Then, by referring to those biblical prophecies which speak about the end of times, he shows that, in a manner similar to that of his head, the devil, the “son of perdition” will be a master of deception capable of presenting himself as a luminous figure. That is why his name – anti-Christ – indicates that he is not only an absolute adversary of God made man, Jesus Christ, but also one who wants to substitute Him. This explains his anti-Gospel, whose heresies will be spread throughout the world and which will eliminate both the notion of Hell and those of sin and punishment:
“Nowhere in Sacred Scripture do we find warrant for the popular myth of the Devil as a buffoon who is dressed like the first ‘red.’ Rather is he described as an angel fallen from heaven, as ‘the Prince of this world,’ whose business it is to tell us that there is no other world. His logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgment then evil is good and good is evil. But above all these descriptions, Our Lord tells us that he will be so much like Himself that he would deceive even the elect — and certainly no devil ever seen in picture books could deceive even the elect.”
If the theme of deceiving the elect deserves a separate analysis, which we will present in a future article, for now, we keep in mind the underlying idea that emphasizes the Antichrist’s deceptive capacity to present himself as the true and only Savior of humanity. Consequently, his followers will form an anti-Church, which will be nothing more than a caricature, a mockery of the true Church established by God Himself. After such fundamental considerations, Bishop Sheen portrays how the anti-Christ was depicted in pre-communist Russia (before the year 1917), a depiction that, I believe, suggests a significant influence:
“The pre-Communist Russian belief is that he will come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity and plenty not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves. (…) The third temptation in which Satan asked Christ to adore him and all the kingdoms of the world would be His, will become the temptation to have a new religion without a Cross, a liturgy without a world to come, a religion to destroy a religion, or a politics which is a religion — one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God’s.”
An involuntary genius and his unexpected visions
All those acquainted with classical Russian philosophy and theology will recognize the author of this portrayal of the deceitful “Great Humanitarian:” the Catholic convert Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (1853 - 1900). This unparalleled philosopher, both before and after 1896 when he was officially received into the Catholic Church, devoted a substantial portion of his intellectual energy to a plan of unification under the governance of the Sovereign Pontiff, aimed at bringing together the heretical and schismatic communities that had strayed from the path of Christian Truth. Disappointed by the failure of all his attempts to realize this ideal, in the last year of his life, spent largely in the home of his disciple, Prince Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoy (1863 - 1905), he would complete his most renowned work. Entitled War, Progress, and the End of History: Three Conversations, Including a Short Story of the Anti-Christ, we discover within this small book a detailed scenario of the end of history and the second coming of Jesus Christ. The imaginary portrait of the anti-Christ proposed by Solovyov is absolutely astonishing. It is characterized by a realism that – undoubtedly – electrified not only Bishop Sheen but also countless other readers.
Filled with unprecedented power, coupled with a gigantic self-confidence, he will reveal himself to the world, astonishing it with a work – entitled The Open Way – that will bring him universal recognition and praise. Politicians compete to quote him. Religious leaders, almost all captivated by such a visionary, follow him. All recognize in him an unprecedented leader. Yet, worried voices are heard from the ranks of that remnant of Christianity
In the introduction to his story, the Russian philosopher first describes the social, cultural, and political context of the world. Chronologically speaking, everything takes place in the 21st century. Not only the date, but also the description of the world situation is – to say the least – surprising. Everything unfolds under the sign of an Asian invasion, which will manage to occupy Europe for half a century. The ongoing phenomenon of emigration to the Western world will accompany the period of occupation. Against the backdrop of a widespread rejection of Christian Revelation, the mainstream culture is dominated by a blend of Western and Eastern ideas, in the same spirit that characterized the religious syncretism of late antiquity in Alexandria. The old monarchical institutions, representatives of fading traditions, are eliminated and replaced everywhere by democratic regimes. A political entity – the United States of Europe – is created as a precursor organization of a global political organism. However, the extraordinary part of Solovyov’s story begins with the portrayal of the dark, sophisticated personality of the anti-Christ.
Just as in the writings of Saint Hildegard, he is a “Christian.” Quotation marks indicate that he is a subtle modernist “Christian” who doesn’t adhere to the simple, strong faith – the Tradition, I would say – that accepts dogmas like creation ex nihilo. However, his major weakness is self-worship (i.e. auto-latria). The remarkable way in which Solovyov describes this characteristic of the anti-Christ is reminiscent of Saint Augustine:
“Conscious of the great power of spirit in himself, he was always a confirmed spiritualist, and his clear intellect always showed him the truth of what one should believe in: the good, God, and the Messiah.
In these he believed, but he loved only himself. He believed in God, but in the depths of his soul he involuntarily and unconsciously preferred himself. He believed in Good, but the All Seeing Eye of the Eternal knew that this man would bow down before the power of Evil as soon as it would offer him a bribe – not by deception of the senses and the lower passions, not even by the superior bait of power, but only by his own immeasurable self-love.”
In addition to self-love, the “son of perdition” has another major problem: by failing to recognize Jesus Christ as the true God, he evaluates Him solely from an evolutionary perspective. To him, Christ was merely a precursor intended, through His mission, to lay the groundwork for the far more crucial mission of the final “savior” of the world:
“Christ came before me. I come second. But what, in order of time, appears later is, in its essence, of greater importance. I come last, at the end of history, and for the very reason that I am most perfect. I am the final savior of the world, and Christ is my precursor. His mission was to precede and prepare for my coming.”
Such a blasphemous way of thinking indicates the incredible extent to which his self-love had reached in his heart. In this perspective, Jesus of Nazareth was good, but the one who comes after is sublime. Thus, the anti-Christ considers himself a continuator of Christ’s work, but a superior destined to replace Him. To prove his superiority, he will do the exact opposite of what the Savior did during the temptations he faced from the devil. Among other things, he throws himself from a height. The devil saves him, preventing his fall, and ingrains in him the idea of his epochal, unique mission, through which he will fulfill what his inferior precursor could not. From that moment, filled with unprecedented power, coupled with a gigantic self-confidence, he will reveal himself to the world, astonishing it with a work – entitled The Open Way – that will bring him universal recognition and praise. Politicians compete to quote him. Religious leaders, almost all captivated by such a visionary, follow him. All recognize in him an unprecedented leader. Yet, worried voices are heard from the ranks of that remnant of Christianity whose visible head is Pope Peter II – a famous preacher from the contemplative Carmelite order. If history began with Pope Peter I, it must end with Pope Peter II, right?
Both Pope Peter and other, few, Christians notice unsettling details in the person of the self-proclaimed Emperor. A great philanthropist, he is also a philo-zoon – a lover of animals. Furthermore, he is an ecumenist who aims to lead all religions into the promised land, where universal peace reigns. The only one missing from the grand world in the charlatan leader’s vision is the Savior Jesus Christ.
The shared concern of both Vladimir Solovyov and Bishop Fulton Sheen is to create the most realistic image of the anti-Christ. At the same time, through the denial of that stark image with grotesque elements – red tights, sulfur, trident, arrowed tail – Bishop Sheen suggests that the anti-Christ will not be visible to those with a purely material understanding of the Holy Scriptures.
Understanding the potential implications of such an omission, the faithful begin to assiduously read the old prophetic texts of the Bible. The questions they raise become increasingly acute. To appease these voices casting doubt on his ideas and identity, the anti-Christ will convene a major council, inviting all Christian religious leaders. I hope I won’t upset you if I stop here with the description of Solovyov’s story. I don’t want to deprive you of the joy of reading not only a text full of profound ideas but also a small literary masterpiece.
The golden key: “a mind that has wisdom”
All that has been shown so far, I believe, is sufficiently relevant to the aspects which I wish to emphasize. The shared concern of both Vladimir Solovyov and Bishop Fulton Sheen is to create the most realistic image of the anti-Christ. At the same time, through the denial of that stark image with grotesque elements – red tights, sulfur, trident, arrowed tail – Bishop Sheen suggests that the anti-Christ will not be visible to those with a purely material understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Only those capable of deciphering the “signs” will be able, through a spiritual understanding of biblical prophecies, to comprehend whom they are dealing with. This is why, in Solovyov’s story, only a few, very few Christians – a remnant – discover the nature of the self-proclaimed “Messiah.” All others, enchanted by his promises and pacifist humanitarian vision, will fall prey to the one who, adoring and loving only himself, is incapable of adoring the Savior Jesus Christ. Similar to the most priests of the Old Covenant, he cannot acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth, born in poverty to the Queen of the Universe, the Holy Virgin Mary, is not only a man but also God. Such a confession of faith can be made exclusively by those who possess that virtue – humility – for which the Mother of God is, as an old Byzantine Christian prayer says, “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim.” But to the one who loves and adores himself, no virtue is more alien.
No bowl or jar can be used without that cavity, that “emptiness” which can be filled with some content. Although at first glance it may seem paradoxical, the essence of the vessel is precisely the emptiness, not the material that gives it a visible form. Based on this example, we can conceive humility as being precisely that emptiness inside the vessel that needs to be filled. Humility is thus the absolute necessary condition for the mind of any person to be able to be filled with the content of Faith. First, therefore, we must put into brackets our human ideas in order to receive the revealed dogmas – God’s ideas – and teachings of Moses’ Decalogue. And when our minds, humble, receive this divine content, they also fill with that unseen power called Wisdom – a priceless gift of the Holy Spirit. To understand the apocalyptic prophecies of the Holy Scriptures, we need, as the Holy Apostle John tells us, a “mind that has Wisdom.” (Revelation 17:9) And the ultimate test is the interpretation of the most mysterious verse in the Bible regarding the Antichrist:
“Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast. For it is the number of a man: and the number of him is six hundred sixty-six.” (Revelation 13: 18)
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