Per EWTN scholarship of many years into the fully approved Private Revelations of the Church, the best scenario of remaining Church history is that what we await is a conditional epic chastisement followed by the reunion of Christians and a glorious renewal of Catholic Christendom nearly worldwide. Only after these events shall occur the great apostasy and Second Coming.
Apocalypse 11 suggests nothing short of this. The general preaching of the Two Witnesses can image the Church’s doctrinal development of the last 2000 years from the Written and Oral Word’s of God [Scripture and Tradition], the beast’s murder of the Witnesses the minor apostasy of modern times, the resurrection of the Two Witnesses with the renewed fear of God toward them the minor chastisement, when men will fear the Church again, and their assumption, the reunion of Christians and the vindication of Mother Church.
Too, the Two Witnesses Discourse can image the same parallel situation of Old: the witness of the Prophets, the peak resistance of apostasy toward them just before the Exile, the repentance in the Exile, and the restoration of the Covenant through the return to Holy Land and rebuilding of the Temple.
Finally, all these things image the illuminative way of the Saint and a macro fulfillment of such in the Peoples of God above, both Old and New.
Dogmatic History is Spiritually Categorized
The Church does not define dogmas related to nations or kingdoms, but to the truths of Christ, His sources, His graces. If the Church were to dogmatize certain historical events in Salvation history, they would need to be structured and characterized by spiritual conditions, seeing as the spiritual condition of the ages is what drives history.
The question of whether Christians will ever be reunited is unsettled, as well as, if reunion is attained, what sort of impact such reunion would have on the world's capacity to have faith.
The main apocalyptic debate is the question of the degree of what shall be the fullness of the Gentiles.
Christian Unity: A Central Question of the Historical Mystery
Since the world's capacity to believe is very much dependent on the unity, or lack thereof, of Christians in general, the question of ecclesiology and of the unity of Christians is central to the question of the fullness of the Gentiles, and hence of the apocalyptic mystery.
The central Scripture that veils this mystery is the Eucharistic discourse of Our Savior in John 17, where Our Dear Lord prays, "that they may be one, in order that the world may believe."
They Shall be Reunited, if the Mystics are Accurate
The question is unsettled, but the mystics suggest a scenario: based on EWTN expertise, http://ewtn.com/expert/answers/endtimes.htm, a notion has been unearthed of an intermediate apostasy and tribulation toward the end of the world, followed by a glorious reunion of Christians.
"Approved Catholic mystics (Venerables, Blessed and Saints, approved apparitions) throw considerable light on this order, by prophesying a minor apostasy and tribulation toward the end of the world, after which will occur the reunion of Christians. Only later will the entire world fall away from Christ (the great apostasy) and the personal Antichrist arise and the Tribulation of the End occur."
This reunion then restores the Catholic faith in the West and perhaps even in the near whole of the world, ushering in a great age of peace, where Christ's grace shall truly reign in men's hearts, enabling the world to walk in the way of peace and God for a significant period before falling away irrevocably.
"Although this is not Catholic doctrine, arising as it does from private revelation, it conforms to what is occurring in our time, especially in light of Our Lady of Fátima's promise of an "Era of Peace." This "Triumph of the Immaculate Heart" (other saints have spoken of a social reign of Jesus Christ when Jesus will reign in the hearts of men) would seem to occur prior to the rise of the Antichrist. The optimism of the Pope for the "New Evangelization" and a "Civilization of Love" in the Third Millennium of Christianity fits here, as well. This would place us, therefore, in the period just before the events spoken of in the Catechism, that is, on the verge of the evangelization of the entire world."
The mystics complete the scenario by prophesying, as it must come, the dissolution of the age of peace through an apostasy that is the one of the Public Revelation, the great and irrevocable rebellion of the Gentiles against the Gospel, at which time shall arise the great Antichrist, the great persecution of the Church, the conversion of the Jews, and finally the Great Tribulation and Second Coming, which, of course, is the end of time, the General Resurrection and the New Creation.
In approving these revelations, the Church is not saying that this scenario, which is the best that can be assuaged from them, will definitely happen, but only that it could, that is, that such a scenario is not irreconcilable with Public Revelation, and that, hence, the faithful may, but do not need to, believe that it will happen.
It is one of the primary motives of Vatican II to seek for reunion, and, given the modern spiritual crisis, there would not be harm, and in fact, there would seem to at least be merit in exploring the theological implications of the scenario of Christian unity regarding this issue.
I have personally pondered these many facets of the question and am convinced that that such a scenario will happen, not simply on the basis of the witness of the mystics, but that such spiritual scenario best fits with the Biblical and Traditional data of Public Revelation, and that best ties together the meaning of the totality of the Divine Plan, enabling the Church to probe deeper depths into the meaning of salvation history and God's Plan to redeem the human race.
Two World Conversions: an Imperfect, Divided One, and a Perfect, United One
I believe the Scripture of John 17 beautifully communicates this mystery.
Firstly, I believe the Scripture implies two conversions of the Gentiles: an initial imperfect one that eventually is stained with disunity, and a second one that is attained on the consequence of a reunion and that is itself blessed with Christian unity and peace.
Secondly, I believe the Scripture of John 17 implies that the initial conversion of the Gentiles to the Gospel is lost precisely because the unity is lost --in other words, that the dissolution of Christian unity in the first conversion is the primary intrinsic cause of the loss of faith in the Gentiles that ends the first conversion and that itself partitions the two conversions from one another.
Thirdly, I believe that the initial loss of unity is derived from a primary principle of Catholic doctrine and even Christ's words himself: scandal! Hence, as the CCC indicates, the causes of division among Christians are usually because of sin on both sides of the loss of unity. That is, Christian disunity depends on primarily the following:
The sin of scandal, whereby [many of] the legitimate shepherds of the flock--the Apostolic Successors, or bishops--fail, in the moral sense, to live up to their calling as shepherds, teachers, and leaders; and, secondarily, the sin, especially pride and anger, of the separating party, most of which derives precisely from the first factor, the scandal of the true and legitimate leadership of Christians.
Fourthly, I believe that the reunion of Christians is attained precisely by the effects of the Minor Tribulation that attends the intermediate loss of faith that resulted from Christian disunity, in that the Minor Chastisement serves as a means to "unveil" to humanity the true nature and consequences of the various errors against Catholic faith . Further, I firmly believe that this is imaged in the discourse of the Two Witnesses.
The Two Witnesses of Apocalypse 11: The Written Word and the Oral Word
Firstly, in my view, I see the witnesses to God's truth as the two ultimate sources from which all Catholic teaching is drawn, namely, the Oral Word of God (the Sacred Tradition) and Written Word of God (the Scriptures).
The Church’s Doctrinal Development: Partial Harm vs. Full Harm
Now, let us consider that in the first parts of the above Scripture of the apocalypse, there are only attempts to "harm" the Two Witnesses, without "killing" them. Of course, I see these as spiritual harms, in so far as that, to the degree that one attempts to "harm" the witnesses of Scripture and Tradition, that is, by rejecting one or more truths from them, one harms oneself by the very nature and degree to which one does not accept their witness, which is like it reads in the Scripture that, "and if any man shall harm them, in this very same manner must be killed".
Now, returning to our analysis on the first conversion of the Gentiles, we see that because of the fallen nature, the world shall question the various components of the deposit of faith (attempting to "harm" the Witnesses of Scripture and Tradition). For this greater period, the questioning shall be in varying types and degrees but only partial (merely "harming"), not full (" murder ", as in the beast), in very much the same manner that, from Constantine to modern times, the primary attacks on the Church, saving the modern one (secular materialism), have still reserved some respect for the "life" of the witnesses in that they still contained, many times, some truth and grace to them.
Islam (the Judeo-Christian shell of the Gospel, lacking the Trinity and Incarnation)
The Great Schism (Orthodoxy, practically Catholicism, lacking mainly only Peter)
Protestantism (at least basic Christianity, with Scripture and Baptism and Marriage, lacking the Oral Tradition, Apostolic Succession, and 5 Sacraments), and even...
The Enlightenment's deists and rationalists, who at least admitted from Reason, the only goodness they retain, the existence of a Supreme Being and the need to strive to follow the natural moral law contained in the spirit of the Decalogue.
Now, these various stages of harm surely confound religion. But then, the confounding or division of religious opinions shall eventually cause a total loss of faith in much of the world, that is, an utter, veritable apostasy. This apostasy, then, would be the murder of the two witnesses by the beast, which, unlike the period of merely "harming" them (partial attacks on the Church), the secular apostasy is a total refutation of the Gospel, as in atheistic or relativistic materialism, and hence a complete loss of life the witnesses.
The Beast who Murders the Witnesses and the Apostasy
Now, once the witnesses are murdered, that is, in the secular apostasy, the world shall live in the deception and celebrate their freedom from any religion, in the very same manner that the "earth's inhabitants celebrate the two witnesses' death", having a grave insult in failing to "bury them", which is very much corroborated by the modern world's supreme disrespect of faith through which they do not even show it the honor it is due in this time of great darkness.
The Chastisement: The World Fears God Again
However, when the minor chastisement comes, it begins to manifest the true results of the sins and errors, hence bringing apocalyptic horrors that are the consequences of sin and error greatly amplified by materialistic power, a power that had hitherto been celebrated as the salvation of man, manifested in Materialism, the false prophet, worshiping the beast, and the belief that being set "free" from the constraint of Divine knowledge and morals will enable the world to flourish.
The Minor Chastisement, therefore, is symbolized by the arising of the two witnesses to life after their murder, when great "fear" comes upon those who see the "breath of life" restored to them. That is, as the world experiences the horrors of the consequences of sin, they begin to once again consider the voice of the Catholic Church that had for centuries warned of all the consequences of the doctrinal depravities, including especially the grave morals that are violated in the apostasy.
The Vindication of the Church, the Reunion of Christians, the Renewal of Humanity
The assumption of the Two Witnesses (when the Scripture states "a voice from heaven said, 'Come up hither!', after which they are taken to heaven in a cloud ") then symbolizes the reunion of Christians . For, as the separated Christians are exposed even to the consequences of their errors, their sincere desire to still follow God enables them to see that their errors are intrinsic to their separation from the Catholic Church. Hence, they are able to overcome their bitterness from the scandal of the Pope and bishops and accept the fullness of light. This reunion, as well as the other horrors experienced by the apostates, enables the world to come back to God and, hence, the Catholic Truth is utterly vindicated, restoring humanity.
The earthquake, then, symbolizes the death of the greater darkness of apostasy, even as the Minor Chastisement shall bring an end to the current godless age and convert the world back to the New Covenant. The rejoicing of others who survive is the celebration of the great restoration, the renewal of the Gentiles to the faith.
Fulfilling the Parallel Ordeal in the Old Testament
And, in a veritable way, this Scripture looks back on the similar ordeal midway in Jewish Old Testament history, when, as the Prophets of Old preached, or “witnessed”, to the Jews, there were many repeated instances of rejection (“harming their witness”), culminating with the Jews own “apostasy” from the Old Law that peaked in the times just before the exile (the murder of the witnesses).
And similarly, just as the Jews celebrated their freedom from the Old Law in scoffing just before the exile, it was precisely IN that Babylonian horror that their eyes began to be opened, beginning once again to “fear” the Prophets. Moreover, just as the Gentiles shall be renewed after the Minor Chastisement, returning “home” to the spiritual Promised Land of Catholicism, so the Jews repented to God in the exile and were eventually restored to their Promised Land, living in relative peace under pagan rule until their final ordeal of darkness, the Maccabean struggle.
Further, in a real way, this seems to emulate ideas discussed earlier in previous articles, that history is bound to repeat itself in spiritual ages, seeing as “there is neither Jew nor Greek”: the same tendency both to fall and to be reconciled to God is present in all human beings, regardless of nation of origin.
Both Ordeals a Type of the Illuminative Way of the Saint
In fact, as we recall in earlier essays, the path of the People of God seems aptly structured by the very way of the Saint in Catholicism. In that vein , we remember that the saint passes through the ways, the purgative, illuminative, and unitive. And, we recall that in the illuminative, the saint is progressing in virtue and growing closer to God in contemplation of his greatness and truth, even as the prophets developed the Law in intimacy and the Church developed the doctrine of the Church since Constantine. Also , just as various desolations attend the illuminative way of the saint, culminating with the dark night of the soul, in which all their intimacy of intellect and will with God seems a lie , so all of the following occur in their respective fulfillments:
1. The Two Witnesses are harmed in various “desolations”, culminating with their death, the dark night of the soul, where they are utterly scoffed at and left dead in the streets, dishonored and insulted!
2. The Prophets are opposed at various levels, culminating with total unfaithfulness of the Jews just prior to the exile, their scoff and indifference
3. The Church encounters repeated spiritual attacks on her doctrinal development, culminating with a supreme apostasy, the Minor Apostasy, or today, when it seems that all her teaching is said to be outdated, ridiculed and ignored.
And finally, the saint nevertheless eventually emerges from the dark night of the soul into the light of the unitive way, when the terrible dryness and emptiness gives way to vindication, the perfection of walking all steps with God until martyrdom. And, amazingly, again , this way is fulfilled in all facets:
1. The Witnesses eventually stand upon their feet and bring fear to their observers. They are then assumed into heaven, a period of glory, in which they become one with God, even as the saint becomes one with God in His will.
2. The Prophets were vindicated through the Babylonian Exile, which fulfilled their words, brought the Jews into repentance, restoring their fear of God and the prophets, and eventually returned them to their homeland.
3. The Church is vindicated in the Minor Chastisement, as the consequences of the rejection of all her ancient teaching and wisdom, from Constantine to present, is shown for what it is, so that the Gentiles, who had strayed from the New Covenant are restored to faith.
Hence, in a real way, the disunity and reunion of Christians plays a profound role in the ages of the Church, mirroring, in a veritable sense, the illuminative and unitive ways of the saint as well as the Jew’s similar trial and redemption.
In light of these things, we are able to have hope in our modern darkness, that eventually, if even it involves great pain and suffering for all of us, the world will come back to Christ this time, in order that God’s People may rest from the sin of history, even as God rested on the seventh day from all the labors of His grace to make the world in the beginning and to “remake” it in the Plan of Salvation for “six days”.