Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Revelation 7: 9-8:1 The meaning of the seventh seal

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Bamburger Apocalypse

The second half of Revelation chapter 7 can be read two ways, according to St Bede.  On the one hand, it can be read as taking us to the ultimate triumph of the Church:
...he returns to the previous order, and announces the glory of those who are to overcome the wickedness of the last persecution. And that which follows, “From all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues,” may also be thus understood, that, after enumerating the tribes of Israel, to whom the Gospel was first preached, he desires to make mention of the salvation of the Gentiles as well.
But it can also be read, he suggests, as talking of the here and now:
The vision of the white-robed multitude may also be understood of the present time, when “we are saved in hope,” and “hoping for that which we see not, in patience wait for it.” 
Post hæc vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat, ex omnibus gentibus, et tribubus, et populis, et linguis: stantes ante thronum, et in conspectu Agni, amicti stolis albis, et palmæ in manibus eorum:
After this I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands:

St Bede explains that:
By “robes” he signifies baptism, by “palms” the triumph of the Cross, and he intimates that in Christ they have overcome the world. But robes may also double the glory which is given by the Holy Spirit.
10 et clamabant voce magna, dicentes: Salus Deo nostro, qui sedet super thronum, et Agno.
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb.

That is:
They proclaim with a loud voice, that is, with great devotion, an unceasing praise, that on the throne, namely, in the Church, there reign the Father and the Son; the Holy Spirit, nevertheless, reigning together with them. For it is said, “To Him Who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb;” in the same manner as it is said in the Gospel, “And may know Thee, the true and only God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent;” in which place, “may know the only and true God” is understood.
11 Et omnes angeli stabant in circuitu throni, et seniorum, et quatuor animalium: et ceciderunt in conspectu throni in facies suas, et adoraverunt Deum,
11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the ancients, and the four living creatures; and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and adored God,

St Bede takes angels to be a generic term here:
In all the angels he has represented the persons of the great multitude worshipping the Lord. “All they,” he says, “who are round about Him will offer gifts.”
12 dicentes: Amen. Benedictio, et claritas, et sapientia, et gratiarum actio, honor, et virtus, et fortitudo Deo nostro in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.
12 Saying: Amen. Benediction, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, honour, and power, and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.

St Bede draws attention to the seven different terms used here:
The Church offers the sevenfold praise of excellence unto the Lord, and in each of its members confesses to have received this from Him.
13 Et respondit unus de senioribus et dixit mihi: Hi, qui amicti sunt stolis albis, qui sunt? et unde venerunt?
13 And one of the ancients answered, and said to me: These that are clothed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they?

St Bede notes that this is a rhetorical question:
He asks for this end, that he may teach.
14 Et dixi illi: Domine mi, tu scis. Et dixit mihi: Hi sunt, qui venerunt de tribulatione magna, et laverunt stolas suas, et dealbaverunt eas in sanguine Agni.
14 And I said to him: My Lord, thou knowest. And he said to me: These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

St Bede points out that though the way of the cross is common to all Christians, the trials of the end times will be much greater:
“Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God,” but who knows not that the tribulation of Antichrist will be greater than all the rest?
All Christians, though, are washed in the blood of the lamb:
He speaks not of martyrs alone. They are washed in their own blood. But the blood of Jesus, the Son of God, cleanses the whole Church from all sin, therefore are they before the throne of God. For they are accounted worthy to stand there together in the service of God, who in the midst of adverse things are faithful confessors of His Name.
15 Ideo sunt ante thronum Dei, et serviunt ei die ac nocte in templo ejus: et qui sedet in throno, habitabit super illos:
15 Therefore they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple: and he, that sitteth on the throne, shall dwell over them.

St Bede suggests that day and night here means forever.  The throne of God he suggests, actually means the saints:
The saints are the throne of God, above whom and among whom the Lord for ever dwells.
16 non esurient, neque sitient amplius, nec cadet super illos sol, neque ullus æstus:
16 They shall no more hunger nor thirst, neither shall the sun fall on them, nor any heat.

And here we find one of the several beautiful descriptions of heaven to be found in this book:
This it is which the Lord Himself promised, saying, “I am the bread of life: he who cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he who believeth in Me shall never thirst.” Yea, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”...“We passed,” he says, “through fire and water, and thou broughtest us out into a place of refreshment.”
17 quoniam Agnus, qui in medio throni est, reget illos et deducet eos ad vitæ fontes aquarum, et absterget Deus omnem lacrimam ab oculis eorum.
17 For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall rule them, and shall lead them to the fountains of the waters of life, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

On the reference to the lamb St Bede comments:
He says, that the Lamb is in the midst of the throne, in that he had said above, that “the Lamb received the book from Him Who sitteth upon the throne;” and teaches that the Church is one throne for the Father and the Son, in which one God, the undivided Trinity, dwells through faith.
The fountains of the waters of life can mean the vision of God or the company of the saints:
That is to say, to the company of the saints, who are the fountains of heavenly doctrine. The vision of God itself may also be signified, “in Whom are hidden the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” according to this that David says, “As the hart longeth for the fountains of waters, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God.”
Our tears will be wiped away because:
When the fulness of immortal bliss is gained, all sorrow will be at once consigned to forgetfulness. For, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 

St Bede's comment on the opening verse of chapter 8 of Revelation marks the end of 'Book I' (of three) of his commentary:

Et cum aperuisset sigillum septimum, factum est silentium in cælo, quasi media hora.
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven, as it were for half an hour.

St Bede:
It is believed that after the death of Antichrist, there will be some little rest in the Church, which Daniel thus foretold: “Blessed is he who waiteth and cometh to the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days.” And it is thus interpreted by the blessed Jerome: “Blessed,” he says, “is he, who when Antichrist is slain, beyond the one thousand two hundred and ninety days, that is, three years and a half, waits for the forty-five days, in which the Lord and Saviour is to come in His own Majesty. 
Now for what reason, after the destruction of Antichrist, there is silence for forty-five days, is a subject of divine knowledge, unless perhaps we say, the deferring of the kingdom of the saints is the trial of patience.” 
Observe that at the sixth seal, he sees the greatest afflictions of the Church, at the seventh, rest. For the Lord was crucified on the sixth day of the week, and rested on the Sabbath, awaiting the time of resurrection. Thus far concerning the opening of the closed book, and the six seals.
Ascension and Pentecost

And at this point I am going to leave this series on Revelation, at least for the moment (I may resume after the octave of Pentecost if anyone is interested - please let me know), since the rest of the next few weeks are devoted to an important series of feasts that either have readings set for the day, or used to have, and deserve their own meditation!

If you wish to continue on by yourself though, you can find the rest of St Bede's commentary here or here. 

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