Over on the Fish Eaters Website someone asked: Who is the church of Philadelphia? Who does this church symbolize today? Anyone have any insight from the Church Fathers or other authorities?
I thought this was a significant question, so I took time to give a thorough response. I wanted to share it with all of you
I'm assuming you know that Philadelphia was one of the major cities of Asia Minor, and that John was addressing the bishop of the local church.
Because of the special praise which the Lord gives to this particular church based on their keeping of his word, it is especially tempting for suffering and persecuted conservatives/traditionalists to read their own group into it. This is common among fundamentalist protestants and traditionalist Catholics alike.
Just for reference, here is the passage:
7 And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia, write: These things saith the Holy One and the true one, he that hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; shutteth, and no man openeth: 8 I know thy works. Behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which no man can shut: because thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will bring of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie. Behold, I will make them to come and adore before thy feet. And they shall know that I have loved thee. 10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of the temptation, which shall come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon the earth.
It is very important to begin with the literal and historical interpretation. This church and its bishop were undergoing intense persecution of an unspecified nature from the Jewish synagogue. That explains the reference to the "synagogue of Satan." They were evidently a small congregation with little earthly influence, yet they were persevering in their confession of the true faith of Christ without any compromise. This gave them great influence in heaven. Christ gives a twofold promise to them which he gives to no other church of Asia: (1) That members of the synagogue of Satan, the persecuting Jews would come and "worship before their feet." This would indicate that at least some of those Jews would be converted and declare their faith in Christ and his Church, repudiating their former error. (2) The Lord also promises that he will "keep them from the hour of the temptation which will come over the entire earth." This would refer to an imperial persecution, or it could not be over the whole world; worldwide in this context means throughout the Roman Empire. Some have thought this to refer to a persecution under Domitian (51 - 96). Eusebius of Cesarea mentions this. Others have referred it to the persecution under Trajan. Still others that it referred to the final and worst persecution under Diocletian, an event over two centuries after the writing of the Apocalypse. Whatever the persecution referred to, it does not necessarily mean that they would not undergo any suffering, but that they would be protected, "kept from" the trial of faith that others would undergo. Thus it is a promise of strong faith that will win the victory over the world.
Now, as I said, we ought to be careful how we apply this in the modern ecclesiastical situation. I would be especially cautious about its special application to one or another traditionalist group. Nevertheless it can apply in a general way to particular churches and their bishops who suffer Jewish persecution (and from other enemies) yet remain firm in their witness.
There is another interpretation to consider here: The seven churches of Asia Minor as an allegory of the seven ages of the church throughout history. Venerable Bartholomew Holzhauser taught this.
The seven ages are (copied from the Catholic Encyclopedia):
* (1) the Status seminativus, from Christ and the Apostles to Pope Linus and Emperor Nero, is typified by the first day of creation "Spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas", the gift of wisdom and the age from Noah. Similarly he treats;
* (2) the status irrigativus, the days of persecution;
* (3) status illuminativus from Pope Sylvester to Leo III;
* (4) status pacifitcus from Leo III to Leo X;
* (5) status afflictionis et purgativus from Leo X to a strong ruler and holy pope;
* (6) status consolationis from that holy pope to the birth of Antichrist;
* (7) status desolationis from Antichrist to the end of the world.
Ephesus represents the apostolic age, which at its close found the church faithful in doctrine but lacking in its first love. Smyrna represents the age of persecutions. Pergamus represents the time of illumination from the Fathers, especially in the East, together with Balaam-like heresies. Thyatira represents the Church flourishing in peace in the high middle ages, especially in the West, but having Jezebel-like religious harlotries in its midst. Sardis is our own time, the age of affliction. The church suffering many heresies. ("You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead"). This brings us to Philadelphia, the faithful church, which represents the time ahead of us, the age of peace promised by Our Lady of Fatima, when multitudes will enter the Church. Those who are and remain truly faithful to the spirit of that time will also be kept from the corruption of the succeeding Laodicean age which will see the rise of Antichrist.
I would like to think that here and there throughout the Catholic world today there are souls who already exemplify the spirit of the sixth age, which is coming, the spirit of the church of Philadelphia.