Is the Little Horn of Daniel 7 the Pope or the Catholic Church?

The theory that the "Little horn" (Daniel 7:8) symbolizes the Papacy and that the Roman Catholic Church is the “Empire of the Youngest Horn" (Daniel 8:9-12) is called an "Historicist interpretation of the Book of Daniel". It tries to undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church by identifying it with the pagan empires. It was prevalent in Wycliffe's writings, and taught by the early reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley.  Modern denominations that are proponents of this view are derived from the 19th century Millerite movement, including Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. We also see it in some Fundamentalist movements.

Apocalyptic passages of the Bible such as the Book of Daniel and Revelation are easy to misinterpret. The great theologian Augustine in the fourth century said this:

God wished difficulties to be scattered through the sacred books inspired by him, in order that we might be urged to read and scrutinize them more intensely, and, experiencing in a salutary manner our own limitations, we might be exercised into submission of mind. (Divino Afflante Spiritu, 45, cf. At. Augustine)

Show the passage about the Little Horn in Daniel 7 and 8?

Daniel 7:8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully."

Daniel 8:9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. 12 Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people[a] and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground 13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?”

14 He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”

15 While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. 16 And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.”

17 As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,”[b] he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.”

18 While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet.

19 He said: “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end.[c] 20 The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between its eyes is the first king. 22 The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.

23 “In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise. 24 He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. 25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.

This interpretation of Daniel didn't appear until 1300 years after the Catholic Church began

There is no evidence of any early Christian writers associating this passage to the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). There were 200 popes and almost 1,400 years before Wycliffe first introduced this interpretation of Daniel. None of the Early Church Fathers made this interpretation. None of the early martyrs and theologians proposed this.

No early writers spoke about the antichrist as a constant position held by different individuals (the seat of the papacy) rather than the person of the antichrist being an individual who will live and die.

The reign of the "Little Horn" will be at the "Time of the End"

The archangel Gabriel told Daniel

“understand that the vision concerns the time of the end...I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end.” (Dan 8:19)

It would be a stretch to try to apply this to the 2000 year history of the Church and to every pope in history. Here is a timeline of the Church

This interpretation of Daniel would mean there was no Church for 1500 years until the Reformation

The Catholic Church was the only Church for 1500 years except for a small Coptic split in the 5th century, and a larger Orthodox split in the 11th century. Some protestants say that all the "persecuted heretics" through the centuries were the true body of Christ. However, these groups and individuals had beliefs that were not consitent with each other, nor with 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, or fundamentalist groups descended from William Millar (1831) who predicted the end of the world in 1844. This does not appear to indicate the presence of an authentic counter church which always existed parallel to the Catholic Church. There are no mainstream reputable protestant theologians who hold this view. It is simply unsustainable under rigorous theological or historical inquiry.

Its pretty cynical to believe all 266 popes were agents of the devil

Catholics acknowledge that there have been about 7 bad popes in the history of the Church. However, in order for this interpretation of Daniel to be true, it would mean that 266 popes were doing the work of the devil since the death of Christ and that countless martyrs who died for Christ were wrong about the Church to which they belonged.

There are 78 popes that are canonized as saints, 29 of which were martrys for the faith, killed by pagan authorities for not renouncing Christ. These are men who's lives can be investigated top to bottom for their abandonment to the will of Jesus, and their ability to lead others to a personal relationship with Jesus. These men were humble, self sacrificing and surrendered to Jesus. This is hardly the work of the antichrist and the prophesy of Daniel which said "he spoke boastfully". Most popes were peaceful and did not wage wars.

Show a list of Martryed popes

The Papacy has never had dominion over the whole world; it held limited temporal power outside of Europe

Popes never had dominion over the whole world. There was no way to communicate to the entire world until recently. Christianity has always only had dominion in a few countries (i.e., Europe, North America). It never had reign over India, Russia, China, Africa and the thousands of islands scattered in the oceans. The Church didn't conquer the Muslims during the crusades. They basically lost to the Muslims (although they defended the Holy Land and later secured access for pilgrims). The Church and the Popes have never been powerful enough to qualify as "The Little Horn".

What is a reasonable interpretation of the Little Horn?

The Little Horn will come in the end times which is also referred to in Revelation. It talks in the singular about one individual. The little horn that Daniel sees is likely the antichrist, a world leader who rises to power from within a league of ten future kings. This little horn will blaspheme God and persecute God’s people during the tribulation. The antichrist’s “power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever” (Daniel 7:26). The reign of the Antichrist is limited: forty-two months, which is 3.5 years (Revelation 13:5) or perhaps 2300 nights, which is 6.3 years (Dan. 8:14). The little horn will lose his war against God. His boastful blasphemy and wanton violence are only temporary. The reign of Christ is eternal.

Incidentally, we at Catholic Bridge think this time of tribulation will be very soon but this is just our opinion, not any sort of official position.

Here are the notes from the New American Bible on Daniel 7

1 [1-27] The significance of this vision is the same as that of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2; see note on Daniel 2:36-45. To the four succeeding world kingdoms, Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek, is opposed the messianic kingdom of the people of God. The imagery of this chapter has been used extensively in the Revelation of St. John, where it is applied to the Roman empire, the persecutor of the Church.

2 [2] The great sea: the primordial ocean beneath the earth, according to primitive cosmology (Genesis 7:11; 49:25). This was thought to contain various monsters (Isaiah 27:1; Job 7:12), and in particular mythological monsters symbolizing the chaos which God had vanquished in ancient times (Job 9:13; 26:13; etc.).

3 [4] The representation of the Babylonian empire as a winged lion, a common motif in Babylonian art, symbolizes the bestial power hostile to God. The two wings that were plucked represent Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. On two feet like a man . . . a human mind: contrasts with what is said in Daniel 4:13, 30.

4 [5] A bear: represents the Median empire, its three tusks symbolizing its destructive nature; hence, the command: "Up, devour much flesh."

5 [6] A leopard: used to symbolize the swiftness with which Cyrus the Persian established his kingdom. Four heads: corresponding to the four Persian kings of Daniel 11:2.

6 [7-8] Alexander's empire was different from all the others in that it was Western rather than Oriental in inspiration. The ten horns represent the kings of the Seleucid dynasty, the only part of the Hellenistic empire that concerned the author. The little horn is Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), the worst of the Seleucid kings, who usurped the throne.

7 [9-10] A vision of the heavenly throne of God (the Ancient One), who sits in judgment (symbolized by fire) over the nations. Some of the details of the vision, depicting the divine majesty and omnipotence, are to be found in Ezekiel 1.

8 [13-14] One like a son of man: in contrast to the worldly kingdoms opposed to God, which appear as beasts, the glorified people of God that will form his kingdom on earth is represented in human form (Daniel 7:18). Just as our Lord applied the figure of the stone hewn from the mountain to himself (Daniel 2:36-45), he also made the title "Son of Man" his most characteristic way of referring to himself, as the One in whom and through whom the salvation of God's people came to be realized.

9 [25] The reference is to the persecutions of Antiochus IV and his attempt to force the Jews to give up their customs and to adopt Hellenistic ways (1 Macc 1:33-34). A year, two years, and a half-year: an indefinite, evil period of time. As seven is the Jewish "perfect" number, half of it signifies great imperfection. Actually, this corresponds fairly accurately to the duration of Antiochus' persecution.

10 [28] This verse ends the Aramaic part of the Book of Daniel.

Catholics think Sunday is a good day for God

Seventh day Adventists claim that early Christians observed the Lord's day on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) and that Constantine changed it to Sunday so he could do a Sol Invictus sun worship thing. Jesus died on Friday, he rose on the third day. The Second Day is Saturday, the 3rd day is what we now call Sunday. It is little wonder that Early Christians observed this as the "Lord's Day."  There are many references in the first two centuries of Christianity to this "8th day" (after the Saturday Sabbath) long before Constantine's 321 A.D. declaration of that day as an official day of rest and worship of the Christian God.

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Thanks to Dr. Art Wood for supplying these notes.