FOREWARNINGS OF COMING WOE.
“And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven; and saying with a loud voice, Woe, Woe, Woe, to the inhabitants of the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpets of the three angels which are yet to sound!” Rev. 8:13.
This vision, occurring as it does between the fourth Trumpet-vision and the fifth, corresponds with that period of time which intervened between the extinction of the last rays of the old government at Rome, and the rise of Muhammad and the Saracens: an interval of some 40 or 45 years, which we may date from Justinian’s death, or the Lombards’ establishment in Italy, A.D. 565 and 570; and which was chiefly memorable in Rome and Roman Christendom from the Pontificate which closed it, of Pope Gregory the Great.1 It is a period of transition from what we may designate as the ancient, to the more modern division of Roman history; and this both as regards the West and the East. As such it is notable, and indeed noted by historians. 2
With regard to the vision before us, it is to be observed, that the warning cry of the coming woe was made not by an angel in the inner temple, the council-chamber of the Eternal One, but by an angel flying through the midst of heaven. Hence we may infer, I conceive, agreeably with the analogy of other such Apocalyptic visions, that it was not a mere private intimation to the evangelist of what yet remained to be foreshown respecting the coming future, but signified that which would have its fulfillment in some forewarning signs in real life, publicly observable by men at the time prefigured: just, for example, as the very parallel proclaiming cry of the angel that appeared afterwards flying in mid-heaven,3 may be shown to have had facts clearly answering to it in the correspondent historic era.
So that we must not be satisfied to ass onward without looking into the history of the times here referred’ to, and seeing whether there was in them any thing, and what, that might be regarded as a warning voice of calamities impending: a warning-voice audible, and fit to strike upon the minds of men, throughout the length and breadth of that which, from the professed Christianization of the Romano Gothic kingdoms, might in regard of the West, as well as East, be still called Roman Christendom.
Nor, as it seems to me, does it need more, in order to our perceiving the thing we seek for, than that we should throw ourselves, as it were, into the times spoken of; and identify our thoughts and our sympathies, for the moment, with those of the age. I purpose, in what follows, to speak of the signs of the times, 1st as they might strike foreboding and fear into the minds of reflective men generally – 2ndly, as they might affect the minds more particular of the discerning among, God’s true servants; men such as St. John himself specially represented, that had the seal of God on their foreheads, and whose judgments of things were formed by the rule of God’s written word.
I. And let me begin with observing on the solemnity of the era, and the solemn prognostications connected with it, from its following immediately on the close of that mighty revolution, the fall of Rome’s ancient empire. Escaped from so terrible a wreck, it might have been natural perhaps for the survivors, independently of any peculiar causes of apprehension, to look with awe into a dark and uncertain future.4 But to regard it in this point of view merely, will be altogether to underrate the awfulness of the crisis. The reader has already seen how, on the sure warrant of Scripture, the destruction of the Roman empire bad been all along looked forward to by the early church as an event fraught with consequences most peculiar and most awful.
He will not have forgotten the predictions of Antichrist’s fated coming: how his manifestation was understood to be connected with the dissolution of the Roman empire, its dissolution into ten kingdoms; and that persecutions, calamities, and judgments very fearful were to follow, and after them the end of the world. He will remember how the fathers of the second, and then those of the third century, construed the “restraining influence”. Of St. Paul, the let and hindrance to Antichrist’s manifestation, as the then existing empire of Rome;’ and the intense interest, consequently, which its continuance was regarded by them, the alarm with which its a apprehended fall.
We pray for the Roman emperors and empire” said Tertullian, in a passage already long since in part cited; “for we know that convulsions and calamities threatening the whole world, and the end of the world itself, are kept back by the intervention of the Roman empire.” And so again, just after the termination of the third century, Lactantius: “The fact itself plainly assures us that things will ere long totter and fall. Only while the city of Rome is safe, there seems reason not to apprehend it. For that is the state which as yet props up all things.” The same conviction continued afterwards through the fourth century, as we learn from the consenting statements of the Latin fathers and the Greek, of Cyril and Chrysostom, Ambrose and Jerome:5 and solemn thoughts as to the coming future crossed the minds even of the earlier of those fathers, as they watched the premonitory signs of the times. 6
Much more when, as the fifth century opened, the Gothic inundation swept over the Western empire century opened, the Gothic inundation swept over the Western empire, and soon temporarily overwhelmed Rome itself, as well as the provinces, it could not be but that an. unusual awe and apprehension should fill the minds of reflective men. “Judge ye,” said Sulpitius Severus, from his retirement at the foot of the Gallic Pyrenees, “of the precipice that is before us!” This was said near about the time of the first Vandal irruption into Italy and Gaul; (an irruption which must still further have evidenced to him the truth of his previously-expressed conviction that the breaking up of the iron legs of the Roman empire into its ten toes of iron and clay had then begun:7) and in connection with his record of the solemn declaration of Martin of Tours, made some eight years before, that Antichrist was even then. born, and in his nonage.
And when Alaric threatened, then attacked, and at length took Rome, the graver voice of Jerome cried once, and again, and again from his monastery at Bethlehem; “The Roman world rushes to destruction, and we bend not our neck in humiliation”. The hindrance in Antichrist’s way is removing and we heed it not! In that one city the whole world hath fallen.” But the impression at this time proved to be premature. As the inundation retired from central Italy, both Rome and the Roman empire, though mutilated and broken, remained still standing: nor, moreover, amidst the flux and reflux. of its agitated waters over the Western provinces, could the forms of the expected ten kingdoms as yet seen clearly emergent.
Still events seemed hastening to the crisis. The Bishop of Salona, Hesychius, during the interval between the Judgments of the first and second Trumpet, asserted his deliberate conviction that the end of the world was near at hand; specially with reference to Daniel’s prophecy about the destruction of the fourth or Roman beast, and the commotions and distress of nations then apparent: nor did the objections of Augustine weigh with him, more than with Ambrose and Jerome before, against it.8 Again Evagrius from his monastic retirement in Gaul observed, and urged on others, the signs of the times: “The Roman emperors are driven from their kingdoms: wars rage: all is commotion: Antichrist must be at hand.” And Theodoret, from his more distant bishopric in Syria, after long and studious consideration of the prophecies, confidently reasserted that it needed but the resolution of the Roman empire into ten kingdoms, and then Antichrist would be revealed, and the fearful consequences apprehended follow. 9
So when, at length, in the quick succession of events, and under the judgments of the fourth Trumpet first the office and name of Roman emperor in the West had been extinguished by Odoacer, and then, about A.D. 550, those of Consul and Senate by the generals of Justinian, when in this manner each final vestige of Rome’s ancient imperial ruling power had been swept away, and moreover barbaric kingdoms had risen up out of its ruins in the provinces, perhaps to the very predicted number, there seemed scarce room for doubting that the crisis had arrived, and that the awful events and judgments so long anticipated were indeed at hand.10 From Rome prostrate and ruined, a voice seemed to issue unspeakably solemn, and which called on the whole world to hear it; “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, by reason of the calamities and judgments even now impending!”
There was a chronological characteristic of the era that tended not a little, with some, to confirm these awful forebodings respecting the coming future. It was now between 500 and 600 years from the time of Christ’s birth; and, according to the chronology of the Septuagint, then generally received in Roman Christendom, either somewhat more, if the standard of the Alexandrine copy were taken, or somewhat less, if that of certain other copies, than 6000 years had elapsed from the Creation. Now, not among the Jews only, but among the Christian Fathers also, the idea had been entertained, as already long since hinted, that the seventh millennary was to be the millennium of the triumph of the church: a consummation great and glorious; but to be preceded immediately by the last grand outbreak of evil under Antichrist, and the destruction of the world.
It was under this conviction, and in reliance on the accuracy of the generally received Alexandrine Septuagint chronology, just observed on, that Hippolytus, bishop and martyr in the reign of Alexander Severus, had gone so far as to predict the year of the world’s ending, and fix it at A.D. 500. In precise accordance with whom the learned Lactantius, at the commencement of the fourth century, gave his opinion that the coming of Antichrist, and commencement of the millennium, would not be delayed much more than 200 years. And Eustathius of Antioch, exiled soon after under Constantius, in writing on the Hexaemeron of the Creation, asserted that “there wanted but 469 years at the time of Christ’s resurrection to the end of the 6000 years, and commencement of the Sabbath; so fixing its commencing epoch still about A.D. 500. Once more Hilarion, in the year 402, thus wrote: “It now wants 101 years to the end of the sixth chiliad; about the closing of which the ten kings must arise, Babylon now reigning fall Antichrist arise and be destroyed by Christ’s coming, and so the saints’ sabbath millennary begin.”
The opinion was recognized and sanctioned by Jerome, about the opening of the same century; and indeed as evidenced in part by yet another kind of proof. For He connected that saying of St. John, “It is the last hour,” with our Lord’s parable of the laborers in the vineyard, hired each one, successively, at each of the twelve hours in the day: he inferred that the whole allotted period of man’s probation, from the creation to the world’s end, might lit be resembled to the day’s twelve hours; that, this period being otherwise known to be 6000 years, each mystic hour of the twelve must answer to 500 years; and consequently that St. John’s last hour, including of course the whole time of the gospel-preaching to the Gentiles, from Christ’s birth or ministry to the consummation, would extend to 500 years only.
But behold, as events progressed, that epoch of 500 A.D. passed, and the consummation came not. It might be that there was some small error in their calculation. It might be that the 500 years were to be measured from the first gospel-preaching to the Gentiles, not from the incarnation. It might be that the true date of Christ’s birth was earlier than the Alexandrine copy of the Septuagint made it, perhaps, as Sulpitius Severus, A.M. 5419: in which case 581 A.D. would end the age and world: or, as Augustine calculated it, A.M. 5351; in which case it would be A.D. 650 before the sixth millennary would have its completion. If so, there was still reason, on this account, as the sixth century was advancing to its close, to look with awful expectations to the future. Even Augustine’s theory respecting the Apocalyptic millennium, as commencing from Christ’s first advent, and Satan’s partial binding by the gospel, did not do away with the impression. For, both by himself and his followers, this millennium of time was supposed to mean only what remained at Christ’s birth of the sixth chiliad, or the world’s duration. Thus the chronology of the times was still that which might naturally add strength to the forebodings of coming evil.
The outward state and aspect of things was not of a nature to dissipate the gloom of such prognostics. In the West, the wars and agitation of the new-formed Gothic kingdoms had by no means subsided. The Lombards, a fresh and barbarous Gothic horde, had but recently come down from the Danube; (it was in the year A.D. 570) and, with the somewhat remarkable exception of Rome and a connected district, bad seized upon, and established their kingdom in Italy. In the East the Avar Tartars, having in their flight from the Turks of Mount Altai, tracked the course of the Huns from the Caspian to the western Euxine and Danube, subjected and made tributary the Sclavonic Bulgarians, their immediate predecessors in the work of devastation, destroyed, (conjointly with the Lombards,) the Gepidae of Hungary and Pannonia, and settled down into a kingdom in those provinces in their place, there hung now like a dark thundercloud: prepared to burst at any moment, so far as human foresight could discern, on the eastern empire; and (with the Persian’ perhaps, from the Euphrates cooperating) to sweep it away, as the western empire had been swept already, from the face of the earth. The eye of the Roman contemplatist could find no light there.
Yet more, there was that which might alarm it, in turning from the inflictions of man to those of God. The historian commemorates “the comets, earthquakes, and plague, which astonished or afflicted the age of Justinian.” More recent research has only aggravated this view of the portents then manifested in the natural world. And as to the miseries experienced, they were almost unexampled. The plague especially is described as having for 52 years, from 542 to 594, infected the greater part of the empire. Many cities of the empire were depopulated and made desert. In various country districts the harvest and vintage withered to the ground. At Constantinople 5000, and at length 10,000, died daily. At Rome, in a solemn procession for imploring the mercy of heaven, 80 persons dropt down dead within an hour, from the infection of the pestilence. Procopius relates that by the triple scourge of war, pestilence, and famine, 100 millions of the human race were exterminated in the reign of Justinian.”
Were not these what visitations very like what Hippolytus the martyr had noted as to precede the world’s ending? Under judgments somewhat similar, during the mortality of the fourth Seal, the venerable Cyprian thought that he discerned the signs of decaying nature, and of a world near its dissolution. Were the signs less portentous or significant now?
There was one who was emphatically the man of the age, the most sagacious, the most observed, the most influential: I mean the bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory the Great. We know what, on a general contemplation of the state of things around him, he thought. His forebodings are on record. “Believing,” says Dupin, “that the Roman empire was within a finger’s breadth of its ruin, and participating in the idea that it was only to end with the world’s end, he came to the conviction that the last judgment was at hand; and in many of his letters expressed this his conviction.”
The impressiveness and weight of such declarations from such a man, and at such a time, need scarcely to be suggested to the reader. We must remember, too, that of all modes of publication at that time, in regard specially of things religious, that by the Pope’s letters missive was the most diffusive as well as the most influential. Thus throughout the length and breadth of Christendom, from England in the far north-west, to Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria in the east and south, his warning voice was directed, charged with presage of the dreaded evil. Was it not like the angel11 flying in mid-heaven; that cried, Woe, Woe, Woe, to the inhabitants of the earth, by reason of the judgments about to come” We may take his warning cry to King Ethelbert as a specimen. ” We know from the word of Almighty God that the end of the world is at hand, and the reign of the saints which shall have no end. In the approach of which consummation, all nature must be expected to be disordered; seasons deranged, wars raging, and famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences. If not in our days,” be concludes, “we must expect it in those following.”
Nor in his warning cry as to the judgments precursive of the world’s end being at hand, did he omit the warning of Antichrist being at hand also. He connected the one awful apprehension with the other in his forebodings, just as had been done by most of the Fathers of the church before him. A notable occasion had arisen to call forth the public declaration of his sentiments and his fears on this subject. The Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, had just then assumed the title to himself, though not, we may be assured, in the full meaning of the words, of Universal Bishop.12 Against this, Gregory, as indeed Pope Pelagius ‘ just before him, raised his most solemn protestations. In letters written and published at different times, from 590 (or rather, including that written in Pelagius’ pontificate,13 from 580) to nearly the end of the century, and addressed to the Greek Emperor, the Empress, the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria, the Bishop of Thessalonica, and many others,14 he declared before Christendom, that whosoever in his elation of spirit, called himself or sought to be called, universal bishop or universal priest that man was the likeness, the precursor, and the preparer for Antichrist: that he bore the same characteristic of boundless pride and self exaltation: that the tendency of his assumption, if consented to, was that which was the grand object of Antichrist, viz. to withdraw all members of the church from its only true head, CHRIST Jesus, and to attach and connect them in the stead with himself ” moreover that, in so far as the priesthood might have acquiesced in it, there had been prepared an army not of soldiers indeed, but of priests, to assist him in carrying out that design into effect.
It was stated or implied in his letters, that he regarded the title spoken of as the name of blasphemy connected with the ten-horned beast in the Apocalypse; the self exaltation manifested above all his fellow men, as that predicted of the man of sin in St. Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians; and the consenting thereto as that departure from the faith, and that advocacy which was predicted also in the same epistle, and in that to Timothy.
As to the Greek Patriarchs having so acted, he said that it surprised him not: that he only saw in the fact prophecy fulfilling; and recognized in it a sign of Antichrist being close at hand. Under which persuasion he could not but the rather raise his protesting voice: and that not as in a personal cause; but in that of God and of the whole church: earnestly hoping that, when revealed, Antichrist might not find that which was his own in the principles, or even in the titles, of the priesthood.
Oh! sagacious and most true observer! sagacious in perceiving that the effect of any such allowed and recognize pretensions to a universal episcopate would, as re men, involve the prostration beneath it of all authority secular as well as ecclesiastical; as regards Christ, the withdrawal of the church into apostasy from Him, its only true Lord and head! But what then when, in spite of this declaration, thus pressed as it had been on the attention of Christendom, thus dispersed, thus repeated, and even enregistered in the canon-law of the Romish Church, this very title was within 10 or 15 years after, officially conferred on, and assumed by Gregory’s own successor in the Roman episcopate, the Greek emperor himself conferring it: assumed by him, not in its restricted meaning, as by the Eastern Patriarch previously; but in its full and plain meaning of universal Episcopal supremacy over the whole professing church on earth, and as a title thenceforth never to be abandoned! Surely the fact was one calculated to excite both the ponderings and the misgivings of thinking men: and to awaken enquiry whether that dreaded phantasm, the very ANTICHRIST of prophecy, might not even then have been brought into existence in the world, albeit under a form in some respects little expected; and, if so, with fearful evils, doubtless, following in his train.
II. But the idea thus suggested will be better judged of, after remarking on the awful prognostics in the religion of the times, as viewed by men such as St. John then specially represented; them that kept the commandments of God, and judged of things by the unerring rule of his word. In the definition of which persons I add the second characteristic to the first, because from the infirmity of the human mind, the speciousness sometimes of error, and the undue influence of example and authority, it is too lamentably notorious in church-history that many good men have erred in judgment on points most important, and thereby unintentionally helped forward the cause of evil and error. As to the sentiments of these wiser few on the point we speak of, we can scarcely fail to judge correctly, if we glance with them at the then general state and aspect of religion ; including a brief retrospective view of its history and progress, during the century and a half of the Gothic revolutions and settlements preceding.
In other and earlier parts of’ this apocalyptic comment, the ingesting into the church visible of the great Apostasy has been already set before the reader, in respect of its two earliest unfolded principles and features, both as prefigured in the prophecy, and as fulfilled in the historic times corresponding; the times namely of the middle and the close of the fourth century.’ It was on account thereof that God’s judgments were represented in vision as commissioned against Roman Christendom: and hence, accordingly, that fearful burst upon it of the symbolic tempests of the four first Trumpets, of the fullfilment of which we have just traced the progress.
And what then the moral effect resulting ? Did God’s judgments in the Gothic woe in any measure effect their intended end; and lead to the energetic expurgation of those apostatizing errors from among them, by the people of Roman Christendom either in the Eastern Empire, which from afar, though itself not altogether unscathed, witnessed the woe; or the Western which was convulsed by it, and at length subverted? Far from it. Throughout the century and a half, or two centuries, during which the judgments from God had gone on fulfilling, their commission n, e evil had also gone on advancing. New superstitions and corruptions had been added to the old; and the old become more deeply rooted in the church, and confirmed.
The baptismal sacrament was still ministered, and regarded, as that which operated with the mysterious efficacy of a charm to men’s salvation; and much of the same mysterious vivifying influence, ex opere operato, ascribed to the other and more awful sacrament.15 The saints and their merits were still invocated and set forth, and this even in the authorized liturgies, as the most powerful mediators, and best plea, with God ; and their relics and pictures more than ever venerated and worshipped. Alike in the West and in the East the practice had now become all but universal16 And who more influential than Gregory himself in finally fixing it? In his Sacramentary, it ‘is the saints’ merits and the saints’ intercession that are set before the worshipper as his ground of hope. And when the Christian Bishop, Serenus of Marseilles, seeing the idolatrous worship paid them by the people, cast out the saints’ images from the churches of his diocese, Gregory took part with the people against him: and, though not indeed without protesting against the actual worship, yet ordered that which entailed it, the retention of the images.17
Besides all which, another error and corruption, long covertly instealing into the church, had just now by the same Pope Gregory been authoritatively established, which was likely on peculiar grounds to excite the alarm and the misgivings of each Christian contemplatist; I mean the error of purgatory. It was an error not unconnected with that of saint-invocation just before mentioned; as it similarly related to the inhabitants of the invisible world, and rose indeed from the same source. For the foolish minds of men having transgressed the limits of the written word in their speculations respecting departed saints, what was ,here to prevent the extension of those speculations to the state of other departed ones; viz. of those that could not be considered saints at the time of dying?
The solemn church prayers for the dead, though originally only applicatory to martyrs, and others of the Christian brethren departed in the Lord, and in such case confined to thanks giving fort heir past faith and victory, and supplication for the speedy hastening of the Lord’s coming, and therewith of the perfect consummation of the saint’s bliss in body and soul reunited,18 had in process of time been extended to embrace more doubtful characters, indeed all departed professedly in the faith:19 and opinions had been broached by learned and eloquent fathers in the fourth century, though doubtfully and indeed self contradictorily, that in cases even of men deceased in *in (unless aggravated cases) these prayers of the Church might per. haps avail to obtain for them mitigation, if not remission, of the judicial punishment.20
But, if so, must there not be some purifying fire to burn out their sins: perhaps applied, so as heathen poets and Platonists set forth, instantly after death; and which possibly a passage in St. Paul might have meant,21 though otherwise indeed explained by the fathers? 22 So, during the century and a half or two centuries preceding, the foolish minds of men had been darkly intruding into things not seen, those secret things that belonged to the Lord God; and preparing further meanwhile, by their increased credulity in relies and miracles and visions, for any delusions on this point that the priesthood, itself also debased by superstition, might for gain or for ambition palm upon them. And now behold, as the sixth century closed in, Pope Gregory arose to fix authoritatively the awful truth of purgatorial fire immediately after death. It was on the evidence of supernatural visions and revelations. Germanus, Bishop of Capua, had himself seen the soul of Paschasius the deacon boiling in the hot baths of St. Angelo! Who could calculate the depth of superstition into which the purgatorial doctrine, thus established, was likely to lead the people? Who the effect that it must have on the position and influence of the priesthood!
And indeed it seems to me that the influence and power gathered to the priesthood, from the accumulated superstitions of the last three centuries, was a point that could scarce fail to impress deeply the mind the discerning Christian. Ever since the commencement of the Apostasy, each successive step of departure from gospel-truth into superstition and error, had been of a nature to give and to increase to them an illegitimate, unscriptural, and most pernicious power; in substitution for that better and hallowing influence assigned them in God’s own holy word. The sacramental error, as I have before stated, tended to, make them viewed by the people not only as God’s honoured instruments of good, by bringing men outwardly into covenant with HIM who was the sours life ; but almost as the efficient cause of life and salvation.23 The saint and relic worship, requiring attendance as it did at the’ churches enshrining those relies, which were under their care, suggested the necessity of securing the priest’s co-operation and favour, who was the supposed saints chief intimate, as well as chief voucher.24
The substitution by Pope Leo, about the middle of the fifth century, of private confession to priests, instead of public in the church, and moreover the extension somewhat later of the virtue of indulgences granted by them, to the remission of guilt, as well as of penance,25 these fresh innovations, already brought in before the epoch of our text, had also each immensely added to their power. And the doctrine of purgatory, which now followed, as we have said, put a climax to it. For if the former had made them masters of the consciences, and almost fate, of the living,26 the latter represented them as masters in no little measure of the fate of those dear to the living among the dead. It had given them, what Archimedes wanted, another world on which to fix their lever; and with it they might move this. A power such, and so derived, was fearful to contemplate: the rather, as the now enforced celibacy of the clergy, (might not this be the evil predicted by St. Paul, I Tim. iv. 1?)27 detaching them from other ties, could not but have the effect of directing their ambition into the only line-open to it, that of ecclesiastical power;28 and this when (in no little measure from the same cause) their morals and their knowledge were almost alike debased and low. As to its use it would be all necessarily antichristian: i. e. not to lead men to Christ; but, by the interposition and substitution of living priests, just as of departed saints, to shut Christ more and more out of view.
Insomuch that as a doctrinal system of anti-christian, the Apostasy might seem to have been now almost brought by its secret deviser and guide to perfection; not without but within the professing Church, according to so many ancient Fathers’ understanding of those words “sitting in the temple of God,” said by St. Paul of the great Antichrist of the apostasy: and indeed only to need the superposition of one single individual heading it, to constitute ANTICHRIST! For which and whom, on a much larger view of the evidence than Gregory had taken, the Christian contemplatist’s conclusion would be that the priesthood were prepared, even like an army, (I use Gregory’s own strong language,) to abet and aid him.
Finally, as to this ANTICHRIST, it seems to me that when regarded in their history, character, pretensions, local site, and relation to the too generally apostatized church and priesthood in Christendom, there was that in the see and the bishops of Rome which might well have appeared to the reflecting Christian, as wearing to thatawful phantasm of prophecy a most suspicious likeness.
Considering that, while the Apostasy was progressing, those bishops ha been too uniformly its promoters and inculcabors, and that now, when it was all but brought to maturity, Pope Gregory had most zealously (though not altogether consistently) identified himself and his see with its of whole system, alike with its infusions Judaism and of Heathenism, its enforced clerical celibacy and its monasticism, its confessional and its purgatory, its saint, relic, and image worship, its pilgrimages, and its lying miracles, considering that the seat of the episcopate thus heading the Apostasy was Rome, the fated seven-hilled city, the seat of the Beast in apocalyptic prophecy, and place to which all the Fathers had looked as that of Antichrist’s supremacy.
Rome so singularly freed, by means of the very wrecking of it empire, from the “let” long time controlling it of the overlooking Roman imperial power, and then, by Belisarius’ and Narses’ conquests, from the subsequent but short-lived let of Italian Gothic princes, similarly near and controlling,29 considering that the power of the keys was now believed in the West to attach individually to but one bishop, viz. to St. Peter’s episcopal successor and representative, (not, as of old supposed, to the body of priests or bishops) and that the fact of St. Peter’s having visited, and been martyred and buried at Rome, had determined that representative to be the Roman bishop, considering that, in consequence, the bishop of the now revived Imperial city was indicating pretensions, enduring evidently as the world itself, to a spiritual empire over Christendom immeasurably loftier than that of old Pagan Rome, and had not merely accepted and assumed the before mentioned title of Universal Bishop, given by the Emperor,30 but accepted and assumed the yet loftier title, distinctively ascribed to him a little earlier by the Italian bishops and priesthood in Council, of Christ’s Vicar, or God’s Vicar, on earth,31 the very characteristic predicated of the Man of Sin by St. Paul, and identical title, only Latinized, with St. John’s term Antichrist, considering that, besides the priesthood thus taking part to elevate him, the people also Of the western part of the apostatizing church acquiesced in it, (like Augustine’s multiplied “ficti et mali”, to aid in Antichrist’s development,) and specially the kings of the new-formed Gothic kingdoms, thus adding power throughout the west to his name and office, considering all these resemblances, I say, in respect of place, time, titles, station, character, might not the thought have well occurred to the reflecting Christian of the day, that the bishops of Rome, regarded in their succession and line, might very possibly be the identical Antichrist predicted: he whose incoming was to be with lying miracles; he who was to sum up in himself as their head, to use Irenaeus’ expression, all the particulars of the long progressing apostasy ; and to be in short, as Justin Martyr had called him, ” the Man of the Apostasy,” as well as, in St. Paul’s language, “the Man of Sin?”
No doubt there was in Gregory himself much respectability of character, and semblance of piety. But this constituted no objection. Both Pagan emperors, and unchristian heretics, had often been personally respectable; and Hippolytus, and Cyril, and other Fathers had exprest an opinion that Antichrist would at first, (under direction of the evil Master- Spirit inspiring,) in order the better to seduce men, wear that deceptive guise. No doubt, again, such a view of Antichrist was in this point different from that of the earlier Fathers, that they had looked to see him in one single individual.
But here they might very possibly be wrong. or the apostle St. Paul’s own language in designating the Roman imperial succession, that was to be the let to Antichrist’s manifestation, under the figure of an individual man, (he who letteth,) showed that the phrase the man of sin might similarly be a living succession. Once more, if the 1260 days, or three and a half years, predicted of Antichrist’s continuance, would seem in such case to be too short a period, various late learned expositors, e. g. Tichonius and Primasius, had; suggested what might be a solution of the difficulty, and one well accordant with Scripture usage: viz. that the days in prophetic formula might have a mystic and extended meaning; indeed, as those expositors had in one place stated, that each day might probably symbolize a year.
But however this might be, and it is a subject that we shall have to discuss fully elsewhere, of one thing he must have felt assured, viz. that the state of the bishops and priesthood, and church generally, alike in East and West, (for even as regarded Antichrist, the Eastern Patriarch was just as much prepared to enact the character as the Western, could he but have accomplished it) I say that the ecclesiastical state, alike of East and West, was such as to call for the signal judgments of God. Already, excepting the religious murders, there was not a single one in the catalogue of sins afterwards enumerated as the cause of the sixth Trumpet’s woe and the woe preceding, that had not, at the close of the sixth century, become markedly characteristic of the professed christian church and clergy. There was the worship of demons, or saints canonized, and of images or idols of’ gold, silver, brass, stone and wood, which could neither see, nor hear, nor walk; and there were the sorceries, or lying charms and miracles; and there were the fornications, and priestly religious thefts. And must not all these have seemed to an enlightened Christian to cry to heaven for vengeance?
Of the causes of coming woe against Jerusalem specified by the ancient prophets, and of those afterwards similarly specified by Christ and his apostles, how few were there but now applied to corrupted Christendom!32 Specially it was for its rejection, its determined rejection, of his own blessed gospel dispensation long offered it, that the Lord Jesus had finally denounced woe against Jerusalem; denunciation, of which that maniac prophet’s cry, which Josephus describes to us, of “Woe, Woe, Woe, to the city and the temple,” was but the echo.
And if woe was then boded against Jerusalem, how not, at this fearful crisis of its apostasy, against Roman Christendom also? Surely the very air must have seemed vocal to each thoughtful Christian, into which ascended the incense of its Christ denying worship and blasphemies. To the West indeed, if his suspicion were right respecting Antichrist, a temporary freedom from the woe might be probably presumed in order to admit of Antichrist’s development, in fulfilment of the Scripture prophecy. Yet, sooner or later, the woe must be expected to embrace it too. So that the forewarning cry, not unlike that of the apocalyptic angel in mid-heaven, might seem to him to embrace within it all that remained of the seven Trumpets; and in triple boding-cry, to proclaim Woe, Woe, Woe, against all the inhabitants of the apostate Roman earth!33