|The four living creatures|
produced at Wearmouth-Jarrow at the time of St Bede
Having looked to the future in chapters 2&3, Chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation, St Bede explains, starts again from the birth of Christ:
After describing the works of the Church and its future condition, he recapitulates from the birth of Christ, with an intention to repeat the same things in a different manner, for in this book he repeats under various figures the whole period of the Church's history.
The door, here, he suggests points to our spiritual ascent with Christ:
"Behold," he says, "a door opened in heaven." He fitly sees a door in heaven, as he is about to ascend, for that it is promised that the heavenly mysteries are to be opened to him, or, because Christ is the door. He who believes that He was born, and suffered, mounts up to heaven, that is, the light of the Church, and so is made spiritual, and beholds the things which shall be, as he says.
St Bede interprets the throne as a reference to Christ dwelling in the Church in heaven:
The Lord dwells within the Church, which is fixed in a heavenly abode.He also notes that it can be seen as a reference to the vision of Micaiah in 3 Kings 22:19.
St Bede interprets this verse as a reference to the end times as described in St Matthew 24:37
The colour of the jasper signifies water, of the sard fire, and we know that judgment is represented by these two. For “as it was,” He says, “in the days of Noah, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.He stresses the importance of intercessory prayer at the times of trouble for the Church:
The rainbow, which is caused by the rays of the sun shining upon the clouds, and which was first produced after the deluge for a sign of propitiation, denotes that the Church is protected by the intercession of the saints whom the Lord enlightens, and these are well compared with an emerald, a stone of a deep green. For as they wait with a more perfect faith for an inheritance that fadeth not away, so do they by their prayer more powerfully protect the rest.
St Bede provides two explanations for the significance of the number twenty-four in relation to the seats and elders sitting thereon. The first is that it represents the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament, and the twelve apostles of the New Testament. The seats indicate judgment, so it stands for the saints of both testaments sitting in judgment at the last, united in Christ:
The same Church which because of its fellowship in faith he had seen on one throne, he beholds, as sprung by a twofold testament from patriarchs and Apostles, on twenty-four seats, and it is seated because of its judicial dignity in Christ. So all the members will sit and judge, but in one and by one Head. For how will saints be able to sit in the judgment, while they are standing at the right hand of the Judge?The second explanation rests on the breakdown of twenty-four into six times four. Six stands for perfection, four for the four corners of the earth, so:
The twenty-four elders may also be understood of those who, by their loud preaching of the gospel, complete the perfection of work, which is represented in the number six for four times six make twenty-four.He interprets their crowns as meaning good works, or the joys of contemplation:
That is, clothed with good works, seeking with an unfailing recollection of the mind the joys which are above. For frequently, under the name of the head, the mind is wont to be understood.
St Bede comments:
This is the same that Mark says, “But they went forth preaching everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by signs following.” He means the one sevenfold Spirit, for “there is one Spirit,” and to be sevenfold implies perfection and fulness. But when the Holy Spirit has been mentioned, there fitly follows the water of baptism. For in it the same Spirit is believed to be received.
St Bede sees the first phrase as continuing the reference to baptism:
Because of our faith in the true baptism, this is compared to glass, in which nothing else appears on the outside than that which it has within. The grace of baptism is also represented by crystal, which is formed from water, congealed into a precious stone.The four living creatures refers to the Gospels:
All the parts of the throne of God, that is, of the Church, are filled by the light of the gospel, with the knowledge of the past and of the future.
St Bede notes:
The living creatures are interpreted in various ways. But the blessed Augustine, to follow the order in this book, says, that Matthew is intended in the lion, in that he describes the ancestral line of regal dignity in Christ, Who also has conquered as the lion of the tribe of Judah, for “Judah is a lion’s whelp;” and in his gospel, as a king, he is feared by a king, is worshipped by the Magi, in which also the king takes account of his servants, the king makes a marriage-feast for his son, and at the last the king separates the sheep from the goats;—that Luke is intended in the calf, which was the great victim under the Law, for that not only does his gospel at the commencement begin about the temple and the sacrifices, but it thus concludes, “and they were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God.” But the face of a man, he says, signifies Mark, who says nothing of the regal, or of the sacerdotal power of the Lord, and only relates simply the actions of the man Christ; and the eagle is John, for with keen sight he beholds the nativity of the Word, as the risen Sun. The living creatures, again, at one time denote the Evangelists, at another the whole Church; for its fortitude is represented in the lion, its sacrificial offering in the calf, its humility in the man, and its sublimity in the flying eagle.
St Bede links the six wings to the books of the Old Testament, generally interpreted by early Patristic commentators as meaning the books of the law (five) plus the prophets (nineteen):
They raise the Church on high by the perfection of their doctrine. For the number six is called perfect, because it is the first which is made complete by its several parts, in that one which is the sixth part of six, and two which are the third, and three which are the half, make up the number six. Otherwise: the six wings of the four living creatures, which are twenty-four in number, intimate as many books of the Old Testament, by which the authority of the Evangelists is supported, and their truth proved.The comment about being full of eyes he sees as pointing to the need for vigilance:
The holy Church observes itself with vigilance, both before God and before men... because the light of the Gospel both illumines the dark sayings of the Law, and pours upon it the brightness of a new grace.
He interprets this is as reference to the ceaseless prayer to the creator:
The holy living creatures for all the time of the age proclaim the sole dominion of the Godhead, the omnipotence and eternity of the Holy Trinity. For there abides in the heavenly places the continual praise of the intelligent creation.
St Bede comments:
When the living creatures utter the sound of praise, that is, when the Evangelists preach the dispensation of Christ, the whole Church, which is composed of rulers and people, for so much is signified by the number twelve being doubled, falls at once upon its face, and adores Him “Who liveth for ever and ever.”They cast their crowns down to show that all is due to God:
They assign, that is, to God whatever power, whatever dignity they have, for that He created all things out of nothing.