Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
During his Jan. 26, 1947, radio broadcast, Venerable Fulton Sheen spoke as if he were peering into the 21st century. During that same talk, he also described what he believed the anti-Christ would be like.
It might not at all be what many will be expecting the anti-Christ would be like, especially at first.
But as we’ve seen in this same talk not long after the end of World War II “From now on the struggle will be… for the souls of men,” he warned. People would begin dividing into two religions as absolutes — “the God Who became man and the man who makes himself God; brothers in Christ and comrades in anti-Christ.”
During the talk he described what he saw the anti-Christ being.
Setting the Stage
Far-seeing Archbishop Sheen said that the anti-Christ will not be called by that name, “otherwise he would have no followers.” Same for the way he, the devil, is depicted such as in cartoons because he “will wear no red tights, nor vomit sulphur, nor carry a trident nor wave an arrow tail as the Mephistopheles in Faust.” Nowhere does Scripture give us this idea of his appearance, Sheen emphasized. But it twists into an unlikely instrument.
“This masquerade has helped the devil convince men that he does not exist,” Sheen revealed, setting the stage. The devil “knows that he is never so strong as when men believe that he does not exist. When no man recognizes, the more power he exercises. God has defined Himself as I am Who am and the devil as ‘I am who am not.’”
Has the masquerade worked since 1947? Let’s look at what the Center for Research on the Apostolate (CARA) noted in 2017 by looking over past and then current studies. CARA reported that in 1968 Gallup asked adults if they believe there is or is not a devil. 60% believed, 35% didn’t, and 5% weren’t sure. By 1982, Gallup carried on the survey at CARA’s request. Then 70% believed. Same for 2007.
But CARA asked what they believed, and a survey four years later shockingly found that overall, 69% of all who believed in God believed the devil was only a symbol, while breakdowns showed even more shockingly that it appeared 83% of Catholics thought Satan was a symbol. (Of Catholics considered conservatives, 53% believed the devil was real, while of Catholics considered moderates only 49% thought so.)
In a 2017 newspaper interview in Spain, the new superior general of the Society of Jesus said, “We have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil. Social conditioning can also represent this figure, since there are people who act [in an evil way] because they are in an environment where it is difficult to act to the contrary.”
But Sheen knew the devil is not a symbol. “Rather is he described as an angel fallen from heaven, and as ‘“the Prince of this world’ whose business it is to tell us that there is no other world,” he said, referring to Scripture. “His logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgement then evil is good and good is evil.”
Stepping aside for a moment, we should also remember Our Lord’s words. Jesus made it perfectly clear when he described him: He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.
Sheen then reminded that Our Lord told us that this devil, the anti-Christ, “will be so much like Himself, that he would deceive even the elect — and certainly no devil we have ever seen in picture books could deceive even the elect.”
St. Paul wasn’t fooled either. He warned the Corinthians about those false ones infiltrating their numbers that (2, 11:14) “even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.”
So how might the anti-Christ look and get followers to his “anti-religion”?
“He will come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity and plenty not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves,” Bishop Sheen warned.
“He will write books on the new idea of God to suit the way people live; induce faith in astrology so as to make not the will but the stars responsible for sins; he will explain guilt away psychologically as inhibited eroticism, make men shrink in shame if their fellowmen say they are not broadminded and liberal; he will be so broadminded as to identify tolerance with indifference to right and wrong, truth and error; he will spread the lie that men will never be better until they make society better and thus have selfishness to provide fuel for the next revolution; he will foster science but only to have armament makers use one marvel of science to destroy another; he will foster more divorces under the disguise that another partner is ‘vital’; he will increase love for love and decrease love for person; he will invoke religion to destroy religion; he will even speak of Christ and say that he was the greatest man who ever lived; his mission he will say will be to liberate men from the servitudes of superstition and Fascism, which he will never define.”
Much sounds familiar today, doesn’t it? That word “tolerance” blankets society. Pew Research reported last October that, by denomination, that 33% of Catholics believed in astrology, 36% in reincarnation, 46% in psychics.
Also last October Pew reported that 76% of Catholics wanted the Church to allow birth control, 61% wanted to allow cohabiting couples to receive Communion, 62% to allow those divorced and remarried without an annulment to receive Communion, 46% to recognize gay/lesbian marriages. Love has deteriorated to Hollywood-record-television definitions. Match them up with what Sheen just described.
Same Old Temptations
Far-sighted Bishop Sheen showed how we servants are like the Master as he described the anti-Christ’s using the three temptations with which he tried to tempt Christ in the desert. By the way, Jesus was not tempted in the desert by a symbolic figure as some have come to believe.
First, “the temptation to turn stones into bread as an earthly Messiah will become the temptation to sell freedom for security, as bread became a political weapon, and only those who think his way may eat.” Some dictatorships have laid the groundwork with this. Or, we will help your country if you accept these immoral means, systems, ways. Or turning to the government to supply everything.
Second, “the temptation to work a miracle by recklessly throwing Himself from a steeple will become a plea to desert the lofty pinnacles of truth where faith and reason reign, for those lower depths where the masses live on slogans and propaganda.”
The anti-Christ “wants no proclamation of immutable principles from the lofty heights of a Church, but mass organization through propaganda…Opinions not truths, commentators not teachers, Gallup polls not principles, nature not grace — and to these golden calves will men toss themselves from their Christ.”
Third, asking Jesus to adore the tempter so that all the Kingdoms of the world would be his, “will become the temptation,” Sheen explained, “to have a new religion without a Cross, a liturgy without a world to come, a city of man without a city of God, a religion to invoke a religion, or a politics which is a religion — one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God’s.” How many look for salvation today in and through politics? Did Herod help the Magi to find the Jesus the Messiah? Or even want to?
Bishop Sheen saw the anti-Christ setting up a counter-Church “which will be the ape of the Church because, he the devil, is the ape of God. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content. It will be a mystical body of the anti-Christ that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ.”
Because people, lonely and frustrated, desperately need God but refuse to adore him, they will hunger for a larger purpose in life and, ironically, accept the counter-Church. “The Church was critically spurned in the last few centuries because it claimed that it was Catholic and universal, uniting all men on the basis of one Lord, one faith and one Baptism,” the saintly bishop explained.
“But in the new era, what the modern lost soul will take particularly about the counter-Church, is that it is catholic or international. It breaks down all national boundaries, laughs down patriotism, dispenses men from piety to country which the Christ enjoined, makes men proud that they are not Americans, French, or British, but members of a revolutionary class under the rule of its Vicar who rules not from the Vatican, but the Kremlin.”
Just as St. John tells us, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared” (1 John 2:18), “and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:3), Sheen linked to the Kremlin seeing the diabolical Communism as one of the antichrists already present. (Our Lady of Fatima had something to say about this too. And how to avoid it.)
Sheen continued: “in the midst of all his seeming love for humanity and his glib talk of freedom and equality,” the anti-Christ “will have one great secret which he will tell to no one; he will not believe in God. Because his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God…”
Already in 1947 Sheen saw the signs of the times and how the disorder would tie into “the wages of sin.”
Trials and Unwavering Hope
Sheen repeated Christ’s words on the way to Calvary: Weep not over me; but weep for yourselves and for your children (Luke 23:28). But the saintly bishop was firm in hope, never leaving and letting us wallow in hand-wringing anguish and inaction. He told us not to think that in speaking of the “emergence of the anti-Christ against Christ” that he feared for the Church. “We do not,” he stressed.
“It is for the world we fear. It is not infallibility we are worried about, but the world’s lapse into fallibility. We tremble not that God may be dethroned, but that barbarism may reign. It is not Transubstantiation that may perish, but the home. Not the sacraments that may fade away, but the moral law.”
He said this in the days of sounder morals, respectability, politeness in most families and circles, as he envisioned what was to come.
“The Church has survived other great crises” along the centuries “and she will live to sing a requiem over the evils of the present,” he said. The Church has its Good Fridays “but these are only preludes to its Easter Sundays, for the Divine Promise shall never be made void: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)
The anti-Christ coming with his anti-Church will never win although the Church will face hard times and seem in eclipse as the Catechism teaches. So Sheen cautioned, “St. Peter told the Romans in the days of delirium: ‘Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11)
As we’ve seen, the good bishop advised keeping in the state of grace, getting faith if you had none, and praying because the “most important problem in the world today is your soul, for that is what the struggle is about.” And beseeching St. Michael and Our Lady for help.
Because “the time is nearer than you think.”