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 Chapter 4

Early Concepts of the Antichrist

 

AMUEL CASSALS’ book, Christ and Antichrist (1846), presents some of the most outstanding evidence ever presented to identify the Roman Catholic Church as the antichrist power of prophecy. Cassals, a Presbyterian clergyman who served in Norfolk, Virginia, gained endorsement not only from prominent pastors of his own church but also from Methodists, Baptists, and Episcopalians. His book represents the understanding of the antichrist passed down from the great sixteenth-century Reformers, and demonstrates the almost united stand taken by Protestant churches up to and beyond the middle of the nineteenth century. The authors of this book are greatly indebted to Samuel Cassals’ careful research of the Bible, for many of the insights presented.

Many earlier writers offered insightful definitions of the antichrist.

MacKnight: "One who puts himself in the place of Christ, or who opposes Christ."

Schleusner: "In the books of the New Testament, it [antichrist] always signifies an enemy of Christ and His religion."

No power of the Christian Era has more accurately fulfilled these descriptions than the papal power of Rome.

Cassals, with clear perception, identifies the different names of antichrist in the Bible, reporting this identification as the heritage of the Reformers and the Protestants. The names he cited were Paul’s man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:2–7), the little horn of Daniel 7 and 8, and the beast of Revelation 13. (Samuel J. Cassals, Christ and Antichrist, pp. 12, 13)

It is of the highest significance that some of the early church Fathers in the Roman Catholic church pinpointed the future antichrist. Of course, these early church Fathers did not understand that these insights were identifying the future direction of the church that they loyally served. We cite representative writings of these thought leaders of the early Christian church as reported by Cassals:

1. Tertullian (155–222): He spoke about the future breakup of the Roman Empire, "whose separation into ten kingdoms will bring on antichrist." (The division of the Roman Empire was not completed until a.d. 476.)

2. Cyril of Jerusalem (315–386): "There shall arise, at the same time, ten kingdoms of the Romans at different places, indeed, the reigning all of them at the same time. After them, the eleventh will be antichrist, who, through magical wickedness, will seize the power of the Romans." The Papacy not only took Rome as the seat of its authority, but even took the title of Pontifex Maximus from pagan Rome for its supreme bishop, the pope.

3. Jerome (347–420): "Says the apostle [Paul in the second epistle to the Thessalonians], ‘Unless the Roman Empire should first be desolated, and antichrist proceed, Christ will not come.’"

4. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (540–604): "I say confidently therefore, that whosoever calls himself Universal Bishop, or even desires in his pride to be called such, is the forerunner of antichrist."

With perfect accuracy, the early church elders identified the Papacy as the antichrist, little knowing that the church of which they were leaders would actually become the great antichrist power of prophecy, and assume the very characteristics that they had discerned from God’s Word.

The concept of the early church Fathers, concerning antichrist, is of great significance. All the church Fathers except Gregory wrote before the complete breakup of the Roman Empire and before the rise of papal Rome to secular power; thus they did not suspect that they were identifying the very church of which they were a part. It was evident that they expected this power to be another entity. And it is certain that they did not consider the developing Papacy to be the antichrist. This fact permitted them much greater objectivity and honesty in detailing the identifying characteristics of the antichrist than later Roman Catholic scholars.

Perhaps the most striking statement of those cited is that of a pope himself, Gregory the Great (Gregory I.). Gregory’s statement was made in reprimand to John, bishop of Constantinople, who was perceived to be seeking recognition as head of the whole Christian church. John had taken the title of ecumenical patriarch. Gregory knew Constantinople well because he had served as papal nuncio to Constantinople from 579 to 584. At this time, there was bitter rivalry between Rome and Constantinople. Rome was the dominant see of the West. And Constantinople had dramatically risen to prominence following the city’s founding by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. Constantinople was, by the time of Gregory the Great, the leading see of the East. This rivalry continued until the eventual separation of the Eastern Orthodox churches from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054. It is ironic to speculate on the fact that Gregory had similar ambitions to those of John, although his response was to call himself the servant of God’s servants. No doubt, Gregory used his strong admonition as an attempt to weaken the resolve of the bishop of Constantinople.

This statement significantly attests to the fact that, at the time of Gregory’s reign as bishop of Rome (590–604), he was not seen as bishop over the whole Christian church. Gregory’s statement surely is an effective witness against the claim to the primacy of the bishop of Rome from the time of Peter the apostle; however, it must be acknowledged that, in 533, Emperor Justinian had declared the bishop of Rome to be above the bishop of Constan-tinople (see chapter 5 entitled "The Medieval Reign of the Papacy").

Certainly, the bishop of Rome had already claimed the title of Pontifex Maximus, a claim boasting the right of hierarchical control over all Christendom, if not the entire world. Although the Protestant Reformation seriously weakened the papal authority, the latter part of the twentieth century has witnessed an alarming reversal of the stand of the Reformers so that the pope is now regarded as the head of the Christian church by many Protestants and non-Christians. In evidence of this fact, Anglican Prelate Robert Runcie, archbishop of Canterbury, made a call on October 2 1989 "for Protestants to accept the pope as universal leader." (Singapore Straits Times, Oct. 3 1989)

Let us analyse Gregory’s statement in which he asserts that "he who calls himself Universal Bishop will be the forerunner of antichrist."

The antichrist is clearly identified as a power of worldwide influence. According to Daniel 7 and 8, it arose out of the Roman Empire. Certainly, the only bishop who claims this today is the bishop of Rome. And his power arose out of the ashes of the pagan Roman Empire.

It is remarkable how Tertullian, Cyril, Augustine, and Jerome perceptively set forth the timing of the rise of the antichrist. None of them offers a thought for the preterist view that claims a pre-Christian fulfillment of the antichrist prophecy; likewise, there is not the slightest hint in their writings that the antichrist will have a short reign just prior to the return of Christ. It was understood that this antichrist power would exert its powerful influence before the return of Christ. Perhaps Tertullian’s statement is the most incisive. He understood that, though the Roman Empire was still of great strength and power during his lifetime, it would divide. And this division would shortly thereafter herald the reign of the antichrist.

The contribution of Cyril of Jerusalem is also very impressive. He saw that the antichrist power would seize and assume the power of pagan Rome. Had Cyril lived at a later period of history, he surely would have seen that the Papacy was the power which assumed the authority of pagan Rome.

The statements of Jerome and Augustine are more general than those of Tertullian and Cyril, due, no doubt, to the fact that they both lived during the declining years of the Roman Empire. Augustine had misapplied the millennial period to the 1,000 years after the birth of Christ, and believed that Jesus would return in a.d. 1000; thus, when Sylvester II was crowned pope in a.d. 999, it was confidently predicted by many that he would be the pope at the time of the Second Coming.

Augustine did not understand the 1260-year reign of the antichrist as recorded in Scripture (Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), and perhaps both Augustine and Jerome were uncertain of the extent of the reign of the antichrist power (see chapter 5 entitled "Medieval Reign of the Papacy"). Certainly, both were so uncompromisingly Roman in their allegiance that neither would have tolerated the thought that the church which they served was already developing the telltale characteristics of the antichrist of prophecy. Few of the Catholic Fathers did more than these men to sow the seeds of apostasy and paganism in the church with which the antichrist power is now clearly identified.

Jerome developed the Latin Vulgate Version of the Bible built upon the tampered Greek manuscripts of the Western church. In later times, this Bible became the basis of the Douay English Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, and has been the basis upon which the corrupt modern translations of the English Bible (such as the Revised Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, and the New International Version) have been derived. Augustine, more than any other church Father, integrated pagan concepts within the Christian church. These pagan teachings contributed to the apostasy of the early Christian church.

The early church Fathers wrote a significant amount of material concerning the antichrist. By the time of the Middle Ages, the term antichrist was more frequently used as synonymous with antipopes. During the period of the Papacy’s most blatant excesses, two or more prelates frequently claimed the papal throne. The Roman Catholic Church now identifies thirty-eight such antipopes, but debates still rage in some quarters as to who was the authentic pope and who was the antipope. With the supposed succession of Peter at stake, it has often been a bitter battle. One pope, Leo VIII (963–965) was initially an antipope, contemporaneously ruling with his predecessor, Pope Benedict V. Later, Leo was elected as an authentic pope. When more than one pope claimed the papal throne, it was common for each to call the other the antipope and, by implication, the antichrist.

The issue of the antichrist was not a doctrine of deep study within the Papacy during the Middle Ages; however, after the Protestant challenge, Ribera and De Alcazar presented spurious theories, both carefully designed to deny the scriptural identification of the Papacy as the antichrist. Since the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church has expended much effort to convince Protestants that the Reformers’ identification was a result of the contentions of the times in which they lived, and did not reflect the true biblical concept of the antichrist; however, a careful review of the Scriptures re-emphasizes the fact that the Reformers did not simply respond to polemics but to a careful and accurate study of biblical prophecy. These understandings were consistent with those of the apostles and the early church Fathers.


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