These words concerning the identity of the AntiChrist are taken from Mr. Hodge’s Systematic Theology (volume 3):
Antichrist, according to the Apostle, was to oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or is worshipped; “so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” This is true of no worldly power. It was not true of Antiochus Epiphanes, who is regarded as the type whence the prophetic portrait of Antichrist was drawn. It was not true of any of the Roman emperors. Some of them allowed themselves to be enrolled among the thousand gods of the Pantheon; but this falls very far short of the description here given. It is, however, all true of the papacy, and it is true of no other power which has yet appeared upon earth. Paul does not concern himself with theories, but with facts. It is not that the popes openly profess to be superior to God; or, that in theory they claim to be more than men. It is the practical operation of the system which he describes. The actual facts are first, that the popes claim the honour that is due to God alone; secondly, that they assume the powers which are his exclusive prerogatives; and thirdly, that they supersede the authority of God, putting their own in its place. It is thus they exalt themselves above God.
They assume the honour which belongs to God not merely by claiming to be the vicars of Christ on earth, and by allowing themselves to be addressed as Lord and God, but by exacting the submission of the reason, the conscience, and the life, to their authority. This is the highest tribute which a creature can render the Creator; and this the popes claim to be their due from all mankind. They claim divine prerogatives as infallible teachers on all questions of faith and practice, and as having the power to forgive sin. And they exalt their authority above that of God by practically setting aside his word, and substituting their decrees and what they put forth as the teachings of the Church. It is a simple and undeniable fact that in all countries under the effective dominion of the pope, the Scriptures are inaccessible to the people, and the faith of the masses reposes not on what the Bible teaches, but on what the Church declares to be true.
Even such a writer as John Henry Newman, in an essay written before his formal adhesion to the Church of Rome, uses such language as the following: The question is, “Has Christ, or has He not, appointed a body representative of Him in earth during his absence?” This question he answers in the affirmative, and says, “Not even the proof of our Lord’s divinity is plainer than that of the Church’s commission. Not even the promises to David or to Solomon more evidently belong to Christ, than those to Israel, or Jerusalem, or Sion, belong to the Church. Not even Daniel’s prophecies are more exact to the letter, than those which invest the Church with powers which Protestants consider Babylonish. Nay, holy Daniel himself is in no small measure employed on this very subject. He it is who announces a fifth kingdom, like ‘a stone cut out without hands,’ which ‘broke in pieces and consumed’ all former kingdoms, but was itself to ‘stand forever’ and to become ‘a great mountain,’ and ‘to fill the whole earth.’ He it is also who prophesies that ‘the Saints of the most High shall take the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.’ He ‘saw in the night visions and behold one like to the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and there was given Him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him.’ Such too is Isaiah’s prophecy, ‘Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and He shall judge among the nations and rebuke many people.’ Now Christ Himself was to depart from the earth. He could not then in his own person be intended in these great prophecies; if He acted it must be by delegacy.” According to the Romanists, therefore, these prophecies, relating to Christ and his kingdom, refer to the papacy. It is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which is to break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms; which is to stand forever; which is to fill the whole earth, to which is given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve. If this be not to put itself in the place of God, it is hard to see how the prophecies concerning Antichrist can ever be fulfilled.
No more conclusive argument to prove that the papacy is Antichrist, could be constructed, than that furnished by Dr. Newman, himself a Romanist. According to him the prophecies respecting the glory, the exaltation, the power, and the universal dominion of Christ, have their fulfilment in the popes. But who is Antichrist, but the man that puts himself in the place of Christ; claiming the honour and the power which belong to God manifest in the flesh, for himself? Whoever does this is Antichrist, in the highest form in which he can appear.
Another argument to prove that the Antichrist described by the Apostle is an ecclesiastical power is that his appearance is the consequence of a great apostasy. That the apostasy spoken of is a defection from the truth is plain from the Scriptural usage of the term (Acts xxi. 21), and from the connection in which it here occurs. When God brought the heathen upon the people as conquerors, in punishment of their idolatry, their sufferings were a judicial consequence of their apostasy, but it cannot be said that the power of Chaldean or Egyptian oppressors was the fruit of their defection from the truth. In this case, however, Antichrist is represented as the ultimate development of the predicted apostasy. If a simple minister should claim to be a priest, and then one priest assume dominion over many priests, and then one prelate over other prelates, and then one over all, and then that one claim to be the ruler of the whole world as vicar of Christ, clothed with his authority, so that the prophecy that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve the Son of Man, is fulfilled in him, then indeed we should have a regular development, from the first step to the. last. Bishop Ellicott, though believing Antichrist to be “one single personal being, as truly man as He whom he impiously opposes,” and that he is to be hereafter revealed, still admits that Antichrist is to be “the concluding and most appalling phenomenon” of the great apostasy. But if so, he must be an ecclesiastical, and not a worldly power.
Again the Apostle says that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” That is, the principles and spirit had already begun to manifest themselves in the Church, which were to culminate in the revelation of the Man of Sin. How could this be said of a person who was to be a worldly prince, appearing outside of the Church, separated, not only chronologically by ages from the apostolic age, but also logically, from all the causes then in operation. If Antichrist is to be a single person, concentrating in himself all worldly power as a universal monarch, to appear shortly before the end of the world, as is assumed by so many expounders of prophecy, it is hard to see how he was to be the product of the leaven already working in the times of the Apostles.
If however, as Protestants have so generally believed, the papacy is the Antichrist which the Apostle had in his prophetic eye, then this passage is perfectly intelligible. The two elements of which the papacy is the development are the desire of preeminence or lust of power, and the idea of a priesthood, that is, that Christian ministers are mediators whose intervention is necessary to secure access to God, and that they are authorized to make atonement for sin; to which was added the claim to grant absolution. Both these elements were at work in the apostolic age. The papacy is the product of the transfer of Jewish and Pagan ideas to the Christian system. The Jews had a high priest, and all the ministers of the sanctuary were sacrificing priests. The Romans had a “Pontifex Maximus” and the ministers of religion among them were priests. Nothing was more natural and nothing is plainer as a historical fact than that the assumption of a priestly character and functions by the Christian ministry, was one of the earliest corruptions of the Church. And nothing is plainer than that to this assumption the power of the papacy is in a large measure to be attributed. And as to the desire of preeminence, we know that there was, even among the twelve, a contention who should be the greatest. The Apostle John (3 Epistle 9) speaks of Diotrephes, “who loveth to have the preeminence;” and in all the Epistles there is evidence of the struggle for ascendancy on the part of unworthy ministers and teachers. The leaven of iniquity, therefore, was at work in the apostolic age, which concentrated by degrees into the portentous system of the papacy.
According to this view, the difficult passage in [2nd Thessalonians chapter 2] verses 6 and 7 admits of an easy interpretation. The Apostle there says: “Now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” There was, therefore, at that time an obstacle which prevented the development of the Man of Sin, and would continue to present it, as long as it remained as it then was. It is to be noticed that Paul says, “Now ye know what withholdeth.” How could the Thessalonians know to what he referred? only from the Apostle’s instructions, or from the nature of the case. The fact however is that they did know, and, therefore, it is probable that knowledge was communicated to others, and was not likely to be soon forgotten. This consideration gives the more weight to the almost unanimous judgment of the early fathers that the obstacle to the development of Antichrist was the Roman empire. While that continued in its vigour it was impossible that an ecclesiastic should become the virtual sovereign of the world. It is a historical fact that the conflict between the Emperors and the Popes for the ascendancy, was continued for ages, and that as the power of the former decreased that of the latter increased.
On the assumption that the Antichrist of which Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, is a powerful worldly monarch hereafter to appear, these verses, the 6th and 7th, present the greatest difficulty. The causes which are to bring such a monarch into the possession of his power were not then in operation; there was then no obstacle to his manifestation so obvious as to be generally known to Christians, and the removal of which was to be followed at once by his revelation. Even on the assumption that the obstacle of which the Apostle speaks, was not the Roman empire, but rather the regard to law and order deeply fixed in the public mind, which stood in the way of the revelation of the Man of Sin, this difficulty is scarcely lessened. How could the Thessalonians have known that? How foreign to their minds must have been the thought that a regard for law must be taken out of the way before the lawless one could appear. It seems plain that the early fathers were right in their interpretation of the Apostle’s language; and that he meant to say that the appearance of ecclesiastical claimants to universal dominion, was not possible until the Roman empire was effectually broken.
According to Paul’s account, Antichrist was to arise in the Church. He was to put forth the most exorbitant claims; exalt himself above all human authority; assume to himself the prerogatives of God, demanding a submission due only to God, and virtually setting aside the authority of God, and substituting his own in its place. These assumptions were to be sustained by all manner of unrighteous deceits, by signs, and by lying wonders. This portrait suits the papacy so exactly, that Protestants at least have rarely doubted that it is the Antichrist which the Apostle intended to describe.
Dr. John Henry Newman says, that if Protestants insist on making the Church of Rome Antichrist, they thereby make over all Roman Catholics, past and present, “to utter and hopeless perdition.” This does not follow. The Church of Rome is to be viewed under different aspects; as the papacy, an external organized hierarchy, with the pope, with all his arrogant claims, at its head; and also as a body of men professing certain religious doctrines. Much may be said of it in the one aspect, which is not true of it in the other. Much may be said of Russia as an empire that cannot be said of all Russians. At one time the first Napoleon was regarded by many as Antichrist; that did not involve the belief that all Frenchmen who acknowledged him as emperor, or all soldiers who followed him as their leader, were the sons of perdition. That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we? It is best to be found on the side of Christ, let what will happen. It is perfectly consistent, then, for a man to denounce the papacy as the man of sin, and yet rejoice in believing, and in openly acknowledging, that there are, and ever have been, many Romanists who are the true children of God.
Admitting that the Apostle’s predictions refer to the Roman pontiffs, it does not follow that the papacy is the only antichrist. St. John says there are many antichrists. Our Lord says many shall come in his name, claiming in one form or another his authority, and endeavouring to take his place by dethroning him. The Apostle John tells us this “is the last time” (1 John ii. 18) in which many antichrists are to appear. This “last time” extends from the first to the second advent of Christ. This long period lay as one scene before the minds of the prophets. And they tell what was given them to see, not as though they were writing a history, and unfolding events in their historical order, but as describing the figures which they saw, as it were, represented on the same canvass. As Isaiah describes the redemption from Babylon and the redemption by the Messiah as though they were contemporary events, so Joel, in almost the same sentence, connects the effusion of the spirit which attended the first advent of Christ with the great elemental changes which are to attend his second coming. How long the period between the first and second advents of the Son of God is to be protracted is unrevealed. It has already lasted nearly two thousand years, and, for what we know, may last two thousand more. As this long period, crowded with great events, was presented as a whole to the minds of the prophets, it is not surprising that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one should fix on one prominent feature in the scene, and others upon another. Under the divine guidance granted to these holy seers, there could be no error and no contradiction, but there could hardly fail to be great variety. It would not, therefore, invalidate the account given of Paul’s description of Antichrist, if it should be found to differ in some respects from the antichrists of Daniel and of the Apocalypse.
TO BE CONTINUED