It’s a most unholy marriage. The union of church and state on the European continent—the combination of spiritual influence and unifying power with military muscle and civil discipline—has been history’s most lethal.
Six resurrections of the “Holy” Roman Empire have come and gone through the ages. The Bible prophesies that a seventh is upon us.
Looking at present conditions in the historic seat of “holy” imperial power, many would scoff at the idea. Not only is modern Europe politically fractious, but it also seems incurably secular. The idea that it could give rise to another kingdom intoxicated by religion may seem, to some, highly unlikely.
But there is one powerful man who clearly will not accept that.
His name is Pope Benedict xvi. His 4½-year papacy has provided ample evidence of his zeal to reassert Roman Catholic relevance in the 21st century.
Inside the church, he continues his decades-long campaign to expel liberals and stack the deck with conservatives. In Europe, he is working to reestablish a Catholic continent. Among non-Catholic Christians, he seeks to draw worshippers under papal authority. In the world, he is leveling a strong attack against secularism and godlessness. And to Islam, he has unmistakably shown a resistance, a toughness, that promises to grow stronger.
What Pope Benedict has done, in fact, is position the Roman Catholic Church to fulfill its prophesied role in coming European and world events.
After assuming office, Pope Benedict xvi began placing his hand-picked conservative troops in the top spots within the Catholic Curia (governing body). He eliminated two senior positions and chose a notoriously shy, controllable man for his old job, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He switched out the cardinal in charge of Vatican relations with the developing world, replaced the Vatican’s longstanding press officer with a Jesuit priest, and shuffled the Vatican City governate and foreign-policy offices. He replaced the Vatican secretary of state with his trusted former deputy in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a man who would help him clean house at the Curia and catholicize the masses.
“I, bishop of Rome and pastor of the universal church … send to you, age-old Europe, a cry full of love,” the pope said July 24, 2005, quoting his predecessor, John Paul ii. “Return to yourself. Be yourself. Discover your origins. Revive your roots. Revive those authentic values that made your history glorious and your presence beneficial among the other continents.”
In March 2006, Pope Benedict xvi chose to drop “patriarch of the West” from his list of official titles. Why? The Eastern Orthodox synod said the move implied that the Catholic Church still sought “universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome over the entire church.” The pope retains the titles “vicar of Christ” and “supreme pontiff of the universal church.” He cast off the title “patriarch of the West” not because it gave him too much jurisdiction, but not enough.
Striking Out, Causes Offenses
By May 2006, after settling into his office, Ratzinger took the opportunity to lash out against European secularism—and Islam—in his book Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam. In it, Benedict wrote that the only solution to Europe’s paralysis and the “advance of Islam” is Roman Catholicism.
In September that year, Pope Benedict traveled home to Bavaria for a six-day visit. There he discussed injecting “Christianity” (read Catholicism) into the European Constitution, and talked with German President Horst Kohler about the dangers of Islamic penetration into German society. But his most famous speech was a lecture at the University of Regensburg, where he quoted Catholic Byzantine Emperor Manuel ii Paleologus: “Show me just what Mohammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Benedict was drawing his line in the sand.
The pope also visited the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, where 1.5 million victims, mostly Jews, died during World War ii. In his carefully selected words, the self-styled “son of Germany” failed to even mention anti-Semitism or Nazis or Jews. A German pope. Speaking at Auschwitz.
On Feb. 19, 2007, the Vatican summoned Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and a contingent of senior Italian government officials. The topic: homosexual couples. On the 23rd, Catholic World News reported, “New Italian government would not require allies to support civil-union bill.” The article showed that Prodi had caved on the issue in order to gather enough support to return to office. The Vatican had shown Prodi, and the world, who rules Italy. The incident echoed of the Vatican’s past as Europe’s kingmaker, the unifying political power that forged the Holy Roman Empire.
Soon after, Benedict extended his reach into Italian politics issuing his command to faithful followers: Vote Catholic. He told Italian politicians March 13 they must not vote for laws that went against the church’s “non-negotiable values.”
Around the same time, the Times of London reported, “Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope are to be published this year. The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches. In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the pope” (Feb. 19, 2007).
March 24 that year was the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the agreement that led to establishing the European Union. Benedict took the occasion to warn that Europe is sliding into “apostasy.” He demanded that EU leaders recognize that they had failed to embrace their spiritual and cultural heritage, and expressed dismay that the Rome Declaration made no mention of the influence of “Christianity,” meaning Catholicism.
Agitating the Masses
In mid-May, the pope traveled to Brazil to open an assembly of the Latin American bishops’ conference—not by invitation, but by personal choice. There he challenged the bishops to galvanize a continent-wide crusade against competing non-Catholic religions (“sects,” he called them), such as North-American evangelicals. Latino bishops jumped on board, and began lobbying national governments for legislation to ban and obstruct non-Catholics’ operation in Latin America. The visit illuminated Benedict’s aims to re-energize Catholicism not only in Europe, but around the whole globe.
Later that month, Pope Benedict prodded Catholics: It’s time to evangelize. He spoke of the “urgent need to relaunch missionary activity to meet the many grave challenges of our time.” He also called missionary work “the church’s primary service to humanity today.” The message was clear: The church’s most important job is to convert the world.
To that end, the pope resurrected the Tridentine Mass, a Latin-language ceremony codified in 1570. In the 1960s, the church restricted the use of the ultra-conservative Tridentine prayer book, which is peppered with references that make Jews and non-Catholics bristle (asking God to “lift the veil from [their] eyes,” and that Jews “be delivered from their darkness” and converted to Catholicism). The more inclusive, modern mass the church adopted in its place was scorned by hard-core Catholics, one of whom was a younger Joseph Ratzinger. In July, Pope Benedict reversed that restriction, reconnecting the church to its medieval past. German rabbi Walter Homolka said, “This kind of signal has an extremely provocative effect on anti-Semitic groups. The Catholic Church does not have its anti-Semitic tendencies under control.”
That same month, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith restated the doctrines of “Dominus Iesus,” a document Cardinal Ratzinger had signed in 2000 to proclaim that non-Catholics were “gravely deficient” and that Protestant churches are “not churches in the proper sense.” The restatement added that Orthodox churches suffer from a “wound” because they do not accept the pope’s authority, a wound “still more profound” in Protestants. The document, approved by Pope Benedict, said that denominations outside Roman Catholicism are defective or not full churches. “Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress … it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of ‘church’ could possibly be attributed to them,” it said.
Remarkably, this sequence of provocative moves seems to have helped rather than hurt the pope’s popularity. It’s been said that crowds came to see Pope John Paul ii, but they come to hear Benedict xvi. Over his pontificate, Benedict has consistently attracted larger audiences to witness his weekly homilies in St. Peter’s Square than did his predecessor.
“A New Generation of Christians”
In a homily in September 2007, the pope made it clear that Sunday worship is a “necessity” for all. “Without the Lord’s day we cannot live!” he declared. “Give the soul its Sunday, give Sunday its soul!” It was a strong call for Christians to revive Sunday-keeping as an all-important religious practice. The underlying message: Your life depends on worshipping on Sunday.
The Vatican went back to king-breaking in January 2008, when it forced Prodi to resign, bringing down the government of Italy. Prodi lost a vote of confidence in the Senate after the Catholic leader of Italy’s Udeur Christian Democrat Party withdrew the party’s support from the coalition government, taking away Prodi’s majority in the Senate. According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, this was directly the work of the Vatican. “Prodi’s government dared to challenge the ecclesiastical hierarchy for the second time and this time it has had its hands burned,” it wrote.
In March, the Vatican again meddled in national politics, launching a large campaign against Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, another supporter of homosexual “marriage,” abortion and easier divorce. The Vatican’s political campaign cut Zapatero’s lead drastically and nearly won the election single-handedly.
In April, Benedict came to America, inspiring a press frenzy reminiscent of John Paul ii’s funeral. In a society where God and the Bible are often ridiculed, the secular news media’s fawning praise for the pope was astounding. Tens of thousands filled stadiums and lined streets to hear or glimpse the white-clad “holy father.” While in America, the pope addressed the grotesque record of homosexual pedophilia in the priesthood of what he called “the church in America”—by blaming much of the scandalous behavior on America’s broken society. He accepted no responsibility for cleaning up the problem.
In September 2008, Pope Benedict spoke out to defend World War ii Pope Pius xii. Benedict praised him for being “courageous” in trying to save Jews: “Wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favor either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church.” The historical record shows that this is pure fiction: Pius conspicuously ignored the Holocaust and failed to come to the Jews’ aid. Yet Benedict wants to make him a saint.
Benedict xvi again pushed in early September for “the birth of a new generation of Christians involved in society and politics.” He challenged Catholics who, “as far as the formation [of] new generations involved in society and politics is concerned, seem to be falling asleep.” That same month, the pope traveled to France, where he convinced President Nicolas Sarkozy that the country needs to rethink and redraw its church-state relations. The two leaders laid the groundwork for what could be the biggest change in France since the French Revolution—a move from a firmly secular society to one that accepts, as the pope said, “the irreplaceable role of religion.”
In November, it emerged that the Catholic Church wants Sunday observance enshrined in EU law. Specifically, the Vatican wanted a clause inserted in the Working Time Directive that would force every citizen in the European Union to rest on Sunday. Some members of the European Parliament tabled an amendment saying the minimum rest period “shall in principle include Sunday.” The Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community said the directive should state “the minimal weekly rest must include Sunday.”
In January of this year, the pope again hurled a challenge at the Jews. The Vatican has been demanding the handover of six sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. Catholic media reports indicated that these negotiations were nearly finished, and idf Army Radio said President Shimon Peres was pressuring Interior Minister Eli Yishai to cave in to the Vatican. It said he may find a way to sign away the sites without Yishai’s approval if necessary. Biblical prophecy shows that soon, the Vatican will gain control over the territory it seeks within Israel.
Also in January, Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, a fellow arch-conservative who rejects the modern Vatican ii changes and is a Holocaust-denier. The move attracted an outcry from Jews and from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who openly criticized the pope for his decision. We watch to see whether her outspokenness adversely affects her political career.
As the world economy came apart at the seams like a cheaply sewn liturgical vestment, the pope descended from on high to suggest his own solution: “a true world political authority.” On July 7, the pontiff released a 144-page encyclical, “Charity in Truth,” which took a swipe at the U.S.-style capitalism that many blame for the financial crisis. He called for regulation with “real teeth,” administered by a global political authority. Biblical prophecy shows this is exactly what will happen: That authority will be European, and the Vatican will have control.
The record is impressive: Pope Benedict xvi has been active, determined and aggressive in asserting Roman Catholic authority and positioning the church to play a larger role in the time ahead. He even seems to view his actions in their historical context—facilitating yet another revival of that ancient church-state union.
Looking to Benedict
In April 2008, during a regular weekly address in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict made a telling statement about European unity. He said that his namesake, St. Benedict, “exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture.” The pope praised St. Benedict for helping the Continent emerge from the “dark night of history” that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.
This pope identifies strongly with his namesake, whose monastic system galvanized Europe during Justinian’s revival of the Roman Empire. Clearly, he is trying to spark a similar revival today.
By alluding to the period between the fall of the Roman Empire in a.d. 476 and its revival under Justinian in a.d. 554 as the “dark night of history,” Benedict seems to be implying that modern Europe has endured a similar “dark night” from which it is now emerging under his influence.
The pope also said St. Benedict had sparked “a new cultural unity based on Christian faith” within Europe—which united an otherwise fractious European populace into a mighty empire. Ever since, the “cultural unity” created by Roman Catholicism has helped Europe to unify time and time again as the Holy Roman Empire.
The pope is working to sway Europe to embrace the religion of Rome today—to once again serve as the cultural glue enabling the restoration of that empire.
The Bible informs us that he is destined to succeed. It will happen just as Herbert W. Armstrong, based on the Bible’s prophecies, repeatedly said it would. “I have been proclaiming and writing, ever since 1935, that the final one of the seven eras of the Holy Roman Empire is coming in our generation—a ‘United States of Europe,’ combining 10 nations or groups of nations in Europe—with a union of church and state!” he wrote in the January 1979 edition of the Plain Truth. “The nations of Europe have been striving to become reunited. They desire a common currency, a single combined military force, a single united government. They have made a start in the Common Market. They are now working toward a common currency. Yet, on a purely political basis, they have been totally unable to unite.
“In only one way can this resurrected Holy Roman Empire be brought to fruition—by the ‘good offices’ of the Vatican, uniting church and state once again, with the Vatican astride and ruling (Revelation 17:1-5).”
The European Union is now the greatest united trading entity in the world. It is aggressively developing a combined military force. With its constitution nearing ratification, it could soon weld together politically as one supra-European continental government. Yet it still lacks that key element: the ability to totally unite. As Mr. Armstrong wrote in the Aug. 28, 1978, Good News magazine, European leaders “well know there is but one possibility of union in Europe—and that is through the Vatican. … [T]his political union will put the Catholic Church right back in the saddle as it was from 554 to 1814—with the power of police and military to enforce its decrees!”
Today we see Pope Benedict working feverishly to enable that spiritual “vital lifeblood” of European unity. The resulting wave of evangelism will sweep the Continent into Rome’s arms in a bonding of church and state.
It is all now so close to coming to pass. We are witnessing the beginning of the seventh and final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. •