Advent with Revelation (Ch 17)
December 13, 2022
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

Chapter 17 (Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent)

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgement of the great whore who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.’ So he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.’ And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly amazed. But the angel said to me, ‘Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 

‘This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings, of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain for only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.’ 

And he said to me, ‘The waters that you saw, where the whore is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the whore; they will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by agreeing to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.’ 


The new cross-section that follows (chapters 17-18) presents a kind of retrospective “enlargement” of the summary that we have seen (retrospective because Babylon has already fallen: 14:8; 16:9). We must devote special attention to Babylon, the ultimate concrete manifestation of Satan’s working through the beast, on which she (Babylon) sits as the Great Harlot (but we need not pay any further attention to the second beast here). From the Old Covenant on, Babylon symbolizes and epitomizes the godless politico-cultural world power, the very opposite of Jerusalem, the civitas Dei. It refers neither to the Mesopotamian nor to the new Roman superpower; rather, it is the utterly concrete principle for which and with which “the kings of the earth” (that is, including Rome) “have committed fornication” (17:2) and which “has dominion over the kings of the earth” (17:18). As is often the case in the Old Covenant, fornication is to be understood both figuratively (meaning  idolatry) and literally (that is, that which offends against man’s incarnational bodily being). Quite consistently, the harlot’s cup is filled with the “filth of her fornication” as well as the “blood of the saints” and the “wrath (of God)” (18:3); it is the more concrete expression of the conduct of the beast, which both blasphemes God and wars against the saints.

What follows (17:7-17), that is, the interpretation of the beast and the woman, is the hardest and most disputed passage of the book. In the light of what we have already said, it would seem somewhat perverse suddenly to expect to find a coded portrayal of precise details of contemporary history here or to interpret the ubiquitous symbolic numbers as a key to the succession of Roman emperors, and the Great Harlot as the city of Rome. The (theological) principles and powers of world history have their reality in other dimensions. The interpretation of the beast is initially mysterious: “The beast . . . was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition” (17:8). Thus, as the principle of evil, it is the counterimage to the God “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:8). God is present, here-and-now Being: evil cannot put forward any counterimage to match him. Note that in 17:11 the beast both “was” and “is not” (cf. Gregory of Nyssa, PG 46, 1133A) and that Babylon too is said to have fallen (14:8; 18:2) before ever its presence was beheld or described (17:1ff.; 18:7).

What follows next is even more obscure: the beast’s seven heads are said to be seven hills on which the woman sits but also seven kings, “of whom five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while”; as for the beast, “it is an eighth, but it belongs to the seven” (17:10-11). All attempts to interpret this in terms of the sequence of Roman emperors has proved unsatisfactory; we do better to remain at the symbolic level. In the cross-section provided by this vision, most of the high points of the beast’s power are past, and the present high point is in transition to a coming short-term one. Then the principle itself will emerge out of its
successive embodiments and go to perdition, as the next and final sequence of visions will explicitly show (19:20). Finally, the ten horns of the seven heads (13:1 = 17:3) are interpreted as ten rulers. They do two things: they make war against the Lamb, who vanquishes them (no doubt this anticipates 19:19); then, together with the beast, they turn against the harlot, “make her desolate and naked and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire”. Details from the history of the period are even less help here. The “desolation” is described thoroughly in the great lament of 18:124; on the “devouring” and “burning”, cf. 19:17ff and 18:8, 9, 17; 19:3.4 The essential point is that Babylon’s fall is caused by the beast and the rulers associated with it, that is, evil’s final potentiality devours and destroys itself, whereas the beasts opposed to the Incarnation are conquered by Christ himself (19:19-21), and the
annihilation of the final enemy, the dragon, is reserved to God alone (20:9). 

Musical Selection

Grátia domínica de morte triúmphans, callidi serpentis fraudem cónterens, hostem superávit. *Pro liberándis  poena quos ténuit. V. Per cuius undam sánguinis quam devorárat ímpius absórtam refúdit tártarus praedam.  *Pro liberándis

The grace of the Lord, triumphing over death and treading the cunning serpent with his deceit, has overcome  the enemy. *In order to free those who were held in torment. V. Through the tide of His blood, which the wicked had drained, hell has disgorged the prey it had engulfed. *In order to free.


God of love,
through your only-begotten Son
you have made us a new creation;
guard carefully the great work of your mercy
and by the coming of your Son
remove every trace of our old ways of sin.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.