The beast who rises up from the land, in chapter 13 of the Apocalypse, is not an image which has entered popular awareness as much as the first beast, from the sea, with its famous mark and number.  Yet they are clearly images which reciprocally explain each other.

The sea and the land, in the Scripture, often stand respectively for the world and the Church.  St Augustine constantly interprets the terms thus in his commentaries on the psalms.  In other contexts, they can signify time and eternity.  The first beast, with its seven heads, is generally taken by commentators to be antichrist, or the city of this world, or antichrist as heading the city of this world.  It signifies temporal power as turned away from God and therefore persecuting the saints, arising out of the anti-Christian world and making no pretence of Christian piety; particularly is it this temporal power as wielded by the man of sin foretold by 2 Thessalonians and 1 John.

The other beast arises from the land.  It pertains, that is, to the Church.  It represents the spiritual power, that which was instituted by Christ to lead men to eternity, but the spiritual power as turned away from God.  Since antichrist is a single man, presumably this beast represents especially the spiritual power as abused also by some one man.  This fits with what is said later in the Apocalypse, where St John appears to refer to this second beast simply as ‘the false prophet’. 

St John tells us about the appearance and the actions of the second beast:

(i) it has two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon;

(ii) it exercises all the power of the first beast on behalf of the first beast;

(iii) it makes the inhabitants of the earth adore or bow down before the first beast;

(iv) it performs great wonders, even making fire descend from heaven;

(v) it tells the inhabitants of the earth to make an image of the first beast;

(vi) it gives life to this image, which speaks;

(vii) it (or possibly the image itself) has all those who do not worship the image put to death;

(viii) it (or possibly the image itself) makes everyone have the mark or number or name of the first beast placed on their forehead or right hand, if they want to buy or sell.

If we are right to suppose that this second beast refers to the abuse of the spiritual power, we may conclude that some bishop is signified by it.  That was Cornelius à Lapide’s view: “It seems,” he says, “that this false prophet is some apostate bishop who feigns to be religious”.  He quotes an earlier author, Joseph Acosta, who was of the same opinion, and who took the two horns to symbolise the two horns of a bishop’s mitre.  That seems, however, a little bathetic, if taken as the principal meaning of this image, especially as the two horns are like those of a lamb, an image which is surely meant to suggest Christ, who did not wear a mitre.  A ‘horn’, in Scripture, is often a symbol of power.  We may therefore take the two horns to mean the two powers that are possessed by bishops, in the image of Jesus Christ, High Priest and King, namely, the powers of orders and governance.  Yet since a lamb’s horns are of equal length, and Christ Himself is fully Priest and fully King, this may indicate that the apostate bishop in question enjoys not only, like all bishops, the fullness of orders, but also the fullness of jurisdiction, something which is true only of the bishop of Rome.

This may seem rather shocking, though less so today than in the past.  However, if the beast does refer to some individual, apostate bishop, it is hard to see how he could enjoy the universal power attributed to him by St John if he did not have, qua bishop, a universal sway.  At the end of the Old Covenant, it was the high-priest, the vicar of God on earth, who had the Lord put to death.  The Church, says St Thomas, must imitate the life of Christ: “The true body of Christ, and the things that are done in it, are figures of the mystical body of Christ, and of those things what are done in this” (Quodlibetal questions VII.6.2 ad 5).  So for this reason too, it would seem, as it were, fitting as well as appalling if it were a pope who unleashes the final persecution upon the mystical body.

I do not say that Pope Francis is certainly the bishop foreseen by the beloved apostle.  However, it is fair to say that no other man in history has arisen within the Church who would better fulfil the prophetic image (even abstracting from the fact that events themselves have apparently shown that no one else has been the false prophet).  What is it but the voice of the dragon, when he attributes sin to our Lord, teaches that Luther was correct about justification, says that the State must be secular, and tries to make the faithful believe that God wills us sometimes to break His commandments and then to receive Holy Communion, that he himself can change the moral teaching of the Church, that all religions are willed by God, and that there is no eternal hell? 

What of the other things attributed to the beast from the land?  Given that the beasts themselves are symbols, and not literal quadrupeds that we can expect to see stomping about the world, we should probably interpret these actions symbolically too.  “Bringing down fire from heaven” could refer to use of the spiritual power, which is in itself something heavenly, for destruction: for example, issuing documents for the universal Church, or making appointments, in order to destroy the faith.  Likewise, I do not expect that a stone statue is going to be erected somewhere which all the billions of people on earth will be invited to take turns to adore.  The image (eikona) of the first beast could thus simply be something which visibly represents the shadowy political and financial powers that govern mankind, before they have coalesced into a single head.  It could be a committee of some kind, which comes into being and finds its voice by the pope’s encouragement: a committee of the United Nations, or of the oligarchs, or a committee of human fraternity.  We will be told to do it obeisance (proskunosin), that is, to accept its authority over religious and civic matters.

I do not know what is meant by (vii) and (viii), but if there is any truth in all this then time will tell.  It is often a feature of prophecy that it is designed to be understood when it comes to pass, and not before. 

The application of the prophecy of Apocalypse 13 to Pope Francis may seem a step too far; yet, as we have seen, even independently of this pontificate, it seems plausible to interpret the beast as an apostate pope.  And how could any other pope do it better?  A pope who publicly and explicitly threw off the Christian name would no longer be able to influence the faithful.  I must admit that I initially thought that the false prophet would have to be someone altogether more impressive than Jorge Bergoglio; some brilliant speaker and humanly attractive.  Yet perhaps this too is an artifice of the enemy; precisely because one expects such a thing, one is more apt to overlook the true and more dismal realisation of the inspired words.  Perhaps we can say the same about the abomination of desolation.  Who would have thought it would be a piddling little statue like that ceremonially carried into St Peter’s on the shoulders of bishops last year?  Perhaps it was not; yet our Lord says, judge not by appearances, but judge just judgement.  By the will of the pope, an idol was placed in the most famous church in Rome, and of the world.