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Of the Fourth Seal.
The index of the fourth seal is the fourth animal, in the likeness of an eagle, its station to the North; by which is shown, that the beginning of the seal is to be deduced from an emperor sprung from that quarter, namely, from Maximin the Thracian, a nursling of the North. Julius Capitolinus says, “Maximin, of a village of Thrace, near the Barbarians, born also of a Barbarian father and mother.” The character of this seal is an assemblage of sword, famine, and pestilence, raging together in such a manner as was never known before. Whence, to him who sat on the horse, the name of Death is said to be given; that is, in the acceptation of the notion of the Hebrews, who use abstracts for concretes, meaning deadly or death-bearing, because he brought in so many deaths with him into the world. For among the Hebrews, to be called by a name, sometimes signifies the same as to be, or exist, but in a certain particular manner, 87so that to have the name of Death in this place, means nothing else than to be, in an especial manner, deadly, or the cause of death; to which purpose likewise is that which follows, namely, that Hell accompanies him, as an attendant on funerals.
Now let us look to the event. And never, in truth, from the beginning of the seals, have these three plagues raged conjointly in so singular a manner. I will begin with slaughter, and omit what this age underwent from an external enemy, though that was very severe, the Barbarians laying waste almost the whole of the empire under the emperors Gallus and Volusianus, with rapines and slaughters. These things are not taken into the account. We are inquiring into intestine and domestic affairs. Ten emperors and Cesars then, or thereabouts, who were accounted legitimate, within the interval of this seal, i. e. within the space of thirty-three years, or a little more, did the sword, not of enemies, but of their own subjects, take off. Throughout the same interval, under the government of Gallienus alone, those thirty tyrants of whom Polio speaks, (though there might be fewer by one or two,) sprung up in different parts of the Roman world; and almost all these were slain, either by their own people or by one another, or were butchered by legitimate emperors; 88so that Orosius has said not undeservedly of this plague, that it was signalised, not by the slaughter of the common people, but by the wounds and deaths of princes.
Lastly, those emperors, beginning with Maxi-min and ending with Gallienus, with what savage cruelty were they endued! Maximin, as Julius Capitolinus testifies, was so cruel, “that some denominated him Cyclops, others Busiris, others Sciro, some Phalaris, and many Typho and Gyges. The senate feared him so much, that even their wives and children offered up prayers in the temples, publicly and privately, that he might never see the city of Rome. For they heard that some were lifted up on crosses, some enclosed in animals lately killed, some thrown to wild beasts, sonic beaten with clubs, and all without respect to dignity of situation.” He proceeds: “In order to hide his ignoble birth, he killed all who were acquainted with his family, and also sonic friends who had often given him many donations from motives of pity and piety, for there was not a more cruel animal on the face of the earth.” Lastly, says he, “Without judgment, without accusation, without an informer, without defence, he slew all of the faction of one Magnus, a consular man, took away all their goods, and could not satisfy himself with the slaughter of more than 4000 persons. Hear 89also what Trebellius Pollio says of Gallienus, in his Book of the Thirty Tyrants. “Ingenuus being slain, who was called Emperor by the legion in Mæsia, he was bitterly enraged against the soldiers as well as the citizens, nor did he leave any one without some mark of his cruelty. He was so fierce and blood-thirsty, that he left most of the cities void of the male sex.” The same writer, in the Life of Gallienus, says: “The Scythians, having invaded Cappadocia, the soldiers had again entertained thoughts of making a new emperor, all of whom Gallienus slew according to his custom.” He adds, in conclusion: “He acted with excessive cruelty towards the soldiers; for he slew three or four thousand every day.” Pollio likewise relates, in the same Life of Gallienus, the very memorable example of the Byzantine butchery, exhibited by the soldiers, and by Gallienus himself: “Lest any evil,” says he, should be wanting in the time of Gallienus, the city of the Byzantines, illustrious for naval battles, and the key of the Pontic sea, was so wholly laid waste by the soldiers of Gallienus, that scarcely any remained alive; for vengeance on whose slaughter, when Gallienus was admitted into Byzantium, he killed all the soldiers, while unarmed, and crowned with the warrior’s crown, having broken the engagement which he had made with them.”90
Thus far you have an account of slaughter: I come now to pestilence, which here, according to the Oriental custom, is called death. So the Chaldee paraphrast for the Hebrew רבדי, pestilence, is fond of using מזהא, death; and the Hellenists generally translate it θάνατον, and, with a similar meaning, it is usually called mortality by ecclesiastical writers, which expression has now passed over into many of our vernacular tongues. With regard to the pestilence, the fact is so notorious and manifest, that there is no need of heaping together many proofs to establish the credit of the oracle. I shall dispatch it in a word. Tonaras is my author, (nor are others silent on the subject,) that under the emperors Gallus and Volusianus, a pestilence, arising from Ethiopia pervaded all the Roman provinces, and for fifteen successive years incredibly exhausted them. “Nor was there ever a greater plague read of by me,” (says a celebrated man in our own days,) “within the same space of time or territory.”
Famine still remains of that trio of calamities; which indeed, any one may collect, could not possibly be absent in this age, although none of the ancient writers had informed us of it, from this circumstance, that almost all the empire was so despoiled and trodden down by the Scythians, during these times, with rapines and devastations, 91that if we trust to Zosimus, no nation under the Roman dominion remained free from them; almost all the towns were destitute of walls; and the greater part of those which were destitute were taken by them. How was it possible that the fields should not be deserted in devastations of this kind, that tillage should not be neglected, and that whatever was laid up for food should not be destroyed? And that so indeed it really happened, appears from the epistle of Dionysius of Alexandria, who was then living, to his brothers, in which he bears testimony to that dire pestilence of which we are treating, as having succeeded war and famine. “After these things,” says he, that is, after the persecution which took place under Decius, (for lie means that which preceded the pestilence,) “both war and famine followed, which we sustained together with the heathen.” And after the introduction of a few words, he adds: “But when both we and they had breathed a little, that pestilence came on—a thing more terrific to them than any other species of terror, more lamentable than any kind of calamity, and to us indeed an exercise and a trial inferior to none of the rest.” Cyprian agrees with him in his apology to Demetrian: “When you say,” he observes, “that a great many complain, it is to be imputed to us, that wars more frequently arise, that pestilence and famine rage, and that 92showers and rains interrupt the continuance of serene weather; we ought not any longer to be silent.”
Moreover, there is something added in the text respecting wild beasts; if indeed it be a calamity of a different kind from the former ones, and does not imply that the tyrants, who like wild beasts raged in those times through the Roman world, were to be assigned as the causes of those calamities; it will in this case point out an evil common to the eastern and southern regions; that when famine and pestilence are raging, wild beasts would grow too powerful for man, and would destroy them, as you may see, Lev. c. xxvi. Ezek. c. xiv. v. 15, 21. But the change of the syntax rather favours the former opinion, if you render καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν θηρίων τῆς γῆς, “and that by the beasts of the earth.”
The fourth part of the earth, τὸ τέταρτον τῆς γῆς, within which the power of exercising their ravages is said to have been committed to hell and death, (unless any one should think that the common interpretation may be here defended to which the τέταρτον τῆς γῆς is the τετράδιον, that is, the quaternion, or four parts of the earth,) I explain of the most powerful and much the greater part of the Roman world: For since the third part of the earth, (as will be observed in its place,) points out the amplitude of the Roman world, it 93follows that the fourth part of the earth is the same Roman dominion, less by a fourth part, and therefore that triple or quadruple connexion of calamities pervaded three-fourths of the Roman world1212The author means, I believe, that if a third of the earth is the Roman world, a fourth of the earth would be less than its full extent; i. e. supposing the earth to be 12, a third would be 4, and a fourth 3, that is, less than 4.; and certainly Orosius seems to add, that the pestilence did not extend itself farther than (to use his own words) the edicts of Decius ran to destroy the churches. I have nothing more to say. And thus far of the fourth seal.
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