The Church in Apocalyptic Time
© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns (© Copyright 2012, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
In “Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII quotes St. Augustine as follows: “There is no branch of teaching…which does not require a master…What can be a greater sign of rashness and pride than to refuse to study the books of the divine mysteries by the help of those who have interpreted them?” And again: “The Holy Fathers are of supreme authority, whenever they all interpret, in one and the same manner, any text of the Bible as pertaining to doctrine of faith and morals…The opinion of the Fathers is also of great weight when they treat of these matters in their capacity of Doctors unofficially.”
Thus it is essential for the student of Holy Scripture today to rely only upon those sources which faithfully follow the interpretation of the Fathers and especially their unanimous opinions; the authoritative pronouncements of the Popes on passages in Holy Scripture and those Scripture commentators approved by the Church. Too many Traditionalists and others today have seized upon Holy Scripture and private prophecies and from these have wrested their own twisted and unsound assessment of the latter days. It seems commonplace for these self-appointed commentators to ignore doctrinal decisions by the Roman Pontiffs and the constant teaching of the Church, even to deny the perpetuity of the Church Christ constituted in earth. These so-called “elders” directing Traditionalists and Conclavists often claim some bizarre sort of “primacy” in their non-Catholic sect, acting as the official or unofficial prophets for the group. To do this they negate the very definition of Tradition itself — faithful adherence to the continual magisterium in all things. As Pope Leo XIII taught in the above encyclical “All interpretation is foolish or false which…is opposed to the doctrine of the Church.” Rash commentators foolishly rely on their own lights in refusing to follow those writing in times when a true imprimatur was available. In furnishing the commentary here, as many pre-1959 commentators on the Apocalypse have been quoted as possible.
Rev. Hugh Pope, O.P, S.T.M, D.S.S.cr, (a one-time professor of New Testament exegesis at the Collegio Angelico in Rome) made some very astute observations on the various methods used by commentators to interpret the Apocalypse. In his “The Catholic Student’s ‘Aids’ to the Bible.” Vol. 5, he writes: “The Apocalypse must be judged from the standpoint of prophecy…The interpretation, then, of the Apocalypse must be governed by the rules which hold good in the interpretation of all prophecy. For the original hearers…of the prophecies of Isaias or Jeremias, only one thing was certain, namely that, being divinely inspired prophecies, the things foretold would infallibly come to pass… Since, then, the ultimate goal of the Apocalypse is the last things, full light will not be thrown on this prophetic book till those last things have received their ultimate fulfillment.” Pope explained that the attitudes of commentators “has led to much harmful interpretation of the Apocalypse.” Some of these commentators believed, for example that contemporaries of St. John possessed “a key to its [the Apocalypse’s] interpretation…Yet why should [they] have had an ‘open sesame’ to the Apocalypse any more than Isaias’ contemporaries had a key to the full understanding of his prophecies? …As the centuries before Christ rolled on, the teaching of Isaias spoke ever more clearly for those who had ears to hear. It is the same with the Apocalypse. Compared with St. John’s earliest readers, [we] stand at the threshold of those last things [and] can see that many of the things which he therein describes touching the conflicts which the Church will have to endure have already been fulfilled.”
And so, Pope continues, there are three types of false interpretations:
1) “When so-called preterist interpreters of the Apocalypse maintain that St. John is speaking of events already past in his own day, that he depicts Nero as Antichrist, etc., we feel that such interpreters have wholly failed to grasp the idea of prophecy. And if it is urged that the seer clearly had Nero in his mind, and that consequently this tyrant serves as the key and the pivot on which the whole turns, we agree that it would have been impossible for St. John not to have had Nero in his mind, since his repellent figure must needs have loomed large as a persecutor of the Church. But that fact does not preclude St. John from using Nero as a type and symbol of all persecutors who were ever to afflict the Church.
2) “Similarly, when so called futurist interpreters insist that the entire prophecy is concerned with the remote future, with those last things which bulk so largely in the closing scenes, such a statement is clearly contrary to facts, since the merits and demerits of the bishops of the Seven Churches were contemporary historical facts; just as Nero served for a symbol for all persecutors, so too did those Churches with their Bishops stand for the Collective Church of all ages.
3) “The same misconceptions prevail in the continuous history school of interpretation, which regards the Apocalypse as the history of the Church till the end of time, opening with the contemporary history depicted in the letters to the Seven Churches, passing on to sketch the various persecutors and concluding with the scenes of the final judgment. But then who are the various persecutors and who is to distinguish them? What note of time have we?
“Whenever a great world crisis has arisen, men have come forward with the Apocalypse and have endeavored to show — often with great reason — that it exactly fits the present situation. But the crisis passes and the final denouement — the last Judgment — does not come. Another crisis arises and again comes the cry: ‘The end of the world is at hand!’ Such interpreters are not mistaken. For this seems to be the precise function of this awe-inspiring book…So it is in the history of the world, of nations, and of the Church. Men say ‘Now is the end!’ Yet the end comes not and a fresh start is made. Nonetheless, the end had come for those individual nations and people. Is not this the real purport of the Apocalypse? Is not its message, ‘Watch, for you know not the day, nor the hour?”
Pope says two things concerning the Apocalypse are certain according to the Fathers:
a) The universal Church is signified by the seven Churches
b) The book is replete with mystery; it is itself the sealed book of Chap. 5. St Jerome says: “John’s Apocalypse contains as many mysteries as words…in every single word lie hid many meanings.” And St. Augustine said: “In…Apocalypse, many things are said in obscure fashion for the exercising of the reader’s mind. There are but few points in it, but their investigation opens up a laborious understanding of other points…”
Pope comments: “Here we have the keynote to the Apocalypse: St. John is not writing a continuous exposition of the Church’s future history in chronological order; he is setting before us various phases of that history through the medium of different symbolical visions. There is no succession of time but solely of the symbols which represent that one thing which is synchronous with all time, the trials of the Church of God…”
The phases covered from Apocalypse Chap. 12-19 begin in the 19th century, continue into the 20th and are extended to our own century. This scarcely can be said to run chronologically. It can be said, in fact, that these persecutions began with the Reformation and intensified over a six-century period. The Apocalypse is not history past, although it can be compared to past historical events in St. John’s time. It is not in the remote future; too many Scriptural prophecies have been fulfilled and Antichrist’s reign is far too apparent for this to be the case. If it is the continuous history of the Church, why has God not yet destroyed His enemies and restored the Church? Why is the 1,260 days in the desert not a literal number? Because it is as Rev. Pope says it is: An ongoing tapestry of persecution presented in various phases throughout the Church’s existence. And only the faith and patience of the saints will see true Catholics through these persecutions till the end.
Bible scholars comment on the Apocalypse
Although there is much in the Apocalypse and its commentaries that can be interpreted as favoring a small flock and faithful bishop in the latter days, the depth of commentary necessary to present this information constrains us to the following for the time being. Entire books have been written on just the evaluation of Chapter 12 from the Apocalypse alone. We will review what some of these authors have to say below.
Rev. E.S. Berry, in his “The Apocalypse of St. John” believes the seven Churches of Apocalypse, chapters two and three are seven ages of the Church, and this makes the most sense to us. We then would be the Church of the sixth age, the age of Antichrist, whose number is 666. Most will quickly note the association between the early A.D. Church of Philadelphia and America. Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love,” and the connection here seems obvious, (although it is not conclusive; any other community in the world could be the Philadelphia church, characterized by an intense Catholic charity). This connection to America was made in 1981 by the persecuted and exiled Ukrainian Bp. Slipyj, elected as the Ukrainian Patriarch in 1971 in a special synod of 15 bishops. This election was an attempt on Slipyj’s part to gain independence for the Ukrainian Church and prevent the Russian Orthodox puppet Church from absorbing his beloved people. This was in direct defiance of Paul 6 and his Vatican-Moscow agreement. In his last will and testament, Slipyj wrote from Rome to the “seven Churches” of his Ukrainian people. In it he referred to the Philaelphia Church as : “[the] Church in the land which greets immigants with a monument…and the home of the city of ‘brotherly love’… first daughter of the Ukrainian mother Church — beyond the ocean…” He tells Ukrainians in the U.S. to be “defenders of the imprisoned and suffering members of your Mother Church! Be a living example of brotherly love!”
When St. John wrote the Apocalypse, America was a wilderness punctuated by deserts. St. Brendan later would refer to the North American continent as the “land of the saints.” Either America is the land of the Philadelphia church or is in some way closely connected to it. God assures this Church that they shall be “pillars in the temple”; upon them shall be written the name of God Himself, and the name of the city of God, the New Jerusalem. If we are to be pillars in the temple, we will “support the Church”; if Her name is written upon us, and the New Jerusalem is delivered to us, this could be a reference to a more active role in Church affairs in the future. It will be given to us because “…thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name,” (Apoc. 3:8, 12). God warns us in Apoc. 3:11: “Behold I come quickly… .” Surely, this must be a reference to the chastise¬ment, for afterward God speaks of the New Jerusalem. This we will examine below.
That we live in the last days of the Philadelphia church is obvious, for the church before it, Sardis, has the reputation of “…being alive, and thou art dead,” (Apoc. 3:1.) Already many Liberals, Modernists and Freemasons had infiltrated the Sardis church. God tells Sardis to “…strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die.” (Apoc. 3:2.) This was done at the Vatican Council by defining infallibility, as testified to by Cardinal Manning in his “The True Story of the Vatican Council.” Pope Leo XIII also strengthened what remained in his encyclical against Freemasonry, “Humanum Genus,” which affrmed all the former condemnations of his predecessors. Pope St. Pius X’s papal motto was “to restore all things in Christ,” and this he did by condemning the Modernists and Sillonists then ravaging the Church. He also predicted, in 1903, that Antichrist already had been born, (Giovanni Montini, the future Paul 6, was six years old in 1903). God even seems to speak of the seizing of the Church by Antichrist (already begun in the 19th century) in Apoc. 3:3, when He says: “If thou shalt not watch, I will come to thee as a thief.” And indeed, Roncalli took Catholics by surprise,
Many telling indicators about the Philadelphia church point to a tiny remnant barely clinging to the Faith, yet assured of the authority to teach and God’s abiding presence. When the two witnesses measure the Church in Apocalypse 11:1-2, Rev. George Haydock says of this verse: “The churches consecrated to God are so diminished in number that they are represented by St. John as one church; its ministers officiate at one altar; and all the true fathful are so few, with respect to the bulk of mankind, that the evangelist sees them assembled in one temple…” Rev. C. C. Martindale, commenting on this same verse of Apocalypse in “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,” agrees with Rev. Haydock: “St. John…has seen the world…turned into the wickedest of cities; and the Church shrinking till She seems to have no more even a minimum witness-voice.” Rev. William Heidt O.S.B in his “The Book of the Apocalypse” relates those in the early Philadelphia church daily lived in fear because earthquake tremors shook the city on a regular basis. This apparently occurred after a major earthquake destroyed Sardis in 17 A. D.
Most commentators agree that earthquakes in Apocalypse do not always mean literal earthquakes (with the exception of the predicted “great earthquake”). Rev. Martindale tells us that these earthquakes, “always precede, on a grand scale, the break-up or end of a ‘world’ or social order.” This easily places the Philadelphia Church at the end of the false V2 council, and even would indicate those “earthquakes” to which the remant Church is exposed after departing from Rome and even after breaking all Traditionalist ties. Since Philadelphia means “brotherly love,” in a Catholic sense this would mean performance of both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy to a heightened degree, especially those works directly pertaining to salvation. In an address on Catholic Action, Pope Pius XII taught: “Apostolate is nothing else but the exercise of Christian charity…What would the Twelve have done, lost in the world’s immensity, if they had not called aloud to others and said, ‘Let us carry forth the treasure of heaven; help us to distribute it’?”
Apoc. 3:6-8: Christ alone possesses the key of David, as this verse states. Rev. Haydock opines this can be either “the key of the Church or of the kingdom of heaven.” But what is the status of the bishop to whom the key is given? Christ here tells the Philadelphia bishop that he “caused a door to be opened before thee, which no one can shut.” Therefore the key of David, transferred from King David to Christ and from Christ to St. Peter, is extended to this bishop. In other words, the bishop of Philadelphia seems to be more than an ordinary bishop; perhaps he will someday become the end-times Pope, just as Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII and Pope St. Pius X were in the era of the Sardis church. “The Bishops of Rome of this age are addressed as the angels of the Churches,” Dr. James J. Rattan wrote in “The Apocalypse of St. John.” Likewise Rev. Berry notes: “An angel is an Apostle or bishop sent by Christ to govern His Church. In a similar sense Our Lord calls St. John the Baptist an ‘angel,’” (Matt. 11:10). Rattan further notes that, “The growth of the Church in America illustrates the open door.” Bishops have their keys to these doors only in virtue of the Pope. Of themselves they have no jurisdiction; the Pope alone has full and unrestricted use of the keys. This is the de fide teaching of the Church in Pope Pius XII’s “Mystici Corporis Christi;” also in his “Ad apostolorum principis.”
This Philadelphia bishop alone can exercise orders and jurisdiction, retained from Pope Pius XII or his delegates; preach and delegate others to preach the Gospel. This in an America that has become a spiritual wasteland where the paganism of St. John’s time has been almost perfectly revived. There is a hint here that others may claim to have the powers of binding and loosing but do not, and may even have attempted to “shut” this bishop’s mouth; for verse eight says “no one can shut” this “open door,” indicating some have attempted to do so. This verse also refers to the missionary status of this church according to Heidt, (Acts 14:26; I Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). Philadelphia historically was a missionary city; the end-times Philadelphia church, therefore, is a missionary church, as Rev. Heidt explains.
“…Thou has little strength, and thou hast kept My word and hast not disowned my name,” (end of verse eight). Wherever this bishop is having “little strength” is hiding, he has not compromised his faith. The Philadelphia church may have begun with Pope Pius XII, the primary advocate of Catholic Action or brotherly love. For in the mid-1950s, Pope Pius XII began losing control of the Church; as a Pope he had little strength, or ability to rule, especially over the liberal hierarchy. Yet the faithful in his Church were not small and “quaking” in their boots. The initial church of Philadephia was known for their faithfulness; though their church was frequently shaken by tremors, their faith was unshakeable. Fr. Bernard Kramer describes the Philadelphia flock as “small and poor,” (“The Book of Destiny”). The early Philadelphia church was comprised mainly of poor country people, forced into outlying areas by after-quakes, who had little social influence. But because they have persevered in faith, Christ tells the bishop he will use them to convert their brethren. Rev. Berry following Rev. Haydock explains that the Phladelphia bishop lacks: “those natural qualifications necessary for the high office entrusted to him. Yet he has been faithful to his trust; he has kept Christ’s commandment of patient perseverance…Not to the great and learned, but to the humble and faithful does God promise his graces. ‘The weak things of this world God hath chosen that He may confound the strong,’ (I Cor. 1:27).”
Abbe Fouard writes of Philadelphia’s bishop: “Jesus will supply what is wanting in this humble pastor; He will reveal Himself in him, as one holding the key to men’s souls, opening and closing them at will,” (“St. John and the Close of the Apostolic Age”). Despite this bishop’s weakness, Rev. Haydock says, “I [Christ] have given My blessing to your labors. You shall, not withstanding all your adversaries, eventually succeed.” This bishop will have great love for his people and will minister to them personally. He will in fact be one of them. But he will be a TRUE bishop, one left from that unbroken line Christ began with his Apostles. He will have the necessary credentials and the special assistance of God.
Apoc. 3:9: To the Philadelphia Church is promised:
1. Deliverance from the “Synagogue of Satan.” (The Apocalypse commentator Dr. J. J. Rattan and St. Anhony Mary Claret in his “The Catechism Explained” define this Synagogue as all heretics, apostates and schismatics, not just the Jews. Pope Pius IX referred to Freemasonry as the Synagogue of Satan.)
2. Conversion of those “who say they are Jews and are not,” as well as the Jews proper (Apoc. 3:9). Here we must remember the relation of the Jews in early Christianity to the times. The Jews were then spiritually outside the Church just as non-Catholics are today. They said they were the Chosen People and yet they were not, since this title had passed over to the Christians. Even after the Temple was destroyed, they continued to deny the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy and to insist their Messiah had not yet come. Today their role is replayed by Novus Ordo “catholics” and some among the Traditionalists, who insist they and no one lese comprise the remnant Church. These constitute the Synagogue of Satan, for they insist on being called Catholics when they are outside the true Church of Christ. Yet it is the Philadelphia church that will secure the salvation of Jews and non-Catholics alike; this is the opinion of all commentators consulted.
3. Perseverance in grace for the time of temptation, (Apoc. 3:10.) Here one commentator lends a new meaning to the open door. He contends that the grace it signifies also indicates a door open for escape in the time of tribulation. Rev. Berry states that “Through this faithful bishop our Lord promises special grace and protection to all faithful pastors at the time of Antichrist — ‘that hour of temptation come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon earth,’” (but woe to those pastors who are unfaithful, especailly those acitvely working with Antichrist!) Fr. Kramer notes that “The Church of Philadelphia held out longer against the Mohammedan Turk than any other that dates back to apostolic times.” Could this menat that America, or some other nation would be the last holdout against Muslim terrorists now overrunning the world? The Philadelphia church posesses the “faith and patience of the saints,” (Apoc. 13:10; 14:12) and it is for this reason they are kept from the trials of the latter days. As Fr. Kramer observes, this patience means “constancy in duty to Christ and God (2 Thess. 3:5),” so it is not patience as it is ordinarily understood.
Apoc. 3:11-12: Here Christ warns that He is coming soon. He instructs Philadelphia’s bishop to “…Hold fast what thou hast, that no one receive thy crown.” This is easily compared to the verse in 2 Thess. 2:14: “Hold fast to the Traditions which you have learned…” For this bishop possesses true Tradition: the authority and uninterrupted succession of bishops in the Church. If he does not nourish and protect his flock, this crown could be given to another. Kramer notes that Christ’s coming “means His arrival with various visitations to perfect the Church.” Rev. Heidt interprets His coming as “Divine intervention in a time of distress.” Here we see what Our Lady of Fatima may have been demonstrating during the miracle of the Sun. Only divine intervention will save this tiny remnant and those they are intended to convert. In the end her heart will triumph, when this spiritual and moral disaster is averted. In verse 12 the Philadelphians are told they will be pillars of the Church and their names will be written on these pillars. Rev. Martindale comments that “The columns are not the Temple, yet without them it cannot stand, (cf. St. Paul: without the head the body dies, but without the body the head is meaningless. See Col. 1:18).”
Rev. Berry says: “All faithful bishops are …pillars of the Church here on earth.” Fr. Kramer observes: “Christ is now in the act of building His Church…The building of Christ’s Church will go on until it stands finished during the 1,000 years that follow the reign of Antichrist…In the new Jerusalem there shall be no Temple as in olden times. The communion of the faithful will constitute the Temple of which each congregation and each pastor is a pillar. The individual members are living stones, (1 Peter 2:5). The name of the new Jerusalem will confer on the receiver the rights and privileges of citizenship in the kingdom of Christ…If the congregation of Philadelphia remains faithful, each member shall participate in all the victories and glories which the Church shall ever win upon earth.”
In his “The Apocalypse of St. John,” Rev. R. J. Loenertz, O.P. links the white pebble or counter in Apoc. 2:17 to this new exalted citizenship described in Apoc. 3:12, where the Philadelphia bishop and his flock are told that as overcomers they shall receive Christ’s own “new name.” According to Loenertz, overcomers “will be given the psephos (the counter used for voting), emblem of complete citizenship…For the psephos is for the citizen what the crown is for the king, and when the people so ordain it he is master of the state. The psephos is white, the colour of the kingdom of God; it bears the name of the new citizen…a new name, known only to God and the one concerned, only to be used in the most secret interchanges between him and God.”
This could refer to a return to the earlier ages of Christianity, when faithful laypeople were allowed to nominate their candidates for priests and bishops; or even a return to the privilege of nominating candidates for the papacy. (This, however, could only be decided by a future pope.) Rev. Martindale points out that in pagan temples, the names of the gods were etched into the pillars. God is inscribing on the Philadelphians His own name, singling them out as it were just as the angel singled out Israelites who were to be spared from the plagues during the time of Moses by marking a bloody cross on their doorposts. Rev. Martindale further states, “Here the Christian has on him the consecrating name of God, but also that of the supernatural Jerusalem, the Church (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22): and also Christ’s own new name (Apoc. 2:17). He gives a new name…owing to the Christians’ incoporation into Him.” Fr. Kramer says this new name of Christ’s is “something strange, mysterious and unknown.”
The symbolism in these last verses is very nearly overwhelming. Fr. Kramer refers to “living stones;” Rev. Loenertz to a white pebble, the psephos used for voting. Both Rev. Loenertz and Rev. Martindale refer back to Apoc. 2:17 to the white pebble and new name. As one commentator emphasized, the Philadelphia Christians were few in number; they had little numerical strength. But there were only eight in the Ark; 318 men defeated the armies of four kings, (Gen. 14:14-6); Gideon and his army of 300 men routed the Midianites (Judges 7:19-23); Elias alone faced the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:21-40); Jesus referred to his disciples as a “little flock,” (Luke 12:32); and after three years of preaching and teaching, Christ’s followers numbered only 120. The Philadelphians are few because they do not follow the crowd. They are conscious of their weakness and poverty, their inability to accomplish the smallest thing without the help of God. They have patiently observed all the laws and teachings of the Church despite the cost to themselves and the jeers and catcalls from those members of the Synagogue of Satan, who have ever strived to shut the door on this feeble Church. Their patience will be rewarded.
Pope Pius XII told Catholics that in Communist countries, the faithful assumed all the duties of the hierarchy of necessity, thus becoming “living stones.” (This takes on new meaning when it is understood that Ukrainian Catholics rescued altar stones from Catholic churches, taking them into their homes and hiding them there.) He preached in “Mystici Corporis Christi” that without the head of the Church the Mystical Body cannot exist. This is the symbolism of the pillars, as demonstrated by Rev. Martindale. The new name and white stone melt away into this sea of symbolism. It is during the time of the Philadelphia church that Christ will “visit” the earth with His “mini-judgment.” Only those who have kept God’s word and have not knowingly and willfully denied His name in any way will enjoy the New Jerusalem, whether on earth or in Heaven. Only overcomers will win the coveted crown.