Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Satan bound

12 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.

7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
(Rev 12:1-4,7-9)

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.
(Rev 20:1-3,7-8)

In what sense is Satan bound? In what sense are the nations deceived?

i)The Apocalypse contains a lot of astronomical imagery. Why is that?

One reason is that Revelation is using stock apocalyptic language, which is often astronomical.

ii) Another reason is that astronomical imagery contrasts with terrestrial or subterranean imagery. This is a way of depicting the fact that behind human conflicts between God’s people and idolaters or persecutors are unseen spiritual forces. God and Satan, angels and demons.

iii) However, there may be a third reason. Zodiacal astrology, along with the corollary doctrine of astral fatalism, was pervasive in the Greco-Roman world. Likewise, thunder and lightning was a part of ancient astrology (e.g. brontologia). Although this had its critics, it was popular at all social strata. Indeed, its popularity gave rise to the critics. At the end of this post I present some documentation.

Therefore, it’s quite possible that Revelation is, among other things, a polemic against astrology and astral fatalism. That would certainly resonant with John’s audience.

iv) To some extent, Rev 12 and 20 are parallel. This may be a case of recapitulation, but I’m not pressing that claim. Even if Rev 20 is recapitulatory, I don’t think Rev 20 simply covers the very same ground. By Rev 19, the narrative has turned a corner. We’re on the homestretch.

Nevertheless, there are some undeniable parallels between Rev 12 and 20. And to that degree, they are mutually interpretive. Understanding Rev 12 helps us to understand Rev 20, and vice versa.

v) What do the figures in Rev 12 represent? Well, at one level, the woman stands for Israel, the newborn for the Messiah, and the Dragon for the Tempter in Gen 3–while the 12 stars evoke the 12 tribes of Israel (Gen 37:9).

vi) However, this scene is set in “heaven” (or the sky). It trades on astronomical imagery. Celestial portents were a fixture of ancient astrology. At that level, the twelve stars correspond to the Zodiac, the woman corresponds to Virgo while the Dragon corresponds to Hydra, Draco, Serpens, or Scorpio.  Which constellation precisely correlates with the Dragon is unimportant, since this conjunction is a literary construct rather than physical description.

vii) The meteoric image of a falling star signifies a fall from power. Indeed, that’s something of a literary cliché, both in Scripture as well as extrabiblical sources.

If John wanted to depose astrology, the cosmic Dragon’s downfall would be a good way of symbolizing the dethronement of astrology and astral fatalism.

viii) On this interpretation, the nations are deceived in the sense that, historically, many gentiles deluded by their faith in the stars. They thought their destiny was written in the stars. And this, in turn, was a way in which the Devil captivated the heathen imagination and made it subservient to his moral and spiritual tyranny.

By the same interpretation, Satan is bound when pagans emancipate themselves from astrology by becoming Christians. And that, in turn, is made possible by the advent of Christ.

But, of course, not all pagans became Christian. And some pagan converts to Christianity reverted to paganism. Apostates resume their Satanic self-delusions. They put themselves back under the Devil’s heel.

xi) This would be appropriate to Revelation, which is about the pressure to renounce the true faith in the face of persecution or martyrdom.

And this remains germane to our own time, for astrology continues to deceive many. 


[60] For sun and moon and stars, shining and sent forth for service, are obedient. [61] So also the lightning, when it flashes, is widely seen; and the wind likewise blows in every land. [62] When God commands the clouds to go over the whole world, they carry out his command. [63] And the fire sent from above to consume mountains and woods does what it is ordered. But these idols are not to be compared with them in appearance or power. [64] Therefore one must not think that they are gods nor call them gods, for they are not able either to decide a case or to do good to men. [65] Since you know then that they are not gods, do not fear them. [66] For they can neither curse nor bless kings;[67] they cannot show signs in the heavens and among the nations, or shine like the sun or give light like the moon.
(Epistle of Jeremiah 6:60-67)


1. As regards the lights of heaven having been created for signs, to speak precisely, the sun, moon, and stars, this is a subject which we are bound to discuss; for not only do many nations, strangers to the Faith of Christ, err in the matter of fate, inasmuch as they think that all things happen, both earthly events in general and the incidents of every human life, and perhaps what befalls the irrational creatures, through the relation of the planets to the constellations of the Zodiac; but beside this, many who are supposed to have embraced the Faith are distracted at the thought that human affairs may be governed by necessity, and cannot possibly be otherwise than is ruled by the stars in their different groupings.

6. Well, then, now that we have, not unseasonably, demonstrated the foreknowledge of God, if we are to explain how the stars are for signs, we must understand that the stars have their movements so regulated, those we call planets revolving the contrary way to the fixed stars, that observers may take and know the signs from the grouping of all those stars which have a special or general influence. And when I say "observers," I do not mean men (for ability to really learn from the movements of the stars what will befall every individual soul with all its possibilities of doing or suffering, far transcends human capacity), but I refer to the Powers, which must for many reasons have this knowledge, as, so far as we can, we shall show in the sequel. But men being deceived by certain observations, or even by the teaching of Angels who have lost their proper rank, and, to the injury of our race, give some instruction about these things, supposed that they from whom they thought they received the signs were the original causes of the events which the Word says the signs indicate.

14. Now let us grapple with the question whether it is a fact that the stars are not in the least productive of human affairs, but only indicate them. It is quite plain that if the stars in a given position are thought to produce certain events in a human life----let us make that the precise point of the present inquiry----their position to-day, for instance, which concerns that one man, could not be understood to have produced the past of some other person or persons; for whatever produces precedes the thing produced. But, according to the teaching of the professors of the art, things that happened before this grouping of the stars are generally thought to be declared. For they profess, once they have ascertained somehow or other the particular 560 hour of any given man, to be able to find the elevation of each planet, or in what minutest part of the sign it appeared, and what sort of a star of the Zodiac happened to be on the eastern horizon, and what on the west, and which star was on the meridian, and which on the opposite meridian. And when they have placed the stars, whose position they think they have determined for themselves, and which are thus grouped according to the season of the nativity of the person, from the time of the birth of him concerning whom they are inquiring, they investigate not only the future, but also the past, and things before the birth and begetting of the person we are speaking of; what manner of man his father was, rich or poor, sound in body or maimed, of good or bad character, with much wealth or little, of this or that condition; and, similarly, respecting the man's mother, and his elder brethren, if there happen to be any.

15. For the present let us allow, though we shall afterwards show that it is not so, that they do ascertain the true meaning of the position and relations of the stars; nevertheless, let us ask those who suppose that human affairs are necessitated by the stars, how such and such a position to-day can have produced previous events.
(Origen, The Philocalia)


But men form the material (upoqesis) of their apostasy. For, having shown them a plan of the position of the stars, like dice-players, they introduced Fate, a flagrant injustice. For the judge and the judged are made so by Fate; the murderers and the murdered, the wealthy and the needy, are the offspring of the same Fate; and every nativity is regarded as a theatrical entertainment by those beings of whom Homer says,- "Among the gods Rose laughter irrepressible."


Such are the demons; these are they who laid down the doctrine of Fate. Their fundamental principle was the placing of animals in the heavens. For the creeping things on the earth, and those that swim in the waters, and the quadrupeds on the mountains, with which they lived when expelled from heaven,--these they dignified with celestial honour, in order that they might themselves be thought to remain in heaven, and, by placing the constellations there, might make to appear rational the irrational course of life on earth. Thus the high-spirited and he who is crushed with toil, the temperate and the intemperate, the indigent and the wealthy, are what they are simply from the controllers of their nativity. For the delineation of the zodiacal circle is the work of gods. And, when the light of one of them predominates, as they express it, it deprives all the rest of their honour; and he who now is conquered, at another time gains the predominance. And the seven planets are well pleased with them, as if they were amusing themselves with dice. But we are superior to Fate, and instead of wandering (planhtwn) demons, we have learned to know one Lord who wanders not; and, as we do not follow the guidance of Fate, we reject its lawgivers. Tell me, I adjure you did Triptolemus sow wheat and prove a benefactor to the Athenians after their sorrow? And why was not Demeter, before she lost her daughter, a benefactress to men? The Dog of Erigone is shown in the heavens, and the Scorpion the helper of Artemis, and Chiron the Centaur, and the divided Argo, and the Bear of Callisto. Yet how, before these performed the aforesaid deeds, were the heavens unadorned? And to whom will it not appear ridiculous that the Deltotum should be placed among the stars, according to some, on account of Sicily, or, as others say, on account of the first letter in the name of Zeus (Dios)? For why are not Sardinia and Cyprus honoured in heaven? And why have not the letters of the names of the brothers of Zeus, who shared the kingdom with him, been fixed there too? And how is it that Kronos, who was put in chains and ejected from his kingdom, is constituted a manager of Fate? How, too, can he give kingdoms who no longer reigns himself? Reject, then, these absurdities, and do not become transgressors by hating us unjustly.

(Tatian, Address to the Greeks, 8-9)


Aratus says that there are in the sky revolving, that is, gyrating stars, because from east to west, and west to east, they journey perpetually, (and) in an orbicular figure. And he says that there revolves towards "The Bears" themselves, like some stream of a river, an enormous and prodigious monster, (the) Serpent; and that this is what the devil says in the book of Job to the Deity, when (Satan) uses these words: "I have traversed earth under heaven, and have gone around," that is, that I have been turned around, and thereby have been able to survey the worlds. For they suppose that towards the North Pole is situated the Dragon, the Serpent, from the highest pole looking upon all (the objects), and gazing on all the works of creation, in order that nothing of the things that are being made may escape his notice. For though all the stars in the firmament set, the pole of this (luminary) alone never sets, but, careering high above the horizon, surveys and beholds all things, and none of the works of creation, he says, can escape his notice.

"Where chiefly Settings mingle and risings one with other."

(Here Aratus) says that the head of this (constellation) is placed. For towards the west and east of the two hemispheres is situated the head of the Dragon, in order, he says, that nothing may escape his notice throughout the same quartet, either of objects in the west or those in the east, but that the Beast may know all things at the same time. And near the head itself of the Dragon is the appearance of a man, conspicuous by means of the stars, which Aratus styles a wearied image, and like one oppressed with labour, and he is denominated "Engonasis." Aratus then affirms that he does not know what this toil is, and what this prodigy is that revolves in heaven. The heretics, however, wishing by means of this account of the stars to establish their own doctrines, (and) with more than ordinary earnestness devoting their attention to these (astronomic systems), assert that Engonasis is Adam, according to the commandment of God as Moses declared, guarding the head of the Dragon, and the Dragon (guarding) his heel. For so Aratus expresses himself:- "The right-foot's track of the Dragon fierce possessing."
(Hippolytus, The Refutation of all Heresies, Book IV)


We observe among the arts also some professions liable to the charge of idolatry. Of astrologers there should be no speaking even; but since one in these days has challenged us, defending on his own behalf perseverance in that profession, I will use a few words. I allege not that he honours idols, whose names he has inscribed on the heaven, to whom he has attributed all God's power; because men, presuming that we are disposed of by the immutable arbitrament of the stars, think on that account that God is not to be sought after. One proposition I lay down: that those angels, the deserters from God, the lovers of women, were likewise the discoverers of this curious art, on that account also condemned by God. Oh divine sentence, reaching even unto the earth in its vigour, whereto the unwitting render testimony! The astrologers are expelled just like their angels. The city and Italy are interdicted to the astrologers, just as heaven to their angels. There is the same penalty of exclusion for disciples and masters. "But Magi and astrologers came from the east." We know the mutual alliance of magic and astrology. The interpreters of the stars, then, were the first to announce Christ's birth the first to present Him "gifts." By this bond, [must] I imagine, they put Christ under obligation to themselves? What then? Shall therefore the religion of those Magi act as patron now also to astrologers? Astrology now-a-days, forsooth, treats of Christ--is the science of the stars of Christ; not of Saturn, or Mars, and whomsoever else out of the same class of the dead it pays observance to and preaches? But, however, that science has been allowed until the Gospel, in order that after Christ's birth no one should thenceforward interpret any one's nativity by the heaven. For they therefore offered to the then infant Lord that frankincense and myrrh and gold, to be, as it were, the close of worldly sacrifice and glory, which Christ was about to do away. What, then? The dream--sent, doubtless, of the will of God--suggested to the same Magi, namely, that they should go home, but by another way, not that by which they came. It means this: that they should not walk in their ancient path. Not that Herod should not pursue them, who in fact did not pursue them; unwitting even that they had departed by another way, since be was withal unwitting by what way they came. Just so we ought to understand by it the right Way and Discipline. And so the precept was rather, that thenceforward they should walk otherwise. So, too, that other species of magic which operates by miracles, emulous even in opposition to Moses, tried God's patience until the Gospel. For thenceforward Simon Magus, just turned believer, (since he was still thinking somewhat of his juggling sect; to wit, that among the miracles of his profession he might buy even the gift of the Holy Spirit through imposition of hands) was cursed by the apostles, and ejected from the faith. Both he and that other magician, who was with Sergius Paulus, (since he began opposing himself to the same apostles) was mulcted with loss of eyes. The same fate, I believe, would astrologers, too, have met, if any had fallen in the way of the apostles. But yet, when magic is punished, of which astrology is a species, of course the species is condemned in the genus. After the Gospel, you will nowhere find either sophists, Chaldeans, enchanters, diviners, or magicians, except as clearly punished. "Where is the wise, where the grammarian, where the disputer of this age? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this age?" You know nothing, astrologer, if you know not that you should be a Christian. If you did know it, you ought to have known this also, that you should have nothing more to do with that profession of yours which, of itself, fore-chants the climacterics of others, and might instruct you of its own danger. There is no part nor lot for you in that system of yours. He cannot hope for the kingdom of the heavens, whose finger or wand abuses the heaven.
(Tertullian, On Idolatry)

Chapter 1.

The cause, then, of the greatness of the Roman empire is neither fortuitous nor fatal, according to the judgment or opinion of those who call those things fortuitous which either have no causes, or such causes as do not proceed from some intelligible order, and those things fatal which happen independently of the will of God and man, by the necessity of a certain order. In a word, human kingdoms are established by divine providence. And if any one attributes their existence to fate, because he calls the will or the power of God itself by the name of fate, let him keep his opinion, but correct his language. For why does he not say at first what he will say afterwards, when some one shall put the question to him, What he means by fate? For when men hear that word, according to the ordinary use of the language, they simply understand by it the virtue of that particular position of the stars which may exist at the time when any one is born or conceived, which some separate altogether from the will of God, while others affirm that this also is dependent on that will. But those who are of opinion that, apart from the will of God, the stars determine what we shall do, or what good things we shall possess, or what evils we shall suffer, must be refused a hearing by all, not only by those who hold the true religion, but by those who wish to be the worshippers of any gods whatsoever, even false gods.

Chapter 9.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it. But that all things come to pass by fate, we do not say; nay we affirm that nothing comes to pass by fate; for we demonstrate that the name of fate, as it is wont to be used by those who speak of fate, meaning thereby the position of the stars at the time of each one's conception or birth, is an unmeaning word, for astrology itself is a delusion. But an order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God, we neither deny nor do we designate it by the name of fate, unless, perhaps, we may understand fate to mean that which is spoken, deriving it from fari, to speak; for we cannot deny that it is written in the sacred Scriptures, "God has spoken once; these two things have I heard, that power belongs unto God. Also unto You, O God, belongs mercy: for You will render unto every man according to his works." Now the expression, "Once has He spoken," is to be understood as meaning " immovably," that is, unchangeably has He spoken, inasmuch as He knows unchangeably all things which shall be, and all things which He will do.
(Augustine, The City of God, Book V)

I have remained silent regarding such matters in order to clearly explain the power of destiny, that is, whether we should understand God who rules the entire universe by his strength in terms of fate or in terms of this other power which subjects his authority to its dominion. If fate directs the universe, then no other higher principle exists. But if the stars’ movement affirms that destiny governs them with coercion, it would be better to attribute this power to the stars instead of an all-powerful force.

But you recognize the influence of Aries, Taurus or the planets. If anyone happens to be born under their influence whether under one star or with others clustered in a circle, their conjunction is supposed to affect a person’s life at a particular time. How ridiculous! You say that Taurus is servile because it [a bull] is under the yoke and that Aries [a ram] represents profit gained from wool. If a person is either born or dies under one of these signs, fate naturally ascribes their properties to him. What should we make of this? Tell me, does a bull freely become docile or does a ram submit to shearing? Do the heavenly powers, heat from the planet Mars or any other celestial body frustrate and paralyze a person either through his own consent or against his will? If anyone who willingly does evil and inflicts injury admits to his behavior, he is indeed miserable. Instead of choosing the good, he has opted for ignominy brought on by pleasure. If he commits these deeds not through choice but by necessity, then some other higher fate has determined the attributes and capacities proper to human nature. Thus we must seek other more excellent stars with a distinctive movement connected with fate’s obsessive character such as a servile Taurus, a harmful Aries, a headless Crab or some other obscure influence. If these manifestations appear to us under the guise of destiny, we will concoct yet another source with a more compelling demand, and so on. As a result, we end up with a countless number of fates, causes and necessities.
(Gregory of Nyssa, Against Fate)

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