The Divine Lamp

Archive for May, 2019

Signs That Will Accompany the End of the Present World

Posted by carmelcutthroat on May 27, 2019

Public Domain Source: Pohle, Joseph, and Arthur Preuss. Eschatology, or The Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things: A Dogmatic Treatise. Dogmatic Theology. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1920.


Revelation tells us that the General Judgment will be preceded by certain definite signs (Matt 24:37 sqq.; 2 Pet. 3:3 sqq.). Hence we may conclude that the world will not come to an end before these signs appear. On the other hand, no one can foretell the exact day of the Last Judgment from these signs. It is only when they all concur that a reasonable conjecture will become possible, and even then there will still be danger of self-deception. Cfr. 2 Thess. 2:1 sq.: “We beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together unto Him, that you be not readily shaken out of your right mind nor kept in alarm,—whether by spirit-utterance or by discourse or by a letter purporting to be from us,—as though the day of the Lord were upon us.” As the precise time of the Last Judgment is known only to God, it were idle for us to speculate about it.

The principal signs or events usually enumerated by theologians as preceding the Last Judgment are:

(1) The General Preaching of the Christian Religion all over the earth;

(2) The Conversion of the Jews;
(3) The Return of Henoch and Elias;
(4) A Great Apostasy and the Reign of Antichrist;
(5) Extraordinary Disturbances of Nature;
(6) A Universal Conflagration.

1. GENERAL PREACHING OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.—The first of the predicted signs was announced by our Divine Saviour Himself, Matth. 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations, and then shall the consummation come.”

It must not be concluded from this prophecy that all men will ultimately embrace the Christian religion. Our Lord says that the Gospel will be preached to all nations; not that all men will be converted (St Aug., Ep. 199). The words “and then” (καὶ τότε) are probably not meant to indicate an immediate sequence of events, but merely to mark the beginning (terminus a quo) of the period which will end with the General Judgment. “What does the phrase ‘then it will come’ mean,” says St. Augustine, “except that it will not come before that time? How long after that time it will come, we do not know. The only thing we know for certain is that it will not come sooner.” (St Aug., Ep. 197

2. THE CONVERSION OF THE JEWS.—St. Paul says: “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mysery, … that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written: (Is 59:20) ‘There shall come out of Sion he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’ … For as you also in times past did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy through their unbelief, so these also now have not believed, for your mercy, that they also may obtain mercy.” Rom 11:25

From this text it may with reasonable certainty be concluded:

(a) That the majority of nations, or at least the majority of the people of all nations (plenitudo gentium), will embrace Christianity before the end of the world;

(b) That, after the general conversion of the “gentiles,” the Jews, too, will accept the Gospel.

Though these propositions by no means embody articles of faith, it requires more than such antisemitic scolding as was indulged in by Luther to disprove them. The Apostle expressly speaks of a “mystery,” and ascribes the final conversion of the Jews, not to the physical or mental characteristics of the Semitic race, but to a special dispensation of God’s “mercy.” Luther overlooked both these factors when he wrote: “A Jew, or a Jewish heart, is as hard as wood, stone, or iron, as hard in fact as the devil himself, and hence cannot be moved by any means.… They are young imps condemned to Hell.… Those who conclude from the eleventh chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans that the Jews will all be converted towards the end of the world, are foolish and their opinion is groundless.” (Sämtl. Werke, Jena ed., Vol. VIII, p. 109)

On the other hand, however, there is no reason to assume that the Jews will all be converted, or that the Hebrew race will embrace the true faith in a body. Like the “gentiles,” the Jews will probably flock to the Church in great numbers. “When the multitude of nations will come in,” says St. Jerome, “then this fig-tree, too, will bear fruit, and all Israel will be saved.” (In Habac., III, 17)

The parable of the sheepfold (John 10:16) is sometimes applied to the end of the world, though, we believe, ineptly. In saying, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd,” our Lord simply meant that His Church was to embrace all nations.

3. RETURN OF HENOCH AND ELIAS.—The belief that Elias (Elijah) and Henoch (Enoch) will return to herald the second coming of our Lord and to convert the Jews, was held by many Fathers.

a) So far as it regards Elias, this belief is based on the prophecy of Malachias (Malachi): “Behold I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come and strike the earth with anathema.” (Mal 4:5 sq) “Elias the prophet” cannot be identical with John the Baptist, as some have thought, because the Septuagint expressly calls him “the Thesbite” (Tishbite). Moreover, our Lord Himself clearly distinguishes between the two, and ascribes to Elias precisely the rôle that was attributed to him by His contemporaries. Matth 17:11 sq.: “But he answering, said to them: Elias indeed shall come, and restore all things; but I say to you that Elias is already come.… Then the disciples understood that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist.” St. Augustine explains this text as follows: “As there are two advents of the Judge, so there are two precursors.… He sent before Him the first precursor and called him Elias, because Elias was to take the same part in the second coming that John had in the first.” (Tract. in Ioa., VII, 5)

From what we have said it further appears that the phrase “dies Domini” does not mean the first coming of Christ as the Messias, but His second coming as the Universal Judge. The day of His Incarnation was a day of mercy and blessing; the day of the Last Judgment will be a “day of terror.”

b) Concerning Henoch the argument is less convincing.

Some theologians substitute Moses or Jeremias for Henoch, but this procedure is rejected by the majority (Cfr. Suarez, De Myst. Vitae Christi, disp. 55, sect. 3.). The Bible says that “Henoch pleased God, and was translated into paradise, that he may give [preach] repentance to the nations’ (Sir 44:16). The Septuagint is less definite. It says: καὶ μετετέθη (εἰς παράδεισον is missing) παράδειγμα μετανοίας ταῖς γενεαῖς,—which might mean that Henoch was set up as an example of repentance for his contemporaries. St. Paul says: “By faith Henoch was translated, that he should not see death” (Heb 11:5). In view of this passage and of the “two witnesses” who according to the Apocalypse (Rev 11:3 sqq.) will appear as precursors of our Lord when He returns for the Last Judgment, there has existed in the Church since the earliest times a popular belief that Elias and Henoch will come back to preach penance before the end of the world. However, this is not a dogmatically certain truth, as claimed by Bellarmine. (De Romano Pontifice, III, 6)

4. THE GREAT APOSTASY AND ANTICHRIST.—The “great apostasy,” i. e. a tremendous defection among the faithful, is described partly as the cause and partly as an effect of the appearance of Antichrist. Both events may be reckoned among the signs that are to precede the Last Judgment, because it is certain that either before or after the conversion of nations and of the Jewish race there will be a great revolt, led by Antichrist, which will reduce the number of the faithful.

a) That a great apostasy will occur before the end of the world we know from St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.

The congregation at Thessalonica had taken alarm at a spurious letter purporting to come from the Apostle, “as though the day of the Lord were near.” To prove the genuineness of the present epistle, and as a precaution against forgery, St. Paul inserts the following words in his own handwriting: “I, Paul, [send you] this greeting with my own hand. That is the sign in every letter; thus I write” (2 Th 3:17). His references to the end of the world appear rather obscure to us because he adverts to certain things which he had told the Thessalonians by word of mouth and of which we have no knowledge: “Do you not remember that while I was still with you I used to tell you these things?” (2 Th 2:5). On one point, however, he is quite clear, viz.: that the “day of the Lord” (ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου) will not come “unless the apostasy first befall, and the man of lawlessness be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Th 2:3). “Apostasy” (ἡ ἀποστασία, discessio) in this connection can scarcely mean a political revolution, for the whole movement is described as “a mystery of iniquity” (μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας), a satanic “seduction to evil for them that are perishing, because they have not entertained the love of the truth (τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας) unto their salvation. And therefore God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe that lie (τῷ ψεύδει), in order that all may be judged that have believed the truth (τῇ ἀληθείᾳ), but have acquiesced in unrighteousness” (τῆ ἀδικίᾳ. 2 Thess. 2:9–11).

It is true that some older exegetes understood this text as foreshadowing, at least secondarily, a great political upheaval, in particular the fall of the Roman Empire. But neither this catastrophe, nor the Protestant Reformation (1517), nor the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire (1806), have proved to be the discessio predicted by the Apostle.

b) In the passage quoted above St. Paul mentions another sign among those preceding the day of the Lord, viz.: the revelation of the “man of sin,” the “son of perdition,” who is usually called Antichrist.

α) The name Antichrist is not found in the Epistles of St. Paul, but in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7 St. John speaks of “antichrists” in the plural number, but there can be no doubt that he believed in a personal Antichrist. Cfr. 1 John 2:18: “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour.”27 This personal Antichrist is to be preceded by messengers who will prepare the way for him and inaugurate his reign. Cfr. 1 John 4:3: “And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God: and this is antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world.” The Greek text is more definite: καὶ τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου [the work of Antichrist], ὃ [not ὅς] ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη. Evidently the Antichrist predicted by St. John is not merely a pretender, but the incarnate antithesis of our Divine Saviour, and therefore His deadly enemy. Whether “Antichrist” is merely a collective name for certain persons and tendencies, or whether it designates one particular person, a human individual of flesh and blood, cannot be concluded with certainty from the Johannine text. St. Paul, however, is positive on this point. He speaks of Antichrist as “the man of lawlessness” (ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας), “the son of perdition” (ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας), who “shall oppose and exalt himself against all that is called God” and “seat himself in God’s sanctuary, giving himself out as God” (2 Thess. 2:3 sqq.). “And then shall the lawless one (ὁ ἄνομος) be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming. But that other’s coming is through Satan’s working [attended] by every [kind of] feat and sign and lying wonder, and by every seduction to evil for them that are perishing” (2 Th 2:8-10) This graphic description cannot be applied to a mere personification, but points to a concrete individual, and hence we may safely reject the figurative interpretation of “Antichrist,” though it is not necessarily contrary to Catholic teaching.

β) It is difficult to say what St. meant meant when he wrote in the same Epistle: “And now you know what keepeth him back (τὸ κατέχον), to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only let him who now restraineth (ὁ κατέχων) be taken out of the way, and then shall the lawless one be revealed” (2 Th 2:6-7). This obscure text has been variously interpreted. Most exegetes see in it a reference to some contemporaneous event. SS. Chrysostom and Jerome regarded the Roman Empire as the restraining influence (τὸ κατέχον, ὁ κατέχων). Others held that “the lawless one” is kept in check by the fact that the Gospel has not yet been preached to all nations and the Jewish people remain unconverted. Dr. Döllinger identified “the man of lawlessness” with the Emperor Nero, the κατέχων with Claudius, the “mystery of lawlessness” with Nero’s intrigues to usurp the throne, and the “sitting in the temple” (Cfr. Dan. 9:27) with the profanation and destruction of the Jewish temple under Titus and Vespasian (Döllinger, Christentum und Kirche, pp. 277 sqq). Such historical parallels may be ingenious and entertaining, but in appraising them at their true value we must not overlook the fact that St. John speaks of the second coming of Christ, and that “he who restrains” this coming is most likely the devil, who is reserving his forces for the end of the world, when he will make his last and most formidable assault upon the human race through Antichrist.

Some conceive Antichrist to be an incarnate devil or a man possessed by Satan (Cfr. St. Jerome, In Dan., VII, 8: “Unus de hominibus, in quo satanas inhabitaturus sit corporaliter.”). The rôle assigned to him, however, would seem to require an independent person. Such appellations as “the man of lawlessness” and “the son of perdition” sufficiently indicate that he will be a man, not an incarnate devil or an energumen.

The belief that Antichrist will be the son of a Jewish mother overshadowed by Satan is pure conjecture (Cfr. Lactantius, Instit., VI, 17). That he will be born in Syria or Babylonia, rule the world for three years from Jerusalem or Rome, and be deposed at the second coming of our Lord, are more or less probable surmises that have nothing to do with the dogmatic teaching of the Church (Cfr. Roncaglia, Lezioni Sacre intorno alla Venuta, Costumi e Monarchia dell’ Anticristo, Rome 1718; A. J. Maas, S.J., art. “Antichrist,” in Vol. I of the Catholic Encyclopedia; J. H. Newman, “The Patristic Idea of Antichrist” (Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects, pp. 44–108, new impression, London 1907).).

5. EXTRAORDINARY DISTURBANCES OF NATURE.—The second coming of Christ will be sudden and terrifying. Matth. 24:27: “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Luke 17:24: “As the lightning that lighteneth from under heaven, shineth unto the parts that are under heaven, so shall the Son of man be in his day.” Scripture clearly indicates that this event will be preceded by tremendous disturbances.

a) It is not easy to separate the eschatological part of our Lord’s teaching from his references to the destruction of Jerusalem. However, there can hardly be a doubt that the following passage refers entirely to the end of the world: “And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty” (Mt 24:29-30). The tribulations here described are partly material (extraordinary perturbations of nature) and partly spiritual (mental anguish suffered by men). It will not do to interpret the passage figuratively. The Fathers and theologians accept our Lord’s prophecy in its literal sense. Quite naturally, He employed the language of the people to whom He spoke, not the terminology of science. We know that the (fixed) stars cannot “fall from heaven.” Hence the expression “powers of heaven” must apply to the atmospheric belt that surrounds the earth. We are forced to conclude that the words of the Bible refer to the earth alone and not to the planets and other astral bodies by which it is surrounded. True St. Paul says: “Every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now, and not only it, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit” (Rom 8:22-23). But nature, i. e. the material universe, expects redemption and consummation only in so far as it groans under the curse which deprived it of the blessings of Paradise. In matter of fact God cursed the earth, not its planets, nor the sun, nor the stars. Cfr. Gen. 3:17 sq.: “Cursed is the earth in thy work; … thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.”

This simple and rational explanation is confirmed by what may be regarded as the most important of all Scriptural texts dealing with the consummation of the world, viz., 2 Pet. 3:10: “But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up.” As the context shows, “heavens” here means the atmosphere surrounding the earth, for the conflagration described by St. Peter is related to the deluge, “whereby the world that then was, being over-flowed with water, perished;” whereas “the heavens and the earth, which now, by the same word are kept in store, [are] reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Pt 3:6-7). A comparison of the two sentences shows that the “heaven” which will be destroyed by fire is the same that helped to bring on the deluge. Hence it must be the atmosphere of our earth, of which alone, furthermore, it can be said that it “shall pass away with great violence” (2 Pet 3:10: “caeli magno impetu transient.”—On the interpretation of 2 Pet. 3:6–10 see St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XX, 24.).

b) How are we to conceive “the new heavens” which Scripture predicts in connection with the “new earth” that is to be after the Last Judgment? (Cfr. Is. 65:17; 66:22; Rev 21:1 sq.; 2 Pet. 3:13.). We shall hardly go astray if we picture this transformation as a restoration of the telluric atmosphere. The earth and its surrounding atmosphere will not be totally destroyed, but transformed into a paradise. It is hazardous to deduce more than this from the cryptic intimations found in various parts of the Bible. The analogy of faith as well as the geocentric conception of the universe known to have been held by the sacred writers favor the assumption that there is to be a re-created “heaven” (i. e. atmosphere) as well as a restored earth. In what manner the planets and stars are to be led to perfection,—we can hardly assume that they will continue their revolutions forever,—Revelation does not tell. The views held by the Fathers and medieval Scholastics were based on an erroneous notion of the universe and cannot be regarded as an authentic exposition of the Catholic faith.

6. THE UNIVERSAL CONFLAGRATION.—The “end of the world” will be brought about by a great conflagration, which will destroy our planet and its atmosphere.

a) It is uncertain whether this catastrophe will take place before or after the General Judgment. The former view is based on the assumption that the advent of the Great Judge in the clouds of heaven (Matt 24:29; 2 Pet. 3:10) must coincide with the universal conflagration, and that this conflagration will not only cause the death of those who are still alive, but likewise supply for them the place of Purgatory. But this theory is open to many objections. In the first place it is improbable that the Last Judgment will be delayed until after the destruction and subsequent restoration of the earth, for how, in this hypothesis, would it be possible for the living to “hasten unto the coming of the Lord”? Moreover, it seems proper that the great conflagration should follow the Last Judgment and thus actually mark the end of the world.

b) By what means God will bring about this terrible conflagration we know not. It is neither probable nor necessary to assume that the phenomenon will be strictly miraculous. Even infidel scientists admit that there are a number of purely natural causes which may at any moment bring about the end of the world. If, for instance, the earth were to collide with a comet accompanied by a swarm of meteorites, or with some solar system other than our own, or if one of the so-called fixed stars were to enter our planetary circle, the result would be destruction. Curiously enough the signs predicted by our Lord and by St. Peter as preceding or accompanying the end of the world coincide with the perturbations which present-day scientists say would probably ensue if the earth were hit by a comet. A well-known astronomer, Father Charles Braun, S. J., has called attention to the existence of comets which are ten thousand times larger than the earth. If such a ponderous body were to strike the earth at a speed of, say, six geographical miles per second, he says, “the result would be the same as if a compact mass of equal weight, shooting through space with the velocity of a cannon ball, would collide with the earth. No human being could live through such a catastrophe.… Millions of luminous meteorites and meteors, which, as is well known, always accompany comets, would penetrate the atmosphere, and, by condensing, produce such enormous masses of cosmic dust that the sun would lose its splendor and glow with a reddish hue. Presently the head of the comet would arrive and either strike the earth and, by destroying its crust, cause the kernel of liquid fire to burst forth, or, leaving behind a large part of its coma, enter our atmosphere in the form of a frightful hurricane and start a general conflagration, which even the minerals could hardly resist, and which, within a few hours, would convert all organic structure into ashes” (Chs. Braun, S.J., Ueber Kosmogonie vom Standpunkt christlicher Wissenschaft, 3rd ed., pp. 383, 385, Münster 1905.—On other possibilities see Epping, “Die Meteorite und ihr kosmischer Ursprung,” in the Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, 1886, I, 290 sqq.; J. Pohle, Die Sternenwelten und ihre Bewohner, 6th ed., pp. 243 sqq., Cologne 1910.).

c) Will this universal conflagration annihilate the earth with all its inhabitants or will some organic beings survive? This question is inspired by curiosity rather than dogmatic considerations. The Scholastics generally held that no corruptible substances (corpora mixta = animals and plants) shall find a place on the “new earth.” In point of fact we have no positive knowledge concerning this matter. The Schoolmen claimed no greater weight for their theories than that due to the arguments which they adduced. Their arguments in the present case are anything but conclusive. Why should not God in His omnipotence endow mixed bodies with the same indestructibility or incorruptibility which is possessed by simple bodies (corpora simplicia), or recreate the animals and plants for the benefit of the race of transfigured men that is to inhabit the new earth? St. Anselm seems to have had some such idea in mind when he wrote: “The earth which once harbored in its bosom the body of our Lord, like a great garden which, having been watered by the blood of saints, will wear an imperishable garland of sweet-smelling flowers” (Cfr. Suarez, Comment. in S. Theol., III, qu. 59, art. 6, sect 3). This view has found favor with some modern theologians (Bautz and Einig), but though it is quite fascinating, we do not adopt it because it cannot be proved.

“Science,” says Father Joseph Rickaby, “has sometimes dreamt of a final condition of things in which the machinery of the universe shall be completely run down, the energies of nature so dislocated as no longer to furnish any potentiality of organic life, a uniform temperature established everywhere, suns cooled, planetary revolutions stopped,—the realization in fact of the ὁμοῦ πάντα χρήματα, or universal deadlock, which was the Greek notion of a mindless chaos. Things may come to this final impasse, or they may not, science cannot tell. But there remains God’s promise to re-establish (ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι, gather up under a new head) all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). ‘Hence it is said,’ quotes St. Thomas: they are the last words of his book The Summa Contra Gentiles: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1): I will create new heavens and a new earth; and the things that were before shall not be in memory, neither shall they rise into thought; but ye shall be glad and rejoice forever” (Is 65:17). ‘So be it,’ says Aquinas.”

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Podcast Study of the Book of Revelation

Posted by carmelcutthroat on May 5, 2019

First Class:


Second Class:


Third Class:


Fourth Class:


Fifth Class:


Sixth Class:


Seventh Class:


Eighth Class:


Ninth Class:


Tenth Class:


Eleventh Class:


Twelfth Class:


Thirteenth Class:


Fourteenth Class:


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