Thursday, November 2, 2017

“If It Saves Just One Life” Part 2: A Gedankenexperiment

     I’m going to do a terrible thing. If you’re aware of my penchant for a “change of variable,” you’ll easily see the logic. If not...well, I’ve just forewarned you, haven’t I?

     What follows is fiction. It’s a product of my imagination without any basis in fact. Many Christians will find it so repugnant that they won’t be able to finish it even though I’ve already told you all that it’s pure fiction. The implications will horrify them beyond endurance. Yet I find the logic of it compelling enough to risk losing a fraction of my readership. All that having been said, here follows the story of:

The Fifth Gospel

     The horror could no longer be concealed. Father Antonio Fraschetti, S.J., signed his report, embossed his signature with the seal of his Society, gathered up the pages, and trudged wearily to his audience with the Holy Father.

     What sort of test is this, Lord? Are you testing me personally, or the whole of Your people?

     The authenticators’ verdict had withstood all objections and all scrutiny. The source of the manuscript was beyond dispute. Carbon-14 dating, both of the parchment and the inks, certified that it was written in 32 A.D. The correlations between its statements and other verified histories of classical Judea were airtight.

     For one skilled in the quasi-ideographic written dialect of Galilean Aramaic, the translation had been effortless. It took Fraschetti no greater effort to foresee the consequences.

     What could I have done differently, Lord? Was this truly Your will?

     Pope Constantine awaited him in the little conference room the pontiff preferred for the most sensitive conversations. The Holy Father rose as Fraschetti entered. His expression was grave.

     Fraschetti genuflected. “Your Holiness.”

     The pope smiled. “Rise, Antonio.” He gestured at an adjacent chair. “Come, sit and talk with me. You bring bad news?”

     “I’m afraid so, Your Holiness.” The Jesuit set the pile of paper on the table and nudged it gently toward the pontiff. “The authenticators left no doubt. It is a gospel. It was written during the year of the greatest events. Fine-spectrum dating and the correlations with what we know from other sources put it in the interval between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The author is most probably James of the Protoevangelion.”

     The Holy Father nodded. “I expected as much. And the translation?”

     “Holiness, I would much prefer that—”

     “The Curia has already seen to it, my son. Your brethren Gottschalk and diFermini have been tasked to do as you have done. They have submitted their reports, and I have read them. It is yours we are here to discuss.”

     Fraschetti lowered his head. “Forgive me, Holiness. I should not have doubted.”

     “It was natural, my son. No man wishes to be the sole bearer of bad tidings. Now please, speak of your report.”

     But that is the thing I least wish to do in this life.

     Fraschetti steeled himself as best he could.

     “The manuscript is authentic,” he said. “It reports the words of the Redeemer with great clarity and precision. And those words command us”

     “Holy war?”

     Fraschetti lowered his head once more.

     “It was the conclusion of your brethren as well, my son. As little as I like to hear it, the three of you concur on that point, though I have no doubt there will be disagreements on a few of the minor details.” The pope smirked. “Translators never agree on everything.”

     “Holiness, may I ask a question?” The pope gestured acceptance. “Did my brethren state that the target is—”

     “Nonbelievers, Antonio. All nonbelievers everywhere. The Church is commanded to become once again the Church Militant. All believers must take up arms and join in the effort. We are to convert by the sword, accepting neither dissent nor qualification, and sparing no one above the age of reason. All who refuse to bend the knee must die.”

     The words could have been Fraschetti’s own. Even so, they were terrible to hear from the mouth of the Holy Father.

     “Holiness, how could the Redeemer, He Whom we style the Prince of Peace, command such a thing? The tide of blood will drown the world!”

     The pope nodded. “It will be terrible. Yet if He has commanded us to it, we shall. We must.” He rose and ambled briefly about the little room, hands clasped and clenched to his chest. Fraschetti remained seated and silent.

     “We have been wrong about so many things, Antonio,” the pope said. “As a priest in Armenia, I preached patience, tolerance, and peace. I did so as the Turks slaughtered our people, impressed them into slavery, and took their babes for Janissaries. I’ve continued to preach forbearance, peace, and love of our enemies throughout, as a bishop, as a cardinal, and from Peter’s chair itself. And if I was wrong, if He who gave Peter the care of His Church has commanded otherwise, then I was wrong and the Christian world will know it. I will tell them myself.”

     Fraschetti felt his heart break within him. What hope he’d harbored was gone at last.

     “He was not speaking metaphorically after all, Antonio. In truth He brought a sword. He meant it to be used as swords have always been used. Had we understood Him properly at the outset, we might have prevented two thousand years of persecution and strife. We might have averted Muhammad, Luther, Calvin, and the rest. We might have never needed the term Christendom.”

     Fraschetti was mystified. “Holiness?”

     “It is a point you will appreciate as a linguist and scholar, Antonio. We coin a word because we need it to refer to something specific. But something cannot be specific unless there is also something else, something other. A world in which all are members of the Mystical Body of Christ would not have needed a word for Christendom, for it would have applied to the whole world and everyone in it.”

     The observation was characteristic of Constantine. He had distinguished himself as a thinker long before his elevation to the papacy. Yet the illumination from it only served to darken Fraschetti’s soul further still.

     “Holiness, have you any further need of me?”

     The pope smiled. “Indeed I do, Antonio. For I esteem your wit beyond all your brethren. Beyond any bishop or cardinal, beyond even the men of the Curia. I will have special need of your eloquence. It is you upon whom I will rely in composing the call to arms.” He snorted gently. “It will be called the Greatest Crusade. And the last.”

     “The last, Holiness?”

     “Of course. For if the Redeemer has commanded it, it can only end when either we or all who dispute us are dead. Go now and take your rest. Much grave work lies before us.”


     Did the above horrify you? I hope so. Be glad that it’s fiction, at least as it applies to Christ and His Church. Now perform the obvious, mandatory “change of variable.” And reflect on the state of the world as we know it. I’m going to Mass.


furball said...

Fran, I love your writing. And I appreciate your reasoning for this story.

But even laying aside the "He died for our sins" narrative of Christ's passion, I just can't imagine a resurrected savior exhorting conversion by the sword. I guess it's a failure of my imagination. After all, from the other side of the mirror, I never understood or believed the Gospel passages referring to "the sword." If I really thought about them, I figured they were added by hotheads.

But I *did* get the message of your tale. And thank you for a thought-provoking start to the day.

Tim Turner

Dystopic said...

I don't know what to think of it, sir, except that I am glad it is fiction.

The thing with Islam... if they were honest about their desire for conquest (and to be fair, some are), it'd be one thing. We could fight it out with them. Win or lose, to the bloody end. But they play both ends. Lie about their own belief system. Willing dupes in the West believe them, too.

They stay our swords with lies, and stab us when we aren't looking. Oldest trick in the book, really.

Martin McPhillips said...

Well, you know how you are, Fran.

jabrwok said...

Honestly I don't see such a revelation being taken seriously. It conflicts too much with prior teachings. Most likely it will be interpreted as the writings of a disaffected or disillusioned former follower who has chosen to try to discredit that which he once believed. Why his "fraud" wasn't discovered and exposed sooner would just be chalked up to one more mystery.