The first trumpet of the seventh seal begins from the final disturbance and overthrow of the Roman idolarchy at the close of the sixth seal; and as it was to bring the first plague on the empire, now beginning to fall, it lays waste the third part of the earth, with a horrible storm of hail mingled with fire and blood; that is, it depopulates the territory and people of the Roman world, (viz. the basis and ground of its universal polity) with a terrible and bloody irruption of the northern nations, and overthrows and destroys the nobles and plebeians. You may see the image of hail, referring in the same manner to a hostile invasion in Isaiah, c. xxviii. v.2. |Behold a strong and mighty one from the Lord, (he alludes to Salmanasser,) as a tempest of hail, and a whirlwind of destruction, as a flood of many waters, overflowing, he shall cast down mightily on the earth. The crown of pride, the drunken of Ephraim, shall be trodden under his feet.| Also Isaiah, c. xxx. v.30, of the slaughter to come on the Assyrians: |And the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall show the descent of his arm in the indignation of his anger, and in the flame of a consuming fire, in dispersion and tempest, and hailstones; for at the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be beaten down,| &c. Here it is to be observed, that hail is usually accompanied with thunder, especially in the warmer regions. Therefore fire is joined with the mention of hail, both here, in St. John, and in Isaiah, and in the eighteenth Psalm, ver.13, 14. Nay, in the Scripture history likewise, Exod. c. ix. v.23. But John mixes blood with it likewise, that he may point out by this index, that the whole image relates to slaughter. -- Let the reader likewise consult Isaiah, c. xxxii. v.19, with regard to the image of hail, and the Chaldee paraphrast upon it. Moreover, the same paraphrast teaches us that trees, in prophetic parables, signify the great and rich, who for oaks of Basan (Isaiah xi.13.) substitutes the princes of provinces; for cedars, (Isaiah xiv.8.) rich men; for fir-trees, sometimes princes, (Isaiah xxxvii.24.) sometimes kings, (Isaiah xiv.8.) Who likewise paraphrases that passage of Zechariah xi.2. |Howl, fir-tree; for the cedar is fallen! because the mighty are spoiled. Howl, ye oaks of Basan, for the fenced forest is fallen! Howl, ye kings, for your princes are debased; ye who were rich in wealth are spoiled. Howl, satraps of provinces, for the region of your strength is laid waste.| Whence, by analogy, it is easily collected, that herbs are to be taken for the common people, when, as in this place, they are connected with trees.
Now, in order to collect something respecting the event from history, I would deduce the beginning of this trumpet (until something more certain shall be established) from the death of Theodosius the First; that is, from the year of Christ 395; because then the Christian religion seems to have plainly triumphed over the gods of the Gentiles; and at the same time, as combined in a certain common term with the end of the former, and with the beginning of the present seal, the irruptions of the Barbarians having in a small degree been attempted before, but been repressed in the ensuing years, when the empire was again at peace, began at length to take place in a horrible manner, and to hang over the whole Roman world, continually and cruelly wasting and depopulating it with fire and sword.
For in this very year, Alaric first, with an immense army of Goths and other barbarians, broke into Macedonia, from Thrace, sparing neither towns nor inhabitants. From thence, proceeding through Thessaly, and having occupied the straits of Thermopylae, he descended into Greece, that is, into Attica, and overthrew every city except Thebes and Athens. He made an irruption into Peloponnesus, and laid waste Corinth, Argos, and Sparta. From thence he invaded Epirus, where he proceeded to commit the same depopulations and devastations. In the following year, quitting Epirus, he made an incursion into Achaia, and basted to despoil it shamefully, together with Epirus and the neighbouring provinces, by burnings and depopulations. When he had thus, for five years, harassed the east with his cruel ravages, he turned his attention to the invasion of the west, passed into Dalmatia and Pannonia, and laid waste those regions far and wide.
Hear Jerome, who was then alive, deploring the very distressed state of this period, while the tempest was still assailing it. Epist. III. |Between Constantinople and the Julian Alps, Roman blood is every day shed. Scythia, Thrace, Macedonia, Dardania, Dacia, Thessaly, Achaia, Epirus, Dalmatia, and all Pannonia, the Goths, the Sarmatians, the Quadi, the Alans, Huns, Vandals, and Marcomani, invade and seize. How many matrons, how many virgins of God, and free-born and noble persons, are become the sport of these brute beasts! Bishops are taken captive, priests slain, and the functions of divers clergymen suspended! Churches are subverted, horses are stabled at the altars of Christ, the relics of martyrs are dug up. The whole Roman world falls to pieces. What courage do you suppose at this moment is possessed by the Corinthians, Athenians, Lacedemonians, Arcadians, and all Greece, over whom the barbarians rule?|
In the following year, A.D.401, the same Alaric, with Goths, Alans, and Huns following his footsteps, when he was preparing to carry the war into Italy, broke through Noricum, and entered Venetia through the forest of Trent, reduced those cities in a short time under his power, and besieged the emperor Honorius at Hasta; so that almost all men in Italy were beginning to think of changing their habitations. But here at length, Stilico, the general of Honorius, having prepared a great army, checked his fury, and forced him to trace back his steps into Pannonia, from whence he had come, after he had been more than once conquered and worn out by disadvantageous battles. From whence, a short time after, having entered into a league, and being honoured by Honorius with a military prefecture, he withdrew into Illyrium, a province of the east.
While Alaric was quiet for a short time, that the west might not from thenceforth enjoy an hour of rest, immediately after, in the year 404, another memorable irruption of the barbarians was prepared against Italy, Radagaisus, a Scythian, being their leader, who with an army of Goths, Sarmatians, and Germans, to the amount of two hundred thousand, having overthrown the garrisons in the Alps, passed into the territory of Venetia, Emilia, and Etruria, and laid siege to Florence, where being conquered by Stilico with an immense slaughter, he was taken and beheaded. This enemy, however terrible, having been removed in a short space of time, and with little loss, soon after, in the year 406, the third, that most grievous and very destructive irruption of the Vandals and Alans into the west, took place, accompanied by the Marcomanni, Heruli, Suevi, Alemanni, Burgundiones, and a rabble of other barbarians, by which Gallia first, and from thence Hispania, and lastly Africa, were taken possession of, and afflicted with calamities of every kind, which destructions Jerome partly expressed and partly implied in his second epistle. |Innumerable and very fierce nations,| says he, |have occupied all the Gallias: Whatever is between the Alps and the Pyrenees, what is included by the ocean and the Rhone, the Quadian, the Vandal, the Sarmatian, the Alans, the Gipedes, the Heruli, Saxon, Burgundian, Allman, and Pannonian enemies have laid waste. Magunciacum has been taken and overthrown, and in the church many thousand of men have been butchered. The Vangiones have been exterminated in a long siege. The city of the Rheni , though very strong, the Ambiani, the Atrebates , Morini , Tornace , the Nemeta , and Argentorati , have been translated into Germany. Aquitania, the country of the Nine People, the provinces of Lyons and Narbonne, except a few cities, have been wholly depopulated. I cannot make mention of Tolosa without tears, which the merits of the holy bishop Exuperius, up to this period, contributed to preserve from ruin. The provinces of Spain are even now trembling, as just ready to perish. Rome redeems its life by gold. And this was that terrible cloud of hail mingled with fire and blood; an image, indeed, of so obvious an application, that I cannot help referring to Nicephorus of Gregora, in book ii. c. vii. never thinking of the Apocalypse, but treating of the Scythians; and yet what fell from him is so suitable to this subject. As,' says he, terrors from heaven are often excited in men by God, as lightnings, fires, and frequent rains, &c. so these northern and hyperborean terrors are reserved by God, that they may be let forth for punishment, when and by whom it may seem right to Providence.'|
But let me add likewise the corollary from Achmet, for the farther confirmation of the Reader.