Franciscus Junius on the second woe
The following is a commentary and interpretation of the second woe of Revelation 9 by Franciscus Junius (1545-1602). [From: Franciscus Junius. The Apocalyps, or Reuelation of S. Iohn the apostle and euangelist of our Lord [U. of Cambridge, 1596. pp. 105-111. Spelling has been modified.]
There followeth now the sixth execution, denounced by the sixth Angel, with the sound of a trumpet, the authority, and commandment of which execution is laid down unto us in the 13 and 14 verses, afterward the effect that did follow unto the 19 verse. The sum of this execution is, that the tyrannical powers busying themselves in the four corners of the world and in the midst, that is, throughout the world no place being excempted, should exercise therein their violent government, and put to death poor men at their pleasure, so that no man might ask any reason of their doing: which was never permitted before, as we shewed in the former execution.
Now the authority of this execution is not only acknowledged thereby that an Angel of God published it at the sound of a trumpet, but also in that the voice of commandment came from the four horns of the golden altar, which is before God, that is to say, because it is the very voice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, who having reconciled us by himself to God his father, is the true altar upon which we are sanctified and do approach unto God, & also the true King that giveth out his sovereign commandments that are without appeal, unto the Angels and to all creatures for the good of his Church.
The commandment is given to the Angel in the 14 verse in these words, loose the four Angels, which are bound in the great river Euphrates, that is to say, these executioners of the justice of God, that will make themselves known throughout the world, have hitherto been so surely bound by the power of God, that they were not at liberty to torment men at their pleasure, but were stayed and tied near to that great river of Euphrates, that is to say, within their spiritual Babylon (which is here closely signified by the limits of the city of Babylon, and of the river that passed through the middle thereof) to the end they should not execute and commit those horrible cruelties after which they have breathed a long time. And indeed that villainous Hildebrand mentioned before, had very diligently and cunningly nourished the schism that ranged in the Church at that time, and long time before did govern the Pope his predecessors, Bennet the 8. Gregory the 6. Leo the 9. Victor the 2. Stephen the 10. Bennet the 9. Alexander the 2. whom he caused to be displaced, and cruelly cast into prison whilst the place was adjudged to him (as indeed it was) by the College of Cardinals. But now saith the Lord, go to, unloose these four Angels, set at liberty those instruments and executioners of the wrath of God in so great number as is requisite, that they may fill with blood the four corners of the world. Cause them to stand up, let them have the bridle laid upon their necks, that running out of this Babylon (which is the seat of the wicked) they may fly throughout the world, commit all kinds of insolence therein, and exercise their tyranny and cruelty with all license by the decree of God. This then is the substance and effect of this commandment.
Now where is the execution will some man say? It began just 150 years after the seat of Gregory the 7. of whom we spake in the former execution. For at that very time Pope Gregory the 9. who had infinite matters in hand against the Emperor Frederick the second, nephew to him that was called Frederick Barbarossa, determined to gather together the ordinances of his predecessors, with his own in those five books called the Decretals, and to cause them to be in force by public authority throughout all Christendom, persuading thereunto very cunningly, all Kings, Princes, & Potentates, some by craft, others by force and violence. To be short, he caused his babels (as we may say) to be highly esteemed and accounted of, that since his time by reason of his Decretals, liberty has been published, and the gate opened without contradiction, to take away the lives of poor men, whensoever it pleaseth his soldiers and servants. For indeed, what man is so blind that seeth not as clearly as at noon day, that many chapters may be found in the Decretals, which are no other than snares and baits laid to entrap and catch the souls of poor people in? And since that time, how many slaughters, how many cruelties have been executed openly, covertly, publicly, privately, formally, without some form of justice, all as pleased them to have it? The histories of the times past are full of this: but alas, our age is so full that it runneth over, and the examples that we have seen replenish mens’ hearts with most just horror and amazement only with thinking upon them. After the commandment followeth the execution, wherein Saint John sheweth unto us two things in order: first how the Angel of God untied and made way for these executioners according to his commandment in the third verse: then how they executed their tyranny so soon as they were set at liberty.
Concerning their deliverance, Saint John doth so propound it unto us, that he teacheth us evidently, that not Satan’s instruments whatsoever they be, no nor Satan himself or his Angels can do anything at any time, but only so far forth as it pleaseth the Lord to let them loose and to give them the bridle unto evil. And to the end that this wonderful and admirable power of Almighty God might be more lively represented unto us, and so we might more fully and wholly repose ourselves therein, Saint John sheweth unto us by figures how ready and willing they are always to do evil, how great their number is, how mighty they are, and how strongly armed to hurt others and defend and keep themselves and theirs.
First Saint John saith, that even when they were bound and tied they were ready and prepared to give the onset so soon as they should be unloosed, so that they could not possibly be taken at unawares, nor yet wearied in doing evil. For although they had but one hour’s liberty, yet they were prepared to hurt that same hour if they were put to it: also they were prepared for a whole day, yea for a month, yea for a year, and never take breath as we may say. Briefly, as master-workmen very skillful in great works, they were prepared as men in a rage to run throughout the whole world, and to come out of the dungeon of their spiritual Babylon to fall upon poor men, and to put all to fire and sword. But although they had been unbound, yet the Lord had limited their power, namely that they should not put all to death, but only the third part of men, as the execution it self sheweth in the 18 verse.
Secondly, their number is declared as Saint John heard it from heaven in the sixteenth verse: a great number, and yet a finite put for an infinite number. Which sheweth unto us how great and mighty the hand of God is, that holdeth in it so many prisoners at once, and that so long and in such sort as it pleaseth him: and on the other side, how great the power of this tyranny is, when God letteth it loose against men.
For the third point we are taught how strongly these wicked ones were armed both to offend and defend in the seventeenth verse. For they are figured out unto us very well furnished for the matter, as being horsemen: moreover they were covered with fiery habbergions of the color of Jacinth and of brimstone, that is to say, armed with fire, with smoke, and with brimstone, to consume and to burn whatsoever they should meet withal: besides, the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions: to shew a great power and strength to hurt, and a throat strangely gaping to spoil all, and to blow forth far & wide those burning, smoky, & sulphury darts, which so many Popes have thrown against poor innocents.
In regard of such instruments so well furnished it could not be that the world should escape, but that there must needs follow a lamentable execution, as it is set forth in the 18, and 19, verses. For it is said, that the third part of men were killed by the fire, smoke, and brimstone that came out of their mouthes. Moreover, to shew that none could escape this encounter, it is said, that they wrought these evils both before and behind, by violence and by fraud, because their back parts were as hurtful as their fore parts, having heads in their tails, which were no less hurtful unto men, so that there was nothing to trust to in this government, but only for every one, as we use to say, to save one. And surely if we consider how poor Christendom hath been set upon by these evils since this devilish power was unloosed, to speak the truth, we shall find, that many Popes have been so sold under sin and subjected to Satan, that they have used all the means that possibly they could, either by their authority to put men to death, or to cause them to devour and kill one another without pity and mercy. So that whilst they have endeavored to grow up and to establish themselves by the quarrels and losses of their neighbors, they have made all Christendom red with blood, paved the fields with bones, and covered the face of the earth with the ashes of the third part of Christendom, to the great liking and contentment of the Turk and of other Infidels and heathen people. For nothing in a manner but blood hath flowed here and there throughout all quarters of Christendom since that time: and at this day their barbarousness is such that many had rather see the countries lie like deserts, and the people destroyed, than to remember any piety, charity, humanity, and honesty enjoined us by God and nature, and all because they are blinded with the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone of such cutthroats.
Now albeit this effect be most pitiful, yet the event that S. John declareth unto us in the two last verse, which befell those men that remained after those great judgments executed upon the wicked world, is much more horrible and lamentable, when it is said, that the remnant of the world (for yet he speaketh not of the Church, the history whereof is to be found in the chapters following) remained without repentance in their impiety and injustice, albeit they felt themselves oppressed with the rigorous hand of God, in that he hath already chastised the world so sharply, and a demonstration of the judgment to come, and of that burning fire whereby he will consume his adversaries, glorifying himself in the salvation of his Church.
Seeing then by the grace of God we have been so happily informed of those things which the world hath hitherto felt by his hand, and that all things have been as clearly declared by the messengers and servants of God, as they have been indeed executed by the ministers of his justice, insomuch that the darkness of hell having filled the world on all sides, spiritual tyranny hath closely crept into it, and having for a certain time tormented men with less violence, began afterward to be more and more kindled unto mischief, and so stirred up a corporal tyranny, whereby the poor world was most sharply and rigorously scourged, and for all that hath not nor doth not as yet leave off from impiety and injustice; let us acknowledge the truth of God in his predictions, his justice in his executions, and his constancy in his promises, to the end that seeing in his truth we find both threatenings and promises together, we might by a holy repentance conceive a just fear of his threatenings, and preventing the rigor of his justice may embrace his sweet and gracious promises, to follow them constantly, & to enjoy the fruition of eternal joy through Jesus Christ our Lord.