II. His Atrocity
No language can give an adequate idea of the atrocity and effects of this frightful persecution. "I beheld and 10 that horn made war against the saints, and prevailed over them." (Dan. 7:21). The beast shall make war against the saints, and shall overcome them and kill them. (Apoc. 11:7). And he "shall crush the saints of the Most High." (Dan. 7:25). And he will put to death all those who will not adore the image of the beast. (Apoc. 13:15). Then shall the truth be oppressed. The Church shall see her children apostatize in vast numbers, and in the agony of her heartrending grief, she will cry out in the words of her divine spouse, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mk. 15:34).
Then by order of the tyrant the continual sacrifice shall be abolished. (Dan. 9:27). The holy sacrifice of the Mass shall no longer be offered up publicly on the altars. The Church shall be devastated; the sacred vessels desecrated; the priests shall be scattered and separated from their flocks and put to death. The beauty of the new Sion has vanished! Her priests sigh; her streets resound with wailings and lamentations because there is no one found to assist at the solemnities of the Lamb. The Church has taken up her abode in the catacombs. (Jerem. Thren.).
All the faithful shall be terror-stricken, for there is nothing to equal the ferocity with which the beast will persecute the Church. "The beast which I saw," says St. John, "was like to a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion." (Apoc. 13:2). Those who will refuse him obedience, says St. Gregory (32 Moral., c. 12), shall perish in the midst of the most excruciating torments. They shall be tortured by infernal engines of pain such as had never been thought of before. The persecutors will add to the terror of punishment the prestige of miracles, which makes St. Gregory exclaim in a state of bewilderment, "What a frightful temptation for the human heart! Behold a martyr who delivers over his body to torture, and his executioner performs miracles before his eyes" Where is the virtue that would not receive a profound shock in the presence of such a scene? "Woe, then, to land and sea because the devil is come down unto you having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time." (Apoc. 12:12). "And a time shall come such as never was from the time that nations began even until that time." (Mat. 24:21; Mk 13:19).
III. His Duration
"And for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened." (Mat. 24:22). In order that the faithful may not be discouraged, God has determined the number of years, months, and days of this final persecution.
It is not known how long it will take Antichrist to achieve the conquest of the world, yet we may justly conjecture that the process shall be very rapid. The Prophet informs us that from the moment the perpetual sacrifice shall cease, which shall be the beginning of the general persecution, "they shall be delivered into his hands until atime and times and a half a time." (Dan. 7:25). This he repeats in the twelfth chapter, and St. John employs the same expression to signify the time during which the woman, figure of the Church, will tarry in the desert. "And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert unto her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time from the face of the serpent." (Apoc. 12:14). St. Jerome remarks that the term "a time" is generally employed in Holy Scripture in the sense of a year; the second term "tempora" is translated by the plural form because the Hebrew and Greek texts employ the dual. The words of the sacred text should therefore be interpreted, "a year, two years and a half year." However, the determination of the number of months removes all equivocation on the subject, as specified in the Apocalypse. "And the holy city they shall tread under foot two and forty months," (11 :2), which is equivalent to three years and a half. Finally, to remove all possible doubt on the matter, God has even revealed the number of days that the persecution will last: "The abomination of desolation," after the cessation of the perpetual sacrifice, must last, according to the Prophet, "1290 days." (Dan. 12:11). In other words, three years and a half with a few days over. Hence, it is certain that this terrible persecution will last during three years and a half.
3. The War that he will Wage against Religious Societies
I. His Combat with Religious Societies of Human Origin
Schismatics, heretics, and pagans will offer but a cowardly resistance to the formidable enemy of God. They will either become converts of the Catholic Church or proselytes of the archfiend.
II. Combat against the Catholic Church, the Only Religious Society of Divine Origin
The Catholic Church will be made desolate during those three years, but she will remain invincible and unconquered, for God, who is faithful to His word, has said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. (Mat. 16:19). What a sublime spectacle! Man, an intelligent being, the most feeble and despicable of creation, exposed to the attacks of Lucifer, the first among "pure" creatures, and in this fierce struggle, man, aided by God's grace, will be victorious. It is at this juncture that grace will appear in all its grandeur and efficacy. God will not leave His Church a disarmed prey to such a formidable enemy. He will assist Her by invisible and visible means.
III. Ordinary Help that God will Grant to the Holy Catholic Church; Heroic Resistance of the Spouse of Christ
God will impart greater light to the minds of His faithful servants; He will fortify their will[s] and give a patience which St. John eulogizes in the Apocalypse. "Here is the patience and the faith of the saints." (13 :10). The Holy Scriptures will form the impregnable rampart of the Church. They will be her first and best defense against all the artifices of the impostor, for in them will be found the predictions and explanations of all that will then take place in the world; whence. it is said that the true doctors will understand the mysteries of these latter times, while the impious will fail to understand them, being carried away by the torrent of their impiety. "Many shall be chosen and made white, and shall be tried as fire. and the wicked shall deal wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand." (Dan. 12 :10). God, who neverfails to raise up men equal to the wants of the times - apostles burning with zeal, martyrs endowed with undaunted courage, doctors whose learning and erudition vindicated truth in all its beauty - will raise up at this critical juncture a vast number of extraordinary men, adorned with all the noble qualities and virtues of all the saints of preceeding ages. "Who are we," exclaims St. Augustine, "compared to the saints and faithful of those latter times, who shall be called on to resist the attacks of an enemy unchained, whom we can but feebly resist while he is yet in chains?" (20 De Civit c. 8). Oh happy those who will conquer such a tyrant, exclaimed St. Hippolytus. (De Consum. Mund.) They will certainly be far and away more illustrious than their fathers in the Faith, for the first martyrs had to contend only against the satellites of the demon, while they will be victorious over the son of perdition. What praise, what crowns shall be awardedthem by Our Lord!
If the Church be compared to an army drawn out in battle array (Cant. 6:9), we have reason to believe that Jesus Christ, its captain, would reserve the best soldiers to withstand the most terrible shock. But the people who know and serve the true and living God shall be victorious. God shall send teachers to instruct his people; they shall rush into the midst of fire and sword; they will be made prisoners and their possessions will be confiscated; some of those teachers shall be cast into a fiery furnace, there to be purified. (Dan. 11 :32, etc.).
Not only the saints but also the angels will hasten to the standard of the cross and aid the Church in this her great tribulation; St. Michael the Archangel shall rise and engage in furious combat against the enemy of the people of God. (Dan. 12:1). St. John represents St. Michael fighting against the dragon unchained. (Apoc. 12:7). Finally, God shall prepare a safe retreat for his faithful children in the desert (Apoc. 12:14), which means that God will not allow the demons, all-powerful as they will be, to reveal to the emissaries of Antichrist the hiding places of a great number of Christians, who, though faithful to God, yet have not courage enough to confront the enemy or brave the dangers of so terrible a persecution. All this aid will certainly be greater and more abundant in this last struggle, though quite the same in all ages of the Church; God directs all things by His benign Providence, and He will send Elias and Enoch to aid and sustain His spouse in her last trying ordeal. (Lap. 8,1).