There is a war against love. It has raged since the dawn of human history, and has dramatically intensified since the coming of Jesus.
It is a conflict in which most of us alternate between playing the roles of aggressor and victim. It’s easier to become confused in the fog of this battle than one might think. Spiritual warfare is close quarters, most intimate, and truly the first arena is within us. Armageddon primarily belongs to the geography of the heart.
The Apocalypse of Saint John gives us the night vision goggles we need to get our bearings in a melee so obfuscating, we need help with the most basic question: “which side am I on?”
When we use the power of situational advantage to marginalize and socially kill someone, we belong to Satan. When we suffer that evil, we follow the Lamb.
On the side of love: the Trinity, God Who IS Love. Against love: an anti-trinity of raw power, ideologically caparisoned, described in Revelation 13, today’s first matins reading.
After the crucial chapter 12, in which Mary gives birth to Jesus, the serpent-dragon makes furious war on the rest of her children. Balthasar points out that the anti-trinity arises because Christ’s appearance is the decisive event in history. Now everything depends on what our stance (implicit and explicit) is towards Him. History becomes more and more extreme, both better and better, and worse and worse: the number of saints explodes, as does our depravity (Balthasar’s law of proportionate polarization).
The dragon summons two beasts, one from the sea of chaos, the other from the earth. The first beast is the diabolical parody of Christ; the second, the parody of the Holy Spirit. The former has messianic, imperial power; the latter charismatic, ideological power. One phrase can serve to show how the two beasts mimic “the two hands of God.” In describing the second beast, John sees qualities of both the dragon and the first beast (a perverse filioque): “And I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb, and it spoke like a dragon” (13:11). Here the first beast is literally likened to a lamb (arnion), the very same diminutive form of the word used to describe Jesus in the great theophany of 5:6.
Peter Williamson in his commentary on Revelation notes that Jesus says that there will be two kinds of apocalyptic figures, “false messiahs and false prophets” (Matthew 24:24). That is precisely the division of labor we see here.
The emperor (Nero-Domitian, standing for all use of power against truth and love, social, political, religious, economic) irresistibly controls all aspects of the everyday world, even having the ability to exclude victims from the commerce of life (vv. 15-17).
The powerful marginalize and kill the powerless: “Let anyone who has an ear listen: ‘If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he goes; if anyone is to be killed by the sword, by a sword he is to be killed. Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints” (vv. 9-10).
At least to my ears, there seems to be a resonance with what Saint John had written at the end of his Gospel in John 21:18-23. The apostle is now in captivity (he “remained"), under Domitian, while Peter and Paul had been killed by Nero long before (one indeed by sword). Either way, captivity or martyrdom, we go where we do not want to go. That is, we undergo. If we are in Christ, we proceed with Him from the Father in the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit blows as the Father wills, not as we would, somehow channeling the currencies of world power to serve the good...ultimately.
Endurance and faith are what we need to stand in the storm of history.
Earlier in that long century, Jesus asks Peter whether he loves Him. The entailment: feed my sheep. How does a shepherd feed the sheep? The way the Shepherd does. By going under. By being driven by the Spirit of the Father into darkness, for the sake of the world:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were young, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you pleased. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you are not pleased to go” (John 21:18).
To follow Jesus means to suffer for love. If we are in control of any situation, we are on the wrong side.
On one side is the monopoly of social power, the commanding heights of insouciant comfort and merciless success and strategic dominance and abuse of hierarchical prerogative. On the other are the marginalized, the victims. The powerful lead to slaughter, the powerless are led.
Which side are we on?