THE BALL AND THE CROSS REVISITED
"I don't pretend to get half of it -- but it's beautiful, isn't it -- and oddly written." Thus a pencil note -- by the original owner?-- at the very end of a first edition (1909 John Lane Company, New York) of GK's novel The Ball and the Cross. I was on my way out the door to give some retreats in Arizona. I took B&C off the shelf and noticed that I had first read it in 1983. I remembered there were many profound ideas in it, but little action. Also, I didn't think I "got half of it." And for some reason I couldn't remember how it ended. I wondered what I would get out of it 12 years later. What I "got out of it" was very much colored by the fact that I had just finished reading Newman's "The Patristical Idea of Antichrist" (Discussions and Arguments On Various Subjects, 1872). GK's novel struck me this time around as being about the Antichrist, or at least the spirit of the Antichrist.
The turn of the 20th century inspired at least two important works on the Antichrist. Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900), considered by many to be the greatest Russian religious thinker of all time, wrote his famous Three Conversations in 1900, just a few months before he died. It contains his story of the Antichrist. I doubt if GK had read it before writing his B&C. Robert Hugh Benson wrote his Lord of the World in 1907. I would be interested to know if GK was familiar with this work. Very possibly. What is remarkable is the similarity in the understanding of evil as personified in these three novels.
At the end of his treatise Newman quotes favourably from a certain Bishop Horsley writing in 1834:
The Church of God on earth will be greatly reduced, as we may well imagine, in its apparent numbers, in the times of Antichrist, by the open desertion of the powers of the world. This desertion will begin in a professed indifference to any particular form of Christianity, under the pretence of universal toleration; which toleration will proceed from no true spirit of charity and forbearance, but from a design to undermine Christianity, by multiplying and encouraging sectaries. For governments will pretend an indifference to all, and will give a protection in preference to none. (p.106)
This is an accurate description of the character and method of the Antichrist in all three novels mentioned above: the Antichrist benignly and paternalistically pats all religions and sects on the head, asking them all to get along nicely with one another. All are good; all are respected; all are tolerated. JUST DON'T GET INTO ANY ARGUMENTS, BECAUSE THERE IS NO TRUTH OR SUBSTANCE BEHIND THESE DOCTRINES. JUST BE NICE TO EVERYONE AND WE'LL ALL GET ALONG FINE. I believe B&C is GK's vision of the spirit of the Antichrist.
The Ball and the Cross: the Plot
One of the joys in writing for Chestertonians is that you can presume acquaintance with GK's works. You do not have to spend a great deal of time explaining them before you get to your reflections.
You all know that the fiery Catholic MacIan smashes the window of the newspaper "The Atheist" after reading therein a blasphemous statement that the Blessed Virgin Mary was just like all the other virgins of mythology, conceiving "by some profligate intercourse between God and mortal." The editor of "The Atheist" -- Turnbull --comes out, of course, to see why his window was smashed. "Because it was the quickest cut to you," says MacIan. "Stand up and fight you crapulous coward. You dirty lunatic, stand up, will you? Have you any weapons here?" (p.36) They agree to a duel, because both are passionate about their ideas and believe they are worth fighting for.
Much of the novel concerns various people who seek to either aid or hinder, for the wrong reasons, the duelling of our zealous combatants.
Hovering above the whole adventure is Professor Lucifer in his space craft. In the theology of the Fathers, and in Catholic theology generally, the Antichrist is not Satan but someone completely under his influence. I take Professor Lucifer to be this Antichrist. He goes about the world influencing people in various ways against the Gospel.
Lingering in a cell in a looney bin throughout most of the novel is the white-haired monk Michael, "the happiest man in the world," (27) the Christ-figure, and who, at the end of the novel, is urged by MacIan: "Father, come out and save us all" (p.399).
I wish GK had developed Father Michael's character more; then again, perhaps his very hiddenness and mysteriousness is part of his character and a source of his wisdom. I take him to be a new Catholic saint, that human miracle which is always capable of reappearing in history:
You cannot deny that it is perfectly possible that tomorrow morning, in Ireland or in Italy, there might appear a man not only as good but good in exactly the same way as St. Francis of Assisi. Empires break; industrial conditions change; the suburbs will not last for ever. What will remain? I will tell you. The Catholic Saint will remain. (pp.150-51)
GK, for me, is one of the great chivalrous white knights -- and yes, an example of the Catholic saint who will remain! -- fighting the battles of the mind in the true spirit of the Gospel. Professor Lucifer, Satan's disciple, is basically the liar, like Satan the "father of lies," as the Lord called him. The beginning of our first parents' downfall was a deceit in the area of the mind, the suggestion of an idea contrary to our loving Father's command: "Why did God command you...?"
MacIan certainly has the right ideas, but his method of fighting is wrong: he wants actual blood through a duel. For all his fiery virtues, he comes to see that physical duelling is not the Christian way to defend Our Lady's honor. Father Michael's way is the best. Eventually both MacIan and Turnbull go through a change of heart towards one another, coming even to like one another:
Some new and strange thing was rising higher and higher in their hearts like a high sea at night. It was something that seemed all the more merciless, because it might turn out an enormous mercy. Was there, perhaps, some such fatalism in friendship as all lovers talk about in love? Did God make men love each other against their will? (p.92)
I will not be concerned with this change of heart in MacIan and Turnbull, although it was one of GK's great personal virtues to really love and respect his intellectual opponents. I will be principally concentrating on the dominant theme which is the battle for the mind of man, for Christian truth over against any idea or attitude which seeks either to deny it or render it harmless by tolerating it as one of many "spiritual paths."
MacIan is a type of those who believe there is truth, and that it is worth fighting for. He is also a type of "the common man" who possesses the basic human and Christian wisdom which too many ideologues, such as Turnbull, know nothing of. Other types of this common wisdom are Pierre Durand, who "was merely a man" (p.214), and his marvellous daughter Madeleine, "whose silent energy went into her prayers"; and who "was not in the least afraid of devils. I think they were afraid of her" (p.220). "They neither of them believed in themselves; for that is a decadentweakness" (p.216). On one level, then, the novel is about the wisdom of simple people taught by God, in contrast to the ideas of the over- or under-educated, whichever way you want to look at them.
Cross Purpose or Balled Up
The key to the novel is in the early discussion between Professor Lucifer and Father Michael over the symbolism of the ball and the cross atop St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral. "The globe is reasonable," says the satanic Professor, "the cross is unreasonable. The globe is inevitable. The cross is arbitrary. The globe is at unity with itself; the cross is primarily and above all things at enmity with itself. The cross is the conflict of two hostile lines, of irreconcilable directions" (p.10). Professor Lucifer would put the ball on top of the cross. That would "sum up my whole allegory" (12). Only one problem with that, Father Michael suggests humbly, "I mean it would fall down" (12). For Father Michael, human life is a contradiction -- like a cross: "We like contradictions" (p.12). Life's problems are not resolved by simply saying everything is rational, inevitable, and, underneath, a unity -- like a ball.
From the point of view of method, the "ball-way" is expressed in the encounter with the "Peacemaker," who says, in a discussion about murder: "Well, we won't quarrel about a word" (p.95). To which MacIan responds with his very Catholic and Gospel mind:
`Why on earth not?' said MacIan, with a sudden asperity. `Why shouldn't we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn't any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only things worth fighting about. (p.96)
All of England is trying to stop the duel because it implies that MacIan and Turnbull are actually taking the God question seriously. "We are fighting about God; there can be nothing so important as that" (p.263). The novel is about these two dangerous men who actually see a contradiction in their ideas -- a "cross-purpose" -- and believe in these ideas passionately enough to fight over them.
This disturbs everyone in England (the modern world) for whom reality is, at bottom, reasonable, inevitable, a unity -- in short, a ball. "No, no," say our two warriors, "people certainly don't agree about the nature of Reality, and it's crucial to argue about the differences." Turnbull says:
`Try and understand our position. This man and I are alone in the modern world in that we think that God is essentially important. I think He does not exist; that is where the importance comes in for me. But this man thinks that He does exist, and thinking that very properly thinks Him more important than anything else. Now we wish to make a great demonstration and assertion -- something that will set the world on fire like the first Christian persecution. If you like, we are attempting a mutual martyrdom. (p.113)
The early Christians, and many more modern ones, have given their lives for love of the person of JesusChrist. That's because they believed something about him that clashed with their persecutors, and this clash was expressed in words and ideas: "Caesar was not divine; Christ is divine. Allegiance to Christ is above allegiance to Hitler, or Lenin." Words express our visions of reality. If our visions clash, so must our words. We do not all mean the same thing; it is not true that only our words are different!
Actually, it is also true that the modern world believes in fighting over ideas. Since the French Revolution, more blood has been spilt over the clash of secular ideologies than by past "wars of religion." And it was these very "wars of religion" that turned many sincere and thoughtful men away from religion. They thought reason and "enlightenment" would put an end to wars.
Now we know that reason is even less capable of this than religion. We do not, of course, wish to return to religious wars. But we do want to return to the intellectual passion for religious ideas. The modern attitude in the B&C is that, because Christianity and religion are dead, it is really silly and useless to argue over such ideas. Other ideas, yes, but not over realities that don't exist -- like God. The "Ball Attitude" desires to wish this conflict away; the "Cross Attitude" desires to unmask error with the revolutionary truth of Jesus Christ: "I am the light of the world."
That Christianity is insanity and its adherents insane, is a major theme of Benson's novel as well. The last Pope, Silvester (the last saint on the liturgical calendar), is in hiding in Nazareth. He is reflecting on the state of the Gospel in the world:
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 absurdum 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. (Robert Hugh Benson, The Lord of the World, New York: Dood, Mead and Company, 1946), (p.265.)
The Peacemaker (April)
We turn now in B&C to some of the attitudes which seek to dismiss any serious debate between the gospel and the modern world. We might label the first attitude "Peace and Love At All Costs"; Chesterton calls his character who embodies this attitude "the Peacemaker." The gentleman's voice who personifies this mental malady is "too polite for good manners" (p.92). "His attire ...was all woven according to some hygienic texture which ...was absolutely necessary even for a day's health" (p.93). Regarding this absurd duel of MacIan and Turnbull over the existence of God, the Peacemaker appeals to their "higher natures": "I must and will stop this shocking crime. It is against all modern ideas. It is against the principle of love. We have no dogmas, you know. There's something in what Shaw teaches about no moral principles being quite fixed" (pp.97-98).
Needless to say, our two convinced dogmatists can't wait to get out of this "peaceful" -- not to say comatose -- man's presence. He doesn't understand a thing about Christianity and the Church who's sacred dogmas clash with falsehood like the swords of our warriors. MacIan sums up what capitulation to this attitude would mean:
`...my soul said to me: "Give up fighting, and you will become like That. Give up vows and dogmas, and fixed things, and you may grow like That. You may learn, also, that fog of false philosophy. You may grow fond of that mire of crawling,cowardly morals, and you may come to think a blow bad, because it hurts, and not because it humiliates. Oh, you blasphemer of the good, an hour ago I almost loved you! But do not fear for me now. I have heard the word Love pronounced in his intonation; and I know exactly what it means."' (p.101)
This exemplifies the many varieties of approach to "peace" in the world which sacrifice truth. One form this takes in our present time is the New Age Movement: "Let us all just get in touch with the harmonizing forces of the cosmos, and all our dogmatic stances will blend into the universal synthesis." Soloviev, in his work on the Antichrist, pinpoints this same attitude in the book published by his Antichrist as the new bible for the world:
...his famous work entitled The Open Way to Universal Peace and Prosperity. It was a work that embraced everything and solved every problem. It joined a boundless freedom of thought with the most profound appreciation for everything mystical. Every thinker and every man of action...could easily view and accept the whole from his particular individual standpoint without sacrificing anything to the truth itself.... (War, Progress, and the End of History, "Three Conversations, Including a Short Story of the Antichrist, Vladimir Solovyov, Lindisfarne Press, 1990, pp.169-70.)
Soloviev's Antichrist also held a world congress "for the unification of all cults," and people filed in to the tune of a newly composed song, "The March of Unified Humanity" (p.179).
GK wrote B&C in the first decade of the 20th century when his Peacemaker spoke of "no moral principles being quite fixed." Many years later, in G.K.'s Weekly, June 19, 1926, he said:
The grand heresy of the last days [note the apocalyptic reference] will simply be an attack on all morality, but especially on sexual morality.... I say that the man who does not perceive this fails to discern the signs of the times.... Tomorrow's folly will not come from Moscow but rather from Manhattan -- even more than what has been seen on Broadway up to date -- which is beginning to come to Piccadilly" (Quoted by Fr. Ian Boyd, "Chesterton: A Prophet For Today," in Christ To the World, No. 1, 1989, p.34).
This attitude has become so pervasive as the 20th century comes to a close that Pope John Paul II recently wrote an encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, exposing the moral relativism of the modern world. The Peacemaker, then, personifies a superficial love at the expense of truth. After being totally repulsed and nauseated by the Peacemaker, MacIan turns to Turnbull and shouts, "On guard!"
Although this intellectually soupy approach to truth has deceived millions in our modern world, it actually is not a great temptation for our two knights in their passion for ideas. They still believe that truth exists. The real test for each of them comes in their dreams in which Professor Lucifer uses his most subtle approaches, adapted to each one's major weakness.
The Dream of Turnbull
If Lucifer cannot convince Turnbull that there is no truth, or that it's "unloving" to be passionate about ideas, he will then seek to foster his -- Turnbull's -- passion for his error. Lucifer's purpose is ultimately chaos and discord,and it's irrelevant to him how it is achieved.
Turnbull, who has "the masculine but mirthless courage of the atheist," meets Professor Lucifer in a dream. The Master of Deceit appears in a "lean brown body bare to the belt of his loose white trousers. The face was strong, handsome, and smiling, with a well-cut profile and a long cloven chin" (p.309).
Professor Lucifer adopts the friendly, slap on the back, comrade-in-arms attitude. He addresses our heroic but confused warrior as "Jimmy," and, being asked what he wants, says, with unusual satanic honesty: "I want you." The ruse is that, really, they are on the same side: "I want exactly what you want. I want the Revolution" (p.311). And with the intellectual arrogance and blindness of those who are convinced that religion must be destroyed (but who are not too clear about the program to replace it), Turnbull exults: "The Revolution -- Yes, that is what I want right enough -- anything, so long as it is a Revolution" (p.311).
Professor Lucifer appeals to Turnbull's darkened zeal by telling him that he has been chosen -- and what a bolstering of the ego to be chosen! -- chosen to belong to the truly greatest of all Revolutions:
We are going to destroy the Pope and all the kings. All the great rebels have been very little rebels. They have been like fourth-form boys who sometimes venture to hit a fifth-form boy. That was all the worth of their French Revolution and regicide. The boys never really dared to defy the schoolmaster. `Whom do you mean by the schoolmaster?' asked Turnbull. `You know whom I mean.' (p.312)
I'm not sure whom he means either, but it's either the Pope or Christ: "It is the last war, because if it does not cure the world forever, it will destroy it" (316). My own opinion is that "the schoolmaster" is the Pope.
GK wrote B&C during the height of the Modernist controversy. In an exchange with Robert Dell, a convert to Catholicism with strong modernist leanings, and who had launched a bitter attack on Pope Pius X using all the old Protestant cliches, GK writes:
Why cannot he argue with the Pope without playing to the No-Popery gallery? He says a man becoming a Catholic ... and is converted to be saved `the trouble of thinking.' Why, quite so, and the `Mass is a Mummery,' and `the Pope is the Beast in Revelations....' Unless Modernism has some strange and softening influence on the brain, Mr. Dell must know better. He must know whether men like Newman and Brunetiere left off thinking when they joined the Roman Church. (Ian Boyd, "Chesterton's Anglican Reaction to Modernism," The Chesterton Review, Vol. XV, No. 1-2, Feb-May, 1989, pp.21-22)
GK's article from which this quote is taken was called, "The Staleness of Modernism," and it shows a profound understanding of Catholicism. A few years later (1911), speaking to the University students at Cambridge, he said: "I can assure you, and I would prove it to you if I had time, that the Popes have done a hundred times more for Liberty than any of the Protestant Churches ever had." (Boyd, Modernism, p.32) In both Soloviev and Benson, the Pope of Rome is the ultimate counter force to Satan and his Antichrist. GK, who was not to become a Catholic for many years, prophetically sees that Professor Lucifer must destroy the Pope, the schoomaster, if his domination is to succeed.
What profound vision we have here on GK's part! Fuelled by such ideologies as Nietzsche's Death of God, the Superman, atheistic Communism, and purely secular humanism, the "Great Revolution" of the early part of this century set out to destroy religion, and especially the Catholic Church. This movement is still with us, thoughperhaps not as blatant and physically violent as earlier. Former dictators of the 20th century really believed that Catholicism could be destroyed; more recent despots know that it cannot be.
But many in our time still see the Pope and the Catholic Church as one of the greatest obstacles to progress and human development. Catholicism is not the strong meat needed by the supermen of the future: "`This Catholicism is a curious thing,' said the man of the cloven chin. `It soaks and weakens men without their knowing'" (p.315). "Do you want to be taken to a monastery with MacIan and his winking Madonnas?" (p.322).
Turnbull might have enlisted into the Great Revolution to destroy the schoolmaster if Professor Lucifer had not made a tactical error. Turnbull was still enough of a human being, still unconsciously retained enough of his Christian heritage, to detect it. He still believed in the rights of the individual, and in the common "sanctity" of human life. Professor Lucifer exposes too much of his hidden agenda by saying: "Yes, indeed, Life is sacred -- but lives are not sacred. We are improving Life by removing lives. Can you, as a free-thinker, find any fault in that?" (pp.320-21)
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, Turnbull can. It is too much for him. He still believes in the dignity of the person and in individual freedom.
The same theme again is in Benson. Pope Silvester, in the catacombs of Nazareth, is reading a life of the Lord of the World, Julian (as in Apostate) Felsenburgh:
His [Felsenburgh's] 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 -- the restlessness of the unit had sunk into the peace of a common Humanity. (p.256)
This approach to world peace is even more prevalent today, and assumes many forms. Communism did not believe in the individual: Millions were sacrificed to reach the utopian ideal. The abortion mentality does not believe in the sanctity of life in the womb: babies can be sacrificed to the ultimate perfection of the race. Euthanasia advocates do not believe in the dignity of suffering. Eugenic engineering, in all its forms, still seeks to sanitise the world to achieve, in the appealing and dazzling vision of Professor Lucifer, "the golden girls and boys leaping in the sun" (p.321). They are all based on the theory that to arrive at the perfection of Life, we can trample on individual lives to get there.
At the time he was beginning to write B&C, GK wrote in the Daily News (February 18, 1905): "We shall see wars and persecutions of a kind the world has not yet known. People shed tears for the victims of Bonner or Claverhouse whereas they should weep for themselves and for their children" (Boyd, Prophet, p.33). Fr. Boyd comments: "The people to whom he first addressed his message would have realized him only in hope and not in fact. He had already spoken clearly of the return of infanticide which would accompany the new paganism. He was an isolated voice of protest at the time against the eugenic ideology then in fashion" (Ibid.)
Turnbull opts not to join in this Great Revolution. He leaps from the spaceship.
The Dream of MacIan (May)
Professor Lucifer's approach to MacIan had to be more subtle than his approach to Turnbull, as the former was a zealous believer, and, even more irritating, a Catholic. So there is no anti-God, anti-Church, anti-Pope tactic. Lucifer seeks to enlist MacIan's zeal in the cause of law and order so dear to the Catholic heart and ethos.
`Evan,' said the voice, `your sword is wanted elsewhere.' `Wanted for what?' asked the young man.' `For all you hold dear. For the thrones of authority and for all ancient loyalty to law.' `Who are you?' `I must not say who I am until the end of the world; but I may say what I am. I am law.' (pp.294-95)
In this dream Lucifer appears quite beautiful, with "the face of a Greek god" -- beautiful and pleasant like the antichrists of Benson and Soloviev. "There was nothing to break this regularity except a rather long chin with a cleft in it" (p.395). The cleft, of course, symbolizes his cleavage from God. And again, as in the temptation to Turnbull, there is here also the chivalrous appeal to enlist MacIan's sword in a holy war. All the kings have returned. Let us join the rule of law and order and restore peace to the world.
In a striking similarity to this "Catholic temptation" in B&C, Soloviev's Antichrist tempts Catholics in exactly the same way.
The Emperor/Antichrist calls for a congress to meet in Jerusalem on September 14 (the Feast of the Exulation of the Cross, by the way) devoted to the unification of all cults. Pope Peter II leads the Catholics, Elder John the Orthodox, and Professor Pauli the Evangelicals. The Emperor tempts the Orthodox with a promise to preserve all their traditions, the Evangelicals with unlimited resources to research the scriptures. He tempts the Catholics thus:
Dear Christians! I know that for many, and not the least among you, the most precious thing in Christianity is the spiritual authority with which it endows its legal representatives. I, therefore, most solemnly declare that it is pleasing to our autocratic power that the Supreme Bishop of all Catholics, the Pope of Rome, be henceforth restored to his throne in Rome with all former rights and priviledges belonging to this title and chair given at any time by our predecessors, from Constantine the Great onward. (pp.180-81)
Sounds good! Only one condition: "I wish to receive from you only your inner heartfelt recognition of myself as your sole protector and patron." (Ibid.) Many defect; but Pope Peter and others see the falseness of the Emperor's offer.
Doubts arise in MacIan as well. He takes offense when he sees a soldier striking an old man because he is not moving fast enough along the street. MacIan thinks this is unjust. "We attach great importance to discipline," says the Professor. "Discipline," says MacIan, "is not so important as justice." "I am not sure," retorts Lucifer, "that I agree with your little maxim about justice. Discipline for the whole society is surely more important than justice to an individual" (p.301).
This spirit of the Antichrist -- justice without mercy -- takes this same shape in The Lord of the World. Mabel, the wife of a high official of the New Humanity, begins to have doubts when she sees a mob kill Catholics who are resisting the New Order of Worship:
It was incredible, she told herself, that this ravening monster, dripping with blood from claws and teeth, that had arisen roaring in the night, could be the Humanity that had become her God. She had thought that revenge and cruelty and slaughter to be the brood of Christian superstition, dead and buried under the newborn angel of light, and now it seemed that the monsters yet stirred and lived. (p.259)
He husband reassures her that this is only a step on the way to the unity of the world.
Professor Lucifer's temptation does not succeed. The proverbial cat is out of the bag. MacIan challenges his law and order approach to peace:
`Who and what are you?' `I am an angel.' `You're not a Catholic. Why, you great fool!' cried MacIan, `did you think I would have doubted only for that rap with a sword? I know that noble orders have bad knights, that good knights have bad tempers, that the Church has rough priests and coarse cardinals; I have known it ever since I was born. You fool! You had only to say, "Yes, it is rather a shame," and I should have forgotten the affair. But I saw on your mouth the twitch of your infernal sophistry; I knew that something was wrong with you and your cathedrals. Something is wrong; everything is wrong. You are not an angel. That is, not a church. It is not the rightful king who has come home.'
`And how do you know,' he said, `how to you know that I am not God?' MacIan screamed. `Ah!,' he cried. `Now I know who you really are. You are not God. You are not one of God's angels. But you were once.' (pp.301-04)
And MacIan too leaps from the spaceship.
There are further parallels with Soloviev's Antichrist as well. At the International Congress for the United States of Europe, the Antichrist's manifesto closes with the rousing words:
`Nations of the World! I give you my peace. The promises have been fulfilled! An eternal universal peace has been secured. Every attempt to destroy it will meet with determined and irresistible opposition. This unconquerable, all-surmountable power belongs to me. Henceforth, no country will dare say `War' when I say `Peace!' Peoples of the world, peace to you!' (Soloviev, p.172)
All three accounts have a prophetic genius about the Antichrist's dominion: It will be an iron fist in a satin glove. Fascist regimes of iron law and order did arise to force people to be at "peace." But the spirit behind these regimes is not that of the King of Peace. It is the spirit of the Antichrist.
Martin Gardner in "Levels of Allegory in The Ball and the Cross" (The Chesterton Review, XVIII, No.1), mentions three levels of allegory. His second level comes closest to the particular interpretation I am emphasizing here. He says:
On a second level of allegory, The Ball and the Cross is clearly intended to mirror the conflict between Augustine's `City of God,' which for Chesterton was the Catholic Church, and the `City of Man' which is under the control of Satan. If one is a conservative Catholic, one can interpret the novel as being about the conflict between the Church and Satan -- a conflict destined to last until the end of the world. (p.40)
At the turn of the century the basic conflict between good and evil was becoming glaringly clear. Nietzsche, who declared that God was dead, himself died in 1900, the same year Soloviev wrote his story of the Antichrist. Atheistic Communism was soon to sweep over holy Russia. Modernism, the font of all heresies, would be condemned in 1907. And Pope Pius X (1903-1914) would frequently allude to Satan and his powers at work in the modern world: "There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body; for, owing to the efforts of the enemy of human race, there has never been lacking men speaking perverse things..." (Pascendi, September 8, 1907); "...the authors of this war [against the Catholic Church] boast that they are waging it in love of liberty...in this lie too resembling their father, who `was a murderer from the beginning, and when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar' (Jn. 8:44), and raging with hate insatiable against God and the human race." Communium Rerum,April 21, 1909).
For those who had eyes to see, the time was ripe for some literary expression of this apocalyptic battle between Christ and Antichrist, between the Church and Satan. And, although my superficial and sporadic inquiries have not found any dependence or connection between the three accounts to which I have been referring, the following facts may prove of interest.
Chesterton, Soloviev, Benson
GK began serialising B&C in 1905 and 1906 in The Commonwealth (Gardner, 45). I would be very surprised if at that time he had ever heard of Vladimir Soloviev, much less had a translation of his Three Conversations. (The first major work in the west on Soloviev was Michel d'Herbigny's Vladimir Soloviev, Un Newman Russe, 1911. It was not translated into English until 1918. So I doubt if there was any influence here at all.)
At first I thought there might have been some between GK's B&C and Benson's Lord of the World, but I don't think so. Benson knew of GK of course. Fr. C.C. Martindale, in his 2 Vol.The Life of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, says:
And Benson read much of Mr. Chesterton, and liked him in a qualified way.
`Have you read,' he asks in this year , `a book by G.K. Chesterton called Heretics? If not, do see what you think of it. It seems to me that the spirit underneath it is splendid. He is not a Catholic, but he has the spirit. He is so joyful and confident and sensible! One gets rather annoyed by his extreme love of paradox; but there is a sort of alertness in his religion and in his whole point of view that is simply exhilarating. I have not been so much moved for a long time.... He is a real mystic of an odd kind.' II, (p.90)
And this precious tid-bit: "During these visits [of Benson's] to America he was assiduous in visiting theatres. Especially Mr. Chesterton's Magic fascinated him; he was constantly behind the scenes at its rehearsals." (Martindale, II, p.176)
Martindale says that in late December, 1905, a certain Mr. Frederick Rolfe, author of Hadrian VII, drew Father Benson's attention to Saint Simon, the author of French socialism. Benson wrote to his mother, December, 1905:
`Yes, Russia is ghastly. Which reminds me that I have an idea for a book so vast and tremendous that I daren't think about it. Have you ever heard of Saint Simon? Well, mix up Saint Simon, Russia breaking loose, Napoleon, Evan Roberts, the Pope, andAntichrist; and see if any idea suggests itself. But I'm afraid it is too big. I should like to form a syndicate on it, but that is an idea, I have no doubt at all.' II, pp.65-66
To Mr. Rolfe himself he writes on January 19, 1906:
Antichrist is beginning to obsess me. If it is ever written, it will be a BOOK. Do you know about the Freemasons?... Socialism?...I am going to avoid scientific developments, and confine myself to social...Oh! if I dare to write all that I think! In any case it will take years. (p.66)
It didn't take years. The Lord of the World came out in 1907. Thus GK and Benson were writing at exactly the same time, but not directly influenced by one another. However, they were both deeply inserted into "what the Spirit was saying to the churches" of their era. This is what I find fascinating: that all three novelists have very similar -- at times identical -- notions about the spirit of the Antichrist, but without being directly influenced by one another.
(to be continued)
As I have mentioned, GK does not speak of the Antichrist but of Lucifer. In this he differs from the other two. GK's scenario is limited to England, and his scope is not as vast, nor as explicitly and consciously cosmic and apocalyptic, as Soloviev's and Benson's. But I believe he was describing the same ultimate conflict, and the characteristics and methods of the Antichrist in his final attack on Christianity. Soloviev and Benson paint the Enemy's attacks in very broad strokes, and they are valuable. GK offers many more subtle forms of Satan's wiles, and unmasks modern errors more sharply and more penetratingly.
Faithful to the tradition of the Fathers, it was Newman's belief that the Antichrist would be a definite individual. This is not a dogma of the Catholic Church, but pretty close: it is the general opinion of the Fathers:
`Let no man deceive you by any means,' he [St. Paul] says; `for that Day shall not come, except there come a falling away first...and except first that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.'
As long as the world lasts, this passage of Scripture will be full of reverent interest to Christians. It is their duty ever to be watching for the advent of their Lord, to search for the signs of it in all that happens around them; and above all to keep in mind this great and awful sign of which St. Paul speaks to the Thessalonians. As our Lord's first coming had its forerunner, so will the second have its own. The first was `One more than a prophet,' the Holy Baptist: the second will be more than an enemy of Christ; it will be the very image of Satan, the fearful and hateful Antichrist. (Newman, pp.44-45)
Soloviev and Benson portray an individual. GK -- and I am not saying this is his full conception of the Antichrist; he may have written about it elsewhere -- but GK portrays another way of conceiving the Antichrist: a variety of attitudes, and people, inspired by Satan, all denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.... Who is the liar? It is the man who deniesthat Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist -- he denies the Father and the Son. (1 John, 2:18, 22)
It would make a good dissertation topic to compare these three works.
I'll close my own rambling notes by commenting on the final scene.
This is what GK called his last chapter. It corresponds, in a general way, to the scriptural vision of Revelation 20: Satan will be let loose for a while and do immense harm; fire comes down from heaven and defeats him; Christ will then come to establish a new heaven and a new earth: "Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations (Rev.7)...But fire came down from heaven (Rev.9)...Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it..."(Rev.11).
Soloviev and Benson's visions are more grandiose and consciously cosmic; GK's more humble: a mere insane asylum burning to the ground with all the sane people escaping. But he certainly has ultimate visions in mind; even the language is there. As all the characters come together for the final scene, MacIan says to Turnbull:
`There are two states where one meets so many old friends. One is a dream, the other is the end of the world. I say this is not a dream.' `You really mean to suggest -- ' began Turnbull. `Be silent! or I shall say it all wrong. It's hard to explain, anyhow. An apocalypse is the opposite of a dream. A dream is falser than the outer life. But the end of the world is more actual than the world it ends. I don't say this is really the end of the world, but it's something like that -- it's the end of something. All the people are crowding to a point. (pp.376-77)
In the following passage GK sums up the "point" to which all are crowding; it is the "point" of his novel; it is the "point" of Christianity: the Church is less mad than the world; Christians should admit and realize that sometimes they have participated in the world's madness; but the Prince of this World, the "Lord of the World," will ultimately be defeated by Christ present in the Church:
I saw the Church and the world. The Church in its earthly action has really touched morbid things -- tortures and bleeding visions and blasts of extermination. The Church has had her madness, and I am one of them. I am the massacre of St. Bartholomew. I am the Inquisition of Spain. I do not say that we have never gone mad, but I say that we are fit to act as keepers to our enemies. Massacre is wicked even with a provocation, as in the Bartholomew. But your modern Nietzsche will tell you that massacre would be glorious without a provocation. Torture should be violently stopped, though the Church is doing it. But your modern Tolstoy will tell you that it ought not to be violently stopped whoever is doing it. In the long run, which is most mad -- the Church or the world? Which is madder, the Spanish priest who permitted tyranny, or the Prussian sophist who admired it? Which is madder, the Russian priest who discourages righteous rebellion, or the Russian novelist whoforbids it? That is the final and the blasting test. The world left to itself grows wilder than any creed. That is the only real question -- whether the Church is really madder than the world. Let the rationalists run their own race, and let us see where they end. If the world has some healthy balance other than God, let the world find it. Does the world find it? Cut the world loose. Does the world stand on its own end? Does it stand, or does it stagger? The world has gone mad. The world takes the trouble to make a big mistake about every little mistake made by the Church. Now is the judgment of this world. The Prince of this World is judged.' (pp.379-81)
Pope Silvester thinks the same:
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 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. (p.263)
GK does not have one "Lord of the World" incarnating the Antichrist, as Julian Felsenburgh in Benson's novel. (By the way, "Lord of the World" is also one of the Antichrist's titles in Soloviev). Nor is GK's scenario the end of the world. But it will be one stage. At some "point" Christ in his Church will be victorious over the isms (antichrists) which seek to stabilize the world without God as the center. As GK said somewhere else, the world doesn't so much turn as wobble!
And then the purifying flames. Old Mr. Durand sets fire to the building "in accordance with the strict principles of the social contract." (p.304) MacIan cries, again, in apocalyptic language, "Now is the judgment of this world." (pp.394-95) There is all sorts of confusion and the resolution of this theme and that theme. One of the most striking is our atheist friend Turnbull escaping the fire by leaning on both the "strong shoulder" of the beautiful Madeleine and that of the duellist-become-friend MacIan.
The fire, though it had dropped in one or two places, was, upon the whole, higher and more unconquerable than ever. The tall and steady forest of fire must have been already a portent visible to the whole circle of land and sea. That forest of fire wavered, and was cloven in the centre. One half of the huge fire sloped one way toward the inland heights, the other half sloped out eastward toward the sea. Down the centre of this trough, or chasm, a little path ran, cleared of all but ashes, and down this little path was walking a little old man singing as if he were alone in a wood of spring.
As the little singing figure came nearer and nearer, Evan fell on his knees, and after an instant Madeleine fell on her knees, and after a longer instant Turnbull followed. Then the little old man went past them singing down that corridor of flames. (p.339-402)
The good guys escape the flames; the bad guys fall in; Professor Lucifer, instead of falling into the "sea of sulphur," flies off in his space ship (perhaps indicating that this is not GK's vision of the final end of the world but, as he said, the end of something.) The final reflection is given to MacIan: "He looked vaguely about at the fire thatwas already fading, and there among the ashes lay two shining things that had survived the fire, his sword and Turnbull's, fallen haphazard in the pattern of a cross."
One stage -- "the end of something" -- towards the end of the world will be, in GK's view, the triumph of the truth expressed by St. Paul: "The preaching of the cross is foolishness for the Greeks, and madness to the Jews. But to those who are on the way to salvation it is the wisdom and power of God."
I read Benson's final chapter, "The Victory," several times, and still couldn't -- still can't -- figure out exactly how he was ending the end of the world! I thought I was more of a literary illiterate than I am until I read Martindale's account (II, pp.65-88). Seems many other people, at the time of LW's publication, were unclear as well about his end of the world. I suspect that Benson himself was not sure how to end the end of the world! He wrote: "I have finished ANTICHRIST. And really there is no more to be said. It just settles things. Of course I am nervous about the last chapter -- it is what one may call perhaps just a trifle ambitious to describe the End of the World. (No!) But it has been done." (p.74)
A Cardinal betrays the Pope's whereabouts. Julian Felsenburgh and his cohorts fly off in their volors (airships) to bomb Peter II in Nazareth. The Pope prepares by several hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, a Mass of Pentecost, and a procession outside with the monstrance with "the Whiteness of God made Man." The Tantum Ergo is sung and its phrases interspersed with descriptions of what is happening.
There are suggestions of the heavenly hosts being present: "Then, with a roar, came the thunder again, pealing in circle beyond circle of those tremendous Presences -- Thrones and Powers...." (p.351) Felsenburgh, the Antichrist, is coming: "He was coming now, swifter than ever, the heir of temporal ages and the Exile of eternity, the final piteous Prince of rebels." (352) There is the final phrase of the Benediction hymn repeated twice -- Procedenti ab utroque, compar sit laudatio -- and then the final sentence: "Then this world passed, and the glory of it. The End."
Really, it isn't clear how the world ended! Some socialists were delighted that the Church had been destroyed. Some people sympathetic to the Church originally thought an enemy had written the book. Some people lost hope in the Church. Fr. Martindale admits the book occasioned "sheer bewilderment" on the part of many.
But if the ending was unclear, the main message of the book was not. Besides its anti-modernist intent, "Benson pictures humanity consciously refusing the higher kind of life which the Church proclaims to it.... This rejection of the Supernatural is incarnated in Julian Felsenburgh, who says, `I, in my completed human evolution, am enough.' To him Christianity answers, `You are not.'" (Martindale, II, p.82) It is in this theme of "kneeling before the world," as Jacques Maritain once expressed it, where B&C and LW converge.
The End of the World According to Soloviev
After the Emperor offers his proposals in the above-mentioned Congress for the Unification of All Cults, and finally asks, "Tell me yourselves, Christians, what is it that you value most in Christianity?" Elder John, representing Orthodoxy, "answered quietly:
`Great sovereign! What we value most in Christianity is Christ himself -- in his person. All comes from him, for we know that in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Confess his name, and we will accept you with love as the true forerunner of his second glorious coming.' (p.184)
The Emperor is livid with rage. Elder John shouts, "Little children, it is Antichrist!" He is struck dead by magical power. Pope Peter II also rises up, not quietly but with " a word, loud and distinct: `Contradicitur! Our only Lord is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.'" (p.185)
He too is struck dead. Professor Pauli and a remnant retire into the desert. Several days later they return, bring the bodies of Peter and John with them. They miraculously come back to life. An army of Jews, also deceived by the Emperor's offer to give them domination over the whole world, rebel.
The armies come together around the Dead Sea, where a volcano arises. "Streams of fire flowed together into a flaming lake that swallowed up the Emperor himself, together with his numberless forces." (p.193) Soloviev's ending is worth quoting in full:
Meanwhile, the Jews hastened to Jerusalem in fear and trembling, calling for salvation to the God of Israel. When the Holy City was already in sight, the heavens were rent by vivid lightning from the east to the west, and they saw Christ coming toward them in royal apparel, and with the wounds from the nails in his outstretched hands. At the same time, the company of Christians led by Peter, John, and Paul came from Sinai to Zion, and from various other parts hurried more triumphant multitudes, consisting of all the Jews and Christians who had been killed by the Antichrist. For a thousand years, they lived and reigned with Christ.
Here Father Pansophius wished to end his narrative, which had for its object not a universal cataclysm of creation but the conclusion of our histoical process which consists in the appearance, glorification, and destruction of the Antichrist. (p.193)
Soloviev's narrative is much more scriptural. There is even a woman crowned with 12 stars who leads the remnant into the desert. The Antichrist is destroyed, Christ returns, and reigns with his faithful for a 1,000 years.
I think Soloviev's Antichrist is the most powerful of the three stories we have been considering, but GK's -- of course!-- contains more penetrating insights into the deceits of Satan.
My contention is that GK's B&C deserves to be placed with Soloviev's and Benson's "more serious" stories of the Antichrist at the turn of the century.
It may be another instance of GK's insights not being taken seriously because of the lightness, the humor, of his style:
The Ball and the Cross(1910) belongs to a genre which has probably never been adequately examined or assessed, a genre not generally accepted as `art' in its own time and a leading casualty of subsequent critical fashions and orthodoxies. The genre might be variously labelled. `Philosophical novel,' `novel of ideas,' even `religious novel.' (John Coates, "The Ball and the Cross and the Edwardian Novel of Ideas,' The Chesterton Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Feb., 1992, p.49.)
Coates goes on to quote many reviewers as to how unacceptable a novel it was according to the contemporary canons of literature. "It is indeed, as Robert Lynd put it in The Daily News, `not so much a novel as a phantasmagoria.'" (p.49) Could this unacceptability from a literary point of view have obscured the serious value of it as a genuine story of the spirit of the Antichrist? Gardner, of course, says the novel can be read on several levels. But perhaps too many people have and still do read it on the level he describes at the end his article: "On theother hand, one may still enjoy reading it for its colourful style, with its constant alliteration, amusing puns, and clever paradoxes; for its purple passages about sunsets, dawns, and silver moonlight; and for the humour and melodrama of its crazy plot." (p.47) But I believe that when we put in the context of the turn of century, and compare it with other literary expressions of the spirit of the Antichrist, it achieves its proper and prophetic place.
Soloviev and Benson paint the story of the Antichrist in broad and obvious strokes; and Benson elaborates the plot and subplots. But for shear insight into the spirit of the Antichrist and how he does now and will try in the end to deceive men's minds, GK has the more subtle and copious insights. In his Autobiography he summed up its purpose thus:
I believe that the suggestion that the modern world is organised in relation to the most obvious and urgent of all questions, not so much to answer it wrongly, as to prevent it being answered at all, is a social suggestion that really has a great deal in it. (quoted by Gardner, p.46.)
The fact that GK himself did not particularly like this novel may also have helped to downplay its importance. In a copy of The Ball and Cross owned by Father John O'Connor, Chesterton inscribed a poem that begins:
This is a book I do not like,
Take it away to Heckmondwike,
A lurid exile, lost and sad,
To punish it for being bad.
You need not take it from the shelf
(I tried to read it once myself:
The speeches jerk, the chapters sprawl,
The story makes no sense at all)
Hide it your Yorkshire moors among
Where no man speaks the English tongue.
Surely this refers to the literary canons; but its ideas are profound.
Chesterton and Newman
One final question: Was GK influenced by Newman's writings on the Antichrist? It's common knowledge that GK had read Newman. He comments on his style in A Handful of Authors(ed. Dorothy Collins, Sheed and Ward: New York, 1953, "The Style of Newman,") and mentions Newman's Apologia, but more significantly for our purposes, Newman's first lecture on "The Position of English Catholics." This means that GK was familiar with, and had access to, Newman's early works.
Also, at the very time he is writing B&C, in a letter to the editor of The Nation, who asks, "Has Mr. Chesterton ever heard of Newman," GK writes: "You also ask me whether I have ever `heard of Newman.' I seem to know the naaame. In fact, I have an impression (erroneous no doubt) that I have read most of his books." (Boyd, Modernism, p.15) It is very probable, then that he had read Newman's "The Patristical Idea of Antichrist" which appeared as Tracts For the Times, No. 83, 1838.
It may be of interest that Newman also wrote several articles, even before his conversion, refuting the notion that the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist (Essays Critical and Historical, Vol. II, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1887, pp. 112-185): "The only question is this, `Has Christ, or has He not, appointed a bodyrepresentative of Him on earth during His absence?' If He has, the Pope is not Antichrist; -- if He has not, every bishop in England...is Antichrist." (p.173) "If we have been defending it, this has been from no love, let our readers be assured, of the Roman party among us at this day ." (p.180) The passages about the Antichrist in scripture "cannot by any sober mind be applied to the ecclesiastical events or persons of the past ages of Christianity." (p.185)
I close, then, with Newman's own summary of his theology of the Antichrist, which GK might have read. In any case, if you read Newman's articles either before or after you read B&C, you will receive new insights into GK's prophetic vision of "the last days."
I have two remarks to add: first, that it is quite certain, that if such a persecution has been foretold, it has not yet come, and therefore is to come. We may be wrong in thinking that Scripture foretells it, though it has been the common belief, I may say, of all ages; but if there be a persecution, it is still future. So that every generation of Christians should be on the watch-tower, looking out -- nay, more and more, as time goes on.
Next, I observe that signs do occur from time to time, not to enable us to fix the day, for that is forbidden, but to show us it is coming. The world grows old --the earth is crumbling away -- the night is far spent -- the day is at hand. The shadows begin to move -- the old forms of empire, which have lasted ever since our Lord was with us, heave and tremble before our eyes, and nod to their fall. These it is that keep Him from us -- He is behind them. When they go, Antichrist will be released from `that which upholdeth,' and after his short but fearful season, Christ will come.
After all, it may not be a persecution of blood and death, but of craft and subtlety only -- not of miracles, but of natural wonders and powers of human skill, human acquirements in the hands of the devil. Satan may adopt the more alarming weapons of deceit -- he may hide himself -- he may attempt to seduce us in little things, and so to move the Church, not all at once, but by little and little from her true position. It is his policy to split us up and divide us, to dislodge us gradually from off our rock of strength.
Such meditations as these may be turned to good account. It will act as a curb upon our self-willed, selfish hearts, to believe that a persecution is in store for the Church, whether or not it comes in our days. Surely, with this prospect before us, we cannot bear to give ourselves up to thoughts of ease and comfort, of making money, settling well, or rising in the world. Surely, with this prospect before us, we cannot but feel that we are, what all Christians really are in the best estate (nay, rather would wish to be, had they their will, if they be Christians in heart), pilgrims, watchers waiting for the morning, waiting for the light, eagerly straining our eyes for the first dawn of day -- looking out for the Lord's coming, His glorious advent, when He will end the reign of sin and wickedness, accomplish the number of His elect, and perfect those who at present struggle with infirmity; yet in their hearts love and obey him. (Newman, pp.102-106)
Chesterton was a real prophet of our times. He wrote B&C so that we might become better pilgrims, more alert watchers waiting for the first dawn of the new day.
. . . o o o . . .