Stephen Walford focusses principally on the “Popes of the Marian era” (an expression he explains and justifies) their teaching on the end times and, more particularly, our response to the present time in which many of the signs of the end are present. The signs which previous Popes and saints discerned, sometimes in graphic language, are far more evident today than in their times which seem morally healthy and placid by comparison
As he says at the end of chapter three:
The popes of the Marian era, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary, carefully discerned the signs of the times and courageously proclaimed the reality that for the Church, its final, great struggle against the forces of evil was at hand. By recognising the maternal mediation of Mary, they placed before the faithful the image of theHodegetria, she who “shows the way” to the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ. In Mary Mos Holy, the Roman Pontiffs perceived the role of the Mother of the Second Advent, who would stay at the foot of the Cross, dispensing the graces necessary for the church to accept its own crucifixion.
Interestingly, there is a chapter on the eschatological teaching of Vatican II. This is overlooked today, and it is true that the teaching of the Council on this question as on many others, was hijacked in the aftermath of the Council to the extent that “eschatological” became a buzz-word, used to excuse aberrations in dogmatic and spiritual theology. However Walford is right to highlight the genuine teaching of the Council documents in their reference to “the final age of the world.” The second half of the book is devoted to Blessed Pope John Paul, with an epilogue on Pope Benedict.
This is a useful contribution to eschatology, collecting material from a variety of modern sources and offering a balanced reflection on how we should live in the Church at times of crisis. It is helpful both in giving a reasoned rejection of millenarianist approaches to eschatology, and in reminding us that in the Church we are ever focussed on the second coming of Christ.
Fr Tim Finigan, The Hermeneutic of Continuity Blog
Some time ago, I created and posted a video entitled “Shortcomings of Catholic Eschatology“, in which I lamented that I could not really find a decent book on Catholic eschatology. Many readers of this blog chimed in with their own sentiments, many echoing my own. Some authors stepped forward to present me with their own manuscripts, each hoping that their book would be the one to buck the trend.
One of the books I was sent was Heralds of the Second Coming by Stephen Walford (Angelico Press, 2013). Heralds of the Second Coming is no fly-by-night amateurish attempt at eschatology; it has a forward by His Eminence Ivan Cardinal Dias and was personally presented to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI last month, for which the author received a personalized note of thanks.
Heralds of the Second Coming succeeds where so many other modern eschatology books fail. One reason for this is the author humbly and wisely chooses a very restrictive scope; rather than seeking to present the Church’s whole teaching on the end times or exegete the Book of Revelation, he focuses in on a very specific aspect of eschatology: the eschatological statements of the popes from Pius IX to Benedict XVI, with a special emphasis on Fatima, the Divine Mercy and Mariology in general. The book is subtitled “Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Blessed Pius IX to Benedict XVI”, and this really sums up the book’s true worth as a compendium of papal statements on the intersection of Mariology and eschatology, encompassing every sort of pronouncement from solemn declarations and encyclicals down to addresses, letters and even anecdotal stories. This treasure-trove of quotes is made more valuable by Mr. Walford’s excellent writing style, which gives the book a nice flow.
The picture that emerges from these immense collection of statements is one of striking continuity. In weaving these teachings together, Mr. Walford demonstrates that the modern popes have had a very keen eschatological expectation. Every pope from Pius IX to Benedict XVI seemed to have had a lively sense that the Church was drawing near to the final consummation of all things, and each pontiff considered part of his specific vocation to be the preparation of the Church for this final conflict. Fatima plays a very large role in this expectation, as does the Divine Mercy devotion and the Second Vatican Council, which, rightly or wrongly, the post-Conciliar popes have viewed as a kind of purifying ecclesial event to prepare the Church for the coming of our Lord.
The popes of course never state how imminent they view this return, other than that is is approaching at that we are closer now than ever before. But when talking about an event in the future, these statements are always true. Saints in the 13th century spoke of the end being at hand as well. Mr. Walford is generally extremely conservative with how he presents the popes’ teaching and what conclusions he draws from them, but a few times I found myself second guessing his interpretations. For example, in a chapter on the eschatological statements of John Paul II, he quotes the Holy Father as saying to a group of bishops, “The more faithfully and devotedly the religious in your Dioceses live out their commitment to Christ in poverty, chastity and obedience, the more clearly will the men and women of Ghana see that “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Given this quote, Walford says that John Paul II “prophesied the imminent coming of the kingdom” (pg. 157-158). I found it a little hard to swallow that JPII prophesied the “imminent coming of the kingdom” just because he cited a passage from the Gospel of Mark that has no doubt been cited thousands of times by hundreds of pontiffs. But these sorts of stretches are few and far between; by and large Mr. Walford’s interpretations are cautious, and his quotes are all meticulously documented.
His treatment of Fatima is interesting. While noting that the Fatima consecration has not yet been properly made, he does not get bogged down on this point. Many Fatimists will lock onto the Consecration of Russia as if it is the single most important aspect of salvation history. Mr. Walford is under no illusions about the consecration not having been properly performed, but neither does he waste a lot of pages beating a dead horse. His focus is more on the popes and their statements on the Fatima message rather than the act of consecration. He does take pains to remind us that Cardinal Ratzinger stated the Church was still awaiting the fulfillment of the Fatima message, contra what Cardinal Bertone laughably told us back in 2000.
One very valuable nugget I lifted from Heralds of the Second Coming is that the eschatological statements made by the modern popes leave no room for any posited “Era of Peace”, which some Marian movements have proposed, led by Fr. Ianuzzi. In contradiction to those who see a lengthy era of worldly peace and a gradual triumph of the Gospel following the downfall of Antichrist, the eschatological timeline that emerges from papal teaching is clear: a gradual degeneration until the coming of Antichrist concurrently with a massive apostasy and persecution, then the defeat of the Antichrist and the Second Coming and end of the world immediately following the downfall of Antichrist. I was not certain of Fr. Ianuzzi’s “Era of Peace” concept even prior to reading this book, but now that I have read it, the “Era of Peace” seems even more untenable. Thus, Walford’s book serves as a valuable resource against resurgent forms of semi-Millennialism.
After I recorded my video last year, I threw out probably half of my collection of Catholic eschatology books. I am glad I did, because now I have room to permanently add Stephen Walford’s Heralds of the Second Comingto my collection. It was excellently written, very responsible in its use of citations and interpretations, and responsibly narrow in scope. It provides a fascinating insight into a very important aspect of modern eschatology and I recommend it highly.
Phillip Campbell, Unam Sanctam Catholicam blogspot
Stephen Walford has produced a striking book. His main theme is the central importance to Christian faith, hope and charity of the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. He shows how this has been prophesied not only in the various apparitions of what he calls ‘the Marian era’ but also in the utterances quite literally of one Pope after another in the last century and a half. The book is very well produced, eloquent and well researched. Its central point is very well made, and it introduces the reader to a range of powerful material that is not well known in the Church. The author writes from what most surely be regarded as a conservative perspective, but he refreshingly, for example, presents Vatican 2 as a truly prophetic Council. Individual readers may have their points of disagreement with some of the views expressed but no one can fail to learn from this book or to have their faith in the coming Christ strengthened, Diocese of Portsmouth Catholic Magazine, Portsmouth People
I’ve just finished reading Stephen Walford’s excellent new book Heralds of the Second Coming. The main focus of Walford’s unique work is to sift through and collect together various important papal documents which reveal the eschatological thought of the popes of the modern era. In doing so, it provides the reader with an insight into the end-times theology of the select few people who are not only the most authoritative on this subject, but also the best informed – the successors of St. Peter.Heralds of the Second Coming branches out into several other areas of relevance to this subject, such as the apocalyptic literature of the Bible, and a choice number of Church-approved private revelations. This detailed exposition of the eschatological thought of contemporary Church leaders highlights the urgency in which this matter is held, calling on all of us to be “watchmen of the new dawn”.
A great strength of this book is that it roots itself firmly within the bounds of orthodox Catholic theology, and completely eschews any millenarian tendencies. In doing so, it plots an eschatological trajectory almost identical to the future timeline outlaid in my own work on this subject, making it a perfect accompaniment to Unveiling the Apocalypse. Especially given Walford’s belief that the wars of the 20th century are identical with Jesus’ prophecy in the Olivet discourse, concerning the “wars and rumours of wars” that must precede His final coming. By outlining the fact that the popes of war-torn Europe expressed this very same opinion in several papal documents, Heralds of the Second Coming provides an independent testimony to the importance of the horrors of the 20th century in relation to this closing chapter of the history of salvation.
This is an essential resource for any serious student of Catholic eschatology, and a book that I will be referring back to time and again.
Emmett O’ Regan, Unveiling the Apocalypse Blog
“Stephen Walford’s gift is that he examines the apocalyptic dimension of the Catholic tradition in a measured and straightforward way, while avoiding millennial hysteria and obsession…a life changing book because it makes us watchful for the Lord” Deacon Nick Donnelly, Author, protectthepope.com
“Walford’s book is in many ways a scholarly scrutiny of the teachings of recent Popes, especially Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI on eschatology, the theology of the “end times”. Catholic Herald
“This book ended up being very important to me personally…Reading the book made it seem like a secret world had been revealed to me. I highly recommend this book. I think you will discover secrets of the Blessed Mother that will truly astound you“. Stephen K Ryan, ministryvalues.com
“Reading Heralds of the Second Coming is a salutary reminder of the eschatological and even apocalyptic character of Christianity..Walford has a scholar’s grasp of the writings and speeches of the popes during what he calls the Marian Era“, catholicculture.org