For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect (Matthew 24:24).
Some time ago a Catholic student at Brooklyn College called me to say that he had just finished reading my book, The Six Days of Creation. But he didn’t want to talk about the beginning of the world, only its end. He was upset with what television evangelists like Jack Van Impe were saying about the last things and, unfortunately, he had also read The Book of Destiny by Father Herman Kramer, which only increased his confusion. I did the best I could off the top of my head, but realized that there must be many Catholics out there in the same state as this young man. I decided, therefore, to write a popular article on the subject, but to try to keep it as brief as possible. I have limited myself to just five major topics, and will pass over a lot of the minor details.
And as He was going out of the temple one of His disciples said to Him: Master, behold what manner of stones and buildings are here. And Jesus answering said to him. Seest thou all these great buildings? There shall not be left a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down. And as He sat on the mount of Olivet over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Him apart: Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall begin to be fulfilled? (Mark 13:1-4)
There follows Our Lord’s eschatological discourse, His discourse on the last things, which is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Saint John does not record this discourse because he has an entire book, the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation, dedicated to the last things. The eschatological discourse by Our Lord concludes: “Amen I say to you, this generation shall not pass until all these things be done ” (Mark 13:30). In his Commentary on the Diatesseron, Saint Ephrem the Deacon (d. 373) comments on this passage:
Though the Lord has established the signs of His coming, the time of their fulfillment has not been plainly revealed. These signs have come and gone with a multiplicity of change; more than that, they are still present. His final coming is like His first. As holy men and prophets waited for Him, thinking that He would reveal Himself in their own day, so today each of the faithful longs to welcome Him in his own day, because Christ had not made plain the day of His coming.
He has not made it plain for this reason especially, that no one may think that He, Whose power and dominion rule all numbers and times, is ruled by fate and time. He described the signs of His coming; how could what He has Himself decided be hidden from Him? Therefore, He used these words to increase respect for the signs of His coming, so that, from that day forward, all generations and ages might think that He would come again in their own day.
So, it is strictly legitimate for a Christian to speculate on the signs of the times, and to hope that Our Lord will come again in our own day. But the danger to one who does so is that he may allow his speculations to become “facts” in his own mind, and thus he may take on for himself the mantle of a prophet. Radio and television these days — and it will probably become more intense as we approach the year two thousand — are crowded with Evangelical Protestants confidently claiming that this sign and another has been fulfilled, and rashly announcing the imminence of Our Lord’s Second Coming. The most well known of these Evangelicals is Hal Lindsey, whose book, The Late Great Planet Earth , has sold 30,000,000 copies. On page 78, he writes:
We are told that ‘Surely the Lord God will do nothing without revealing His secret to His servants, the prophets’ (Amos 3:7 Amplified).
In other words, when God is going to undertake some significant movement of history as far as His program is concerned, He will reveal it first. This writer doesn’t believe that we have prophets today who are getting direct revelations from God, but we do have prophets today who are given special insight into the prophetic word. God is opening the book of the prophets to many men. This is one reason you will find on Christian bookshelves an increasing number of books on the subject of Bible prophecy.
Lindsey places himself in the category of prophets who are being given special insight, and, on the basis of a passage in the prophet Osee, he boldly predicts the approximate time of the coming of Our Lord. Osee had written:
“For the children of Israel shall sit many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without altar, and without ephod, and without teraphim. And after this the children of Israel shall return, and seek the Lord their God: and David their king: and they shall fear the Lord, and His goodness in the last days” (3:3,4).
On page 43 of his book, Lindsey says:
When the signs just given begin to multiply and increase in scope, it’s similar to the certainty of leaves coming on the fig tree. But the most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech ‘fig tree’ has been a historical symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2000 years of exile, under ruthless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May, 1948, the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves.
Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door,’ ready to return. Then He said, ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matthew 24:34 NASB). What generation? Obviously, in context the generation that would see the signs — chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so.
Our Lord warns us in His eschatological discourse to “beware of false prophets,” and the falsity of this prophecy has already been demonstrated. Nineteen eighty-eight has come and gone. Lindsey’s book first appeared in 1970, and he updates it every few years. He and the other Evangelicals have merely moved their time table up to the nineties. This is the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) in action. Saint Peter had warned:
Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost (I Peter 1:20,21).
The Catholic, however, need not fear to speculate on the Last Things, because Our Lord has provided him with an infallible guide for the proper interpretation of Holy Scripture: the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors, and the Magisterium of the Church. The Fifth Lateran Council in 1516 under Pope Leo X decreed:
We command all those who exercise the function of preaching, or will do so in the future, not to presume, either in their sermons or in their affirmations, to fix a date for future evils, whether for the coming of Antichrist or for the Day of Judgment, seeing that the Truth has said: ‘It is not for you to know the times or the moments, which the Father put in His own power .’ Those, therefore, who have had the audacity to make such statements in the past have lied, and it is well known that, on their account, the authority of those who preach wisely has greatly suffered.
The opposite extreme of Evangelicals like Hal Lindsey, are the Catholic biblical Modernists who deny there is any prophecy at all in the Apocalypse. For example, Father Andre Feuillet, who doubts the Johannine authenticity of the Fourth Gospel, published his book entitled The Apocalypse in 1964. On page 65 he writes:
Thus the Apocalypse, written during a time of crisis, is eminently fitting for periods of crisis and trouble. Even nowadays, while the Church stands apparently helpless in the face of totalitarian states equipped with seemingly unlimited material force, John’s Apocalypse seems more fitting than ever. We need only to be on guard against the temptations to look in it for precise historical predictions which the author has not the least intention or desire of conveying.
The Modernists admit that the Apocalypse has an enduring moral message for all ages, but deny that it predicts any future historical events. This is contrary to all the tradition of the Fathers and the Doctors, and the teaching of the Magisterium, which has always considered the Apocalypse a genuine prophetic book.
. . . [A]nd the souls of them that were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and who had not adored the beast nor his image, nor received his character on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. . . and when the thousand years shall be finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go forth, and seduce the nations, which are over the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, and shall gather them together, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea (Apocalypse 20:4,7).
The Evangelicals who take everything in the Bible in the strictly literal sense — except, as Hilaire Belloc says: “This is My Body . . . This is My Blood” — expect this prophecy to be fulfilled in a few years. The Millenarianism of the fundamentalists is a throw-back to the false Messianism of the Jews, which plagued Our Lord during His public life. Even shortly before His Ascension, His own disciples asked Him: “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). On page 307 of his Dictionary of Theology , Father Louis Bouyer comments:
Millenarianism, Millenium — The enigmatic period of a thousand years spoken of in the Apocalypse (chap. 20) is called the millenium. During its course, Satan is to be put in bondage after a primary resurrection limited to those who were faithful until death to Christ. Thereafter, there will be a second struggle with the Devil, his definitive defeat, and the universal resurrection and judgment. Millenarianism is a heresy, or the heretical tendency, that first appeared in the early Christian centuries, although it reappears frequently throughout the history of Christianity. The millenium is represented with such literalism that it falls back into the forms of earthly messianism rejected by Christ. It is usually combined with a belief that the millenium is already at hand, or is at least imminent . . . A number of modern sects (Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.) are revived forms of this allusion.
It is true that some of the early Fathers, like St. Justin (d. 165), St. Irenaeus (d. 203), St. Hippolytus (d.236), etc., understood the millenium in a literal sense, but, since the time of St. Augustine (d. 430), orthodox writers have taken this passage in only the spiritual sense. St. Augustine writes in his The City of God :
. . . [T]his opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God. But, as they assert that those who rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal. They who do believe them are called by the spiritual, Chiliasts, which we may literally reproduce by the name Millenarians. It were a tedious process to refute these opinions point by point: we prefer to show how that passage of Scripture should be understood.
It is the common opinion of the Doctors that the 1000 years is a symbolic way of describing the rule of Christ in His Church, from the time of His First Coming to His Second Coming. We are in the millenium now, and Our Lord is ruling on earth in the Blessed Sacrament, over His saints — the Church. This opinion is rejected by Father Herman Kramer in his The Book of Destiny :
Saint Augustine pushes his opinion too far, however, when he supposes that such an ideal state cannot be attained until after the end of the world. His ideas contradict Saint Justin’s and that of the most ancient Fathers.
This would be a legitimate difference of opinion had not the Magisterium condemned Millenarianism several times, the most recent being a Decree of the Holy Office dated July 21, 1944:
In recent times on several occasions, this Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office has been asked what must be thought of the system of mitigated Millenarianism, which teaches, for example, that Christ the Lord before the final judgment, whether or not preceded by the resurrection of the many just, will come visibly to rule over this world.
The answer is: The system of mitigated Millenarianism cannot be taught safely.
Father Kramer writes:
A by-product of the thousand years of peace will be lukewarmness and indifference in the practice of religion. During times of peace and prosperity, evils have sometimes arisen within the Church. There will always be good and bad in the world as Isaias foretells (LXV 20), and the number of wicked shall grow larger as time goes on. These thousand years are stated in round numbers to denote a period of peace for the Church from Antichrist till the rise of Gog and Magog, and they may be two thousand or several thousand. According to the words of Isaias (LVI, 20), a period of only one thousand years would be far too short to bring into actuality in a literal sense what is promised here. Near paradisiac conditions will prevail. Men will live to a great age; the danger to grow lax in the service of God and loyalty to the Church will appear, and evils will multiply as before the Reformation; finally Satan shall be released from his prison to punish the wicked.
The reader can see why the Church has rejected this interpretation of the thousand years. It completely destroys the thrust of Our Lord’s eschatological discourse as related in the synoptics. We heard St. Ephrem explain that Our Lord deliberately wanted to leave the impression with each generation of men that He could come again in their own time.
In passing, I should point out another error in this paragraph by Father Kramer. He misses the literary form of the Apocalypse, the very Hebraic notion of recapitulation, or repetition. In The City of God , page 379, Saint Augustine explains:
No doubt, though this book is called the Apocalypse (Revelation), there are in it many obscure passages to exercise the mind of the reader, and there are few passages so plain as to assist in the interpretation of others, even though we take pains; and this difficulty is increased by the repetition of the same things, in forms so different, that the things referred to seem to be different, although in fact they are only differently stated.
Or, as Father William Heidt, O.S.B., on page 68 of his New Testament Reading Guide, The Book of the Apocalypse , puts it:
Semitic literature pursues a cyclic course rather than a climactic one. Our Western mode of thought would have a theme developed point by point in logical fashion, until its argument is resolved in a climactic manner, with the conclusion following with all possible speed. Not so for the Oriental. The problem and its resolution are given at the very outset; the entire message is then traced and retraced, again and again, on the rounds of a grand concentric spiral. One could stop anywhere after the first few sentences and have the full message, but the charm and wealth of imagination proper to repetition would be lost.
Applied to our book of the Apocalypse, we must ever be ready to venture out over the identical field another time. The writer loves his theme, and a lover never tires of repetition. A single verse back, and the acme of celestial bliss was our vision. Now we can start all over again — the petitions of persecuted Christians, the divine response, the plagues of punishment as God intervenes in judgment. A spontaneous sympathy for the Semitic cyclic method is a prerequisite for an appreciation of the Apocalypse.
So, the persecution of Antichrist and that of Gog and Magog are one and the same thing. It is not the persecution of Antichrist; then Christ coming for the second time followed by a thousand years of peace; and then the persecution of Gog and Magog with Our Lord coming again for a third time. We are in the thousand years now, and Christ could come again in our own generation!
For the Lord Himself shall come down from heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ in the air, and so we shall be always in the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:15, 16).
You will not find the so-called “rapture” in the Apocalypse of Saint John. The Evangelicals take the above passage from Saint Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians and insert it in Apocalypse 7:9,10, which reads:
After this I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands: And they cried with a loud voice saying: Salvation to our God, Who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb.
The Evangelicals claim that these two passages refer to the same thing, and that the elect will escape the great “Tribulation” which occurs during the three and a half year persecution of Antichrist. On pages 126 and 127 of his book, Lindsey writes:
Someday, a day that only God knows, Jesus Christ is coming to take away all those who believe in Him. He is coming to meet all true believers in the air. Without benefit of science, space suits, or interplanetary rockets, there will be those who will be transported into a glorious place more beautiful, more awesome, than we can possibly comprehend. Earth and all its thrills, excitement, and pleasures will be nothing in contrast to this great event.
It will be the ultimate trip . . .
We have been examining the push of world events which the prophets foretold would lead the way to the seven year countdown before the return of Jesus Christ to earth. The big question is, will you be here during the seven year countdown? Will you be here during the time of the Tribulation when the Antichrist and the False Prophet are in charge for a time? Will you be here when the world is plagued by mankind’s darkest days?
It may come as a surprise to you, but the decision concerning your presence during the last seven-year period in history is entirely up to you.
God’s Word tells us that there will be one generation of believers who will never know death. These believers will be removed from the earth before the great Tribulation — before that period of the most ghastly pestilence, bloodshed and starvation that the world has ever known.
Lindsey’s reference to a seven-year reign of Antichrist is another example of missing the literary form of Scripture, in this case the Semitic technique of doublets. The persecution of Antichrist is sometimes given as “a time, and times, and half a time,” that is, a year, two years, and a half year, or three and a half years. Again, as a doublet, it is given as “42 months,” or three and a half years. The fundamentalists add them together for a total of seven years. But it is clear from Scripture, and the consensus of the Fathers, that the persecution of Antichrist will last for only three and a half years.
There were a few of the early Fathers who were mistaken about the thousand-year reign of Christ and His saints, but no Father ever interpreted I Thessalonians as Lindsey does. And it is clear from the text itself, “and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first,” that this passage refers to the general resurrection just before the Last Judgment. The passage from Apocalypse 7 is rather a vision of the Church Triumphant in Heaven, not “raptured” souls in the air.
The “rapture” is sheer Calvinism. It means that the elect will not need to worry about being deceived by Antichrist and his False Prophet. Saint Patrick is said to have prayed for, and obtained, Heavenly assurance that Ireland would sink beneath the sea before the reign of Antichrist begins, lest any of the Irish apostatize during that period. Even if that does not happen, it is a much more Christian attitude regarding the seductions of Antichrist than the “rapture.”
The only problem the Fathers ever had with this passage by Saint Paul is reconciling it with his statement in Hebrews 9:27: “And it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” Here is Saint Augustine’s comment in The City of God , page 385:
But it is commonly asked whether those whom Our Lord shall find alive upon earth, personated in this passage by the Apostle and those who were alive with him, shall never die at all, or shall pass with incomprehensible swiftness through death to immortality in the very moment during which they shall be caught up along with those who rise again to meet the Lord in the air? For we cannot say that it is impossible that they would both die and revive again while they are carried aloft through the air. For the words. ‘And so shall we ever be with the Lord,’ are not to be understood as he meant that we shall always remain in the air with the Lord; for He Himself shall not remain there, but shall only pass through it as He comes. For we shall go to meet Him as He comes, not where He remains; but ‘so shall we be with the Lord,’ that is, we shall be with Him possessed of immortal bodies wherever we shall be with Him. We seem compelled to take the words in this sense, and to suppose that those whom the Lord shall find alive upon earth shall in that brief space both suffer death and receive immortality.
The Protestant teaching of the rapture and the millenium are opposed to the traditional teaching of the Church concerning the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. According to these Protestants, the people who are rapt up into the air for the duration of the persecution of Antichrist, and then set down on the earth for the thousand years of peace, do not die or have a particular judgment. The Fathers of the First Vatican Council said:
Those who die in this grace will, with certainty, obtain eternal life, the crown of justice, and just as certainly, those who die deprived of this grace will never arrive at eternal life. For death is the end of our pilgrimage, and shortly after death we shall stand before the judgment seat of God ‘so that each one may receive what he has won through the body according to his works, whether good or evil’ (I Cor. 5:10). And after this mortal life there is no place left for repentance for justification. Therefore, all who die in actual mortal sin are excluded from the kingdom of God and will suffer forever the torments of hell where there is no redemption. Also those who die with only original sin will never have the holy vision of God. The souls of those who die in the charity of God before they have done sufficient penance for their sins of commission or omission, are purified after death with the punishment of Purgatory.
Finally, the souls of those who have not incurred any stain of sin after their baptism, or who have committed a sin and been purified either while they were in the body or after death, are soon taken into heaven and there they clearly see the Triune God and enjoy the divine essence for all eternity.
This statement of Vatican Council I is in the Schema of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Principal Mysteries of the Faith. This schema was never incorporated into the decrees of the Council due to its forced adjournment. However, it is a clear, brief summary of what the Church has always taught on the Four Last Things.
In the Irish Independent (Dublin) of January 6, 1948, Dr. Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Palestine, was quoted as stating,
Eventually it [the the establishment of the new state of Israel] will lead to the inauguration of the true union of the nations, through which will be fulfilled the eternal message to mankind of our immortal prophets.
The fundamentalists who unanimously agree that the coming Great Tribulation will be a nuclear holocaust, from which they will be spared by the rapture, are all ardent Zionists. “I think if Israel goes down, America goes down with it,” said Jerry Falwell, according to the Times Advocate of Escondido, California. “I think it is crucial. I think the future of the world is predicated upon the existence and perpetuity of the state of Israel. Right now the state of Israel is standing almost alone.” Menachem Begin, the prime minister of Israel at the time, placed a personal call to Falwell to thank him for his help. Falwell and Begin are united in the belief that the Jews of today have a divine right to the Holy Land. This is not true. Father Denis Fahey writes:
Have the Jews a right to Palestine as the portion of the earth’s surface in which they might set up a separate state? It is clear from what has been said about their rejection of the true supernatural Messias that they can no longer lay claim to it by Divine Right. They were assigned that part of the earth as their inheritance on condition of their being obedient to God. They disobeyed God’s command to hear His Son, by their rejection of Our Divine Lord before Pilate and on Calvary, and they persist in their disobedience, Accordingly, there can be no question of a right based on a divine promise. In addition, the Arabs have a natural right to the country they have occupied for the last thirteen hundred years. . .
The Jewish claim to Palestine is implicitly a denial that they disobeyed God and missed their vocation by the rejection of the supernatural Messias. It is the assertion in action that the promised Messias has not yet come, and that the day of their national domination over the world will yet dawn. (The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation )
The Jews, according to the common consensus of the Fathers, will be the first people to accept the Antichrist as the Messias, because he will offer them the earthly Messianic kingdom which they so ardently desire, and which Our Lord denied them. Then they will join with Antichrist in launching the most savage persecution of the Church in the history of the world, crucifying Christ again in His Mystical Body. Also, the false prophets Jack Van Impe, Hal Lindsey, Jerry Falwell, et alia , will be among the first to point out Antichrist as Our Lord come for the second time, because he will offer them their eagerly awaited earthly millenial kingdom.
For many will come in my name saying I am the Christ: and they will seduce many (Matthew 24:5).
It is a common opinion of the Fathers that the Antichrist will be a Jew from the tribe of Dan. Saint Irenaeus (d. 203) writes:
And Jeremiah does not merely point out his sudden coming, but even indicates the tribe from which he shall come, where he says, ‘We shall hear the voice of his swift horses from Dan; the whole earth shall be moved by the voice of the neighing of his galloping horses: he shall come and devour the earth, and the fullness thereof, the city also, and they that dwell therein ‘ (Jer. 8:16). This, too, is the reason that this tribe is not reckoned in the Apocalypse along with those saved.
The tribe of Dan apparently disappeared with the other northern tribes during the Babylonian Captivity. But Saint Thomas Aquinas explained that Antichrist is said to be from Dan because it was considered the vilest of the tribes, thus indicating his base birth.
Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God (II Th 2:3,4).
Many of the Fathers think this passage means that Antichrist will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and there demand divine worship. Saint Hippolytus (d. 236) writes:
For in every respect that deceiver seeks to make himself appear like the Son of God. Christ is a lion, and Antichrist is a lion. Christ is the King of things celestial and things terrestial, and Antichrist will be king upon earth. The Savior was manifested as a lamb; and he, too, will appear as a lamb, while he is a wolf within. The Savior was circumcised, and he in like manner will appear in circumcision. The Savior sent the apostles unto all nations, and he in like manner will send false apostles. Christ gathered together the dispersed sheep, and he in like manner will gather together the dispersed people of the Hebrews. Christ gave to those who believed on Him the honorable and life-giving cross, and he in like manner will give his own sign. Christ appeared in the form of man, and he in like manner will come forth in the form of man. Christ arose from among the Hebrews, and he will spring from among the Jews. Christ displayed His flesh like a temple, and raised it up on the third day; and he too will raise up again the temple of stone in Jerusalem. (Appendix to the Works of Hippolytus, The Ante-Nicene Fathers , Volume V, 1926, p.247)
There are some scholars who think that this is not an authentic work of Saint Hippolytus, probably because (as the editors suggest) of his use of the term Theotokos (God-bearer) in referring to Our Lady, which the Modernists claim appeared at a later date. But the text is almost identical to his certainly genuine Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, whole passages being copied verbatim, and which appears in the same volume.
A number of the Fathers, however, maintain that “the temple of God” can only refer to a Catholic church. Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson shares this opinion and dramatizes it beautifully in his fantastic book, Lord of the World . I cannot resist recording a few paragraphs from pages 248 to 250 which are set in Westminster Abbey, but first let me give a little background.
The book was written in 1907 and set in the early part of the 21st century. The East and the West are divided into two superpowers, both of which possess the Benninschein shell which can wipe out an entire city. The human race is on the verge of destroying itself, when there suddenly appears out of nowhere a diplomat named Julius Felsenberg, a Grand Master of the Masons, and an expert linguist. He begins a series of lightning shuttle moves between East and West that finally result in permanent world peace and total disarmament. He is hailed by both the East and the West as the Savior of the World.
Felsenberg proclaims four compulsory world Feast Days, one of which is the Feast of Maternity. He is speaking at the Abbey before the veiled statue of a naked woman representing Maternity, carved by the famed sculptor Markenheim:
“‘Oh! Maternity!” he cried. “Mother of us all!’
And then, the miracle took place . . . For it seemed now in an instant that it was no longer man who spoke, but One who stood upon the stage of the superhuman. The curtain ripped back, as one who stood by it tore, panting at the strings; and there, it seemed, face to face stood the Mother above the altar, huge white and protective, and the Child, one passionate incarnation of love, crying to her from the tribune.
‘Oh! Mother of us all and Mother of Me!’
So he praised her to her face, that sublime principle of life, declared her glories and her strength, her Immaculate Motherhood, her seven swords of anguish driven through her heart by the passion and follies of her Son. He promised her great things, the recognition of her countless children, the love and service of the unborn, the welcome of those quickening within the womb. He named her the Wisdom of the Most High, that sweetly orders all things, the Gate of Heaven, House of Ivory, Comforter of the afflicted, Queen of the World; and to the delirious eyes of those who looked on her it seemed that the grave face smiled to hear Him . . .
A great panting as of some monstrous life began to fill the air as the mob swayed behind Him, and the torrential voice poured on. Waves of emotion swept up and down; there were cries and sobs, the yelping of a man beside himself at last, from somewhere among the crowded seats the crash of a bench, and another and another, and the gangways were full, for He no longer held them passive to listen; He was rousing them to some supreme act. The tide crawled nearer, and the faces stared no longer at the Son but the Mother; the girl in the gallery tore at the heavy railing, and sank down sobbing on her knees. And above all the voice pealed on — and the thin hands blanched to whiteness strained from the wide sumptuous sleeves as if to reach across the sanctuary itself.
It was a new tale He was telling now, and all to her glory. He was from the East, now they knew, come from some triumph. He had been hailed as King, adored as Divine, as was meet and right — He, the humble superhuman Son of a Human Mother — who bore not a sword but peace, not a cross but a crown. So it seemed He was saying; yet no man there knew whether He said it or not — whether the voice proclaimed it, or their hearts asserted it.
He was on the steps of the sanctuary now, still with outstretched hands and pouring words, and the mob rolled after him to the rumble of ten thousand feet and the sighing of ten thousand hearts . . . He was at the altar; He was upon it. Again in one last cry, as the crowd broke against the steps beneath, He hailed her Queen and Mother.
The end came in a moment, swift and inevitable. And for an instant, before the girl in the gallery sank down, blind with tears, she saw the tiny figure poised there at the knees of the huge image, beneath the expectant hands, silent and transfigured in the blaze of light. The Mother, it seemed, had found her Son at last.
For an instant she saw it, the soaring columns the gilding and the colors, the swaying heads, the tossing hands. It was a sea that heaved before her, lights went up and down, the rose window whirled overhead, presences filled the air, heaven flashed away, and the earth shook in ecstasy.
Then in the heavenly light, to the crash of drums, above the screaming of the women and the battering of feet, in one thunder-peal of worship, ten thousand voices hailed Him Lord and God.
The Woman Clothed with the Sun
And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns: and on his heads seven diadems: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a male child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod; and her son was taken up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, that there they should feed her a thousand two hundred sixty days (Apocalypse 12:1-6).
The line “and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth,” seems to refer to the fall of the angels at the beginning of creation. This would make this passage the great recapitulation, extending from the beginning of time to the very end, and make Our Lady the whole key to Scripture and to history. That “the woman clothed with the sun” was the test of the angels, is the opinion of many of the Fathers. Here is Venerable William Joseph Chaminade:
There is another striking figure in the Scriptures, the sublime description which Saint John gives us in the Apocalypse, and which several of the Doctors and Fathers of the Church did not hesitate to apply to Mary. This application accords with their well-authenticated opinion that, before the creation of man, the Incarnation of the Word had been determined in the eternal decrees of God for the purpose of rendering perfect glory to the Most High by an external manifestation, as also for the redemption of the human race, after its creation, from the eternal death that would be the consequences of the future sin of Adam. The angels had been created, but they were not yet confirmed in grace; wherefore, being free to act at will, they must give a proof of their fidelity, and thus merit the eternal glory that was to be theirs. The trial consisted in this, according to the opinion already referred to, that they were to pay homage, by anticipation, to the mystery of the Incarnation. The faithful angels recognized, in the son of the woman, the Son of God Himself, and, in the woman, the august Virgin, His Mother . . . The unfaithful angels failed to pay homage and, in their jealous pride, refused to recognize the woman and the fruit of her womb. (Our Knowledge of Mary , 1930, pp.28,30,48.)
But the Catholic biblical Modernists and the Protestant Evangelicals unite in declaring that this passage does not refer to Our Lady, but rather to the Church, which suggests a common source for this error. Here again is Father Andre Feuillet on page 15 of his book cited above:
Those contemporary theologians who specialize in Marian studies seem to be inclined at times to go a bit beyond the proper limit, and to look to the Scriptures for Marian meanings which will offer support to their theses. In this regard, it seems that many writers forget that the application of the text of Apocalypse 12 to Mary is far from being the oldest explanation of the passage; neither is it the best attested explanation; furthermore it ia replete with difficulties. We should state here clearly, once and for all, that the only incontestable exegesis of the passage . . . is that which sees it in an ecclesial sense.
The Holy Ghost Father, Michael O’Carroll, author of the very scholarly Theotokos (1982), in the entry under “The Woman in Revelation 12,” writes:
History: . . . Already in the fourth century Saint Epiphanius, discussing the end of Our Lady’s life, wrote: ‘Elsewhere though, we read in the Apocalypse of John that the dragon rushed against the woman who had brought forth the male child and wings of an eagle were given to her and she was borne into the desert lest the dragon seize her.’ . . . In the next century Quodvultdeus, friend and disciple of Saint Augustine, was explicit: ‘None of you is ignorant of the fact that the dragon was the devil. The woman signified the Virgin Mary, who remaining intact brought forth our intact Head. She also showed forth in herself the image of the holy Church, so that, as she remained a virgin, so [the Church] for all time should bring forth members without losing its virginity.’. . .
Saint Bonaventure thought that the literal sense was Marian and the mystical sense ecclesiological . . .
Teaching Authority: Saint Pius X, in Ad diem illud , taught: ‘Everyone knows that this woman signified the Virgin Mary, the stainless one who brought forth the Savior.’ He interpreted the pains of childbirth in relation to Mary’s spiritual motherhood. Pius XII made a history of interpretation in Munificentissimus Deus : ‘Moreover, the scholastic doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in the various figures of the Old Testament, but also in the woman clothed with the sun, whom John the Apostle contemplated on the island of Patmos.’
Paul VI opened Signum Magnum thus: ‘The great sign which the Apostle Saint John contemplated in the heavens, the woman clothed with the sun (cf. Apoc. 12:1), is rightly, in the Holy Liturgy of the Catholic Church, interpreted of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the grace of Christ the Redeemer, Mother of all men.’
Father O’Carroll goes on to mention that the Mass and Office of Our Lady of the Assumption juxtaposes Apocalypse 11:19, “And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake, and great hail,” with Apocalypse 12:1, “A great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Lex orandi est lex credendi — the law of praying is the law of believing. The Church is telling us here that this is yet another instance of the Semitic literary form of the doublet. The Ark of the Covenant is never considered a type of the Church, but only of Our Lady. This means that the primary meaning of this passage is Marian, and only in a secondary sense can it be accommodated to the Church.
Also, we should not forget the authentic apparitions of Our Lady approved by the Church:
1) The miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in 1531, where she appears clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, her name Guadalupe meaning in Aztec, “serpent crusher;”
2) The apparition of Our Lady of Knock, in 1879, which is a tableau from the Apocalypse, a vision of the Church, the Lamb as it were slain standing on the altar, Saint Joseph representing the laity praying, Saint John representing the priesthood preaching, and Our Lady offering all up to God;
3) And in our own time, Our Lady of Fatima, in 1917, and the miracle of the sun.
The Great Harlot
And there came to me one of the seven angels, who had the seven vials, and spoke with me, saying: Come, I will show thee the condemnation of the great harlot, who sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication; and they who inhabit the earth, have been made drunk with the wine of her whoredom. And he took me away in spirit into the desert. And I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet colored beast, full of the names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was clothed round about with purple and scarlet, and gilt with gold, and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of the abomination and filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: A mystery; Babylon the great, the mother of fornications, and the abominations of the earth. And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And I wondered, when I had seen her, with great admiration (Apoc. 17:1-6).
In the Old Testament, the infidelity of the Jews to the Covenant of God was often portrayed under the figure of a harlot. The prophet Osee writes:
The beginning of the Lord’s speaking to Osee: Go, take thee a wife of fornications, and have children of fornication, for the land by fornication shall depart from the Lord (1:2).
Saint Paul says that one of the signs of the end of the world will be a great apostasy from the Catholic Church: “For unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (II Thessalonians 2:3). I think the great harlot represents the great apostasy of Roman Catholics from the Church. I say “Roman” because the angel explains to John: “And here is understanding that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains upon which the woman sitteth.” This is commonly interpreted by the Fathers to mean the city of Rome with its seven hills. The beast upon which the woman is sitting is, of course, Antichrist.
The great Scripture scholar, Cornelius a Lapide, favors this interpretation, but insists on a careful distinction between Catholics and the Church. (See his Commentary on Holy Scripture , Book 21, On the Apocalypse, page 309.) In Lapide’s day, Lutheran “historians” brought out The Centuries , supposedly a history of the Church, in Magdeburg, which purported to show that, beginning with Pope Saint Gregory VII, the great Hildebrand, the Papacy was Antichrist and the Catholic Church, the great harlot. It was Martin Luther who first revealed this “great truth.” Indeed, individual Catholics can apostacize, but the Church and the Papacy, never! “Behold I am with you all days, even till the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
The nominal Catholics of today would also be among the first to accept Antichrist’s claim that he is Our Lord come for the second time, because he will not censure their lax life styles. But once they have submitted to him, he will turn on them: “And the ten horns which thou sawest in the beast: these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her with fire” (Apoc. 17:16). Most of the Fathers understand by this passage that Antichrist will destroy the city of Rome.
In his City of God , Saint Augustine says that Babylon is always with us, the City of Man, the world, in opposition to the City of God, the Church. Certainly the capital of the world at the moment is New York City. When we were on bookselling trips, six brothers to a car, and crossed over the George Washington Bridge, we could see the magnificent skyline of New York City. It got to be a regular ritual — one of the brothers, Brother Dominic Maria, would read chapter 18 of the Apocalypse with great gusto. Translating at sight from the original Greek and gesticulating toward the City, he would shout above the roar of the traffic: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen . . . ” And when he got to the catalogue of her merchandise, he would pause dramatically, “. . . and the souls of men.” It was an eerie experience, watching the skyline and listening to the reading, and never failed to send chills up and down my spine.
The False Prophet
And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns, like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. And he executed all the power of the former beast in his sight; and he caused the earth, and them that dwell therein, to adore the first beast, whose wound to death was healed. And he did great signs, so that he made also fire to come down from heaven unto the earth in the sight of men. And he seduced them that dwell on the earth, for the signs, which were given him to do in the sight of the beast, saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make the image of the beast, which had the wound by the sword, and lived. And it was given him to give life to the image of the beast, and that the image of the beast should speak; and should cause, that whosoever will not adore the image of the beast, should be slain (Apoc. 13:11-15).
In his work cited above, Cornelius a Lapide relates that Saint Ambrose, Tertullian and others say that, just as Our Lord had His precursor, Saint John the Baptist, who pointed to Him and told the people that this was the Messias, “Behold the Lamb of God . . .”, so also will Antichrist have his false prophet who will make the people worship him. He also says the phrase, “like a lamb,” indicates that he will be an apostate Catholic, probably a priest or bishop. So, as Our Lord’s precursor was a priest of the order of Levi, so Antichrist’s precursor will be a priest of the order of Melchisedech.
In his Lord of the World , Monsignor Benson, as always, has a fascinating interpretation of this sign:
‘Well, Mr. Brand, the society I represent consists entirely of men who were once Catholic priests. We number about two hundred in London. I will leave a pamphlet with you if I may, stating our objects, our constitution, and so on. It seemed to us that here was a matter in which our past experience might be of service to the government. Catholic ceremonies, as you know, are very intricate, and some of us have studied them very deeply in the old days. We used to say that Masters of Ceremonies were born, not made, and we have a fair number of those amongst us. But indeed every priest is something of a ceremonialist.’. . .
‘Yes, Mr. Francis?’
‘I am sure the government realizes the immense importance of all going smoothly. If Divine Service was at all grotesque or disorderly, it would largely defeat its own object. So, I have been deputed to see you, Mr. Brand, and to suggest to you that here is a body of men — reckon it as at least twenty-five -who have had special experience in this kind of thing, and are perfectly ready to put themselves at the disposal of the Government.’. . .
‘You are all Masons, of course?’ he said.
‘Why of course, Mr. Brand.’
In the service we saw earlier for the Feast of Maternity, Mr. Francis was the Master of Ceremonies, assisted by several ceremoniarii from his society.
The Continual Sacrifice
And from the time when the continual sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination unto desolation shall be set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred ninety days (Daniel 12:11).
The ” thousand two hundred ninety days” is another doublet for three and a half years, the reign of Antichrist. Most of the Fathers understand the “continual sacrifice” to mean the sacrifice of the Mass. Saint Hippolytus writes:
And the churches, too, will wail with a mighty lamentation, because neither ‘oblation nor incense’ is attended to, nor a service acceptable to God; but the sanctuaries of the churches will become like a garden-watcher’s hut, and the holy Body and Blood of Christ will not be shown in those days. The public service of God shall be extinguished, psalmody shall cease, the reading of the Scriptures shall not be heard; but for men there shall be darkness, and lamentation on lamentation, and woe on woe (Saint Hippolytus, Op. cit., pp. 250, 251).
This prophecy was partially fulfilled by the Protestant Reformers who changed the Sacrifice of the Mass into a communion service, and the liberal Modernist Establishment seems intent on doing the same thing again today.
Lapide says that, though the public celebration of the Mass will cease, it will continue to be said in the mountains and caves, as in the catacombs of old. He cites Psalm XXII, 5 in confirmation of this: “Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me.” Saint Paul says in II Thessalonians 2:6: “And now you know what withholdeth, that he may be revealed in his time.” There is something restraining Satan, and that something has to be the Blessed Sacrament. Once the continual sacrifice is taken away, Satan will be unleashed in all his fury.
Father Feeney used to tell a story about a group of Jesuits in the common room in one of their houses. They were discussing why there were not as many obvious cases of diabolical possession today, as there were in the time of Our Lord. Father Feeney suggested that it was the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in almost every city and town in the country, that was restraining Satan. As if in confirmation, another Jesuit, who had been on the missions in a remote part of Africa, entered the room and related how one day, when he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament, a witch doctor rose up in the air in front of him, frothing at the mouth.
But that the Mass will not fail completely in those days, seems to be indicated even in the Apocalypse itself: “And there was given to me a reed like unto a rod: and it was said to me: Arise and measure the temple of God, and the altar and them that adore therein. But the court which is without, cast out and measure it not: because it is given unto the Gentiles, and the holy city they shall tread under foot two and forty months” (11: 1, 2). The public sacrifice will disappear — the outer court — but the Mass will continue to be said in secret in the inner courts.
The reign of Antichrist will end in a battle called Armagedon. “And he shall gather them together into a place, which in Hebrew is called Armagedon” (Apoc. 16: 16). Armagedon, which means the Mount of Megido, is in Galilee not far from Nazareth. It has been the scene of many decisive battles both in biblical and secular history. Hal Lindsey wrote a follow-up book to The Late Great Planet Earth entitled, The Eighties: Countdown to Armagedon , in which he reiterated his theme that Armagedon, or World War III, would take place in the eighties, and most of the human race would perish in a nuclear holocaust, except for the Evangelicals who had been rapt up into the air just before it began, and a remnant of Jews who would be converted. On pages 163 and 164, Lindsay writes:
According to Zechariah, ‘All nations will be gathered against Jerusalem to battle.” The Jews who live in the area will be on the verge of annihilation when God gives them supernatural strength to fight. Then the Lord will go forth to fight for them and save them.
Jesus’ feet will first touch the earth on the Mount of Olives. The mountain will split in two with a great earthquake the instant that Jesus’ foot touches it. The giant crevice which results will run east and west through the center of the mountain . . . (Zechariah 14). . .
Zechariah predicts a strange thing with regard to the ensuing split in the earth. The believing Jewish remnant in Jerusalem will rush into the crack instead of doing the natural thing of running from it. They will know this prophecy and realize that this great cavern has opened up for the Lord to protect them from the terrible devastation that He is about to pour out upon the godless armies all around. It will be used as a type of bomb shelter.
The nature of the forces which the Lord will unleash on that day against the armies gathered in the Middle East is described in Zechariah 14:12; ‘And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth’ (KJV).
A frightening picture, isn’t it? Has it ever occurred to you that this is exactly what happens to those who are in a thermonuclear blast? It appears that this will be the case at the return of Christ.
To me, this kind of juvenile imagining just trivializes Armagedon. World War III and a nuclear holocaust might well come — and we have to keep praying to Our Lady that it will not — but I doubt that this will be Armagedon. I think Armagedon will be a purely spiritual battle between Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and His archenemies, Antichrist and Satan. This opinion is shared by Monsignor Benson in his Lord of the World .
In his scenario, the last Pope is in hiding at Nazareth and the Church has been reduced to its primitive beginnings with just twelve bishops and a remnant of the faithful. But what it has lost in quantity, it has gained in quality, for it has recovered its original fervor. A new religious order of men and women, directly under the Holy Father, and with a fourth vow to accept martyrdom if offered — very much like Saint Louis Marie de Montfort’s Apostles of the Latter Times — has gone through the whole world preaching the Faith and suffering imprisonment and death. One of the twelve bishops repeats the treachery of Judas and informs Felsenberg of the location of the Holy Father.
Benson is writing in 1907, but he describes a flying machine with flapping wings which he calls a “volor” — a much better word than airplane. The Monsignor’s Armagedon is an interpretation of the cryptic phrase in Our Lord’s eschatological discourse: “They answering say to him. Where, Lord? Who said to them: Wheresoever the body shall be, thither will the eagles also be gathered together” (Luke 17:36,37).
Antichrist orders each of the nations in his Empire to send a volor to accompany him to the Holy Land. He will personally dispatch the Pope and the last remnant of Catholics. The Holy Father, knowing the coming of Antichrist, goes out to meet him, carrying Our Lord in a monstrance, and followed by the remaining bishops and the little flock of the faithful. Singing, they begin to process from Nazareth, down the plain of Esdraelon, toward the Mount of Megido:
Still singing, the priest saw the veil laid as by a phantom upon the Pontiff’s shoulders; there was a movement, a surge of figures — shadows only in the midst of substance.
. . . Uni Trinoque Domino . . .
— and the Pope stood erect, Himself a pallor in the heart of light, with spectral folds of silk dripping from His shoulders, His hands swathed in them, and His down-bent head hidden by the silver-rayed monstrance and that which it bore . . .
. . . Qui vitam sine termino nobis
donet in patria . . .
. . . They were moving now, and the world of life swung with them; of so much was he aware. He was out in the passage, among the white, frenzied faces that with bared teeth stared up at that sight, silenced at last by the thunder of Pange Lingua , and the radiance of those who passed out to eternal life . . . At the corner he turned for an instant to see the six pale flames move along a dozen yards behind, as spear-heads about a King, and in the midst the silver and the White Heart of God. . . Then he was out, and the battle lay in array . . .
He saw, too, poised as motes in light, that ring of strange fish — creatures, white as milk, except where the angry glory turned their backs to flame, white-winged like floating moths, from the tiny shape far to the south to the monster at hand scarcely five hundred yards away; and even as he looked, singing as he looked, he understood that the circle was nearer, and perceived that these as yet knew nothing . . .
Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem effecit . . .
. . . They were nearer still, until now even at his feet there slid along the ground the shadow of a monstrous bird, pale and undefined, as between the wan sun and himself moved out the vast shape that a moment ago hung above the Hill . . . Then it backed across and waited . . .
Et si sensus deficit
Ad formandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit . . .
. . . He had halted and turned, going in the midst of his fellows, hearing, he thought, the thrill of harping and the throb of heavenly drums; and across the space, moved now the six flames, steady as if cut out of steel in that stupendous poise of heaven and earth; and in their center the silver-rayed glory of the Whiteness of God made Man . . .
Another Catholic author, Myles Connolly, in his likewise fictional but delightful book, Mr. Blue , also interprets Armagedon in terms of “Wheresoever the body shall be, thither shall the eagles also be gathered together.” Mr. Blue is proposing to Connolly a scenario for a projected movie:
“‘On the top of that black tower of the devil in the kingdom of Antichrist,’ said Blue,
‘after all those centuries of extermination, there stood a priest in amice and alb, maniple, chasuble, girdle and stole, heir in a noble line of Christ’s servants, clad in their symbols of chastity, charity, honor and faith. The figure of Christ’s cross lay on his back. The annointment of Christ was on his soul. Before him was his altar, his case topped with the altar stone and missal and chalice. On it lay the corporal with the wafer he had made, from the wheat he had grown. By it stood two cruets of water and wine. He waited until first there was a streak of light across the east. Then he bowed down before his altar. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritui Sancti. Amen . The Mass had begun. . .
‘It was magnificent,’ exclaimed Blue, as if he were telling of something he saw. ‘And the while he is making the sign of the cross over the wafer of bread, the powers of the Anti-Christ are gathering. He has been seen.
The Master of the IGW [International Government of the World] has summoned the marshall of his soldiers. ‘Stop the Mass immediately!’ he commands.
The marshall repeats that planes are speeding to the tower. ‘The top is too small for a landing. It is a difficult shot . . . ‘ he is is explaining.
‘The Master is furious. ‘Bomb the tower. Destroy it. Demolish it. But stop the Mass! . . . ‘
I hope that, by cutting off Monsignor Benson and Myles Connolly in the middle of their Armageddons, I am encouraging anyone who has not yet read The Lord of the World or Mr. Blue , to do so, by all means.
It is clear from Apocalypse 12 — “the woman clothed with the sun” — that Our Lady has some large role to play at the end of time. In his True Devotion to Mary , Saint Louis Marie de Montfort writes: “It was through Mary that the salvation of the world was begun, and it is through Mary that it will be consummated.” Our Lord in His eschatological discourse spoke of a sign that would immediately precede His Coming: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty” (Matthew 24:30).
Many of the Fathers thought, thinking no doubt of Constantine at the battle of the Milvian Bridge — In hoc signo vinces — that this sign would be the sign of the cross. But the Apocalypse seems to indicate that this sign will be Our Lady: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
Our Lady was the test of all angels at the beginning. She will be the test of all men at the end.