Home > Antichrist > The Tiburtine Sibyl, Hugo Ripelin, and the myth of a one-man Antichrist

The Tiburtine Sibyl, Hugo Ripelin, and the myth of a one-man Antichrist

January 23, 2011

The Tiburtine Sibyl is a mythological figure, of Tivoli, Italy, the classical Tibur, about 30 km from Rome. She is said to have been consulted by Caesar Augustus, who asked whether he should be worshiped as a god. In later tradition she is also supposed to have uttered a prophecy about a future one-man Antichrist, an Emperor named Constans, who appears in the last days.  He makes war with Gog and Magog, kills the two witnesses, said to be Elijah and Enoch, and persecutes Christians. [1]

Superstitious people in Europe were influenced by these tales for centuries. These stories were promoted in the Compendium theologiae veritatis, by Hugo Ripelin (1205-1268) of Strasburg, a Dominican theologian. It is said to have been the most popular manual on scholastic theology in Europe over a period of about four centuries. The 7th book of this work was about “Last Things” and it featured scary stories about the future Antichrist, in a fashion similar in some ways, to that taken up by Lahaye and Jenkins in the modern era. It was basically popular legend and fiction, mixed in with Biblical prophecy.

Hugo’s doctrine on the Antichrist resembled that of Adso of Montier-en-Der in the tenth century. Adso died in 992 AD. Andrew Gow wrote: [2]

Hugo’s Compendium theologicae veritatis was the most widespread basic sketch of scholastic theology in the later Middle Ages and Reformation era. It went through almost 40 printings, and owed much of its medieval vogue to the fact that it was greatly indebted to Bonaventure’s ‘Breviloquium’ and to the works of Albert the Great; indeed, it was generally mistaken for the work of one or the other. Hugo followed the Tiburtine Sibyl and Adso concerning the descent of the Antichrist, who was to be born of the Jewish tribe of Dan. He would claim to be the Jewish Messiah, and the Jewish people would be his special and foremost adherents. Hugo was not above inventing sources for this assertion. His thinking on the Antichrist is concrete and personal, whereas the Glossa ordinaria he carelessly cites calls the Beast of Rev. 13,1, ‘in a spiritual sense the Antichrist, or generally the entire number of the wicked’. The late-medieval Antichrist book is based largely on Hugo’s popularizing and literalist exegetical framework.

Hugo embellished Bible prophecy with tales of the Red Jews, the Amazons, and Gog and Magog, who, it said, will break out and descend upon Christendom at the end of the age. Hugo wrote: “Concerning Gog and Magog some say they are the Ten Tribes enclosed within the Caspian Mountains, however in such a way that they might leave if they were permitted; but they are not permitted to do so by the Queen of the Amazons, under whose rule and jurisdiction they live.”

Hugo Ripelin’s writings about a Jewish Antichrist figure, Gow suggests, along with similar works by others, contributed to antisemitic attitudes in Europe. Gow wrote: [3]

In German-language texts of the 14th and 15th centuries, the especially threatening Red Jews were among the first to be assigned to the ranks of the Antichrist. First the Jews, then the Red Jews were servants of Antichrist. The part assigned to the Red Jews in the final drama was a ‘step up’ in the ‘escalation of antisemitism’ that included canon law restrictions, accusations of sacrilege and ritual murder, suspicions of a diabolical role in the entourage of Antichrist, expulsion and forced conversion. The re-assignment of the Jews from ‘conversion duty’ to active service in the army of the Antichrist had occurred by the time Hugo Ripelin wrote his theological encyclopedia; it took fifty years more for the idea to start showing up in other genres, after which time it became a commonplace of antisemitic Christian apocalypticism.

Hugo Ripelin’s teaching about an individual Antichrist, and similar sensational works, were significant in promoting antisemitism in Europe for centuries. These old traditions were later exploited by German patriots and eventually by the Nazis. Ripelin’s doctrine of a literal three and a half years at the end of the age, contrasts with his contemporary and fellow Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, who said of the related period of 1,260 days: [4]

The thousand two hundred sixty days mentioned in the Apocalypse (12:6) denote all the time during which the Church endures, and not any definite number of years. The reason whereof is because the preaching of Christ on which the Church is built lasted three years and a half, which time contains almost an equal number of days as the aforesaid number. Again the number of days appointed by Daniel does not refer to a number of years to elapse before the end of the world or until the preaching of Antichrist, but to the time of Antichrist’s preaching and the duration of his persecution.

I believe Thomas Aquinas had the more correct explanation, that the 1,260 days “denote all the time during which the Church endures, and not any definite number of years.”

The Tiburtine Sibyl doctrine of an individual Antichrist seems to be associated with a foul stench of superstition and demonic influence.

References

1. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Tiburtine_Sibyl

2. Gow, Andrew. Jewish Shock-Troops of the Apocalypse: Antichrist and the End, 1200-1600. Journal for Millennial Studies, Vol 1. Spring 1998.

http://www.bu.edu/mille/publications/summer98/agow.pdf

3. Ibid.

4. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. Treatise on the resurrection. Question 77.2.2.]

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum623.htm

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