Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
"We Have Apostolic Tradition"- The Unofficial Catholic Apologist Commentary #9
04/01/2009 - James Swan
Catholic apologists often let us know how crucial it is to have an infallible magisterium and church Tradition in order to interpret the Bible correctly. With so many Catholic apologists now commenting on sacred scripture, I thought it would be interesting to provide their commentary on the Bible. Let's see how they've been able to rightly divide the word of truth. Especially interesting is the divide between Rome's apologists and scholars as to the meaning of the biblical text.
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
I've mentioned Catholic interpretations of Revelation 12 a number of times. Recently, Tim Staples provided his understanding of the identity of the woman in Revelation 12. You can listen to Tim's explanation here. This answer was given in the context of proving Marian dogmas. According to Mr. Staples, Mary is the "new Eve" in the earliest writings of the church fathers because "we have such a such a clear reference in the book of Revelation to the woman who gives birth to the messiah being referenced as the new Eve." Staples also says Revelation 12 parallels Genesis chapter 3.
As to the early church fathers all knowing the woman in Revelation 12 was a clear reference to Mary, Some of Rome's historians appear to hold a much different view. Luigi Gambero says it might have been Epiphanius (after 310; died in 403): who was the first: "The identification of the woman of the Apocalypse with the Virgin Mary is interesting. It may be the first Marian interpretation of the scriptural text" [Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999) p. 126]. On the other hand, Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M. thinks it was Tychonius (370 /390):
"Tychonius, a lay theologian among the Donatists, independent enough to be excommunicated by his own sect, seems to have identified Mary with the woman of Apoc. 12, and to have spoken of a 'great mystery' in her regard." [Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., Mariology, Volume 1 (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955), p. 148]. In the footnote #180 for this citation, Carol says, 'Tychonius' view is transmitted by Cassiodorus, Complexiones in Apocalypsin, n. 16; PL, 70, 1411."
Latin text for Cassiodorus: De matre vero atque Domino Jesu Christo, et de diaboli adversitate pauca perstringit, futuris praeterita jungens: dicens, Deum ascendisse ad caelos, matrem vero ipsius aliquanto tempore in secretioribus locis esse servandam, ut eam illic pascat annis tribus, et semis; quod in magnum sacramentum, sicut Tychonius refert, constat edictum. Apocalypsis Sancti Joannis, §16, PL 70:1411B.
Do Catholic scholars agree with Mr. Staples that the woman in Revelation 12 is Mary? Raymond Brown interprets Revelation 12 as, "The woman clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet and on her head the crown of twelve stars, represents Israel, echoing the dream of Joseph in Gen. 37:9 where these symbols represent his father (Jacob/Israel), his mother, and his brothers (the sons of Jacob who were looked on as ancestors of the twelve tribes)" [Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p.790]. Brown points out that in "subsequent theology, especially in the Middle Ages, the woman clothed with the sun was identified with Mary the mother of Jesus)" [p. 790, footnote 32]. This would be contrary to Staples claim that the earliest church fathers saw this passage referring to Mary. Brown also says the parallel is to Genesis chapter 37, not chapter 3 as Staples insists.
The New Catholic Answer Bible commentary notes on Revelation 12 state, "The woman adorned with the sun, the moon , and the stars (images taken from Gn 37, 9-10) symbolizes God's people in the Old and the New Testament. The Israel of old gave birth to the Messiah (5) and then became the new Israel, the church, which suffers persecution by the dragon (6. 13-17); cf Is 50, 1;66, 7; Jer 50, 12. This corresponds to a widespread myth throughout the ancient world that a goddess pregnant with a savior was pursued by a horrible monster; by miraculous intervention, she bore a son who then killed the monster" [The New Catholic Answer Bible (Wichita: Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005) p. 1384]. Similar to Brown and contrary to Staples, the parallel is to Genesis chapter 37, not chapter 3.
The commentary notes for The New Catholic Answer Bible were written by Catholic scholars, while the Watchtower-esque color inserts scattered throughout this study Bible were compiled by Dave Armstrong and Paul Thigpen. Insert E4 states, "In St. John's vision of heaven, the 'woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, bore a son 'destined to rule all the nations' (Rv 12:1, 5). Is it any wonder that in such a portrait, Catholics see Mary, Queen of Heaven?" Well, there is indeed wonder here- it is a wonder why Rome's scholars see one thing, while her apologists see another.