Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Daniel 7 – This chapter starts with a retelling of the vision told of in chapter 2 but is connected with king Belshazzar (the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar).
In the dream, he sees the four winds of heaven stirring up the “great sea” and four beasts emerge from the sea – the first like a lion with eagle’s wings. His wings are torn off and he is lifted from the ground and set standing on feet like a man, given a human heart ["mind" in the NLT translation]. The second was like a bear with three ribs in his mouth. He is ordered to stand and eat flesh. The third was like a leopard with four wings, four heads and a lot of power. And the fourth was terrifying with iron teeth and ten horns; “it ate, crushed and trampled underfoot what remained” (7:7). As he looks at the vision, he sees another horn sprout up, pushing three other larger ones out of place. This last horn had eyes and “a mouth that was full of boasts” (7:8).
“I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him. Then the court began its session, and the books were opened” (7:9-10).
One of the beasts is killed and thrown in the flames. The other ones are stripped of any power but get another bit of time to live. Then “I gazed into the visions of the night, and I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man. He came to the one of great age and was led into his presence. On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all people, nations and languages became his servants” (7:13-14).
My Jerusalem Bible notes that there is a good deal of confusing Aramaic words here. Daniel is alarmed by these visions. Someone unveils the meaning of these things to him. The beasts are four kingdoms that will arise from the earth (7:17), “But in the end, the holy people of the Most High will be given the kingdom, and they will rule forever and ever” (7:18).
He inquires about the fourth beast and is so different from the rest, “very terrifying, with iron teeth and bronze claws, eating, crushing and trampling underfoot what remained; and the truth about the ten horns on its head—and why the other horn sprouted and the three original horns fell, and why this horn had eyes and a mouth that was full of boasts, and why it made a greater show than the other horns”(7:19-20).
It is a kingdom different from the others. “It will devour the whole earth, trample it underfoot and crush it” (7:23). From this kingdom, ten kings will arise (the horns) and yet another king will bring them down and speak words against God. Eventually he will lose power and the saints will gain sovereignty forever (7:27-28).
Daniel 8 – Daniel has another vision in the third year of Belshazzar. He is in Susa, one of the royal residences of the Persian dynasty of Cyrus. A ram with two horns – one of which is larger than the other. This is meant to be a vision of the Persian Empire having dominated the Medes. Then a “he-goat from the West” (8:5), Alexander the Great, challenges them.
“At the height of his power, the great horn snapped and in its place sprouted four majestic horns, pointing to the four winds of heaven (8:8). This is a reference to the division of Alexander’s Hellenistic empire.
“From one of these, the small one, sprang a horn which grew to great size towards south and east and towards the Land of Splendor. It grew right up to the armies of heaven and flung armies and stars to the ground, and trampled them underfoot. It even challenged the power of that army’s Prince; it abolished the perpetual sacrifice and overthrew the foundation of his sanctuary, and the army too; it put iniquity on the sacrifice and flung truth to the ground; the horn was active and successful” (8:9-12). –I’m thinking this must be the Seleucid Empire, which eventually brought idols into the Temple and undermined the loyalty of many to the tradition. He hears a dialogue between two “people/beings” concerning how long the sanctuary will be “trampled underfoot” (8:13), and the reply is that it will go on for 2,300 evenings and mornings have passed; then “the sanctuary shall have its right restored” (8:14).
Daniel says that as he “gazed at the vision and tried to understand it” he saw “someone standing before me who looked like a man” (8:15) and he heard the “man” cry out for Gabriel [the angel] to tell him the meaning of the vision. Gabriel “approached the place where I was standing; as he approached I was seized with terror, and fell prostrate. ‘Son of man,’ he said to me, ‘understand this: the vision shows the time of the End.’ He was still speaking, when I fell senseless to the ground” (8:15-18).
He touches the prophet and raises him to his feet. He tells him the meaning of the vision, parts of which elude me: “What you have seen pertains to the very end of time. The two-horned ram represents the kings of Media and Persia. The shaggy male goat represents the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes represents the first king of the Greek Empire. The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four kingdoms, but none as great as the first” (8:20-22). This seems a repeat of the rise and fall of the Hellenistic Empire. When that is done, “a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does” (8:23-24). He will destroy many powerful leaders and leave “the holy people” devastated. He will become full of himself and then will “take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power” (8:25). Daniel is asked to keep this knowledge to himself. He was “greatly troubled by the vision and could not understand it” (8:27).
From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
My freshman year at college (1963-64) saw the culmination of all the early God-oriented, God-believing parts of my life. The innocent mysticism that had been a part of my life since I was ten became incredibly intense. I thought about God all the time—I felt his presence in the sky at night; I felt his power in the sea and in the many beauties of nature; I felt love present in these things. And I believed that there were logical reasons to believe in God’s existence, reasons that had to do with the necessity of having some objective foundation for the moral laws we all seemed to believe existed. I remember even having arguments on the point with my father and feeling surprised that while he did not accept that proposition, he had no really cogent argument to make against it.
But while my mystical experiences grew ever stronger, my loyalty to the Episcopal Church eroded. I started having trouble understanding the legitimacy of the break Henry VIII had made with Rome. Somehow, his desire to get a divorce and marry a woman who could give him an heir didn’t seem very convincing to me as the basis of my church’s existence. I started to feel the pull of the Catholic Church, the church that traced its origins back to the apostles. I spent hours in the lowest level of the college library stacks—where the religion books were—reading the Catholic Encyclopedia, reading Catholic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, trying to understand, trying to come to some decision about where I should be as a Christian. I argued with committed Catholics about things that bothered me about the Catholic Church, but while I never gave them the satisfaction of knowing it, I eventually began to see things their way. But it wasn’t just logic or argument that won me. There were emotional reasons as well. The Catholic Church, after all, had been the church I had attended with my grandmother in my earliest childhood. It had been the church of most of the people in my family, some of whom I haven’t mentioned but whom I greatly admired—my mother’s younger brother, for example, and his wife. They were devoutly Catholic and were wonderful models of Catholic piety. And the Catholic Church was in the news in 1960 and 1961, with the campaign of John F. Kennedy and the opening by Pope John XXIII of the Second Vatican Council.
But Catholicism was not the only thing I looked at. As fate (or providence) would have it, my freshman year also saw me housed across the hall from a Quaker student who reminded me of the virtues I had found in my brief encounter with Friends—their integrity, simplicity, commitment to social justice, and moral earnestness. I gave some thought to becoming a Friend. I don’t remember how much time or effort I gave to exploring Quakerism that year—probably not that much, but I know I talked about it with at least one friend. I remember expressing to her that I found Friends too “spiritual” – too inward – to appeal to me. They didn’t do things—they didn’t kneel or cross themselves; they didn’t take communion or do confession – nothing. These outward things were somehow important to me at this time of my life.
The summer after my freshman year, I sought out a priest and received instruction. In August, I was received into the Catholic Church. I remember that the priest thought I might be proceeding a little to quickly, but he knew that my family was mostly Catholic, so it seemed natural to him that I should end up there. For some reason, I was rebaptized and reconfirmed even though I had had these sacraments in the Episcopal Church. I think it was a matter of not really being sure at the time where I had had these things done or not having any proof of them. Then I was confessed and received. I remember thinking even then what a miracle it was that I should ever have chosen to become a Catholic, that I should ever have been granted faith when so few in my family were believers. One of the other wonderful things that happened as a result of my conversion was that my grandfather, who had not been to church in thirty years, took the occasion of my conversion to return to the Church. It was a sign of how he loved me that he did it. I wish I had appreciated it more. To celebrate the great day, I bought myself a lovely red leather-bound missal with god-edged pages and a bright blue rosary!
My father, of course, did not get it. He did not understand how I could overlook the horrors of the Inquisition or the reactionary role the Catholic Church played (as he saw it) in history and in the societies were Catholicism was established. He didn’t find any of my arguments about the moral low or about the sense I had of God’s presence in the universe logical or convincing, but it wasn’t his way to write me off or give me a hard time. He just shook his head and said he “just didn’t get it.”