Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
Book III-The Victory
The little room where the new Pope sat reading was a model of simplicity. Its walls were whitewashed, its roof unpolished rafters, and its floor beaten mud. A square table stood in the centre, with a chair beside it; a cold brazier laid for lighting, stood in the wide hearth; a bookshelf against the wall held a dozen volumes. There were three doors, one leading to the private oratory, one to the ante-room, and the third to the little paved court. The south windows were shuttered, but through the ill-fitting hinges streamed knife-blades of fiery light from the hot Eastern day outside.
It was the time of the mid-day siesta, and except for the brisk scything of the cicade from the hill-slope behind the house, all was in deep silence.
The Pope, who had dined an hour before, had hardly shifted His attitude in all that time, so intent was He upon His reading. For the while, all was put away, His own memory of those last three months, the bitter anxiety, the intolerable load of responsibility. The book He held was a cheap reprint of the famous biography of Julian Felsenburgh, issued a month before, and He was now drawing to an end.
It was a terse, well-written book, composed by an unknown hand, and some even suspected it to be the disguised work of Felsenburgh himself. More, however, considered that it was written at least with Felsenburgh’s consent by one of that small body of intimates whom he had admitted to his society–that body which under him now conducted the affairs of West and East. From certain indications in the book it had been argued that its actual writer was a Westerner.
The main body of the work dealt with his life, or rather with those two or three years known to the world, from his rapid rise in American politics and his mediation in the East down to the event of five months ago, when in swift succession he had been hailed Messiah in Damascus, had been formally adored in London, and finally elected by an extraordinary majority to the Tribuniciate of the two Americas.
The Pope had read rapidly through these objective facts, for He knew them well enough already, and was now studying with close attention the summary of his character, or rather, as the author rather sententiously explained, the summary of his self-manifestation to the world. He read the description of his two main characteristics, his grasp upon words and facts; “words, the daughters of earth, were wedded in this man to facts, the sons of heaven, and Superman was their offspring.” His minor characteristics, too, were noticed, his appetite for literature, his astonishing memory, his linguistic powers. He possessed, it appeared, both the telescopic and the microscopic eye–he discerned world-wide tendencies and movements on the one hand; he had a passionate capacity for detail on the other. Various anecdotes illustrated these remarks, and a number of terse aphorisms of his were recorded. “No man forgives," he said; “he only understands.” “It needs supreme faith to renounce a transcendent God.” “A man who believes in himself is almost capable of believing in his neighbour.” Here was a sentence that to the Pope’s mind was significant of that sublime egotism that is alone capable of confronting the Christian spirit: and again, “To forgive a wrong is to condone a crime,” and “The strong man is accessible to no one, but all are accessible to him.”
There was a certain pompousness in this array of remarks, but it lay, as the Pope saw very well, not in the speaker but in the scribe. To him who had seen the speaker it was plain how they had been uttered–with no pontifical solemnity, but whirled out in a fiery stream of eloquence, or spoken with that strangely moving simplicity that had constituted his first assault on London. It was possible to hate Felsenburgh, and to fear him; but never to be amused at him.
But plainly the supreme pleasure of the writer was to trace the analogy between his hero and nature. In both there was the same apparent contradictoriness–the combination of utter tenderness and utter ruthlessness. “The power that heals wounds also inflicts them: that clothes the dungheap with sweet growths and grasses, breaks, too, into fire and earthquake; that causes the partridge to die for her young, also makes the shrike with his living larder.” So, too, with Felsenburgh; He who had wept over the Fall of Rome, a month later had spoken of extermination as an instrument that even now might be judicially used in the service of humanity. Only it must be used with deliberation, not with passion.
The utterance had aroused extraordinary interest, since it seemed so paradoxical from one who preached peace and toleration; and argument had broken out all over the world. But beyond enforcing the dispersal of the Irish Catholics, and the execution of a few individuals, so far that utterance had not been acted upon. Yet the world seemed as a whole to have accepted it, and even now to be waiting for its fulfilment.
As the biographer pointed out, the world enclosed in physical nature should welcome one who followed its precepts, one who was indeed the first to introduce deliberately and confessedly into human affairs such laws as those of the Survival of the Fittest and the immorality of forgiveness. If there was mystery in the one, there was mystery in the other, and both must be accepted if man was to develop.
And the secret of this, it seemed, lay in His personality. To see Him was to believe in Him, or rather to accept Him as inevitably true. “We do not explain nature or escape from it by sentimental regrets: the bare cries like a child, the wounded stag weeps great tears, the robin kills his parents; life exists only on condition of death; and these things happen however we may weave theories that explain nothing. Life must be accepted on those terms; we cannot be wrong if we follow nature; rather to accept them is to find peace–our great mother only reveals her secrets to those who take her as she is.” So, too, with Felsenburgh. “It is not for us to discriminate: His personality is of a kind that does not admit it. He is complete and sufficing for those who trust Him and are willing to suffer; an hostile and hateful enigma to those who are not. We must prepare ourselves for the logical outcome of this doctrine. Sentimentality must not be permitted to dominate reason.”
Finally, then, the writer showed how to this Man belonged properly all those titles hitherto lavished upon imagined Supreme Beings. It was in preparation for Him that these types came into the realms of thought and influenced men’s lives.
He was the Creator, for it was reserved for Him to bring into being the perfect life of union to which all the world had hitherto groaned in vain; it was in His own image and likeness that He had made man.
Yet He was the Redeemer too, for that likeness had in one sense always underlain the tumult of mistake and conflict. He had brought man out of darkness and the shadow of death, guiding their feet into the way of peace. He was the Saviour for the same reason–the Son of Man, for He alone was perfectly human; He was the Absolute, for He was the content of Ideals; the Eternal, for He had lain always in nature’s potentiality and secured by His being the continuity of that order; the Infinite, for all finite things fell short of Him who was more than their sum.
He was Alpha, then, and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. He was Dominus et Deus noster (as Domitian had been, the Pope reflected). He was as simple and as complex as life itself–simple in its essence, complex in its activities.
And last of all, the supreme proof of His mission lay in the immortal nature of His message. There was no more to be added to what He had brought to light–for in Him all diverging lines at last found their origin and their end. As to whether or no He would prove to be personally immortal was an wholly irrelevant thought; it would be indeed fitting if through His means the vital principle should disclose its last secret; but no more than fitting. Already His spirit was in the world; the individual was no more separate from his fellows; death no more than a wrinkle that came and went across the inviolable sea. For man had learned at last that the race was all and self was nothing; the cell had discovered the unity of the body; even, the greatest thinkers declared, the consciousness of the individual had yielded the title of Personality to the corporate mass of man–and the restlessness of the unit had sunk into the peace of a common Humanity, for nothing but this could explain the cessation of party strife and national competition–and this, above all, had been the work of Felsenburgh.
“_Behold I am with you always,” quoted the writer in a passionate peroration, ’even now in the consummation of the world; and, the Comforter is come unto you. I am the Door–the Way, the Truth and the Life–the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. My name is Wonderful, the Prince of Peace, the Father Everlasting. It is I who am the Desire of all nations, the fairest among the children of men–and of my Kingdom there shall be no end.”
The Pope laid down the book, and leaned back, closing his eyes.