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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Question from Jeff J. on 3/30/2003:

Father, what do the four horsemen symbolize? Also, what do believe the seven thunders said that was sealed up? God bless you.

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 3/31/2003:

The four horsemen are part of the series of plagues described in the book of Revelation, chapter six:

6:1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, "Come!" 6:2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. 6:3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" 6:4 And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another; and he was given a great sword. 6:5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; 6:6 and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine!" 6:7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" 6:8 And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Generally these are viewed as a series of disasters and plagues which follow, one upon the other. These seem to be what would follow naturally in a series of plagues, though they are by divine intention. The one exception to this, however, may be with regards to the white horse, which may represent the Son of Man leading the war of chastisements against wicked humanity. On the other hand, many modern scholars believe that the white horse represents some other conquering force, perhaps the Parthians to whom the color white was sacred and who were known to be excellent horsemen who could shoot arrows while riding; red is the color of blood and may represent the internal strife and bloodshed that would follow upon invasions from without; black with scales seems to represent famine and lack of available food for survival; and pale green is the color of death especially from the plagues and sickness following upon all of this.

Keep in mind the tentative nature of such an interpretation. Others have interpreted the white horse as a figure of Christ, but in the context of the others which follow it would be consistent to look for something which is destructive and set upon the earth, such as the Parthians. Now the Parthians are no longer around to threaten, and neither is the Roman Empire. So even if we are correct or close on our interpretation of how these were interpreted in the past, it remains to be seen how they might play out today, except that the same sort of natural sequence can easily be imagined: attack from an outside enemy, collapse of the society, famine and starvation, plague and death. ©

Thanks, Jeff

Father Echert


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