The Origin of the Myth that the Pope is the Antichrist:
Around the year 1518, after facing severe opposition from Sylvester Cardinal Prierias (regarding Papal infallibility) and Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, Luther writes to his friend and former student Gerog Spalatin, chaplain and secretary to Elector Frederick of Saxony, telling him that in preparation for an upcoming disputation at Leipzig, he had been studying papal letters that formulate decisions in ecclesiastical law (decretals); adding, “Confidentially, I do not know whether the Pope is Antichrist himself or his apostle, so miserable is Christ (that is, the truth) corrupted and crucified by the Pope in the decretals” (Waddington, 1:201; Will Durant, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wycliffe to Calvin: 1300 – 1564, Part 6 of “The Story of Civilization”). Prior this letter he had also written to Wenzeslaus Link, soon to become head of the Augustinian order in Germany, asking him to evaluate, on the basis of some of his writings, whether he was right in his suspicion “that the true Antichrist mentioned by St. Paul [2 Thessalonians 2:3-4] reigns in the court of Rome . . . ” (Marius, 188; George Waddington, A History of the Reformation on the Continent, 2 vols).
Until late 1520, Martin Luther will only retaliate within the escalating exchange between he and Catholic Church officials by raising the possibility that the Pope or the papacy was the Antichrist (e.g. On the Papacy in Rome against the Famous Romanist at Leipzig, 1520). It was only at hearing in August of that year that Pope Leo X would be sending a bull threatening him with excommunication that Luther’s ambiguity about the Antichrist would evaporate from his mind. For that point forward, Luther would declare that Pope Leo X and the entire papacy was the Beast, the man of evil foretold in the New Testament.
While Luther’s very caustic attacks on the Papacy in his Smalcald Articles; written at the asking of John Frederick of Saxony for the purposes the Schmalkaldic League’s meeting in 1537, was rejected and toned down significantly in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, it retained and formally enshrined Lutheran Germany’s political position that the Pope and the papacy is the Antichrist in four separate instances. In the first instance, Paragraph 30 of the latter document reads:
The seminal origin of the idea that the Pope of the Catholic Church of Rome is the Antichrist actually does not originated from Scripture. Rather, it began with musings of Martin Luther in response to his teachings being rejected.
- “Now, it is manifest that the Roman pontiffs, with their adherents, defend [and practice] godless doctrines and godless services. And the marks [all the vices] of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the Pope and his adherents. For Paul, in describing Antichrist to the Thessalonians, calls him 2 Thess. 2:3-4: an adversary of Christ, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God. He speaks therefore of one ruling in the Church, not of heathen kings, and he calls this one the adversary of Christ, because he will devise doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, and will assume to himself divine authority.”
The Building Upon Luther’s Idea Through Scripture:
In addition to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, immediately below are the other proof-texts that modern anti-Catholics use to ‘prove’ that the Pope and the papacy is the Antichrist (or The Pope is the False Prophet of Revelation 13):
- “Let no one deceive you in any way. For unless the apostasy comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God,* claiming that he is a god . . . ” (2 Thes. 2:3-4)
- “He shall speak against the Most High and wear down the holy ones of the Most High, intending to change the feast days and the law. They shall be handed over to him for a time, two times, and half a time.” (Daniel 7:25)
- “Children, it is the last hour;* and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of our number, if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number. Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.” (1 John 2:18-22).
- “I saw that one of its heads seemed to have been mortally wounded, but this mortal wound was healed. Fascinated, the whole world followed after the beast . . . The beast was given a mouth uttering proud boasts and blasphemies, and it was given authority to act for forty-two months.” (Revelation 13:3,5)
8 Logical Problems with the Pope is the Antichrist Myth:
- If this claim that the Pope and the papacy is the Antichrist were put on trial, it would be dismissed on the basis of hearsay unless the originator of the story came forward, and when that witness (Martin Luther) did come forward, it would first have to be determined whether he was credible, of sound mind, and without prejudice or advantage. Now, once we consider who Luther was – the fact that he added the word ‘alone’ to Romans 3:28, put the books of James, Hebrews, John, and Revelation in the appendix, and adopted the Jamina Old Testament (short seven books) in his German translation of the Bible; the fact that he taught some very demonic things, including that polygamy was acceptable for Christians and that Jews deserved to be hanged and their synagogues burned; that not once did he ever demonstrate the humility – a fruit of the Holy Spirit; that he demonstrated a very little ability to apply reason and logic to theology and history; and that he was pleased to be used and to have the advantages of being used by the German princes in their plot of against Rome, gives us great pause in thinking ANYTHING Martin Luther has to say about anything. That is, being that Luther was so clearly wrong about so many other things, why should he unquestionably be trusted on this? That’s illogical.
- Therefore, if Martin Luther has proven that he cannot be trusted to be honest, humble, and clear thinking in all other matters of Scripture, theology, and politics, it, thereby, follows that his idea that the Pope and the papacy is the Antichrist is also extremely questionable.
- Historically, it has been a trick of Satan to get us to believe that where he is, is actually where he is not, and where he is not, is actually where he is. Therefore, looking at the devolving and unsaintly life of Martin Luther, isn’t it more possible that he, having played the greatest role in dividing the people of God, is the Antichrist? Isn’t it more likely that he who set the dividing community of Christians on a path by which in 2015 nearly every Protestant Church is now teaching in favor of homosexual marriage, divorce, abortion, and contraception is the Antichrist? It seems illogical to call the papacy that has served the only homogenous body of Christian since the Apostles the Antichrist, when the only person who behaved as the Antichrist was the only person yelling and screaming that it’s someone other than him.
- Moreover, being that 1 John 2:18 points to the fact that there are antichrists that have already been here (i.e. prior to 90 A.D.), that are yet, foreshadows of what is to come, does it not, therefore, then require us to examine the character of the antichrist? One mark clearly found in 1 John 2:19 says that the Antichrist is someone who is OUTSIDE of the Apostolic Church, who has DESERTED it, who, like Judas, rejects Jesus as the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, the Antichrist cannot be a Catholic, because the Catholic Church is the only Church established by the Apostles. On the contrary, the Antichrist has to be a deserted like Martin Luther according to 1 John 2:19.
- If Martin Luther repeatedly demonstrated that he was a very emotional and prideful man, and was cautiously reticent in declaring that the Pope and the papacy is the Antichrist, but only changed his position in response to the Pope readying to excommunicate him, it is, therefore, clear that we are dealing not with a case of truth, but, rather, with a case of retaliation against Pope Leo X.
- The nature of ecclesiastical theology of the Reformulation (Reformation); that is the idea of the Invisible Church, necessitated that the Pope and the papacy lose their authority; otherwise the Reformulation would never have happened. Once Germans believed that the Catholic Church was in error because it was being led by the Antichrist, they were free gather independently as Christians. Therefore, because Luther and his German patrons had so much to gain by the promotion of this myth, it demands that we first dismiss it in order to honestly examine it. That is, because our only witness is severely tainted and prejudiced, the Catholic Church must be innocent until proven guilty.
- Martin Luther, not being a credible or honest broker, all we have left to test whether this myth is true are the sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers. So let us turn first to the Scriptures, and then let’s immediately dismiss them from anti-Catholic evidence pool, even without the courtesy of any further exegesis, because nowhere does any of the proof-texts above state explicitly or state in a clear, implicit and objective manner that The Pope or the Papacy is the Antichrist, and being that Luther and his followers are adhering to the doctrine of sola-scriptura (Scripture alone) it, therefore, follows that these texts must state that the Pope and/or the papacy is the Antichrist if we are to believe that he is. Otherwise, we are simply dealing with an interpretive tradition, which conflicts with sola-scriptura.
- Turning now to the Fathers of the Church, none of them ever wrote anything about the Pope or the papacy being the Antichrist. Here are just a few samples from the early Catholic Church:
- * 135 A.D. – Polycarp of Smyrna – “Everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an antichrist [1 John 4:2-3, 2 John 7]; whoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil; and whoever perverts the sayings of the Lord for his own desires, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, such a one is the firstborn of Satan” (Letter to the Philadelphians 7:1).
* 189 A.D. – Irenaeus – “[B]y means of the events which shall occur in the time of the Antichrist it is shown that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored as God, and that although a mere slave, he wishes to be proclaimed as king. For he, being endued with all the power of the devil, shall not come as a righteous king nor as a legitimate king in subjection to God, but as an impious, unjust, and lawless one . . . setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising himself up as the only idol. . . . Moreover [Paul] has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways: that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the temple of God [2 Thess. 2:4] . . . in which the enemy shall sit, endeavoring to show himself as Christ” (Against Heresies 5:25:1-2).
“Moreover, another danger, by no means trifling, shall overtake those who falsely presume that they know the name of the Antichrist. For if these men assume one [number] when this [Antichrist] shall come having another, they will be easily led away by him as supposing him not to be the expected one. . . . It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy than to be making surmises and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned, and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved” (ibid., 5:30:2-3).
“But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months and will sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire” (ibid., 5:30:4).
* 200 A.D. – Hippolytus – “Now as our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also God, was prophesied of under the figure of a lion, on account of his royalty and glory, in the same way have the scriptures also beforehand spoken of Antichrist as a lion, on account of his tyranny and violence. For the deceiver seeks to liken himself in all things to the Son of God. Christ is a lion, so Antichrist is also a lion. Christ is a king, so Antichrist is also a king. The Savior was manifested as a lamb, so he too in like manner will appear as a lamb without; within he is a wolf. The Savior came into the world in the circumcision [i.e., the Jewish race], and he will come in the same manner. . . . The Savior raised up and showed his holy flesh like a temple, and he will raise a temple of stone in Jerusalem” (The Antichrist 6).
“[W]e find it written regarding Antichrist . . . ‘Dan is a lion’s whelp, and he shall leap from Bashan’ [Deut. 33:22]. But that no one may err by supposing that this is said of the Savior, let him attend carefully to the matter. Dan, he says, is a lion’s whelp. And in naming the tribe of Dan, he declared clearly the tribe from which Antichrist is destined to spring. For as Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan. And that the case stands thus, we see also from the words of Jacob: ‘Let Dan be a serpent, lying upon the ground, biting the horse’s heel’ [Gen. 49:17]. What then is meant by the serpent but Antichrist, that deceiver who is mentioned in Genesis [Gen. 3:1], who deceived Eve and supplanted Adam? . . . [I]t is in reality out of the tribe of Dan, then, that tyrant and king, that dread judge, that son of the devil, is destined to spring and arise” (ibid., 14).
* 217 A.D. – Hippolytus – “Above all, moreover, he will love the nation of the Jews. And with all these [Jews] he will work signs and terrible wonders, false wonders and not true, in order to deceive his impious equals. . . . And after that he will build the temple in Jerusalem and will restore it again speedily and give it over to the Jews” (Discourse on the End of the World 23-25).
* 210 A.D. – Tertullian – “[T]he man of sin, the son of perdition, who must first be revealed before the Lord comes, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped; and who is to sit in the temple of God and boast himself as being God. . . . According indeed to our view, he is Antichrist; as it is taught us in both the ancient and the new prophecies, and by the apostle John, who says that ‘already many false prophets have gone out into the world,’ the forerunners of Antichrist, who deny that Christ is come in the flesh, and do not acknowledge Jesus, meaning in God the Creator” (Against Marcion 5:16).
* 253 A.D. – Cyprian of Carthage – “If they [the heretics] desire peace, let them lay aside their arms. If they make atonement, why do they threaten? Or if they threaten, let them know that they are not feared by God’s priests. For even Antichrist, when he shall begin to come, will not enter into the Church [even though] he threatens; neither shall we yield to his arms and violence, [though] he declares that he will destroy us if we resist” (Letters 69:3).
“[B]oth baptism is one and the Holy Spirit is one and the Church, founded by Christ the Lord upon Peter, by a source and principle of unity, is one also. Hence it results that with them [heretics and schismatics] all things are futile and false, nothing that which they have done ought to be approved by us. . . . And the blessed apostle John also, keeping the commandments and precepts of the Lord, has laid it down in his epistle and said, ‘You have heard that Antichrist shall come; even now there are many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time . . . ‘[1 John 2:18]. Wherefore we who are with the Lord and maintain the unity of the Lord, and according to his condescension administer his priesthood in the Church, should repudiate and reject and regard as profane whatever his adversaries and the antichrists do; and to those who, coming about of error and wickedness, acknowledge the true faith of the one Church, we should give the truth both of unity and faith, by means of all the sacraments of divine grace” (ibid., 54:19).
“[B]ecause there can be nothing common to falsehood and truth, to darkness and light, to death and immortality, to Antichrist and Christ, we ought by all means to maintain the unity of the Catholic Church and not to give way to the enemies of the faith and truth in any respect. Neither must we prescribe the form of custom, but overcome opposite custom by reason. For neither did Peter, whom first the Lord chose and upon whom he built his Church . . . despise Paul because he had previously been a persecutor of the Church, but admitted the counsel of truth [that Paul gave] . . . furnishing thus an illustration to us both of concord and of patience” (ibid., 70:2-3).
* 307 A.D. – Lactantius – “[A] king shall arise out of Syria, born from an evil spirit, the overthrower and destroyer of the human race, who shall destroy that which is left by the former evil, together with himself. . . . But that king will not only be most disgraceful in himself, but he will also be a prophet of lies, and he will constitute and call himself God, and will order himself to be worshipped as the Son of God, and power will be given to him to do signs and wonders, by the sight of which he may entice men to adore him. He will command fire to come down from heaven and the sun to stand and leave his course, and an image to speak, and these things shall be done at his word. . . . Then he will attempt to destroy the temple of God and persecute the righteous people” (Divine Institutes 7:17).
* 350 A.D. – Cyril of Jerusalem – “This aforementioned Antichrist is to come when the times of the Roman Empire shall have been fulfilled, and the end of the world is drawing near. There shall rise up together ten kings of the Romans, reigning in different parts, perhaps, but all reigning at the same time. After these there shall be an eleventh, the Antichrist, who by the evil craft of his magic shall seize upon the Roman power. Of the kings who reigned before him, three shall he humble [Dan. 7:24], and the remaining seven he shall have as subjects under him. At first he shall feign mildness—as if he were a learned and discreet person—and sobriety and loving kindness” (Catechetical Lectures 15:12 [A.D. 350]).
“Having beguiled the Jews by the lying signs and wonders of his magical deceit, until they believe he is the expected Christ, he shall afterwards be characterized by all manner of wicked deeds of inhumanity and lawlessness, as if to outdo all the unjust and impious men who have gone before him. He shall display against all men, and especially against us Christians, a spirit that is murderous and most cruel, merciless and wily. For three years and six months only shall he be the perpetrator of such things; and then he shall be destroyed by the glorious second coming from heaven of the only-begotten Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus, the true Christ, who shall destroy him with the breath of his mouth [2 Thess. 2:8], and deliver him over to the fire of Gehenna” (ibid.).
* 419 – Augustine – “Daniel prophesies of the last judgment in such a way as to indicate that Antichrist shall first come and to carry on his destruction to the eternal reign of the saints. For when in prophetic vision he had seen four beasts, signifying four kingdoms, and the fourth conquered by a certain king, who is recognized as Antichrist, and after this the eternal kingdom of the Son of Man, that is to say, of Christ” (The City of God 20:19 [A.D. 419]).
Conclusion of the Pope is the Antichrist Myth
Those who posit that the Pope or the papacy is the Antichrist or the Pope is the False Prophet are troubled with the job of being able to actually prove it, especially through Scripture alone, to which they have to rely, otherwise be found to be inconsistent at minimum for their reliance on interpretative tradition, which began with man who clearly was a mentally disturbed and very prideful. Those who press Luther’s teachings are no better than those today who press Hitler’s ideology. Moreover, like a great deal of Protestant teaching, this idea of the Pope being the Antichrist cannot be found in the Apostle teaching, nor with the Fathers of Church.
Therefore, as we’ve seen with the first Anti-Catholic Myth (Emperor Constantine as Founder of the Catholic Church) this one also was an innovation that came out of their necessity to support their lie that there was an apostasy in the early Church; that the Church no longer had any authority, because it is corrupt to the core. It is their way to explain how their reform and late arrival is justifiable. The myth is that because the Church of the Apostles fell in to apostasy, a remnant of the true and orthodox believers of Jesus remained hidden from and often persecuted by the Catholic Church until THEY brought the reform and true faith back. Prior the rise of Protestantism, no one ever dared to tell this lie. Only in the space of the unintelligent, uncurious, and hostile can such a myth and lie bear fruit.
Again, none of which can be proved or supported by the documented facts that the Churches we read about in the Bible started calling themselves Catholics by the early Second Century, and the unique teachings of that Church founded by the Apostles are only present in the Catholic Church today that is in union with See of Rome where the successor of Peter presides.
* Jurgen, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. Volume One. The Liturgical Press. Collegeville, Minnesota. 1970
* Pettibone, Dennis. Martin Luther’s Views on the Antichrist. Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 18/1 (Spring 2007): 81-100.
SERIES ON THE ANTI-CATHOLIC MYTHS: