Question: Is it possible that the Antichrist is not a person, but perhaps a philosophy?
-- B.S., Leesburg, Ga.
Answer: The biblical data on the Antichrist are quite complex, and it is difficult to know in what form the Antichrist will appear. While it is generally thought that the Antichrist will be a person, some of the biblical imagery of the New Testament suggests that it may be a group of people -- or, as you suggest, a philosophy.
The Antichrist is associated with what the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as the "Church's final trial." The Catechism states that before the second coming of Christ, the Church will pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.
There will occur a "religious deception" that will offer men and women "an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth." In particular, "The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh" (No. 675).
But the Antichrist is not only a future reality. It finds expression all through history. The Catechism states: "The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the 'intrinsically perverse' political form of a secular messianism" (No. 676).
Put simply, "the Antichrist" refers to any movement, whether led by an individual or a group, that seeks to save the world by the resources of the world alone. In this sense, Marxism and the National Socialism of Adolf Hitler would fit into this picture.
Question: I was raised to believe that non-Catholic churches amounted to nothing and were completely invalid. I have lots of devout Protestant relatives. I have a difficult time with the view that their churches are invalid. Please comment.
-- Anne R., by e-mail
Answer: One of the genuine developments in Catholic thought concerning the existence of other Christian churches took place during the Second Vatican Council in the promulgation of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio). The council avoided the traditional condemnations associated with the existence of non-Catholic churches and instead it affirmed that there is much good in these churches.
The Constitution on the Church states that the one church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church (No. 8). The word "subsists" seeks not only to underscore the claim that the Catholic Church is the one true church, but allows a much more generous attitude to non-Catholic churches.
The Decree on Ecumenism states: "Some, even very many, of the most significant elements and endowment which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church." These include, "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements."
Accordingly, the non-Catholic churches have been "by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation." Indeed, the liturgical life of each church "can aptly give access to the communion of salvation" (No. 3).
There is no reason for thinking that your relatives are practicing a faith that is simply invalid.