Revelation 6:1-17

Valladolid, Biblioteca de la Universidad,
Ms 433 (ex ms 390) f°93
Today's chapter of Revelation describes the opening of the seven seals.  St Bede summarises these as follows:
In the first seal, accordingly, he beholds the glory of the primitive Church, in the following three the threefold war against it, in the fifth the glory of those who triumph in this war, in the sixth the things which are to come in the time of Antichrist, and that with a brief recapitulation of former events, in the seventh the beginning of eternal rest.
Et vidi quod aperuisset Agnus unum de septem sigillis, et audivi unum de quatuor animalibus, dicens tamquam vocem tonitrui: Veni, et vide.
And I saw that the Lamb had opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures, as it were the voice of thunder, saying: Come, and see.

St Bede comments:
Seeing that the seals are first loosed, and the book is then opened, he has purposely changed the accustomed order. For in that He suffered and rose again, the Lord taught the Church that He was the end of the law; and in that He ascended into heaven, by the mission of the Holy Spirit, He strengthened the Church with the gift of a more hidden mystery. 
The words of one of the four living creatures are the Easter message:
We also are admonished by the loud voice of the Gospel to behold the glory of the Lord.
Et vidi: et ecce equus albus, et qui sedebat super illum, habebat arcum, et data est ei corona, et exivit vincens ut vinceret.
And I saw: and behold a white horse, and he that sat on him had a bow, and there was a crown given him, and he went forth conquering that he might conquer.

The vision of the first seal, according to St Bede, is of the early Church immediately after Pentecost:
The Lord presides over the Church, which is made whiter than snow by grace, and He bears the arms of spiritual teaching against the ungodly; and in the persons of His own He receives, as conqueror, a crown; as it is said of Him, “He received gifts in men.” In their persons also, although Lord of heaven, He was persecuted by Saul [Paul before his conversion].
Et cum aperuisset sigillum secundum, audivi secundum animal, dicens: Veni, et vide.
And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature, saying: Come, and see.

Even when the Church is prosperous and growing though, we must know that adversity will come, and be prepared:
He is wisely bidden to observe the opposing horsemen, that, as he derives joy from the prosperity of the Church, so he may acquire caution also from its adversity, by foreknowledge of it.
Et exivit alius equus rufus: et qui sedebat super illum, datum est ei ut sumeret pacem de terra, et ut invicem se interficiant, et datus est ei gladius magnus.
And there went out another horse that was red: and to him that sat thereon, it was given that he should take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another, and a great sword was given to him.

St Bede interprets the red horseman as the devil:
Against the Church victorious and conquering there went out a red horse, that is, a malignant people, bloody from its rider, the devil. Yet we have read in Zechariah of the red horse of the Lord. But the former one is red with his own blood, this with the blood of others.
The devil can take away worldly peace, but not that of the Church:
That is, its own peace. But the Church has received an eternal peace, which has been left to it by Christ.
The fate of the sword applies to good and bad alike:
That is, either against those whom he makes betrayers of the faith, or whom he makes martyrs. And concerning this it is said to the blessed Job, “He who made him has made His sword to approach;” that is, either that he may not try the saints, as much as the ungodly one wills, or, that the vengeance of his own rage may return upon himself.
Et cum aperuisset sigillum tertium, audivi tertium animal, dicens: Veni, et vide. Et ecce equus niger: et qui sedebat super illum, habebat stateram in manu sua.
And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying: Come, and see. And behold a black horse, and he that sat on him had a pair of scales in his hand.

St Bede interprets the black horsemen as those who claim to be Christians, but act otherwise:
The black horse is the band of false brethren who have the balance of a right profession, but hurt their fellows through works of darkness. For when it is said in the midst of the living creatures, “hurt not,” it is shewn that one is there who hurts. Of the running forward of this horse, the Apostle says, “Without were fightings, within were fears.”
Et audivi tamquam vocem in medio quatuor animalium dicentium: Bilibris tritici denario et tres bilibres hordei denario, et vinum, et oleum ne læseris.
And I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying: Two pounds of wheat for a penny, and thrice two pounds of barley for a penny, and see thou hurt not the wine and the oil.

To these false brethren he urges reform, and proper love of god and neighbour:
Beware, he says, lest, by your most evil example, ye offend your brother for whom Christ died, and who bears the seal of the sacred blood, and of the chrism. For whether they are perfect in merits, or are even the least, yet whosoever in the Church are imbued with the faith of the Holy Trinity, are redeemed by the same perfect price of the Lord’s blood. And not without reason is the perfection of faith, or work, expressed by a measure of two pounds, and not by a single pound. For both alike have their root in a twofold love.
7-8 Et cum aperuisset sigillum quartum, audivi vocem quarti animalis dicentis: Veni, et vide. Et ecce equus pallidus: et qui sedebat super eum, nomen illi Mors, et infernus sequebatur eum, et data est illi potestas super quatuor partes terræ, interficere gladio, fame, et morte, et bestiis terræ.
7-8 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature, saying: Come, and see.And behold a pale horse, and he that sat upon him, his name was Death, and hell followed him. And power was given to him over the four parts of the earth, to kill with sword, with famine, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. 

The third type of evil horsemen, arrayed against the white horsemen of the Church, according to St Bede, are heretics:
Heretics who assume the garb of Catholics, are worthy to have death abide in their midst, and they draw after them the army of the lost. For the devil and his servants are, by a metonymy, called death and hell. It may also be taken simply, that there eternal punishment follows those who here are spiritually dead.
Et cum aperuisset sigillum quintum, vidi subtus altare animas interfectorum propter verbum Dei, et propter testimonium, quod habebant:
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.

St Bede:
Because he had said that the Church was afflicted in manifold ways in the present time, he speaks also of the glory of souls after the punishment of the body. “I saw them,” he says, “under the altar,” that is, in the secret place of eternal praise. 
For the altar, which is of gold, and is placed within, and near the ark of the Lord’s body, does not, as the altar which is without, present flesh and blood to the Lord, but only the incense of praise; and they who now “offer their bodies a living sacrifice,” when the bonds of the flesh are broken, thus offer to Him the sacrifice of praise....

1et clamabant voce magna, dicentes: Usquequo Domine (sanctus et verus), non judicas, et non vindicas sanguinem nostrum de iis qui habitant in terra?
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord (holy and true) dost thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

The voice of the martyrs crying out, St Bede, argues, simply reflects God's intention to see justice prevail, and is the petition we make when we say the Our Father:
The great cry of the souls is their great desire for those things which they know that the Lord wills to do. For it is not right to suppose, that they wish for anything against the good pleasure of God, when their desires are dependent upon His will.
How long? They ask not this in hatred of their enemies, for whom they made supplication in this age. But in a love of justice, in which, as they who are placed near the Judge Himself, they agree with Him, they pray for the coming of the day of judgment, in which the reign of sin may be destroyed, and the resurrection of their lifeless bodies may come. For we also, in the present time, when we are commanded to pray for our enemies, say nevertheless, when we pray to the Lord, “Thy kingdom come.”
11 Et datæ sunt illis singulæ stolæ albæ: et dictum est illis ut requiescerent adhuc tempus modicum donec compleantur conservi eorum, et fratres eorum, qui interficiendi sunt sicut et illi.
11 And white robes were given to every one of them one; and it was said to them, that they should rest for a little time, till their fellow servants, and their brethren, who are to be slain, even as they, should be filled up.

St Bede interprets the white robes as the souls of the faithful in heaven; and the resurrection of the body ub the final judgement, they will have two robes:
The souls of the saints which rejoice in their blessed immortality, have now each one robe. But when their bodies arise, as Isaiah says, “they will possess double in their own land.”
The souls in heaven await the joy of being reunited with their bodies while the conversion of the world, for which we should pray hard, proceeds:
The desire of resurrection is not denied, but deferred, that the brethren may be gathered in and multiplied. For the joy of souls itself may also be represented by white robes, when they learn by the revelation of the Lord, that the ungodly are to be condemned at the last, and that even unto the end of the age many are to be joined to their number by martyrdom. Therefore, imbued with internal charity, and content with this consolation, they have been willing rather that their own joys should be deferred for the completion of the number of the faithful.
12 Et vidi cum aperuisset sigillum sextum: et ecce terræmotus magnus factus est, et sol factus est niger tamquam saccus cilicinus: et luna tota facta est sicut sanguis:
12 And I saw, when he had opened the sixth seal, and behold there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair: and the whole moon became as blood:

St Bede sees the sixth seal as indicating the end times:
By the opening of the sixth seal the last persecution is announced, and that the world is shaken with darkness and fear, as when the Lord was crucified on the sixth day of the week.
The black sun is: if the power of Christ were hidden, or His doctrine temporarily obscured, or covered by a veil, when the servants of Antichrist are brought to attack the servants of Christ.
The bloody moon is the Church:
The Church, more than is wont, will shed her blood for Christ And he said “the whole,” because the last earthquake will be in the whole world. But before that, as it is written, “there will be earthquakes through divers places.”
13 et stellæ de cælo ceciderunt super terram, sicut ficus emittit grossos suos cum a vento magno movetur:
13 And the stars from heaven fell upon the earth, as the fig tree casteth its green figs when it is shaken by a great wind:

At this time, those who present to the world as good will be exposed for what they really are:
They who shine as heavenly ones in the Church, and that in appearance alone, when they are driven by the wind of the last persecution, will be proved to have been of earth. And their works are fitly compared to green figs, that is to the untimely, and useless, and falling fruit of the fig-tree.

14 et cælum recessit sicut liber involutus: et omnis mons, et insulæ de locis suis motæ sunt:
14 And the heaven departed as a book folded up: and every mountain, and the islands were moved out of their places.

The Church will continue, but hidden:
As a scroll rolled up contains indeed mysteries within, while there is no appearance of them without, so will it be with the Church. At that time, known only to her own, she will prudently avoid persecution in retirement, that by such concealment she may remain unperceived by those without.
He speaks of the members of the Church, as differing according to the character of their offices or powers, and foretells, that no one will be without his share in this whirlwind. But the movement caused by it will be dissimilar, for in the good it will be one of precaution by flight, but in the bad, of giving way by compliance.

15 et reges terræ, et principes, et tribuni, et divites, et fortes, et omnis servus, et liber absconderunt se in speluncis, et in petris montium:
15 And the kings of the earth, and the princes, and tribunes, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of mountains:

St Bede:
The “kings” we take to be those who are powerful. For he will have persons of every degree and condition to be understood. Besides, who will then be kings except the persecutor alone?  While all the weak at that time seek to be strengthened by the examples of the highest in the Church, and to be fortified by their counsels, protected by their advice, and sheltered by their prayers, they entreat the very mountains to fall upon them with a feeling of compassion. For “the high mountains are a refuge for the hinds, and the rocks for the hedgehogs.”
16 et dicunt montibus, et petris: Cadite super nos, et abscondite nos a facie sedentis super thronum, et ab ira Agni:
16 And they say to the mountains and the rocks: Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb:

Hiding here, means cultivating a proper fear of God:
That is, in order that He may not find us reprobates when He comes, but steadfast in the faith, with our sins covered by the intercession of the saints, and the mercy of God.
17 quoniam venit dies magnus iræ ipsorum: et quis poterit stare?
17 For the great day of their wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?

The key message is to be prepared for the coming judgement:
He surely will be able to stand in that day who has now taken care to be watchful, to stand in the faith, to act manfully. But if thou refer this earthquake literally to the day of judgment itself, it is no marvel if the kings and princes of the earth are then afraid, and seek the refuge of the holy hills. For so, in the rich man clothed in purple, and the poor Lazarus, we read that it has already taken place.

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