Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
St. Vincent Ferrer earned the title preaching the Gospel powerfully and persuasively, often on the Final Judgment and the coming of the Antichrist. Even Pius II’s Bull of Canonization called St. Vincent Ferrer “the Angel of the Apocalypse, flying through the heavens to announce the day of the Last Judgment, to evangelize the inhabitants of the earth.”
This year marks the 600th anniversary of St. Vincent Ferrer’s death on April 5, 1419, yet his words remain as powerful and necessary as ever. Before looking at his preaching on the Last Judgment, the Antichrist and the End of the World, let’s understand how powerful a preacher he was all over Europe, beginning in his native Spain, by looking at a mere speck of who he reached and the miracles he performed.
As a Dominican priest, Vincent Ferrer preached in his own native language or Latin, yet wherever he went, everyone miraculously understood his every word as if he were preaching in their language. Sinners by the thousands, even the most hardened, repented. When the curious Moorish king sent for him, after Vincent Ferrer gave just three sermons, 8,000 Moors converted and wanted to be baptized. Modest estimates put his conversion of Jews in city after city in Spain at 25,000.
At one major Church conference, Vincent’s preaching saw 14 of 16 rabbis converted on the spot. In Toledo as Jews became Christians they turned their synagogue into a church under the Blessed Mother.
Like Jesus raising the widow of Naim’s son, thorough the power of Christ St. Vincent stopped a funeral procession and commanded the corpse to rise, restoring the dead man to life. In all, he restored 28 dead people back to life. Even after he died, two dead people placed on his tomb came back to life.
He cured countless physical infirmities, working wonders through the name of Jesus and the Sign of the Cross. In one, he restored the use of the limbs of an incurably crippled boy who eventually became the Bishop of Barcelona.
In confession, he could read souls. He shared heavenly previews of future events, such as telling a mother her little son would become pope and canonize him — which happened as the boy became Callixtus III. (At the canonization Vincent Ferrer’s body was found incorrupt.) Earlier, during a Barcelona famine, he announced two ships were coming loaded with corn. Nobody believed. That same day, as predicted, the ships arrived.
Highly devoted to the Blessed Mother, he preached and demonstrated the power of the Rosary through immediate conversion obtained through praying it.
Preaching the Last Judgement
Jesus will come not like his first coming in humility and poverty, but “in such majesty and power that the whole world will tremble,” began Angel of the Apocalypse in a sermon. When he powerfully detailed the glory and the horror of separating the sheep and goats described in Matthew 25, record has it sinners were frightened and cried. He wanted them to do so because he himself was fearful of that day and fearful for all those he preached to.
Vincent told the throngs:
People will say ‘to the mountains and the rocks: Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of him who sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’ (Revelation 6:16). Yet Jesus said, ‘But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads,’ ‘because your redemption is at hand’ (Luke 21:28).The Blessed Mother shall sit with him. Jesus will separate the peoples of the nations as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
St. Vincent cautioned, “On that day it will be better to be a sheep of Jesus Christ that to have been a pope, or king, or emperor.”
Vincent powerfully detailed five virtues revealed in Scripture that distinguishes the sheep: “simple innocence, ample mercy, steadfast patience, true obedience, and worthy penance.”
First, simple innocence is when a person “lives simply, nor hurts anyone in his heart, by hating, nor by defaming in speech, nor striking with hands, nor by stealing. Such a life “is called simple innocence, which makes a man a sheep of Christ.”
In each case, St. Vincent next colorfully details reasons why. A sheep doesn’t attack with horns like a bull...
...nor bite with its teeth like a wolf, nor strike with hooves like a horse… if you wish to be a sheep of Christ, you should strike no one with horns of knowledge or of power, for lawyers strike by the horns of knowledge, jurists, advocates, or men who have great knowledge. Merchants by deceiving others. Lords and bullies strike with the horns of power, plundering or injuring, and extorting, using calumnies and threats, and the like. Listen to what the Lord says by the mouth of David: ‘And I will break all the horns of sinners: but the horns of the just shall be exalted’ (Psalm 74:11).
“Biting” is to defame your neighbor’s reputation, and devour by saying “nothing good praising someone, but only the bad,” so “defamers are not the sheep of Christ, but wolves of hell.”
Kicking like horses means to despise. Therefore, he warns, “children, do not hate your parents; nor parents, children; nor young people, old folks; nor the healthy, the sick; nor rich, the poor; nor masters, their servants; nor prelates, their clergy; and vice versa. It is clear what is simple innocence.”
Second, ample mercy means distributing your God-given temporal and spiritual gifts to the needy. “Because,” Vincent illustrates, “among all the animals a sheep is the most beneficial of animals. For the sheep by growing wool, shows us mercy and benefits of mercy, because how many poor people does a sheep clothe?” Sheep give milk and food to eat to. We imitate and give love this way: our wool is “external and temporal goods, bread and wine, money and clothes and the like.” The milk is “interior and spiritual goods, by giving good teaching to the ignorant… If you have the milk of knowledge, of devotion, or of eloquence, you should give to those not having them.” Vincent reminds of Jesus telling the sheep, “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink... naked, and you covered me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
Third, steadfast patience takes different forms, such as when someone “suffering from injuries inflicted or spoken to him does not want to concern himself with taking revenge. Rather he loves everyone in general, and prays for them all.” The analogy? The “sheep is a most patient animal, for if harassed while eating, or if struck, it does not defend itself, but goes elsewhere, nor does it avenge itself like a dog or a goat would do, but humbly yields. O blessed is the person, man or woman, who has such patience, and takes no vengeance for injuries, but forgives, as God forgives him.”
Fourth, true obedience means ordering all thoughts, words and actions according to God’s will, not ours, just as sheep are so obedient that a child with a staff easily “can easily guide 30 or 40 sheep.” Remember Psalm 23? Remember Jesus illustrating the shepherd was able to leave 99 safely alone as he searched for the lost sheep?
Vincent Ferrer’s simple summary for the shepherd’s commands includes these: “First that we live humbly” because Jesus said “learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). Those with pride aren’t Christ’s sheep but the devil’s goat. Second, give with mercy and generosity. Who “disobediently goes by the way of avarice by committing usury, robbery, theft, etc., is not a sheep of Christ, but a goat of the devil.” Next, we must “walk by the way of cleanness, of chastity, etc.” Matthew 19:12). “Whoever therefore goes by the way of uncleanness and the filthiness of lust and carnality, such is not a sheep of Christ but a goat of the devil.”
Fifth, worthy penance must be performed for sins we’ve committed. The Angel of the Apocalypse emphasizes no one is exempt from sin, As Ecclesiastes (7:21) noted, “For there is no just man upon earth that does good, and sins not.”
“Therefore worthy penance is necessary, by sorrowing for sins and proposing not to relapse, confessing, and making satisfaction. And in this way penance makes a man a sheep of Christ.” To make the analogy, he explains in detail how a sheep is modest, but concludes a goat reflects “the notoriously shameless person, because everyone knows his wicked life and sins, like wicked clergy, and other notorious cohabiters, nor do they wish to cover it up with the tail of penitence; they are impenitent.”
The End of World and the Antichrist
St. Vincent Ferrer not only preached about these in detail but explained them in a letter to Pope Benedict XIII in 1412. Because his sermon is very long, encompassing explanations that focus on Luke 21:25-28, we’ll touch only on the highlights.
Jesus “warns us of the great evils and tribulations which are to come at the end of the world, and tells us of the signs which will precede His coming in judgment,” the Angel of the Apocalypse begins. He knew the Bible by heart and connected everything to Scripture.
God doesn’t leave us clueless. In his mercy, he often sends signs, “so that people forewarned of impending tribulation by means of these signs, through prayer and good works, may obtain in the tribunal of mercy a reversal of the sentence passed against them by God the judge in the heavenly courts; or at least by penance and amendment of life, may prepare themselves against the impending affliction.” Remember Noah, and Jonah?
Three of the “greatest and most terrible” afflictions will be “Antichrist, a man but a diabolical one; second, the destruction by fire of the terrestrial world; third, the universal judgment. And with these tribulations the world will come to an end.” Providence will give us warning signs in the heavens — sun, moon and stars.
The first is “Antichrist, a diabolical man, who will bring distress on the whole world.” He will deceive Christians in four ways.
First, in the sign of the sun (Luke 21:25).Vincent Ferrer explains, “In Holy Scripture Christ is called the Sun… Taking the word etymologically, we have: S-O-L (Super omnia lucens) – ‘Shining above all things’… God the Father sent Him into the world, saying: ‘But unto you who fear my name the Sun of justice shall arise’ (Malachi 4:2).” So what’s the sign given by the sun for arrival of the enemy?
St. Vincent reveals St. Matthew gives it precisely: “The sun will not give its light.” How’s that? Vincent explains the sun will and cannot be darkened in itself, but only when clouds obscure it:
In the same way, in the time of Antichrist, the Sun of justice will be obscured by the interposition of temporal goods and the wealth which Antichrist will bestow on the world, inasmuch as the brightness of faith in Jesus Christ and the glow of good lives will no longer shine among Christians. For, lest they should lose their dominion, temporal rulers, kings and princes will range themselves on the side of Antichrist. In like manner, prelates for fear of losing their dignities, and religious and priests to gain honors and riches, will forsake the Faith of Christ and adhere to Antichrist. Now he will be a veritable man, but so proud that, not only will he desire to have universal dominion in the whole world, but will even demand to be called a god, and will insist on receiving divine worship.
The evil one will be able to accomplish because Daniel (11:43) prophesies — ‘He shall control the riches of gold and silver and all the treasures of Egypt.’ “With this wealth he will gather together in arms all the nations of the world, to fight against those who oppose him — (Revelation 20:7)” and “seduce the nations” and “peoples, that is, with gold and silver and honors.”
St. Vincent continues, “There will indeed be signs in the Sun of justice, for then it will be obscured in the hearts of Christians, since from those hearts it will not give forth the light of Faith; all preaching of a better life will cease, owing to the interposition of… clouds of temporal goods.”
Materialism takes over.
St. Vincent tells us in every case why God all-powerful would permit this error the answer is the same — Wisdom 11:17: “By what things a man sinneth, by the same also is he tormented.”
“If therefore you do not wish to be deceived, now with all your hearts contemn and despise all earthly goods, and long for those of heaven, considering that the goods of this world are transitory and empty, while heavenly and celestial goods are eternal. In this way you will be strong.”
Next, signs in the moon. “In the Holy Scripture the moon signifies our holy Mother the Universal Church, which implies the worldwide union of Christians.” Reflecting the moon’s phases, the Church in the last phase “no longer in the state in which Christ founded it,” but “turned round to pride, pomp and vanity... mercy and liberality are changed into simony, usury and rapine; chastity becomes licentiousness, uncleanness and corruption; the brightness of virtue is changed into envy and malignity; temperance has become gluttony and voracity; patience has given place to anger, war and divisions among the peoples; diligence is superseded by negligence.”
Christ warned us: “There will arise false christs and false prophets. And they will show great signs and wonders in so much to deceive, if possible, even the elect” Matthew (24:24). Fooled with false “miracles.” “Since the people of the world sin against God by having recourse to the works of the devil, such as divination and fortunetelling… instead of laying their needs before the omnipotent God.” Think of all the occult around today.
Don’t be deceived but “place the whole of your faith and confidence in the name of Jesus Christ., and refuse to acknowledge any miracle unless it is worked in that same name; and so you will be strong against seduction.”
Third, “Stars shall fall from heaven,” Christ said (Matthew 24:29). Looking to Daniel (12:3), Vincent proves that refers to the masters, doctors, and licentiates in theology, some of whom “will fall from heaven, that is from the heights of the Faith (Daniel 11:36). Christ also permits this “because of the scandalous and wicked lives and the many sins” of some.
Christ warns us (24:21): “For there shall then be great tribulation such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.”
The Antichrist will reign for three and a half years, 1,290 days. When he is slain “by lightning on Mount Olivet and his death has been made widely known throughout the world, this our earth will exist for 45 more days; I do not say years, but days” (Daniel 12:11-12). The Doctors said “these 45 days will be given by God for the conversion of those who have been seduced by Antichrist, but Antichrist will have left behind him so great riches and pleasure that hardly any of the nations will be converted to the Faith of Christ. For there is no savior but Christ, and yet they will not be converted.” In Luke 17 Christ warns us it will be like in the days of Noah and Lot when people went about as usual.
Then “a certain dreadful expectation of the judgment and the rage of a fire shall consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). As David says (Psalm 96:3): “A fire shall go before him and shall burn his enemies round about. His lightnings have shone forth to the world; the earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord; at the presence of the Lord of all the earth.”
“Therefore,” Vincent Ferrer warns, “do penance now, forgive injuries, make restitution of any ill-gotten goods, live up to and confess your religion; If it were certain that in a short time this town was going to be destroyed by fire, would you not exchange all your immovable goods for something that you could take away with you?”
Only the treasure piled up already in heaven.