Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet. By this woman, interpreters commonly understand the Church of Christ, shining with the light of faith, under the protection of the sun of justice, Jesus Christ. The moon, the Church, hath all changeable things of this world under her feet, the affections of the faithful being raised above them all. — A woman: the Church of God. It may also, by allusion, be applied to our blessed Lady[the Virgin Mary]. The Church is clothed with the sun, that is, with Christ: she hath the moon, that is, the changeable things of the world, under her feet; and the twelve stars with which she is crowned, are the twelve apostles: she is in labour and pain, whilst she brings forth her children, and Christ in them, in the midst of afflictions and persecutions. (Challoner) — Under the figure of a woman and of a dragon, are represented the various attempts of Satan to undermine the Church. — On her head….twelve stars, her doctrine being delivered by the twelve apostles and their successors. (Witham)
Ver. 2. With child, &c., to signify that the Church, even in the time of persecutions, brought forth children to Christ. (Witham) — It likewise signifies the difficulties which obstructed the first propagation of Christianity. (Pastorini)
Ver. 3. Another wonder in heaven; that is, in the Church of Christ, though revealed to St. John, in the visions, as if they were seen in heaven. — A great red dragon; a fiery dragon, with seven heads and ten horns; i.e. many heads and many horns. By the dragon is generally understood the devil, (see ver. 7 and 9) and by the heads and horns, kings and princes, who act under him, persecuting the servants of God. (Witham) — Dragon, &c. the devil; and by the seven heads and ten horns, are meant those princes and governors who persecute the Church of Christ. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. His tail drew the third part of the stars: a great part of mankind. This is spoken with an allusion to the fall of Lucifer from heaven, with the rebellious angels, driven from thence by St. Michael. (Witham) — According to Pastorini, this passage refers to the angels whom Lucifer drew after him by sin to the earth. Menochius interprets it of those bishops and eminent persons who fell under the weight of persecution, and apostatized. — And the dragon stood before the woman, &c. The devil is always ready, as far as God permits him, to make war against the Church and the faithful servants of God. The woman, the Church, brought a man child, or rather many men children, stout and valiant in the profession of the true faith, able to resist and triumph over the attempts of the persecutors in all nations, not of themselves, but by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, their protector, who is able to rule all nations as it were with a rod of iron, to frustrate all their attempts, and turn their hearts as he pleaseth. (Witham)
Ver. 5. A man child; that is, a masculine race of Christians, willing to confess the name of the Lord, and to fight his battles; who, through the merits of Jesus Christ, should triumph over all the attempts of the world. (Calmet) — Her son (or children) was taken up to heaven, guarded by the special favour of God. They always overcome the devil, and all their adversaries, by reason of the blood of the Lamb, by the merits of Christ. And they loved not the life of the body, so as to preserve it, by incurring the death of the soul. (Witham)
Ver. 6. The woman fled into the wilderness. The Church, in the times of persecutions, must be content to serve God in a private manner; but by divine Providence, such persecutions never lasted with violence only for a short time, signified by 1260 days, or as the same is expressed here, (ver. 14) for a time, and times, and half a time, i.e. for a year, and two years, and half a year. (Witham) — The Christians were accustomed to fly during the times of persecution into the deserts, to avoid the fury of the pagans. This was done by the greatest saints; and St. Jerome remarks, that it was this which gave rise to the eremitical state of life.
Ver. 10-12. Now is come salvation….rejoice, O ye heavens. The blessed in heaven rejoice for the victories of the faithful on earth, and also for the reward and glory which would shortly be given them in heaven. (Witham) — Woe to the earth, &c. Both Pastorini and Calmet refer this woe to the persecution of Dioclesian. The dragon, the devil, is more irritated than ever against the Christians; he therefore stimulates the pagans to exercise their utmost cruelty against them, knowing that a Christian emperor (Constantine) would in a short time extend the reign of Jesus Christ over the whole world.
Ver. 14. There were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle. By these two wings, some understand the love of God, and the fear of offending him; others, piety, prudence, &c. (Witham) — The Church, on account of the severe pressure of the persecution, obtained from the Almighty a special protection and assistance. (Pastorini)
Ver. 15. The serpent (the dragon, the devil) came out of his mouth, &c. He endeavoured to destroy the Christian religion; but the earth, that is, the princes of the earth, as God was pleased to turn their hearts, helped to turn away the persecutions. (Witham) — As a last effort, the devil raises a more bloody persecution than was ever known before. See Eusebius, History of the Church.
Ver. 16. And the earth helped the woman. A prince of the earth, Constantine, came to the succour of the Church, and caused the persecution to cease.
Ver. 18. And he stood upon the sand of the sea; i.e. the dragon seemed to be at a stand, to rest a while, not being able to raise any more persecutions. Now as to the time that these things should come to pass, many by seven heads and ten horns understand many powerful wicked kings, who should persecute the good, especially about antichrist’s time, when the faithful at different times should be oppressed, and forced to fly as it were into the wilderness to worship God in private. And when the end of the world seems to draw near, the devil with greater malice will persecute God’s servants, his time being short. Others apply these predictions to the particular persecutions in the Church by the Jews, and by the heathen emperors in the first three Christian ages[centuries] before Constantine’s time, when idolatry was destroyed, when the face of the Church was changed, and when she became victorious, and publicly triumphed over her former enemies, the heathens; and by the man child, whom God took under his special protection, they will have to be understood Constantine himself. (Witham)
 Ver. 18. Et stetit super arenam maris. The ordinary Greek copies, estathen, steti, which the Protestant translators followed, beginning chapter xiii. with these words, and I stood upon the sand of the sea, as if St. John spoke of himself. But Dr. Wells, in his amendments, has corrected the Protestant translation, and restored the reading estathe, stetit, as we find it in the Latin Vulgate. I have reckoned near upon a hundred places in the Apocalypse only, wherein Dr. Wells has preferred those readings in the Greek manuscripts which are conformable to our Latin Vulgate.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The vision of the woman clothed with the sun; and of the great dragon, her persecutor.
1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars:
2 And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.
3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his head seven diadems,
4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth; and the dragon stood before the woman, who was ready to be delivered, that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son.
5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne:
6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, that there they should feed her a thousand two hundred sixty days.
7 And there was a great battle in heaven: Michael and his Angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought, and his angels:
8 And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9 And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil, and Satan who seduceth the whole world, and he was cast forth unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night.
11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death.
12 Therefore rejoice, O ye heavens, and you that dwell therein. Wo to the earth, and to the sea, because the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.
13 And after the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman, who brought forth the man child:
14 And there were given to the woman, two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert to her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth, after the woman, water, as it were a river: that he might cause her to be carried away by the river.
16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
17 And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
18 And he stood upon the sand of the sea.