THE BISECTION; OR, THE ERA OF THE RISE OF THE APOSTASIES.
WE must proceed now to recall the events connected with the rise of the two powers whose rule is in prophecy viewed as occupying the second half of the "times of the Gentiles."
The first half was occupied by the succession of four pagan empires, all of which ruled in turn over Israel, and held Jerusalem; and the last of which was officially responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nationality, as well as for the ten cruel persecutions of the primitive Church, ending with that of Diocletian.
When imperial Rome passed away, the commonwealth of kingdoms which constitute modern Europe rose up, and has existed ever since, united for the first twelve centuries of its existence by a common bond of subjection to Rome Papal, the rule of Rome being thus the characteristic feature in both the latter part of the first, and the whole of the second half, of this great period. During the second or tenfold stage of the Roman world, the bond has, it is true, been a religious instead of a political one, but it has been none the less real. The prophecy foretold precisely what has come to pass, that when the Roman empire ceased to exist as one, it should continue to exist as ten; that, losing its pristine strength and unity, it should be broken up into a commonwealth of nations, bound together by a common connexion with and subjection to Rome; a subjection differing in character from the previous one, inasmuch as it would be consistent with political independence, but one even more injurious, since it would at last bring down Divine judgment on the Roman or Latin earth.
That the number of these kingdoms, ten, would not he invariable or constant is implied by the statement that there would spring up amongst them a "little horn," which would make the number eleven, and that three others would be plucked up before this "little horn," when of course there would be only eight left for a time. Fresh "horns," or kingdoms, however would take the place of the uprooted ones, for at the end of the history the number is presented as still ten. Hence the number of the kingdoms was to be generally, but not rigidly or unvaryingly, ten. There would as a rule, throughout the whole period, be ten kingdoms, occupying the sphere of the western empire of Rome; the number would be elastic, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always about ten. Alexanders empire was represented by one notable "horn," and the dynasties that arose out of its broken fragments by four "horns." But Daniel foretells that Rome was to break up into a larger number, and that ten different kingdoms would appear upon the scene, and occupy, even to the end, the territory belonging to Rome, still having that great city as in some sort their centre and bond of union.
[ These ten kings should be looked for in the territory of the western empire of Rome only. "The ten horns of the fourth empire must none of them be sought for in the realms of the third, second, or first, but exclusively in the realm of the fourth, or in the territory peculiar to Rome, and which had never formed part either of the Grecian, Medo-Persian, or Babylonian empires. The master mind of Sir Isaac Newton perceived this long ago. He says: Seeing the body of the third beast is confined to the nations on this side the Euphrates, and the body of the fourth beast is confined to the nations on this side of Greece, we are to look for all the four heads of the third beast among the nations on this side the Euphrates, and for all the eleven horns of the fourth beast among the nations on this side of Greece. Therefore we do not reckon the Greek empire seated at Constantinople among the horns of the fourth beast, because it belongs to the body of the third."] European history from the fifth century onwards presents us with the fulfilment of this remarkable prediction, all the more remarkable because it foretold a state of things which had never existed in the world at the time when the prophecy was given, and which never did exist till a thousand years afterwards. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome in its first phase, all sought and obtained universal dominion, and could brook no rival power. The prophecy foretold that in the distant future another state of things should arise, and that, co-existing side by side, a family of about ten kingdoms should divide the heritage of Rome, and, though no longer in subjection to it as the provinces of an empire, should yet, as independent kingdoms, continue to own a voluntary and spontaneous allegiance to Rome; they should "have one mind, and give their power and strength" to the Papacy, for the greater part of their existence, though in the end they should turn against it. That this is a fulfilled prediction is evident from the fact, that never since the fall of the old Roman empire has Europe been united under one monarch, nor has it ever been divided into thirty or forty kingdoms. On the contrary, amid incessant changes, the number of the kingdoms of the European commonwealth has, as a rule, averaged ten. Machiavelli, without the slightest reference to this prophecy, mentions, as the kingdoms occupying the western empire at the time of the fall of Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor of Rome, the Lombards, the Franks, the Burgundians, the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Heruli, the Sueves, the Huns, and the Saxons-ten in all. And it is beyond all question that, amid countless fluctuations, the kingdoms of Europe have, from their birth in the fifth century to the present day, averaged about ten in number. A census taken at different intervals reveals the fact that the number has sometimes risen as high as thirteen or fourteen, and sometimes fallen as low as eight or nine, and that it has incessantly oscillated between these extremes. And the division is as apparent now as ever; plainly and palpably inscribed on the map of Europe this day, it bears its silent testimony to the fulfilment of this great prophecy. The Franco- Prussian war and the unification of Italy have once more distinctly developed the normal number of the kingdoms of western Europe in the territory of old Rome. Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany, England, Holland, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal-ten and no more, ten and no less. Divided consequently at the point where the prophecy itself divides the history of Roman rule, we find that the bisection takes place A.D. 476, when the last of the Cæsars fell, and the tenfold commonwealth of modern Europe commenced.
It is in the midst of these ten kingdoms that we are to look for the rise of the great apostasy. "I considered the horns," says Daniel, "and, behold, there came up among them another little born." It is stated also in the seventeenth chapter of Revelation (where fuller details of later stages are given) that these ten horns are ten kings, which receive their power and authority as kings "at one and the same time with the beast," or Papal antichrist. The initial rise of the Papacy consequently must be looked for in the latter part of the fifth century; and the records of that age show only too plainly that already the characteristics of antichrist had begun to be manifested in the bishops of Rome. The high ecclesiastical rank attached from the earliest days to the Roman bishop arose from his position as bishop of the imperial city, which had so long been the metropolis of the world.
Roman Catholic and Protestant writers alike recognise the importance of this epoch in connexion with the sise of the Papacy. Cardinal Manning, for instance, writes : [Temporal Power," Preface, p. xlii.]
"To the least discerning mind it must he manifest that God had some purpose of His Divine wisdom in the migration of Constantine and of the empire from Rome to Byzantium. What could he more improbable than that an emperor should forsake an imperial city of a thousand years?
The Byzantine emperors ceased to be proprietors of Italy and of Rome. . . . Now the abandonment of Rome sees the liberation of the pontiffs. Whatsoever claims to obedience the emperors may have made, and whatsoever compliance the pontiff s may have yielded, the whole previous relation-anomalous, and annulled again and again, was finally dissolved. The providence of God permitted a succession of irruptions, Gothic, Lombard, and Hungarian, to desolate Italy, and to efface from it every remnant of the empire. The pontiff s found themselves alone, the sole fountains of order, peace, law, and safety; and from the hour of this providential liberation, . . the chains fell off from the hands of the successor of St. Peter, as once before from his own. No sovereign has ever reigned in Rome since, except the vicar of Jesus Christ.
"The throne of sovereignty was vacant by the visitation of God. A power had grown up in Rome, far more imperial over the reason and will of man than the iron despotism of the Roman empire.
This interior and supernatural power of direction and government over the actions and hearts of men flowed from one centre, and was embodied in one person, the bishop of Rome. . . . The floods which swept all the other authorities away threw out into bolder relief and more conspicuous prominence the supreme pastoral authority of the vicars of Jesus Christ. To whom else should the people go? They alone had, not only the words of eternal life, but the sole and supreme moral power to support and to reorganise the shattered society of home.
The possession of the pontiffs commences with the abandonment of Rome by the emperors. . . . The rebellion against the vicar of Jesus Christ is in the same order as the rejection of his Master. . . . God has instituted His kingdom upon earth, and fixed the head and centre of it in Rome, as of old in Jerusalem. . . . I showed you how, by an indirect but Divine providence, our Lord liberated His vicar on earth, in the plenitude of His spiritual sovereignty, from all civil subjection- first, by the translation of the seat of empire to the East, and then by the eventual extinction of the Roman empire in Italy. . . . The world has been waiting at least for twelve hundred years for the fall of the civil sovereignty of Rome, to see if the test of Gamaliel would have effect : If this counsel be of man, it will come to nought."
Shortly after these sentences were written, it did come to nought. Again the cardinal writes: "The conversion of the empire to Christianity, and then its removal into the far East, freed the vicar of Christ from temporal subjection; and then, by the action of the same providence, he was clothed with the prerogatives of a true and proper legal sovereignty, for that state and territory and people was committed to his charge. From that hour, which I might say was fifteen hundred years ago, or to speak within limits, I WILL SAY WAS TWELVE HUNDRED, THE SUPREME PONTIFF HAS BEEN A TRUE AND PROPER SOVEREIGN, exercising the prerogatives of royalty committed to him by the will of God over the people to whom he is father in all things, both spiritual and temporal. . . . In tile person of Pius IX. Jesus reigns on earth, and He must reign till lie hath put off enemies under His feet." [Manning: "Temporal Power" pp. 182, 245.]
The blasphemous pretensions of these passages are not more clear than their indication, of the point at which we should place the first rise of the Papacy-the rise of that antichrist, who, sitting in the temple of God, or Christian Church, was to claim to be as God, and to be so regarded, obeyed, and worshipped by men. Cardinal Manning thus strongly describes the deadly wound which old, imperial Rome received in the fifth and sixth centuries: " When the Church went out into the world, it found there a vast empire, which covered it with a perfect organization, social and political.
It had one chief city, reigning over the whole world; it had one emperor whose will was the fountain of all law, one senate, one legislature, one code of laws. It had one political organization, uniting all nations, and one vast military system, holding all people in subjection. It had one great chart, and one centre, the milliarium aureum, the golden milestone, which stood by the arch of Severus, upon which were marked all the distances throughout the world-wide empire of Rome. It was ruled by the most perfect and minute legislation which had ever governed the natural order of the world.
Perhaps you may think that it was this organization of which the Church took possession. No; before the Church assumed its civil mission to create modern Europe, the seven vials from heaven were poured out upon that empire, and the seven trumpets blew, and the four winds of heaven were let loose, and the great angel cast the mighty stone into the sea, and said, Babylon the Great is fallen ; for that great empire was ravaged, desolated, and pillaged by the invasion of barbarians, by hordes from every quarter, until there remained of all its structures scarcely anything but mutilated ruins of its greatness, its aqueducts, its military roads, the Flavian amphitheatre, and the Pantheon. Before Almighty God sent His Church out into the world on its civil mission, the whole of that vast empire was burnt up as by fire and deluged by blood.. Italy became a desolation, and Africa was abandoned to itself, and Britain was cast off, and Spain was forgotten: for the empire departed to Constantinople; the Byzantine emperors were feeble and helpless; they were harassed by the assaults of the oriental tribes, and Italy they were no longer able even to protect. This is what all historians tell us. There was a time when even Rome itself is said to have been without a living inhabitant, when foxes ran over the Palatine Hill, and their bark alone was heard in the golden house of the Caesars. Such was Rome, this mighty Rome, which once had some two millions of inhabitants, and twelve miles of diameter, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sabine Hills; it was gone to desolation. And for centuries after this it was ever and again the object of attack. It was besieged, it was sacked, it was ruined again and again. All its civil power had departed, and its sovereignty existed no more.
"It was into such a world as this that the Church was sent forth to do its work. Christian Europe is not the remains of the old Roman empire; it is a new creation." [ Manning: "Temporal Power," pp. 87, 88.]
For some time previous to this crisis, the mystery of iniquity had been working in the Church. In an earlier part of the fifth century another claim to supremacy on the part of the bishops of Rome had been urged-the authority of the keys, the successorship of Peter. As early as the Council of Chalcedon, AD. 449, and then in the Council of Ephesus, AD. 431, these claims were distinctly made. The headship of Christendom and the world was claimed by Pope Leo, AD.. 457; and Gelasius, Bishop of Rome A.D. 494, strenuously asserted this prerogative, styling himself the vicar of the blessed Peter, and saying in a letter to the emperor, "There are two authorities by which the world is governed-THE PONTIFICAL AND THE ROYAL, the sacerdotal order being that which has charge of the sacraments of life, and from it must be sought salvation. Hence in Divine things it becomes kings to bow the neck to priests, especially to the head of priests, whom Christs own voice has set over the universal Church." The haughty assumption was followed up by his next successors; so evidently," says Mosheim, "was the foundation laid, even thus early, of the subsequent Papal supremacy." The event then which marks the commencement of the era we are considering is the fall of Romulus Augustulus, A.D. 476-the end of the ancient, and the beginning of the modern; the end of the empire, the beginning of the ten kingdoms; the end of the mere secular power of Rome, and the point at which its spiritual power began to be paramount. The Apostle Paul distinctly intimates this point, as that of the commencement of the apostasy in 2 Thessalonians ii., where, speaking of the then existing pagan Roman empire, he says: "He who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way (or, that which now hindereth will hinder, until it be removed); and then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming." From this initial point of the incipient rise of the Papacy to the time when all Europe bowed down before its pretensions, and the Papal antichrist sat firmly on his seat at Rome, is the period which we call THE ERA OF THE RISE OF THE APOSTASIES. The further principal stages by which the Christian Church fell before Babylon the Great, anti-typing thus the fall of Israel before the ancient Babylon, were:
I. The point at which the saints were delivered into the hand of the Roman pontiff by the famous decretal letter of the Emperor Justinian, in March, AD. 533, constituting the Bishop of Rome "head of all the holy Churches and of all the holy priests of God The emperor also in this decree recognises him as his own head and as judge of the faith, and appeals to him for his approbation before publishing to the Roman world a formal statement of Christian faith; and he represents the unity of all the Churches as converging to Rome as its centre.
II. The accession of Gregory the Great, AD. 590, is another marked stage in the rise of the Papacy. This man, who "stands at the meeting place of ancient and mediaeval history, did more than any other to set the Church forward upon the new lines on which henceforth it must travel to constitute a Latin Christianity." [Archb. Trench: "Lectures on Mediaeval Church History."] Gibbon speaks of his "temporal reign," and others of his "sacerdotal monarchy." He was contemporary with the Emperor Phocas.
III. Seventy-five years after Justinians edict there was issued another equally notable one by this Phocas, a centurion, who rebelled against the Emperor Mauritius, usurped his throne, and subsequently slew four of the late emperors sons, as well as his brother, and tortured and beheaded his widow and her daughter. In the year A.D. 607 this cruel monster issued a decree conceding to Boniface III. the head-ship over all the Churches of Christendom, and even over that of Constantinople. This event is memorialized by the PILLAR OF PHOCAS, still standing at Rome, bearing the inscription: "Die prima Mensis August. Indict. Und. ac Pietatis ejus Anno Quinto. Pro innumerabilibus Pietatis ejus Beneficiis." This year constitutes a notable epoch in the rise of the Papal apostasy, especially as it marked also the time at which both the Anglo-Saxon and the Lombard kingdoms (the last of the ten) gave in their formal submission to the religious supremacy of Papal Rome. Clovis I., king of France, had been the first to do so, in A.D. 496, and so received the title, transmitted through fourteen centuries to the French kings, his successors, of "oldest son of the Church." In the days of Phocas there had already "appeared, on the part of the western princes, indications of submission and subserviency to the Roman pontiff in all that concerned religion and the Church, as of inferiors to a superior, of children to a father, of common mortals to one who, like the great Druid of their ancestral paganism, was the chief mediator, and the administrator of Divine wrath and favour." [ Elliot : "Horae," vol. iii, p. 149.]
Anti-heretical decrees were also at this time first promulgated, and legal intolerance of the true faith of the saints furnished means for future persecution and oppression.
IV. In A.D. 663 Pope Vitalian enjoined the exclusive use of the LATIN tongue in the offices of Divine worship throughout Christendom, and thus completed the development of the Latin, or Roman, Church. Thus far as to the Papacy, or great apostasy of the West. ______________________________________________
MOHAMMEDANISM, or the great apostasy of the East, rose also towards the close of this period; It was in A.D. 622 that the so called "flight" of Mahomet took place, an event which forms the era of the Hegira, the terminus á quo of the Mohammedan calendar to this day. He fled from Mecca to Medina, where he was received as a prophet and prince. The conquering career of his Saracenic followers commenced the year of his death, A.D. 632. The Caliph OMAR led his army into Syria in the course of that year; in August AD. 634, Damascus was taken. At the battle of Yermouk the eastern Roman armies were overthrown, and the fate of Syria determined; and in the year AD. 637 JERUSALEM was captured after a four months siege. The Patriarch Sophonius, who was governor of the city at the time, had to surrender to Omar; and all the other towns in Syria followed his example. The conquest was completed in 638, and the Mosque of Omar was erected on the site of the temple.
Mohammedanism is one of those great movements which have impressed a new and lasting character on a vast number of the nations of the world. No power known to history ever wielded the sceptre over a wider sphere than this has done. In less than a single century Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Armenia, Asia Minor, Persia, part of India, Egypt, Numidia, Tripoli, Tunis, the Barbary States, Morocco, the African coast as far down as the Niger, Spain, Sicily, Candia, Cyprus, and other islands of the Mediterranean, and even parts of Italy itself, had fallen under Saracenic sway; and that sway extended, not only to civil government, but to religious faith as well. Everywhere the corrupt and idolatrous form of Christianity prevalent succumbed before the onslaught of the vigorous monotheistic faith of Islam. Gibbon, the historian, writes: "At the end of the first century of the Hegira the caliphs were the most potent and absolute monarchs of the globe. Their prerogative was not circumscribed, either in right or in fact, by the power of the nobles, the freedom of the commons, the privileges of the Church, the votes of the senate, or the memory of a free constitution. The authority of the companions of Mahomet expired with their lives, and the chiefs or emirs of the Arabian tribes left behind in the desert the spirit of equality and independence. The regal and sacerdotal characters were united in the successors of Mahomet; and if the Koran was the rule of their actions, they were the supreme judges and interpreters of that divine book. They reigned by the right of conquest over the nations of the East, to whom the name of liberty was unknown, and who were accustomed to applaud in their tyrants the acts of violence and severity that were acted at their own expense. Under the last of the Ommiades the Arabian empire extended two hundred days journey from east to west, from the confines of Tartary and India to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. And if we retrench the sleeve of the robe, as it is styled by their writers, the long and narrow province of Africa, the solid and compact dominion from Fargana to Aden, from Tartary to Surat, will spread on every side to the measure of four or five months of the march of a caravan. We should vainly seek the indissoluble union and easy obedience that pervaded the government of Augustus and the Antonines; but the progress of the Mohammedan religion diffused over this ample space a general resemblance of manners and opinions. The language and laws of the Koran were studied with equal devotion at Samarcand and Seville, the Moor and the Indian embraced as countrymen and brothers in the pilgrimage of Mecca, and the Arabian language was adopted as the popular idiom in all the provinces to the westward of the Tigris."- Gibbon "Decline and Fall," p. 318.
Does any one inquire why these two powers, the Papal and the Mohammedan, should occupy so prominent a position in the predictions of Scripture as regards this Gentile dispensation? The reply is easy. No power ever exercised on earth has proved, on the whole, so injurious to mankind and so antagonistic to the redeeming purposes of God, as the Papacy. Its reign has been long, its sphere has been wide, its power has been vast. It has usurped the headship of the Christian Church, and the titles and prerogatives of Deity. It has corrupted the gospel, suppressed the Bible, and turned Christianity into a mere baptized heathenism. Idolatries and false doctrines have been inculcated and promulgated throughout Christendom by its instrumentality For centuries it made war with the saints, and overcame them. Millions of evangelical martyrs have been slain by its authority. It has injuriously affected countless myriads of human beings, during its course of more than 1,200 years, thirty or forty generations having suffered under it, either in the way of corruption or persecution. In a word, it has vindicated its title to be considered that system of supernatural and soul-destroying error, that dire and dreadful apostasy revealed by prophecy as THE principal power of evil, to arise between the first and second advents of Christ.
"How worthy of such conspicuous mention in the sacred oracles, of such solemn denunciation by the Holy Spirit,-how worthy of such preeminent fame (or rather infamy!) among the gigantic evils that have afflicted mankind, -how deserving of every dark designation bestowed, and of the dread doom denounced, has the PAPACY proved itself to be! The self-styled vicar of Christ has been His worst enemy in the world; the crowned priest on the Papal throne has been the undoing of the Church on earth. The system which asserts salvation impossible beyond its borders has destroyed the spiritual and temporal well-being of untold multitudes of men. Unutterably disastrous as have been its direct effects, -its millions of slaughtered saints, its myriads of deluded disciples,-its indirect effects have been hardly less terrible. By its priestly assumptions and pious frauds; by its notorious cupidity and mercenary practices; by its gross perversions of the truth and unblushing corruptions of morality; by its reason-revolting dogmas, childish superstitions, and endless old wives fables; by its uniform opposition to social progress, and its habitual alliance with political tyranny,-it has brought all religion into contempt, and filled Catholic Christendom with scorners, infidels, and atheists."-" Approaching End of the Age," p. 225.
Could sacred prophecy have passed by unnoticed this gigantic and universally influential power, which ruled the whole of Christendom with despotic sway, and with inconceivably evil results, for more than a thousand years? No; to lead the people of God to shun all connexion with it, ample and repeated descriptions of it are given, and unparalleled denunciations are made against it. And as to the power of Islam, when it is remembered that, not only did it exterminate Christianity in northern Africa, leaving but a feeble and ignorant remnant of the Coptic Church in Egypt, but that the professing Christians of the Greek Church fell by millions before the invasion of its savage and devouring hordes, its myriad horsemen from Central Asia, and that millions more of subject Christian races have groaned under its cruel oppression and destructive exactions; when we remember that it has put out the light of the gospel in the lands where it had its birth, and that, moreover, it has devastated Palestine and trodden down Jerusalem, carried war and bloodshed to the gates of Vienna and the northern slopes of the Pyrenees, threatening the very existence of Christendom; when we remember that to this day it dominates 150,000,000 of mankind, involving them in the darkness of fatal error and antichristian unbelief ;- can we wonder that the spirit of prophecy should indicate beforehand its rise and its career, and announce its final doom. The dates of the chief stages of the rise of these two powers in this bisection era are as follows:
476. End of western empire of Rome.
494. Council of Rome. Gelasius.
533. Pope-exalting decree of Justinian.
590. Accession of Gregory the Great.
607. Pope-exalting decree of Phocas.
663. Latinising decree of Pope Vitalian.
610. Mahomets announcement of his mission.
622. Hegira Era of Islam. Flight of Mahomet.
637. Capture of Jerusalem by the Saracens.