Thursday, 18 May 2017

Revelation 5:1-14 - Our hearts expanded with love

BambergApocalypseFolio013vLambAndBookWith7Seals.JPG
The lamb with the book of seven seals
 Bamberger Apokalypse Folio 13 verso,
 Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS A. II. 42
c1000
Today's chapter of Revelation starts with the vision of the book with seven seals:

Et vidi in dextera sedentis supra thronum, librum scriptum intus et foris, signatum sigillis septem.
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne, a book, written within and without, sealed with seven seals.

St Bede interprets the book as meaning Scripture itself, and suggests that this vision reveals the unity of the Scriptural message:
This vision represents the mysteries of holy Scripture, as laid open to us through the Incarnation of the Lord. And its concordant unity contains, so to say, the Old Testament without, and the New within.
St Bede focuses on the number of the seals as indicating completeness, or the inspiration of the Holy Ghost:
That is, it was either covered by all the fulness of the hidden mysteries, or written as a roll by the direction of the sevenfold Spirit.
Other commentators though, see the seven seals as pointing to seven key events in the life of Christ, starting with his Incarnation, and ending with the Resurrection.

Et vidi angelum fortem, prædicantem voce magna: Quis est dignus aperire librum, et solvere signacula ejus?
And I saw a strong angel, proclaiming with a loud voice: Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?

The question of who is worthy to open the book is a call to repentance, in St Bede's view:
He indicates the promulgation of the Law. For “many” prophets and wise men “desired to see the things which the Apostles saw;” and, “of this salvation,” as Peter says, “the prophets inquired diligently, and searched.” This is the book which is closed both to the learned and unlearned in Isaiah, but of which even there the opening is thus announced, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book.” And of this Ezekiel also says, “And I saw, and behold a hand was sent unto me, in which was the roll of a book, and He opened it before me, and it was written within and without;” when he also added that which John concealed, namely, that which was written in the book, saying, “And there was written therein lamentations, and a dirge, and woe.” For the whole course of the Old and New Testament forewarns, that sins are to be repented of, the kingdom of heaven to be sought, and the wailings of hell to be escaped.
3-4 Et nemo poterat neque in cælo, neque in terra, neque subtus terram aperire librum, neque respicere illum.Et ego flebam multum, quoniam nemo dignus inventus est aperire librum, nec videre eum.
And no man was able, neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor under the earth, to open the book, nor to look on it.And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open the book, nor to see it.

Without Christ's sacrifice though, no-one can access the book of life:
Neither an angel, nor any one of the just, although delivered from the bond of the flesh, was able to reveal, nor to search into the mysteries of the divine law, nor to look into the book, that is, to contemplate the brightness of the grace of the New Testament, even as the children of Israel could not look upon the face of the lawgiver of the Old Testament, which contains the New.
For this reason:
He was grieved, as recognising the common misery of the human race.
Et unus de senioribus dixit mihi: Ne fleveris: ecce vicit leo de tribu Juda, radix David, aperire librum, et solvere septem signacula ejus.
And one of the ancients said to me: Weep not; behold the lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

Yet for us now the situation has changed, the way to heaven has been reopened:
He is forbidden to weep, because even then had been fulfilled in the Passion of Christ the mystery which long lay hidden, when, as He yielded up His spirit, the veil of the temple was rent. For to Him it is said, “Judah is a lion’s whelp: to the prey, my son, thou art gone up: resting, thou couchedst as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall raise him up?” He proceeds to describe how, and when, the Lion of the tribe of Judah prevailed.
6 Et vidi: et ecce in medio throni et quatuor animalium, et in medio seniorum, Agnum stantem tamquam occisum, habentem cornua septem, et oculos septem: qui sunt septem spiritus Dei, missi in omnem terram.
And I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the ancients, a Lamb standing as it were slain, having seven horns and seven eyes: which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.

The lamb is, of course, Christ, but can also be interpreted as the Church:
The same Lord, Who is a Lamb in dying innocently, became also a Lion in boldly conquering death. Tichonius says that the Lamb is the Church, which has received all power in Christ.
A horn is often used in Scripture as a symbol of royal dignity and power (see for example Jeremiah 48:25; Zechariah 1:18; and Daniel 8:24 ), or strength and salvation:
The sevenfold Spirit in Christ is compared with horns, because of the excellency of power; and with eyes, because of the illumination of grace.

Et venit: et accepit de dextera sedentis in throno librum.
And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne.

St Bede interprets this as a reference to the Incarnation:
The Son of Man is said to have taken the book from the right hand of God, namely, the economy of the Incarnation, appointed by the Father and by Himself, in that He is God; because both dwell with the Holy Spirit upon the throne. For Christ, Who in His humanity is a Lamb, is also in His deity the right hand of the Father.
Et cum aperuisset librum, quatuor animalia, et viginti quatuor seniores ceciderunt coram Agno, habentes singuli citharas, et phialas aureas plenas odoramentorum, quæ sunt orationes sanctorum:
And when he had opened the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours [=golden bowls full of incense], which are the prayers of saints:

St Bede here takes us to St Benedict's definition of sainthood, from the prologue to his Rule, which speaks of hearts enlarged by love, 'so that we shall run with the unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God's commandments':
For that the Lord, by His Passion, proved that the announcements of both Testaments were fulfilled in Himself, the Church gives thanks, and offers herself to suffering, that, as the Apostle says, “She may fill up that which is wanting of the sufferings of Christ in her flesh.” For by “harps,” in which strings are stretched on wood, are represented bodies prepared to die, and by “bowls” [vials] hearts expanded in breadth of love.
9-10 et cantabant canticum novum, dicentes: Dignus es, Domine, accipere librum, et aperire signacula ejus: quoniam occisus es, et redemisti nos Deo in sanguine tuo ex omni tribu, et lingua, et populo, et natione:et fecisti nos Deo nostro regnum, et sacerdotes: et regnabimus super terram.
9-10 And they sung a new canticle, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation,And hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.

A 'new' song or canticle is invariable interpreted by the Fathers as a reference to the New Testament:
They laud the sacraments of the New Testament, which are complete in Christ, while they extol with praise that same dispensation of it which they confess to belong to Christ alone.
And now the identity of the twenty-four elders is made clear: 
Here is further declared, that the living creatures and the elders are the Church, which is redeemed by the blood of Christ, and gathered out of the nations. For he shews in what heaven they are by saying, “And they shall reign upon the earth.”
11-13 Et vidi, et audivi vocem angelorum multorum in circuitu throni, et animalium, et seniorum: et erat numerus eorum millia millium,dicentium voce magna: Dignus est Agnus, qui occisus est, accipere virtutem, et divinitatem, et sapientiam, et fortitudinem, et honorem, et gloriam, et benedictionem. Et omnem creaturam, quæ in cælo est, et super terram, et sub terra, et quæ sunt in mari, et quæ in eo: omnes audivi dicentes: Sedenti in throno, et Agno, benedictio et honor, et gloria, et potestas in sæcula sæculorum.
11-13 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the living creatures, and the ancients; and the number of them was thousands of thousands,Saying with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction. And every creature, which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them: I heard all saying: To him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction, and honour, and glory, and power, for ever and ever.

St Bede:
Countless thousands of the peoples flow together unto the Church, and praise God....the heavenly host may also unite in singing that song, by rejoicing with us upon our redemption, as the holy Pope Gregory also has expounded it, saying, “For the voice of angels in praise of the Creator is the very admiration itself of inmost contemplation.”
14 Et quatuor animalia dicebant: Amen. Et viginti quatuor seniores ceciderunt in facies suas: et adoraverunt viventem in sæcula sæculorum.
14 And the four living creatures said: Amen. And the four and twenty ancients fell down on their faces, and adored him that liveth for ever and ever.

St Bede concludes his notes on this chapter by saying:
When the people within the Church make the praise of the Lord resound, the teachers confirm the same, and for example’s sake, together with them adore the Lord.

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