Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Signs of the End Times

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Article 1. Whether any signs will precede the Lord’s coming to judgment?

Objection 1. It would seem that the Lord’s coming to judgment will not be preceded by any signs. Because it is written (1 Thessalonians 5:3): “When they shall say: Peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them.” Now there would be no peace and security if men were terrified by previous signs. Therefore signs will not precede that coming.

Objection 2. Further, signs are ordained for the manifestation of something. But His coming is to be hidden; wherefore it is written (1 Thessalonians 5:2): “The day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night.” Therefore signs ought not to precede it.

Objection 3. Further, the time of His first coming was foreknown by the prophets, which does not apply to His second coming. Now no such signs preceded the first coming of Christ. Therefore neither will they precede the second.

On the contrary, It is written (Luke 21:25): “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars,” etc.

Further, Jerome [St. Peter Damian, Opuscul. xlix; he quotes St. Jerome, but the reference is not known.] mentions fifteen signs preceding the judgment. He says that on the “first” day all the seas will rise fifteen cubits above the mountains; in the “second” day all the waters will be plunged into the depths, so that scarcely will they be visible; on the “third” day they will be restored to their previous condition; on the “fourth” day all the great fishes and other things that move in the waters will gather together and, raising their heads above the sea, roar at one another contentiously; on the “fifth” day, all the birds of the air will gather together in the fields, wailing to one another, with neither bite nor sup; on the “sixth” day rivers of fire will arise towards the firmament rushing together from the west to the east; on the “seventh” day all the stars, both planets and fixed stars, will throw out fiery tails like comets; on the “eighth” day there will be a great earthquake, and all animals will be laid low; on the “ninth” day all the plants will be bedewed as it were with blood; on the “tenth” day all stones, little and great, will be divided into four parts dashing against one another; on the “eleventh” day all hills and mountains and buildings will be reduced to dust; on the “twelfth” day all animals will come from forest and mountain to the fields, roaring and tasting of nothing; on the “thirteenth” day all graves from east to west will open to allow the bodies to rise again; on the “fourteenth” day all men will leave their abode, neither understanding nor speaking, but rushing hither and thither like madmen; on the “fifteenth” day all will die and will rise again with those who died long before.

I answer that, When Christ shall come to judge He will appear in the form of glory, on account of the authority becoming a judge. Now it pertains to the dignity of judicial power to have certain signs that induce people to reverence and subjection: and consequently many signs will precede the advent of Christ when He shall come to judgment, in order that the hearts of men be brought to subjection to the coming judge, and be prepared for the judgment, being forewarned by those signs. But it is not easy to know what these signs may be: for the signs of which we read in the gospels, as Augustine says, writing to Hesychius about the end of the world (Ep. lxxx), refer not only to Christ’s coming to judgment, but also to the time of the sack of Jerusalem, and to the coming of Christ in ceaselessly visiting His Church So that, perhaps, if we consider them carefully, we shall find that none of them refers to the coming advent, as he remarks: because these signs that are mentioned in the gospels, such as wars, fears, and so forth, have been from the beginning of the human race: unless perhaps we say that at that time they will be more prevalent: although it is uncertain in what degree this increase will foretell the imminence of the advent. The signs mentioned by Jerome are not asserted by him; he merely says that he found them written in the annals of the Hebrews: and, indeed, they contain very little likelihood.

Reply to Objection 1. According to Augustine (Ad Hesych., Ep. lxxx) towards the end of the world there will be a general persecution of the good by the wicked: so that at the same time some will fear, namely the good, and some will be secure, namely the wicked. The words: “When they shall say: Peace and security,” refer to the wicked, who will pay little heed to the signs of the coming judgment: while the words of Luke 21:26, “men withering away,” etc., should be referred to the good.

We may also reply that all these signs that will happen about the time of the judgment are reckoned to occur within the time occupied by the judgment, so that the judgment day contains them all. Wherefore although men be terrified by the signs appearing about the judgment day, yet before those signs begin to appear the wicked will think themselves to be in peace and security, after the death of Antichrist and before the coming of Christ, seeing that the world is not at once destroyed, as they thought hitherto.

Reply to Objection 2. The day of the Lord is said to come as a thief, because the exact time is not known, since it will not be possible to know it from those signs: although, as we have already said, all these most manifest sings which will precede the judgment immediately may be comprised under the judgment day.

Reply to Objection 3. At His first advent Christ came secretly, although the appointed time was known beforehand by the prophets. Hence there was no need for such signs to appear at His first coming, as will appear at His second advent, when He will come openly, although the appointed time is hidden.

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Hattip to commenter Nate Winchester.

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  1. “The day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night.” Therefore signs ought not to precede it. -objection 2.

    The video footage that has been provided by former residents of Paradise CA. and the above passage that St. Thomas Aquinas uses in objection 2 seem to intersect.
    Trying to imagine a fire storm moving at one point, 100yrd’s per second, is apocalyptic if your the one trying to escape.
    Sudden death would of been a blessing to those who were cooked alive in their cars.

    Of course the age old question, are you prepared?
    Can anyone say that they are?
    I would hope my soul is ready for the day that comes to all the living, however it comes. But for the sake of the families that lost loved ones in the flames may God heal their hearts. May our hearts be prepared for any end to the chapter called life on earth.
    May the dead enjoy everlasting life with His Angels and His Saints.

  2. Your article brings to mind something that is sure to happen before the end of the world at some time. A very specific statement in the Bible refers to a great “apostasy” (loss of faith). However, it regards a “coming” of Christ which is spoken of by St. Paul that is clearly not his final coming (i.e. the last judgment). Nevertheless, given the content of the prophesy, it is an event of enormous significance in world history. This one is basically ignored even in the liturgical readings (the passage is not in the lectionary). Just after calming his readers about any need to worry that the “day of the Lord is at hand” (2 Thess 2:2), St. Paul helpfully goes on to give the signs to know when this event is at hand. Curiously, none of this is included in the lectionary reading (31st Sunday of Ordinary Time in year c) so it is no wonder that almost nobody knows about it. In fact, in the Bible reading, the signs of St. Paul are rather detailed. It speaks first of all a great “apostasy” (apostasia in the original Greek) and the revelation of the “lawless one” who “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship … claiming that he is a god [the rise of contemporary atheism and nihilism].” “And now you know what is restraining [the papacy], that he may be revealed … whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth [i.e. the Holy Spirit] by the manifestation of his coming” (2 Thess 2: 3-8). All of his sounds like the Fatima prophesy [Russia will be converted and my Immaculate Heart will triumph and a time of peace will be given to the world, etc.]. Interestingly, 2017 was the first centenary of the Fatima apparitions and Pope Francis has declared that it was his desire that his pontificate be particularly under the patronage of Our Lady of Fatima. John Paul II said that prophesy of Fatima is still being realized. Of course, the list of other recent visionaries who speak in the same terms about our present times is too long to list here. They all recommend in a practical way personal prayer (especially the rosary) and conversion rather than indifference, complacency or wringing of hands.

  3. Jacob.

    Good advice.
    Praying the daily Rosary is also a foundation to build upon for evangelization purposes. Example. A co-worker is witnessing the Peace that permeates the group at our nursing home while we pray our weekly group Rosary, Saturdays.

    The co-worker has received and wears a blessed Miraculous Medal and is starting to understand the significance of the wedding feast of Cana regarding intercession with Mary our Queen of Peace. She is currently non-denominational however she is being very open to her new understanding of Jesus’ mom, our mom, Mary Immaculate.

    Through out the twenty meditations on all four Mysteries a devoted soul will pick, with help from the Holy Spirit, to explain the deeper meaning of the event.
    This is evangelization for those who rarely frequent Church, or the Holy Sacraments. You are the Church. Pray the daily Rosary and be ready to touch the hearts of your neighbor with God’s grace.
    Be transformed.
    Be ready to Give Jesus to all you meet…..the best gift one can give a neighbor. Give Jesus.

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