Again I must say: this is not yet Reformation, because the word is the word of the law: it is not yet the word of forgiveness. And this is always the difference between Reformation and pre-Reformation.
If there is a Pope, he must the spiritual leader of the true Church, which is the Church of the predestined; otherwise he is not really Pope, I. e., the Vicar of Christ, the Spiritual power from which all spiritual power is derived, but he is a man who falls into error. He is not able to give indulgences; only God is able to do so. Here you have the first statement against the indulgences, before Luther’s 95 theses. On y God can give and can release what He has ordered. And if the Pope is not living in humility, in charity and in poverty, he is not the real Pope. Here you have again the angelic pope of the radical Franciscans and of Joachim di Fiore. When the Pope, however, receives the worldly dominion – as he has done; the Constantinian gift was the great foundation of the political power of the Pope, which was a falsification historically, but which was a part of the political power of the Pope, that he was the prince of Rome at the same time in which he was the spiritual leader – if the Pope accepts such a dominion, as he did, of course, then he is a permanent heretic. It is heretical for the Pope who is a Spiritual power to become a prince. And if he does this, he is the Antichrist. We know this word from the Reformation, and from the Bible. It is a term going all through Church history, used by sectarians who criticized the Church. They say: If the Pope represents Christ – which is his claim – but is the opposite of Christ, namely the ruler of this world, he is the Antichrist.
I spoke once with Visser ‘t Hooft , the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, in the period of Hitler in Holland, when it was conquered. He said: We Dutch people, and many other Christians, had the feeling Hitler might be the Antichrist because of all the anti-Divine things he did, in a really Satanic way. But then we looked and looked and finally realized: No; he is not good enough for this; the Antichrist must at least maintain something of the religious glory of the real Christ, so that it is possible to confuse them and to adore him. But he is too nothing for this. And then we knew the end of all times had not yet come, and Hitler is not the Antichrist.
Here you see it is not a dogma. Visser ‘t Hooft in these ideas was in the real tradition of the sectarian movements going through all Church history, when he had this feeling. This is a very interesting contribution to the understanding of the Church.
If we call somebody the Antichrist today, it is usually simply understood as name- calling. You could also call him “swine,” or something else nice! But that is not the case. :Swine” is not a dogmatic term. But “Antichrist” is. When Luther called the Pope “Antichrist,” he did not want to attack the Pope in this way, except dogmatically; I. e., on the place where Christ is represented, everything is done which is against the Christ. And this is the whole tradition of the sectarian movements of the Church, and we have it also in Wyclif.
One of the criticisms which shows the Antichrist character of the Church is that they are big business. The banking house of the world was the Vatican, especially in the period in which Luther came, but long before also, The bishops were bankers, in a reduced way; but all this Wyclif insisted must be abolished. And even the monks, even the Franciscans in whose tradition he very much lives, have lost their ideal of poverty and have accommodated themselves to the general desire of the Church to be a rich Church.