I was slightly alarmed, a little annoyed and more than a little amused when I was told by friends, a few days ago, that some well-known Christians, who should know better, have become followers of a self-styled prophet who is predicting the imminent end of the world. Why, one wonders, should Our Lord find our time so special that He should pick our own particular generation as the one on which He chooses to draw the Final Curtain?
That’s easy, our apocalyptically-oriented friends will reply, it’s because our times are so wicked!
“So what’s new?” we might ask. “All times are wicked.”
Yes, but our times are particularly wicked.
More wicked than the times when Christians were put to death for practicing their faith?
But Christians in the Middle East are being put to death today, in the twenty-first century!
Exactly. What’s new? For the first few centuries after Christ’s Ascension, Christians were being martyred for their faith. Indeed, the reason that the early Christians were so at home in the catacombs was that they spent so much of their time there. The fact is that Christians have been put to death for following Christ in the first century, the second century, and just about every century since then. In England, for a period of 150 years in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, priests were tortured and then butchered to death by hanging, drawing, and quartering. Those who sheltered or harboured priests from the authorities suffered a similar fate.
Yes, our times are wicked, but that’s simply because all times are wicked.
So what’s new?
One thing that is definitely not new is the appearance of prophets predicting the end of the world. In 999 AD, it was widely expected that the world would come to an end at the end of the First Millennium. When the Apocalypse failed to materialize in 1,000 AD, the prophets of doom confidently predicted that the End of the World would occur in 1033, the thousandth anniversary of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. Once again, God failed to deliver on the promises of the false prophets.
The rupture of the Reformation in Europe led to an increase in the number of false prophesies about the End Times, the rupture giving birth to the rapture. The Taborites of Czechoslovakia predicted an apocalypse in which only a few would be saved, and the German “Reformer” Thomas Müntzer rooted his revolutionary politics in a belief that the End was Nigh and that the people’s revolution was necessary to usher in the Second Coming. In England, following the triumph of Cromwell’s Puritans in the Civil War, members of a heretical sect calling themselves the Fifth Monarchists predicted that the end of the power of the flesh and the advent of the Kingdom of Christ would occur in 1666, a date deemed significant for its incorporation of “666,” the Number of the Beast.
Although the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 marked the end of the Fifth Monarchists, the year 1666 might still have appeared apocalyptic for the people of London. Having been struck by the bubonic plague, which claimed as many as 100,000 lives, the city burned down in the Great Fire of that year. Once the flames had died down, and the dust had settled on the ashes, Londoners realized that the End had not come and that their city would live to plague future generations with its perpetual adoration of Mammon.
As England’s faith in the Faith withered, there was a rise in silly superstitions and the dawning of what is now known as the New Age. Playing on such superstition, con artists, such as Mary Bateman, the so-called Yorkshire Witch, had a field day. Her most imaginative hoax was a “magic hen” which laid eggs on which were inscribed prophecies about the End of the World. Another Yorkshire prophetess, Mother Shipton, predicted that the world would end in 1881. A spiritualist, Joanna Southcott, claimed in 1814 that she would give “virgin birth” to a second Jesus Christ. Many believed her bizarre claims as her abdomen began to swell. Her due date passed and she died shortly afterwards. An autopsy revealed that she had suffered from a phantom pregnancy, caused perhaps by fraternizing too closely with phantoms.
We could go on (William Miller predicted from biblical “evidence” that the world would end in 1844) and on (the Jehovah’s Witnesses predict the end of the world ever few years or so) and on (we can safely predict a feeding frenzy of false prophets as the year 2033 approaches) and on, and on.
The End of the World? So what’s new?
As an avowed skeptic who refuses to believe all these self-styled prophets of the end times, I will say nonetheless that I do believe that the end is near. It is much nearer than many of us realize. The end of the world is the end of our own mortal world, which will come to pass at the moment of our deaths. This is the end of the world of which the Church is always reminding us. It is the memento mori, the reminder of death that we are meant to keep in mind every day of our lives. This reminder of the end of our world is meant to remind us of what the Church calls the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
Make no doubt about it, the end of the world is near at hand. It could be much closer than you think. Bear it in mind—every day. Live virtuously. Spurn sin and its seduction. Spurn false prophets and their seductions. Be true to Christ and His Church. If you do this, you have nothing to fear from the end of the world. If you do this, you will know that the end of the world is merely the beginning of the New World to which we are all called to travel.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.