Countless commentaries by Catholic clergy exist on the Book of the Apocalypse. They vary greatly in their approach. There are the well-known books in traditionalist circles written in the 20th century before Vatican II, by Fr. E. Sylvester Berry, The Apocalypse of St. John and the Book of Destiny by Rev. Herman Bernard Kramer that are the fruit of extensive study by these authors, which attempt to assign possible past and future events to various passages of this book of Sacred Scripture. Along a similar vein, there are other Catholic writers in previous times, such as Ven. Bartholomew Holzhauser who attribute prophetic events to various passages, as can be found in this article, "The Life, Visions and Commentary on St. John's Revelations."
In stark contrast to that style of commentary, the Dominican Fr. H. M. Féret presents his thesis in the book, The Apocalypse of St. John which focuses on the historical context and doctrinal implications of that Sacred text, and avoids speculations about possible future events being predicted in the passages of that final book of Scripture.
All these commentaries are in accord insofar as they emphasise the richly symbolic nature of this book of the Bible written by St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, the close interrelationship with the preceding Scriptures, especially portions of the Old Testament. And their authors proceed to provide their opinions on what the various symbols represent, drawing upon their study of exegetes in the past, such as Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, and the Fathers of the Church.
As part of our service of providing translations of worthwhile works, not previously available in English, we present the following article by Fr. Francesco Ricossa of the Institute of Our Mother of Good Counsel (with permission), which explains his experiences and recommendation of another book written last century on this subject, that being, one by Eugenio Corsini (in Italian). His understanding and exposition is the most similar to that of Fr. Féret’s, in that he strictly avoids conjectures or forecasts in relation to the majority of the text. Furthermore, he presents a coherent thesis proposing that most of the narrative in the Apocalypse is referring to what has already come to pass. We believe this is a valuable contribution to the corpus of commentaries on the Apocalypse in the English language, and we trust our readership will find it fascinating and instructive.
The Apocalypse according to Eugenio Corsini
by Fr. Francesco Ricossa (originally published in Italian in the "Sodalitium" magazine, no. 49, 1999)
When I just name Loisy, the unfortunate leader of Modernism, I am reminded of his famous quote from his work "L'Evangile et l'Eglise" ["The Gospel and the Church"]: "Jésus annonçait le royaume, et c'est l'Eglise qui est venue" ["Jesus announced the kingdom, and it is the Church that has come"]. St. Pius X had him in mind when he condemned, among other propositions, the following one: "It was far from the mind of Christ to found a Church as a society which would continue on earth for a long course of centuries. On the contrary, in the mind of Christ the Kingdom of Heaven together with the end of the world was about to come immediately" (Lamentabili Sane no. 52, Denz.-Schönm 3452). Indeed, there is no better way to destroy all of Christianity at once: if Jesus was mistaken in announcing the end of the world as imminent, then He was deluded, a false prophet, a purely fallible and exalted creature, and His disciples were mystifiers who substituted the Church for the Kingdom of Heaven which had been awaited in vain for too long.
Loisy invented nothing. He was resuming the ramblings of Weiss (1892), vulgarised by Renan. Few people know that eschatologism (the belief according to which Jesus essentially preached the imminent end of the world) has long been disqualified among exegetes, now maintained only by Jehovah's Witnesses and other Adventists…Unfortunately, this prejudice accepted as self-evident truth survives, even among people educated in the secular sciences: Jesus preached the imminent end of the world, and His disciples waited for it spasmodically.
Catholic exegetes have extensively answered this objection. Among them, the most radical enemy of eschatologism is Mgr. Francesco Spadafora, former professor at the Pontifical Lateran University, who unfortunately passed away some years ago. The refutation of this error recurs in almost all of his works. We can mention "Gesù e la fine di Gerusalemme" (1950) ["Jesus and the End of Jerusalem"], with regard to the so-called eschatological discourse of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels (Lk 17, Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21, which do not announce the end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple), and "L'escatologia in san Paolo (1957)" ["Eschatology in St. Paul"], concerning, above all, the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. The term Parousia, the Second Coming of the Lord, indicates, both in the Gospel and in St. Paul's text, the Lord's intervention to help the Church persecuted by the Synagogue: "the end of the Jewish nation will be the liberation for the Church" (Spadafora, Dizionario Biblico, "Escatologia" [Biblical Dictionary, "Escatology"]). With regard to the Apocalypse (see the Dizionario Biblico), Mgr. Spadafora follows his teacher, Mgr. Antonino Romeo (see the entry "Apocalypse" in the Catholic Encyclopedia, written by Romeo), and he embraces the position of Fr. Allo, which rejects the "eschatological" exegesis (according to which with the Apocalypse "we would have the prediction of the events that will immediately precede and accompany the appearance of the Antichrist, his struggle, his definitive defeat, with the final judgement. Many fell into the error of literal millenarianism..."), as well as that which sees in Revelation the description of the epochs or ages of the history of the Church (which was so widely spread by Gioachino da Fiore). Yet, who has not thought, in his own life, and especially during periods of crisis in history and for the Church, that the last book of Scripture did not speak precisely, with mysterious and terrible expressions, of the things that will happen at the end of the world and of the Church? Cardinal Billot wrote on this subject: "Among the prejudices concerning the books of the Sacred Scripture, there is no prejudice more generally held than the one which maintains that the Apocalypse is a prophecy of the end of time, of the signs which foretell it, of the events which will precede it, of the catastrophes which will announce it, if not completely, at least in its principal part. In fact, if you ask most of those who are interested in religious matters and who have a certain preparation on this subject, with very few exceptions, they will invariably answer that, first of all, the Revelation is a sibylline book that is not worth trying to decipher, since those who have tried to do so have failed miserably; that, moreover, if its comprehension is perhaps reserved for the future, for the moment, at least, only one thing is vaguely known about it: that these are predictions concerning the Antichrist, the last struggles of the Church, the supreme persecution, the coming of Enoch and Elias, the appearance of the Judge of the living and the dead, the general assemblies of mankind with what will follow in eternal punishments and eternal rewards. But how strange, unbelievable, and, above all, paradoxical would seem to them the opinion of one who would timidly try to sustain that the part of the Apocalypse that immediately and directly concerns the last times barely takes up the space of about ten verses in the book, even relying on the great authority of Bossuet (...)" to this thesis, to this ingrained prejudice, Billot wrote again, "we respond without hesitation with an absolute denial" (L. Billot, “La Parusie,” Beauchesne, 1920, pp. 267-271). While I submit myself to the judgement of the Church, who is solely responsible for the authentic interpretation of Holy Scripture (Dz 1788), I also embrace the judgement of Billot, Spadafora, Romeo, and Allo: the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse of St. John) does not speak about the future; if anything, it speaks of the past. And it is at this point that I came across Eugenio Corsini's book, which I intend to present to the reader.
Small Autobiographical Note
Eugenio Corsini was born in 1924. He graduated in ancient Christian literature with Mgr. Pellegrino, and he completed his studies in Paris (Sorbonne, École pratique des Hautes Études) and in Rome (Biblical Institute). When I was his pupil, during the 1976-77 academic year, he was a professor of ancient Christian literature at the University of Turin. He concluded his career on the chair of Greek literature at the same university. The reader must not believe that having followed Corsini's lessons, which at the time concerned precisely the Apocalypse, influenced me to the point of following, since then, his exegesis. Simply, as the young 17-year-old student I was at the time, I did not understand anything: I did not have the maturity, nor the predisposition. Prof. Corsini was not (he is not), in fact, a "traditional" Catholic (as opposed to Mgr. Spadafora) but, rather — like his "teacher" Pellegrino — a "progressivist." When the fruit of his studies came out in a volume (1980), with a preface by the equally “progressivist” Mgr. Rossano, I bought the book without suffering any consequences: Apocalisse prima e dopo [Apocalypse Before and After] (SEI, Turin) remained on a shelf of the library (the book was translated into French by Éditions du Seuil, Paris, in 1984, with the title L'Apocalypse maintenant, with a preface by the no less progressivist Xavier Léon-Dufour). In those years I attended the seminary of Ecône, the professor of Sacred Scripture often repeated: “I do not have the key to the Apocalypse.” The seminarians gladly joked about the refrain of the good Father, but basically, it was not the case to blame him, when even the great exegete Abbot Don Giuseppe Ricciotti openly confessed his ignorance on the subject, writing: “some features of this mysterious book can be interpreted with approximate precision and certainty; but the general series, and especially the chronological references, remain arcane even today, as they were for the Fathers and the ancient Christian writers, who interpreted them in different ways" (in La Sacra Bible annotata da G. Ricciotti, Salani, 1940). I therefore had the idea of the Apocalypse shared by most of the readers: a mysterious and arcane writing that dealt with the Antichrist and the end of the world, of which only some scenes seemed clear to me (because they were used in an accommodating way by the Liturgy!), completely isolated, however, from the mass of the inspired text. Until, picking up Corsini's book in hand, my mistrust dissolved as I proceeded reading, while at the same time the verses of the last book of Sacred Scripture became clear and luminous to me. At the end of the reading, I was happy to have found for the first time in my life a commentary that gave a vision of the Apocalypse that was not only fully orthodox, but coherent, homogeneous, unitary, clear in all its parts strictly connected to each other by only interpretative criterion, and at the same time modern yet conforming, as mentioned, to the most demanding rule of faith...
In recent years, I have witnessed with concern an improper use of the Apocalypse. This use has been made even among the ranks of opponents of Vatican II. As in all times of crisis (and God knows how bad our times are!), it is tempting to see in contemporary events the fulfilment of ancient, obscure prophecies: one's adversaries inevitably become the Beast or the Harlot of Babylon, one’s own "idols" become the "Two Witnesses," and even someone awaits for the imminent return of Enoch and Elias in person. One is gripped by tremendous anguish at seeing good Catholics identifying the Church with the Prostitute, as Luther once did, or falling into Jewish millenarianism by wrongly invoking the Apocalypse, or following the steps of the Joachimites, announcing the end of a corrupt Church and the birth of a new spiritual reality. It seemed to me, then, after having enjoyed for years the book by Corsini that prevented me from making so many mistakes, that it was right to let it known also to “our” public. My intention is to present the author's thesis as faithfully as possible, so that the reader can form his personal opinion, after a possible reading of the work reviewed here, and looking forward to a possible judgement expressed by the Church.
The Interpretative Method
In the introduction, Corsini sets out his theory and the exegetical principles that guided him. As for the theory, it is summarised as follows: the Apocalypse — as its very name meaning “revelation” indicates — "is rather the description of a coming, of the coming of Jesus Christ: but it is not a question of what will happen at the end of time, but rather that which has taken place throughout history, starting with the Creation of the world, and which culminated in the great 'event' (in Greek καιροσ) of the historical coming of Jesus Christ, especially in His death and resurrection."
To reach this conclusion, Corsini starts from the principle, which should be evident, of the unity of the work: we must not interpret the Apocalypse as if each of its parts or symbols were disconnected from the others; it is a whole, divided into four septenaries (seven letters, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials). What is the connection between these four septenaries? Corsini follows the "recapitulative" method, "the only one, with the eschatological, that can be said to be traditional. The Apocalypse does not exhibit future events that follow one another in a chronological way. It offers a prophetic vision of the perennial struggle between Christ and Satan, rendered with different pictures, which often take up and develop the previous ones, with the victory of the militant and triumphant Kingdom of God" (Spadafora). Corsini specifies that the victory has been already essentially achieved by the "Lamb slaughtered and upright" (who dominates the whole Apocalypse, i.e. Christ dead and risen), with His death and resurrection.
This does not solve the problem around the symbols used by the inspired author (whom Corsini, along with Tradition, identifies with the Apostle and Evangelist St. John). Corsini argues that the Apocalypse is explained by the Apocalypse itself, meaning that one part of the book often contains the explanation of a symbol that also appears elsewhere. It is up to the reader to remember the explanation already made and to apply it, without hesitation, in the darkest steps. Another "key" of the Apocalypse is the Old Testament. Perhaps, there is no book from the New Testament which is more connected to the Old Testament than the Apocalypse (and that is why it was rejected by the Gnostics). St. John sees the Old Testament as a "prototype" for the New Testament. Following these two criteria, Corsini will explain the symbols used by St. John, which must have been well known to the readers of the Apostle. Thus, the "living beings" of St. John (Apoc. 4) are the Cherubim of Ezechiel (Ez. 1); the Dragon of Ap. 12, is the tempting Serpent of Genesis; the horses of various colours refer to Zacharias (Ch. 1 and 6); the Old Man (Yahweh) refers to Daniel (Ch. 7) and the eaten book to Ezechiel (Ch. 3). The meaning of the Old Testament symbols taken up by St. John remains the same, except for the changes that he himself explicitly inserts, to let the reader understand the new message brought by the New Testament. On the other hand, the same basic symbol (which must be interpreted in the light of the Old Testament) can express different things, when combined with other symbols, while always maintaining its fundamental meaning: thus, the "woman" of Ch. XII will be "harlot" (or unfaithful woman) in Ch. XVIII or "the bride, the woman of the Lamb" (or the faithful woman) in Ch. XXI. Same thing for the symbol of the "book" (the Apocalypse), sometimes sealed and sometimes opened, in the hands of an angel or the Lamb. With regard to the angels, omnipresent in the Apocalypse, sometimes openly, sometimes symbolised by the “stars” (Apoc. 1:20), for Corsini they in turn mean the economy of the Old Testament which is supplanted from that of the New. The latter is a fundamental intuition, which is also very clear in the writings of St. Paul: the Old Law was given by God through the angels, the New one directly from the Son, infinitely superior to the angels! The same criterion must be adopted for the numeric symbols, so important in the Apocalypse, and that only Jehovah's Witnesses can take it in a literal sense: here too, the meaning revealed to us by the Old Testament must be maintained and scrupulously applied in all views of the Apocalypse [to whom it may be of interest: “three” indicates God, “four” the earth, “six” man, “seven” completeness, 10, 20, etc., indicate an indefinite number; in general, then, even numbers indicate imperfection, whilst odd numbers indicate perfection...].
The interpretation of Corsini will disappoint those who have tried to read in the Apocalypse not the thought from the Apostle whom Jesus loved, and the message that he wanted to convey to the first Christians, but some concerns, related to times and epochs far later. From Corsini's comment, however, one can deduce an admirable harmony between the Apocalypse, the other writings of St. John, the letters of St. Paul and the synoptic Gospels. In the Apocalypse and in the fourth Gospel, St. John would essentially say the same thing, albeit using different "literary genres": the Apocalypse itself is a clear manifestation of the divinity of Christ, the Logos, as is the fourth Gospel. There is the same harmony between St. Paul and St. John, in fighting the Gnosticising angelology of the Judaisers (see the Epistles to the Hebrews, the Ephesians, the Colossians). If we then embraced the exegesis of Spadafora regarding the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, the concordance would be perfect, not only with the last ones, but also with the first Epistles of St. Paul (those to the Thessalonians, in fact), where there would be no trace, as also in the Apocalypse, of eschatological parousia (that is, of the imminent return of Christ with the end of the world). To begin with, Corsini thinks that St. Paul actually hoped for the next return of Christ, based on the Epistles to the Thessalonians. Spadafora, on the other hand, also interprets these texts in a completely different key: the "coming" of Christ announced would be the one that was later realised with the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 AD, which fatally wounded the first and perennial persecutor of Christianity, i.e. Judaism. There is substantial agreement, however, between Corsini and Spadafora in the interpretation of the synoptic Gospels as regards to the "eschatological discourse" of Jesus: it does not announce the end of the world, but the end of a world: the world of Judaism, of the Temple, of Jerusalem, profaned by the excesses that the Zealots will commit there during the Siege of Jerusalem (as said by Spadafora) and, even more, by the death sentence of Jesus pronounced by the High Priests right in the Temple (as said by Corsini). The Gospels and the Apocalypse would admirably agree also in this matter.
The "Plot" of the Apocalypse
So, what is the Apocalypse talking about, if it does not talk about the end of times? It is, as we have seen, an explanation of all the revelation about Jesus Christ, from Creation to the foundation of the Church. In this "sacred history," or "history of salvation," St. John dwells on the revolt and the fall of the Angels, on Adam's sin and the fall of humanity, on the consequences of Original sin: plague, hunger, war, sin, temporal and spiritual death. But God does not abandon humanity, offering it again salvation. The Apocalypse presents a positive vision of the Old Testament, but it also underlines its imperfect, limited character, wholly oriented towards the fullness of salvation in Jesus Christ, a fullness no longer reserved for a few, but for all. From the Ancient Law, St. John emphasises the character of witness in favour of Jesus, which is indeed given by the Law, and by the Prophets (the two Witnesses, who in the Gospel are represented by Moses and Elias, alongside Jesus in the Transfiguration). But Prophets are witnesses of Jesus even with the blood of martyrdom, killed by those "carnal" Jews who will also kill the Messias. The Jews expect from the Messias only an earthly kingdom; far from teaching millennialism, the Apocalypse fights it, remembering that the "millennial reign" of the Messias is essentially spiritual. The death and resurrection of Christ constitute the definitive victory over death, Satan and sin: the kingdom of God is the Church, the immaculate bride of the Lamb, the new Israel, which now and forever works the salvation of the baptised, while the deicidal synagogue has horribly transformed itself into the whore of Babylon. This, in short, is the theme of the Apocalypse for Corsini.
Apocalypse, Judaism and Christianity: the Church as a New Israel
From the brief summary we have just presented, the reader will have noticed St. John's negative view of Judaism, which rejected Christ. It is a point, continually underlined by Corsini, which cannot fail to lead to discussions. The question did not escape the author of the preface of the French edition of the book, Léon-Dufour: "The reader might, at first glance, be surprised by the harshness of certain statements about Israel, for example when Corsini does not hesitate to see Israel in the 'beast of the earth' who has given himself to political power, thus deviating from his primordial spiritual orientation. The reader will be tempted to accuse the author of 'anti-Semitism,' who sees the Synagogue as the Prostitute, and the terrestrial Jerusalem as Babylon. But that would be an injustice. As Corsini shows with insistence in his work, the Apocalypse is not only in no way a pamphlet against Judaism, but it magnificently expounds what is the spiritual Israel (...), the Israel of the Old Testament. There we find, with other expressions, what the fourth Gospel says: it affirms that 'salvation comes from the Jews' and, at the same time, it designates with the term 'the Jews' those who reject Jesus." In short, it is enough to understand the terms "Judaism" and "Jews." The Apocalypse itself points out the possible misunderstanding, with these words of Jesus to the Angel of the church of Smyrna: "I know (...) thou art blasphemed by them that say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (Apoc. 2, 9; see also 3, 9). There is therefore a true Judaism, which is embraced by the Apocalypse, and a false one that the Apocalypse radically rejects. “Perhaps no New Testament writing has more forcefully reaffirmed the vital continuity between Judaism and Christianity. In the vision of Patmos (...) Jesus Christ appears to St. John in the centre of seven golden candlesticks (see 1, 13) and shortly afterwards He describes Himself to him as 'He, who ... walketh among the seven golden candlesticks' (see 2, 1). The meaning of the vision is clear: Jesus Christ comes from Judaism. (...) When He denies the Jews the right to continue to call themselves with that name, it is understood that this appellation now belongs to Christians, the true heirs of spiritual Judaism, which, according to St. John, had been guarded and advocated by saints and prophets, i.e. from the ancient 'witnesses'. (...) Here, in the new ecclesial community, spiritual Judaism now lives and continues: the seven candlesticks, as Jesus Christ solemnly announces to St. John, have become the seven churches (see 1, 20)." The Church as the "New Israel," a truth of faith that today is rejected as a "theory of substitution" [of the Church for Israel], is therefore the object of the author: "To say that 'the candlesticks are the seven churches' means to say that Judaism, with the coming of Jesus Christ and the fulfilment of his messianic work, has been transformed into the 'seven churches', i.e. into the totality of the Church. This is the culmination of the 'revelation of Jesus Christ,' the fulfilment of the 'mystery,' the meaning of the whole book of the Apocalypse."
The Letter to Laodicea, the Condemnation and Reproach of Judaism
The first of the four septenaries is the one of the letters addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor. For some they are real letters, really addressed to their respective primitive communities: Corsini does not exclude this meaning as well. For others they are fictitious letters. It is not a question of the prophecy of seven future epochs of the Church, but of seven periods in the history of humanity, from the fall of Adam to the rejection of the Messias by the Jews. The latter is the subject of the last, terrible letter, addressed to Laodicea: "It expresses the judgement of condemnation against Judaism which, in its blindness and obstinacy, did not recognise in Jesus Christ the Messias foretold by the Scriptures. In fact, the community is reproached for being 'neither cold nor hot' but 'lukewarm' (see 3, 15-16): this cannot be understood, in the modern world, as a lack of spiritual fervour; it is the definition of Jewish legalism, of the honour rendered to God with the lips and not with the heart, with external signs and not in spirit and truth. (...). The warning, moreover, will not be accepted. When St. John, to teach and indirectly edify his faithful of Laodicea, records the words of Christ to the Jewish people, the divine threat against the latter ('I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth': see 3, 16) has already been fulfilled: the Jews have already been condemned and repudiated for their pride, their obstinacy, their blindness. They were in need of everything that could benefit their salvation, and instead they boasted of possessing everything: 'I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing' (3, 17). These are roughly the words that St. John will put in Babylon's mouth before her ruin (18, 7). As we have already repeatedly mentioned, in the destruction of Babylon we believe we see not a prophecy about the material end of Rome, but an allegory of the spiritual end of Judaism: the earthly Jerusalem disappears to give way to the heavenly one. This is the central thesis of the book that St. John takes up and develops through the series of the four great seven-year cycles of letters, seals, trumpets and vials, which all end with a hint of an interruption, an end. The seventh letter should also be read in this sense, a dramatic conclusion that led to the judgement and repudiation of those who continue to call themselves Jews but are no longer Jews (2, 9; 3, 9)."
The Seventh Seal
The septenary of the letters is followed by the one of the seals. The first four ones, for Corsini, symbolise the fall of man, while the last three mean the saving intervention of God. The book is the revelation, which gives life; the seals are the sin, and they preclude this divine life to man. It is only the slaughtered (dead) and standing (risen) Lamb who can open the seals, because the history of salvation is all in the sacrament (mystery) of Christ. St. John's fifth chapter of the Apocalypse is linked to Daniel's vision of the Messias (Dn VII), introducing however the figure of the Lamb to underline the nature of the Messianic kingdom: "The symbol of the Lamb (...) leaves no doubt about the way with which this Messias will obtain His victory over His enemies: He will be killed by them, slaughtered by them. But He will overcome death with the Resurrection...”. In the septenary of the seals, the Apocalypse introduces the reader to the vision of the celestial liturgy (to understand, of which it is necessary to keep in mind the ceremonies of the terrestrial one, in the Temple of Jerusalem). In the sixth seal, St. John sees the 144,000 marked (saved) under the ancient law: not all Jews were saved, but only those belonging to "spiritual Judaism." Definitive salvation is found only in the New Testament, open to an immense crowd of every people, language and tribe, thanks to the death of Christ. The silence that is made in Heaven at the opening of the seventh seal indicates the cessation of Jewish worship (the synoptic Gospels express the same concept by narrating the tearing of the veil of the Temple at the death of Christ: Sts. Mt 27, 51; Mk 15, 38; Lk 23, 45) in anticipation of the new cult, at the resurrection of Christ. As for the old cult, it is profaned by the abomination of desolation predicted by Daniel: the death of Christ, in fact, "occurred at the instigation of the Jewish High Priests, would have definitively profaned the temple, causing the end of the Jewish cult."
The Seven Trumpets
The septenary of the trumpets also recalls the ancient Covenant (the trumpets are connected to the angels and the Sinaitic covenant). The Apocalypse presents four "trumpets" (concerning the fall of the angels), three "woes" and three corresponding "trumpets," which move the scene on earth, with the fall of man and his consequences; the last trumpet also symbolises the death of Christ. Then the the Two Witnesses appear, who are not Enoch and Elias expected for the end of the world, but Moses and Elias, that is, the Law and the Prophets, who bear witness to Jesus (St. Jn 5, 31; 8, 54) in Sacred Scripture as in the Gospel episode of the Transfiguration. This is the positive role of the Old Testament: the Law, after the coming of Christ, is no longer salvific, but deadly. Taking up the famous vision in which Ezechiel eats the book (i.e. the Old Testament), St. John changes it: the bitterness in the bowels caused by the education of the book "is synonymous with spiritual death." Even the Jewish cult is now reprobate, after the coming of Christ. The angel who throws fire from the censer on the earth (Apoc. 8, 5) symbolises, with his gesture, "the end of the Jewish cult that the first Christians linked to the death of Christ," as well as "the expulsion of Satan and his followers from Heaven," which will be described in the first four trumpets. The seventh, however, still refers to the death of Christ, which involves the opening of the Temple, the end of Jewish worship and angelic mediation.
The Septenary of the Vials: the Two Beasts
Even more explicitly, the symbol of the vial calls to mind the sacrifice of Christ. In this septenary there is no shortage of famous scenes: the Woman and the Dragon in Chap. XII, the Beast of the earth and that of the sea in Chap. XIII, the Harlot of Babylon and her destruction (chapters XII-XIX), the battle of Armageddon, so dear to Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.
As usual, for Corsini, St. John begins the septenary with the exposition of the fall of the angels (the fight in Heaven between St. Michael and the Dragon) and of man (represented by the Woman who from Heaven finds herself in the desert, on earth, and is threatened by the Dragon). Among the consequences of evil, St. John glimpses the corruption of political and religious power, powers in themselves good, but now perverted, represented by the two Beasts who help the Dragon. The Beast of the Sea, taken up by Daniel (7, 2 ff), depicts the corruption of political power, when the State, indeed, wants to take the place of God. It does not necessarily embody the Roman Empire: "Of course, the attitude of St. John with regard to the Roman Empire is no longer that of St. Paul [who in the second Epistle to the Thessalonians saw that as "the obstacle" to the man of iniquity, or to Judaism], and does not share its illusions. But he is not even marked by that blind and fanatical subversive fury that many seemed to see.” When St. John wrote the Apocalypse, "the persecution was not yet a fact, neither generalised nor systematic and above all it was not yet seen by Christians as the exclusive work of the imperial power, but rather as the result of a satanic influence that favoured collusion between the political power and Judaism to the detriment of the followers of Christ,” following in this the model of the Passion, when Pilate was the reluctant secular arm of the synagogue. The Beast of the Earth, instead, has no direct Old Testament evidence. It is described by St. John as a corruption of religious power. Some commentators have seen there the description of the pagan idolatrous cult, but Corsini rejects this hypothesis. In fact, "duplicity and ambiguity" are characteristic of this monster, since "he had two horns similar to the Lamb and spoke as the dragon" (Apoc. 13, 11): its figure will be taken up with the False Prophet (see 16, 19 and 20) and with the Harlot (see 17 f). The Beast of the Sea is, for Corsini, the corrupted Judaism, the one that puts to death all the righteous, the saints and the prophets (see St. Mt 23, 29 ff; Acts 7, 51 ff) and, finally, even the Messias Himself, using the political power: "The brute and blind violence of political power is manipulated and advised by a force that hides behind its shadow," as on the occasion of trial and condemnation of Christ and the first martyrs. Judaism, a reality in itself good enough to have the nature of the divine Lamb, became worldly: "It still believes to be Judaism, i.e. witness and heir of the divine promise, but it is no longer so, indeed, it has become the 'synagogue of Satan '(see 2, 9; 3, 9), 'Sodom and Egypt' (see 11, 8), speaking [that is, acting] ‘as a dragon' (see 13, 11)."
The Septenary of the Vials: the Great Harlot of Babylon
Chapters XVII and XVIII of the Apocalypse present to us the symbol of the great harlot and the fall of Babylon. The prostitute is sitting on a scarlet beast. Almost all commentators identify the prostitute with the beast and both with Rome: imperial and pagan Rome for some (Catholics), papal Rome for others (Protestants). Corsini demonstrates in an indisputable way that this double identification is not possible: the prostitute is not the beast and it is not Rome. The beast and the prostitute do not identify, so much so that their alliance will break, leading to a war (17, 16) where the prostitute will be defeated (11, 12) and will be destroyed. "The city that is destroyed here is no longer the 'holy city': it is a 'harlot', rather, 'the great harlot,' 'Babylon the great, the mother of the fornications, and the abominations of the earth' (17, 1 and 5). Even this, however, should not surprise us too much, as this terrible metamorphosis was also anticipated in chapter XI, when St. John told us that the corpses of the two 'witnesses' killed by 'the beast that ascendeth out of the abyss' lie unburied 'in the streets of the great city, which is called spiritually, Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord also was crucified.' (11, 8). And therefore, if the destruction to which the passage we are examining alludes to is to be understood in a literal and material sense, it can only refer to what the Romans did in 70 AD: only then, in fact, following the deicide, in the eyes of St. John and the first Christians, in a complete and definitive way, Jerusalem had become the 'prostitute,' the opposite of the 'holy city' it was previously." Therefore, Corsini identifies earthly Jerusalem with the great prostitute: “a conclusion,” he writes, “which will certainly bring astonishment because of its apparently paradoxical character. And, moreover, before us, such a mystery brought astonishment and bewilderment to St. John himself who was the first to contemplate it with eyes illuminated by the Spirit (see 17, 6)." Yet, as Corsini observes, the whole book of the Apocalypse is written in preparation for this mystery: it is enough to see what was said about the seventh letter, about the sixth and seventh seal, about the sixth and seventh trumpet, about the seventh vial. Moreover: "in the sixth trumpet, at the conclusion of the episode of the two 'witnesses,' an earthquake hits the 'city' (see 11, 13). The name of this city, called shortly before 'the great city' (see 11: 8), is not mentioned, but it is clear from the context that it is Jerusalem [since it is said that it is the city where Our Lord was crucified]. In chapter XVI, following the pouring of the last vial, an earthquake hits 'the great city' which is, in this case, Babylon." The earthly Jerusalem thus became 'Babylon,' and the prostitute. The term should not surprise: "As everyone knows, the metaphor of prostitution is drawn by St. John from the Old Testament, especially in the Prophets, where it is synonymous with idolatry and is applied both to cities and pagan peoples, as well as to Jerusalem and the Jewish people, especially to the latter, given the special bond they had with Yahweh, whereby the infidelity of Israel takes on the connotation of a real adultery (see Is 1, 21; Ez 16, 15 ff; Hos 2, 1 ff; 5, 3 etc.)." Israel did not succumb to the "low" idolatry of pagan gods, but worshipped Satan himself in the worship of his first incarnation, the deviant political power: "Israel no longer fears its ancient adversary, but has taken so much confidence that it believes to be able to dominate and subject this adversary to his will. This is an illusory belief, as underlined with dramatic evidence by the conclusion of that monstrous union, with the destruction of the prostitute by the beast." “Judaism had become idolatrous, because it worshipped the beast and its statue, that is, political power. And this not so much because Judaism had willingly accepted the domination of the Romans, as indeed it was fiercely opposed to it and tended to identify a demonic presence in it. But in its opposition to the rulers, Judaism adopted their mentality, ends and means. Indeed, it dreamed of the advent of a messianic kingdom that was the exact overthrow of the existing situation, whereby the dominated would become the rulers and the oppressed, in turn, oppressors," impiously placing the Law and the Prophets at the service of this diabolical plan. Corsini does not explicitly recall this, but Israel seems to fall into the diabolical temptation that Jesus rejected in the desert: "Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and said to him: all these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me” (St. Mt 4, 8-9). Jesus, the true Messias, rejected the proposal of Satan, whereas Israel instead accepted the false Jewish messianism. Thus, the Woman who in chapter XII of the Apocalypse takes refuge in the desert chased by the Dragon is transformed in Chap. XVII into the prostitute who, always in the desert, rests on the beast: "The fact that the woman [Israel] is represented here under the appearance of a prostitute indicates that, evidently, her spiritual attitude has changed" and became an unfaithful wife. She is unfaithful and a murderer. In fact, the prostitute holds in her hand a chalice "full of abominations" (17, 4). This expression "contains a fairly explicit reference to Daniel's prophecy on the 'abomination of desolation' (Dn 9, 27), that is, on the profanation of the temple" which, for Corsini, is "related to the killing of Jesus planned and procured by High Jewish Priests. (...) In any case, the fact that the 'abominations' — of which the chalice held in the hand of the prostitute is filled — consist essentially in the shedding of the blood of innocent and righteous men is clear from the following: ‘And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus' (17, 6). It was thought of Rome also for the explanation of these words, along with its cruel persecutions against Christians. But this was not the proper way of seeing things according to the Christians at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse, especially in the places where it originated. It will be enough to read a document such as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna put to death around 156AD, to realise that the responsibility for the persecutions against Christians was still attributed by the same Christians in the first place to the Jews. Therefore, St. John who wrote so long before...could hardly have thought in such a radically different way. But leaving aside such considerations, the 'saints' and martyrs of Jesus' who are killed by the prostitute are not the followers of Jesus, but the righteous and Prophets of the Old Testament (...). The harsh words of Jesus against Jerusalem — guilty of killing the Prophets and stoning those sent by God (see St. Mt 23, 37; Lk 13, 34) — prepared us for all this. In his violent invective, Jesus goes so far as to declare Judaism responsible for all the murders committed on earth since the origin of Creation (see St. Mt 23, 35). An accusation that cannot be justified, if not taking into account the greater responsibility that Judaism derived from having been chosen by God as the depositary and guardian of His word and His promise. And just by thinking of this, we can understand in all their significance the terrible words that conclude, in chapter XVIII, the celebration of the destruction of Babylon: 'And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth' (18, 24). The chalice that the harlot holds in her hand is, therefore, too, like the one that Jesus had to drink, a symbol of the shedding of blood, of a bloody sacrifice. But the blood that the prostitute sheds is not her own, and it is not shed for a just and holy cause: on the contrary, it is the blood of others, innocent blood, shed for outpouring of violence and the achievement of power and domination. In the memory of the shed blood, St. John's thought certainly goes, first of all, to that of Jesus from Whom the redemption to all humanity came (see 1, 5; 5, 9; 7, 14; etc.). The prostitute will have no part in the good of redemption, because her perspective is completely opposite. She aspires to other goods: 'because she saith in her heart: I sit a queen, and am no widow; and sorrow I shall not see. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be burnt with the fire' (18, 7-8)." The destruction of Babylon described in chapter XVIII contributed to the legend of a subversive, gloomy, fanatic Christianity, in spasmodic expectation of the destruction of classical civilisation. In reality St. John intended to symbolically describe the end of the earthly Jerusalem, of the ancient law and of the ancient cult, which occurred with the death of Christ (chapter XIX), symbolised by the battle of Armageddon, which resumes the battle of Megiddo in a typological sense, where also the ancient kingdom of Judah perished along with the pious King Josias.
Therefore, the transformation of Jerusalem into Sodom, Egypt and Babylon, is the "Mystery" [of iniquity] that the Apocalypse reveals to us. Corsini writes: “...we find ourselves in front of a sacred reality that has been perverted.” This “seems proven by the arcane name that the prostitute bears written on her forehead. This name is 'mystery' (see 17, 5), and it is the real name of the prostitute. The other, that is 'Babylon the great, the mother of the fornications, and the abominations of the earth,' seems rather an explanation of that first name, according to what the angel says to St. John: 'Why dost thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast which carrieth her' (17, 7). Now, the word 'mystery' in the language of the New Testament does not simply indicate any enigmatic and difficult to understand reality: it is, for the most part, connected with the divine plan of salvation, the Kingdom of God, the death of Jesus Christ. (...) Therefore, if the prostitute is called a 'mystery,' this means that, even when she is judged and condemned, she is an integral and important part of the divine plan of salvation. And this cannot be true of Rome (...), but only of Jerusalem. In fact, no other city will be renewed and will descend from heaven on Mount Sion, to celebrate the mystical wedding with the Lamb (...). The 'mystery of God' that takes place in the seventh trumpet is, we know, the death of Christ: it marks both the judgement and the end of the ancient economy of salvation, of Judaism, of earthly Jerusalem, and the inauguration of the new economy of salvation, of the Heavenly Jerusalem, of spiritual Judaism, of the Church." Thus, in the interpretation of Corsini, the Apocalypse of St. John admirably reaches what was already revealed in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (4, 21-31) where the Apostle distinguishes the "Jerusalem which now is," whose children are in slavery, and the "heavenly Jerusalem," who is free, also announcing the continuing persecution of the children of the earthly Jerusalem against the children of the heavenly one (4, 29).
The Bride of the Lamb
Chapter XXI and the beginning of Chapter XXII (the last one) present us this famous heavenly Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb. As far as I know, only Mormons expect to see a city descending from heaven, as the Apocalypse symbolically says. In reality, the woman depicted by the Bride of the Lamb (i.e. the Bride of Christ) is the faithful bride of the Messias, just as the prostitute is the unfaithful bride: the Church, the first, the synagogue, the other. And the "new Jerusalem" presupposes "the destruction of the previous one (which became Babylon)." "The final part of the Apocalypse therefore symbolically represents the glorious conclusion, the full and perfect implementation of the divine plan of salvation. The new Jerusalem is the symbol of the reconciliation between humanity and God, of the new eternal and definitive covenant, of the new chosen people that God has chosen for Himself no longer from a single nation but from ‘all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues’ (see 7, 9). In this sense it depicts the Church which is, on the one hand, the revival and continuation of ancient Israel (see 1, 20), but welcomes and saves all peoples (see 21, 25 ff; 22, 2)." It is already a "new creation," "new heaven and earth," tree of life. "In the light of the Spirit one can see what the Jews, blinded by pride, are unable to see: the heavenly Jerusalem, foretold by the Scriptures, was brought from Heaven to earth by Christ; but they neither recognised nor accepted it, and remained outside it, becoming the 'synagogue of Satan' (see 2, 9; 3, 9)."
The Millennial Kingdom...Has Already Happened (And Is Already Over)!
As we have seen, according to the Apocalypse, if the Church is the new and eternal covenant, the last and definitive economy of salvation, what place can there be for the famous "millennial reign of Christ" on earth announced precisely by the Apocalypse in Chapter XX? Especially so, since the aforementioned chapter gradually took on such importance, that St. Augustine dedicated an entire book of the City of God to only Chapter XX of the Apocalypse, "as if the rest of the work did not exist." Many think that Millennialism (or Chiliasmus) [defined by the Catholic Encyclopaedia: "eschatological error, according to which Jesus Christ must visibly reign a thousand years on this earth at the end of the world"] has its origin in the Apocalypse or, at least, in a wrong understanding of the Apocalypse. In reality, Millennialism is anterior to and extraneous to the Apocalypse! It is of Jewish origin, not because it is found in the Old Testament, but because it was invented by the rabbis (cf. Enc. Catt., Millenarismo, vol. VIII). The Catholic Encyclopaedia explicitly links Gnosticism with Chiliasmus: "Gnosis” – as Erik Peterson explains – “is prior to Christianity; but her [the Church's] respect for the traditions of the Jewish people, from whom the Church had inherited the sacred book, led to the infiltration of Jewish Gnostic and chiliastic ideas into the primitive Christian environment. However, remaining faithful to the letter and spirit of the Old Testament and reflecting on the real facts of the life of Jesus (...), the Church was able to free herself from those who 'were not plantations of the Father' (...) But perspicuity in discovering the error was not the same everywhere ... ” (Enc. Catt., vol. VI). The Apocalypse of St. John, according to Corsini, not only is it not a millennialist text, but it is even a text written in reaction and condemnation of millennialism, which is nothing more than that distorted fully earthly vision that the Jews – and some Jewish-Christians — had of the Messianic kingdom.
Generally, for Catholic authors who, among other things following Saint Augustine, reject Millennialism, the millennial reign is that of the Church, which goes from the first to the second coming of Christ. According to our author, however, the millennial reign alludes to the salvation, still imperfect, limited and provisional, offered to the righteous of the Old Testament: therefore, not only it has already happened, but it has already been concluded for some time. A radically adverse position, therefore, to Millennialism, which has done so much harm to the Church ... Just think of the new and ancient heresies that were inspired by it: Ebionites (Cerinthus), Montanists, Spirituals and Joachimites, Anabaptists, Mormons, Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses ... Even mitigated millennialism (which does not imply the end of the Church) cannot be taught without danger, as can be deduced from the response of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile (21/6/1944) and from the placement in the Index of the works of Lacunza, Ughi and Chaubaty. Against all millennialism, we therefore certainly refer to Corsini's exegesis.
The Apocalypse in the Current Situation of the Church
If, as I believe, Corsini's exegesis is correct, in what sense can it influence the attitude of those who intend to defend the orthodox faith against the rampant heresy in our day?
If we have to give up seeing in the Apocalypse a prophecy of the future of the Church, least of all in her "last times," one wonders what the current relevance of the Apocalypse may be: many readers will be disappointed, after having thought that in those ancient pages they could have read the detailed announcement of the travails that the Church is going through today. Instead the Apocalypse tells us nothing about our times, directly, and even less about future miraculous helping interventions, operated by Enoch or Elias, or by Christ Himself. Yet, precisely for this reason, I believe this exegesis (which only confirms what was already known from the other books of Sacred Scripture) to be absolutely beneficial for the faithful Catholic of this end of the millennium.
On the one hand, the Apocalypse confirms with great force all the revealed doctrine, and, in particular, the one on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, between the Church and the Synagogue, between The Great Whore of Babylon, Christianity and Judaism. It avoids the Gnostic and Marcionist obstacle that rejects the Old Testament, and at the same time attacks Judaism head-on, which rejected the Messias. Corsini's exegesis, certainly beyond the author's intentions, therefore confirms our dutiful attitude of firm rejection of the conciliar declaration Nostra Ætate and subsequent documents, which aim at the Judaisation of the Church. On the other hand, this exegesis, which highlights the Church as the ultimate and definitive economy of salvation, prevents the stunned Catholic of our times from falling into the temptation of declaring the indefectible Church "dead," and wanting to replace it with anything else. Let us be careful not to identify the Roman Church with the Prostitute, or with the False Prophet, or with the Antichrist (of which, in the Apocalypse, there is no trace); let us be careful not to set a "faithful" Church against an "official" Church; let us beware of imagining a future era in which the hierarchical Church established by Christ will no longer exist or will essentially be changed; let us beware of following a false mysticism which instead of leading to the defense of the faith only brings us back to old heresies. The task of today's Catholic is not to invent a new traditional church, but to love and defend the eternal Catholic Church; it is not to follow strange "revelations," but to remain faithful to the one Revelation (or "Apocalypse") of Jesus Christ, definitively closed on the death of the last Apostle, the Evangelist St. John, the Seer of Patmos.