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Woman of the Apocalypse

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Title: Woman of the Apocalypse  
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Subject: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Liebieghaus, Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Cologne), Michael (archangel), Christotokos
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Woman of the Apocalypse

The Blessed Virgin Mary as the Woman of the Apocalypse by Peter Paul Rubens.[1] She is depicted as wearing a white dress and blue mantle while crushing a serpent under her foot.[2]

The Woman of the Apocalypse is a figure from Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation (ca. 95 AD). Her identity has been the subject of a wide variety of interpretations.

Biblical text

From the Book of Revelation, 11:19—12:1-18.[3]

11:19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm. 12:1 A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 It was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. 4 Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. 6 The lady herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God, that there she might be taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days. 7 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, 8 but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time.
13 When the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to her place in the desert, where, far from the serpent, she was taken care of for a year, two years, and a half-year. 15 The serpent, however, spewed a torrent of water out of his mouth after the woman to sweep her away with the current. 16 But the earth helped the woman and opened its mouth and swallowed the flood that the dragon spewed out of its mouth. 17 Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus. 13:1 It took its position on the sand of the sea.



The Blessed Virgin Mary

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, for one, has been described as a representation of the Woman of the Apocalypse.[4]
Mary of Velankanni, is believed to be a depiction of the Woman of the Apocalypse

One strain of Catholic tradition assigns the identity of the woman to the Virgin Mary after her assumption into heaven, where she is revealed in all her glory as the "Queen of Heaven", "Mother of God", and "Mother of the Church". This view has been affirmed by Pope Pius X,[5] Pope Pius XII,[6] Pope Paul VI,[7] and Pope John Paul II.[8] According to this view, the woman's "male child," is a reference to Jesus (Revelation 12:5), since he is destined to "rule all nations with a rod of iron" (Revelation 12:5). The dragon trying to devour the woman's child at the moment of his birth (Revelation 12:4) is a reference to Herod the Great's attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16). Through his death and resurrection, Jesus "was snatched up to God and to his throne" (Revelation 12:5).

However, most of the ancient commentators identified her with the Church, while in the Middle Ages it was widely held that she represented Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Modern exegetes, have generally held to the older interpretation, with certain modifications, on the strength of contextual details, while in recent years several Catholics have championed the Marian interpretation. Ancient witnesses to the Marian interpretation include St. Epiphanius,[9] Tychonius[10] (who heavily influenced St. Augustine), the unknown author of the History of Joseph the Carpenter,[11] Quodvultdeus (a disciple of St. Augustine), Cassiodorus (Complexiones in Apocalypsi, written c. 570 AD), and the Greek Fathers Andreas and Oikoumenios[12] (sixth century). For an assessment of the logical and theological reasons for identifying the Woman of Revelation 12 with Mary Mother of God, see Brunero Gherardini, Raised to Heaven because Co-Redemptrix on Earth. Thoughts on the Foundation of the Catholic Dogma.[13]

The commentary of the New American Bible (the official Roman Catholic Bible for America) states that "The woman adorned with the sun, the moon, and the stars (images taken from Gn 37:9–10) symbolizes God’s people in the Old and the New Testament. The Israel of old gave birth to the Messiah (Rev 12:5) and then became the new Israel, the church, which suffers persecution by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 13–17); cf. Is 50:1; 66:7; Jer 50:12." [14]

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, has been described as a representation of the Woman of the Apocalypse. Mary of Velankanni, of the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, at Tamil Nadu, is also said to be a depiction of the Woman of the Apocalypse.

Some Catholic commentary, such as Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary (1859) allows for both the church (primarily) and Mary to be what the woman represents.

Symbolic understanding

Aside from the impersonated views are the symbolic where the idea about the Church being threatened by the red dragon and the Israel in the same role are concurrent.

The Church

"Madonna with Child" as the woman in Revelation 12:1; Rotonda di San Lorenzo, Mantua, Italy

Commentators who adhere to Reformed Theology and are amillennial in their eschatology identify the woman as the Church, and the man-child she gives birth to are the saints.[15] According to this interpretation, Revelation 12:17 describes the remnant of the seed of the woman as those who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. The offspring of the Woman, the Woman's seed, then refers to the saints. The man child "who shall rule the nations with a rod of iron" is a symbol of the faithful members of the Church. In Revelation 2:18-29, the Church in Thyatira is promised that the faithful shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. In Revelation 19:15 the same thing is stated of Jesus. In Galatians 4:26, Paul the Apostle refers to the "New Jerusalem" as "our mother", and in Revelation 21:2 and Ephesians 5:21-32 the New Jerusalem and the Church is portrayed as the Bride of Christ.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has traditionally identified itself as the end-time "remnant church" described in Revelation 12:17.

The Catholic Church recognizes the 'woman' as Mary the Mother of the Christ and the Church. The Church acknowledges what it considers an invitation in the holy verses for the reader to ponder the mysteries between The Mother of God and the Mother of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also interprets the woman to be the Church, and the man-child to be the political kingdom that will grow out of the Church prior to or during the Second Coming of Christ; this interpretation is made clear by Joseph Smith's translation of the twelfth chapter of Revelation.

The Nation of Israel

Dispensational Premillennialists, and Amillennialists who believe in multiple valid interpretations will often identify the woman as the nation of Israel. There are several reasons given to support this interpretation. The woman is said to be clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and twelve stars. These symbols are drawn from Genesis 37:9–11, in which Joseph has a dream of the sun and moon symbolizing his father and mother, and stars representing his eleven brothers, which bow down to him. The Old Testament's prophets referred to Israel as a "woman" (Isaiah 54:5-6; Jeremiah 4:31; Micah 4:9-10). The woman flees into the wilderness where she is nourished for 1260 days, the equivalent of three and a half years or forty-two months (cf. Rev. 11:1-3). According to this interpretation, these terms are used prophetically in Scripture either for the first half or the last half of the "Seventieth Week of Daniel," in Daniel 9:24-27, a prophecy specifically addressed to Daniel and his people, Israel (Dan. 9:24). In the latter part of the seventieth week, a remnant of Israel will flee into the wilderness to escape the persecution of Antichrist, who is called "the son of destruction," "the lawless one," and "whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan" (2 Thess. 2:1-12; cf. Rev. 12:4,9). Jesus, in the Olivet discourse, warned the people of this time which would occur just prior to His return to set up His earthly, Millennial kingdom (Matt. 24:15-22). Further, the archangel Michael is called the guardian over the sons of Israel in Dan. 12:1. And he will arise at that time of national Israel's tribulation (Dan. 12:1; cf. Rev. 12:7).[15]

Amillennialist belief can also interpret this passage as the nation of Israel, however this belief as expressed by amillennialists refers, not to the modern Israel, but to the Ancient religious state of Israel(Judea) as it existed in the time of Christ. The Child is Christ, born into the then existing state of Israel, and of Israel's linage.

The remnant or sons of Israel is, in this understanding, the followers of Christ, the followers of the true religion of Israel as it exists after the coming of the messiah. The "Seventieth Week of Daniel," and prophecy of the Olivet discourse, in this belief, are ascribed as concerning the first coming of Christ, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D(During which enforced emperor worship occurred in the temple of Jerusalem, which was later almost totally destroyed, and many Jews were made slaves in distant lands resulting presumably in their remaining families not knowing what happened to them or where they were), and the establishment of Christ's Church, as it currently exists, both on earth and in heaven.

Lutheran scholar Craig Koester, for example, says, "The woman encompasses the story of Israel, from whom the Messiah was born, as well as the story of the church, which was persecuted after Jesus' death and resurrection... John's visionary account of the threat against the woman and the woman's preservation uses imagery that encompasses many moments in the story of God's people. This allows the story to apply to people in many times and places."[16]

Generic motherhood

Christian Scientists understand the woman in the Apocalypse to symbolize "generic man, the spiritual idea of God; she illustrates the coincidence of God and man as the divine Principle and divine idea...the spiritual idea of God's motherhood."[17] The man child represents "Christ, God's idea, [which] will eventually rule all nations and peoples - imperatively, absolutely, finally - with divine Science." [18]

The Woman Eve

The Woman is also identified as Eve because she is part of the three-way conflict also involving her Seed and the Dragon, who is identified with the ancient serpent (the one from Eden) in Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2. This mirrors the conflict in Genesis 3:15 between Eve, the serpent, and her unborn seed—which in turn is a symbol of the conflict between Mary, Satan, and Jesus.[19]

See also

  • Whore of Babylon
  • Virgin of Guadalupe
  • Mary of Velankanni
  • Chivalric precursors to St. George and the Dragon, 14 images under
  • Immaculata as Radiation of Fatherhood 126 images under
  • Scriptural parturition imagery of Revelation chapter 12, 24 images under
  • Eastern icon of the type Matka Boska Ostrobramska, 28 images at the Eastern Gate, Vilnius, Lithuania


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens." [1], accessed 2 December 2006
  3. ^ Douay Rhiems
  4. ^ Brading, D.A. Mexican Phoenix. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2001.
  5. ^ St. Pius X, Ad diem illum. ASS 36. 458 - 59: "No one of us does not know that that woman signifies the Virgin Mary, who brought forth our Head with her virginity intact. But the Apostle continues: 'And being with child, she cried out, laboring in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. ' Therefore John saw the Most Holy Mother of God already enjoying eternal happiness, and yet laboring from some hidden birth. With what birth? Surely ours, we who, being yet detained in exile, are still to be brought forth to the perfect love of God and eternal happiness."
  6. ^ Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus. AAS 41. 762-63: "We frequently find theologians and preachers who, following the footsteps of the Holy Fathers, use words and events from sacred Scripture with some freedom to explain their belief in the Assumption... . And furthermore, the Scholastic doctors have considered the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as signified not only in the various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun, whom the Apostle John contemplated on the island of Patmos."
  7. ^ Paul VI, Signum Magnum, May 13, 1967 AAS 59: "The great sign which the Apostle John saw in heaven, 'a woman clothed with the sun' is interpreted by the sacred liturgy, not without foundation, as referring to the most Blessed Mary, the Mother of all men by the grace of Christ the Redeemer."
  8. ^ John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, March 15, 1987. Vatican Translation. #24: "... she who was the one 'full of grace' was brought into the mystery of Christ in order to be his Mother and thus the Holy Mother of God, through the Church remains in that mystery as 'the woman' spoken of by the Book of Genesis (3:15) at the beginning and by the Apocalypse (12:1) at the end of the history of salvation."
  9. ^ Adversus Haereses 78, 11; PG 42, 716 B-C. [PS]Epiphanius in his Homilia in laudes Mariae deiparae makes a direct equation between the Woman of Revelation and Mary
  10. ^ Tychonius view is transmitted by Cassiodorus, Complexiones in Apocalypsin; PL, 70, 1411
  11. ^ The author intermixes portions of the infancy Gospel of Luke with Revelation 12. See The History of Joseph the Carpenter 6
  12. ^ Oecumenius in his commentary states that the woman is the Theotokos and that she is present in heaven bodily and describes her as consubstantial with us (i.e. of the same human nature). See The Fathers of the Church, Commentary on the Apocalypse by Oecumenius, translated by John N. Suggit, page 107
  13. ^ D’Argon J-L. “The Apocalypse.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b Who's That Woman?
  16. ^ Koester, Craig R., Revelation and the End of All Things, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001. ISBN 0-8028-4660-2 pp. 123-124.
  17. ^ Baker Eddy, Mary (1910). Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Boston, MA: Christian Science Publishing Society. pp. 561–562.  
  18. ^ Baker Eddy, Mary (1910). Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Boston, MA: Christian Science Publishing Society. p. 565.  
  19. ^ The Woman of Revelation 12
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