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Theophilus did not directly predict the fall of Rome. Nonetheless, the timing of the events I describe on this page are mystifying—to say the least.
Note: I got the date of his writing wrong, but by no more than 13 years. He was bishop from AD 169 to 182, so he could have written "to Autolycus" at any point in that time.
All the years from the creation of the world amount to a total of 5698 years, and the odd months and days. (Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus III:28, c. A.D. 169)
You will find no more thorough, more accurate, nor more interesting retelling of the events surrounding Constantine (a century before the fall of Rome) than Decoding Nicea.
Let me explain very quickly what's so amazing about this statement by Theophilus.
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6,000 years was a significant number to the early church. The Letter of Barnabas (not actually written by the Barnabas of Acts) was considered Scripture by some early churches. It reads:
Theophilus' reckoning is based on the Septuagint (LXX), which was the Old Testament of the early Church and is still the Old Testament of the Orthodox churches in the Middle and Far East. It states, for example, that Adam was 230 when he had Seth, rather than 130 as our Masoretic Text has it. Differences like this add up to a difference of somewhere around 1500 years.
Attend, my children, to the meaning of the expression, "He finished in six days" [Gen. 2:2]. This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is like a thousand years with him. He himself testifies, saying, "Behold, today will be as a thousand years" [Ps. 90:4]. Therefore, my children, in six days—that is, in six thousand years —all things will be finished. (Letter of Barnabas 15)
If the world was 5,698 years old in A.D. 169, the year to which Theophilus was counting, then the world would hit 6,000 years in A.D. 471.
Theophilus, like the other Christians of his day, would have believed that when the world hit 6,000 years, the fall of Rome would occur, and the Antichrist would arise in Rome's place.
How accurate was he? Wikipedia states, "The traditional date of the fall of the Roman Empire is September 4, 476 when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Roman Empire was deposed by Odoacer."
The fall of Rome is not as simple as "Romulus Augustus, the last western Roman emperor, was removed from office in A.D. 476." Rome was first sacked by the Visigoths in 410, then again by the Vandals in 455.
By 476, the emperor (of the west only) wasn't even in Rome anymore, but Ravenna.
That doesn't change anything on this page. Very little in history happens suddenly in one day. The timing and what happened is still amazing.
Theophilus, who pointed out he could be off by a few years due to odd months and days not covered in Scripture, predicted the fall of Rome to within a decade!
While I was considering the horns, suddenly another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. … and it had a mouth that spoke arrogantly. (Dan. 7:8, HCSB).
Daniel only mentions four kingdoms in his prophecies (Dan. 7:17-18), followed by the reign of the Antichrist (the "little horn"), and then the rule of the saints of the Most High. The early Christians understood this to mean that the 4th of those kingdoms would be the last before Antichrist took over.
They, like most Bible interpreters today, believed that 4th kingdom to be Rome.
"For the mystery of iniquity is already at work; only he who now hinders must hinder, until he is taken out of the way" [2 Thess. 2:7]. What obstacle is there but the Roman state, the falling away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist? (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh 24, c. A.D. 200)
Thus, once Rome fell, the Antichrist would rise up. He would be a little horn that uprooted three other horns, which were three kings that would willingly give their power to him (Rev. 17:12-13).
Because the tribes that sacked Rome were converted to Christianity, they made themselves subject to the bishop of Rome. The bishop of Rome was probably not yet an official pope, but he did carry great authority throughout the western empire and especially within the Germanic tribes.
In A.D. 410, Rome was sacked by Alaric, king of the Visigoths. In A.D. 455, it was sacked again by the Vandals. Finally, Odoacer, leading a tribe of Germanic peoples originally loyal to the emperor, killed the emperor's father, deposed the emperor, and sealed the fall of Rome in 476.
Each of these tribes were converted to Christianity, though they were Arians, before sacking Rome. Philip Schaff writes:
The Gothic king Alaric, on entering Rome, expressly ordered that the churches of the apostles Peter and Paul should be spared, as inviolable sanctuaries … Odoacer, who put an end to the western Roman empire in 476, was incited to his expedition into Italy by St. Severin, and … showed great regard to the catholic bishops. The same is true of his conqueror and successor, Theodoric the Ostrogoth … the conquered gave laws to the conquerors. Christianity triumphed over both. (History of the Christian Church, vol. III, p. 69)
It's been disputed to me by a reader that it's fair to say the barbarians gave their power to the bishop of Rome. His statements appear to be accurate to me, so I have to make some changes to this section. Please give me till Spring of 2011 to devote some study to this.
You can also add your comments below.
To whom did the Visigoths, the Vandals, and Odoacer's Germanic people give their allegiance? Despite bringing about the fall of Rome, they gave their allegiance—willingly—to the bishop of Rome.
Think about the Bible's prophecy. Just how likely is it that three kings would simply turn their power over to another king?
It doesn't seem quite so strange now because we're used to the idea of a pope with civil power. When the books of Daniel and Revelation were written, however, there was no pope. The idea of three kings voluntarily giving up their power to another was unlikely in the extreme.
I do not believe the earth is only 6,000 years old. I personally, like millions of other Christians (and like Origen and some others in the early Church), do not believe that Genesis one is meant to be a literal, scientific story. Origen, for example, wrote, "Who is so foolish as to suppose that God, like a farmer, planted a paradise in Eden … and placed in it a tree of life, visible and tangible, so that someone who tasted its fruit with bodily teeth obtained life?" (De Principiis IV:16).
I understand that many of my readers do take Genesis literally. I apologize that I cannot agree with them. I wish I could.
You might as well know that I also have a site called Proof of Evolution. The same honesty that forces me learn from history rather than read my preferred opinions into it forces me to admit that the scientific evidence for evolution is irrefutable, despite the diligent, but unfortunately less than honest, Christian attempts to overthrow that evidence.
However, whether the dates are literal or not, the Scriptures are spiritual—which means they're not always literal.
Isaiah 7, for example, contains a prophecy from Isaiah to Ahaz that a young lady would bear a child named Emmanuel. While the child was still young, the kings of Samaria and Syria, who were troubling Ahaz, would be removed from their thrones. That prophecy was fulfilled.
Later, that prophecy was translated into Greek by the Septuagint using a word that can only mean virgin, not young lady. It was then used by the early Church as prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ. I believe that prophecy to be true and fulfilled in Jesus.
There are many similar prophecies, and if you watch, you may well find God using the Scriptures in your life in the same way. The earth does not have to be 6,000 years old for the things on this page to apply.
Perhaps the 6,000 years are just the time of man's civilization, and centuries as nomads and hunter-gatherers are ignored. Perhaps there is some other explanation. The God who created a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars in each of them is unlikely to be fully explained by our limited human minds.
The little horn, who uproots three other horns, does not only speak arrogantly. Daniel says the following about him:
He will speak words against the Most High. He will intend to change religious festivals and laws, and the holy ones will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time. (Dan. 7:25, HCSB).
Did the bishop of Rome do these things?
We can argue whether the pope—for the bishop of Rome is the pope— speaks words against the Most High. Protestants, in most cases, would say yes, and Catholic theologians would be greatly insulted at the suggestion.
However, it cannot be doubted that he intended to change religious festivals and laws—and succeeded— and that many saints of God were handed over to the Roman Catholic Church to be imprisoned, tortured, and put to death as heretics.
I know it's out of vogue to suggest that the pope is the Antichrist. He certainly doesn't have the power of an antichrist today, as he did throughout the middle ages. However, can we ignore all the following?
It's been pointed out to me by a reader that it's not really fair to say that the Visigoths, Vandals, and Odoacer's group "handed over their rule" to the bishop of Rome.
It appears to me that he's correct that I'm overstating the case.
I haven't figured out exactly how to correct that yet. I don't want to simply remove that bullet point because although it's overstated, it's not devoid of truth. I need a little while to look into this to make it better. Again, feel free to add your comments below.
I don't know. Maybe that's all coincidence, but it seems awful hard to ignore to me.
As I said, this is all mystifying to me. I'll let you form your own opinions about Theophilus and the fall of Rome. Those bullet points I just gave you, however, are not opinion, but history. They all happened.
The reason this is so mystifying is that the things that have happened over the 1533 years since Rome fell are much more difficult to fit into prophecy. Let's say the prophecies about the fall of Rome and the Antichrist really were about the papacy of the middle ages. Does it make any sense that the Antichrist's reign has simply come to an end, and we've moved on to a secular age?
It doesn't make any sense to me, but it's awful hard to ignore the events surrounding the fall of Rome as coincidence. At least, it's hard for me to ignore.
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