In recent years radical traditionalists have been attacking the Church using a line allegedly uttered by Our Lady of La Salette: “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.”
My initial inclination is to respond by saying, “Big deal. Tell me something I don’t already know.”
Actually, that’s a little strong. I don’t know that those things will happen, but I strongly suspect that they will. The New Testament predicts that before the Second Coming there will be a great falling away from the faith (2 Thess. 2:3a), and I imagine that this will apply to the populace of Rome as much as people in other places.
Scripture also predicts the coming of an individual known as the Antichrist who will deny that Jesus has come in the flesh (2 John 7). This individual is often identified with the “man of sin” whom Paul mentions (2 Thess. 2:3b; see this issue’s cover story for more information), who will demand worship and persecute the Church, as did some of the early Roman emperors. As for where this persecuting, emperor-like individual will be based, Rome is a more likely candidate than any other city I can name.
I even expect that the worldview of the Church’s persecutors will be the same as its first ones: a form of paganism.
So the claim that “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist” doesn’t particularly impress me. It just means that—in religious terms—the city of Rome in the last century will be a lot like it was in the first. The Antichrist will be the head of state, persecuting the Church, and the pope will be leading the Christian underground, just like Peter in first-century Rome.
What is absurd is the radical traditionalist claim that the alleged prophecy of Our Lady of La Salette may be applied to Rome today. That’s nonsense. Regardless of how tepid the faith of Italians may be or how many erroneous ideas they have, they still overwhelmingly identify themselves as Christian. As long as that’s the case, Italy has not apostatized.
Radical traditionalists often seem to have a defective understanding of what counts as apostasy. It is much more than tepid or weak faith. It is more than just accepting ideas contrary to the Catholic faith (that’s what heresy is). Apostasy constitutes a full repudiation of the faith so that one no longer considers oneself a Christian.
That’s what Scripture has in mind when it talks about there being a great apostasy. It doesn’t envision Christians by the truckload abandoning orthodoxy for a heresy but still calling themselves Christian. It envisions Christians by the truckload leaving Christianity altogether, which in a first-century context would mean reverting to either paganism of Judaism.
We will be able to say that the apostasy has occurred when Christians are being drug again through the streets of Rome to execution in the Coliseum. Compared to what will happen then, charges of a present apostasy in Europe are not only laughable, but insulting to the future, final wave of martyrs.
In a way, radical traditionalists who charge the Church has apostatized are committing the Protestant error: To justify their separation from the Church, Protestant leaders charged it with having “apostatized” and become a heretical Church. We know because of Christ’s promise that this cannot happen (Matt. 16:18), but the claim was made nonetheless. Radical traditionalists who commit the same error do so for the same reason: to advance their own cause and—in some cases—their own schism from the Church.
Another strategy early Protestants used to justify their separation from the Church was to accuse it of being run by the Antichrist, whom they identified as the pope. This too is out of whack with Scripture, which identifies the Antichrist as someone who claims that Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh (2 John 7). That’s hard to do if you are the pope, since your job rests on your being the vicar (representative) of Jesus Christ until he returns to the earth. Nevertheless, early Protestants made the claim, as some do today.
Radical traditionalists at times seem to be doing the same thing. “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist” is such a tempting, juicy quote that they really want to apply it to today. But in that case, who could the Antichrist be?
Well, unless Romano Prodi, the current president of the Italian Republic, plans to pass some rather sweeping anti-Christian laws, he’s out of the running. With the absence of an Italian political leader for the role of Antichrist, radical traditionalists seem to be suggesting that the pope (either the current one or one soon to come) fills that role.
Again, this is simply absurd. We’ve already seen that, on the grounds of justifying his job alone, the pope is the last person on earth to meet the biblical requirements for the Antichrist. He also isn’t the kind of political leader the Antichrist will be.
But there is another reason why you can’t apply the La Salette prophecy to today: The prophecy itself precludes it. You see, the prophecy doesn’t consist of just one sentence. It has a lot of other things to say, including things about the Antichrist. Among these is the fact that he is not a pope but a military or political figure that the “secret” contrasts with the pope.
First, a little background. The apparition of Our Lady of La Salette occurred in 1846. The visionaries were two children in France named Maximin Giraud and Melanie Calvat. The local bishop approved the apparition in 1851, and that same year the two children were persuaded to write down information the Virgin Mary had given them. The question of what these “secrets” contained was on many people’s minds, and the children were relentlessly pestered to reveal the information. It was not until 1851, when they were asked to write down the secrets so that they could be given to the pope, that they complied.
Afterwards, Maximin never revealed his secret. He is reported to have claimed that Mary told him that he would become a millionaire, that the Antichrist would slay him, and that the next pope would be French. None of those things happened, and scholars generally conclude that they were stories Maximin made up in an attempt to stop people from pestering him about the secret. When texts alleging to be Maximin’s secret began to appear in the press (some of which are demonstrably false), the frustrated seer refused to either confirm or deny that they were his, saying it was the pope’s responsibility to decide whether the secret should be revealed.
Melanie’s story is different. Over the years she apparently did begin revealing pieces of her secret to others, and in 1879 she published the whole thing.
The trouble is, what she wrote in 1851 consisted of only three, hand-written pages. The booklet she produced in 1879 was much longer than this, and undoubtedly contains ideas that were not part of the secret sent to the pope. So, while Melanie’s 1879 publication may have been based on her original secret, it undoubtedly contains elements not in the original, and we cannot tell which elements are which. That raises a concern about the “Rome will lose the faith” line. It may not have been in the secret sent to the pope.
There is another problem: Some of the prophecies contained in Melanie’s secret are demonstrably false. They’re too specific, they’re tied to the nineteenth century, and they didn’t happen.
For example, here is the main passage about the Antichrist: “In the year 1865 the abomination shall be seen in Holy Places in Convents, and then the demon shall make himself as the king of hearts. It will be about that time that Antichrist shall be born. At his birth he shall vomit b.asphemies. He shall have teeth; in a word, he shall be like an incarnate demon; he shall utter frightful screams; he shall work prodigies; and he shall feed on impure things. He shall have brothers who, though not incarnate demons like him, shall nevertheless be children of iniquity. At the age of twelve years they shall have become remarkable for valiant victories, which they shall achieve; very soon each of them will be at the head of armies. Paris shall be burned, and Marseilles shall be submerged; many great cities shall be shattered and swallowed up by earthquakes. The populace will believe that everything is lost, will see nothing but murder, and will hear only the clang of arms and sacrilegious b.asphemies.”
Well, now that we’re in the year 2000, either there is a 135-year-old guy out there somewhere—with brothers who won great battles as the heads of armies in the 1880s in a war that everyone seems to have forgotten about—or else what Melanie published as her “secret” from Our Lady of La Salette contains elements that are false.
Radical traditionalists are being duplicitous when, in an attempt to frighten people, they quote the line about Rome and the Antichrist without supplying the context that reveals that Melanie’s published version of the “secret” established for itself a timeframe that has already passed.