Damien F. Mackey
Some common factors here are the references to the ‘Angel of Judgment’ of
the Book of Revelation and to an impending terrible judgment.
Fr. Herman B. Kramer has brought some connections between St. John and St. Vincent Ferrer in his captivating study on the Apocalypse, The Book of Destiny (Tan, 1975). According to Fr. Kramer’s interpretation of the Apocalypse, each chapter can be linked literally to an important era of Christian history.
For instance, Revelation chapters 8 and 9 Fr. Kramer aligned with, respectively, the Great Western Schism (C14th-15th AD) and the Protestant Reformation (C16th AD).
Perhaps Fr. Kramer’s lynchpin for all this was his identifying of the Eagle, or angel of judgment, of Revelation 8:13, or 14:6, with St. Vincent Ferrer, OP. (ibid., pp. 208-9):
By a wonderful co-incidence a great saint appears at this stage [the Western Schism] in the history of the Church. His eminence and influence procured for him the distinction of an eagle flying through mid-heaven. This was the Dominican priest, St. Vincent Ferrer. When in 1398 he lay at death’s door with fever, our Lord, St. Francis and St. Dominic appeared to him, miraculously cured him of his fever and commissioned him to preach penance and prepare men for the coming judgments. Preaching in the open space in San Esteban on October 3, 1408 he solemnly declared that he was the angel of the judgment spoken of by St. John in the Apocalypse. The body of a woman was just being carried to St. Paul’s church nearby for burial. St. Vincent ordered the bearers to bring the corpse before him. He adjured the dead to testify whether his claim was true or not. The dead woman came to life and in the hearing of all bore witness to the truth of the saint’s claim and then slept again in death (Fr. Stanislaus Hogan O.P.).
Just as this, St. Vincent Ferrer’s extraordinary miracle, had convinced the Dominican Fathers, his superiors, that he was correct in his claim to be the angel of Apocalypse, so was it all the proof that I needed back in the 1980’s to accept Fr. Kramer’s opinion that Revelation 8 (which includes reference to a warning angel) was fixed to the very time of St. Vincent Ferrer. And so I, quite content with the way Apocalypse had been incorporated into my book, The Five First Saturdays – now up-dated as:
The Five First Saturdays of Our Lady of Fatima
– moved on to consider other things relevant to that book, for example (in regard to the many similarities found between the Book of Esther and the Fatima events) to locate the precise era of Queen Esther, her uncle Mordecai, and their foe Haman. This was in order to provide a solid historical foundation to the whole Esther saga. Instead of my puzzling overmuch anymore about who, or what, might be the seven-headed Beast of Revelation 13:1, I became preoccupied now with trying to discover who in history was “Haman … the persecutor of the Jews” (3:10); that most ambitious and cruel character in Esther who, Hitler-like, had singlemindedly set about to exterminate the entire Jewish race, but was thwarted at the eleventh hour by Queen Esther and Mordecai.
See now, e.g.:
Is the Book of Esther a Real History?
I know that many today will regard all this as quite ridiculous, a complete waste of time. They will insist that one will never succeed in identifying the historical era for Queen Esther because she never actually existed, never sat on the Persian throne at Susa, was only a character of fiction. But my own research has revealed a different trend, as in the case of the Book of Judith – which contemporary exegetes likewise refer to as “historical fiction”. After years of research into the Book of Judith I am convinced, from a detailed comparison of Judith with the neo-Assyrian records, that the story about this Jewish heroine fits snugly into the era of King Hezekiah of Jerusalem, when King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded his kingdom in c.700 BC.
Judith is indeed real history. See e.g. my:
“Nadin went into everlasting darkness”
Providentially, I was invited in the year of 1999 to write a postgraduate thesis on this very same era, that of King Hezekiah.
And I am equally convinced that Esther is true history; though, as with Judith, it has taken some time and intellectual effort to demonstrate this. I only made real progress with Judith when I put aside peripheral details to track down the main incident: the defeat of the massive Assyrian army.
The Book of Revelation
Despite the superficial ingenuity of Fr. Kramer’s interpretation, it does not – on closer scrutiny – match itself appropriately to St. John’s own words. Whereas Fr. Kramer tumbled out, like far flung dice, the events that the Evangelist described, spinning them right down through the centuries, even to our own time, St. John – as we read in his introductory quote above – was clearly talking about an early fulfilment of the events that Jesus Christ had revealed to him. See my:
As noted in that article, I am greatly indebted to the insights of Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry on this subject.
There is a pronounced dichotomy here between the standard interpretations of Revelation and the actual words of the author. St. John said emphatically that these events were to happen “soon”; that is, soon for St. John’s era and generation of the C1st AD. That St. John meant that soon-ness literally (indeed he repeats it in various ways) is going to become more and more obvious in the course of this book. Thus a literal fulfilment of Revelation 8 in St. Vincent Ferrer’s time, almost a millennium and a half after St. John, as Fr. Kramer had proposed, would not seem to be compatible with St. John’s “soon”.
This does not at all shake St. Vincent’s testimony. The bull of canonization compares him to an “angel flying through mid-heaven”. The breviary uses similar language. St. Vincent could well have been the apocalyptical angel of judgment in the sense that Our Lord said of St. John the Baptist that “… he, if you will believe Me, is the Elijah who was to return” (Matthew 11:14); even though St. John the Baptist had point blank told the priests and Levites who asked him, ‘Are you Elijah?’ … ‘I am not’ (John 1:21). The Baptist ‘was’ Elijah in the sense that he came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).
God has apparently created ‘types’; a classical example being the one that we have just looked at of St. John the Baptist being an Elijah type.
According to Pope Pius XI, St. Thomas Aquinas is somewhat reminiscent of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph, saviour of Egypt. See my:
That Pope hinted at this in his encyclical, “Studiorum Ducem” (29 June, 1923), when he wrote:
Accordingly, just as it was said to the Egyptians of old in time of famine: Go to Joseph, so that they should receive a supply of corn from him to nourish their bodies, so We now say to all such as are desirous of the truth: Go to Thomas, and ask him to give you from his ample store the food of substantial doctrine wherewith to nourish your souls unto eternal life.
This passage became the inspiration for me to write an earlier article, “Go To Thomas”, leading me to discover various unexpected but striking parallels between the lives of St. Thomas and Joseph.
And the intuitive reader will be able to discern many others types as well of holy men and women down through the ages.
Now St. Vincent Ferrer could likewise, as with the Baptist, have come so much “in the spirit and power of” a holy predecessor (angel or human) as to be identifiable with, yet not literally, that predecessor. As we are going to see, St. Vincent certainly shared a common vocation with St. John the Evangelist inasmuch as he foretold a pending judgment that he insisted would occur soon. Moreover, his soon-ness has been just as misunderstood and misinterpreted as has the Evangelist’s.
In St. Vincent’s case, the matter of typology is further complicated by the difficulty of deciding whether his type is the Eagle/angel of Revelation 8 or Revelation 14; a difficulty that Fr. Kramer obviously has at least – just as he also seems to stumble over the fact that the Dominican saint was, like the Evangelist, utterly convinced that the judgments he foretold were to be fulfilled very soon (op. cit., p. 209):
The above testimony [of the miracle] is accepted by all biographers of St. Vincent as a proof of his claim. But they make his reference to the Apocalypse indicate chapter XIV. 6, for they say he often chose it as his text, ‘Fear God, and give Him honor, for the day of His judgment is at hand’. They do not prove that he pronounced himself that particular angel. And he seems to have had only the general revelation that he was appointed “the angel of the judgment”.
By designating him the angel of chapter XIV.6, the commentators run into inexplicable difficulties. For St. Vincent emphatically and repeatedly asserted that the day of Wrath was to come “soon, very soon, within a short time”, cito, bene cito et valde breviter. St. John announced that the judgment was to come very quickly (Apoc. III. II), which meant that it would begin to operate soon. Since St. Vincent uttered these prophecies, five centuries have elapsed, and the end of the world and last judgment have not come. Some try to explain it by saying that the saint meant the particular judgment; but that is meaningless. Others contend that he predicted the approach of the last judgment conditionally, as Jonas predicted the destruction of Nineveh …. But these are all conjectures of biographers. St. Vincent did not aver that he was the angel of chapter XIV. or that the General Judgment was very near.
Fr. Kramer, after writing at some length in this rather tortuous vein, goes on to wonder whether St. Vincent might not have been entirely correct about his own apocalyptical identification, because he certainly estimated wrongly in another major matter (ibid., p. 211):
Now that St. Vincent himself might have been mistaken about the place assigned to him in the apocalyptic prophecies need not appear strange. He adhered to the anti-pope, Benedict XIII, and sincerely believed him to be the legitimate pontiff. This was a matter in which his human judgment gave the decision. And this judgment can easily err. So also, since it was not explicitly revealed to him what angel of the Apocalypse he was, he may have drawn the mistaken conclusion that it was the one of chapter XIV. 6. However, it has not been proven that he claimed to be that angel or even thought he was. This latter angel has the commission to preach to EVERY “nation and tribe, and tongue, and people”. St. Vincent, even though his fame spread over it all, so that he was like “one flying through mid-heaven”, personally reached only a small part of Christendom.
Fr. Kramer’s entanglements here only reinforce me in my decision to consider St. Vincent as, at best, an apocalyptical type only.
Confusion is exacerbated by failure to recognise that the judgment about which St. John was referring was intended for that generation (c. 30-70 AD), culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), and that it equates with the “coming” that Our Lord and the Apostles frequently referred to in regard to the generation that had crucified Him: a “coming” in judgment. Not to recognise this is to make a mockery of Our Lord’s clear words and of other New Testament prophecies. It also takes away the concreteness intended by Our Lord. When, prior to his Passion, He had placed before Him by “some people” the examples of (i) those slain by Pilate’s Roman troops, and (ii) others killed by a falling tower, He had insisted: ‘Unless you do penance you will all perish as they did [that is, by a violent death]’ (Luke 13:1-5). Whilst this statement is also open to spiritual interpretation, it should immediately be understood in the concrete sense, that this is exactly what was going to happen physically to that generation of Jews if they did not have a change of heart within the allotted period of mercy.
At the end of the 40 years of probation thousands upon thousands of Jews did die violent deaths at the hands of the Roman troops, with towers likewise falling upon them, as well as missiles, stones and fire.
The same sort of warnings applied apparently to St. Vincent Ferrer’s generation. And they apply also to ours. The Vatican II era has been an era of Divine mercy extended to a wicked generation; but it also portends an Advent, or Coming of Christ. Will the early Third Millennium witness the emergence of a new apocalyptical ‘angel’ to proclaim ‘cito, bene cito et valde breviter’?