Many historians and analysts underestimate the role of the Roman Catholic Church in European history. Many also underestimate the extent of the Vatican’s involvement in the affairs of Europe and European countries today.
Herbert Armstrong never made this mistake.
We have seen how Mr. Armstrong for decades prophesied of the emergence in this end time of the seventh and final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. And though this globe-controlling “United States of Europe,” he warned, would be ruled by Germany, biblical prophecy points to the necessity of some additional power to glue the fractious nations of Europe together. After all, Daniel’s prophecy likened the final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire to a brittle mix of iron and clay (Daniel 2:41-43). Matching Daniel 7 with Revelation 13 and 17, Mr. Armstrong understood that glue would be religion. Under God’s guidance, he linked these prophecies with history and came to see clearly that the deadly spiritual force guiding this European superstate would be the Vatican.
This Vatican is the “holy” in the term Holy Roman Empire.
“Europeans want their own united military power!” Mr. Armstrong wrote in August 1978. “They know that a political union of Europe would produce a third major world power, as strong as either the United States or the ussr—possibly stronger! … But they well know there is but one possibility of union in Europe—and that is through the Vatican” (Good News, Aug. 28, 1978; emphasis added throughout).
To members and co-workers he wrote on January 23, 1980: “What Russia is doing will be the spark to bring the heads of nations in Europe together with the Vatican to form a ‘United Nations of Europe.’ The politicians cannot do this by themselves. Only with the collaboration of the pope can they do it.”
“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 issue 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).”
Herbert Armstrong and the Plain Truth continually made reference to Europe forming a church-state union under the auspices of the Vatican.
Drawing in Eastern Europe
During the Soviet era, the Plain Truth continued to encourage its readers to “[l]ook for the Vatican to exert more influence in European affairs. Yugoslavia and the Vatican have resumed full diplomatic relations—a move that could lead to further ties between the Vatican and Eastern Europe. … The pope, encouraging European political unity, stated, ‘We note with pleasure that the German government contributes actively to the achievement of this aim.’ Vatican influence over European affairs is destined to grow in the months ahead” (August-September 1970).
Perhaps the most impressive prophecy about the Vatican’s impact on European unification related to the persistent forecasts of the pope’s influence in drawing the Eastern European nations out of the old Soviet Union and into mother Europe’s lap.
Consider: “[W]e need to understand that the one great, overall, ultimate goal is the reuniting of all Christianity into one cohesive unit under one head—the Roman pontiff—in an attempt to bring to the world the Catholic concept of peace. This plan envisions the full use of the new Europe!” (Plain Truth, January 1963).
In respect of Eastern Europe, the Plain Truth declared that the papacy had its mind set on leading the diplomacy that would create the rapport between East and West Europe: “One of the biggest roles desired by the Vatican is that of mediator between East and West. … The Vatican, you can be sure, will continue to do its part in courting the Eastern European countries. Its Ostpolitik has been to bring them back into the ‘fold’ for a long time. And that is certainly the path it must continue to travel” (February 1972).
When Pope John Paul ii appeared on the scene, Mr. Armstrong made a far-sighted prediction: “The character, personality and actions of the Polish pope, John Paul ii, indicate more than possibly that he may be the pope to offer his good services to unite the nations of Europe once again. European nations want, seriously, to be united. Of themselves they are unable. John Paul ii could make it possible” (Good News, January 1980).
Throughout his papacy, Pope John Paul ii’s cry was for the whole of Europe to return to its roots.
On November 9, 1982, the pope, speaking on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, issued the following declaration to Europe: “I, bishop of Rome and shepherd of the universal church, from Santiago, utter to you, Europe of the ages, a cry full of love: Find yourself again. Be yourself. Discover your origins, revive your roots. Return to those authentic values which made your history a glorious one and your presence so beneficent in the other continents. Rebuild your spiritual unity. … You can still be the guiding light of civilization.”
Remember Mr. Armstrong’s remarkable foresight indicating that the EU would break across the Soviet divide to build the eastern leg of the European Union, and that “John Paul ii could make it possible.” This prediction was borne out in an event involving the pope’s homeland, Poland. On January 9, 1998, the Associated Press reported how that nation’s Communist leader capitulated to the will of Rome: “Martial law had crushed the church-backed Solidarity labor movement, and Poland’s Communist rulers expected a chastened Pope John Paul ii ready for compromise when he visited his homeland in 1983.
“Instead, his voice rising, the pontiff lectured a surprised party chief, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, as the nation watched on television. History would be his judge, the pope warned, demanding that union rights be restored for the Soviet bloc’s first free trade union [Solidarity].” In the face of this demand, Jaruzelski capitulated. The Vatican-funded Catholic Solidarity movement triumphed, and Poland broke the Communist yoke and then sought attachment to the European Union! The Vatican had driven a wedge underneath the Iron Curtain that was destined to crack it asunder and cause its total collapse!
The power of this papal diplomacy was recognized in a news release by abc correspondent Bill Blakemore: “Not only had John Paul ii ignited a nonviolent revolution when he first returned as pope in 1979, but by 1989 he had guided it with patient force till it won—the Polish Solidarity movement spread until the Berlin Wall came down and the Communists went away.
“Soviet Premier Gorbachev himself wrote later that John Paul’s philosophy and approach had ‘made a new kind of thinking possible for us all’” (June 18, 1999).
The Trumpet documented the continuing thrust of papal politics through the last decade of the 20th century on to the end of the first decade of the 21st as we witnessed the combined forces of Rome and Brussels/Berlin work to finally build the eastern leg of the resurrecting Holy Roman Empire. By the beginning of the next decade, that project was all but accomplished. Yet another of the powerful prophecies broadcast and published throughout the previous five decades by Herbert Armstrong had been fulfilled!
Though Mr. Armstrong did not live to see it happen, Europe’s East and West have been reunited, and in exactly the way he said it would be!
Poland and many other former Eastern bloc nations—Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Croatia—have officially joined the European Union.
And still more powerful endorsements of Herbert Armstrong’s forecast that a “strong spiritual binding force” would emerge in Europe leaped into perspective after the death of John Paul ii.
Benedict XVI: Attempt at Cultural Unity
From the mid-1990s, the Trumpet eyed the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as a potential replacement for the ailing John Paul ii. In April 2005, when he took to the papal throne under the name Benedict xvi, this became reality.
From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict xvi was bent on reasserting Roman Catholic relevance in the 21st century. And he attempted to do so with a hard-line, ultraconservative approach.
Benedict expelled liberals from the Vatican, leveled an attack against secularism in Europe, and resurrected use of the church’s ultraconservative Tridentine prayer book. In terms of Catholic doctrine, Benedict was uncompromising. He drew a firm line between Catholicism and all other denominations and religions, labeling them all “defective” and saying they should not even “be called churches.” He fiercely denounced same-sex relationships as a “manipulation of nature” that destroys “the essence of the human creature.” He often condemned “relativism” as one of the evils of our age.
But on February 28, 2013, some eight years into his papacy, Pope Benedict xvi did something totally unexpected: He resigned from the papal throne.
It was the first time a pope had resigned in nearly 600 years. It is possible the move was a response to the continued trend toward secularism and atheism within European nations. Perhaps Benedict’s hard-line, fiery approach, rather than unifying Europeans under a culture of conservative Catholicism, drove them away from the “mother” church. It certainly didn’t halt the rise in secularism; and the church under Benedict’s rule was definitely losing political and cultural relevance in Europe.
But the church did not give up on being an institution of relevance and power. In response, it regrouped, adapted and seems to have decided to try an approach quite the opposite of Benedict’s.
‘Like a Lamb’
On March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Benedict’s successor. The Argentinian Jesuit assumed the name Francis i, after Francis of Assisi—founder of the devout, humble and evangelistic Franciscan order of priests.
During his first year in office, Francis reached out to all religions, meeting with leaders from the Orthodox Church, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. He has even extended the olive branch toward atheists and agnostics saying, “God forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.”
Francis made headlines all over the world after he appeared to cede ground on the defining battlefield of our time: “Who am I to judge them?” he said about homosexuals. “They’re our brothers.”
Whereas Benedict had often condemned “relativism,” Francis said there is no such thing as an “absolute truth.” While Benedict seemed never to pass up an opportunity to denounce the practice of abortion or use of contraception, Pope Francis said that “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
The motifs of Francis’s papacy have been the importance of being more merciful and less condemning, and of assisting the poor. Francis also decided to forgo the papal limousine and luxurious apartments in the Apostolic Palace and to instead use a regular car and live in a small guesthouse apartment.
The results of Francis’s seemingly universalistic approach have been staggering. And they prove the ongoing accuracy of Mr. Armstrong’s prophecy!
A Vatican Spring?
“Suddenly, being a Catholic feels good,” Catholic author Cristina Odone wrote in the Telegraph on November 17, 2013. “I am so grateful to [Pope Francis] for making ‘Catholic’ a word that does not automatically conjure up thoughts of homophobia, sexism and pedophilia.”
Mrs. Odone is not the only one stricken with Francis fever. From the second Pope Francis walked out on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square, making gentle jokes and encouraging his audience to make a figurative pilgrimage with him, this man has been winning hearts.
He is the most discussed person on the Internet. Francesco, the Italian version of “Francis,” is suddenly Italy’s most popular name for baby boys. And he has won the respect of the media, evidenced most recently by Foreign Policy calling his the most impressive voice in the international arena, and by Time naming him Person of the Year for 2013. America’s oldest homosexual-rights magazine, the Advocate, even named him the “single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of lgbt people.”
From the time of his election in March 2013 until the end of the year, more than 6.6 million people attended events with Pope Francis at the Vatican—almost triple the number that former Pope Benedict drew in all of 2012.
Francis also spawned a dramatic surge in Catholic Church attendance in Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, France and all Latin American nations. In some of these nations, the increase has been by as much as 20 percent. Many are calling it the “Francis effect.”
Francis has delighted Europe and the world with his modesty and gentleness, his seemingly inclusive overtures and his apparent desire to steer the curia away from absolutism and conservatism.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Francis-led Catholic revival is this: If you examine what the pope has actually said, parsing the words carefully, you see that no traditional Catholic stance has been contradicted. He has only reiterated long-standing teachings of the church, yet, because of the words he used and the hype surrounding him, the secular media trumpeted his statements as a glorious sea change in Catholic dogma.
Francis is billed as the extemporaneous pope, happy to speak off the cuff about the church’s “new direction,” but his words actually seem carefully chosen to give the appearance of a newfound liberalism—something the progressive media can run with—without actually altering established church liturgy.
From the Vatican’s vantage point, it is the best of both worlds.
The Final Pope?
It’s too early to say whether Francis is spearheading a “Vatican spring” or whether he will be the pope to steer the church through the time just before the return of Jesus Christ. But it is undeniable that he is significantly improving the way Europeans and people all over the world think about the “mother” church. “They no longer sneer when I mention my faith,” Odone said about her secular European friends.
The final iteration of the Roman Catholic Church that is described in Bible prophecy, and which Mr. Armstrong wrote so prolifically about, may well have some secularist underpinnings.
In recent decades, the curia has already loosened some of its tenets in order to appeal to Europe’s growing number of secularists. The Church’s increasingly vague teachings allow room for the evolutionary theory to reside within the tent of Catholicism. Such measures show that the Vatican is willing to inject enough secularism and rationalism into its doctrine to appease modern people. It seems to be trying a blend of secularism and mystery—just enough of each to create a force modern people are willing to yield to.
Francis’s gentleness, his embrace of secularists and other inclusive gestures put him in a prime position to accelerate this blending tactic and to do what Catholic leaders have often done best: Assimilate the views of the masses into church teaching in order to “convert” those masses and lead them.
Bible prophecy says that, in the end time, the Roman Catholic Church’s leadership will appear to be gentle, sincere and “like a lamb” (Revelation 13:11). In many ways, this description fits Francis better than any recent pope. His lamb-like approach places the Vatican in an ideal position to continue the momentous European unification project that John Paul ii so successfully advanced during his pivotal papacy.
And we must not forget that Benedict xvi is still on the scene, or at least backstage. Perhaps the pope emeritus will make another grand appearance of some kind. Perhaps he will just remain behind the curtain and whisper some lines to Francis. We can’t be sure.
What we can be absolutely sure of is that the Vatican will continue working to win hearts, to sway European affairs and to position itself as the “spiritual binding force” prophesied by Herbert Armstrong to ultimately bind Europe together. We can be sure that the “mother” church will once again serve as the cultural glue enabling the restoration of the ancient Holy Roman Empire.