on Revelation 17 :9
Here is the mind which hath wisdom - It was said before, Revelation 13:18, Here is wisdom. Let him that hath A Mind, or understanding, (νουν), count the number of the beast. Wisdom, therefore, here means a correct view of what is intended by the number 666; consequently the parallel passage, Here is The Mind which hath Wisdom, is a declaration that the number of the beast must first be understood, before the angel's interpretation of the vision concerning the whore and the beast can admit of a satisfactory explanation.
The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth - This verse has been almost universally considered to allude to the seven hills upon which Rome originally stood. But it has been objected that modern Rome is not thus situated, and that, consequently, pagan Rome is intended in the prophecy. This is certainly a very formidable objection against the generally received opinion among Protestants, that papal Rome is the city meant by the woman sitting upon seven mountains. It has been already shown that the woman here mentioned is an emblem of the Latin Church in her highest state of antichristian prosperity; and therefore the city of Rome, seated upon seven mountains, is not at all designed in the prophecy. In order to understand this scripture aright, the word mountains must be taken in a figurative and not a literal sense, as in Revelation 6:14; Revelation 16:20. See also Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 2:14; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:35, etc.; in which it is unequivocally the emblem of great and mighty power. The mountains upon which the woman sitteth must be, therefore, seven great powers; and as the mountains are heads of the beast, they must be the seven Greatest eminences of the Latin world. As no other power was acknowledged at the head of the Latin empire but that of Germany, how can it be said that the beast has seven heads? This question can only be solved by the feudal constitution of the late Germanic league, the history of which is briefly as follows: At first kings alone granted fiefs. They granted them to laymen only, and to such only who were free; and the vassal had no power to alienate them. Every freeman, and particularly the feudal tenants, were subject to the obligation of military duty, and appointed to guard their sovereign's life, member, mind, and right honor. Soon after, or perhaps a little before, the extinction of the Carlovingian dynasty in France, by the accession of the Capetian line, and in Germany by the accession of the house of Saxony, fiefs, which had been entirely at the disposal of the sovereign, became hereditary. Even the offices of duke, count, margrave, etc., were transmitted in the course of hereditary descent; and not long after, the right of primogeniture was universally established. The crown vassals usurped the sovereign property of the land, with civil and military authority over the inhabitants. The possession thus usurped they granted out to their immediate tenants; and these granted them over to others in like manner. Thus the principal vassals gradually obtained every royal prerogative; they promulgated laws, exercised the power of life and death, coined money, fixed the standard of weights and measures, granted safeguards, entertained a military force, and imposed taxes, with every right supposed to be annexed to royalty. In their titles they styled themselves dukes, etc., Dei gratis, by the grace of God; a prerogative avowedly confined to sovereign power. It was even admitted that, if the king refused to do the lord justice, the lord might make war upon him. The tenants, in their turn, made themselves independent of their vassal lords, by which was introduced an ulterior state of vassalage. The king was called the sovereign lord, his immediate vassal was called the suzereign, and the tenants holding of him were called the arrere vassals. See Butler's Revolutions of the Germanic Empire, pp. 54-66. Thus the power of the emperors of Germany, which was so very considerable in the ninth century, was gradually diminished by the means of the feudal system; and during the anarchy of the long interregnum, occasioned by the interference of the popes in the election of the emperors, (from 1256 to 1273), the imperial power was reduced almost to nothing. Rudolph of Hapsburg, the founder of the house of Austria, was at length elected emperor, because his territories and influence were so inconsiderable as to excite no jealously in the German princes, who were willing to preserve the forms of constitution, the power and vigor of which they had destroyed. See Robertson's Introduction to his History of Charles V. Before the dissolution of the empire in 1806, Germany "presented a complex association of principalities more or less powerful, and more or less connected with a nominal sovereignty in the emperor, as its supreme feudal chief." "There were about three hundred princes of the empire, each sovereign in his own country, who might enter into alliances, and pursue by all political measures his own private interest, as other sovereigns do; for if even an imperial war were declared he might remain neuter, if the safety of the empire were not at stake. Here then was an empire of a construction, without exception, the most singular and intricate that ever appeared in the world; for the emperor was only the chief of the Germanic confederation." Germany was, therefore, speaking in the figurative language of Scripture, a country abounding in hills, or containing an immense number of distinct principalities. But the different German states (as has been before observed) did not each possess an equal share of power and influence; some were more eminent than others. Among them were also a few which might, with the greatest propriety, be denominated mountains, or states possessing a very high degree of political importance. But the seven mountains on which the woman sits must have their elevations above all the other eminences in the whole Latin world; consequently, they can be no other than the Seven Electorates of the German empire. These were, indeed, mountains of vast eminence; for in their sovereigns was vested the sole poorer of electing the head of the empire. But this was not all; for besides the power of electing an emperor, the electors had a right to capitulate with the new head of the empire, to dictate the conditions on which he was to reign, and to depose him if he broke those conditions. They actually deposed Adolphus of Nassau in 1298, and Wenceslaus in 1400. They were sovereign and independent princes in their respective dominions, had the privilegium de non appellando illimitatum, that of making war, coining, and exercising every act of sovereignty; they formed a separate college in the diet of the empire, and had among themselves a particular covenant or league called Kur verein; they had precedence of all the other princes of the empire, and even ranked with kings. The heads of the beast understood in this way, is one of the finest emblems of the German constitution which can possibly be conceived; for as the Roman empire of Germany had the precedence of all the other monarchies of which the Latin empire was composed, the seven mountains very fitly denote the seven Principal powers of what has been named the holy Roman empire. And also, as each electorate, by virtue of its union with the Germanic body, was more powerful than any other Roman Catholic state of Europe not so united; so was each electorate, in the most proper sense of the word, one of the highest elevations in the Latin world. The time when the seven electorates of the empire were first instituted is very uncertain. The most probable opinion appears to be that which places their origin some time in the thirteenth century. The uncertainty, however, in this respect, does not in the least weaken the evidence of the mountains being the seven electorates, but rather confirms it; for, as we have already observed, the representation of the woman sitting upon the beast is a figure of the Latin Church in the period of her greatest authority, spiritual and temporal; this we know did not take place before the commencement of the fourteenth century, a period subsequent to the institution of the seven electorates. Therefore the woman sits upon the seven mountains, or the German empire in its elective aristocratical state; she is said to sit upon them, to denote that she has the whole German empire under her direction and authority, and also that it is her chief support and strength. Supported by Germany, she is under no apprehension of being successfully opposed by any other power: she sits upon the seven mountains, therefore she is higher than the seven highest eminences of the Latin world; she must therefore have the secular Latin empire under her complete subjection. But this state of eminence did not continue above two or three centuries; the visible declension of the papal power in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, occasioned partly by the removal of the papal see from Rome to Avignon, and more particularly by the great schism from 1377 to 1417, though considered one of the remote causes of the Reformation, was at first the means of merely transferring the supreme power from the pope to a general council, while the dominion of the Latin Church remained much the same. At the council of Constance, March 30, 1415, it was decreed "that the synod being lawfully assembled in the name of the Holy Ghost, which constituted the general council, and represented the whole Catholic Church militant, had its power immediately from Jesus Christ; and that every person, of whatsoever state or dignity, Even the Pope Himself is obliged to obey it in what concerns the faith, the extirpation of schism, and the general reformation of the Church in its head and members." The council of Basil of 1432 decreed "that every one of whatever dignity or condition, Not Excepting the Pope Himself, who shall refuse to obey the ordinances and decrees of this general council, or any other, shall be put under penance, and punished. It is also declared that the pope has no power to dissolve the general council without the consent and decree of the assembly." See the third tome of Du Pin's Ecclesiastical History. But what gave the death blow to the temporal sovereignty of the Latin Church was the light of the glorious reformation which first broke out in Germany in 1517, and in a very few years gained its way, not only over several of the great principalities in Germany, but was also made the established religion of other popish countries. Consequently, in the sixteenth century, the woman no longer sat upon the seven mountains, the electorates not only having refused to be ruled by her, but some of them having also despised and abandoned her doctrines. The changes, therefore, which were made in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, in the number of the electorates, will not affect in the least the interpretation of the seven mountains already given. The seven electors were the archbishops of Mentz, Cologne, and Triers, the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, the marquis of Brandenburgh, and the king of Bohemia. But the heads of the beast have a double signification; for the angel says: -
on Revelation 17 :9
And here is the mind which hath wisdom - Here is what requires wisdom to interpret it; or, here is a case in which the mind that shows itself able to explain it will evince true sagacity. So in Revelation 13:18. See the notes on that place. Prof. Stuart renders this, "Here is a meaning which compriseth wisdom." It is undoubtedly implied that the symbol might be understood - whether in the time of John, or afterward, he does not say; but it was a matter which could not be determined by ordinary minds, or without an earnest application of the understanding.
The seven heads are seven mountains - Referring, undoubtedly, to Rome - the seven-hilled city - Septicollis Roma. See the notes on Revelation 12:3. (d).
On which the woman sitteth - The city represented as a woman, in accordance with a common usage in the Scriptures. See the notes on Isaiah 1:8.
on Revelation 17 :9
17:9 Here is the mind that hath wisdom - Only those who are wise will understand this. The seven heads are seven hills.