Monday, November 11, 2019

November 5th, Adult Ed Series on St Augustine's City of God, Session 13 of 16, The Book of Revelation (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

In this series which has extended over several months, we are discussing the City of God by St Augustine - certainly, one of the most important book in the history of Western Civilization.

In this session, we look to St Augustine's commentary on the Book of Revelation, with special focus on the following themes: The Beast and his Mark, the Whore of Babylon, the Thousand Years of peace, the First and Second Resurrection, etc.

Listen online [here]!


The City of God
By St Augustine of Hippo
Session 13, The Book of Revelation

The gods of the nations are demons. (Ps 95)
Glorious things are said of thee, o City of God! (Ps 86)

Note on schedule: We come to the conclusion of the book with St Augustine’s discussion of the Day of Judgment, Hell and Heaven, the Resurrection of the body, and the New Heavens and New Earth. We conclude our course at the end of November.

I. Outline of Books XIX - XXII
A. What is the supreme good? That it is not in this life, nor in any gains of this life, but only in God and the enjoyment of God in Heaven  (Book XIX)
B. The Day Judgment and prophecy about that Day in Scripture (Book XX)
C. The punishment of the damned and the eternity of hell (Book XXI)
D. The reward of the just and the life of heaven  (Book XXII)

II. Revelation 20, The first and second resurrection, the 1,000 years, Gog and Magog
A. Read the whole chapter of Revelation 20. Note specifically: the “thousand years”, the “binding of Satan”, the “first resurrection”, “Gog and Magog”, “the beast” and “the false prophet”, “the book of life”, “the sea”, “the second death”, etc.

B. Consider Fr George Leo Haydock’s commentary, which is only a summary of City of God!
“Ver. 2. And bound him for a thousand years. I shall give the reader an abridgment of what S. Augustin has left us on this chapter, in his 20th book de Civ. Dei. From the 5th to the 16th chap. he treats upon these difficulties: What is meant by the first and second resurrection; by the binding and chaining up of the devil; by the thousand years that the saints reign with Christ; by the first and second death; by Gog and Magog, &c. As to the first resurrection, c. vi. he takes notice on the 5th verse, that resurrection in the Gospels, and in S. Paul, is applied not only to the body but also to the soul; and the second resurrection, which is to come, is that of the bodies: that there is also a death of the soul, which is by sin; and that the second death is that of soul and body by eternal damnation: that both bad and good shall rise again in their bodies. On those words, (v. 6) Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection; in these the second death hath no power. Such, saith he, (c. ix.) as have risen from sin, and have remained in that resurrection of the soul, shall never be liable to the second death, which is damnation. Cap. vii., he says that some Catholics not understanding rightly the first resurrection, have been led into ridiculous fables, and this by the interpretation which they put on the thousand years; as if the first resurrection implied a resurrection of the bodies of the martyrs and saints, who should live on the earth with Christ for a thousand years before the general resurrection, in all manner of delights. This was the opinion of those called Millenarians: this, saith he, might seem tolerable in some measure, if taken for spiritual delights, (for we ourselves were once in these sentiments) but if for carnal pleasures, it can only be believed by carnal men.

“He then expounds what may be understood by the binding and chaining of the devil for a thousand years; (Cap. vii. & viii) that the thousand years, meaning a long time, may signify all the time from Christ's first coming to his second at the end of the world, and to the last short persecution under antichrist. The devil is said to be bound, that is, his power much lessened and restrained, in comparison of the great and extensive power he had over all nations before Christ's incarnation; not but that he still tempts many, and raiseth persecutions, which always turn to their greater good; and that towards the end of the world he shall be let loose, as it were, for a short time, and permitted with his infernal spirits to exercise his malice against mankind, to try the patience of the elect, and to shew the power of God's grace, by which his faithful servants shall triumph over the devil. N.B. What S. Augustine adds divers times in these chapters: "Let no one," says he, "imagine that even during that short time, there shall be no Church of Christ on the earth: God forbid: even when the devil shall be let loose, he shall not be able to seduce the Church."

“Cap. ix, he expounds those words, (v. 4-5) I saw the souls of them that were beheaded . . . and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years . . . This is the first resurrection: i.e. the first resurrection is while the devil is chained up for the space of a thousand years. He takes notice that the present state of the Church is many times called the kingdom of God, and that the Church of Christ reigns now with Christ, both in the living saints and in those who are dead, in the souls of the martyrs, and of others, who having lived and died piously, now reign with Christ, not yet in their bodies, but their souls reign with him. On those words of the 4th verse: who had not adored the beast, nor his image, nor received his mark, he only gives this exposition, as agreeable to the Christian faith, that by the beast may be understood the multitude of wicked sinners in general, and the image of the beast those who are of the Church in outward appearance and profession only, and not by their works. When it is said (v. 5) that the rest of the dead lived not till the thousand years were finished: they lived not, says he, as to their souls, when they should have lived; and therefore not being happy in heaven, when their bodies shall rise, it shall not be to life, but to judgment and damnation, which is the second death.

“Cap. xi, he expounds the 7th and 8th verses, where it is said that Satan shall be loosed . . . and seduce the nations which are over the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, and shall gather them together to battle. This, says S. Aug. will be the last persecution at the approach of the day of judgment, which the whole city, or the whole Church of Christ dispersed through the universe, will suffer from the whole city of the devil. Neither need Gog and Magog be taken for a particular barbarous people, but such as are dispersed in a manner in every nation, and who shall then break out by the instigation of Satan into an open hatred and persecution against the faithful servants of God; as it is said, (v. 8.) they ascended upon the breadth of the earth, and surrounded the camp of the saints, where we cannot literally understand one camp, one city, or one place, but the Church every where dispersed.

“Cap. xii, he expounds the 9th verse, where he takes fire to signify, metaphorically, the firm resistance and constancy of the good, and the fire of their zeal, which devoured as it were the wicked; or we may understand with others, the temporal fire of God's judgments in this world against the wicked, but not the last eternal fire; because the eternal fire comes not down from heaven but the wicked are cast into it below. Cap. xiii, he teacheth that the last persecution of antichrist, here mentioned, shall last but three years and six months; i.e. a little while. Cap. xiv and xv, he expounds the 10th and following verse, of the devil being cast into the lake of fire, after the last persecution of antichrist. By the beast he understands, as before, the city or multitude of all the wicked; and by the false prophet, either antichrist or the outward appearance of faith in them that have none.

“Then follows the last judgment, where it is said that the books are opened, and also that another book was opened. By the first book, may be understood men and their consciences; and by the other book, the book of life, that of eternal predestination. Thus far S. Augustine, where we see that he delivers the common Catholic doctrine, that by the thousand years, so often mentioned in this chapter, he understands all that time in which the souls of the martyrs, and of all other saints, reign happy with Christ in heaven, till after the general resurrection they receive a full and complete happiness, both as to soul and body.

III. Various scriptural references to the end of the world and day of judgment
A. St Augustine discusses various passages and comments on different heretic and orthodox interpretations.

B. The various verses referring to “Twelve Thrones” of the Apostles for Judgment of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. St Augustine specifies that “twelve” means the fulness or completeness of the multitude of saints who will join Christ in the judgement over all the people of the earth. [note: St Thomas discusses how the greatest saints will participate in Christ’s judgment. Some will not be judged but straight away condemned, others will be judged and saved, others will not be judged but will be saved and participate in the judgment of the world]

C. On the resurrection of living and the dead: Those whose souls are alive by grace their bodies will be raised to eternal life, but those whose souls are dead in sin their bodies will be raised to eternal death.   We speak of the “first resurrection” of the soul – meaning, the life of grace in the soul in this life.

E. The discussion of “the image of the beast” or “the inscription on the forehead or hand” are those who belong to the City of Men, the Earthly City – who put their hope in the world and take delight in worldly pleasures.

F. Gog and Magog: “These nations which he names Gog and Magog are not to be understood of some barbarous nations in some part of the world” but rather to all the nations and peoples who belong to the Earthly City and where the devil has found his home in the hearts of men.

IV. What do we believe about other details of the book of Revelation?
A. The Whore of Babylon (Rev 17:1-11ff): Probably refers to Rome (the City on 7 hills), and the beast likely refers to the kings of Rome who persecuted the early Church.  This is not a reference to the Catholic Church in Rome, but to the Pagan Persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire

B. The Two Witnesses (Rev 11:3ff): Refers perhaps to Sts Peter and Paul who gave testimony to Christ and suffered martyrdom in Rome.  Also refers to the tradition that Enoch and Elijah will return to preach against the anti-Christ, will be slain, will rise from the dead – and then comes the end.

C. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev 6:1-8): Perhaps the White Horseman could represent the Lord Jesus himself and the bow is his Gospel. The other horsemen are the punishments that will fall upon the enemies of the Church. Another option is that the other horsemen represent persecutions against the Church. In any case, these represent the trials that will befall the earth until the end of time when the King of Peace will return.

D. The Number 666 (Rev 13:18): A numeric device to indicate NERO, the Emperor who persecuted the Church most notoriously.  Also, symbolizes the exaltation of man and the City of Man against the authority of God and the City of God – for man and beast were made on the 6th day, but the 7th day is the Day of the Lord.

E. Who is the anti-Christ? While we believe that there will be many anti-Christs (and already have been – for whoever sets himself up against Christ is an anti-Christ), there will be one particular man who leads that last rebellion against God. St Thomas says he will be a true man, who is perfectly possessed by the Devil – probably will be Jewish, celibate with no children, a great political leader.

VI. Recommended reading for Books XIX-XXII
A. Book XIX, Chapters 4-20, 24-27  Discussion of the supreme good and true happiness, as well as peace among nations and just war theory
B. Book XX, Chapters 1-30  The Judgment as prophesied in the Old and New Testaments
C. Book XXI, Chapters 1-3, 10-27 The punishment of the damned and eternity of Hell
D. Book XXII, Chapters 1-7, 12-24, 29-30  Of the reward of the just, the resurrection to eternal life, the glorified body, and the beatific vision

VII. Recommended listening on LibriVox for Books XIX-XXII
Book XIX, Chapters 5-12, 13-21, 22-28
Book XX, All Chapters
Book XXI, All Chapters
Book XXII, All Chapters


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