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?

 

 

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