I want to continue looking at the Catechism for the purpose of enlightening us on how we should approach prophetic messages from a Catholic perspective. We need to exercise prudence with regard to Private Revelation at the same time that we must acknowledge them as a grace from God, when legitimate. We need to discern carefully the messages being spoken and not get too caught up in the sensational nature of many of the messages. Perhaps it is a less exciting exercise to go abouot it this way, but I believe it is worthwhile, if to nobody else, to myself. It helps ground me in our Catholic faith and guard me against improperly presenting Private Revelation. It is also best to start with the Public Revelation in Scripture and Tradition. By use of the Catechism, we can know that these sources are presented in light of the Church’s teachings.
74 Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth.
This, in itself, is prophetic. The fullness of time simply cannot expire until Christ has been proclaimed to all men. Truly, we live in a remarkable age. Prior to the 20th Century, despite the efforts and advances in technology and travel up to that time, there were still a lot of untouched areas of the world. But today, there are a multitude of ways in which we can provide access to the true Word of God, Jesus. We are getting close, I believe, to the ability to reach everyone.
However, in reality, there are still great stumbling blocks. Many governments severely restrict access to the Gospel message, making transmission in those areas difficult. So, are we near the fullness of time? It is not for us to know for certain. We can objectively look at the current state of technology and say that we could do it. But we can also understand the practical reality of current limitations and roadblocks. Until these roadblocks have all been cleared so that every point on the globe is reached, then we’re not there yet.
82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.
You may wonder why this is relevant to prophecy. It is entirely relevant. The Church recognizes Scripture as the inspired Divine Word of God. However, it is not looked upon as the sole Divine Word of God. Public Revelation was not all written down. The Apostles preached orally to countless people. Successors in the Bishophric learned these oral teachings along with Scripture. In fact, Scripture itself did not exist in final canonized form until the end of the 4th Century, and one of the key determinations as to what was to be included in the Canon was based on whether or not the writing was in harmony with oral teachings.
This is an area of discrepancy with our Protestant brothers and sisters. But, as Catholics, do not apologize for valuing Tradition as you value Scripture. Scripture was born out of Tradition, and the canon would not look the same without it.
Now, we get to why this is important in a review of prophecy:
92 “The whole body of the faithful. . . cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.”
When the entire body of the faithful speak with one voice on an issue of Faith and Morals – so, when the Pope in union with the Coouncils of Bishops – are in agreement, then these teachings are not in error. This is true even if those teachings have not been dogmatically declared by the Pope. The very unity of the nature of belief is in itself evidence of an inerrant teaching.
In the book “Trial, Tribualtion, and Triumph” by Desmond A. Birch, he really drives this point home because he presents numerous writings from the early Church Fathers that show a uniformity of agreement on certain aspects of things of a prophetic nature. These observations include observations and teachings of the Antichrist. We do not hear these more specific teachings nowadays all that much, but they were discussed fairly liberally early on – perhaps because the early Christians felt an imminency about Christ’s Second Coming that has since been lost (and only recently, perhaps, rekindled a bit). Birch argues that the unified messages of those times present what can be seen as something we can believe.
Also, there are many interpretations of the Bible, especially with regard to Prophecy. As Catholics, there are many parts of Scriptures where we are free to speculate on its meaning. However, it is important to know where the Catholic Church specifically interprets Scripture to be read in a certain way. For example, the Genesis Creation story can be viewed in many ways as long as the truth that God is our Creator is conveyed. But one can reasonably look at the 7-day creation account as something other than specifically literal. Or, one may choose to believe it literally. The Church has not specifically ruled on that. Onthe other hand, John Chapter 6 is to be taken literally. We do believe that we eat the flesh and blood of Jesus in the form of the Eucharist. It’s pretty wild, when you think about it, but our Church has told us that the Lord meant what He said there. So, we are not to take that and spiritualize it away.
To better prepare us to read prophecy in Scripture in the correct light, we are given guidance:
The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78
112 1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.
The phrase “heart of Christ” can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.
113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”).
114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.
115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.
3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem
119 “It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God.”
Emphasis mine. The Church as the heavenly Jerusalem is a theme in the Book of Revelation. The casual reader is unlikely to make this connection without the exegesis of the Church.
Finally, for today, there is trhe reading of the Old Testament and prophecy:
129 Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.
The Old Testament is often referred to in prophecy about the end of time, both rightly and wrongly. Certainly, there appears to be relevant writings in Daniel, for example, that do have their place in the discussion. However, people often forget to first view Old Testament readings in light of the initial coming of Christ. Much of what was prophetic in the Old Testament has already been revealed or realized in Christ. It is also important to apply the right senses of Scripture to those readings, as well. This often changes the meaning dramatically. Taking these precautions will help introduce prudential judgment into what seems like a sensational prophecy. Daniel, to continue that as an example, is largely written in a style called Apocalyptic Literature. This is filled with symbology. A beast is a nation, a darkened moon means a natural catastrophe or a warning, there are symbolic numbers all over the place, and so on. Revelation is an example of that kind of writing.
Understanding this leads one from trying to figure out all the details of the future, and learning the important lesson of the reasons for all our Chastisements and the course of the future. It’s about God’s perfect love, His perfect Patience, His perfect Mercy, and His perfect Justice. It’s about a battle that has ultimately already been won, but for which each of us has to choose a side while it’s being fought. It’s about falling, redemption, and salvation. The details are less important in the big scheme of things.
That said, the details intrigue us. That’s OK. We can review the messages. But let’s not invent silly interpretations of Scripture simply for the purpose of filling in details that simply are not there.
Until next time…