Saturday, July 16, 2005

Antichrist: Real Individual or Symbol of Evil?

In a letter to me dated February 10, 1999, His Excellency The Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, Bishop of Richmond, wrote:

"Thank you for your long and scholarly letter on the biblical interpretation of the 'Antichrist.' Let me give you my own interpretation as to who is the 'Antichrist.' When you and I were baptized, we put on Christ or, as it were, we were Christed. You and I are called as baptized persons to represent Christ in our world today. We are to live Christ-like lives and proclaim the Gospel of Christ. It seems to me that when we fail to do so, we become, as it were, an Antichrist. Thankfully, we believe in forgiveness and all of us have our shortcomings..Thank you for taking the time to write...Yours sincerely" etc.

Before I address the points which His Excellency made in his letter, I want to say that I am grateful for his response some 6 years ago. Unlike some Bishops who treat the laity with little or no respect, Bishop Sullivan took the time to write me a kind letter and to share his views with me. I disagree with him that there was anything "scholarly" about my letter since I'm not that enamored with myself. And so I will chalk up his compliment to plain and simple kindness.

However, with all due respect for His Excellency, I must disagree with his interpretation (and he acknowledges that it is his interpretation) of who is Antichrist. This because the Fathers and Doctors of the Church universally teach that the Antichrist will be an individual human being. And this is significant because, as the Magisterium teaches, when the Fathers are universal in their interpretation of a passage of Scripture, that interpretation is of Faith. In his encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus, Pope Leo XIII said that:

"The Holy Fathers, are of supreme authority whenever they all interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible,...for their unanimity clearly evinces that such interpretation has come down from the Apostles as a matter of Catholic faith."

St. Paul says in Second Thessalonians 2:3-5: "For the day of the Lord will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition who opposes and is exalted above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sits in the temple and gives himself out as if he were God. Do you remember that when I was still with you, I used to tell you these things."

The Didache expresses this teaching as well:

"In the last days there will multiply false prophets and corruptors and they shall be changed into wolves of their flocks. Charity will be converted into hatred. There will be an increase in iniquity; men will mutually hate each other, they will persecute and betray each other and then there will appear the deceiver of the world saying he is the son of God. He will make signs and do miracles. The earth will be given into his hands and he will do such iniquities as has never before been done throughout the centuries...Therefore, what men have created will be cleansed by fire and many will be scandalized and will perish, but those who persevere in their faith will be saved from the evil one.."

It is true that Sacred Scripture also teaches us that, "..every spirit that dissolveth Jesus is not of God. And this is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh: and he is now already in the world." (1 John 4:3, Douay-Rheims). However, the belief of the earliest Christians (many of whom were personally taught by the Apostles), was that the final Antichrist would be an individual human being. And this belief is supported by the Universal Teaching of the Church Fathers.

Paul Anthony Melanson

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