The Apocalypse of St John

Anthroposophical Quarterly 2.4 (Winter 1957): 16

The Apocalypse of St John by Emil Bock.

The Old Testament leads us out of myth into history; but the New Testament passes from the historical Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, through the wisdom of the Epistles, to close once more in the great myth of the Apocalypse. Without some understanding of what the Apocalypse of St John reveals the rest of the Bible loses half its potency. And in our time it is very little understood.

We have, since the close of the Middle Ages, lost the knack of imagery and this makes “Revelations” a very difficult book indeed. Not only does it mean that the spiritual content of particular images eludes our grasp and has to be laboriously expounded to us before we can begin to rise to it. It has the secondary effect of making the whole arrangement and structure of the book seem much more confusing than, I suspect, our ancestors found it. It is a structure which I, for one, have found impossible to retain in my memory. The Seven Seals, the Seven Messages to the Churches, the Four Horsemen, the Two Beasts, the Seven Vials of Wrath, the Twenty-four Elders are all most vivid in our minds, but some of us would be hard put to it to say in what order they appear.

To help us in the first difficulty – recovery of the significant content of the pictures – we have two courses of Lectures by Rudolf Steiner. But we still need help in overcoming the second, and this is just what Emil Bock’s book provides us with. For, besides transmitting the light thrown by Steiner on the substance, it takes us steadily through the whole of the Apocalypse in the manner of an extended commentary. After a brief Introduction, which outlines the form of the whole work, each chapter of Dr Bock’s book deals with two chapters of the Original, except that I and XVI are each accorded a whole chapter to themselves. In this way (the Chapter-titles themselves are no small help towards it) order is introduced into the confused series of images; or rather we are made to see that it is not really confused and to experience the hidden order which is already there.

To read the Apocalypse itself straight through is apt to produce a feeling of congestion and to leave us with an uneasy sense that we are skimming the surface of waters too deep for us. So terrific and so ominous is its content that we do not altogether escape this feeling even with Dr Bock’s extended interpretation, if we treat his 190 pages in the same way. They make us, rather, long to return to the Original and to read it very slowly, and with intervals, with Bock; and that seems to me to be the ideal way of using this book. I have said that it “transmits” the light thrown by Rudolf Steiner, but I did not mean that in any limiting sense. If there is perhaps an occasional tendency to allegorise the text morally in a way that is characteristic more of the Swedenborgian than of the anthroposophical approach, we are none the less constantly aroused and impressed by deep and original insights pithily expressed. For instance:—

Mere intellectualism has no roots left. It ceases to take thinking seriously.

or, if space permitted, one would like to quote the whole of the paragraph on the Rainbow and the Threshold on page 82; and, on the same page, there is the well-pointed “dilemma” of human consciousness, by which (says Dr Bock) the very cause of our difficulty in apprehending the Apocalypse is precisely what gives to our age its apocalyptic character.

It remains to add that the anonymous translator has done his work well and there is little, if anything, to suggest that the book was not first written in the English language.

Owen Barfield