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HISTORY OF THE THIRD AGE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. THE OPENING OF THE THIRD SEAL.
Apoc. chap. vi. 5. "And when he (the Lamb) had opened the third seal, I heard," says St. John, "the third living creature, saying: Come, and see. And behold a black horse, and he that sat on him, had a pair of scales in his hand.
V. 6. "And I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying; Two pounds of wheat for a penny, and thriee two pounds of barley for a penny, and see thou hurt not the wine and the oil."
Here is announced a dreadful famine, which is the first step taken by the Almighty for the destruction of the empire of pagan Rome; and with it commences the third age of the Church, about the year 406
The voice cries out: "Two pounds of wheat for a penny, and thrice two pounds of barley for a penny." The Roman penny or denarius is, in our money, about seven pence three farthings, (16 cents,) an exorbitant price in those days for two pounds of wheat or six pounds of barley, and shows great scarcity. This famine afflicted the western Roman empire in 406 and the following years, when Arcadius reigned emperor in the east, and Honorius in the west the body of the Roman empire having been divided into two states: the eastern, the capital of which was Constantmople; and the western having Rome for its capital; which last is the subject of our present consideration. The famine was occasioned by the irruption of those barbarous nations, the Goths, the Vandals, the Huns, the Alans, &c. who came in swarms from the north, invaded the Roman provinces, and carried devastation along with them. This is attested by all the historians of those times. These people were sent by Almighty God to execute his avenging justice on idolatrous Rome and its empire, to distress it with calamities, to seize its provinces, to humble its pride, and put an end to its power and dominion.
The black colour of the horse is suitable to the nature of famine, which wastes and dries the body, and tinges the skin with a blackish hue, agreeably to that of Jeremias: "Our skin is burnt as an oven, by reason of the violence of the famine," Lament, v. 10. The black or funeral colour of the horse agrees also with the condition here considered of the heathen Roman empire, which is now going into destruction. And he that sits on the horse, is Alaric, king of the Goths, the principal nation among those that concurred in the subversion of the Roman state: and in Alaric may be comprehended the chiefs of the other nations. The rider holds a pair of scales in his hand to weigh the grain, which indicates that the dearth will be so great, that all the grain will be sold by erxact weight and measure. And here we may take notice of the propriety of this spectacle being shown to St. John by the third living creature, or the prophet Ezechiel, who had announced to the Jews the like calamity, with which God intended to punish them. Thus spoke God by that prophet: "Behold, I will break in pieces the staff of bread in Jerusalem ; and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and in distress." Ezech. iv. 16. Let us also observe, that the voice which spoke came from the midst of the four Irving creatures, that is, it was one voice composed of the voices of the four living creatures, or of the four great prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and Daniel. They severally foretold the fall of ancient Babylon, which was a figure of the fell of pagan Rome, this city being styled Babylon in the Apocalypse. On account therefore of their common prediction, their voices are joined in one to announce the approaching fate of Rome. But it is added: Hurt not the wine and the oil. This expression seems to point at the character of the invaders of the Roman territory, who were all northern people, and consequently not being used to wine and oil, which are not produced in their countries, naturally neglected them, while at the same time they swept away all the gram. In northern countries at present both wine and oil are imported, and commonly used, but it was not so in those days, when little or no commerce or even communication subsisted between the northern and southern nations.
In the subject of this Seal we see shine forth that wisdom, the attribute of the Lamb, Apoc. v. 12. see p. 29. according to the dictates of which he demolishes kingdoms and raises up others.
The Sounding of the third Trumpet.
Apoc. chap. viii. 10. "And the third angel," says St. John, "sounded the trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven burning as it were a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters:
V. 11. "And the name of the star is called wormwood: And the third part of the waters became wormwood: and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."
Here is an allegorical description of new calamities that were to be inflicted on heathen Rome and its provinces. A great star falls from heaven: this great star represents the above-named powerful nations of the north; it falls from heaven; they are sent by Almighty God to destroy Rome, as formerly Nabuchodonosor was sent to destroy Jerusalem, and Cyrus to destroy Babylon. This star is said to burn like a torch, on account of the desolation which these barbarians spread in their progress, by laying waste the cities and country by fire. The star fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. Those people spread themselves over a third part of the Roman provinces, signified by the rivers; they invaded particularly the western parts; then fell upon Rome itself, and Italy denoted by the fountains of waters. That the rivers and waters signify the provinces of the Roman empire, appears from the explication given by the angel to St. John in chap. xvii. 15. of the Apocalypse. "The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and nations, and tongues." Furthermore the name of the star is wormwood; the star may well be called wormwood since it caused such bitter distresses, such bitter calamities, and in fine ruin to the Roman people. The same kind of expression for calamities, sent by the hand of God, we find in the prophet Jeremias: "Behold," said the Lord, "I will feed this people' (the Jews) with wormwood, and I will give them water of gall to drink," Jer. ix. 15. Lastly: the third part of the waters became wormwood: and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter: a great number of the Romans perished by the bitter draught of those calamities.
The disasters, and devastations by fire, that afflicted the Roman dominions at this time, may therefore very justly be compared to the effects of lightning. Apoc. viii. 5. seep. 35.
But here we must observe, that this third trumpet sounded nc-L only war and ruin to the pagan Roman empire, but also a terrible alarm to the Christians in it, as they became involved in those general calamities, and suffered extremely. Besides, they had lived for some time with comfort under Christian emperors, and shared their benevolence and protection: but this blessing also was now wrested from them by the northern invaders, who superseded the western Roman emperors, and seizing their provinces, set up their own princes, who were either idolaters or Arians. Nay, even history informs us, that about the year 480 there was not one Catholic king in the world. Odoacer, who reigned over Italy, was an Arian; the same were the kings in Spain, and Genseric in Africa. The different princes in Gaul or France were also either Heathens or Arians. In the East reigned the Emperor Zeno, an abettor of the Eutychian heresy; and the kings of Persia were pagans.
The pouring out of the third Vial of the wrath of God.
Apoc. chap. xvi. 4. "And the third angel," says St. John, "poured out his vial upon the rivers and the fountains of waters: and there was made blood.
V. 5. "And I heard the angel of the waters, saying: Thou art just, O Lord, who art, and who wast, the holy one, because thou hast judged these things:
V. 6. "For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.
V. 7. "And I heard another from the altar, saying: Yea, O Lord God Almighty, true and just are thy judgments."
At the sounding of the third trumpet the great star fell upon the rivers and the fountains of waters: so likewise the third vial of the wrath of God is here poured out on the rivers and the fountains of waters, this is, on the pagans of the western Roman provinces, and on those of Italy and Rome itself. And there was made blood: this is the last stroke, that of the sword employed by the Almighty to complete the overthrow of the Roman empire; and effectually dreadful was the slaughter the barbarians made of the pagan Roman people. The divine judgment being executed, the justice of it is immediately proclaimed by the angel of the waters, that is, by the angel that presided over the Roman state. He cries out: "Thou art just, O Lord, who art, and who wast, the holy one, because thou hast judged these things;" and the reason is added: "For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and therefore thou hast given them blood to drink: for they are worthy," or deserve it: they, the Romans, have exercised the most cruel persecutions against thy people, the Christians, they have spilt their blood, and that of thy apostles and ministers of thy gospel, and now by a just retaliation thou hast given them blood to drink, and by bringing upon them other people, as cruel as themselves, to pour out their blood. Then the angel, who presides over the altar of holocausts, at the foot of which, according to the Jewish rites, was poured out the blood of the victims, joins agreeably to his function in acknowledging the divine justice in the effusion of the Roman blood. He addresses the Almighty, saying: "Yea, O Lord God Almighty, true and just are thy judgments." We may here take notice that the above-mentioned calamities are very plainly intimated in few terms by our prophet in chap, xviii. 8. of the Apocalypse, where, speaking of the punishment of heathen Rome, he says: "Her plagues shall come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine;" famine being the subject of the present seal, mourning that of the trumpet, and death that of the vial.
Such are the events, which characterize the third age of the Church, and make up its history.
The preceding Explication illustrated by a brief Historical account of the fall of ancient Rome with its Empire.
The Roman empire, like all other human structures, was built upon a perishable foundation. It had its rise and its decline. In its first ages it supported itself by wisdom and moderation, and owed its amazing growth to its prowess, fortitude and perseverance: but in the latter part of its period, which we here consider, these qualities were no more found in it. Its progress was like that of an elegant human shape, which had reached maturity of perfection, but whose beauty was now in the wane. The prophet Daniel had, long before its existence, described its nature. He compares it first to iron, Dan. ii. 20, &c. As iron is the strongest of metals, so the Roman state was to perform greater achievments than any of the preceding empires, and was to subdue them all. Then he compares it to iron mixed with clay. The mixture of iron and clay exhibits the subsequent decline of that state, clay being put for a sign of its weakness, and want of solidity. Such then was the nature of the Roman state. We see it therefore extending its dominion, and gaining universal empire during the time of its consuls and first emperors: but after that period, we see it distracted with interior convulsions and civil wars. The military grew licentious, the patricians luxurious and effeminate, the plebeians mutinous, and the emperors cruel and debauched. Hence it is plain, its constitution was growing old, and was tending to a decay, from its own infirmities and disorders. But though its case