6. The conspiratorial apocalypse

6. THE CONSPIRATORIAL APOCALYPSE

The conspiratorial apocalypse is a part of the larger phenomenon of conspiracy theory. The expression “conspiracy theory” is frequently used in popular culture to describe secret military, economic or political actions meant to steal power, money or the freedom of the majority. Conspiracy theories are based on the notion that major events are the products of plans unknown to the general public, emanated by an elite which, depending on fears and the level of understanding, is identified with Freemasonry, the Illuminati, New Age occultists, aliens or other imaginary or real groups. As in the case of aliens, there is an entire literary and documentary universe dedicated to conspiracy theory.

While the expression “conspiracy theory” is a modern creation, the idea of conspiracy exists ever since the world has the image of the invisible supernatural battle between good and evil. Conspiracy is seen as a perfidious method through which evil is trying to undermine good. Conspiracy theory is used to blame someone or something every time there is a feeling of a crisis. Each historical context has its conspirators. In the first centuries the Romans saw the secret practice of Christianity as a conspiracy meant to destroy the empire. In the Middle Ages the devil constantly conspired to corrupt Christians or it cooperated with the Jews to undermine the religion of Christ. During the Reformation, when the Papacy was demonized, Protestants portrayed a conspiring Antichrist, who rises from within society through subversive means. On the other hand, Catholics saw the Reformation as a great devilish conspiracy meant to destroy the institution of God. The Puritans feared popish conspiracies. The Salem witch trials is one the first examples of conspiracy theories in the history of America. After the American Revolution there were fears of British conspiracies or satanic conspiracies. Theologians such as Darby claimed that elite groups sold their soul to Satan to gain power and money, becoming the pawns in a supernatural game of chess. Through these agents mankind was pushed to accept a global government, based on the spiritual foundations of a false religion in which the Unholy Trinity – the Antichrist, Satan and the False Prophet – would be adored.1345 During the Second World War Nazi and Neo-Nazi conspiracies circulated. During the Cold War the Americans saw Soviet conspiracies. Aliens conspire ever since they came to public attention, while other current Christian theories state that the False Prophet will be a pope or a New Age guru, and the Antichrist will be the president of the world or a Muslim caliph.

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7.1.2. Napoleon the Beast and the repatriation of the Jews

7.1.2. Napoleon the Beast and the repatriation of the Jews

The convulsions of the French Revolution gave birth to a political figure that was easily classified as the Antichrist: Napoleon Bonaparte. From a young artillery officer in the French army, Napoleon became emperor over half of Europe within only seven years. During the French First Republic he led successful military campaigns against the First and the Second Coalition, he managed to obtain crucial positions in Italy and Egypt, gained influence and forged alliances for France. The decisive step in Napoleon’s ascension occurred in 1799, when he took advantage of the chaos of the revolution, overthrew the Directory through a coup d’état and installed the Consulate with himself as the First Consul. Five years later his ascension on the scale of power culminated with his coronation as emperor.

Napoleon was associated with the Antichrist for several reasons: he was seen as a progeny of the French Revolution, he tried to subdue Great Britain, he conquered most of Western Europe and created an empire that resembled the Roman Empire, he dethroned the pope and annexed the Papal States to his empire, and last but not least his military genius reminded Christians of the Messiah awaited by the Jews.

Napoleon’s dream was to become as famous as the great leaders of the past; his actions copied those of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar or Charlemagne.824 In 1797 Napoleon decided that the naval power of France was not prepared to confront the Royal Navy in the English Channel. Instead, he led a military expedition in Egypt to undermine the access of the British in India and to satisfy his fantasy of walking in the footsteps of Alexander. Through the Concordat of 1801 with Pius VII Napoleon aimed to win the pope to his side, but

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5.1. The papal demonization and the development of historicism

5. THE APOCALYPSES OF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION

5.1. THE PAPAL DEMONIZATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HISTORICISM

In 1510 the German monk Martin Luther suffered a shock after he traveled to Rome and saw the stage of ecclesiastical corruption: Sixtus IV was the first pope who imposed a license on brothels, a special tax on the priests who had a concubine and established the selling of indulgences417 to be applied to the dead as well; the latter was a religious-financial scheme that assured unlimited income to the budget of the institution. In turn, Pope Alexander IV fathered seven children and simultaneously fostered two mistresses. After he returned to Wittenberg at the end of 1517, disgusted and resentful, Luther conceived a list entitled Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum and nailed it on the door of All Saints’ Church. The list of 95 theses was a summary of his grievances, through which he mainly requested a reopening of the debates regarding the selling of indulgences, the concepts of Purgatory, individual Judgment, Mariology (the devotion to the Virgin Mary), the worship of the saints, most of the sacraments and the authority of the Papacy. Luther’s disagreement was the spark that ignited the conflagration. The Ninety-Five Theses (as the document remained known in history) enjoyed a powerful support from laity and some clerics, marking the eruption of a widespread

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4.1. Islamophobia

4. THE APOCALYPSES OF THE SECOND MEDIEVAL PERIOD

4.1. ISLAMOPHOBIA

The most important apocalyptical prophecies, theories, calculations and movements of the first millennium were tied to the fate of the Roman Empire. But, after the failure of the years 1000 and 1033 and the Great Schism between Catholicism and Orthodoxism, the concept of the revived Roman Empire or of the Christian Empire was gradually abandoned.

The image of Nero who had to come back as the Antichrist shared the same fate. In the 16th century, at the time of the Reformation, Protestants identified the Antichrist with the Papacy, while Catholics said he that would be a future Jewish tyrant. However, in our days there is a trace of the connection between Nero and the Antichrist: in the Armenian language “Antichrist” is pronounced Neren.218

The millennial week theory was also discarded as scientific knowledge developed and in the 21st century almost all the initial apocalyptic structures can be categorized as theological errors. In any case, in the 11th century the schism between Rome and Constantinople and the rise of Islam changed the religious and apocalyptical paradigm.

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2.2. The prophecy of the messianic emperor

2.2. THE PROPHECY OF THE MESSIANIC EMPEROR

Shortly after he came to power in 306, Emperor Constantine the Great promoted religious tolerance in order to stop the conflicts within the empire. But Constantine was not prepared to become a Christian; he only converted in 312 and continued to hold the pagan position of Pontifex Maximus (a title discarded by emperors, but later taken by the Papacy: the “Supreme Pontiff”). In the spring of 313 Constantine, together with Licinius, promulgated the Edict of Milan. Through this act he asked all governors of the provinces to stop all religious persecutions and the confiscated properties to be immediately returned. The edict did not declare Christianity as the official religion of the empire, but it only allowed religious freedom, so that anyone may worship any deity without being persecuted. However, through the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 emanated by Emperor Theodosius, Christianity ended by becoming a reality first tolerated, and then a constitutive part of the empire. The tradition spread the idea that the Edict of Milan was the act through which tolerance toward the Christian religion was instituted, but Galerius issued an edict of tolerance in 311 as well.142

Constantine was far from being a saint. On the contrary; he committed unimaginable atrocities to secure his power, while the legalization of Christianity (together with the other beliefs) was nothing but a political scheme meant to bring peace within the empire and to gain the sympathy of his subjects.143 But, just as Cyrus the Great stood as a model for the image of the Messiah, the masses of Christians responded by idolizing Constantine the liberator. The emperor shifted the religious paradigm: Christians appreciated him, worshiped him, and even sanctified and began to celebrate him on the 21st of May. Indeed, the creation of legends regarding great personalities was a common practice. But the alliance between the church and the imperial institution so grossly altered and exaggerated the image of the emperor, that this became an integral part of the apocalyptic scenario. The Roman emperor turned into the predecessor of Christ’s return, while the Roman Empire was no longer seen as an apocalyptic

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1.2. Nero the Jew – the Antichrist

1.2. NERO THE JEW – THE ANTICHRIST

Early Christians agreed that the fourth beast from Daniel’s visions refers to the Roman Empire, that the Whore of Babylon from Revelation refers to Rome and that the final events of the world were taking place in front of their eyes. The main problem was the identification of the Antichrist.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Irenaeus of Gaul and Hippolytus of Rome elaborated so well the image of the Antichrist that their conclusions became eschatological landmarks for the entire Christianity. Nowhere in Revelation is the name “Antichrist” mentioned but, as in Daniel, the entities with negative connotation are symbolized through beasts. Irenaeus advanced the idea that the Beast 666 from Revelation 13 is one and the same with the “abomination of desolation” described by Jesus in the gospels (Matthew 24:15), named by the apostles the “Antichrist,” the “son of perdition,” the “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and by Daniel a “king of fierce countenance” (Daniel 8:23).59 Furthermore, Irenaeus speculated that the ten horns from Daniel 7:7 are one and the same with the ten horns from Revelation 17:12-13: “And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings, with the beast, for one hour.

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4.3.1. Al-Dajjal (the Antichrist)

4.3. THE SIGNS OF THE END

4.3.1. Al-Dajjal (the Antichrist)

Muslims also expect the advent of the Antichrist, whom they name the “Great Deceiver” or the “Impostor Messiah” (Romanized Arabic: Al-Masikh al-Dajjal). The (Romanized) Arabic word dajjal means “to deceive” and it is used in religious contexts to designate false prophets or messiahs. Muhammad said that there will be around 30 dajjals ("antichrists") (Sahih Al-Bukhari 9:237). But Al-Masikh al-Dajjal, written with definite article and capital letter, refers to the “Imposter,” the Antichrist, a unique cunning entity, who will be the last and most powerful of antichrists. He will appear toward the end of civilization, before Judgment Day, will defy God and will make a deceiving interpretation of the scriptures. He will speak beautifully and will fool the world to follow his teachings, saying that Hell is Heaven and vice versa (Sahih Al-Bukhari 4:554). He will appear pretending he is the Jewish messiah and the returned Jesus Christ, but the real Jesus will descend from heaven and will kill him (Sahih Muslim 7023).

Al-Dajjal is believed to appear somewhere between Syria and Iraq, approximately at the same time with the return of Isa (Jesus) on the clouds of heaven and the coming of the Mahdi. Al-Dajjal will travel the entire world preaching his false teachings, but Allah will forbid him to enter Mecca and Medina (Sahih Al-Bukhari 3:105). The hadiths offer details regarding the look and the actions of al-Dajjal, so that he can be identified by believers:

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3.3.1. The Antichrist

3.3.1. The Antichrist

According to the dominant Christian view, toward the end of time mankind will undergo a process of decadent evolution marked by sufferings, pain, wars, earthquakes, floods, fire, diseases, famine, corruption and ultimately the apogee of all evils in the person of the Antichrist, the supreme tyrant. The advent of the Antichrist signifies the culmination of the moral degradation, a mundane state in which the sin will be so strongly rooted in human society that divine intervention will be necessary for the reestablishment of order and the salvation of the world from obliteration.

The Antichrist is a fascinating entity. His tremendous power, his dreadful darkness and the major role he will have in history have inflamed the imagination of the Christian theologians and fueled endless speculations. The Antichrist is probably the most debated apocalyptic entity, for three reasons: his advent in the world precedes the Second Coming of Christ, the fate of the Antichrist is to be defeated by Christ, and the Book of Revelation

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