INTRODUCTION CONCERNING THE TITLE AND THE NATURE OF THE BOOK
The book we are considering is entitled “Revelation of John the Divine.” The title signifies that the author of this mysterious work is St. John the Divine, the beloved disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ, the author of the fourth gospel, the stentorian witness to the eternal existence of the Logos, or Word, and the one who established the Church of Christ firmly upon faith in the truth.
At first sight the book seems to us to be of a prophetic nature, since it prophesies what is to happen from the time it was written to the consummation of the ages. But united with its prophetic character it has also an historical side, for it describes to us the Christian Church of that period while relating its past and foretelling its future. To the prophetic and the historic aspects is conjoined its ethical character, which grows out of its main purpose, the two other ones serving as means for the achievement of its moral purpose. The function of the first two elements is brought out by the fact that from beginning to end the book prescribes and teaches the duties of Christians, in the fulfillment of which an historical and prophetic knowledge of matters is highly advantageous; for the ultimate aim of the book, toward which prophecy and knowledge of matters serve as means, is a steadfast abiding in faith and holiness on the part of Christians, for whom the revelation of future events was written. For this reason the book of Revelation is the most ethical and the most practical of Christian books; and the more they study it, the devouter and the holier, the wiser and the more moral, the braver and the more capable of achievement they become.
To these three natures or aspects, i.e., the prophetic, the historical, and the ethical, are united three excellent outstanding and most worthy features – the theological, the ontological, and the dramatic, which exalt the book to the apex of perfection and rank it as the most perfect book God has granted unto man.
The book is of a theological nature because it reveals to us the eternal God as thinking and acting with regard to men in a manner befitting His nature and majesty. Furthermore, in its revelation of the future it also reveals God Himself, in accordance with whose will all things are brought to pass. No other sacred book contains so much theological knowledge as the book of Revelation – a product of the first divine of the Church; and for this reason we consider it not only the most prophetic and the most ethical of books, but also the most theological.
To the theological character or element, we find united the ontological, since all species of beings are enumerated and named in this book which reveals, beside God, all creatures depending upon and ruled by Him. Thus, we obtain from this work not only theological, but also ontological knowledge, for we are informed by it concerning the nature and the various types of beings which exist and coexist with us, and act and react for or against us according to divine restrictions and laws.
The last characteristic aspect of the book is the dramatic, according to which the future of human life and activity is the result of action and reaction on the part of free-thinking moral beings, some acting in behalf of good, others reacting in behalf of evil. Couched in dramatic form, the prophecy of this book, representing the earthly career of all nations until the end of time, constitutes a great drama divided into many acts or related events, each of which is enacted at the proper place and time by the various stage characters in the process of action or reaction. From a dramatic viewpoint, the Apocalypse is of all books the most effective and impressive, depicting through dignified and appropriate scenes the great drama of human life in which under God’s domination all types of dramatic characters act, both visible as well as invisible, such as angels and demons, good men and wicked, the Church of Christ and the world of Satan, the unseen enemy of man, Satan, and the Savior of mankind, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apocalypse is the truest and greatest theater of Christian activity to the one who has observed carefully and faithfully the great drama of human life to its final solution.
Through the Apocalypse we are ushered into the great theater of creation, in which we behold heaven and earth as well as regions under the earth, the action and reaction of those who struggle in behalf of good and of those who contend in behalf of evil, and the results of the struggle, both in particular and in general, to the very end of universal judgment and punishment. Neither the theatrical nor the dramatic element in the Apocalypse can be imitated or reproduced by human art. Christians have at their disposal the most impressive as well as the most enrapturing of theaters of dramas, although they have unfortunately so far failed to derive from these either rapture or benefit. The Christian theater mentioned above instills in the Christian both sanctity and perfect virtue, whereas the theaters of human mimicry instill in the spectator vice and moral laxity.
Such is the character of the preeminent book of Revelation, prophetic on first view, but also historical, ethical, theological, ontological, and finally dramatic, depicting graphically the greatest and most beautiful of spectacles. Surely such an outstanding masterpiece could be the work of no other than St. John the Divine.
THE NATURE OF AN ADEQUATE INTERPRETATION OF THE APOCALYPSE
An interpretation of the Apocalypse should be analogous to the nature of the book as explained above. Furthermore, the interpretation must expound this work not only from a prophetic point of view, but also from that of any and every other related phase or aspect, such as the historical, the ethical, the theological, the ontological and the dramatic, as already defined. Besides, the interpretation must aim not only toward knowledge pertaining to the events prophesied and succeeding one another in time and place, but also toward moral perfection, which Christians must acquire by grasping and conducting themselves in accordance with the fundamental principles propounded by the spectator of the greatest and best of all revelations. Again, the exegesis must contain in full not only the historical, the prophetic, and the ethical knowledge of the book, but also the ontological, and the dramatic; for through a perfect book it can perfectly edify the soul of the reader, initiating him into the mysterious and the hidden which God has concealed by means of an incomprehensible discourse and style in order that such knowledge may be revealed “in a time of times and a half of a time,” when the fold of Christ shall have been scattered by the vile and vicious shepherds of the present.