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Chapter 13: The reign of Papal Rome

The Church of Rome creates her own Empire

    A few decades after the official recognition of the Christian Church by the Emperor Constantine, the Western Roman Empire was overwhelmed with invading Germanic and Mongolic tribes. After many years of disarray, new kingdoms were formed. In the East, the Empire was to survive for another 1000 years, but would mutate into a Greek (Byzantine) Empire, which would gradually lose its might and eventually fall into the hands of the invading Turks. So, the real successors to the original Roman Empire were the kingdoms in the West. Those were at first semi-barbaric kingdoms, some of which were not Christian at all, while others, like the Goths and the Vandals, had converted to the heresy of Areius, a denier of the divine nature of Christ. The Franks were the first of the invaders to convert to Orthodox/Catholic ("non-heretical") Christianity under their leader Clovis in 497. This is a map of Europe in 530: 

530 CE

    The Franks gradually became more powerful, while all the other kingdoms eventually disappeared, like the Visigothic Kingdom in the Iberian peninsula. The latter converted to Orthodoxy/Catholicism in 589, but was later destroyed by the Muslims. This is a map of Europe in the year 600:

600 CE

    After some fluctuations in their power, and periods of division, the Franks eventually, but briefly, created a vast empire, which was considered to be the continuation of the Western Roman Empire, comprising most of the then civilized lands of Central and Western Europe (with the exception of a large part of the Iberian peninsula, now belonging to the Muslims). In the year 800, the Frankish King Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by the Pope, thus becoming a successor to the Roman Emperors of the past, only now it was felt that such a title could only be granted by the Church.

     Historians traditionally regard this event as the birth of the Holy Roman Empire, which was to dominate the European political scene for more than a thousand years. Here is a series of maps showing the growth of the Frankish Kingdom and Empire (orange):

732 CE

768 CE 800 CE

      Under the auspices of the Catholic Franks, the Papal States were created in central Italy, comprising Rome and the areas around her.

814 CE

    The Frankish Empire was divided into a French and a German half a few decades after its formation. The Papal States would survive until 1871.

880 CE

    Other Christian kingdoms were also formed around the French and German remnants of the Frankish Empire during the following centuries. All of those Central and Western European kingdoms were loyal to the Church of Rome. 

910 CE 1120 CE
1328 CE 1470 CE

    Thus, from the time the Kingdom of the Franks grew into the most prominent among Western European kingdoms, the Church of Rome was pretty much the ruler in Western Europe. Her supremacy would not be seriously challenged until the Protestant Reformation, but she would still remain the supreme authority over most of Europe until the French Revolution. This is what Europe looked like, from a religious point of view, during the early centuries of the second millennium:

13:1 And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

    A "Beast", as we learn from Daniel, is a world empire, and certainly not a person. This Beast has seven heads, an allusion to the fact that it is spiritually ruled from (the seven hills of) Rome, but there are no crowns on the seven heads, as was the case with the Dragon's heads. The crowns have now moved to the ten horns, meaning that, officially, civil power is now exercised by the peripheral kingdoms of Central and Western Europe (again, ten is a symbolic number). Upon the heads of the Beast are names of blasphemy. Certainly, the title "Vicar of Christ" {in essence meaning "Anti-Christ", cruel though it may sound (e.g. in Greek, the word for "vice-president" is "anti-proedros")} has, over the centuries, been borne by many people who did not prove themselves worthy of representing Jesus Christ on earth. Many of the Popes of Rome, in their ignorance and spiritual poverty, which characterized the Dark and Middle Ages, considered themselves, and acted as if they were, equal to Christ, or gods on earth. They assumed the pagan title "Pontifex maximus" and, over the centuries, claimed that they had the power to forgive sins (the Indulgences which so infuriated the Protestant Reformers) and that they were infallible (Papal Infallibility officially proclaimed in the late 19th century, but in essence claimed for many centuries before that time). They sought glory for the Church they were the rulers of, and not for the Christ. I think these are more than enough to justify the "names of blasphemy" (it is in the plural in the Greek text) on the seven heads.

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216)

    In other words, this Beast is made up of all the kingdoms that were, over the centuries, loyal to the Church of Rome, starting with the Frankish Kingdom, which grew into the Frankish Empire, and comprising all the Catholic kingdoms this Empire broke up into, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, up to the French Revolution, as we saw in chapter 11.

    This Beast was made up, initially at least, of "barbaric" peoples, symbolized by wild animals, like the leopard, the bear and the lion. And it was the continuation of the Roman Empire, so:

13:2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.


    Interestingly, these same beasts are found in the Old Testament, in the book of Daniel, in which they represent the successive World Empires of Babylonia (lion), Medo-Persia (bear) and the empire of Alexander the Great (leopard). This has led to the impression that the Beast described here is the Roman Empire itself, an heir to these three World Empires. Daniel describes, after the three aforementioned empires, a fourth Empire/Beast, which has seven heads and ten horns, but is not a Dragon, and is not made up of different beasts, like the Beast described here. Daniel prophesied that this fourth Beast would bear rule over the whole world and would only be defeated by the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is generally thought that this will take place at the "Second Coming" of Christ. But the Roman Empire is now ancient history, and the Second Coming, to my understanding, has not taken place. So, we must deduct that the fourth Beast of Daniel symbolizes Roman domination in the world in general, whether referring to the original Roman Empire, or the Papal "empire" of the Middle Ages, or any political entity that has ruled the world, or a large part of it, in the name of Rome, including, as we shall see, the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne, the French Empire of Napoleon, and, last but not least, the Third Reich in its greatest days.

    Many Catholics hold that by the "Kingdom of Heaven" the Christian era is meant, comprising mainly the Middle Ages, but I can't really ascribe to that view. Others believe that the Beast of this chapter symbolizes an end-time superstate, its characteristics being a mixture of the four Beasts of Daniel. But this Beast receives its power from the Dragon, and the Roman Empire has not existed for many centuries. A possible reply is that this end-time world empire will be a revived Roman Empire. But, in that case, why would the Apocalypse ignore the other revivals of the Roman Empire, like the Empire of Charlemagne or the Third Reich? Could a theoretical end-time world empire possibly be so much more horrible than the Third Reich, so that the latter is not even worth mentioning in the Apocalypse?

    Let's get back to the Beast. We have seen that this Beast did not emerge easily. The new Germanic kingdoms, even though the majority of their subjects were Orthodox/Catholic Christians, were officially either pagan or Areian. It took the Frankish King Clovis' conversion to Orthodoxy/Catholicism for Rome to obtain substantial power in this new order of things. And the Frankish Kingdom was not that powerful until the early to mid-6th century, when its borders expanded greatly, while Areian and pagan kingdoms were in decline. 

13:3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

    Throughout the Apocalypse, the number 7 is associated with a procession through successive stages (Seven Churches, Seven Seals, Seven Trumpets, Seven Vials, etc.). Thus, each one of the seven refers to a particular stage during the course of such a procession. Thus, a "head", in this instance, refers to the leadership of this Beast during a particular period. The heads have no crowns (unlike the horns), so this leadership is spiritual (Papal Rome), not political. Areianism, which had been adopted by the Ostrogoths, who were in control of Rome from the late 5th to the early to mid-6th century, is probably what is meant in this verse by the "deadly wound" which is inflicted upon one of the heads of the Beast, in other words upon Roman spiritual domination in Western Europe during this particular period. Should the Areian kingdoms have prevailed over the Orthodox/Catholic ones (the Franks), history would have taken a different course. But this "wound" was healed (the Areian kingdoms were defeated), and an ecclesiastical "empire", ruled by Rome, was eventually created. 

Yet so long as Arianism stood in the way, there was a limit to the possible identification of the barbarians with romanitas. The Catholic Church, after all, was the supreme imperial relic in the west.

 J.M.Roberts, The Penguin History of Europe

     So there was Rome, once again ruling the world, this time through her Church. Rome was revered not only because of her Church, but because of her imperial heritage as well. Dreams to revive the Roman Empire were always vivid, leading to the creation of the Frankish (Holy Roman) Empire in the year 800 by the Pope and the Frankish King Charlemagne. It was a vast Empire, comprising all the lands in which the Church of Rome had spiritual authority. The Empire was later fragmented and then reborn in the mid-10th century, this time only in the East Frankish lands {Germany, the Netherlands, Bohemia, Austria, northern Italy): 

1030 CE

     This smaller Holy Roman Empire survived until 1806, when it was destroyed by Napoleon. These efforts to revive the original Roman Empire is another reason to say that the Beast bore the spirit of the Dragon (apart from the reasons regarding spiritual issues, analyzed in chapter 12).

13:4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

    As has been shown above, this Beast was often ruled by blasphemous rulers. And its reign would last for about 1260 years. The beginning and end of these 1260 years varies among commentators. The year 533 is a popular year for the beginning, since it was the year in which Emperor Justinian issued his Code of Laws, in which it is specified that the See of Rome is the supreme authority regarding spiritual issues. In that year also, Justinian began his campaign to free Italy from the Areian Vandals and Ostrogoths. However, I believe that the beginning of these 1260 years is the year 534, when the Franks (who were the only Germanic people to have converted to Orthodox/Catholic, as opposed to Areian, Christianity, in 497, and to have thus become subservient, regarding spiritual issues, to the Church of Rome) occupied Burgundy and became the largest and most powerful of the new Germanic kingdoms. That event was simultaneous with Justinian's campaigns, which destroyed the strong kingdom of the Areian Ostrogoths. Thus, from that time on, the Church of Rome had substantial power in Western Europe, where she could enthrone and dethrone kings and emperors, very far from the reach of Constantinople. The Roman Church was able to continue her "reign" throughout most of Europe generally unabated until the time of the French Revolution. The ideals expressed by the latter were spread to all of Europe by Napoleon's armies, and the French campaign to spread the Revolution began in 1792. In November 1793, all Christian churches in Paris, the centre of the Revolution, closed down, and the Christian religion was officially banned. Thus, we have a time span, very close to, if not exactly, 1260 years (or 42 prophetic "months"), of continuous Roman Catholic domination throughout most of Europe.

13:5 And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.

13:6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.

    Those who dared to challenge the authority of these rulers, or criticize their blasphemous, and at times criminal, deeds, were fiercely made war against. Innumerable martyrs were to suffer because of their unspoiled faith. For the powers of Darkness were the rulers of the world. 

13:7 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.

    To worship Rome instead of the Christ, as was the true wish of the Papal establishment, is totally contrary to the Word of God, who calls for giving glory to the Lord only.

13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

13:9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.

    Patience and faith would eventually lead to the end of the reign of this horrible Beast, similarly to what had happened to its ancient predecessor many centuries before. And justice would triumph.

13:10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

The supreme authority of the Papacy

    Let's take a better look at the power behind the Beast.

13:11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

    This second Beast emerges out of the earth, unlike the first Beast, which emerges out of the sea, which symbolizes the movement of peoples. The Bishopric of Rome did not come into being through the migration of peoples, but within the organized society of the Roman Empire, the latter still in its winning years. This Beast has two horns (a horn is a symbol of might), since the Bishop of Rome had, for many centuries, both ecclesiastical and temporal power. It resembles a lamb, for it claims to represent Christ. But its actions throughout most of history are actions of an enemy of the true Word of God (it speaks as a Dragon). 

    After the establishment of Roman Catholic domination in the 6th century, the Bishop of Rome would do anything in his power to maintain and expand his influence. The Beast had to be worshipped and made Holy, in order to be revered and feared. That way, the Bishop of Rome would maintain his leading position in the order of things for ever. The Holy Roman Empire was created to last for ever, and it was created to bring the whole world under the influence of Rome.

13:12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

    How did the leadership of the Church of Rome manage to maintain and expand its influence? Europe was still in the dark, and superstition was everywhere. In a world of blind believers, a word of condemnation and damnation by the Pope meant certain death for the soul (In Greece, when people think they have sinned before God, they usually say: "Fire is coming down from the sky to burn us").

13:13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,

    In other words, the power of the Bishop of Rome lay in the belief held by the people that this man held the keys of eternal life and eternal damnation. 

13:14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.

    The Church in the West had started out as the Church of Jesus Christ, but the Bishops of Rome sought to make her their own, so she gradually became the Church of Rome. In other words, the Roman nature of the Beast, which was the legacy of the Dragon (verse 13:2), gradually replaced the initially Christian nature of the Church. Thus, the perverted Church that resulted from this mutation can be said to be "an image to the Beast".

    A vast ecclesiastical organization was gradually formed. During the early to middle centuries of the second millennium, this organization reached the peak of its might. Church officials were connected, through a very efficient network, to their counterparts elsewhere. This made the creation of an invincible theocratic system possible, and the silencing of all opposition more effective. All major persecutions against "heretics", who were in most cases simply people who did not agree with the way things were, took place during those centuries, in which the Inquisition was also instituted. 

13:15 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.   

    The ultimate goal of the leadership of the Church was to lead every living human being, within its range of influence, into worshipping the Roman Church with all their hearts and minds, and into dedicating their lives to serving the Church, both with their minds and their hands.

13:16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

    The Church would thus be in control of every aspect of a person's life, a sure way to maintain her supreme status. It was strongly discouraged for Catholics to do business with "heretics", meaning that one had to be a professed Roman Catholic to be able to buy or sell. 

13:17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

The number of the Beast

    The number of the name of the Beast, meaning the number arrived at by the addition of the values of all the letters making up the Beast's name, is 666. This name should have something to do with the name of the Church that was created in the Beast's image, since the leadership of this Church was the uniting and ruling power behind the Beast. The Greek word "Lateinos", meaning "Roman" (when referring to a man, and not to a thing), is a great candidate, since this word's letters add up to 666. 

13:18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

    An argument against "Lateinos" being the meaning of 666 is that this word is spelt "Latinos" (instead of ei ) in nearly all of the ancient Greek texts. To that, I have the following reply: First, it is a fact that "Lateinos" was indeed an alternative spelling of this word. Irenaeus, a Father of the Church who lived in the second century CE, in his work "Against Heresies", does not hesitate to propose "Lateinos" as a solution to 666. The diphthong -ei- was often used in the place of the Latin long -i- when spelling Greek words derived from Latin. Thus, for example, the name of Emperor (Marcus Aurelius) Antoninus was spelt, in Greek, both as "Antoninos" and as "Antoneinos". There are coins dating from around 200 CE, for example, on which the latter spelling is used. Furthermore, the Apocalypse is a deliberately misleading book. "Latinos" amounts to 661. Such a number would obviously point to a word, and it would be a matter of time before the correct word was identified. But 666 is more misleading than 661. It could either signify a word, or it could have some other obscure significance. For example, I have heard the view that the three sixes symbolize the six protons, six neutrons and six electrons that make up the atom of carbon, the latter being a symbol of material and organic, as opposed to spiritual, life.