Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
It was at ten o’clock on the following morning that the Cardinals were summoned to the Pope’s presence to hear the allocution.
Percy, from his seat among the Consultors, watched them come in, men of every nation and temperament and age–the Italians all together, gesticulating, and flashing teeth; the Anglo-Saxons steady-faced and serious; an old French Cardinal leaning on his stick, walking with the English Benedictine. It was one of the great plain stately rooms of which the Vatican now chiefly consisted, seated length wise like a chapel. At the lower end, traversed by the gangway, were the seats of the Consultors; at the upper end, the dais with the papal throne. Three or four benches with desks before them, standing out beyond the Consultors’ seats, were reserved for the arrivals of the day before –prelates and priests who had poured into Rome from every European country on the announcement of the amazing news.
Percy had not an idea as to what would be said. It was scarcely possible that nothing but platitudes would be uttered, yet what else could be said in view of the complete doubtfulness of the situation? All that was known even this morning was that the Presidentship of Europe was a fact; the little silver coin he had seen witnessed to that; that there had been an outburst of persecution, repressed sternly by local authorities; and that Felsenburgh was to-day to begin his tour from capital to capital. He was expected in Turin by the end of the week. From every Catholic centre throughout the world had come in messages imploring guidance; it was said that apostasy was rising like a tidal wave, that persecution threatened everywhere, and that even bishops were beginning to yield.
As for the Holy Father, all was doubtful. Those who knew, said nothing; and the only rumour that escaped was to the effect that he had spent all night in prayer at the tomb of the Apostle....
The murmur died suddenly to a rustle and a silence; there was a ripple of sinking heads along the seats as the door beside the canopy opened, and a moment later John, Pater Patrum, was on his throne.
At first Percy understood nothing. He stared only, as at a picture, through the dusty sunlight that poured in through the shrouded windows, at the scarlet lines to right and left, up to the huge scarlet canopy, and the white figure that sat there. Certainly, these southerners understood the power of effect. It was as vivid and impressive as a vision of the Host in a jewelled monstrance. Every accessory was gorgeous, the high room, the colour of the robes, the chains and crosses, and as the eye moved along to its climax it was met by a piece of dead white–as if glory was exhausted and declared itself impotent to tell the supreme secret. Scarlet and purple and gold were well enough for those who stood on the steps of the throne–they needed it; but for Him who sat there nothing was needed. Let colours die and sounds faint in the presence of God’s Viceroy. Yet what expression was required found itself adequately provided in that beautiful oval face, the poised imperious head, the sweet brilliant eyes and the clean-curved lips that spoke so strongly. There was not a sound in the room, not a rustle, nor a breathing–even without it seemed as if the world were allowing the supernatural to state its defence uninterruptedly, before summing up and clamouring condemnation.
Percy made a violent effort at self-repression, clenched his hands and listened.
” ... Since this then is so, sons in Jesus Christ, it is for us to answer. We wrestle not, as the Doctor of the Gentiles teaches us, against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Wherefore, he continues, take unto you the armour of God; and he further declares to us its nature–the girdle of truth, the breastplate of justice, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. “By this, therefore, the Word of God bids us to war, but not with the weapons of this world, for neither is His kingdom of this world; and it is to remind you of the principles of this warfare that we have summoned you to Our Presence.”
The voice paused, and there was a rustling sigh along the seats. Then the voice continued on a slightly higher note.
“It has ever been the wisdom of Our predecessors, as is also their duty, while keeping silence at certain seasons, at others to speak freely the whole counsel of God. From this duty We Ourself must not be deterred by the knowledge of Our own weakness and ignorance, but to trust rather that He Who has placed Us on this throne will deign to speak through Our mouth and use Our words to His glory.
“First, then, it is necessary to utter Our sentence as to the new movement, as men call it, which has latterly been inaugurated by the rulers of this world.
“We are not unmindful of the blessings of peace and unity, nor do We forget that the appearance of these things has been the fruit of much that we have condemned. It is this appearance of peace that has deceived many, causing them to doubt the promise of the Prince of Peace that it is through Him alone that we have access to the Father. That true peace, passing understanding, concerns not only the relations of men between themselves, but, supremely, the relations of men with their Maker; and it is in this necessary point that the efforts of the world are found wanting. It is not indeed to be wondered at that in a world which has rejected God this necessary matter should be forgotten. Men have thought–led astray by seducers–that the unity of nations was the greatest prize of this life, forgetting the words of our Saviour, Who said that He came to bring not peace but a sword, and that it is through many tribulations that we enter God’s Kingdom. First, then, there should be established the peace of man with God, and after that the unity of man with man will follow. Seek ye first, said Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God–and then all these things shall be added unto you. “First, then, We once more condemn and anathematise the opinions of those who teach and believe the contrary of this; and we renew once more all the condemnations uttered by Ourself or Our predecessors against all those societies, organisations and communities that have been formed for the furtherance of an unity on another than a divine foundation; and We remind Our children throughout the world that it is forbidden to them to enter or to aid or to approve in any manner whatsoever any of those bodies named in such condemnations.”
Percy moved in his seat, conscious of a touch of impatience.... The manner was superb, tranquil and stately as a river; but the matter a trifle banal. Here was this old reprobation of Freemasonry, repeated in unoriginal language.
“Secondly,” went on the steady voice, “We wish to make known to you Our desires for the future; and here We tread on what many have considered dangerous ground.”
Again came that rustle. Percy saw more than one cardinal lean forward with hand crooked at ear to hear the better. It was evident that something important was coming.
“There are many points,” went on the high voice, “of which it is not Our intention to speak at this time, for of their own nature they are secret, and must be treated of on another occasion. But what We say here, We say to the world. Since the assaults of Our enemies are both open and secret, so too must be Our defences. This then is Our intention.”
The Pope paused again, lifted one hand as if mechanically to his breast, and grasped the cross that hung there.
“While the army of Christ is one, it consists of many divisions, each of which has its proper function and object. In times past God has raised up companies of His servants to do this or that particular work–the sons of St. Francis to preach poverty, those of St. Bernard to labour in prayer with all holy women dedicating themselves to this purpose, the Society of Jesus for the education of youth and the conversion of the heathen–together with all the other Religious Orders whose names are known throughout the world. Each such company was raised up at a particular season of need, and each has corresponded nobly with the divine vocation. It has also been the especial glory of each, for the furtherance of its intention, while pursuing its end, to cut off from itself all such activities (good in themselves) which would hinder that work for which God had called it into being–following in this matter the words of our Redeemer, Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit. At this present season, then, it appears to Our Humility that all such Orders (which once more We commend and bless) are not perfectly suited by the very conditions of their respective Rules to perform the great work which the time requires. Our warfare lies not with ignorance in particular, whether of the heathens to whom the Gospel has not yet come, or of those whose fathers have rejected it, nor with the deceitful riches of this world, nor with science falsely so-called, nor indeed with any one of those strongholds of infidelity against whom We have laboured in the past. Rather it appears as if at last the time was come of which the apostle spoke when he said that that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that Man of Sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God. “It is not with this or that force that we are concerned, but rather with the unveiled immensity of that power whose time was foretold, and whose destruction is prepared.”
The voice paused again, and Percy gripped the rail before him to stay the trembling of his hands. There was no rustle now, nothing but a silence that tingled and shook. The Pope drew a long breath, turned his head slowly to right and left, and went on more deliberately than ever.
“It seems good, then, to Our Humility, that the Vicar of Christ should himself invite God’s children to this new warfare; and it is Our intention to enroll under the title of the Order of Christ Crucified the names of all who offer themselves to this supreme service. In doing this We are aware of the novelty of Our action, and the disregard of all such precautions as have been necessary in the past. We take counsel in this matter with none save Him Who we believe has inspired it.
“First, then, let Us say, that although obedient service will be required from all who shall be admitted to this Order, Our primary intention in instituting it lies in God’s regard rather than in man’s, in appealing to Him Who asks our generosity rather than to those who deny it, and dedicating once more by a formal and deliberate act our souls and bodies to the heavenly Will and service of Him Who alone can rightly claim such offering, and will accept our poverty.
“Briefly, we dictate only the following conditions.
“None shall be capable of entering the Order except such as shall be above the age of seventeen years.
“No badge, habit, nor insignia shall be attached to it.
“The Three Evangelical Counsels shall be the foundation of the Rule, to which we add a fourth intention, namely, that of a desire to receive the crown of martyrdom and a purpose of embracing it.
“The bishop of every diocese, if he himself shall enter the Order, shall be the superior within the limits of his own jurisdiction, and alone shall be exempt from the literal observance of the Vow of Poverty so long as he retains his see. Such bishops as do not feel the vocation to the Order shall retain their sees under the usual conditions, but shall have no Religious claim on the members of the Order.
“Further, We announce Our intention of Ourself entering the Order as its supreme prelate, and of making Our profession within the course of a few days.
“Further, We declare that in Our Own pontificate none shall be elevated to the Sacred College save those who have made their profession in the Order; and We shall dedicate shortly the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul as the central church of the Order, in which church We shall raise to the altars without any delay those happy souls who shall lay down their lives in the pursuance of their vocation.
“Of that vocation it is unnecessary to speak beyond indicating that it may be pursued under any conditions laid down by the Superiors. As regards the novitiate, its conditions and requirements, we shall shortly issue the necessary directions. Each diocesan superior (for it is Our hope that none will hold back) shall have all such rights as usually appertain to Religious Superiors, and shall be empowered to employ his subjects in any work that, in his opinion, shall subserve the glory of God and the salvation of souls. It is Our Own intention to employ in Our service none except those who shall make their profession.”
He raised his eyes once more, seemingly without emotion, then he continued:
“So far, then, We have determined. On other matters We shall take counsel immediately; but it is Our wish that these words shall be communicated to all the world, that there may be no delay in making known what it is that Christ through His Vicar asks of all who profess the Divine Name. We offer no rewards except those which God Himself has promised to those that love Him, and lay down their life for Him; no promise of peace, save of that which passeth understanding; no home save that which befits pilgrims and sojourners who seek a City to come; no honour save the world’s contempt; no life, save that which is hid with Christ in God.”