The recent reprinting (with updated bibliography) of Wilfrid Harrington’s Sacra Pagina commentary on the Book of Revelation makes available a valuable tool for students and scholars alike. Harrington had already demonstrated his critical acumen in his earlier work, Understanding the Apocalypse (1969). The more recent (1993) Sacra Pagina approach to commentaries (fresh translations and critical analysis as well as pertinent religious comments about the world “in front of” the text) adds a more contemporary approach and is especially important for the Book of Revelation—easily a springboard for wild apocalyptic fantasies and harmful Christian portrayals of the Son of Man with his “terrible swift sword” as conquering, blood-drenched warrior and “lion.”
Harrington clearly and convincingly explains the overall theological purposes of “John” (remember that the “lion” is the lamb”?). He also shows the unity of the two parts of the book: the initial letters to the churches—to warn of easily assimilation to the “beast”—and then, the visions and auditions, where his concern is “their earthly repercussion”.
Although he disparages attempts at precise structures or a “logical plan” for the whole work, his “outline” keeps track of the cumulative argument of the whole work that gradually emerges via the structural features: three scrolls, seals, trumpets, and bowls: the drama of the woman and the dragon in Rev 12 recurs in Rev 13-14 as the drama of the two beasts and the companions of the lamb, except now judgment, is proclaimed by angels. The angels of the bowls (Rev 15-16) announce a much more detailed condemnation of the beast (Rome) and there is a mock lament (Rev 17-18). Finally, Rev 19-20 returns to the judgment: both the rejoicing of Christ and his followers and the definitive victory over the beast and the dragon.
Two other features of this commentary would make it useful for bible discussion groups in parishes: first, Harrington proposes that the work was composed for liturgical use and gives samples of antiphonal reading of the text. Second, his pastoral applications for today include interpretations of various violent details of the text that really show the only effective response to violence is—as Jesus demonstrates through his life and death—patience and belief in the ultimate victory of God.