Benedict XVI on “dark powers”

Commentary on Canticle of Revelation (15:3-4)

“Thanks to Fear of the Lord, There Is No Fear of Evil”

VATICAN CITY, MAY 11, 2005 ( a translation of Benedict XVI’s address at today’s general audience, held in St. Peter’s square, which he dedicated to a reflection on the canticle of praise “Lord God the Almighty” (Revelation 15:3), which forms part of the evening prayer of the Church, known as vespers.

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“Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4)

1. Brief and solemn, incisive and grandiose in its tonality, is the canticle which we now made ours, elevating it as a hymn of praise to the “Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 15:3). It is one of the many prayerful texts set in Revelation, book of judgment, salvation and, above all, hope.

History, in fact, is not alone in the hands of dark powers, chance or human choices. Over the unleashing of evil energies, the vehement irruption of Satan, and the emergence of so many scourges and evils, the Lord rises, supreme arbiter of historical events. He leads history wisely towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth, sung in the final part of the book under the image of the new Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21-22).

Those who intone the canticle that we will now meditate are the righteous of history, the conquerors of the Satanic beast, those who go through the apparent defeat of martyrdom are, in reality, the builders of the new world, with God the supreme architect.

2. They begin by exalting the “great and wonderful” deeds and the “just and true” ways of the Lord (cf. Revelation 15:3). The language is that characteristic of the exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Moses’ first canticle—pronounced after the passage of the Red Sea—celebrates the Lord “terrible in renown, worker of wonders” (Exodus 15:11). The second canticle—referred to in Deuteronomy at the end of the life of the great lawgiver—confirms that “how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways!” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

It must be reaffirmed, therefore, that God is not indifferent to human events, but penetrates them realizing his “ways,” namely his plans and his efficacious “deeds.”

3. According to our hymn, this divine intervention has a very specific purpose: to be a sign that invites all the peoples of the earth to conversion. Nations must learn to “read” in history a message of God. Humanity’s history is not confused and without meaning, nor is it given over, without appeal, to the malfeasance of the arrogant and perverse. There is the possibility to recognize divine action hidden in it. In the pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” Vatican Council II also invites the believer to scrutinize, in the light of the Gospel, the signs of the times to see in them the manifestation of the very action of God (cf. n. 4 and 11). This attitude of faith leads man to recognize the power of God operating in history, and thus to open himself to fear of the name of the Lord. In biblical language, in fact, this “fear” does not coincide with dread, but is the recognition of the mystery of the divine transcendence. Because of this, it is the basis of faith and is joined with love: “the Lord your God requires of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (cf. Deuteronomy 10:12).

Following this line, in our brief hymn, taken from Revelation, fear and glorification of God are united: “Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name?” (15:4). Thanks to fear of the Lord there is no fear of the evil that rages in history and one takes up again with vigor the journey of life, as the prophet Isaiah declared: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!'” (Isaiah 35: 3-4).

4. The hymn ends with the expectation of a universal procession of peoples who will appear before the Lord of history, revealed through his “righteous acts” (cf. Revelation 15:4). They will prostrate themselves in adoration. And the one Lord and savior seems to repeat to them the words pronounced on the last evening of his earthly life: “take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

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