In his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul develops an eschatological scenario (sometimes referred to as the 'Pauline Apocalypse'). He tells the Thessalonians that 'the day of the Lord' is to be heralded by three things which must happen first:
- (1) a general apostasy in the Church;
- (2) the disappearance of some 'restraining' or 'withholding' force (which is also a person, to katechon); and
- (3) the revelation of the 'Son of Perdition' (the Antichrist of 1 and 2 John).
The Apostle concludes this section by telling the Thessalonians that, since the Church is holding fast to the Apostolic tradition (a condition which is the opposite of apostasy), these things will be for another, future, time when 'holding fast' to this Apostolic Tradition is no longer characteristic in the Church.
This study examines the question of what and who is meant by this "Restrainer" or "Witholder", and whether or not these verses may be justly applied to the condition of the Novus Ordo 'Papacy' and 'Church' since the Vatican Two Apostasy.
(Douay-Rheims version)"1 And we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our gathering together unto him: 2 that you be not easily moved from your sense, nor be terrified, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by epistle, as sent from us, as if the day of the Lord were at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God. 5 Remember you not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now you know what withholdeth, that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then that wicked one shall be revealed..."
"1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 Then that lawless one will be revealed…"
Apart from the clause 'the apostasy must come first', it is not my intention to comment on these verses here since they deserve much greater attention that can only be given at another time. Meanwhile, let us dwell on :
In the Synoptic gospels of Sts. Mathew, Mark and Luke, Our Lord gives a broad prophecy of the Church going through history leading up to the climatic return of the Son of Man. But, in the meantime, there is hard combat: false prophets and false Christs; so dire will the situation be in the days preceding His return that 'even the elect shall be deceived' (St. Matthew 24: 24b) and He wonders whether He will be able to 'find faith on earth' St. Luke 18: 8)
Saints Paul, John and Peter were constantly warning against novel, heretical teaching and false 'apostles', apostates. St. John calls them 'antichrists'. It is to be noted that these people frequently arise from within the Church. They claim to be Christian but give a counterfeit gospel.
The Apostles, then, were well aware not only of the danger of apostasy. Manifestations of this sort were to be endemic in the Church as she passes through history. But they would not be such as to threaten the very foundations of the Church until a time when 'the Katechon' is no longer functioning.
The 'apostasy' St. Paul alludes to here denotes a qualitative difference in kind. He calls it 'the Apostasy'. It is not a matter of individuals or groups leaving the Church at any one time, but of a massive, unprecedented falling away, defection from the Faith, almost as if the Church herself had lost the Faith. He doesn't say this because, of course, the Church (qua Church) is ultimately Indefectible: the same Faith once taught by the Apostles will remain intact right until the very end for, as every Catholic knows, 'the gates of Hell' can 'never prevail' against the Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ on St. Peter and the Apostles.
Even so, given the Master's own predictions of the state of the Church during her final tribulation - a state mirrored by St. Peter's and the other apostle's [save John] mass defection during His own Tribulation - we are not exaggerating or indulging in eisegesis if we maintain that this apostasy goes right to the top and concerns the vast majority of Christ's flock at that time.
That apostates were already trying to dissemble the Faith of the church in Thessalonica was already a sign of that "working of lawlessness" that would one day grow into a fully fledged apostasy. Since the Church is the only place in the world where the Truth resides, lies and alien customs have to enter the Church for an apostasy to come about. It is Satan who works this mystery of iniquity into the Church. It is necessary, then, that this working has to look to the Christian as though it is of God. If Christians fall for it, they increase the power of the apostasy to attain its goal: ushering in the Son of Perdition with as little opposition as possible. In other words: to bring the apostasy to the point that the Church will be of little hindrance to the Antichrist.
To give this present apostasy a name (to name the demon) is difficult. It is a hydra-headed beast: I think the description 'Secular, Theological, Humanistic, neo-Spiritual Post-Modernism' could go some way to fitting the bill but that is a bit of a mouthful; perhaps we should just called it 'Pan' (or perhaps 'Uber') anyway counterfeit-Catholicism. However, to dissect the anatomy of the said beast here will take me off track.
Prelimary Translation and Exegetical Considerations
1. Ordinarily, words must be translated literally and given their normal, original sense. This is especially true of texts which present themselves, a priori, as to be taken literally and not figuratively.
2. Sometimes one comes across a text that makes perfect sense in the original language but only makes sense in a modern language if the actual words are substituted. While this causes a word change, it does not (or should not) change the meaning of the text itself. Wherever possible, however, the original word itself should be retained unless there is great need to do so.
3. For exegesis, context is paramount. The text must be explained according not only to the ordinary sense of the words themselves, but according to the context of the entire passage, and subject matter at hand. These texts may be applied and used in other contexts with different (though not contradictory) conclusions but, again, the primary meaning must be given within the immediate context.
4. We must constantly keep in mind that the Holy Ghost infallibly inspired the original authors, even down to their choice of particular words. The infallibility and Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture is De Fide. Translators and exegetes do not have this divine prerogative. Where there is an obscure word, or text, or a meaning which the words do not make clear, the onus is on the exegete to explain it, not to change it. If this causes some obscuration then a footnote should be added. It must always be at the back of his mind that the original word (plus any ensuing obscurity) is there for a reason, a divine reason.
5. In 1546, the Council of Trent declared the Vulgate Bible as authentic: "No one (may) dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it" (4th Session, April 8, 1546).
In 1943 Pope Pius XII stated that the continuous use of the Vulgate Bible in the Church for many centuries showed that it was "free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals" (Divino Afflante Spiritu, paragraph 21).
The Clementine Latin Vulgate, translated by St. Jerome from the original Hebrew and Greek, holds pride of place in the Catholic Church. But we must not make words say what they do not. Nowhere does the Church claim that the Vulgate is free from textual error, or that there may not be more accurate translations. She says, simply, that the Vulgate translation (in contradistinction to the various unauthorized heretical Protestant bibles in circulation) contains nothing contrary to Catholic doctrine.
Verses 6 and 7
"6 And you know what witholds (restrains) [κατέχον] him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7 For the mystery of iniquity (lawlessness) is already at work; only he who now witholds (restrains) [o κατέχων ] will do so until he is taken out of the way. "
It is extremely significant that the verb κατέχων ] [o katechô] (from which we get our word 'catechesis') is from κατα ) [kata] down or fast (as in 'tight') and εχω ) [echô]: to hold, i.e. to hold down or to hold fast. Both ways of taking it are highly appropriate. They are both of the same cloth. While the Apostle speaks of one 'holding down' (or restraining/ withholding) here, he uses the same verb form just 7 verses later where he writes:
14 Therefore, brethren, stand fast (firm), and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.
My discernment of these verses is significantly different to traditional interpretations (reader beware) so I must first give the usual ones.
(1). Traditional Exegesis of the text.
Whereas Protestants have pages and pages interpreting these disputed verses, there is an alarming paucity of Catholic comment.
According to Catholic commentators, it seems that no one any longer really knows what it was that St. Paul told the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians were apparently in on some secret or cryptic code to which the later Church is not privy. St. Paul's 'You know' becomes our 'We don't know'. If even orthodox biblical scholarship confesses to ignorance here, you can imagine what the modernists make of the entire chapter.
It has been suggested that the reason Paul does not specifically name the restrainer, but is cautious with his words, is for political considerations. Paul allegedly needed to guard his language to prevent the Roman state from misinterpreting his statements as suggesting that the Church was an enemy of the State, eagerly predicting its downfall. This, of course, would have been treason.
Be that as it may, all commentators duly note that in verse 6, Paul describes the "restrainer" with a neuter participle (κατέχον), an 'it', i.e. 'that which' or 'what' is currently detaining or withholding the arrival of the Son of Perdition. But in verse 7, as noted, he gives this 'ketachonic principle' (if I may say that) a masculine, nominalised participle: ο κατέχων.
As to the what/who the restrainer actually is, commentators end up with sheer historicism or frankly confess they 'don't know'. However, we must not be too harsh since, as we shall see, they are in good company.
Identity of the 'Restrainer/Withholder' (First Excursus)
(It should be noted that while I shall continue to use the term 'the restrainer' throughout, it is not a title as such).
Given that the identity of (or meaning behind) the Ketechon was certainly known to the Thessalonians and, therefore, the first generation Church in general, it is indeed strange that by the 4th century, we find St. Augustine finding himself 'at a loss' as to what the passage actually meant although he finds it 'not absurd' that the Apostle is probably referring to the Roman Empire.
(1). THE ROMAN EMPIRE
The Catholic New American Bible states, "Traditionally, 2 Thess 2:6 has been applied to the Roman empire and 2 Thess 2:7 to the Roman emperor ... as bulwarks holding back chaos (cf Rom. 13:1-7)."
Here are the Fathers on the matter:
Tertullian (2nd - 3rd century):
'For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth--in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes---is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire….' CHAP. XXXII.
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) Homilies on Second Thessalonians HOMILY IV.
'…What then is it that withholdeth, that is, hindereth him from being revealed? Some indeed say, the grace of the Spirit, but others the Roman empire, to whom I most of all accede. Wherefore? Because if he meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely, but plainly… But because he said this of the Roman Empire, he naturally glanced at it, and speaks covertly and darkly. For he did not wish to bring upon himself superfluous enmities, and useless dangers. ...'
St. Jerome (c. 340-420) Commentary on Daniel, Chapter 7, Verse 8.
"... We should therefore concur with the traditional interpretation of all the commentators of the Christian Church, that at the end of the world, when the Roman Empire is to be destroyed, there shall be ten kings who will partition the Roman world amongst themselves. Then an insignificant eleventh king will arise, who will overcome three of the ten kings, ..." Commentary on Daniel, Chapter 7, Verse 8.
St. Augustine (345 - 430) City of God, Book XX, Chapter 19
"For what does he mean by "… only he who now holdeth, let him hold until he be taken out of the way: and then shall the wicked be revealed?" I frankly confess I do not know what he means. ... However, it is not absurd to believe that these words of the apostle… refer to the Roman Empire…
While the opinions of the Fathers on this matter may have been valid (that is to say 'authentic') in their day, to propose them as closing the matter would be an extreme historicist and restricted interpretation of no value to present day Christians. It would be a redundant text lacking any power, a kind of archeologism.
i. Whereas the Roman Empire fits the bill in so far as it accounts for the neuter and masculine forms (imperium et imperator), it has long since ceased to exist, and the appearance of the Lawless One has yet to take place.
The apostasy and consequent revealing of the Antichrist did not occur in the 5th century. Unless you want to believe that the Popes and Papacy are to be equated with the Antichrist. And it is true that, on the demise of the Roman emperors, the bishops of Rome did take on more and more 'imperium'.
That St. Paul was predicting the rise of the Papacy (on the fall of the Roman Empire) was the opinion (indeed teaching) of most of the Reformers and is still held by many Fundamentalists today. (I deal with this, in depth, elsewhere). Suffice it to say that if this is the correct interpretation, we have had 1642 years of unbridled Antichrist so far if we date the fall of the (Western) Empire (and the consequent public 'usurpation' of the 'imperial popes') at 488 AD. However, between the revealing of the Son of Perdition and his ultimate destruction by the 'breath of His mouth and the splendor of His Presence' V. 8b) there is only a (relatively) short delay or, at least, nothing to make us expect such a long period of time.
But what we are to make of the 'Super Apostles' (who have been parading in Rome and the world
since 1958 (following the Treaty of Rome, 1957, just a thought) is a different matter…
(2). ST. MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL
This interpretation has been noted by some Catholic commentators, but only in passing; and is (I think, rightly) rejected as devotional rather than exegetical.
We can imagine St. Paul and the Thessalonians having the legitimate power of the Roman Empire in mind, keeping anarchy at bay: as St. Augustine said, 'it is not absurd'. But, by any sane rule of exegesis (which is bound to take context as prior) we cannot imagine Paul had been telling the Thessalonians, secretly or discreetly, about the role of St.Michael as the Restrainer. The context does not allow it. Such a teaching would have posed no threat to the Roman authorities and there is no reason that, by the 4th century, no one should know who or what the Katechon really was. Furthermore, St.Michael is the Champion and Defender of Holy Church but he has no authority in it. And Authority lies at the core of our text.
Even so, St.Michael does play a major role in the events in view; and it is not without significance that it is traditional Catholics (clued up as to the gravity of the present crisis) who alone retain a keen devotion to him.
Some Dispensationalists (see below) hold that St. Michael, will "stand aside" and allow Israel to be persecuted during the "time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7). This view first appeared in quasi-Christian magical papyri of the third century A.D and has never been espoused by any reputable theologian or exegete. (Source needed). There are some (at first sight) convincing articles on the web.
Pre-Tribulation Dispensationalists teach that the Katechon is the Church herself. This verse is one of the key proof-texts for their 'Pre, Mid or Post Tribulation Rapture' heresies.
Just before the full manifestation of the Antichrist and the '7 Year Tribulation', so they say, the 'Church' will be 'raptured' into heaven and it will be this that allows for the Antichrist to do his utmost. The Church, until the Rapture, had been effectively restraining him but, after the rapture, is no longer on the earth.
However, the Church is never referred to as 'he'. The Church, the Bride, is always 'she'. Neither does this interpretation allow for a particular person.
This view does have some merit in so far as it perceives the importance of the power and authority of the Church, and of some kind of 'disappearance'. Again, some fairly convincing stuff on the web but you should be very well-grounded in the Faith before looking it up (any problems, get back to me).
(3). THE HOLY SPIRIT
The other major view is that the Holy Ghost retires from the Church. The only real justification for this is that the word 'spirit' is neuter in Greek (pneuma) but the Holy 'Spirit' is also a Person. Other scriptural texts are adduced to support the heresy but they all fall wildly short. (This can be expanded).
(4). HUMAN GOVERNMENT
Human government in general is the Restrainer. It is of divine institution (Rom. 13:1-17) and designed to hold back evil by its system of laws.
Paul's theory of the state is written in Romans 13:1-7, where bearing the sword corresponds to the factor of restraint, and authority to 'the restraining (factor).'
This view is to be rejected because:
i. St. Paul limits the role of human government to its dealing with wrong-doing. The lawlessness he envisages during the Tribulation, however, is not just an exceptionally virulent breakout of social or political anarchy on any local level, but a universal rebellion against God and is truly diabolic in origin and scope.
ii. The man of lawlessness will be the head of his own human government in the future Tribulation (Apocalypse 13:8, 16, 17).