The Day Missionaries Explained to Mussolini that He Might Be the Prophesied Antichrist

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Edith and Ralph Norton, c. 1930. Courtesy of the Archives of the Belgian Evangelical Mission, preserved at Evadoc, Leuven (Belgium)

In his book American Apocalypse: A History of Modern EvangelicalismMatthew Avery Sutton recounts what he calls one of the great ironies of fundamentalist history: the day fundamentalist missionaries secured an appointment in April 1932 with the fascist prime minister of Italy in order to explain how he was fulfilling biblical prophecy.

For background, it helps to know that since the time of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), dispensational premillennialists understood the Bible to prophesy that the coming Antichrist would take power through a ten-nation confederacy led by a resurrected Roman Empire. By 1925, Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) had made himself dictator of Italy, taking the title “Il Duce” (the Leader). Many dispensationalists saw Mussolini as laying the foundations for a new Rome. That was the background for this meeting with Il Duce.

Sutton explains:

[Ralph and Edith Norton] were probably the most influential and well-known fundamentalist missionaries of the interwar era. They ran the Belgium Gospel Mission and corresponded with most of the significant fundamentalist leaders of the era.

In the early 1930s, they embarked on a tour of Europe with plans to publish a series of articles based on their impressions in the Sunday School Times. A meeting with Mussolini marked the climax of the trip.

Confirmation letter for the Nortons’ appointment with Mussolini (April 29, 1932). Courtesy of the Archives of the Belgian Evangelical Mission, preserved at Evadoc, Leuven (Belgium)
Confirmation letter for the Nortons’ appointment with Mussolini (April 2, 1932).
Courtesy of the Archives of the Belgian Evangelical Mission, preserved at Evadoc, Leuven (Belgium)

“Do you intended to reconstitute the Roman Empire?” they asked the prime minister.

At first Mussolini had no idea what they were getting at.

Then the Nortons walked the Italian fascist through biblical prophecy.

As they proceeded, Mussolini apparently “leaned back in his chair and listened fascinated.”

“Is that really described in the Bible?” he asked the missionaries. “Where is it to be found?”

By the time the Nortons were through with him, Mussolini apparently believed—and maybe even hoped—that he was the long-awaited world dictator prophesied in the book of Daniel. True to form, Il Duce had no reservation about taking on the role of the prophesied Antichrist.

BenitoMussolini

—Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 215.

Sutton cites the following source: Ralph C. and Edith F. Norton, “A Personal Interview with Mussolini,” Sunday School Times (August 13, 1932), 423.

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