The Papacy as Antichrist into the 20th century with Charles Hodge

By Cris D. Putnam
The view of an antichrist pope dominated the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Even Catholics came to similar conclusions. George Tyrrell, a Jesuit priest and controversial modernist theologian, was excommunicated in 1908 after he also came to the conclusion that papacy was antichrist. He stated,

“I believe in the Roman Church so far as it is Christian and Catholic; I disbelieve in it so far as it is papal. I see two spirits in it, as in myself, struggling for supremacy—Light and Darkness, Christ and Anti-Christ; God and the Devil.”[1]

Another figure in turn of the century theology, Charles Hodge, who served at Princeton theological seminary from 1872 to 1929, also argues convincingly that the papacy is antichrist. His treatment of the antichrist in his Systematic Theologyis so influential that it will also be examined more thoroughly.

Charles Hodge: "But to be the Vicar of Christ, to claim to exercise his prerogatives on earth, does involve a claim to his attributes, and therefore our opposition to Popery is opposition to a man claiming to be God."

One can readily see why Turretin’s theology text’s remarkable shelf life at Princeton was ended by Hodge. It is a pleasure to read and study Hodge’s work as he has a more winsome style and is more exegetically coherent. If the reader has any lingering doubt about the notion that the papacy is a manifestation of antichrist, studying Hodge will likely persuade. Hodge makes most of the same points as Turretin and the other reformers but he allows more flexibility. That tractability and his rigorous intellectual honesty are his strong points. Keeping in mind this work was published at the dawn of the twentieth century, Hodge addresses the “temple of God” reference in 2 Thessalonians: “Some, however, suppose that the reference is to the literal temple in Jerusalem; but this supposes, (a.) That the Jews are to be restored to their own land. (b.) That they are to be restored as Jews, or unconverted, and that the temple is to be there rebuilt.”[2]

While Hodge was incredulous it would ever occur, it is more than a little exciting that since this writing the Jews have been restored to their land and that they are planning to rebuild the temple, already having placed a cornerstone, and still in an unconverted state.[3] As discussed elsewhere, even more persuasive is the possibility that Rome is driving the process. Hodge clearly believed the papacy was antichrist. He demolishes Anglican turncoat John Henry Newman’s argument that this line of reasoning necessarily condemns all Catholic believers. He argues it is a non-sequitur because the Church of Rome can be understood in different aspects, the arrogant hierarchy of the papacy and the body of professing believers. He breaks new ground in reformed polemics by generously offering, “That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact.”[4] This is refreshing because it does not necessarily follow that the papacy being part of the antichrist system damns all Catholics.

Additionally, he does not rigidly rule out other manifestations like Turretin. He states, “Admitting that the Apostle’s predictions refer to the Roman pontiffs, it does not follow that the papacy is the only antichrist.”[5] This accounts for John’s teaching that the Antichrist (singular) is coming as many antichrists had come (1 Jn 2:18). Hodge carries this line of thinking further offering, “the same power, retaining all its essential characteristics, may change its form.”[6] His intellectual honesty in accounting for more than one potential manifestation is inspirational. As noted above, Wesley and Spurgeon were also sympathetic to the possibility of an ultimate future Antichrist just prior to Jesus’ return. Is it possible that papacy still might fulfill this ultimate sense as well? Could there be a satanic presence in the Vatican which is leading toward that final confrontation? There is fascinating evidence presented in Petrus Romanus: the Final Pope is Here which suggests it.


[1] David F. Wells, “The Pope as Antichrist: The Substance of George Tyrrell’s Polemic” (Harvard Theological Review 65, 2 April 1972) 271–283.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:815.

[3] “The Temple Mount Faithful Movement Held On ‘Jerusalem Day” the Most Exciting Event in Israel Since the Destruction of the Holy Temple in 70 CE,”, last accessed October, 11, 2011,

[4]  Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:822.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 3:825.

Prophecy in the News: Petrus Romanus

I was honored to appear on Prophecy in the News today with my co-author Tom Horn and our generous host Gary Stearman. Also a big thanks to Bob Ulrich for all of his work.

The Papacy as Antichrist: Cramner, Knox, Wesley & Spurgeon

By Cris D. Putnam

Thomas Cranmer

It is a demonstrable historical fact that every notable protestant theologian of the 16-19th century, regardless of denomination, believed and taught that the papacy was antichrist. In the British Isles, Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and for a very short time for Mary I. He was successful under the former two, famously composing the Book of Common Prayer which is still in use today. Of course, his Protestant stance was what led the staunchly Catholic Queen, “bloody Mary,” to execute him. However, he was first tortured by watching his close friends being brutally executed. Under such duress, he signed a statement denying Protestantism and was scheduled to make a public profession just prior to his own execution. Instead, he recanted the coerced statement saying, “As for the Pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist, with all his false doctrines” and thus he died honorably as a reformation martyr.[1]

The Scottish reformer, John Knox, held similar views to Calvin and other reformers. He had been captured from his native land by the French and forced into slave labor until he was released to England where he served the Anglican King Edward VI. When bloody Mary ascended to the throne, he moved to Geneva where he met Calvin. Accordingly, he learned reformed theology and on his subsequent return home led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. His writings on the papacy as antichrist are extensive. A word search of The Works of John Knox using the search terms “antichrist” and “Roman” returns an astonishing 102 occurrences in thirty-six articles. He stated, “Yea, we doubt not to prove the kingdome of the Pope to be the kingdome and power of Antichrist.”[2]Indeed, the reformers had little doubt. But is this just a Lutheran and Calvinist construct?

John Wesley

Lest one begin to think that this belief was particular to Calvinism, it is essential to examine the opinions of John Wesley. Of course, Wesley was Arminian in his theology and the founder of Methodism. He wrote a book entitled, Antichrist and His Ten Kingdoms, where he said of the pope, “He is in an emphatical sense, the Man of Sin…”[3] In his commentary on Revelation, he wrote, “The beast with seven heads is the Papacy of many ages: the seventh head is the man of sin, antichrist. He is a body of men from Re 13:1–17:7; he is a body of men and an individual, Re 17:8–17:11; he is an individual, Re 17:12–19:20.”[4] Wesley makes an apt observation that the biblical material points to an institution and an individual. This infers the historic/futurist hybrid interpretation mentioned earlier. It is also seen in the writings of Charles Spurgeon.

Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, wrote eloquently about the apostasy of the Church into the system of Antichrist. He also had little doubt and argued the point forcefully. For instance, in one sermon, he expounds on the clever strategy of Satan’s evil world system:

Charles Spurgeon

Then the world changed its tactics; it became nominally Christian, and Antichrist came forth in all its blasphemous glory. The Pope of Rome put on the triple crown, and called himself the Vicar of Christ; then came in the abomination of the worship of saints, angels, images, and pictures; then came the mass, and I know not what, of detestable error.[5]

Far from a fanciful eschatological theory relegated to the hinterland of his thought, it was demonstrably a cornerstone in his theological discourse. He was fond of elaborating on the metanarrative of salvation history as it progressed from the apostolic era. In a later sermon, he offered concerning the digression of Roman Catholic Church, “She became like the heathen around her, and began to set up the images of her saints and martyrs, till at last, after years of gradual declension, the Church of Rome ceased to be the church of Christ, and that which was once nominally the church of Christ actually became the Antichrist.”[6] Yet, it is important to note that Spurgeon also saw a future time when the Jews would return to their own land and then, “that the power of antichrist shall be utterly and eternally destroyed, and that Babylon, that is to say, the Papal system, with all its abominations, shall be cast like a millstone into the flood, to rise no more forever.”[7]

Next the views of Charles Hodge bring us into the 20th century.

[1] Christian History: Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation., electronic ed. (Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today, 1995; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996).

[2] John Knox, The Works of John Knox, Serial. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003), 4:470.

[3] John Wesley, Antichrist and His Ten Kingdoms (Public Domain), 110. (See:

[4] John Wesley, Wesley’s Notes: Revelation, electronic ed. Wesley’s Notes (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1999), Re 13:1.

[5] Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 10, electronic ed; Spurgeon’s Sermons (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).

[6] Charles H. Spurgeon, Sermons: Volume 12.

[7] Charles H. Spurgeon, Sermons: Volume 50.

The Papacy as Antichrist: John Calvin and Francis Turretin

By Cris D. Putnam

Calvin shared and affirmed Luther’s conclusions concerning the papacy. In his Institutes, he based his primary argument on the 2 Thessalonians passage and the “little horn” prophecies in Daniel, arguing that the papacy personifies arrogant displacement of the Gospel. He argues that this is so self-evident, that denying it is to dispute the Apostle Paul’s credibility:

To some we seem slanderous and petulant, when we call the Roman Pontiff Antichrist. But those who think so perceive not that they are bringing a charge of intemperance against Paul, after whom we speak, nay, in whose very words we speak. But lest anyone object that Paul’s words have a different meaning, and are wrested by us against the Roman Pontiff, I will briefly show that they can only be understood of the Papacy.[1]

He contends that the worldly pope sits in opposition to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. Based on the “mystery of inequity already at work” he denies that it could be, “introduced by one man, nor to terminate in one man.” [2] Searching the Institutes for the terms “Antichrist” and “Papacy” occurring together with Libronix software returns a total of thirty-five occurrences in seven articles. Thus, it is safe to say that the view goes hand-in-hand with historic Calvinism. A later Swiss Calvinist Theologian, Francis Turretin, is famous for his polemic style and his Seventh Disputation: Whether it Can Be Proven the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist, published in 1661, is such a foundational treatment on the subject that it will be examined in more depth.

Turretin followed in Calvin’s footsteps in Geneva where he was born and later buried. Even so, he was cut from broad cloth, educated in a variety of theological centers: Geneva, Leiden, Utrecht, Paris, Saumer, Montauban, and Nimes. He was ordained as a pastor to the Italian parishioners in Geneva in 1647; later in 1653 he became professor of theology.[3] Among his writings, his Institutio Theologiae Elencticae, a systematic theology written in argumentative form, became the standard text at Princeton Theological Seminary only until it was replaced by Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology in the late nineteenth century. His style of elenctic theology is still studied by reformed apologists and theologians today. The point of this seventh argument in the larger work is that the seventh major reason Protestants can never be reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church is that the pope is certainly the Antichrist. This work is known as the classic apology for the papal antichrist and the Church of Rome as Mystery Babylon.

Turretin builds his case systematically from the ground up. He addresses the many ways in which the term “antichrist” may be used as was done at the beginning of this book. He establishes a semantic case that the Latin “vicar” carries a similar meaning to the Greek “anti” as “one who comes in the place of another.”[4] He makes a powerful case from 2 Thessalonians that, “The Pope takes for himself not only the name of the Church, but with its name its privileges and all authority, as if he alone (with his faithful) were the temple of God, which is the Church (the Christians outside his belief system being viewed as heretics and schismatics).”[5] He then establishes that the location, Rome, matches the prophecy in Revelation 17 incorrigibly. He argues that Babylon was a known codeword for Rome used by early Christians (cf. 1 Pe 5:13) and “the seven heads are seven mountains” (Re 17:9) infers Rome which was famously called “the City on Seven Hills.” He argues that, “the great seven-hilled city, which in John’s day held power over the kings of the earth, and which, by her cup of fornications, was destined to inebriate all people, intoxicating them with the blood of the saints” cannot represent Pagan Rome because only Christian Rome could slide into apostasy.[6]

While some of his exegesis is suspect, his reasoning is, for the most part, impeccable as he systematically builds the case. For instance, he argues Paul mentioning that the “mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Th 2:7) can only describe an entity which had its roots at the onset of the Church. The Thessalonians had to know about it for Paul’s letter to be coherent. Accordingly, he reasons the restraining influence was the Roman Empire. History bears this out as the papacy assumed greater temporal power as the Empire fell. He cites examples from history of various popes asserting their power over the earth as vicars of Christ. He argues that birth and revelation of the Antichrist came to fruition in AD 606 with Boniface III who claimed the title of “Universal Bishop.”[7] Furthermore, their regalia match the descriptions in Revelation 17:3, 4 with uncanny accuracy. The Church of Rome martyred many Christian believers in accordance with Revelation 17:6, he goes on to claim. Less convincing, he even postulates that the mark of the beast is Catholic sign of the cross. At the end of his treatment, he addresses counter arguments and refutes them.

One particularly compelling counterargument is titled, “Antichrist’s Attack and Denial of Christ is Hidden and Implicit; Not Open and Explicit.” He makes the case that those who object to the papal antichrist often do so because the pope ostensibly believes in and promotes Jesus. (This sounds like many modern evangelicals today.) It seems valid because it ostensibly disagrees with John’s definition, “he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 Jn 2:22b). This is still a popular objection today, so his work is quite relevant. On opposing Christ, he says the following:

Is it to be understood as open and explicit as far as external profession, or implicit and hidden as far as the actual truth of the matter? We Reformed hold firmly that the Antichrist must deny Christ, not in the first, but in the second manner; that he must be a disguised enemy of Christ, who, under the pretence of the name of Christ would rule over the Church of Christ, attacking the person of Christ, his offices and his good works. It must not, therefore, be expected that the Antichrist would openly profess himself the enemy of Christ, (although in reality he shows himself to be such), nor would he boast himself to actually be the Christ, which the pseudo-christs did.[8]

This argument is a fine example of his elenctic style. The explanation carries some weight because only in this way can the Antichrist simultaneously meet both meanings of the prefix “anti.” If he were to openly oppose Christ, no one would accept him instead of Christ. It seems that many folks have a cartoonish image of the antichrist and false prophet figures in mind. Whether or not we accept that the papacy is antichrist this argument should give us notice that it is not likely these end time figures will be so easily identified and exposed. Indeed, according to scripture they will fool most of the people on earth. The false prophet figure is described as “like a lamb” which seems to imply he is considered a Christian (Rev 13:11).


The next post will continue to examine historic protestant views on antichrist.

[1]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translation of: Institutio Christianae Religionis.; Reprint, With New Introd. Originally Published: Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845–1846 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), IV, vii, 25.

[2] Ibid.

[3] R. J. VanderMolen, “Francis Turretin,” as quoted in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1221.

[4] Turretin, Seventh Disputation: Whether it Can Be Proven the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist, trans. Kenneth Bubb (, ebook location 9.8, last accessed October 01, 2011,

[5] Ibid., 21.6.

[6] Ibid., 24.3.

[7] Ibid., 42.6.

[8] Ibid., 136.2–136.9.

The Papacy as Antichrist: the Dawn of the Reformation

By Cris D. Putnam During the fourteenth century, the Waldenses, a truly evangelical group known for their remarkable holiness and simple lifestyle, published a treatise designed to prove that the papal system was Antichrist. This was a remarkable change in position from their earlier position in The Noble Lesson that taught that the Antichrist was an individual. Boldly defying the papists, they insisted on using translations of Scripture that the common man could understand. In obedience to the word of God, they rejected masses, purgatory, and prayers for the dead.[i] The Waldenses were severely persecuted for centuries. In 1545, some three to four thousand of them were massacred at what is now known as Massacre of Mérindol by Roman Catholic President of the parliament of Provence, France and the military commander Antoine Escalin des Aimars.[ii] As early as 1631, scholars began to regard the Waldenses as early forerunners of the Protestant Reformation.

Following the Waldenses it was not long before other Christians were viciously persecuted by Rome: The Hussites, the Wycliffites, and the Lollards also proclaimed that the pope was the Antichrist, the Man of Sin, and that the papacy was the Beast system. These were persecuted Bible-believing Christians who simply wanted to worship and read their Bibles free from Roman popery. These early expressions of the papal antichrist could seemingly be easily dismissed for the all-too-common tactic of demonizing one’s enemy. But as the reformation progressed, and the evidence mounted, it quickly became the dominant position. Contrary to the early rebels and polemicists, Martin Luther did not intend to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, but rather reform it. He did not start out with a bad opinion of the pope. He sincerely believed that the pope, being a man of God, would respond favorably when he nailed up his Ninety-five Theses on October 31, 1517. Yet, just a few years later, after burning the papal bull from the Diet of Worms, Luther had also come to the firm conclusion that the papacy was incorrigibly the Antichrist. He promoted the idea in many of his later writings, most forcefully in the Smalcald Articles:

This business shows overwhelmingly that he is the true end-times Antichrist, who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ, because the Pope will not let Christians be saved without his authority (which amounts to nothing, since it is not ordered or commanded by God). This is precisely what St. Paul calls “setting oneself over God and against God.” [iii]

Here Luther argues unambiguously that the pope shows himself to be the “true end-times Antichrist.” This polemic is concerning the papal bull, Unam Sanctam,which was issued to counter Philip the Fair’s effort to separate the civil and spiritual domains. In that bull, promulgated November 18, 1302, the Latin text reads, “Porro subesse Romano Pontifici omni humanae creaturae declaramus dicimus, definimus et pronunciamus omnino esse de necessitate salutis” (underline added).[iv] This substantiates Luther’s argument, in that this bull unmistakably asserts that “every human creature” must submit to the pope for salvation. Of course, this bears no resemblance to the Gospel found in the New Testament and one is hard pressed to find a weakness in Luther’s rationale. However, the idea that the “end times Antichrist” was present in 1302 is only coherent in light of it being the office of the papacy rather than an individual. Since the office of the papacy has endured to this day, Luther’s argument still has some force.

Philipp Melanchthon was a German reformer and collaborator of Luther’s. He is heralded as the first systematic theologian of the Protestant Reformation and an intellectual leader of the Lutheran Reformation.[v] In “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” the seventh Lutheran creedal document of the Book of Concord, Melanchthon also forcefully argues that the pope is the Antichrist. He skillfully reveals how the Gospel was subverted by tradition. Truly, the papacy as antichrist is as characteristic of traditional Lutheranism as the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”


Next we will examine Geneva and Calvin.

[i]Howard Frederic Vos and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Exploring Church History (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles: II, art. iv, par. 10 in Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 309.

[iv] Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam in Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Vol. 6. Chap., 4 Sect. 1.

[v] Millard J. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, Rev. ed., 1st Crossway ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 124.