"MANY ANTICHRISTS HAVE COME"
(1 John 2, 18)
Part I: The Third Secret of Fatima,
The Last Times and the Crisis in the Church
"My mission is to indicate to everyone the imminent danger we are in of losing our souls for all eternity if we remain obstinate in sin."
During the third apparition at Fatima, on July 13, 1917, Our Lady confided the great Secret to the three seers. The existence of the Secret was known from the very beginning, but it was only in July or August, 1941, when Sister Lucy wrote her Third Memoir, that part of the Secret was publicly revealed.
"The Secret is composed of three distinct matters," she writes, "and I shall disclose two of them." As we have seen, the first part is the vision of hell and the designation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as the Supreme Remedy offered by God, for the salvation of us poor sinners. In the words of Our Lady, "You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart." *
The second part of the Secret concerns the rise of Soviet Russia, which would spread its errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. "Various nations will be annihilated," Our Lady had warned. But Our Lady gave the great remedy: the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart, which She asked of the hierarchy, and the First Saturdays of reparation, which She asked of all Christians. We know that in the end, the Holy Father will speak the word of decision, Russia will be consecrated, and the Immaculate Heart will triumph in the world. As Frere Michel de la Sainte Trinite, with his usual insight, expressed it: "Gulag or Christendom!" For there is no in-between . . .
The "Third Secret"
What is generally called the "Third Secret of Fatima", is the final part of the prophetic Secret which the Blessed Virgin gave to the three children on July 13, 1917. We prefer to call it the "third part of the Secret", rather than "the Third Secret", because properly speaking there is only one Secret, in three distinct parts. The first two parts of the Secret have long been public knowledge.
A little known fact reported by Frere Michel is that on January 2, 1944, Our Lady Herself appeared to Sister Lucy again to enable her to obey the formal command of the bishop. Our Lady explained that indeed it was truly the Will of God that Sister Lucy now write down the Secret. Our Lady also told Sister Lucy that Bishop da Silva could read it immediately as could Pope Pius XII. The Blessed Virgin also indicated that this Third part of the Fatima Secret was to be revealed to the Faithful in 1960.
Ascertaining that Bishop da Silva was unwilling to open the envelope containing the Secret, Sister Lucy "made him promise" in the words of Canon Galamba "that the Third Secret would be opened and read to the world upon her death or in 1960 whichever would happen first." If Bishop da Silva died first, it was agreed that the Secret would be confided to the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon. The third part has never been officially and publicly revealed.
The Testimony of Cardinal Ratzinger
Ever since 1960, the wildest speculation has centered around the contents of the Secret. Very little of what is published on the subject is fully reliable. In general there are two extremes. The first extreme is the wild speculation, which tends to identify the Secret with all sorts of cataclysms and disasters. This element is prominent particularly in the "apocryphal" or false Secrets, which various hoaxers and unscrupulous journalists have put forward as the genuine Fatima text. The other extreme is to say, "We know nothing about the Secret because it has not been published yet." This may have been true in 1917, but it is no longer true today.
We now know a great deal about the genuine text of the Secret. The labors of various Fatima scholars such as Father Joachim Alonso, and Frere Michel de la Sainte Trinite, have given us precious insights into this document. Arguably the most valuable and enlightening testimony is that of Cardinal Ratzinger, since he has actually read the Secret. In a famous interview published in November, 1984, the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori questioned the Cardinal:
"Cardinal Ratzinger, have you read what is called the 'Third Secret' of Fatima, which Sister Lucy sent to Pope John, but which the latter did not want to reveal, ordering it to be placed in the archives?"
"Yes, I have read it."
"Why has it not been revealed?"
"Because, in the judgment of the Popes, it adds nothing to what a Christian should know from Revelation: a radical call to conversion, the absolute gravity of history, the dangers threatening the faith and the life of a Christian, and therefore of the world. And also the importance of the last times."
Then the Cardinal added, significantly:
"If it is not published - at least for the time being - it is to avoid confusing religious prophecy with sensationalism. But the things contained in this Third Secret correspond to what has been announced in Scripture, and are confirmed by many other Marian apparitions . . ." *
"A Radical Call to Conversion"
Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, is not allowed to reveal the explicit contents of the Secret until the Pope himself decides that it can be revealed. But using admirable circumlocutions, he allows us to see the extraordinary gravity of the Secret. It is significant that the Secret, in the judgment of the Popes, corresponds to what we know from other Marian apparitions in their known content. This is one of the keys to the understanding of the Third Secret.
"Confirmed by Other Marian Apparitions"
In his book, the Cardinal tells us that reports of Marian apparitions all over the world are sharply increasing. Some of these cases have been confirmed by the ecclesiastical authority, still others have been rejected as spurious. Many have not been decided on yet.
A recurring element in these Marian appearances is a warning about a terrible chastisement to fall on a great part of mankind, if humanity does not repent. Here, once again, the Message is far from pleasant, but it confirms what we already know from the Gospel: "If you do not do penance, you will all perish." (Lk. 13,3). God is not asking for extraordinary mortifications from the average person. He asks for relatively small sacrifices. The principal sacrifice Jesus requests today is obedience to His law.
The Terrible Warning at Akita
One of the Marian apparitions to which Cardinal Ratzinger refers is Our Lady of Akita, in Japan. We choose this Message because it has been approved by the local Bishop, Msgr. I to. The punishment is predicted in unmistakable terms:
"If men do not repent and amend their lives, the Father is going to inflict a terrible chastisement on all of mankind. It will be a chastisement more serious than the Deluge . . . fire will fall from the heavens and annihilate a great part of humanity . . ."
Does the Third Secret allude to the chastisement? We cannot say for certain until the genuine text is published. But the part of the Secret which has already been revealed warns that "various nations will be annihilated," unless Our Lady's requests are heard. In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, "a stern warning has been launched against the dominant superficiality, a call to the seriousness of life, and of history, awarning concerning the dangers that threaten humanity."*
However, the chastisements can be avoided if enough bishops and priests preach the vigorous message of repentance, and the faithful heed their call. There is no need for hysteria or exaggerated alarm, but there is no reason for complacency either.
"Dangers to the Faith and Life of Christians . . . and Therefore the World"
The first line of the "Third Secret" begins with a consoling promise Our Lady made to the three seers: "In Portugal, the dogma of Faith will always be preserved." * It is touching to think that in Portugal, the "Land of Holy Mary," the dogma of Faith will always be preserved. Yet this raises the real possibility that many other countries, perhaps even entire continents, will go through a genuine crisis of faith. Already in 1976 the archivist of Fatima, Father Alonso, after questioning Sister Lucy on various matters relating to Fatima, had seriously raised the possibility:
"The phrase (i.e., the first line of the Secret) most clearly implies a critical state of faith, which other nations will suffer, that is to say, a crisis of faith, while Portugal will preserve its faith." *
A few pages later, the learned archivist goes on:
"If in Portugal the dogma of faith will always be preserved, it can be clearly deduced from this that in other parts of the Church these dogmas are going to become obscure or even lost altogether. It is quite possible that the message . . . makes concrete references to internal strife among Catholics and to the deficiencies of priests and religious . . . it may imply deficiencies even among the upper ranks of the hierarchy." *
"The Importance of the Last Times"
This is the most original element of Cardinal Ratzinger's brief statement concerning the Secret. The Secret "corresponds to what has been announced in Scripture", and in particular, to what the Scriptures say about "the last times". Not, of course, meaning that the end of the world is imminent: that is out of the question, because we have not seen the conversion of Russia yet. No, the Cardinal is referring to a critical period for the Church and the world, which Holy Scripture, along with the saints and doctors of the Church, announce for the "last times". And according to Cardinal Ratzinger, this whole body of doctrine is "important", it is relevant, it is worthy of study.
When questioned about the "Third Secret", Frere Michel reports that Sister Lucy said, "It's in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse, read them!" Frere Michel relates that she then indicated Chapters VIII-XIII. Lest we think that Sister Lucy was evading the question, it must be remembered that her whole life has been characterized by solid obedience, an obedience which forbids her to reveal the Secret until the ecclesiastical authorities give her permission. Now it is precisely this obedience which is the sure mark of her credibility, the clear line of demarcation between Sister Lucy and the many false mystics in the Church today. Like Jesus Himself, she seeks not her own glory, "but the Will of the Father," neither clamoring nor agitating, but patiently waiting for the authorities to speak the word of decision.
This comment of Sister Lucy addresses another important point. Certain people, both inside and outside the Church, will ask: "Why all this mysticism about 'secrets' and sealed letters?" By telling us that the Secret "is in the Gospel and the Apocalypse", Sister Lucy reminds us of an important truth: the Secret is already contained in public revelation; it corresponds to what Scripture teaches. Our Lady did not come to teach new doctrines, nor could She. She came to confirm what is already found in public revelation, in the Gospels and in the teaching of the Church. By revealing those parts of the Apocalypse which refer especially to our time, Our Lady was offering an extraordinary aid, designed to help us preserve our faith in these times of confusion. Thus, since the "Third Secret" confirms the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is simply the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, it is this body of teaching which we must now examine.
"The Apostasy Comes First" (I Thess. 2, 3)
In one of His discourses, Our Lord predicted that towards the last times, and more particularly before the parousia - His second coming - a time of crisis would come in the Church: "When the Son of man comes, do you think He will find faith on the earth?" (Lk. 18,8). It is, to say the least, a highly provocative question, a question the Apostles surely never forgot. For in their own epistles, this teaching of the Lord clearly left its mark.
In his second epistle, St. Peter wrote: "scoffers will come in the last days . . . following their passions and saying: Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were since the beginning of creation." (II Pet. 3, 3-4).
St. Jude says precisely the same thing: "At the end of time scoffers will come, walking according to their impious lusts." (Jude, v.17).
St. Paul himself confirms the teaching of the other Apostles: "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress, for men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it." (II Tim. 3,1-5).
St. Paul, as we can see, was not given to mincing words! In any event, his teaching agrees perfectly with the teaching of the other Apostles, although he adds certain additional details, always in his own inimitable style.
St. Paul adds another important detail in his second epistle to the Thessalonians. First he warns them not to expect an imminent parousia, or second coming of Christ. The great crisis, or falling away, must come first. The original Greek text calls it "the apostasy":
"Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, until the apostasy comes first, and the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above everything that is worshiped or called God, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God." (II Thess. 2, 3-4).
"Then the Son of Perdition Will Appear" (II Thess. 2,3)
This text of St. Paul is of capital importance for a correct evaluation and correlation of the prophecies. First the great apostasy must come, he informs us, and then, when perhaps iniquity and atheism have abounded beyond all measure, the man of sin, the son of perdition will appear. Who is this mysterious individual? In the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all the theologians, he is given a name. He is called . . . the Antichrist.
Many of our older readers, especially priests and bishops, may recall being taught at least a certain minimal body of doctrine concerning Antichrist. As St. John Damascene says:
Everybody who denies the Incarnation of the Son of God, and that Jesus Christ is true God and perfect man, such a person is Antichrist. But in a more special and principal manner Antichrist . . . shall come about the end of the world.*
The Antichrist, according to the Fathers, is the son of perdition, "the beast", (Apoc. 13), the 666, (Apoc. 13,18), who through trickery, violence, and false prodigies will come to rule the whole world:
"And there was given to (the beast) authority over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation." (Apoc. 13)
Antichrist will be a blasphemer, who will deride everything that is considered sacred or divine. He will claim that he, himself, is God, and will desire to be worshiped by all men. He will reign for three and a half years, according to the Apocalypse:
"And there was given to (the beast) a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and there was given to it authority to work for forty-two months. And it opened its mouth to speak blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. And it was allowed to wage war with the saints and to overcome them . . ." (Apoc. 13,7)
"Many Antichrists Have Come" (II John 7)
This, then, is a brief sketch of "the son of perdition", that unfortunate individual who according to the Fathers will be a sort of sum-total of all iniquity (the recapitulatio universae iniquitatist) just as Our Lord Jesus Christ contains the plenitude of all goodness. He will invariably do the will of satan, just as Our Lord Jesus Christ does the will of the Father. He will be the supreme antithesis of Christ, hence the name, Antichrist.
Although virtually all the Fathers and theologians are unanimous in designating one single individual as Antichrist, there is another sense in which this name is not restricted to one individual. We know this explicitly from divine revelation:
"Dear children, it is the last hour: and as you have heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many Antichrists have arisen; whence we know it is the last hour.
"He is the Antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. And every spirit that severs Jesus, is not of God, but is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he is coming, and now is already in the world.
"For many deceivers have gone into the world who do not confess Jesus as the Christ coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist" (II John 7).
In the light of this teaching of St. John, it is increasingly alarming to hear Cardinal Ratzinger report that so many theologians and members of the clergy today do not unequivocally accept the Divinity of Christ: in the Cardinal's own words, we have "a crisis that concerns the very foundations: faith in the Triune God . . . the human nature of Jesus is unilaterally stressed . . . and the Divine . . . is obscured . . . The idea of God the Creator is also obscured." Cardinal Ratzinger's book, The Ratzinger Report, caused a great sensation when it appeared. It was decidedly controversial. However, if we compare his testimony (many theologians deny the Divinity of Christ, and the true Fatherhood of God), with the testimony of St. John and Holy Scripture ("He is the Antichrist who denies the Father and the Son"), the consequences are staggering . . . consequences which, by comparison, make the Cardinal's words seem like a masterpiece of understatement.
*Frere Michel Vol. I and 11 passim.