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Letter on the Origin and Time of the Antichrist by Adso of Montier-En-Der  (written approx 950)
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This treatise was written at the request of Queen Gerbera of France for clarification on the details of the rise and life of the Antichrist. The author, a monk named Adso, writes his response in the form of a saint's life, a literary form established at the time. It is an important document in the history of apocalypticism because it summarizes the traditional stories of the Antichrist in an accessible and popular way. It also helps establish the idea of the "Last World Emperor," who will unite Christianity and defeat the Muslims before the Antichrist arises. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the letter was revised many times, under various psuedonyms, and widely distributed. [This excerpt omits the prologue to Queen Gerbera]

When you wish to be informed about the Antichrist the first thing you want to know is why he is so called. This is because he will be contrary to Christ in all things and will do things that are against Christ. Christ came as a humble man; he will come as a proud one. Christ came to raise the lowly, to justify sinners; he, on the other hand, will cast out the lowly, magnify sinners, exalt the wicked. He will always exalt vices opposed to virtues, will drive out the evangelical law, will revive the worship of demons in the world, will seek his own glory (John 7:18), and will call himself Almighty God. The Antichrist has many ministers of his malice. Many of them have already existed, like Antiochus, Nero, and Domitian. Even now in our own time we know there are many Antichrists, for anyone, layman, cleric, or monk, who lives contrary to justice and attacks the rule of his way of life and blasphemes what is good (Rom. 14:16) is an Antichrist, the minister of Satan.

antichrist

signorelli's depiction of the antichrist as jesus' demonic twin
Now let us see about the Antichrist's origin. What I say is not thought out or made up on my own, but in my attentive reading I find it all written down in books. As our authors say, the Antichrist will be born from the Jewish people, that is, from the tribe of Dan, as the Prophet says: "Let Dan be a snake in the wayside, an adder on the path." He will sit in the wayside like a serpent and will be on the path in order to wound those who walk in the paths of justice (Ps. 22:3) and kill them with the poison of his wickedness. He will be born from the union of a mother and father, like other men, not, as some say, from a virgin alone. Still, he will be conceived wholly in sin (Ps. 50:7), will be generated in sin, and will be born in sin (John 9:34). At the very beginning of his conception the devil will enter his mother's womb at the same moment. The devil's power will foster and protect him in his mother's womb and it will always be with him. Just as the Holy Spirit came into the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ and overshadowed her with his power and filled her with divinity so that she conceived of the Holy Spirit and what was born of her was divine and holy (Luke 1:35), so too the devil will descend into the Antichrist's mother, will completely fill her, completely encompass her, completely master her, completely possess her within and without, so that with the devil's cooperation she will conceive through a man and what will be born from her will be totally wicked, totally evil, totally lost. For this reason that man is called the "Son of Perdition" (2 Thess. 2:3), because he will destroy the human race as far as he can and will himself be destroyed at the last day.

You have heard how he is to be born; now hear the place where he will be born. Just as Our Lord and Redeemer foresaw Bethlehem for himself as the place to assume humanity and to be born for us, so too the devil knew a place fit for that lost man who is called Antichrist, a place from which the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10) ought to come, namely, the city of Babylon. Antichrist will be born in that city, which once was a celebrated and glorious pagan center and the capital of the Persian Empire. It says that he will be brought up and protected in the cities of Bethsaida and Corozain, the cities that the Lord reproaches in the Gospel when he says, "Woe to you, Bethsaida, woe to you Corozain!" (Matt. 11.21). The Antichrist will have magicians, enchanters, diviners, and wizards who at the devil's bidding will rear him and instruct him in every evil, error, and wicked art. Evil spirits will be his leaders, his constant associates, and inseparable companions. Then he will come to Jerusalem and with various tortures will slay all the Christians he cannot convert to his cause. He will erect his throne in the Holy Temple, for the Temple that Solomon built to God that had been destroyed he will raise up to its former state. He will circumcise himself and will pretend that he is the son of Almighty God.

He will first convert kings and princes to his cause, and then through them the rest of the peoples. He will attack the places where the Lord Christ walked and will destroy what the Lord made famous. Then he will send messengers and his preachers through the whole world. His preaching and power will extend "from sea to sea, from East to West" (Ps. 71:8), from North to South. He will also work many signs, great and unheard-of prodigies (Apoc. 13:13). He will make fire come down from heaven in a terrifying way, trees suddenly blossom and wither, the sea become stormy and unexpectedly calm. He will make the elements change into differing forms, divert the order and flow of bodies of water, disturb the air with winds and all sorts of commotions, and perform countless other wondrous acts. He will raise the dead "in the sight of men in order to lead into error, if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24:24). For when they shall have seen great signs of such a nature even those who are perfect and God's chosen ones will doubt whether or not he is the Christ who according to the scriptures will come at the end of the world.

He will arouse universal persecution against the Christians and all the elect. He will lift himself up against the faithful in three ways, that is, by terror, by gifts, and by prodigies. To those who believe in him he will give much gold and silver. Those he is not able to corrupt with gifts, he will overcome with terror; those he cannot overcome with terror, he will try to seduce with signs and prodigies. Those he cannot seduce with prodigies, he will cruelly torture and miserably put to death in the sight of all. "Then there will be tribulation such as has not been on earth from when the nations began to exist up to that time. Then those who are in the field I will flee to the mountains, and he who is on the roof will not go down into his house to take anything from it" (Matt. 24:21,16; Dan. 12:1). Then every faithful Christian who will be discovered will either deny God, or, if he will remain faithful, will perish, whether through sword, or fiery furnace, or serpents, or beasts, or through some other kind of torture. This terrible and fearful tribulation will last for three and a half years in the whole world. "Then the days will be shortened for the sake of the elect, for unless the Lord had shortened those days, mankind would not have been saved" (Matt. 24:22).

The Apostle Paul reveals the time when the Antichrist will come and when Judgment Day will begin in the Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter two ("We beseech you through the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ"), in the place where he says: "Unless the defection shall have come first and the man of sin and the Son of Perdition shall have been revealed" (2 Thess. 2:3). For we know that after the Greek Empire, or even after the Persian Empire, each of which in its time had great glory and flourished with the highest power, at last after all the other empires there came into existence the Roman Empire, which was the strongest of all and had all the kingdoms of the earth under its control. All nations were subject to the Romans and paid tribute to them. This is why the Apostle Paul says that the Antichrist will not come into the world "unless the defection shall have come first," that is, unless first all the kingdoms that were formerly subject shall have defected from the Roman Empire. This time has not yet come, because even though we may see the Roman Empire for the most part in ruins, nonetheless, as long as the Kings of the Franks who now possess the Roman Empire by right shall last, the dignity of the Roman Empire will not completely perish because it will endure in its kings. Some of our learned men say that one of the Kings of the Franks will possess anew the Roman Empire. He will be in the last time and will be the greatest and the last of all kings. After he has successfully governed his empire, he will finally come to Jerusalem and will lay aside his scepter and crown on the Mount of Olives. This will be the end and the consummation of the Roman and Christian Empire.

Immediately, according to the saying of Paul the Apostle cited above, they say that the Antichrist will be at hand. And then will be revealed the man of sin, namely, the Antichrist. Even though he is a man, he will still be the source of all sins and the Son of Perdition, that is, the son of the devil, not through nature but through imitation because he will fulfill the devil's will in everything. The fullness of diabolical power and of the whole character of evil will dwell in him in bodily fashion; for in him will be hidden all the treasures of malice and iniquity.

"He is the Enemy," that is, he is contrary to Christ and all his members "and he is lifted up, that is, raised up in pride above everything that is called God" (2 Thess. 2:4), that is, above all the heathen gods, Hercules, Apollo, Jupiter and Mercury, whom the pagans think are gods. Antichrist will be lifted up above these gods because he will make himself greater and stronger than all of them. He will be lifted up not only above these gods, but also "above everything that is worshipped," that is, above the Holy Trinity, which alone is to be worshipped and adored by every creature. "He will exalt himself in such a way that he will be enthroned in God's Temple, displaying himself as if he were God."

As we said above, he will be born in the city of Babylon, will come to Jerusalem, and will circumcise himself and say to the Jews: "I am the Christ promised to you who has come to save you, so that I can gather together and defend you who are the Diaspora." At that time all the Jews will flock to him, in the belief that they are receiving God, but rather they will receive the devil. Antichrist also "will be enthroned in God's Temple," that is, in Holy Church, and he will make all Christians martyrs. He will be lifted up and made great, because in him will be the devil, the fountainhead of all evil "who is the king above all the sons of pride" (Job 41:25).

Lest the Antichrist come suddenly and without warning and deceive and

destroy the whole human race by his error, before his arrival the two great prophets Enoch and Elijah will be sent into the world. They will defend God's faithful against the attack of the Antichrist with divine arms and will instruct, comfort, and prepare the elect for battle with three and a half years of teaching and preaching. These two very great prophets and teachers will convert the sons of Israel who will live in that time to the faith, and they will make their belief unconquerable among the elect in the face of the affliction of so great a storm. At that time what scripture says will be fulfilled "If the number of sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, their remnant will be saved" (Rom. 9:27). When, after three and a half years, they shall have finished their preaching, the Antichrist's persecution will soon begin to blaze out. He will first take up his arms against them and will slay them, as it says in the Apocalypse: "And when they have finished their witness the beast which will ascend from the abyss will make war against them and will conquer and kill them" (Apoc. 11:7). After these two have been slain, he will then persecute the rest of the faithful, either by making them glorious martyrs or by rendering them apostates. And whoever shall have believed in him will receive his brand on the forehead (Apoc. 20:4).

Since we have spoken about his beginning, let us say what end he will have. This Antichrist, the devil's son and the worst master of evil, as has been said, will plague the whole world with great persecution and torture the whole people of God with various torments for three and a half years. After he has killed Elijah and Enoch and crowned with martyrdom the others who persevere in the faith, at last God's judgment will come upon him, as Saint Paul writes when he says, "The Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth" (2 Thess. 2:8). Whether the Lord Jesus will slay him by the power of his own might, or whether the Archangel Michael will slay him, he will be killed through the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ and not through the power of any angel or archangel. The teachers say that Antichrist will be killed on the Mount of Olives in his tent and upon his throne, in the place opposite to where the Lord ascended to heaven. You ought to know that after Antichrist has been killed the Judgment Day will not come immediately, nor will the Lord come to judge at once (Isa. 3:14); but as we understand from the Book of Daniel, the Lord will grant the elect forty days to do penance because they were led astray by the Antichrist. No one knows how much time there may be after they shall have completed this penance until the Lord comes to judgment; but it remains in the providence of God who will judge the world in that hour in which for all eternity he predetermined it was to be judged.

EPILOGUE

So, Your Highness, I your loyal servant, have faithfully fulfilled what you commanded. I am prepared to obey in other matters what you shall deem worthy to command.


From Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier-en-Der, Joachim of Fiore, The Franciscan Spirituals, Savonarola

Trans. by Bernard McGinn
© 1979 by The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle in the State of New York

reprinted with permission



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