Some seven summers ago, I was taking coffee or ice-cream with a worthy Polish lady outside an Italian café, when we discovered that we were both readers of the Remnant. Placid by temperament, she became animated on learning this. ‘I love the Remnant’, she said, ‘it’s so – depressing!’

I feel rather the same about the Book of Ecclesiastes. Reading it is like being shown round some peaceful English cemetery outside a country church, and finding that all the paths meet at one’s own open grave, complete with a head-stone that awaits only the inscription of a date.

Maritain says somewhere that Ecclesiastes is the most perfect existentialist work ever written: haunted, I suppose he meant, by a twin sense of the countless possibilities open to human freedom, and the inevitability that all our actions, humanly speaking, come in the end to nothing.

St Jerome also seems to have been drawn to the book; at least, he chose to comment on it first, before any other work of Holy Writ. At one point, he asks what King Solomon meant by saying, A living dog is better than a dead lion: because the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, neither have they a reward any more: for the memory of them is forgotten; their love also, and their hatred, and their zeal are all perished, neither have they any part in this world. The Jew who taught him Hebrew, Jerome remarks, said that his people understood this to mean that someone still alive and teaching, however ignorant, is better than a perfect teacher now dead; so a village rabbi might be the dog, and Moses or some one of the prophets, the lion.

But our saint is dissatisfied with this:

Let us aim at higher things. With the gospel, let us say that the Canaanite woman who was told, ‘Thy faith has saved thee’ is the dog, and that the people of the circumcision is the dead lion, of whom the prophet Balaam said, ‘Behold the people! It will rise up like a lion cub, and like a rampant lion.’ Thus, it is we from the nations who are the live dog, and the people of the Jews, abandoned by our Lord, who are the dead lion. To Him, this living dog is better than that dead lion. We are alive, and know the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; they are dead and know nothing. They have neither promise nor reward to look forward to; their memory is finished […]

The love with which they once loved God has perished, and so has the hatred of which they boldly used to say: ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and did I not waste away over thy enemies?’ Their zeal, too, which was shown by Phineas, and which made Mattathias’s knees shake, has perished. It is evident, too, that ‘neither have they any part in this world’; they cannot say, ‘My portion is our Lord’ (PL 23:1137-38).

This is quite exciting. A mid-4th commentary on the gospels, mentioned by St Jerome, and others has been re-discovered and published. It is by Fortunatianus, bishop of Aquileia, and is the oldest known Latin commentary on the gospels. St Jerome seems a bit ambiguous about him. In his book On Illustrious Men, he says that Fortunatianus pressurized Pope Liberius in exile to sign the Arianizing creed. But elsewhere he refers to the commentary as a pearl, and also says that he made use of it in writing his own. Anyway, you can read it on-line in English here. The translator’s introduction, and the explanation of how it came to be rediscovered, are available here.

I had a look to see what he might have to say about the great matter of the day. This is what I found:

[Matthew 24:45–51] Who is the faithful and sensible slave whom the master has set over his household? This is understood as a bishop or presbyter giving nourishment to the multitude, for they pass on the commandments. Nourishment at the right time: at what time but this one, which is from the Passion of the Saviour? Nourishment is not only teaching, but is also the sharing of the sacrament. Therefore the one who has faithfully overseen this distribution will receive a reward and be set above all good things in the heavenly kingdom.

But he will eat or drink with the drunkards: what is this but to commune with unworthy people? Drunkards are those who are full of unrighteousness. But in the Church, what is eating other than communion? His lord will come on a day which he does not know: plainly on the day of judgment, or on the day on which he makes him retreat from the world. He will divide him, meaning that he separates the soul from the body. But dividing means to take the soul away from the body, as Daniel said in the story of the two presbyters. He places his share with the hypocrites, meaning that on the day of judgment he will be sent into Gehenna with his companions, where there is continual flame and everlasting punishment. In this torment, it says that there is the gnashing of teeth and weeping of eyes.

All those who are interested in the message of Fatima know our Lady’s words: ‘In the end, my immaculate Heart will triumph’. But what exactly will she triumph over? Immediately before these words, she explained what would happen if Russia were not consecrated as she would request: ‘The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated’. It seems quite likely that what Mary is describing here is the rise and brief reign of antichrist.

People often imagine that the overthrow of antichrist will be the work of Christ alone at His second coming. In fact, Scripture apparently indicates that the two events will not be simultaneous:-

From the time when the continual sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination unto desolation shall be set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waits and comes unto a thousand three hundred and thirty-five days (Dan. 12:11-12).

The angel does not explain this riddle, and so we cannot say what will take place on the one thousand three hundred and thirty fifth day. St Jerome thought it would be the second coming. Cornelius a Lapide thought it would be a great triumph of the Church, though still within this present world, the scattered remnant having collected themselves together during the previous forty five days. But whatever it will be, it will apparently take place forty five days after the continual sacrifice will have been restored and the abomination cast down; which seems to mean after the destruction of the antichrist.

So the overthrow of antichrist will not be exactly simultaneous with the Second Coming. Still, they will be close, relatively speaking. Bellarmine says that the time between the two events will be so small as to be reputed as nothing – compared, I take him to mean, to the entire history of the world. St Paul, after all, says that our Lord will destroy him ‘with the epiphany of His coming’ (2 Thess. 2:8).  This suggests that the first event is almost the beginning of the second, as first light is the epiphany of sunrise.

But given that the destruction of antichrist will take place at some point before, however soon before, the end of the world, there is place to suppose that it will in a special way be the work of our Lady. There are several reasons to think this.

First, our Lord wishes to associate the blessed Virgin Mary with His own victory to the highest degree. She has already shared in this victory in her own person, by her bodily assumption into glory. It would seem very appropriate that she should share in it in this other way, intervening in history to bring the last persecution to an end.

Secondly, Christ is the head of the city of God, as the devil is the head of the opposite city. The man of sin is not the devil, but the one in whom that fallen spirit is most completely active. It seems therefore appropriate that his adversary should be our Lady, the one in whom Christ’s Holy Spirit is most active.

Again, St Paul says that our Lord will destroy the man of sin ‘with the breath of his mouth’ (2 Thess 2:8). The Book of Wisdom describes wisdom as being, among other things, ‘a breath of the power of God’ (Wis. 7:25). This is significant because the Church’s liturgy applies the Old Testament encomia of wisdom to Mary. The word for breath, admittedly, is not the same in each case: πνεῦμα in St Paul and ἀτμίς in Wisdom; the former may also be translated as ‘spirit’ and the latter as ‘vapour’. Still, it is interesting, all the same.

A lesser known part of the Fatima message is Mary’s promise of a seventh apparition. Sr Lucia described her first conversation with the Queen of heaven in this way:-

Our Lady said to us: ‘Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.’

‘Where is Your Grace from?’ I asked Her.

‘I am of Heaven.’

‘What does Your Grace want of me?’

‘I have come to ask you to come here for six months in succession, on the 13th day, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time.’

That seventh apparition has not yet occurred.  The promise of it must be intended to console and strengthen the faithful during some exceptionally dark time.