Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Revelation 2:1-11: On the need for charity


House of the BVM (now a chapel) at Ephesus

Chapter 1 of Revelation ended with a mention of the seven churches.  The next two chapters address messages to them one by one.  Today a look at the messages to the Churches of Ephesus and Smyrna.

THE CHURCH OF EPHESUS (verses 1-7)

The Church of Ephesus is praised for its good works and spiritual zeal in resisting heresy and impurity.  There is a sting in the tail though, as the vision reminds us that without charity these virtues are worthless.

1

Angelo Ephesi ecclesiæ scribe: Hæc dicit, qui tenet septem stellas in dextera sua, qui ambulat in medio septem candelabrorum aureorum:
1

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These things saith he, who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks:

St Bede notes that the word Ephesus can be interpreted either as meaning "a great fall," or "my will in it.".  Accordingly:
Part of this Church he blames, and part he praises, according to the character of the name. 
He suggests that the main sentence means:
he has you in his hand, and he rules and sustains you by his power...He who walks about in your midst searches the hearts and the mind of everyone.
2-3

Scio opera tua, et laborem, et patientiam tuam, et quia non potes sustinere malos: et tentasti eos, qui se dicunt apostolos esse, et non sunt: et invenisti eos mendaces:et patientiam habes, et sustinuisti propter nomen meum, et non defecisti
2-3

I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them that are evil, and thou hast tried them, who say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 
And thou hast patience, and hast endured for my name, and hast not fainted.

St Bede says:
I see, that is, that thou art diligent in the practice of good works, and bearest calmly the insufferable injuries of the wicked, for thou hast diligently examined the words and works of the false Apostles, and hast not been willing to give way to them in anything.  
4

Sed habeo adversum te, quod caritatem tuam primam reliquisti.
4

But I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first charity.

St Bede:
In the person of some, thou hast forsaken the love which began at first, and if they do not regain it, I will deprive them of the promised reward of light. 
5

Memor esto itaque unde excideris: et age pœnitentiam, et prima opera fac: sin autem, venio tibi, et movebo candelabrum tuum de loco suo, nisi pœnitentiam egeris.
Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen: and do penance, and do the first works. Or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou do penance.

Victorinus comments:
He who falls, falls from a height: therefore He said whence: because, even to the very last, works of love must be practised; and this is the principal commandment. Finally, unless this is done, He threatened to remove their candlestick out of its place, that is, to disperse the congregation.
6

Sed hoc habes, quia odisti facta Nicolaitarum, quæ et ego odi.
6

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaites, which I also hate.

A point in their favour though, St Bede notes, is that:
...thou hatest the examples of evil men, idolatry, that is, and fornication, for these are the deeds of the Nicolaitans...
7

Qui habet aurem, audiat quid Spiritus dicat ecclesiis: Vincenti dabo edere de ligno vitæ, quod est in paradiso Dei mei.
7

He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him, that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.

This is the first time we come across a refrain, 'He who has ears...', repeated seven times in these chapters.  St Bede comments:
He indicates that he writes for all the churches the things which he addresses to them individually; for it was not the Church of the Ephesians alone, which, if it did not repent, was to be removed from its place; nor was Satan's seat at Pergamos alone, and not rather in every place. In like manner also, the other things of the several churches are common to every church.
In each of these messages to the Church, a particular reward is set out.  St Bede explains this one as follows:
The "tree of life" is Christ, by the vision of Whom in the celestial paradise, and in the present body of the Church, holy souls are refreshed.
THE CHURCH OF SMYRNA (verses 8-11)

The message to the second of the churches is about standing firm under persecution.

8

Et angelo Smyrnæ ecclesiæ scribe: Hæc dicit primus, et novissimus, qui fuit mortuus, et vivit:
8

And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write: These things saith the First and the Last, who was dead, and is alive:

St Bede notes that:
He speaks to this church of enduring persecution, and its name also agrees with this. For Smyrna is interpreted "myrrh", which denotes the mortification of the flesh....He who both created all things, and renewed all things by His death. This is a suitable preface when he is going to enjoin patience.
9

Scio tribulationem tuam, et paupertatem tuam, sed dives es: et blasphemaris ab his, qui se dicunt Judæos esse, et non sunt, sed sunt synagoga Satanæ.
9

I know thy tribulation and thy poverty, but thou art rich: and thou art blasphemed by them that say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

Bede links the tribulations and poverty of this Church to the beatitudes:
Yea, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" Fortunatus has beautifully expressed this in a short verse, saying: "In narrow realm the poor man reigns possessing God."
 He interprets Jews here as meaning those who profess that they know God, but deny him in their works.

10

Nihil horum timeas quæ passurus es. Ecce missurus est diabolus aliquos ex vobis in carcerem ut tentemini: et habebitis tribulationem diebus decem. Esto fidelis usque ad mortem, et dabo tibi coronam vitæ.
10

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison that you may be tried: and you shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful until death: and I will give thee the crown of life.
The use of the number ten here can be given a number of interpretations, and St Bede notes two possibilities:
He means the whole of the time during which the commandments of the decalogue are necessary. For as long as thou shalt follow the light of the divine word, thou must needs suffer imprisonment from the enemy who opposes thee. Some understand that the ten persecutions of the heathen, from the Emperor Nero to Domitian, are signified.
11

Qui habet aurem, audiat quid Spiritus dicat ecclesiis: Qui vicerit, non lædetur a morte secunda.
11

He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: He that shall overcome, shall not be hurt by the second death.

St Bede interprets this as meaning:
He who shall have remained faithful unto the death of the flesh, will not fear the death of the soul.

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