I am in the middle of reading a commentary on the Apocalypse published in 1955 by Fr Hermann Kramer and called The Book of Destiny. It is better and more erudite than you might suppose from its title. I learned about it when listening to a talk by Hamish Fraser, who refers to it as the most interesting book that he has ever read.

Fr Kramer takes the Apocalypse to be principally a chronological prophecy of the Church’s future from the apostolic age to the Parousia, though with some reprises, rather than, say, a depiction of permanent features of the Church’s situation in this world. He offers some interesting interpretations of the 7 trumpets of Apoc. 8 and 9. On the assumption, reasonable given his general approach, that the description in 7:13-14 of those who have come through the great tribulation represents the Church as she emerged from the Diocletian persecution, he argues that the seven trumpets announce events that follow this period of freedom.

The first trumpet he takes to mark the barbarian invasions. His interpretation here is perhaps too literal: he suggests that  the burning up of a third part of the trees might refer to a serious disruption of agriculture, at that time. Earlier, by contrast, he suggested that ‘tree’ might be taken to refer to the leading men of the time, and this might apply better here also. Although he doesn’t mention it, the burning up of all the green grass would fit well with his view of the barbarian invasions as a punishment for excessive luxury. The Fathers interpret ‘green grass’ as a symbol of concupiscence, in the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

But I was more interested in the next two trumpets. Apoc. 9:8 says:

And the second angel blew sounded the trumpet: and as it were a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood. And the third part of those creatures died, which had life in the sea, and the third part of the ships was destroyed.

Fr Kramer thinks this is a reference to Islam; and it does seem antecedently plausible that so terrible and permanent an enemy of the Church would be mentioned in the only canonical prophecy of the Church’s life (if that is indeed what we should understand the Apocalypse to be). ‘Fire’ suggests, among other things, the passionate fanaticism of militant Islam, while ‘mountain’ is a good symbol of its bulk, impermeability and deadness. ‘The creatures which had life’ is literally ‘the creatures which had souls’, suggesting the death of the soul caused by the prolonged Mohammedan usurpation. He also suggests that ‘ships’ here might be a symbol for ‘churches’. Might one-third, approximately, of the churches then existing have been desecrated by Islam?

The Apocalypse continues:

And the third angel sounded the trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountain of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made better.

This disaster differs from the previous two, since it is said to proceed from ‘heaven’. The author interprets heaven throughout the book to refer to the Church, considered as endowed with heavenly gifts. Apoc. 1:20 itself strongly suggests that ‘stars’ in the Apocalypse will refer to bishops or priests. A ‘great’ star, therefore, says Fr Kramer, will be an eminent bishop or metropolitan. It is said to be burning even after as it descends (unlike the stars that fall in 6:13, 9:1 and 12:9), suggesting that it still gives some light to the faithful after leaving the Church, indicating rather schism than heresy, and the continued presence of erudition.

The star is called ‘Wormwood’. In Jeremiah and Amos, wormwood is mentioned in connection with priests who are disobedient (Jer. 9:13-15), and who teach falsely (Jer. 23:11-40), and with those who pervert the sources of justice (Amos 5:7). These last people are told, instead, to ‘seek him that maketh Arcturus and Orion’ (Amos 5:8), which, if we accept the symbolism of a star as a bishop, implies a command to recognise the diving origin of the hierarchy of the Church: again, a warning against schism.

This great shining star falls upon a third part of the springs of water, presumably the sources of grace. Many die from drinking the bitter waters. As Fr Kramer says:

Wormwood is to be given those people, priests, and bishops who refuse to obey the authority of the Church which possesses this authority by divine commission from Christ. This is schism, ad formal schism is grievous sin. And many shall die from participation of the fountains, the sacraments, polluted by the star fallen into schism. […] The fallen star is guilty of pride, hypocrisy, and rebellion, when he assumes unlawful authority over others and perverts and refuses submission to the true order established by Christ. It begets pride and rebellion in his followers. They follow a slippery path and must stumble and fall after they have partaken of this poisonous potion. Sharing in the hypocrisy and rebellion of their schismatic superior, they knowingly partake of his wormwood and become wormwood themselves.

Surely, as the author implies, this describes no one so well as Photios the Great? His very name suggests a shining light, and he was famed for his learning. He was a great star, too, metropolitan of a see that claimed second rank in the Church, but he broke away from the constellation appointed for him. A great number of dioceses, though still a minority, were struck by his calamitous fall and the sources of grace to this very day have been made bitter for all those who knowingly partake of his schism. What, in fact, is more bitter than schism, directly opposed as it is not to the faith, but to charity and joy and peace?




In Sapientiae Christianae, Pope Leo XIII briefly notes Paul’s statement in Romans 10 that faith comes by hearing: “nevertheless, the objects themselves to which faith is the be applied are scarcely known in any other way than through the hearing. ‘How shall they believe Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Faith then cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.’ Since, then, faith is necessary for salvation, it follows that the word of Christ must be preached.”

It seems nonsensical to suppose otherwise than the necessity of explicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation, for to suppose otherwise is to imply that the word of Christ that must be preached, He being the fullness of Divine revelation, is essentially no different than the implicit faith of the Old Testament. Implicit faith saved you then and implicit faith can save you now, effectively rendering the cross inconsequential. Unless, of course, implicit faith can no longer save you, for what is this word of Christ to be preached and believed if not the Son in the bosom of the Father?


The admirable Peter Kwasniewski is always worth reading. He has written an article on OnePeterFive which is the exception that proves the rule. For this particular article, although I could hardly agree less with its central tenet, is certainly extremely stimulating. Dr Kwasniewski seeks to extol the virtues of monarchy as a system of government and insinuates that this claim is somehow connected to the Social Kingship of Christ. No such connection exists. The dogma of the Kingship of Christ should emphatically not be confused with the non-doctrinal question of which form of regime ought to be preferred, because this is specifically an indifferent matter on which the laity are free to chose whichever governmental form they consider best in itself and/or most suited to the character and customs of their particular society. As Leo XIII explains:

What amply justifies the wisdom of the Church is that in her relations with political powers she makes abstraction of the forms which differentiate them and treats with them concerning the great religious interests of nations, knowing that hers is the duty to undertake their tutelage above all other interests.

 and elsewhere

Again, it is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power. Of the various forms of government, the Church does not reject any that are fitted to procure the welfare of the subject; she wishes only – and this nature itself requires – that they should be constituted without involving wrong to any one, and especially without violating the rights of the Church. Unless it be otherwise determined, by reason of some exceptional condition of things, it is expedient to take part in the administration of public affairs. And the Church approves of every one devoting his services to the common good, and doing all that he can for the defence, preservation, and prosperity of his country. Neither does the Church condemn those who, if it can be done without violation of justice, wish to make their country independent of any foreign or despotic power. Nor does she blame those who wish to assign to the State the power of self-government, and to its citizens the greatest possible measure of prosperity. The Church has always most faithfully fostered civil liberty, and this was seen especially in Italy, in the municipal prosperity, and wealth, and glory which were obtained at a time when the salutary power of the Church had spread, without opposition, to all parts of the State.

Undoubtedly the replacement of the original Feast of Christ the King was inspired by Maritainian errors, but the confusion of the question of regime with the non-negotiable question of the Social Kingship of Christ is itself one of the most fundamental of those errors. The list of royal saints supplied by Kwasniewski is not relevant. There is no question but that kings and queens can be saints, but what about St Severinus Boethius and St Thomas More and the multitude of non-aristocratic saints (such as St Francis) raised in the Mediaeval Italian republics? The Middle Ages were replete with polities of every shape and size. The transformation of them all into hereditary monarchies is an early modern and post-revolutionary phenomenon which coincided with the general secularisation of the West and precipitated the anti-Christian regimes of late modernity.

It is very odd indeed to claim that the rarity of saints under modern secular republics and constitutional monarchies indicates that these governmental forms themselves are detrimental to sanctity rather than that secularism is to blame (a secularism bred in the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). The theory of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ is an anti-Catholic Protestant invention. It is dispiriting that Dr Kwasniewski lists the absolutist Charles I who died for the ‘protestant religion’ and the incompetent tyrant Nicholas II of Russia (both persecutors of the faithful) as saints.

The Angelic Doctor recommends a form of government composed in equal parts of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. St Augustine says that the ideal form of government is one in which a virtuous people chooses its own rulers. St Leo the Great declares ‘he who is over all should be chosen by all’. This indeed is the primitive and apostolic structure of the Church herself and yet Kwasniewski writes:

In a fallen world where all of our efforts are dogged by evil and doomed (eventually) to failure, Christian monarchy is, nevertheless, the best political system that has ever been devised or could ever be devised. As we can infer from its much greater antiquity and universality, it is the system most natural to human beings as political animals; it is the system most akin to the supernatural government of the Church; it is the system that lends itself most readily to collaboration and cooperation with the Church in the salvation of men’s souls.

It was the mixed polity if anything which was the characteristic governmental form of the Middle Ages and Aristotle considers pure monarchy to correspond to the primitive stage of human development when the polis has not yet fully emerged from the family or tribe. Kwasniewski employs the traditional royalist tactic of equivocating on the ancient and modern meanings of the word ‘democracy’, claiming that Plato and Aristotle (neither of whom would have described modern western states as ‘democracies’) “maintained that democracy, far from being a stable form of government, is always teetering on the edge of anarchy or tyranny”. For Plato and Aristotle ‘democracy’ meant a polity in which there was no chief executive of the state, the college of rulers was directly elected on a one-year term and the laws were enacted by plebiscite. This has nothing to do with ‘democracy’ in the modern sense. But, as it happens, monarchy is the only form of government expressly critiqued in the Bible (1 Samuel 8:5-20).

And they said to him: Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: make us a king, to judge us, as all nations have. And the word was displeasing in the eyes of Samuel, that they should say: Give us a king, to judge us. And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel: Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to thee. For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them. According to all their works, they have done from the day that I brought them out of Egypt until this day: as they have forsaken me, and served strange gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken to their voice: but yet testify to them, and foretell them the right of the king, that shall reign over them. Then Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people that had desired a king of him, And said: This will be the right of the king, that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to run before his chariots, And he will appoint of them to be his tribunes, and centurions, and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him arms and chariots. Your daughters also he will take to make him ointments, and to be his cooks, and bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your best oliveyards, and give them to his servants. Moreover he will take the tenth of your corn, and of the revenues of your vineyards, to give his eunuchs and servants. Your servants also and handmaids, and your goodliest young men, and your asses he will take away, and put them to his work. Your flocks also he will tithe, and you shall be his servants. And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves. and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king. But the people would not hear the voice of Samuel, and they said: Nay: but there shall be a king over us. And we also will be like all nations.

The Lord accedes to the demands of the people but brings good out of evil by Himself taking flesh from the seed of David so that now the Lord is once more the King of Israel. Doubtless, this is why He translated the seat of the covenant to Rome. For, as St Thomas reminds us, “the royal name was hateful to the Romans”. Indeed, the perfect mixed form advocated by Aquinas (ST IaIIae, 105, 1) was first attempted by the Romans and identified by Polybius. It is praised by no less an authority than Scripture itself (1 Maccabees 8:14-16).

And none of all these [Romans] wore a crown, or was clothed in purple, to be magnified thereby. And that they made themselves a senate house, and consulted daily three hundred and twenty men, that sat in council always for the people, that they might do the things that were right. And that they committed their government to one man every year, to rule over all their country, and they all obey one, and there is no envy, nor jealousy amongst them.

“Has not the Church simply been demoted to the status of a private bowling league that can be permitted or suppressed at whim?” the good doctor laments, but it is the ‘enlightened’ depots of the eighteenth century who effected this transformation and the republicans of the Catholic League who foresaw and strove to prevent it. Surely, the doctrine of the Kingship of Christ understood in the light of these passages precisely suggests that a non-regal governmental form is the most fitting for the temporal government of the Christian people? As St Gregory the Great reminded the Emperor Phocas “the kings of the nations are the lords of slaves but the Emperor of the Republic is the lord of free men”.


[Jan III Sobieski, by the grace of God and the will of the people, King of the Republic of Poland]

Decree on Justification – Chapter 6. The Manner of Preparation

(13th January 1547) D798

Now they are disposed to that justice [can. 7 and 9] when, aroused and assisted by divine grace, receiving faith “by hearing” [Rom. 10:17], they are freely moved toward God, believing that to be true which has been divinely revealed and promised [can. 12 and 14], and this especially, that the sinner is justified by God through his grace, “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” [Rom. 3:24], and when knowing that they are sinners, turning themselves away from the fear of divine justice, by which they are profitably aroused [can. 8], to a consideration of the mercy of God, they are raised to hope, trusting that God will be merciful to them for the sake of Christ, and they begin to love him as the source of all justice and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation [can. 9], that is, by that repentance, which must be performed before baptism [Acts 2:38]; and finally when they resolve to receive baptism, to begin a new life and to keep the commandments of God. Concerning this disposition it is written: “He that cometh to God must believe, that he is and is a rewarder to them that seek him” [Heb. 11:6], and, “Be of good faith, son, thy sins are forgiven thee” [Matt. 9:2; Mark 2:5], and, “The fear of the Lord driveth out sin” [Sirach. 1:27], and, “Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38], and, “Going therefore teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” [Matt. 28:19], and finally, “Prepare your hearts unto the Lord” [1 Samuel 7:3].

banner of the five wounds of christ

Cajetan told Luther in 1518 that if he simply accepted without qualification the doctrine of this text he could walk away without any censure. Luther demured. Quite a significant document therefore in the history of the Church. What strikes me as remarkable about it is its teaching that Christ shed more than a single drop of blood (which would have sufficed by itself to redeem the world) in order to atone for the temporal punishment due to man’s sin. Perhaps, this should be phrase ‘in order to merit the undoing of the temporal harm done by man’s sin’. I wonder does that mean that He thereby merited our merits? “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be. And whither I go you know, and the way you know.”

CLEMENT VI 1342-1352
From the Bull of jubilee, Unigenitus Dei Filius, 25th January, 1343

The only begotten Son of God . . . “made unto us from God, wisdom, justice, sanctification and redemption” [1 Cor. 3], “neither by the blood of goats or of calves, but by His own blood entered once into the holies having obtained eternal redemption” [Heb. 9:12]. “For not with corruptible things as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of His very (Son) as of a lamb unspotted and unstained He has redeemed us” [cf.1 Pet. 1:18-19], who innocent, immolated on the altar of the Cross is known to have poured out not a little drop of blood, which however on account of union with the Word would have been sufficient for the redemption of the whole human race, but copiously as a kind of flowing stream, so that “from the soles of His feet even to the top of His Head no soundness was found in Him” [ Is. 1:6]. Therefore, how great a treasure did the good Father acquire from this for the Church militant, so that the mercy of so great an effusion was not rendered useless, vain or superfluous, wishing to lay up treasures for His sons, so that thus the Church is an infinite treasure to men, so that they who use it, become the friends of God [ Wis. 7:14].

Indeed this treasure . . . through blessed Peter, the keeper of the keys of heaven and his successors, his vicars on earth, He has committed to be dispensed for the good of the faithful, both from proper and reasonable causes, now for the whole, now for partial remission of temporal punishment due to sins, in general as in particular (according as they know to be expedient with God), to be applied mercifully to those who truly repentant have confessed.

Indeed, to the mass of this treasure the merits of the Blessed Mother of God and of all the elect from the first just even to the last, are known to give their help; concerning the consumption or the diminution of this there should be no fear at any time, because of the infinite merits of Christ (as was mentioned before) as well as for the reason that the more are brought to justification by its application, the greater is the increase of the merits themselves.

I think this one is worth a new category, which I name Ironia victrix.