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 Chapter 3

Roman Catholicism and the Antichrist

 

THE powerful impact that the Reformers made in identifying the Roman Catholic Church as the antichrist can scarcely be imagined today. As millions of Christians joined the Reform movement, the Roman Church attempted to use methodology that has proved successful for more than a thousand years in order to eliminate those whom it designated as heretics. With the exception of the isolated communities of faithful Christians (often hidden in the natural fortresses of the earth), the church had been remarkably successful in its persecution. This success had been achieved by the arm of the state, which ruthlessly eliminated millions of those who would not bow to the church’s authority.

Historians fail to agree on the number of people who were tortured and martyred for their efforts to uphold pure Bible truth, but estimates range from 50 to 120 million. These men, women, and children lost their lives during the period of papal domination. Almost all of this persecuting was done at the hand of secular governments which subserved the designs of the Papacy.

The period of the sixteenth century proved different. Sickened by the excesses and corruptions of the Papacy, many monarchs and rulers embraced the Protestant Reformation, and were no longer vassals of the Papacy, obeying its commands; thus, in a number of European countries, the arm of flesh was not available to carry out the Roman Church’s dictates. This situation naturally alarmed the Roman Catholic Church. The Papacy was not accustomed to this circumstance; therefore, it discerned that a new methodology had to be devised in order to counter the rapid spread of the Reformation engulfing Europe. Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, Britain, and other countries generally accepted the messages of the Reformers.

A Spanish soldier, Ignatius Loyola, who had recovered from serious wounds sustained in war, established a new order of priests and brothers—The Society of Jesus, better known today as the Jesuits. Loyola was born in 1491, just six years after Luther. After meditation in the famous monastery of Montserrat, in the northeastern corner of Spain, he vowed to forsake his former ways and became "a soldier of God." He symbolized this vow by placing his weapons on the altar of the monastery.

With six other young men, he attempted a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1537, but was unable to reach his desired destination because of war. As a result, he spent time in Venice, Italy, where he formed his society in 1537. This new Catholic order was approved by the beleaguered Pope Paul III in 1540. The order was established under the strict organization of a medieval army. Loyola became the first general. Before his death in 1556, the Jesuit order had been established in Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany, parts of South America, and Asia. He was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1622.

Loyola was an intelligent, persuasive leader with a remarkable penchant for clever scheming. His order (the Jesuits) arose during the excitement of the Reformation, and soon attracted some of the most intelligent and ingenious youths of the Roman Catholic Church. This order quickly attained the reputation of containing the intelligentsia of the church. The order’s leader was referred to as the black pope, and the order became so powerful that there were times when it threatened the very church that its members were pledged to defend. For a time, the order was banned by the church.

The church looked to this new order when it was deprived of the assistance of the civil powers of Europe to enforce its edicts against Protestantism. In an attempt to defend itself against the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church called a meeting of one of its most important councils, in 1545, in the small northern Italian city of Trent. The council continued to meet occasionally for eighteen years, concluding in 1563. It is generally believed that this council ushered in the beginning of what was known as the Counter-Reformation or the Catholic Reformation. While some reforms were achieved which touched the most blatant abuses of the church, the framework of doctrine and beliefs remained the same.

There were two significant issues of paramount concern—justification by faith (with particular emphasis on its relationship to salvation) and the Protestant identification of the Papacy as the antichrist of Scripture. Regarding the topic of justification by faith, the bishops, by majority vote, declared that the gospel incorporated both justification and sanctification. Sadly, they defined sanctification, not as mediated by faith alone, but according to the seven "sacred" sacraments (baptism, confirmation, Mass, extreme unction, penance, matrimony, and holy orders); thus the pagan concept of salvation by works was retained.

The subject concerning the antichrist was an altogether different challenge. The arguments of the Protestant Reformers had been so persuasive that even some loyal Roman Catholics were uneasy. It was perceived that debate and dialogue were unlikely to settle the issue; thus it became imperative that the Roman Church assert a different interpretation of the scriptural prophecy which pinpointed the identity of the antichrist in order to remove attention from the Papacy. Realizing that the goal of the recently established Jesuits was to derail the Protestant Reformation by whatever means was possible, they directed their finest young scholars to the task of turning Protestant scholars away from their identification of the Papacy as the antichrist.

A satisfying alternative to the Protestant challenge of prophetic interpretation did not come quickly or easily. Eventually, two scholars provided interpretations designed to destroy the Protestant identification of the Papacy as the antichrist. The first of these interpretations was presented by Francisco Ribera, a Spanish Jesuit. Ribera applied the prophecies of Revelation, with the exception of the first three chapters, to the future. Antichrist, according to Ribera’s commentary which was finished in 1585 and published in 1590, would be a single diabolical individual who would arise at the end of time. He would be received by the Jews, and would reestablish Jerusalem and the temple; further, he would abolish Christianity, revile Christ, and terribly persecute all Christians during his three-and-a-half year reign. The fact that the futurist view of prophecy was of Jesuit origin will be alarming to many Evangelical Protestants. It deeply concerns many Protestants that the thesis of Ribera is so closely aligned to the modern futurist view held by fundamentalist Protestants.

The history concerning the introduction of the futurist interpretation of prophecy into Protestantism underscores the clever and effective work of the Jesuits. Thorough infiltration of the Jesuits’ erroneous ideas has robbed Protestantism of its heritage. The work of Ribera took many years to bear fruit in the Protestant community. Its origins in Protestantism can be traced to the forerunners of the Anglo-Catholic movement at Oxford University, in Great Britain, during the early nineteenth century. Ribera’s thesis was sent to many of the universities of Europe (including Oxford University) shortly after he had developed it. Led by a small group of Anglicans who were exploring the concept of reunification with Rome, the philosophy of Ribera was rediscovered from this thesis.

More than 200 years after the thesis was sent to the universities, men such as S. R. Maitland, James Todd, and William Burgh were suggesting that the English Church should reunite with the Church of Rome. There was an immediate outcry from Protestant-believing Anglicans who pointed to the Roman Catholic Church as the historic antichrist of prophecy. At this point, the determined scholars of Oxford "dusted off" the thesis of Ribera, and vigorously taught the futurist concept in order to prove that the Roman Catholic Church could not justifiably be identified as the antichrist; therefore, it was a safe church with which to unite. Initially, this turnabout made little impact except in England; thus, as late as the end of the nineteenth century, most Protestant authors in the United States continued to identify the Papacy as the antichrist. One hundred years later, the Jesuit interpretation has become so universal that almost all authors, many without any knowledge of the past history of prophetic interpretation, have accepted the futurist concept.

John Darby introduced the futurist view together with the secret rapture (another Jesuit concept) to the United States. He also introduced dispensationalism, and taught a disjunction between law and grace. Darby lived for a while in Plymouth, England. After studying at Trinity College, in Dublin, he briefly served as an Anglican curate. After joining the Brethren in Dublin, he later established the Plymouth Brethren Church. He accepted as truth the doctrine that the antichrist, a satanically controlled world ruler, would appear at the end of the world, and ruthlessly persecute during the period of the great tribulation. Christ would come just prior to the tribulation in order to rapture the faithful Christians (the church). Darby declared that, after three and a half years of persecution by the antichrist, Christ would return to punish the antichrist, and set up His kingdom for a thousand years. Justice, peace, and unity are to reign during that time.

Darby, during six visits to the United States between 1859 and 1874, brought these views to the Americas. Here he found some response from the conservative Protestants who little suspected the Jesuit origin of these interpretations. He also attracted some learned theologians who, though not necessarily accepting his rapture theology, were excited by his teachings. This interest led to conferences, the first being held in a Presbyterian church, which was followed by conferences in Chicago (1886), Niagara (yearly between 1883 and 1897), and Long Island (1901); however, it took the work of a lawyer who became a preacher, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, to popularize the futurist view.

When Scofield accepted Christianity, he developed into a persuasive advocate of the futurist interpretation of prophecy. He was a follower of the Plymouth Brethren teachings of John Darby. Soon, he was writing notes and commentaries about the Bible, an idea that he developed at the 1901 Long Island conference in New York. These explanatory notes were added to certain biblical printings which became famous, as did the Scofield Bible. Millions of these Bibles were sold by colporteurs, especially in the southern part of the United States. His interpretations were soon accepted by many with almost the same authority as the Bible itself. It has often been stated that the Scofield Bible has done more than any seminary (some say all seminaries combined) to influence the theology and prophetic interpretation of conservative Protestants in the United States. Today, it is shocking to realize that the Jesuit concepts are held almost without challenge in a large section of conservative Protestantism.

This review of the Jesuit efforts to defuse the Protestant identification of the papal antichrist would not be complete if we did not refer to the work of Louis de Alcazar. De Alcazar, also a Jesuit, defined what has become known as the preterist view of prophetic interpretation. The preterists believe that Revelation, instead of being a prophetic book, actually sketches events which occurred in the era of the Roman Empire; likewise, preterists ascribe the writing of the book of Daniel to a period later than the sixth century b.c., when Daniel lived. They claim that the prophecies of Daniel were written during the time of the early years of the Roman Empire (second century b.c.), and suggest that these describe the persecution of the Jews during the period between the writing of the Old and the New Testaments. As stated earlier, some of the Jewish Maccabees believed that the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century b.c., represented the abomination of desolation cited in the book of Daniel (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:7). De Alcazar and present-day preterists have accepted this interpretation.

The preterist view has had particular appeal to modern scholars and higher critics of the Bible. Such an interpretation eliminates the need for divine revelation and prophetic interpretation. Modernists reject any interpretation that would depend upon divine intervention or divine enlightenment; thus, modernists claim that the prophecies of Daniel were written after, not before the events prophesied.

Neither the futurist nor the preterist views can be sustained in the light of biblical investigation. The concept that the antichrist will be a single individual is an explicit denial of the testimony of John, who identified many antichrists, even in his day.

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18)

Surely, this text alone is sufficient to destroy the futurist concept. Further, the very testimony of Jesus places the abomination of desolation future to His time, thus falsifying the claim that this prophecy of Daniel was fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century b.c.

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) . . . (Matthew 24:15)

It is extraordinary that, in the light of such texts as these, both the conservative wing (futurism) and the liberal wing (preterism) in Protestantism have so easily been convinced by the deceptive presentations of the Jesuits, whose only objective has been to take the attention away from the Roman Catholic Church. They have certainly not been motivated by a sincere desire to comprehend biblical truth; therefore, we must reject these two schools of prophetic interpretation as unsound and unbiblical.

An unscriptural basis for biblical interpretation of prophecy has been urged upon Protestantism. The climate which has been established, under the pretense of tolerance, makes it most unpopular to identify the antichrist as the Roman Catholic Church. The climate of ecumenism provides the shield against such identification. To identify Roman Catholicism as the antichrist appears to be unloving and divisive; yet all true followers of Christ will seek for truth. Though truth will not divide, it will point out the error that does divide. Those who proclaim truth are frequently seen as the troublers of Israel. (1 Kings 18:17, 18)

Sincere Christians will recognize that there is no unity separate from truth; thus, twice in His prayer for unity, Jesus identifies the truth that sanctifies as a foundation for unity.

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. . . . And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (John 17:17, 19)

Any other basis for unity is, at best, mere consensus, and most likely includes compromise; at worst, it is rank apostasy.

Genuine love demands the identification of the antichrist power so that no honest person will be deceived, for eternity is at stake. While identifying the Roman Catholic Church as the antichrist power, we hasten to remind all sincere Christians that many of Christ’s true followers are still members of that church. They are unaware of the great deception under which they worship. The Saviour died for them as well as people of all other faiths. The present is surely the time for love to be expressed in sincere action as these precious saints are called out of apostasy into the light of God’s saving truth.


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