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Introductory Notes

To the Book of the Apocalypse

A guest document

by

Msgr. Juan Straubinger [1883 - 1956]

Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Müenster, Germany


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Apocalypsis, that is, Revelation of Jesus Christ, is called this mysterious Book, because in it the idea of the Second Coming of Christ dominates (cf. 1,1 and 7; I Peter 1, 7 and 13). It is the last of the whole Bible and its reading is the object of a special beatitude and hence the great veneration in which the Church had it (cf. 1, 3 and note), no less than the tremendous warnings which he himself fulminated against anyone who dared to distort sacred prophecy by adding to or taking away from his own words (cf. 22:18).

Its author is John, servant of God (1, 2) and banished for the sake of the Gospel to the island of Patmos (1, 9). There is no doubt today that this John is the same John who also left us the Fourth Gospel and the three Letters which in the Canon bear his name. "The ancient Christian tradition (Popes, Justin, Irenaeus, Theophilus, Cyprian, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc.) recognizes by author of the Apocalypse the Apostle St. John" (Schuster-Holzammer).

Vigouroux, in refuting rationalist criticism, notes how this recognition of Revelation as the work of the beloved disciple was unanimous until the middle of the third century, and it was only then that the divine Book "began to become suspicious" because of the writings of his first opponent Dionysius of Alexandria, who dedicated the entire chapter 25 of his work against Nepos to sustain his view that the apocalypse was not of St. John. John "alleging the differences of style which he pointed out with his Alexandrian subtlety between the Gospels and Epistles on the one hand and the Apocalypse on the other. At that time "Dionysius' opinion was so contrary to the general belief that he could not even take foot in the church of Alexandria, and St. Athanasius, in 367, pointed out the need to include among the holy books the Apocalypse, adding that "there are the sources of salvation". But the influence of that opinion, supported and spread by the historian Eusebius, was great in the future and it is due to her that authors of the importance of Theodoreto, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom in all their works have not taken into account even once the Apocalypse (see in the note to 1, 3 the complaint of the 4th Council of Toledo).

The weakness of this position of Dionysius Alexandrinus is pointed out by the same author quoted showing not only the "skinny" exegetical work of the former, who fell into the allegorism of origins after having fought against it, but also that, when the schism of Novacian abused the Epistle to the Hebrews, the bishops of Africa also adopted as a solution the rejection of the authenticity of the whole Book and Dionysius was among them (cf. Introduction to the Epistles of St. John). "S. Epiphany, says Fr. Durand, was to call them sarcastically (these impugglers) the Alogos, to express, in a single word, that they rejected the logos (divine reason) they were deprived of human reason (a-logos)". The same author adds that the saint also reproached them for having attributed the fourth Gospel to the heretic Cerinth (as they had done with the Apocalypse), and that later his maneuver was repeated by the Roman presbyter Gaius, "but the attack was soon rejected with advantage by another much more competent Roman presbyter, the famous St. Hippolytus martyr".

S. John wrote the Apocalypse in Patmos, one of the Aegean islands that form part of the Dodecanese, during the exile he suffered under Emperor Domitian, probably around the year 96. The addressees were "the seven Churches of Asia" (Minor), whose names are mentioned in 1, 11 (cf. note) and whose existence, Gelin says, could be explained by the irradiation of the Jewish Christians of Pentecost (Acts 2, 9), just as Paul found in Ephesus some disciples of the Baptist (Acts 19, 2).

The object of this Book, the only prophetic of the New Testament, is to console Christians in the continual persecutions that threatened them, to awaken in them "the blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) and at the same time to preserve them from the false doctrines of various heretics who had been introduced into the flock of Christ. Secondly, the apocalypse tends to present a picture of the frightful catastrophes and struggles that are to move the world before Christ's triumph in his Parousia and the definitive defeat of his enemies, which the Father will make his feet a footstool (Hebr. 10:13). This does not prevent that, as in the Old Testament predictions and even in those of Jesus (cf. e.g. Mat. 24 and parallel), the prophet may also have thought of his contemporary events and take them as figures of what is to come, although we find unacceptable the tendency to see in these announcements, whose supernatural inspiration and prophetic scope the Church acknowledges, a simple expression of the yearnings of a distant historical epoch or an echo of the hatred against the Roman Empire that may have been expressed in Jewish apocalyptic literature after the fall of Jerusalem.

In this regard, Pirot's recent Bible, in its introduction to the Apocalypse, rightly warns us that "Catholic authors have presented it as the work of a disgruntled genius... whom external circumstances have forced to free publicity, so to speak, from its draft" and that in Patmos John lacked "a secretary whose calamus would have corrected the principal errors that came out of the mouth of the master who dictated". Is this not a further test of the faith of sincere believers in the face of visions of their own that are obscure and mysterious by God's will, and which have also been the object of such diverse interpretations, historical and eschatological, literal and allegorical, but whose reading is a bliss (1, 3) and whose meaning, not closed in the main (10, 3 and note), will be fully clarified when the god who reveals to the little ones what he hides from the wise, wants it? (Luke 10:21).

For the soul "whose faith is also hope" (I Peter 1:19), such difficulties, far from being a reason for discouragement in the study of biblical prophecies, show on the contrary that, as Pius XII says, the more intricate the questions appear, and especially in times like these, which the Supreme Pontiffs have so often compared with apocalyptic announcements, the greater the efforts must be made (cf. 3, 15 s. and note) and in which souls, more than ever in need of the word of God (cf. Am 8, 11 and note), feel the yearning for mystery and seek as if by instinct to take refuge in the spiritual consolations of divine prophecies (cf. Ecli: 39, 1 and note), in the absence of which they are at risk of falling into the easy seductions of spiritism, sects, theosophy and all kinds of magic and diabolical occultism. If we do not believe God," says St. Ambrose, "whom do we believe?"

There are three main systems for interpreting the Apocalypse. The first one takes it as the author's contemporary history, exposed with apocalyptic colors. This interpretation would take away from St. John's announcements all their prophetic transcendence and consequently their spiritual value for the believer. The second theory, called recapitulation, seeks in the book of St. John the various phases of ecclesiastical history, past and future, or at least of the first history of the Church up to the fourth and fifth centuries, without excluding the end of time.

The third interpretation sees in the Apocalypse exclusively an eschatological prophetic book, as did its first commentators and interpreters, i.e. S. Irenaeus, S. Hippolytus, S. Victorinus, S. Gregory the Great and, among the later modern ones, Ribera, Cornelius to Lapidus, Fillion, etc. The third interpretation sees in the Apocalypse exclusively an eschatological prophetic book, as did its first commentators and interpreters, i.e. S. Irenaeus, S. Hippolytus, S. Victorinus, S. Gregory the Great and, among the later modern ones, Ribera, Cornelius to Lapidus, Fillion, etc. This concept, which does not exclude, as we said before, the possibility of allusions and references to the historical events of the early times of the Church, have been imposed today on others, as if, according to Sickenberg, the prophecy that Jesus reveals to St. John "is an explanation of the main concepts of the eschatological discourse of Jesus, called the little Apocalypse".

We must also bear in mind that this sacred prophecy also means an exhortation to be firm in faith and joyful in hope, aspiring to the mysteries of the happiness promised for the Wedding of the Lamb. St. Jerome says: "The Apocalypse of St. John contains as many mysteries as words; and I say little with this, because no praise can reach the value of this Book, where each word by itself encompasses many meanings". As for the importance of the study of such a high and definitive prophecy, she convinces us by telling us, both in her prologue and in her epilogue, that we must preserve the things written in her because "the time is near (1, 3; 22, 7). Cf. I Thess. 5:20; Hebr. 10:37 and notes. "I Thess. 5:20; Hebr. 10:37 and notes. What I say to you I say to all: Sail! (Mark 13:36 f.). The richness of the supernatural life of early Christianity has been attributed to "this vigil that awaits and this hope that watches" (cf. James 5, 7 and note).

In the 404 verses of Revelation there are 518 Old Testament quotations, 88 of which are taken from Daniel. It is not easy to understand how in visions that St. John received transported to heaven (4, 1 s) it can be supposed that he has already left us, in the 24 elders, "an angelic transposition of the 24 Babylonian divinities of the constellations that presided over the seasons of the year", nor how in the locusts of the 5th trumpet "the imagery of the centaurs" etc. could be present. We confess that, esteeming without restrictions the scientific and critical work in everything that can bring elements of interpretation to the service of the divine Word, we do not understand how the respectful veneration that is due to it can be compatible with the judgments that attribute to the author incoherencies, exaggerations, artifices and flaws of style and method, as if the inspiration had not also assisted him in the writing, if it is true that, as the Vatican Council declares, confirming that of Trent as first author.

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Translation of the original texts in Spanish accomplished by DeepL Translation Services


A brief History of the Biblical translations authored by Msgr. Juan Straubinger

Brief background on the four Evangelists

Introductory Notes to the Acts of the Apostles and all Letters in the New Testament


Published on December 12th, 2019


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