Saturday, June 20, 2020

Adult Ed, June 18th -- Catholic Commentary on the Apocalypse, Session 3, Letters to the Seven Churches, Chapters 1-3 (Part 3 of 9, Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

Outline of Session 3:  Commentary on the opening address of Revelation, Letters to the Seven Churches. Understanding the historical context of the letters, but also seeing the historical interpretation of the Seven Churches as representing salvation history or Church history. 

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Catholic Commentary on the Apocalypse
Studying the most perplexing book of the Bible with the great Catholic Scholars
Session 3 – The Seven Church of Asia, Revelation 1-3

Outline of Session 3:  Commentary on the opening address of Revelation, Letters to the Seven Churches. Understanding the historical context of the letters, but also seeing the historical interpretation of the Seven Churches as representing salvation history or Church history.

I. Review of last week: St John and the History of the writing of Revelation
A. Overview of the Book of Revelation: The book does not admit of any clear structure or organization, however certain patterns and a general overview are possible. Notice the recurring theme of Seven.
B. Hermeneutics of Interpretation: Preterism, Futurism, and Historicism. Also allegorical.
St Jerome, “The Apocalypse has as many mysteries as words, or rather mysteries in every word.”
Fr Haydock, “But it should never be forgotten, that the connection of sublime and prophetical ideas which compose this work, has at all times been a labyrinth, in which the greatest geniuses have lost themselves, and a rock on which most commentators have split.”

II. Commentary on Chapter 1
1:1 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him” – The revelation was given to Christ in his humanity. Contrary to the heretical Agnoetics who claimed that Jesus did not know the time of Judgment, St Gregory the Great and the Church teach the he knew all things even as man. The Lord shares it with John, and from the humanity of Christ we receive all knowledge and grace and truth.
1:1 “Things which must shortly come to pass” – All time is short compared to eternity in heaven. Further, there is no other public revelation to be given before the End, thus we are in the last days. Or, this refers to the persecutions of the Church under the Roman Empire.
1:7 “Every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him.” – Sacred Heart Devotion. Calls to mind the Crucifixion account in the Gospel of John.
1:8 “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  -- These are the words of Jesus, and clearly express his Divinity.
1:9-10  “in the island, which is called Patmos […] I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day” – Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea. The Lord’s day, meaning Sunday  (perhaps after offering Mass?)
1:11 “The seven churches which are in Asia” – These are seven particular Churches, but they stand for the whole Church. St John acts here as an Apostle and Metropolitan Archbishop, overseeing all the Churches of the region under his care.  Notice, the hierarchy of the Church established during the times of the Apostles.
1:20 “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” – The angels stand for the bishops.

II. The Seven Churches and the History of Salvation
1st Church – Ephesus – Garden of Eden, Fall, expulsion.  Walking among lampstands, God walking with Adam. Toil/work and man works in the garden.  “Remember how you have fallen”, the fall of Adam and Eve. The tree of life, the tree of life.
2nd Church – Smyrna – Those who are supposed to be Jews but are not, reminds us of Isaac/Ishmael and Jacob/Esau, also reference to being thrown into prison reminds us of joseph in prison in Egypt.
3rd Church – Pergamum – Exodus and the wandering in the desert – Reference to Balaam who was in the wilderness, “eat the hidden manna” reference to wilderness and food of manna.
4th Church – Thyatira – The kings of Israel – Reference to Jezebel who tempted the kings to go to idolatry, “rod of iron” which reminds us of the authority of the kings and especially of David.
5th Church – Sardis – The prophets – Message of repentance which is the message of the prophets, reference to the hour when Christ will come, reference to the book of life
6th Church – Philadelphia – The Maccabean era of the Old Testament. Especially the struggle between those who are true Jews and those who were not. The time of trial/temptations. The Temple.
7th Church – Laodicea – The Early Church. A great call to conversion, to be hot or cold and not lukewarm.  “White garments” points to Baptism, “I will eat with him” points to the Eucharist.

A typical Protestant historicist view of the history of the Church, as follows:    (Note, we reject this)
The age of Ephesus is the apostolic age.  The age of Smyrna is the persecution of the Church through AD 313.  The age of Pergamum is the compromised Church lasting until AD 500.  The age of Thyatira is the rise of the papacy to the Reformation.  The age of Sardis is the age of the Reformation.  The age of Philadelphia is the age of evangelism. The age of Laodicea represents "present day" context.

III. Commentary on Chapter 2-3
A. Notice the style of the letter to each of the seven Churches follows a traditional legal argument Christ makes against each of the Churches. Christ praises what is good in each of the Churches, then points out the failings and calls them to conversion with both the threat of punishment and the promise of reward/blessing.

B. The letters are written to the “angles” which is to say the bishops of each of the Churches. Not that the bishop himself has failed necessarily, but to indicate the call to conversion for the community.

2:1 “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus” – This is likely St Timothy. Most likely, St John had lived with Timothy before being taken to Rome and then exiled to Patmos. Further. St John lived with Timothy for his final years in Ephesus and when he wrote the Gospel.  Timothy dies in early 100s, martyred by pagans.
2:6 “The Nicolaites” (see also 2:15) – The Nicolaites or Nicolatians were an early heretical sect in Asia Minor, mentioned in reference to both Ephesus and Pergamum.  Their heresy seems to have been bodily indulgence, and perhaps sexual promiscuity. Some attribute the heresy to the Deacon Nicholas, who was a gentile convert that was among the first seven deacons – Not that Nicholas himself was a heretic, but that they falsely claimed him as their authority for false their false teachings.  Some say that the Nicolaites is related to the deacons of the early Church being expected to set aside their marriage in order to be ordained – but instead, some took this as opportunity for sexual promiscuity.
2:8 “The Angel of the church of Smyrna” – Perhaps St Polycarp, who was a disciple of St John from his childhood and wrote a letter to the Philippians. Polycarp was himself the teacher of St Irenaeus who is one of the most important theologians of the Early Church. St Ignatius of Antioch wrote to Polycarp, and the two of them (with Irenaeus) give the strongest witness to the Catholicity of the Early Church: The hierarchy of the Church, the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist.
2:13 “When Antipas was slain among you” – St Antipas was bishop of Pergamum and martyred under Nero (perhaps mid-60s). He had been trained and ordained by St John.

3:7 “of the church of Philadelphia” – There were several cities named “Philadelphia” in the ancient world, here is mean that which was near Sardis. Note that these seven cities named are all in a line across Asia Minor, St John would have followed a single path progressing from city to city in his Apostolic visitation of the Churches.

3:14 “These things saith the Amen […] the beginning of the creation of God” – Jesus calls himself “the Amen” which is to say, “The Truth.”  He is the “beginning” even as revealed in John 1:1. Not that the Word was created, but all were created through him. Further, consider the parallel with Wisdom of the Old Testament.


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