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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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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1.4. From Babylon the Great to the Christian Empire


The image of the Roman Empire as Babylon the Great suffered a strange transformation in the 4th century, after Emperor Constantine the Great granted religious freedom, converted to Christianity, and the religion of Christ became the dominant cult of the empire. The change of the political context led to the change of the eschatological context. As in the case of Nero and the Jewish Antichrist, two contradictory conceptions merged. On the one hand, for the early Christians the Roman Empire was the Whore of Babylon (negative connotation), “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Christians) persecuted and killed. Rome was the capital of an empire of abomination and martyrdom, Peter the Apostle being its first victim. The luxury, the exuberance and the paganism were making Rome a damned city, accurately described by Daniel and John. It was the sanctuary of Satan’s acolytes, the emperor and the senate, from whose mouths the orders of execution, torture and confiscation were coming.

On the other hand, for the non-Christian citizens of the empire the capital was the cradle of civilization itself, the city established through the will and the blessing of the gods, the heart of the empire and the factor of stability that was preventing the world to return to chaos. Rome was more than a capital-city; it was an icon of unity, progress and civilization. Jews believe that Jerusalem holds a major role in God’s universal plan; in the same way the Romans saw the “city of the seven hills” as the heart of mankind. Rome was simply worshiped

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1.1. Rome – Babylon the Great


In the 1st century the Jewish people was under Roman domination. Due to this fact, the image of a liberating Messiah was more widespread and anticipated than ever. There was a powerful feeling of urgency and expectation because the Jews believed that, as in the case of the Egyptian and Babylonian captivities, the Messiah would appear and deliver them from the Roman bondage. On the other hand, many of the early Christians were Jews. This inevitably led to an influence of Jewish eschatology upon Christian eschatology and it is very likely that the Messiah expected by the Jews came to be mistaken for the Second Coming of Christ. As Paul the Apostle intimates in the letter to the church of Thessalonica, some of the new converts believed that the end of the world was imminent:

Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

This belief was so strong that in the year 90 AD Clement I, bishop of Rome,52 spread the word that the world may end at any moment. Likewise,

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3.3.2. Babylon the Great

3.3.2. Babylon the Great

Babylon the Great, or the Whore of Babylon, is an allegorical figure of evil mentioned in chapters 17 and 18 of the Book of Revelation. Babylon the Great stirs the interest of the exegetes because it is in close relationship with the Antichrist (the beast from the sea) and it is one of the apocalyptic entities most clearly depicted. First, Babylon the Great undoubtedly refers to a city, a kingdom, or both; not only is Babylon the Great called the “great city” in Revelation 14 and 18, but there are also many textual similarities between the apocalyptic Babylon and the historical Babylon from the Old Testament (Isaiah 13:19; 21:9 or Jeremiah 25:12-17). Second, Babylon the Great will have a global influence: “that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Revelation 14:8). And third, Revelation offers a very important geographical indication regarding Babylon the Great: “Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (Revelation 17:9).

The image of the apocalyptic Babylon has been assigned to several cities and kingdoms throughout history, on more or less religious grounds, but the best-known

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