APOKÁLYPSIS: apocalypse, revelation

We will start with a curiosity. Many readers in the memoirs of their studies can perhaps find the name of the nymph who captured Ulysses in his cave for seven years before the goddess Athena freed him: this fatal and mythical female was called Kalypso (Calypso), which in Greek is based on the verb kalypto, “hide”. Well, we – on the threshold of Advent, when the book of Revelation is read in the liturgy of weekdays – will explain precisely the word apokalypsispresent 18 times in the New Testament: it too derives from the verb kalyptobut with the preposition apó which overturns the value of the verb: from «to hide» it transforms it into «to reveal».

“Apocalypse” then means “revelation”. However, we will not present the book with this title, the last of the Bible, but the literary genre that is conventionally denominated as “apocalyptic” and which was successful between 200 BC and 200 AD, touching both Judaism and Christianity . A rebirth of this proposal for the “unveiling” of the ultimate goal of the human and cosmic adventure has occurred sporadically in various subsequent historical periods, through the “revival”, even in our times, of some fundamentalist movements, above all of Protestant origin.

There are two notes that can define the rather complex apocalyptic phenomenon with sometimes esoteric and even disturbing implications. First of all, it is worth mentioning his conception of history. It is in practice dualistic: oppose in a continuous struggle good and evil, God with his angels and the righteous and elect against Satan, the demons and the wicked, the perverse and polluted historical present with its strong powers and the transcendent and salvific future, the earth, the seat of iniquity, and the sky, the supreme and liberating goal. There is, therefore, a rejection of present history and a frenetic expectation of the “last things” (technically we speak of “eschatology” or “newest things”).

That extreme goal, the very end of the historical world to give rise to the dawn of the kingdom of God (in some writings preceded by a millennium with the reign of the Messiah on earth), is conquered through a supreme, terrible and bloody struggle. It includes the catastrophic dissolution of this world so that from its ashes the reign of goodness and justice may flourish and triumph, a source of liberation and glorification for the just now oppressed. It is from this conception that the popular meaning of “apocalyptic” as ruinous and tragic is born (think of the film Apocalypse now by Francis Ford Coppola from 1979).

In the more radical apocalyptic forms there is, therefore, a substantial distrust in history and a profound hope in a transcendent beyond: we are, therefore, in discontinuity with the Christian vision of the Incarnation for which “God loved the world so much that give his only Son… not to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

The other observation we would like to propose concerns, instead, the literary dimension of the apocalyptic. It expresses itself with its own original style based on the use of bright images, frenetic symbols, a specific language, revelations and mysterious visions interpreted by angels. One of the biblical sources consists of the prophets Ezekiel (especially his symbolic actions and chapters 40-48) and Zechariah (especially the visions of chapters 1-6).

The Old Testament text that reveals the greatest apocalyptic imprint is the book of Daniel, while for the New Testament it is obviously the Apocalypse, even if the latter is “apocalyptic” more for the language adopted than for the contents: its intention, in fact is that of instilling confidence in Christians in crisis so that they continue to operate in history, aiming not at the end of the world but at the end of history according to the divine plan.

APOKÁLYPSIS: apocalypse, revelation