ANTICHRIST (Greek, ’αντιχριστος [antichristos], from: ’αντι- [anti]—against something; Χριστος [Christos]—Messiah)—the ultimate adversary of Christ who is to appear at the end of history before the second coming of the Messiah (the parousia); an individual or collective enemy of Christ; invective describing an unrighteous man.
GENESIS OF THE CONCEPT. The term Antichrist as referring to a man who in the last times will be the adversary of Christ appears in Christian religion and theology. However, the idea of an antagonist who fights God expresses the idea of a primitive or final confrontation of two opposing powers or principles—Good and Evil—is much older.
Ancient Hindu, Persian, and Babylonian mysthes speak of a battle between God and the powers of darkness. On of the most ancient accounts of this is the cosmogonic poem Enuma Elish (written at the end of the second millenium BC.) which related who the god Marduk fought and won against Tiamat, a monster from the waters of chaos. Representatives of the historical religious school (including W. Bossuet, H. Gunkel, and R. Reizenstein) prove that the history of Marduk and Tiamat influence the New Testament conception of the Antichrist. Most biblical scholars do not share this view and say that the conception is explained completely by Old Testament sources.
The theme of God or Yahweh battling with Satan (in later Jewish tradition he is called Belial or Beliar) appears in the books of the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah (27, 1) presents a battle between God and evil powers symbolized by the Leviathan and the monster of the sea who will appear at the end of the world. Ezechiel (36, 1–39, 29) writes of Gog, a prince of the region of Magog from the North, who wages war against the people of Israel and perishes; exegetes interpret this event as an allegorical account of God’s last dispute with Satan (the Sumerian name “God” means the personification of darkness). Daniel (7–12) presents four beasts who symbolize the successive oppressors of Israel (from the time of the Babylonian empire); the “small horn” of the fourth beast, identified with Antiochus IV Epiphanes is regarded as closest to the New Testament conception of the Antichrist; Antiochus, although he ultimately battles with the angelic host, and even with God himself, remains to the end a man.
THE ANTICHRIST IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. The visions of the last conflict between the “powers of darkness” (or their representatives) and God presented in the books of the prophets takes on a new character in the New Testament; Christ, the Son of God, is in the place of God as Yahweh, while a man who completely and ultimately takes the side of enemy forces literally becomes the Antichrist. Christ’s final encounter with the Antichrist was also more explicitly inscribed in the history of the world as the necessary and final act of history (eschatology). The following texts speak of Moses’ adversary in the last times: 1 Jn 2, 2 Thess 2, 3; Ap 13, 1–18.
St. Paul provides the most information on the coming, nature, activity, and fate of the Antichrist. The Antichrist will appear as the result of a general apostasy (’απ.οστασια [apostasia]) that will take place within Christianity; he calls the Antichrist “the man of lawlessness” (’ανθρωπος της ’ανομιας [ho anthropos tes anomias]), which clearly shows that he will be a human being but his coming will be “according to the working of Satan” (2 Thess 2, 9). The Antichrist will rebel against everything that is called God (’επι παντα λεγομενον θεον [epi panta legomenon theon]). Finally he will sit in the temple and call himself God. Apostasy and the appearance of the Antichrist will be signs of the second coming of Christ upon earth (παρουσι&alpha [parousia]) which will put an end to the dominion of the usurper; the Antichrist will suffer the punishment of eternal damnation (’απωληια [apoleia]) which is indicated by the words “the son of perdition” (’ο ’υιος της ’αωλειας [ho hyios tes apoleias]).
The characteristics described in 2 Thess (lawlessness, impiety) are found in the first beast that appears in the Apocalypse of St. John (13, 1–18); the beast’ image is a synthesis of the four beasts from Daniel’s dream (Dan 7); the circumstances and purpose of its coming are also similar (apostasy, his usurpation of the prerogatives of God). The number 666 that appears on the forehead of the beast signifies a name and was the object of later speculations. It was interpreted as “Nero redux” or “Nero redivivus and associated with the figure of the Antichrist (Sybilla 5, 214–227).
St. John the Apostle, besides the eschatological meaning of the term “Antichrist”, which we find in 1 John 2, 18, introduces in the same verse a second understanding of the term referring to anyone who denies Christ or perverts his teachings (1 John 2, 22 and 2 John 7); in this sense both external and internal adversaries are Antichrists; and so both pagan antagonists, heretics, false Messiahs, and false prophets who teach in the name of Christ. The evangelists also write about false prophets and Messiars: Mark (13, 21–22) and Matthew (24, 23–24).
THE ANTICHRIST IN THEOLOGY AND IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY. In Christian tradition the Antichrist is primarily an historical figure whose coming has been revealed (in the theology of history, and (or) an axiological category that explains the existence of evil in the world (in the philosophy of history).
The writers of the Church in the first four centuries thought that since the coming of the Antichrist (which will occur at a definite time and place) and the signs that will accompany this event have been revealed in Sacred Scripture, these should be considered in detail (on the basis of an exegesis of biblical texts). The political situation of the time played an important role in forming this picture (an effect was the identification of the Antichrist with particular historical figures who were enemies to Christianity, an example being the legend of Nero coming again—“Nero redivivus”, or ascribing to the Roman Empire the role of holding back apostasy); this attitude contributed to an eschatological and apocalyptic approach to this topic.
These reflections were accompanied by a reflection that argued that the Antichrist must appear in history; his coming is necessary to make evil complete in the world and that eveil should be finally defeated by good. The first who saw the need (also) for this interpretation of the figure of the Antichrist was St. Irenaeus (Adversus haereses, V 30, 1); his basic doctrine was the thesis that at the end of history the Antichrist would recapitulate all evil, just as Christ will recapitulate all good; the nuber 666 of the name of the beast in Apoc. 13, 18 shows this and is a symbol of the evil of complete apostasy. Hippolytus, the disciple of Irenaeus, refers to this theory (Περι του ’ατιχριστο&upsilon [Peri tou antichristou]) as does Tertullian (De carnis resurrectione, 24 and 25); this aspect of the Antichrist is mentioned also by Commodianus (Carmen apologeticum), Lactantius (Divinae institutiones, 7, 14–26), and Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech., 10 and 15).
A competing picture was the theory of an “internal” Antichrist which appeared in the late fourth and early fifth century; its authors were Ticonius and St. Augustine, but Origen anticipated this idea (second and third century). Origen attempted to interpret the Antichrist as a problem of a moral and spiritual nature. The Donatist Ticonius (his views are known only from discussions), while he did not deny the reality of the last times (he believed in an Antichrist whose coming will complete the immensity of evil), gave up the attempt to establish when the last times will come. He interpreted apocalyptic symbols in categories of internal moral experience; those whose actions show a lack of faith in Christ are Antichrists. St. Augustine discusses the tradition of the Antichrist both in direct exegesis and in theological summaries (De civitate Dei, 18 and 20); he speaks of a present and immanent opposition but not of a final opposition. Augustine regards heretics and schismatics who have left the Church as Antichrists . This theory had an influence on later views concerning the Antichrist. Gregory the Great (Moralia in Job, 32, 16–23) refers to Augustine. Gregory the Great uses exegesis to discover the moral meaning of the Antichrist. He emphasizes his presence throughout history and says that his work is performed daily among sinners. He also believes in the coming of the “Final Adversary”.
From the tenth century medieval writers drew on the thought of Augustine and Gregory. These include the monk Adso, the author of a monograph on the Antichrist (after 950), Berengandus and Richard of St. Victor, Honorius Augustodunensis and Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ebervin of Steinfeld. A common element is that they think of the Antichrist in the context of all history (different manifestations of evil testify to his existence); they distinguish four periods in history—the last period is the age of the Antichrist and in that age there will be a final struggle between good and evil. One of the most original authors was Joachim de Fiore (Expositio in Apocalypsim, twelfth century); his views differ from St. Augustine’s theory. Joachim concentrated on the figure of the “Final Adversary” and returned to an apocalyptic eschatology, He taught that the epoch in which he was living was the last time; he identified the Antichrist with a false pope who would soon “sit in the temple” (2 Thess 2, 4). Peter Olivi, a student of Bonaventure, was the last eminent theologian of the Middle Ages to write on the Antichrist. He referred to Joachim’s theology of history and presented his own doctrine in a Commentary on the topic of Revelation. He thought that his own time was an age of renewal (which was started by St. Francis) and that there was at the time a constant war of good and evil; its culminating point would be the appearance of the Antichrist (which would occur in 1300).
Beginning in the thirteenth century theologians lost interest in the Antichrist, but the figure of the Antichrist was used more and more often when people commented on current events and they ascribed to it the features of living persons such as Emperor Frederick II, Pope John XXII, Pope Boniface VIII, the leaders of the Reformation, and of the French Revolution (the term “Antichrist” gradually ceased to be an historical category and became an invective); it increasingly appeared as a theme in literary works (such as Dante’s Divine Comedy and Dostoevsky’s stories), and in popular religious works (such as the Life of the Antichrist by Dennis of Luxemburg in the seventeenth century).
The theme of the Antichrist in the nineteenth and twentieth century returned in V. Soloviev&rsqu;s historical system and K. G. Jung’s psychology. Soloviev (A Short History of the Antichrist) saw in history a struggle of good with evil and believed that the struggle will have a positive end; before it comes (the Kingdom of God), evil must show itself in fullness in the form of the Antichrist. For Jung, (Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self), the Antichrist is not an historical problem, but a psychological problem; the Antichrist represents the dark side of the human self (a return to the conception of the internal Antichrist); the Antichrist is the archetype of evil.
The Church also spoke on the role of the Antichrist in history, including Leo XIII (Allocutio of June 30, 1889), Pius X (the encyclical Ex supremi apostolatus cathedra, 1903), and Pius XII (Allocutio of April 7, 1947).
W. Bousset, ERE 578–581; J. Stąpień, Listy to Tesaloniczan i pasterskie [Letters to the Thessalonians and pastoral letters] (PNT IX), Pz 1979, 268–282; R. K. Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages. A Study of Medieval Apocalypticism, Art and Literature, Seattle 1981; A. Arighini, L'anticristo; nelle sacre scriture, nella storia, nella literatura, G 1998²; B. McGinn, Antichrist. Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil, San Francisco 1994 (Antychryst [Antichrist], Wwa 1998).
Anna Z. Zmorzanka