Page images

of the prophets was not, and could not bę, the Roman Emperor.

I know indeed, that, when the empire became Christian, and factions sprang up in the church, the name of Antichrist, as a term of reproach, was not unfrequently bestowed on such of the emperors as had made themselves obnoxious to the orthodox party. But this flippancy of language proves nothing but the passion of the men who indulged themselves in it, unless it be, that this term of reproach was thought better suited to an ecclesiastic, than a civil power; for, the Emperor being now the head of the Christian church, his persecutions of the faith were deemed the more Antichristian, as they especially disgraced his religious charaĉter. And how natural this idea was, I mean the idea of Antichrift, as intended by the prophets of a religious, not civil power, we may learn from the history of the schisms, which afterwards distracted the church under the papacy;


[ocr errors]

when the Antipopes very liberally, and constantly branded each other wich the name of Antichrift: as if they had found a peculiar aptness in the prophetic language to express ecclesiastical tyranny and ufurpation.

But, whatever use we may make of these facts, it is clear, on all hands, that the Roman Emperor, as such, was thought to have no concern in the predictions concerning Antichrist; at least, that the more intelligent Christian writers of the three first centuries had no idea of his having any such concern in them: while, yet, they held very unanimously, that some futurę power was to arise in the church, in which those predictions would be completed.

II. This, in general, was the state of the controversy concerning Antichrift, till the down-fall of the Western empire ; when the Bishop of Rome reared his head, and by degrees found means, amidst the

ruins of that mighty power, to advance himself into the sovereignty of Rome, and, at length, of the Christian world : fixing his residence in the very feat and throne of the Cæsars. It remains to fee, in what light the reign of Antichrist was, thenceforth, considered by many eminent members of that church, which now called itself, and was, in a manner, universal. In other words, we are to inquire, now that the imperial power, which the fathers would not acknowledge to be Antichristian, had deserted Rome, whether the papal power, which took its place on the seven kills, did not, in the opinion of sober men, fill up all the measures of the prophetic characters, and perfectly correspond to that idea.

1. So early, as about the close of the sixth century, Gregory the first, or, the Great, as he is usually called, the most revered, and in some respects not undeservedly so, of all the Roman pontifs, in a famous dis


C 3

pute with the Bishop of Constantinople, who had taken to himself the title of Oecumenical, or Universal Bishop, objects to him the arrogance and presumption of this claim, and treats him, on that account, as the fore-runner, at least, of Antichrist. His words are remarkable enough to be here quoted. I afirm it confidently, says He, that whoever calls himself Universal Bishop, or is desirous to be so called, demonstrates hinnself, by this pride and elation of heart, to be the fore-runner of Antichrist [k]. And, again, From this presumption of his [in taking the name of Uuiversal Bishop] what else can be collected, but that the times of Antichrist are now at hand (l)?

It is to be observed of this Gregory, that he disclaimed, for himself, the title of Universal Bishop, as well as refused it to

[&] Quisquis se universalem vocat, vel vocari defiderat, in elatione suâ Antichristum præcurrit. GREG. M. Op. Ep: 30. 1. vi. Par. 1533.

[l] In hâc ejus fuperbiâ, quid aliud nisi propinqua jam Antichristi esse teinpora designatur? Ep. 34. 1. iv,

his aspiring brother of Constantinople. How confiftently he did this, when at the same time he exercised an authority, which can only belong to that exalted character, it is not my business to inquire. Perhaps, he did not advert to the consequence of his own actions : perhaps, like an able man, he meant to secure the thing, without troubling himfelf about the name: perhaps, he was jealous of a rival to this claim of catholic authority, and would not permit the Bishop of Constantinople to decorate himself with a title, which was likely to be favourable to the pretensions of that fee, and injurious to his own Whatever the reasons of his conduct were, the fact is, as I here represent it; and clearly shews that, in the judgment of this renowned Roman Bishop, Antichrist had not yet been revealed in the person of the Roman Emperor ; and if ever he were to be revealed, that not a civil, but ecclesiastical character, agreed best with the prophetic descriptions of him [m]. [m] With all his merits, Gregory the Great, it is to

2. Pope


C 4

« PreviousContinue »