Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Excerpt from Commodianus' Carmen Apologeticum

We know very little of the life of Commodianus (see links for info). His poetry is not ranked as first-rate by scholars; but it is of interest because of irregularities of syntax which point to the later development of Romance languages (such as the use of stress instead of meter). The Carmen Apologeticum, also known as the Carmen De Duobus Populis, is a long exhortation in verse to the Pagans and the Jews to repent and accept Christ. It concludes with an apocalypse, which is excerpted here. The discerning reader will notice that the text, being written prior to the First Council of Nicaea (325 CE), contains some unorthodox ideas which did not survive in mainstream Christianity. The translation is taken from Kircher, Commodianus, and Pseudo-Strabo: Three Translations of Christian Latin. Copyright owned by Darius Matthias Klein, the translator.

Excerpt from Carmen Apologeticum lines 785-1053 by Commodianus (3rd Century CE)

And with the fulfillment of six thousand years shall these things come to pass. I hope indeed that we are already on the farther shore by that time. For at that time, a man of the sun, revived in agony, will arise once more. Recalling what had taken place beforehand, he shall rejoice in God. Because he is incorruptible, he shall be cognizant of the prophecies of the previous age which he had heard while in the flesh. Amazed that such glory could come forth before a mere human being, he shall say: "I see exactly what is, just as I heard it before." And all who will be lifted from Hell will likewise cry: "Just as we heard in former times, behold! this is now what we see." All suffering will take leave of the body, and every wound as well. There shall be no anxiety, but always joy. Each nation believes intuitively that there is One: One Who will be perpetually reborn into the generations of eternity.

But certain persons shall cry out: "At what point can we be certain that these things shall come about?" Accept it as truth, I say, from the few signs by which other signs shall multiply. For many signs of the fulfillment of the terrible destruction will come to be, and our seventh persecution shall begin. Already it knocks at the gate: the sword of the Goths will presently cross the river, and they shall break in. King Apollyon, he of the dire name, shall be with them. He shall use his armies the spread the persecution of the holy ones. He shall proceed to Rome with many thousands of tribes; and by the decree of God will he take captive a portion of those subdued by him. And many of the nobility, having been led captive, shall weep. When they see that they have been vanquished by the barbarian, they shall blaspheme the God of the Heavens. Still, the nations that are shall continue to nurture the Christians. Filled with joy, they shall seek them as brothers, desisting from worshipping vain idols and luxuries. They shall persecute and enslave the nobility. Those who persecuted the beloved ones shall perpetrate these evils: and within five months, those under the rule of the enemy shall be slain.

Meanwhile, Cyrus shall arise. It shall be his will to terrorize his enemies and liberate the nobility. He who had been put in command of the kingdom, and was known for a long time to have been preserved in his body for many years, shall return from the dead. It has already been revealed to us that this is Nero, who had flogged Peter and Paul in the city. From hidden places at the very end of the world shall he return, since he was reserved for these things. The nobility shall marvel that he is hated: for when he appears they will think that he is almost like a god.
The exact time of his coming, which will be in the middle of the week, shall be prophesied by Elijah at the appointed time. And when Nero has completed his time, the Unspeakable One shall succeed him. Him shall both the Jews and Romans worship. But there shall be another coming from the East whom they await. Nevertheless they shall wax savage with Nero in slaughtering us. Thus when Elijah prophesies in Judea, and baptizes the appropriate populace in the name of Christ (concerning whom Elijah in outrage shall pray against their receiving rain, inasmuch as so many of them shall choose not to believe), then the heavens shall be closed, nor shall they moisten the earth with their dew. And in a rage shall the prophet turn the rivers into blood. The land shall become sterile, it shall not be moistened with spring waters, and famine shall come about. There shall be, moreover, a plague over all the world. Because Elijah shall do these things, the tormented Judeans shall contrive many false charges against him after they have provoked the nobility to rise in wrath against him by calling him the enemy of the Romans. Then the nobility, taking note of these things, will hasten to beseech Nero with prayers and iniquitous gifts: "Take this enemy of the people, by whom our gods are condemned rather than worshiped, away from the affairs of men." And Nero, entirely possessed by madness induced by the prayers of the nobility, shall seize the Eastern prophets in a public vehicle. And when he is satisfied that they are Jews, he shall burn them first. Thereafter he shall turn to the churches, in whose martyrdom a tenth part of the city - seven thousand all in all - shall perish. On the fourth day of the persecution the Lord shall bear those denied graves into the heavens. He shall only revive those made immortal from death. And their enemies shall look up and behold them going through the heavens.

But they shall not be terrified, but shall instead wax fierce, execrating the people of Christ with all of their hatred. The Most High shall harden these disgraceful ones in their hearts, just as he once hardened Pharaoh's ears. Then the hard and wicked monarch Nero, formerly exiled, shall order the Christian populace to be expelled from the city. Two Caesars shall participate with him in this, with whom he shall persecute the Christian populace with dire madness. They shall order the judges to issue edicts throughout the land, so that they can compel Christians to abandon the name of Christ. And in the event that any should be able to evade them, they shall order all to go forth crowned that they should place offerings of incense before idols. If any of the faithful refuse to take part in the spectacle, he shall die a blessed death. But if not, he merely becomes one of the crowd. At that time there shall be no day of peace, nor offering to Christ. Blood shall flow everywhere, which I shrink from describing. Fear shall prevail, hands shall fail, and hearts shall tremble: many shall be the deaths fit to impose upon the martyrs. For a long time shall the despised victims be sought over the sea, over the lands, through the islands, and in their hiding places, before they have been led forth to their deaths.

Nero shall do these things for three and one-half years - thus he shall fulfill his appointed time. But a fatal revenge shall be exacted for his crimes. The city and its people will be handed over along with him; and his rule, filled as it was with wickedness, shall be taken away. For he had oppressed for so long a time all of the people by imposing evil tribulations. With the downfall of Nero, a king will again arise from the East with four other nations. As many nations, moreover, as are willing to bring him assistance shall he thus invite into the city with him. And thus he shall be exceptionally powerful, and he shall fill the sea with many thousands of ships. And if anyone shall go against him, that one shall be cut down with the sword. He shall subdue and capture Tyre and Sidon, that the nations on the borders may faint with terror. Henceforth pestilence, wars, famine, and announcements of sad tidings shall all come at once. And so all of the peoples shall be confounded.

Meanwhile a trumpet blares forth from Heaven, the sound of which shakes all in their very bowels. At that time a fiery chariot, drawn by four horses, shall be seen among the stars, and a running torch shall announce a conflagration to the nations. The entire Euphrates River shall be dried, so that the way is prepared for the king and the nations with him. Persians, Medes, Chaldeans, and Babylonians shall come. They shall be mighty and agile men, incapable of knowing pain. When this one arises and begins to come, Nero will be confounded, and with him the nobility, at the very sight of him. The three Caesars will go out to fight against him - but he shall slay them and hand them over to the vultures to be eaten. And their armies shall be compelled to worship the victor. When they return to the city with their minds so altered, they will despoil the temples and whatever else is in the city. They will seize the men and slaughter them with great bloodshed. And when the city is at last laid bare by fire, they will destroy it, leaving no vestige whatsoever to remain. The hearts of the authorities shall melt at this destruction, nor will they be able to ascertain at what time they themselves shall be overthrown. She [Babylon?] indeed rejoices while the whole earth groans. Nor can a retribution worthy of such oppressors be found anywhere on Earth. She who once considered herself eternal [Babylon again?] now mourns, she whose tyrants are now judged by the Most High. At the very end, when Rome burns, will the time be ripe. But fitting forms of recompense will eventually come about for those deserving.

Nevertheless, the victor shall continue on to Judea, he whom the Judeans had observed conquering Rome. He shall make many signs so that they can believe in him. For he was iniquitously sent to seduce them. But a voice believed to come from the Most High rebukes him from the very heavens. A man from Persia will call himself immortal - as Nero for us, so shall this one be for the Jews. These are the two of whom there have been prophecies throughout the generations, who shall appear in the final age. Nero is the destroyer of the city, but this latter shall lay waste to the entire earth. But concerning him I may only hint darkly of a few things, which themselves ought to be read secretly.

Meanwhile he will displease the Jews and the other nations, and they will murmur amongst themselves that he fraudulently deceived them. With wailing voices they will cry as one to the heavens, that the true God will come to their aid from on high. Then the almighty God, in order to end all the things which I have described, will lead forth a populace that had been hidden for a long time. They had been Jews, hidden on the further side of the Persian river [Euphrates?], whom God had wished to tarry there until the end. Captivity had compelled them there, who were fully half of the twelve tribes. There is no dishonesty amongst them, nor any hatred. The child does not die before the parents; there is no bewailing over the dead, nor any mourning, as there customarily is amongst us. There they await the life to come. They eat no animal flesh, but only vegetables, since to eat as much involves no shedding of blood. They exist with their bodies intact, the course of their lives dictated by justice. Impious powers are not engendered in them, nor do illnesses of any kind ever draw near to them. For they are sincerely obedient to the law which we also follow in order to live in purity. Only death and toil can be found amongst them, but other afflictions are absent.

This people who now live beyond the borders [i.e., of the Roman Empire] shall be the people that go forth. When the river has dried up, they will once more seek the land of Judea. And when the Lord comes to fulfill His promises to them, they will exult in His presence throughout their journey. All of the lands will become fertile before them, all things will rejoice; the beasts themselves will be glad to receive the saints; springs will well up in every place as if of their own volition. The people of the Most High go forth in fear of the Lord. The clouds shall make shade for them, lest they be harassed by the sun. And should they become fatigued, the mountains will prostrate themselves before them. An angel of Him Who is on high shall be sent before them, who shall preside over their peaceful army in its passage. With no effort shall they go forward with light steps, and they shall lay waste to all whom they cross, just like passing lions. No nation will be able to resist them if they should wage war against them - for God shall be with them. They will cast out the peoples, and overthrow their cities. By the permission of God they will deprive all of the colonies of their gold and silver, that they might grow rich by such depredations. And thus they shall chant hymns to their upright God along the way. Presently they shall draw near to the city of their holy ancestral land; and that fearsome tyrant will become terrified. He shall flee from that great army into a northern land. He shall vanquish to populace there and from them raise another army which shall fight as if for its own territory. But when they draw near, the army of God will cause the rebels to lie prostrate after a single battle waged by the angels. The wicked king and the false prophets, seized at the same time, shall be cast down; they shall endure the punishments of Hell while still living. His principal commanders and ambassadors, being wicked like their master, shall be demoted to the station of slaves. The saints, meanwhile, shall enter into their holy estates, which, having been promised to them, they take with unending rejoicing. They will beseech God to bring their dead back to life, which He Himself had once promised with regards to the first resurrection.

At that time God shall grow angered at his enemies, and the appointed day will at last come upon the wicked. Then He shall commence to judge the world with fire. He shall bypass the pious while He lets fire fall upon the impious. Scarcely a few shall remain who can tell of such events. Whosoever is reserved to live shall escape only to be slaves unto the just.

After the persecution and ghastly slaughter of the holy ones, the dreadful day of burning shall be imminent. Lo! A loud trumpet shall sound, reverberating across the sky in all directions. It shall terrify an entire world as it falls to ruin. The sun shall withdraw straightaway, and a likeness of the night shall suddenly come to be. And God shall exclaim: "How long did you believe I would tolerate you?" After He has given this signal, destruction shall pour forth from the sky, thunder shall come down, and a rush of lightning shall descend with a terrific noise. From the stars shall come more lightning yet again - a fiery storm held back for so many ages shall rage. Disaster shall come with a great clamor, and the agitated earth shall tremble. None of the human race shall be able to predict for how long they might escape it. The stars of the heavens shall fall, and the heavenly bodies shall be judged by us: the inhabitants of the heavens shall be disturbed while the destruction of the age is accomplished. At that time there shall be no aid, and any outcry will be in vain. There will be no ship to deliver a man, nor any hiding place. None whom they had heretofore worshipped, as if great, shall come forth to provide assistance: every man, no matter how vexed, shall be left to his own devices. The only help will come to those who were known to Christ, for whom there shall be safety. But for the remainder there shall only be death-bearing punishments. A portion of the unbelievers shall be only lightly scorched, and so preserved; and thereby they and their kind can bewail their lot on the last day.
Wherever men turn, there the fiery power burns. The universe itself, formerly so delighted with itself, shall be consumed by fire from its very essence. And all lightning and storms of the heavens which I have described are the accumulated rage of the ages pouring forth. Thus fire, thunder, and all the evils of maelstrom shall boil over. The heavens themselves shall be taken up into the shadow of death. The quaking earth shall first release the destruction enclosed within it, then the thunder will overturn the lowest walls and foundations of the world just as if it were casting dust into the wind. Cliffs shall crumble and stones shall fall; all the houses shall be obliterated, every city of the fatherland shall be laid low. Nothing whatsoever shall remain as a vestige. Who will be able to bear so much noise, so much uproar, so great a ruination - or to look upon such wreckage? What shall the wretched mother do for her sweet little one? What will it profit the father to clutch his son to his breast? Woe to those who flee before the Lord! The quarreling prophets who knew not Christ, whose once-happy lot shall also be judged, shall now bewail themselves. They shall prostrate themselves on the ground, lowing like cattle, while the blessed heavenly palace shall begin to shine on the Christian brothers. Then the eternal light of the supernal life shall wash clean the man, and whoever was humble shall now seem to be a celestial god. Angels of the eternal effulgence will descend with Him; graves will be broken open, bodies will rise up from the slime. But whatever is marked by corruption will be carried by Hell's savage guardians into the abyss. Here there will be living Jews: and He shall lift them up that they might see the glory of Him Whom they crucified. But at last he shall arise from the depths that He might be a witness of those miserable ones, He Who was killed by them. How much money do you now count, you who cunningly laid snares by bribing soldiers to be silent? Concerning you, envious nation, we now declaim. We shall conquer you, Judea, when the just rejoice and the damned are burned in Hell. God shall say to them: "Go back down!" And whoever did not believe shall go out into the shadow of death; likewise will it be for those who were capable of attaining to more, but chose only the things of this world instead. The remainder of those who opposed Christ will make a headlong descent into Hell. With regards to the holy ones, there shall forever after by one holy multitude from the two peoples [i.e., from among the Jew and the Gentiles shall come the single holy Christian populace]. This shall be the greater end: and God has judged that it should remain so for eternity.



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