A long time ago, I worked at a homeless shelter for my Bonner Scholarship, and there was a Roman Catholic student who was working with me. He and I got talking about religion, and I asked him what Catholics believe about the end times and the second coming of Christ. He responded that he heard some things in his church about those topics, but not that much. Based on his experience, he said that eschatology is not really emphasized in the Roman Catholic Church.
As many of my readers know, I have been attending a Catholic church over the past few months, even though I’m not a Catholic. I go to the Latin mass, where the women wear head scarves (in answer to Steven Craig Miller, who asked a while ago what women wear at my place of worship). I like the priest’s sermons because he knows his Latin, quotes the church fathers, cites Catholic greats like Thomas Aquinas, incorporates some philosophy, and speaks against abortion.
A few weeks ago, the priest was preaching about pride. He said that pride led to the Fall of Adam and Eve in the beginning, and that it will likewise exist in the end times, when the Antichrist takes his stand against God. “This priest mentioned the Antichrist,” I thought in bemusement. “I didn’t know Catholics thought about such issues.” The week after that, I was in for a treat, for the priest’s entire sermon was about eschatology.
The priest made a number of points, but I will mention only a few of them. First, he referred to a sixteenth century Catholic document that contrasted the Catholic view of the Antichrist with the Protestant position. The document was not in English, so the priest graciously translated it for us (which I thought was cool). According to the document, the Protestant view holds that the Antichrist has existed throughout history, whereas the Catholic position is that he will be a specific individual who will appear at the end of time.
The document’s characterization of the Protestant belief was most likely accurate during the sixteenth century, when many Protestants called the pope the Antichrist. Although the priest giving the sermon assumed that this is the current Protestant position, in reality he is only half right. The view I heard growing up was that the Beast power will be the resurrection of the Roman Empire. That means that it has in some sense existed throughout history, but that it will also culminate in a specific individual at the end of time. I checked the Catholic Encyclopedia to see Catholic ideas on who the Antichrist will be, and one view is that he will be from the Israelite tribe of Dan, which is why Dan is not mentioned in Revelation 7’s list of tribes.
Second, the priest said that Enoch and Elijah will return to earth at the end of time to preach repentance and oppose the Antichrist. For the priest, Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses of Revelation 11. He identifies Elijah as one of the two witnesses because God promises to send Elijah before the day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). His argument for Enoch being the other witness seems to be that Enoch was also taken to heaven and was called an example of repentance in Sirach 44:16, implying perhaps that Enoch will one day call the nations to repentance. The priest said that this is not official Catholic doctrine, and I agree with him on that point. I remember reading the notes to Revelation 11 in my Catholic New American Bible, and they identified the two witnesses as Peter and Paul. Their approach to eschatology appeared to be rather preterist, which holds that much of prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. So the Catholic Church must contain a variety of eschatological viewpoints.
Third, the priest said that the conversion of the Jews will be another sign of the end. He said that not everyone with the name “Stein” is necessarily Jewish, and I don’t know if he was referring to the Khazars when he made that point. But he said that we will have to see how this prophecy will be fulfilled when the event actually happens. I’m amazed at how many interpreters accept the latter day conversion of the Jewish people. I always assumed that only dispensationalists held this position, while non-dispensationalists interpreted the “all Israel” of Romans 11:26 to be the church. But I have read Charles Haddon Spurgeon and John Gill affirm that physical Israelites will one day receive Christ, and Gill does not interpret the Old Testament in a literal, dispensationalist manner. He applies much in the Old Testament to the church, and yet even he thought that God had a plan for the Jewish people.
So I was glad to hear a Catholic talk about eschatology. I’m looking forward to this priest’s sermon next week.