ARTICLE III-PROXIMATE PREPARATION
1. Origin of Antichrist
Relative to the origin of Antichrist, erroneous, probable, and truthful things have been said. We shall endeavor to sift the truth on the subject.
In the first place, it is not true that Antichrist will be the son of the devil, born of woman, as Jesus Christ was born of Mary by the operation of the Holy Ghost (St. August.); human generation, outside the laws of nature, is a work of the creative power and belongs to God alone. Nevertheless, theologians as Suarez and Bellarmine observe that the devil has power to produce illusions in this matter. Antichrist will not be the devil, born of a fantastic virgin, clothed in flesh and blood, as it was believed by St. Hipollytus of Antioch; nor will he be an incarnate demon, as Jesus was an incarnate God, according to Origen's opinion.
Some Christians of the primitive ages of the Church believed that Nero was Antichrist. (Sulpit lib. histor.). They were under the impression that this emperor did not die, or that if he did, he was to rise from the dead before the end of time to come and persecute the Church. St. Augustine regards this opinion as mere presumption. (Lib. 20, c. 19, City of God). St. John Damascus and some other Fathers are of opinion that Antichrist will be an illegitimate offspring. (Lib. iv, ch. 27, Orthodoxy of Faith). Holy Scripture says nothing of this, at least in an explicit manner, and tradition bearing on it is not unanimous enough to merit for it anything more than a probable certainty. It is also probable that he will be of the tribe of Dan. St. Irenaeus in book 5th on Heresies; St. Hippolytus of Antioch; St. Augustine in his book on the benediction of the Patriarchs (C. 7); St. Prosper, part iv of the Promises and Benedictions of the Fathers; Theodoret, question 109 in Genesis; St. Gregory, book 31 on Morals affirm it, founding the truth of this assertion on the three following passages of Holy Scripture: "Let Dan be a snake in the way, a serpent in the path, that biteth the horses heels that his rider may fall backwards." (Gen. 49:17). "The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan, all the land was moved at the sound of the neighing of his warriors; and they came and devoured the land and all that was in it; the city and its inhabitants." (Jer. 8:16).
Finally, we see in the 7 [th] chapter of the Apocalypse that all the tribes furnish their quota to the heavenly Jerusalem, except that of Dan, of whom there is nothing said on account of the hatred borne to AntiChrist. However, the Fathers cited above, in their explanations of these texts, seem to have paid no attention to tradition and only gave their personal opinion on the matter. And furthermore, these texts are susceptible of another interpretation. The words of Genesis may be understood of Sampson as well as of Antichrist. These of Jeremias, in their literal sense, refer to Nabuchodonosor. Finally, the tribe of Dan is not the only one that is omitted in the enumeration of the Apocalypse. That of Ephraim is also omitted, but some commentators say that it is not omitted, being substituted by that of Joseph. Hence this omission might have been made for a different motive than the one assigned by these Fathers. This opinion, being that of a great many holy Doctors, is not more certain, however, than the first and does not merit a higher degree of credence than a probable opinion. In any case, it would be very difficult to prove this origin since the Jewish genealogies have perished.
It is certain that Antichrist will be a man because the Scriptures call him in express terms the "man of sin," (2 Thes. 2) and leave us under this impression when they speak of him in direct terms. Finally, it is certain that he will be of the Jewish race. Tradition bears us out on this point. [Antichrist will be a Jew and see Antichrist will be a Jew]
Antichrist, according to St. Jerome and other Fathers, will be born in Babylon (Jerome in Dan. 11), which may be figuratively said of the society of the impious.
2. His Education
Like Our Lord, he will be brought up in obscurity; he will lead a hidden life until the time comes when he shall begin his public career. This assertion is founded on the words of Daniel (11:21), "And there shall stand up in his place one despised, and the kingly honor shall not be given him, and he shall come privately and shall obtain the kingdom by fraud."
According to tradition, he will be educated by magicians who will imbue his mind and heart from his very childhood with their doctrine and wicked principles; God neither depriving him of his liberty nor denying him sufficient grace, will suffer the devil to tempt him and take possession of him. St. Anthony does not hesitate to say (Part 4 and 13, c. 4. par. 3) that although he will not be deprived of his guardian angel, nevertheless, all the angel's efforts to do him good shall be paralysed by his obstinate persistency in evil.
By his own choice and under the tutorship of Satan's agents he will grow up in the knowledge and practice of evil until the time comes when he shall commence his public career. (Dan. 8:23).
3. His Character
St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that "his malice will surpass the combined wickedness of all the evil doers gone before him (Catechism 15) and that he will be like an ocean in which all human and diabolical wickedness shall meet." Some theologians, and among them Suarez in his Memorati, assert that he shall never do a good act, being the counterpart of Our Saviour, who never did an evil deed - that he shall be like the devil, buried in wickedness. (1 In. 5:18-19).
Among his predominant vices, his satanic pride shall be especially conspicuous. Like Lucifer, he shall even attack Almighty God, according to the prophet Daniel (11:36-37) and St. Paul (2 Thes. 2:4); he shall follow the lust of women. Finally, on account of his most cruel instincts, the Sacred Scriptures compare him to the most ferocious beasts (Apoc. 13 :2): "And the beast which I saw was like to a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion, and the dragon gave him his own strength and great power." At the same time he will adroitly conceal all his crimes and pass for the most virtuous of men, as stated by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Cat. 15), St. John Damascus (c. 27), St. Hippolytus (book on the end of time).
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was loaded with approbrium on the cross, though being the model par excellence of all virtues, as stated by Jean Jacques Rousseau. Antichrist on the contrary, worthy of all confusion and ingominy, will be loaded with honors. United with this consummate ability, he will possess a natural, vast, and powerful genius, an irresistable eloquence ("and there was given to him a mouth speaking great things." - Apoc. 13 :5), for according to St. Anselm in his Elucidations, his wisdom and eloquence will surpass all possible realization known or imagined; he will know by heart all the Sacred Scriptures and possess a perfect knowledge of all the arts. Still, all this gives but a very imperfect idea of the extraordinary resources he will possess to attain his end.
4. His Means of Action
To insure the success of his enterprise, he will employ means that naturally secure the service of men, such as imposture, recompence, violence and miracles.
By his deceitful craft he will detach the minds and hearts of all peoples from the religion of Jesus Christ. By his incomparable eloquence he will represent Jesus as an imposter; he will attack His doctrine and institutions, according to the teachings of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Cat. 15), Damascus (c. 27), Jerome (in his work on the prophet Daniel).
After having weakened the faith of Christ in the minds and hearts of many, he will proceed to show that the law of Moses still prevails; he will re-establish the Sabbath and all the legal observances; and he will invite all the Jews to re-establish their nationality, after which he will declare himself to be the true messiah; he will endeavor to prove the truth of his assertion from Scripture - he will declare his design of rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple and of bringing the whole world under his dominion. The carnal Jews, finding these projects in perfect harmony with their own prejudices, will easily acknowledge for the Messiah the one whom they desire. And after having at first despised and scorned him, they will subsequently receive and proclaim him king. (Dan. 11:21). According to St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Cat. 15), he will win the esteem and attachment of mankind by his urbane and unbounded kindness.
The wily imposter will join to the illusions of hypocrisy the bait of temporal goods, as there will be no end to his riches. "For he shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver, and all the precious things of Egypt." (Dan. 11:43). St. Anselm says in his Elucidations that the devils will show him all the money which is hid and all the mines of the precious metals, out of which they will have money minted for him. These immense riches, which he will have distributed among his followers, will soon bring countless numbers to rallyroundhis standard, and they will faithfully carry out his designs in all things. For all things obey money. (Ecclesiastes 10:19). Cupidity is the root of evil, or as the Apostle says: "For the desire of money is the desire of all evils, which some coveting have erred from the faith." (1 Tim. 6:10). Bribes even blind the wise and pervert the words of the just. (Exod. 23 :8).
In order to infallibly attain his end, he will employ such violence as will overcome all human resistance; and to use the words of Damascus (book 3, c. 24), by means of the above mentioned factors of his power and strategem, he will bring all men under his tyrannical sway.
IV. His Miracles: Their Nature
It is on the unquestionable authority of miracles that the truth of the Christian religion is established and believed by all those who are sincere seekers of the truth.
This impostor will make use of the same means to create objections against the Church of God. According to St. Paul, his event will be signalized by numerous signs and prodigies due to the operation of Satan; he will work all kinds of miracles, signs, and deceitful prodigies, whose "coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, in signs and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish." [2 Thes. 2:9-10). And we are told in the Apocalypse [13:13) that great will be the things which he will do to deceive mankind. "And he did great signs, so that he made also fire to come down from heaven unto the earth in the sight of men." The same is said of him by the evangelist when he speaks of false prophets and false Christs. [Mark 13:22). "For there will rise up false Christs and false prophets and they shall show signs and wonders to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect."
Holy Writ furnishes three examples of the miracles that will be wrought by Antichrist: "He shall cause fire to come down from heaven." (Apoc. 13:13). "He shall make the beast speak." (Apoc. 13:15). And finally, he will pass for being dead (Apoc. 13:3), and then he will, as it were, raise himself to life, thus securing the admiration and homage of all men. The holy Fathers are very explicit on this point and give many details on it. St. Clement, in his work entitled Third Book of Recognitions, a work on which we may rely as being authentic in spite of the rude attacksmade upon it, relates as coming from St. Peter himself that the accursed man will have power to perform miracles of beneficence like those of Our Saviour. St. Hippolytus, in his work on the consummation of time, does not hesitate to affirm wonderful things which he apparently held from apostolic tradition. He will heal lepers, make the lame to walk, cast out demons, raise the dead to life. He will know the most secret and hidden things. He will move mountains, walk on the waves of the sea, turn day into night, and vice versa. He will direct the course of the sun at will, and finally, appear as being the master of the elements.
He will therefore appear as having performed miracles similar to all those wrought by Jesus Christ, in order to eclipse His glory and purloin to his own advantage the honors due to the true Messiah. But St. Paul warns us that all those miracles, so numerous and striking, will be the work of deception. "Therefore God shall send them the apparition of error to believe lying." [2 Thes. 2:11). Those miracles will be deceptive in their origin, deceptive in their nature, deceptive in their form, deceptive in their object. Reason and faith assure us that God alone can perform genuine miracles. "Blessed be the Lord and God of Israel, who alone doth wonderful things." [Ps. 71:18). Hence we are sufficiently warned that those miracles which Antichrist would attribute to his own divinity are the work of Satan, the father of lies, who performs - and cannot perform any other than - false miracles.
The greater part of those prodigies will be optical illusions and diabolical charms. Men shall be deceived by appearances, hence the reason why the Scriptures say that he will work miracles before the eyes of man and not in the sight of God. (Apoc. 13 :13).
Some of them, it is true, will surpass all human power and will be materially prodigious. This, however, is not to be wondered at. In the hierarchy of beings, man is naturally inferior to the angels, even to the fallen angel, who has preserved his natural qualities. The devils are able to do things which are impossible to man, yet their deeds are miracles relatively and not absolutely, since it does not belong to the province of any created being to perform a miracle properly so called; this requires the intervention of divine power, which belongs to God alone. Consequently, of this latter order of miracles Antichrist will perform none, although some of his prodigies, such as raising the dead to life, which he will seem to do, must have all the appearance of true miracles.
5. His Relations with Satan
Satan will utilize the immense advantage of this wicked man to attain his ends. Satan has been chained by Jesus Christ for one thousand years (Apoc. 20:2), which means that he must remaIn in the bottom of the abyss until the end of the world, for these thousand years signify the duration of the Church. Others, however, give a more literal interpretation to this chaining of Satan. They are of the opinion that the social dominion of the Church is fixed at a thousand years, commencing with Charlemagne and finishing with the revolutionary era. According to this hypothesis, Satan is already unchained, preparing the way for Antichrist, through whom he will rule the world. This opinion is most probable. According to the other opinion, the power of the demon and the wicked is limited. They cannot do all the evil that they wish to do. lt is written that the wicked move in a circuitous manner. The wicked walk round about. (Ps. 11:9 [12:8]). After having gone through their evolutions they return again to their point of departure and repeat the ordeal through which they have already passed. This is required by Divine Providence in favour of our weakness. When we are apprised beforehand of the wiles of our enemy, we are better ableto evade him. But God has warned us that at the end of the world the angel of darkness shall be let loose for awhile. (Apoc. 20). During this time he will have full liberty to attack the Church and use every artifice possible for its destruction, according to Damascus. (Book 4, c. 27). Antichrist will be his most docile agent, wonderfully adapted to seduce the people.
6. Justification of Divine Providence
By what visible signs can his deceptive or false miracles be discerned from those that are true and genuine? They shall be detected by one only sign, namely, the end for which they will be wrought; their object shall be to persuade the world to accept for truth a palpable lie. The motives of credibility of the Christian religion are so evident that Hughes of St. Victor might justly say: "Lord, if we are in error, You are the cause of it."
Either the Christian religion is true, or it is false; if it is not true, there is no God, as there can be no medium between truth and error. A God infinitely wise, just, and holy could not suffer the elite of the human race to be made the victims of an artifice so fabricated as to baffle all the powers of man to discover it. If we consult the pages of history, we will find them replete with miraculous facts which prove the divinity of Christianity, facts so evident that their denial would necessarily incur an absolute historical scepticism. If we appeal to science, it testifies in favor of revelation; metaphysics discloses an admirable fitness in the dogmas; logic shows a wonderful chain of connection in the mysteries; ethics shows the perfect harmony that exists between the noble aspirations of the human heart and the evangelical law; physical or natural science shows the constant existing agreement between the certain geological, physiological, ethnographic data and the facts of Scripture which relate to them. We must thence conclude with St. Paul, "But though we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that we have preached to you, let him be anathema." (Gal. 1:8).
Let him be anathema who with great power will come and deceive even the elect and place himself up for Christ - to be adored!
Whatever may be the influence that he will exercise over the world, it will be always easy to evade his snares, at least for such as preserve in their heart any vestige of divine faith. Are we not already warned of his coming by Our Divine Lord? Hence it will be our own fault if we are deceived by him. Divine Providence is not in fault since it tells and warns us beforehand of the nature and mode of our final trial and exposes to us also Its designs of justice and mercy over humanity. Antichrist will come, says St. Paul, full of allurements for those who wish to perish because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. Therefore, God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying, that all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity. (2 Thes. 2:10-11). The impious alone will fail to comprehend the divine action. (Dan 12:10) "Many shall be chosen and made white and shall be tried as by fire; and the wicked shall deal wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand, but the learned shall understand."