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The Explanation Of The Apocalypse

v. 1. star. He declares with what fuel the flame of heretics, of which he had spoken briefly, was kindled. The old enemy forsooth, whom the Lord saw “like lightning fall from heaven,” opened the heart of his own by blasphemous doctrine, and taught them to speak impiety against the Most High.

2. smoke. The madness of heresy rages to announce beforehand the great furnace, namely, the last persecution; and it labours to obscure not the weak alone, who like the air touch, as it were, the confines of earth and heaven, but the light also of the lofty, though unable to extinguish it For even the elect, if it be possible, will be led into error.

3. locusts. As the saints are the body of Christ and members one of another, so also the members of the flesh of the dragon cleave to one another, and are born one from the other, and the smoke of heretical blindness generates the pride of the ungodly, which hurts with its mouth. And although these are shaken by the wind of exaltation, yet they leave not the places of earth, for so also the smoke from which they are produced, though it seek to ascend, always sinks back into itself.

power. Heretics are compared with hostile powers, and appear harmless in their countenance, but keep poison in their hinder parts.

4. grass. He shews that the locusts are men, for they are not sent to the grass, but to men, for we understand locusts simply in this place.

seal. They are said to have the seal of God on their foreheads who have it, as they ought to have; and the number of these was reckoned above, as being inviolate and fixed by the angel, who brought from the east the seal of the living God. For here he has been pleased to use the form of speech in which it is said, “No man saith that Jesus is the Lord, but in the Holy Ghost,” that is, perfectly and truly.

5. kill. Although heretics are supported by the secular power, and are permitted for a time to assail the good, yet, as the Lord saith, “they are not able to kill the soul.” For by the five months he signifies the time of the age, because of the division into five of the sense which we use in this life. But in that another translation has “six months,” it agrees with this interpretation, because of the six periods of the age.

scorpion. As the scorpion diffuses poison from its hinder parts, so the ungodliness of the wicked injures from their hinder parts, when by threats or blandishments it causes the temporal things which are behind to be preferred to the eternal good things which are before. In opposition to the parable of the Gospel, the generation of vipers gives this scorpion to its own offspring.

6. death. They would rather that a life of misery should be ended by a speedy death, as the blessed Cyprian complained that it happened under the Decian persecution. “When they wished to the,” he says, “it was not permitted them to be slain.”

7. horses. That is, they are like the last persecutors. For in the last war which he is to describe under the next angel, he says that horses fight; or simply, as horses are urged to battle, not by any reason of their own, but by the impulse of the rider; so evil teachers, urged by a demoniacal spirit, attack the Church.

crowns. The twenty-four angels, who are the Church, have crowns of gold. But these have crowns like gold, as pretending to false triumphs from an empty victory.

faces. In the human face he represents a pretence of reason; in the hair of women, lax and effeminate manners; in the teeth of lions, which are wont to tear in pieces, and which bring with them a natural stench, ferocity of mind and the infamy of evil doctrine; and in breastplates of iron, hearts which are hardened against the truth. For “these having a form of godliness, but denying its power,” “come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.”

9. wings. It is matter for fear rather than exposition, that this army has its powers so greatly increased. First, the smoke ascends, then it produces locusts, which at first are compared to scorpions, and presently afterwards to horses and lions. Their power too would be great enough, even if they did not come armed with breastplates; but now they are said to be winged, and like chariots of war.

10. tails. As the scorpion goes along softly, but strikes with its tail, so the pernicious craftiness of the wicked seems in appearance gentle and harmless, but in that it secretly destroys as in some hidden manner, it brings with it death.

five months. Again he signifies this life, in which falsehood may avail either to catch the unprofitable, or torment for a time the spiritual.

11. king. God, supremely good, in His secret but just counsels, permitted an angel, not unfit for such as these, to have rule over them.

12. past. Since he had foretold that three woes were to come, he now mentions that one hath already come, in the deceit of heresy, and that two remain, which will happen to the perverse in the time of Antichrist, and at the day of judgment.

13. sixth. The sixth angel denotes the preachers of the last conflict, who, as the Gospel forewarns, detect the frauds of Antichrist. For the horns of the golden altar are the Gospels, which rise above the Church.

14. four. He signifies how much the Church will be persecuted at the end of the world, by the old enemy with his satellites, who from the time of the Lord’s Passion is shut up in the hearts of the ungodly, and is restrained by the divine power from injuring it as much as he desires. For the Euphrates, which is a river of Babylon, signifies the power of the kingdom of the world, and the waves of persecutors. This is the great mountain, which he had foretold would be cast in burning fire into the sea.

15. loosed. In the same manner as prophecy, which points out to us things to come, he himself in spirit sees them come to pass. And he has said four angels, because the persecution will rage in the four parts of the world. For these are they whom he saw above, standing at the four corners of the earth, and restrained from injuring the earth and the sea for the sealing of the servants of God.

prepared. The malignant spirits, who at every moment of the hours and times hunger for the death of man, are then permitted for the trial of the Church to rage more freely, and are to be destroyed in their time? But what, thinkest thou, will they do, when they are loosed, who now injure so much while they are bound?

16. number. This number designates the crafty duplicity of the perverse army; and this may more easily be perceived in another translation, which says, “two myriads of myriads.” This is the number which the parable of the Gospel opposes to the king who has ten thousand, as if the duplicity of the wicked resists the simple faith of Christ, for “thousands of thousands minister unto Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stand before Him.”

17. horses. The malignant spirits are involved in the same punishments with those over whose hearts they preside. For we read, that “they who worship the beast are to be tormented with fire and brimstone,” and that “the smoke of their torments goes up for ages of ages.” Observe, that in the plague of locusts, he said not that he saw horsemen, but only horses. For here the magnitude of the persecutions make manifest the presence of a contrary power. Lastly, here there are heads of lions, but there there is the face of men, and the teeth alone of brutes. For heretics often make a shew of humanity, but the ministers of the last persecution exact by punishments even that which they recommend by words and signs.

mouths. He shews that he said “jacinth” for smoke. These things do not proceed visibly from their mouth; but they are the source of punishment to themselves and their hearers by their injurious preaching. “I will bring fire,” he says, “out of the midst of thee, which is to devour thee.”

19. tails. That is, in their speech and office. For “the prophet that teacheth a lie, he is the tail,” for he conceals a part which is in a manner hidden and unclean by the volubility of a flattering tongue, saying to the ungodly, “Thou art good.”

serpents. For the false teachers of the old serpent who deceived man, like those who are supported by the protection of princes, hurt more than if they persuaded by words alone. “He sitteth,” he says, “lying in wait with the rich.”

20. the rest. As he had described the false Christians and heretics, in order that he may comprehend the whole body of the devil, he now mentions also the error of the heathen, to whom it is of no avail not to have been slain by these plagues, as it is evident that they still continue in heathen wickedness. For not even in that last persecution will the heathen be compelled to yield their assent by the things mentioned above, but will die in their unbelief.

repented not. To an ungodly religion they add also an unholy manner of life. After he has described the cruelty of Antichrist, in order to shew his fall, he recapitulates in the usual way the commencement from the birth of Christ, and the glory of the Church.

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