I am come in the name of My Father, and you receive Me not; if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. (John 5:43)
In these words, addressed by our Blessed Lord to the Jews of Jerusalem, we are taught by some of the Fathers that He meant to foretell the future reception of Antichrist by that people which had rejected Himself. The other who is to come, not in the name of the Father, not in the name of any God but himself —" in his own name "—is the great enemy, the Man of Sin, the child of perdition, of whom St. Paul speaks in his Epistles. It is thought by Catholic and ancient writers that he will be Jewish by origin; at all events it seems probable that he will connect himself with the Jews and be received by them for a time before their final conversion, that he will build his false religion in some measure on Judaism, and that he will for a short time reign at Jerusalem, and make himself an object of worship at the Temple.
However this may be—for here we are touching on some details of the prophecies as to which we have no absolutely certain information to guide us we cannot but recognize in this sad prediction of our Lord an allusion to a general law which constantly operates in the providential course of human events. Our Lord is characterized in the Gospels as coming to His own, and not being received by them. You know how often He speaks of Himself and His Father as inviting, calling, beseeching people to come to the banquet or the kingdom which is prepared for them. Men reject God, and turn away from His offers and invitation with disdain. "I pray thee hold me excused," is their most courteous reply; at other times they turn upon His servants and messengers, beat them, handle them roughly, and slay them. And then comes in this law of retribution which is so observable in the providential government of the world. Those who refuse God are not able to refuse His and their own enemy. If they reject God's light service and loving invitation, they bring upon themselves the yoke of a hard master, and the burden of a hungry slavery instead. The prodigal son had to become a servant and a swineherd in a far country because he could not bear his happy dependence on his father in his own home. St. Paul tells us that the heathen were punished for their ingratitude to God by being allowed to fall into idolatry and degrade their moral nature in the hideous and nameless filthiness of paganism. We see the same law obtaining in the case of nations or persons, who emancipate themselves from the control of conscience to become the slaves of sin, who cast off the happy constraints of the Catholic faith to fall into endless delusions and fantastical forms of heretical error, or who cast aside: the bond of Catholic unity because they think the rule of Christ's Vicar too severe, only to find themselves bound hand and foot, gagged, in chains and in darkness, the prisoners of the civil power, whose aid they have invoked to free them from Rome. But of all instances of the working of this law, none will be more striking and more wonderful than that of which our Saviour here speaks; when those who have rejected Him, the blessed, the merciful, the gentle and humble, the very incarnation of the sweetness and tenderness of God's ineffable love, shall give themselves up body and soul into the power of the Antichrist, to be the willing slaves and eager worshipers of one who will be the most detestably diabolical of all those servants of Satan that have ever been let loose on the world to punish it for its neglect of God.
I. The prophecies in Holy Scripture which, with more or less of certainty, may be referred to the subject of the great enemy of God, the Man of Sin, are very numerous, and widely scattered over the several parts of the sacred volume. We may say that his figure is to be found at the source of the sacred stream of divine prediction, where the enmities placed by God between the woman and her seed on the one hand, and the serpent and his seed on the other, are spoken of, and where it is said of the serpent, Tu insidiaberis calcaneo ejus—"Thou shall lie in wait against her heel." (Gen iii, 15) I say, if we compare this prophecy with part of the Apocalyptic vision of St. John, we seem to see in it a distinct forecasting of the future Antichrist (Apoc.xii). Then again, we may observe that in a passage in which the Prophet Ezechiel seems to speak of Antichrist, he uses words which appear to show that this same Antichrist was a familiar subject to the Prophets before him. "Thou then art he," he says, "of whom I have spoken in the days of old by My servants the Prophets of Israel, who prophesied in the days of those times that I would bring thee upon them." (Ezech xxxviii, 13) Then again, we find him filling a large space in the prophecies of Daniel, (Dan. vii. 8, 20; xi. xii.) he is to be found in our Lord's words concerning the latter days, he is conspicuous in the passage of St. Paul which I quoted to you last Sunday, and we seem to feel his presence when St. Peter, St. Jude, and St. John, in their Epistles, (St. Peter, 2 Epist. iii. ; St. Jude, 4—18; St. John, 1 Epist. ii.) dwell on the evil times that were to come at the end of the world. Lastly, as so much of Daniel's prophecy relates to him, so also do large portions of the Apocalypse of the Beloved Disciple, (Apoc. xiii) who uses, concerning him and the events connected with him, language and imagery borrowed from the Prophets of the Old Testament, whose predictions he thus tacitly applies and fills up. Here then, my brethren, I have at once said enough to excuse myself from going in detail through the whole of this chain of prophecies, and, if the short time at our disposal did not preclude me from attempting it, I should still shrink from the task, because these predictions are in many parts, as we might naturally expect them to be, difficult and of doubtful interpretation. The great enemy of God of whom we are speaking is to have, and has already had, many types, many anticipations, many forerunners in history, just as the last great persecution of the Church has had so many preludes and fore shadowings. Many of these forerunners of Antichrist, many of these anticipations of his time and of his work in history, have been themselves the subjects of prophecy, and thus we may frequently be mistaking for predictions of him passages which refer more immediately to them. It is enough for us then, if we can put forward such general outlines of his history, and such prominent features of his character, as seem to stand out unmistakably from the sacred pages in which Daniel, St John, and St Paul appear evidently to speak of Antichrist, and thus to give ourselves clear and distinct ideas of the great evil which in course of time is to come upon the world.
In the first place, then, my brethren, it is hardly needful to say that Antichrist is to be one particular person, a child born of a woman. I say it is hardly needful to point out how utterly foolish, as well as how untrue, must such an interpretation be as that which would explain the prophecies concerning him as if they related to a power, a principle, a system, and, above all, to a chain and succession of persons reaching from the earliest ages of the Church to the latest, such as is that once common Protestant figment, that Antichrist in prophecy was a personification of the power of the Holy See, and of the Pontiffs who have succeeded St Peter. Antichrist could not come at the end of the world, and have a particular history, as we shall see, and a short and strongly- marked career, if he were merely the symbol of a line which began with Christianity itself and has endured ever since. Again, we are taught by Christian writers to put aside another wild notion, that Satan, or one of his evil angels, is to become actually incarnate, in imitation of the Incarnation of our Blessed Lord, and that thus the great enemy of the faith will be a demon in human form or nature. Satan is allowed much, but he will never be allowed so closely to imitate the blessed mystery of our Redemption, the greatest work of God, the union of two natures in one Person. No, Antichrist will be a man like other men, a child like other children; he will be borne in the womb, and suckled at the breasts of a woman, a daughter of Eve, and, moreover, he will have all the blessings granted to him, and all the prospects offered to him, which are the common heritage of the children of our race. A Guardian Angel will watch over him from the first, Saints will pray for him, he will have the door of the Church open to him as to others, the fatherly care of God will not neglect him in the ordinary course of providence, the tender and winning grace which is sufficient to enable him to do right and practice virtue, to imitate Christ and save his soul,
will not be denied to him. But we are told by the Fathers that he will at an early age fall under the corrupting power of the devil, and we see too much of the intense activity of the emissaries and tools of the Evil One to pollute and pervert Christian children even in their tenderest years, we are too much occupied in daily conflict, even in Christian countries, to maintain for the Church and for the - parent the right of Christian education for their offspring, to see anything incredible in what we are: taught will be the future of that unhappy child who is to grow into the enemy of God. He is to begin in obscurity, and to rise from a contemptible rank; but in a short time he will obtain a kingly station, and find himself in the possession of immense wealth and influence. God will have given him wonderful natural abilities, and his character will impose on and fascinate all who come within his reach. After a rapid series of victories of unexampled brilliancy, Antichrist will be for the time the master of the world.
The character of this miserable man is drawn out for us from the Scriptures by the Fathers and Christian writers,* (The reader will find the authorities here referred to in Suarez* De Incarnatione, p. 2, disp. 54, and in Robertas Lezioni Sacre sopra la -Fine del Mondo, 1. 4 and 5.) and there is but little in it that has not been frequently foreshadowed by those who have been his types and precursors. Pride, cruelty, ambition, artifice, are among its leading features; and to these we may safely add, as a matter of course, extreme voluptuousness and licentiousness of manners. (Dan. xi. 37.) What is more peculiar to him is that he will be the author of a religion of his own. A great part of this will consist in the denial of the truth, and in insolence against God; but he will not only formally teach impiety and infidelity, and "speak great words against the High One," and deny " the God of his fathers," (Ibid, vii. 8, 25 ; xi. 36, 37.) but he will specifically teach that he himself, and not our Lord Jesus Christ, is the true Messiah, and he will set himself forth in the restored Temple of Jerusalem as the object of worship, as the only true God. (ii Thess. ii, 4 ) Here there are some lines in the prophetic description which seem to us as yet obscure and confused, because our eyes are not yet keen enough to see the harmony of statements, different though not conflicting—for we hear something of his making a god of his own to be worshipped, (Dan xi, 38) and something also of a kind of restoration of paganism,(Apoc. xiii, 3, 14-15) of which he will be the author. It is certain, however, that he will have the command of all the power of Satan for the purpose of working false and illusive miracles in confirmation of his teaching, among which will be that he will call down fire from heaven, and have the power to make an image of his false god to speak. (Apoc. xiii, 13, 15)
Once more, Antichrist will be a great persecutor of the Church; a persecutor in cruelty, and in refinement of malice, and, as it would seem, in success, surpassing all those who have hitherto played that fatal part in the history of the Church. He will make war with the Saints (Ibid. 7.) and overcome —not indeed the Church, which is immortal and indefectible, but large numbers of her weaker children. (Ibid.) He is to reign in his seductions "over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation." We are specially told that he will do what has already been done by former persecutors, and notably in the countries in which we live—he will proscribe and forbid the celebration of the Adorable Sacrifice of the Mass, the great act of worship of the Church. (Dan xii, 11) Moreover, he will impose by law the worship of his own false religion; and in this, again, he has been anticipated by his forerunners. "Whosoever will not adore the image of the beast shall be slain (Apoc. xiii, 15) Again, we find foretold of him a species of cunning legal persecution, by no means incredible when we remember what the devices are which have at various times been adopted by the enemies of our holy religion, and what is the inquisitive nature of modern legislation. It appears that he will in some way exact an impious homage to himself, as a condition to be complied with by every one who would mix in the ordinary business of life, in traffic, commerce, and the like, so that no one is to buy or sell except they have his mark on their right hand or on their forehead. (Ibid. 16, 17.) All this points to a skillful warfare against souls, combined with, and a refinement upon, the old brutal cruelty of heathen or Protestant persecutors a warfare which no doubt will be represented as a necessary condition for the security of government, as a just right of the State. Lastly, we are told that God will send special messengers and ministers of His Word, beside the ordinary Hierarchy and ministers of the Church, to oppose this great enemy of the truth.
You may remember how it stands recorded in different parts of the Scripture that two great servants of God have as yet not paid the common debt of mortality, but are preserved in some wonderful way as has always been thought among Christians, to re-appear at the end of the world, and then to die for the truth. From the Patriarchs before the Flood Enoch was taken, and from the Prophets in the days of the Jewish dispensation Elias was taken; and these two, as the tradition of the Church tells us, are to come and preach and work miracles, and, as it would seem, to convert at least a great part of the Jewish nation to God before the last day.(Apoc. xi, 3-7) They
are to oppose Antichrist, and at last are to be slain by him; and then, in the moment of his triumph, at the height of his power, when all the earth seems silent before him, the enemy of God will be destroyed by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, as St. Paul tells the Thessalonians—"Whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming." (2 Thess. ii, 8)
And now, my brethren, I suppose, when we look forward to these coming events in the history of the human race, our first view of them represents them to us as something perfectly novel and unheard of before, and we are inclined to suppose that all the conditions of society and the whole character of the world's history must be radically changed before such things can take place. What ! is a man to make himself worshiped in the temple of God ? Is heathenism again to rise ? Is the human race, after all its moral and material achievements, to grovel once more in idolatry, falsehood, and superstition ? Now, I do not deny that there are many features in the character and in the proceedings of this great enemy of Jesus Christ which will be unexampled, at least in greatness and intensity, in all that may have gone before. We are told that Satan will then be "let loose;" (Apoc, xx, 7) he has always by nature an immense power to hurt and to deceive the world, but he is permitted by God to exercise this power just as far as God sees fit, and there is a greater or less degree in this permission at various times. At the end of the world, when he makes what will be his last effort, God will permit him a greater amount of power, for the punishment of mankind who have treated the Gospel so ungratefully. This is true. In the latter days the power of evil will be in this sense increased, and the malice of the Evil One will be intensified, because, as St. John says, he knows that "he hath but a short time." (Apoc xii, 12)
And yet we may go a great deal too far in allowing that there will be an altogether new state of things in the days of Antichrist. It is a pernicious delusion as to the ancient history of man, as it is recorded in Scripture, to suppose that the persons and the events, the principles and the motives, which come into prominence in the sacred pages,
were entirely different from those with which we are familiar. I say it is a mischievous delusion, because it leads us to feel as if we had nothing practically to do with the sacred history, and thus we are prevented from realizing that the same things may happen in our day as happened then, that God is just as active in the guidance of human affairs, and in the notice which He takes of human crimes, as He was of old. And so I say, rather, that the days of Antichrist are to be the natural issue and outcome and fruit and development of the days in which we live, and that the elements and principles which are to be at work then in their greatest force are at this moment working around us. As to Antichrist himself, he will be a man of his own day, the legitimate child and offspring of the generation to which he belongs, gathering up in his own person and character its chief features and essential notes. To us, as he is described in the pages of Scripture, he is the enemy of God, the Man of Sin, the child of perdition, the persecutor of the Saints, the worker of lying wonders, the slave of Satan, the author and propagator of a false religion, the tyrannical proscriber of every worship but his own. To us he is, as he will be in reality, a man of blood, a soul stained with the deepest sin, given up to corruption, fearfully degraded, full of falsehood, vanity, impurity, cruelty, a soul in which evil has been carried to its highest pitch, as little mixed as it is possible to be in this world with the faintest shade of good; excluding, as far as may be, not only virtue and moral excellence, but even anything that can attract sympathy or admiration.
But Antichrist will not wear this aspect to the men of his day. Nay, I may venture to say still more—that, were he to come now, he would not look like this. No, my brethren, the world and the Church are always at war, and on each side there are heroes, great men, men who express the ideas and attract the sympathy and devotion of the side which they represent At the head of the heroes of the Church is the lovely and noble beauty of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God; at the head of the world's heroes, their fitting and proper leader, the natural object of their devotion, will be the enemy of Jesus, the Antichrist Evil and sin in this world do that much of homage to conscience and to virtue, that they never proclaim themselves to be what they are, and always present themselves, as it were, under the colours of their adversaries. Every giant of wickedness here calls himself the advocate of right and justice, every monstrous deed of public and world-wide wrong is done under the name of some watchword of goodness or of truth. It is liberty, or freedom, or enlightenment, or progress, or fraternity, that is inscribed on every banner that marshals behind it the hosts of evil. Words like these will be in the mouths of those who form the herd of the flatterers of Antichrist, who are the executors of his behests and the preachers of his doctrine. Men will talk then, as they talk now, of a great deliverance from the bondage under which religion has so long kept down the intellect and restrained the free exercise of the instincts of human nature. We shall hear of the emancipation of thought, the banishment of superstition, the breaking to pieces of the old fetters, the removal of old lines of distinction, the exploding of old fables about God, and judgment, and eternal punishment; about a nature infected with sin, and under sentence of degradation, a nature in need, forsooth, of a saviour and a deliverer, in need, forsooth, of grace from God to enable it to do right, a nature whose nobility lay in its being subdued, and whose highest perfection consisted in self-sacrifice and mortification! Humanity, it will be said then, has been groaning for centuries under a despotism which has withered its brightest flowers and poisoned its most enchanting pleasures by the old foolish chimeras of sin and responsibility and judgment hereafter; and the man who has revealed the glorious truth of the independence of nature will be hailed as the greatest of benefactors, and take his place, as it will be said, at the very summit of the historical grandeurs and glories of our race.
These things his admirers will say of Antichrist, as men like them may have said the same things of other conspicuous instruments of Satan and enemies of the truth, as it is in Jesus Christ, in ages before him. But the great fascination by which he will win the homage and submission of the men of his day, will be not only that he will give them an easy creed and persuade them that conscience is a bugbear and that the indulgence of their lowest passions is a right or a duty, but also the great and rapid and unexampled success which will mark his course. It will be permitted him to rise suddenly, and to be almost in a moment the victorious master of the world ; and his brilliant abilities and irresistible march to the highest power will so dazzle the eyes of men that they will forget to examine the legitimacy of his claims or the soundness of his policy, the truth of his creed or the honesty and purity of his life. You know how often we hear it said that "nothing succeeds like success," how ready the men of this world are to idolize prosperous adventurers, men who have made their own way, men who have left their mark on their age, even for evil, men who have gained the object of their ambition even at the cost of honour and truthfulness. You know what a fascination genius of the lowest kind, and success by the most unprincipled means, exercise over the bulk of men, and how often we are startled by some instance which reveals to us how little the standard of greatness which exists in the minds of the majority is in accordance with the character of our Lord, nay, how eagerly they will hail direct antagonism to Him. You may have read, my brethren, in the history of the last century, how that miserable man whose name has become famous as the patriarch and apostle of modern infidelity, the man who began, or at all events carried to its height, that system of calumniating and scoffing and sneering at Christianity which has so many followers still—though his contemporaries knew him, as we also know him from his biographies, to have been eaten up by meanness, petty spite, vanity, jealousy, avarice, insatiable pride, ostentation, and love of applause, so that his character appears to us to have nothing in it that any one could heartily admire or love in any way—yet how, at the very close of his long drawn-out life, when the hand of death was already creeping upon him, he had himself transported once more to Paris, and how he there became the object of universal homage and, it may almost be said, of worship. Worship, for no other reason so much as that he had been a brilliant forerunner of Antichrist in his doctrine, in laughing at religion and encouraging men in infidelity ! And then all ranks of that gay and thoughtless society, dancing, as it were, at that moment, its last fling over the half-wakened fires of the volcano beneath its feet, which was so soon to burst forth and engulf the revelers in destruction—all ranks, I grieve to say, from the partner of the throne of the successor of St. Louis down to the lowest hangers-on of the light literature and the theatres of the time—came or sent in succession to the ante-chamber of that dying infidel as if to burn incense before him. (Sec Maynard's Voltaire, sa Vie et ses CEuvres> t ii, p. 590. Voltaire died in 1778) Ah! my brethren, have there not been triumphs in our day, and not far from us, which might remind us well enough of that last miserable triumph of Voltaire? triumphs, in which men of blood and crime and the most barefaced villainy, men who have hardly condescended to veil their rapine and violence under the cloak of some colourable pretext, have been made the heroes of a cultivated and refined society that calls itself Christian, while their chief claim on the homage of their worshipers has really been this, that they have been great enemies and injurers of the Church and of the Holy See ? What wonder then if we are led to think that Antichrist will be the idol of his day, when to the charm of being a great denier and assailant of the checks and restraints which God has placed upon the unbridled indulgence of natural appetites, he will add the fascination of success such as the world has never before seen, and when he will enforce his claims by the aid of lying wonders, and when—to add that last sad element of all—the men of his time, because they have resisted and hated the truth, will be handed over by the just judgment of God to a spirit of blindness and delusion, so as to believe a lie!
Yes, my brethren, the world is always ready for its Antichrist. Its principles, and motives, and manners of judging, its aims and desires and longings, are all such as will find themselves satisfied, encouraged, answered to, in him. On the other hand, there is this consolation for the children of the Church, for those who form their thoughts and minds, who regulate their judgments and their lives, on the pattern of Jesus Christ and of His Saints, that they have in their own hearts and consciences a light and an unction of the Holy Ghost which will enable them to withstand all the wiles and seductions of the Evil One, to see through all his false wonders and lying miracles, and to baffle his power, if it be so, even by death. Only, my brethren, let us not deceive ourselves by thinking that all this that we have been speaking of is a thing of the future, a matter of merely historical interest and excitement to ourselves. No, my brethren, whether the latter days fall now, or centuries hence, Antichrist, as we saw last Sunday, is in the world at present. We recognize the workings of Divine Providence in the events of our time, and we should think ourselves faithless if we did not see the finger of God both in what befalls the Church, and in what befalls ourselves. But we must recognize also the working of the enemies of God. There is another hand continually active all around us; and it behoves us very much not to mistake it or to ignore
it We need that holy simplicity of the Saints, which always saw Satan behind the forms of his instruments, and called by their right name the machinations of the Evil One. In the days of St Catharine of Sienna, there was a war against the Church at the head of which were many of the Church's own princes, and she, humble, meek, and charitable as she was, did not speak of these tools of evil as a party, or as representing an idea, or as advocating a policy or a mistaken principle, but in the plainest language she called them devils. Well, my brethren, the hand that is to guide Antichrist is always plotting against the Church and against society. Satan is always, generation after generation, preparing men to be his instruments in the final conflict, he is always undermining our holy faith, always blinding and misleading the world, ever and anon setting forth his chosen instruments and servants in the work of impiety, and teaching them to clothe and bear themselves in such guise as to attract the attention, the interest, the influence, the popularity, which will at last centre around Antichrist himself.
Let us then, dear brethren in Jesus Christ, take care, in the first place, never to bow down or do homage to the world's idols—to intellect, to power, to success, to wealth, to the achievements of dishonest policy, to the prosperous lying, the unblushing wickedness, the boastful injustice of our time. Let us stand on the old paths, and give honour where alone honour is due, to humility, and purity, and meekness, and self-sacrifice, and charity, and zeal for the glory of God. Let us shrine in our heart of hearts, as the measure of all good, the object and centre of all love, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who has come to us in the name of His Father. And in the second place, let us be like men looking forwards rather than backwards, men waiting for, and looking out for their Lord—not so much counting up what those before us have done and suffered for the cause of God, as if, forsooth, the days of persecution and conflict were gone, never to return; as if henceforth we were to lead quiet and unruffled lives, enjoying our truce with the world, making the most of our position in society, eating, and drinking, and marrying, and giving in marriage, as in the days of Noe—like men who have hung up their fathers' armour in their halls, and sit round the fire telling tales of their prowess, and yet know not and think not themselves how to lift a hand in the fight in which their fathers bled. No, my brethren; the Church of God is now preparing herself for her last persecution, and she is preparing herself by nothing so much as by waging vigorous warfare now in our own days against the evil influences of the world, and in repelling its assaults upon her outworks, such as marriage and education, as well as upon her doctrines and upon her unity. The last persecution may come in your days, or in the days of your children, or in the days of your children's children; but your children and your children's children will be what you are, what your example and your teaching make them. If you are soldiers, watchful, self-denying, eager to beat back and advance upon the enemies of your souls and of the Church—then, my brethren, you will have done a twofold good. You will have served the Church and God in your own day, and so have weakened the power of evil in all days, and you will have left behind you and handed on to your little ones the tradition of faithfulness, warfare, toil, and sacrifice for God. If you are soft, self-indulgent, worldly, indolent, careless of the dangers, and at peace with the evils, of our time, then, though Antichrist come not yet, you will have done a twofold evil which will descend in misery upon those who come after you. You will have weakened the cause of God in your own day, and so you will have made the future triumph of evil more easy and more complete; and you will have bequeathed to your children the traditions and the training which will but ill fit them to withstand in their own generation the wiles, the seductions, and the cruelties of the great enemy of Jesus Christ.
Source: Sermons by the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, Volume I, 1870