Tag Archives: Heaven


Greg Sheridan’s God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times is for multiple reasons a timely, important book easily recommended to believers and sceptics alike. Critical acclaim has immediately attached to it. I will however dwell chiefly on what I consider to be a hidden flaw that threatens its edifice and entails an error of understanding that ironically contributes to the kind of spiritual impasse for Christianity and the West that Sheridan is exercised about.

The book is the work of a successful Australian political journalist and it’s perhaps only his being well known and highly regarded that apologetic work of his kind could get past publishing within the current climate of opinion.  This climate is well evoked at the book’s outset and in conclusion. Sheridan even goes so far as to characterize Australia as effectively atheist or soon to be so. He regards the media today as almost the enemy (tending to ignore or misrepresent religion) and I won’t enlarge on quite how much I know that scandal to be true.

It is tempting to classify Sheridan’s offering with last year’s more secular bestseller, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe. Both authors push back against a crisis in western thought and direction, Sheridan being more concerned with the extent of the erosion in faith and the glib dismissals of Christianity by often intolerant elites whose dismissals additionally entail a contempt for western civilisation at a dangerous moment for it. Sheridan demonstrates that this civilisation and often the best in it too, is far more dependent upon the faith than the average reader is likely to have been aware. (Especially Christian readers may finish shocked at how much they haven’t been told, that their leaders haven’t defended and even religious schools haven’t taught).

For many, both with and without faith, God is Good for You could be an education in itself for its range. It’s readably about history, philosophy, theology (including how to enjoy and profit from reading the Old Testament and not just the New), along with  many facts about society and even science you may not know. And there are meetings and interviews with various leaders of Australian society vis- a-vis faith. (The author is Catholic but very fair and open around non Catholic Christianities).


…..But none of this is quite my concern here which is rather with one, almost hidden point. It’s nevertheless a crucial one that opens upon something that potentially undermines, or at least confuses, the apologetic thrust of the whole book and reaches into one of the chief reasons Christianity is insufficiently defended or proclaimed, (or is wrongly proclaimed), and either way loses power and adherents after the manner Sheridan regrets and would redress.

St Paul asks “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Rom 10:14). Sheridan would reasonably enough answer that a lot of belief is derived from family and school but for various reasons these are not currently vital sources for communicating Christianity and this must be faced. (It’s true many church schools may as well not be such!)

But despite his  quasi-evangelistic call to teach more and better, Sheridan has a surprise for us. Not only is his spouse a Sikh (I don’t wish to be personal but St Paul counsels believers should not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, 2 Cor 6:14) but more significantly since mixed marriages do inevitably occur,  in consequence it seems his three sons are of the religion too (p.90). This strikes a note more obviously counter to St Paul’s concern with raising one’s children in the instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

Under elements of neo-Catholicism Sheridan somehow justifies his position, which includes attending Sikh services, by assuming that there can be great divine wisdom in non Christian religions  – theoretically Sikhism is monotheistic. So for Sheridan, while it’s perfectly true that Jesus is the saviour and even saves from hell (which he believes in since there must be “justice”), at the same time other systems can be true.

However reasonable this may sound, the position would for a start ignore that Sikhism, though monotheistic unlike the Hinduism it broke from, still teaches auto-salvation through multiple incarnations. In short, it denies grace, which is so original and radical in Christianity it distinguishes it from all other faiths as C.S. Lewis, one of Sheridan’s influences, affirmed when questioned on world religions. Christianity maintains evil is too engrained in life, nature and humans for anyone to reach perfection by their own efforts alone – and there’s anyway a limitation on the time for even  the best of would-be compensatory good works since we die once only and then is the judgment (Heb 9:27)!


It may be trendy or multiculturally convenient to maintain all the higher religions are essentially the same,  namely ways to God that make for love and peace. But it’s a far from obvious fact upon honest examination. Insisting upon it  ends in a fair deal of intellectual dishonesty, and that flight from any objective truth (or just the plain obvious) which is a part of the West’s sickness as Sheridan otherwise maintains.

Buddhism is theoretically atheistic and again allows no room for salvation as per Christianity; and the Buddhism of Burma, supposedly the religion’s purest, nearest-to-original form, when it comes to peace and toleration is clearly no paragon. Islam explicitly denies the divinity of Christ and the Koran enjoins execution and/or subjugation of infidels in stark contrast to the original Christian outlook like that of Tertullian, whom Sheridan cites, that though the gods of the pagans are demons, Christians are still to tolerate them in their beliefs. Polytheistic Hinduism is always hailed as a model of inclusiveness, but in its contemporary nationalist form under President Modi is anything but; it is currently turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christianity, the burning down of churches and beating even elderly worshippers senseless. (It belongs to the atheism and decadence of the West that the persecution of Christians outside the West is little reported or protested and concern with feminism enjoys more attention).

Even supposing claims are correct that God has supplied some vision to the higher religions, practically it doesn’t get through. At the grassroots in Asia people will say they are Buddhist or whatever, but  really they are  animists, devotees of local spirit or ancestral cults or gurus and shamans revered as though God (this somewhat happens among the Sikhs with their ten holy gurus).


It should be apparent from St Paul’s approach to Athenian paganism (Acts 17)  that he was not so much looking like some modern Christians to “dialogue” with existing faiths as guardians of  supplementary truths, as to uncover the world’s primordial faith, “the unknown god”, the creator who in world myth withdrew from human evil. In my The Great Circle: Asia, David and God Consciousness  I look into whether Asia, like Greece and the ancient West, ever had or has an unknown god, and the answer is yes. In some cases like the mostly Christian ethnic Karens of Burma (hated and persecuted by Burmese Buddhists),they had heroically waited centuries for the fulfilment of tribal visions that one day some stranger would arrive to bring them news of the true God.

Christianity is not a faith like Islam with a major conquest theme, but it is a religion of mission. Christ’s parting command, the so-called Great Commission, is to go and preach the gospel and to teach (Matt 26:16-20). Teaching rather than just rite and ritual as in most religions, is crucial to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its notion of spiritual health. Otherwise it’s a case of “My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).

I would certainly agree with Sheridan that Christian religion is hardly being taught today, but would go further and maintain it has compromised its “evangelical” teaching task. It has done so to the point of substituting “the example” of charitable work alone to justify its existence, to cause least offence in a PC world and even perhaps to cover over what some may privately regard as the stigma of what the gospel message actually is, by emphasizing “unconditional love” to the exclusion of all else.

Undeniably Christianity is and teaches many things, but one still needs to be aware how at its core its message is one of deliverance from especially death and, by extension, hell’s destruction. Sheridan believes in hell while admitting to the difficulty most would feel as regards a perdition that’s eternal and/or apparently escaped from by an act of faith alone, two problems that receive astonishingly little treatment today given their controversial status within the whole.


Actually, there is a perfectly simple, if nothing else logical reason to think of hell as eternal and it’s not, as per the Puritans, because God is so severe in righteous wrath against sinners he can never be appeased of their offence. It’s because, like heaven, hell stands outside of time in an intense eternal present (1).  God authored time which is a function of the (fallen, imperfect) material realm, and there will be a point at which God abolishes time along with the evil it permits. Where you are spiritually at that point fixes your essence into a single direction of will towards or against God.

It can seem reasonable enough to propose, and reassuring to believe, that evil souls will simply be annihilated (the sometimes chaotic contradictions of Pope Francis’ beliefs now countenance this along with atheists in heaven),( 2) , but to the extent God is “Lord/Author of Life” (Acts 3:15), divinity cannot destroy any immortal soul. Otherwise God becomes like Satan who Jesus says was “a murderer from the first” (Joh 8:44). God can only prevent and finish evil  through its exile and quarantine. It would follow the soul must, if need be, remain fixed in its (unregenerate) nature within the “eternity” which is outside time. This state, a very intense now, can well be portrayed as a sub-existence in tormenting “fire”, because everything exists through God and God is (spiritual) fire – albeit a lot more besides. But if God is rejected and separated from, there is only the divine fire left to subsist through, not the other elements which would render the fire creative and liveable rather than consuming and destructive.

Despite everything, Sheridan believes belief matters. It is important because no belief is exclusively rational but involves the will. It follows that for Christians to stress the importance of belief in Jesus is to stress that the will is and must be God-directed. This however allows Sheridan to argue that any talk about the claims of God upon us, or of deity being “jealous” around us, means we must be loyal and devoted to the Good. And this is something non Christians can unconsciously be, like the sheep in the parable of the sheep and the goats of Matt 25 where  the sheep are surprised to learn they had been serving Jesus by their actions all along.


There is truth in this perspective on the biblical picture of our destinies, but if taken too far it potentially undermines Christianity’s leading idea of any specifically “saving” belief and the obligation to  proclaim it.

Sheridan’s  universalist assumption is meaningful to the extent that many across history will never have known anything about Jesus and can hardly be condemned, especially not to hell, for that. As the apostle indicates at Athens, “the times of ignorance God overlooked but now he calls all people to repent”. (Acts 17:30). The statement is harmonious with another of the apostle’s claims that in the Last Judgement the thoughts of those outside the Law may condemn or excuse them before God (Rom 2:15). (And long before Paul Hebrew scripture has God declare: “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Ex 33:19)  – a statement incidentally counter to all post-Thomas Merton trendy Catholic notions that heaven and hell are things we simply choose, not what God chooses or predestines). So there isn’t and never should have been, as per some lunatic medieval teachings, notions of automatic damnation for all except those souls who are baptized and  consciously, deliberately Christian.

But Sheridan’s universalist take on doctrine is misleading to the extent that being loyal to what you fancy as good (and which may not even be so) can never automatically amount to the same as being unconsciously devoted to the Christ self-described as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Joh 14:6). The gospel position is that Truth and Goodness are ultimately a name, not ideas. If you have the opportunity to connect to Christ then you should do so and in disregard of the claims of history, tradition and family upon you, salvation being linked to specifically calling upon the Name and especially in self-critical “repentance” (it means “mind change”). The original teaching  was always “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13) and “there is no other name under heaven….by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

With this emphasis to its doctrines Christianity has always had an edge of urgency about it (which has perhaps affected the drive and engagement of western civilisation) where its “proclamation” is concerned. This is because there is understood to be a real struggle within the mortal time frame which is a theatre for our possible deception or injury by the forces of evil. These forces are seen as ruling this world and are the main source of human suffering and even what principally Christ incarnated to confront (1 Joh 3:8)  So there is this dramatic undercurrent “… night is coming when no one can work” (Joh 9:4) and “today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)… not your next incarnation or when you agnostically shuffle this mortal coil and find out what’s what!


Though the supposedly definitive Nicene creed states, “we believe in all things visible and invisible”, plainly most Christians inhabit modern scientism’s materialist swamp alien to all mystery and don’t so believe. Sheridan rightly says if you can’t accept angels and demons you could have a hard time with Christianity and I agree. Certainly you’ll have a harder time explaining evil in the world (and a few miracles too) and Sheridan himself is weak in this area going little further than rather conventionally  to proclaim suffering a mystery and blaming the necessary existence of freewill which can’t be cancelled at every moment.

Reading him on the suffering theme I incidentally baulked at finding yet again the common error which has Jesus on the cross voicing doubt and despair at divine goodness in a sort of terribly human identification with us and human woes. Will even educated Christians never learn that Jesus was piously reciting from Israel’s death Psalm 22 (though now often seen as prophetic for his death)?  This  contains the forsaken cry, but any despair in Jesus’ case is part of the atonement sacrifice itself which involves temporary separation from the Father as he carries or becomes sin and  as such  undergoes what souls in hell must experience. This is “destruction” or  living death, severance from every source of the Good. Even atheists experience God indirectly in this life through whatever is good within it. Hell by contrast is Dante’s “Abandon hope”, the gospel’s “outer darkness”, final separation from the light – hence the sun itself is seen as dimming at the crucifixion.

Today, those who believe in an afterlife have decided most people just go to whatever or wherever heaven is (Sheridan quotes Australia’s former Prime Minister, the Catholic Tony Abbot, to the effect perhaps only Hitler and Stalin go to hell). But in the world of the New Testament,  the ancient West and arguably some other places like China, belief was that the soul, and just about everyone and everything including Lesbia’s sparrow, went to the prison of Hades and remained there. The gods did not spare or cure death though they might spare a few heroes to Elysian fields. Homer’s view of the afterlife in the Odyssey is particularly ghastly.  Blood alone brings  mournful ancestors to the surface and let’s them speak. Christianity arrived to confront this pessimism but Hades/Hell, though considerably challenged in their power  (Christ is seen as now having the keys to death and Hades) remain in place  and  I think if we are honest with the gospel  record, Hades/Hell is  seen as being – by and large – still the default fate of an unregenerate humanity….unless.

It is possible that if they even think about it at all,  deep down humanity even half believes and expects this negative outcome unless other influences from lively faith intervene. The last poems of D. H. Lawrence, for example, are surprisingly  depressing in this connection. He imagines his soul and that of others embarking for Hades,  but though he hopes “the oblivion god” may lead him to some kind of new dawn (reincarnate him?) it is hardly a strongly felt hope.


My father died some weeks ago and before this he had suddenly informed me as I put him to bed one evening, that this was the end and Jesus had told him he would soon take him to himself. The next day I couldn’t get him up  up or communicate with him, so he was taken to the hospital and passed away, faster than expected, within twenty four hours. Some people do have intimations of an end and some devout Christians might report an angelic message, but by any standards this experience and its claim, which took me off guard, could be considered a bit exceptional. But plainly it seemed downright extreme to those to whom I happened to mention it. I was impressed how much people couldn’t really deal with the subject of death, Jesus or the afterlife. It became clearer to me how little Australians (and probably many others in the West) believe or have any religious feeling. It’s the sort of thing should ring alarm bells for the churches;  but it doesn’t and it won’t because as Sheridan puts it, Christians seem to lack adequate “situational awareness” – some even imagining their society is somehow still Christian – leading to poor strategies(3).

Reading Sheridan, I was likewise impressed how little his Christians, even the devout, observant ones, seemed to have any clear notion of what form the afterlife might take and what mean and for whom, such as their relatives – the Christian afterlife is supposed to begin as a spirit in “paradise” such as Jesus promised to the penitent thief, which is a waiting place distinct from heaven and preceding the resurrection of the dead which entails the assumption of a new spiritual body akin to that of Christ after the resurrection.

I am not an evangelical, one of whose qualifications to be such would be belief in an inerrant as opposed to an inspired bible. However, when it comes to the afterlife I do sense that evangelicals are nearer to truth than the kind of hazy, confused modern Catholic and Anglican thinking represented by some of Sheridan’s interviewees like former PM  Tony Abbot. Beliefs like theirs neither quite help the self nor move the world, certainly represent no kind of gospel hope worth the proclaiming or like early Christians and  persecuted North Korean believers today, risking life and limb for. Abbot regrets that he doesn’t seem to hear from God. Again, I am not an evangelical to suggest such as Abbot should be hearing daily from Jesus (something surely reserved for the few, if any!),  but if he never has a few divine messages and intuitions there might be reasons. Belief should be clear, informed and committed if it is to work for you. There is such a thing as spiritual efficiency.

St Paul suggests that if you don’t believe in the resurrection your faith is futile (1 Cor 15:17); you might as well eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow die. I don’t like, and don’t think it’s quite possible, to go too far in deciding who is a “real” Christian by such standards as they’re highly orthodox, terribly “born again” , very prayerful or whatever. But I am coming to the conclusion that to possess some deep conviction of “the sure and certain hope of resurrection” could well be a litmus test for the definition. Unquestionably it was almost the central, original formula for Christian belief and identity:  “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).

If nothing else Sheridan’s book can make you think about many things and essential ones. I will always wonder whether his book doesn’t arise from a kind of half unconscious penitential compensation towards society for what the author doesn’t seem to have been convincing his own offspring about in what could be deemed a dereliction of Christian duty. But  this doesn’t detract from the objective importance of the book’s information, statements and remarkable honesty.


(1)  Conventional depictions of hell and some NDE accounts (of whatever validity), do seem to include a sense of time along with the possible anachronism  of free roaming, tormenting demons. Time in this case, along with any demonic freedom, would be a property of the pre/ temporal hell which is ultimately thrown into “the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14),at the end of time,  the true hell which is existence through God as “fire” alone.

(2)  I evoke Francis’  contradictions in two satirical poems, Heaven for All  and Ichabod or Papal Glory Departing,  (These poems incidentally allow the possibility that some of the issues Sheridan raises are in fact end of era, “end of days” type matters, a fulfilment of Christ’s anticipation of a loss of faith towards the end (Luk 18:8).  

(3) The remarkable blindness of churches  to the spiritual, and even just social situation, is reflected in the way over recent decades they have relentlessly targeted the gay issue, first just opposing the gay minority’s right to exist, then opposing gay marriage as a threat to family and society.  Ironically, if they wanted to criticize and reform society towards more Christian lifestyles, it is the vast un marriage of heterosexuals which should have been their primary concern. It is precisely amid the loosened  or non family friendly structures of a permissive society that children are not raised to any religious beliefs and just pleasure or the convenient become central life values. Yet how often did clergy seriously preach against the drifting, the unattached or the serially divorced? Almost never. It was only gay marriage was unnatural and unholy; and this targeting  of a minority only further alienated society from the churches seen as bastions of arbitrarily undemocratic views. This feature of modern social history is a good illustration of Christ’s words that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light (Luk 16:8). (The previous article entered on this blog, Today’s Christian Image Problem is relevant to the question of lack of “situational awareness”).



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Posted by on August 14, 2018 in Mysteries, religion


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Burpo    Akiane


It’s anticipated that more atheist-Christian culture wars will break out this Easter with the release of the film of Heaven is For Real. The film is based on the book of the alleged celestial experiences of the child Colton Burpo as recorded by his Wesleyan pastor father, Todd. Since however I believe there might be other issues to be writing about in April/May I shall get in ahead of a debate already partly begun. And with the film Son of God soon to be premiered (Feb 28th) I shall also cover regarding cinematic and other images of Christ: how fitting they are, who gets to play them and why – there are some rules here…

Atheists are displeased with what they think the Burpo film can do to beliefs and to children’s beliefs (a children’s version of the book now exists to persuade young minds). Many Christians are delighted at a new and perhaps today needed affirmation of a life beyond  – Heaven is for Real  has already proved a massive bestseller since publication in 2010. But I am going to suggest Christians shouldn’t be so delighted and recommending either book or film. The book offers some of the most misleading popular religious material since the novel The Shack (itself now due to become a film) misrepresented the Trinity which among other things the Burpo book does in another way.


These new misrepresentations are something perhaps especially conservative Christians stand to be sucked into because Colton’s statements contain just enough evangelical flavour (like creating a sudden flap about a deceased person needing to have had Jesus in his heart to get into heaven) to persuade them all the rest must be true, even if obviously it can’t be so.

Believers are supposed to love and pursue truth and there are disturbing aspects to the Burpo phenomenon. Christian critiques have already been written and I endorse some of them. But as author of  Where From, Why Us and Where To?:Visiting Tahiti and Life Itself  which includes about art, Gauguin and that artist’s various odd self-portraits as Christ (, I bring to the Burpo story a special objection. It’s one related to artistic portrayals of Christ because Colton has shown a clear preference in this area which I believe betrays the error of his claims. Dealing with this question is a pretext for me to present below some rather special illustrations helping to bring us closer to the right way of imagining and artistically imaging Jesus.


Colton (b. 1999) is now an adolescent, but when he was nearly four he suffered a burst appendix in the wake of a desperate run of bad health events affecting both father and son that landed them both in hospital clocking up huge bills and concomitant worries American style. (I belong to the world of what America despises as the Nanny states where health services are concerned!). Things went from bad to worse, and though there is no record Colton clinically died, for a few minutes while in hospital his life was endangered and he underwent an NDE. What happened during that time only emerged spontaneously months later and starting one day when out driving with his father Colton let odd things slip like saying the angels had sung to him and he’d sat on Jesus’ lap. He later casually mentioned John the Baptist is a real nice guy.

Gradually his parents found they could piece together a whole story of events and revelations in the Beyond where Colton met his deceased great grandfather and learned things, including how he had a sister in heaven due to his mother’s miscarriage – something it was virtually impossible he could know. (Some Christian critics have objected to Colton’s claiming to meet any souls in the Beyond on the basis believers “sleep” till the resurrection according to St Paul; but I think what is meant is that bodies sleep till the resurrection. Souls meanwhile live – Jesus tells the thief he will be with him in paradise not that he will just sleep in the ground. So that objection at least seems invalid).

Todd Burpo was finally convinced of the truth of his son’s story when Colton said he’d seen him in an adjoining hospital room railing against God and also when he childishly referred to Jesus as having red “markers” in his hands and feet. These turned out to mean nail prints.

It can be argued either way that what Colton claimed to experience owes more to a genuine OBE (Out of Body Experience) as when he saw the hospital room with the doctors below him and his father in the next room, or more to details he would naturally absorb as a pastor’s son like saying God was so big he had the world in his hands. (This sounds like memories of “He’s got the whole wide world in his hands” which Colton likely heard at home).There could be six of one and half a dozen of the other.

What’s certain is that whether father and son purvey an unconsciously invented tale or a genuine dream/revelation of something, either way there look to be errors from any strictly biblical standpoint – which is the one the family wants to represent and imagines it is doing.  Yet these same errors, to the extent the biblically literate but mesmerized father records them without suitable explanation or comment (he has been criticized for never consulting religious persons or groups for assessment of the information) are themselves witness to the fact something authentic is  being told. It’s genuine, even if it’s a true record of the sort of thing the bible would call “a lying vision” (Jer 14:13, Ez 13:7) permitted for our testing. And perhaps especially the testing of precisely conservative Christians. They regularly deceive themselves that they don’t read their bibles selectively. Some selective reading has to be going on to make Colton’s witness sound possible!


Here are some of the glaring errors.

  • Biblically the angel Gabriel (an archangel) declares to the priest Zacharias that he stands in God’s presence (Luk 1:19). Colton has it this angel sits on the other side of God from Jesus as though he were not a member of the order of archangels but of the Trinity itself. The Bible may or may not  intend us to understand literally its claim that Jesus is seated “at God’s right hand” (it could be an expression indicating the sharing of power, especially as Revelation has Jesus “in the midst” of the divine throne), but if Christ was thus seated it would have to be that on the other side would be the Holy Spirit.
  • Colton is somewhat taken up with the subject of  impending apocalypse – he even tells his father (in imagery that could owe something to reading or hearing C.S. Lewis’s Narnia fiction) he will be fighting the forces of evil with a sword (i.e. at the post Rapture end of the Tribulation period when Jesus returns to establish the Millennium on earth). However Colton sees Jesus’  horse, only ever biblically referred to in the context of apocalypse, as rainbow coloured. Revelation portrays the returned,  openly revealed apocalyptic Jesus as riding a white horse (Rev 19:11).
  • The Holy Spirit, though bibically sometimes seen as a dove or a fire, is not traditionally portrayed as a person, albeit Jesus’ personalising “he” suggests that theoretically he could be so portrayed despite many today favouring ideas that the Spirit is feminine. “He” would certainly seem more appropriate if the Spirit impregnates Mary. Anyway I have read at least one plausible description of the Spirit as a kind of almost “electrical” Jesus twin ( But Colton reduces the Spirit (rather as in Mormon theology) to pure substance which he sees as blue and which sends down energies from this blueness (itself surely the opposite of anything fire associated).
  • The Bible has it that “no one shall see God and live” (Ex 33:20). Biblically no one ever sees God the Father/Creator unless it’s his shadow representative, the Hebrew Bible’s “Angel of the Lord” that early Christians identified with the pre-incarnate Christ. Seeing God is a post-resurrection, Last Judgement possibility. The single exception is perhaps the author of Revelation seeing the God of Last Judgement – not directly but in prophetic vision only. One might still argue Colton could see God because (like Crystal McVey, author of Waking Up in Heaven who sort of saw the Trinity as blinding light) he died and was therefore free to behold God; but there’s no record Colton actually died. Moreover his description in a TV interview of the Creator as just a bigger Gabriel with golden hair and wings is problematic for a number of reasons. So despite Colton’s repeated insistence Jesus declares he loves children, there is no likelihood Colton would sit on a stool before the throne or on Jesus’ lap and talk to a Trinity manifested directly in front of him.
  • Colton affirms  everyone in heaven has wings except Jesus who just goes up and down like a lift when he wants to move. There is no support whether biblically or in other reported visions of the Christian heaven of a universally winged heavenly society; but the idea that the angels set Colton something like homework and sing to him belongs less with Christian notions of the afterlife than Spiritualist accounts of Summerlands where people are put in classes and set to learn things.

[May 5th 2016…I see that in the wake of the film’s release and popularity Todd is now accusing those Christians who criticize Colton’s vision as “Pharisees” who need to read their bibles. That’s controversial. In view of the above points, perhaps Todd should read it himself and himself suffer the charge of being an opportunist. Even Colton saw his father originally railing against God in the hospital!]

I won’t continue with this line of critique  because it’s something concerning Jesus’ image which should interest us regardless of anyone’s precise view of the Burpo phenomenon. Having been shown numerous images of Jesus and asked which if any corresponded to the Jesus he knew, young Colton had no hesitation about one picture and one only: a portrait of Jesus called The Prince of Peace: Resurrection from the American child prodigy of painting, Akiane Kramarik (b.1994).

This “portrait” is based on Akiane’s reported encounters with Jesus (she repeatedly kept seeing his face in vision when she was four), whose features she felt were closely reflected in a seven foot local carpenter who reluctantly consented to sit for her. According to the July 2011 edition of Share International, the magazine of the Maitreya cult which awaits the manifestation of Maitreya/Christ (a theosophical figure  associated with the expected Muslim Mahdi and other figures of the world faiths all in one) this is a true portrait. Through his personal Master, cult leader Benjamin Creme confirmed Akiane has been visited by “The Master Jesus”, the companion of Christ/Maitreya. (“The Master Jesus” regularly manifests in various roles and guises to devotees round the world). This kind of recommendation should in itself send a few warning signals to uncritically enthusiastic Christians.


It cannot be said, even if one likes the portrait (and the Burpo phenomenon is making it popular), that it conveys any notable sense of peace. It shows rather nerviosity and tension, while the association with resurrection is hard to understand because the resurrection body of Jesus is necessarily perfect, more obviously divine than the human historical Jesus. And Akiane’s is no perfect image. People praise the searching compassionate eyes, but overall the figure is  human, all too human, almost untidy, needing a trim of both hair and the too bushy eyebrows. And Jesus’ eyes should be knowing, not merely searching, however generously.

Akiane was born to atheist parents who converted to Christianity after their daughter started reporting strange heavenly visits from the age of four onwards. Akiane reports meeting Jesus and she is clearly a very spiritual person, but today her approach to Christianity seems cloudy. Members of Akiane’s family have been involved in various spiritual exercises and traditions including Buddhism and. Akiane herself nowadays maintains she belongs to no religion or denomination but just God. The claim makes little sense in that God is a Judaeo-Christian belief – some religions like Buddhism have no belief in any Creator God so that  a would-be universalism through God belief is not strictly possible. Akiane’s faith raises questions in the way they are perennially raised around the poetry and art of such as the extremely visionary William Blake under the influence of such as Swedenborgianism and Gnosticism.

If popular Christianity is going to be drawn, as I believe it shouldn’t be, towards Prince of Peace as the new classic Jesus image, it will need to take stock of the fact that also reported to be based on vision vouchsafed to someone more conventionally Christian, is the famous Warner Sallman Head of Christ which isn’t at all like

Colton’s favourite image.Sallman It is nonetheless true that the Akiane image is taking over in public estimation and at a time when Americans are going off Sallman’s picture as being everything from too pretty and effeminate (though ironically Sallman and his admirers originally thought he was portraying a new “muscular Christianity” image!) to being too perfect or too “white” in the style of its recorder’s Swedish background. In the era of equality, popular opinion is shifting to the idea Jesus should be more ordinary and more obviously Semitic. Akiane’s image can speak to that. But if so, that opens to the possibility that what differing painters call “vision” of Jesus might be no more than clear-sighted awareness of cultural and archetypal shifts in the mind of the collective.

Proponents of the “ordinary” Jesus of Akiane’s rendering find support in the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah’s declaration which has it that there would be “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Is 53:2), words immediately preceded by “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him”. The previous chapter of Isaiah even speaks of the suffering Servant as being “marred….beyond human semblance (Is 52:14), though this is traditionally understood to refer prophetically to the ruin of Jesus’ appearance through crucifixion. It is of course possible to take these negatives further as did the Gnostics and simply suggest Jesus was short and ugly if not deformed. On what do traditional notions of a beautiful, handsome or perfect Jesus rest beyond the expectation a divine figure should be somehow outstanding?

We know that Jesus could not have been the stunted, physically imperfect figure of the Gnostics or this would have run against requirements that priests, let alone the priestly figure of a Messiah, be without physical blemish. If we retain this thought and recall anything like Christian doctrines of original sin, Jesus, the Second Adam free of sin, must be somehow physically perfect, hence he should be in some fashion desirable, as attractive let’s say as people imagine a first Adam to have been.

I think Isaiah’s “undesirable” figure is linked to what he means when writing within the context of an aniconic society he says: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him: (Is 53: 2). Even if Jesus looked “perfect” as a specimen of humanity, if as Messiah he could not suggest to his Jewish contemporaries an all-conquering kingship, or if his face didn’t  shine like Moses descended from the Mount, then he could not be “desirable” to an Israel which expected a world political Deliverer. Rabbinic thought was diverse, but various strains of Jewish thought had come to expect two Messiahs, one ben Joseph, a suffering figure along the lines Isaiah represents, and a Messiah ben David, a political conquering one. They did not reckon any Messiah would combine the roles or, as Jesus did, envisage a  division of the dispensations for their realization, with his apocalyptic self fulfilling the conquering ben David.


While obviously I nor anyone can answer that precisely, I can give grounds both to dismiss the Akiane/Colton image and supply a meaningful guide – almost an identikit mock up – for the curious, the devout and artists. I also think that in doing so I can explain why the Warner Sallman image, however imperfect and limited, has been powerful for many and even actually has some truth to it.

The same Isaiah that I have cited about the undesirable Messiah of marred feature also describes  God’s “Servant” as growing up before him “like a young plant, like a root out of dry ground”. Supposing we look first not for any regal or commanding beauty (which Jesus arguably dismisses when he prefers the lily of the valley to his ancestor Solomon in all his glory), but a plant-like and natural beauty with some connection to service and servants.

Given what I claim to  know and even prove (see December blog and more especially my book Testament of the Magi ), the chief quality of Jesus’ appearance would need to be referred to a combination of his sun sign of birth, Virgo  (itself traditionally denominated  a servant sign) and his rising sign at birth which is Gemini (the urbane, communicating sign). These are both signs mythically associated with, and astrologically “ruled” by, Mercury the go-between god. And Jesus is the mediator – mindful of which the theosophist Mme Blavatsky even went so far as to observe “Jesus is Mercury”. I won’t get technical and consider all rules and exceptions, but sufficient to say that features of the sun sign, unless the person was born around dawn which Jesus wasn’t, stand to be  modified by qualities of the sign rising over the horizon at birth and sometimes to the extent the person may be thought to belong to that sign rather than their sun sign.  PaulWalker)Walker2

We have assumed that Jesus was ideal of his kind. Here are two pictures of a good looking Virgo male (birth time unknown), the late screen actor Paul Walker, a model since youth.

The appearance is somehow neat, the features in the usual Virgoan way are not particularly large, the charm is rural, plant-like (Virgo is an earth sign!) and we remember Jesus even says things like he is the vine and his father is the gardener. The appearance here is attractive without being dramatic, super-erotic or regally imposing. It’s  just agreeable, in some respects this is just the ideal of a healthy, good looking country boy. The similarity to at least one portrait of Christ, artist Richard Hook’s, is fairly apparent. Hook

Next we have  the picture of an adolescent Virgo male, a Monaco prince, Pierre Casiraghi (b.1987). This image

Pierre Casiraghi  Ephebe

is almost the complete text book epitome of Virgo. Again a sort of plant-like, understated, modest charm, elegant but not flamboyantly aristocratic with it. There is an almost hesitant expression in line with the  Virgoan will to  stand back, observe and analyse everything rather than to impose the self, yet not unwilling to assist in harmony with the service theme of the sign. The eyes are intelligent and gentle. This might do for an attractive adolescent Jesus absorbing everything and “increasing in favour” with God and man ( Luk 2:53 ) but  not looking ready to conquer the world…This type may, as in the accompanying image and a bit older, assume something of classic art’s ephebe look, but even the ephebe was supposed to be if not the servant, the learner.

It may be immediately protested, why use as any kind of example  a person with fairish hair and blue eyes? Answer: because it’s quite possible it actually suits. We know Jesus’ ancestor David was fair and the Davidic line is known to this day for a genetic tendency to fair hair and blue eyes. For that matter, to Israel’s north in Syria one finds people of almost more European, i.e.Latin, than Arabic/Semitic appearance.  The objection to Sallman’s “too white” Jesus, though  understandable, could be exaggerated in terms of the historic reality. It was nonetheless held against Jeffrey Hunter’s Christ in King of Kings precisely that his eyes were blue. (Hunter was not born under Virgo, I mention regarding him later)



We can turn next to two pictures of Pierre’s brother Andrea (b.1984) who is a good example of a type of Gemini male.   Gemini, like all the air signs somewhat, is the epitome of things human – it’s the sign of democracy, not royalty – of the social, even the worldly though I find significance in the Jesus of the “two natures” having  Gemini sign of the twins and division rising. As with  the other Mercurial sign Virgo and as in this instance, there is often something androgynous or ambiguous. But the expression  is thoughtful and more set with it than Virgo. Geminis cheerfully argue for their ideas where Virgo is more prone to withdraw; so the Geminian look is more determined,  the face overseen by a full almost domed forehead frequently found in the sign and like a symbol of the sign’s connection to things intellectual and cerebral. A prominent forehead is found in the self portrait of the Gemini artist Dürer – in fact a portrait of the artist as Christ. The face is longer than would be typical for Virgo.

. Durer

Again I don’t think, and I’m sure Dürer didn’t think, he looked exactly like Jesus, but I believe he worked from an intuition of some similarity and that we are given a further clue by it. I have pointed out (, and as further proof that I have the true data for Christ, that people who write about Jesus must have natal patterns closely linked to his and the same applies to artists keen to do portraits. In my mentioned Tahiti book I point out how features of Dürer’s chart and their very exact relation to Jesus’  pattern would draw him to make the kind of close identification he did and likewise certain patterns show why the Gemini Gauguin would be drawn in a much more perverse way to Christ portraiture.

One Gemini actor who corresponds to widespread popular images of Jesus is Robert Powell (b. 1. 6. 1944) and see the images below. Ordinarily Powell doesn’t look Christ-like at all. He was even originally chosen to act Judas in the Zeffirelli Jesus of  Nazareth film! But given long hair and the right costumes he was somehow able to enter the image. Astrology alone can make sense of it. Powell was born with Uranus and Sun conjunct on 9 and 10 degrees respectively of the Gemini that affects Jesus’ appearance. In other words especially Powell’s surprising Uranus at 9.1 was conjunct Jesus’ 8.50 degrees of Gemini rising thus marking the sheer surprise of how the person is suddenly made to appear like Jesus. And then too the actor’s Jupiter (Jupiter is crucial for actors) at 20 Leo conjuncts Jesus’ Nadir angle. It’s an important contact on an axis with Jesus’ 20 Aquarius destiny/reputation Midheaven. Jeffrey Hunter whom many regarded as a matinee idol Jesus but still appreciated (except for the blue eyes!) for his role in King of Kings was a Sagittarian (b. 25.11.1926) but with his Jupiter connectively on Jesus’ 20 Aquarius Midheaven.

Compare this with the way James Caviezel (b.26.9.1968) who made a quite effective Jesus in The Passion of the Christ  – also see below has his own Jupiter degree exact Jesus’ sun in Virgo – there must be such contacts for strong involvement and major effects. Then more recently in Son of God, Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado (b. 17.1.1981) – also image below – has his Jupiter fortunately trine Jesus’ appearance-defining ascendant while his transformative and God-associated Pluto is conjunct Jesus’ natal Isa (if he was born in 1981, I find both 1980 and 1980 given as birth dates. If he was born in 1980 then his Jupiter conjuncts the God associated Pluto of the Christ’s birth, a “Son of God” connection for acting if not for features). And in connection with Isa I note how Powell’s Saturn near to conjunction with Jesus’ natal Isa (Jesus) reflects how uncomfortable the actor was and remains about ever assuming the role.




When we come to the Cancerian Akiane we find no such close chart contacts. (She has nothing natally in Virgo and her own late Gemini ascendant is not near to contacting Jesus’ earlier Gemini ascendant). Anything absent in a chart can suffer over-compensations at some point and it looks like her Prince of Peace Jesus is a sort of strained, exaggerated vision of something Virgo – to be frank, negatively so; it looks like Virgo become nervy on a bad hair or poor health day! Though Jesus the healer may be assumed to have been healthy, the sign generally inclines to many ailments and down days.  Here is an older Pierre on what looks a Virgoan off day if not flu day! Badday

In fact it is interesting in view of the “mutable” categorization which attaches to the Mercurial signs of Virgo and Gemini, just how varied and unlike themselves both Pierre and Andrea can manage to appear across a whole range of shots. Is something of the historic difficulty artists have had in capturing Jesus linked to the fact that at the best of times his Mercurial image would always have been hard to capture?!  Even the disciples on more than one occasion fail to recognize him. And perhaps he always will be elusive in this way.

One afterlife experience I find more convincing than Colton’s (Dean Braxton’s In Heaven) describes meeting a sublime Jesus from whose form colours constantly radiate and whose visage is always slightly changing as you look at it – a total, cosmic mutability?!) But let’s return to the Sallman picture. Though I can understand the criticism of it, I also recognize this. I think the unparalleled popular response it has obtained right from first publication (until Coltron’s and Akiane’s intervention has caused a re-think), is simply this. Jesus really was born under Virgo and when Gemini rose. And together these two signs went to make up what Jesus looked like. Sallman’s face has caught the something of Gemini it necessarily had, the well cut features, the sharp outline (even if the lips seem too ungenerously thin in this rendering), the longer face and full forehead, at the same time as especially the expression captures a certain underlying, Virgoan mildness and modesty in the ‘servant” Messiah as this was directed towards God. Jesus’ character was most essentially Virgoan; his outer appearance, though it too inevitably had something of Virgo, had as much and more of Gemini, not least in its extreme changefulness.

AndreaB  Christportrait

As just another of Andrea’s Geminian many styles and images and its odd link to the less well known and successful Sallman, Portrait of Christ, consider these two images.

There’s no lie so strong as a half truth and I fear that is what the Burpo phenomenon presents us with. I accept that father and son give every indication of being sincere.  The account is likely true, but it’s the experience of a deception. How and why is hard to determine and one obviously hesitates to propose that there is something demonic here; yet as only one indication there might just be so, Colton goes silent and gets fearful when Satan (whom he claims to have seen) is mentioned. If Colton had really been in the presence of the Trinity he would necessarily be bolder and unafraid of Satan and the forces of evil.

Obviously Colton’s story could be a fantasy born of a father’s eager embroidery upon or sincere misunderstanding of a child’s piecemeal report. But it could be something more spiritual. Colton is nearly four when he goes to heaven, and it’s at four that Akiane, (whose heavenly scenes Todd Burpo says are very similar to Colton’s), started seeing other worlds. If one accepts at all that spiritual realms exist, then one must allow their inhabitants a capacity for deception (the devil is even called “father of lies”). Of those who report NDEs which include hell, one can even read – it’s like the myth of Tantalus – of corners of the inferno where a soul witnesses radiant visions tempting them with oases only to disappoint them. Some even report a Jesus-like figure in hell who it seems might be St Paul’s devil as an angel of light. Anything seems possible.

I have written elsewhere concerning people who write and talk about Jesus and why (  The evidence does not  differ here. The  same kind of exact aspects and tie-ins we might expect are present and I shall make brief summary of main points. Colton was born on 19th May 1999 in Imperial, Nebraska USA, birth time unknown. Though one might allow one or two, these features, at least cumulatively, are eloquent for misrepresentation or distortion however unintended.

    • Sun 28 Taurus in stress square to asteroid Isa (Jesus) at 27 Leo
    • Saturn the devil planet, strong on a critical degree at 9 Taurus conjunct Lucifer at 10 Taurus (reflecting Colton’s mentioned fear of the devil?)
    • Asteroid Lie at 16 Gemini (sign of reading and writing) exact easy trine to Uranus (symbol of the Spirit in any religious context) strong in its own sign of Aquarius (i.e. it is easy to distort regarding the Spirit). (And 16 Aquarius is the solar degree of the Antichrist if the seeress Jeane Dixon happened to be right about his  birthdate).
    • Mars at 27 Libra conjuncts Isa (Jesus) and the super-conjunction of Jesus’ names and titles at Jesus’ birth which I am dogmatic can now be verifiably known (see This is a potentially hostile position – I recall Mars was here when Pakistan resolved to list the Jesus name with forbidden names and words for text messages.In some cases it can however make for aggressive advocacy, and in some respects Colton is into that via his family – the organization promoting Colton’s vision bears the only-in-America name of Shout It.
    • Mercury at 19+ Taurus in stress square to Jesus’ 20 degree Aquarius Midheaven. This is not helpful to right description of Jesus and I have found critics of Jesus frequently having this square to this point.
    • Natal Neptune at 4 Aquarius is square (affliction aspect) to Jesus’s natal 3 Scorpio Neptune. Afflicted Neptune inclines to confusion, which would agree with not seeing Jesus clearly, especially as for  many astrologers Neptune is the Jesus symbol. Significantly too…….Akiane’s Neptune is at 4 Scorpio which could be thought a really strong contact to Jesus’ pattern the artist otherwise lacks, but the fact her Neptune is degree exact opposite Black Moon Lilith, exquisitely fits her half darkened image of Jesus and  its ultimately misleading nature.

. (BML is a point taken very seriously by continental astrologers for its negative indications and I was not surprised to find it prominent at Jesus’ crucifixion).

Finally in support of the popular Sallman portraits having caught some essence, some glimpse, this is endorsed by the artist’s birth data. It is an iron, demonstrable rule that one cannot work on historical figures like Shakespeare or Dickens or others less known if one’s birth data doesn’t notably connect to them.  Sallman was born on 30th April 1892 in Chicago (time unknown) and in his case the spiritual outer, mystical planets make remarkable contact with the data I have for Jesus, remembering that for all modern astrologers Neptune in religious connection is the Christ planet. Sallman shows a perfect conjunction (to the minute of a degree) of mystical Neptune to transformative Pluto at 7 Gemini these being conjunct what I claim is Jesus’  provably working 8 degree ascendant. This angle will always reflect much to do with body, style and appearance. At the same time, surprising, original and crowd-influencing Uranus at 3 Scorpio, degree exact conjuncts Jesus’ natal Neptune. Under the usual rules such connection has to mean something and I believe it does here. Sallman was on the right track.

I have no idea what purpose a possible spiritual deception Burpo style could serve and mean, but I do feel if it persuades people towards odd notions of the Trinity and New Age images of Jesus like Akiane’s where the half concealed face of Jesus is like the half truth of what’s being attested to, it cannot have been helpful.

[ Issues around the birth and astrology of Christ are explored in detail in my Testament of the Magi: Mysteries of the Birth and Life of Christ at



Posted by on February 8, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The following poem is not the work of a Catholic. Even if it were I would still be justified to say recent papal statements about the acceptability of atheism are misleading ( To suggest unbelief is somehow acceptable if sincere, marks a complete rupture with classic statements like, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Pope Francis moreover distorts the source he uses to support his claim. Referring to an incident in the gospels he calls Jesus’ disciples (and anyone like them today) narrow for their unwillingness to accept good works in outsiders. That’s not quite what the story tells. In the relevant Mk 9:39, Jesus refuses to forbid someone to exorcise in his name. The Pope thus appears to ignore:

1).The outsider follower does his exceptional work in Christ’s name, not that of other gods or none.
2). Elsewhere Jesus even maintains that right belief is part of a work to be done (Joh 6:29). Belief, because if sincere it engages both mind and will, is always vital.
3).It’s too easy to do good outside God’s will, good which risks finishing ineffective or harmful for that reason. Jesus even sees evil being done in the name of supposed religion (Joh 16:2). While anyone can do “good” and the gospels don’t suggest they can’t, no one is righteous (Rom 3:10). If salvation could be earned by a tally of good deeds only, Christ’s sacrifice would be meaningless. And the Bible does not affirm with the Pope that all are naturally and automatically God’s children. It’s a matter more of belief and adoption (Rom 8:2-17, Eph 1:5 etc).

Pope Francis is almost re-inventing religion against biblical tradition at the same time as I doubt he’d deviate from any Roman tradition over excommunicating, say, those who have abortions in Catholic El Salvador. (I refer to the scandal there over a dying woman, “Beatriz”, currently needing an abortion and whose son risks being orphaned through the effects of Catholic “right to life” obsessions, whose cause Amnesty International has rightly taken up ( I hope I’m wrong since much Pope Francis says is good or well-intentioned, but being generously inclusive of atheists and seeing good everywhere yet reportedly being obsessed with Satan, the new pontiff gives every indication of being a well meaning, conflicted eccentric.

          HEAVEN FOR ALL

I am your new Pope Francis and I really love you all
I hope you won’t accuse me of a mind too Christian small.
Like God I love the infidels and every atheist too
He brings them all to heaven just as he’ll do for you.
I know the gospels speak of decisions, choices, hell
But it’s only words and parables, a sort of warning bell.
Like my friend the Dalai Lama my religion’s doing good,
I hope you could agree with that else faith’s not understood.
Within a strife torn world today we guard against division
Our task is building unity, that is the true religion.
My thought is much like Teilhard’s, I’ll say mass upon the world
And reach the point Omega where the all-Christ is unfurled.
It’s true observant Buddhists in Burma, Vietnam, Laos [1]
Have tortured Christian converts and left orphans without house
While Saudi bans our worship and they bomb it in Iraq
But if you’re like the mystics it will only seem that’s dark.
Given time each soul will know it is a child of the same God
Let’s speak of love and friendship not judgement and the rod.
Some say I am the last Pope, the last in Malachy’s line
So with Antichrist approaching you’d take it as a sign
That any combination means a world faith’s on the way
And think the future looks so grim you only want to pray.
But apocalyptic thought like that belongs with superstition,[2]
I’m left so vexed by talk of it, I could send it to perdition.

[1] I wrote concerning The Hell Hole of Laos in the Sept 2012 Blog. Buddhist/Marxist Vietnam has a nasty, evil habit of attacking Christian orphanages whether Catholic or Protestant.
See for example:
I have included in my The Great Circle: Asia, David and God Consciousness concerning the absurdly whitewashed reputation of Buddhism which has long presided over unbelievable levels of corruption and cruelty still too often evident today. Buddhism has easily given down to atheism as it is itself a kind of atheism, and the Pope and Christian liberals intoxicated by feelings of togetherness and easy forgiveness are in bad need of realizing just how much damage to the faith, including to precisely works of charity, some atheisms can finish up doing. One needs to take more seriously Christ’s words “Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Luk 11:23). This is of course generalization,but as a generalization it is still considerably certifiable and while, for example such as Boko Haram Muslims are slaughtering Christians at worship in Nigeria, it borders on betrayal and the unworldly interfaith mystic’s feel-good self indulgence to then refer to our Muslim “Brothers” as Pope Francis has done. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” doesn’t go so far as to call the Roman soldiers of the crucifixion “brothers” in faith! It implicitly blames their ignorance.

Pope Francis’ beliefs belong to a new mood and trend reflected in such universalist works as Rob Bell’s Love Wins and Dr Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven and the Dalai Lama’s Towards a True Kinship of Faiths. But as stressed in my Dr Eben Goes to Heaven poem earlier on this Blog, note that for Eben and in parallel to Francis’ Satan obsession, there is a hellish dimension which like some repressed unconscious impulse comes through despite everything.

[2]  Since I wrote this this surprising Pope of the unexpected has now declared our times to be precisely end times apocalyptic  It’s an open question whether with this new emphasis he brings himself nearer to the Malachy prophecy’s last Pope, a “bishop of Rome” who protects the flock under the persecutions of the Antichrist.

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Posted by on May 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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