Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

§ 5. THE ÆRA AND CENTURY OF THE REFORMATION.

At the Reformation the light which had previously gleamed here and there on the subject of Antichrist, but been at length for a while all but extinguished, burst into a blaze ; and the voice of the Waldenses, Wicliffites and Hussites, protesting against the Popes as the Apocalyptic Beast, and Rome as the Apocalyptic Babylon, revived, after a temporary suspension, in power unparalleled. Vain was the authoritative prohibition of writing or preaching on the subject of Antichrist by the 5th Council of Lateran. There was an energy in the impression and the voice, as if derived not from books or earlier traditions, but from the Spirit's own teaching. Alike in Germany, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Sweden, England, it was received as an almost self-evident and fundamental truth by the founders of the several Protestant Churches ; indeed as in itself a sufficient justification of the mighty act of their separation from Rome. But the dif. ficulty remained to adjust and explain certain details of the Apocalyptic prophecies respecting the Beast, Antichrist, and Babylon; as well as to offer a satisfactory and consistent solution of the many other

mysterious visions of this prophetic Book. Nor was the difficulty slight; or one soon, or as yet, to be fully overcome.

1. My illustrations of the history of Apocalyptic interpretation in this æra must commence of course with a brief sketch of the views of the great Father of the Reformation, Luther.-In my Vol. ii. ch. iv3 I have described the time and the manner in which the idea of the Popes being the Antichrist broke upon his mind; and also in the chapter v, next following,4 how it was primarily from Daniel's

ITempus quoque præfixum futurorum malorum, vel Antichristi adventum, aut certum diem judicii, prædicare vel asserere nequaquam præsumant.” Harduin ix. 1808.—I have already quoted this in my Vol. ii. p. 84.

2 " On this principle" (viz. “ that the Man of Sin, or Antichrist, could be no other than the man that fills the Papal chair”) “ was the Reformation begun and carried on; on this the great separation from the Church of Rome conceived and perfected. For though (mere) persecution for opinion would acquit those of schism whom the Church of Rome had driven from her communion, yet on the principle that she is Antichrist's, they had not only a right, but lay under the obligation of a command, to come out of the spiritual Babylon.” Warburton's Works, v. 488. Pp. 116 et seq.

4 Pp. 130 et seq.

3

prophecies respecting the little horn and the abomination of desolation, that he drew this his conclusion. It was also there intimated that in 1522, at the time of concluding his translation of the New Testament, he had come to doubt of the genuineness of the Apocalypse as an Apostolic or inspired Book : though it would seem, from a Latin Treatise of his now in my hands, “De Antichristo,” dated by himself at his ending, Wittenberg, April 1, 1521,2 (the very day, I believe, before his setting out for Worms, 3) that the doubt had not then fixed itself in his mind; for he not only alludes in more than one place to the Apocalypse, as an inspired prophetic book, but interprets the prophecy of the scorpion-locusts in Apoc. ix, in considerable detail. A few years later, viz. in 1528, he is stated to have found and republished an Apocalyptic Commentary, expounding the Beast to mean the Popedom; written some hundred years, or rather, as Pareus shows, some 150 years before his time : 5 an evidence of his inclining then again, as at first, to view the Apocalypse as an inspired Book. Finally, in 1534, he prefixed to the Apocalypse in his great Edition of the German Bible a brief explanatory sketch : from which, and from certain notices found elsewhere in his writings, I may give what follows as mainly his views on the subject.

Like most of his predecessors he judged that the Book must be more or less a prefiguration of the chief events and æras of Church History: the Seals chiefly prefiguring the physical or political evils under which the Church and world connected with it was to suffer, the Trumpets the spiritual ; and either septenary running on from the commencement of the Christian æra to the consummation.—Thus in the Seals, the 1st, or White Horse and Rider, indicated (as Zech. i. 6) the persecutions of tyrants ; the 2nd, or Red Horse, wars and bloodshed; the 3rd, or Black Horse, famine; the 4th, or Pale Horse,

" Ib. p. 130 Note ? 9 “ Vale in Christo, mi Vincilae ! Vvittenbergæ, Anno M.D. xxi, prima Aprilis." 3 So Merle D'Aubigné.

* Such is the general statement. 5 “ The Author disputing on Apoc. xx touching the 1000 years, testifies that he wrote A.D. 1357 ; which, saith he, is our present date." So Pareus, p. 12, English Translation. Amsterdam, 1644.-It seems from him that it contains the same Prologue which Lyra in his Postill bad noted, and which is prefixed also to Joachim Abbas' Treatise ; in which latter it is ascribed to Gilbert of the xiith Century, (Nicholas de Lyra himself died A.D. 1340.)

* Where not otherwise stated, the interpretation given will be found in Luther's Preface, or Marginal Explanatory Notes, to the Apocalypse in his German Bible.

pestilence and mortality : all to have fulfilment, from time to time, to the last day :—the 5th Seal figuring martyrdoms of the saints, early begun, and ever and anon repeated, even to the end ; the 6th, great political revolutions; the sealing and palm-bearing visions, the preservation and ultimate salvation of the saints. The 7th Seals half-hour's silence, he does not explain.—Again, in the Trumpets, the 1st figures the heretic Tatian and his Encratites, inculcating righteousness by human works of merit, as did afterwards the Pelagians : the 2nd Marcion, and the Manichees and Montanists, exalting their fancies above Scripture ; (so as of late Munzer and his Anabaptists ;) the 3rd, Origen and a false philosophy, revived in our own high schools; the 4th, Novatus and the Donatists, denying repentance to the lapsed ;' the 5th, Arius and the Arians ; 2 the 6th, Mahomet and the Saracens : cotemporary with whom was the Woe of the Papacy; depicted alike in Apoc. x, xi, and xii.

And here, on Apoc. x, xi, is the most curious particular explanation in Luther's Commentary. Deeply impressed with the Pope's and Papacy's mock show of Christ and Christianity, and with an impres. sion too, possibly, even now, of the resemblance of the seven thunders, which sounded in answer to the rainbow-crowned Angel's cry, to the Papal mandates and thunders,3 he was led to explain the

" Among these four,” says Luther,“ nearly all our clergy may be classed." 2 So in Luther's Preface to the Apocalypse. In his earlier Treatise “ De Antichristo," spoken of a little before, he explains the locusts to mean the Romish Schoolmen, “ Scotists, Thomists, and Modernists;" who, headed by Aristotle, introduced the dogmas of free-will, merits, and the efficacy of good works for salvation. The star that fell from heaven, and opened the pit whence the locusts emerged, he makes to be Alexander de Hales, or St. Thomas Aquinas himself. G ii. (The pages are not numbered).

3 I am indebted for this idea to the Rev. C. Smith of Alfriston, who has lately translated Luther's Antichrist : the following, he informs me, being in Luther's Tischreden, (Frankfort, 1568) p. 254. “Great was the tyranny of the Pontiff : who, without law, to gratify his own arrogance, has ever lightened and thundered with ample puffed-out cheeks. It was all in vain for a man to give credence to the four Gospels, if he did not receive the Decretals of the Romish Church. These are the great swelling and loud-trumpeted words of which St. Peter speaks ; these the seven thunders of Papal intimidation in Apoc. x.”—The information is to myself very curious: baving adopted long since the view of this being substantially the true meaning of the symbol in Apoc. X; though with quite a different view of the context from that which Luther took : and never seen, or had an idea of, such a view having been entertained of the symbol by any previous expositor. In my English Edition of Luther's Table Talk I do not find the passage.-I need hardly say that the Table Talk exhibits Luther's views exprest in later life. VOL. IV.

2 E

whole vision, including the Angel himself, of the Popes and Popedom. “ The mighty Angel,” he says,

' with a rainbow and a little bitter Book, is Popery;” Popery in the speciousness of its spiritual forms and pretensions. So the Popes, he thinks, are figured as a mock Christ on the scene of vision : the opened Book being that of Papal laws, given the Evangelist to eat, as representative of the Church visible; the lion-like voice and seven thunders, the great swelling words and thunders of the Popedom--Moreover, it is the Popes that are still symbolized' at the commencement of Apoc. xi, as measuring the Temple, or Church, with their laws and regulations ; casting out the court without; (in the sense, I presume, of anti-papal heretics ;) and establishing a mere formal kind of Church, with outward show of holiness.—The subject having to be renewed and more fully developed in the vision of the two Beasts, Apoc. xii, Luther speaks of the interposition, for the comfort of God's people, of two intermediate and very different visions : viz, Ist. of the two Witnesspreachers, signifying a succession of faithful witnesses kept up for Christ; 2, of the Woman with child, meant of Christ's true Church, and God's provision for her, during the Beast's reign, in the wilderness.-In Apoc. xiii Luther explains the first Beast to mean the Papistic secular revived Roman empire, the second Beast the Pope's ecclesiastical or spiritual empire : Popery now ruling by the sword, as before by the book; and constituting the third and last Woe, proclaimed by the seventh Angel. Of the seven heads of the Beast the five that have fallen are, he says, those in Greek Christendom ; the sixth, "which is," that of Papal Germany; the head wounded to death, or old Roman Empire, having been thus revived :) the seventh, that which is to come,” he considers to be Spain ; the eighth, (“which is of the seven,”) Rome or Italy. The ten horns are Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, France, England, &c; which, though Popery's profest defenders, are yet sometime to attack and desolate it. The Beast's Image is the new Empire, which is but the shadow of the old.—The Number of the Beast, 666, Luther explains to signify the number of years that the Beast may be destined to endure ; measured, he says in his Table Talk, from Gregory, or perhaps Phocas.2—The seven Vial-Angels he interprets, of the gospelpreachers of the latter days : the seat of the Beast being thereby

So the Tischreden, or Table Talk. ? Table Talk, ii. 12. (English Trans.)

or

darkened ; and the Euphratean drying up, under the sixth Vial, also figuring the exhaustion of the wealth and power of Papal Rome, the modern Babylon : while the three frog-like spirits depicted Papal Sophists, like Faber, Eck, and Emser, stirring up opposition to the Gospel.—Finally the Millennium is the 1000 years between St. John and the issuing forth of the Turks ; (these latter being the antitype to the Apocalyptic Gog and Magog :) Satan's incarceration and binding meaning only that Christianity and Christians will, during that whole period, subsist in spite of him.—I may add that he in various places notes his view of the predicted Antichrist as one that should be an ecclesiastical person.

So in his “ De Antichristo ; saying, "The Turk cannot be Antichrist, because he is not in the Church of God.And again, “Who ever so came in Christ's name as the

1

Pope ?” 2

On the whole it will be seen that Luther did not advance far towards the solution of Apocalyptic mysteries. His explanation of Apoc. x

-xi. 2, seems to me the most curious of what is peculiar to him ; that of the two Beasts of Apoc. xii, as signifying respectively the secular Roman Empire and the ecclesiastical, perhaps the most important. The first was never, I believe, adopted by any other Expositor of note : the other has had its advocates and followers even to the present day. 3

2. It will have been observed, that Luther does not enter on the question of the meaning of the several Apocalyptic periods ; more especially the 3 times, 42 months, and 1260 days.-But it was quite impossible that Apocalyptic interpretation could go on without that question being considered and concluded on. Accordingly we find, that almost immediately after Luther's publication of his Bible, it was discussed by the chief Protestant prophetic Expositors that followed ; and in most cases the year-day principle applied to explain them. In my chapter on the year-day question, Vol. iii. p. 241, I have illustrated the somewhat curious and original ground on which they partly based this view, from Osiander's Book entitled Conjectura de Ultimis l'emporibus, ac de Fine Mundi ;a Book first published at

1 P. 10, Smith's Translation.

2 lb. p. 41. 3 A practical improvement of the whole subject ends Luther's Comment.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »