Our Churches Under the Ban of Antichrist by William R. Williams
It was, but a few years before, said by a distinguished English convert to Romanism, Archbishop Manning, who has more recently been made a cardinal, when speaking of the communion to which he had attached himself, that "men now acknowledge it to be either Christ or Antichrist. (Lect. on the Fourfold Sovereignty of God, Lond. 1871, p. 171.) A few lines after he adds: "The Catholic Church is either the masterpiece of Satan or the kingdom of the Son of God;" yet a few pages farther on he represents men as concluding in its favor, "though at first they think the church of Jesus Christ to be Antichrist."
Familiar as is the term to the readers of the New Testament, so ghastly is the shadow it is there made to cast upon the purity and growth of Christ's true churches, that some in our own times dread allusion to the phrase even, as bringing back controversies which have rent nations and guttered more than one region of the earth as with rivers of blood. But if the beloved disciple testified that there were even then many Antichrists come into the world, warning, however, that another, more vast and heinous, was to come, whose full manifestation was hindered, or, in the old English phrase, "letted", by a power yet dominant--if, as the old Fathers held, the power so obstructing was the great pagan empire of Rome, it is matter of moment to the student of history and the reverent tracker of the course of the Divine Providence in the rule of nations to ascertain what great influence for evil grew up into its ill-omened dominion on the waning and overthrow of the old Paganism of the great heathen empire. If Hobbes, the old infidel of the days of the Commonwealth and the Restoration, said, with that command of pithy English of which his writings afford many a specimen, that Papal Rome was but the ghost of the old Roman Paganism sitting crowned on the sepulchre of the early heathen dominion, the wording might be his, but the thought was one familiar to all the schools of European Protestantism. The martyrs of Southern France and Northern Italy, of Holland and Germany and England, of Bohemia and Scotland, in the study of their Bibles, had learned to pronounce the great power claimed and wielded by the Roman Church, the New Testament Babylon, the mother of abominations, to be the counterfeit and antagonist of Christ. Bishop Cox, one of the compilers of the Liturgy of the Anglican Established Church, writing from England in 1559, whilst Elizabeth filled the throne, to friends on the Continent, says, "We...are thundering forth in our pulpits, and especially before our queen Elizabeth, that the Roman Pontiff is truly Antichrist." A nobleman of that house of Russell which, so early and so long, has distinguished itself for zeal in the behalf of Protestantism, the Earl of Bedford, in the next year, 1560, writing to Gualter, a Swiss Reformer, prays that Christ may prosper the Swiss Christians in their endeavors to "destroy the kingdom of Satan, the pomp of the world, and the power of Antichrist."
On the other hand, a Roman Catholic gentleman, Ambrose Lisle Philippe, of Grace Dieu Manor, about twenty years ago published a volume intended to prove Mohammed the great enemy of truth who was veiled under this portentous title. One of the most learned of all volumes on these topics is that in folio of the Spanish Dominican Malvenda. Born only about six years after Cox had so designated the wearer of the tiara, his results are, of course, far different from those of the various confessors and martyrs that his own Roman Church had disowned as heretics, and his own Dominican order had racked, immured, and burned as heretical blasphemers. The question is one long litigated, but it cannot be banished if the great Head of the church is to be regarded as not a mere alarmist when warning against the false Christs that should come in his own name and deceive many. And the spiritual powers that should beset his people, we may well believe that those of his followers best serve him on earth and those most surely win his welcome in heaven who take early and reverent heed to those oracles of his framing, nor walk into snares against which he has forearmed them.
In an old German pamphlet, issued by Roman Catholic writers of the Continent, and intended to warn against prevalent heresies, whilst Luther was comparatively obscure--for he is not named in it; and the strength of the denunciation in which is against the Waldensians and the Poor Men of Lyons, and the followers of the English Wycliffe, and the Bohemian Huss--it is said of these Poor Men of Lyons, that they "regard the Ban as their own everlasting benediction." (Artikel um Ursprung, 1524) By the word Ban--fallen practically, with the shrunken powers of the hierarchy, into disuse--was meant in ancient times the power publicly and solemnly to curse. It delivered over the individual heretic to excommunication, banishment, prison, or death; and the land it laid under an interdict, abolishing in it, for the time, all holy offices, and smiting service and worshippers as with a moral paralysis, and...if left unrelieved, would bring on utter death.
The Waldensians this Roman Catholic pamphlet represents as claiming that they had been in the world since the days of the first Pope Sylvester and the Emperor Constantine, when the fatal bounty and patronage of this emperor had corrupted and secularized the church, as Waldensians held. That is, as far back as the closing of the third and opening of the fourth Christian century, the Waldensians dated the fatal wrench and blight...Prayers for the dead, purgatory, prayers to the saints, pilgrimages, jubilees, burial in consecrated ground, and the use of oaths, they charge the Waldensians with denying. To the Poor Men of Lyons, they impute the assertion, that the Roman Church is the Harlot of Babylon; that all the new laws made for the church, since Christ's ascension to heaven, are unauthorized and valueless; that true baptism comes only after belief, personally; and that Infant Baptism is to be rejected. To Wycliffe, the pamphlet imputes the sentiment, that to ban a man, a bishop must know that God has first banned him; and that, banning another without such personal knowledge, the prelate makes himself a heretic; that the men who, in dread of man's ban, turn from hearing God's word preached, are themselves banned, and at the day of judgment will be doomed as traitors against God; that bans of the pope and his bishops are not to be heeded, for they are but judgments of Antichrist. The pamphlet closes with the decrees of the Council of Constance (A.D. 1414) condemning such heresies, and sending Huss and Jerome to the fire.
The yellow quarto tract of some eight leaves, in its rude black type, is thus like some dark thunder-cloud swollen with portents of doom. But, itself three hundred and fifty years old, and allowing to the Waldensians in that age a history actually three hundred and fifty years back, or seven centuries from our times, it cites, though it disputes, the Waldensian statement, that they came from the days of Sylvester, or a time when Constantine, by enriching, had, as Dante also complained, secularized the church. The Catholic accusers allowed them an antiquity of three hundred and fifty years; the Waldensians claimed a real antiquity of twelve centuries, or nearly nine centuries more than their persecutors granted them.
Now, Neander, Hebrew in blood, but Christian eminently in spirit, of vast erudition and greatest candor, says [*--Bohn's ed., London, viii., 351, 352] that it is not without some foundation of truth that this claim of the Waldensians goes back far as the times of Sylvester and Constantine's gift. Of one of the old Waldensian manuscripts, claiming to be of the year A.D. 1120, and having as its theme Antichrist, Neander says that it belongs certainly to the twelfth century. [† Ibid., 352.] Rainerius, once himself a member of the Catharist or heretical community, afterward a persecutor, traces them back to Sylvester's times, and to the apostles even. [* Ibid., 352, n.] These Waldensians held Antichrist, in his early stages and ages, to have been "mute." It was their striking phrase for his slow development, and the growing boldness of his utterances, and the wide sweep of his later assumptions. In the imagery of the Apocalypse, the evil influence had been "letted"--cribbed and hemmed in--by adverse powers that it was to survive, and finally to eliminate and to supersede. As Hobbes phrased it, the ghost of the pontificate sate crowned on the tomb of the empire.