As foretold in days of yore, here is the beginning of a lengthy serialized presentation of Christina Georgina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse. The reader is guaranteed to gain from this:
a.) excellent poetry;
b.) the devotional commentary of a woman who, in the words of her brother,
clung to and loved the Christian creed because she loved Jesus Christ. “Christ is God” was her one dominant idea. Faith with her was faith pure and absolute: an entire acceptance of a thing revealed—not a quest for any confirmation or demonstrative proof (p. liv, The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, ed. London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd, 1914);
c.) the first verse-by-verse commentary on the Apocalypse written by a woman, which makes it of historical import for various fields;
and d.) a work written by a highly literate, perceptive, and expressive person whose knowledge of the Bible was truly minute and ready (idem, lxix), whose other theological reading apparently consisted of only the Confessions of Augustine, The Imitation of Christ of Thomas à Kempis, and The Pilgrim’s Progress of John Bunyan (idem, lxix). And yet I think all will agree that this limitation in the author’s reading has not in any way damaged the power of her commentary, for it is a “devotional commentary” after all, which is a genre having its own gemstones strewn on however different a beach than some of my readers may tend to walk.
I intend to keep matters of orthography, formatting, and emphasis as close as possible to the printed text. Due to the length of the pericopes, I think I’ll only post this first fully as a blog entry, an apéritif, with the rest to be posted on a web page. So! Here we go!
1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John:
2. Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
“Things which must shortly come to pass.”—At the end of 1800 years we are still repeating this “shortly,” because it is the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ: thus starting in the fellowship of patience with that blessed John who owns all Christians as his brethren (see ver. 9).
More marvellous than many marvels subsequently revealed is that initiatory marvel, the dignity of Him Who ministers to His own servants. For God Almighty it is Who gives to Jesus Christ His Co-Equal Son a Revelation for man. It reaches us through Angel and Apostle, but these are the channel, not the fountain-head, as St. Paul writes to his Corinthian converts: “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”
Wherefore are we God’s creatures? To the end that He may do us good. Wherefore are we Christ’s servants? To the end that He may save us. And how helped He His fallen creatures? By taking their damage upon Himself. And how took He in hand to save His servants? By sacrificing Himself for them. Did He at all need us as servants? Nay, but we needed Him.
Thee we needed, Thee we need, O Only Almighty, All-merciful Redeemer. As Thou for us who needed Thee, so grant that we may spend ourselves for any who need us; nor desire to have servants or dependents or inferiors except so far as we may do them good, requiting them what Thou hast done to us.
[Such cannot be our honest theory, unless it be likewise our honest practice.]
We may not connect so human a virtue as patience with the blessed Angels, because exemption from sin seems to entail incapacity for certain graces. But St. John, of like passions with ourselves, may indeed have needed patience to “prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” of that “whole world” whereof he himself avers that it lieth in wickedness.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must . . . come to pass.”—Christ reveals to us these things, and by virtue of His Spirit dwelling in us, these and all things reveal to us Christ. For while this Book abounds in the terror of the Lord, through and above tumult of multitudes and their voice as of voluminous waters or of mighty thunderings sounds the dear word, “It is I; be not afraid.”
Teach us, O Lord, to fear Thee without terror, and to trust Thee without misgiving: to fear Thee in love, until it please Thee that we shall love Thee without fear.
“To show unto His servants.”—The promise is to “His servants” only, in accordance with our Lord’s own words: “If any man will do His Will, he shall know of the doctrine . . .”: he, not another. Obedience is the key of knowledge, not knowledge of obedience. Yet this showing is not the same as explaining: truths or events are certified to us, and in consequence we know them; but it by no means follows that we can account for them or foresee the time or the manner of their coming to pass. Even St. Paul was content to class himself with his hearers when he wrote, “We know in part.” And St. Peter attests how the prophets “inquired and searched diligently . . . searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify . . . Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister . . .”
Seems it a small thing to minister rather than to be ministered unto? Nay: for thus did the Lord Jesus, Who likewise said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
“The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise Thee.”
Things there are which “the angels desire to look into.” Somewhat of the manifold Wisdom of God was not known unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places until the Church brought it to light.
“Therefore, with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy Glorious Name, evermore praising Thee.”
O Gracious Saviour, Who declaredst unto St. Peter, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter”; give us grace now to answer Thee with his final submission, that hereafter we may adore Thee with his insight.
O Gracious Saviour, Who bestowedst upon St. John a great glory of humility when he bare record how Thou saidst not of him, “He shall not die,” grant unto us in mortal life humility, and in life immortal glory.
Heaven is not far, though far the sky
Overarching earth and main.
It takes not long to live and die,
Die, revive, and rise again.
Not long: how long? Oh long re-echoing song!
O Lord, how long?
“Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Elsewhere St. John writes: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” All truth is venerable, let who will propound it; now an Apostle, at another time Caiaphas. Our Lord Himself said: “Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the Truth. But I receive not testimony from man.” Clearly then the Truth is to be believed not for his word’s sake who records it, but for His Verity’s sake Who reveals it.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who are Truth and Wisdom, reveal unto us, we beseech Thee. Thou art not far from every one of us. Grant us good-will to draw nigh unto Thee, Who deignest to draw nigh unto us.
“Who bare record…of all things that he saw.” Blessed he who once and again saw and believed. None the less Christ’s promise stands sure to ourselves: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
O Saviour of men, Who sufferest not Thy beloved Disciple to exclude us, even us, from any height or depth of beatitude, give us grace to be of those blessed who not seeing believe.