The historical school of interpretation regards these prophecies as reflecting the history of the fourth or Roman empire… It is held by many that the historic school of interpretation is represented only by a small modern section of the Church. We shall show that it has existed from the beginning, and includes the larger part of the greatest and best teachers of the Church for 1800 years.
Interpretation of the Prophecies in Pre-Reformation Times
Chapter Five, Romanism and the Reformation From the Standpoint of Prophecy
By H. Grattan Guiness
Such has been our subject in the four previous lectures the Scripture prophecy, and the Papal history. That a deep and widespread apostasy has taken place in the Christian Church; that this apostasy has produced paganized forms of Christianity, the chief of which is that of the Romish Church; that the apostasy of the Romish Church has culminated in the Papacy; that the Papacy has lasted through long centuries, and lords it still over half Christendom; that it has persecuted the faithful unto blood, striving for the destruction of the gospel of God as if it were deadly heresy, and for the extermination of the saints of God as of accursed heretics; that it would have been completely triumphant still but for the glorious Reformation, which burst its bonds, emancipated the enslaved consciences of millions, and created a new departure in the convictions and actions of the world ù such are the facts with which history presents us. They are broad, unquestionable facts, which are so notorious as to be beyond all controversy, so long lasting as to fulfill the records of a thousand years.
And that this great apostasy was foretold; that it was foretold ages before its accomplishment by Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles; that Daniel dwelling in Babylon foretold it, and John, the exile in Patmos, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles; that these men, surrounded as they were by ancient heathenism, and knowing nothing by the evidence of their senses or by observation of the complete corruption of Christianity which has since darkened the world, as a long and awful eclipse of the Sun of righteousness ù that these men, prophets and apostles, living in antecedent times, should have predicted the extraordinary events which have come to pass, and should have painted them in vivid colors on the venerable pages of the writings they have left us; and that those predictions have for eighteen centuries confronted apostate Christendom with their accusations, and reflected as in a faithful mirror the entire history of its ways: this is the profound prophetic truth we have endeavored to elucidate.
We have now to study THE INTERPRETATION AND USE of these marvelous prophecies by the Christian Church. How has the Christian Church understood and employed them? Of what practical benefit have these prophecies been to her during the last eighteen centuries? It is evident that they were written for her guidance, protection, and sanctification. The prophecies of Paul and John are addressed to Christian Churches. The voice of inspiration expressly invites the whole Church to study them, and the Church has obeyed this command. She has read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested the “sure word of prophecy.”
What moral effect has it had upon her? To what extent has it guided her footsteps and sustained her hopes? If these prophecies have proved to be a mighty power in her history; if they have preserved the faith of the Church in times of general apostasy; if they have given birth to great reformation movements; if they have inspired confessors, and supported martyrs at the stake; if they have broken the chains of priestcraft, superstition, and tyranny, and produced at last a return on the part of many millions of men to a pure, primitive Christianity ù they have answered their purpose, and justified their position in the sacred Scriptures of truth. Nor may we lightly esteem that interpretation which has produced such results. Had the prophecies been misinterpreted, applied otherwise than according to the mind of the spirit, we cannot believe that they would have been thus productive of blessed consequences. The fact that, understood and applied as they were by the reformers, they have produced spiritual and eternal good to myriads of mankind is a proof that they were rightly applied, for “by their fruits ye shall know them” is true, not only of teachers, but of their teachings. Protestantism, with all its untold blessings, is the fruit of the historic system of interpretation.
On the other hand, all that leads us to expect that the sufferers under antichristian tyranny would correctly interpret the prophetic word written for their guidance and support prompts also the expectation that their persecutors would as surely wrongly interpret it. As apostate Jews wrongly interpreted the prophecies of the Old Testament, so we should expect apostate Christians wrongly to interpret those of the New. In our study of the last eighteen centuries of interpretation we shall not expect to find the true interpretation therefore among the apostates, but among the faithful; not among the persecutors, but among the persecuted; not among those who have waged war against the gospel of Christ, but among those who have confessed its pure teachings, and sealed that confession with their blood.
We shall not be surprised to find antagonistic schools of prophetic interpretation, but, on the contrary, we shall expect such; and we shall expect the apostates and persecutors to belong to one school, and the faithful confessors and martyrs to another. If an officer of justice arrest a man because he perceives that he answers exactly to a description of a notorious criminal published by the Government as a help to his identification, is it likely that the man himself will admit that the description fits him? He will of course deny the correspondence, but his denial will carry no weight. On turning to the history of prophetic interpretation this is precisely what we find. With many varieties as to detail we find there have existed, and still exist, two great opposite schools of interpretation, the Papal and the Protestant, or the futurist and the historical. The latter regards the prophecies of Daniel, Paul, and John as fully and faithfully setting forth the entire course of Christian history; the former as dealing chiefly with a future fragment of time at its close.
The former, or futurist, system of interpreting the prophecies is now held, strange to say, by many Protestants, but it was first invented by the Jesuit Ribera, at the end of the sixteenth century, to relieve the Papacy from the terrible stigma cast upon it by the Protestant interpretation. This interpretation was so evidently the true and intended one, that the adherents of the Papacy felt its edge must, at any cost, be turned or blunted. If the Papacy were the predicted antichrist, as Protestants asserted, there was an end of the question, and separation from it became an imperative duty.
There were only two alternatives. If the antichrist were not a present power, he must be either a past or a future one. Some writers asserted that the predictions pointed back to Nero. This did not take into account the obvious fact that the antichristian power predicted was to succeed the fall of the Caesars, and develop among the Gothic nations. The other alternative became therefore the popular one with Papists. Antichrist was future, so Ribera and Bossuet and others taught. An individual man was intended, not a dynasty, the duration of his power would not be for twelve and a half centuries, but only three and a half years; he would be an open foe to Christ, not a false friend; he would be a Jew, and sit in the Jewish temple.
Speculation about the future took the place of study of the past and present, and careful comparison of the facts of history with the predictions of prophecy. This related, so it was asserted, not to the main course of the history of the Church, but only to the few closing years of her history. The Papal head of the Church of Rome was not the power delineated by Daniel and St. John. Accurately as it answered to the description, it was not the criminal indicated. It must be allowed to go free, and the detective must look out for another man, who was sure to turn up by and by. The historic interpretation was of course rejected with intense and bitter scorn by the Church it denounced as Babylon and the power it branded as antichrist, and it is still opposed by all who in any way uphold them.
It is held by many that the historic school of interpretation is represented only by a small modern section of the Church. We shall show that it has existed from the beginning, and includes the larger part of the greatest and best teachers of the Church for 1800 years. We shall show that the Fathers of the Church belonged to it, that the confessors, reformers, and martyrs belonged to it. and that it has included a vast multitude of erudite expositors of later times. We shall show that all these have held to the central truth that prophecy faithfully mirrors the Church’s history as a whole, and not merely a commencing or closing fragment of that history.
It is held by many that the futurist school of interpretation is represented chiefly by certain Protestant commentators and teachers, who deny that the prophecy of the “man of sin” relates to the Pope of Rome.
We shall show that the futurist school of interpretation, on the contrary, is chiefly represented by teachers belonging to the Church of Rome; that the popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests of that apostate Church are all futurists, and that the futurist interpretation is one of the chief pillars of Romanism.
Two interpretations of prophecy are before us, the historic and the futurist.
The historical school of interpretation regards these prophecies as reflecting the history of the fourth or Roman empire, in all its most important aspects, from first to last, including especially the dark apostasy which has long prevailed in Christendom, the testimony and sufferings of God’s faithful people amid this apostasy, and the ultimate triumph of their cause.
On the other hand, the futurist school of interpretation regards these prophecies as dealing almost exclusively with the distant future of the consummation; regards them as dealing chiefly, not with what has been for the last eighteen hundred years, but with what will be in some final spasm at the close. The war against the saints waged by the Roman “little horn” of the prophecies of Daniel, the proud usurpations of the “man of sin,” and his antagonism to the cause of true religion, foretold by Paul, the blasphemous pretensions and persecuting deeds of the revived head of the Roman empire set forth in the prophecies of John all these are regarded by this futurist school as relating to a brief future period, immediately preceding the second advent. The futurist school denies the application of these important practical prophecies to the conflicts of the Church during the last eighteen centuries. It robs the Church of their practical guidance all through that period. This is the position taken by the Church of Rome, this is the position taken by the popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and other great teachers of that apostate Church. This is the prophetic interpretation they have embodied in a thousand forms, and insisted upon with dogmatic authority. This has been the interpretation of proud Papal usurpers, of cruel persecutors, of merciless tyrants, of the Romanist enemies of the gospel and of the saints and servants of God.
We shall find, on the other hand, as we study the subject, that the historic interpretation of prophecy, the interpretation which condemns Rome, and which Rome consequently condemns, grew up gradually with the progress of events and the development of the apostasy of Latin Christianity; that it slowly modified its details under the illuminating influence of actual facts, but that it retained its principles unaltered from age to age; that it was defended by a multitude of earnest students and faithful expositors; and that it shaped the history of heroic struggles and of glorious revivals of spiritual life and testimony.
This is the interpretation whose history during fifteen centuries we propose to review this evening.
We shall divide these fifteen centuries into three periods:
I. The period extending from apostolic times to the fall of the Roman empire in the fifth century.
II. The period extending from the fall of the Roman empire and rise of the Papacy in the fifth century to its exaltation under the pontificate of Gregory VII (or Hildebrand), the founder of the Papal theocracy in the eleventh century.
III. The period from Gregory VII to the Reformation.
First, then, let us glance at the history of prophetic interpretation in the interval extending from apostolic times to the fall of the Roman empire in the fifth century. This was the period of the so-called Fathers of the Christian Church. A multitude of their writings remain to us, containing, not only almost countless references to the prophecies in question, but complete commentaries on Daniel and the Apocalypse. It is boldly claimed by many that the Fathers of the first five centuries held the futurist interpretation of these books. We deny the correctness of this position, and assert that the Fathers of the first five centuries belonged to the historical school of interpretation. It was impossible for them, owing to the early position which they occupied, rightly to anticipate the manner and scale of the fulfillment of these wondrous prophecies; but as far as their circumstances permitted they correctly grasped their general significance, and adhered to that interpretation which regards prophecy as foretelling the whole course of the Church’s warfare from the first century to the Second Advent.
It is impossible at this time to do more than present a brief summary of the view of the Fathers on this subject, and to name and refer you to their works.
1. The Fathers interpreted the four wild beasts of prophecy as representing the four empires, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Here we have the foundation of the historical interpretation of prophecy. Take as an instance the words of Hippolytus on the great image and four wild beasts of Daniel: “The golden head of the image,” he says, “is identical with the lioness, by which the Babylonians were represented; the shoulders and the arms of silver are the same with the bear, by which the Persians and Medes are meant; the belly and thighs of brass are the leopard, by which the Greeks who ruled from Alexander onwards are intended; the legs of iron are the dreadful and terrible beast, by which the Romans who hold the empire now are meant; the toes of clay and iron are the ten horns which are to be; the one other little horn springing up in their midst is the antichrist; the stone that smites the image and breaks it in pieces, and that filled the whole earth, is Christ, who comes from heaven and brings judgment on the world.”1 This statement is remarkable for its clearness, correctness, and condensation, and expresses the view held still by the historic school.
Hippolytus says, in the treatise on “Christ and Antichrist”: “Rejoice, blessed Daniel, thou hast not been in error; all these things have come to pass” (p. 19). “Already the iron rules; already it subdues and breaks all in pieces; already it brings all the unwilling into subjection; already we see these things ourselves. Now we glorify God, being instructed by thee.” (p. 20).
2. The Fathers held that the ten-horned beasts of Daniel and John are the same. As an instance, Irenaeus, in his book “Against Heresies,” chapter 26, says: “John, in the Apocalypse,..teaches us what the ten horns shall be which were seen by Daniel.”
3. The Fathers held the historic interpretation of the Apocalypse. As Elliott says, none of the Fathers “entertained the idea of the apocalyptic prophecy overleaping the chronological interval, were it less or greater, antecedent to the consummation, and plunging at once into the times of the consummation.”2 Here, for example, is the commentary of Victorinus on the Apocalypse of John, written towards the end of the third century. This is the earliest commentary extant on the Apocalypse as a whole. In this, the going forth of the white horse under the first seal, is interpreted as the victories of the gospel in the first century. This view, you will observe, involves the historical interpretation of the entire book of Revelation. Victorinus interprets the woman clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, and wearing a crown of twelve stars on her head, and travailing in her pains, as “the ancient Church of fathers, prophets, saints, and apostles”; in other words, the Judaeo-Christian body of saints. He could not, of course, point to fulfillments which were at his early date still future, but he recognizes the principle.
4. The Fathers held that the little horn of Daniel, the man of sin foretold by Paul, and the revived head of the Roman empire predicted by John, represent one and the same power; and they held that power to be the antichrist. For example, Origen, in his famous book, “Against Celsus,” thus expresses himself (bk. 6., chapter 46.). After quoting nearly the whole of Paul’s prophecy about the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians, which he interprets of the antichrist, he says: “Since Celsus rejects the statements concerning antichrist, as it is termed, having neither read what is said of him in the book of Daniel, nor in the writings of Paul, nor what the Savior in the gospels has predicted about his coming, we must make a few remarks on this subject..Paul speaks of him who is called antichrist, describing, though with a certain reserve, both the manner and time and cause of his coming..The prophecy also regarding antichrist is stated in the book of Daniel, and is fitted to make an intelligent and candid reader admire the words as truly divine and prophetic; for in them are mentioned the things relating to the coming kingdom, beginning with the times of Daniel, and continuing to the destruction of the world.”
Jerome, in his commentary on the book of Daniel (chapter 7), says, with reference to the little horn which has a mouth speaking great things, that “it is the man of sin, the son of perdition, who dares to sit in the temple of God, making himself as God.”3
5. The Fathers held that the Roman empire was the “let,” or hindrance, referred to by Paul in 2 Thessalonians, which kept back the manifestation of the “man of sin.” This point is of great importance. Paul distinctly tells us that he knew, and that the Thessalonians knew, what that hindrance was, and that it was then in existence. The early Church, through the writings of the Fathers, tells us what it knew upon the subject, and with remarkable unanimity affirms that this “let,” or hindrance, was the Roman empire as governed by the Caesars; that while the Caesars held imperial power, it was impossible for the predicted antichrist to arise, and that on the fall of the Caesars he would arise. Here we have a point on which Paul affirms the existence of knowledge in the Christian Church. The early Church knew, he says, what this hindrance was. The early Church tells us what it did know upon the subject, and no one in these days can be in a position to contradict its testimony as to what Paul had, by word of mouth only, told the Thessalonians. It is a point on which ancient tradition alone can have any authority. Modern speculation is positively impertinent on such a subject.4
What then was the view of the early Church? Look at the words of Tertullian. Quoting Thessalonians, he says: “Now ye know what detaineth that he might be revealed in his time, for the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder until he be taken out of the way. What obstacle is there but the Roman state; the falling away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce antichrist..that the beast antichrist, with his false prophet, may wage war on the Church of God?”5
In his magnificent “Apology,” addressed to the rulers of the Roman empire, Tertullian says that the Christian Church ù not himself, mark, but the Christian Church prayed for the emperors, and for the stability of the empire of Rome, because they knew “that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth ù in fact, the very end of all things, threatening dreadful woes ù was ONLY RETARDED by the continued existence of the Roman empire. ” 6
Read the words of Chrysostom in his “Commentary on 2 Thessalonians”: “One may first naturally inquire what is that which withholdeth, and after that would know why Paul expresses this so obscurely. . ‘he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.’ That is, when the Roman empire is taken out of the way, then he shall come; and naturally, for as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will readily exalt himself; but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of men and of God. For as the kingdoms before this were destroyed, that of the Medes by the Babylonians, that of the Babylonians by the Persians, that of the Persians by the Macedonians, that of the Macedonians by the Romans, so will this be by antichrist, and he by Christ.”
Then, accounting for Paul’s reserve in alluding to this point he adds: “Because he says this of the Roman empire, he naturally only glanced at it and spoke covertly, for he did not wish to bring upon himself superfluous enmities and useless dangers. For if he had said that, after a little while, the Roman empire would be dissolved, they would now immediately have even overwhelmed him as a pestilent person, and all the faithful as living and warring to this end.” 7
From Irenaeus, who lived close to apostolic times, down to Chrysostom and Jerome, the Fathers taught that the power withholding the manifestation of the “man of sin” was the Roman empire as governed by the Caesars. The Fathers therefore belong to the historic, and not to the futurist school of interpretation; for futurists imagine that the hindrance to the manifestation of the man of sin is still in existence, though the Caesars have long since passed away.
6. The Fathers held that the fall of the Roman empire was imminent, and therefore the manifestation of antichrist close at hand Justin Martyr, for example, one of the earliest of the Fathers, in his “Dialogue with Trypho,” chapter 22, says: “He whom Daniel foretells would have dominion for ‘time and times and a half ‘ is already even at the door, about to speak his blasphemous and daring things against the Most High.”
Cyprian, in his “Exhortation to Martyrdom,” says: “Since..the hateful time of antichrist is already beginning to draw near, I would collect from the sacred Scriptures some exhortations for preparing and strengthening the minds of the brethren, whereby I might animate the soldiers of Christ for the heavenly and spiritual contest.” 8
7. The Fathers held that the “man of sin” or antichrist, would be a ruler or head of the Roman empire. A striking illustration of this is the interpretation by Irenaeus and Hippolytus of the mysterious number 666, the number of the revived beast, or antichrist. Irenaeus gives as its interpretation the word Latinos. He says: “Latinos is the number 666, and it is a very probable (solution), this being the name of the last kingdom, for the LATINS are they who at present bear rule. ” 9
Hippolytus gives the same solution in his treatise on “Christ and Antichrist.”
8. The Fathers held that the Babylon of the Apocalypse means Rome. On this point they were all agreed and their unanimity is an important seal on the correctness of this interpretation. Tertullian, for example, in his answer to the Jews, says:
“Babylon, in our own John, is a figure of the city Rome, as being equally great and proud of her sway, and triumphant over the saints” (chapter 9.). Victorinus, who wrote the earliest commentary on the Apocalypse extant, says, on Revelation 17: “The seven heads are the seven hills on which the woman sitteth ù that is, the city of Rome.”
Hippolytus says: “Tell me, blessed John, apostle and disciple of the Lord, what didst thou see and hear concerning Babylon? Arise and speak, for it sent thee also into banishment.”10 You notice here the view that Rome which banished the Apostle John is the Babylon of the Apocalypse.
Augustine says, “Rome, the second Babylon, and the daughter of the first, to which it pleased God to subject the whole world, and bring it all under one sovereignty, was now founded.”11 In chapter 28, he calls Rome “the western Babylon.” In chapter 41 he says: “It has not been in vain that this city has received the mysterious name of Babylon; for Babylon is interpreted confusion, as we have said elsewhere.”
It is clear from these quotations that the Fathers did not interpret the Babylon of the Apocalypse as meaning either the literal Babylon on the Euphrates, or some great city in France or England, but as meaning Rome. And this is still the interpretation of the historic school, though for the last 800 years events have proved Babylon to represent Rome, not in its pagan, but in its Papal form.
It should be noted that none of the Fathers held the futurist gap theory, the theory that the book of Revelation overleaps nearly eighteen centuries of Christian history, plunging at once into the distant future, and devoting itself entirely to predicting the events of the last few years of this dispensation. As to the subject of antichrist, there was a universal agreement among them concerning the general idea of the prophecy, while there were differences as to details, these differences arising chiefly from the notion that the antichrist would be in some way Jewish as well as Roman. It is true they thought that the antichrist would be an individual man. Their early position sufficiently accounts for this. They had no conception and could have no conception of the true nature and length of the tremendous apostasy which was to set in upon the Christian Church. They were not prophets, and could not foresee that the Church was to remain nineteen centuries in the wilderness, and to pass through prolonged and bitter persecution under a succession of nominally Christian but apostate rulers, filling the place of the ancient Caesars and emulating their antichristian deeds. Had they known these things, we may well believe their views would have completely harmonized with those of historic interpreters of later times. The Fathers went as far as they could go in the direction in which historical interpreters of these last days have traveled. Further, much that was dark to them in prophecy has become clear to their successors in the light of its accomplishment. Divine providence has thrown light, as it could not fail to do, on Divine prediction.
II. We come now, in the second place, very briefly to review the history of prophetic interpretation in the interval extending between the fall of the western empire of Rome and the development of the Papal theocracy in the eleventh century, under Gregory VII. The interpreters of this period belonged, like the Fathers, to the historic school. They interpreted the Apocalypse as a prophecy of the whole course of events from the first advent to the consummation.
The following authors living in this interval wrote commentaries on the entire Apocalypse: Primasius, the Venerable Bede, Anspert, Haymo, Andreas, Arethras, and Berengaud.
Primasius, who lived in the middle of the sixth century, interpreted the “hundred and forty-four thousand” sealed persons in the Apocalypse as the Christian Church. He held that antichrist would substitute himself for Christ and blasphemously assume His dignity, and that the seven-hilled city was Rome.
The Venerable Bede, who lived in the north of England at the close of the seventh century, was an historical interpreter of the Apocalypse. Here is a copy of his commentary. He takes the first seal to represent the triumphs of the primitive Church. He expounds the lamb-like beast of Revelation 13 as a pseudo-Christian false prophet.
Ambrose Anspert wrote a copious commentary on the Apocalypse in the middle of the eighth century. He expounds the second beast of Revelation 13 as meaning the preachers and ministers of antichrist, and teaches that antichrist will be “pro Christo,” or in Christ’s place. It is a remarkable fact that he expounds the grievous “sore,” or ulcer, poured out under the first vial, as meaning infidelity. This is the general view at the present day among historical interpreters. They consider the infidelity of the French Revolution to be the fulfillment of this vial.
Haymo’s commentary, written in the ninth century, is for the most part abridged from Anspert. Andreas, who was Bishop of Caesarea, states definitely that the Apocalypse was a prophecy of the things to happen from Christ’s first coming to the consummation. He interprets the “hundred and forty-four thousand” as meaning true Christians, and antichrist to be a Roman king and “pseudo- Christ,” or false Christ.
Arethras, who wrote in the ninth century, mainly follows Andreas.
Berengaud’s commentary on the Apocalypse, written in the same century, is the least satisfactory of all. He was a Benedictine monk, and lived at a very dark period. His notion was that antichrist would be an avowed infidel and an open advocate of licentiousness. He was, as far as is known, the first interpreter to propound this view.
The interval during which these interpreters lived was marked by the steady rise, but not by the full manifestation of the Papacy. Two notions contributed powerfully to prevent their recognizing in the imperfectly developed Papacy the predicted “man of sin.” They imagined that as the eastern empire of Rome, seated at Constantinople, still continued, the “let” or hindrance to the manifestation of antichrist remained, completely overlooking the fact that the antichristian power foretold in prophecy is definitely linked with the seven hills of Rome, and thus with the fall of the western empire, and the apostasy of the Latin or western Church.
Then they spiritualized and explained away a great deal of prophecy, and supposed that they were living in the millennium, and that the antichrist would not be manifested till the brief outbreak of evil at its close. This false notion had fatal consequences. While these interpreters, in common with the generality of Christians at their period, were looking for the advent of the “man of sin” in the distant future, he stole unperceived into their midst, and usurped the place of Christ over His unwatchful flock.
Before we leave this mediaeval period, there are three remarkable testimonies to which we must just refer. Gregory the Great, in the sixth century, declared before Christendom that whosoever called himself universal bishop or universal priest was the precursor of antichrist. In this he was doubtless perfectly correct. When Boniface III, shortly after the death of Gregory, took this title in the year 607, he became the precursor of antichrist, as fully revealed under Boniface VIII.
Gherbert of Rheims, before the year 1000, said of the pope sitting on his lofty throne in gold and purple, that if destitute of charity, he was antichrist sitting in the temple of God.
Lastly, Berenger, in the eleventh century, referring to the pope’s enforcement at that time of the doctrine of transubstantiation, affirmed the Roman see to be not the apostolic seat, but the seat of Satan.
Thus gradually did an understanding of the true character of the Papacy dawn upon the Christian church of this period.
III. We will now, in the third and last place, briefly consider the history of prophetic interpretation from the time of Gregory VII, in the eleventh century, to the Reformation, in the sixteenth.
The pontificate of Gregory VII was the era of the Papacy unveiled. At this date the pope dropped the mask of the shepherd, and exchanged the crook for the scepter and the sword. The accession of Gregory VII, or Hildebrand, as he was called, created, as we have before stated, the Papal theocracy. Do you know what this means? He claimed for himself, in the name of God, absolute and unlimited dominion over all the states of Christendom, as successor of St. Peter, and vicar of Christ upon earth. The popes who came after him pushed these claims to their utmost extent. At the end of the thirteenth century they assumed the proud title of masters of the world. Three names stand out conspicuously in the three middle centuries of this dark period, Gregory VII, Innocent III, and Boniface VIII. The historian of the middle ages well says, “As Gregory VII appears the most usurping of mankind till we read the history of Innocent III, so Innocent III is thrown into the shade by the supreme audacity of Boniface VIII.”12 In those days lived the great Italian poet, Dante. He described his age with extraordinary power. Writing in the thirteenth century, and in Italy, he painted the Papacy as the world beheld it then. And what did the world see then? It saw in the Papacy the usurping “man of sin”; and in the Church of Rome the Babylon of the Apocalypse. Mark, even the world saw it. Hear a few lines from Dante’s immortal poem on Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise:
“Woe to thee, Simon Magus! woe to you His wretched followers, who the things of God Which should be wedded unto goodness, them, Rapacious as ye are, do prostitute For gold and silver!”
“Your avarice O’ercasts the world with mourning, under foot Treading the good, and raising bad men up. Of shepherds like to you, the Evangelist Was ware, when her, who sits upon the waves, With kings in filthy whoredom he beheld, She who with seven heads towered at her birth, And from ten horns her proof of glory drew, Long as her spouse in virtue took delight. Of gold and silver ye have made your god, Differing wherein from the idolater, But that he worships one, a hundred ye? Ah, Constantine, to how much ill gave birth, Not thy conversion, but that plenteous dower, Which the first wealthy Father gained from thee!” 13
In his poem on Paradise he says: “My place he who usurps on earth hath made A common sewer of puddle and of blood. No purpose was of ours that the keys Which were vouchsafed me should for ensigns serve Unto the banners that do levy war On the baptized: nor I for sigil mark Set upon sold and lying privileges, Which makes me oft to bicker and turn red. In shepherd’s clothing greedy wolves below Range wide o’er all the pastures. Arm of God, Why longer sleepest thou?”
In the end of his poem on Paradise, he refers to the Apostle John as ù “The seer That ere he died, saw all the grievous times Of the fair bride, who with the lance and nails Was won.”
You will observe that these beautiful and touching words recognize the historical interpretation of the Apocalypse. The Apostle John, according to Dante, saw “all the grievous times” through which the Church was destined to pass.
And what Dante saw, the Albigenses saw, and the Waldenses. What wonder was there in this? Would not the wonder have been had the saints remained blind to a fulfillment of prophecy so plain and palpable that even the world recognized it?
In the sunny south of France, in Provence and Catalonia, lived the Albigenses. They were a civilized and highly educated people. Among these people there sprang up an extensive revival of true religion, and one of its natural effects was a bold testimony against the abominations of apostate Rome. Here is Sismondi’s History of the Albigenses. On page 7 he says of them and of the Vaudois: “All agreed in regarding the Church of Rome as having absolutely perverted Christianity, and in maintaining that it was she who was designated in the Apocalypse by the name of the whore of Babylon.” Rome could not endure this testimony; she drew her deadly sword and waged war against those who bore it. In the year 1208 the Albigenses were murderously persecuted. Innocent III (what a mockery his name!) employed the crusaders in this dreadful work. The war of extermination was denominated sacred. The pope’s soldiers prosecuted it with pious ardor; men, women, and children were all precipitated into the flames; whole cities were burned. In Beziers every soul was massacred; seven thousand dead bodies were counted in a single church, where the people had taken refuge; the whole country was laid waste; an entire people was slaughtered, and the eloquent witness of these early reformers was reduced to the silence of the sepulcher.
Thus began the tremendous war against the saints foretold in Daniel and the Apocalypse, and thenceforward it was murderously prosecuted from century to century. Early in the thirteenth century was founded the Inquisition, and full persecuting powers entrusted by the popes to the Dominicans.
A remnant of the Vaudois escaping from the south of France took refuge in the Alps, where the light of the Gospel had been preserved from the earliest times. I have visited the Waldensian valleys, and will try in a few words to bring them before you.
You doubtless remember the position of the city of Milan on the plain of Lombardy. From the top of the famous cathedral of Milan there is a magnificent view of the southern Alps. The plains of Lombardy and Piedmont extend to their base. The Alps are seen stretching to the east and west, as far as the eye can reach. There they stand in rugged, wild sublimity, their lower slopes mantled with dark forests, their summits crowned with glaciers and eternal snows.
To the west, among these, beyond the city of Turin, rises the vast white cone of Monte Viso. Among the mountains at its base lie the Waldensian valleys. They are five in numbers, and run up into narrow, elevated gorges, winding among fir-clad steeps, and climbing into the region of the clouds, which hover round the icy, alpine peaks. These valleys were the refuge of the “Israel of the Alps.” Protestants long before the Reformation, these noble mountaineers resolutely refused to bow the knee to Baal; they were a faithful remnant of the early Church preserved all through the central ages of apostasy.
This folio volume is a faithful history of the Waldenses, written 217 years ago, by the Waldensian pastor Leger. It contains his portrait. I have often looked at it with interest. The countenance is scarred with suffering, but full of spiritual light. Leger tells with simple clearness the story of the Waldenses from the earliest times, quoting from ancient and authentic documents. He gives in full their confession of faith, and narrates the history of their martyrdoms, including the dreadful massacre in the vale of Lucerna, in 1655, of which he himself was an eye witness. This book was written only fourteen years after that massacre. It contains numerous depositions concerning it, rendered on oath, and long lists of the names of those who were its victims. It gives also plates depicting the dreadful ways in which they were slaughtered. These plates represent men, women, and children being dismembered, disemboweled, ripped up, run through with swords, impaled on stakes, torn limb from limb, flung from precipices, roasted in flames. They are almost too horrible to look at. And this was only one of a long series of massacres of the Waldenses extending through 600 painful years. Milton wrote of these Protestant sufferers his immortal sonnet:
“Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold; Even them who kept Thy truth so pure of old, When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones, Forget not: in Thy book record their groans Who were Thy sheep, and in their ancient fold Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that rolled Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they To heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow O’er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway The triple tyrant; that from these may grow A hundredfold, who, having learned Thy way, Early may fly the Babylonian woe.”
The persecuted Waldenses were students of prophecy from the oldest times. How did they interpret the prophecies concerning “Babylon” and the “man of sin”? Here in this book of Leger’s is their Treatise on Antichrist, written in the year 1120, or nearly 800 years ago. It is written in a language now extinct; Leger gives a French translation in parallel columns (here it is at p. 71). In simple, telling terms that treatise brands the Romish Church as the harlot Babylon, and the Papacy as the “man of sin” and antichrist. That was the faith and confession of the Waldenses. 14
Turn now for a few moments to Bohemia. You remember that it is an extensive province in the northwest of Austria. There a reformation sprang up more than a century before the time of Luther, and was quenched in seas of blood. What gave rise to it? The testimonies of John Huss and Jerome of Prague. What did these men hold as to the Church of Rome and the Papacy? That Rome is Babylon, and the Papacy the antichrist.15 Witness their testimony, quoted by Foxe the martyrologist. I have stood on the spot in Constance where these men were condemned to death. Rome burned them. Here is a history of “the Reformation and anti-reformation in Bohemia.” The Bohemian brethren avowed the doctrines of John Huss, including his views on the anti-Papal prophecies. Rome exterminated the reformed Bohemians. The story is a dreadful one.16 But from their ashes rose new witnesses. From the persecuted Bohemians sprang the Moravians, who this day are missionaries throughout the world!
Turn lastly, for a moment, to England. Before the Reformation, 500 years ago, God raised up in this country John Wicliffe. Men called him “the morning star of the Reformation.” He translated the Scriptures into the English tongue, and waged war against the errors and abominations of the Church of Rome. How did Wicliffe interpret these prophecies? Just as the Waldenses did. Here is one of his books filled with references to the pope as antichrist. He wrote a special treatise, entitled Speculum de Antichristo (“The Mirror of Antichrist”). From Wicliffe sprang the English Lollards. They numbered hundreds of thousands. What was their testimony? Let me give it to you in the words of one of them, Lord Cobham, that famous man of God, who lived just a century before Luther.
When brought before King Henry V and admonished to submit himself to the pope as an obedient child, this was his answer: “As touching the pope and his spirituality, I owe them neither suit nor service, forasmuch as I know him by the Scriptures to be the great antichrist, the son of perdition, the open adversary of God, and an abomination standing in the holy place.”
Remaining firm in his rejection of Romish error and refusal to bow down to the Papacy, Lord Cobham was condemned to death as a heretic.
John Foxe tells us that on the day appointed for his death, in the year 1417, Lord Cobham was brought out of the Tower of London, “with his arms bound behind him, having a very cheerful countenance. Then he was laid upon a hurdle, and so drawn forth to St. Giles’ Fields, where they had set up a new pair of gallows. As he was coming to the place of execution, and was taken from the hurdle, he fell down devoutly upon his knees, desiring Almighty God to forgive his enemies. Then stood he up and beheld the multitude, exhorting them in most godly manner to follow the laws of God written in the Scriptures, and in any wise to beware of such teachers as they see contrary to Christ in their conversation and living; with many other special counsels. Then he was hanged up there by the middle, in chains of iron, and so consumed alive in the fire, praising the name of God as long as his life lasted.
In other words, he was roasted to death. They were burned, burned, these blessed men of God! Huss was burned; Jerome was burned; Lord Cobham was burned. Even Wicliffe’s bones were dug up, forty- one years after his death, and burned. Savonarola, who preached with trumpet tongue that Rome was Babylon, was burned. All these were burned before the Reformation, and thousands more. They were burned, but their words were not burned! Their testimony was not burned! It lived on! Fire could not scorch it; could not stifle it; swords could not slay it; naught could destroy it. Truth is immortal, truth is unconquerable. Imprison it, and it comes forth free; bury it, and it rises again; crush it to the earth, and it springs up victorious, purer for the conflict, nobler for the victory.
The truth to which the confessors witnessed sprang up again a century later, and rolled over Europe the tremendous tide of the Reformation.
And whence came this testimony which no power could repress? Whence came this testimony, trumpet- tongued, that Rome, in all its myriad-handed might, was impotent to silence or arrest? Whence came it, but from that sacred volume, writ in gloomy prisons, in lands of captivity, in scenes of exile, for the guidance, the preservation, the support of God’s suffering saints and faithful witnesses in every age! Daniel the captive, Paul the prisoner, John the exile ù such were its inspired authors; men whose piercing vision looked down the long vista of the Church’s conflicts, marked her martyrdoms, and saw her triumphs from afar.
Oh, word of divinely given prophecy! Oh, wondrous volume, whose seven seals the Lamb has loosed and opened to meet the moral and spiritual needs of the suffering Church He loves so well! how have thy solemn utterances, thy mysterious symbols, been scanned and studied by earnest, saintly eyes! how hast thou been pondered in prisons, remembered on racks, repeated in the flames! Thy texts are windows through which the light shines from the third heaven down into the darkest depths of earth’s conflicts, mysteries, and woes. Oh, sacred and sanctifying truth! how have thy words been watered with the tears of suffering saints, steeped in their griefs and sorrows, and dyed in the copious streaming of their blood! Precious are the lives which have sealed thee; precious the truth those lives have sealed! Thy words have been wings by which the persecuted Church has soared from the wilderness and the battlefield into the pure serene of everlasting love and peace! Like a bright angel, thou art heaven descended, and leadest to the skies. By thee has God guided to their glorious consummation the noble army of saints, confessors, martyrs, shining round His throne like the everlasting stars. They are gone into that worm of glory ù for ever gone; but the light which led them there remains behind! We cannot touch them; they have vanished from the sight of men like the prophet whose chariot to heaven was the winged flame! We cannot hear the music of their harpings, or the thunder of their song; but we still grasp the book they loved, which made them all they were, and all they are. Ye Waldenses, from the lonely, blood- stained Alps; ye nameless victims of the dreadful Inquisition; ye noble Protestants before the Reformation, Wicliffe, Huss, Jerome, Cobham, Savonarola ù we possess the holy pages which ye pondered, the words of truth and life ye sealed with martyr blood! Be those words to us what they were to you; let them be our inspiration and our testimony, afand the testimony of our children after us, till the hour when truth, emancipated from all trammels, shall shine through the world in its unclouded splendor, and error and superstition and falsehood from its presence shall for ever flee away!