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Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

The absolute axiom of interpreting the four Gospels, which has always been followed by the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church, is that nothing of all that the Savior Christ did on this earth was devoid of meaning, nor was it done at random.

The main reference point of our lives, therefore, is the Cross. It is what helps us traverse the tumultuous ocean of the “world” like a lifeboat. It is what protects us from the fire of passions and vices through its fireproof qualities, similar to cork wood. At the same time, with the image of the monk tied to the mast floating at the mercy of the waves before our eyes, we understand that without it, we would sink immediately. 

The biblical prophecies, like those from the secret of Fatima, have occasioned endless debates regarding their meanings. Disappointed by the plurality of interpretations and the controversies that arise, there are numerous Catholics who completely avoid them. The main cause of such an attitude is the conviction that understanding them is practically impossible. I have even met priests and monks who, out of (a maybe exaggerate) prudence, avoided any discussion about prophecies. On the other hand, there are other Catholics who, enthusiastically embracing certain particular interpretations, end up arguing with anyone who does not share their opinions. Only the prophecies remain, impassive and silent, in the pages of Holy Scripture, challenging our capacity for understanding. They are obscure, and when they are fulfilled, things do not happen “photographically.” Let me give you just one example.

The words of prophecies cannot be interpreted in isolation, solely based on one’s own understanding, by someone who does not receive the interpretation transmitted by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the writing of the words of the prophecies.

In the book of Isaiah we find one of the most famous prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. The description is truly majestic: convoys of people, caravans of camels, treasures, and many people are coming. It’s as if crowds of people come to see the divine newborn, the Messiah, to give Him all their wealth. Here are the most spectacular verses:

“Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side. (…) The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord. All the flocks of Cedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nabaioth shall minister to thee” (Isaiah 60:4, 6-7).

But when we read the episode – in Matthew 2:11 and Luke 2:8-20 – in which this prophecy was fulfilled, what do we see? Three magi and a few shepherds gathered in the poorest place in Israel. Did the prophecy come true or not? Because it doesn’t really look as majestic as it does in the book of Isaiah. At the same time I am sure that it was fulfilled. But its fulfillment does not imply a “photographic” match. I can give you other similar examples. However, all will show that there is what Saints like Irenaeus (c.130–c.202), John Chrysostom (c.347 –407), and Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (1542–1621) call the “obscurity” of prophecies. This led the first Pope in history, Saint Peter, to issue an important warning:

“Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21).[i]

The meaning of Peter’s words has been clarified for us by several Saints and Doctors of the Church. Among them, Bede the Venerable (672/3–735) emphasizes that those who wrote the prophetic texts were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the same Spirit must be “listened to” by those who interpret them:

“The prophets heard God speaking to them in the secret recesses of their own hearts. They simply conveyed that message by their preaching and writing to God’s people. (…) For this reason the reader cannot interpret them by himself, because he is liable to depart from the true meaning, but rather he must wait to hear how the One who wrote the words wants them to be understood.”[ii]

The words of prophecies cannot be interpreted in isolation, solely based on one’s own understanding, by someone who does not receive the interpretation transmitted by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the writing of the words of the prophecies. This perspective is similar to that of the famous Jewish exegete, Philo of Alexandria (c.20 BCE–c. 50 CE), who in De Praemiis et Poenis (On Rewards and Punishments) states, “Propheta est interpres Dei dictantis oracula” (i.e., “The prophet is an interpreter of the oracles dictated by God”). Therefore, how could prophecies be interpreted without the author of them – God himself – revealing their meaning to us?

In order to authentically interpret the prophecies of Scripture, two things are necessary: a) the interpreter must have the gift of interpreting prophecies; b) this gift must be fruitful by becoming capable of “hearing” the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in the depths of the hearts of those who write the prophecies and of those who interpret them.

Consequently, if we want to correctly understand a prophecy, we must fulfill the necessary conditions for “communication” with the Holy Spirit. However, we must also remember that Holy Scripture indicates the existence of a special charism of prophecy, as mentioned by Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 12:10). Additionally, there is another aspect emphasized by the famous Renaissance commentator, Cornelius Cornelii à Lapide S.J. (1567–1637), namely that the final word in the interpretation of prophecies belongs not to an individual person, even if holy, but to the Church. This teaching is based on the Council of Trent where, in the Fourth Session, it was affirmed: “Ecclesiae ergo est judicare de vero sensu et interpretatione S. Scripturae” (i.e., “It is therefore for the Church to judge about the true sense and interpretation of Holy Scripture”).

Let’s recapitulate. In order to authentically interpret the prophecies of Scripture, two things are necessary: a) the interpreter must have the gift of interpreting prophecies; b) this gift must be fruitful by becoming capable of “hearing” the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in the depths of the hearts of those who write the prophecies and of those who interpret them. As for us, who do not possess such qualities, we can have opinions based, possibly, on the interpretations of saints. But this requires prudence and, above all, humility on our part: we must recognize our limitations and accept that, as taught by the Council of Trent, only the Church can have the final word in the interpretation of a biblical text – thus also of a prophecy. I emphasize that no matter how thorough and coherent certain particular interpretations may seem to us, a good dose of prudence is always necessary.

Returning to the reasons for the obscurity of prophecies, Saint Robert Bellarmine proposes an explanation drawn from the treatise on heresies of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon. Here is his conclusion:

“It happens, that it is common to all prophecies of the prophets to be ambiguous and obscure until they are fulfilled, just as Irenaeus rightly teaches and proves.”

Only those “who have ears to hear” the inner Teacher (i.e., Holy Spirit) in the depths of their hearts will discern the authentic meaning of the prophecies. Until we reach that spiritual stature, however, we grope in the darkness.

In other words, only after their fulfillment can we say with certainty that the “signs” have been crystal clear. But why doesn’t God offer us absolute certainties before their fulfillment? And why don’t they come true “photographically”? Over time, several answers have been proposed to such difficult questions. Among them, one of the most important seems to me to refer not only to prophecies, but to the understanding of Holy Scripture in general: we are encouraged to grow spiritually so as to reach the maturity of the mind, supported by grace, in order to understand them correctly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In other words, only those “who have ears to hear” the inner Teacher (i.e., Holy Spirit) in the depths of their hearts will discern the authentic meaning of the prophecies. Until we reach that spiritual stature, however, we grope in the darkness. This precarious state invites us, on the one hand, to recognize our humble limitations, and on the other hand, to multiply our prayers, asking God to enlighten us.

If you don’t already know it, this small prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas is exactly what we need:

“Creator ineffabilis, qui de thesauris sapientiae tuae tres Angelorum hierarchias designasti et eas super caelum empyreum miro ordine collocasti atque universi partes elegantissime distribuisti: Tu, inquam, qui verus fons luminis et sapientiae diceris ac supereminens principium, infundere digneris super intellectus mei tenebras tuae radium claritatis, duplices, in quibus natus sum, a me removens tenebras, peccatum scilicet et ignorantiam. Tu, qui linguas infantium facis disertas, linguam meam erudias atque in labiis meis gratiam tuae benedictionis infundas. Da mihi intelligendi acumen, retinendi capacitatem, addiscendi modum et facilitatem, interpretandi subtilitatem, loquendi gratiam copiosam. Ingressum instruas, progressum dirigas, egressum compleas. Tu, qui es verus Deus et homo, qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.”[iii]

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[i] “Hoc primum intelligentes quod omnis prophetia Scripturae propria interpretatione non fit. Non enim voluntate humana allata est aliquando prophetia : sed Spiritu Sancto inspirati, locuti sunt sancti Dei homines.”

[ii] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Edited by Gerald Bray, IVP Academic, 2000, p. 141.

[iii] “O infinite Creator, who in the riches of Thy wisdom didst appoint three hierarchies of Angels and didst set them in wondrous order over the highest heavens, and who didst apportion the elements of the world most wisely: do Thou, who art in truth the fountain of light and wisdom, deign to shed upon the darkness of my understanding the rays of Thine infinite brightness, and remove far from me the twofold darkness in which I was born, namely, sin and ignorance. Do Thou, who givest speech to the tongues of little children, instruct my tongue and pour into my lips the grace of Thy benediction. Give me keenness of apprehension, capacity for remembering, method and ease in learning, insight-in interpretation, and copious eloquence in speech. Instruct my beginning, direct my progress, and set Thy seal upon the finished work, Thou, who art true God and true Man, who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.”

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski's reaction

In a recent post on his Facebook channel, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski expressed his indignation at the response given by Tim Staples on Catholic Answers to the question “why Francis hates the TLM and why he wants to get rid of it.” Here is what Staples replied:

“Francis is just completing the work of Vatican II, because we must have one liturgy of the Roman Rite. Just like Trent did back at that council.”

In a world marked by the rejection of the Christian faith and the unprecedented spread of heresies that have even infected the hierarchy of the Church, the thought of an imminent divine punishment has become inevitable. Therefore, a clear answer to the key question stated in the title is as necessary as possible: can the end of the world prophesied in the sacred books of Holy Scriptures be identified with an atomic war?

The two extremely important aspects regarding the interpretation of our Lord’s statement “Judge not, that you may not be judged” refer, firstly, to the content – what we should and should not judge, and secondly, to the manner in which we judge – how we judge.

Nothing attacks our spiritual life more violently today than the “practical heresies” spread on the scale of the entire Church. Contradicting the faith professed with the mouth through actions opposed to it is the most serious symptom of the great apostasy in the midst of which we are caught like in a tsunami.

Can anyone doubt now, in 2024, that things are exactly as the prophecy describes them? Can we doubt that indeed the true faith (i.e., orthodox faith) has been lost by numerous members of the Church? Is this not the main core of the crisis in which we find ourselves presently?

By incarnating in the history and time of fallen humans, God the Son, Jesus Christ, has extraordinarily introduced eternity into history. By dying and then rising again, He opened the gates of Jerusalem for us, but at the same time, He also reopened the gates of the fallen world (and time) to eternity.

Both the signs of the end and the signs of recognizing the antichrist have been left to us in the inspired texts with the purpose of warning us about the imminence of crucial historical events. Their purpose, however, is never to satisfy our human curiosity, but to urge us to repentance, to penance, to prayer – to a life of more intense and deep sanctity.

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