Rorate Caeli

Saints of the Old Testament: St. Daniel, prophet

While the Roman Church's traditional calendar of saints on this day bestows chief honor upon the holy virgin Praxedes, next in order after St. Praxedes the traditional Roman Martyrology also recalls her children's memory to an Old Testament saint who was blessed with the singular grace of seeing remarkably detailed visions and uttering astoundingly precise predictions of the course of the history of Israel, the Church, and the world:

This Day, the Twenty-First Day of July

At Rome, the holy virgin Praxedes, who was brought up in all chastity and in the knowledge of the divine law. Assiduously attending to watching, prayer and fasting, she rested in Christ, and was buried near her sister Pudentiana, on the Salarian road. 

At Babylon, the holy prophet Daniel.

St. Daniel, whose name in Hebrew means "God is my judge," was a heroically virtuous young Jewish man whom the Babylonians carried away from Jerusalem into captivity in 605-604 B.C.
That year by Jewish reckoning was the fourth year of the reign of unfaithful King Joachim (Jehoiachim) of Judah, but was counted as Joachim's third year in the Babylonian court reckoning that Daniel used. According to extrabiblical tradition, Daniel was of the tribe of Judah, but in some Greek Septuagint biblical manuscripts of Daniel's defeat of Bel and the Dragon (chapter 6:30-72 in Greek Bibles, chapter 14:1-42 in the Latin Vulgate) St. Daniel is said to be the son of a Jewish priest named Abal, which would make him a Levite. Whether he was a priest or came of a noble family of Judah, he was of outstanding piety and holiness, a man of prayer and steadfast devotion to God even in the face of persecution or the allurements and pressure of the pagan culture in which he was forced to live. At a time when Israel's continued existence -- and therefore the Messianic hope of human salvation -- seemed in doubt, God strengthened St. Daniel to give his fellow Jews an example of fidelity and sent him visions that fortified their hope.

The chief events of St. Daniel's life, which are among the best known stories of the Old Testament, are told in the divinely inspired book of biography and prophecy that he wrote, the Book of Daniel. At the court of King Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar, Nabu-kudur-usur) of Babylon, God granted favor to Daniel and his faithful and courageous Jewish companions Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, who became important and notable officials of the king. Daniel apparently served in the Babylonian court throughout the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who died in 561 B.C. Daniel rose again to prominence at the time of the overthrow of Babylon in 539 B.C., when the debauched and impious prince regent Balthasar (Belshazzar, Bel-shar-usur), son of King Nabonidus (Nabu-naid) who in turn was perhaps Nabuchodonosor's son-in-law, called upon St. Daniel to interpret the miraculous "handwriting on the wall." He remained in royal favor at the Babylonian court under Darius the Mede and then under Cyrus the Persian, who died in 530 B.C. The date of St. Daniel's death in unknown, but he probably died during Cyrus the Persian's reign.  However, a later, unlikely Jewish tradition suggests that Daniel survived at least until the reign of Cyrus's son and successor Cambyses. That and other fascinating (and often dubious) extra-biblical traditions are found in the first century A.D. Lives of the Prophets, which has this to say about St. Daniel:

He was of the tribe of Judah, of a family prominent in the service of the king; but in his childhood he was carried away from Judea to the land of Chaldea. He was born in Upper Beth-horon. In his manhood he was chaste, so that the Jews thought him a eunuch. He mourned greatly over the city, and in fasting abstained from every sort of dainty food. He was lean and haggard in the eyes of men, but beautiful in the grace of the Most High. He made great supplication in behalf of Nebuchadnezzar, whose son Belshazzar besought him for aid at the time when the king became a beast of the field, lest he should perish. For his head and foreparts were those of an ox, his legs and hinder parts those of a lion. The meaning of this marvel was revealed to the prophet: the king became a beast because of his self-indulgence and his stubbornness. It is the manner of tyrants, that in their youth they come under the yoke of Satan; in their latter years they become wild beasts, snatching, destroying, smiting, and slaying. The prophet knew by divine revelation that the king was eating grass like an ox, and that it became for him the food of a human being. Therefore it was that Nebuchadnezzar himself, recovering human reason when digestion was completed, used to weep and beseech the Lord, praying forty times each day and night. Then the mind of a dumb animal would (again) take possession of him and he would forget that he had been a human being. His tongue had lost the power of speech; when he understood his condition he wept, and his eyes were like raw flesh from his weeping. There were many who went out from the city to see him; Daniel alone had no wish to see him, but during all the time of his transformation he was in prayer for him. He declared that the king would be restored to human form, but they did not believe him. Daniel caused the seven years (the meaning of his "seven times") to become seven months. The mystery of the seven times was fulfilled upon the king, for in seven months he was restored, and in the (remaining) six years and five months he was doing penance to the Lord and confessing his wickedness. When his sin had been forgiven, the kingdom was given back to him. He ate neither bread nor flesh in the time of his repentance, for Daniel had bidden him eat pulse and greens while appeasing the Lord. The king named the prophet Baltasar because he wished to make him a joint heir with his children; but the holy man said: "Far be it from me to forsake the heritage of my fathers and join in the inheritances of the uncircumcised." He also did for the other Persian kings many wonderful things which were not written down. He died there, and was buried with great honor, by himself, in the royal sepulcher.He appointed a sign in the mountains which are above Babylon: When the mountain on the north shall smoke, the end of Babylon will come; when it shall burn as with fire, the end of all the earth will be at hand. If the mountain on the south shall flow with water, Israel will return to its land; if it shall run blood, it portends a slaughter brought by Satan on all the earth. And the holy prophet slept in peace.

In contrast to this older tradition that Daniel died of old age in Babylon, St. Cyril of Alexandria handed on a tradition that St. Daniel and his three companions, the Three Hebrew Children, all survived to old age in Babylon, but were at last martyred during an anti-Jewish persecution under the Persian kings. When the Gentiles beheaded St. Ananias, St. Azarias caught his head with his own cloak; and then St. Misael caught St. Azarias's head and St. Daniel caught St. Misael's head. The four saints were buried in Babylon, but God later sent an angel to miraculously translate their holy relics to Mount Gebal in Israel. Christian tradition holds that all four were raised from the dead when Jesus expired on the Cross and were taken to heaven following the Harrowing of Hell. Other traditions of Daniel's death and his tomb are noted in the old Catholic Encyclopedia's biographical sketch of the prophet.

As a compilation of history, prophecy, and tradition, most of the Book of Daniel was written in Aramaic and Hebrew by St. Daniel during his life in Babylon, then translated into Greek circa 200 B.C. around which time three additional passages that provide two stories of St. Daniel and an extension of the fiery furnace episode -- passages whose earliest extant forms have long been available only in Greek -- were added to the book. The two additional stories are those of Susanna and Bel and Dragon. In the earlier Greek Septuagint translation and Theodotion's corrected Greek version, these three chapters are incorporated into the main text of the book, but because they were extant only in Greek, St. Jerome decided to excise the stories of Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon and attach them to the end of the book as appendices. St. Jerome did not excise the additional verses from the story of Azarias, Ananias, and Misael, however. The truncated Protestant canon of Scripture rejects these chapters altogether, but the Church holds them to be genuine parts of the Book of Daniel, just as inspired and inerrant as the rest of the book. For clarity, here is the order of the chapters following the traditional Catholic numbering but using the pre-Jerome arrangement of the chapters, along with the years when events and visions occurred (St. Daniel included chronological notes that enable us to date most of the events and visions with great accuracy):

Chapter 1:1-21        St. Daniel and his companions refuse to eat the king's food

Chapter 2:1-49        Nabuchodonosor's dream and Daniel's interpretation (603 B.C.)

Chapter 13:1-64      Daniel's deliverance of Susanna from the two immoral judges

Chapter 3:1-23        Nabuchodonosor's image and the fiery furnace

Chapter 3:24-90      The Prayer of St. Azarias and the Hymn of the Three Children

Chapter 3:91-97      The Three Children are saved from the fiery furnace

Chapter 3:98-4:34   The Madness of King Nabuchodonosor (568 B.C.)

Chapter 5:1-30        The Handwriting on the Wall and the Fall of Babylon (539 B.C.)

Chapter 6:1-29        Daniel in the Lion's Den of Darius the Mede (538 B.C.)

Chapter 14:1-42      Daniel's defeat of Bel and the Dragon, and his victory in Cyrus' Lion's Den

Chapter 7:1-28        Vision of the Four Beasts (548 B.C.)

Chapter 8:1-27        St. Gabriel the Archangel and the Vision of the Ram and the He-goat (546 B.C.)

Chapter 9:1-27        St. Gabriel, the Seventy Weeks Prophecy, and the Coming of Christ (538 B.C.)

Chapters 10-12       Sts. Gabriel and Michael, the Vision of the Kings of the North and South, 

                                   and of the rise of the Antichrist and the End of the World. (539-538 B.C.)

In the dreams of Nabuchodonosor and the visions of St. Daniel, we encounter prophecies of remarkable precision and accuracy. St. Daniel's prophecies not only foretold (as the Early Church Fathers and Doctors affirm) the rise and fall of the empires of Chaldea, Medo-Persia, Macedonia, and Rome, but also predicted the rivalry of the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria and the dreadful Antiochian persecution of the Jews -- and even, in the Seventy Weeks Prophecy, predicted the public appearance of the Messiah to the very year. Confronted with so many fulfilled prophecies, secularist and heretical Modernist scholarship attempts to explain them away by championing the anti-Semitic, anti-Christian opinions of the pagan philosopher Porphyry, who claimed that the prophecies of Daniel were all deliberate forgeries that were written in the time of the Maccabees, in the 160s B.C., in order to deceive people into thinking those events had been predicted about four centuries earlier.
This pernicious error is promoted by the U.S. bishops in the introductory essay and footnotes for the Book of Daniel in their New American Bible. Even though Jesus and the Apostles, along with all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, affirm that Daniel was a true prophet and that his book is accurate in its history and authentic in its prophecy, the New American Bible impiously claims that the prophecies of Daniel were all lying examples of vaticinium ex eventu, even going so far as to assert that, contrary to what Christianity has always held to be true, the Messiah of whom St. Gabriel spoke to Daniel wasn't Jesus after all, but was the Jewish high priest Onias who was murdered in the time of the Maccabees. Now, without a doubt the stories and prophecies of the Book of Daniel afforded great solace and encouragement and hope to the Jews during the horrendous persecution and glorious deliverance in the days of the Maccabees -- but that is hardly a valid reason to believe the Book of Daniel is a pious fraud, religious and political propaganda. The Jews in the 160s B.C. weren't tricked into believing that the prophecies of Daniel were true, but rather came to value the book even more when they saw so many of its prophecies coming to pass before their eyes.

In contrast to the Modernist heresy of the New American Bible, the Catholic Church has repeatedly affirmed that since the Author of Holy Scripture is God Himself, who can neither lie nor utter a historical error, the Bible in all its books and in every chapter is entirely free from every moral and factual error. Jesus Himself, who is God Incarnate, told His disciples that "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" was something that was then yet future. In addition, four decades before the time of the Maccabees, the inspired Jewish sage Jesus Ben-Sirach in Ecclesiasticus 36:10 drew upon St. Daniel's prophecy of the Ptolemies and Seleucids, exhibiting his casual familiarity with the text of Daniel by appropriating a phrase from Dan. 11:27, 35 (much as Ben-Sirach made use of biblical phrases from numerous other Old Testament books). But Daniel 11 is a chapter that the Modernist heretics claim had not even been written yet in Ben-Sirach's day. The Jewish historian Josephus also tells of how the Book of Daniel was shown to Alexander the Great when he visited Jerusalem in 331-330 B.C., and the great destroyer of the Persian Empire is said to have then recognised himself in St. Daniel's visions.  Porphyry's opinion, so popular today in cultures that are desperately seeking to hide from God and truth, agrees neither with the evidence of Faith nor with the evidence of history. (The Porphyrian/Modernist claims and arguments are considered and refuted at length in the old Catholic Encyclopedia's essay on the Book of Daniel.)

The witness of the Apostles and Evangelists testifies that the Church from the very beginning held that Our Lady was visited by the same Gabriel who had given Daniel the chronological prophecy of when the Messiah would appear and when He would be killed. Our Lord's mercy upon the woman taken in the act of adultery is also comparable to Daniel's deliverance of St. Susanna. St. John's visions in the Apocalypse in which he saw chimeric and monstrous Beasts and Dragons and an Image that everyone is forced to adore are plainly associated with St. Daniel's visions of monstrous Beasts and Dragons and the Image of Nabuchodonosor. St. Michael the Archangel also plays crucial roles in the visions of Daniel and John, who both recall Satan's rebellion and the war in heaven between the faithful and fallen angels. The Book of Daniel is thus an inextricable element of the tradition and faith of the Church, and the accounts of the perseverance of Daniel and his friends continue to teach and inspire the faithful. St. Daniel's fulfilled prophecies also help to strengthen our faith and our hope, assuring us that his yet unfulfilled prophecies in Dan. 11:36-45; 12:1-13 will certainly come to pass, especially this oracle of God's defeat of the Antichrist and of the Resurrection and Final Judgment:

But at that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people: and a time shall come such as never was from the time that nations began even until that time. And at that time shall thy people be saved, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always. But they that are learned shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that instruct many to justice, as stars for all eternity. (Dan. 12:1-3)

All ye holy patriarchs and prophets,

Pray for us!