Within evangelical Protestantism, especially in more recent times, there has been a perceptible shift away from the historic Reformed view of the Papacy as Antichrist. Rev Fred Leahy's thoroughly Biblical analysis of the issue in his pamphlet entitled "The Roman Antichrist –A study in II Thessalonians 2:3-8" was first published in 1950 and slightly revised in 1957 but long since out of print. The world has changed radically since Prof Leahy penned the pamphlet, but the issues remain as relevant and important as ever. Professor Leahy, who was at one time joint editor of "The Protestant", was a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church and principal of the RP College in Belfast. A prolific author, he completed his final book just a short time before his death in January 2006.
In this pamphlet we endeavour to present, as concisely as possible, and in popular form, the Protestant interpretation of 2 Thessalonians. II:3-8. Our intention is to show that this passage applies point by point to the Papacy as centred in and represented by the Pope. And we contend that this can be said of no other system or person. This pamphlet is of necessity a re-statement of old views, and consequently the reader is supplied with quotations from great Protestant leaders of the past. Calvin contended earnestly for the position here set forth, as did the other Reformers. For example, in his Institutes, Book. IV, chap. vii. sect. 25, Calvin deals with our passage in 2 Thessalonians, urging that the words can only be understood of the Papacy. We feel there is no reasonable reply to Calvin's statement: "…when the mark by which he (Paul) distinguishes Antichrist is that he would rob God of his honour and take it to himself, he gives the leading feature which we ought to follow in searching out Antichrist…" — that principle has been applied throughout this study.
If our statement be correct, as we hope to prove, we ask the questions: Why search for another Anti-christ? Why ignore the Papacy and look forward to an Antichrist to come? We would beg those who belong to the Futurist school to patiently read our exposition, and if it be wrong, make sure that it can be refuted at every point.
In a day when many are hailing the Papacy as a Christian church, and inviting her to their councils, we cannot apologize for re-issuing what first appeared over seven years ago.
In this slightly revised edition of "The Roman Antichrist," the following versions of the English Bible are used : American Standard Version, Authorised King James Version and Conybeare's translation of Paul's Epistles.
“MAN OF SIN – SON OF PERDITION”
Verse 3. "Let no man deceive you by any means : for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." We notice in this chapter that "the day of Christ (or, the Lord)" shall not come until there has been a "falling away", an apostasy, and "the man of sin”, "the son of perdition" has been revealed. The question immediately arises: Can the title ‘Man of Sin’ or ‘Wicked One’ be properly applied to a system? Many have contended most earnestly that this is the title of one man who is yet to appear at some stage of history. He is to be the incarnation of all evil. We assert, however, (1) that no one individual could meet all the requirements of Paul's description here, and, indeed, of the various prophetic delineations of the Antichrist in both O.T. and N.T.; (2) that the word "man" can denote a succession of men, just as the word "king" in Daniel's vision denotes a succession of kings. Thus we believe that Paul was writing to the Thessalonians of a system headed by a succession of
men, who would begin to appear when the "falling away" had taken place. But can we say that the Papacy is such a system? Is Papal Rome the Man of Sin? In reply we would ask: Can you point to a succession of men as wicked or more wicked than the Popes? Or can you name a system more immoral in its teaching, intolerant, anti-social or degrading than Popery?—a system which perpetrates the most hideous atrocities in the name of Jesus the Son of God! No wonder one writer described Popery as "the living embodiment and patron of sin". Romanist countries are the most immoral and lawless in all the world, as statistics adequately prove. Rome's code of "morals" definitely leads to sin. "Saint" Liguori's writings, for example, condone theft and murder if committed for the good of "the Church". We do not intend entering in detail upon the disgusting lives of Popes, but we quote from Baronius, whom Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) declared a faithful historian:—"What unworthy, vile, unsightly, yea what execrable and hateful things the sacred and apostolic see has been compelled to suffer. To our shame and grief be it spoken, HOW MANY MONSTERS, horrible to behold, were intruded by them into that seat which is reverenced by angels! With what filth was it her fate to be besprinkled which was without spot or wrinkle; with what stench to be infected; with what impurities to be denied!"
Rev. John McDonald, B.D. declares, "For a succession of fifty Popes not one pious or virtuous man sat in the pontifical chair. A system which has acknowledged and honoured such men to be each in turn its head, and still honours them, has fairly earned for itself the title 'Man of Sin'." Yet the ‘Man of Sin’ poses as ‘His Holiness’, an attribute which belongs to God alone, and he describes the Popish ‘synagogue of Satan’ as ‘the Church’.
"Names, attributes, and promises, secure, Which Scripture gives the Bride that Christ has wed,The 'Man of Sin' bestows upon his whore— A trick by which the simple are misled."
The second title, ‘Son of Perdition,’ is most interesting and instructive. This is the terrible designation of Judas, who kissed Christ in the very act of betraying Him. The Papacy undoubtedly is heir to the character and doom of Judas. The ‘Man of Sin’ is also the ‘Son of Perdition’. He professes friendship for Christ, pretends to honour Him, kisses Him—and yet is a traitor, a Judas, a ‘Son of Perdition’. Many have pointed to the doom of Judas as what Paul chiefly had in mind when this title was penned. But we feel that it is primarily as a traitor that the ‘Man of Sin’ receives the fearful legacy of Judas; although we do not wish for a moment to minimise the terrible doom which awaits the ‘Son of Perdition’.
The spirit of Antichrist was in the world in Paul's day. “Even now", wrote John, "are there many anti-christs ..." (1 John 2:18). But when Paul wrote, the Antichrist had not been “revealed”. We hold that there are many forces in the world to-day which are diametrically opposed to Christianity, but that the Papacy is the Antichrist of Scripture.IN THE TEMPLE OF GOD Verse 4. "Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God". Verses 3 and 4 constitute one sentence. Conybeare translates here, "who opposes himself and exalts himself against all that is called God, and against all worship; even to seat himself in the temple of God and openly declare himself a God". The Popes have instead of recognising the Sovereignty of Christ, usurped it. They have usurped the place of God as Ruler, and Christ as Mediator, and, having claimed supremacy, have "exalted" themselves "above all that is called God". They have done so literally and symbolically. In a gloss on part of the Canon Law published in Pans (1685) the words appear—"To believe that Our Lord God the Pope has not the power to decree as he has decreed is to be deemed heretical". The Bishop of Bayonne in a pastoral (1896) declared the Pope to be "The visible personification of the Spirit of God. The Pope, the Incarnation of the Holy Ghost". And here is an amazing quotation from the R.C. "Universe" (27th June, 1846) where the following official description of the installation of a Pope is given—"He is borne in the pontifical chair, and is placed on the High Altar, a spot consecrated by the actual presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of a living Christ. He sits on the High Altar, using it as his footstool, and enthroned as King; he is adored as a God in the same manner as is the consecrated wafer, adored by the Cardinal Princes, who kiss his feet, which rest on the Altar of the Supreme. He sits in the Temple of God, showing himself as if he were God".
An address sent in 1949 to the Pope from the Irish Hierarchy states, “We, the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland, prostrate at the feet of your Holiness, humbly offer you our warmest congratulations on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of your ordination to the priest-hood…our thoughts go back to that great event fifty years ago by which your Holiness was taken from amongst men and appointed for men in the things that appertain to God, was made a minister of Christ and a dispenser of His Mysteries, received power over the real and mystical body of our Saviour and became a mediator between God and man—another Christ." Just think of it - "ANOTHER CHRIST "! Behold the ‘Son of Perdition’, the great Antichrist, deny 'Christ by setting himself up as "another Christ"! Behold him accept such blasphemous titles as ‘Our Lord God and Pope’, ‘Another God on earth’, ‘Father of Princes and Kings’, ‘Supreme Judge of the Universe’, ‘Vicar of Jesus Christ’, and ‘Prince of the Apostles’. No matter how we view the Pope we find him fulfilling with remarkable precision the role ascribed to the Man of Sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:4.It is clear from verse 4 that the Antichristian system must be ecclesiastical, or a political system assuming ecclesiastical authority and function, as ‘Layman' puts it (Popery in Politics, Vol 2, p.20). “The ‘Man of Sin’ is essentially an ecclesiastical character. He "is to be sought for", says Dr. Wm. Anderson, "within the church—that which was the true church at the time of his usurpation, and which, under his usurpation, became an apostate church, but still claimed and retained the Christian name." The "temple of God" either means the temple in Jerusalem or the Christian Church. Many Romanists and Protestants have held to the first interpretation and looked for an Infidel Antichrist, with his godlike seat in a rebuilt temple at Jerusalem. We hold the second view, and assert that an Infidel Antichrist is not even suggested in Scripture. The Apostles did not call the temple at Jerusalem "the temple of God". We notice in Acts that Paul speaks five times of the Jewish temple (Acts 22:17; 24:12, 18; 25:8; 26:21), and always styles it "the temple", not "the temple of God." But the Visible Church of Christ is called "the temple of God." And Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that they are "the temple of God". We fail to see how a temple rebuilt at Jerusalem by an Infidel Antichrist for his own purposes could possibly be called "the temple of God"! Let it be noted that the Greek word "naos" employed for "temple" in passages relating to the Church of Christ is here used for the "temple" in which Antichrist was to appear; whereas the Greek word used for the temple at Jerusalem is "hieron", and is employed in the five passages in Acts to which we have already referred. This is the ordinary usage of these two words; and it strongly supports our contention that the Antichrist must be ecclesiastical. Dr Charles Hodge says, "According to Paul's account, Antichrist was to rise in the Church. He was to put forth the most exorbitant claims; exalt himself above all human authority; assume to himself the prerogatives of God, demanding a submission due only to God, and virtually setting aside the authority of God and substituting his own in its place". Verses 3 and 4 of our chapter describe the Pope who is a counterfeit Christ and heads a counterfeit Christianity. Whilst professing to honour and obey Christ, he daringly ascribes to himself the prerogatives of Christ alone. He claims power to forgive sin, to open and shut heaven unto men, and to have "primacy over all the world".
" We're told that Antichrist must Christ deny; But then we'll see he must profess Him too. His words profess just what his works belie; His type of old explains the case in view. For Judas never once in word denied The Lord he questioned at the last repast; But while his acts betrayed the Crucified, He called him ' Master' even to the last."
I TOLD YOU THESE THINGSVerses 5-8. "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye that know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work; only [there is} one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of His coming".
It is clear from verse 5 that Paul had already told the Thessalonian Christians by word of mouth greater details concerning the Antichrist. In his epistle he is reminding them of something about which they had already been well instructed. So Paul says, "Remember ..". Paul was not imparting fresh knowledge to his readers, but seeking to fix more firmly in their minds what he had already stated in their hearing. He reminds them that they were aware of the power restraining Antichrist, who would "be revealed in his own season". The "mystery of lawlessness" was already working; only there was one that restrained the revelation of this mystery. As soon as he was removed, "taken out of the way", the lawless one was to be revealed. He would continue on the earth until the Lord Jesus should slay 'him with the breath of His mouth and bring him to nought by the "manifestation of his coming”.
The questions now arising are: (1) what power restrained "the lawless one"? and (2) has that power been taken out of the way and the lawless one revealed? Remember, Paul's readers knew "that which restrained'. ' Dealing with the first question, we ask in the words of Dr. Wm. Anderson, "If the Man of Sin is only yet in embryo, just as he was eighteen hundred years ago, what power is in existence hindering his revelation now, which hindered then?" That is a tremendously important point. Paul's readers knew what that power was, and if, as Futurists assert, the Man of Sin has not yet been revealed—then that same restraining power must still be with us. What is it? Here the supporters of the view which anticipates a future Infidel Antichrist find themselves in great difficulty. Some have tried to escape by saying that it is the Holy Spirit who hinders! That to us borders on profanity. How can anyone conceive of the words, until he be taken out of the way" being applicable to the third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity! Why turn to so dangerous and weak a position when an infinitely more luminous and consistent interpretation of the passage is at hand? Having found that the Papacy fits exactly the description given of the Antichrist in Scripture we naturally ask ourselves, what hindered the emergence of Romanism into the full bloom of its politico-religious power? The answer is the power of the Roman Emperor. Many of the early Fathers pointed to the Roman Emperor as this very restraining one and prayed for his preservation as the impediment to the revelation of the Man of Sin. Hence we see why Paul did not write what he had told his readers in private. Although the Emperor might feel flattered to know that he was obstructing the pathway of the Man of Sin, he would have been outraged to be told that he would eventually be "taken out of the way." Paul would have unnecessarily endangered his own life if he had pointed directly say, to Nero.
Tertullian,the great African father, wrote in his Apology, "We Christians are under a particular necessity of praying for the emperors, and for the continued state of the empire, because we know that dreadful Power which hangs over the whole world, and the conclusion of the age which threatens the most horrible evils, is retarded by the continuance of the time appointed for the Roman empire. This is what we would not experience. And while we pray that it may be deferred, we hereby show our good-will to the perpetuity of the Roman State". Lactantius, in the Seventh .Book of his Institutes, writes concerning the coming Antichrist and Rome—"That city it is which hitherto sustains all things, and we ought to supplicate the God of Heaven, if his decrees and purposes can be delayed, lest that abominable Tyrant should come sooner than we think …”. Similar testimonies have been taken from Jerome, Justin Martyr, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyril and others.
The Romanist system embodies that "mystery of lawlessness” which for a time was hidden and revealed when the Roman Empire crashed in ruin and the Bishop of Rome really became Pope—the new " Pontifex Maximus " The people looked to the Pope as the one who had ascended the throne of the Caesars. The Man of Sin had reared his ugly head, and thousands of God’s people ever since have had the courage to point him out.
"All idolatries", says Dr. J. A. Wylie, "in whatever age or country they have existed, are to be viewed but as successive developments of the one grand apostasy. That apostasy was commenced in Eden, and consummated at Rome. It had its rise in the plucking of the forbidden fruit; and it attained its acme in the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome—Christ's Vicar on earth. The hope that he would ‘be as God’ led man to commit the first sin; and that sin was perfected when the Pope ‘exalted himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God’. Popery is but the natural development of this great original transgression… Popery is the last, the most matured, the most subtle, the most skillfully contriven, and the most essentially diabolical form of idolatry which the world ever saw, or which, there is reason to believe, it ever will see. It is the ne plus ultra of man's wickedness, and the chef d’oeuvre of Satan’s cunning and malignity. It is the greatest calamity, next to the Fall, which ever befell the human family. Further away from God, the world could not exist at all. The cement that holds society together, already greatly weakened, would be altogether destroyed, and the social fabric would instantly fall in ruins." (The Papacy p. 16).
In his preface to Stillingfleet's work on Popery, Dr. William Cunningham points out in a profound manner that "Since man fell, there have been three leading forms of the true religion, all embodying the same fundamental principles—the Patriarchal, the Jewish, and the Christian". Satan has set himself to corrupt these three forms of the true religion. So, "under his agency the Patriarchal religion degenerated among the mass of mankind into Paganism; the Mosiac into the state of things which is described in the gospel history, and which, for want, of a better word, may be called Pharisaism; and the Christian religion into Popery". Says Dr. Cunningham, "Popery is certainly, if there be any meaning in words, or a possibility of ascertaining God's will from the Bible, a deviation from the faith once delivered to the saints…" The same divine recommends "all who wish to understand what Popery is" to study 2 Thessalonians 2:3-13, where, he says, we have “a full and minute prediction of the Popish system".
Popery, therefore, is not merely a corrupt form of Christianity. As Dr. Wylie points out, "The Church of Rome bears the same relation to the Church of Christ which the hierarchy of Baal bore to the institute of Moses". Popery is just Paganism dressed up to appear Christian. In Popery we behold Satan on parade "as an angel of light".
VICARIANISMPopery has been called Romanism, Vaticanism and Vicarianism. The last name is most suggestive, pointing to the real nature of antichristianity. The works by which the Pope denies Christ are characterised by the office which he claims for himself, and they are developed from that office as the full-grown plant is developed from the seed. The Pope claims to be the Vicar (or substitute) of Christ, and this vicarious or substitutionary principle is basic to the whole system of the Papacy in all its varying aspects. "Layman", who develops this interesting thesis, says: "A vicarious or substitutionary Christ necessitates a vicarious or substitutionary Christianity. Hence, in the Papacy, the Church, its priesthood, sacrifice, sacraments and ordinances, all are vicarious or substitutionary for the Word and work of Christ. The system is a complete supplanting of the headship and religion of Christ, and the installation of another Christ and another Christianity instead".
MEANING OF "ANTICHRIST"
The Greek word, " antichristos," is composed of "Kristos," meaning "anointed," and the prefix anti "Anti" means " against," also "instead of, or in place of" When prefixed to the name of an individual it " indicates an agent who assumes that individual’s place, and at the same time acts in opposition to him. Thus Rome herself speaks of "Antipopes". Rev John McDonald says, "Antichrist, therefore, means one who pretends to be a vicar of Christ, and assumes to act in His name, but who is at the same time His rival and neatest enemy". John says that "He (the Antichrist) denieth that Jesus is the Christ .... He denieth the Father and the Son... He confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh". (1 John 2:22; 4: 3; 2 John 7). Let it be noted in this connection that the Papacy professes to be on the side of Christ, and yet in practice she is against Him, for she places the Pope on Christ's throne, so to speak, and asserts that it is necessary for salvation for every human being to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Decree of Boniface VIII; Bull Unam Sanctam). Rome denies Christ by adding a host of mediators, and, in worshipping a wafer, adores a counterfeit Christ! By declaring the Pope to be vicar of Christ and capable of infallibility, Rome denies the Father and the Son. Furthermore, her dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary strikes at the Incarnation of Christ as set forth in Scripture. If Mary were sinless, Christ was not "the seed of the woman, i.e. His humanity was not true humanity. The Roman Antichrist fits perfectly into the following description of the Antichrist by Baron Porcelli, "The Antichrist, can be no other than this: The pretended, self-styled, divinely appointed, Pro-Christ, Vice-Christ, Substitute- Christ Vicarial-Christ or Vicar-Christ, also the Rival Christ the Aper of Christ, the Antagonist of Christ, he who, having no sense of, nor relish nor heart for, the things of Christ, is the enemy and adversary of Christ - the usurper conscious or unconscious, in Christ’s name, of Christ's place, prerogatives, offices, .titles and functions in the professing visible Church." With reference to Paul's description of the Antichrist in our passage, Dr. Charles Hodge says, “This portrait suits the papacy so exactly, that Protestants at least have rarely doubted that it is the Antichrist which the Apostle intended to describe." "So strikingly", says Richard Baxter "does the church of Rome resemble Antichrist, that any one is justified in mistaking the similarity for sameness". A worthy Scottish divine was instructing his hearers in the Scriptural marks of the Antichrist, when he paused and then apostrophized the Papacy thus :—" If you are not the Beast, it's a pity you are so like him! "
OBJECTIONS TO REFORMED VIEW OF ANTICHRIST
In recent times, there has been a departure from the Reformed view of Antichrist by members of the Reformed school, and men who profess to follow the Reformers. Although not Futurists, they object:— (1) The delineation of Antichrist in Dan 11 is of a personal nature. (2) Paul speaks of Antichrist as "the man of sin", “the son of perdition", and the context would seem to favour the personal idea. (3) John speaks of many antichrists as already present, but points to the Antichrist as one coming at some future date (1 John 2:18). (4) In Rev. 19:20 the description given of Antichrist’s ultimate doom has a personal element in it. (5) Since Christ is a person, it seems natural to expect the Antichrist to be a person also. (6) The Romanist system contains certain saving doctrines.
Objections 1,2, 3, 4 and 5 are all answered by our statement at the beginning of this pamphlet (Ulster Bulwark Oct-Dec 2007) —that in the Papacy we have a succession of men, a continuous man so to speak. Not for a moment are we excluding the personal element. As to the last statement, we assert that although the Romanist system does contain certain saving truths, they are not savingly presented. You must take Romanism as a SYSTEM, and as such all true doctrines professed by her are neutralised by contradictory and antichristian dogmas—compare her pre-dominant Mariolatry, and doctrine of Tradition.
ROME AND ANTICHRIST
Romanist theologians have recognised that their system is backed either by the power of God or the power of Satan. Cardinal Manning says of his Church, "It is Christ or Antichrist". Cardinal Newman declares, "He who speaks for Christ must either be His true Ambassador, or Antichrist". In a reply to Dr.Cumming, Hon. G. A. Spencer, a Romanist, declared, "If the Church of Rome be not the Church of Christ, it is the masterpiece of the Devil; it can be nothing between". We heartily agree.
Alarmed by the fact that the Reformers were pointing to the Pope as the Man of Sin, the Jesuit Ribera at the end of the 16th century invented, or at least propagated futuristic views of the Antichrist, and pointed to a solitary Infidel Antichrist who would appear in the dim future. This is largely the Romanist view today. Thus the Jesuit Martindale says, "... nearly all Catholic writers have expected a personal ' Antichrist,' and not one of them has excluded the idea of a personal Antichrist; nor indeed, can we see how they could possibly, or (as we have said) appropriately do so. Certainly we do not." He describes as "fantastic" those who see Antichrist in the popes! Ribera's view soon infected the High Church party. J. N. Darby caught the contagion and finally Dr. G. I. Scofield swallowed the Jesuit's pill. Thus Ribera succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, for the attention of thousands of Protestants became deflected from the Papacy, a future Infidel Antichrist was looked for, and the historic Protestant view handed down by the Reformers was despised by many. These are the hard facts of history. A Protestantism saturated with Ribera's Futurism is not the Protestantism of the Reformers—nor is it feared by the Papacy.The learned Dr. C. H. H. Wright, in the "Protestant Dictionary", contends that Rome is the Man of Sin but not the Antichrist. He differentiates between the two titles. Space forbids an examination of his arguments, but our position is that the Man of Sin is intensely Antichristian—we cannot conceive of a system or person being more so. We believe the Man of Sin to be the Antichrist. Conclusion Let us, therefore, hold to our noble heritage, and oppose the Roman Antichrist and all his blasphemous claims—praying for and loving the people held in so terrible a bondage. Let us stand firmly for the Sovereignty of Christ and His sole Headship over the Church. Let us prepare and pray for that glorious occasion when the "Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming", the Antichrist, the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition.