With the recent condemnation of the alleged private revelations of the Canadian priest Fr. Michel Rodrigue (whose claims were recently discussed by DW Lafferty and Mike Lewis for WPI) by his responsible ordinary, Bishop Gilles Lemay of the Diocese of Amos, Québec, the sudden popularity of Countdown to the Kingdom has once again brought into the public spotlight. Countdown to the Kingdom is a website that claims to be “a place for the Body of Christ to discern credible voices of prophecy,” hosted by several well-known Catholic authors, including Christine Watkins, Mark Mallett and Daniel O’Connor. The site promotes the alleged private revelations of an array of unapproved and highly questionable “seers” such as Fr. Rodrigue and Edson Glauber, a Brazilian whose alleged apparitions and messages from Mary and Joseph were declared not authentic by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 2017, which was publicized in an open letter by the administrator of his diocese.
There is a common thread underpinning the apocalyptic overtones of Countdown to the Kingdom, in that most of the contemporary alleged visionaries it promotes all warn of an imminent chastisement that will be swiftly followed by the rise of the Antichrist and the subsequent arrival of a universal “era of peace,” during which Satan will be chained for the duration of the “thousand years” described in Revelation 20:1-3. Although the authors of Countdown to the Kingdom base their ideas on the “period of peace” promised in the second part of the secret of Fatima, the version of apocalypticism promulgated by this website is much more closely related to the millenarian (or Chiliast) heresy that was condemned by the Early Church Fathers.
Being acutely aware of the similarity of their ideas with the Chiliast heresy, the proponents of the “era of peace” attempt to distance themselves from the charge of millenarianism by asserting that the use of the word in paragraph 676 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a condemnation of the notion that Christ will be coming in the Flesh and reigning on earth for the “thousand years” described in Revelation 20. Instead of proposing a physical return of Christ in the Flesh, they argue instead that Jesus will return to rule invisibly in a spiritual “Middle Coming,” in order to establish a millennial Eucharistic reign. In doing so, they attempt to argue that their brand of apocalypticism is closer to an interpretation of the Millennium endorsed by some of the most influential figures in the Early Church, such as St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, St. Justin Martyr and Lactantius.
During the first three centuries of Christianity, some of the Early Church Fathers did hold to the theory of Chiliasm, stemming from a chronologically linear reading of the events described in chapters 19 and 20 of the Book of Revelation. According to this interpretation, Jesus would physically return to reign on earth for a thousand years, along with the saints who would be raised from the dead during the “first resurrection” of Revelation 20:4. As St. Justin Martyr points out in chapter 80 of his Dialogue with Trypho, the Chiliast interpretation of the Apocalypse was by no means universally accepted during the first centuries of the Church. In fact, this teaching was actively opposed from the very earliest days of the Church, by influential figures such as Origen. At the Council of Constantinople (381), the Nicene Creed of 325 was revised to emphasise the fact that Christ’s kingdom would have no end, thus rejecting the idea of a temporal millennial kingdom which would be interrupted by the rise of “Gog and Magog” at the end of the thousand years of Revelation 20:
“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”
After St. Victorinus of Pettau had established that the structure of the Apocalypse was recapitulatory rather than linear, the amillennialist interpretation of the Book of Revelation was further developed by Tyconius and St. Augustine of Hippo. In City of God 20:7, St. Augustine argued that the binding of Satan had already taken place during the sacrificial death of Christ, and that the “first resurrection” of the just represented the immediate resurrection of the souls of individual believers during the Sacrament of Baptism. According to St. Augustine, Christ’s reign had already been established in the Church, and would last until Jesus returns in Glory at end of the world. Chiliasm was thus rejected and condemned by the Early Church as a dangerous heresy, which places regard for the material world over the quest for a spiritual perfection which will only be rewarded in the afterlife. In his Commentary on Daniel, St. Jerome famously railed against the idea of the future establishment of a terrestrial paradise, stating that “the saints shall never possess an earthly kingdom, but only a heavenly. Away, then, with the fable about a millennium!” (St. Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, Chap 7 v 17).
Following the errant version of eschatology presented in Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi’s book The Splendor of Creation: The Triumph of the Divine Will on Earth and the Era of Peace in the Writings of the Church Fathers, Doctors and Mystics, the authors of Countdown to the Kingdom falsely claim that the Early Church Fathers who taught the doctrine of Chiliasm actually believed in a “spiritual” Middle Coming of Christ to establish a millennial reign. They erroneously assert that before St. Augustine devised his amillennial interpretation of the Apocalypse, he held to this mooted “spiritual” Middle Coming, which he apparently regarded as an acceptable version of Chiliasm:
“And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God; for I myself, too, once held this opinion.” (St. Augustine, City of God, Book 20, Chap.7)
The idea that St. Augustine taught that a “spiritual” version of the Chiliast heresy was an acceptable teaching passed down from the Church Fathers is patently false, however. St. Augustine clearly suggests that Chiliasm would not be objectionable if the joys of the saints were spiritual rather than carnal in nature and consequent on the presence of God—i.e. the physical return of Christ in the Flesh. As such, St. Augustine most certainly does not suggest that it is acceptable to espouse the Chiliast doctrine if the coming of Christ to establish a millennial reign was said to be spiritual in nature, rather than a physical return to rule in the Flesh.
The authors of Countdown to the Kingdom thus attempt to bypass the charge of millenarianism by confining the doctrinal error to the idea of Jesus physically returning in the Flesh, and assert that a spiritual version of Chiliasm is an acceptable teaching that was held by the Early Church Fathers. When we look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church however, the word millenarianism is used to cover a much broader array of eschatological teachings. It refers to the creation of any sort of terrestrial paradise. The type of millenarianism most vigorously condemned in the Catechism, in fact, is “secular messianism”—the idea that a secular state can fulfil the role of “messiah” through the creation of an earthly utopia:
The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism… (CCC 676)
It is clear that the Catechism most certainly isn’t condemning merely the idea of a return of Christ in the Flesh to establish a millennial kingdom on earth, but also the secular type of millenarianism which gave birth to the communist and fascist movements of the 20th century. By attempting to blend their version of Catholic apocalypticism with the postmillennial teachings espoused in Protestant “Rapture” theology, the authors of Countdown to the Kingdom attempt to validate the false prophecies of fantasists such as Fr. Michel Rodrigue. Such ideas foster a worldview that can give rise to even more dangerous and fanatical worldviews than the one they promote. Given the sudden popularity of this movement, the bizarre eschatological theories they present to faithful Catholics as an authentic interpretation of the Book of Revelation needs to be explicitly condemned by the competent Church authorities.
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Emmett O'Regan is the author of Unveiling the Apocalypse: The Final Passover of the Church. He is currently a PhD candidate studying Catholic theology at the Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin. After graduating in 2006 with First Class honours in 2006, he won the theology prize scholarship at the Institute of Theology at Queen's University Belfast. He also won the Sean O'Riordan scholarship at the Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin in 2019, as well as the Loyola Trust PhD scholarship in 2020. His writings have appeared in various publications, including Vatican Insider and the Catholic Truth Society.