Michael, by Guido Reni, 1636.
The following material is a greatly expanded version of an earlier post on the Prophecy of Pope Leo XIII, which may help shed some light on the value of adhering to the traditional amillennialist view of the Apocalypse. For those who are already familiar with the older article, it will still be worth reading this newly revised version - especially for the most recent findings outlined in the latter portion of this post:
The St. Michael Prayer, which was said after Low Mass until the liturgical changes in 1965, was
instituted by Pope Leo XIII after he received a prophetic vision. The most widely known element of this vision is that the Holy Father overheard a debate between Our Lord and Satan, during which the Devil was granted more power and authority for a period of 75 to 100 years. According to the most widespread accounts, the events behind the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII run as following:
On October 13, 1884, after Pope Leo XIII had finished celebrating Mass in the Vatican Chapel, attended by a few Cardinals and members of the Vatican staff, he suddenly stopped at the foot of the altar. He stood there for about 10 minutes, as if in a trance, his face ashen white. Then, going immediately from the Chapel to his office, he composed the prayer to St. Michael, with instructions it be said after all Low Masses everywhere. When asked what had happened, he explained that, as he was about to leave the foot of the altar, he suddenly heard voices - two voices, one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh. They seemed to come from near the tabernacle. As he listened, he heard the following conversation:
The guttural voice, the voice of Satan in his pride, boasting to Our Lord: "I can destroy your Church"
The gentle voice of Our Lord: "You can? Then go ahead and do so."
Satan: "To do so, I need more time and more power."
Our Lord: "How much time? How much power?
Satan: "75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service."
Our Lord: "You have the time, you will have the power. Do with them what you will."
Current research suggests that the earliest version of this story to appear in print was in 1933, in a German Sunday newspaper. The way in which this prophecy first surfaced suggests that it originally circulated in oral form amongst the Vatican staff and hierarchy who were with the pope during this encounter. As such, it is impossible to trace back to an original documented source. After its initial publication in 1933, a German writer, Fr. Bers, attempted to find the origins of this prophecy for a 1934 article titled "Die Gebete nach der hl. Messe" (Theol-Prakt. Quartalschrift 87, 162-163). During his investigation, Fr. Bers failed to find any concrete source, leaving him to conclude that the prophecy was a later invention that was "spreading like a virus". However, 13 years after Fr. Bers had initially failed to find the original source of this prophecy, an eyewitness to the events behind the institution of the St. Michael Prayer eventually came forward. Writing in 1947, Fr. Domenico Pechenino, a priest who worked at the Vatican during the time of Leo XIII, provides a first-hand account of these events:
“Finally, as though coming to his senses, he lightly but firmly tapped his hand and rose to his feet. He headed for his private office. His retinue followed anxiously and solicitously, whispering: ‘Holy Father, are you not feeling well? Do you need anything?’ He answered: ‘Nothing, nothing.’ About half an hour later, he called for the Secretary of the Congregation of Rites and, handing him a sheet of paper, requested that it be printed and sent to all the ordinaries around the world. What was that paper? It was the prayer that we recite with the people at the end of every Mass. It is the plea to Mary and the passionate request to the Prince of the heavenly host, (St. Michael: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle) beseeching God to send Satan back to hell."
(Fr. Domenico Pechenino, quoted in the 1955 Roman journal Ephemerides Liturgicae V. LXIX, pp 54–60)
Although he leaves out any mention of Pope Leo hearing a conversation between God and the Devil, and the prophecy of the 100 years of Satan's greater power, the fact that it was written 14 years after the original version of this prophecy first appeared in print would suggest that Fr Pechenino presumes that readers are already aware of the contents of the prophecy, and is merely writing to confirm what he saw that day. Fr. Bers had noted in 1934 that this prophecy was already in wide circulation, and was "spreading like a virus", so it was certainly well-known by the time Fr. Pechenino was providing his eyewitness testimony, and we can be sure that he was aware of it. It seems that the real reason Fr. Pechenino leaves out any mention of the 100 years element of this vision is due to the simple fact that he did not actually hear or see the vision himself, but was rather relating how he witnessed Pope Leo experiencing this event. Given that Fr. Pechenino is recalling these events solely as an observer, he could not have possibly known the content of the vision at this time, since by his own admission, the Holy Father did not reveal to him exactly what he saw or heard. He only knew that the Pope had composed the St. Michael Prayer immediately after this episode, which runs as following:
The St. Michael Prayer
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
The fact that Fr. Pechenino's account confirms the later 1933 version, can be used to establish that the prophecy of the 100 years of Satan's greater power is in fact genuine. If we compare both texts above, we can see that Fr Pechenino's testimony concurs almost exactly with the original version of the story behind the prophecy. The only difference is that Fr. Pechenino was not told exactly what Pope Leo experienced during this vision, which suggests that the Holy Father confided what he saw to someone else - the retinue who Fr. Pechenino saw following the pope afterwards and was questioning him. Being a member of his personal entourage, the retinue would have been a close confidant of the pope, and the details of the vision were probably given to him. This would make the retinue the most likely source of this prophecy, and how it was circulated in the Vatican.
But when should this 100 year period be calculated from? Most interpreters think that the hundred years referred to the 20th century, and some later versions of this prophecy explicitly state this view. While the original version doesn't mention a specific starting point, there are only two real options - either the year the vision was first received, which according to the first account was 1884, or the turn of the century. It seems the latter position is the most likely, since in what he himself described as the "greatest act of my pontificate", Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 11th 1899, as requested by Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart (see here). Since this was obviously a date of utmost importance to the pontiff, and it commenced at a symbolically significant turning point (the end of the century), it would be logical to assume that the dawn of the 20th century was the beginning of the 100 years allotted to Satan.
In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
The fact that Christ is holding an arrangement of stars in his hand, and then immediately afterwards informs us "I have the keys of Death and Hades", suggests that the keys to the abyss are to be directly identified with these seven stars. It also suggests that this arrangement of stars is in some way a remarkable and unique event involving the wandering planets, rather than being a fixed constellation comprised of seven stars. If the seven stars held in the hand of Jesus are interpreted as an alignment of the seven classical planets, then it would follow that the opening and closing of the abyss would be marked by the appearance of such phenomena:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.
The amillennial approach towards the interpretation of the millennium, first forwarded by St. Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century, has been almost universally accepted by Catholic theologians as the standard for interpreting this prophecy for over 1600 years. In chapter XX of his monumental work City of God, St. Augustine equated the "millennium" with the age of the Church. For St. Augustine, the beginning of the "millennium" or age of the Church is thus traced back to ministry of Christ, when Jesus bound the power of Satan through his sacrifice on the Cross. As St. Augustine points out, this is alluded to by Christ Himself in the Gospels:
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says,
No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man— meaning by the strong man the devil, because he had power to take captive the human race; and meaning by his goods which he was to take, those who had been held by the devil in various sins and iniquities, but were to become believers in Himself. It was then for the binding of this strong one that the apostle saw in the Apocalypse
an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss, and a chain in his hand. And he laid hold,he says,
on the dragon, that old serpent, which is called the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,— that is, bridled and restrained his power so that he could not seduce and gain possession of those who were to be freed. (St. Augustine of Hippo, City of God, XX:7)
For the past 1,600 years, Roman Catholic teaching on the millennium has developed around St. Augustine's amillennial view of the Apocalypse - a long history of interpretation which would eventually shape magisterial teaching on eschatology and the development of the Catechism. According to the amillennialist position, the millennium is not a literal thousand year period, but rather it represents a very long period of time during which the power of Satan is restricted, in order to allow the spread of the Gospel. The strong man is Satan, whilst the phrase the "strong man's house" refers to the Devil as the lord of this world:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(2 Cor 4:3-4)
In Matt 12:29, Christ tells us that in order for Him to plunder the worldly realm of Satan and open the eyes of unbelievers to the Gospel, He would first have to "bind the strong man". Although evil still exists during this period, and Satan can still interfere with human affairs, his power would be limited in order to facilitate the growth of the Gospel. As the Catechism teaches, even though Satan was definitively defeated by Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, the reign of Christ's kingdom on earth in the Church will always be subject to the attacks of evil powers until the creation of the new heaven and the new earth after the Last Judgement:
Though already present in his Church, Christ's reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled "with power and great glory" by the King's return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ's Passover. Until everything is subject to him, "until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God."
The Book of Revelation tells us that this "millennium" or age of the Church will come to a close towards the end of the world, when Satan would once again be set loose for "a little while" to deceive the inhabitants of the earth, and gather the nations together for war. During this age of apostasy, Satan would once again have the power to blind the minds of unbelievers from the light of the Gospel, and would be able to inhibit its growth. And given that this is exactly the situation we are faced with today in the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Great Apostasy, we can only be left to conclude that the "millennium", or age of the Church has already came to end, and that the forces of Satan have already been unbound. The Apocalypse tells us that once the forces of hell have been unleashed at the end of the "thousand years", they will gather the nations together for war, and surround the Heavenly Jerusalem, which represents the Church:
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city...
As St. Augustine elaborates:
And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints and the beloved city,do not mean that they have come, or shall come, to one place, as if the camp of the saints and the beloved city should be in some one place; for this camp is nothing else than the Church of Christ extending over the whole world. And consequently wherever the Church shall be—and it shall be in all nations, as is signified by
the breadth of the earth,— there also shall be the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and there it shall be encompassed by the savage persecution of all its enemies...
(City of God, XX:11)
The end of the "thousand years" in Rev 20 is the age spoken of by Christ in his eschatological discourse on Mount Olivet, when wars would increase in intensity and there would be a mass departure from the Faith - the age of the Great Apostasy, when the light of the Gospel would once again be veiled to the minds of unbelievers:
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.
During this "little while" at the end of the "thousand years", Satan would be granted a period of greater power, much like in the Book of Job. Indeed the prophetic vision of Pope Leo XIII directly bases itself on the story of Job in the Old Testament. Here, Satan is granted greater power over Job, God's faithful servant, in order to test his level of faith. While Satan believes that he will be able to make Job turn his back on God by heaping atrocities upon him, the Heavenly Father is certain that Job will remain faithful in patient suffering. Job then has to endure a series of trials inflicted upon him at the hand of Satan, in order to prove his faithfulness to God. But in the vision of Leo XIII, the Church itself takes the place of Job.
During this new "trial of Job", Satan uses the increase in lawlessness (in the horrors of war and genocide) in an attempt to destroy peoples' faith in God, making the love of many grow cold. And in the light of the general apostasy which followed the horrors of the two World Wars and the genocides of the 20th century, it seems that this tactic has paid off spectacularly. Which isn't at all surprising, given the fact that the exposition of the philosophical problem of evil is one of the primary weapons of modern atheism. Once the "thousand years" were over, the forces of evil really did surround the City of God, and the Church is still being besieged by the modern secular values espoused in the principles of Freemasonry.
So if the "millennium" or age of the Church really did end at the turn of the 20th century, as is suggested by the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII, and indeed the actual unfolding of world events, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that the unbinding of Satan described in the Apocalypse is directly related to the two world wars. Turning back to the Book of Revelation, we find an earlier parallel reference to Satan being unbound from his prison in Rev 20, which is to be directly equated with the opening of the abyss in Rev 9. These two passages undoubtedly refer to the exact same event, only this time we are given the additional detail that the opening of the abyss at the end of the millennium or "age of the Church", would be marked not only by the "keys of the abyss" (which we have already established as an alignment of the seven classical planets) but also by a star falling to earth and the appearance of locust-like "demons":
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.
In my book, I show how this prophecy of the appearance of demonic flying armour-clad locusts actually concerns the invention of military aircraft at the turn of the 20th century - right at the beginning of the 100 years of Satan's greater power. And that this was timed to exactly coincide with a "star" falling to earth - the Tunguska event of 1908 - when a large meteorite or asteroid exploded above the wilderness of Siberia (see the post Tunguska, Pope Leo XIII and the Opening of the Abyss, for further details on this subject). So just as the "little while" given to Satan mentioned in Rev 9 and 20 is marked by the appearance of the apocalyptic locusts and a star falling to earth, the beginning of the 100 years of Satan's greater power foretold by Pope Leo XIII coincided with the invention of military aircraft and the Tunguska event. In order to find out more information on what happens during the "little while" given to Satan, we must turn back to Rev 20, where we are told that after the Devil is released from his prison, he "will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea" (vv7-8). Once again, this corresponds almost exactly with the reality of the situation at the beginning of the 20th century - at the start of Satan's 100 years of greater power. The nations at the four corners of the earth truly were gathered together for battle, in the two greatest wars the world has ever known.
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.
In the book, I argue that the three "woes" described in chapters 9-11 of the Book of Revelation correspond to three world wars, and that each of these "woes" are also represented by the three unclean spirits like frogs that issue from the mouths of the Dragon, False Prophet and the Beast. The first two woes refer to the two world wars, while the third woe represents the last great war - the battle of Armageddon. We are told above in Rev 16 that a noteworthy event precedes the coming of the unclean spirits of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet to gather the nations for war - the drying up of the river Euphrates in Mesopotamia. It is interesting then to note that construction on the Hindiya Barrage on the river Euphrates lasted between the years 1911-1913 - just immediately before the outbreak of WWI in 1914. The Hindiya Barrage was the first modern dam erected on the Euphrates. During its construction, a new river bed was excavated and then inundated after its completion, while the old river bed was blocked with dams. So the Euphrates was indeed "dried up" just before the three demonic spirits began to assemble the armies of the whole world for battle. Which helps us to further establish that this parallel passage concerning the gathering of the nations for war is exactly the same event described as occurring at the end of the "thousand years":
"And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea." (Rev 20:7-8).
Also if we are to take the "75 years" element of this prophecy as an indication of a different date other than the end of the century, as an alternative span for determining the dates connected to Satan's "little while", then it is noteworthy that calculating 75 years from 1914 brings us to the year 1989 - the year of the fall of Communism. The fruits of the "spark from Poland" which St. Faustina predicted would pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ. In the earlier post The Three Days of Darkness and the Angelic Pope, we have already noted that this year was highly significant to the Third Secret of Fatima, especially given the connection with the dates which can be calculated from the 153 fish of the Second Pentecost (153 times 13 - the number of Jesus and the 12 apostles - gives 1989).
We can find even more evidence that the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII is directly concerned with the unbinding of Satan at the end of the "millennium", in that the vision was actually composed of two separate parts - one auditory, and one visionary. While the auditory element of this vision is legendary (Pope Leo hearing the conversation between God and the Devil), what is not so well known is that according to first-hand reports, the Holy Father simulateanously experienced a visionary element in this prophecy - where he seen a huge number of demonic spirits converging upon Rome. A vision which matches the events described at the end of the millennium in the Apocalypse perfectly:
"And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city"
Although it is virtually unheard of, the visionary element of this prophecy was recorded for posterity by Cardinal Giovanni Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano. The aforementioned article in Ephemerides Liturgicae V. LXIX (which contained the testimony of Fr. Pechenino), also notes that Card. Corneliano gave an explanation for the exact wording of the St. Michael Prayer in his Pastoral Letters for Lent - stating that:
"the sentence 'The evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls' has a historical explanation that was many times repeated by his private secretary, Monsignor Rinaldo Angeli. Leo XIII truly saw, in a vision, demonic spirits who were congregating on the Eternal City (Rome). The prayer that he asked all the Church to recite was the fruit of that experience. He would recite that prayer with strong, powerful voice: we heard it many a time in the Vatican Basilica. Leo XIII also personally wrote an exorcism that is included in the Roman Ritual. He recommended that bishops and priests read these exorcisms often in their dioceses and parishes. He himself would recite them often throughout the day."
This would suggest that the original source of the prophecy of the 100 years of greater power was actually the Pope's private secretary - Mgr. Rinaldo Angeli, and that this is the same retinue mentioned by Fr. Pechenino - the one who followed the pope immediately after he received his vision. Given that Mgr. Angeli had been the Holy Father's private secretary since shortly after his election in 1878, this would make him the most likely candidate for the source of this prophecy.
On 18 May 1890, a different, much longer prayer to St. Michael was approved for use by Pope Leo XIII, which may help to shed some further light on the thoughts of the Holy Father after years of reflection on this vision. This is the same exorcism prayer in the Roman Ritual mentioned by Card. Corneliano:
O glorious Archangel St. Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, defend us in battle, and in the struggle which is ours against the principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against spirits of evil in high places (Eph 6:12). Come to the aid of men, whom God created immortal, made in his own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil (Wis 2:23-24, 1 Cor 6:20).
Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of man has taken courage, Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of his Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.
In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.
Arise then, O invincible prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and bring them the victory.
The Church venerates thee as protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious powers of this world and of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude.
(Rituale Romanum, 6th ed. post typicam, (Ratisbon: Pustet 1898), 163ff).
Note that towards the end of the prayer, we find the rather telling statement: "do thou again make him captive in the abyss", which can only suggest that the prayer of Pope Leo XIII concerns the unleashing of Satan after he had already been captive in the abyss - i.e. after the "thousand years" were over. The era which Rev 20 tells us that a hoarde of demons would be unleashed from hell to encircle the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Holy City of Rome - a scenario which corresponds exactly with the vision experienced by Pope Leo XIII. In this respect, it is noteworthy then that Pope Leo XIII issued Humanum Genus (his encyclical against Freemasonry) in the exact year he was reported to have first received his famous vision - in April 1884. And the primary theme of this encyclical is based on St. Augustine's City of God:
The race of man, after its miserable fall from God, the Creator and the Giver of heavenly gifts, "through the envy of the devil," separated into two diverse and opposite parts, of which the one steadfastly contends for truth and virtue, the other of those things which are contrary to virtue and to truth. The one is the kingdom of God on earth, namely, the true Church of Jesus Christ; and those who desire from their heart to be united with it, so as to gain salvation, must of necessity serve God and His only-begotten Son with their whole mind and with an entire will. The other is the kingdom of Satan, in whose possession and control are all whosoever follow the fatal example of their leader and of our first parents, those who refuse to obey the divine and eternal law, and who have many aims of their own in contempt of God, and many aims also against God.
2. This twofold kingdom St. Augustine keenly discerned and described after the manner of two cities, contrary in their laws because striving for contrary objects; and with a subtle brevity he expressed the efficient cause of each in these words: "Two loves formed two cities: the love of self, reaching even to contempt of God, an earthly city; and the love of God, reaching to contempt of self, a heavenly one."(1) At every period of time each has been in conflict with the other, with a variety and multiplicity of weapons and of warfare, although not always with equal ardour and assault. At this period, however, the partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons. No longer making any secret of their purposes, they are now boldly rising up against God Himself. They are planning the destruction of holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom, if it were possible, of the blessings obtained for us through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
(Pope Leo XIII, Humanum Genus, 1884. See here for the full text)
(Pope Leo XIII, Humanum Genus, 1884. See here for the full text)