|Folio 10 recto of the Bible of S Paolo fuori le Mura, Frontpiece for the Book of Revelations|
Continuing today with St Bede's verse by verse notes on Revelation 2, starting at verse 12.
THE CHURCH OF PERGAMOS (verses 12-17)
St Bede sees the reference to the sword as to Christ's judicial power:
He has fitly mentioned first His judicial power, for He was to assign rewards to the victors, and punishment to the transgressors.
The first sentence applauds this church for holding fast to the faith in truth, despite attempts to evil teachers to turn them aside:
I approve indeed of thy patience, because although thou dwellest among the reprobate, thou dost not honour Me in name alone, as called Christian, but with perfect faith, even in the time of a persecution unto death. But I do not approve of this, that I see seducing teachers even in thee.The reference to Antipas, according to Bede, is either to a martyr who suffered at Pergamos or to Christ 'who even now is put to death by the unbelieving, so far as in them lies'.
He holds them to account, however, for gluttony and fornication. Bede notes that there is more to it than this though:
These are the two principal things in which all the carnal exercise themselves, "whose god is their belly, and their glory in their shame." But besides this, every evil work is idolatry and spiritual fornication.Bede explains that:
The Nicolaitans are named from Nicolas the deacon, of whom Clement relates that, when he was reproved for his jealousy of a most beautiful wife, he answered that whoever would might take her to wife, and says that, on account of this, unbelievers taught that the Apostles allowed to all a promiscuous and common intercourse with women. And the Nicolaitans are reported to have put forth some fabulous and almost heathen statements concerning the beginning of the world, and not to have kept their meats separate from things offered to idols.
The reward for those who resist these sins is 'the sweetness of the invisible bread which comes down from heaven'.
The Douay-Rheims translates 'calculum candidum' as a white counter, but Knox makes it a white stone which is probably clearer.
THE CHURCH OF THYATIRA (verses 18 -29)
St Bede suggests that Thyatira means
"for a sacrifice;" and the saints "present their bodies a living sacrifice."The image of eyes like flame, he interprets as pointing to Christ's power to search our hearts and minds, and on this basis to rewards.
And here a condemnation all too apt for our time:
In thy work indeed, and thy faith, thou art to be praise. But in this thou art to be blamed, that thou dost not confute with proper energy the synagogue of false Apostles, which pretends to be Christian. The name Jezebel, which implies "an issue of blood," belongs to heretics; and in particular, she is conjectured to be a woman in the aforenamed church, who teaches the evil deeds which have been mentioned, who was to be a figure of the Jezebel throughout the world, whom also he manifestly threatens with vengeance. Under the name of Christ forsooth, she taught spiritual fornication and idolatry, for how could she openly teach the worship of idols, when she said that she was a prophetess in the Church.
The bed promised is hell:
It is brought to pass by the just judgement of God, that she should lie in a bed of eternal punishment, who made the wretched lie down in a bed of lust.
He here names the posterity and works of the woman, "children," and he threatens them not with the momentary death of the body, but the eternal death of the soul.I've generally translated 'renes et corda' as hearts and minds, since the word reins has gone out of use. The Knox translation just says 'innermost hearts' though. The central point, though, is that it is not just what we say and do that matters, but our motivation. Bede comments:
Our works and words, no doubt, may be known to men. But with what intention they are accomplished, and whereunto we desire to attain by their means, He alone knows Who perceives what each one thinks, and in what he takes delight. And with that consistency in punishing fornication and idolatry, which are open faults, can He be said to be a discerner of secret things, unless these names may be applied even to the least offences? "Thou wilt destroy" he says, "all those who commit fornication from Thee." And the same Apostle John, who heard this, when he reasoned of false brethren, ended by saying "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."
And here some words of comfort for those resisting false doctrine on subjects such as marriage and fornication. St Bede notes:
As he commends repentance to the ungodly, and threatens them with punishment, so he exhorts the godly to patience by holding forth eternal rewards.... "Beware," He says "of false prophets," for I put unto you no new doctrine; but keep that which ye have received unto the end.
These three verses have strong echoes of Psalm 2. St Bede comments:
With inflexible justice He rule the meek, that they may the more bring forth fruit, but overthrows the contumacious, that they may either perish for ever, or that earthly desires may be destroyed in them, and the impure things of the old man, whatever has been contracted and wrought in them from the sinful clay....Christ is "the morning star," Who promises and reveals to the saints the eternal light of life, when the night of the world is past.