Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
At twenty-three o’clock that night the Syrian priest went out to watch for the coming of the messenger from Tiberias. Nearly two hours previously he had heard the cry of the Russian volor that plied from Damascus to Tiberias, and Tiberias to Jerusalem, and even as it was the messenger was a little late.
These were very primitive arrangements, but Palestine was out of the world–a slip of useless country–and it was necessary for a man to ride from Tiberias to Nazareth each night with papers from Cardinal Corkran to the Pope, and to return with correspondence. It was a dangerous task, and the members of the New Order who surrounded the Cardinal undertook it by turns. In this manner all matters for which the Pope’s personal attention was required, and which were too long and not too urgent, could be dealt with at leisure by him, and an answer returned within the twenty-four hours.
It was a brilliant moonlit night. The great golden shield was riding high above Thabor, shedding its strange metallic light down the long slopes and over the moor-like country that rose up from before the house-door–casting too heavy black shadows that seemed far more concrete and solid than the brilliant pale surfaces of the rock slabs or even than the diamond flashes from the quartz and crystal that here and there sparkled up the stony pathway. Compared with this clear splendour, the yellow light from the shuttered house seemed a hot and tawdry thing; and the priest, leaning against the door-post, his eyes alone alight in his dark face, sank down at last with a kind of Eastern sensuousness to bathe himself in the glory, and to spread his lean, brown hands out to it.
This was a very simple man, in faith as well as in life. For him there were neither the ecstasies nor the desolations of his master. It was an immense and solemn joy to him to live here at the spot of God’s Incarnation and in attendance upon His Vicar. As regarded the movements of the world, he observed them as a man in a ship watches the heaving of the waves far beneath. Of course the world was restless, he half perceived, for, as the Latin Doctor had said, all hearts were restless until they found their rest in God. Quare fremuerunt gentes?... Adversus Dominum, et adversus Christum ejus! As to the end–he was not greatly concerned. It might well be that the ship would be overwhelmed, but the moment of the catastrophe would be the end of all things earthly. The gates of hell shall not prevail: when Rome falls, the world falls; and when the world falls, Christ is manifest in power. For himself, he imagined that the end was not far away. When he had named Megiddo this afternoon it had been in his mind; to him it seemed natural that at the consummation of all things Christ’s Vicar should dwell at Nazareth where His King had come on earth–and that the Armageddon of the Divine John should be within sight of the scene where Christ had first taken His earthly sceptre and should take it again. After all, it would not be the first battle that Megiddo had seen. Israel and Amalek had met here; Israel and Assyria; Sesostris had ridden here and Sennacherib. Christian and Turk had contended here, like Michael and Satan, over the place where God’s Body had lain. As to the exact method of that end, he had no clear views; it would be a battle of some kind, and what field could be found more evidently designed for that than this huge flat circular plain of Esdraelon, twenty miles across, sufficient to hold all the armies of the earth in its embrace? To his view once more, ignorant as he was of present statistics, the world was divided into two large sections, Christians and heathens, and he supposed them very much of a size. Something would happen, troops would land at Khaifa, they would stream southwards from Tiberias, Damascus and remote Asia, northwards from Jerusalem, Egypt and Africa; eastwards from Europe; westwards from Asia again and the far-off Americas. And, surely, the time could not be far away, for here was Christ’s Vicar; and, as He Himself had said in His gospel of the Advent, Ubicumque fuerit corpus, illie congregabuntur et aquilae. Of more subtle interpretations of prophecy he had no knowledge. For him words were things, not merely labels upon ideas. What Christ and St. Paul and St. John had said–these things were so. He had escaped, owing chiefly to his isolation from the world, that vast expansion of Ritschlian ideas that during the last century had been responsible for the desertion by so many of any intelligible creed. For others this had been the supreme struggle–the difficulty of decision between the facts that words were not things, and yet that the things they represented were in themselves objective. But to this man, sitting now in the moonlight, listening to the far-off tap of hoofs over the hill as the messenger came up from Cana, faith was as simple as an exact science. Here Gabriel had descended on wide feathered wings from the Throne of God set beyond the stars, the Holy Ghost had breathed in a beam of ineffable light, the Word had become Flesh as Mary folded her arms and bowed her head to the decree of the Eternal. And here once more, he thought, though it was no more than a guess–yet he thought that already the running of chariot-wheels was audible–the tumult of the hosts of God gathering about the camp of the saints–he thought that already beyond the bars of the dark Gabriel set to his lips the trumpet of doom and heaven was astir. He might be wrong at this time, as others had been wrong at other times, but neither he nor they could be wrong for ever; there must some day be an end to the patience of God, even though that patience sprang from the eternity of His nature. He stood up, as down the pale moonlit path a hundred yards away came a pale figure of one who rode, with a leather bag strapped to his girdle.