The late Rene Girard once pointed out that within Christian thought, the thing that makes the Antichrist the Antichrist is not that he hates Jesus Christ — that’s a given — but that he offers a brilliant fake version of the Christian gospel. You can see this point illustrated in the detail above from the Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli’s apocalyptic fresco in the Orvieto cathedral. The Antichrist looks like Jesus, but he secretly receives direction from the Devil. Christians have always believed that the Antichrist is a real historical figure who will present himself as a man of peace, but will lead the world into a diabolical deception that will immediately precede the Second Coming, and the End of History.
Because discourse about the Apocalypse is not frequent within the Roman Catholic Church today, it is extremely curious that not one but two Catholic cardinals have spoken about the Antichrist within the last year, both in reference to confusion within the Roman church — confusion coming from the Pope himself.
The first was Cardinal Willem Eijk, primate of the Netherlands, who said last May that the Pope’s lack of clarity regarding intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants was an indicator of a drift to apostasy. Cardinal Eijk’s comment was about the German Catholic bishops’ desire to offer communion to Protestants married to Catholics, and the Pope’s refusal to draw a firm line against it. He wrote:
What the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church say should have been the reaction of the Holy Father, who is, as the Successor of Saint Peter “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful” (Lumen Gentium no. 23). The Holy Father should have given the delegation of the German episcopal conference clear directives, based on the clear doctrine and practice of the Church. He should have also responded on this basis to the Lutheran woman who asked him on November 15, 2015 if she could receive Communion with her Catholic spouse, saying that this is not acceptable instead of suggesting she could receive Communion on the basis of her being baptized, and in accordance with her conscience. By failing to create clarity, great confusion is created among the faithful and the unity of the Church is endangered. This is also the case with cardinals who publicly propose to bless homosexual relationships, something which is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the Church, founded on Sacred Scripture, that marriage, according to the order of creation, exists only between a man and a woman.
Observing that the bishops and, above all, the Successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the deposit of faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, I cannot help but think of Article 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The Church’s ultimate trial
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”
The second came on Friday from none other than Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former head of the CDF, the Vatican’s doctrinal office (2012-17) — the position held by Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI. Here is a link to the German cardinal’s “Manifesto Of Faith,” which is unambiguously written as a particular rebuke to Pope Francis’s muddying the doctrinal waters on basic Catholic teachings. Here is the key graf:
To keep silent about these and the other truths of the Faith and to teach people accordingly is the greatest deception against which the Catechism vigorously warns. It represents the last trial of the Church and leads man to a religious delusion, “the price of their apostasy” (CCC 675) it is the fraud of Antichrist. “He will deceive those who are lost by all means of injustice, for they have closed themselves to the love of the truth by which they should be saved” (2 Thess: 2-10)
This is absolutely extraordinary. The cardinal who, until he was sent down by Francis, was the chief doctrinal watchdog for the Roman Catholic Church, is now warning that the confusing teaching coming from St. Peter’s successor is a sign of the End Times. There’s really no other way to read this.
These words, and the pope’s actions, occur within a global cultural context. Even if you don’t believe that the Antichrist is anything other than a symbol, you have to conceived that were he an actual figure, we would have now created the conditions within which the Antichrist could plausibly appear. Here is a long passage from a post I once wrote titled “Our Diabolic Age” — focusing on the etymology of the word “diabolic,” which stems from the Greek word meaning “to scatter”. Here’s the passage:
I will leave you with this passage from the Russian Orthodox philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev’s prophetic 1923 book The End of Our Time. It is an analysis of the religious, philosophical, and cultural meaning of contemporary history, written in the aftermath of World War I and the Bolshevik revolution in his homeland. In the nearly 100 years since it was first published, some of the book’s predictions have failed to materialize, but what shocks about the thing is how much of it has come to pass, and indeed is coming to pass. In this passage, the “new middle age” of which the philosopher speaks is the current era. He believes that the old middle age ended with the Renaissance, but now the Renaissance era — the modern era — ended with the war and the revolution. We are in a new, transitional era, he says:
The approach to the new middle age, like the approach to the old one, is marked by a visible rotting of old societies and an invisible formation of new ones. Was the failing but tenacious modern order really “cosmic”? The nineteenth century was very proud of its law, its constitutions, the unity of its method and its scientific paraphernalia. But it is an interior unity that is conclusive, and this it did not realize: it was infected by individualism, by “atomism.” Throughout modern history society has been eaten away by a series of internal maladies, man turning against man and class against class: all societies have been characterized by the warfare of opposing interests, by competition, by the isolation and dereliction of each individual man. An ever growing anarchy may be justly pointed out in the spiritual and intellectual life of these societies, a radical lesion due to the loss of a true centre or of the vision of a one supreme end. Such loss conditioned the autonomy of all intellectual and social spheres as well as the secularization of society at large.
The modern spirit thought that freedom lay in individualism, in the right for each man and each cultural activity to decide for himself. We have gone so far as to call the process of modern history a process of emancipation. But emancipation from what and for what? From the old authoritarian theocracies, from the old idea of dependence? Those theocracies could no more subsist, and as for the old heteronomy, it was necessary that it should be got rid of; I do not claim for a minute that freedom of spirit was other than an indefeasible and eternal acquisition. But why and in view of what did there have to be an emancipation? Modern times have no answer to give. And in the name of whom, in the name of what? In the name of man, of Humanism, of the freedom and happiness of mankind? … The answer is not there. Man cannot be set free in the name of man’s freedom, for man cannot be the last end of man. We are faced with complete nothingness. If there is nothing towards which man can lift up his eyes he is deprived of substance. In that case human liberty is simply a formula without any content, and individualism is in essence a negative reform whose development can bring no help to anybody.
Individualism is founded on no eternal principle, it has nothing ontological about it; least of all can it strengthen personality and set off the image of man. … It is only when human personality is rooted in the universal, in the cosmos, that it finds an ontological ground to give it its chief substance. Personality exists only where God and the divine are recognized; otherwise individualism wrenches personality from its seed-plot, pulls it apart, and scatters it to the winds of chance. Individualism has exhausted all its possibilities and energy, it can rouse nobody to enthusiasm.
So has been brought about this latter time when men prefer not-being to Being, and as man is not able to serve and live for himself alone he makes false gods, if he does not know the true God. He has been unwilling to receive the liberty of God and perforce has fallen into a cruel bondage to deified deceits, to idols. He has been without freedom of spirit and it is not in the name of liberty that the man of the end of this age rises in revolt and denies Truth. He is in the power of an unknown master, of a superhuman and inhuman force that grips the society that does not want to know Truth, the holy truth of God. Only in Communism have we been able to learn something about the tyranny of this master. Nevertheless, it has already made what I have called a breach in the defences of modern history. We must choose. Liberty as a formula, as now understood, is discredited; it is imperative that we go on to its substance, to true liberty.
Berdyaev says that in the world now upon us — and remember, he was writing almost 100 years ago, from revolution-wracked Russia, but his words could be published as fresh today, with only slight modification — the affirmation of man’s image that was at the (intended) root of the Renaissance has given way to the denial of man’s image:
We live in a time of stripping, things can be seen as they are. Look at Humanism stripped naked and observe its nature, which appeared so innocent and good to another age. Where there is no God there is no man: that is what we have learned from experience. Or look at the true nature of Socialism, now that we can see what it really looks like. But a truth that stands out and can be seen no less clearly is that there cannot be religious neutrality or absence of religion: to the religion of the living God is opposed the religion of Satan, facing the faith of Christ there is the faith of Antichrist. The neutral humanist kingdom that wanted to establish itself in an order intermediate between Heaven and Hell is in a state of corruption, and the two gulfs, of height above and of depth beneath, are disclosed. There rears up against the God-Man, not the man of the neutral intermediate kingdom, but the man-god, the man who has put himself in the place of God. The opposed poles of Being and of not-being are manifest and clear.
For Christians, of course, a discourse that employs the terms “Satan” and “Antichrist” have specific meaning. But don’t for a second let Berdyaev’s terminology cause you nonbelievers, or liberal believers, to dismiss what he’s saying here. His point is that there is no stable middle ground; either we integrate and harmonize under the telos of service to God, or we dissolve in bondage to the telosof the Self. There is no middle ground.
Symbolus or diabolus. Gathering or scattering. Harmony or chaos. Construction or destruction. Life or death. You must choose, or the choice will be made for you, whether you want it to be or not. Every day brings evidence of the dramatic triumph of the diabolic — and this is something you can verify even if you do not believe in the Devil. Those who do not affirm the symbolic, and do so in community, will fall prey to the diabolic. This is a way of thinking of the Benedict Option: ideas to promote and to achieve the symbolic in the face of widespread diabolism.