APOCALYPSE OF S. JOHN,
Though some in the first ages doubted whether this book was canonical, and who was the author of it, (see Euseb. l. 7, Histor. c. xxv.) yet it is certain much the greater part of the ancient fathers acknowledged both that it was a part of the canon, and that it was written by S. John, the apostle and evangelist. See Tillemont, in his ninth note upon S. John, where he cites S. Justin, S. Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertull. S. Cyp. S. Athan. Eusebius, S. Amb. S. Jerom, S. Aug. &c. It was written in Greek to the churches in Asia, under Domitian, about the year 96 or 97, long after the destruction of Jerusalem, when S. John was banished to the island of Patmos, in the Ægean Sea. It is by some called the prophecy of the New Testament, and the accomplishment of the predictions of all the other prophets, by the first coming of Christ at his incarnation, and by his second coming at the end of the world. As to the time when the chief predictions should come to pass, we have no certainty, as appears by the different opinions, both of the ancient fathers, and late interpreters. Many think that most things set down from the fourth chapter to the end, will not be fulfilled till a little time before the end of the world. Others are of an opinion, that a great part of them, and particularly the fall of the wicked Babylon, happened at the destruction of paganism, by the destruction of heathen Rome, and its persecuting heathen emperors. Of these interpretations, see Alcazar in his long commentary, the learned Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, in his treatise on this book, and P. Alleman, in his notes on the same Apocalypse, tom. xii, who, in his preface, says, that this in a great measure may be now looked upon as the opinion followed by the learned. In fine, others think that S. John's design was in a mystical way, by metaphors and allegories, to represent the attempts and persecutions of the wicked against the servants of God, the punishments that should in a short time fall upon Babylon, that is, upon all the wicked in general; the eternal happiness and reward which God had reserved for the pious inhabitants of Jerusalem, that is, for his faithful servants, after their short trials and tribulations of this mortal life. In the mean time we meet with many profitable instructions and admonitions, which we may easily enough understand; but we have no certainty, when we apply these predictions to particular events; for as S. Jerom takes notice, the Apocalypse has as many mysteries as words, or rather mysteries in every word. Apocalypsis Joannis tot habet sacramenta quot verba . . . . . parum dixi, in verbis singulis multiplices latent intelligentiæ. Ep. ad Paulin. t. iv. p. 574. Edit. Benedict. Wi.
--- In the first, second, and third chapters of this book are contained instructions and admonitions which S. John was commanded to write to the seven bishops of the churches in Asia. And in the following chapters, to the end, are contained prophecies of things that are to come to pass in the Church of Christ, particularly towards the end of the world, in the time of antichrist. It was written in Greek, in the island of Patmos, where S. John was in banishment by order of the cruel emperor Domitian, about sixty-four years after our Lord's ascension. Ch.
--- This is the last in order of the sacred writings, and contains, in twenty-two chapters, revelations, as the name imports, extremely obscure it must be acknowledged, yet undoubtedly of the utmost importance to the Christian Church, if we may judge from the dignity of the author, who was the beloved disciple, or the grandeur and majesty of the ideas, which pervade every chapter of the work. Being a sealed book, or a hidden mystery, in the beginning of the Church, when nothing of this important prophecy had yet been fulfilled, it is no wonder we are deprived of the usual lights which we have hitherto followed in expounding the Scripture, viz. the works of the fathers. So little was it indeed understood at that time, that by many it was long considered as a reverie, and an extravagant composition, though the most learned always looked upon it as an inspired work. One reason, which may have led the faithful to class this among the apocryphal works, was the number of fables and illusions published by the misguided piety of the ignorant. We know at least, that on account of the heresy of Cerinthus, which was filled up with illusion and fanaticism, this book was not circulated among the faithful: a few copies were kept with care in the archives of the Churches, to be perused only by the bishop, or such as he thought not likely to abuse it. With regard to the interpretation of it, it will not be expected that it should be attempted in a work of this kind. We shall therefore only give a short account of the principal commentators, and their plans, that the enlightened reader may consult their works, if he wish to enter deeper into the subject. But it should never be forgotten, that the connection of sublime and prophetical ideas which compose this work, has at all times been a labyrinth, in which the greatest geniuses have lost themselves, and a rock on which most commentators have split, the great Sir Isaac Newton not excepted. Hence Scaliger's praise of Calvin; Calvinus sapuit, quia non scripsit in Apocalypsim. 1. The fathers living before the accomplishment of the events, have of course given us no interpretation. Those, therefore, who have written on it at all, have explained it in a mere moral sense, and drawn from it useful parables and instructions. None of them have given a regular systematic explanation. It must, however, be observed, as a circumstance of some moment, that many of them, particularly SS. Augustine and Jerom, thought the Apocalypse contained prophecies regarding the whole time of the existence of the Church of Christ, till its triumphant state in the new Jerusalem. 2. Among the moderns we have abundant interpreters of the Apocalypse in all the reformed Churches. It has indeed grown into a mania among them, the only difference being their respective degrees of absurdity. This has been to all of them the common quarry, whence they have hewn the stones to cast at their mother Church. For to this day they have continued to disgrace themselves and Christianity, by depicting the Church of Rome as the scarlet whore of Babylon, popery the beast, and the pope antichrist. We must, however, except Grotius and Hammond, who have given historical interpretations, and some few others. 3. Among Catholic expositors stands eminently conspicuous the learned bishop of Meaux, Bosseut. This light of the Galican Church has improved upon and filled up the outlines which Grotius had only sketched. The first three chapters, according to him, regard only the Churches of Asia, to which they are addressed; the other chapters, to nineteen, have been fulfilled in the persecutions which the Church endured under the pagan emperors. The last three are merely allegorical of the triumphs which the Church finally gained over her persecutors. 4. Du Pin has taken a wider range. The last three chapters regard the final judgment, and the establishment of the Church in heaven. And all the chapters between the first three and last three, are mere general descriptions of persecutions, fall of tyrants, heresies, &c. which shall happen in the Church; represented under the various figures which the rich imagination of S. John supplied. This system certainly removes all difficulties at once, by saving the trouble of comparing each figure with corresponding historical facts; but substitutes a vague and indeterminate sense, which we do not expect in prophecy. 5. Calmet does not vary a great deal in the outlines with Bossuet; but their applications of the text to the history are in many points widely different. He conceives the intermediate chapters between the first three and last three to have been fulfilled in the general persecution begun by Diocletian, in 303, and the destruction of Rome, in 410, by Alaric. The last three chapters give the triumph of the martyrs at that period, as well as many things, which are to take place at the coming of antichrist, and the dissolution of the world. 6. Conceiving that all the above commentators had too much contracted the time for the accomplishment of the prophecy, by limiting it to the establishment of Christianity, Monsieur de la Chetardie established a new system upon the supposition that the Apocalypse includes the whole history of Christ's Church upon earth. In doing this, he had the authority of S. Austin, and other fathers. Observing, therefore, upon an attentive perusal of this work, that there were seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, and that at the opening of each seal a new revelation was made, he ingeniously concluded, that the history of the whole Church was divided into seven periods or ages, and that to each period belonged one seal, one trumpet, and one vial. Six of these periods he conceives to be already accomplished, the seventh yet remains concealed in the womb of futurity. 7. Ingenious as is this system of Chetardie, it was not adopted, since Calmet, who wrote after him, preferred his own, which resembled that of Bossuet. It has, however, been renewed by the late bishop Walmsley, under the name of Signor Pastorini, who has taken up the idea and general outline from Chetardie, but illustrated the same with his own interpretation and application to historical facts. The erudition with which the latter author has clothed this system, and the striking aptness of his comparisons of the words of the prophecy to the events which have passed, have gained a very general approbation, and he is almost exclusively followed in the interpretation of this sealed book. How far he has succeeded in his explanation of the seventh age of the Church, cannot be determined by us, since it is shut up in the dark recess of futurity. Posterity will decide. To him we refer the English reader for any further information on the subject, convinced that his researches will be amply gratified, his education wonderfully improved. For, says the illustrious prelate Bossuet, "notwithstanding the obscurities of this book, we experience in its perusal an impression so sweet, and at the same time so magnificent, of the majesty of God; such sublime ideas present themselves of the mystery of Jesus Christ, such noble images of his victories and his reign, and such terrible effects of his judgment, that the soul is quite moved and penetrated. All the beauties of the Scriptures are collected in this book. Whatever there is melting, lively, and majestic in either the law or the prophets, acquires in this book an additional lustre." O truly adorable truths contained herein! of which God is the plentitude and eternal source; of which Jesus Christ is the prophet, the teacher and master; truths which have the angels for servants and ministers; the apostles and bishops for witnesses and depositaries; and all faithful souls, v. 3. for children and disciples. Let us prepare our hearts to hear Jesus Christ arisen from the dead, discovering to us the mysteries of his kingdom, and the truths of the gospel of his glory. Let us hear his warning voice, and prepare for his speedy coming by a strict observance of every duty. Happy, thrice happy that Christian whom the death of sin, and the sleep of tepidity shall not render deaf to this voice!
Ver. 1-3. The Apocalypse, or Revelation. I rather prefer the word Apocalypse, which the Latin interpreter did not think fit to change.
--- Of Jesus Christ . . . . by his Angel, sent to his servant John. So that these things were immediately revealed to S. John by an Angel, who represented and spoke in the person of Christ.
--- Which must shortly come; and as it is again said, (v. 3.) the time is at hand. This cannot be meant of all things in the Apocalypse, where mention is also made of the day of judgment, and of the glory of heaven at the end of the world. It can only mean, that some things were to happen shortly, i.e. what is said of the seven churches. C. ii. and iii. Or the persecutions foretold should begin shortly. Or else these expressions are only to signify, that all time is short, and that from the coming of the Messias, we are not in the last age, or the last hour. See 1 Jo. ii. 18. Wi.
--- S. John excites their attention by the most pressing motives, the approach of the events. Whatever explanation be given of this book, it is equally true in all, that the time is at hand, when it will begin to be accomplished. To find our consolation and happiness in this sacred book, according to the promise of the Holy Spirit, we must peruse it with faith and humility, receive the interpretation of the Church with submission and docility, and practise the truths contained with fidelity and promptitude. What is the life of man, since ages are but moments that escape us? Eternity is but a moment, but a moment that will never end.
Ver. 4-6. John to the seven churches,† afterwards named; and by them, to be understood of all churches, bishops, and people in the like dispositions.
--- From him, who is, who was, and who is to come. As these words are only applied, and applicable to him, who is truly God and eternal, Alcazar (p. 176) applies them to God the Father. Others think them to be spoken of God, as the word God agrees to all the three divine persons, who are one and the same God. See Ribera.
--- And from the seven spirits. Alcazar understands them of seven of God's attributes, or perfections, but, by the common exposition, are meant seven of the chief created spirits, who in a special manner assist at the throne of God, employed to execute God's commands, as Raphael saith, (Tob. xii. 15.) I am one of the seven who stand before God. Wi.
--- Spirits, &c. Some understand this of the Holy Ghost, on account of his seven gifts; but the most literal interpretation is of the principal Angels, who always surround the throne of God, and are his ministering spirits. Calmet.
--- And from Jesus Christ,†† made man, and the Redeemer of mankind, whom S. John here names after the seven spirits, because he continues his discourse about Christ, who is the faithful witness; testified and approved of God by so many miracles, prophecies, &c. He is the chief of the martyrs or witnesses, as the Greek word signifies.
--- The first begotten of the dead, both first in dignity, and first that rose to an immortal life.
--- The prince of the kings of the earth, whose power is infinitely greater than all theirs; and this to put the suffering Christians in mind, that they needed not to fear the persecuting emperors, who have no power after this life.
--- And Christ hath made us a kingdom, inasmuch as by his grace he has made us members of his true Church, called the kingdom of God, and promised us to reign with him in his glorious kingdom in heaven.
--- And hath made us priests to God, and his Father, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. See 1 Pet. ii. 9.
--- To him be, or is due, glory and empire, for ever and ever. Amen. That is, to Jesus Christ. Wi.
[†] V. 4. Ab eo qui erat, & qui est, & qui venturus est, apo tou o wn, kai o hn, kai o ercomenoV, as if it was said, apo tou oV legetai o wn, &c.
[†] V. 5. Qui est testis fidelis, o martuV o pistoV. Martyr ille fidelis.
Ver. 7. Behold he cometh, or is to come at the day of judgment. Wi.
Ver. 8. I am Alpha, and Omega. These, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signify the same as what follows, the beginning, and the end, the first cause and last end of all intelligent beings, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. These words agree only to him, who is the true God, and here are applied to our blessed Redeemer, who is to come and judge all. Wi.
Ver. 10. On the Lord's day.† Not on the Jewish sabbath, which is our Saturday, but on the Christian sabbath, our Sunday, called the Lord's day. The Church, in the apostle's time, changed the day of rest, on which the Jews were commanded to rest and sanctify that day, from Saturday to Sunday, from the last day of the week to the first. They judged this only to be an indispensable precept, that some day or some time should be appointed, in a special manner, for God's service and worship, on which Christians should also abstain from servile works, that were not of necessity: as to the determination of such a day of the week, they judged that the Church had power to change the day. The late pretended reformers have all agreed with us in this change. And if they would have all that is expressed in this commandment, to be of an indispensable and unchangeable obligation, according to the letter of the law, they ought certainly to observe, to sanctify, and to abstain from all servile works on Saturdays, or on the Jewish sabbath.
--- A great voice, as of a trumpet. To signify the importance of things to be revealed. Wi.
--- Voice, &c. This was most likely S. John the Baptist, who calls himself the voice of one crying in the desert, and who in Malachy is called the Angel of the Lord, as he is also styled in the first verse of this chapter. Pastorini.
[†] V. 10. In Dominicâ die, en th kuriakh hmera.
Ver. 12. I saw seven golden candlesticks, which, by the last verse of this chapter, represented the seven Churches of Asia. We may suppose these candlesticks to have been shewn to S. John, like what is described, Exod. xxv. 31. For in these visions of S. John are frequent allusions to the former tabernacle, and to things relating to the service and worship of God, which Moses was ordered to make. Wi.
Ver. 13. And in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, i.e. walking among the candlesticks, like unto Christ, as he many times called himself the Son of man, and at other times told the Jews he was the Son, the only begotten Son of God. By this walking among the candlesticks is signified his providential care over all the particular Churches, which make up one Catholic Church.
--- With a long garment,† and a golden girdle, with a resemblance of the habit of the priests. Wi.
--- Jesus Christ is in the midst of his Church to enlighten it, to defend and sanctify it, the true model of pastors, who should reside in the midst of their flock, be clothed with sanctity and justice, and girt with the golden girdle, i.e. with singular purity, always ready for combat and labour, by their charity and zeal.
[†] V. 13. Vestitum podere, endedumenon podhrh. See Exod. xxviii. 51. Daniel x. v.
Ver. 15. His feet like unto fine brass, to signify the purity and steadfastness of his steps and actions.
--- His voice as the sound of many waters, the sound of his preaching by himself, and by his apostles, has been heard throughout all nations of the world. Wi.
Ver. 16. In his right hand seven stars, which, as it is said, (v. 20.) were the Angels, i.e. the bishops of the seven churches, by this comparison is expressed their dignity.
--- And from his mouth came out a sharp two-edged sword. The word of God preached is compared to a two-edged sword. Ephes. vi. 17. and Heb. iv. 12. It also signifies God's severity in punishing sinners. Wi.
Ver. 17. I am the first and the last. These are the words of the Son of man, or of him that represented our Saviour, Christ, to S. John. To be the first and the last, is another expression agreeing only to him who is the true God, as it is divers times applied by the prophet Isaias. Wi.
--- From the 12th verse to this place we have a description of the Son of man, i.e. Christ. The different emblematical descriptions of his countenance, his dress, &c. are similar to what are used by other prophets, and easily explained of his attributes, his eternity, vengeance, &c. &c. Omnes passim.
Ver. 18. And alive, and was dead; always living as God, and as man was dead, died on the cross for the salvation of all men, rose again, triumphed over hell, death, and sin, and am living for ever and ever, and have the keys of death and of hell, power over all, all things being made subject to me, even as man, or as God and man. Wi.
Ver. 20. Angels. These are the seven bishops of the churches. Christ's having them in his right hand, shews the care he takes of his Church. Calmet.