime that is both atheist and pagan seems much less likely in our time than in Newman’s, and Newman was quite perceptive in highlighting this as key to understanding developments which were in their infancy during his life.  As another wise Englishman C. S. Lewis put it in the Screwtape Letters:

I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all he pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight.

 Newman’s second sermon on the Anti-Christ is most definitely a sermon for our time when atheism and paganism often seem to walk the same path.  Here is the text of the sermon:

“Every spirit that confesseth not that
JESUS CHRIST is come in the flesh,
is not of GOD, and this is that spirit of Antichrist,
whereof ye have heard that it should come,
and even thou already is it in the world.”

ST. JOHN tells us in these words what the characteristic of the Antichrist should be who is to come; viz. that he shall 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 be 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 FATHER and the SON. Whosoever denieth the SON, the same hath not the FATHER;” from which words, moreover, it would appear that Antichrist will be led on from rejecting the SON of GOD, to the rejection 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 in those I made last week, 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 especial 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 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 be 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 authority in the parties setting the proof before us. This condition however can hardly be fulfilled, because the date of Antichrist comes close upon the coming of CHRIST in judgment, and therefore cannot have happened so as to allow of being appealed to. Nor is any history producible which fulfils 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 had recourse last week, and now shall have recourse again. To continue then the subject with the early Fathers as my guides.

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 in the text, “is now already in the world.” “The mystery of iniquity doth already 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 passages of Scripture 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, nor the Desire of women (that is, as it would appear, the Messiah, to be His mother being the especial privilege and object of hope among the Jewish 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 SAVIOUR’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 pretence 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 pleasures 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 the 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 connexion 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 previous ones are approximations, according to the text just quoted, “If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” To the same purport are St. Paul’s words after describing Antichrist; “whose coming,” he says, “is . . . with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the Truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause GOD shall send them 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 Saviour’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 fulness denotes Antichrist,) “standing in the holy place.” Further, the persecution of CHRIST’S witnesses which Antichrist will make, 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 the history is a sort of comment on the prophecy, and sustains and vindicates the early interpretations of it which I am relating. 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. 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 one of them speaks as follows: “In the Temple which is at Jerusalem the adversary will sit, endeavouring to show himself to be the Christ.”

And the other says, “Antichrist will be he who shall resuscitate the kingdom of the Jews.”

What makes this still more observable is that the recent Shadow of Antichrist, whom our fathers or we ourselves saw, by a sort of fatality (so to speak) took up the cause of the Jews and was almost hailed by them as their Messiah, and seemed to be drawn irresistibly towards and to hover about the Holy Land, which the early Church considered would be the scene of Antichrist’s exploits.

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 worshipped.” He will set himself forcibly against idols and idolatry, as the early teachers agree in declaring. Yet in the book of Daniel we read, “In his estate shall he honour the God of forces; and a God whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold and silver, and with precious stones and pleasant things. Thus shall he do in the most strong holds 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 any how 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. They cannot be consistent if they would. But let me notice here again a remarkable coincidence, which is contained in the history of the last fifty years,-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 nay 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 unearthly elements, which ever and anon, in unhealthy seasons, give lowering and muttering tokens of the wrath to come!

In that great and famous nation which is near us, once great for its love of CHRIST’S Church, since memorable for deeds of blasphemy, which lead me here to mention it, and now, when it should be pitied and prayed for, made unhappily our own model in too many respects,-followed when it should be condemned, and admired when it should be 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; not 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; -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 an unhappy man, whom their proceedings 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 these sacred instruments, like Belshazzar, to the use of their impious revellings; they formed 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 le 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 towards GOD and man, they gave a name to the 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 the 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 SAVIOUR, 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 besides in honour of Reason, the Country, the Constitution, and the Virtues. Further, they determined that tutelary gods, even dead men, may be canonized, consecrated, and worshipped; 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 their Churches, and placed upon the holy altar itself; incense was offered to them, and the assembled multitude bowed 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 fulfilment of the prophecy, nor, again, as if the fulfilment when it comes will be in this precise way, but merely to point out, what the course of events has shown 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, wantonness, 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 honour. This indeed was inconsistent with exalting themselves “above all that is called God;” but I mention it, 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 that former apostate in the early times, the Emperor Julian, he too was engaged in bringing back Roman Paganism.

Further still, let it he observed that Antiochus too, the Antichrist before CHRIST, the persecutor of the Jews, he too signalised 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 time, 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 to Paganism as actually 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 a time, times, and the dividing of time.” Now it is very observable that one of the two early Fathers whom I have already cited , expressly says that the ten states (the “toes” of Dan. ii.) which will at length appear, shall 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 alluded.

Another expectation of the early Church was that the Roman monster, after remaining torpid for centuries, would wake 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 alluded, is certainly worth noticing also. One of the Fathers whom I have already quoted, expressly deduces from a passage in the xiiith 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 nought, and was divided into ten. But at this time Antichrist, as being a man of resources, will heal and restore it; so that it will be active and vigorous once more through the system which he establishes.

I will but notice one other expectation falling in with the foregoing notion of the re-establishment of Roman power, entertained by the Fathers whom I have cited several times; viz. one concerning the name of Antichrist, as spoken of in the xiiith chapter of Revelations: “Here is wisdom,” says the inspired text, “let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred threescore and six.” They both 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 the Latin king.

The earlier of these Fathers 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 for his name the very number 666; him recognize as the Abomination of Desolation. This is implied in the Apostle’s saying, ‘When they shall say peace and safety, then sudden destruction shall come on them.” Then he goes on to mention, together with two other words, the name of Latinos 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.”

The other Father thus speaks: “Since . . . the wound of the first monster was healed . . . and it is plain that the Latins are that empire, therefore he is called the Latin King (Latinus), the name passing from the 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 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 sleeps; 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.

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 variously tended to strengthen its general interpretations of Scripture prophecy.

It may be asked, What practical use is there in speaking of these things, if they be doubtful? With a short notice of this objection, I shall conclude.

First, it is not unprofitable to bear in mind that we are still under what may be called a miraculous system. I do not mean to maintain that literal miracles are taking place now, 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; the devil, 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 bid to laugh and jeer at believing every thing we do not see, are told to account for every thing 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 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 for His second coming, looking out for it, nay, desiring to see the tokens of it thinking often 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 Revelations, and other prophetical 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 labour, 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.

May GOD enable us all thus to walk by faith, not by sight, and live in the past and future, not in the present!

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