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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 8 - Verse 12

Verse 12. And the fourth angel sounded. See Barnes "Re 8:6, See Barnes "Re 8:7".

 

And the third part of the sea was smitten. On the phrase the third part, see Barnes on "Re 8:7".

The darkening of the heavenly luminaries is every, where an emblem of any great calamity— as if the light of the sun, moon, and stars should be put out. See Barnes "Re 6:12, See Barnes "Re 6:13".

There is no certain evidence that this refers to rulers, as many have supposed, or to anything that would particularly affect the government as such. The meaning is, that calamity would come as if darkness should spread over the sun, the moon, and the stars, leaving the world in gloom. What is the precise nature of the calamity is not indicated by the language, but anything that would diffuse gloom and disaster would accord with the fair meaning of the symbol. There are a few circumstances, however, in regard to this symbol, which may aid us in determining its application.

(1.) It would follow in the series of calamities that were to occur.

(2.) It would be separated in some important sense—of time, place, or degree—from those which were to follow, for there is a pause here, (Re 8:13) and the angel proclaims that more terrible woes are to succeed this series.

(3.) Like the preceding, it is to affect "one third part" of the world; that is, it is to be a calamity as if a third part of the sun, the moon, and the stars were suddenly smitten and darkened.

(4.) It is not to be total. It is not as if the sun, the moon, and the stars were entirely blotted out, for there was still some remaining light: that is, there was a continuance of the existing state of things—as if these heavenly bodies should still give an obscure and partial light.

(5.) Perhaps it is also intended by the symbol, that there would be light again. The world was not to go into a state of total and permanent night. For a third part of the day, and a third part of the night, this darkness reigned: but does not this imply that there would be light again—that the obscurity would pass away, and that the sun, and moon, and stars would shine again? That is, is it not implied that there would still be prosperity ill some future period?

Now, in regard to the application of this, if the explanation of the preceding symbols is correct, there can be little difficulty. If the previous symbols referred to Alaric, to Genseric, and to Attila, there can be no difficulty in applying this to Odoacer, and to his reign—a reign in which, in fact, the Roman dominion in the West came to an end, and passed into the hands of this barbarian. Any one has only to open the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" to see that this is the next event that should be symbolized if the design were to represent the downfall of the empire. These four great barbarian leaders succeed each other in order, and under the last, Odoacer, the barbarian dominion was established; for it is here that the existence of the Roman power, as such, ended. The Western empire terminated, according to Mr. Gibbon, (ii. p. 380,) about A.D. 476 or 479. Odoacer was "King of Italy" from A.D. 476 to A.D. 490.—Gibbon, ii. 379. The Eastern empire still lingered; but calamity, like blotting out the sun, and moon, and stars, had come over that part of the world which for so many centuries had constituted the seat of power and dominion.—Odoacer was the son of Edecon, a barbarian, who was in the service of Attila, and who left two sons—Onulf and Odoacer. The former directed his steps to Constantinople; Odoacer "led a wandering life among the barbarians of Noricum, with a mind and fortune suited to the most desperate adventures; and when he had fixed his choice, he privily visited the cell of Severinus, the popular saint of the country, to solicit his approbation and blessing. The lowness of the door would not admit the lofty stature of Odoacer; he was obliged to stoop: but in that humble attitude the saint could discern the symptoms of his future greatness; and addressing him in a prophetic tone, 'Pursue,' said he, 'your design; proceed to Italy; you will cast away the coarse garment of skins; and your wealth will be adequate to the liberality of your mind.' The barbarian, whose daring spirit accepted and ratified this prediction, was admitted into the service of the Western empire, and soon obtained an honourable rank in the guards. His manners were gradually polished, his military skill improved, and the confederates of Italy would not have elected him for their general unless the exploits of Odoacer had established a high opinion of his courage and capacity. Their military acclamations saluted him with the title of king; but he abstained during his whole reign from the use of the purple and the diadem, lest he should offend those princes, whose subjects, by their accidental mixture, had formed the victorious army which time and policy might insensibly unite into a great nation."—Gibbon, ii. 379, 380. In another place Mr. Gibbon says, "Odoacer was the first barbarian who reigned in Italy, over a people who had once asserted their superiority above the rest of mankind. The disgrace of the Romans still excites our respectful compassion, and we fondly sympathize with the imaginary grief and indignation of their degenerate posterity. But the calamities of Italy had gradually subdued the proud consciousness of freedom and glory. In the age of Roman virtue, the provinces were subject to the arms, and the citizens to the laws, of the republic; till those laws were subverted by civil discord, and both the city and the provinces became the property of a servile tyrant. The forms of the constitution which alleviated or disguised their abject slavery were abolished by time and violence; the Italians alternately lamented the presence or the absence of the sovereigns whom they detested or despised; and the succession of five centuries inflicted the various evils of military license, capricious despotism, and elaborate oppression. During the same period the barbarians had emerged from obscurity and contempt, and the warriors of Germany and Scythia were introduced into the provinces, as the servants, the allies, and at length the masters of the Romans, whom they insulted or protected," ii. 381, 382. Of the effect of the reign of Odoacer, Mr. Gibbon remarks: "In the division and decline of the empire, the tributary harvests of Egypt and Africa were withdrawn; the numbers of the inhabitants continually decreased with the means of subsistence; and the country was exhausted by the irretrievable losses of war, famine, and pestilence. St. Ambrose has deplored the ruin of a populous district, which had been once adorned with the flourishing cities of Bologna, Modena, Regium, and Placentia. Pope Gelasius was a subject of Odoacer; and he affirms, with strong exaggeration, that in AEmilia, Tuscany, and the adjacent provinces, the human species was almost extirpated. One third of those ample estates, to which the ruin of Italy is originally imputed, was extorted for the use of the conquerors," ii. 383. Yet the light was not wholly extinct. It was "a third part" of it which was put out; and it was still true that some of the forms of the ancient constitution were observed—that the light still lingered before it wholly passed away. In the language of another, "The authority of the Roman name had not yet entirely ceased. The senate of Rome continued to assemble as usual. The consuls were appointed yearly, one by the Eastern emperor, one by Italy and Rome. Odoacer himself governed Italy under a title—that of Patrician—conferred on him by the Eastern emperor. There was still a certain, though often faint, recognition of the supreme imperial authority. The moon and the stars might seem still to shine in the West, with a dim, reflected light. In the course of the events, however, which rapidly followed in the next half century, these too were extinguished. After above a century and a half of calamities unexampled almost, as Dr. Robertson most truly represents it,* in the history of nations, the statement of Jerome—a statement couched under the very Apocalyptic figure of the text, but prematurely pronounced on the first taking of Rome by Alaric—might be considered at length accomplished: 'Clarissimum terrarum lumen extinctum est'—'The world's glorious sun has been extinguished;' or, as the modern poet Byron (Childe Harold, canto iv.) has expressed it, still under the Apocalyptic imagery-

"She saw her glories star by star expire,"

till not even one star remained to glimmer in

the vacant and dark night."—Elliott, i. 360, 361.

I have thus endeavoured to explain the meaning of the four first trumpets under the opening of the seventh seal, embracing the successive severe blows struck on the empire by Alaric, Genseric, Attila, and Odoacer, until the empire fell to rise no more. I cannot better conclude this part of the exposition than in the words of Mr. Gibbon, in his reflections on the fall of the empire. "I have now accomplished," says he, "the laborious narrative of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, from the fortunate age of Trajan and the Antonines to its latest extinction in the West, about five centuries after the Christian era. At that unhappy period, the Saxons fiercely struggled with the natives for the possession of Britain; Gaul and Spain were divided between the powerful monarchies of the Franks and the Visigoths, and the dependent kingdoms of the Suevi and the Burgundians; Africa was exposed to the cruel persecution of the Vandals, and the savage insults of the Moors; Rome and Italy, as far as the banks of the Danube, were afflicted by an army of barbarian mercenaries, whose lawless tyranny was succeeded by the reign of Theodosia, the Ostrogoth. All the subjects of the empire, who, by the use of the Latin language, more particularly deserved the name and privileges of Romans, were oppressed by the disgrace and calamities of foreign conquest; and the victorious nations of Germany established a new system of manners and government in the western countries of Europe. The majesty of Rome was faintly represented by the princes of Constantinople, the feeble and imaginary successors of Augustus."—Vol. ii. pp. 440, 441. "The splendid days of Augustus and Trajan were eclipsed by a cloud of ignorance, [a fine illustration of the language 'the third part of the sun was smitten, and the day shone not, and the night likewise;'] and the barbarians subverted the laws and palaces of Rome."—Ibid, p. 446.

Thus ended the history of the Gothic period, and, as I suppose, the immediate symbolic representation of the affairs of the Western empire. An interval now occurs (Re 8:13) in the sounding of the trumpets, and the scene is transferred, in the three remaining trumpets, to the Eastern parts of the empire. After that, the attention is directed again to the West, to contemplate Rome under a new form, and exerting a new influence in the nations, under the Papacy, but destined ultimately to pass away in its spiritual power, as its temporal power had yielded to the elements of internal decay in its bosom, and to the invasions of the Northern hordes.

* "If we were called on to fix a period most calamitous, it would be that from the death of Theodosius to the establishment of the Lombards." —Charles V., pp. 11, 12.

{a} "sun" Isa 13:10; Jer 4:21; Eze 32:7,8; Joe 2:10; Am 8:9

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