Cassiodorus and others: Michael fights Satan at the beginning of creation
What about the big battle between Satan the Great Red Dragon and Michael in Revelation 12? Shouldn’t that fit right in with Lucifer and Fulgur (Lightning?). Well, not really. After all, Jerome could not escape the fact that the battle takes place in the future, or, at least, the present, or recent past.
But the fact of the matter is that the early Fathers were not much interested in the Book of Revelation. A commentary on it was written by Victorinus, bishop of a town that is now Pettau in southern Austria (he died in the year 304). He was the first Biblical exegete to write in Latin, and he takes the casting out of the Dragon to be the beginning of the Antichrist (PL 5:337). Ergo, in the future. Jerome edited Victorinus’s commentary on Revelation, but he didn’t write one himself, nor did Augustine or any other noted early Father of the Church, with two exceptions, namely, Caesarius of Arles and Cassiodorus.
Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, was a minor luminary of South Gaul (France) in the sixth century—he died in 542. His commentary on the Apocalypse has only recently been recognized as having been
written by him. Earlier on, it was kept in the large bin of works designated as by “Pseudo-Augustine.” Caesarius interprets the goings-on of Chapter 12 as symbolic. By “Michael,” understand Christ, and by “his Angels,” holy men. “The Dragon and his Angels” are the Devil and men who follow his will. “And war was made in Heaven”—that is, in the Church, for God forbid that we should believe that the Devil and his Angels dared to fight in Heaven, since the Devil did not dare to tempt a single man, Job, on Earth, without getting permission from the Lord (PL 35:2434).
Caesarius’s younger contemporary Cassiodorus was a noted statesman who devoted himself to writing in monastic retirement. At the age of 92 he wrote an instruction for his monks on Orthography. He died some time after 580. He has only a few notes on Revelation, but what he says is very interesting, especially his brief paragraph on Chapter 12. There is no doubt, he asserts, that the war of the Angel Michael with the Dragon took place at the beginning of the World. But then Cassiodorus goes on to speak as if the battle took place much later, since he says that the Devil’s fall was followed by rejoicing among the good, becuase the Devil even now always envies the good who remain faithful. Great sorrow was felt on the Earth and in the Sea upon suffering such a weight of malice. Cassiodorus concludes that the passage also commemorates the Mother of Christ, who was able to avoid the Devil’s attack (PL 70:1411C).
A longer commentary on Revelation was composed around 600 by Andrew, Archbishop of Caesarea, and he summed up what was to become standard doctrine. Let’s listen to his reading of the battle between Satan and Michael:
These words can be accommodated to the first fall of the Devil, when by his pride and envy he was proscribed from the Angelic Order, as well as to his second downfall, when he was broken by the Lord’s Cross and cast out—that is, when “the Prince of This World,” as Christ Our Lord calls him, was convicted and expelled from the tyrannous rule that he had been exercising.
For it is probable that God’s Angels, with Michael as their leader, were not able to tolerate the Devil’s pride and arrogance and immediately ejected him from their fellowship and company. In support of this is what Ezekiel says, that he was expelled from the Cherubim and from the midst of “the fiery stones,” that is, the Angelic Orders, because iniquities were found in him [see Ezekiel 28, cited above in section 1]. (PG 106:325)
Andrew goes on to report the belief of some Fathers that, after the creation of this visible World, when the Devil was cast out of Heaven because of pride and envy, he partially retained possession of the Aerial Region which he had commanded beforehand, citing “Paul” in Ephesians warning that our fight is against “Aerial Powers” (see chap. 5.2 above).
But Andrew also says that the fall of the Devil after Christ’s Passion was not “local,” a fall from a place, like his first fall from Heaven; rather it was a diminution in his powers. That would mean that the real fight with Michael took place before the beginning of time, and that the battle described in Revelation as occurring after the death of Christ and Christian martyrs is only metaphorical!
Archbishop Andrew also cites Justin as saying that the Devil only realized after Christ’s coming that he was to be consigned to the fires of Gehenna. As we will see below (chap. 10.3), Satan in the New Testament and the early Fathers is not considered to be the jailer of damned souls in Hell. This idea will come only later.