What can be read in the next paragraph is quite rare – if not truly unique – for a pontifical text. Pope Pius X himself wonders if perhaps the Antichrist, the great final enemy of Jesus Christ, was not already present in history during his time:
“When all this is considered there is good reason to fear lest this great perversity may be as it were a foretaste, and perhaps the beginning of those evils which are reserved for the last days; and that there may be already in the world the ‘Son of Perdition’ of whom the Apostle speaks (II Thessalonians 2: 3). Such, in truth, is the audacity and the wrath employed everywhere in persecuting religion, in combating the dogmas of the faith, in brazen effort to uproot and destroy all relations between man and the Divinity! While, on the other hand, and this according to the same apostle is the distinguishing mark of Antichrist, man has with infinite temerity put himself in the place of God, raising himself above all that is called God; in such wise that although he cannot utterly extinguish in himself all knowledge of God, he has contemned God's majesty and, as it were, made of the universe a temple wherein he himself is to be adored. ‘He sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God’ (II Thessalonians 2, 2).”
Instead of telling us what the “abomination of desolation” is, our Lord points to it and then indicates how to act. But when should Christians act if they do not know precisely what the “abomination of desolation” is?
Echoing the teachings of the Apostle Paul, the Holy Father reminds us of what we have noticed in the writings of Saint Hildegard: the main activity of the “Son of Perdition” is the spreading of that perverse doctrine (doctrinam perversam) which opposes the Christian Gospel with a multitude of heresies that contradict both dogmatic teachings and, especially, traditional moral teachings (particularly those related to sexuality). But what caught my attention is the interpretation of one of the prophecies of the Savior Christ mentioned in chapter 24 of the Gospel according to Matthew (verses 15 to 20):
“When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand. Then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains: And he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take any thing out of his house: And he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. And woe to them that are with child, and that give suck in those days. But pray that your flight be not in the winter, or on the sabbath.”
We will emphasize, first of all, the enigma placed at the core of the prophecy: instead of telling us what the “abomination of desolation” mentioned in the book of the prophet Daniel[ii] is, our Lord points to it and then indicates how to act. But when should Christians act if they do not know precisely what the “abomination of desolation” is? Finding the answer has troubled both the rabbis who interpreted the Old Testament and the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. A multitude of explanations revolve around sacrilegious actions committed against the Temple in Jerusalem.
Driven by the very spirit of falsehood, the Antichrist is the one who perverts the meanings of Holy Scripture, leading to the damnation of those who do not follow the only saving solution: the escape to the "mountains of truth" accessible by the interpretation of Holy Scripture read through the “lenses” of the Apostolic Tradition.
For example, one of the most significant rabbinical interpretations considers it to be the enthronement by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (c. 215 BC – 164 BC) of a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies. Other Jewish scholars have seen the “abomination of desolation” in the introduction of carved images into the temple by King Manasseh (c. 709 – 643 BC). Saint Jerome also mentions a similar interpretation, referring to the placement of the equestrian statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (76 – 138 AD) in the Temple, while Saint Ambrose mentions a pig’s head used by the Romans to defile the holy place of Jewish Tradition. Saints Augustine and John Chrysostom identify the “abomination of desolation” with the very encirclement of Jerusalem by the Roman armies of Titus Caesar Vespasianus (39 – 81 AD) in the year 70 AD – a dramatic event described with extraordinary accuracy by Josephus Flavius in his masterpiece, the Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans. As can be easily seen, all these interpretations have a pronounced historical character, particularly referring to the desecration or destruction of the Solomon’s Temple.
The second category of interpretations of the “abomination of desolation” opens horizons much closer to the visions of Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Of a symbolic-allegorical nature, all of these are of great interest because Pope Pius X’s interpretation itself is not mainly historical but spiritual.
One of the most important masters of sacred hermeneutics was Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 – c. 253 AD). Despite the controversies sparked by some of his theological and metaphysical speculations, the interpretations he proposed for the difficult passages of Holy Scripture were appreciated by, among others, the Cappadocian Fathers – Saints Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus – as well as Saint Thomas Aquinas. The latter meticulously included the comments of the Alexandrian in his monumental compilation entitled Catena Aurea. From the fragment where he comments on the mystical meaning of the “abomination of desolation,” we learn that it could be the false word that dwells “in the holy place of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament.” Driven by the very spirit of falsehood, the Antichrist is the one who perverts the meanings of Holy Scripture, leading to the damnation of those who do not follow the only saving solution: the escape to the "mountains of truth" accessible by the interpretation of Holy Scripture read through the “lenses” of the Apostolic Tradition.
How do we explain the magnitude of the spread of heresies and the growing apostasy of so many Christians? The answer proposed in the encyclical E Supremi is truly masterful: it is auto-latria (the idolatry of the self, i.e., self-idolatry). This is nothing other than the pseudo-religion of man who idolizes himself, desiring that all worship him. Such a person no longer respects the divine authority, the supernatural religion established by it, or the tradition that transmits it from generation to generation. For he has placed himself in the place of God.
The same path of spiritual and mystical interpretation of sacred texts is followed by one of the most brilliant commentators of the Bible: Saint Bede the Venerable (c. 673 – 735 AD). For him, the “abomination of desolation” will manifest itself simultaneously with the appearance of the Antichrist. It signifies the sum of heresies and sins that will blatantly dominate among Christians. Similar to the visions of Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Bede foresaw that the period before the second coming of the Savior will be marked by an unprecedented spread of heresies that will undermine the faith of a large number of baptized individuals.
Considering these interpretations, it is clear that their plurality implicitly highlights the difficulty of unequivocally identifying the “abomination of desolation” from the Book of the Prophet Daniel. Based on that, we can deduce that our Lord, Jesus Christ, wishes to teach us something important through confronting this biblical challenge. Why did He convey the mysterious statement of the Prophet Daniel without clarifying it for us? First and foremost, He wants to compel us to insistently examine the sacred texts. Secondly, He indicates the extraordinary importance of the Book of the Prophet Daniel. Thirdly, He suggests that the “abomination of desolation” will not be easily visible to everyone’s eyes but only to those who, guided by the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit, have sufficiently purified the eyes of their minds to be able to identify it. This implies a thoroughly embraced Christian life and great perseverance in learning and deepening the rules of sacred hermeneutics (as followed by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church). We now come to the last of the reasons for the enigmatic nature of the divine prophecies. In fact, it may be the most important of them all.
If we contemplate the proposed interpretations, one by one, carefully, we will observe that the key-point to which the “abomination of desolation” refers is not “outside” but “inside.” Actually, it resides in the hearts and minds of those who have committed the abominations mentioned by the rabbis or the Church Fathers. This is the line followed by Pope Pius X in his interpretation applied to our times.
Definitively, this is the greatest possible abomination and the greatest imaginable perversion: to go to church not to worship God, the Creator of all that exists, but to worship oneself, justifying and rationalizing one’s own sins through a perverted doctrine (doctrinam perversam).
Considering that we may find ourselves in the immediate period preceding the second coming of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Holy Father reveals the main reason for such a disturbing hypothesis: the unprecedented spread of heresies – the “false word” mentioned by Origen – that openly and publicly contradict the supernaturally revealed Faith. Not content with merely observing the devastating situation, Pope Pius X systematically denounced MODERNISM, this “sum of all heresies,” striving to counter its effects. The spiritual power behind the unprecedented dissemination of erroneous teachings could only be, of course, the devil and his main acolyte, the Antichrist. However, the presence of the latter in history was not asserted by Pope Pius X as an absolute certainty but only as a serious hypothesis. Yet, how do we explain the magnitude of the spread of heresies and the growing apostasy of so many Christians? No question is more important and, at the same time, more difficult than this. The answer proposed in the encyclical E Supremi is truly masterful: it is auto-latria (the idolatry of the self, i.e., self-idolatry). This is nothing other than the pseudo-religion of man who idolizes himself, desiring that all worship him. Such a person no longer respects the divine authority, the supernatural religion established by it, or the tradition that transmits it from generation to generation. For he has placed himself in the place of God, proclaiming himself the sole master of himself and all creation. Like Goethe’s Faust, he is willing to make a pact with the forces of darkness to preserve the illusion of a world without God and absolute moral values. Shortly, it is an individual who literally believes himself to be God. This is the ultimate and most perverse form of idolatry, the most insidious of all. It is at the core of any dogmatic error and moral deviation.
A plethora of manifestations of auto-latria are widespread today on a global scale. The false teachings that enforce them are so persuasive that they have enslaved the minds of a significant number of Christians and Church hierarchs. As a result, we can witness manifestations of the “abomination of desolation” occurring in many sacred places throughout the world. It is a shameless reign of unworthy servants, similar to a prostitute exposing herself in the holy place. The sexual scandals involving priests are only the tip of the iceberg.
If, as Pope Pius X states, man has come to “make of the universe a temple wherein he himself is to be adored,” this is nothing but an extension of the fact that a person affected by this “pandemic” adores himself, full of pride, in the temple of his own body and soul. However, this does not refer exclusively to those outside the Catholic Church; it refers to the baptized ones, too. Instead of becoming temples of the Holy Spirit, following the example of Jesus Christ, they become temples of the spirit of wickedness, which not only constantly fights against God but also seeks to replace Him by taking His place and changing the dogmas and moral teachings. Definitively, this is the greatest possible abomination and the greatest imaginable perversion: to go to church not to worship God, the Creator of all that exists, but to worship oneself, justifying and rationalizing one’s own sins through a perverted doctrine (doctrinam perversam).
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[i] The full text of the encyclical can be read here: https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-x/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_04101903_e-supremi.html (Accessed 14 July 2023).
[ii] The verses where the “abomination of desolation” is mentioned in the Book of Daniel are the following: 9:29; 11:31; 12:11.