By Giacomo Cardinal Biffi
Vladimir Sergeevic Soloviev passed away 100 years ago, on July 31 (August 13 according to our Gregorian calendar) of the year 1900. He passed away on the threshold of the 20th century - a century whose vicissitudes and troubles he had foreseen with striking clarity, but also a century, which, tragically, in its historical course and dominant ideologies, would reject his most profound and important teachings. His, therefore, was a teaching at once prophetic and largely unheeded.
A Prophetic Teaching
At the time of the great Russian philosopher, the general view -- in keeping with the limitless optimism of the "belle epoque"' -- foresaw a bright future for humanity in the new century: under the direction and inspiration of the new religion of progress and solidarity stripped of transcendent elements, humanity would enjoy an era of prosperity, peace, justice, security. In the "Excelsior" -- a form of dance, which enjoyed an extraordinary success in the last years of the 19th century (and which later lent its name to countless theaters and hotels) -- this new religion found its own liturgy, as it were. Victor Hugo proclaimed: "This century was great, the one coming will be happy."
But Soloviev refused to allow himself to be swept up in this de-sacralized vision. On the contrary, he predicted with prophetic clarity all of the disasters which in fact occurred.
As early as 1882, in his "Second Discourse on Dostoevsky," Soloviev foresaw -- and condemned -- the sterility and cruelty of the collectivist tyranny which a few years later would oppress Russia and mankind. "The world must not be saved by recourse to force." Soloviev said. "One could imagine men toiling together toward some great end to which they would submit all of their own individual activity; but if this end is imposed on them, if it represents for them something fated and oppressive... then, even if this unity were to embrace all of mankind, universal brotherhood would not be the result, but only a giant anthill." This "anthill" was later constructed through the obtuse and cruel ideology of Lenin and Stalin.
In his final work, The Three Dialogues and the Story of the Antichrist (finished on Easter Sunday 1900), one is struck by how clearly Soloviev foresaw that the 20th century would be "the epoch of great wars, civil strife and revolutions" All this, he said, would prepare the way for the disappearance of "the old structure of separate nations" and "almost everywhere the remains of the ancient monarchical institutions would disappear." This would pave the way for a "United States of Europe."
The accuracy of Soloviev's vision of the great crisis that would strike Christianity at the end of the 20th century is astonishing.
He represents this crisis using the figure of the Antichrist. This fascinating personage will succeed in influencing and persuading almost everyone. It is not difficult to see in this figure of Soloviev the reflection, almost the incarnation, of the confused and ambiguous religiosity of our time.
The Antichrist will be a "convinced spiritualist" Soloviev says, an admirable philanthropist, a committed, active pacifist, a practicing vegetarian, a determined defender of animal rights.
He will also be, among other things, an expert exegete. His knowledge of the bible will even lead the theology faculty of Tubingen to award him an honorary doctorate. Above all, he will be a superb ecumenist, able to engage in dialogue "with words full of sweetness, wisdom and eloquence."
He will not be hostile "in principle" to Christ. Indeed, he will appreciate Christ's teaching. But he will reject the teaching that Christ is unique, and will deny that Christ is risen and alive today.
One sees here described -- and condemned -- a Christianity of "values," of "openings," of "dialogue," a Christianity where it seems there is little room left for the person of the Son of God crucified for us and risen, little room for the actual event of salvation.
A scenario, I think, that should cause us to reflect...
A scenario in which the faith militant is reduced to humanitarian and generically cultural action, the Gospel message is located in an irenic encounter with all philosophies and all religions and the Church of God is transformed into an organization for social work.
Are we sure Soloviev did not foresee what has actually come to pass? Are we sure it is not precisely this that is the most perilous threat today facing the "holy nation" redeemed by the blood of Christ -- the Church?
It is a disturbing question and one we must not avoid.
A Teaching Unheeded
Soloviev understood the 20th century like no one else, but the 20th century did not understand Soloviev.
It isn't that he has not been not recognized and honored. He is often called the greatest Russian philosopher, and few contest this appellation.
Von Balthasar regarded his work "the most universal speculative creation of the modern period" (Gloria III, p. 263) and even goes so far as to set him on the level of Thomas Aquinas.
But there is no doubt that the 20th century, as a whole, gave him no heed. Indeed, the 20th century, at every turn, has gone in the direction opposed to the one he indicated.
The mental attitudes prevalent today, even among many ecclesially active and knowledgeable Christians, are very far indeed from Soloviev's vision of reality.
Among many, here are a few examples:
• Egoistic individualism, which is ever more profoundly leaving its mark on our behaviors and laws;
• Moral subjectivism, which leads people to hold that it is licit and even praiseworthy to assume positions in the legislative and political spheres different from the behavioral norms one personally adheres to;
• Pacifism and non-violence of the Tolstoyan type confused with the Gospel ideals of peace and fraternity to the point of surrendering to tyranny and abandoning the weak and the good to the powerful;
• A theological view which, out of fear of being labeled reactionary, forgets the unity of God's plan, renounces spreading divine truth in all spheres, and abdicates the attempt to live out a coherent Christian life.
In one special way, the 20th century, in its movements and in its social, political and cultural results, strikingly rejected Soloviev's great moral construction. Soloviev held that fundamental ethical principles were rooted in three primordial experiences, naturally present in all men: that is to say, modesty, piety toward others and the religious sentiment.
Yet the 20th century, following an egoistic and unwise sexual revolution, reached levels of permissivism, openly displayed vulgarity and public shamelessness, which seem to have few parallels in history.
Moreover, the 20th century was the most oppressive and bloody of all history, a century without respect for human life and without mercy.
We cannot, certainly, forget the horror of the extermination of the Jews, which can never be execrated sufficiently. But it was not the only extermination. No one remembers the genocide of the Armenians during the First World War.
No one commemorates the tens of millions killed under the Soviet regime.
No one ventures to calculate the number of victims sacrificed uselessly in the various parts of the earth to the communist Utopia.
As for the religious sentiment during the 20th century, in the East for the first time state atheism was both proposed and imposed on a vast portion of humanity, while in the secularized West a hedonistic and libertarian atheism spread until it arrived at the grotesque idea of the "death of God."
In conclusion: Soloviev was undoubtedly a prophet and a teacher, but a teacher who was, in a way, irrelevant. And this, paradoxically, is why he was great and why he is precious for our time.
A passionate defender of the human person and allergic to every philanthropy; a tireless apostle of peace and adversary of pacifism; a promoter of Christian unity and critic of every irenicism: a lover of nature and yet very far from today's ecological infatuations -- in a word, a friend of truth and an enemy of ideology.
Of leaders like him we have today great need.
Preaching In All Seasons
On February 9, Cardinal Biffi led a meditation service on conversion for several hundred Vatican officials. Conversion has been a major jubilee theme, and Pope John Paul has extended the concept to include repentance for the past sins of Church members. In the ongoing debate over this issue, Biffi has stressed the problematic nature of asking modern Christians to judge Christians of previous eras.
On April 12, also in Rome, Biffi preached that the Church must reaffirm Christ as unique savior "explicitly and without tiring." Speaking at a theological conference on "Christocentrism," he warned of attempts to soft-pedal Christ's centrality in the universe and human history. Various attempts have been made to "dilute Christianity," to strip the Gospel of absolute value and to promote a "kind of theological by-pass" straight to God, "getting around the impervious rock of the Church and. . .the Redeemer crucified and resurrected," he said.
Born in Milan on June 15, 1928, Biffi was ordained on December 25, 1950. A Milan seminary professor, he became a bishop in 1976, then archbishop of Bologna in 1984 and a cardinal on May 25, 1985. In Bologna, he is the 110th successor of St. Petronius.
BELOW IS THE TEXT BY SOLOVIEV, P L E A S E R E A D . . .
From "Three Conversations" by Vladimir Soloviev 1853-1900 ....accused by some of his Orthodox co-religionists of "cryptoCatholicism," and by some Catholics of "gnosticism" and being unhealthily influenced by German idealism. What is he for sure is remarkably prescient and often prophetic!
In his book Jesus of Nazareth (pp. 30-41), Pope Benedict XVI mentions a fascinating short story on the antichrist written by Russian author Vladimir Soloviev (1850-1900). Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, who delivered in 2007 a lenten meditation to pope Benedict and the leaders of the Roman Curia on the subject of Soloviev's antichrist, noted that "...the Antichrist will be a "convinced spiritualist," Soloviev says, an admirable philanthropist, a committed, active pacifist, a practicing vegetarian, a determined defender of animal rights. He will not be hostile "in principle" to Christ. Indeed, he will appreciate Christ's teaching. But he will reject the teaching that Christ is unique, and will deny that Christ is risen and alive today."
(SEE article below: Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, “Soloviev and Our Time” )
Vladimir Solovyov was born in Moscow on 16 January, 1853, in the family of well-known Russian historian Sergey Mikhaylovich Solovyov (1820 - 1879). His mother, Polixena Vladimirovna, belonged to the Ukrainian-Polish family, having among her ancestors a remarkable thinker the 18th century Hryhori Skovoroda. In his teens Solovyov renounced Orthodox Christianity for nihilism Nihilism, though later Solovyov changed his earlier convictions and began expressing views in line again with the Russian Orthodox Church. Solovyov was also known to be a very close friend and confidant of Fyodor Dostoevsky, considered one of the greatest writers in Russian literature, whose works have had a profound and lasting effect on twentieth-century fiction. In opposition to Dostoevsky's apparent views of the Roman Catholic Church, Solovyov converted to Roman Catholicism four years before his death. It could be said that he did this to engage in the reconciliation between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, a reconciliation that Solovyov outspokenly favoured, but Solovyov himself always maintained that he was still a Russian Orthodox believer in communion with the Roman Pontiff. Solovyov believed that his mission in life was to move people toward “ sobornost “ or absolute unity - reunion.
The Short History of the Antichrist:
(depicted as a dialog between several characters, and the text is laid out like that of a play)
POLITICIAN. Now that we have safely come to the conclusion that neither those atheists and infidels, nor such “true” Christians as our Prince, represent the Anti-Christ, it is time for you to show us his real portrait.
MR. Z. You want rather too much, your Excellency. Are you satisfied, for instance, with a single one of all the innumerable portraits of Christ which, you will admit, have sometimes been made even by artists of genius? Personally, I don’t know of a single satisfactory portrait. I believe such is even impossible, for Christ is an individual, unique in His own kind and in the personification of His essence—good. To paint it, a genius will not suffice. The same, moreover, has to be said about Anti-Christ: he is also an individual, singular in completeness and finish, a personification of evil. It is impossible to show his portrait. In Church literature we find only his passport with a description of his general and some special marks . . .
LADY. No; we do not want his portrait, God save us! You had better explain why he himself is wanted, what his mission is, and when he will come.
MR. Z. Well, in this respect I can satisfy you even better than you expect. Some few years ago a fellow-student from the Church Academy, later made a monk, on his death-bed bequeathed to me a manuscript which he valued very much, but did not wish, or was not able, to publish. It was entitled, “The Short History of the Anti-Christ.” Though dressed in the form of fiction, as an imaginary forecast of the historical future, this paper, in my opinion, gives all that could be said on this subject in accordance with the Bible, with Church tradition, and the dictates of sound sense.
POLITICIAN. Is it the work of our old friend Monk Barsanophius?
MR. Z. No; this one’s name was even more exquisite: Pansophius, he was called.
POLITICIAN. Pan Sophius? Was he a Pole?
MR. Z. Not in the least. A son of a Russian parson. If you will permit me to go upstairs to my room I will fetch the manuscript and then read it to you.
LADY. Make haste, make haste! See that you don’t get lost!
(While Mr. Z. was out, the company left their seats and walked in the garden.)
POLITICIAN. I wonder what it may be: is it my eyesight that is getting weak, or is something taking place in nature? I notice that in no season, in no place, does one see those bright clear days which formerly used to be met with in every climate. Take today: there is not a single cloud, and we are far from the sea, and yet everything seems to be tinged with something subtle and imperceptible, which, though small, destroys the full clearness of things. Do you notice this, General?
GENERAL. It is many a year since I began to notice it.
LADY. Last year I also began to notice, and not only in the air, but in the soul as well, that even there the “full clearness,” as you style it, is no longer to be found. All is seized with some uneasiness and some ill-omened presentiment. I am sure, Prince, you feel it too.
PRINCE. No; I haven’t noticed anything particular: the air seems to be as usual.
GENERAL. You are still too young to notice the difference, for you have nothing to compare with. But when one remembers the ‘fifties one begins to feel it.
PRINCE. I think the explanation first suggested was the correct one: it is a matter of weak eyesight.
POLITICIAN. It is hardly open to argument that we are ever growing older. But neither is the earth getting younger, so that our mutual fatigue now begins to show itself.
GENERAL. I think it is even more likely that the Devil, with his tail, is spreading fog over the world. Another sign of the Anti-Christ!
LADY (pointing to Mr. Z., who was coming down from the terrace). We shall learn something about this presently.
(All took their seats, and Mr. Z. began to read his manuscript.)
THE BEGINNING OF THE SHORT HISTORY OF THE ANTI-CHRIST.
Pan-Mongolism! The name is savage,
But it pleases my ear immensely,
As if it were full of forebodings
Of the great destiny appointed by God. …
LADY. Where is this motto taken from?
MR. Z. I think it is the work of the author himself.
LADY. Well, we are listening.
MR. Z (reads). The twentieth century A.D. was the epoch of the last great wars and revolutions. The greatest of those wars had its remote cause in the movement of Pan-Mongolism, which originated in Japan as far back as the end of the nineteenth century. The imitative Japanese, who showed such a wonderful cleverness in copying the external forms of European culture, also assimilated certain European ideas of the baser sort. Having learned from the papers and text-books on history that there were in the West such movements as Pan-Hellenism, Pan-Germanism, Pan-Slavism, Pan-Islamism, they proclaimed to the world the great idea of Pan-Mongolism; that is, the unification under their leadership of all the races of Eastern Asia, with the object of conducting a determined warfare against the foreign intruders, that is the Europeans. As in the beginning of the twentieth century Europe was engaged in a final struggle against the Moslem world, they seized the opportunity to attempt the realisation of their great plan—first, by occupying Korea, then Peking, where, assisted by the revolutionary party in China, they deposed the old Manchu dynasty and put in its place a Japanese one. In this the Chinese Conservatives soon acquiesced, as they understood that of two evils the less is the better, and that “family ties make all brothers, whether they wish it or not.” The state independence of old China already proved unable to maintain itself, and subjection to the Europeans or the Japanese became inevitable. It seemed clear, however, that the dominance of the Japanese, though it abolished the external forms of the Chinese state organisation (which besides became palpably worthless), did not interfere with the main foundations of the national life, whereas the dominance of the European Powers, which for political reasons supported Christian missionaries, would have threatened the very spiritual basis of China. The national hatred in which the Japanese were formerly held by the Chinese developed at a time when neither one nor the other knew the Europeans, and in consequence this enmity of two kindred nations acquired the character of a family feud and was as unreasonable as it was ridiculous. The Europeans were unreservedly alien, nothing but enemies, and their predominance promised nothing that could flatter the national ambition, whilst in the hands of Japan the Chinese saw the tempting bait of Pan-Mongolism, which at the same time made more acceptable to their mind the painful necessity of assimilating the external forms of the European culture. “Will you understand, you obstinate brothers,” the Japanese urged them repeatedly, “that we take from the Western dogs their weapons, not because we like them, but so as to beat them with their own devices? If you come out to join us and accept our practical guidance, we shall soon be able not only to drive out all the white devils from our Asia, but also to conquer their own lands and establish the true Middle Empire all the world over. You are right in your national pride and your contempt for the Europeans, but you should keep these feelings alive not only by dreams, but by sensible actions as well. In these latter we are far in advance of you and have to show you the ways of mutual benefit. If you look around you will see yourselves what little gains you have obtained by your policy of confidence in yourselves and mistrust of us—your natural friends and protectors. You have seen how Russia and England, Germany and France nearly divided you up amongst themselves, and how all your tigerish schemes could show only the harmless end of the serpent’s tail.” The sensible Chinese found this reasonable, and the Japanese dynasty became firmly established. Its first care was, of course, to create a powerful army and fleet. The greater part of the Japanese troops were brought over to China and served as a nucleus for the new colossal army. The Japanese officers who could speak Chinese proved much more successful instructors than the dismissed Europeans, whilst the immense population of China, with Manchuria, Mongolia, and Tibet, provided a sufficient supply of good fighting material. It was already possible for the first Emperor of the Japanese dynasty to make a successful test of the power of the new Empire by driving out the French from Tonkin and Siam, and the English from Burma, and by adding to the Middle Empire the whole of Indo-China. His successor, Chinese on his mother’s side, combined in himself Chinese cunning and tenacity with Japanese energy, agility, and enterprise. He mobilised a four-million army in the Chinese Turkestan, and whilst Tsun-li-Y amin, his Prime Minister, was confidentially informing the Russian Ambassador that this army was intended for the invasion of India, the Emperor with his immense forces suddenly invaded Russian Central Asia, and having here raised against us all the population, rapidl y crossed the Ural Mountains and overran Eastern and Central Russia with his troops, whilst the Russian armies, mobilised in all haste, were hurrying to meet them from Poland and Lithuania, Kiev and Volhyn, St. Petersburg, and Finland. Having no ready plan of campaign, and being faced with an immense superiority in numbers, the fighting qualities of the Russian armies were sufficient only to allow them honourable defeat. The swiftness of the invasion left them no time for a proper concentration, and corps were annihilated one after another in desperate and hopeless battles. The victories of the Mongols also involved tremendous losses, but these were easily made good with the help of all the Asiatic railways, while the Russian Army, two hundred thousand strong, and for some time concentrated on the Manchurian frontier, made an abortive attempt to invade well-defended China. After leaving a portion of his forces in Russia, so that no new armies could be formed in the country, and also to fight the numerous bodies of franc-tireurs , the Emperor with three armies crossed the frontiers of Germany. Here the country had had sufficient time to prepare itself, and one of the Mongolian armies met with a crushing defeat. At this time, however, in France the party of belated revanche acquired the power, and soon the Germans found in their rear an army of a million bayonets. Finding itself between the hammer and the anvil, the German Army was compelled to accept the honourable terms of peace offered to it by the Chinese Emperor. The exultant Frenchmen, fraternising with the yellow men, scattered over Germany and soon lost all notion of military discipline. The Emperor ordered his army to cut up allies who were no longer useful, and with Chinese punctiliousness the order was exactly carried out. Simultaneously in Paris workmen sans patrie organised a rising, and the capital of Western culture joyfully opened its gates to the Lord of the East. His curiosity satisfied, the Emperor set off to Boulogne, where, protected by the fleet that had come round from the Pacific, transports were speedily prepared for ferrying his army over to England. He was short of money, however, and so the English succeeded in buying him off with a sum of one milliard pounds. In a year’s time all the European States submitted as vassals to the domination of the Chinese Emperor, who, having left sufficient troops in Europe, returned to the East in order to organise naval expeditions against America and Australia.
The new Mongolian yoke over Europe lasted for half a century. In the inner forms of life this epoch was marked by a general confusion and deep mutual permeation of European and Eastern ideas, providing a repetition on a grand scale of the ancient Alexandrian syncretism. The most characteristic facts in the practical walks of life were three: the great influx into Europe of Chinese and Japanese workmen and the consequent acuteness of social and economic problems; the continued activity of the ruling classes in the way of palliative attempts in order to solve those problems; and, lastly, the increased activity of secret international societies, organising a great European conspiracy for expelling the Mongols and re-establishing the independence of Europe. This colossal conspiracy, which was supported by the local national governments, in so far as they could evade the control of the Emperor’s legates, was organized in masterly fashion and was crowned with most brilliant success. An appointed hour saw the beginning of a massacre of the Mongolian soldiers, and of annihilation and expulsion of the Asiatic workmen. Secret bodies of European troops were suddenly revealed in various places, and a general mobilisation was carried out according to plans previously prepared. The new Emperor, who was a grandson of the great conqueror, hurried from China to Russia, but his innumerable hordes suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the All-European Army. Their scattered remnants returned to the interior of Asia, and Europe breathed freely again. The long submission to the Asiatic barbarians due to the disunity of the States, which troubled themselves only about their own national interests, was now over, brought to an end by an international organisation of the whole of the European population. As a natural consequence of this fact, the old traditional organisation of individual States was everywhere deprived of its former importance, and the last traces of ancient monarchical institutions gradually disappeared. Europe in the twenty-first century represented an alliance of more or less democratic nations—the United States of Europe. The progress of material culture, somewhat interrupted by the Mongolian yoke and the war of liberation, now burst forth with a greater force. The problems of inner consciousness, however, such as the questions of life and death, the ultimate destiny of the world and mankind, made more complicated and involved by the latest researches and discoveries in the fields of psychology and physiology—these as before remained unsolved. Only one important, though negative, result made itself apparent: it was the final bankruptcy of the materialistic theory. The notion of the universe as a system of dancing atoms, and of life as the result of mechanical accumulation of the slightest changes in materia, no longer satisfied a single reasoning intellect. Mankind had outgrown that stage of philosophical infancy. On the other side, it became equally evident that it had also outgrown the infantile capacity for a naive, unconscious faith. Such ideas as God, creating the universe out of nothing, were no longer taught even at elementary schools. A certain high level of ideas concerning such subjects had been evolved, and no dogmatism could risk a descent below it. And though the majority of thinking people had remained faithless, the few believers had of necessity become thinking, thus fulfilling the commandment of the Apostle: “Be infants in your hearts, but not in your reason.”
At that time there was among the few believing spiritualists a remarkable man—many called him a superman—who was equally far both from infantile intellect and infantile heart. He was still young, but owing to his great genius, at the age of thirty-three he had already become famous as a great thinker, writer, and social worker. Conscious of the great power of spirit in himself, he was always a confirmed spiritualist, and his clear intellect always showed him the truth of what one should believe in: good, God, and Messiah. In this he believed, but he loved only himself. He believed in God, but at the bottom of his heart he involuntarily and unconsciously preferred himself to Him. He believed in good, but the all-seeing eye of the Eternal knew that this man would bow down before Evil as soon as it bribed him—not by a deception of senses and base passions, not even by the bait of power, but only by his own immeasurable self-love. This self-love was neither an unconscious instinct nor an insane ambition. Apart from his exceptional genius, beauty, and nobility of character, the reserve, disinterestedness, and active sympathy with those in need, which he evinced to such a great extent, seemed abundantly to justify the immense self-love of this great spiritualist, ascetic, and philanthropist. Did he deserve blame because, being, as he was, so generously supplied with the gifts of God, he saw in them the signs of Heaven’s special benevolence to him, and thought himself to be second only to God himself? In short, he considered himself to be what Christ in reality was. But this conception of his own higher value showed itself in practice not in the exercise of his moral obligation to God and the world, but in seizing his privilege and advantage at the expense of others, and of Christ in particular.
At first he had no ill-feeling towards Christ. He recognised His Messianic importance and value, but he was sincere in seeing in Him only his own greatest precursor—the moral achievement of Christ and His uniqueness were beyond his pride-clouded mind. He reasoned thus: “Christ came before me. I come second. But what in order of time appears later is essentially of greater importance. I come last at the end of history for the very reason that I am most perfect. I am the final saviour of the world, and Christ— he is my precursor. His mission was to precede and prepare for my coming.” So thinking, the superman of the twenty-first century applied to himself everything that was said in the Gospels about the Second Coming, explaining the latter not as a return of the same Christ, but as a replacing of the preliminary Christ by the final one—that is, by himself.
At this stage the Coming Man presented few characteristic or original features. His attitude to Christ resembled, for instance, that of Mohammed, a truthful man, against whom no charge of fraudulent intent can be brought.
Yet in another way this man justified his prideful preference of himself to Christ. “Christ,” he said, “preaching and practicing moral good in life, was a reformer of mankind, whereas I am called to be the benefactor of that same mankind, partly reformed and partly incapable of being reformed. I will give all men what they need. Christ, as a moralist, divided men by the notion of good and evil. I will instead unite them by benefits which are as much needed by good as by evil people. I shall be the true representative of that God who maketh His sun to shine upon the good and the evil, and who maketh the rain fall upon the just and upon the unjust. Christ brought the sword; I shall bring peace. He threatened the earth with the dreadful Day of Judgment. But I will be the last judge, and my judgment will be not only that of justice, but also of mercy. The justice, however, in my judgments will not be a retributive justice but a distributive one. I shall judge every man according to his due, and shall give everybody what he needs.”
In this magnificent spirit he now waited upon a clear calling from God to take upon himself the work of saving mankind, for some obvious and striking testimony that he was the elder son, the beloved first-born of God. He waited and sustained himself by the consciousness of his superhuman virtues and gifts, for he, as was said, was a man of irreproachable morals and exceptional genius.
Thus this just but proud man waited for the sanction of the Most High to begin his saving of mankind, but he could see no signs of it. He had passed the age of thirty. Three more years passed. A thought suddenly flickers into his mind and a heated trembling pierces him to the core. “What,” thought he, “what if it is not I, but that other … the Galilean. If He is not my forerunner but the true one, the First and the Last? But then indeed He must be living….Where is He? What if He suddenly comes to me … here, now? What will I tell Him? I would have to kneel down before Him like the basest foolish Christian, like some Russian peasant who mutters without understanding, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ or grovel like a Polish countrywoman! I, the shining genius, the superman! Never!” And then, instead of his former rational and cold reverence to God and Christ, a sudden terror was born and grew in his heart, followed by a burning envy consuming all his being, and by a burning, breath-taking hatred. “I, I, and not He! He is not among the living, and never will be! He did not rise, not rise, not rise! He rotted, rotted in the tomb, He rotted like the lowest….” And, his mouth foaming, he rushed in convulsive movements out of the house, through the garden, and ran along a rocky path covered by the dark gloomy night.
His rage calmed down and gave place to a despair, dry and heavy as the rocks, gloomy as the night. He stopped in front of a sharp precipice, from the bottom of which he could hear the faint sounds of a stream running over the stones far below. An unbearable anguish pressed upon his heart. Suddenly something stirred within him. “Shall I call Him? Ask Him what I am to do?” And in the midst of the darkness a pale and grief-stricken image appeared to him. “He pities me! No, never! He did not rise, not rise!” And he leapt from the precipice. But something firm like a column of water held him up in the air. He felt a shock as if of electricity, and some unknown force hurled him back. For a moment he lost consciousness and came to kneeling a few paces from the edge of the precipice. Before him was a being outlined with a misty phosphorescent light, and its two eyes pierced his soul with their unbearably sharp brightness.
He saw these two piercing eyes and heard some unfamiliar voice coming from inside or outside him—he could not tell which—a toneless, constrained voice, yet distinct, metallic and completely heartless as from a gramophone. And the voice said to him: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased! Why did you not seek me? Why did you revere that bad one, and his father? I am your god and father. But that other, the beggar, the crucified one—he is a stranger both to me and to you. I have no other son but you. You are the only one, the only begotten, the equal of myself. I love you, and ask nothing from you. You are already beautiful, great, and mighty. Do your work in your own name, not mine. I harbour no envy of you. I love you. I require nothing of you. He whom you regarded as God demanded from His son the ultimate obedience—even to death on a cross—and He did not help Him there. I demand from you nothing, and I will help you. I will help you for your own sake, for the sake of your own dignity and excellency, and for the sake of my own disinterested love of you! Receive my spirit! Just as my spirit gave birth to you in beauty, so now it gives birth to you in power.”
With these words of the stranger, the mouth of the superman involuntarily opened, the two piercing eyes came very close to his face, and he felt a sharp, icy stream enter into him and fill the whole of his being. At the same time he felt in himself unprecedented strength, vigour, lightness, and joy. At the same instant the luminous image and the two eyes suddenly disappeared, something lifted him up in the air, and brought him down in his own garden, before the doors of his own house.
The next day not only the visitors of the great man but even his servants were startled by his strange, inspired appearance. They would have been even more startled could they have seen with what supernatural speed and ease he was writing, locked up in his study, his famous work entitled, The Open Way to Universal Peace and Prosperity.
The previous books and the public activity of the superman had always met with severe criticisms, though these came chiefly from men of exceptionally deep religious convictions, who for that very reason possessed no authority, and were hardly listened to when they tried to point out in everything that the Coming Man wrote or said the signs of quite an exceptional and excessive pride and conceit, and a complete absence of true simplicity, frankness, and sincerity.
But now with his new book he brought over to his side even some of his former critics and adversaries. This book, composed after the incident at the precipice, evinced a greater power of genius than he had ever shown before. It was a work that embraced everything and solved every problem. Here were combined a noble respect of the ancient traditions and symbols with a bold and thorough radicalism in the sphere of social and political problems, an unlimited freedom of thought with the most profound appreciation of everything mystical, an absolute individualism with an ardent fidelity to the common good, the most lofty idealism of guiding principles with a perfect definiteness in practical necessities of life. And all this was blended and cemented with such artistic genius that every thinker and every man of action, however one-sided he may have been, could easily view and accept the whole from his particular individual standpoint without sacrificing anything to the truth itself, without actually rising above his ego, without in reality renouncing his one-sidedness, without correcting the inadequacy of his views and wishes, and without making up their deficiencies. This wonderful book was immediately translated into the languages of all the civilised nations, and many of the uncivilised ones as well. During the whole year thousands of papers in all parts of the world were filled with the publishers’ advertisements and the delight of the critics. Inexpensive editions with portraits of the author were sold in the millions of copies, and all the civilized world—which by now meant nearly all the globe—resounded with the glory of the incomparable, the great, the only one! Not only did nobody raise his voice against the book, but on every side it was accepted as the revelation of the entirely complete truth. In it all the past was given its full and due justice, all the present was appraised so impartially and thoroughly, and the happiest future was brought near in such a convincing and practical manner that everybody could not help saying: ” Here at last we have what we need. Here is the ideal which is not an Utopia. Here is a scheme which is not a chimera.” And the wonderful author not only impressed all, but he was agreeable to everybody, so that the word of Christ was fulfilled: “I have come in the name of the Father, and you accept me not. Another will come in his own name—him you will accept.” For it is necessary to be agreeable to be accepted.
True, some pious men, warmly praising the book, had been asking why the name of Christ was never mentioned in it. But other Christians had rejoined: “Glory to God! In the past ages everything sacred has already been tainted enough by uncalled zealots so as now to make a deeply religious author extremely careful in these matters. Since the book is imbued with the true Christian spirit of active love and all-embracing goodwill, what more do you want?” And everybody agreed with this.
Soon after the publication of “The Open Way,” which made its author the most popular man that had ever lived on earth, an international constitutional congress of the Union of European States was to be held in Berlin. This Union, founded after a series of international and civil wars which had been brought about by the liberation from the Mongolian yoke, and had resulted in considerable alteration in the map of Europe, was now faced with the potential for conflict, not between nations, but between various political and social parties. The heads of general European politics, who belonged to the powerful brotherhood of Freemasons, felt the inadequacy of the general executive power. The European unity achieved at such a great cost was at that moment threatening to fall to pieces. There was no unanimity in the Union Council or “Comité permanent universel,” as not all the seats were in the hands of true Masons dedicated to this end. The independent members of the Council were entering into separate agreements, and things seemed to be drifting toward another war. The “initiated” then decided to establish a personal executive power endowed with extraordinary authority. The principal candidate was a secret member of the Order—the Coming Man. He was the only man with a great world-wide fame. Being by profession a learned artillery officer, and by his source of income a wealthy capitalist, he was on friendly terms among all financial and military circles. In another, less enlightened time, there might have been put against him the fact of his extremely obscure origin. His mother, a lady of indulgent conduct, was very well known in both hemispheres, but too many people had grounds to consider themselves his progenitor. These circumstances, however, could not carry any weight in an age which was so advanced as for even him to consider it actually the last one. The Coming Man was almost unanimously elected as President of the United States of Europe for life. And when he appeared on the platform in all the brilliance of his young superhuman beauty and power, and with inspired eloquence expounded his universal program, the assembly was carried away by the spell of his personality, and in an outburst of enthusiasm decided, even without voting, to give him the highest honour, by electing him Roman Emperor.
The congress closed amidst general rejoicing, and the great elector published a manifesto, which began with the words: “Peoples of the earth! My peace I give to you,” and concluded, “Peoples of the earth! The promises have been fulfilled! Eternal universal peace has been secured. Every attempt to destroy it will meet with invincible opposition, since a central power is now established on earth which is stronger than all the other powers, separately or conjointly. This invincible, all-conquering power belongs to me, the plenipotentiary elected ruler of Europe, the Emperor of all its forces. International law has at last secured the sanction which was so long missing. Henceforth no power will dare to say ‘War’ when I say ‘Peace!’ Peoples of the earth, peace to you!” This manifesto had the desired effect. Everywhere outside Europe, particularly in America, powerful imperialist parties were formed which compelled their Governments to join the United States of Europe under the supreme authority of the Roman Emperor. There still remained a few independent tribes and little states in remote parts of Asia and Africa, but with a small but select army of Russian, German, Polish, Hungarian, and Turkish regiments the Emperor set out on a military campaign from Eastern Asia to Morocco, and without much bloodshed brought under subjection all the rebellious states. In all the countries of the two hemispheres he installed his viceroys, who were from among the native nobles who had been educated in European fashion and were faithful to him. In all the heathen countries the native population, greatly impressed and charmed by his personality, proclaimed him as their supreme god.
Within a single year he established a worldwide monarchy in the true and proper sense. The seedlings of wars were pulled up by the root. The Universal League of Peace met for the last time, and having delivered an exalted panegyric to the Great Peacemaker, dissolved itself as being no longer necessary. In the second year of his reign the Roman and Universal Emperor published a new manifesto: “Peoples of the earth! I have promised you peace, and I have given it to you. But peace is joyful only beautiful in prosperity. Whoever in peace-time is threatened with poverty has no pleasure in peace. Therefore, come to me, all you hungry and cold, and I will give you food and warmth!” He then declared a simple and comprehensive social reform which had already been enunciated in his book, and which had then captured all the noble and sound minds. Now, owing to the concentration in his hands of the financial resources of the world and of the colossal land properties, he could carry into effect that reform in accordance with the wishes of the poor and without causing much pain to the rich. Everyone now received according to his abilities, and every ability according to its labor and merit.
The new lord of the world was before everything else a kind-hearted philanthropist, and not only a philanthropist, but even a philozoist. He himself was a vegetarian, prohibited vivisection, and instituted a strict supervision over slaughter-houses, while societies for protecting animals received from him every encouragement. But what was more important than these details, the most fundamental form of equality was firmly established among mankind, the equality of universal satiety. This took place in the second year of his reign. Social and economic problems had been finally settled. But if satisfaction is a question of primary importance for the hungry, those satisfied want something else. Even satiated animals usually want not only to sleep, but also to play. The more so with mankind which has always post panem craved for circenses.
The Emperor-superman understood what his mob wanted. At that time a great magician, enwrapped in a dense cloud of strange facts and wild stories, came to him in Rome from the Far East. The rumour spread among the neo-Buddhists credited him with a divine origin from the god of Sun Suria and some river nymph.
This magician, Apollonius by name, was doubtless a man of genius. A semi-Asiatic and a semi-European, a catholic bishop in partibus infidelium, he combined in himself in a most striking manner the knowledge of the latest conclusions and applications of Western science with the art of utilizing all that was really sound and important in the traditional mysticism of the East. The results of this combination were startling. Apollonius learned among other things the semi-scientific and semi-mystic art of attracting and directing at will the atmospheric electricity, and the people said of him that he could bring down fire from heaven. However, though startling the imagination of the crowd by various unprecedented wonders, for some time he did not abuse his power for any particular selfish ends.
It was this man who came to the great Emperor, saluted him as the true son of God, declared that he had discovered in the secret books of the East certain unmistakable prophecies pointing to the Emperor as the last saviour and judge of the Universe, and offered him his services and all his art. The Emperor, completely charmed by the man, accepted him as a gift from above, decorated him with all kinds of magnificent titles and refused to be parted from him henceforth. So the nations of the world, after they had received from their lord universal peace and universal abolition of hunger, were now given the possibility of never-ending enjoyment of most diverse and extraordinary miracles. Thus came to end the third year of the reign of the superman.
After the happy solution of political and social problems, the religious question arose. This was brought up by the Emperor himself, in the first place in regards to Christianity. At the time the position of Christianity was as follows. While greatly diminished in numbers, barely including forty-five million Christians in the whole world, morally it had straightened up and established itself, and gained in quality what it lost in numbers. Men who were not bound up with Christianity by any spiritual tie were no longer counted among the Christians. The various Christian persuasions fairly equally diminished in their numbers, so that the proportional relationship among them was maintained almost unchanged. As to mutual feelings, hostility did not entirely give place to reconciliation, but considerably softened, and points of disagreement lost much of their former sharpness. The Papacy had been long before expelled from Rome, and after long wanderings had found refuge in St. Petersburg on condition that it refrained from propaganda there and in the country. In Russia it soon became greatly simplified. Leaving practically unchanged the necessary composition of its colleges and offices, it was obliged to infuse into their work a more fervent spirit, and to cut down to the smallest limits its magnificent ritual and ceremonial. Many strange and seductive customs, though not formally abolished, fell of themselves into disuse. In all the other countries, particularly in North America, the Catholic hierarchy still had many representatives, possessed of strong will, indomitable energy and independent character, who welded together the Catholic Church into a closer unity than it had ever been before, and who preserved for it its international, cosmopolitan importance.
As to Protestantism, which was still led by Germany especially since the union of the greater part of the Anglican Church with the Catholic—this had cleansed itself of its extreme negative tendencies, the supporters of which openly went over into religious apathy and unbelief. The Evangelical church now contained only the sincerely religious, headed by men who combined a vast learning with a deep religious faith, and an ever-growing desire to bring to life again in their own persons the living image of ancient authentic Christianity.
Russian Orthodoxy, after political events had altered the official position of the Church, lost many millions of its sham nominal members; but it won the joy of unification with the best part of the Old Believers, and even many of the positively religious sectarians. This renovated Church, though not increasing in numbers, began to grow in strength of spirit, which it particularly revealed in its struggle with the numerous sects, not entirely devoid of the demoniacal and satanic element, which found root among the people and in society.
During the first two years of the new reign, all Christians, frightened and wearied by the number of preceding revolutions and wars, looked upon their new lord and his peaceful reforms partly with a benevolent expectation, and partly with an unreserved, sympathetic, and even a fervent enthusiasm. But in the third year, after the great magician had made his appearance, serious fears and antipathy began to grow in the minds of many an Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical. The Gospel and Apostolic texts speaking of the Prince of this World and of Anti-Christ were now read more attentively and led to lively comments. The Emperor soon perceived from certain signs that a storm was gathering, and resolved to deal with the matter.
In the beginning of the fourth year of his reign he published a manifesto to all his loyal Christians, without distinction of churches, inviting them to elect or appoint authoritative representatives for the Ecumenical Council to be held under his presidency. At that time the Imperial residence was transferred from Rome to Jerusalem. Palestine was already an autonomous province, inhabited and governed mainly by the Jews. Jerusalem was a free and now an imperial city. The Christian shrines remained unmolested, but over the whole of the large platform of the Haram-esh-Sheriff, extending from Birket-Israin and the barracks right to the mosque of El-Aqsa and Solomon’s Stables, there was erected an immense building, which incorporated in itself, besides the two small ancient mosques, a huge Imperial Temple for the unification of all cults, and two luxurious Imperial Palaces, with libraries, museums, and special apartments for magic experiments and exercises. It was in this half-temple, half-palace that the Ecumenical Council was to meet on September 14th. As the Evangelical church has no hierarchy in the proper sense of the word, the Catholic and Orthodox hierarchs, in compliance with the express wish of the Emperor, and in order to give a greater uniformity of representation of all parts of Christianity, decided to admit to the proceedings of the Council a certain number of lay members noted for their piety and devotion to Church interests. Once, however, these were admitted, it seemed impossible to exclude from the Council the clergy, both of the monastic and secular order. Thus the total number of members at the Council exceeded three thousand, while about half a million Christian pilgrims flooded Jerusalem and all Palestine. Among the members present three men were particularly conspicuous.
The first was Pope Peter II, who in true right led the Catholic part of the Council. His predecessor had died on the way to the Council, and a conclave met in Damascus, which unanimously elected Cardinal Simone Barionini, who took the name of Peter. He was of humble origins, from the province of Naples, and became famous as a preacher of the Carmelite Order, having earned great successes against a certain Satanic sect which was spreading in St. Petersburg and its environs and seducing not only the Orthodox, but also the Catholics. Made Archbishop of Mogilov then Cardinal, he was all along marked for the tiara. He was a man of fifty, of middle stature and strongly built, had a red face, a hooked nose, and thick eyebrows. Ardent and impetuous, he spoke with fervour and with sweeping gestures, and carried along more than convinced his listeners. The new Pope expressed distrust and dislike of the new world sovereign, particularly since the deceased Pope, before leaving for the Council, yielded to the Emperor’s pressure and had made a Cardinal of the Imperial Chancellor and great magician of the world, the exotic Bishop Apollonius, whom Peter considered a doubtful Catholic and a doubtless fraud.
The actual, though not official, leader of the Orthodox members was Elder John, extremely well known among the Russian people. Officially he was considered a bishop “in retirement,” but he did not live in any monastery, instead he was always travelling around. Many legendary stories were circulated about him. Some people believed that he was Feodor Kusmich, that is, Emperor Alexander I, who had been born three centuries back and was now raised to life. Others went further and maintained that he was the actual Elder John, that is, John the Apostle, who had never died and had openly reappeared in the later times. He himself said nothing about his origin or youth. Now he was a very old but vigorous and healthy, with yellowish, even greenish, white locks and beard, tall in stature, and thin in the body, but with full and slightly rosy cheeks, vivid sparkling eyes and a tender and kind expression in his face and speech. He was always dressed in a white cassock and cloak.
At the head of the Evangelical members of the Council was the most learned German theologian, Professor Ernst Pauli. He was a short, wizened, old man, with a huge forehead, sharp nose, and cleanly-shaven chin. His eyes were distinguished by a certain ferociously kind-hearted look. He incessantly rubbed his hands, shook his head, sternly knitted his brows and pursed his lips; while with eyes flashing he gloomily mumbled: “So! Nun! Ja! So also!” He was dressed solemnly, in a white tie and long pastoral frock-coat decorated with signs of his order.
The opening of the Council was very imposing. Two-thirds of the immense temple devoted to the unification of all the cults were covered with benches and other sitting accommodation for members of the Council. The remaining third was taken by the high platform, on which were placed the Emperor’s throne, another a little below it intended for the great magician—also the Cardinal Imperial Chancellor—and behind them rows of armchairs for the ministers, courtiers, and State officials, while along the side there were the still longer rows of armchairs, the intended occupants of which remained undisclosed. The gallery was taken by the orchestra, while in the adjoining square there were installed two regiments of the Guards and a battery for triumphal salutes.
The members of the Council had already attended their services in their various churches, and the opening of the Council was to be entirely secular. When the Emperor, accompanied by the great magician and his suite, made his entrance, the band began to play the March of Unified Mankind, which was the international Imperial hymn, and all the members rose to their feet, and waving their hats, gave three enthusiastic cheers: “Vivat! Hurrah! Hoch!” The Emperor, standing by the throne and stretching forward his hand with an air of majestic benevolence, said in a sonorous and pleasing voice: “Christians of all sects! My beloved subjects and brothers! From the beginning of my reign, which the Most High blessed with such wonderful and glorious deeds, I have never had any cause to be dissatisfied with you. You have always performed your duties true to your faith and conscience. But this is not sufficient for me. My sincere love for you, my beloved brothers, thirsts for reciprocation. I desire for you, not out of a sense of duty, but out of heartfelt love, to recognize me your true leader in every enterprise undertaken for the good of mankind. So now, besides what I generally do for all, I want to show you my special benevolence. Christians! What can I bestow upon you? What can I give you, not as my subjects, but as my fellow believers, my brothers! Christians! Tell me what is the most precious thing for you in Christianity, so that I may direct my efforts to that end?” He stopped for a time, waiting for an answer.
The hall was filled with reverberating muffled sounds. The members of the Council were consulting each other. Pope Peter, with fervent gesticulations, was explaining something to his followers. Professor Pauli was shaking his head and ferociously smacking his lips. Elder John was bending over the Eastern bishops and monks, quietly tried to impress something upon them.
After he had waited a few minutes, the Emperor again addressed the Council in the same kind tone, in which, however, there could be sounded a scarcely perceptible note of irony: “My kind Christians,” said he, “I understand how difficult it is for you to give me a direct answer. I will help you also in this. From time immemorial, unfortunately, you have been broken up into various confessions and sects, so that you perhaps have scarcely one common object of desire. But if you cannot agree among yourselves, I hope I shall be able to show agreement with you all by bestowing upon all of your parties the same love and the same readiness to satisfy the true desire of each one of them. Kind Christians! I know that to many, and not the least ones among you, the most precious thing in Christianity is the spiritual authority with which it endows its legal representatives—of course, not for their personal benefit, but for the common good, since on this authority the right spiritual order and moral discipline so necessary for everybody firmly rest.
“Kind brothers-Catholic! How well do I understand your view, and how much would I like to base my imperial power on the authority of your spiritual head! Lest you should think that this is a mere flattery and windy words we most solemnly declare: by virtue of our autocratic will, the Supreme Bishop of all the Catholics, the Pope of Rome, is henceforth restored to his throne in Rome, with all the former rights and privileges belonging to this title and see, given at any time by our predecessors, from Constantine the Great onwards. For this, brothers-Catholic, I wish to receive from you only your inner heart-felt recognition of myself as your sole protector and patron. Whoever of those present here does recognise me as such in his heart and conscience, let him come up here to this side!” Here he pointed to the empty seats on the platform. And instantly, nearly all the princes of the Catholic Church, cardinals and bishops, the greater part of the laymen and over a half of the monks, shouting in exultation: “Gratias agimus! Domine! Salvum fac magnum imperatorem!” rose to the platform and, after bowing low to the Emperor, took their seats.
Below, however, in the middle of the hall, straight and immovable, like a marble statue, sat in his seat Pope Peter II. All those who had surrounded him were now on the platform. But the diminished crowd of monks and laymen who remained below moved nearer and closed in a ring around him. And their subdued mutter could be heard: “Non praevalebunt, non praevalebunt portae inferni.”
With a startled look cast at the immovable Pope, the Emperor again raised his voice: “Kind brothers! I know that there are among you many for whom the most precious thing in Christianity is its sacred tradition—the old symbols, the old hymns and prayers, the icons and the order of the Divine service. Indeed, what can be more precious for a religious soul? Know, then, my beloved ones, that today I have signed the decree and have set aside vast sums of money for the establishment in our glorious Imperial city, Constantinople, of a World Museum of Christian Archaeology, with the object of collecting, studying, and saving all the monuments of Church antiquity, particularly of the East; and I ask you to select from your midst a committee for working out with me the measures which are to be carried out, so that the modern life, morals, and customs may be organized as nearly as possible in accordance with the traditions and institutions of the Holy Orthodox Church. My Orthodox brothers! Those of you who view with favour this will of mine, who can in their inner heart call me their true leader and lord—Let them come up here.” Here the greater part of the hierarchs of the East and North, half of the former Old Believers and more than half of the Orthodox priests, monks, and laymen, rose with joyful exclamation to the platform, looking askance at the Catholics, who were already proudly occupying their seats.
But Elder John remained in his place, and sighed loudly. And when the crowd round him became greatly thinned, he left his bench and went over to Pope Peter and his group. He was followed by the other Orthodox members who did not go to the platform.
Then the Emperor spoke again: “I am aware, kind Christians, that there are among you also such who place the greatest value upon the personal confidence in truth and the free examination of the Scriptures. How I view this, there is no need for me to enlarge upon at the moment. You are perhaps aware that even in my youth I wrote a lengthy work on Biblical Criticism, which at that time excited much comment and laid the foundation of my reputation. In memory of this, probably, the University of Tübingen only the other day requested me to accept an honorary degree of Doctor of Theology. I have replied that I accept it with pleasure and gratitude. And today, simultaneously with the decree of the Museum of Christian Archreology, I signed another decree establishing a World Institute for Free Examination of the Scriptures, from all sides and in all directions, and for the study of all subsidiary sciences, to which an annual sum of one and a half million marks is granted. I call those of you who look with sincere favour at this my act of goodwill, and are able in their true feeling to recognise me their sovereign leader, to come up here to the new Doctor of Theology.” The beautiful mouth of the great man was changed by a strange smile. More than half of the learned theologians were moving to the platforms, though somewhat slowly and hesitatingly. Everybody looked at Professor Pauli, who seemed to be rooted to his seat. He dropped his head, bent down and shrank. The learned theologians who had already ascended the stage were awkward, and one of them even suddenly dropped his hand in renunciation, and, having avoided the stairs and jumped off, ran limping to Professor Pauli and the minority who remained with him.
The Professor raised his head, and after arising with a somewhat vague movement passed the empty benches, accompanied by a remnant of fellow-believers, and took his seat near Elder John and Pope Peter with their followers. The greater part of the members of the Council, including nearly all the hierarchs of the East and West, were now on the platform. Below there remained only the three groups of members now more closely drawn together, who clung around Elder John, Pope Peter, and Professor Pauli.
In a grieved voice the Emperor addressed them: “What else can I do for you, you strange people? What do you want from me? I cannot understand. Tell me yourselves, you Christians, deserted by the majority of your brothers and leaders, condemned by popular sentiment. What is it that you value most in Christianity?”
At this Elder John rose up like a white candle, and said in a gentle voice: “Great sovereign! The thing we value most in Christianity is Christ Himself—He in His person. All the rest comes from Him, for we know that in Him dwells bodily the whole fulness of Divinity. But we are ready, sire, to accept any gift from you as well, if only we recognise the holy hand of Christ in your generosity. Our candid answer to your question, what you can do for us, is this: Here, now and before us, confess Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came in the flesh, rose, and is coming again. Confess Him, and we will accept you with love as the true forerunner of His second glorious coming.” He finished his speech and fixed his eyes on the face of the Emperor.
A terrible change had come over it. A hellish storm was raging within him, like the one he experienced on that fateful night. He entirely lost his mental balance, and was concentrating all his thoughts on preserving control over his appearance, so that he should not betray himself before the time. He was making superhuman efforts not to throw himself, roaring wildly, on Elder John and begin tearing him with his teeth. Suddenly he heard a familiar, unearthly voice: “Keep silent and fear nothing!” He remained silent. Only his face, livid like death, looked distorted and his eyes flashed.
In the meantime, while Elder John was still making his speech, the great magician, wrapped in his ample tri-coloured mantle, which concealed nearly the whole of his cardinal purple, could be noticed to be busy doing something underneath it. His eyes were fixed and flashing, and his lips slightly moving. It could be seen through the open windows of the temple that an immense black cloud was covering the sky, and soon a complete darkness set in.
Elder John did not lower his astonished and frightened eyes from the face of the silent Emperor, until he suddenly recoiled in horror, and turning to his followers shouted in a stifled voice: “My dearest ones, it is Anti-Christ!” At this moment a great thunderbolt flashed into the temple and struck Elder John, followed by a deafening thunderclap. Everyone was still for an instant, and when the stunned Christians came to their senses, Elder John lay dead.
The Emperor, pale but calm, spoke to the assembly: “You have witnessed the judgment of God. I had no wish to take any man’s life, but thus my Heavenly Father avenges His beloved son. It is finished. Who will argue with the Most High? Secretaries, write down: The Ecumenical Council of All Christians, after a reckless enemy of the Divine Majesty had been struck by fire from heaven, recognized unanimously the sovereign Emperor of Rome and all the Universe its supreme leader and lord.”
Suddenly one word, loudly distinct, resounded throughout the temple: “Contradicatur!” Pope Peter II rose, and with face red with rage and his body trembling with indignation, raised his staff in the direction of the Emperor. “Our only Lord,” shouted he, “is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God! And who you are, you have heard! Away from us, you Cain, you fratricide! Begone, tool of the Devil! By the authority of Christ, I, the servant of God’s servants, cast you out forever, you foul dog, from the city of God, and cast you out to your father Satan ! Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!”
While he was so speaking, the great magician was moving restlessly under his mantle, and louder than the last “Anathema!” the thunder rumbled, and the last Pope fell lifeless to the floor.
“So die all my enemies by the hand of my Father!” said the Emperor. “Pereant, pereant!” exclaimed the trembling princes of the Church. The Emperor turned round, and, supported by the great magician and accompanied by all his crowd, slowly walked out to the door at the back of the stage. There remained in the temple only the corpses and a little knot of Christians half-dead from fear.
The only person who did not lose control over himself was Professor Pauli. The general horror seemed to have raised in him all the powers of his spirit. He had even changed in appearance; his countenance became noble and inspired. With determined steps he walked up on to the platform, took one of the seats previously occupied by some State official, and began to write something on a sheet of paper. When he had finished he got up and read out in a loud voice: “In the glory of our only saviour, Jesus Christ! The Ecumenical Council of the Churches of God, which met at Jerusalem after our most blessed brother John, the representative of Christianity of the East, had exposed the arch-deceiver and the enemy of God as the true Anti-Christ, foretold in the word of God, and after our most blessed father Peter, the representative of Christianity of the West, had lawfully and justly condemned him to eternal excommunication from the Church of God, now before the bodies of these two witnesses of Christ, murdered for the truth, resolves: To cease all communion with the excommunicated one and with his foul crowd, and to go to the desert and to wait for the inevitable coming of our true Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The crowd was seized with enthusiasm, and loud exclamations could be heard on all sides. “Adveniat! Adveniat cito! Komm, Herr Jesu, komm! Come, Lord Jesus Christ!”
Professor Pauli wrote again and read: “Accepting unanimously this first and last deed of the last Ecumenical Council, we sign our names” and here he invited those present to do so. All hurried to the stage and signed their names. And last was written in big Gothic characters: “Duorum defunctorum testium locum tenens Ernst Pauli.”
“Now let us go with our ark of the last covenant,” said he, pointing to the two deceased. The corpses were put on stretchers. Slowly, singing Latin, German and Church Slavonic hymns, the Christians walked to the gate leading out from Haram-esh-Sheriff. Here the procession was stopped by one of the Emperor’s officials, who was accompanied by a squad of the Guards. The soldiers remained at the entrance while the official read: “By order of his Divine Majesty. For the enlightenment of the Christian people and for its protection from wicked men spreading unrest and temptations, we deem necessary to resolve that the corpses of the two agitators, killed by the heavenly fire, be publicly exhibited in the Street of the Christians (Haret-en-Nasara), at the entrance into the principal temple of this religion, called the Temple of our Lord’s Sepulchre, also that of the Resurrection, so that everybody may convince himself that they are really dead. Their obstinate followers, who wickedly reject all our benefactions and insanely shut their eyes to the patent signs of Deity itself, are by our mercy and presentations before our Heavenly Father, relieved from a much-deserved death by the heavenly fire, and are left at their free will with the sole prohibition, necessary for the common good, of living in cities and other places of residence, lest they disturb and tempt innocent, simple-minded folk with their malicious inventions.” When he had finished reading, eight soldiers, at the sign of the officer, came up with stretchers to the bodies.
“Let the written word be fulfilled,” said Professor Pauli. And the Christians who were holding the stretchers silently passed them to the soldiers, who went away with them through the north-western gate, while the Christians, having gone out through the north-eastern gate, hurriedly walked from the city past the Mount of Olives to Jericho, along the road which had previously been cleared of other people by the police and two cavalry regiments. It was decided to wait a few days on the desert hills near Jericho. The next morning, friendly Christian pilgrims came from Jerusalem and told what had been going on in Zion. After the dinner at the Court all the members of the Council were invited to a vast throne hall (near the supposed site of Solomon’s throne), and the Emperor, addressing the representatives of the Catholic hierarchy, told them that the good of the Church clearly demanded from them the immediate election of a worthy successor of the Apostle Peter, that in the circumstances of the time the election must be a summary one, that his the Emperor’s presence as that of the leader and representative of the whole Christian world, would amply make up for the inevitable omissions in the ritual, and that he on behalf of all the Christians suggested that the Holy College elect his beloved friend and brother Apollonius, so that their close friendship could firmly and indissolubly unite Church and State for their mutual benefit. The Holy College retired to a separate room for a conclave, and in an hour and a half it returned with its new Pope Apollonius.
In the meantime, while the election was being carried out, the Emperor was gently, wisely, and eloquently persuading the Orthodox and Evangelical representatives, in view of the new great era in Christian history, to put an end to their old dissensions, giving his word that Apollonius would be able to abolish all the abuses of the Papal authority known to history. Persuaded by this speech, the Orthodox and Protestant representatives drafted a deed of the unification of all the churches, and when Apollonius with the cardinals appeared in the hall, met by shouts of joy from all those present, a Greek bishop and an Evangelical pastor presented to him their document. “Accipio et approbo et laetificatur cor meum,” said Apollonius, signing it. “I am as much a true Orthodox and a true Evangelical as I am a true Catholic,” added he, and exchanged friendly kisses with the Greek and the German.
Then he came up to the Emperor, who embraced him and long held him in his arms. At this time tongues of flame began to dart about in the palace and the temple. They grew and became transformed into luminous shapes of strange beings, and flowers never seen before came down from above, filling the air with unknown aroma. Enchanting sounds of music, stirring the very depths of the soul, produced by unfamiliar instruments, were heard, while angelic voices of unseen singers sang the glory of the new lords of heaven and earth.
Suddenly a terrific subterranean noise was heard in the north-western corner of the middle palace under the Qubbat-al-Arwah, that is the Dome of Souls, where, according to the Moslem belief, the entrance to the hell was hidden. When the assembly invited by the Emperor went to that end all could clearly hear innumerable voices, thin and penetrating—either childish or devilish—which were exclaiming: “The time has come, release us, our saviours, our saviours!” But when Apollonius, kneeling on the ground, shouted something down in an unknown language three times, the voices died down and the subterranean noise subsided.
Meanwhile a vast crowd of people surrounded Haram-esh-Sheriff on all sides. Darkness set in and the Emperor, with the new Pope, came out upon the eastern terrace, at which there was a storm of rejoicings. The Emperor bowed affably to the people all around, while Apollonius, taking from the huge baskets brought up by the cardinal-deacons, incessantly threw into the air, making them burn by mere touch of his hand, magnificent Roman candles, rockets, and fiery fountains, that now glimmered like phosphorescent pearls, and now sparkled with all the tints of a rainbow. On reaching the ground all the sparkles transformed into numberless variously coloured sheets containing complete and absolute indulgences of all sins—past, present, and future. The popular exultation overflowed all limits. True, there were some who stated that they had seen with their own eyes the indulgences turn into hideous frogs and snakes. But the vast majority of the people were pleased immensely, and the popular festivities continued a few days longer, the new wonder-worker Pope accomplishing things so strange and unusual, that it would be useless to attempt to describe them.
In the meantime among the desert hills of Jericho the Christians were devoting themselves to fasting and prayers.
On the night of the fourth day Professor Pauli, with nine comrades riding on donkeys and having a cart with them, succeeded in getting inside Jerusalem and passing through side-streets by Haram-esh-Sheriff to Haret-en-Nasara, came to the entrance to the Temple of Resurrection, in front of which, on the pavement, the bodies of Pope Peter and Elder John were lying. The street was deserted at that time of night, as all the people had gone to Hasam-esh-Sheriff. The sentries were fast asleep. The party that came for the bodies found them quite untouched by decomposition, not even stiff or heavy. They put them on the stretchers covered with the cloaks they had brought with them, and by the same circuitous route went back to their followers. They had hardly lowered the stretchers to the ground when suddenly the spirit of life could be seen re-entering them. They moved slightly as if they were trying to throw off the cloaks in which they were wrapped. With shouts of joy everyone came to their aid, and soon both the revived men rose to their feet safe and sound. Then said Elder John: “Ah, my dear ones, we have not parted after all! This is what I will say to you now: it is time that we carry out the last prayer of Christ about His disciples, that they should be all one, even as He Himself is one with the Father. For this unity in Christ let us honour our beloved brother Peter. Let him at last pasture the flocks of Christ. There it is, brother!” And he put his arms round Peter. Here Professor Pauli came nearer. “Tu es Petrus!” said he to the Pope, “jetzt ist es ja grundlich erwiesen und ausser jedem Zweifel gesetzt.” And he shook Peter’s hand firmly with his own right hand, while his left hand he stretched out to John, saying: “So also Vaterchennun sind wir ja Eins in Christo.” In this manner the unification of churches took place in the midst of a dark night, on a high and deserted spot.
But the night darkness was suddenly illuminated with brilliant light and a great sign appeared in the heavens: a woman, clothed in the sun with the moon beneath her feet, and a wreath of twelve stars on her head. The apparition remained immovable for some time, and then began slowly to move in a southerly direction. Pope Peter raised his stick and exclaimed: “Here is our sign! Let us follow it!” And he walked after the apparition, accompanied by both old men and the whole crowd of the Christians, to God’s mountain, to Sinai….
(Here the reader stopped.)
LADY. Well, why don’t you continue?
MR. Z. In fact, the manuscript stops here. Father Pansophius did not have time to finish his story. He told me when he was already ill that he thought of completing it “as soon as I get better,” he said. But he did not get better, and the end of his story is buried with him in the graveyard of the Daniel Monastery.
LADY. But you must remember what he told you, don’t you? Please tell us.
MR. Z. I remember it only in the main outlines. After the spiritual leaders and representatives of Christianity had departed to the Arabian desert, to which crowds of faithful adherents to the truth were streaming from all countries, the new Pope was able to corrupt unimpededly with his miracles and wonders all the remaining superficial Christians who were not yet disappointed with the Anti-Christ. He declared that by the power of his keys he could open the gates between this earthly world and all other worlds, that communicaton of the living with the dead was real, and also that of men with demons became a matter of everyday occurrence, and he developed new unheard-of forms of mystic lust and demonology.
However, the Emperor scarcely began to feel himself firmly established on religious grounds, and, yielding to the persistent suggestions of the seductive voice of his “father,” had hardly declared himself the sole true incarnation of the supreme Deity of the Universe, when a new trouble came upon him from a side from which nobody expected it: the Jews rose against him. This nation, which at that time reached thirty millions, was not altogether unfamiliar with the paving of the way for the world’s successes of the superman. When this latter transferred his residence to Jerusalem, secretly spreading among the Jews the rumour that his main object was to bring about a domination of Israel over the whole of the world, the Jews recognized him as their Messiah, and their exultation and devotion to him knew no bounds. And now they suddenly rose, full of wrath and thirsting for vengeance. This turn of events, doubtless foretold both in the Scriptures and in Church Tradition, was pictured by Father Pansophius, perhaps, with too great a simplicity and realism. The fact is that the Jews, who regarded the Emperor a true and perfect Israelite by blood, unexpectedly discovered that he was not even circumcised. The same day all Jerusalem, and next day all Palestine, were up in arms against him. The boundless and fervent devotion to the saviour of Israel, the promised Messiah, gave place to as boundless and as fervent a hatred of the insidious deceiver, the impudent impostor. The whole of the Jewish nation rose as one man, and its enemies were surprised to see that the soul of Israel at bottom lived not by calculations and aspirations of Mammon but by the power of an all-absorbing sentiment—the hope and strength of its eternal faith in the Messiah.
The Emperor, taken by surprise at the sudden outburst, lost all self-control, and issued a decree sentencing to death all the rebellious Jews and Christians. Many thousands and tens of thousands who could not arm themselves in time were ruthlessly massacred. But an army of Jews, a million strong, soon took Jerusalem, and locked up Anti-Christ in Haram-esh-Sheriff. His only support was a portion of the Guards, who were not strong enough to overwhelm the masses of the enemy. Assisted by the magic art of his Pope, the Emperor succeeded in finding his way through the besieging army, and soon appeared again in Syria at the head of an innumerable army of pagans of different nations. The Jews advanced to meet him, with little chance of gaining success.
But no sooner had the advance guards of the armies come in contact with each other than a terrific earthquake broke out, the crater of a tremendous volcano opened from the bottom of the Dead Sea, on the shores of which the Imperial Army had built their camp, and fiery streams mingling in a single lake of fire swallowed up the Emperor, all his innumerable troops, and his constant companion, Pope Apollonius, to whom even his magic art proved of no help.
At the same time the Jews were running to Jerusalem in fear and horror, praying to the God of Israel to deliver them. When the Holy City was already in sight, a great lightning cut the sky open from east to west, and they saw Christ descending to them clad in royal apparel, and with the wounds from the nails in His outstretched hands. At the same time a crowd of Christians, led by Peter, John, and Paul, were moving from Sinai to Zion, and other crowds, all seized with enthusiasm, came flocking from all sides. These were all the Jews and Christians executed by the Anti-Christ. They rose to life, and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
At this point F ather Pansophius thought to finish his story, which was to picture not the final catastrophe of the Universe, but only the conclusion of our historical process. This end is the coming, the glorification, and the destruction of Anti-Christ.
POLITICIAN. And do you think that this conclusion is very near ?
MR. Z. Well, there will still be a good deal of rattling and bustling on the stage, but the drama has been all written long ago, and neither the audience nor the actors are allowed to alter anything in it.
LADY. What, however, is the ultimate meaning of this drama? I cannot understand, moreover, why your Anti-Christ hates God so much while he is essentially good and not evil at all.
MR. Z. No. Not “essentially.” That is just the point. That is the whole matter. I will withdraw the words I said before that “you cannot explain Anti-Christ only by proverbs.” In point of fact, he is completely explained by a single and extremely simple proverb: “All is not gold that glitters.” Of sham glitter he indeed has more than enough; but of the essential force—nothing.
GENERAL. I beg to call your attention to yet another thing. Note at what moment the curtain drops over this historical drama: it is war, a conflict between two armies. So the end of our discussion comes again back to its beginning. How do you like it, Prince? Good heavens, but where is the Prince?
POLITICIAN. Didn’t you observe? He quietly left us at that pathetic scene when Elder John drove the Anti-Christ into a corner. I did not want to interrupt the reading at that time, and afterwards I forgot.
GENERAL. He ran away, I swear it, for the second time! Though he mastered himself before, this was too much for him. Oh, dear Lord!