Rorate Caeli

The Antichrist - and the katechon
- 1 (Vittorio Messori)

The Antichrist
Vittorio Messori

What will the Antichrist be like? We know that in Paul, in John’s letters and in the Apocalypse, there are scattered throughout, various forewarnings of a reality Christian Tradition has identified as (and I’ll cite a theology book) “the Prince of evil who will come and reign over the world at the end of times, before the Son of Man’s definitive return establishes the New Heavens and New Earth.”

In many eras, believers thought to identify that mysterious figure in some bloodthirsty historical character: Nero, Attila, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler.

However, there is also a Christian tradition, even if of the minority, that places the danger of the Antichrist (St. Paul’s “man of sin” and “son of perdition”) not on violence and blood but in underhanded mimicry of a persuasive and inviting reality. Robert H. Benson’s 1907 book, The Lord of the World, has only recently been translated into Italian and in it, Jesus’ Great Opponent presents himself under the guise of “a humanist”, a master of tolerance, pluralism, Irenicism and ecumenism; [he is] a smiling corrupter, more than a strident antagonist of the Gospel; an annihilator from the inside more than an assailant from the outside.

Perhaps, till now, few have known that some years later, in 1916, the same thesis was reproposed by Carl Schmitt. Schmitt died in 1985 at almost 100 years of age, and is among those we will hear more about in years to come: there is already a precise indication of this (in the increase every day) in the overwhelming bibliography of his work which was for decades suppressed and exorcised, since he was actually suspected of National Socialism. In reality, this brilliant German jurist and political expert was quickly dismissed by the Third Reich (in which, initially, he saw as well, the fulfillment of some points of his political theory) inasmuch as he was accused of “insufficient and superficial anti-Semitism” and most of all because of his “Catholic corruptions”.

In reality - as recent studies have confirmed – Schmitt’s Catholicism was not simply cultural and determined by his youthful studies at religious schools, but was a professed and lived faith right to the very end. What makes this thinker so disquietingly fascinating (rediscovered now even by former-leftists, in their confused search for “maestros” after the collapse of all their reference points) is that he inserted [into his work]with Machiavellian and Hobbesian realism, religious themes like guilt, redemption, salvation, Christ and the Antichrist. It was said that his was a kind of “political theology”, although for those who read him carefully, his work is perhaps “theological politics”: a discussion of the human order of things, 1) by taking also into account the transcendent and 2) by a confrontation with history, in the awareness that it is not the whole picture but is destined to flow into a Mystery which goes far beyond it.

From 1916, as a military in the Bavarian army, the twenty-eight year old Carl Schmitt, began his reflections on the Antichrist, with a book dedicated to Nord-licht (“Northern Lights” i.e. “the aurora” ) by Theodor Däubler. The young Schmitt, in these pages, quotes a text he found in St. Ephraem’s Latin Sermo de fine mundi. It is worth quoting the original of that truly singular passage, according to which, the Great Deceiver will provoke the apostasy of many before Christ’s definitive victory «erit omnibus subdole placidus, munera non suscipiens, personam non praeponens, amabilis omnibus, quietus universis, xenia non appetens, affabilis apparens in proximos, ita ut beatificent eum omnes homines dicentes: Justus homo hic est!».

Which is to say: “underhandedly, he will please everyone, he won’t accept offices or positions, he will not show favouritism to people, he will be amiable to everyone, calm in all things, he will refuse gifts, will appear affable to his fellow man, and thus, everyone will praise him exclaiming: “Behold a just man!” This excerpt, from St. Ephraem’s Latin, has a disquieting prospect: the Antichrist in the deceitful guise of “a man of dialogue”; a peaceful, restrained, honest “humanist”? It is precisely this identikit of the Adversary that Schmitt assents to: for him, the Antichrist will arise from a society similar to the modern West, where: “men are poor devils who know everything and believe in nothing”; a society where “the most important and newest things are secularized: beauty has become good taste, the Church is a pacifistic organization and in the place of the distinction between good and evil, what is useful and harmful.”

In such a culture, the underhanded, “dialoguing” Antichrist will have you believe that salvation depends on social certainties and development. Most of all, (and this is one of the still young Schmitt’s more disquieting intuitions), the Antichrist will not be a materialist at all, neither an enemy of religion: rather “he will provide for all needs, including those spiritual.”

He will satisfy man’s yearning for transcendence by talking about spirituality, by proposing a “religion of humanity” where everyone is in agreement with everything and where any divergence is banished, and, above all, any dogma is seen as a radical evil.

At the time of his writing, right at the beginning of the 20th century, Schmitt’s prospective went practically unnoticed, appearing decidedly improbable. Yet, is it not perhaps the case to reflect on it today when what’s threatening us, in the religious sphere, is certainly no longer intolerance, but if anything, its opposite: the “tolerance” that is transformed into indifference, by refusing to consider the various faiths as something more than one unique way (differentiated only by historical and geographical factors) of venerating the same, identical God? Where the “enemy” is no longer old, honest materialism, but perhaps, an insidious “humanitarian” spiritualism?

[From the book Pensare la storia,(Thinking History) San Paolo, Milan 1992, p. 517-519]

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]