And the Papacy of Pope Francis
“But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21: 28)
The above-quoted words of Our Lord were spoken after He had enumerated many of the evils that can befall his faithful followers – both at the end of time, and all those situations and foreshadowings which will prefigure the final confrontation between Christ and Antichrist, and between the City of God and the City of this world.
Jesus begins, appropriately, with a warning against following any of the many false messiahs who will precede His Second Coming: “Take heed you be not seduced; for many will come in my name, saying, I am he; and the time is at hand: go ye not therefore after them.” He then proceeds to enumerate a host of other evils which might indeed, on the natural level, force us to cast our heads downwards in despair and loss of faith: wars between nations and kingdoms; earthquakes, famines, and pestilences; terrors from heaven and other great signs; persecutions; delivering up “to the synagogues and into the prisons”, “dragging before kings and governors”; betrayal by parents, brethren, kinsmen, and friends; being put to death; being hated by all men for His name’s sake. A similar list is offered in Matthew 24.
It matters little whether we choose to apply Our Lord’s words to the Apostles themselves, to the times of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., or to the time immediately preceding the Final Judgment. Each of these applications is legitimate because the essential truths enumerated herein apply to all generations of Christians: the world necessarily hates Christ and His followers, and will wage unceasing and accelerating war against them until the final confrontation between the Antichrist and Christ.
But it is not necessarily this list of evils, to which the Christian life is subject, which is difficult for us to accept. If we have any knowledge of the Gospel, we must know these things to be inevitable. Rather, it is the “lifting up of our heads” while we are suffering such trials that provides the greatest challenge. Every manifestation of the spirit of Antichrist performs its unique seduction upon the faithful of that particular period in human history. It can be easy for us now to place things in perspective that occurred in the past – “How could Judas have been so blind?” – but it can be nigh unto impossible to possess such perspective when a new form of the outpouring of evil is upon us. It can overwhelm us with the sense that what we are now seeing is something entirely new which presents an unsolvable dilemma, that our faith is a chimera, that the Church has failed, and that Christ’s promises have failed Such is the real work of the spirit of Antichrist down through history, and thus the enormous importance of Our Lord’s words of warning and preparation.
The seduction of this spirit of Antichrist which we now face would seem the most poisonous and insidious in all of Christian history, and therefore presents an enormous temptation not only to despair, but to profound bitterness, loss of charity, schism, and sedevacantism. The following is written, hopefully, as a contribution to strengthening our faith, that we might lift our heads in the midst of the present crisis and rejoice in the promises of Christ and Our Lady.
In my article The War Against the Soul, which was written towards the beginning of the Pontificate of Benedict XVI, I wrote the following (I have made slight changes):
< Possibly the most mysterious passage of the New Testament is to be found in St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, in which he discusses the coming of the Antichrist. It reads as follows:
“And now you know what withholdeth [the coming of the Antichrist], that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way”(2 Thess 2:6-7).
Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Hippolytus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John of Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Augustine of Hippo all agreed in seeing “he who now holdeth” to be the Roman Empire and the Caesars who ruled this empire. The Roman Empire represented the force of law (despite all its tyrannies, injustices, and immoralities) which prevented the “man of lawlessness” from ascending to power.
The pagan Roman Empire fell in 476 AD. However, the restraining force of the Roman Empire against “the man of lawlessness” did not cease. This principle of continuity in the history of the Roman Empire was delineated with perspicuity by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Cum Catholica Ecclesia:
“It is therefore, by a particular decree of Divine Providence that, at the fall of the Roman Empire and its partition into separate kingdoms, the Roman Pontiff, whom Christ made the head and center of his entire Church, acquired civil power. Certainly, it was by a most wise design of God Himself that in the midst of so great a multitude and variety of temporal princes, the Sovereign Pontiff enjoyed political liberty, which is so necessary for him to exercise his spiritual power, his authority, and his jurisdiction over the whole world.”
In other words, the “bottom line” behind the rule of law and social order now passed from the realm of physical force into the spiritual realm – the rule of Christian Truth and Charity. This is what built Christian Civilization. And since all of this is a gift of God through His Church, which is built upon the rock of the Papacy, it is the Roman Pontiff who must be seen as the one who “witholdeth” the rise of the Antichrist.
We might be tempted to conclude that such a “taking out of the way” of the Pope should be interpreted physically, but I believe this to be an inadequate explanation. Quite a number of Popes have been taken away from Rome and/or held prisoner by precursors of the Antichrist, and yet the moral force necessary to restrain the ascension of Antichrist remained intact.
Nor can this “taking away” be meant to signify that for a period of time the Chair of Peter is unoccupied. The world has already experienced extended Papal interregnums, and these have not provided the conditions necessary for the ascension of Antichrist.
All of this should tell us that what we are dealing with here is the possibility of the interior intellectual and moral force of the Papacy being eliminated or diminished in such a way as to create a sufficiently pervasive spiritual vacuum into which the Antichrist will be able to gain entrance and ascend to power. It is this spiritual vacuum which I have detailed in all my articles concerning the philosophy and theology of Joseph Ratzinger. I do not intend to rehash all that here. But there is one quote from Joseph Ratzinger early writings which I believe epitomizes the extent to which the once absolutely certain intellectual and moral force of the Church and the Papacy has been reduced to a small, timid, and virtually inconsequential voice:
“To say this is to imply that faith must clearly adjust itself to an intellectual pluralism that cannot ever be reversed, and within this intellectual climate must present itself as a comprehensible offer of meaning, even if it can find no prolegomena in a commonly accepted philosophical system. That means, in the end, that the meaning which man needs becomes accessible in any case only through a decision for a meaningful structure. It may not be proved, but can be seen as meaningful." (Faith and the Future, p. 74-75)”
Can we even begin to imagine any Pope from the time of Peter up until Vatican Council II conceivably making a statement which so reeked of spiritual castration? If this was still the position of Pope Benedict XVI, then it gives ample testimony to a Papacy that was very close to being in that position of philosophical, theological, and moral bankruptcy as to constitute its having been “taken out of the way”. >
This bankruptcy has been dramatically accentuated during the Papacy of Francis, not because his philosophical and theological orientation and ideas are much more radical than that of Benedict, but because Francis, unlike Benedict, is a troubadour loudly and crudely acting out these heresies and demonic errors upon the world’s stage. And, contrary to the fantasies of many Traditionalists, it is clear that Benedict approves. At the recent ceremony (June 28, 2016) featuring Pope Francis honoring Benedict on the 65th anniversary of his priesthood, Benedict stated, “Thank you, Holy Father, for your goodness, which from the first moment of your election has struck me every day of my life. We hope that you can go forward with all of us on this path of divine mercy, showing us the path of Jesus, toward Jesus, toward God.” As I have clearly delineated in other articles, Pope Francis’ “path of mercy” is constituted by a silence towards Christ’s Truth, which facilitates an inclusiveness towards evil. Pope Benedict’s fulsome embrace of this agenda is proof-positive that his “hermeneutics of continuity” ultimately devolves into a simple prostitution to the evils of this world.
Concerning the “leaven” of the Pharisees, Our Lord said, “For whatsoever things you have spoken in darkness, shall be published in the light: and that which you have spoken in the ear in the chambers, shall be preached on the housetops.” The consequences of what was spoken in the darkness of Joseph Ratzinger’s philosophy and theology are now being shouted, through the words and actions of Pope Francis, from every headline, and carried on every wave of the media. It is a spiritual miasma which penetrates everywhere, and receives from a jubilant world the exclamation, “He is one of us!” - “He has been taken away!”
It is important to admit to ourselves that our present situation is without precedent in the history of the Papacy. The Church has certainly had Popes who were profoundly immoral. It has had Popes who have been wrong in their personal views in regard to some point of doctrine, or who made horrendously bad juridical decisions. But never has it had a Pope who believed that Divine Revelation was itself an evolutionary phenomenon (as does Benedict and, apparently, Francis), and who believes that a bogus mercy trumps Catholic doctrine (as Francis has explicitly expressed), and who loudly and triumphantly proclaims this to be so. We are therefore faced with a situation, which seems to have never been anticipated in all of the sermons and writings of the early Church Fathers (and others down through history) concerning the subject of the Antichrist and his rise to power – that a Pope himself could become so interiorly corrupted, philosophically and theologically, as to become the cause of his own being “taken away” as the effective intellectual and moral force which prevents the rise of Antichrist.
I wish to be quite clear in stating here that none of this means that I am predicting the immediate rise of the Antichrist. It has always been acceptable in Christian tradition to view the Second Coming of Christ as imminent, but has always been folly to claim its immediacy. Our Lady of Fatima prophesied the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart would come first. But it is also true that St. John spoke of “many antichrists” preceding the final “man of lawlessness”, that the spirit of Antichrist has increasingly poisoned and contaminated what might loosely be called the collective and historical consciousness of humanity over the centuries, and that this present infection amounts to a huge step “forward” towards this eventual unfolding of apocalyptic prophesy.
Recently, I read Cardinal Henry Edward Manning’s series of four lectures titled The Present Crisis of the Holy See: A Warning About Antichrist. While Cardinal Manning did not at to all seem to anticipate the present interior crisis of the Papacy (or that such a crisis was possible), he did indeed understand that the “one who holdeth” was the Pope:
“We have now come nearly to a solution of that which I stated in the beginning, namely, how it is that the power which hinders the revelation of the lawless one is not only a person but a system, and not only a system but a person. In one word, it is Christendom and its head; and therefore, in the person of the Vicar of Christ, and in that twofold authority with which, by Divine Providence he has been invested, we see the direct antagonist to the principle of disorder. The lawless one, who knows no law, human or divine, nor obeys any but his own will, has no antagonist on earth more direct that the Vicar of Jesus Christ….”
Cardinal Manning also offers the following remarkable analysis and metaphor for this process of the historical unfolding of the spirit of Antichrist:
“I shall hope to show hereafter that the antagonism between two persons [between Antichrist and Christ, with the Pope as the latter’s Vicar] is an antagonism also between two societies, and that as our Divine Lord is the Head and Representative of all the truth and justice of the world from the beginning, so Antichrist, be he who or what he may, will be the head and representative of all the falsehood and wrong, which has been accumulating for these 1800 years, in the heresies, schisms, spiritual seditions, intellectual infidelities, social disorders and political revolutions of the anti-Catholic movement of the world".
“Such is the great deep upon which the Christian society of the world is resting. From time to time it has lifted itself up with preternatural power, and has made the Christian order of Europe vibrate and reel. Then again it has seemed to subside into a calm. But no one with any discernment can fail to see that it is deeper, mightier, and more widely spread now [Manning writes this in the year 1861) than ever. That this antichristian power will one day find its head, and for a time prevail in this world, is certain from prophecy. But this cannot be until ‘he who holdeth [the Pope] shall be taken out of the way….”
“But such is the state of the world, and to this end we are rapidly advancing. We are told that Etna has one hundred and sixty craters, besides the two vast mouths which, joined together, form the immense crater commonly so called; on all its sides it is perforated and honeycombed by channels and by mouths, from which in centuries past the lava has, from time to time burst forth. I can find no better illustration of the state of Christendom at this moment. The Church of God rests upon the basis of natural society, on the foundations of the old Roman Empire, on the civilization of the heathen nations of the world, which for a time has be consecrated, consolidated, preserved, raised, sanctified; but beneath the Church is working continually the mystery of iniquity which already wrought in the Apostles’ time, and is culminating at this moment to its strength, and gaining the ascendency. What, I ask, was the French revolution of 1789, with all its bloodshed, blasphemy, impiety, and cruelty, in all its masquerade of horror and of mockery – what was it but an outbreak of the anti-christian spirit – the lava font beneath the mountain? And what was the outbreak in 1830 and 1848 but precisely the same principle of Antichrist working beneath Christian society, forcing its way upward? In the year 1848 it opened simultaneously [in Revolutions} its many mouths in Berlin, in Vienna, in Turin, in Florence, in Naples, and in Rome itself. In London it heaved and struggled, but its time was not yet. What is all this but the spirit of lawlessness lifting itself against God and man, - the principle of schism, heresy, and infidelity running fused into one mass, and pouring itself forth wherever it can force its way, making craters for its stream wherever the Christian society becomes weak? And this, as it has gone on for centuries, so it will go on until the time shall come when ‘that which holds’ shall be taken out of the way’.”
Cardinal Manning was convinced in 1861 (155 years ago) that Christian Society, the Church, and the Papacy were experiencing attacks by the forces of Antichrist greater than ever before. In the above quote he attributes the intensity of this attack to the Church’s weakness, a weakness which he sees as mainly deriving from depriving the Pope of his temporal sovereignty, and therefore correlating to attacks from without. Cardinal Manning did not seem to anticipate the extraordinary degree to which the Church interiorly would, in the future, be found lying down in spiritual fornication with its enemies, and thus be the source of its own weakness. We need only compare the Papacy of Pius IX to that of Francis in order to understand the difference. But I think we might also conclude that, had he been living in our own time, he would have very likely perceived the providential meaning of what is now occurring with the Papacy of Pope Francis. The “lava” of Antichrist has increased geometrically precisely because the spirit of Antichrist has invaded the thinking and actions of the Pope himself. The same may of course be said of a great many others – clergy, religious, and laity – within the Church. However, there is no greater chastisement which could befall the Church than for God to allow a man to be Pope who, while prevented by God from compromising the indelible Marks of the Church, is yet primarily a natural man – seeped in philosophical and theological error, redolent with the hubris of his own agenda, rejoicing in “making a mess”, contemptuous of those who hold firmly to absolute truth and defined dogma, enamored of a false mercy, oblivious to the primacy of the concept of God’s Rule, masquerading a false humility, and rejoicing in his own role as a game-changer.
“Truth Shall Be Cast Down on the Ground”
It is clearly taught in Holy Scriptures and confirmed by the unanimous teaching of the early Church Fathers that the Antichrist at the apex of his power will prevail over, and crush (Daniel 7:25), the Church, even to the point of the total suppression of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In Daniel 8: 12, we read:
“And strength was given him against the continual sacrifice, because of sins: and truth shall be cast down on the ground….”
Cardinal Manning, commenting on the prophecies of Daniel, concludes:
“The holy Fathers who have written upon the subject of Antichrist, and of these prophecies of Daniel, without a single exception, as far as I know, and they are Fathers both of the East and of the West, the Greek and the Latin Church – all of them unanimously – say that in the latter end of the world, during the reign of Antichrist, the holy sacrifice of the altar will cease.”
We may certainly therefore conclude that at this point the Pope is “taken away” even in the physical sense. But it is equally clear from the words of St. Paul in 2 Thess 2:3-11 that there is a uniquely different sort of “taking away” of the Pope, which precedes the final triumph of the Antichrist over the Church, and enables his rise to power;
“And we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our gathering together unto him: that you be not easily moved from your sense, nor be terrified, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by epistle, as sent from us, as if the day of the Lord were at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God. Remember you not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know what withholdeth, that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive 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.”
I have purposely rendered the words “And then” in bold in the above passage. There is a sequence of events depicted here in which we must clearly perceive that there is a taking away of “he who now holdeth” preceding the Antichrist’s actual ascent to worldwide dominion. And, especially relevant to our present subject, there is a specific delineation of what constitutes the working of the “mystery of iniquity” that leads to this “weakening” and betrayal of the power of the Papacy which heretofore had prevented the rise to power of Antichrist:
“And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive 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.”
It is “love of truth” which is here clearly proposed as the fundamental passion of the human soul which restrains the Antichrist. Jesus Christ is the Word of Truth Who is generated eternally from the Father, and therefore it only makes perfect sense that the path to Anti-Christ should be paved with betrayal of, or silence in regard to, Truth. It is this silence of Pope Francis– this interior “casting down of truth” in the name of a false mercy and inclusiveness – which now facilitates the rise of the man of lawlessness.
This does not mean that the papacy of Francis will lead directly into the reign of Antichrist. Our Lady has promised that her triumph will precede this final chastisement. But it is also true that there is a kind of collective consciousness involved in human history – especially entrenched in the memory and accumulated knowledge of humanity – which has been most profoundly poisoned over the centuries by the hubris of reductive scientific thinking, avarice, and technological progress, and which has grown like a massive cancer within the human heart, choking off any real possibility of returning to the full Truth of Christ and the integral living of the Beatitudes. This “lava” of iniquity will rise again to the surface shortly after Our Lady’s Triumph, and constitute the final blasphemy and betrayal of the greatest gift of God since Our Lord’s Incarnation – the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
There will then be no recourse left except the direct intervention and victory of Christ. In regard to the present oppression and weakness of the Church, Cardinal Manning writes the following:
“There is in store for the Church of God a resurrection and an ascension, a royalty and dominion, a recompense of glory for all it has endured. Like Jesus, it needs must suffer on the way to its crown; yet crowned it shall be with Him eternally. Let no one, then, be scandalized if the prophecy speak of sufferings to come. We are fond of imagining triumphs and glories for the Church on earth – that the Gospel is to be preached to all nations, and the world to be converted, and all enemies subdued, and I know not what, - until some ears are impatient of hearing that there is in store for the Church a time of terrible trial: and so we do as the Jews of old, who looked for a conqueror, a king, and for prosperity; and when their Messiah came in humility and in passion, they did not know Him.”
We must understand, however, that the treachery of the Jews – which it is now our unfortunate role to imitate – was something much more than merely looking for a triumphant and worldly God and kingdom. More deeply, it was rooted in an hypocrisy and betrayal by which God and His Gifts (including Faith itself) were seen as “monuments” to be possessed, rather than passionately and militantly believed and lived. Much of our modern “triumphalism” and Pharisaism, especially in the centuries preceding Vatican II, has been nourished by a mushrooming infidelity to the teachings of Christ (especially the Beatitudes), including the teachings of the great Popes whose absence we now lament. God gave us these men (these gifts), we largely “consumed them and their teachings in our concupiscences”, and continued to prostitute ourselves ever more deeply to the world. And God has largely now taken the moral force of the Papacy away in chastisement of our infidelities and prostitutions. At a certain point, this will devolve upon a situation in which the Church is apparently totally crushed and defeated, and then the victory will be seen as Christ’s alone. Again, in the words of Cardinal Manning:
“And from whence, I ask, is deliverance to come? Is there on earth any power to intervene? Is there any king, prince, or potentate, that has the power to interpose either his will or his sword for the protection of the Church? Not one; and it is foretold it should be so. Neither need we desire it, for the will of God seems to be otherwise. But there is One Power which will destroy all antagonists; there is One Person who will break down and smite small as the dust of the summer threshing-floor all the enemies of the Church, for it is He who will consume His enemies ‘with the Spirit of His mouth’, and destroy them ‘with the brightness of His coming’. It seems as if the Son of God were jealous lest any one should vindicate His authority. He has claimed the battle to Himself; He has taken up the gage which has been cast down against Him; and prophecy is plain and explicit that the last overthrow of evil will be His; that it will be wrought by no man, but by the Son of God; that all the nations of the world may know that He, and He alone, is King, and that He, and He alone, is God.”
It would seem necessary to add that the “jealousy” of God is not the same as our jealousy and that, had His Bride been faithful, there would have been no such jealousy or necessary chastisement, but rather blessing and triumph. It would also therefore seem appropriate to say (as theologically incorrect as it may first appear) that God will have no other choice. In the final day, the world, having consumed even the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in its concupiscences and double-mindedness, the victory will belong entirely to Jesus Christ, and to those who, having been stripped of all else, possess the Word alone.
Lift Up Your Heads
We therefore lower our heads in despair and fear only to the extent that we place our hopes in the gifts of Christ rather than in Christ Himself. Christ’s victory is certain, and all that we experience now is only testimony to its imminence. It matters little whether or not this imminence is accomplished during our own lives, just as it was of little consequence to St. Peter or Paul. In all things we need to lift our hearts and minds in rejoicing that God is All in All, and will achieve the final total victory. This, after all, is the bottom line of the “nakedness” of the Christian life, a nakedness which, as we have seen, can reach even to the cessation of the Holy Sacrifice of the altar. We rejoice in the coming victory of Our Lord, and it is this joy which is the final testimony of our faith, and to the life of charity which is its supernatural expression. This is the ultimate test as to whether we possess the Heart of Jesus – as to whether we lift up our heads, or cover them and seek refuge in the caves of self-despair and loss of faith. It is this test which Judas failed, and which hopefully we shall not.