Friday, August 1, 2008

The Revelation of St. John: A Lacuna.

Tertullian noted long ago that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The early Christians suffered and were promised savage persecution at the hands of everyone, secular governments, anti-Christian Jews and even heretics that were to spring forth from the Church herself. The Ἀποκάλυψις of John was written to prepare, encourage and above all, - display the fact that despite these horrendous persecutions the Lamb of God Jesus Christ stands victorious over the powers and principalities of this world and grants to all those who overcome, crowns of eternal life. We are according to John, more than conquerors through Him.

In modern scholarship, virtually every point of Revelation is in dispute1. Not least because of the rocky history of Revelation throughout history in general and in the early Church in particular2. Commentaries abound on Revelation to settle these issues but an up to date detailed (traditional/conservative) Catholic commentary is sorely needed3.

[End Notes]

1. For example, authorship (was the author John the Apostle?), date of composition (pre or post 70 A.D.?), model of hermeneutic (historical, idealist, preterist, futurist?), structure, etc. Discussion on these points here however would send us far removed and beyond the scope of this brief introductory post.

2. The suspicions of many early patristic commentators over the apostolic and authoritative nature of Revelation is well known. Especially vocal were writers from the East (i.e., Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodore of Cyrus, note the -Western- doubts by St. Jerome, etc) based in large part on the foundational critique of bishop Dionysius of Alexandria (as recorded in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. 7. 24-25). Consequently Revelation was not seen in the canonical list of the Council of Laodicea and not seen in the early lectionaries in the East and so on. However, Revelation was vindicated and shown as canonical by the majority of the Catholic episcopate (especially in the West) leading to St. Athanasius accepting it completely in his canonical list. For early patristic acceptance of Revelation as authoritative is strong indeed, (Cf. Papias, probably St. Ignatius, Barnabas, St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Hippolytus, St. Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus of Antioch, Origen, St. Epiphanius, listed in the Muratorian canon, etc. ).

3. Legend has it that Calvin declined to write a commentary on Revelation due to the most difficult exegetical problems involved and strangely enough Origen died just before his planned execution of a commentary on Revelation. Already in 1906 H. B. Swete noted that "The literature of the Apocalypse is immense" (The Apocalypse of St. John. XVII). Of the mountains and mountains of books on Revelation a few stand out. Among the Protestans David Aune has a multi-volumed entry in the Word Biblical Commentary series that is enormous in its breadth. But he can be liberal at points. Equally as massive and perhaps better on the Greek is Greg Beale's entry in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series. David Chilton's (Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation) gives a good preterist reading. R. H. Mounce in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series still finds praise. If you find R. H. Charles old ICC entry in the used section (for a cheap price) he can still be useful, the same goes for W. Bousset's old commentary. The presentation among Catholic specialists is much smaller. The critical, liberal and feminist entry by J. Massyngberde Ford in the Anchor Bible series is simply absurd and she has won over practically no one to her radical interpretations. Thankfully the Revelation entry for AB series is being re-done by Craig Koester who is a Lutheran...Wilfrid Harrington's entry in the Sacra Pagina series suffers from both the small space allotted in this series as well as his liberalism. Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza is scheduled to give us an erudite entry in the Hermeneia series but it will prove too liberal for conservative Catholics. Perhaps one of the many current Catholic apocalyptic specialists will step up and grace us with a much needed large scale commentary (John J. Collins, J. S. Considine, Charles Giblin, Jan Lambrecht, D.A McIlraith, K. E. Miller, D. C. Olson, Adela Y Collins?).

Among the ancient Catholic commentaries the first full length (many earlier patristic fathers commented on individual passages of Revelation) works were by Victorinus, Bishop of Pettau (third century), Bishop of Tricca - Oecumenius (most likely in the early part of the sixth century), Bishop Primasius of Hadrumetum and during this same century, Apringus - Bishop of Pax, Cassiodorius, Metropolitan of Cappodocia - Andreas and one of his successor's, Arethras. In the late seventh century; Baeda of Wearmouth, in the eight; Benedictine monk Ambrosius Ansbertus. Starting from the ninth century the explosion of commentaries on Revelation begins.


~Joseph the Worker said...

You know, Scott Hahn made some good points in his book "The Lamb's Supper" and his discussion with Mike Aquilina on EWTN on the same topic. While his book isn't a comprehensive commentary on Revelation, one point he does make is that no matter how you want to interpret many of the passages, they can fit pretty generically any type of Christian persecution, and maybe instead of getting caught up in the details the Church should look at the overall picture and ideas about martyrdom, judgment, etc. Very interesting. Let me know if you find any good commentaries by Catholics though.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

While on the surface it would seem Hahn's cautious statements on Revelation are right on the mark, yet, it is perhaps too guarded.

I simply cannot ignore the strong arguments by apocalyptic specialists who urge us to see Revelation as written in a specific time for a specific group(s) of people under specific circumstances. To view Revelation in any other way that overlooks this first century contemporary background would be to severely miss critical points.

But Hahn is right to focus on martyrdom etc. I just might have to begin a project on writing a commentary to fill this lacuna, time constraints willing..

~Joseph the Worker said...

Actually I agree with you. I have an a-millennial approach to the Book of Revelation, obviously thinking that the 1000 years are figurative and that this was fulfilled in the early days of the Church under the persecution of the Roman Empire. I think that's absolutely true. Hahn's point was that maybe we shouldn't haggle over the specific time period and let others have their own thoughts about it and instead draw the important lessons.

It's interesting though.

Georg S. Adamsen said...

The German Heinz Giesen has written a 550+ page commentary (see a little bit more here: Giesen, Offenbarung). Giesen wrote several large articles, probably as preparation for his Catholic commentary.

Another major commentary is written by Giancarlo Biguzzi: Apocalisse: nuova versione, introduzione e commento. I Libri Biblici, 20. Milano: Paoline, 2005. 476 pp.

More recently, Edmondo Lupieri's 400+ page commentary has been translated into English: See Lupieri, Commentary on the Apocalypse.

Georg S. Adamsen
Editor, Revelation Resources

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Thanks for the updates Georg, I will check those out. Are they conservative, liberal, semi-liberal? Just wondering since they are German scholars.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to your commentary. Do keep us up todate.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Will do Kepha. It is a daunting task but worth the trouble.

Valerie said...

Thanks for writing this.