Readers on this site have read our claim on several occasions that Roman Catholicism arose at the latter end of the fourth century, and no earlier. We have opined on this particular matter under the titles, What the Fathers Feared Most, One Kingdom Too Late, and A See of One, among others. We have endeavored to show, and will continue to demonstrate, that Roman Catholicism arose three hundred years after the apostolic era, and when it did rise, her ordinances were foreign to the precepts of Christ, abhorrent to His saints, and contrary to the teachings of His apostles and prophets—although they foresaw its coming and emphatically warned against it.
We have made no small effort to point out that the several signs to indicate the rise of Antichrist—as provided by the apostles and prophets themselves—converge with remarkable precision in the latter half of the fourth century. The division of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Papacy under the rubric of Petrine succession, the transfer of the bones of Ss. Timothy, Andrew and Luke to Constantinople, the veneration of the martyrs and relics, the sacrifice of the mass, intercession of the saints, clerical celibacy, the elevation of virginity and fasting over marriage and lawful consumption, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the transfer of the title Pontifex from the Roman Emperor to the Pope—all happened in the latter half of the fourth century. Some of these occurred within a single decade, and others within a single calendar year, but all after 350 A.D.. We therefore hold firmly that the rise of Roman Catholicism and her false gospel and rampant idolatry was the great “falling away” of which Paul warned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first…” and that apostasy took place in the latter half of the fourth century.
But that raises the question of what happened to the actual Church of Jesus Christ in the latter half of that century?
Was it subsumed under the mantle of Roman Catholicism, falling with her into apostasy? Did it sacrifice its doctrinal purity for the sake of a worldly, pragmatic unity with Roman Catholicism, the heir apparent of the Roman Empire? Did it disappear from the face of the earth, only to re-emerge at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation? When was the Church of Christ separated and preserved from the Antichrist, of whom the apostles and prophets had so adamantly warned?
The answers to these questions are, in order,
- No, and
- August 23, 358 A.D.
We will expand upon all these questions in time, but today we will simply fix the date in our fourth answer. We will do so by analyzing the Seven Seals of Revelation which pinpoint for us the very day on which God marked out His people to preserve them from the error and the wrath to come, and importantly, to separate His Church from Roman Catholicism, the very Antichrist that was about to arise.
The Seven Seals
The Book of Revelation from God to Jesus by his angel to John, is intended “to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1). Since the term “to pass” is literally ginomai, or “become,” we take this first verse of Revelation to mean that these “things” must shortly begin. Some things prophesied in the book are to take as many as 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-2), and a millennium does not pass “shortly.” These things were to begin in the very near future.
Having introduced the Book, and dictated seven letters to the Seven Angels of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3), the angel then takes John “in the spirit” to heaven where he hears a voice tell him, “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter” (Revelation 4:1). After describing the throne room of heaven (Revelation 4:2-11) the first thing John sees is a book sealed with Seven Seals, but the only One worthy to open them is the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:1-14). The Lamb then begins to open the seals in rapid succession. Among all the “things which must shortly come to pass” and “which must be hereafter,” the opening of those Seven Seals feature prominently.
Because the Book of Revelation was written to the Churches of Asia Minor during the Roman Empire, we understand that the events described would be experienced by these churches themselves, and that under the Roman Empire. These events were not millennia away. They were soon to begin.
The First Seal (226 A.D.)
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1-2)
Of Noah’s three sons, Jephath settled in the isles of the gentiles, or Greece (Genesis 10:1-5), Shem settled what is known as Arabia (Genesis 10:21-31), and Ham settled what is known as Babylon and Assyria in greater Mesopotamia (Genesis 10:6-20). Among all the descendants of Noah in Genesis 10, only one of them, Ham’s grandson Nimrod, is identified by occupation, for he “was a mighty hunter before the LORD” (Genesis 10:9). Nimrod is not identified as an archer but as a “hunter”, and “hunter” here literally means venison, and venison is hunted with a bow (Genesis 27:3). Isaiah describes the men of Elam and Kir from Babylon and Mesopotamia as those who “bare the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen” (Isaiah 22:6). They are horse-archers.
We take this First Horseman therefore to signify the rise of the Sasanian Empire. The Sasanian Empire conquered the Parthian Empire, and its first king, Ardashir I was crowned Shahanshah, or “King of Kings,” in a coronation ceremony in 226 A.D.. The Sasanian empire was known for its horse-archers, and would trouble the Roman Empire at its eastern boundary for years to come. Thus we understand the First Horseman to signify the rise of the Sasanian Empire that “had a bow” and was given a crown and “went forth conquering, and to conquer,” in 226 A.D.
The Second Seal (235 A.D.)
And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
The rise of the Sasanian Empire was only the beginning of Rome’s troubles in the third century. The period from 235 – 284 A.D. is called “The Crisis of the Third Century,” during which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed from internal and external pressures. “The Crisis began with the assassination of Emperor Alexander Severus at the hands of his own troops, initiating a fifty-year period in which 20–25 claimants to the title of Emperor, mostly prominent Roman army generals, assumed imperial power over all or part of the Empire.” The period was complicated by a humiliating defeat in the East at the hands of the Sasanians (the Battle of Edessa, 260 A.D.), and by the end of the Crisis, the Empire had been split into three competing states with rival emperors and rival armies. The emperor “beareth not the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4), and rules by “the ordinance of God” (Romans 13:2) Who may grant peace on earth, or remove it, at His pleasure.
We take this Second Horseman therefore to signify “The Crisis of the Third Century,” from 235 – 284 A.D., when peace was taken from the Roman Empire by the “great sword”—that is, the sword of the emperors themselves.
The Third Seal (301 A.D.)
“And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny [denarius], and three measures of barley for a penny [denarius]; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5-6)
Emperor Diocletian came to power in 284 A.D. and inherited an unprecedented military, economic and political crisis. To stop the constant internal quest for power by rival emperors, he spent his first ten years reorganizing the empire, forming the Tetrarchy under which four rulers (two Augusti and two Caesars) ruled over four quarters of the Empire. Rome remained the capital city of the empire, but the Tetrarchs themselves governed from the Four Tetrarch Capitals of Nicomedia (in modern Turkey), Sirmium (in modern Serbia), Mediolanum (in modern Italy) and Augusta Trevororum (in modern Germany). Diocletian took up residence in Nicomedia from which capital he governed the eastern quarter.
But there were other problems to be solved. During “The Crisis of the Third Century,” the internal trade network, once the engine of wealth for the entire Roman Empire, was disrupted and the currency was gradually devalued as more and more coins were minted with cheaper and cheaper metals, resulting in hyperinflation. Diocletian’s next order of business, therefore, was to address the problem of a destabilized denarius. Unfortunately, Diocletian did what politicians usually do, and his actions had the opposite of the intended effect.
Instead of correcting the Empire’s monetary policy, he blamed the crisis on profiteering, and attempted to solve the problem by fixing prices. He issued the Edict on Maximum Prices in 301 A.D., and established prices for every possible commodity in the empire—including wheat, barley, oil and wine—expressing the maximum allowable market price for each in terms of the dominant currency, the Roman denarius. The results were lamentably predictable. With prices set below market clearing levels, consumers lacked the price disincentive to consumption, and producers lacked the profit incentive to production, resulting in chronic scarcity:
“He … attempted by an ordinance to limit their prices. Then much blood was shed for the veriest trifles; men were afraid to expose aught to sale, and the scarcity became more excessive and grievous than ever.” (Lactantius, Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, ch. 7)
We note that the Third Horseman was carrying scales (which measure weight) but announced prices by the quart (a measure of volume). Because scales signify justice and integrity (Leviticus 19:36; Amos 8:5), we take the Horseman’s scales to refer to Diocletian’s concern that the problem was a moral issue, not an economic one. His Edict on Maximum Prices condemned “with great vehemence, … the extortion and inhumanity of the vendors and merchants” (Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. I, (New York: Harper & Sons, ©1898) 696n). In other words, he assumed that the current market prices were a result of injustice, not a matter of imperial mismanagement of the Roman economy.
Equally significant is that even though the Edict itself was issued in the names of all four Tetrarchs, the only copies ever found (with one exception) have been in Diocletian’s quarter of the empire: “Numerous fragments of the official Latin text and of Greek copies of the edict are extant, all (except for one found in Italy) coming from the eastern provinces” (Lewis & Reinhold, Roman Civilization Selected Readings: vol II The Empire, p. 421). As Professor E. J. Doyle of Stanford University notes, there is substantial evidence for us to “not believe that the inscription belongs to Italy,” not the least of which is that the price list is written in Greek. Based on the evidence, the Edict appears to have been ignored in the west, and enforced “mainly in the eastern part of the empire, where Diocletian ruled.”
It is notable, therefore, that the main suppliers of olive oil in the Roman Empire were the central and western regions of Roman Africa, Spain and Italy; and the main suppliers of wine were the central and western regions of Britain, Spain, France, Gaul and Italy. Thus, oil and wine production were dominant in the quarters least impacted by Diocletian’s Edict, and grain production was dominant in the quarter most impacted by it—particularly Egypt, which was not only the bread basket of the empire but was also located in the Diocese of the East, which fell under Diocletian’s rule.
We take this Third Horseman therefore to signify Diocletian’s “Edict of Maximum Prices” in 301 A.D.. His misguided price fixing hit grain producing regions the hardest, and hit oil and wine producing regions the least, thus fulfilling the Horseman’s description of grain scarcity, but “see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” (Revelation 6:6).
The Fourth Seal (303 A.D.)
“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7-8)
Diocletian’s recent decentralization of Rome’s power structure would make it difficult for anyone to attempt a military coup in the future, since there were now four rulers to displace, not just one, each ruler presiding over one fourth of the empire. There were also now four administrative centers, the Tetrach Capitals. As we noted above, each ruler administered his quarter of the empire from his newly established Capital, and Diocletian’s administrative center was Nicomedia. He was the senior of the four, which is why the last and most brutal persecution of Christians in that era is called the Diocletian Persecution, even though there were four emperors—two Caesars and two Augusti—reigning at the time. Four successive Edicts against Christianity were published, beginning in 303 A.D., and all originated from Nicomedia:
- First Edict, February 23, 303, ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures, liturgical books, and places of worship, prohibited Christians from assembling for worship, and denied to them both rights and rank.
- Second Edict, Summer of 303 A.D.: ordering the arrest and imprisonment of the clergy.
- Third Edict, November 20, 303 A.D.: Edict of general amnesty. Any imprisoned clergyman could now be freed, so long as he agreed to make a sacrifice to the gods.
- Fourth Edict, April 30, 304 A.D.: Ordered all persons, men, women, and children, to gather in a public space and offer a collective sacrifice. If they refused, they were to be executed.
Throughout this period, Christians died from exposure, execution by sword and fire, starvation, and damnatio ad bestias, which is to say, condemnation to death by wild beasts. After Diocletian’s retirement in 305 A.D., the persecution continued, largely concentrated in the eastern quadrant, and a Fifth Edict was issued, again from Nicomedia:
“The persecution raged longest and most fiercely in the East under the rule of Galerius and his barbarous nephew Maximin Daza, who was intrusted by Diocletian before his retirement with the dignity of Caesar and the extreme command of Egypt and Syria. He issued in autumn, 308, a fifth edict of persecution, which commanded that all males with their wives and servants, and even their children, should sacrifice and actually taste the accursed offerings, and that all provisions in the markets should be sprinkled with sacrificial wine. This monstrous law introduced a reign of terror for two years, and left the Christians no alternative but apostasy or starvation. All the pains, which iron and steel, fire and sword, rack and cross, wild beasts and beastly men could inflict, were employed to gain the useless end.” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, § 24. The Diocletian Persecution, a.d. 303–311).
As Jesus had overcome “hell” and “death” (Revelation 1:18), and asked His saints to be faithful unto death as well (Revelation 2:10), we understand the Fourth Horseman (“Death, and Hell followed with him” (Revelation 6:7)) to signify this period during which the saints followed after their Savior, overcoming Hell and Death… by dying. The martyrs prevailed in death, as Paul had written in triumphant anticipation, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hades], where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55), and as John had written, “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11).
We take this Fourth Horseman therefore to signify the first eight years of the Diocletian Persecution (303 – 311 A.D.), which was authorized under the authority of the Tetrarch in Nicomedia from which city he ruled in his quarter of the empire, fulfilling Revelation 6:8, “And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”
The Fifth Seal (311 A.D.)
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” (Revelation 6:9-11)
The Diocletian Persecution did not end in 311 A.D.. In fact, after a brief relapse, Maximin, “the tyrant in the East” (Eusebius, Church History, Book IX, ch. 1.1) renewed the persecution with even more intensity. The entire persecution lasted precisely ten years, and did not officially come to an end until the Edict of Milan in February of 313, “to which Maximin also, shortly before his suicide, was compelled to give his consent at Nicomedia.” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, § 25. The Edicts of Toleration, a.d. 311–313)
We therefore understand the Diocletian Persecution to be the “ten day” tribulation Jesus foretold to the saints in Smyrna: “behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10). (This is based on the “day for a year” principle, c.f. Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6).)
The breaking of the Fifth Seal prompts an appeal from the martyrs to the Lord, wondering when their deaths would be avenged. The question is one that would be asked if the persecution appeared to be over, and the answer is one that would be given if the full “ten days” of the persecution had not yet been completed. The martyrs are told to be patient “for a little season” until their full number is reached. We understand therefore that the Fifth Seal takes place two years before the end of the ten year persecution, during a lapse that Eusebius calls “the pretended relaxation.” It was during this time that Christians who had been in hiding returned in throngs:
“…one could see in every city congregations gathered and assemblies thronged, and meetings held according to their custom. … Happily and joyfully they passed through every city, full of unspeakable pleasure and boldness …. Great crowds of men pursued their journey along the highways and through the market-places, praising God with hymns and psalms.” (Eusebius, Church History, Book IX, ch. 1.8,10-11).
But the persecution was not over. “Not long afterward, however, … we were obliged again to endure exile and severe persecutions, … so that even some of those illustrious in the Divine Word were seized and had sentence of death pronounced upon them without mercy … so that this persecution which was stirred up against us seem far more cruel than the former.” (Eusebius, Church History, Book IX, ch. VI.1). We therefore understand the Fifth Seal to signify the pretended relaxation, eight years into the Diocletian Persecution—and two years before it was finally ended by the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D.
The Sixth Seal (August 23, 358 A.D.)
“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:11-16)
It was from Nicomedia, the Tetrarch Capital of the East, that the edicts of persecution had originated, and it was Nicomedia that would suffer under the wrath of God for what it had done to His precious saints. The wrath depicted in the Sixth Seal is the day of God’s vengeance, for so Isaiah 34:4-8 describes it:
“And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. …For it is the day of the LORD’S vengeance…”
We understand therefore that the Sixth Seal describes not merely a day of vengeance, but the Day of Vengeance for which the saints had prayed, a day in which Nicomedia would pay for what it had done. This day, August 23, 358 A.D., would be the day that the inhabitants of Nicomedia sat helpless under the wrath of God, as the earth moved beneath them and the mountains fell down upon their heads, and they were made to suffer the way the Lord’s saints had suffered for those awful ten years. What happened that day to Nicomedia is best told by the Roman Historian, Ammianus Marcellinus:
“This year also some terrible earthquakes took place in Macedonia, Asia Minor, and Pontus, and their repeated shocks overthrew many towns, and even mountains. But the most remarkable of all the manifold disasters which they caused was the entire ruin of Nicomedia, the metropolis of Bithynia; which which I will here relate with truth and brevity.
On the 23rd of August, at daybreak, some heavy black clouds suddenly obscured the sky, which just before was quite fair. And the sun was so wholly concealed that it was impossible to see what was near or even quite close, so completely did a thick lurid darkness settle on the ground, preventing the least use of the eyes.
Presently, as if the supreme deity were himself letting loose his fatal wrath, and stirring up the winds from their hinges, a violent raging storm descended, by the fury of which the groaning mountains were struck, and the crash of the waves on the shore was heard to a vast distance. And then followed typhoons and whirlwinds with a horrid trembling of the earth, throwing down the whole city and its suburbs.
And as most of the houses were built on the slopes of the hills, they now fell down one over the other, while all around resounded with the vast crash of their fall. In the mean time the tops of the hills re-echoed all sorts of noises, as well as outcries of men seeking their wives and children, and other relations.
At last, after two hours, or at least within three, the air became again clear and serene, and disclosed the destruction which till then was unseen. Some, overwhelmed by the enormous masses of ruins which had fallen upon them, were crushed to death. Some were buried up to the neck, and might have been saved if there had been any timely help at hand, but perished for want of assistance ; others were transfixed by the points of beams projecting forth, on which they hung suspended.
Here was seen a crowd of persons slain by one blow; there a promiscuous heap of corpses piled in various ways some were buried beneath the roofs of falling houses, which leant over so as to protect them from any actual blows, but reserved them for an agonizing death by starvation. Among whom was Aristaenetus, who, with the authority of deputy, governed Bithynia, which had been recently erected into a province ; and to which Constantius had given the name of Piety, in honour of his wife Eusebia, (a Greek word, equivalent to Pietas in Latin) ; and he perished thus by a lingering death.
Others who were overwhelmed by the sudden fall of vast buildings, are still lying entombed beneath the immovable masses. Some with their skulls fractured, or their shoulders or legs cut through, lay between life and death, imploring aid from others suffering equally with themselves; but in spite of their entreaties they were abandoned.” (Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History, Book XVII, Ch. VII.1-7)
So swift and terrible was this destruction that rained down upon Nicomedia that Libanius composed a monody, lamenting before the gods that such a fine city should be wholly destroyed in such a fashion: “Can I see such a city, a city no longer … unmourned, unwept?”
We therefore understand the Sixth Seal to be the Day of Vengeance, the day for which the martyrs had prayed from beneath the altar in heaven, on which day “there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black … And the heaven departed as a scroll,” and the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against this city of Nicomedia that had orchestrated the merciless persecution of the saints of God.
The Seventh Seal (shortly after the Sixth)
“And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:1-5)
We will allow Marcellinus to pick up his narration where he left off on his remarkable description of what happened to Nicomedia:
“Not but what the greater part of the temples and buildings and of the citizens also would have escaped unhurt, if a fire had not suddenly broken out, which raged with great violence for fifty days and nights, and destroyed all that remained.” (Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History, Book XVII, Ch. VII.1-7)
Because the fire of the altar was cast down to earth in response to the prayers of the saints, we understand that the Seventh Seal is a continuation of the wrath of the Lord against Nicomedia, and fire was poured down upon that city with a vengeance, consuming with flames the people and property that remained. We also note, according to Ezekiel 10:2-7, that just before the coals are taken from the altar and thrown to earth, “the brightness of the LORD’S glory” fills the house. As Zechariah 2:13 and Habukkuk 2:20 instruct us, there is to be silence when the glory of the Lord fills the temple. This time, the temple is in Heaven, and that is where the silence occurs. Only after there is silence in Heaven for half an hour—during which span the brightness of the Lord fills the temple—does the angel take the coals and cast them down upon Nicomedia, in the final answer to the prayers of the martyrs.
Here we will end our discussion on the Seven Seals, noting only that something quite important happened between the Sixth and the Seventh. As God had in the past marked His people to preserve them from the wrath to come (see Ezekiel 9), so was His Church marked for preservation. Just as the angels in Ezekiel 10 took “coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter[ed] them over the city” (Ezekiel 10:2) only after God’s people had been marked on their foreheads, so did the angels of Revelation 8 pour out fire on Nicomedia only after the Church of Jesus Christ had been marked for preservation.
Between the earthquake and the fire in Nicomedia that August morning, the wind subsided and angels “sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (Revelation 7:1-4). At this time, the Twelve Tribes of Israel were sealed against the wrath that was yet to come upon the earth, but with one curious omission: the Tribe of Dan was left out of the list, and the Tribe of Manasses substituted in its place. That Tribe of Dan, which Abraham described as “a serpent by the way” (Genesis 49:17), was also the first Tribe to succumb to Idolatry (Judges 18:1-30). And the idolatry of Roman Catholicism was about to rise upon the earth.
We will also note that with the breaking of the Seventh Seal, “the seven angels which stood before God … were given seven trumpets” (Revelation 8:2). The Seven Trumpets would begin to sound within the year.