Biblical meaning of the wordThe word Antichrist occurs only in the Johannine Epistles; but there are so-called real parallelisms to these occurrences in the Apocalypse, in the Pauline Epistles, and less explicit ones in the Gospels and the Book of Daniel.
In the Johannine epistlesSt. John supposes in his Epistles that the early Christians are acquainted with the teaching concerning the coming of Antichrist. "You have heard that Antichrist cometh" (1 John 2:18); "This is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh" (1 John 4:3). Though the Apostle speaks of several Antichrists, he distinguishes between the many and the one principal agent: "Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists" (1 John 2:18). Again, the writer outlines the character and work of Antichrist: "They went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19); "Who is a liar, but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist, who denies the Father, and the Son" (1 John 2:22); "And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God; and this is Antichrist" (1 John 4:3); "For many seducers are gone out into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: this is a seducer and an Antichrist" (2 John 7). Also the time, the Apostle places the coming of Antichrist at "the last hour" (1 John 2:18); again he maintains that "he is now already in the world" (1 John 4:3).
In the ApocalypseNearly all commentators find Antichrist mentioned in the Apocalypse, but they do not agree as to the particular chapter of the Book in which the mention occurs. Some point to the "beast" of 11:7, others to the "red dragon" of Chapter 12, others again to the beast "having seven heads and ten horns" of 13, sqq., while many scholars identify Antichrist with the beast which had "two horns, like a lamb" and spoke "as a dragon" (13:11, sqq.), or with the scarlet-coloured beast "having seven heads and ten horns" (17), or, finally, with Satan "loosed out of his prison," and seducing the nations (20:7, sqq.). A detailed discussion of the reasons for and against each of these opinions would be out of place here.
In the Pauline epistlesSt. John supposes that the doctrine concerning the coming of Antichrist is already known to his readers; many commentators believe that it had become known in the Church through the writings of St. Paul. St. John urged against the heretics of his time that those who denied the mystery of the Incarnation were faint images of the future great Antichrist. The latter is described more fully in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, sqq., 7-10. In the Church of Thessalonica disturbances had occurred on account of the belief that the second coming of Jesus Christ was imminent. This impression was owing partly to a misunderstanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:15, sqq., partly to the machinations of deceivers. It was with a view of remedying these disorders that St. Paul wrote his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, inserting especially 2:3-10. The Pauline doctrine is this: "the day of the Lord" will be preceded by "a revolt", and the revelation of the "man of sin." The latter will sit in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God; he will work signs and lying wonders by the power of Satan; he will seduce those who received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; but the Lord Jesus shall kill him with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of His coming. As to the time, "the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way." Briefly, the "day of the Lord" will be preceded by the "man of sin" known in the Johannine Epistles as Antichrist; the "man of sin" is preceded by "a revolt," or a great apostasy; this apostasy is the outcome of the "mystery of iniquity" which already "worketh", and which, according to St. John, shows itself here and there by faint types of Antichrist. The Apostle gives three stages in the evolution of evil: the leaven of iniquity, the great apostasy, and the man of sin. But he adds a clause calculated to determine the time of the main event more accurately; he describes something first as a thing (to datechon), then as a person (ho katechon), preventing the occurrence of the main event: "Only he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way." We can here only enumerate the principal opinions as to the meaning of this clause without discussing their value:
- The impediment of the main event is "the man of sin"; the main event is the second coming of the Lord (Grimm, Simar).
- The impediment is the Roman Empire; the main event impeded is the "man of sin" (most Latin Fathers and later interpreters)
- The Apostle referred to persons and events of his own time; the katechon and the "man of sin" are variously identified with the Emperors Caligula, Titus, Nero, Claudius, etc. (Protestant theologians living after the seventeenth century).
- The Apostle refers immediately to contemporary men and events, which are, however, types of the eschatological katechon, "man of sin", and day of the Lord; the destruction of Jerusalem, e.g., is the type of the Lord's second coming, etc. (Döllinger).
- St. Paul expresses merely his own view based on the Jewish tradition and the imagery of the Prophets Daniel and Ezekiel. This view has been advocated by several Protestant writers.
- The Apostle expresses the impression produced on the early Church by the eschatological teaching of Jesus Christ. This opinion is expressed by Döllinger.
- St. Paul derived his doctrine concerning Antichrist from the words of Christ, the prophecy of Daniel, and the contemporary events. This opinion, too, is expressed by Döllinger.
- The Apostle uttered a prophecy received through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Catholic interpreters have generally adhered to this opinion.
In the evangelists and DanielAfter studying the picture of Antichrist in St. Paul's Epistle to the Thessalonians, one easily recognizes the "man of sin" in Daniel 7:8, 11, 20, 21, where the Prophet describes the "little horn." A type of Antichrist is found in Daniel 8:8 sqq., 23, sqq., 11:21-45, in the person of Antiochus Epiphanes. Many commentators have found more or less clear allusions to Antichrist in the coming of false Christs and false prophets (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:6, 22; Luke 21:8), in the "abomination of desolation", and in the one that "shall come in his own name" (John 5:43).
Antichrist in ecclesiastical languageBousset believes that there was among the Jews a fully developed legend of Antichrist, which was accepted and amplified by Christians; and that this legend diverges from and contradicts in important points the conceptions found in the Apocalypse. We do not believe that Bousset has fully proved his opinion; his view as to the Christian development of the concept of Antichrist does not exceed the merits of an ingenious theory. We need not here enter upon an investigation of Gunkel's work, in which he traces back the idea of Antichrist to the primeval dragon of Œthe deep; this view deserves no more attention than the rest of the author's mythological fancies.
What then is the true ecclesiastical concept of Antichrist? Francisco Suárez maintains that it is of faith that Antichrist is an individual person, a signal enemy of Christ. This excludes the contention of those who explain Antichrist either as the whole collection of those who oppose Jesus Christ, or as the Papacy. The Waldensian and Albigensian heretics, as well as Wyclif and Hus, called the Pope by the name of Antichrist; but the expression was only a metaphor in their case. It was only after the time of the Reformation that the name was applied to the Pope in its proper sense. It then passed practically into the creed of the Lutherans, and has been seriously defended by them as late as 1861 in the "Zeitschrift für lutherische Theologie". The change from the true Church into the reign of Antichrist is said to have taken place between 19 February and 10 November, A.D. 607, when Pope Boniface III obtained from the Greek emperor Newton, the title "Head of All the Churches" for the Roman Church. An appeal was made to Apocalypse 13:8, in confirmation of this date, and it was calculated from Apocalypse 11:3, that the end of the world might be expected in A.D. 1866. Cardinal Bellarmine refuted this error both from an exegetical and historical point of view in "De Rom. Pont.", III.
The individual person of Antichrist will not be a demon, as some of the ancient writers believed; nor will he be the person of the devil incarnated in the human nature of Antichrist. He will be a human person, perhaps of Jewish extraction, if the explanation of Genesis 49:17, together with that of Dan's omission in the catalogue of the tribes, as found in the Apocalypse, be correct. It must be kept in mind that extra-Scriptural tradition furnishes us no revealed supplement to the Biblical data concerning Antichrist. While these latter are sufficient to make the believer recognize the "man of sin" at the time of his coming, the lack of any additional reliable revelation should put us on our guard against the daydreams of the Irvingites, the Mormons, and other recent proclaimers of new revelations.
It may not be out of place to draw the reader's attention to two dissertations by the late Cardinal Newman on the subject of Antichrist. The one is entitled "The Patristic Idea of Antichrist"; it considers successively his time, religion, city, and persecution. It formed the eighty-third number of the "Tracts for the Times." The other dissertation bears the title "The Protestant Idea of Antichrist."
In order to understand the significance of the Cardinal's essays on the question of the Antichrist, it must be kept in mind that a variety of opinions sprang up in course of time concerning the nature of this opponent of Christianity.
- Koppe, Nitzsch, Storr, and Pelt contended that the Antichrist is an evil principle, not embodied either in a person or a polity; this opinion is in opposition to both St. Paul and St. John. Both Apostles describe the adversary as being distinctly concrete in form.
- A second view admits that the Antichrist is a person, but it maintains that he is a person of the past; Nero, Diocletian, Julian, Caligula, Titus, Simon Magus, Simon the son of Giora, the High Priest Ananias, Vitellius, the Jews, the Pharisees, and the Jewish zealots have been variously identified with the Antichrist. But there is little traditional authority for this opinion; besides, it does not appear to satisfy fully the prophetic predictions, and, in the case of some of its adherents, it is based on the supposition that the inspired writers could not transcend the limits of their experiences.
- A third opinion admitted that the Antichrist must indeed appear in a concrete form, but it identified this concrete form with the system of the Papacy. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Bucer, Beza, Calixtus, Bengel, Michaelis, and almost all the Protestant writers of the Continent are cited as upholding this view; the same may be said of the English theologians Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Hooper, Hutchinson, Tyndale, Sandys, Philpot, Jewell, Rogers, Fulke, Bradford, King James, and Andrewes. Bramhall introduced qualifications into the theory, and after this its ascendancy began to wane among English writers. Nor must it be supposed that the Papal-Antichrist theory was upheld by all Protestants in the same form; the False Prophet or second Apocalyptic Beast is identified with Antichrist and the Papacy by Aretius, Foxe, Napier Mede, Jurieu, Cunninghame, Faber, Woodhouse, and Habershon; the first Apocalyptic Beast holds this position in the opinion of Marlorat, King James, Daubuz, and Galloway; both Beasts are thus identified by Brightman, Pareus, Vitringa, Gill, Bachmair, Fraser, Croly, Fysh, and Elliott.
- If any part of the Church be proved to be antichristian, all of the Church is so, the Protestant branch inclusive.
- The Papal-Antichrist theory was gradually developed by three historical bodies: the Albigenses, the Waldenses, and the Fraticelli, between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries: are these the expositors from whom the Church of Christ is to receive the true interpretation of the prophecies?
- The defenders of the Papal-Antichrist theory have made several signal blunders in their arguments; they cite St. Bernard as identifying the Beast of the Apocalypse with the Pope, though St. Bernard speaks in the passage of the Antipope; they appeal to the Abbot Joachim as believing that Antichrist will be elevated to the Apostolic See, while the Abbot really believes that Antichrist will overthrow the Pope and usurp his See; finally, they appeal to Pope Gregory the Great as asserting that whoever claims to be Universal Bishop is Antichrist, whereas the great Doctor really speaks of the Forerunner of Antichrist who was, in the language of his day, nothing but a token of an impending great evil.
- Protestants were driven to the Papal-Antichrist theory by the necessity of opposing a popular answer to the popular and cogent arguments advanced by the Church of Rome for her Divine authority.
- Warburton, Newton, and Hurd, the advocates of the Papal-Antichrist theory, cannot be matched against the saints of the Church of Rome.
- If the Pope be Antichrist, those who receive and follow him cannot be men like St. Charles Borromeo, or Fénelon, or St. Bernard, or St. Francis de Sales.
- If the Church must suffer like Christ, and if Christ was called Beelzebub, the true Church must expect a similar reproach; thus, the Papal-Antichrist theory becomes an argument in favor of the Roman Church.
- The gibe, "If the Pope is not Antichrist, he has bad luck to be so like him", is really another argument in favour of the claims of the Pope; since Antichrist simulates Christ, and the Pope is an image of Christ, Antichrist must have some similarity to the Pope, if the latter be the true Vicar of Christ.