Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/668

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598

APOCALYPSE


598


APOCALTPSE


that is weird and grotesque. He delights in por- traying locusts witli hair like that of women and horses with tails like serpents. There are occasional passages revealing a sense of literary beauty. God re- moves the curtain of the firmament as a scribe rolls up his scrolls. The stars fall from the heavens like figs from the fig-tree shaken by the storm (vi, 12-14). On the whole, however, the Seer shows more love for Oriental splendour than the appreciation of true beauty.

Interpretation. — It would be alike wearisome and useless to enumerate even the more prominent applications made of the Apocalypse. Racial hatred and religious rancour have at all times found in its vision much suitable and gratifying matter. Such persons as Mahomet, the Pope, Napoleon, etc., have in turn been identified with the beast and the harlot. To the "reformers" particularly the Apocalpyse was an inexhaustible quarry where to dig for in- vectives that they might hurl them against the Roman liierarchy. The seven hills of Rome, the scarlet robes of the cardinals, and the unfortunate abuses of the papal court made the application easy and tempting. Owing to the patient and strenuous research of scholars, the interpretation of the Apoca- lypse has been transferred to a field free from the odium theologicum. By them the meaning of the Seer is determined by the rules of common exegesis. Apart from the resurrection, the millennium, and the plagues preceding the final consummation, they see m his visions references to the leading events of his time. Their method of interpretation may be called historic as compared with the theological and political application of former ages. The key to the mysteries of the book they find in chap, xvii, 8-14. For thus says the Seer: " Let here the mind that hath understanding give heed ".

The beast from the sea that had received plenitude of power from the dragon, or Satan, is the Roman Empire, or rather, Coesar, its supreme representative. The token of the beast with which its servants are marked is the image of the emperor on the coins of the realm. This seems to be the obvious meaning of the passage, that all business transactions, all buying and selling were impossible to them that had not the mark of the beast (Ap., xiii, 17). Against this interpretation it is objected that the Jews at the time of Christ had no scruple in handling money on which tlie image of Csesar was stamped (Matt., xxii, 15-22). But it should be borne in mind that the horror of the Jews for the imperial images was principally due to the policy of Caligula. He con- fiscated se\'eral of their synagogues, changing them into heathen temples by placing his statue in them. Ho even sought to erect an image of himself in the Temple of Jerusalem (Jos., Ant., XVIII, viii, 2). The sevcui heads of the beast are seven emperors. Five of them the Seer says are fallen. They are Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The year of Nero's death is \. D. 68. The Seer goes on to say, "One is", namely Vespasian, a. d. 70-79. He is the sixth emperor. The seventh, we are told by the Seer, "is not yet come. But when he comes his reign will be short". Titus is meant, who reigned but two years (79-81). The eighth emperor is Domitian (81-96). Of him the Seer has something very peculiar to say. He is identified with the beast. He IS described as the one that "was, and is not, and shall come up out of the bottomleiss pit" (xvii, 8). In verse 11 it is added: "And the beast which was and IS not: the same also is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into destruction ". All this sounds like oracular language. But the clue to its .solution IS furnished by a popular belief largely spread at the lime. The death of Nero had been witnessed by few. Chiefly in the East a notion had taken hold of the mmd of the (wople that Nero was still


alive. Gentiles, Jews, and Christians were under the ilhision that he was hiding himself, and as was coramonlj' thought, he had gone over to the Parthians, the most troublesome foes of the empire. From there they expected him to return at the head of a mighty army to avenge himself on his enemies. The existence of this fanciful belief is a well-attested historic fact. Tacitus speaks of it: "Achaia atque Asia falso exterritaj velut Nero adventaret, vario super ejus exitu rumore eoque pluribus vivere eum fingentibus credentibusque" (Hist., II, 8). So also Dio Chrysostomus: koX v\Jv (about a. d. 100) iTf. irdvres ^irtdvfiovtTL ^^v, ol Si TrXetffTot Kal otoyrai (Orat., 21, 10; cf. Suet., " Vit. Csss." s. v. Nero, 57, and the Sibylline Oracles, V, 28-33). Thus the con- temporaries of the Seer believed Nero to be alive and expected his return. The Seer either shared their belief or utilized it for his own purpose. Nero had made a name for himself by his cruelty and licentiousness. The Christians in particular had reason to dread him. Under him the first persecu- tion took place. The second occurred under Domi- tian. But unlike the previous one, it was not con- fined to Italy, but spread throughout the provinces. Many Christians were put to death, many were banished (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., Ill, 17-19). In this way the Seer was led to regard Domitian as a second Nero, "Nero redivivus ". Hence he de- scribed him as "the one that was, that is not, and that is to return". Hence also he counts him as the eighth and at the same time makes him one of the preceding seven; viz. the fifth, Nero. The identifi- cation of the two emperors suggested itself all the more readily since even pagan authors called Domi- tian a second Nero {calvus Nero, Juvenal, IV, 38). The popular belief concerning Nero's death and return seems to be referred to also in the passage (xiii, 3): "And I saw one of its heads as it were slain to death: and its death's wound was healed". The ten horns are commonly explained as the vassal rulers under the supremacy of Rome. They are described as kings (^affiXets) , here to be taken in a wider sense, that they are not real kings, but received power to rule with the beast. Their power, moreover, is but for "one hour ", signifying its short duration and instability (xvii, 17). The Seer has marked the beast with the number 666. His pur- pose was that by this number people may know it. " He that has understanding, let him count the num- ber of the beast. For it is the number of a man: and his number is six hundred and sixty-six ". A human number, i. e. intelligible by the common rules of investigation. We have here an instance of Jewish gematria. Its object is to conceal a name by substituting for it a cipher of equal numerical value to the letters composing it. F'or a long time interpreters tried to decipher the number 666 by means of the Greek alphabet, e. g. Iren., "Adv. Ha:'r.", V, 33. Their efforts have yielded no satis- factory result. Better success has been obtained by using the Hebrew alphabet. Many scholars have come to the conclusion that Nero is meant. For when the name "Nero Ca>sar" is spelled with He- brew letters (nop 111:), it yields the cipher 666.

= ^0, n = 200, 1 = 6, 3=50, p=100, D = 60, 1=200;

total. 666.

The second beast, that from the land, the pseudo- prophet, whose office w.as to assist the beast from the sea, prohalily signifies the work of seduction carried on by apostate Christians. They endeavoured to make their fellow Christians adopt the heathen prac- tices and submit tlienisclvcs to the cultus of the CiTsar. They arc not unlikely the Nicolaitans of the seven Epistles. For they are then- compared to Balaam and Jezabel seducing the Israelites to idolatry and fornication. The woman in travail is a j)ersoni- fication of the synagogue or the church. Her fitstr