Benedict XVI: It Is The Time Of Antichrist
In November, I was visiting Bratislava, and had dinner with my friends Vladimir Palko (pictured above), a mathematician and retired statesman, and Jaroslav Daniška, editor of the conservative magazine Standard. Vlado was one of my sources for Live Not By Lies. We were talking about the ailing Pope Benedict XVI. Vlado mentioned that in 2015, he received a letter from Benedict XVI, as Pope Emeritus. Oh? Vlado, a member of the underground Catholic Church who went on to serve as Interior Minister in one of the country's post-Communist governments, had written a book called The Lions Are Coming: Why Europe And America Are Heading for a New Tyranny, about the rising anti-Christian nature of Western life and politics. The book had been translated into German (the hyperlink under the title is to that edition), and a copy of it found its way to Benedict from an Austrian bishop.
Vlado was grave as he spoke of the letter. It was very short, he said, and appreciative of the book. And at the end, the Pope Emeritus spoke of the Antichrist. Vlado did not want to say precisely what Benedict had said. He told us that he would not release the letter until after Benedict died.
Last week, I met Jaroslav for dinner in Rome. We were both there for Benedict's funeral. I asked him if Vlado was preparing to release the letter. He said he wasn't sure, because Vlado was getting cold feet. Vlado is an old-school Catholic, and was afraid of being a stumbling block to the faith of others. I urged Jaro to encourage Vlado to say the truth, because it is important for the world to know how the holy pope who just us read the signs of the times.
Today Standard published a short interview that Jaro conducted with Vlado in which he revealed the contents of Benedict's letter. Here is an excerpt from the interview, which I've translated via Google into English:
When you reported the letter for the first time, you decided not to publish part of the text, noting that it was not the right time to do so. The reason was the sensitive content and concerns that the late Pope expressed about the state of the Catholic Church. Could you elaborate on what exactly it was?
Yes, it's like that. The letter is not long, it has twelve lines. In the second half of the letter there is a sentence, about three lines long, in which the Pope Emeritus makes some striking claims.
The sentence reads as follows: "We see how the power of the Antichrist is expanding, and we can only pray that the Lord will give us strong shepherds who will defend his church in this hour of need from the power of evil."
In German it reads like this: "Man sieht, wie die Macht des Antichrist sich ausbreitet, und kann nur beten, dass der Herr uns kraftvolle Hirten schenkt, die seine Kirche in dieser Stunde der Not gegen die Macht des Bösen verteidigen."
What did you think then? And what do you think about it today?
Concepts such as the expansion of the Antichrist's power, the church in its hour of need, and the need to defend the church from the power of evil are serious and weighty. All the more so because they were uttered by a person in whose expression throughout his life accuracy was combined with the appropriateness of the terms used. He delivered serious public messages even as Pope, but these formulations are several degrees more urgent. The situation of the world and the church troubled the Pope Emeritus very much. He was obviously suffering from it.
I think about it very often, but I do not dare to interpret or interpret his statements. I would consider that presumptuous at this point. I'm just a Christian former politician and I don't feel competent. As a politician, I adhered to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and did not back down in any fight. However, I rarely comment on the church and only on details. To express some fundamental judgments about its state in general requires both a person who is a better example of Christian virtues and a more theologically sophisticated one. It's a job for saints.
Benedict wrote about the Antichrist in his first book about Jesus of Nazareth. It was the part where he discussed the temptation of Christ by the devil in the desert, where "the devil appeared as a theologian", in Ratzinger's words. The Pope also recalled Solovyov's famous Legend of the Antichrist, which is a short fictional prose where the Antichrist received a doctorate from the University of Tübingen, the funny thing is that Ratzinger himself once taught there. The Antichrist appears here as a great humanist, he fights against hunger, he is the author of the book The Open Path to Well-Being and Peace in the World, Benedict uses this only as an illustration that even "interpretation of the Scriptures can become a tool of the Antichrist". As a theological scholar, he criticized certain behavior of scholars and theologians. And he reminded that the Antichrist does not have to look hideous, that he does not have to be recognized as evil, but he can appear acceptable, benevolent, as a humanist - who, however, goes against God. What is the figure of the Antichrist for you?
I note with a smile that politicians, even former ones, do not usually use this term. But when you insist, it could be someone with extraordinary influence who pretends to be more merciful than Christ.
You decided not to publish the letter and wait. Even now, after the death of Benedikt, you waited more days, why such caution?
It is just ordinary human caution and hesitancy. At that time, seven years ago, I wondered why he would write such unusual words to a person he did not even know. Now the question has returned. With the death of Benedict XVI, something is coming to an end and I myself want to conclude some things.
What did you take from that letter then, seven years ago?
In that year 2015, I thought that I would certainly not be wrong if I take to heart the words of the Pope Emeritus about the need for prayer. Since then, I regularly prayed for the church on my way to work. Before praying, I always said in my mind that it is "for the Pope, for the Pope Emeritus and for all the pastors of the Church".
After Benedict XVI. resigned, it caused great astonishment and criticism. However, the former pope did not remain completely silent, he published several texts and books, and sometimes statements from private conversations or letters, such as yours, were published. Benedict, in short, from seclusion, but still communicated with the world. Since you were part of it and at the same time you didn't talk about it, but you thought a lot about it, what do you think today, why did the Pope step down, which he felt was more urgent than serving in the Chair of Peter? And what did he try to convey to the believers from seclusion?
Perhaps he honestly no longer believed that he was capable of solving problems and humbly chose to leave. Perhaps he felt other pressures, which we will probably never know. But in any case, it strikes me as the decision of a responsible and humble person. And what did he try to convey to the faithful from his retreat? Well, what he wrote in the letter. That the situation is serious and we must pray to the only Lord of history.
Since you are talking about the end of an epoch, what are the characteristics of the new epoch, how is it different?
I will only say what everyone sees anyway. That the epoch begins with enormous tension in the political and spiritual spheres. Therefore, there is considerable uncertainty.
In connection with Benedict's legacy for Christians, but not only for them, four principles come to mind as we enter this epoch. The first is that there are things you can never back down on, and trying to avoid fighting for them is a grave mistake. In Slovak politics, I witnessed this very mistake of many Christians.
The second is that one must examine one's motives and humbly start from oneself, not immediately think of one's neighbor as the culprit. And the third? Benedict XVI he emphasized so many times that faith and reason complement each other. You also have to stick to your mind.
And finally, that you need to pray for strong shepherds who can defend the church from the power of evil.
Once again, the words of Benedict XVI in 2015:
“As one sees the power of Antichrist spreading, one can only pray that the Lord will give us mighty shepherds to defend His Church against the power of evil in this hour of need.”
It is quite astonishing that a holy pope read the signs of the times and saw the coming of Antichrist. His resignation looks different in this light. Perhaps he believed that, in his sickness and frailty, he could not lead the Church through the coming Apocalypse.
But this is not the first time Benedict spoke of ours as being the time of the Antichrist. In his authoritative biography of Benedict, Peter Seewald quotes Pope Ratzinger saying,
"The true threat for the Church, and thus for the Petrine service, does not come from this sort of episode: It comes instead from the universal dictatorship of apparently humanistic ideologies. Anyone who contradicts this dictatorship is excluded from the basic consensus of society. One hundred years ago, anyone would have thought it absurd to speak of homosexual matrimony. Today those who oppose it are socially excommunicated. The same holds true for abortion and the production of human beings in the laboratory. Modern society intends to formulate an anti-Christian creed: Whoever contests it is punished with social excommunication. Being afraid of this spiritual power of the Antichrist is all too natural, and what is truly needed is that the prayers of entire dioceses and of the world Church come to the rescue to resist it."
The lions really are coming. I see more and more why BXVI approved his secretary, Archbishop Gänswein, publicly endorsing The Benedict Option in 2018. I only wish he had been able to read Live Not By Lies.
Last week, I quoted this passage from an interview that Catholic World Report once did with biographer Seewald:
CWR: Why did the young Ratzinger quickly gain so much attention as a priest, professor, and theologian?
Seewald: It was because of the way the world’s youngest theology professor held lectures. The students listened attentively. There was an unprecedented freshness, a new approach to tradition, combined with a reflection and a language which in this form had not been heard before. Ratzinger was seen as the new, hopeful star in the sky of theology. His lectures were taken down and distributed thousands of times throughout Germany.
Yet, his university career almost failed. The reason for this was a critical essay from 1958 entitled “The New Pagans and the Church.” Ratzinger had learned from the Nazi era: the institution alone is of no use if there are not also the people who support it. The task was not to connect with the world, but to revitalize the Faith from within. In his essay, the then 31-year-old noted: “The appearance of the Church of modern times is essentially determined by the fact that in a completely new way she has become and is still becoming more and more the Church of pagans …, of pagans who still call themselves Christians, but who in truth have become pagans.”
The task was not to connect with the world, but to revitalize the Faith from within. This is the Benedict Option approach -- not to hide away from the world, but to shore up the Church's defenses in the hearts and minds of every professing Christian, so that we can be resilient and remain faithful in the trials to come. It can't be emphasized strongly enough that Joseph Ratzinger saw that a society that was only superficially Christian, like the Germany in which he grew up, would not be strong enough to resist powerful new anti-Christian ideologies.
I'm sorry to again quote something I wrote last week, but in light of the letter that Vlado Palko has now made public, I think it's important:
In a thin book published a few years ago, the influential philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote:
When he was still a young theologian, Joseph Ratzinger studied the thinking of Tyconius, a theologian of the fourth century, who said that the body of the Church is divided into a dark and evil church and a righteous one. In the present state, the two bodies of the Church are inseparably commingled, but they will divide at the end of time.
The Church, the future pope wrote in 1956, is until the Last Judgment both the Church of Christ and the Church of the Antichrist: “The Antichrist belongs to the Church, grows in it and with it up to the great separation, which will be introduced by the ultimate revelation.”
I'm wondering this morning whether or not BXVI believed it was his mission to purify the Church before the End by allowing the mystery of iniquity to reveal itself fully. No, I'm not saying Francis is the Antichrist. The Antichrist will be a political leader. I'm saying that the forces rapidly reshaping the West by destroying what's left of its Christianity, even within the Catholic Church, are the forces that will ultimately draw history to its close. I think it is possible -- this is speculation! -- that the gentle Benedict at last conceived of his mission as pope as drawing out evil, in allowing Hell to do its very best, so it can ultimately be defeated. The Anglican bishop N.T. Wright wrote in his simple book about Revelation that this is the apocalyptic scenario that the final book of the Bible puts forth: that only after evil has done its very worst, and the demon has exposed itself fully, can it be destroyed once and for all.
I want to make myself clear: I'm not saying that is what happened, and is happening, here. I'm saying it's a possibility.
The approach Pope Benedict followed -- strengthening a weakened church from within -- is diametrically opposed to the approach taken by Pope Francis, which is to, in his phrase, "go to the margins." Whenever I've clashed with pro-Francis Catholics about "go to the margins," I've told them that it's fine to go to the margins, but it's pointless if you have nothing to take with you to give to the people there. We live in a time in which Catholics, and indeed most Christians, scarcely know their own faith. We are sitting ducks for the spirit of Antichrist, in whatever forms it takes. Look at this new chart about church attendance in the US. Note well that it doesn't track the overall decline among Christian groups, only the percentages of those who still profess to be part of those groups, who go to weekly worship services:
Is there any wonder why Pope Benedict was worried?
Benedict's message to Vlado Palko about the Antichrist brings to mind this passage from his encyclical Spe salvi:
In 1794, in the text Das Ende aller Dinge (“The End of All Things”) a changed image appears. Now Kant considers the possibility that as well as the natural end of all things there may be another that is unnatural, a perverse end. He writes in this connection: “If Christianity should one day cease to be worthy of love ... then the prevailing mode in human thought would be rejection and opposition to it; and the Antichrist ... would begin his—albeit short—regime (presumably based on fear and self-interest); but then, because Christianity, though destined to be the world religion, would not in fact be favoured by destiny to become so, then, in a moral respect, this could lead to the (perverted) end of all things”
Benedict is saying that there is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum. If people should one day reject Christianity, then they would come to hate it, and that would usher in the reign of Antichrist, and "the (perverted) end of all things." No wonder Ratzinger was so apocalyptic!
The English writer Paul Kingsnorth is a recent convert to Orthodox Christianity, but he has been writing prophetically about the modern world for many years. He is doing extremely powerful writing on his Substack, The Abbey of Misrule, about what he calls "The Machine," and its efforts to destroy everything human in us. In this essay from Unherd, adapted from his Substack, Kingsnorth surveys a number of thinkers -- not all of them Christian -- who have recognized that the world is hurtling towards what some call "Antichrist". It ends like this:
[Augusto] Del Noce is often referred to as a conservative or even a reactionary thinker, but he didn’t accept either label. Simple “reaction”, he said, was no solution to what was unfolding. Both nostalgia and utopia were ultimately fruitless as tools of resistance. If permanent revolution, and the consequent disintegration, is the baseline state of a world that denies transcendence, then the alternative is clear: a return to the spiritual centre. A rediscovery, or a reclamation, of the transcendent realm and its place in our lives. This, and only this, is the alternative to the reign of quantity and its attendant cast of gods, demons and machines.
What Moloch wants — Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks — is sacrifice. We must sacrifice ourselves and our children to the robot apartments and stunned governments. What Anti-Christ wants is the opposite of transcendence. If the coming of Christ represents the transcendent breaking into the temporal in order to change it, then His opponent will herald a world of pure matter, uninterrupted by anything beyond human reach. Everything in that world is up for grabs. Anything, from rainforests to the human body, can be claimed and reshaped in the interests of advancing the realm of the human will. It is the oldest story.
The rushing power that runs beneath the age of Progress, the energy of the modern world, the river that carries us onwards — where is it taking us? We know the answer. Humans cannot live for very long without a glimpse of the transcendent, or an aspiration, dimly understood, to become one with it. Denied this path, we will make our own. Denied a glimpse of heaven, we will try to build it here. This imperfect world, these imperfect people — they must be superseded, improved, remade. Flawed matter is in our hands now. We know what to do.
What Progress wants is to replace us.
Perhaps the last remaining question is whether we will let it.
I saw this clip today of Yuval Noah Harari, the best-selling Israeli philosopher and Silicon Valley favorite. It's not long. You need to watch it. He sees free will being replaced by an algorithm that knows us better than we know ourselves -- and he thinks this is good, that this is Progress! "Organisms are algorithms," he proclaims. Life is nothing but a string of numbers. Watch:
"Organisms are algorithms" was a slogan Harari bruited in his bestseller Homo Deus, in which he wrote: “Having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.” He's saying technology will make us gods. This is purely satanic. In Genesis 3:4, the Serpent tempting Eve told her that if she only eats of the forbidden fruit, "you will be like God." Here is Yuval Noah Harari proclaiming it, and saying that this is a great thing. Progress!
The old German pope who had lived through the bloodiest century in human history, and who lived to see the near-collapse of Christianity in Europe, and in the West more broadly, as well as the disintegration of the natural family, and even of a fixed idea of sex and gender, wrote to the author of a book about coming anti-Christian persecution these words:
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"We see how the power of the Antichrist is expanding, and we can only pray that the Lord will give us strong shepherds who will defend his church in this hour of need from the power of evil."
Benedict XVI knew what time it is. Do you?