Lecture given at The Roman Forum, July 11th, 2022.
This lecture is given “IN NOMINE PATRIS ET FILII ET SPIRITUS SANCTI” and dedicated to His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider.
The worldwide, cosmic cancelation of Easter 2020 spawned by the Covid Dictatorship and enacted by the hierarchy of the Church was an apocalyptic event, an idolatry of health, and an implosion of faith sending a “supernatural shock wave” through the heavens. It was an event never seen in Church history through 2000 years.
It was as if, after 50 years of liturgical abuse, the Pachamama idolatry in the Vatican was the final straw and our Lord decided to speak to His Church the words from Isaiah:
Offer sacrifice no more: I will not hear: for your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, be clean, take away the evil of your devices from my eyes, cease to do perversely
The word re-set in the topic of this 29th Roman Forum seemingly refers to restarting computing machines. Its political pretension and aspiration, however, is known as the New World Order. And these connotations of the word re-set are all-too-well familiar from words such as re-formation, re-volution, re-volt or re-bellion. Digital computing machines are, of course, much more powerful tools than assembly lines. And they may represent a fourth industrial revolution. But, as seen from the talk of Dr. John Rao, the great reset is nothing but the n-th human rebellion against God where n is an integer number much larger than four.
The cancelation of Easter 2020, however, was part of something great, namely the Great Removal, that has been going on since the first Pentecost.
The Great Removal? Removal of who, removal of what?
Removal of the mystical body of Christ from the face of the earth. Just as the Jews were unable to remove (or seriously harm) the physical body of Christ from the earth as long as his time (kairos) had not yet come, so the enemies of Christ are not able to remove (or seriously harm) His mystical body, the Catholic Church, as long as the katechon, the withholder or restrainer, has not been removed from the middle.
Shortly before the 2020 US-elections, on September 28th, 2020, Francesco Boezi, an italian journalist with the newspaper «Il Giornale», asked Archbishop Viganò a question very similar to the question Dr. Rao posed for this years Roman Forum:
«Quali scenari attendono i Cattolici del mondo nel caso Trump dovesse perdere?» [What scenarios await the Catholics of the world if Trump should lose?]
to which Archbishop Viganò responded:
If Trump loses the presidential elections, the final kathèkon [withholder] will fail (2 Thess 2:6-7), that which prevents the “mystery of iniquity” from revealing itself, and the dictatorship of the New World Order, which has already won Bergoglio over to its cause, will have an ally in the new American President.
Archbishop Viganò cites St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, Chapter 2, verses 6-7, and equates the removal of Trump from office with the removal of the katechon, that holds up the man of lawlessness (anomia).
Let us recall the beginning of chapter 2 of St. Pauls second letter to the Thessalonians, a letter which ends with the famous exhortation “Who does not work, shall not eat” against apocalyptic Schwärmerei, against apocalyptic fanaticism:
And we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by our gathering together unto him: That you be not easily moved from your sense nor be terrified, neither by spirit nor by word nor by letter from us, as if the day of the Lord were at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for unless there come an apostasy first, and the man of lawlessness be revealed, the son of perdition, Who opposeth and exaltheth himself 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.
Remember you not that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know that, which withholdeth, until his self-revelation when it is his moment. For the mystery of lawlessness does already work: only that he, who now holdeth, be taken out of the middle. And then that lawless one shall be revealed: whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the breath of his mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders: And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish: because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this God shall send them the operation of delusion, so that they believe lies: That they all may be damned, who have not believed the truth, but have consented to injustice.
The katechon appears in verse 6 as τὸ κατέχον, «that, which withholds», and in verse 7 as ὁ κατέχων, «he, who withholds». This word, katechon, appears nowhere else in the New Testament.
The objective of this lecture is to pose, and to propose a hypothesis to answer, the following
- Who and what is the katechon?
(Note: It is not who or what, but who and what.)
It turns out that this question, the interpretation of ὁ κατέχων /τὸ κατέχον, is perhaps the oldest unsolved problem in exegesis of the New Testament, a veritable crux interpretum. The question is being actively discussed from the early Fathers until today.
Brief overview of interpretations
Tertullian (circa 160 – 222/223 A.D.) and his contemporary Hippolyt from Rome (circa 170 – 238 A.D.) believed that ὁ κατέχων was the Roman Emperor and τὸ κατέχον was the Roman Empire. Contrary to the Thessalonians, who couldn’t wait to see Christ return, Tertullian and Hippolyt were not eager to see the end of times. Rather, both of them preferred not to see the Lawless One (anomos), the Antichrist.
Similarly, a century later, Lactantius (circa 250 –325 A.D.), an advisor to Contantine I, maintained the same position, hoping and believing that the Roman Empire (τὸ κατέχον) tranquilised and gave peace to the nations of the world thereby hindering the revelation of the Lawless One.
Another century later, the Holy Ghost seems to have been a common interpretation for ὁ κατέχων. This can be concluded indirectly from the writings of Saint John Chrysostom (circa 347 – 407 A.D.), Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350 – 428 AD) and Theodoret (Bishop of Cyros, ca.390– 457 AD), because all of them felt the need to reject this interpretation in their writings. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret both interpreted ὁ κατέχων as God Himself, and τὸ κατέχον as His Grace or His Divine Power. Saint John Chrysostom, again agreed with Tertullian’s interpretation.
Around the same time St. Augustine (354 – 430 A.D.) discussed the question without taking a position. He reports that some contemporaries interpret the katechon as evil persons or hypocrites inside the Church. Augustine himself confesses not to know what the St. Paul meant, writing: “ego prorsus quid dixerit, me fateor ignorare.”
The interpretation of Tertullian (Rome) has dominated exegesis over the centuries and was shared for example by Rhabanus Maurus (circa 768 – 856), Haymo von Halberstadt (who died 853), Herveus Burgidolensis (circa 1080 – 1140) Walafried Strabo (805-849), abbot of Reichenau, Petrus Lombardus (1096-1160), or Nicolaus of Lyra (1270-1349) to name a few.
Also St. Thomas Aquinas agrees with the Roman Empire interpretation. But, because the Roman Empire has meanwhile been destroyed (or transformed into the Holy Roman Empire), Thomas transfers the role of the katechon to the Roman Church (apparently following Pope Leo in sermone de apostolis).
Later, the Catholic commentator Aloys Schaefer (1890) thinks τὸ κατέχον is the action of the mystery of lawlessness itself and sees ὁ κατέχων in the lord of this world (den Fürsten dieser Welt). And Josef Schmid (1945) pointed out that it is hardly convincing to ascribe to St. Paul an assessment of the Roman Empire for which there is no evidence prior to the third century. In a Catholic commentary from the 1950s one finds that ὁ κατέχων is the Archangel St. Michael, or the totality of all preachers of the gospel.
Protestant interpreters, such as Ernst von Dobschütz (1909), think it is an idiosyncratic idea developed by Paul without much sense. Similarly, August Strobel (1950) and Wolfgang Trilling (1980) think, that St. Paul did not mean anything specific or concrete. Oscar Cullmann and earlier writers think ὁ κατέχων is St. Paul himself.
In modern times the jurist Carl Schmitt (1950) defended the interpretation of Catholic tradition (Bisping and others) that the “Christian Empire” (christliches Reich) as successor of the Roman Empire is the Restrainer (Katechon) of the Antichrist. It is in this tradition that Archbishop Viganò identified Trump with the katechon, viewing Trump as a ruler opposing the forces of darkness.
But let us return to the proper problem, to the “crux interpretum.” Saint Paul intentionally gave both words, ὁ κατέχων and τὸ κατέχον, a double meaning. Clearly, even if St. Paul had seen Trump in his vision as ὁ κατέχων, it would have been difficult for him to make the Thessalonians understand which person he meant.
So the question remains unanswered: Who and what is the katechon?
The catholic interpreter Josef Schmid (1949) concluded, that the “crux interpretum” of the katechon is essentially unsolvable, saying that all attempts to interpret the katechon are futile, because the key to this enigma has been irretrievably lost.
Indeed, there are so many answers that Paul Metzger (2005) summarizes the situation by saying: «It will be hardly possible to add another completely new interpretation to the existing ones, because since the Ancient Church all interpretations, that could even remotely correspond to the function of the katechon, have already been thought of.»
When you are an outsider to theology in general, and exegesis in particular, you are typically unaware of such discouragement. And so, you may stumble accidentally upon a new hypothesis for the interpretation. When this happened to me, my first thought was, that the new hypothesis, that seemed natural and plausible to me, must surely be well known in exegesis. But, the more I searched, the more I found, that this seemed not to be the case. The closest approximation I could find was that of Cardinal Manning in his lectures on “The present crisis of the Holy See.” Note the title, formulated in 1861!
Before giving Manning’s view, let me briefly recall for those of us, who, like myself, are not professional exegetes, the classic hermeneutical distinctions between various kinds of senses of a word in Holy Scripture.
St. Thomas distinguishes eight senses in Summa Th. Qu. 1, Art. 10. He writes:
That first signification, whereby words signify things, belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it.
Concerning the spiritual sense he says:
So far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.
Concerning multiple literal senses he mentions «The parabolical sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively.»
The historical, etiological and analogical sense are also grouped by St. Thomas under the literal sense.
In summary, the classic hermeneutical distinctions according to St. Thomas are
- Sensus Primus Litteralis
- Sensus Primus Historicus
- Sensus Litteralis Aetiologicus
- Sensus Litteralis Analogicus
- Sensus Litteralis Parabolicus
- Sensus Spiritualis Allegoricus
- Sensus Spiritualis Tropologicus sive Moralis
- Sensus Spiritualis Anagogicus
For the katechon the verbal or literal sense is clear from the Greek: ὁ κατέχων means he, who withholds. τὸ κατέχον means that, which withholds.
To find other senses it is important to ask The Key Question: Why did Paul not write clearly what he meant?
This crucial question was asked already by St. John Chrysostom: τί δήποτε ἀσαφῶς οὔτως αὐτὸ τίθησιν ὁ Παῦλος, «Why in all the world did Paul put it so unclearly (imprecisely)?»
Paul’s answer was plain and simple: «You know the katechon». The recipients of his letter knew what he meant. The problem with almost all existing interpretations is that they either neglect, or have difficulties, to answer the key question, and many interpreters seem to think the Thessalonians did not know what Paul meant.
The first material assumption will be that the letter is authentic. If St. Paul were not the author, then interest in interpreting the katechon would be greatly diminished. A second material premise and starting point is the synopsis of the interpretation history by Cardinal Manning.
Cardinal Manning’s interpretation
Cardinal Manning (1861) in his four lectures on the «Present Crisis of the Holy See» presents the history of Catholic interpretations until the mid 19th century as these three interpretations:
- Tertullian et al.: Roman Emperor/Empire
- Theodoret et al.: God /His Grace and Power
- Others: Apostles/ Apostolic power
Manning says: «These three interpretations are all of them partially true, and all are in perfect harmony one with the other; and we shall find that, taken together, they present us with a full and adequate explanation.»
Finally, Manning arrives at his interpretation
that the power which hinders the revelation of the lawless one is not only a person but a system, and not only a system but a person. In one word, it is Christendom and its head; and, therefore, in the person of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, and in that twofold authority with which, by Divine Providence, he has been invested, we see the direct antagonist to the principle of disorder. The lawless one, who knows no law, human or divine, nor obeys any but his own will, has no antagonist on earth more direct than the Vicar of Jesus Christ, who bears at one and the same time the character of royalty and of priesthood, and represents the two principles of order in the temporal and in the spiritual state – the principle of monarchy, if you will, or of government, and the principle of the apostolic authority.
ὁ κατέχων = “Vicar of Jesus Christ” τὸ κατέχον = “Christendom.”
Five exegetical observations
Mannings synopsis of all Catholic interpretations strongly suggests to search for the key to the lost second sense near Simon Petrus. Indeed the New Testament contains a highly conspicuous usage of the two names of the Apostle Peter. Five exegetical observations will be the key to unlock the secret.
Before discussing them, it is important to stress, that the idea of «hindrance» expressed in the word katechon is at the very center of Christ’s eschatological message. In Matthew 24,14 we read: «And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations: and then shall the consummation come.» Mark (13,10) says: «And unto all nations the gospel must first be preached.» And Luke (21,24) predicts: «and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles till the times of the nations be fulfilled.» Apparently, the «times of the gentiles or nations» has been or is in the process of being fulfilled.
Following are five exegetical observations and their consequences that are the key to unlock the secret.
The literal sense of the verse 2 Thess 2,6 is unmistakably clear:
καὶ νῦν τὸ κατέχον οἴδατε
[et nunc quid detineat scitis]
“And now you know that which withholds”
The Thessalonians knew what was meant with the katechon. The word had a double meaning for them, and its second meaning was familiar.
Finding A shows two things. Firstly, that Paul either intends or tolerates a double meaning with the word katechon. Secondly, every member of the Thessalonian congregation knew both meanings of the word katechon. If, in particular, ὁ κατέχων meant a person, then it must have been a generally known person. Peter was generally known. Together with John and James (Jakob) he was viewed as one of the «pillars» (Gal 2,9).
In all four Gospels the Messiah addresses his disciple Simon exclusively using his original and first name: Simon, He never uses the name Petros.
St. Paul, in stark contrast to Jesus, never uses the name Simon. In all his writings not once. Instead Paul always uses the second name Petros.
The name Petros was given by Christ Himself. And Christ explains the reason for this name. In this explanation He uses the name Simon in Greek masculine for the person, and the name Petros in Greek neuter for his function or office, exactly in the same manner as Paul did it in 2 Thess.
Finding B shows that, in Paul’s letters, the name Petros designates not only the person, but even more his function as «rock» and «pillar» of the Church, and also his office. This immediately suggests the interpretation as the historical sense of the words:
ὁ κατέχων = Simon, Σιμεον (Aramaic: listener)
τὸ κατέχον = Petrus, Πετρος, (Aramaic: rock)
(Note: The word kepha means hollow rock and it is closely related with kapar, meaning atone or expiate, and with kaparet, hilasterion).
From today’s perspective this historical sense yields immediately the spiritual allegorical or typical sense
ὁ κατέχων = Pope = successor of Peter
τὸ κατέχον = Papacy = Petrine office
Of course, this typical sense was inaccessible to the Thessalonians.
In narrations or in indirect speech the gospel of St. Matthew uses always and without exception (21 times) the designation Peter or Petros for the function. It never uses the proper name Simon in indirect speech. A similar pattern is observed, not as strictly, in Mark and Luke. John’s gospel, on the other hand, never uses Petros alone, but always (16 times) the combination “Simon Petros” in narrations or indirect speech. In direct speech all four gospels use the name Simon.
If ὁ κατέχων is Simon and τὸ κατέχον is Petros, then Peter’s death during the persecution (64-68 AD) under Nero was a crucial and decisive moment for the young Church. Finding C indicates, that the Apostle John, assuming that he wrote many years after Peters death, alluded to this (forgotten) interpretation of the katechon when he combined the personal name Simon with the functional designation Petros, so as not to prefer one over the other. In this sense Finding C supports Finding B.
St. John’s Book of Revelation does not mention the katechon explicity, but it unfolds the idea of “withholding” into a grand design of the end times.
One reason, given in Rev 6,9-11, for the delay of Christ’s parousia is the cry of those «that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held» saying «O Holy and True, dost thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?»: «And it was said to them that they should rest for a little time till their fellow servants and their brethren, who are to be slain even as they, should be filled up.»
Another reason for the delay of Christ’s parousia, (see Rev 7,2-8) is an angel «with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying:» «Hurt not the earth nor the sea nor the trees, till we sign the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them that were signed. An hundred forty-four thousand were signed, of every tribe of the children of Israel.» Then follows a lengthy repetitive enumeration of all twelve tribes each contributing 1200 signed ones.
(Even more delay is caused by the 8th head)
Finding D explains why the original interpretation, known to the Thessalonians, was quickly forgotten. Indeed, it had to be forgotten.
If Simon is ὁ κατέχων and Petros is τὸ κατέχον, then the death of St. Peter was a shock. Because with his death the katechon was «taken out of the middle» but the parousia of Christ did not come. Thus that interpretation was openly incorrect and thus forgotten.
Finding D becomes particularly important, if the Book of Revelation was written during Galba’s reign.
The gospel of St. Matthew ends with the mission to «teach and baptize» all nations.
The gospels of Mark and Luke both end with Christ’s Ascension.
By contrast, St. John’s gospel ends with the appointment to the pastorate, the command «Follow thou me», and the problem of the delayed parousia of Christ.
Finding E supports and emphasizes the earlier consequences A–D. The last word of Christ (in all four gospels) to Peter (and thus to the Church of all times) contains in a nutshell exactly the same message
- as the Book of Revelation,
- as St, Paul’s letters to Thessalonians, and
- as the response Jesus gave to his disciples (Act 1,7) when the asked him when he would restore Israel’s reign:
«it is not for you to know the time or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power».
The newly found hypothesis for the historical sense is
Simon is ὁ κατέχων, Petros is τὸ κατέχον.
This suggests the parabolical sense Simon/Petrine office, the allegorical sense Bishop of Rome / Roman bishopric and the typical sense pope / papacy. Compare this with Manning:
primus litteralis: he, who holds
spiritualis typicus: Vicar of Christ
primus litteralis: he, who holds
primus historicus: Simon
litteralis parabolicus: Simon [listener]
spiritualis allegoricus: Roman bishop
spiritualis typicus: pope
primus litteralis: that, who holds
spiritualis typicus: Christendom
primus litteralis: that, which holds
primus historicus: Petros [kepha]
litteralis parabolicus: Petrine Office
spiritualis allegoricus: Roman bishopric
spiritualis typicus: papacy
Note: The new hypothesis for an interpretation becomes particularly plausible, if the Book of Revelation dates from the time of Nero. If ὁ κατέχων was Simon, then the Thessalonians and all Christian churches familiar with this interpretation, would have expected Christ to return after Peter died, i.e. «was taken out of the middle». When that did not happen, it was natural that John wrote the Book of Revelation to console and explain. In fact, the new hypothesis might be viewed as adding more support to Kenneth Gentry’s arguments in favor of early dating of the Book of Revelation. But the new hypothesis does not depend on early dating. It is equally compatible with dating the Book from the time of Domitian.
Implied allegorical and typical senses
Combined with the solemn command in John 21,15-17 «Feed my sheep» the new hypothesis suggests additional hypotheses for allegorical or typical senses, such as: pastor/pastorate, apostle/apostolate, bishop/miter, or bishop/bishopric.
The pope being „VICARIUS CHRISTI“ combined with the kingship of Christ leads to the most common exegesis: king/realm (rex/regnum), emperor/empire (imperator/imperium), lord/lordship, or generally leader/leadership. This rehabilitates and unifies many of the allegorical-symbolical-typical interpretations of Catholic tradition.
New interpretations also appear, such as: magister/magisterium (teacher/teaching office), sacerdos/sacerdotium (priest/priestly office), or prophet/prophetic office.
The pope as „SERVUS SERVORUM DEI“ would suggest: deacon/deaconry and minister/mi- nistry. The pope as «Holy Father» would give: Father/fatherhood.
Compared to other interpretations the new interpretation answers two question, that all other interpretation cannot answer convincingly:
1) Why was the second sense quickly forgotten?
Answer: The original historical sense Simon/Petros was forgotten, because of the huge disappointment that Christ did not come after Peter’s death (and not even after the apocalyptic massacre of the Jews and the destruction of the Jewish temple). This was seen to imply that the original historical sense was false. It could not be correct. St. Paul might be incorrect, but Christ cannot be incorrect. Do not forget: The apostolic succession of Peter, the papacy as an institution did not yet exist.
2) Why did Paul not write clearly what he meant?
Answer: This key question (of St. John Chrysostom) is also readily answered from the allegorical-typical meaning Pope/Papacy. If, as tradition and the Papal Bible Commission teach, St. Paul had a true vision, then he probably saw not only the apostle Peter, but also all or some of his successors and the development of the papacy as an institution. Therefore, had Paul mentioned Peter by name at that point in his letter, then that would have linked the katechon too closely to the person of Peter, it would have been wrong and misleading. Paul would have encouraged apocalyptic Schwärmerei, fanaticism, (which he wanted to criticize) and he would have lost credibility by pretending knowledge about the end times that Christ had explicitly reserved to the Father. Later readers or interpreters would have been able to conclude, that he did not really have a vision, because the end of the world did not come with Peters death.
The main question, who and what is the katechon, has been answered. The take-home message of this lecture is: a new plausible hypothesis for the interpretation of the katechon could be : ὁ κατέχων is Simon, τὸ κατέχον is Petros.
I could end my lecture here, but the results raise new questions. Given the interpretation of the katechon as pope/papacy, its removal could be considered part of the Great Removal.
Concerning the Great Removal Cardinal Manning expressed a firm belief held by many until recently: «The Catholic Church will never compromise a doctrine; it will never allow two doctrines to be taught within its pale; it will never obey the civil governor.»
The cancelation of Easter 2020 with its denial of all sacraments to all Faithful has shown beyond doubt, that the hierarchy today obeys each and every little civil governor. So:
1. Is the katechon still in place, or has it been removed from the middle (ἐκ μέσου)?
2. If the katechon was recently removed, when was it removed?
3. Was it removed when Trump was removed from office in November 2020?
4. Was it removed when the pope canceled Easter 2020 ?
5. Was it removed when the pope renounced being the Vicar of Christ in early 2020? Exegetically, these questions amount to the question:
6. What means «middle» in ἐκ μέσου γένηται?
The allegorical sense rex/regnum links the katechon to regal signs (regalia). On November 13, 1964, Paul VI. uncrowned himself and renounced the Papal Tiara to benefit “the poor” under the applause of the Church Fathers at the Second Vatican Council. The Papal Tiara consists of three crowns symbolizing the triple power of the Pope: father of kings (pater principum et regum), governor of the world (rector orbis), and Vicar of Christ (vicarius Christi). Later popes refused coronation and Benedict XVI removed the Papal Tiara from his coat of arms. Given the removal of the papal crown, and the lawlessness, the anomia, of the present pontificate, the last question becomes:
7. Is «taking the katechon out of the middle» related to the papal crown, or not?
Thank you all for your attention.
More details in:
R. Hilfer, “Katechon,” Forum Katholische Theologie (ISSN 0178-1626), vol 38, 161–173, (2022)
Dr. Rudolf Hilfer is professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Stuttgart. He has published nearly 180 scientific articles, reviews and books mainly in physics and mathematics. His lecture delivered at the Roman Forum in Gardone on July 11th, 2022, discussed a new interpretation of the katechon in 2 Thess, which was originally published in German in the theology journal Forum Katholische Theologie, volume 38, pages 161-173, (2022).