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of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunders, saying, Alleluia! for the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned.” 1
But here it will be asked, what must we understand by Babylon ?-Does it really mean some great city? And, if the ruin of some great city is spoken of, what city will it be? From the description which St. John gives of Babylon, it seems clear that it cannot be the union of all wicked people throughout the world only, as some interpreters have thought; but it must be taken in a literal sense also, as signifying a real city, exalted above all other cities for riches and power. This is confirmed by the words of the angel, who, explaining to St. John the mystery of Babylon, represented to him under the image of a great harlot, tells him, “The woman whom thou sawest is the great city, which hath kingdom over the kings of the earth.”Moreover, in the next chapter, the kings of the earth bewail the fall of Babylon, saying, “Alas! alas ! that great city Babylon, that mighty city; for in one hour is thy judgment come.
The merchants also are represented as weeping and saying, “Alas! alas ! that great city, which was clothed with fine linen and purple and scarlet, and was gilt with gold and precious stones and pearls. For in one hour are so great riches come to nought: and every shipmaster, and all that sail into the lake, and mariners, and as many as work in the sea, stood afar off, and cried, seeing the place of her burning, saying: What city is like to this great city? And they cast dust upon their heads, and cried, weepA poc, xix. 146.
2 Ib. xvii. 18. 3 Ib. xviii. 9.
ing and mourning, saying: Alas ! alas ! that great city, wherein all were made rich that had ships at sea, by reason of her prices; for in one hour she is made desolate.” 1° After thus describing the mourning and weeping of the kings and merchants of the earth, and of all mariners who have ships at sea, St. John continues : “A mighty angel took up a stone, as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying: With such violence as this shall Babylon, that great city, be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.”
From these passages it seems clear that the great Babylon, such as it is described by St. John in the Apocalypse, signifies a real city, renowned above all other cities for its riches and power.
Many Catholic interpreters by this city understand ancient pagan
Rome. But however reasonable this opinion may appear, many arguments can be adduced on the opposite side.
I. Babylon is represented as the cause of the general corruption of the earth, for she is called the mother of the fornications and the abominations of the earth :-“ A great harlot, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication; and they who inhabit the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her whoredom.” But when we consider that the nations of the earth were plunged into all the horrors of idolatry, and desolated by the most awful crimes before they came under the power of Rome, we cannot understand how what is here said of Babylon may be applied to pagan Rome. II. At the fall of Babylon all merchandise, in Apoc. xviii. 16–19.
2 Ib. xviii. 21.
gold and silver and precious stones, is done away, but no mention is made of the abolition of idols, and other objects of idolatrous worship. It is also said that the kings and merchants of the earth, together with all those who had ships at sea, wept bitterly, but no mention is made of idolatrous ministers bewailing their misfortune, as would have certainly been done if Babylon really signified pagan Rome.
III. The fall of Babylon is directly connected with the overthrow of the Antichrist and of his followers, which is effected through the power of Him who “hath on His garment and on His thigh written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.'» For St. John, after describing the ruin of Babylon, and the rejoicing of heaven over her fall, says: “The beast was taken, and with him the false prophet, who wrought signs before him, wherewith he seduced them who received the character of the beast, and who adored his image. These two were cast alive into the pool of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were slain by the sword of him that sitteth upon the horse, which proceedeth out of his mouth, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.' Now, it is generally admitted that the overthrow of the Antichrist and of his followers has not as yet been accomplished; and therefore the fall of Babylon, which is directly connected with the defeat of the Antichrist, cannot be the destruction of pagan Rome.
IV. Soon after the fall of Babylon there is a great rejoicing in heaven; Satan is bound for a thousand years,
" that he should no more seduce the nations," and a new era begins of great glory
| Apoc. xix. 20, 21.
and triumph for the Church; for the martyrs and other saints rise and live and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
But how when we consider the awful ruin which has been effected by the Mahometan apostasy, and by the spirit of schism and heresy through all the nations—can we say that, after the fall of pagan Rome, the devil has been prevented from seducing the nations, and that the Church has peacefully reigned throughout the world ?
V. St. John predicts in the clearest terms a complete and absolute overthrow of Babylon, for he represents to us a mighty angel casting a millstone into the sea, and saying, “With such violence as this shall Babylon, that great city, be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all. And the voice of harpers and of musicians, and of them that play on the pipe and on the trumpet, shall no more be heard at all in thee; and no craftsman of any art whatsoever shall be found any more at all in thee; and the sound of the mill shall be heard no more at all in thee; and the light of the lamp shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for all nations have been deceived by thy enchantments."! Now, if the Babylon of the Apocalypse be ancient pagan Rome, I would ask, when has this prediction respecting the awful punishment which was to fall upon her been fulfilled ? Many answer that it was accomplished when Alaric, with his powerful army, burnt and nearly destroyed it. To this we answer, that the devastation of Rome by Alaric and his army was A poc. xx. 4.
2 Ib. xviii, 21-23.
not so great as fully to realize the words of the prophecy. Fleury, Milles, and other writers, are of opinion that Rome suffered much greater injury from the ancient Gauls, and still more from its civil wars and from the cruelties of Nero, than from Alaric and his army. At least, it seems certain that the injury done by him was not so great as fully to realize St. John's prediction, who speaks of the utter and absolute destruction of Babylon. Moreover, it well deserves remarking, that at the time of Alaric, namely, in the fifth century, Rome had renounced the abominations of idolatry, and had submitted to the yoke of Christ. It was no more a wicked, an adulterous city, but it was a penitent, a holy city. How, then, can it be supposed that the prediction of the punishment against Babylon the harlot, the mother of the fornications and of the abominations of the earth, could have been fulfilled in the ruin of Rome, already risen from idolatry and converted to Christianity?
VI. According to Lactantius,' Tertullian, and some other ancient writers, Babylon means a city which shall exist, and which is destined to be destroyed in the last days of the world. Nor does St. John's description of Babylon sitting “ upon seven mountains," and “made drunk with the blood of the saints and with the martyrs of Jesus,” show that pagan Rome is hereby signified; for as regards the seven mountains, St. John declares that " they are seven kings;" and even if we take the words literally, we see no reason why they should be applied to Rome more than to any other city, which in this respect may be on equality with Rome. Thus, for instance, it is I Book vii. c. 25.
Apol. c. 32.