Review: Heralds of the Second Coming

Review by Donal Anthony Foley of Heralds of the Second Coming: Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Blessed Pius IX to Benedict XVI, by Stephen Walford, Angelico Press, 228 pages, softcover.

Heralds of the Second Coming seeks to investigate what we can learn from Marian apparitions, the Divine Mercy devotion, and the pronouncements of the Popes of recent times, about that most awesome of events, the return of Christ in glory at the end of the world.

The back cover text describes these revelations as having a “deeply apocalyptic undercurrent” and speaks of the “rapidly approaching final coming of Christ,” and how “our own times are ripe for the persecution of the Antichrist,” with these claims being based on a study of magisterial documents and papal teaching.

These are large claims to make, and when they are examined in detail, it cannot be said that the author has succeeded in presenting a convincing case that we are actually in the “last stage of salvation history,” although clearly we are on the margins of such events.

This important distinction needs to be made, because if this idea about the imminent coming of the Antichrist—the final and most terrible persecutor of the Church—gains traction, when the actual facts of prophesy and history do not justify such a conclusion, then the result can only be that genuine prophecy suffers, and the Church, or members of the Church, will be accused of “crying wolf.”

The book is divided into three parts, with the first looking at the present situation, and how in the author’s view, the teachings of the Popes of the “Marian era” and of Vatican II, can be interpreted in an eschatological way, that is as related to the end of the world. The second part looks specifically at Pope John Paul II and describes him as the “Herald of the Second Advent,” while the third part examines Pope Benedict XVI’s thinking on this topic.

Stephen Walford quite rightly points out that the present state of the Church, and the world, is perilous, and that we are in the midst of a spiritual combat zone as we move through the second decade of the twenty first century; in the light of this, he believes that the pronouncements of recent popes can be scrutinized for evidence which show they teach the reasonably imminent approach of the “end times.” However, he is careful to state that it is not his intention to speculate as to “specific times and dates” but rather to expound papal teaching on the subject.

And it is true that recent Papal statements can be understood as warning the Church about the necessity of vigilance. But it is something else to say that they demonstrably indicate a belief in the imminent approach of Christ’s Second coming.

While there have been problems with large numbers of Catholics abandoning the Faith, and the clerical sex abuse crisis, it cannot be proved that these things, among others, indicate that we are entering the type of atmosphere that the Antichrist will be able to exploit to assume power. Things are bad, but there have been instances in the past when the Church has faced similarly grave situations.

And while it’s true, as the author states, that the growth in Marian devotion around the world, over say the last century or so, in the development, for example, of the Legion of Mary and the Blue Army/World Apostolate of Fatima, is a significant sign of the times, yet, being realistic, the actual influence of these movements on the Church and the world is still quite limited—we are not yet seeing the great and general flowering of Marian devotion that was prophesied by St Louis de Montfort.

It is the case, though, that some of the nineteenth century Popes did see in the growth of liberalism and rationalism, signs that the coming of the Antichrist might well be near. And in fact, as the author points out, we know that the Antichrist was actually mentioned in one of the messages given to the children at the apparition of Our Lady at La Salette, in France, in 1846.

But crucially, there was no mention of the Antichrist by Our Lady at Fatima in 1917, nor at other recent approved apparitions, which is what we would have expected if his advent was growing ever closer due to man’s sinfulness. Given that, something must have happened in the intervening period.

The most likely explanation is that the Catholic revival during the nineteenth century, particularly in France, where Our Lady also appeared at Lourdes and Pontmain, and which saw saints such as St John Vianney, and later, St Therese of Lisieux, managed to change the religious atmosphere to the extent that the coming of the Antichrist was put off to a future unspecified date.

This is an immense grace that Our Lady has gained for humanity, and she also promised the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart and a period of peace for the world at Fatima. So the most logical way of interpreting her words is that the time of the Antichrist will be after the period of peace.

This interpretation is backed up by the dream of the Two Columns of St John Bosco, in which he saw the Church as a ship being attacked on all sides, by storms and enemies, with the Pope as its captain, before it was finally able to anchor at two immense columns, one surmounted by a Host, representing Christ, and the other by a statue of Our Lady. Then a great calm, equivalent to the period of peace prophesied at Fatima, came over the sea.

It is important to make this point since the author states that parts of the Fatima message, such as the annihilation of various nations, may well take place during the “end times,” as part of the “great tribulation,” (p. 113), rather than before the period of peace, and also because of his belief that the “new Springtime for the Church,” which Pope John Paul II spoke about, refers to a renewal of the Church, after the return of Christ (p. 151). Thus there seems to be confusion here between the likelihood of coming persecutions for the Church in the run up to the period of peace, and the final persecutions at the time of the Antichrist.

Overall then, while there are many valuable observations made in the book, the connection made between Papal statements and the eschatological view of the author is not substantiated, and a number of statements in the book are questionable.
It is clear that there is a need for the author to cast his net more widely in order to balance his general position, particularly regarding a more correct interpretation of the Fatima message. If that can be done, then a revised version of this book may well be a much more useful aid in discerning what will happen in the future.

But the danger is that the present version of this book will only excite the imagination of people already too disenchanted and disturbed by the current state of the Church, and thus it cannot be generally recommended.

This review appeared in Summer 2012 in the Wanderer