An arch-conservative cardinal chosen by the Pope to deliver this year’s Lenten meditations to the Vatican hierarchy has caused consternation by giving warning of an Antichrist who is “a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist”.
Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 78, who retired as Archbishop of Bologna three years ago, quoted Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), the Russian philosopher and mystic, as predicting that the Antichrist “will convoke an ecumenical council and seek the consensus of all the Christian confessions”.
The “masses” would follow the Antichrist, “with the exception of small groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants” who would fight to prevent the watering down and ultimate destruction of the faith, he said.
The Pope traditionally withdraws from public view during the first week of Lent, conducting “spiritual exercises” in retreat with close advisers.
The choice of Cardinal Biffi raised eyebrows in the Vatican, given his sometimes eccentric views. The cardinal gave a warning of the coming of the Antichrist during his two decades as the Archbishop of Bologna, and said that an “invasion” of Muslim immigrants was undermining Europe’s Christian values.
Cardinal Biffi said that the Antichrist was not necessarily a person but “the reduction of Christianity to an ideology . . . The teaching that the great Russian philosopher left us is that Christianity cannot be reduced to a set of values. At the heart of being a Christian is the personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” But he quoted with approval from Solovyov’s Three Dialogues on War, Progress and the End of History, which suggests that the Antichrist is a real figure.
Cardinal Biffi said that Christianity stood for “absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty”. If “relative values” such as “solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature” became absolute, they would encourage “idolatry” and “put obstacles in the way of salvation”.
When he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict sternly defended core Roman Catholic doctrines and opposed calls for an ecumenical Third Vatican Council advanced by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the liberal former Archbishop of Milan.
The choice of Lenten speaker has in the past given a clue to Vatican policy, although one source said that Cardinal Biffi had perhaps been chosen because his “verbal fireworks” would keep listeners awake.
-The doctrine of the Antichrist appears in the New Testament, and could denote someone setting himself up as a Christlike saviour. The Book of Revelation refers to the “Number of the Beast”, 666
-Martin Luther and other reformers saw the Pope as the Antichrist
-In 1888 the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche denounced Christianity in The Antichrist
-When the Pope addressed the European Parliament in 1988 the Rev Ian Paisley interrupted him, shouting, “I renounce you as the Antichrist!”