Wednesday, June 04, 2008

St. John and Antichrist (take two)

(I was asked to revise the former version in light of possible dangers that could be faced by others. I should have thought of that myself.)

A couple of weeks ago I came across a comment addressed to me from a Muslim, in which he declared simply and in summation that religion's view about Jesus and the Bible we read. This blog does not exist for the purpose of spreading Islam's doctrines, so I rejected the comment (and prayed for the man who wrote it). It dawned on me later that his comment was in response to a place in my sermon for Trinity Sunday where I quoted from chapter VIII of the book Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton:

"To us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) -- to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and, the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone."

Anyone who pays attention to the news about Jihad and who knows the history of Islam, going back even to the raids led by Mohamed himself, cannot escape the fact that this religion has been violent since its inception, and that Chesterton's description is entirely justified. It has been the religion of scimitar, and wherever it has gone it has spread the desert. Not the beauty of the lush green desert, such as I lived in during my time in the Phoenix valley. But, the desert of emptiness and waste where no life grows, the spiritual barrenness of scorching heat and the dust of sand. So it is, I had also written in that sermon: "But, about a god who is one and only one, through and through, with no plurality of Persons in him, we cannot speak of love; rather of an emptiness, a void in which eternity knows no compassion." Indeed, Kismet is antithetical to compassion. (The website Jihad Watch carries news that is updated daily.)

It is time for me to set forth a reasonable theory of Biblical interpretation, drawn from the First Epistle of St. John with the aid of history. This flies in the face, I know, of popular eschatology such as we find in the Left Behind series of books, but which had existed for decades prior to their conception. For, to begin with, it requires an accurate definition of the word "antichrist." In fact, the word "antichrist" does not appear anywhere in the Book of Revelation, but only in the Johanine Epistles. The word is never used in connection with a political leader, but rather is used to speak about false teachers who spread heresy.

"Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also." ---I John 2:18-23

The word "Christ" comes from the Greek word that means the same as "Messiah," or the "Anointed." For us it has a specific definition when applied to Jesus Christ, that it does not have when applied to anyone else (since the priests, and then later the kings, of Israel were all called "messiahs" throughout the Old Testament). When we use "Messiah" or "Christ" to speak of the Lord, it is always connected to the fact that he alone is the Son of God.

"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." ---Matt.16:13-17

Muslims are taught that Jesus is simply a prophet. The revelation given to the Church by the Holy Spirit is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In his First Epistle St. John, as we have seen, describes antichrist as any teacher who denies this revelation. We know that one of Islam's declarations, made every day, is "God has no son." This is the teaching that St. John attributed to the evil one, the spirit of antichrist.

And, as we look carefully at the words from his epistle, quoted above, we must see that John makes a distinction between the many antichrists who were teaching their strange doctrines in his day, and a single individual for whom each of the antichrists were forerunners. He is called Antichrist in a singular way. The prediction of the Beloved Disciple is clear. The little anitchrists were, in their way contrary to Christ, preparing the way for the one major Antichrist who was yet to arrive.

A convert from Islam, who is now a priest, once explained that his conversion began as he read the works of ancient gnostic heretics, and saw that the Koran had lifted many of the same passages, word for word, claiming that God revealed these things directly to Mohamed. It was obvious to him that this was akin to plagiarism, a recitation of memorized passages by heretics from various Gnostic sects who had taught in ancient times. He came to the conclusion that the claim to have heard from heaven was false. Eventually, he concluded that when Mohamed came on the scene in the 7th century AD, he combined many of the Gnostic heresies with Arianism, and with Arab folklore.

Could this be what the holy apostle foresaw? "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." Instead of looking ahead to a world ruler (known by other names, such as the "son of perdition") might we instead look backward in history and redefine the word "Antichrist," taking it away from its popular but misplaced position in eschatology? Has there been any figure in history more Antichrist than Mohamed, whose most fanatical followers threaten the peace and safety of the whole world? Has any individual other than Christ himself created a following that encompasses whole countries? Islam, has a little more than a billion adherents, the most zealous and fanatical of which have the goal of making their highly oppressive S'haria law, by force, the law of every land and people.

I think that St. John foresaw Mohamed when he wrote those words.

Whereas the persecution of ancient Rome, and the persecution of modern Communism was never able to "wear out the saints of the Most High," the persecution that exists in Muslim countries has always sought to reduce our brethren to dhimmitude. For any Muslim to convert to Christianity (or any religion) is punishable by death, and in some countries this religious law is the law of the land. Readers of Touchstone can find accounts about these things in each issue by reading the "Suffering Church" section.
Fanatical Islam also promotes hatred for and murder of Christ's own relatives "after the flesh," namely the Jewish people.

Even if my theory is not fully accepted, the nature of this spiritual warfare is indisputable, and our chief weapon is prayer.


Steve Cavanaugh said...

Thank you, Fr. Hart, for this message. It confirms what I have always thought. I think it is also congruent with the view of Hillaire Belloc in his book The Great Heresies with which you are likely familiar. A passage from his chapter on Islam is:

"Mohammedanism was a heresy: that is the essential point to grasp before going any further. It began as a heresy, not as a new religion. It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine."

Another way of confirming Mohammed as Antichrist is his heresy's suppression of all sacraments. And of course, the first sacrament, the one that gives us the name "Christian", baptism, is normally administered with an anointing.

poetreader said...

Whether Mohammed is THE Antichrist, or indeed whether Scripture intends to refer to one such specific individual can be argued all day. There have been a lot of other candidates for the position. It is beyond dispute, however that he has many, if not all, of the marks of an Antichrist, and his religion is a deliberate distortion of the Judeo-Christian heritage, which, though often presented with a moderate veneer, has a strong strain of violence at its core.


Fr Matthew Kirby said...

The problem I have with this particular theological speculation is that I do not think Mohammed does satisfy many of the requirements, especially the distinctive ones. After all, if denying the Lordship and Divinity of Christ is sufficient and persecuting Christians, then every notable anti-Christian or even non-Christian tyrant abundantly satisfies. The other criteria that seem to be implied by St John and St Paul are as follows:

1. He will be a man of lawlessness (2 Th. 2.3), anti-law, so to speak.

2. He will demand worship as a god and exalt himself above all other purported deities (as above).

3. He will insult all good spiritual beings (Rev. 13.6).

4. He will rule the whole Earth (Rev. 13.7).

5. He will have once been nominally a member of the Church (1 Jn 2.19).

6. He will recover from a potentially fatal wound (Rev. 13.3).

None of these is true of the founder of Islam.

However, all of these, it seems to me, might become true of a world-leader who was an apostate "Christian", survived an assasination-attempt and combined in his policies and rhetoric the totalitarianist-tending atheism now in the ascendent with the call to self-worship and pure autonomy of libertarianism-as-secular-religion. It is not difficult to imagine that such a man could justify worship of himself and even Satan as part of a deliberate and self-conscious social construction of a utilitarian mythology aimed at destroying the "enemy" of Man's "freedom" and "happiness" (i.e., pleasure), namely Christianity. One sees this kind of malicious anti-theistic mythologising in Pullman's "His Dark Materials" fantasy series. It is one possible logical outcome of asserting atheism but realising the necessity of "religion" and communal symbols that act as embodied abstractions.

But all of this could be wrong as well. God grant us courage and grace in the face of whatever the forces of darkness throw at us.

As for Muslims, who is to say that a great conversion could not occur among them, turning them into our allies in the final conflict before the end? After all, at their best, they could satisfy the description of primal faith in Hebrews 11.6.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

You see, I doubt that St. John, who alone uses the word Antichrist, is writing about "the man of sin" or "son of perdition" who seems to be an emperor near the very end. I think he uses it only as we see it in the text, that is, about false teachers and prophets.

And, the ones "who went out from us" were simply the antichrists, the heretics, who had left the Church at the time John was writing. That is, he was commenting on the particular false teachers of the time, Gnostics all.

The fatal wound is not an assassination, because that would make some Satanic figure able to rise from the dead, a power that the Devil does not have. If he did, Christ's resurrection would not be proof that God vindicated him. If the Devil could make anything alive, the Egyptian magicians would have had no trouble creating insect life. But, that is where they could no longer compete with Moses.

The power that survives a fatal wound is the empire itself. It never dies. Babylon, Greece, Rome, and very likely in the future, as the scriptures seem to predict, an empire unlike any before.

But, Antichrist is a false prophet or teacher. I think he has been confused with a political figure, and the only text that uses the phrase for one man does not support this assumption.