The Pope and the Apocalypse
AVERTING ARMAGEDDON is the title that two reporters gave to their 1984 book on recent papal politics. Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts have been reporting on the papacy for over 17 years. What insight can we gain from them as to concern in the top levels of the Catholic Church about the apocalypse?
According to these reporters, Monsignor Emery Kabongo, personal secretary to John Paul II, stated: “The Pope is like a spiritual Hercules trying to keep the superpowers apart, trying to avert nuclear Armageddon.”
It appears that church leaders are especially concerned about a global destruction through human deeds rather than about God’s selective intervention in human affairs—the apocalypse that the Bible foretells. Thus, Averting Armageddon says: “Among those engaged with Kabongo, there is no outward sign of strain in trying to stave off the apocalypse they detect. . . . But behind this routine there is a tension which is a direct carryover from the international Synod of Bishops. It had concluded deliberations on a doom-laden note, deploring ‘warlike aggressiveness, violence and terrorism, the building up of arsenals of both conventional and especially nuclear arms, and the scandalous trade in all weapons of war.’” Even the pope is involved. Thomas and Morgan-Witts report that on the bookshelves in his study are works such as International Defense Review, The Problems of Military Readiness, and Surprise Attack: Lessons for Defense Planning. They add:
“Close to the encyclicals are books dealing with a subject that now rivets the Pope: eschatology, the study of Biblical teachings which argue that God will inaugurate His Kingdom on earth through a series of ‘happenings’ to close an age. John Paul believes with a fervor . . . that, possibly before the end of the century, something ‘decisive’ may sweep the world. Could it be pestilence, a second Black Death? Or drought or famine on an unimaginable scale? Or nuclear war? He frequently now fears the latter; perhaps, he has been known to ponder, he has been cast in the role of head of the Church during what could be the final decade of the world before it is permanently blighted by a nuclear holocaust.”
Averting Armageddon also calls attention to the symbolic “doomsday clock” that is regularly highlighted in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. When this “clock” was first published in December 1947, it was set at seven minutes before midnight to show “how close the world was to a nuclear Armageddon.” After the 1972 arms limitation agreement (SALT), the hands on the clock were moved back to 12 minutes before midnight. In 1984 Thomas and Morgan-Witts wrote: “The clock now reads just three minutes to midnight. This is the closest it has been to doomsday for thirty years.”
Despite any papal efforts “to avert nuclear Armageddon,” in November 1985, the hands still showed just three minutes to go. Let us, though, not be diverted by concern over whether the nations will destroy mankind. Instead of trying to avoid the apocalypse, we will be wise to seek God’s way of salvation out of the apocalypse, for this is certain “to come upon the whole inhabited earth.”—Revelation 3:10.