C. (Charles) Walmesley.

The general history of the Christian Church, from her birth to her final triumphant state in heaven; chiefly deduced from the Apocalypse of St. John, the apostle and evangelist online

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Online LibraryC. (Charles) WalmesleyThe general history of the Christian Church, from her birth to her final triumphant state in heaven; chiefly deduced from the Apocalypse of St. John, the apostle and evangelist → online text (page 1 of 41)
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Blessed is he tbat readeth, aod heareth the words of the prophet. — ^poc. i. 3.












Notwithstanding the several editions of Pastorini's
commentary on the Apocalypse, the work is, by no means,
heavy on the hands of the booksellers. It may, in some mea-
sure, be considereci out of print. To satisfy a prevalent de-
sire for a new and cheap edition, the present publication has
been strongly urged. Perhaps it may be advanced, without
the imputation of heated fancy, that the times, and '* the signs
of the times," we live in, seem to add a peculiarly new interest
to this rare and celebrated production.

The author's views of the awful prophecies, mysteries and
judgments contained in the sacred volume, from which he has
undertaken to illustrate the General History of the Church,
have operated variously, as in course they must, upon various
dispositions. In many minds they confirmed the old faith.
In some they disturbed, or subverted new opinions. In some
they excited, or seemed to excite, anger and ridicule. But,
generally, they have been considered ingenious, interesting,
and highly edifying. His admonitions are evidently directed
by a spirit of charity, pure and universal-^and his illustra-
tions of the sublime text before him exhibited a mind, uncom-
monly gifted with intuition, assiduity, and deep and discern-
ing research. He seems to have sensibly apprehended that
some of the dreadful scourges, menaced in the Revelations,
were soon to fall on criminal and unrepenting nations — and
he forewarns all Christians to strive, by sincere repentance, to
avert, if possible, the impending judgment, or at least, to be
prepared for its awful visitations.

Sensible of the precision and brevity of the inspired writer



of the Apocalypse, our author examines every word witfe
scrupulous care, and turns his text on every side, in order to
ascertain its true meaning. Unlike former commentators, he
confines not his views to the early ages @f the Church, but
traces the divine economy in her regard from her foundation^,
through every succeeding period, to the end of time and her
final triumphant introduction into heaven. For this arduous
undertaking his station, talents, and learning, had eminently
fitted him.

The first edition of the present commentary on the book of
Revelations appeared about the year 1776. It was soon bought
up — and after much solicitation, the author consented to the
preparation of a second edition, with additional remarks.

Although no pains were particularly taken by the author
or his friends to extend the circulation of the work, it soon
found its way into foreign countries. A French translation
of it was published in 1778; shortly after it appeared in
Latin; in 1785 it was translated into German ; and a few years
ago, an Italian version was sent to the public. Of the high
repute, which this noted production has obtained in other coun-
tries, we may judge by the following extract from one of the
periodical works of the learned Abbe Feller, published in

" Signior Pastorini's work is the only good comment, which
England has produced on the Apocalypse — and the nation is
much indebted to him, for having contributed to put down the
extravagant notions of James I. and of the celebrated Newton,
concerning this divine book. It is a learned and edifying per-
formance, in which theology and ecclesiastical history reflect
valuable lights on the most mysterious of the sacred writings.
The wonderful prophecies it contains, realized as they are by
striking, authentic, and public facts, inspire the christian soul
with hope and fortitude, and give solemn testimony to the
power and veracity of Giod. What remains as yet undisclosed
is already manifestmg itself in a sensible manner — and the
times ice livein are furnishing a faithful and lively ficture'^



It IS to be regretted, that the former editafi^of thte work have
but too poorly sketched their author's biography. They do
not even mention his name — nor do they recollect to tell us,
that the appellation of Pastorini is merely significant of his
ministry. This neglect gave occasion to a new display of the
inventive faculties of Sir Richard Musgrave, in what he is
pleased to call, jocosely we should think, his History of ike
different Rebellions in Ireland. That famous his-toriaii calls
the present work a translation — " it was,''^ he says, " writteii
originally at Rome by a sanguinary bigot of the name of Pas'
torini .'" There is a species of censure, which has all the
value of praise. The work was originally written in Eng-
land, in the English language, and by an Englishman, under
the assumed signature of Pastorini. It is not a translation —
it is the original text. The author is the Right Rev. Charles
Walmesley, D, D. Catholic Bishop, or Vicar Apostolic, of
the Western District (in England) — Fellow of the Royal Socie-
ties of London and Berlin — and one of the scientific men em-
ployed in correcting the old styla This pious, and venerable
divine was not " a sanguinary bigot." The whole tenor of
his life and writings proves, that he was a most mild and en-
lightened member of the Christian communion. The work
before us abundantly establishes this character. Sir R. Mus-
grave calls it "apiece of folly and blasphemy." Dr. Milner,
a better judge, calls it "a most ingenious and learned exposi-
tion of the book of revelations, calculated, he says, in his reply
to the author of the different Rebellions, &c. to excite all
Christians to lead a holy life, and to prepare for the coming of
that awful Judge, before whom Sir Richard Musgrave will be
arraigned for his unprecedented malice and calumnies."*

The present publisher, after many solicitous inquiries, finds
himself destitute of materials for a satisfactory biographical
sketch of the distinguished individual, whose work he under-
takes to re-commit to the press. The following is all that he
has been able to collect.

An inquiry into certain vulgar opinions &c. p. 83— 2nd Edit. London.


Dr. Walmesley was born in the year 1721, in some part of
England. With his parentage we are not made particularly
acquainted — ^but, we may presume on its respectability, on ac-
count of the high literary accomplishments which had been
bestowed on him early in life. Gifted with abilities of the first
order, and with a heart formed for piety and virtue, he dedicated
himself, at an early period of his youth, to the study and prac-
tice of religion. His attainments in sacred literature, and in
mathematical and astronomical investigations, soon became con-
spicuous. The former obtained for him the degree of Doctor
of Divinity in the University of Paris. At the age of thirty-
five, he was elevated to the episcopal dignity. He was also a
member of the learned congregation of Benedictins. His valu-
able contributions to the Philosophical Transactions in the
years 1745, 6, 7, &c. — and his joint labours in correcting the
old style in 1752, exhibit, altogether, very ample proofs of his
mathematical learning. Before his return to England, on the
close of his collegiate course, he visited many parts of the Con-
tinent. During his travels, he wrote several learned tracts.
To the loss, however, of the literary world, his manuscripts
were unfortunately consumed by the fire, which broke out at
Bath, some years since. In that city he died, in the 76th year
of his age, and 40th of his episcopacy, having serenely closed
a holy life, which gave fresh odour to sanctity, — ^and new lustre
to virtue, to religion, and to learning.



The Book of the Apocalypse, according to that learned in-
terpreter of the Scriptures, St. Jerom, " contains an infinite
number of mysteries relating to future times." Lib. 1, contra
Jovin. " The Apocalypse," says St. Austin, " is a prophecy
of what is to happen from the first coming of Christ upon
earth, to his second coming at the last day." De. Civ. Dei. 1,
2. c. 8. Some modern writers hold the same opinion. Besides
these authorities, our own study of that mysterious book, dili-
gently pursued, has entirely prevailed on us to espou*>ethe same
sentiments. The Apocalypse exhibits, in general, a summary
of the whole history of the Christian Church, from the date
of its birth to its triumphant and glorious state in Heaven after
the close of time. This is the foundation of the present work,
and we hope the attentive reader, when he has considered the
whole, will approve our sentiments and applaud our endea-
vours. He may perhaps then join us in thinking, that the
celebrated commentators, Bossuet and Calmet, have too much
contracted this admirable Prophecy by confining the contents
to so short a period as the four first centuries of the Christian
sera, and applying the whole, except the two last chapters, to
the persecutions which the Church suffered from the pagan
Roman Emperors, and to the destruction of the Roman em-
pire. For this reason, the two above-mentioned authors have
often been obliged to wrest the text, and give it a forced and im-
probable explication, to bring it within their system. On the
same account, they have derogated from the dignity and pre-
cision of that prophecy, by applying several texts to the same
event ; whereas, whoever looks attentively into the tenor of the
Apocalypse, will perceive that St. John's precision and brevity
are such, that he never repeats the same thing.

For the unfolding of the different parts of the Apocalypse,
we have followed, in general, the plan laid down by Mr. De
la Chetardie towards the close of the last century, as it has since
been improved by a late French commentator on the scrip-
ture. It consists in a division of the whole Christian sera, to
the end of time, into seven Ages, corresponding to the seven


Seals, seven Trumpets, and seven Vials mentioned in the Apo-
calypse ; so that to each belong a Seal, Trumpet, and Vial.
But in the application of the Prophecies contained under these
Seals, Trumpets, and Vials, as well as in other parts of the
Apocalypse, we have frequently deviated from the above-named
writers, to substitute what we thought a more genuine expli-
cation. It must then be observed, that an age and a century
must not here be taken for synonymous terms ; but by an age
in this history we shall understand one of the seven divisions
of time above-mentioned ; neither are these divisions of time

From the preceding observations it follows, that Christ di-
vides the history of his Church into seven periods, in each of
which he describes three different sorts of transactions under
the respective Seal, Trumpet, and Vial. The Lamb holds a
book sealed with seven Seals, which he opens one after ano-
ther. This book contains the history of the formation and
propagation of Christ's Church, together with the opposition
made to the establishment of it ; and a part of this account is
disclosed at the opening of each Seal. To every Seal corres-
ponds a Trumpet, which is sounded by an angel. The sound
of a trumpet naturally indicates an alarm, and such is the na-
ture of the Trumpets in the Apocalypse, They always an-
nounce events that are alarming to the Church, such as per-
secutions, intestine convulsions occasioned by heretics, &c.
After the Trumpets follow the Vials of the wrath of God.
These convey the punishments which Christ inflicts on the
enemies of his people. Hence it appears that the Seals, Trum-
pets, and Vials, unfold the three kinds of events, which dis-
tinguish each age of the Christian Church. One may re-
mark in the history of the Jews, that nearly the same sort of
economy was observed in the divine dispensations towards
that people. They were favoured with the special assistance
of God, but they had also their trials, persecutions, &c. and
at other times they saw their enemies laid prostrate by the di-
vine hand before them.

When almighty God thinks fit to reveal future events, he
generally expresses them in obscure terms that leave the mean-
ing more or less uncertain. This seems to be done in order
to prevent the daring presumption of some men, who might
attempt, if the prophecies were clear, to obstruct and hinder
their accomplishment. Others of mankind of a more timo-
rous disposition, would be alarmed and over much terrified at
disasters which they foresaw were impending upon them. On


anotlier hand, if futurity was clearly foretold, it might seem
to intrench upon that liberty, which God had been pleased to
grant to man, of directing" his own conduct and actions. For
these reasons, the generality of prophecies are covered with
a veil of darkness and uncertainty. Obscurity is therefore a
general characteristic of prophecy, but it is peculiarly so of
the Apocalypse, as every commentator has acknowledged.
This book appears at first sight impenetrable. Let any one
dip into it without having a key to open to him the meaning,
and he will see nothing but a continued series of the most
mysterious enigmas. Hence it has happened that so many
different explanations have been invented. But the same ob-
scurity was the occasion, that the ancient Fathers were so
sparing in their interpretations of this prophecy. They have
here and there explained a particular passage, without attempt-
ing the whole, and sometimes only given a moral exposition
of it. But in this we need not wonder, because as the Apo-
calypse is the history of Christ's Church through the whole
time of its existence, so few events had happened when they
wrote, that the greatest part of the book must have appeared
to them inexplicable. Hence we see the advantage of the pre-
sent times for unravelling the mysteries of the Apocalypse,
when so considerable a share of them has been fulfilled.
Whoever looks back into the history of the Church, and
compares attentively the facts with the expressions of St. John,
will see a distinct analogy and connexion between them. It
must however be allowed, there remain yet very many obscu-
rities, which if we have not always sufficiently cleared, we
hope the indulgent reader will consider the difficulty and ex-
cuse the defect.

The principal help for removing the obscurities of the
Apocalypse arises from a right understanding of its general
tendency. If a wrong system be adopted, the difficulty of re-
conciling the different parts of the prophecy become insuper-
able : and this has appeared fully in the attempts of several
interpreters. But when the plan of the book is discovered
and ascertained, the difficulties decrease and the obscurities
gradually disappear. Thus a surprising light breaks in upon
the Apocalypse, when we view it as the History of Christ's
Church divided into seven periods or ages, as we have above
explained. A second means of removing difficulties is, the
taking notice of the order of the different parts that compose
this prophetic book. St. John gives all the seals together,
then all the trumpets, and lastly the vials in the same manner.


Under the seven seals a series of transactions is related which
belong to the seven successive ages of the Church, and which
terminate with the great day of judgment. The same course
is observed in the trumpet and the vials. But we must how-
ever remark, that, after finishmg with the trumpets, he does
not proceed immediately to the vials : nevertheless he ob-
serves the same rule, namely, in returning, after the seventh
trumpet, to relate a new series of events, but which are con-
fined to the first, third, sixth, and seventh ages ; these ages
being the most interesting to the Church, as the three first of
them exhibit the history of idolatry, and the last or seventh
relates to the general judgment. This narrative is given in
the chapters xii. xiii. xiv. and as it is joined to that of the
trumpets, it partakes of the nature of them, that is, it describes
events that are alarming to the Church, with the addition
however of some incidents or promises that administer com-
fort in those alarming circumstances.

The prophet, having thus carried us on to the end of time,
begins again with the first age, and rehearses under the seven
vials, in chap. xv. xvi. a new course of transactions that runs
through all the seven ages. This narrative being terminated,
he returns back, as he had done after the account of the trum-
pets, to a new course of history, relating to the first, third, sixth,
and seventh ages, beginning at chap. xvii. and ending with
verse 10th of chap. xix. This piece of history is of such a
nature as agrees with that of the vials to which it is joined,
that is, it is a rehearsal of divine punishments ; to which are
annexed exultations on these victories of Christ over his ene-
mies. This being done, the prophet, according to his custom,
begins again a new narrative of events, of the same nature as
the preceding, and which also belong to those interesting
ages, the first, third, sixth and seventh. This narrative begins
at verse 11th of chap. xix. and continues to the end of chap.
XX. Finally, the two last chapters conclude the prophecy, with
an account of the other world, as it will be after the close of
all time. Hence then appears the order observed in this in-
comparable prophecy of the Apocalypse. As the whole His-
tory of the Church, therein contained, is divided into seven
Ages, so it is related, not indeed all that part together which
belongs to each age, but in seven diflferent series of events, six
of which reach from the first age to the last day, and the
seventh is the description of the next v/orld. The first of these
series is given under the seals, the second under the trumpets;
the third in the chapters xii. xiii. xiv. the fourth under the


vials ; the fifth in chapters xvii. xviii. and part of chaptet xix ;
the sixth in the rest of chapter xix. and in chapter xx. ; and
the seventh in chapters xxi. and xxii. This sevenfold divi-
sion is conformable to the constant use made in the Apo-
calypse of that mysterious number seven, as, of seven seals,
seven trumpets, seven vials, seven churches, seven candle-
sticks, seven spirits, &c.

It is plain from this disposition of the plan of the Apocalypse,
that it is necessary to transpose many things in order to form
a regular narration : for, as St. John so often travels through
the whole period of the Christian sera, at each time relating
only a part of the transactions, we are obliged to collect from
different parts of the book all those facts that belong to the
same age. And we may observe, that the prophet is the most
copious upon four of the seven ages, viz. the first, third, sixth,
and seventh, as being the most interesting to the Church, and
most remarkable for their transactions.

Another help which we found for clearing up obscurities
was, a very strict attention to the tenor of the text. The ex-
traordinary nicety in the expressions, the sudden change of
tense in the verbs, of number in the nouns, general words
used in particular senses, the addition or omission of a word,
with several such circumstances, are of great consequence for
discovering the true sense, and have not been by the generality
of interpreters sufficiently attended to ; which indeed we may
not wonder at, as such minute particularities are not generally
expected, and there never has been seen a book written with
that comprehensive precision and exact nicety which are ob-
servable in the Apocalj'pse.

In composing this work we have freely made use of other
authors, where we liked their opinions ; and we hope to incur
no censure, when on other occasions we have substituted our
own. — Some few passages of the Apocalypse have been gene-
rally understood in the same sense by all the ancient fathers
of the Church and modern Catholic interpreters; to these we
havesciupulously adhered, and founded our interpretation on
their testimony. In other places, where former writers took
the liberty of interpreting and differed in their expositions, we
have likewise thought it lawful to use the same liberty. We
hope for indulgence, if in some few instances we appear to
have applied the text of the ancient prophets to what they have
not usually been applied. This freedom, we presume, is al-
lowable, when the sense of the texts has never been fully set-
tled. And here we carmot but remark that, whoever will take


the pains to study the Apocalypse, we apprehend he will per-
ceive that it throws a new light upon several dark passages
of the ancient prophets. Besides, it must be observed, that a
prophecy is not always confined to one object, but often re-
lates both to the figure of a thing and to the thing itself, and
consequently has two accomplishments, the one inadequate and
in part only, the other complete and perfect. How often, for
example, is the same scriptural text applied in an imperfect
sense to David or Solomon, which is fully completed in Christ,
of whom they were figures ? Thus also the return of the
J&ws from the Babylonic captivity may be deemed a figure of
thfeit return from a much longer captivity in the latter period
of the world, and both may be intimated together by the pro-
phets : and so of other instances. On these grounds a text,
that has been generally applied to the figure, we have' some-
times transferred to the thing itself, to show its full and ulti-
mate completion. That part of the Apocalypse, which gives
the prophetic history of past ages, we have illustrated with the
real history of those times, that the accomplishment may clear-
ly appear. If we have not always mentioned our vouchers,
it is because we thought it unnecessary in the case of such
short abstracts of history, especially as they are taken from
the well known ecclesiastic historians of the times. In regard
to the text of th^ Apocalypse, we have made use of the com-
monly known English translation made from the Latin vul-
gate ; at the same time taking notice of any difference, worth
observing, between the translation and the original Greek. In
fine, we here make our acknowledgments to those friends
whom we have consulted, and who have assisted us in disco-
vering and unfolding the mysterious senses of the Apocalypse.
As to the time when this prophecy was delivered to St.
John, it is generally understood to have been in the year 95 or
96 of the Christian sera. This holy Apostle, after being im-
mersed in a caldron of boiling oil at Rome, from which he
came out unhurt, was banished by the emperor Domitian inta
the isle of Patmos in the Egean Sea or Archipelago, where,
as we learn from himself, Apoc. i. 9. he was favoured with this
most admirable and most comprehensive of all prophecies.
" St. John was a prophet," says St. Jerom, " because being in
the isle of Patmos, whither he had been exiled for the faith by
the emperor Domitian, he received the Apocalypse or a reve-
lation containing an infinite number of mysteries appertain-
ing to future times." Lib. I. contra Jovin. He always enjoyed
a superior share in the affections of his divine Master, and


among many proofs of it, he was indulged with this singular
and extraordinary favour, not granted to any of the other apos-
tles. This most instructive book we cannot but earnestly re-
commend to every Christian, and we hope our recommenda-

Online LibraryC. (Charles) WalmesleyThe general history of the Christian Church, from her birth to her final triumphant state in heaven; chiefly deduced from the Apocalypse of St. John, the apostle and evangelist → online text (page 1 of 41)