Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
And as for His inner life, what can be said of that? He lay now back in his wooden chair, thinking with closed eyes.
He could not have described it consistently even to Himself, for indeed He scarcely knew it: He acted rather than indulged in reflex thought. But the centre of His position was simple faith. The Catholic Religion, He knew well enough, gave the only adequate explanation of the universe; it did not unlock all mysteries, but it unlocked more than any other key known to man; He knew, too, perfectly well, that it was the only system of thought that satisfied man as a whole, and accounted for him in his essential nature. Further, He saw well enough that the failure of Christianity to unite all men one to another rested not upon its feebleness but its strength; its lines met in eternity, not in time. Besides, He happened to believe it.
But to this foreground there were other moods whose shifting was out of his control. In his exalt moods, which came upon Him like a breeze from Paradise, the background was bright with hope and drama–He saw Himself and His companions as Peter and the Apostles must have regarded themselves, as they proclaimed through the world, in temples, slums, market-places and private houses, the faith that was to shake and transform the world. They had handled the Lord of Life, seen the empty sepulchre, grasped the pierced hands of Him Who was their brother and their God. It was radiantly true, though not a man believed it; the huge superincumbent weight of incredulity could not disturb a fact that was as the sun in heaven. Moreover, the very desperateness of the cause was their inspiration. There was no temptation to lean upon the arm of flesh, for there was none that fought for them but God. Their nakedness was their armour, their slow tongues their persuasiveness, their weakness demanded God’s strength, and found it. Yet there was this difference, and it was a significant one. For Peter the spiritual world had an interpretation and a guarantee in the outward events he had witnessed. He had handled the Risen Christ, the external corroborated the internal. But for Silvester it was not so. For Him it was necessary so to grasp spiritual truths in the supernatural sphere that the external events of the Incarnation were proved by rather than proved the certitude of His spiritual apprehension. Certainly, historically speaking, Christianity was true–proved by its records–yet to see that needed illumination. He apprehended the power of the Resurrection, therefore Christ was risen.
Therefore in heavier moods it was different with him. There were periods, lasting sometimes for days together, clouding Him when He awoke, stifling Him as He tried to sleep, dulling the very savour of the Sacrament and the thrill of the Precious Blood; times in which the darkness was so intolerable that even the solid objects of faith attenuated themselves to shadow, when half His nature was blind not only to Christ, but to God Himself, and the reality of His own existence–when His own awful dignity seemed as the insignia of a fool. And was it conceivable, His earthly mind demanded, that He and His college of twelve and His few thousands should be right, and the entire consensus of the civilised world wrong? It was not that the world had not heard the message of the Gospel; it had heard little else for two thousand years, and now pronounced it false–false in its external credentials, and false therefore in its spiritual claims. It was a lost cause for which He suffered; He was not the last of an august line, He was the smoking wick of a candle of folly; He was the reductio ad absurdam of a ludicrous syllogism based on impossible premises. He was not worth killing, He and His company of the insane–they were no more than the crowned dunces of the world’s school. Sanity sat on the solid benches of materialism. And this heaviness waxed so dark sometimes that He almost persuaded Himself that His faith was gone; the clamours of mind so loud that the whisper of the heart was unheard, the desires for earthly peace so fierce that supernatural ambitions were silenced–so dense was the gloom, that, hoping against hope, believing against knowledge, and loving against truth, He cried as One other had cried on another day like this–Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani! ... But that, at least, He never failed to cry.
One thing alone gave Him power to go on, so far at least as His consciousness was concerned, and that was His meditation. He had travelled far in the mystical life since His agonies of effort. Now He used no deliberate descents into the spiritual world: He threw, as it were, His hands over His head, and dropped into spacelessness. Consciousness would draw Him up, as a cork, to the surface, but He would do no more than repeat His action, until by that cessation of activity, which is the supreme energy, He floated in the twilight realm of transcendence; and there God would deal with Him–now by an articulate sentence, now by a sword of pain, now by an air like the vivifying breath of the sea. Sometimes after Communion He would treat Him so, sometimes as He fell asleep, sometimes in the whirl of work. Yet His consciousness did not seem to retain for long such experiences; five minutes later, it might be, He would be wrestling once more with the all but sensible phantoms of the mind and the heart.
There He lay, then, in the chair, revolving the intolerable blasphemies that He had read. His white hair was thin upon His browned temples, His hands were as the hands of a spirit, and His young face lined and patched with sorrow. His bare feet protruded from beneath His stained tunic, and His old brown burnous lay on the floor beside Him....
It was an hour before He moved, and the sun had already lost half its fierceness, when the steps of the horses sounded in the paved court outside. Then He sat up, slipped His feet into their shoes, and lifted the burnous from the floor, as the door opened and the lean sun-burned priest came through.
“The horses, Holiness,” said the man.
The Pope spoke not one word that afternoon, until the two came towards sunset up the bridle-path that leads between Thabor and Nazareth. They had taken their usual round through Cana, mounting a hillock from which the long mirror of Gennesareth could be seen, and passing on, always bearing to the right, under the shadow of Thabor until once more Esdraelon spread itself beneath like a grey-green carpet, a vast circle, twenty miles across, sprinkled sparsely with groups of huts, white walls and roofs, with Nain visible on the other side, Carmel heaving its long form far off on the right, and Nazareth nestling a mile or two away on the plateau on which they had halted.
It was a sight of extraordinary peace, and seemed an extract from some old picture-book designed centuries ago. Here was no crowd of roofs, no pressure of hot humanity, no terrible evidences of civilisation and manufactory and strenuous, fruitless effort. A few tired Jews had come back to this quiet little land, as old people may return to their native place, with no hope of renewing their youth, or refinding their ideals, but with a kind of sentimentality that prevails so often over more logical motives, and a few more barrack-like houses had been added here and there to the obscure villages in sight. But it was very much as it had been a hundred years ago.
The plain was half shadowed by Carmel, and half in dusty golden light. Overhead the clear Eastern sky was flushed with rose, as it had flushed for Abraham, Jacob, and the Son of David. There was no little cloud here, as a man’s hand, over the sea, charged with both promise and terror; no sound of chariot-wheels from earth or heaven, no vision of heavenly horses such as a young man had seen thirty centuries ago in this very sky. Here was the old earth and the old heaven, unchanged and unchangeable; the patient, returning spring had starred the thin soil with flowers of Bethlehem, and those glorious lilies to which Solomon’s scarlet garments might not be compared. There was no whisper from the Throne as when Gabriel had once stooped through this very air to hail Her who was blessed among women, no breath of promise or hope beyond that which God sends through every movement of His created robe of life.
As the two halted, and the horses looked out with steady, inquisitive eyes at the immensity of light and air beneath them, a soft hooting cry broke out, and a shepherd passed below along the hillside a hundred yards away, trailing his long shadow behind him, and to the mellow tinkle of bells his flock came after, a troop of obedient sheep and wilful goats, cropping and following and cropping again as they went on to the fold, called by name in that sad minor voice of him who knew each, and led instead of driving. The soft clanking grew fainter, the shadow of the shepherd shot once to their very feet, as he topped the rise, and vanished again as he stepped down once more; and the call grew fainter yet, and ceased.
The Pope lifted His hand to His eyes for an instant, then smoothed it down His face.
He nodded across to a dim patch of white walls glimmering through the violet haze of the falling twilight.
“That place, father,” He said, “what is its name?”
The Syrian priest looked across, back once more at the Pope, and across again.
“That among the palms, Holiness?”
“That is Megiddo,” he said. “Some call it Armageddon.”