Last week, after describing the two judicial movements in each vision of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, we touched briefly on the distinction between possessing a heavenly kingdom and having dominion over an earthly one. They are not the same thing, and Roman Catholicism has confused the former for the latter. As we mentioned previously, Taylor Marshall in his book, The Eternal City, thinks he has found in Roman Catholicism the bride of Christ because Roman Catholicism took dominion after the collapse of the Roman Empire:
[The Fourth Beast’s] dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people and the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them (Daniel 7:26-27).
The kingdom is taken away from the Fourth Beast and given to whom? The last four lines leap off the page. Read them over and over again. Who receives the kingdom? The people of the saints of the Most High!” (Marshall, The Eternal City, ch. 1, “Daniel Foretells the Roman Church”)
As we stated in the first week and demonstrated in the second, the Fourth Beast’s dominion is not taken away and given to the saints. It is taken away and given to the Little Horn, or the Antichrist, which is Roman Catholicism. Taylor Marshall says, and we agree, that “The Roman Empire expired, but the Roman Church lived on” (Marshall, The Eternal City, ch. 9). That is a true statement. But the conclusion Marshall draws from it is enormously wrong. What “lived on” after the beginning of the first judicial movement was Roman Catholicism, the Little Horn, the Beast of Revelation 13, which is the embodiment of the three preceding empires.
Part of Marshall’s error, as we noted last week, was that he collapsed two judicial movements into one, and so mistook the Antichrist for the Bride of Christ. But his second mistake is to confuse dominion over an earthly kingdom with possession of a heavenly one, and dominion over an earthly kingdom is all Roman Catholicism has ever had. She has never taken, and will never take, possession of a heavenly kingdom.
Heavenly Kingdom vs. Earthly Dominion in Daniel 2
We see this distinction in Daniel 2 when we examine Daniel’s explanation to Nebuchadnezzar on the meaning of his dream. The stone is depicted at first striking the statue and only affecting the Iron and Clay Feet in the first judicial movement (Daniel 2:34). Then it affects all the kingdoms, the Iron, Clay, Bronze, Silver and Gold together, “and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” in the second judicial movement (Daniel 2:35). From this, Daniel understands two things:
1) “In the days of those kings,” i.e., in the days of the Roman Empire, the God of Heaven will “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people.”
2) That kingdom shall “brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold” (Daniel 2:45), “and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35).
Heaven and Earth are in mind here, and two kingdoms are described—a heavenly one in the first judicial movement, and an earthly one at the second. As we have explained in our previous two installments, these two kingdoms—a heavenly one that is invisible, and an earthly one that is visible—are separated by the two judicial movements depicted in Daniel 2. In order to emphasize what kind of kingdom the saints received under the Roman empire, Hebrews speaks of two kinds of kingdoms in terms of a heavenly kingdom that cannot be moved, and an earthly one that can be. The saints did not receive in the days of the Roman Empire an earthly kingdom that can be moved. They received a heavenly one that cannot:
“See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, ‘Yet once more,’ signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:25 )
“In the days of those kings,” the saints were “receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved.” They were receiving a heavenly, not an earthly, kingdom.
Heavenly Kingdom vs. Earthly Dominion in Daniel 7
We see this same distinction in Daniel 7. After Daniel has seen the first part of the vision (Daniel 7:1-14), the only reference to a kingdom being received is when a kingdom is given to “one like the Son of Man … [who] came with the clouds of heaven … And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him” (Daniel 7:13-14). That is a description of an earthly kingdom and earthly dominion. But according to the author of Hebrews, “we see not yet all things put under him” (Hebrews 2:8), and according to Paul, “he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power … at his [second] coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23-24). Therefore, the only thing Daniel has seen at this point in his vision is Jesus taking possession of an earthly kingdom and earthly dominion at His second advent. No mention has been made in regard to the saints of God receiving anything at all.
And yet, just as Daniel understood that God would set up during the Roman Empire a kingdom that “shall not be left to other people” (Daniel 2:44), his interpreter in Daniel 7 says the same thing about the same period in history:
“These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” (Daniel 7:17-18)
No mention of the saints taking dominion. The saints instead take possession.
Note that dominion is used to refer to the earthly kingdoms of the beasts (i.e., “dominion was given to it” (Daniel 7:6), “their dominion [was] taken away” (Daniel 7:12)), and dominion is used to describe Jesus’ earthly reign at his second advent (i.e., “And there was given him dominion … his dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7:14)). But when the saints take possession of a kingdom under the Roman Empire, there is no mention of dominion.
Later, as Daniel continues watching the second part of the vision, he finally sees that “the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” (Daniel 7:22), but his interpreter makes two important observations to aid him. First, what Daniel had seen is that it is the Little Horn who had dominion after the the Four Beasts, for it is the Little Horn’s dominion that is taken away when Christ returns (Daniel 7:26). Second, Daniel was now seeing the saints taking possession of an earthly kingdom, for his interpreter describes it as a kingdom under heaven (Daniel 7:27). And notably, for the first time, the saints are described as receiving dominion:
“And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” (Daniel 7:27)
Daniel’s descriptions are remarkably consistent both times. At the first judicial movement in Daniel 2, the God of Heaven sets up “a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people” (Daniel 2:44). It is at this time, as Hebrews 12:25 informs us, that the saints take possession of a heavenly kingdom that cannot be moved. Later in a second judicial movement, that kingdom “shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44) and shall fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:35), an earthly kingdom. At the first judicial movement in Daniel 7, “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever” (Daniel 7:18), a heavenly kingdom. At Christ’s return in the second judicial movement, the saints take possession of “the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven” (Daniel 7:27), an earthly kingdom.
When the saints take possession of the kingdom in the days of the Roman empire, there is no mention of dominion, and no mention of earth. When the saints take possession of an earthly kingdom and receive dominion with it, it is only at Christ’s return. The saints never receive earthly dominion until Christ returns in glory. Until then, they possess a heavenly kingdom that can neither be moved nor left to other people.
Heavenly Kingdom vs. Earthly Dominion in Revelation
We see this same distinction in Revelation as well. In Revelation 12:5, we are told that the Woman gave birth to “a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron,” and He is then “caught up unto God, and to his throne” in heaven. But he is not depicted as actually ruling all nations “with a rod of iron” on earth until His return:
“And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15)
A heavenly kingdom is set up in the days of the Roman Empire, but an earthly one is set up at His return.
The Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospels and Acts
This is seen even more clearly when we examine how Jesus’ heavenly kingdom is described in the Gospels. Jesus insisted in His earthly life that He had no earthly kingdom. His kingdom, He said, is not of this world:
“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36).
With no earthly kingdom, there were no earthly servants to fight for Him. What the saints took possession of after Christ’s incarnation was not an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one, and it was not visible. John the Baptist had been sent to declare that very thing, and when John was rejected by the Jews, Jesus picked up the message and carried it to the Gentiles. Then, when He commissioned His apostles, He instructed them to carry the same message:
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)
“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee … From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, … And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:5,7)
“In the days of those kings” (Daniel 2:44) the God of Heaven was setting up a kingdom, and the saints were told that they were about to take possession of it. To the Jews, Jesus’ constant message was that it was about to be taken away from them: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:43). But it would not be a visible, earthly kingdom. To the contrary, Jesus’ warning was about people who confused earthly dominion for a heavenly kingdom, and so He corrected those who “thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11), saying:
“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
But one day, after the second judicial movement depicted in Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, He would have dominion over all, and a kingdom that is of this world and “all people, nations and languages” shall serve Him. In other words, at His first advent, He did not have a visible earthly kingdom, but at His second, He will. This is what the the epistle to the Hebrews and Paul’s first to the Corinthians tell us:
“we see not yet all things put under him” (Hebrews 2:8)
“he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power … at his [second] coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23-24).
Thus, when His disciples asked when He would establish His earthly kingdom, Jesus turned their attention away from taking earthly dominion and refocused their attention on the preaching of a heavenly kingdom:
“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. He repeatedly and explicitly denied that he had come to take dominion over earth. He came rather to establish a heavenly kingdom. He does not receive an earthly reign until His second advent.
Between His first and second advent, there is only one entity in Scripture depicted as having earthly dominion, and that entity is Antichrist, the Little Horn of Daniel 7, the Beast of Revelation 13, which is the Roman Catholic Church, the Wicked One “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). This is what Daniel was trying to grasp from his visions, and this is exactly what his heavenly interpreter explained to him.
Read the entire sequence from the lips of Daniel’s interpreter, and this is precisely what we see. Four Kingdoms in succession have earthly dominion. During the Fourth Empire, the saints take possession of a heavenly kingdom, and then a Fifth Empire arises from the fragments of the Fourth and takes dominion of an earthly kingdom. That Fifth Empire is Antichrist. While Antichrist has earthly dominion, he wears out the saints of the Most High who have a heavenly one that cannot be taken away. Upon Christ’s return, Antichrist’s earthly dominion is taken away, and earthly dominion is given to Christ and His saints who reign with Christ on earth. Here are the words of Daniel’s interpreter placed together in a continuous narrative:
17 These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.
18 But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.
23 … The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.
24 And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.
25 And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
26 But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.
27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”
That, in a nutshell, is world history from Nebuchadnezzar to the return of Christ. The only one who takes dominion between the two judicial movements—that is between Christ’s first advent and His second—is the Little Horn, the Antichrist, the Beast of Revelation 13. We think Taylor Marshall says it best:
“The kingdom is taken away from the Fourth Beast and given to whom? The last four lines leap off the page. Read them over and over again. Who receives the kingdom?” (Marshall, The Eternal City, ch. 1, “Daniel Foretells the Roman Church”)
Yes, the words do leap off the page. Antichrist receives the earthly dominion of the Fourth Beast, and that Antichrist is Roman Catholicism.
The Earthly Dominion of the Antichrist
Daniel and Revelation both have the chief antagonist in their visions destroyed at Christ’s second advent, at which time the dominion of the Little Horn is taken away and consumed to the end (Daniel 7:26), the kingdoms “became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away” (Daniel 2:35), and the Beast is overcome by the Lamb (Revelation 19:19-20). Within the period of the Antichrist’s dominion, he is given power to “wear out the saints of the Most High … and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (Daniel 7:25). According to John, “power was given unto him to continue forty and two months” (Revelation 13:5), and with that power, he made war with the saints of God and ruled over the nations:
“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” (Revelation 13:7).
We note here that the Scripture does not say that the Antichrist will only last or exist for “forty and two months.” Where the King James has “continue forty and two months,” the Greek only has “poiēsai, ποιῆσαι” which means “make” or “do.” The sense is that he shall have his own way and do as he pleases for “forty and two months.” Young’s Literal Translation has, “and there was given to it authority to make war forty-two months.” The sense is that he will arise and have dominion, but his power only lasts only forty-two months, or as Daniel has it, “time and times and the dividing of time.”
As with the “ten day” persecution (Revelation 2:10) which we identified with the Fourth and Fifth Seal, and the “five month” period of the Fifth Trumpet in Revelation 9:10, we see the “time and times and the dividing of time” as well as the “forty and two months” to refer to a period of 1,260 prophetic days, which is 1,260 years. We based this on the “day for a year” principle of prophecy (Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:6). During that 1,260 years, the Little Horn or the Beast exercises its power over people, tongues and nations, as well as over the saints of the Most High to “wear them out.”
The 1,260 Years
It was easy, in the waning years of the 4th century, for people to think that God’s kingdom had come to earth, and that the era of Christ’s dominion had arrived. The humble zeal of the earlier centuries was replaced with a militancy that grew incrementally indistinguishable from the prerogatives of the civil authority:
“In Gaul, the holy Martin, bishop of Tours, marched at the head of his faithful monks to destroy the idols, the temples, and the consecrated trees of his extensive diocese; … In Syria, the divine and excellent Marcellus, as he is styled by Thodeoret, a bishop animated with apostolic fervor, … took the field in person against the powers of darkness; a numerous troop of soldiers and gladiators marched under the episcopal banner, and he successively attacked the villages and country temples of the diocese of Apamea … in almost every province of the Roman world, an army of fanatics, without authority, and without discipline, invaded the peaceful inhabitants; and the ruin of the fairest structures of antiquity still displays the ravages of those Barbarians, who alone had time and inclination to execute such laborious destruction.” (Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman vol 3, 142-143, emphasis in original)
The Kingdom of God had come to earth, so they thought, and throughout the empire, they would ravage the earth together to prepare the way of the Lord. Persecution replaced preaching as the means of conversion:
“The controversy [persecution vs. tolerance] centered on the church’s first four centuries. In the first three centuries, Christians had not persecuted their enemies. They had been a minority sect, lacking any support from the state, persecuted rather than persecuting. Yet in the fourth century, everything changed. … The persecuted lambs had turned into persecuting lions. … The reason for this momentous change was simple. … For the first time … the imperial power was on the side of the church rather than against it.” (Coffey, Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England 1558-1689, (Taylor & Francis, 2000) 21-22)).
Yet even in this zeal to establish a worldly dominion, there was an understanding that there yet remained prerogatives belonging to the emperor alone. Ravaging the countryside and “cleansing the temples” and fighting the powers of darkness under the episcopal banner was one thing. However, it was neither the duty of the church to punish the citizens for civil offenses, nor the prerogative of the church to execute heretics for ecclesiastical offenses. After all, it was to the emperor, not to the Church, that God had given the sword to execute wrath:
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?… For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:3-4).
The line between a civil and an ecclesiastical offense became blurred when Roman Catholicism became the official religion of the empire in 380 A.D.. Heresy was now both an ecclesiastical and a civil offense. The boundaries between the two were severely tried in the Priscillian heresy trials in the 380s. The Council at Zaragosa had excommunicated Priscillian and his followers in 380 A.D. for an ecclesiastical offense, commissioning Ithacius to enforce its decrees. But Priscillian proceeded to be ordained and enthroned as Bishop of Avila anyway, calling down the ire of Emperor Gratian, who exiled him and his followers for their civil offense. The Priscillians then went to Rome to make an ecclesiastical appeal to Pope Damasus I, who would not hear them, and so they proceeded to Milan to appeal to Ambrose, with similar results. They then appealed to a civil court to overturn both their exile and the seizure of their properties, and then managed to get Ithacius exiled in the process. Ithacius attempted to appeal to Emperor Gratian, but Gratian was murdered and replaced by Emperor Maximus the Great in Treves. Maximus favored “treating the matter not as one of ecclesiastical rivalry, but as one of morality and society” and a civil trial ensued in 384 A.D. (Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, Priscillian and Priscillianism). But Martin of Tours insisted, and Maximus agreed, “that no life should be sacrificed” for something that was only an ecclesiastical offense. But Martin was called away on other business and Maximus reversed course. Priscillian and his followers killed in a civil execution.
Even then, the bishops suspected that there was something terribly, terribly wrong with an ecclesiastical offense being heard in a civil court, and “a violent strife arose between the bishops present on the merits of Priscillian’s execution.” One bishop, Theognistes, steadfastly refused communion to Ithacius and others who had partaken in “the judicial bloodshed” (Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, Priscillian and Priscillianism). Meanwhile, Maximus commissioned a Spanish inquisition, sending “military tribunes to Spain with unlimited powers … to investigate charges of heresy, examine heretics, take life and property from the guilty.” Martin again intervened and persuaded Maximus to recall the inquisitors, for it was not the place of the state to try ecclesiastical matters, and it was not the place of the church to execute heretics. Martin broke off all relations with the bishops in Treves, as did Ambrose, who refused to “have anything to do with bishops who had sent heretics to their death,” and Pope Siricius excommunicated Ithacius and his associates for what they had done (Hughes, History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 28). Such was the revulsion of the day to the inquisitorial methods of the empire as it attempted to enforce the precepts of its new religion.
But something was about to change. John the Baptist, as well as Christ and His apostles, had preached the kingdom of heaven, but the men claiming to be their heirs began to claim not only spiritual authority, but economic, social and political authority as well. As J. B. Bury notes in History of the Later Roman Empire, this change brought about a new order in which monks, priests and bishops would rule the known world:
“The existence of the State Church made a profound difference in the political and social development of the Empire. The old State religion of Rome was often used as an instrument of policy, but perhaps its main political value was symbolic. It involved no theory of the universe, no body of dogma to divide the minds of men and engender disputes. The gods were not jealous, and it was compatible with the utmost variety of other cults and faiths. For the Christian Church, on the contrary, a right belief in theological dogmas was the breath of its life, and, as such questions are abstruse and metaphysical, it was impossible to define a uniform doctrine which all minds would accept. As the necessity of ecclesiastical unity was an axiom, the government had to deal with a new problem, and a very arduous and embarrassing one, such as had not confronted it in the days before Constantine. Doctrine had to be defined, and heretics suppressed. Again, the Church, which once had claimed freedom for itself, denied freedom to others when it was victorious, and would not suffer rival cults. Hence a systematic policy of religious intolerance, such as the Greek and Roman world had never known, was introduced. Another consequence of the Christianising of the State was the rise to power and importance of the institution of monasticism, which was not only influential economically and socially, but was also, as we shall see, a political force.” (Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, chapter XI)
With that social, economic and political power came the power of the sword. What had been repulsive to the bishops during the Priscillian heresy trials only a decade earlier was about to become the order of the day. What had originally repulsed Ambrose, Theognistes and Martin, and had elicited an excommunication from Pope Siricius, was about to become a very attractive tool for the suppression of error. The sudden shift may be traced to the last few years of the 4th century. In what would one day be styled “the Augustinian Consensus,” the powers that prevailed at the close of the 4th Century began to see the value of physical force to induce conversion and maintain the unity of the new State Church, and the weapons of its warfare were carnal.
Augustine originally availed himself only of the powers of persuasion. In 392 A.D., he attempted to persuade a friend who had succumbed to heresy by truth and reason and discourse:
“I have not thought it my duty to be silent towards you, as to my opinions on the finding and retaining of truth… And that this may profit you, or at any rate may in no way harm you, and also all, into whose hands it shall chance to come, I have both prayed, and do pray, unto God; … Wherefore, if either our reasoning or our discourse has in any way moved you… (Augustine, De utilitate credendi, 1, 2, 36)
But Augustine eventually came around to the pragmatism of corporal punishment for doctrinal error. When Vincentius challenged him in 408 A.D. on the use of force to persuade heretics, Augustine defended the practice on very practical grounds. After all, the use of force was clearly working. Vincentius disagreed, finding that the new policies of the church were both reprehensible and unscriptural, and informed Augustine of his disapproval, but to no avail.
“You will say,” Augustine retorted, “that to some these remedies are of no service,” and “that no one should be compelled to follow righteousness” (Augustine, Letter 93, To Vincentius, paragraphs 3, 5). On one point, at least, Augustine was only too happy to concur with Vincentius who claimed that there was no support for this new approach in the apostolic church. Augustine agreed:
“You say that no example is found in the writings of evangelists and apostles, of any petition presented on behalf of the Church to the kings of the earth against her enemies. Who denies this? None such is found.” (Augustine, Letter 93, To Vincentius, paragraph 9)
But things were different now, Augustine said, and Vincentius needed to get with the times. In Daniel, Augustine had found a prophecy that foretold the changing of the guard, and therefore, a changing of the policy. Nebuchadnezzar’s persecution of believers foretold the period of the early church when Christians were executed by unbelievers. But Nebuchadnezzar’s subsequent actions foretold a time when unbelievers would be persecuted by Christians. And that time was now:
“Truly, if past events recorded in the prophetic books were figures of the future, there was given under King Nebuchadnezzar a figure both of the time which the Church had under the apostles, and of that which she has now. In the age of the apostles and martyrs, that was fulfilled which was prefigured when the aforesaid king compelled pious and just men to bow down to his image, and cast into the flames all who refused. Now, however, is fulfilled that which was prefigured soon after in the same king, when, being converted to the worship of the true God, he made a decree throughout his empire, that whosoever should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, should suffer the penalty which their crime deserved. The earlier time of that king represented the former age of emperors who did not believe in Christ, at whose hands the Christians suffered because of the wicked; but the later time of that king represented the age of the successors to the imperial throne, now believing in Christ, at whose hands the wicked suffer because of the Christians.” (Augustine, Letter 93, To Vincentius, paragraph 9)
We agree with Augustine on a great many things, but we cannot agree with him here. On this perilously thin foundation was “the Augustinian Consensus” constructed, and it lasted for well over 1,200 years. 1,260 years, to be exact.
Not long into the Reformation, many Protestants realized that it was not wise to imitate Rome’s methods of persuasion, for to do so was to emulate Antichrist. Like Vincentius, they realized that there had been no place in the apostolic church for such coercion, and insisted that the Church did not have the prerogatives of the emperor:
“The Protestant conviction that the Christian church had fundamentally lost its way after the primitive centuries proved uniquely corrosive to the traditional theory of persecution. The fact that Augustine’s defense of religious coercion had been the orthodoxy for a millennium did not impress Protestant primitivists. Instead, they were haunted by the belief that the church had been subverted by Antichrist. John Foxe had reminded English Protestants that persecution was one of the hallmarks of the Beast of Revelation, and in the course of the 17th century many came to the belief that Beast could take Protestant as well as popish forms. Ever since the 1520s, radical protestants had argued that the church must eschew religious violence if it was to recover primitive purity.” (Coffey, 210-211)
Something was terribly wrong when the practice of coercion had replaced the foolishness of preaching. Protestants started to realize that they had brought too much with them when they left Rome, and began to abandon the practice. By 1644 A.D., “the Augustinian consensus had been irreparably fractured” in England by the writings of the Puritans (Coffey, 47), and under Pope Alexander VII (1655 – 1667 A.D.), just when Rome’s political influence was declining precipitously throughout Europe, the Pope suddenly abandoned the Augustinian consensus as well:
“Especially during the pontificate of Alexander VII the Roman Catholic Church strove to convert foreign heretics by means of persuasion and re-education, which began to be seen as a more effective tool than fear for producing lasting conversions.” (Irene Fosi, Università di Chieti, “Conversion and Autobiography: Telling Tales before the Roman Inquisition,” (Journal of Early Modern History 17 (2013) 437-456)
Alexander VII, as we shall see, represents a remarkable turning point in the Pope’s political, social and economic influence in Europe. His predecessor, Innocent X (1644 – 1655 A.D.), was the last pope to send armed troops into battle. Then, over the course of a single pontificate, Rome’s fortunes in Europe so thoroughly declined that the Pope turned his attention to making Rome more aesthetically and juridically welcoming to visitors. His successors occupied themselves with architecture, ecclesiastical and financial reform, and appeasing various internal and external factions.
Dorothy Habel therefore describes Alexander VII as a man “wedged between two moments in time,” which is a profoundly appropriate description of his reign. Augustine, too, had been a man “wedged between two moments in time.” Just as Augustine had witnessed the rise of Roman Catholic authority in the secular sphere in the waning years of the 4th century, Alexander VII now saw its sudden decline in the middle of the 17th. He was indeed “wedged between two moments,” and those two moments define the end of Rome’s 1,260 year dominance over world affairs, and the beginning of its return to its late 4th century stature as one player among many:
“What is clear is that Alexander found himself wedged between two moments in time. He enjoyed the tradition of the immediate past in Rome with its long line of modern popes, many of whom were religious and economic, political and personal. However, earlier papal building programs were rarely questioned for their appropriateness and value. That Alexander’s were scrutinized reflects a new political reality for Rome and the papacy, first heralded by the Treaty of Münster (1643), maintained by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and solidified by the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659). From this point on, the spiritual allegiance of Europe no longer weighed in favor of the Catholic Church, and as a result the Papal States, never having held either substantial territory or a majority population, struggled to hold a politically viable position within Europe. Alexander VII, witness at the first two accords and absentee at the third, surely knew this well. These experiences spawned his leadership in church reform, of which his urban development program was a part.” (Dorothy Metzger Habel, The Urban Development of Rome in the Age of Alexander VII, (Cambridge University Press (2002)), 8)
For this reason, Alexander VII’s administration is widely recognized as the end of civil and political power for the papacy, except over the papal states. Recognizing this, Alexander VII simultaneously abandoned “the Augustinian Consensus” and turned his attention to Roman architecture and internal reform. In the “exercise of statecraft,” the papacy had become essentially “irrelevant”:
“Papal authority declined precipitously during the seventeenth century. … in politics the papacy was a minor player commanding modest resources; in religion, its assertion of spiritual supremacy in the Catholic world was compromised by a series of concordats that conceded extensive rights of clerical appointments to Catholic monarchs. The reason of state, a philosophy espoused alike by Catholic and Protestant princes in their exercise of statecraft, increasingly made the theocratic pretensions of the papacy irrelevant.” (R. Po-Chia Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal 1540 – 1770, (Cambridge University Press (2005)), 108)
The evidence of the irrelevancy of his “theocratic pretensions” was the utter humiliation of the person and office of the papacy at the Treaty of Pisa. After an unfortunate incident involving the Corsican guards, Alexander was forced “to erect a monument in Rome itself bearing an inscription recalling the outrage, and followed by a record of the Pope’s apology expressed in the most abject and obsequious terms” (Valérie Pirie, The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day (Sidgwick & Jackson, Limited, (1935), 176-177).
Of course, the papacy would go on after Alexander VII, speaking great words against the Most High, falsely claiming to be the true, apostolic church, exercising dominion over those who would submit willingly to her errors, spreading her false gospel far and wide, insisting that the world not only worship her image, the Eucharist, but also attend to words of the False Prophet, the apparition of Mary. But she was no longer able to compel them by force to do either. The wielding of the sword, corporal punishment and execution for heresy were abandoned by the pope and returned to the prerogative of “the Emperor,” which by now was constituted in the various monarchs of Europe. They, too, would “wear out the saints,” but the pope no longer had the sway or the resources to help or hinder them in the process
There is of course much more to be said on this topic, but we will conclude this article by taking note of a rather remarkable historical coincidence. There was a man named Vigilantius, alleged to be a disciple of Jovinianus who had been excommunicated by Pope Siricius I in 389 A.D. for his teaching on clerical marriage. Vigilantius, too, had strenuously rejected the new teachings on veneration of relics and martyrs, the exaggerated merits of virginity above marriage, prayers to the dead, the rising prestige of monkery in the church, and the compulsory sending of alms to Jerusalem (as if Paul had instituted a permanent tax rather than responding to a temporary need (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:25, 1 Corinthians 16:3)).
Jerome’s venomous response to Vigilantius was a picture of histrionic vilification and is considered his least cogent and most illogical of all of his many treatises. For the abusive denigration Vigilantius received from the pen of Jerome, H. H. Milman rightly grants to Vigilantius the title, “the Protestant of his age” (Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 3, chapter 28 (p. 157, note 74)). But Milman went on in the same note to say that Vigilantius “firmly, though ineffectually, withstood the superstition of monks, relics, saints, fasts, &c…” We do not believe that Vigilantius was ineffectual at all, and Jerome attests several times to his effectiveness in several of his letters.
The bishop in Vigilantius’ own diocese supported him, as Jerome acknowledged in his letter to Riparius (Jerome, Letter 109, To Riparius, chapter 2). There were others—bishops and deacons—who supported him as well, and apparently not a few:
“Shameful to relate, there are bishops who are said to be associated with him in his wickedness—if at least they are to be called bishops—who ordain no deacons but such as have been previously married;” (Jerome, Against Vigilantius, 2)
In his treatise, Against Vigilantius, Jerome relates that he had heard that the parishes of Riparius and Desiderius, “have been defiled by being in his neighbourhood, and … some persons are found who, from their inclination to his vices, assent to his blasphemies” (Jerome, Against Vigilantius, 2). To Jerome’s chagrin, while Vigilantius was making “raids upon the churches of Gaul,” Gaul was supporting “a native foe,” allowing Vigilantius to remain “seated in the Church” (Jerome, Against Vigilantius, 4). Vigilantius, as it turns out, was not alone, and was gaining followers.
He had visited with Jerome in Bethlehem in 395 A.D., and they might have been co-laborers, but something about Jerome had disquieted him. Vigilantius apparently left in haste, for Jerome relates that he “went away, he departed, he escaped, he broke out” (Jerome, Letter 109, To Riparius, chapter 2). Keeping in mind that these were the days when Roman Catholicism was beginning to wield the sword against heretics, Jerome’s prescription for the “errors” of Vigilantius cannot be taken lightly. Jerome believed that Vigilantius ought to be deprived of his freedom, his tongue, and his life:
“Oh, monster, who ought to be banished to the ends of the earth!” (Jerome, Against Vigilantius, 8)
“The wretch’s tongue should be cut out, or he should be put under treatment for insanity.” (Jerome, Letter 109, To Riparius, chapter 2)
“…[Vigilantius is] a man who has lost his head and who ought to be put in the strait-jacket … ” (Jerome, Against Vigilantius, 4)
“I am surprised that the reverend bishop in whose diocese he is said to be a presbyter … does not rather with apostolic rod, nay with a rod of iron, shatter this useless vessel and deliver him for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved. [1 Corinthians 5:5]” (Jerome, Letter 109, To Riparius, chapter 2)
This is just a sampling of Jerome’s invective against him. Elsewhere Jerome waxed longingly on the need for Vigiliantius to be killed for his errors (Jerome, Letter 109, To Riparius, chapter 3). After Vigilantius experienced Jerome in person in 395 A.D., we can hardly blame him for his hasty departure.
What is interesting to us is where Vigilantius went from there, and Jerome tells us. Vigilantius returned to his homeland and his last known location and occupation was the preaching of his “heresy,” “between the Adriatic and the Alps of King Cotius” (Jerome, Letter 109, To Riparius, chapter 2), where there was clearly a strong and growing movement in opposition to the new Roman Catholic superstitions emerging throughout the empire.
Not a few historians have noted that Vigilantius’ last known location is precisely where an apparently intractable “heresy” remained in opposition to Rome until the Waldensians were finally removed from the Alpine valleys in the Piedmont Easter Massacre of 1655 A.D.—1,260 years after Vigilantius had first repaired to the Cottian Alps after his encounter with Jerome.
Our point here is that during the 1,260 years that Rome retained the power and authority of the emperor, and wielded the sword for the punishment of heretics, there was also a movement that rejected the characteristically Roman Catholic doctrines that had emerged in the latter half of the 4th century, which we highlighted in The Rise of Roman Catholicism. That protestant movement was consistently found in the Alpine Valleys between France and Italy until 1655 A.D. when the Waldensians were finally extricated from their refuge and dispersed throughout Europe.
We believe therefore that this 1,260 year period is that which John foresaw in Revelation 12:15 when the “the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood (potamon, ποταμόν) after the woman that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood (potamophorēton, ποταμοφόρητον).” But “to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14).
We note that the word for flood (potamon, ποταμόν) is the word used in Matthew (7:25,27) and Luke (6:48-49) when Jesus describes the house that is built upon the rock of His Word, and is therefore able to withstand the floods. Also, the word for “carried away of the flood” (potamophorēton, ποταμοφόρητον), bears with it the sense of being carried away by error, as in Ephesians 4:14,
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about (peripheromenoi, περιφερόμενοι) with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
Thus the Serpent would open his mouth as a fountain of error in an attempt to shake the Church at its foundation, hoping that she would be carried away by the flood of false doctrines that he had let loose. But his efforts would fail. The Woman was provided a place for 1,260 years where she would be nourished by the Word of God and protected from the face of the Serpent.
At the latter part of the 4th century, when Roman Catholicism first came on the scene, the Serpent spewed forth his erroneous doctrines—the primacy of the pope, the pope as Pontifex of the new state religion, the sinlessness of Mary, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the sacrifice of the Mass, the veneration and invocation of relics and martyrs and saints, unnatural ascetism, mandatory celibacy of the clergy, Jerome’s erroneous Vulgate translation with its false gospel of “do penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is a hand,” etc… Yet his efforts were in vain, for the Lord had provided a place in the wilderness for His people to be nourished, and therefore protected, by His Word.
Significantly, that 1,260 year period during which the Beast of Revelation 13 was given the power to wear out the saints of the Most High, coincided with the 1,260 year period when the Woman was provided a place in the wilderness where she was protected from the face of the Serpent. The Beast could torture and kill the saints at will, but the Serpent’s false doctrines could not reach them. The flood of error “beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock,” which is His Word (Luke 6:48). They resisted the errors that emerged at the end of the Fourth Century, and when Eucharistic Adoration was introduced in the Eleventh, they resisted that, too.
We are aware that some scholars of different ages have contested the persistence and continuity of a Protestant presence in the Alpine Valleys for those 1,260 years. We shall return to a detailed examination of that period in a later article, but for now we leave our readers with this: there is more evidence to support the continuity of a protestant presence in the Alps for those 1,260 years than there is evidence for Eucharistic Adoration in the first 11 centuries. And yet Eucharistic Adoration is considered to be the very heart and soul of the religion of the Fifth Empire.
We will conclude our series on the Fifth Empire next week with an examination of a brief but incisive commentary on Daniel 2 from the lips of Jesus Himself.