Friday, 24 May 2013

THE PRINCIPLES OF THE APOCALYPSE.

Yesterday afternoon the Bishop of Melbourne delivered the third of his series of lectures on the principles of the Apocalypse. . .

The Bishop said :—In my last lecture I endeavoured to set before you a simple scheme of interpretation which might render the Apocalypse, as a whole, a little more comprehensible. I now leave the general subject altogether and propose to confine our attention to the symbolic forms which are connected with the last series of visions—that of the viols. These symbolic forms have, I believe a distinct purpose—to set before us in significant and comprehensible shapes the true character of the spiritual forces which lay hidden beneath the glittering surface of contemporary Pagan civilisation. And how great a help that must be to the true understanding of that time and all like times must be at once apparent. Suppose that any one could now first disentangle in his own thought from all the baffling intermixture of good and bad, true and false which confuses our vision the real spiritual forces which are fashioning our civilisation and could then embody them and set them before our eyes in significant symbols, would not that greatly help us in understanding what we ought to think and do? This is exactly what I believe St. John has done for us in the Apocalypse with respect to the efficient spiritual influences of his own days—days in many respects so like our own. The first of these forms which I propose that we shall consider is that of the wild beast from the sea. This form gives its whole tone and character to the series of the vials. The judgments of that series are poured forth upon the seat of the beast upon those who bear the mark of the beast upon the harlot-city which sits upon the beast. What is this beast then? St. John enables us I believe to answer this question without the slightest ambiguity. The beast is an enemy of the Church of Christ, for he blasphemes God, and persecutes the saints. He is of mighty power and authority so that all the nations of the civilized world worship him. His power moreover rests upon force.  "Who is like unto the beast," cry his devotees. "Who is able to make war with him?" The beast has seven heads and these represent at once the seven mountains on which the harlot-city sits, and seven kings, five of whom are fallen, and one is, and another is yet to come. The beast also has ten horns. These represent ten kings or rulers who are just about to exhibit their power. These are of one mind with the beast, and give their strength to him. All this is St. John's own interpretation and it seems to me to point so decisively to the Pagan Roman Empire that I wonder that anyone could imagine it to have another meaning. The beast cannot be an individual Emperor for the Emperors are simply its heads, its guiding intelligences. The horn throughout the Hebrew scriptures represents "strength," as when the Psalmist says—"in thy favour shall our horn be exulted. The horn then is the beasts strong hand with which it exercises its power.

Now, as Renan and Farrar have pointed out, the Roman Empire had ten provinces over which the government was committed to Procurators and Proconsuls who were the arms of the wild beast's strength. Very true was it of them, as Rome found to her cost, that they should hate the harlot-city, and make her desolate. So far everything, is clear and, as it seems to me, absolutely certain. When however we come to consider which of the Emperors are represented as heads of the beast and what is their relation to the beast, difficulties present themselves. One thing is, I think, clear. We must begin counting the Emperors from Augustus. He was the first Emperor of Rome, although Suetonius to give unity to his subject begins his lives of the Cæsars by a biography of the great Julius. Beginning then with Augustus—five we are told are dead—Augustus,Tiberius Caius, Claudius and Nero. This is pretty certain. But now who are the 6th and 7th heads?  The difficulty of giving a certain answer to that question arises from the confusion existing in the Roman Empire when St John wrote.
Within two years from the death of Nero, three popular nobles had fought their way to the throne and been slain. Does St. John count these ghosts of kings which flitted so rapidly across his sight as Emperors? It is extremely unlikely that he would do so for almost before he heard of them in his solitary isle, they would be gone. His field of vision was eastern ; and above the eastern horizon those two mighty forms had already shown themselves who were to restore the unity of the shattered empire. The relation of the beast to his heads precisely corresponds to this assumption. One of the heads of the beast had been wounded to death, but already its deadly wound was healed. Nero's death had brought the empire to what looked like ruin—to a thing, as the historian calls it, incertum et quasi vagum.[ as vague and uncertain]   As it lay quivering beneath the blows inflicted upon it by the civil wars of the three usurpers, it seemed smitten down to Hedes, and might well remind the prophet of Isaiah's vision of the mighty shades of fallen empires, waiting for Assyria to come and take beside them its burning throne. But it had revived again. It is called " the beast whose deadly wound was healed," "which had a wound by the sword and did live." Vespasian gathered together its scattered members, staunched its deadly wound, made it as imposing as it had ever looked, and started it on a new career of vitality and greatness.
  After him was to come another Emperor, who should continue for a little time—his son Titus. Titus was already living and a great commander, well seen above the historic horizon of the prophet. But why does he pause there? What historic finality did he see in the reign of Titus? He looks for no historic finality. His finality is prophetic. Seven is the number of prophetic completeness. Having gone so far he stops. To have gone further would have marred the symbolism, and would have been, moreover, to descend to that particularism which writes history before the time. Instead of that he does what preserves remarkably the character of Biblical prophecy. He transfers his view to the empire as a whole, and tells us its nature and its end. It is itself of the seven. Their influence has impressed upon it a fundamental character—that of cruel godless force from, which, in spite of the efforts of the better Emperors, it shall never depart. And thus, though it has risen again from Hades, it is not among the world forces which shall remain. It shall go into perdition, when its destined course is run.
 That no possible mistake may be made, St. John adopts a method, well known in his own time, for representing anything which it ought be dangerous or unadvisable to speak of openly—the method of expressing a name by means of a number. To use the language of men, he says, the number of the beast is 666. Only two of the innumerable interpretations of this mystic number have even the semblance of probability. Reuss, Renan, Ewald, and Farrar adopt the Hebrew equivalent, "Neron Kesar" (Nero Cæsar). The numerical value of these letters is certainly 666, but it is expressed in Hebrew characters and St John wrote in Greek, and for those who spoke Greek—the churches of Asia Minor. In designating the word of God, it is the first and last letters of the Greek, not of the Hebrew alphabet, which he uses, while in more than one place where he uses Hebrew names he gives for his readers their Greek equivalent. For these reasons it seems to me certain that the ancient interpretation, "Lateinos," denoting the Latin Empire, which is as old as the time of Irenæs, is the correct one. This is the opinion of Bleek, De Wette, Ebrard, Dusterdieck, Alford, Wordsworth and Lee. I agree, however, with Farrar and Gebhardt, that it is of little consequence to the meaning whether we take the name which refers to the Roman empire, or its impersonation, Nero. What it is important to notice is this, that beyond any possibility of doubt we have in the wild beast from the sea a symbolical representation of the real spiritual character of the Roman Empire. It was an incarnation of blasphemy, cruelty, and brutal lust. The Emperors were deified. When Nero entered Rome after his ignominious triumphs in the theatres and arenas of Greece, he was hailed by the Roman mobs with shouts of "Nero the Hercules, Nero the Apollo, Sacred Voice, Eternal One." The old gods were forgotten. Their oracles were silent Men had ceased to believe in them even while they worshipped. But to an age which worshipped nothing but force and money, the man who held the whole might and wealth of the Roman Empire in the hollow of his hand, was a visible god upon earth. To refuse him divine honours was blasphemy, and thus when any was accused of Christianity he was required to burn incense before the statue, not of Jupiter but of the reigning Emperor. As Conybeare and Howson have said, the religion of the God man was openly confronted by that of the man-God. Truly upon the heads of the wild beast, as St John has said, were "the names of blasphemy."

That whole brilliant life of Paganism was built upon slavery. Only slaves worked in the fields, the mines, the cities; and hence labour became a disgrace The hardy yeomanry of Italy, with their small farms and pure homes, gave place to gangs of branded slaves, herded in prison like ergustula. Vast estates scarcely maintained the slaves which tilled them. Whole provinces lay desolate. "Samnium," says Niebuhr, "had become almost a desert, and as late as the time of Strabo there was scarcely any town in that country which was not in ruins." And if thus slave labour had destroyed the life of the country, not less had it corrupted that of the towns. Such utter depravity as had arisen from the abuse of helpless slaves never stained and debased the earth. Crimes which cannot be mentioned had struck their cancerous fibres so deeply into the very sub stance of society, that common men spoke of them as lightly, and good men as despairingly, as we do to day about the sin of great cities.
   Where there is lust there is cruelty. And such cruelty as was organised, and made a public spectacle in the gladiatorial games, the world never witnessed. The so-called good emperors were as guilty in this matter as the worst. It was not Nero, it was Trajan, who deluged the arena with the blood of 10,000 gladiators "to make a Roman holiday." That cultivated men and women "should have made the carnage of men their habitual amusement for centuries, with scarcely a protest," is, Mr Lecky thinks, "one of the most startling facts in moral history." What wonder if, in such a state of things, as Mr Matthew Arnold says—

" On that hard Pagan world disgust 
And secret loathing fell.
Deep weariness and sated lust 
Made human life a hell.' 

A hell, indeed, and the inner spirit of it—that awful wild beast form of the Apocalypse, with its beastly lust, its beastly cruelty, and its beastlike stupid blasphemy against a God of love. And yet, by the Romans, that beast was sincerely worshipped." Who is like unto the beast, who can contend with him?"

This was exactly the sentiment of a slavish, sensual, force worshipping age. What wonder that it should intoxicate the objects of it? That is why some of the best Emperors were among the worst of the persecutors. Men might not, should not, despise the divinity of force. The empire was above conscience, and should be obeyed. Did Christians refuse to serve in the legions? Then, even so calm and philosophic a spirit as Celsus could counsel the Emperor to make an end of them. It is very piteous to see such a man as Marcus Aurelius, who himself belonged to the city of God led away by this sanguinary superstition. He wished to make love and righteousness prevail, and could not. His philosophy, sublime as it was, proved itself impotent outside a few cultured cliques. There was a power in the world which actually was doing what he desired to see done.
 But because this power went about its work in the only possible way, by revolutionising men's moral principles and changing their hearts, above all because it refused to let those old immoral superstitions live which were smiting his own stoicism with barrenness, therefore he persecuted it. Opinions ought to be, and should be, subordinate to the force of the empire. Alas! he was not the last of the idealists who held and put in practice that immoral doctrine. The church of Jesus, in absorbing paganism, took in also too much of pagan sentiment. It laid well, indeed, the deep foundations of love to God and man, but it built on them all kinds of pagan rubbish—rubbish which the fires of indignant criticism have not succeeded even yet in burning to ashes. Mediæval missionaries did indeed a grand work. But Charlemagne, with his compulsory conversions of wild tribes of Saxons, and such as he, did but bring into the church pagan superstitions which demanded from the church, and, alas! received, contentment at the expense of truth. But now if force, when applied to opinion, be so evil a thing in the hands even of the pious, what must it be when wielded by those who believe in no God and no immortality? Lawless force is now again taking form, and it is too ominously like that awful symbol of St. John.
  As before, it shows itself us a wild beast of human idleness, lust, and cruelty. But now, instead of seven, it has ten myriad heads. It is the mass of the demoralised proletariate of Europe. This wild beast of our own time is like its apostolic prototype, idle, lustful, cruel, and unbelieving, knowing nothing but that it  has five senses, seeking nothing but the means of their enjoyment. There is no thing on earth that it hates so much as to see another with richer sense food than it possesses itself. Rather than suffer that, it will pull down all institutions, burn down all buildings, ravage all lands, and wipe out a civilisation which is the inheritance of ages. Envy longing to get tries to pass itself off as the love which longs to give. These too, as opposite in nature and aim as heaven and hell, are everywhere confused. The Beast apes the God, and is worshipped.
 Do not suppose that I am here referring to socialism as such. With the aims of the higher socialism I have the heartiest sympathy. I believe with it that the present condition of the poor is intolerable, and that the alleviation of the misery of the poor is the one question of the day. I agree with the author of "Gesta Christi" that "a condition of society in which an enormous mass of human beings are born to an almost inevitable lot of squalor, penury, and ignorance, and still other multitudes to incessant labour with few alleviations or enjoyments; a society which presents on one side enormous fortunes and endless accumulations of wealth, while on the other it offers classes ground down by poverty and pinched with want, is certainly not the Christian ideal of society, or any approach to ' the kingdom of God ' on earth."
   It is not only Marlo, the communist, who calls " the granting the few enjoyment at the expense of the many" a "heathenish principle," such a state of things is called "a new heathenism, and that of the most flagrant kind," by a bishop no less venerated than the profound Martensen.
 It is certain that the task of the statesmen of the future is to devise such a system of distributing wealth that a greater share of the products of industry shall fall to the lot of the producers. So far I am heartily in accord with the socialists. Nay, I go further, I freely own that the methods of thoughtful modern socialists like Lassalle, Marx, and Treischke have been widely misunderstood. They do not advocate confiscation, nor even, in the strict sense, community of goods. It is Lassalle who says, "The artisan must and ought never to forget that all property once acquired is unassailable and legitimate."
  And the socialists give the true ground of this position, "Its accumulation was justified by the laws which allowed it." it is those laws which they would alter, so as to dispose differently of the wealth of the future. It must never be allowed, say they, to become capital. Money is dead, and must continue dead. Let a man accumulate as much as he likes, spend as much as he likes, leave as much as he likes to his heirs ; but do not allow him to embark his money in any calling which will command profit, do not suffer him to convert his wealth into capital. Let the state be the only employer and banker, that not merely wages, but profit also, may go to the producer.  We may think what we like of such a proposition, but it is not right to misrepresent it.
   Again, it is unjust to accuse philosophic German communists of holding the doctrine of free love. They emphatically repudiate it " We recognise and prize," says Herr Treischke, "the moral right of marriage more than you do, and it is on this ground that we are such implacable foes to the modern constitution of society," with its inevitable fruits of prostitution and concubinage.
 Very many of the socialists again appeal to the moral authority of the Christian religion, recognising with M. Laveleye that in such a state of society as the present, Christianity must create socialistic aspirations. Nay, the old canon law even is on the side of the socialists. The canons lay it down that no man might sell goods for more than what they cost him. All profit in merchandise was robbery. Again, it a man borrowed money of another, it was enough if he paid the capital ; for interest was robbery. How a Christian man should look upon all this I shall have another opportunity of explaining. It may be enough to say for the present that I think these principles of the canonists and Communists as little justified by Christianity as by reason, and that such a life as they recommend would not only diminish production and injure character, but also make life intolerably monotonous and commonplace. I have said so much that you may not suppose that the charge I am about to bring is levelled at socialism generally. I say, then, in spite of all my admissions, that a power is growing and gathering its forces in the depths of European society which is an exact counterpart of the wild beast of the Apocalypse. It is as blasphemous and sensual wherever it be found, whether in France, Spain, Germany, Russia, or Ireland. At an immense meeting of women in Berlin in 1878, the president cried, amidst stormy applause, "I want no Bible, no pastor, and no law . . . If you want a belief, invent one for yourselves." 
   The notorious Most exclaimed at the same meeting, with the same kind of tumultuous approval, "We will have our heaven upon earth, for that which is future we believe not in. Here on earth will we enjoy ourselves. Here we will revel and not rot." "No God, no church, no master," is the common cry at the Anarchist meetings in Paris, and we are told by the anonymous author of Underground Russia, who traces the belligerent phase of Nihilism to the influence of the Paris Commune, that the Russian Nihilist "has no longer any religious feeling in his disposition," and he describes one of the leaders of that movement as "full of that cold fanaticism which stops before no human consideration," and as ready "to hold out his hand to the devil himself, if the devil could have been of any use to him." If the foul blasphemies of Foote and his fellows—men with whom the Melbourne Secularist Society has just been condoling—we have heard from Rev. S. Hansard, one of the most large minded and earnest friends of the poor who ever worked in the east of London. He says he will not foul his pen by retailing the worst parts of the Comic History of Christ, published by those men ; but he does tell us of caricatures of the most Sacred Figure in all human history "pulling Peter out of the water by his big nose; " and of God—one almost hesitates to repeat the horror—  "as a fat, ugly man, with spectacles on, sitting on a cloud cross legged, sewing a pair of trousers." Covered with names of blasphemy, filled, oh heaven, with hate of the Eternal Love, with scorn of the tender Fatherly Pity which is pleading with all hearts ; what can save men who are in such a state as that?
    Who can wonder that the souls which have made themselves so hard against God should sink into the foulnesses of a beastly lust and a merciless ferocity ; that we should read of Irish assassins trying their victim in a brothel, and writing the order for his murder on the curl paper of a courtesan, that we should hear the Russian terrorist boasting that he made himself the demon he was "by nourishing sanguinary projects in his mind," and by constantly reminding himself "that bullets were better than words;" or that, as M. Laveleye tells us, "working men of London, Perth, Vienna, and Berlin applauded the struggles, and excused all the crimes of the Commune in Paris?"
 The "Mano Nera" organisation in Spain openly declare that the rich are to participate no longer in the rights of man, and that to combat them, all means are good and necessary, not excepting steel, fire, and even slander." That last infernal touch is even more devilish than the programme of Bakounine himself, requiring, as this does, absolute and universal anarchy, the destruction of everything which has come down to us from the past, till "not one stone shall be left upon another, in all Europe first, and afterwards in the entire world."
 Let no one comfort himself with the idea that these are the mere ravings of madmen. The wild beast of savage godless force has broken loose. It has committed its cowardly murders in Ireland by scores. In Russia it has murdered one emperor, and imprisoned another for months in a fortress, in spite of the hosts of mailed warriors who protect him. It is combating today in Spain, straining savagely at its chains in France and Russia, and threatening every moment scenes of horror such as history has never witnessed. It may be very true that all these sanguinary dreams are as stupid as they are criminal, and that if ever the dreamers tried to realise them, they would only drive society to seek shelter beneath the shield of some despotic ruler from that vilest and cruellest tyranny—the tyranny of a godless mob. But meanwhile the danger threatens, and it is the duty of every man among us to consider how best we may preserve the people from the consequences of their own madness. Not by callous agnosticism, not by sentimental culture, not by a heedless headlong plunging into the mad riot of sensual pleasure ; but, as of old, by the patience, the purity, the heroism of a true faith in the Son of God, is the wild beast to be overcome, and cast into perdition.

 The Argus 16 August 1883,

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