Conscious of my responsibility before God not only for my own soul, but that of many over whom the Holy Ghost has placed me as their shepherd, I would like to continue the considerations on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in this first issue of The Seraph for the new year, 1996.
The traditional signs given by theologians cannot be taken as 'Gospel truth' in their entirety for several reasons. Perhaps the main reason is that there are many questions that must first be answered before we can go forward in our evaluation of our times. A suggestion of this was already made in the December issue of The Seraph.
History is a record of events that have taken place. These events, then, follow a chronological order - an order of measuring movement in time.
The first sign is that the Gospel must be preached throughout the whole world.
When entire nations rejected Jesus Christ and His Church, these nations joined the forces of the antichrists even though they still called themselves 'Christian.' Nevertheless, such a large exodus from the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ was used by God to stimulate and initiate a zeal to send missionaries to foreign lands to preach the Gospel. Thus, what the Church lost in undermined Christian kingdoms, She gained in the spiritual wilderness of places in other parts of the world.
Over hundreds of years, and with increasing rapidity due to the equally rapid development of the means of communication, the Gospel message spread far and wide. There is not, morally speaking, a place on this earth where the name of Jesus has not been heard or where a Roman Catholic missionary Priest, Brother, or Sister has not set foot.
The modern means of communication have made it possible to reach virtually everyone on the planet. It would be no exaggeration to say, then, that the Gospel has been preached throughout the whole world.
The second sign as given by most theologians is the return of Enoch and Elias.
What is the basis for this assertion? As for Elias, there are several references to him in the New Testament. Jesus Himself spoke of St. John the Baptist in these terms: "And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elias who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matt.11,14)." Our ancestors and forefathers in the true faith were expecting Elias to come before the coming of the Redeemer as promised in Genesis. This is the reason that so many were impressed with the appearance and words of St. John: they thought he must be Elias.
This traditional belief in the second coming of Elias was strong. When Jesus took Peter, James and John atop Mt. Tabor and was transfigured before them, they saw Moses and Elias conversing with Jesus: "And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking together with him" (Ibid. 17,3).
There is a long discourse on the coming of Elias in the Gospel of St. Matthew: "And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus cautioned them, saying, 'Tell the vision to no one, till the Son of Man has risen from the dead.' And the disciples asked Him, saying, 'Why then do the Scribes say that Elias must come first?' But He answered and said, 'Elias indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elias has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hands.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist" (Ibid. 17, 9-13).
St. Mark also records the words of Jesus concerning the appearance of Elias as something that has already taken place: The disciples were somewhat confused because Our Lord assured them that Elias had to come before Him, yet they were not to speak of this until after the resurrection. How can we understand these words of Christ otherwise than that Elias had already come before Jesus was crucified, died and arose from the dead?
Here are the words from St. Mark: "And they asked Him, saying, 'Why then do the Pharisees and Scribes say that Elias must come first?'
But He answered and said to them, 'Elias is to come first and will restore all things. But how then is it written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be despised?'
But I say to you that Elias has come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.' (Mark 9, 10-12)."
There is already an indication of how the Pharisees and Scribes had fallen from grace and were left to their own devices. Lacking supernatural grace, they could not understand the meaning of the Scriptures - like so many Scribes and Pharisees of the 20th century.
We should also bear in mind that the Pharisees and Scribes already accepted the pagan idea of re-incarnation. The Fathers of the Church have long ago explained and exposed the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees who today should be called 'Talmudists' rather than 'Jews.'
Origen writes on this incident recorded in Scripture: "Someone may say, that John did not know that he was himself Elias; and they who believe in the theory of repeated incarnation, as of the soul putting on successively other bodies, use him as proof. The Jews (Ed. note: Talmudists) inquire through the priests and Levites if he were Elias, since they regarded him as a living proof of re-incarnation; he being also of their own kindred, and not a stranger to their secret doctrines. On this account John replied: I am not Elias. For he knew of no earlier personal life. How otherwise does it seem reasonable, if, as a prophet enlightened by the Spirit, and as one who has spoken such things of God and the Only-Begotten, such a man did not know if his soul was ever Elias?"
Origen then comments on the answer given by John the Baptist, that is, I am not Elias: "He therefore replies to the priests and Levites, I am not; divining the purport of their question. For this last question put by the priests and Levites to John did not seek to find out if the same spirit were in both, but if John were Elias, who was taken up into heaven, now, without birth, appearing again, according to the expectation of the Jews.
Apart from the question touching on transmigration of souls someone may say, that it is illogical that the son of Zachary the High Priest, born to him in his old age, and beyond human expectation, should be unknown to the priests and Levites; especially as Luke testifies (Lk .i, 65)that at his birth fear came upon all their neighbors. But perhaps since they expected Elias to come before the end of the world, they appear to be questioning him metaphorically: are you the one who will announce Christ at the end of the world? And he guardedly replied: I am not.
It is a falsification of fact to imagine that all those churchmen of those days did not know anything about the coming Christ. But, like their errors regarding John the Baptist whose appearance seemed to fit their foreign doctrine of re-incarnation, they could not bring themselves to accept the Christ - a Christ who did not fulfill their narrow nationalized fanaticism.
This same Origen tells us: "But as to the other question, that the birth of John could not be unknown to the priests, this is not surprising; for many were in similar error regarding the Savior.
There were many who knew of His birth from Mary, yet some were in doubt, believing He was John the Baptist, or Elias, or one of the prophets. So likewise in regard to John. Some did not know of his birth from Zachary. Some were doubtful, and believed indeed that Elias, whom they were expecting, had now appeared in John.
But though many prophets had come forth from Israel, one was especially awaited: he of whom Moses had foretold: The Lord will raise a prophet out of the midst of their brethren like to thee: and I will put my words in his mouth. (Deuter.27,18)."
St. John, it is true, spoke the words of Elias when he said of himself: I am the voice of one crying in the desert. But, as St. Augustine says: "Elias had spoken those words; in John the prophecy was fulfilled."
There is some apparent confusion here. Our Lord says that John the Baptist is Elias, and John himself assures his interlocutors that he is not Elias. Is Christ mistaken; or, is John mistaken? Neither could be mistaken because Jesus is Truth incarnate and John is full of grace from the moment of his birth, having been sanctified in his mother's womb.
As it often happens with those who do not understand the inspired words of the Holy Scriptures, it is necessary to distinguish between the figurative sense and the real sense. Jesus spoke figuratively that John was Elias as the Scriptures clearly state when John was born, the Holy Spirit already announced: "and he shall go before Him in the Spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1,17). St. Augustine explains: Not Elias, but in the spirit and power of Elias." What does this mean 'in the spirit and power of Elias? Certainly, it can only mean in the same Holy Spirit as in the case of Elias. Why will John be like Elias? Because John already was to the first coming that which Elias would be to the second coming. John does not die, nor does his message die with his leaving this world. He is still with us in that same spirit of which Jesus said: Elias had already come; and that John was Elias in that same spirit and power which comes from the Holy Ghost.
Elias who walked this earth thousands of years ago will not return in the physical sense that the Talmudists believe in re-incarnation. Therefore, to fall into the same error as the Talmudist Jews would leave us just as far outside of salvation as they presently find themselves.
The next question to be answered is that of Henoch. What is the origin of the idea that Henoch also will return before the last days? Should we treat the question of Henoch with the same argumentation and proof as for Elias?
First of all, we should ask ourselves the question: What do we know about the bearer of this name, Henoch (Enoch )?
Our first source of unimpeachable information must be the Bible. There we find two personages named 'Henoch.' The first is the son of Cain. Cain, as you recall, is the brother who killed Abel.
It is the second individual named Henoch which concerns us. This Henoch is traced back to Seth, the son whom Eve bore to replace the murdered Abel. The foundation for assuming that Henoch was taken up directly into heaven without passing through the door of death is found in Genesis 5, 24: "Henoch walked with God; and he was seen no more because God took him."
St. Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews makes reference to Henoch: "By faith Henoch was taken up lest he should see death; and he was not found, because God took him up. For before he was taken up he had testimony that he pleased God, and without faith it is impossible to please God. For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder to those who seek him" (Heb. 11,5-6).
If we may take these words in their literal meaning, we would have to conclude that Henoch's body could not be found; and, that it had been assumed into heaven. We cannot impugn the words of St. Paul because they are the words of the Holy Ghost inspiring the writer as to what to write.
Just as a digression: If the Jews (Talmudists) can accept the assumption of Henoch into heaven, why should they explain the resurrection of Jesus with the bold lie that His body had been stolen by the Apostles? The same may be said of those Catholics who insist that the Mother of God had to die before she could be assumed into heaven. Are we to believe that Henoch was greater than the Mother of God? Such a suggestion goes against all that the Church teaches concerning the Blessed Mother. Are we to share in our sentiments with regard to Mary what the heretical Jews hold concerning Jesus?
We have a reference to Henoch in the Epistle of St. Jude. He is using the apocryphal "Book of Henoch" which was greatly used by the Jews. St. Jude, states the commentary, does not here approve of the whole book but only of what he is quoting concerning the prophecy of Our Lord's Second Coming.
We have discovered who Henoch was in history. We have now to find the source for claiming that he would come back to earth before the Last Judgment, or, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
According to the Rt.Rev. John E. Steinmueller, S.T.D., S.Ser.L. in the Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia (New Testament), "So it is believed, that like Elias (4 Kings 2,3.5,11f) , he was "translated" (Heb. 11,5) to a place whence they will emerge together to combat Antichrist and be slain by him before the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment." St. Thomas is cited for this opinion.
Following the reference given in the Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, we find this statement made by St. Thomas Aquinas: "Elias was taken up into the atmospheric heaven, but not into the empyrean heaven which is the abode of the saints: and likewise Enoch was translated into the earthly paradise, where he is believed to live with Elias until the coming of Antichrist." (Summa Theologica, III, Q.49, art.5).
Quite honestly, there is no solid bases for this long and oft-repeated idea. On the contrary, if we accept this theory, we face several insurmountable objections. The first objection would be that in the case of Elias, Our Lord Himself stated that Elias had already come in the spirit and power of St. John the Baptist. What is true of the figurative coming again of Elias is equally true of the figurative coming of Henoch to combat the Antichrist.
It is more plausible to hold with other opinions that would see in this figure that of two witnesses, wearing sack cloth and living an austere religious life, confronting the Antichrist.
Another obstacle faced with this theory is that we are forced to accept the existence of more than one 'heaven.' We do not find such a distinction either in Sacred Scripture nor in the official teachings of the Church.
It is permitted to distance oneself from St. Thomas' opinion without being a heretic. The great Franciscan theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus wrote many works evaluating certain positions held by St. Thomas and successfully defended his criticisms of the Angelic Doctor.
It is more in keeping with historical fact to conclude that wherever Elias and Henoch may be, they will not return as some would have us believe. We would prefer to believe that these holy personages of the Old Testament Catholic Church are in the heaven of the saints. Unless we are to believe in a Muslim paradise
Understanding objective reality is essential to our understanding of the true signs presaging the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
If, for example, we would wait for the actual, physical appearance of Elias and Henoch of the Old Testament, we would have to expect two very tired and aged men. Or, are we to further engage imagination and appeal to quasi-superstition and expect to see them transformed in celestial glory? Even this is not in keeping with the seriousness of the Second Coming of Our Lord in all His glory. Also, if they come in the glory of heaven, how can they present themselves as the two witnesses of the Apocalypse?
These last two witnesses, clothed in sackcloth, will preach against the Antichrist for a period 1260 days. Eventually, they will be killed by the mob following the Antichrist. This mob will rejoice over their deaths "because these two prophets tormented the inhabitants of the earth." This means that the two preachers will have so enraged those in habitual sin as to drive them insane, much as St. Stephen enraged the high priests who began to worship the Star of Rempham as do the 'Jews' of today. You may ask: What does the 'Star of Rempham' look like? Behold the Star of Rempham:
We might re-capitulate by saying that the first sign, that is, the preaching of the Gospel throughout the whole world has already been realized. We can also state that the second sign, namely, the return of Elias and Henoch, is too problematic to be considered as a sure sign. A sign must be clear; otherwise is does not serve its purpose.
We will consider the next sign in the February issue of The Seraph: The great apostasy and the appearance of the Antichrist.
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