Home > Archives > 11 - 2003 > The lordship of Christ in time
from issue no. 11 - 2003

The lordship of Christ in time

In the brief space of time going from the Ascension into Heaven to his glorious second coming, the victory of Jesus Christ already reveals itself in this world. We go back over the essays on the Apocalypse of Heinrich Schlier, twenty-five years after the death of the great Bavarian exegete

by Lorenzo Cappelletti

The fresco on the inner facade of the church of San Pietro al monte Pedale near Civate (Lecco) depicting chapter XII of the Apocalypse

The fresco on the inner facade of the church of San Pietro al monte Pedale near Civate (Lecco) depicting chapter XII of the Apocalypse

No day passes that the echo of the Apocalypse and of its themes does not resound from newspaper articles, from writings on current affairs and history, from television debates and programs and above all from movies and their special effects, that of all are those that least hit the mark, precisely because the language of the Apocalypse is a language «that seeks to grasp and render in the sign - and not in the image - the importance of the happening and together the true and real happening in the happening of the world» (Heinrich Schlier, Die Zeit der Kirche, p. 267). Italics in the Italian translation, that remind me of the book published just ten years ago, in fateful 1993, that contained interviews and conversations with Don Giussani: Un avvenimento di vita cioè una storia. Itinerario di quindici anni concepiti e vissuti, (A happening in life that is a history. Itinerary of fifteen years conceived and lived).
It can’t really be us, therefore, who “spike”, as media jargon has it, that is ignores, the actuality of the Apocalypse. We do concern ourselves with it therefore, but in our own way, allowing ourselves to be guided by Heinrich Schlier, to whom the passage quoted above belongs. An authoritative guide (which is what exegete means), even if passed over already while still alive: but his testimony was recalled by Cardinal Ratzinger in his recent discourse on the centenary of the constituting of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (cf 30Days, no. 6, June 2003, p. 68).
Schlier, the twenty-fifth anniversary of whose death falls in December, devoted three essays expressly to the Apocalypse, but also dealt with it in other writings. I shall also make use of those. I shall quote them all from the collections in German that contain them. (Die Zeit der Kirche, de 1965 = ZK; Besinnung auf das Neue Testament, de 1969 = BNT; Das Ende der Zeit, de 1971 = EZ).
My aim is not so much to go over the most sanguinary phases of the apocalyptic clash that prelude the (historical) end of time, to which I have devoted myself on other occasions, as to make out how, according to the Apocalypse, in the time that still remains, «by signs and hidden in the human... the lordship of Jesus Christ, raised up for us on the cross because of his obedient love, is revealed in this brief space of time that God still grants to the individual and to all mankind» (EZ, p. 60). In fact if, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, «the time of God has broken into time as (metaphysical) end of time» (ibid, p. 73), it does not lead to the immediate (historical) end of time: «The (metaphysical) end of the time came with the Birth, Passion and Ascension of Jesus Christ (cf for example Ap chap. 5 and 12; 11,15.17f; 19). In the Apocalypse is thus proclaimed the “closeness” of the “hour”, the coming of the Lord “ready” or “quick”, the “littleness” of time (1,1.3; 2,16; 3,11; 11,14; 12,12; 22,6f.10.12.20). But this “closeness” of the end doesn’t exclude, indeed includes rather a period of time given to the world. ... The fact that this delay in time isn’t considered contradictory to the “closeness” of the Lord, demonstrates that this time is really entrusted to God, who even when he grants time remains ungraspably close» (ZK,p.107). Here, we would like to see the little time that remains truly entrusted to God ungraspably close

The battle of the angels led by the Archangel Michael againstthe red dragon who tries to devour the child that is snatched away from its fangs and carried into heaven

The battle of the angels led by the Archangel Michael againstthe red dragon who tries to devour the child that is snatched away from its fangs and carried into heaven


That this time is entrusted to God is first of all told by the fact that the beginning of the end starts and proceeds by merit of the victory of Jesus Christ. From the opening of the first seal, on the white horse, sign of his risen body, «the faithful and truthful witness» (Ap 3,14 and 19,11), «the King of kings and Lord of lords» (Ap 19,16) «went out victorious to win again» (Ap 6,2). «The obedient death of Jesus Christ on the cross... is the victory, the victory of the love. It is not its defeat. For this dead man was resurrected by God and raised to the right hand of the Father» (BNT, p. 318). It is not a catastrophe that determines the beginning of the end of time but the victory whereby Jesus Christ, raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, has taken away the keys of their sovereignty from death and hell (cf ibid). It is very important to establish this starting point because, as we shall immediately see, catastrophes and destruction come as consequence, are the signs instead of the (historical) end of time. There are, on the one hand, the ways in which the apparent force of the egotistical self-affirmation of history seeks to build its opposition. It «does not want to admit its metaphysical collapse and with terrible fates and catastrophes builds on its abyss a political and spiritual realm opposed to the kingdom of God and Christ» (ibid, p. 322). On the other hand, there are the admonishment, the exhortation and the judgment that God «sends in front from the future as sign of his critical omnipotence» (ibid, p. 329).
The victory of Christ in fact has dispossessed Satan, seen under form of a dragon (cf Ap 12,3ff), from the place till now occupied next to the throne of God and he launches himself with his minions on the earth where, with great anger, not least because he knows he has little time by now (cf Ap 12,12), he goes to make war on the rest of the descendants of that woman he has tried in vain to crush together with her Son. «In some way awareness of the end has been communicated in depth to the spirit of history. It “knows it has little time”, that the time of the world has an expiry date and because of that, according to the seer of the Apocalypse, the strange phenomenon of the fury of history exists» (EZ, p. 78).

Of this fury, this war that, however futile, « will not have end upon the earth» ibid, p. 89), the saints, that is «those who keep the commandments of God and are in possession of the testimony of Jesus» (Ap 12,17), «are the last enemy» (EZ, p. 80).
This is very strange, writes Schlier, because it is a matter of «small beleaguered men» (BNT, p. 326); «derided by the intelligence of the world state» (ibid, p.327); nearly always beaten: to the beast «it is given to make war on the saints and beat them», one reads in Ap 13,7; «subjected to great temptations, to weakness and failure» (EZ, p. 80); « few» (ibid, p. 80), so much so that, Schlier writes, «the body of Christ in truth will in the end no longer have place » (ZK, p. 24), or, elsewhere, that «one will be unable to speak any longer of a Christian world but only of saints and scattered witnesses» (BNT, p. 210). «How many there are who will agree to have their life given them by Christ and, in obedience, to let themselves be carried and taught by him, that nobody knows. But the New Testament seems to indicate something. The more things draw near the end, the moment of which cannot be known, or rather go quickly towards the definitive revelation of the lordship of Christ, the more the number of those who accept that Christ is the Lord will be less and insignificant». (EZ, p. 64).
With all that, they «openly threaten the installed god of the universal empire, they make him feel his frailty and they remind him of his expiry» (ibid, p. 80), even from the fact that «there are also truces in the baleful situation in which believers and humanity in general find themselves» (BNT, p. 330), that is that the victory of the beast is never total: «Victory on earth always falls nearly but not totally to the beast» (ibid, p. 327). It is not the beast, in fact, but they, in that they live by the victory of Jesus Christ, who are the witnesses to an irreversible victory. «The victory of Jesus Christ whereby the rule of history, breeder of darkness and destruction, is broken, presses on history itself also with the people who live by that victory and for that victory, and who thereby give testimony to it. It is remarkable that in the visions of the seer the Church is definitively presented as no other than a Church of witnesses and its doing as a bearing witness» (ibid, p. 320). Yet they, not even as witnesses are «without stain» (ibid p. 362). The members of the seven communities of Asia, that represent the whole Church, can be «“dead” in part» (ibid), but «they convert even when they have fallen and failed. And thus they are witnesses to the victory of Jesus» (ibid). In fact, according to an evocative definition by Don Giussani of the concept of witness, contained precisely in the text mentioned at the beginning (p. 346), it consists in «making Christ present through the change he works in us».

The Lamb surrounded by 18 martyrs, or the number corresponding to the name of Jesus; in the pendatives four angels hold back the four winds of destruction, fresco on the small dome of the ciborium in the church of San Pietro al monte Pedale near Civate (Lecco)

The Lamb surrounded by 18 martyrs, or the number corresponding to the name of Jesus; in the pendatives four angels hold back the four winds of destruction, fresco on the small dome of the ciborium in the church of San Pietro al monte Pedale near Civate (Lecco)

What, in this brief time that remains, are the characteristics of witness, or rather of the change that Christ himself works in the witnesses? In his writings on the Apocalypse Schlier lists them in a number and order that is not always the same and stresses now one and now another, though vigilance and patience always stand out. Let us take for good the list contained in BNT (p. 330), where it is said that, though unable «to change and reverse the course of things overall», one can and must «live it in freedom, and already be, well beyond and well above it, close to the victory of Christ with faith, perspicacity, vigilance, patience, hope and thanksgiving». As we shall see, the shiftings of the beast seek to counter «being close» (ibid p.320), or «living by the victory of Christ» (ibid) point by point.

1) The first characteristic is remaining faithful to the name of Christ: «“And you remain faithful to my name and have not denied my faith” (Ap 2,13). “Only remain faithful to what you have, until I come” (Ap 2,25). What do they have? Together with faith, the testimony of the Lord and of his Spirit and his prophecy. Of decisive importance in this history is fidelity, constant fidelity to God and to our own Lord» (BNT, p. 331). Faith then is «persevering steadfastness», «remaining», «being», «holding» (cf EZ, p. 82).

2) Next to persevering steadfastness stands vigilance (or sobriety), that is «being ready inwardly and outwardly for the coming of the Lord» (BNT, p.330). In it Schlier also includes perspicacity. «Being sober means seeing and taking things as they are» (EZ, p. 83). On a page that seems extremely relevant to me (it could be compared with some passages of Alberto Asor Rosa’s recent La guerra), Schlier unravels the tangle: «Set daily before the extreme possibility of history, that is before the love of Christ, that, hidden yet real, makes its appeal heard in the history that fights against it, we shall drop every illusion about history. We shall no longer dream we can project, arrange and guide its ongoing. And this not just because history, even in most restricted ambits of life, is often inscrutable, but because its concrete aspiration each time in time is so great and so difficult to achieve, that time, desire and the ability of doing anything else in it other than live the present moment, live the present moment offered in it by the future of the love of God, pass away from those who intuit it» (ZK, p. 273).
And on the other hand «being sober means distinguishing» (EZ, p. 83). «Nothing is so difficult in this history as each day distinguishing Jesus Christ from the Antichrist» (BNT, p. 332). In this history that mimics everything, the spiritual instinct must instead enable «scrutiny and making differences» (ibid).

3) Of patience, that, like witness and faith, is the patience of Christ, Schlier, in BNT (p.332), merely sketches some features that he develops in other works in very effective pages: «indefatigable bearing of pain and temptation»; «reserved calm»; «prudence»; «charitable bearing of others and in a certain sense also of myself»; «simple steadfastness in resisting the adoration of the world totalitarian state»; «rapid going forward and awaiting».
a) As for the indefatigable bearing of pain and death and for reserved calm, they are set particularly close to faith: «The prophet [the author of the Apocalypse] exhorts the readers of his writings to stay and listen and invites them to remain calm: “If it be captivity, let it be captivity. If it be death by the sword, let it be death by the sword. Now the constancy and faith of the saints are required” (Ap 13,9-10)... Christians do not rebel even against the beast; they are not political rebels. They don’t adore it, but neither do they fight it with violence. They know they belong to the number of souls beneath the altar (Ap 6,9ff), that is still not complete, and will not escape pain. They set patience and faith against the wrath of the beast. It is patience that lives by the patience of Christ (cf Ap 3,10), and it is the faith that Christ has testified» (ZK, pp. 25-26).
b) Resistance to worship of the totalitarian world state doesn’t involve loyal obedience to the legitimate political authority in so far as that tends to preserve order and peace, precious benefits also for the citizens of the city of God. So «also in the Apocalypse [as in the Epistle to the Romans, commenting on which elsewhere Schlier writes that «only those can in truth obey the State who, by so doing, want and can obey God» (BNT, p. 205) the martyrs are not rebels and hence the authority of the State is not harmed. To understand the judgment of the Apocalypse one needs to pay attention to which State it is referring to and in which situation this State presents itself» (ZK, p.14). While «the State, in so far as still State, blocks the degenerate State» (BNT, p. 207), it is precisely its degeneration that is presented in the Apocalypse as something monstruous, that doesn’t claim obedience but religious worship. «It is not “the State” in itself, that is political power, which is at the service of the order of this world, but power that dodges the task of setting up just order and hence, instead of an ordering power, turns out to be a degenerate political force, which appears concretely in inhuman form (Ap 13,2a)» (ZK, p. 21). So much so that in the end «it can no longer even punish, but only assassinate or, as one reads at a certain point (Ap 18,24), “cut throats”» (BNT, p. 210). Yet, even faced with this beastly degeneration, “simple steadfastness”, not battle.
c) As for rapidity in going forward that isn’t at the expense of awaiting the victory of Jesus Christ we find a passage of supreme realism. Faced with the species of immortality of the world state that stuns the earth (cf Ap 13,3), faced with the watchword of immortal youth (cf Ap 18,7), «patience anticipates nothing by assuming and dreaming, not even our daily bread; but not even death; whereas the man clinging to his own future and to the future of his own world loses himself in illusions out of pure impatience» (EZ, p. 62). On the contrary, «practical and metaphysical impatience is born out of the anxiety of time, that we have received in inheritance with it, and it shows itself among other things in the pursuit of time, in the belief of doing it justice. Whereas justice is only done to it if we let time take its time. And we let time take its time only if we abandon ourselves to it, and abandon it, to the time of God» (ibid, p. 82).

4) So we are led from patience to hope. «And thus is hope affirmed, that awaits yet proceeds swiftly, proceeds swiftly yet awaits on watch and lifting its eyes to the Lord precisely when there is nothing more to hope for, in the concrete straits of life, in separation, in dying. It gives proof of being the sustaining force of an existence sustained and hence open, that accepts and bears death as death and life as life» (ibid, p. 62).
Though the word doesn’t appear even once in the Apocalypse, «hope is not one of the terms in our text, but is its fundamental term» (BNT, p. 332), in that «what hope solely hopes and what is given it in return is the revelation of the victory of Jesus Christ, hidden, but real» (ibid).

5) «The fruit and the proof of hope» is «the praise to God that pervades the whole book» (ibid). Praise to God the Creator above all. The creation is not put to silence: «in the midst of the visions of the damaging and ruin of the earth and of its sky, praise and thanksgiving rise continually for the creation and for the Creator and the admonishment to worship “the Creator of the sky and of the earth, of the sea and of the springs” (Ap 14,7; cf 4,11; 5,13)» (ibid p.333). But above all «praise to the savior of history resounds» (ibid), in which is contained also «praise to the judge» (ibid). By reaction, «the self-worship and self-transfiguration of the world become the goal of a history possessed by itself, self-glorification that appears all the more sinister in that it no longer has any foundation, being the power of history now broken» (ibid, p. 325).

«Fidelity, vigilance, patience, hope and praise are in our book object of request without anything being said of their meaning for the daily unfolding of history. It is clear, however, that not only is this history gone beyond in freedom, but that historic spaces of order and refreshment and periods of relief and safety are also prepared» (ibid, p. 333). How splendid that within and beyond war, and even before grasping step by step why, precisely through fidelity, vigilance, patience, hope and praise, we can already live quiet as children, in peace.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português