|The lamb with the book of seven seals|
Bamberger Apokalypse Folio 13 verso,
Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS A. II. 42
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.