Did the Roman Empire prefigure Rome's dominion or leadership over the universal Church?

Please discuss, as I do find the circumstances of Our Lord’s time to be very interesting.
Thank you for reading.

God bless you. :thankyou:

The Church does not teach that the Roman government “prefigured” Church leadership.

At most, the Roman political and economic structure (and Greece before them) facilitated ease of transportation throughout the known world, enough peace to make travel realistic, a culture, language, and trade system upon which evangelization could piggy back and flourish despite the other aspects of political and religious life that sought to suppress Christianity.

The Early Church Fathers believed that the Roman Empire was the Katechon referred to by St. Paul in his Letter to the Thessalonians, the “restrainer” which prevented the rebellion of Antichrist from taking place and the “spirit of lawlessness” - disorder, chaos - from breaking out:

**St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386) Doctor of the Church
Catechetical Lectures



  1. But this aforesaid Antichrist is to come when the times of the Roman empire shall have been fulfilled, and the end of the world is now drawing near**…

**St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202)
Adversus haereses (inter A.D. 180/199)
Book V, Chapter 26

John and Daniel have predicted the dissolution and desolation of the Roman Empire, which shall precede the end of the world and the eternal Kingdom of Christ**. The Gnostics are refuted, those tools of Satan, who invent another Father different from the Creator.

  1. In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules [the earth] shall be partitioned. He teaches us what the ten horns shall be which were seen by Daniel, …

Source: newadvent.org/fathers/0103526.htm


Tertullian on Christian loyalty to the Emperor - Latin Text with English translation

In what way do Christians pray for the Emperor? From Tertullian passage from Apologeticus pro Christianis (Apology), 29 - 33.

XXXII. There is also another and a greater necessity for our offering prayer in behalf of the emperors, nay, for the complete stability of the empire, and for Roman interests in general. For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth—in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes—is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire. We have no desire, then, to be overtaken by these dire events; and in praying that their coming may be delayed, we are lending our aid to Rome’s duration

**St John Chrysostom Homily IV on Second Thessalonians II Thess.ii.6-9: **

And now ye know that which restrains, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness does already work: only there is one that restrains now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of His coming: even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan…

Only there is one that restrains now, until he be taken out of the way, that is, when the Roman empire is taken out of the way, then he shall come. And naturally. For as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will willingly exalt himself, but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of man and of God.

For as the kingdoms before this were destroyed, for example, that of the Medes by the Babylonians, that of the Babylonians by the Persians, that of the Persians by the Macedonians, that of the Macedonians by the Romans: so will this also be by the Antichrist, and he by Christ, and it will no longer withhold. And these things Daniel delivered to us with great clearness.

And then, he says, shall be revealed the lawless one. And what after this? The consolation is at hand. Whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of His coming, even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan.

And in the medieval period:

**Pope Pius II (Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini), **

*On what hinders the manifestation of the Antichrist: *

The Roman Empire also has another privilege, as some asert: they do not think that Antichrist will come while it remains in existence. Thus they interpret these words of St Paul, doctor of the Gentiles, that he who now holdeth, do hold until he be taken out of the way. And then the wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord shall kill with the spirit of His mouth [II Thessalonians 2:7-8]. It is evident that the divine Augustine followed this opinion. Origin and Authority of the Roman Empire.

**St. Jerome (c. 340-420) Doctor of the Church
Commentary on Daniel, Chapter 7, Verse 8:

“… We should therefore concur with the traditional interpretation of all the commentators of the Christian Church, that at the end of the world, when the Roman Empire is to be destroyed, there shall be ten kings who will partition the Roman world amongst themselves. Then an insignificant eleventh king will arise, who will overcome three of the ten kings, …”**

Source: tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_daniel_02_text.htm

Thanks for the great research!

Your welcome!

I should also note that Roman Law lived on after the Fall of the Western half of the Empire and become one of the foundation’s of Western civilization, so in that sense we might say that the legacy of the Empire “lives on”:


**Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, including Roman Military Jurisdiction and the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables (c. 449 BC), to the Corpus Juris Civilis (AD 529) ordered by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. The historical importance of Roman law is reflected by the continued use of Latin legal terminology in many legal systems influenced by it…

In Germany, Roman law practice remained in place longer under the Holy Roman Empire (963–1806). Roman law thus served as a basis for legal practice throughout Western continental Europe, as well as in most former colonies of these European nations, including Latin America, and also in Ethiopia. English and North American common law were influenced also by Roman law, notably in their Latinate legal glossary (for example, stare decisis, culpa in contrahendo, pacta sunt servanda).[1] Eastern Europe was also influenced by the jurisprudence of the Corpus Juris Civilis, especially in countries such as medieval Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, and some other medieval provinces/historical regions) which created a new system, a mixture of Roman and local law**

So perhaps the Roman Empire yet remains the “katechon” :slight_smile:

Which isn’t the same as the Church actually teaching it.

Clearly, Roman Empire did fall, the world did not end, and the Empire was not restraining the Antichrist.

Certainly the Church has an interest in the stability the Roman rule provided, but the Church doesn’t hitch its authority to the Roman Empire’s physical existence in the first centuries.

I never claimed as such but it was the consensus opinion among the Fathers and most medieval commentators (i.e. referring to the Holy Roman Empire).

Clearly, Roman Empire did fall, the world did not end, and the Empire was not restraining the Antichrist.

To be fair, the “Roman Empire” didn’t fall in the fifth century.

Only the Western half did. The Eastern half persisted until the 1400s and by that time the Western half had already been revived under the Franks in the form of the Holy Roman Empire, which in turn persisted until 1806.

The ruling Habsburg Dynasty then turned the Empire into the Austrian Empire which finally collapsed in 1918-1922 under Blessed Karl I.

Throughout this period, liturgical prayers for the Emperor remained in the official Roman missals until 1955.

In the Collects of the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday:

*Oremus et pro Christianissimo imperatore nostro [Nomen] ut Deus et Dominus noster subditas illi faciat omnes barbaras nationes ad nostram perpetuam pacem.

Diaconus: Flectamus genua.
Subdiaconus: Levate.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, in cujus manu sunt omnium potestates, et omnium jura regnorum: respice ad Romanum benignus imperium; ut gentes, quae in sua feritate confidunt, potentiae tuae dexterae comprimantur. Per Dominum…
R: Amen.*


**Let us pray also for the most Christian Emperor [Name] that the Lord God may reduce to his obedience all barbarous nations for our perpetual peace.

Deacon: Let us kneel.
Subdeacon: Arise.
O almighty and eternal God, in whose hands are all the power and right of kingdoms, graciously look down on the Roman Empire that those nations who confide in their own haughtiness and strength, may be reduced by the power of Thy right hand. Through the same Lord…
R: Amen**.

At the end of Exsultet on the Easter Vigil:

Respice etiam ad devotissimum imperatorem nostrum [Nomen] cujus tu, Deus, desiderii vota praenoscens, ineffabili pietatis et misericordiae tuae munere, tranquillum perpetuae pacis accommoda, et coelestem victoriam cum omni populo suo.


Look also upon our most devout Emperor [Name], the desires of whose longing you, O God, know beforehand, and by the inexpressible grace of your kindness and mercy grant him the tranquility of lasting peace and heavenly victory with all his people.

So in that respect the “Empire” in some form has only ceased to exist since the 19th-20th centuries, and it was only in 1955 that Catholics finally ceased to pray for it in our liturgies to reflect that changed reality. These imperial prayers were even in missals in the U.S. until 1955.

Not long after the Empire fell at the start of the 19th century, Fr. Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio (1793–1862), who was a Jesuit priest, celebrated theologian and political philosopher and who cofounded the journal Civiltà Cattolica in 1850 and is is often remembered as the “Father of Catholic Social Teaching”, wrote the following:


The Catholic Tradition of the Law of Nations

*By John Eppstein

Taparelli D’Azeglio. ‘Essai Théorique de Droit Naturel,’ Book VI, Chap. V. Article 11. Form of International Societies: their end, their duties and their rights:*

Since the decline of the Holy Roman Empire and of the quasi-theocratic power of the Popes, the international authority has, among European peoples, revealed itself in the agreements between the different sovereigns, expressed in treaties, alliances, congresses, confederations, etc. But as we have observed (in the origin of human society) the polyarchy of brothers, equal in rights, emancipated from the father’s control, giving to their common authority certain forms, in order that it may be more effective and more lasting, so we see modern nations, now that they are freed from the guardianship of the Holy Roman Empire and the protection of the Popes, feeling more and more in need of an international authority which is regular, perfectly determined in all its aspects, an authority which is strong, which is respected by all, and which can ensure the rights of the weak shall no longer be at the mercy of the strong.

But when interest itself is at one one with the requirements of justice, it becomes all powerful and infallibly determines the forms which accord most harmoniously with the needs of human societies. And so, I believe, we shall gradually see arising in the world a kind of universal federal tribunal which will replace alliances, congresses and treaties, just as these have temporarily replaced today the supreme authority of the Emperor and the patriarchical government of the Popes. I do not see how this stage can fail to come, though it be reached but slowly, for the life of nations can be reckoned in centuries. Special confederations between small States seem to be a prelude to the organization of the international authority, just as, in the Middle Ages, the evolution of the Commune led, little by little, to a complete state of civil equality and the unity of the political authority.

  1. But let us leave to the passage of time, the art of politics and the march of events - blind instruments of Divine Providence - the gradual development of the political forms of international society, so as to achieve the welfare of the nations, in the same as the civic forms of the State must insensibly intend to the attainment of happiness for the families and individuals that compose it.

Wow! Thanks for all the great information!

Vouthon’s research is very fascinating. I would add to it in two ways. First, he said “The Early Church Fathers believed that the Roman Empire was the [restrainer] referred to by St. Paul…” but I think he probably means “some of the Early Church Fathers believed [this].” I have never studied it myself, but such an opinion sounds like one that would be held only by some and not all. He can happily correct me if I have misinterpreted him or if he knows better than I do, which it sounds like he does.

Second, there is perhaps another way in which the Roman Empire is related to Church doctrine. In Daniel 2:40-45, the prophet Daniel interprets a dream that a king named Nebuchadnezzar had, and the dream involves a “kingdom of iron” which shall be the fourth kingdom in succession after the Babylonian empire to have authority over the then-known world. Classically, it is my understanding that this kingdom is the Roman empire.

One reason for this interpretation comes from verses 44-45: “in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.” If that “final kingdom” is the Church, which shall never be destroyed and was wrought not by a human hand but by a divine one, and outlasted all other kingdoms, then we have a fulfilled prophecy about a Church that would be set up during the time of the Roman Empire.

I tell you that to tell you this: Daniel 7 discusses this kingdom stuff again, and includes a promise in verse 18: "But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, for ever and ever.’ " I have heard some Catholics interpret “the kingdom” in this passage as a reference to Rome. The saints, i.e. the Catholics, shall receive Rome and possess it forever. If that is a correct interpretation, then perhaps the Roman empire’s authority is connected to Roman jurisdiction in this way.

Interesting thread, now that we’re getting into the deep, dark, interpretive stuff! If I was an outsider, I might think we are as crazy as those guys you hear on pentecostal TV ranting about the four blood moons and the rebuilding of the temple. :smiley:

Yes, you are right thanks for the correction :thumbsup:

The idea that the Katechon is to be identified with the Roman Empire was, to my knowledge, the majority opinion among the Fathers but it was not the only one.

Interesting thread, now that we’re getting into the deep, dark, interpretive stuff! If I was an outsider, I might think we are as crazy as those guys you hear ranting about all the signs of the blood moons and the rebuilding of the temple on pentecostal TV. :smiley:

Indeed, discussions about eschatological matters always have an innate tendency to ultimately get bogged down in nonsensical claptrap like that which you mention above. I try to keep it a pure scholarly endeavour i.e. ascertaining what church authorities believed about the future in a given time period and how that relates to later understandings.

I try to avoid such “crazy speculation” as far as possible, which is why I refer to eschatological theorizing only sporadically :smiley:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.