The metropolis of the apostasy, Babylon the mystery, or the mystic Babylon, is the city Rome, or, as we now say, the Roman see; from the spouse of Christ in former times, become not only the harlot, but also the mother of harlots. The metropolis of prostitutes, that is, the head of cities, nominally Christian, committing fornication with her. -- Where, Reader, I would wish you, even in the commencement, to observe, (because we are now in the very citadel of the Apocalypse), that the great and catholic apostasy of the visible Christian Church, is defined and marked by the Holy Spirit, not for any other heresies or errors than that spiritual adultery, so earnestly reprobated also in ancient Israel. This then alone ought to be regarded as a Cynosure by him who would wish to investigate the beginning, progress, state, and decline of the apostasy of Christianity, from the records of ecclesiastical affairs. If he attend to it in this view, he may even feel what is sought for; but if otherwise, he will be disappointed or uncertain. For though Babylon herself be guilty of other errors, nay, of heresies, (for it is not a novel case for harlots and adulteresses to be infamous for other vices and crimes), yet, since the Holy Spirit has pointed out that great apostasy of the visible Church by none of those, therefore, they are to be accounted either as symptoms only of that apostasy, or as adventitious errors, equally common to other times and sects; or if the heresy were possibly of great importance, yet it was of such a kind (as that of justification and salvation being to be hoped for from the merit of works), as was late, and when the harlot was far advanced in age, admitted into the Church by the just judgment of God; lest they, who had so long and so obstinately despised the long-suffering of God, and the preaching of the witnesses, should afterwards (as we read to have been prohibited to our first parents) |stretch out their hands, and take the fruit of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.|
Moreover, Reader, it is singular in this place, and not to be passed over with a slight remark, (of which, therefore, I have reminded thee in the Apocalyptical Key,) that this vision of the great harlot, and of the beast which carried her, is disclosed in an unusual manner to St. John, and to us, by the clearest interpretation; and undoubtedly for this end, that by the help of this interpretation, as of the chief of all the visions, the other Apocalyptical mysteries likewise, -- hitherto closed, but depending upon that, by an admirable contrivance, -- might be laid open. Let this reflection, then, be present to your minds, and that the angel, as far as relates to you, may not have undertaken his labours in vain, duly and rightly remember, that the interpretation of an allegory or parable (of which kind is this of the angel) is not a new parable or allegory. For what an inconsistency would this be, or more truly, insanity, on the part of an interpreter! Do not therefore listen here to I know not what ages of the world, or similar suppositions, but understand the intention of the prophesying angel as no longer allegorizing, but interpreting according to the expression, knowing that to you remains the duty, not of unfolding the meaning of an allegory, but of applying the interpretation of it now given, to the events themselves.
To which application, as far as God has revealed it to me, I will thus lead the way.
First. The woman whom John saw sitting on the beast, |is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth.|
Application. -- What city is this but Rome ?
Second. The beast which bore her who was now become a harlot, is the same beast which, even before the vision exhibited to John, existed in another form of its own, but not yet in that in which it carried the harlot. But it was afterwards to rise again from the abyss, in such a form, and in that, at length, utterly to perish. That is, the form in which it carried the harlot would be the last form of the beast, beyond which it would not prolong its existence. It follows in the same verse, (in order that you might recognise this to be the very same beast which was shown in ch. xiii.) |And the inhabitants of the earth wondered, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they beheld the beast which was, and is not, and yet is to be .| -- for so I read with the Complutensian edition, according to the interpretation of Primasius and Syrus, that it may agree in sense with the preceding description. |The beast which was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the abyss.| In what form he was first a beast, in what he was hereafter to ascend from the abyss, we may discover from those words which the angel afterwards subjoins.
Application. -- But if the woman be Rome, what can this many-formed beast be on which she rides, (that is, over which she rules,) but the Roman kingdom or empire ?|
Third. The seven heads of the beast are a double type. First, there are seven mountains or hills on which the city, which was the metropolis of the beast, was situated; and besides also, seven orders of kings, or successive dynasties, and that on the same hills, (which the unity of the type denotes.)
|Hoc teneas vultus mutantem Protea node.|
By this knot you may detain Proteus when he changes his appearance. Five of them, indeed, kings, consuls, tribunes, decemvirs, dictators, were even then passed away in the age of John. One (that of the Cæsars) yet remained; but that likewise was so to be changed under the Christian Cæsars, that it would appear as another dynasty, but for a very short time, yet, in truth, not be another. The last, indeed, and the eighth, as I have just said, with respect to the changed Ciesareate, but in reality only the seventh, -- for there are only seven heads on the beast, -- is that under which the beast was ropi4opoc, the carrier of a harlot; that is, the bearer of the mystical harlot; and in that state and appearance it was seen by John in the present vision; in whose time, indeed, it might be said it was formerly, and still was not yet come. For formerly it was a beast under the rule of the five former heads, and partly of the sixth, but it was not come in that of the last head, to wit, that of the pontificate, in which, in fine, it carried the harlot.
Application. -- Now, then, Reader, attend! If the sixth head of the Roman beast, which was reigning in the age of John over the seven-hilled city, has now ceased to reign on the same for almost twelve centuries, it necessarily follows that he who now possesses the authority (since it can by no means be called a kind of seventh, and a head of a very short date) must be that last, long-lived, and real seventh dynasty of the seven hills; and, therefore, that state or republic of the nations, over which Rome now watches, and has long watched, -- that dynasty which John foresaw, as to carry the harlot.
Fourth. The ten horns of the beast, the insignia of the last head, are ten kingdoms, which were not yet arisen in the age of John, but into which the body of the Roman beast was to be dilacerated in its last form, by the wound of its Cæsarean head; and which would unanimously confer all their power on the beast, renewed and re-established under the government of its last head.
Application. -- Now, unless from the time in which the Cæsars ceased to reign in Rome, the Roman empire was divided and dilacerated into ten or more kingdoms, (even of nations which were foreigners and barbarians to the empire in the age of John,) when, I beseech you, or in what manner, shall we ever expect it to be divided??
Fifth. But these ten kingdoms which so coalesced under the auspices of their head, the false prophet, shall fight with the Lamb. The victory, however, will finally belong to the Lamb our Lord.
Application. -- The former has been long since done, and even takes place, at the present day. The latter is now done, in some respects, but we hope will be completed at some future time, by a much more glorious victory; since, out of those ten horns, or kings, there will be some, who at length will hate the harlot, whom they have so long servilely assisted in supporting, (which, we perceive, partly fulfilled,) |will render her desolate and naked, will eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.| For God, by whose providence it came to pass, that they agreed with so marvellous a consent in supporting this beast of the last head, even to the time appointed, will, at some future time, put it into their hearts to execute his will on their metropolis, the harlot. Thus far the angel.
As to what remains in the description of the allegory, that this harlot |had a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations, and filthiness of her fornication;| and also, that |she bore in her forehead her name written;| did not require the interpretation of the angel, since there is an allusion in both to the ancient custom of harlots and of the stews, where they used to drink philtres out of a golden cup to their lovers. In those places the cells were inscribed with the name of the harlots, as Tertullian shows in his book on Modesty, &c. &c. Besides, if the harlot were famous, it appears that, not only on the cell, but on her forehead, she bore her name and eulogy written, &c. &c.