by Maurice Roberts, originally entitled “Francis Turretine on the Antichrist”
reproduced, with permission, from the August/September 1991 issue of
 The Banner of Truth Magazine

Of all enemies ever to vex the Church of Christ none is greater than that of Antichrist and no point of difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics is more relevant for discussion than this. Catholic writers labour hard to conceal the likeness of their Papacy to the Antichrist and so we need to study this question with extra care. We shall show two things: the characteristics of Antichrist as the Bible states them; the person to whom they refer in the unfolding of church history.

Scripture sometimes employs the term “antichrist” to refer to errorists in general (e.g., 1 Jn 2:18). But our concern here is with the usage which refers the term to one notorious figure who is both the enemy of Christ and also Christ’s pretended substitute. He apes Christ so as to oppose Him more effectively. We do not use such terms as Antichrist about the Papacy out of a desire to slander the Catholic church but to show one reason why we cannot do other than separate from it. Our view that the Papacy is the Antichrist is that held by early Protestants in general, as their Confessions of Faith show. Robert Bellarmire, the famous Catholic apologist, acknowledges this to be in confessional view of Protestants.

Scripture reveals the placetime and person of the Antichrist. As to place, he will sit “in the temple of God” (2 Thes 2:4), by which Paul means that he will be in the church, and will have his seat in “mystery Babylon” (Rev 17:5). As to time, he will appear, not at the end of the world as Roman Catholic writers claim, but from apostolic times onward, as Paul states (2 Thes 2:7), although his growth in the church is from small beginnings at first until, with the removal of the power which early resisted him, Antichrist becomes visible and manifest. With the removal of this restraining force (whose identity we look at later), Antichrist gradually emerged in history in a visible form.

As to the personal identity of Antichrist, this is to be gathered especially from various things ascribed to him by Scripture. For one thing, there was to occur an apostasy from the faith (2 Thes 2:3) at the time when Antichrist would be revealed. This would coincide with the rise of devilish doctrines in the church (1 Tim 4:1–3) and of the spurious miracles referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:9. A second feature of Antichrist was said by Paul to be his opposition to Christ. The third would be his own self-exaltation. He would not be content to be thought a man but would exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped (2 Thes 2:4). From this exalted position he would do all he could to oppose Christ. The extraordinary claims and conduct of the various popes have fulfilled to the letter this characteristic of Antichrist, which the Apostle Paul has given to us.

Further marks of Antichrist are that he is the “man of sin” and “son of perdition” (2 Thes 2:3). By the first term is to be understood the fact that Antichrist would both be a notorious sinner himself and would be an instigator of sin in others. The application of the term to many of the popes fits perfectly, since popes have regarded themselves as “subject to no law” but to be a law unto themselves. They have been promoters of corrupt religion among all who have followed them.

A further mark of Antichrist is said in Scripture to be idolatry, to which he compels his followers (Rev 13:16–17). This is another obvious feature of the Papacy. Then again, there is the power he exerts to forbid men who buy or sell without his permission (Rev 13:17). Papal edicts against the Albigenses, and in the times of Wycliffe and Huss, exactly fulfilled this prophecy.

God has given further identity marks of Antichrist in the New Testament references to the name and number of the Beast (Rev 13:17–18). These are shown by Turretine to be cryptic references to forms of papal oppression.

Antichrist would become known by the fraudulent “signs and lying wonders” which he would pretend to do (2 Thes 2:9). This sign is not to be found among Jews or Turks or Greek Orthodox. But it is a feature of Roman Catholicism. To these signs we must see the Apostles also add those of cruelty and violence. Antichrist is to act as a “beast” and to make martyrs of men. Other marks of Antichrist could be adduced, but these must have suffice. Those who wish to look at further evidence may read the writings of the many learned Reformed scholars who have written about this subject, such as Whitaker, Junius, Downame, Mede and others.

Even Pope Gregory 1, writing about the year A.D. 600, declared that anyone who termed himself “universal priest” or wished to be so termed, was a forerunner of Antichrist! There are various testimonies in succeeding centuries by different authors of the church, notably in Hildebrand’s pontificate, to the same effect. These Turretine gives, along with the references, his purpose being to show that the identification of the Papacy as the Antichrist of Scripture by the Reformed churches is nothing new but had been made centuries earlier by various writers in the Roman Catholic church before the Protestant Reformation.

Catholic apologists have attempted to obscure and cloud this whole question of the Papacy and the Antichrist by advancing the following arguments: First, that Antichrist would be one single person who would appear in the distant future; second, that Antichrist would be a Jew who would restore the Jewish temple with other ceremonies of Judaism; third, that Enoch and Elijah would come to oppose Antichrist, according to Revelation 11; fourth, that Antichrist would deny the incarnation of Christ and attack all the ordinances of Christ, according to the text 1 John 2:22. Since these things cannot be said of the Pope, Catholic apologists attempt to deny his identity as Antichrist; fifth, they refer to the views of the Church Fathers to the effect that either Caligula or Simon Magnus, Trajan or someone else must be the Antichrist of Scripture.

Turretine devotes the rest of his treatise to refuting these opinions of Roman Catholic writers. His arguments are as follows:

(1) The Antichrist (or “man of sin”) cannot be a term referring to one single person but must refer to an office or succession of persons in office in the visible church. Paul expressly declares that Antichrist’s beginnings, or first manifestations, were in his own day (2 Thes 2:7—“doth already work”) whereas his eventual destruction would not occur till the second coming of Christ (2 Thes 2:8—“whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming”).

(2) The Scriptures say that Antichrist was to emerge in “the last times,” or New Testament times, but not that his coming was to be postponed to the very end of those times. The entire gospel age is meant by “the last time.”

(3) As to the claim that Antichrist was to be a Jew of the tribe of Dan—this is pure fiction found in some earlier writers without scriptural basis. Not even Bellarmire, the Roman Catholic apologist, pins much faith on it.

(4) The notion about Enoch and Elijah is little better. The Latin Vulgate translation of Ecclesiasticus 44:16 (“he [Enoch] was translated into paradise to give repentance to the nations”) is misleading and ought rather, following the original Greek, to be translated: “he was translated into paradise as an example of repentance to future generations.” It is not a literal but mystical Elijah who is referred to by the prophet in Malachi 4:5.

(5) As to the Catholic objection to the fact that Antichrist will deny Christ (a thing, they say, not done by the Papacy), we answer that the Antichrist referred to by the Scriptures would not deny Christ openly, as a professed enemy, but would deny Him nonetheless as a professed friend of Christ. To this effect is the telling comment of Augustine of Hippo: “Antichrist is the more deceitful in that he professes Jesus Christ with the mouth but denies Him by his actions.” This the Popes do because they arrogate to themselves the three offices of Christ, bury the gospel under their own traditions, and destroy Christ’s redemptive work by their own masses, merits, purgatory and indulgences.

Furthermore, the Papacy has substituted idolatrous worship for the pure worship and ordinances of the New Testament, as Daniel 11:31 prophesied that he would. For Antiochus Epiphanes in Old Testament times was a type and figure of the Antichrist who was to come.

(6) Lastly, it has to be said that the early Church Fathers were not prophets but only interpreters of God’s Word. It stands to reason that the Church Fathers could not throw much light on the subject of Antichrist because it is always easier to speak of prophecies which are fulfilled than of those which are still to be fulfilled. As a matter of fact, the rise of the Papacy occurred after their day. So they are particularly ill-qualified to speak on this subject.

We regard our case as proved, then, that the Papacy is the Antichrist of Scripture and that we, the Reformed, are fully justified in our separation from the Roman Catholic church.

Key Passages from Scripture

The above synopsis of Turretine’s disputation has had to leave out many items of importance to his argument. But it offers a summary of his leading thoughts. We turn now to look at some of the principal passages of Scripture which his case rests on:

1. 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12

Turretine’s view of this key passage includes the following elements. There is here a revelation made of an arch-enemy of Christ who would emerge in the course of history. The full revelation of this mysterious man of lawlessness was in Paul’s day held back by the presence and power of the Roman empire. But the mystery was “already [at] work” (v. 7) and, once Imperial Rome fell in the fifth century A.D., the anti-Christian force at work in the Church would mature and grow. So the Antichrist (the term is used synonymously with the “man of sin”) is not a figure to be looked for at the end of the Christian dispensation but rather a mysterious process of spiritual evil concentrated in that church-office which we know as the Papacy.

This unscriptural office would attach to itself blasphemously arrogant powers and, under the guise of love to Christ, would act as His enemy and substitute. The term “Antichrist” bears the twofold sense of one who is against Christ and one who is His ape or vicar.

In the light of the evidence given by Paul in this passage of Scripture, the way to identify this Antichrist is to search in the annals of Church history to see what, if any, figure has ever emerged in the Christian Church who might correspond with this description. As a matter of fact, the one ecclesiastical institution which appears exactly to fit the evidence is that of the Papacy.

This phenomenon is the key which fits every lock in the passage. The Papacy arose just when the Roman Empire collapsed. The mystery of its pretensions to power and authority grew and developed after A.D. 410 till, by the later Middle Ages and the time of Hilderbrand, popes were claiming to be God’s sole vice-regents on earth with power to open and shut heaven itself, to make and unmake laws, to demand worship of mankind and to perform “miracles.” All these claims were made by the Papacy in the name of Christ and on the assertion of His express authority. The corruption of the lives of many popes is well known and their violent persecutions of God’s people is a thing very fully documented in the annals of the past.

It therefore follows that we must make the identification to which Paul’s epistle leads us. The Antichrist of this passage is the Papacy. Nor can we expect the Papacy to be entirely abolished till the second coming of Christ at the end of time.

We might add the comment, from the point of view of this twentieth century, that the popes who have arisen since Turretine’s time have not withdrawn their extravagant claims one iota but have in various ways added to them, notably by the dogma of papal infallibility brought in by Pius IX in 1870.

2. Revelation 17

This chapter adds in various ways to the identification of the Antichrist given by Paul in the above-discussed passage. It refers to a “mystery Babylon” (v. 5) full of filthiness and spiritual fornication whose influence would infect the whole earth. Though gorgeously arrayed in gold and scarlet with precious stones and pearls, its whole inward character is one of blasphemy, of abominations before God and wicked cruelty. An extraordinary mark of identification of this mystery is given in that she is said to have her seat at a place where there are “seven mountains” (v. 9). It is notorious that the only city on earth to fit that description is Rome, where the Papacy has always had its seat and from which their church takes its very name. This mysterious agency described here by John in Revelation 17 has the power to intoxicate the nations. This well accords with the fascination which Catholicism exerts over mankind and is exerting at the present time. For as alcoholic drink robs men of their reason, so does ecumenical propaganda rob church leaders of their ability to see the errors of Catholic doctrine or to remember Rome’s cruel treatment in the past.

3. 1 Timothy 4:1–3

This apostolic prophecy describes certain forms which the antichristian apostasy would take on. These include a departure from the original faith of Christ and the introduction into the church of unscriptural and therefore devilish doctrines, such as forbidding to marry and the command not to eat meats. Every one of these marks can be found in the Papacy.

4. Revelation 13:11ff

This apocalyptic beast is said to look like a lamb but to speak like a dragon. He supersedes the first beast but is like him in tyranny and is more subtle in that he appears harmless, while at the time he deceives and enslaves men’s souls to error. He has power to put to death all who refuse to receive his mark in their hands and heads and he bears the mystery-number of 666. The first beast mentioned in the chapter is evidently intended to represent the persecuting power of the Roman Empire. This second beast is taken by many writers to be Rome ecclesiastical. It exercises the persecuting power of pagan Rome but has the outward appearance of innocence.

Who is Really Studying the Question Today?

The above notes give some idea of how Turretine believed there were exegetical grounds for regarding the Papacy as the Antichrist. We may conclude our review of his disputation by making some observations of our own.

It is a strange fact that many leaders in the Reformed churches have in recent years given every appearance of being uncomfortable with the view of the Papacy earlier held by our great theologians and divines, among whom Turretine held a very high place. It is claimed that the modern Roman Catholic church is more humane, enlightened and scholarly than in the past and that therefore it needs not be feared of shunned as it was by our great old divines.

To all such claims it needs to be said that they miss the mark and are aside from the main point at issue. The question which faces us is whether or not the standard Protestant Confessions and the older writers were justified in their identification of the Papacy with the Antichrist or whether they held their opinion on this subject without good biblical and historical reason.

It is not worthy of us or of our Reformed Confessions to dismiss hastily the identification they made of the Papacy with the Antichrist. Those who, by an assured wave of the hand, dismiss the anti-papal clauses in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the 1689 Baptist Confession, have in many cases, we fear, never sat down to make a thorough study of the matter. Yet it is a subject which currently cries out for magisterial and authoritative treatment. When the Reformers claimed to see “the man of sin” sitting in the Vatican in Rome, they were not indulging in invective or bandying insults. They were endeavouring to exegete Scripture, evaluate the facts of Church history and, above all, save the Church of Christ from committing spiritual fornication.

To identify the modern Church of Rome with the Church of the New Testament Scriptures or with the early Christian Church is impossible, whether one looks at its doctrine, practices, traditions, objectives or office-bearers. Yet every day weak Protestant spokesmen, some of them evangelical by profession, are showing themselves prepared to let their churches fall back to Rome for want of a decided and clear-cut affirmation that the Church of Rome is the same in doctrine as it was at the Reformation. The blame for this state of affairs is partly due to the collapse of the older Protestant attitude which we have sought to summarise here from the works of Turretine.

It is the present writer’s opinion that the “strong delusion” spoken of by Paul (2 Thes 2:11) is closer to us all than we realise. From the view of the older dogmaticians that the papal church is the Antichrist, many have, even in circles once staunch for truth, slipped into the weaker view that it is only one manifestation of Antichrist. It is a comparatively short step from there to the belief, all too prevalent in the modern church, that it is no Antichrist at all but a genuine Christian denomination having no more weaknesses or errors than any other group of Christians.

To those who are prepared to re-think this whole issue and its momentous contemporary implications, we wish to make this plea. Read again the older Protestant writers on this subject. If authors like Turretine are to be judged wrong, then let us see the evidence to the contrary. But if they were right, we are oath-bound to God as Bible-believers to obey the command of Christ: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev 18:4).

If more of our modern church leaders were studying this profoundly important subject on their knees before God, there would be no landslide back to Rome via the Ecumenical Movement. Nor would there be any fraternising of Protestants with Catholic clergy, sometimes by means of the Charismatic Movement. The fact that both are happening apace reflects the tragic ignorance on the part of too many of the theological writings of such masters in Israel as Francis Turretine.

Francis Turretine

The name Turretine (Turretini) has for over three centuries been held in high esteem by all lovers of Reformed Theology. The first member of the family of importance is Francesco Turretini, who emigrated from Italy to Geneva for religious reasons in 1579. His son, Benedict, pastor and professor of Theology in Geneva (1618), took an active part in introducing the decrees of the Synod of Dort into France.

His son, the illustrious François, known to history as Francis Turretine, was regarded in Geneva as a true successor to Calvin in theological competence. His orthodoxy was deemed impeccable among the Reformed of his day and his major work, entitled
 Theological Institutes, is even now available in full only in Latin, though in the past it served as a textbook for successive generations of the theological students [ed.: This is now available as the Institute of Elenctic Theology, 3 vols., P&R, 1996]. He was born in Geneva in 1623, served there as pastor and professor of Theology and died there in 1687.

Jean Alphonse, son of Francis and referred to as “Turretini the Younger,” was a representative of a more moderate theology. He modified the stricter Calvinism of his father, and it was partly through his influence that Geneva fell into theological decline at the close of the seventeenth century.

Our concern here is with a lesser known Latin work of the great Francis Turretine known as his
 Display of Antichrist, which is his seventh disputation on the theme of why Protestants must separate from the Church of Rome. (The work appears in vol. 4 of the Collected Writings, Edinburgh edition, 1848.)

Turretine’s concern is to show some of the exegetical reasons for identifying the biblical Antichrist to be the Papacy. Since even Reformed writers have long since ceased to speak with one voice on the subject, it is timely that Turretine’s arguments should see the light of day again.

3 March 2002