*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

The Antichrist: A new biography, by Philip C. Almond

by
16 July 2021

Different times, different faces, for the Antichrist, John Saxbee learns

AFTER biographies of God and the Devil, Philip Almond now turns his attention to the Antichrist. He does so with characteristic clarity and lightly worn learning. No stone, it seems, is left unturned.

The story so far lasts 2000 years, from New Testament times to the secular speculations of The Omen and Left Behind. It takes many twists and turns, but essentially it boils down to three questions, three tensions, three wrong turnings — and one conclusion.

The three questions are these: who is the Antichrist? where is he to be found (and it is invariably a “he”)? and when was he, or when will he be, active — or is he now?

Insofar as there is any degree of consensus, he is not the devil, but they are definitely working in tandem to thwart Christ and Christianity. He could be a tyrant threatening the Church from without, such as an emperor, or, more troubling, Jews; or he might be a deceiver corrupting the Church from within — the popes feature often. Timewise, as 1 John 2 testifies, he has both come into the world, and will yet come again.

This latter point signals the first of the tensions inherent in Antichrist’s biography, between the Antichrist of the future yet to come and the many Antichrists already present.

The tension between the Antichrist as the eschatological tyrant outside the Church, or the Great Deceiver within it, dominated debate at the end of the first millennium, and has formed two competing narratives ever since; likewise, the third tension between a supernatural Antichrist or a human one.

Alamy“The Beast as described in the Revelations”, a hand-coloured etching by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827), English artist and caricaturist. Dated 1808, this is one of the many illustrations in Philip Almond’s book

Three wrong turnings identified by Almond include a tendency to project on to every perceived enemy the Antichrist tag. Also, there is an apparently irresistible urge to home in on exact predictions of when Antichrist will trigger the final conflict between God and the forces of evil — all embarrassingly wrong. By no means least is a tendency to postulate historical conflicts between good and evil, be they past, present, or future, as a diversionary tactic to avoid confronting that conflict within ourselves.

These key topics are explored chronologically, beginning with the New Testament and especially the Revelation of St John, which, in fact, contains no mention of Antichrist: he was back written into it by St Irenaeus in the second century.

By the 13th century, the monks Adso and Joachim, arguing for eschatological tyrant and papal deceiver respectively, dominated the debate.

While Protestantism gleefully pursued the papal-deceiver option, other candidates for the role of tyrannical Antichrist came to the fore, notably successive Napoleons, dissenters, liberal theologians, and 20th-century dictators.

Enlightenment scepticism has called into question belief in a cosmic conflict between Christ and Antichrist, especially when used to solve the problem of evil. Almond himself concludes that cosmic nihilism may well be the only remaining alternative. But, he argues, that does not absolve us from taking evil seriously in the here and now, and winning the battle between good and evil within ourselves, “and so leaving the world a little better for our having been in it”.

This engaging, often entertaining, and lavishly illustrated book may well be the last word on the subject — but only time will tell.
 

The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.

 

The Antichrist: A new biography
Philip C. Almond
Cambridge University Press £29.99
(978-1-108-47965-3)
Church Times Bookshop £27

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)