Antichrist

Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour.  (1 John 2,18)

Antichrist, despite popular expectation, is a minor figure in the Bible. In fact, aside from the reference above from the first epistle of John, much about the legend of Antichrist depended upon Second Thessalonians: ‘Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition’ (2 Thess 2,3) – and this itself requiring someone to make the connection between the ‘Son of Perdition’ and ‘Antichrist’. To put this another way, Antichrist needed to be invented in the early Middle Ages. For Pope Gregory the Great (pope 590-604), Antichrist was a symbol of internal struggle. Indeed, for much of the Middle Ages the name ‘Antichrist’ was used as a term of abuse for people who were, to some, opponents of Christ, despoilers of the Church, and heretics. Antichrist’s role in a specific future-historical drama only really began to gain currency with the prophecy of Pseudo-Methodius in the late seventh century, and only really began to have a ‘biography’ once Adso had compiled his De Antichristo in the mid tenth century.

Antichrist’s life story, as told by Adso, was to be contrary to Christ’s but with some similarities. He would be born to the Jewish tribe of Dan in Babylon of a man and a woman, but he would be corrupted in the womb by Satan. Once he had grown up, he would become an arch-deceiver. He would convert kings and princes and walk where Christ walked. Then, he would lead a persecution of Christians for three and a half years and enthrone himself in the temple in Jerusalem. Enoch and Elijah would come to challenge him but he would have them killed. Finally, Christ (or St Michael) would come to kill him, leading to a final period of penance before the Last Judgement.

Further Reading:

  • R. Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages: A Study of Medieval Apocalypticism, Art and Literature (Manchester, 1981).
  • K. Hughes, Constructing Antichrist: Paul, Biblical Commentary, and the Development of Doctrine in the Early Middle Ages (Washington DC, 2005).
  • B. McGinn, Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil (San Francisco, 1994).
  • G. L. Potestà et al, L’antichristo (Rome, 2005-).
  • H. D. Rauh, Das Bild des Antichrist im Mittelalter – vom Tyconius zum deutschen Symbolismus (Münster, 1973).
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