The Two Witnesses & Private Revelation

Recently I was reading through the “Visions” of Venerable Holzhauser, published in 1646. These were apparently read in the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and Duke Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria, who were soon to participate in the negotiations of the Peace of Westphalia beginning that year. One of those visions struck me:

books.google.co.uk/books?id=…dq=bartholomew

**"…In one of his visions, Holzhauser saw two mighty thrones, whereupon sat respectively the supreme representatives of the temporal and spiritual power, and which overshadowed the whole earth; thus realizing, on a more gigantic scale, the medieval theory of the papal umpirage and imperial advocacy…

The next two visions, have clearly reference to the future triumph which the Church, after the tribulations and anguish she has had to endure for the last three centuries, is yet destined to celebrate on earth…"**


This vision of a future Catholic Monarch of a restored Holy Roman Empire (or more plausibly a modern state or supranational union of nations akin to it) and Pope may reminded of Chapters 3-4 of the Book of Zechariah which describes Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel, the Jewish Prince and Governor, as the two figures who would lead the Jews out of their captivity in Babylon and return them to the Promised Land under the guiding hand of the liberating Persian Monarch Cyrus the Great, where the Second Temple was to be constructed.

Joshua stood for the spiritual power of the Jewish Priesthood, Zerubbabel for the temporal power.

It is my understanding that John of Patmos based his description of the Two Witness in Revelation upon Zechariah.

As such, the two witnesses represent the secular arm (Zerubbabel, heir to King David) and the religious arm (High Priest Joshua). The following commentary on Revelation 11:4-14 is from The Catholic Biblical Association’s 1942 book, A Commentary on the New Testament, page 668-669:

11, 4-14: The Two Witnesses. The symbolism of this section is in general sufficiently evident with the exception, perhaps, of the two witnesses. Some have thought them to be Elias [Elijah] and Henoch [Enoch]; others Elias [Elijah] and Moses; others Josue [Joshua] and Zorobabel [Zerubbabel]. They have many of the characteristics of all the great prophets of Israel**. But from the allusion in 4 to Josue, son of Josedec, and Zorobabel, John seems to imply that the two witnesses are the representatives of the civil and religious power among the children of God. Cf. Zach. 3, **4

Is it is posdible that Revelation could have been presageing two eschatological figures in the mould of Zerubbabel/Joshua, whose task it will be to lead the Church out of what private revelations refer to as the “minor chastisement” or 'three days of darkness" and into the Era of Peace predicted by Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, during the First World War?

Just as the two “olive trees” of the exilic period of the Old Covenant restored the divine worship of the Jewish Temple, the “two witnesses” yet to come might spread the gospel and the power of the Church throughout the world so that a Second Pentecost can be ushered in.

Possible? It’s not impossible. Anything is possible.

Is there anything in Catholic eschatology that suggests it is “probable,” that such an interpretation as you propose is likely what Revelation is suggesting? No.

The Church refers to the Revelation of John as an “apocalypse,” a Hebrew genre of writing that often spoke of current world events unfolding as if they were fulfilling oracles similar to those uttered during the Prophet Era of the Jews which preceded the Second Temple era. The Old Testament book of Daniel is a similar work, which is why it appears in the Writings section of the Hebrew Bible and not among the Prophets. Apocalyptic works were not prophets oracles, though as inspired of God they often has genuine glimpses into the future.

Revelation is a work detailing either Christianity’s challenges with ancient pagan Rome or its early challenges with unbelieving Jerusalem regarding the issue of the Messiah (or both). It “foresees” Christianity becoming the victor of these and any challenges and that the promises of God through Christ will become a reality. To make these promises sound like genuine oracles from the Era of the Prophets, an apocalypse used languages and symbols found in many of the earlier prophetic pronouncements.

Again, this does not mean that Revelation (or Daniel for that matter) don’t have final and ultimate fulfillments in association with the coming Parousia. They do, but as for an official interpretation of how these same verses will unfold in salvation history, such do not exist in the Church as such is still hidden.

While the Church does not discourage discussion and even theological speculation on such matters, it warns Catholics not to promote personal views as definitive interpretations.

Thank you, that was an excellently written and informative post!

Well, I wouldn’t say that anything is possible. Some theories are quite clearly contraband (such as millenialism). I suppose, really, I was asking whether this is “licit” to hold as a possible and personally held theory.

I understand that the idea touted by these later mystics is divorced from a historically grounded reading of Revelation, which was, generally speaking, not prevalent prior to the advent of modern, critical scholarship.

The point you are making is perfectly true - to the author, John of Patmos, his book would have been written as a response to an impending crisis in the nascent Christian community, likely in the aftermath of the Neronian Persecution. He wrote to console the faithful in the genre of an apocalypse relying on imagery and thematic concepts from the Prophets of the Old Testament. To this end, it is a literary device as opposed to a series of prophetic oracles - as in, Ezekiel or Zechariah.

So I agree with you that John was not primarily or consciously writing a series of prophetic oracles.

Nonetheless, the Church Fathers understood him to be employing imagery allusive of prior Old Testament figures - Moses/Elijah, Elijah/Enoch, Zerubbabel/Joshua - while seemingly presaging an eschatological event here with respect to the “witnesses” based upon these prototypical figures, if you get my drift. I believe this is known as a typological reading and it seemed to inform St. Bonaventure’s understanding of the text, for one.

I am not aware of any Church Father who did not interpret the two witnesses as referring to genuine individuals, seemingly “yet to come”.

Since the language of lampstands and olive trees is borrowed from Zechariah - and the prophet in turn was making reference to a political leader and a religious leader, respectively, of the Jews returning from Babylonian exile - I wondered whether the views of later Catholic mystics, who interpreted the author of Revelation to be foreshadowing a genuine eschatological event, might have any merit?

Scripture, inspired by God, often has different, yet complementary, meanings. So I’m just curious if there might be more here than the plain, historical context and literary motifs associated with the genre? The Fathers seemed to think so, anyway.

Cannot Revelation be understood as simultaneously referring through colourful, ambiguous language to then contemporary (now past) events in the life of the first century Church (historicism) while also being a means for God to presage events yet to come?

And yes, I am not seeking or expounding any “definitive” interpretations. This is all pure and simple speculation based upon perceived potential intersections between private revelation and public revelation, on my part, nothing more.

Also, this brings to mind a second question I’d like to ask regarding this point about apocalyptic literature.

Our Lord described Daniel as a “prophet” and related his words regarding an abominating sacrilege to a future eschatological event, likely the destruction of the Jewish Temple in the siege of 70 AD. Equally, the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ discourse is that it could also refer to the tribulation, a period of suffering through which the Church must pass, in the future, prior to the Parousia.

In other words, whichever stance you adopt, Jesus interpreted Daniel as uttering a prophetic message about the future here, rather than a strictly “apocalyptic” narrative referring covertly, under images, to events of his own time:

24:15} Therefore, when you will have seen the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, may he who reads understand,
{24:16} then those who are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains.

Yet Daniel has been ranked with the Ketuvim rather than the Nevi’im given its genre? :shrug:

Jesus appears to place him in the Nevi’im and interpret the book as containing prophecy. Or am I misreading this verse :confused:

The Prophets of Israel were a school of Jewish Sages sent by God to the Jewish people prior to the Hasmonean Era and the days of the Second Temple.

The term “prophet” does NOT refer to someone who can foretell the future, but to a sage who declared the “oracles of the Lord,” or specific instruction inspired of God, to the Jews prior to the Diaspora. Once God’s people were in Babylon and these specific sages passed away, the Era of the Prophets came to an end.

This does not mean that there were no more Jewish sages, and this doesn’t mean that prophecy about the future was limited to those called the Prophets. For instance, some prophecy is in the Torah, and some is in the Psalms and other of the Writings.

Daniel is considered one of the Sages, but not one of the Prophets. The author of the book of Daniel did not receive “oracles of the Lord” while in Israel or in Judah or even specifically for the people of that holy nation (which is essential for being defined as one of the Prophets). His “prophecies” are directed mostly to foreign kings and Gentile nations, and this particular Daniel is a child of the Diaspora. And except for a small portion, Daniel is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew like the writings of the Prophets.

But did this sage act as a prophet? Yes. While his work was an apocalypse discussing the politcal intrigue of the Hasmonean era, his apocalypse proved true: God did free his people from the Hellenistic threat, restored the Temple, and allowed the people to have autonomy under the Hasmonean dynasty as Daniel had “foretold” in apocalyptic language.

So Daniel proved to be a prophet, but just not one of those from the era of the Prophets. His message is mostly for Gentiles and their kings. His work is from a different era of the Prophets and written in a different language than their works. The divisions in the Jewish Scriptures (the Tanakh) are set by era and language and subject, and Daniel’s book doesn’t fit with the works of the Prophets according to these standards.

Daniel is a prophet, just not one of the Prophets.

I see, again thank you for another informative post :slight_smile: I was not aware that language and audience, among other factors, dictated who was counted among the Nevi’m (prophets). I think my confusion arises from the fact that the Church has always ranked Daniel among the books of the Major Prophets of the Bible, as opposed to the Writings section.

I am aware, however, that a biblical prophet is not necessarily someone predicting the future but a person relaying an Oracle from God (i.e. “the word of the Lord came to…”), which may concern the future inasmuch as it is about the consequences for the intended audience of not repenting, for instance but need not.

My question had more to do with the fact that Jesus understood Daniel’s apocalypse to contain prophecies relevant to His own time - about the future relative to Daniel’s time; namely the First Century and presumably the Second Coming as well.

With that in mind, we can see that biblical apocalypses - Revelation included - can actually include coded predictions of future events. So to return to the original post, I’m suggesting that the Two Witnesses appear to be an example of this.

Just as Daniel, according to Our Lord, included a prophecy regarding the future desolation of the Jewish Temple in his apocalypse (that may also be a dual prediction about the sacrilege yet to come, the Great Apostasy prior to the Parousia), the Book of Revelation - according to most of the Patristic sources - is here foreshadowing a future eschatological event involving two particular individuals who have a uniquely important role to play prior to the Parousia.

Some Fathers related them to Elijah and Enoch, other authorities Zerubbabel and Joshua. What I am saying, though, is that it is almost universally accepted among the Patristics that this chapter of Revelation is a prophecy respecting the advent of two future individuals, i.e.

St. John Damascene (676 - 749 AD) “And Enoch and Elijah the Thesbite will be sent and they shall ‘turn the heart of the fathers to the children’, that is to say, turn the Synagogue to our Lord Jesus Christ” 11 (Ibid, Page 473. De Fide Orthodoxa)

St. Augustine (354 - 430 AD) “It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in the last days before the Judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ, that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elijah, who shall expound the Law to them. For not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Saviour, Elijah shall come…When, therefore, he is come, he will give a spiritual explanation of the Law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and shall thus, “turn the heart of the father to the son”, that is, the heart of the fathers to the children. And the meaning is that the sons, that is, the Jews, shall understand the Law as the fathers, that is, the prophets, and among them Moses himself, understood it…that the Jews also, who had previously hated, should then love the Son who is our Christ.” 10 (Ibid, Pages 469-470. The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 29).

Their interpretation is the standard one among the Fathers, understanding it as a future event being predicted, although not all affirm the Elijah/Enoch identification.

All I was saying in the OP is that later mystics speak of a Great Monarch and Holy Pope who jointly would lead to the fullness of the nations entering the Church before the Second Coming.

This Private Revelation appears to have close affinities with the Public Revelation concerning the Two Witnesses, who seem to be modelled by John of Patmos after descriptions of Zerubbabel and Joshua in the Book of Revelation.

I am not suggesting this is actually who the Two Witnesses will be, I am merely noting the possible linkages between these figures of Public and Private Revelation respectively.

Another relevant quotation:

Pope St. Gregory the Great: "When Enoch and Elias preach, many of the Jews who then remain faithless will return to recognition of the truth; as it is said of that same Elias, ‘Elias, indeed, cometh first and shall restore all things.’ These two are named the two olive trees by Zacharias (Zach 4:3) and the two candlesticks by John (Rev 11:4)."

Again, understood as a prediction of a future eschatological event involving conversion by two actual individuals.

Jesus didn’t “place” Daniel among the Prophets “section” of the Tanakh as there was no formal and closed canon of Hebrew Scripture in Jesus’ day. These sections of the Tanakh were set after the Second Temple fell.

The idea of any type of Scrioture canon came about a century later from Marcion of Sinope. Once a faithful Christian leader, Marcion fell prey to the Gnostic threat and, like them, believed that divine revelation was limited and ultimately exclusive to holy writ. Because divine truth was supposed to be limited to “proof texts,” in the 2nd century Marcion set a “rule” (in Greek, “canon”) to determine what among Jewish and Christian holy writ was divine revelation. Marcion’s canon rejected the Hebrew Scriptures and accepted only an edited form of the Gospel of Luke and some of St. Paul’s epistles as inspired.

The Church responded by excommunicating Marcion (he was reportedly surprised by this), but the genie was let out of the bottle never to be sent back in. The Church began the long and tedious process of defining the true canon, completing the New Testament listing in the 4th century. Because of employing the Alexandrian Septuagint as the Church’s official version of the Hebrew texts, it set its list of books as canon (though not officially until the Council of Trent).

In Judaism it was a far different story. The idea of “canon” is actually a Gentile one, the word being of Greek origin. The Hebrew Scriptures as “Tanakh,” with its section of Writings and Prophets, was never “officially” set as there is no official authority to decide such things for all Judaism. However the Jewish tradition between the 2nd and 4th centuries gradually recognized the texts written in Hebrew as inspired and set the order we now have. Daniel barely made it in as one of the Writings because the majority of the book is in Aramaic.

When Jesus made his comments in the Eschatological discourse of Matthew chapter 24, the idea of any type of canon, with any type of sections, was still some 100 to 200 years away. So Jesus was not referring to Daniel’s book as belonging to the Tanakh as we know it today.

:thumbsup:

Most informative, thanks again!

Remember, I never said that these verses in Revelation have no future import. If you re-read my comments, I wrote that the fact that Revelation is an apocalypse does not mean it has no fulfillment in terms of the Parousia. I only said there is no official interpretation of these figure from Revelation.

Popes can and have made various interpretations of Revelation and other texts over the centuries, but they are not official and final unless the Church says so.

Also, it is generally accepted by all exegetes of Christianity, including Evanglicals, Fundamentalists, and even Jehovah’s Witnesses, that the “two witnesses” in Revelation have the same connections mentioned by St. Gregrory that you have quoted. This is almost universally accepted by practically all in Christianity. It is just not dogma in the Catholic Church that these witnesses have been formally defined and identified.

Agreed!

The identity has actually been quite vigorously disputed over the centuries.

Some Catholic commentaries, such as the one I referenced in the OP, have dissented at times from the common Patristic speculation regarding Elijah/Enoch, by noting the Zerubbabel/Joshua symbolism and motif-borrowing from Zechariah in the text, with its explicit allusions to the verses by this earlier Old Testament prophet regarding the building of the Second Temple by the former.

These identifications are not necessarily at odds. If the Witnesses are understood to come in “the spirit and power” of Elijah/Enoch rather than being their actual bodily return from assumption in heaven, as St. John the Baptist did vis-a-vis Elijah prior to the coming of Christ and was described as the prophesied “Elijah to come”, then it is conceivable that they could also come in the “spirit and power” of Zerubbabel/Joshua as well.

Your right that their identity has not been dogmatized but what has never been seriously questioned by virtually all ecclesiastical authorities, at least prior to modern scholarship, is that an eschatological event involving the full preaching of the Gospel and evangelization of the nations by two actual persons is to be expected before the Parousia.

We are free to speculate as to the identity. If one considers the actual text, it is clearly indebted to Zechariah IMHO, which leads me to think that John of Patmos is trying to tell us that the Two Witnesses will resemble Zerubbabel/Joshua since most commentators of Zechariah aver that these two figures are the “olive trees” that the prophet speaks of.

I would also consider the esteemed interpretation of St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor.

To cut a long story short, he predicts that the Church will endure a minor tribulation followed by a era of peace prior to the Great Apostasy and Second Coming. This Era of Peace will involve the promised full evangelization of the nation’s. He relates this to the period of the Jews being released from Babylonian Captivity and states that just as the Temple was restored after the exile before Christ, so to must the Church Miliant undergo a great “restoration” before the end characterised by the greatest ever spread of the Gospel.

He indicates that for this to transpire, a Great Monarch - a ruler, defender of the Church - will arise:

"…In the sixth age three things take place - excellence of victory, excellence of teaching, and excellence of the prophetic life…No one knows how long that time of great peace will last…The seventh time or age, that of quiet, begins with the shout of the angel who “swore through Him who lives forever and ever that there would be no more time; but in the days of the seventh angel the mystery of God will be completed” (Rev 10:6-7)…

In this age there ought to come a life through an order which will possess the prophetic life. This age is double. Just as in the Lord’s Passion there was first light, then darkness, and then light, so it is necessary that first there be the light of teaching and that Josiah succeed Hezekiah, after which came the tribulation of the Jews through their captivity in Babylon. It is necessary that One Ruler, a defender of the Church, arise…

It was said to the angel of Philadelphia, the sixth angel: “He who is holy and true, who has the key of David, who opens and no man closes, closes and no man opens, says this - ‘I know your works, and behold I have placed an open door before you’” (Rev 3:7). And he said that now for the first time the understanding of Scripture would be given and that the revelation, or key of David, would be given to a person or a large group, but I think rather to a large group.

In the seventh age [of the Old Covenant] we know that these things took place - the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the city, and the granting of peace. Likewise in the coming seventh age there will be a restoration of Divine worship and a rebuilding of the city. Then the prophecy of Ezekiel will be fulfilled when the city comes down from heaven (Ezek 40); not indeed that city which is above, but that city which is below, the Church Militant which will then be conformed to the Church Triumphant as far as possible in this life…"

- Saint Bonaventure (ca. 1217 - 1274), Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Seraphic Doctor (Collation 16:17-19. Translated by McGinn, B. Visions of the End, pp199-200)

Other approved mystics have argued along the same lines, for instance Venerable Bartholomew Holzhauser in the 17th century, who wrote in his Commentary on the Apocalypse:

"…The Sixth period of the Church - the status consolationis - begins with the Holy Pope and the Powerful Emperor and terminates with the birth of Antichrist. This will be an age of solace wherein God will console His Church after the many mortifications and afflictions she had endured in the fifth period. For all nations will be brought to the unity of the true Catholic Faith.

A type of this period was the sixth age of the old world, from the deliverance of the Israelites out of the Babylonian Captivity, and the rebuilding of the City and the Temple of Jerusalem, down to the Coming of Christ. As God gladdened His people by the rebuilding of the Temple and the Holy City; as all nations and kingdoms were subjected to the Roman Empire; and Caesar Augustus, the most powerful and excellent Monarch, after vanquishing all his enemies gave peace to the world - so will God pour out upon His Church the most abundant consolations…

The spread of the Church over all countries will take place by the instrumentality of this strong monarch, and before the destruction of the world, Christianity will be preached to all nations of the earth; as this is foretold in Matthew and Isaiah and in Micah. To this wide diffusion of Christianity allusion is made when John is obliged to measure the Temple of God (Revelation 11.v.1)…

This second angel of the Lord is that great and holy Pope, who, moved by God, will cry out the sanctuary of the church to that mighty monarch, to root out the tares of wickedness; for the harvest is over-ripe…Instructed by a divine revelation, the holy Pope will, by communicating the same, stir up the hearts of [other] rulers…that animated by one spirit, they will all adhere to the mighty monarch…"

This is mere speculation based upon private revelation, of course.

All I am saying is that Public and Private Revelation could be (but not necessarily is) referring to the same eschatological figures here. The Great Monarch and Holy Pope of Catholic private revelations bears some intriguing similarities with Zerubbabel/Joshua, including the fact that the mystics explicitly tie the Babylonian Captivity and re-building of the Jewish Temple in with the predicted Evangelization of the Nations before the End, intimidating that the former period in the life of the Chosen People foreshadows the latter period yet to come in the life of the Church.

Being of Jewish stock myself, there is a different view I know of that you may want to add to your views for whatever it may or may not be worth. In Judaism, the word of “two witnesses” establishes “one truth.” Also, the Zerubbabel/Joshua paradigm is often seen as meant to to symbolize the Messiah in Judaism.

Whereas some in Judaism theorize that the Scriptures suggest a “two messiah” paradigm, with one secular/ kingly and the other a high priest/religious, Christians believe that Jesus as Messiah fulfills both roles, that of a king-priest.

The “two witnesses” of Revelation may not be the coming of any future figures, but may be explaining a future acknowledging of Jesus or the Gospel itself as preached and lived by the Church militant. Remember, Revelation is written in symbolic language. That would mean the “two” is symbolic as well as the “witnesses.” The Greek word for “witness” is “martyr,” meaning one who testifies at the cost of his life or by blood. The “two witnesses” preach, die, and are resurrected, causing the unbelieving world to fear.

The Person who had these actual experience was Christ, and the Church today represents Christ, “the faithful and true witness (martyr),” (Revelation 3:4), the one who was ‘once dead but now lives.’ (Revelation 1:18) In fact, Jesus loves in and through the Church. Jesus’ own testimony about God as lived by the Church’s own members may be the fulfillment of the “two witness” requirement. (John 8:17, 18) The Church and its preaching may seem to die away in the world more and more each day, but before the Parousia God will make it known that what we the Church have been preaching about Jesus is true.

We of the Church are like Zerubbabel and Joshua as we are both kings and priests being that we are “a royal priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:9) Revelation may merely be saying the Church’s witness of Christ is true, that Jesus is truly present in the Church, and that the Gospel can never be truly “killed” by an unbelieving world. (Note the footnote to Revelation 11:3 in the NAB, especially the last sentence.)

For myself, I do not find any reason to speculate or choose one view as more likely or probable than another, nor do I or will subscribe to any outside of what the Church demands. But I am not the judge of others who approach this differently.

Yes, these are all perfectly valid and plausible points. :thumbsup:

I should note that I am not actually stating - nor claimed - that I believe the Two Witnesses to be a latter day Zerubbabel/Joshua.

All I’m arguing is that I see nothing that would undermine this as a potential theory.

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