I would like to ask some tough questions about our understanding of the Holy Roman Empire as it was taught to us by HWA. I do not have all the answers, but I do have some questions. If I’m going to study who Babylon the Great is, and certainly I found the teaching to be in need of some revision, I might as well ask about this too.
Could it be the description of Rome as the fourth beast of Daniel 7 (the seventh head of Rev. 13) was incorrect? Could it be that we were taught to WATCH intensely in one direction, but that direction isn’t the right one? Could it be that history doesn’t agree with HWA's traditional interpretation of the prophetic beasts – and therefore we need to study our Bibles again on a subject we thought we already knew?
I would like to quote from a booklet entitled “Who Is the BEAST?” by Herbert W. Armstrong (1960 edition). I will quote HWA, then respond with my own opinions.
“The text says one of his HEADS was wounded to death.”
Yes, ONE of his heads was wounded, NOT the entire beast! If only the head was wounded, then why did the Western Roman Empire fall in its entirety? Think of that in terms of Greece. We know Greece had four divisions. If Greece is the third beast, and historically two of its four heads (Cassander and Lysimachus) were absorbed by a third (Seleucus) and the fourth (Ptolemy) was in constant battle with the third, then why didn’t the entire Greek beast die when TWO of its heads were lopped off and the other two fought bitterly? But we are to believe that the one head of the fourth beast is wounded, and that equals the downfall of Rome – the ENTIRE fourth Beast from Daniel’s perspective? Remember, we’re just talking about ONE head here. And why did the Eastern Empire remain in tact? Can half of a head die? Can half a beast die?
“The BEAST INCLUDED THE SEVEN HEADS and the TEN HORNS.”
Notice this as well, ALL ten horns are part of the Roman beast. We’re about to see this exact statement turned around in the next paragraph.
“John sees the beast living in the days of its seventh head, the Roman Empire. And when that HEAD of the beast had its deadly wound, HIS -- the beast's -- deadly wound was healed. The horns now reign, one by one.”
OK, note closely what is said here… AFTER the wound is healed, the ten horns begin to reign. This will also be turned around in the next paragraph.
“The Roman empire in Northern Africa was overrun by the Vandals, who sacked Rome in 455.”
BUT the Vandals were neither Roman, NOR part of the Roman Empire. They weren’t the first to invade. They only captured the North African portion of Rome, not all of the Western Empire. And the capital of the Western Empire at that time was Revenna, not Rome. So capturing Rome didn’t mean too much. It would be like capturing Philadelphia and declaring the capital of America has fallen. The Vandals also quickly withdrew, keeping only the island of Sicily.
“Then in 476 Odoacer set up his government at Rome, called the HERULI”
This is incorrect. Odoacer set up his government at Ravenna, NOT Rome.
“But it did not heal the deadly wound, for this was a government IN Rome. It was not a ROMAN government, but one of foreign barbarians.”
I hope you caught that. Although they ruled in Italy (Rome was more than just Italy) the Heruli were also neither Roman NOR part of the Roman Empire. By his own criteria they are not a horn! "ALL ten horns are part of the Roman beast"
“Then there was the kingdom of the Ostrogoths, 493-554, another outside foreign people who ruled in the territory. But they were driven out of Italy and disappeared.”
Here we have a third Barbarian kingdom (Barbarians were not Roman; probably Assyrian according to HWA) ruling in Italy only but were neither Roman nor of the Roman Empire.
“These three kingdoms, sweeping into the Roman territory, filled the period known in history as the ‘transition age.’ (See Myers' Ancient History, page 571.) That is, a TRANSITION between the wound and the healing.”
**Mr. Armstrong confirms this information in his own hand. The Vandals, Heruli, and Ostrogoths were not Rome! Also, they ruled before the wound was healed! Remember? "...the beast's -- deadly wound was healed. The horns now reign, one by one." And since this is the case, according to Mr. Armstrong’s qualifier they cannot count as horns of Rome!!**
What’s more is Mr. Armstrong completely ignores the fact that the city of Rome was not the Roman capital at that time, Ravenna was. The capital was moved by Emperor Honorius in 402. And he completely ignores the first sacking of Rome and the following invasion by the Visigoths (meaning Western Goths - not to be confused with the Vandals) in 408-410. The Goths went on to remove Britain, Spain, and France from Roman control by 423. This is years before the Vandal invasion in 455! In fact, it was the Visigoths that drove the Vandals out of Europe and into North Africa in the first place. Why then aren’t the Visigoths counted as a horn? They did an awful lot more than the Vandals did. The answer - because they don’t fit the theory! This information does not fit the theory proposed by Alexander Hislop, so it is overlooked.
“Now Daniel saw a ‘little horn’ coming up AMONG these ten, before whom these first three were "plucked up by the roots."
Two things here are incredibly important. First, the little horn comes up among the other 10 (not the other three). The Pope preceded these people by a couple hundred years officially (and by Armstrong's own theology, the Pope was an ancient Babylonian thing). He didn’t come up among the groups here mentioned. Secondly THE VANDALS, HERULI, AND OSTROGOTHS COULD NOT BE THE FIRST THREE HORNS!!! They aren’t horns to be plucked up!!! They don’t count!!!
“That leaves 7 horns to come.”
NO!! It leaves 11 horns to come!! The little horn has not been identified, nor have his 10 companions.
“And of the little horn, Daniel 7 says ‘his look was more stout than his fellows.’ The papacy dominated completely all the horns to follow.”
No, it didn’t! Neither Justinian – maker of Popes, nor Napoleon who crowned himself, nor Hitler’s Third Reich (or, if you would like, Mussolini’s Italy according to HWA because I have shown you where HWA said the Beast was not Hitler's) were dominated by Rome. Besides this fact, did anyone consider it WASN’T the papacy who plucked up the Vandals, the Herulii, or the Ostrogoths? But actually the Vandals plucked themselves up (assisted by the Visigoths), the Herulii were plucked up by the Ostrogoths, and the Ostrogoths were plucked up by Emperor Justinian – NOT THE POPE!!! The pope wasn’t too terribly involved!!! From what I see, prophetically the little horn is not the Pope, he is IMHO the end-time King of the North, and the final Beast king - I could be wrong.
“The Deadly Wound HEALED"
"It was the fourth kingdom (symbolized by the fourth horn),”
But this is contrary to everything he said previous to this point!! According to what was said at the start, we can’t start counting off horns until AFTER the wound is healed! So at best this is the first horn!
“succeeding the fall of the Empire in 476, which really HEALED the deadly wound, and restored the EMPIRE.”
This brings us back to the wounding of the head. Is the East the fourth beast/seventh head, or is the West? How can only half of a head die? How can only half of a beast die? Why aren’t there TWO heads for the Roman beast? There are two kings, two capitols, and two separate kingdoms! They were linked through a common history before 395AD, but completely separate from one another after 395AD. And this remained so, even after this “healing”! Or is only the West the beast? HWA says 'yes'. These are questions I don’t have the answer to.
“In A.D. 554, Justinian, Emperor of the East, from Constantinople, set up his government through an Imperial Legate at Ravenna, Italy, and brought about what is known in history as the "Imperial Restoration" of the Empire.”
It may have been the imperial restoration, but think about this detail – if the Western Roman Empire is the beast in question here, not the East, then it is now not healed but conquered completely by the Eastern Roman Empire. Justinian ruled from Constantinople, not Rome. Legate or no it was a vassal. The western beast isn’t healed, the western beast is DEAD! How did the beast move from Greece to Rome in the first place? Rome absorbed Greece. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the beast is now in the East? And according to one of his earliest statements, THIS is where the ten horns should BEGIN to reign one by one, “And when that HEAD of the beast had its deadly wound, HIS -- the beast's -- deadly wound was healed. The horns now reign, one by one.” So why do we look to the Holy Roman Empire as a continuation of the beast, and not to the Byzantine Empire?
That the Holy Roman Empire is the ten toes seems very unlikely. It doesn’t fit the pattern of the Bible. The empires, some very small and rather insignificant to the world, were completely insignificant to the area of Judea. The Bible focuses on that area mainly. Focusing on the Hapsburg dynasty isn’t typical. Similar to that would be focusing on the Mongol invasion of Europe. It doesn’t add up.
Also, there were more than just seven “restorations” of the Holy Roman Empire. It was always a difficult point to make that the seven remaining horns were the Holy Roman Empire. What complicated this even further is that we have seen there aren’t merely seven horns left, there are ten, and one little horn, totaling eleven. Many things have to be overlooked in order to fit this in, and that just isn’t right.
If you really want to complicate matters further, read Daniel 2. In the statue dream, all ten toes exist at the same time and they are all smashed by the returning Christ. Jesus didn’t return at the end of each restoration of the Holy Roman Empire. Now read Revelation 13: 11-14, and Revelation 17: 9-13, & 16-17: this clearly states the final beast (which seriously appears to be the little horn and the King of the North both) and the ten horns all exist contemporaneously. This matches Daniel 7: 24 which states the little horn will come up in the presence of the other ten. Speaking of Daniel 7, verses 11-12 states the fourth beast was destroyed, but the other three remained for a season and a time. Put those together and we cannot have a little horn coming up separate from and thousands of years before the other ten.
I believe that HWA’s interpretation of the beasts was flawed by a very charismatic interpretation of the Bible found in Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons. I believe that Mr. Armstrong was sincere in wanting to understand. The fact of the matter is that it simply wasn’t (and isn't) time for God to reveal the meanings of the prophecies. Never the less, Mr. Armstrong’s description simply does not fit the account of the fourth beast of Dan. 7, or the beast of Rev. 13. The area of the Western Roman Empire may yet be the area of the fourth beast of Dan. 7 and the seventh head of Rev. 13. But maybe it isn’t! Has anyone checked to see if other nations or empires fit better? THEN WE HAVE NOT WATCHED! We have not PROVED! We have speculated and theorized, observed and opined, overlooked and rearranged, debated and accepted – but like a politician, we are long on words and short on real action. How can this please God?
I don’t have all the answers, I don’t even have a viable alternative save the nature of the Beast closely resembles the plans of the Muslim nations. But there’s no denying the traditional description is flawed. And I believe it to be fatally flawed because we tried to fit history to the theory put forth in the book The Two Babylons when we should have been fitting our beliefs to the Bible.