Werwolf wasn't the only partisan organization organized in post-WWII Germany. However, Werwolf was probably the best known. Here, John imagines what might have been if the remaining Nazis in 1945 hadn't been too otherwordly to be effective.
The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946
by Perry Biddiscombe
University of Toronto Press, 1998
455 Pages, US$ 39.95
Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Gauleiter of Berlin, showed no signs of slacking in the months before he killed himself in Hitler's bunker on May 1, 1945. According to the selections from his diary edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper and published as "Final Entries 1945," he not only attended to his ordinary duties regarding national editorial policy and the defense of the city, but also found time to do things like review the new tax code and to arrange for an annoying colleague to be drafted. Of all these activities, however, perhaps the most surreal was his enthusiastic support for the "Werwolf" movement.
Goebbels spoke of the Werwolf almost as if it were an electoral campaign. Despite the other things he had on his mind, he exerted himself to create a new Werwolf radio station, and even tried to found a newspaper. (The radio station actually operated for a few weeks.) Propaganda for and about the Werwolf were among the last products of the regime. In retrospect, some commentators have tended to dismiss the Werwolf as something of a Nazi hoax, one whose primary effect was to induce the western Allies to invade Germany on a broad front, rather than go directly for Berlin. Still, I for one have sometimes wondered just what this "Werwolf" effort was, and how seriously the Nazis took it.
Perry Biddiscombe, an assistant professor of history at the University of Victoria, answers in "Werwolf!" all the questions you are likely to have about the movement, and in a very readable form. (Don't be intimidated by the apparent size of the book, by the way: the text ends at page 285, followed by notes and appendices.) "Werwolf!" provides valuable insights into the "polyarchic" nature of the Nazi regime, both in its salad days and in its dissolution, as well as a general overview of the last few months of the war in Europe. Finally, though the author does not address this matter, the book may provide some useful ideas for counterfactual speculation about the possible evolution of National Socialist society, had it survived the war.
The term "Werwolf" is the equivalent of the English "werewolf," meaning "man-wolf" or "lycanthrope." There is, however, another term, "Wehrwolf," which is pronounced about the same as "Werwolf," but which means "defense wolf." "Wehrwolf" actually has a long association with irregular warfare in Germany. A famous novel by that title, written by one Hermann Loens and published in 1910, was a romantic treatment of peasant guerrillas in northern Germany during the 17th century. Though this novel was in fact promoted by the Nazi government, particularly the Hitler Youth, the spelling "Werwolf" was favored when the Germans began planning for partisan warfare, because the Nazis had had a competitor on the Right in the 1920s called the "Wehrwolf Bund." Besides, "Werwolf" sounded more feral.
As with so much else the Nazi government did, the Werwolf initiative was something of a pillow fight, with different actors competing for control of Werwolf organizations and with different ideas for what the Werwolf was supposed to do. The original concept was clear enough, however.
"Clausewitzian partisans" are part of orthodox military doctrine. They are militia who operate behind the lines in territory occupied by the enemy. Their function is to cut supply lines and generally cause confusion, but their operation presupposes the continued existence of a national government and a conventional army. The Germans had experience fielding irregular forces of this nature, both against Napoleon and in the form of the independent "Freikorps" units that operated in eastern Germany during the chaotic period just after the First World War. The Germans started thinking about them again as soon as the situation on the Russian front began to deteriorate, and in fact anti-Communist partisans did the Red Army appreciable damage. It was only in the last half of 1944, however, that the Germans began to focus on the possibility that the Allies might have to be resisted within Germany itself.
This was a job that no major player in the German government or the military wanted to be associated with until the last moment. Thinking about the penetration of Germany, even the extended Germany of Hitler's annexations, implied a fair amount of defeatism. Additionally, the military was not keen on sharing its dwindling resources for training and material with civilian stay-behind groups. In principle, the Werwolf was commanded by SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, through a back channel consisting of local chiefs of police. These middle-aged men tended to regard partisan activity as somewhat disreputable, and in any case had no idea how to go about it. Far more dynamic, and only nominally under SS command, was the Werwolf program operated by the Hitler Youth. The story of the Werwolf proper, in fact, is largely a cautionary tale about what happens when you give teenagers a license to kill.
Despite all obstacles, training programs were improvised for youths and adults, though the courses sometimes lasted just days. Underground bunkers were prepared in isolated areas, from which the Werwolf were supposed to emerge to strike terror into the enemy. Werwolf was supposed to mesh into the larger project of establishing an "Alpine Redoubt," a base in Austria and mountainous southern Germany to which conventional forces might retreat. Certainly the major Werwolf training bases were located in that area. The last-minute attempt to build underground facilities in the Alps were too little, too late, and the armies ordered to go there never arrived, for the most part. In the final few days, Hitler decided to stay in Berlin, rather than go south and try to organize the Redoubt from Berchtesgaden. Still, it was not quite just a propaganda ploy.
What did the Werwolf do? They sniped. They mined roads. They poured sand into the gas tanks of jeeps. (Sugar was in short supply, no doubt.) They were especially feared for the "decapitation wires" they strung across roads. They poisoned food stocks and liquor. (The Russians had the biggest problem with this.) They committed arson, though perhaps less than they are credited with: every unexplained fire or explosion associated with a military installation tended to be blamed on the Werwolf. These activities slackened off within a few months of the capitulation on May 7, though incidents were reported as late as 1947.
The problem with assessing the extent of Werwolf activity is that not only official Werwolf personnel committed partisan acts. Much of the regular German fighting forces disarticulated into isolated units that sometimes kept fighting, even after the high command surrendered.. In the east, units that had been bypassed by the Red Army tried to fight their way west, so they could surrender to the Anglo-Americans. In the west, the final "strategy" of the high command was to stop even trying to halt the Allied armored penetrations of Germany, but to hit these units from behind and cut off their supplies. Perhaps the most harrowing accounts in the book are those relating to the expulsion of the ethnic German populations from the Sudetenland and the areas annexed by Poland. The latter theater in particular seems to have been the only point in the European war in which a civilian population was keen about a "scorched earth" strategy.
Very little Werwolf activity was directed with an eye toward political survival after the complete occupation of Germany. The Nazi leadership could not bring themselves to think about the matter. Certainly Himmler could not. In the last days before his own suicide, he tried to close the Werwolf down, the better to curry favor with the western Allies. Still, elements of the movement did make some plans for after the war. The Hitler Youth branch devised a political platform for a peaceful, postwar, Werwolf political organization. They also took steps toward ensuring financing for these efforts. In the last days of the war, forward-looking Nazis scurried about Germany with funds taken from the Party or the national treasury, buying up businesses "at fire-sale prices," as Biddiscombe dryly puts it. These enterprises prospered slightly in the months following the end of the fighting, but were wrapped up by the occupation authorities by the end of 1945.
This brings us to the role of the Nazi Party in the Werwolf movement. An aspect of the Third Reich on which Biddiscombe lays great stress is the surprisingly derelict state of the Party itself. When the Party was new, it was in many ways a youth movement, or perhaps a brilliant propaganda machine that mobilized a youth movement. Even before the war began, however, it had become little more than a patronage organization, notable mostly for its corruption. The old guard, who had come to power with Hitler, had no new ideas themselves and stubbornly refused to make way for new blood. The Gauleiter, or district leaders, were not an elite, and the organizations they commanded did not attract persons of the first quality.
This situation particularly frustrated the "old fighters" like Goebbels and Robert Ley, the labor chief, and Martin Bormann, Hitler's party secretary. Though they continued to have considerable influence on policy because of their strong personal relationships with Hitler, nevertheless they had long been losing institutional power as the Party was eclipsed by the SS. That organization could make some claim to being an elite. At the very least, it was still more feared than despised. Thus, in the closing months of the regime, some of the Party leaders saw the Werwolf as an opportunity to wrest power back from the Reich's decaying institutions.
Goebbels especially grasped the possibility that guerrilla war could be a political process as well as a military strategy. It was largely through his influence that the Werwolf assumed something of the aspect of a terrorist organization. Where it could, it tried to prevent individuals and communities from surrendering, and it assassinated civil officials who cooperated with the Allies. Few Germans welcomed these activities, but something else that Goebbels grasped was that terror might serve where popularity was absent. By his estimate, only 10% to 15% of the German population were potential supporters for a truly revolutionary movement. His goal was to use the Werwolf to activate that potential. With the help of the radical elite, the occupiers could be provoked into savage reprisals that would win over the mass of the people to Neo-Nazism, a term that came into use in April 1945.
Bizarre as it may seem, Goebbels saw the collapse of the Reich as the opportunity to put through a social revolution, particularly a social revolution manned by radicalized youth. Always on the left-wing of the Party, Goebbels felt that Hitler had been mislead by the Junkers and the traditional military into bourgeois policies that had corrupted the whole movement. With Germany's cities in ruins and its institutions no longer functioning, the possibility had arisen to start again from scratch. Biddiscombe notes that Hermann Rauschning , a former Nazi official who defected to the West before the war, called Nazism a "revolution of nihilism." Biddiscombe suggests that the radical wing of the Party, freed by defeat from the responsibility for actual government and the constraints of a conventional war, reverted in the final days to the nihilistic essence of Nazism.
In some ways, Goebbels' policy resembled what Mao Zedong did in China. Even the plans for the Alpine Redoubt are reminiscent of the Long March to the base at Yennan. Before the Long March, the Chinese Communist Party was a fairly conventional Stalinist organization. It presupposed the facilities of civilization for its operation. When it descended from the mountains after the war with Japan ended, however, the Communist Party was something like a new society in itself. Goebbels hoped for something similar in Europe, counting on the sudden outbreak of a war between the western and eastern Allies to provide the strategic breathing room for a renewed regime to coalesce. When no such war broke out, and the Alpine Redoubt proved to be just another Nazi pipe dream, the Werwolf simply evaporated.
While perhaps one should not press the Chinese comparison too far, still it is probably significant that the most radical manifestations of Chinese Communism appeared a good 15 or 20 years after the Party came to power. They appeared in time of peace, as old party hands tried to retake control from the conventional organs of government. If the Nazi state had won its war with the Soviet Union and fended off invasion from the West, might something similar have happened? The early Nazi enthusiasm for socialism and social solidarity had become largely rhetorical by 1939, but the ideas always remained, ready to the hand of bold Party officials who might someday find the arrogance of the SS too threatening.
Perhaps the Werwolf is the dim reflection in our world of another future. In that world, the 1960s see Brown Guards take over the streets of Germania, the new Nazi capital. Egged on by Old Fighters behind the scenes, they demand that the aristocrats of the SS get off their high horses and learn from the Volk. Ancient universities are closed down or turned into schools of indoctrination. Elderly scholars are sent to country districts to raise pigs. Gullible journalists arrive from abroad, and send home admiring articles about how the Germans must be understood on their own terms.
Any scenario in which the Third Reich lasts longer than it did is unpleasant to think about. In this one, however, there is at least a built-in consolation. The Nazi empire, held together by coercion, would probably have blown up as soon as the effectiveness of its military was degraded by revolutionary fervor.
As it turns out, we now have an excellent idea of just what evils were occasioned by deposing tyrants in the Middle East. However, John was correct in pointing out that the Ottomans were less likely to bribe their problems to go annoy their neighbors. Twelve years on, I'm not sure it was worth it, but I can at least see the argument.
The last, best hope of tyrants these days is the argument that deposing them will just occasion worse evils. You hear this most frequently about President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Remove him, the argument goes, and Iraq might split into three parts, or require prolonged occupation, or something. The same point has also been made about Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. Supposedly, he has been all that prevents the Palestinian areas from disintegrating into local chiefdoms, each under the control of its own terrorist organization.
This strategy does have precedent, particularly in the Middle East. During the fifty years before the First World War, the Ottoman Empire still ruled most of the area, and even part of the Balkans, but it was known as "The Sick Man of Europe." Despite the empire's growing weakness, however, the Great Powers kept it in existence because they could not decide what would happen to the pieces it after it broke up. Their caution was merited. The disposition that the Allies ultimately made of the former Ottoman territories was well characterized by David Fromkin's history of the region, The Peace to End All Peace.
The problem with extending this analogy to the Middle East today is that even the late Ottoman Empire functioned, after a fashion. Though the communities of the empire were increasingly unhappy under the imperial roof, and though the government often responded with repression, at least the Ottomans did not export their problems with minority groups. The empire was in greater danger from its neighbors than they were from the empire. This is not the case with Baathist Iraq or the Palestinian Authority, polities whose aggressiveness is mitigated only by their incompetence.
The notion that it is always best to keep the devil you know does have a drawback: it seems to commend itself chiefly to devils. Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments, noted this in late April of 1945, when regime continuity was the cutting-edge policy prescription among his colleagues. He put the matter well in his memoir, Inside the Third Reich (1970), pp. 486-7."The world in which Himmler was still moving was fantastic. 'Europe cannot manage without me in the future either,' he commented. 'It will go on needing me as Minister of Police. After I've spent an hour with Eisenhower he'll appreciate that fact. They'll soon realize that they're dependent on me, or they'll have a hopeless chaos on their hands.'...
"Finally, Himmler after all held out a faint prospect of my becoming a minister in his government. For my part, with some sarcasm I offered him my plane so that he could pay a farewell visit to Hitler. But Himmler waved that aside. He had no time for that now, he said. Unemotionally, he explained: 'Now I must prepare my new government. And besides, my person is too important for the future of Germany for me to risk the flight.'"
John was an unaffiliated, but not wholly unrespectable scholar, of millennialism and millennial movements. Here is one of his conference papers on millennialism, tying together his interests in millennialism, cyclical models of history, and books.
Presented at the Fifth Annual Conference
Center For Millennial Studies
October 28 -- October 31
Three things often go without saying when we examine an apocalyptic interpretation of history, particularly somebody else's apocalyptic interpretation of history. The first is that the ideas in question are always chiefly concerned with expectations for the future. The second is that these expectations are always disappointed or deferred. The third assumption, often implicit, is that the system we are dealing with is naive in some way, so that serious people need not consider it on the merits. What I would like to do here is briefly sketch three models of history, models that have some popular currency and that have a strong eschatological element, about which none of these assumptions is true. All of the models, I would argue, are examples of the millennial imagination at its constructive best.
As a preliminary matter, there are a few theoretical points that have to be addressed, the chief of which is how can we talk about people's eschatological expectations being fulfilled if the world has not ended yet. We do this, as you might expect, by expanding the definitions. When we talk about familiar apocalyptic notions, such as the Tribulation or the Battle of Armageddon or the Millennium, we are talking about instances of the structural features of a kind of story. I will spare you a full structural description. As we all know, this is the kind of story that has a golden age in the past, a buildup to a dramatic climax, and often an anticlimactic postscript followed by a final resolution.(1) Some models of history with this structure take up all the time there is, so that when you reach the eschaton, there is nothing more to be said. On the other hand, with a cyclical model, it is obviously possible to have an eschaton both in the past and the future. A linear model can also do something like this, as St. Augustine did when he identified the whole era of the Church with the Millennium of Revelation 20.(2)
The point to keep in mind is that the age after the culmination of history, which we may call the Millennium for convenience, can be a habitable place. That is, it can be continuous with profane history, even if you have to pass through a great Tribulation to get there. However, the expectation even of a habitable Millennium can still generate familiar forms of millenarianism.
Consider the generational model of history developed and marketed by Neil Howe and William Strauss over the past decade or so.(3) Howe has degrees in history and economics, and Strauss has both an advanced degree in political science and a track record as a political humorist, but what they are most famous for is the minor cult that began with the publication in 1991 of their first book, "Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069." It is hard to say how well-known their ideas are, but their promotional skills are undeniable. Their 1993 book, "13th Gen," which dealt with Generation X, apparently earned them a following among this group. This was partly because of their genuine compassion for the no-hope slackers of the world, and partly because they described a vital role for them in the coming crisis of the first three decades of the 21st century. They now run two online discussion groups.(4) Their greatest coup yet, however, maybe their book published just this fall, "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation." If Hegel had written a baby-care book to promote his philosophy of history, it would have been something like this. Before we get to the up-and-coming Millennials, however, let me just briefly outline Strauss and Howe's system.
Models of history based on the idea that successive generations have character-types that repeat themselves are not new. Probably the best-known examples are the theories of fluctuating political styles developed by the Arthur Schlesingers, junior and senior.(5) (Recent books such as "Bobos in Paradise" and "The Greatest Generation"(6) suggest that a generational approach to history is becoming fashionable.) Few such models, however, are quite as comprehensive as Strauss and Howe's. Their graphs and charts are as complicated as anything you will find in astrology. There is even a personality classification system that is as much fun as sun signs.
According to Strauss and Howe, a generation is a 20-year block of demographic cohorts who might be expected to have comparable experiences at each stage of life. The key to the system is the hypothesis that a society-wide crisis tends to fix the character of the generation then in young adulthood. If the crisis is successfully overcome, they are heroes: they get special deference for the rest of their lives. The formation of a Hero generation begins a predictable sequence of four generational types that appear over a period of 80 to100 years, during which social mores relax and then tighten again.
I could describe in detail what these four generational types are like, and I could describe the four ages within the 90-year cycle in which each matures in turn. But I won't.(7) Here is all you really have to know. The baby-boom generation, called the "Boomers" for short, are like the generations of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Generation X is like the Lost Generation of the 1920s. The generation of Jefferson and Hamilton is like the GI generation of the Depression and World War II era. The Millennial Generation, the oldest of whom turned 18 just this year, should be a Hero generation, like the GIs. Strauss and Howe have sketched their probable lifecourse to the very end of the 21st century.
Objections can be raised to every point of their model. For one thing, the very existence of the First Awakening has been questioned. (8) For another, even social scientists who share many of Strauss and Howe's ideas about the American prospect manage to do without the generational mechanism. (9) Nonetheless, whatever its ability to predict the future, the model does give us a very workable framework for the past. Grammar school history teachers, I am told, love it for that reason. The model plausibly identifies the great crises of American history as the Depression and World War II era, the buildup to the Civil War, the American Revolution and constitution-forming period, and earliest of all, King Philip's War and the Glorious Revolution. These crises really are all about 90 years apart. It is not hard to think of them in terms of the premillennial tribulation, because that is how many people did who lived through them did.
As for forecasting the future, Strauss and Howe have not done badly so far. In the early 1990s, when it seemed that kids were getting stupider every year and criminologists were predicting an impending generation of super-predators, the "Generations" model predicted better scholastic performance and lower crime rates. Strauss and Howe predicted (and advocated) the spread of school uniforms. On the whole, in fact, they anticipated the current cultural and political environment, in which you can get away with anything, provided you do it "for the children."
These Millennial children Strauss and Howe talk about are members of the generation that supposedly started to be born about 1982. They still have a few years more to appear. If all goes well, the Millennials will build a society that is safer, more orderly, and in some ways blander. `N Sync will soon prevail over Limp Bizkit. Millennials are more interested in team work than in self-expression, they value unity more than diversity. They will tend to elaborate rather than collapse gender roles. Like the GI Generation, Millennials will favor mass organizations, such as labor unions and churches, even though they will be less spiritual than Boomers.
The Millennials will gel, however, only if society as a whole passes through the next Crisis. Strauss and Howe have no idea of the content of that Crisis, so they give us numbers. They suggest that, sometime in the second half of this decade, an event comparable to the financial collapse of 1929 will mark the beginning of 20 years of menace and danger. This degree of vagueness is a little unusual in date setters. Also unusual is that they don't advise their readers to prepare by buying bottled water or shotguns, but by supporting measures for ordinary good government. (10) A theme that runs throughout all their books is to urge moderation on the Boomers. They say this generation, which will occupy the senior leadership role during the Crisis, is fundamentally fanatical and will need watching. By Generation X.
If the next three decades are negotiated successfully, the Millennials will dominate the rest of the century. Should they come into their kingdom after the Crisis, the period of their greatest power will be a time analogous in many ways to the Eisenhower era, with similar virtues and faults. Strauss and Howe identify several such periods in the past. On the whole, they tend to be characterized by prosperity, consensus, and a high level of moral obtuseness. In other words, they may be the Millennium, but they are not paradise. So here we have a model of history whose working parts resemble ordinary premillennialism. It does have lower stakes, however. All Strauss and Howe's books are profoundly patriotic, but they do make clear that the purposes of God and all his angels do not turn on the historical development of the United States. They also make historical salvation a matter of free will. They point to the Civil War era as a Crisis that America failed, because of the inflexible fanaticism of the Boomer-like generation of the Second Great Awakening. Another difference, of course, is that the model is as much about the past as the future. These are all characteristics that it shares with another model of history that, perhaps not coincidentally, also seems to hold strong appeal for young people.
J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings," was first published in 1954 and apparently cannot go out of print. Tolkien, we all know, was an Oxford philologist who was best known professionally for his studies of "Beowulf" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Beyond that, he has a lot to answer for. "The Lord of the Rings" is the book that saddled us with sword-and-sorcery pulp-fiction and videogames. The trilogy itself is written in a pseudo early-modern prose that is widely imitated and often cringe-making. Still, the trilogy is on the short list for the most popular work of the 20th century. (11)
There is in fact a fair amount of serious Tolkien scholarship, but, fortunately, not enough to spoil the fun. (12) Critics tend to treat the trilogy as a conventional novel, though Tolkien himself insisted it was a romance. Be this as it may, several mysteries about the trilogy are cleared up if we think of it as an apocalyptic novel, written from a Roman Catholic perspective.
There is an asymmetry in the religious publishing industry. Premillennial Protestant apocalyptic novels have been with us since the 1930s, and there have been enough of them in recent years to create their own fiction category. (13) The number of Catholic novels of this type, at least by my count, does not reach ten, even if you include doubtful candidates, such as Walker Percy's "Thanatos Syndrome." (14) Now maybe Catholics just lack the apocalypse gene, or maybe this sort of fiction withers under the anti-millenarian eye of St. Augustine. Or maybe Tolkien's trilogy satisfies the apocalyptic impulse in people who don't know they have it.
"The Lord of the Rings" is 600,000 words long, which is a bit much to describe in detail here. There are just a few points we need to highlight. The trilogy is essentially a story about the experiences of ordinary people in a world war. The chief enemy in this war is a demonic eastern figure who relies as much on deceit as on force. Resistance to him is centered in a crumbly old empire whose capital simultaneously resembles Constantinople and Rome and Vienna. The core kingdom has been without a king for many centuries. It is ruled by a steward in the king's name, and the monarchy has become just a constitutional myth. The setting for the story is the historical crisis in which this myth comes true. The third part of the trilogy is called "The Return of the King," a title that might reasonably be said to have a millenarian overtone.
Bits and pieces of traditional Christian apocalyptic are scattered throughout the trilogy. The Enemy looks more than a little like Antichrist. The Dwarves (not "Dwarfs"; "Dwarves") are by Tolkien's own admission supposed to be like the Jews, even down to having a species of Zionism. (15) The future king descends to the land of the dead and returns. Some of these elements are familiar from any work on comparative mythology. This is true of Christian eschatology in general, but there is a difference with the trilogy.
In modern apocalyptic fiction, such as the "Left Behind" series, you will, of course, get to have lunch with the Antichrist, and you will be taught the premillennial model of history in great detail, but these stories are often really about how the everyman characters handle themselves in a morally charged situation. (16) "The Lord of the Rings" is just the same: the hero-myth is in it, but it's not about the hero who becomes king. The chief subplot concerns the exhausting journey of an everyman named Frodo to destroy a talisman on which the power of the demon ruler depends. At the moment of climax, he caves, and he loses the will to throw the magic ring into the volcano. The essential act is performed for him, by a kind of miracle. As in traditional eschatology, in fact, the whole world is saved providentially. The characters never had the power to save themselves. The moral is that some duties can be binding even in a situation that is hopeless by any rational standard .
Tolkien had a donnish sense of humor, and maybe the greatest practical joke of his career was his insistence in the Foreword to the Second Edition to "The Lord of the Rings" that the work is not an allegory, and particularly that it is not an allegory of the Second World War. (17) While this is a question of degree, we don't have to take altogether seriously his injunction to separate "The Lord of the Rings" entirely from history, especially in the light of the connections Tolkien himself drew between his service in the First World War and his first attempts at writing fantasy. (18) Certainly one of the ways that Tolkien's fans entertain themselves is by finding parallels between the world of the "Lord of the Rings" and that of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. For instance, the steward who nominally rules in the place of the king looks an awful lot like a pope, and not just any pope, but like Pope Pius X. (Actually, Pope Saint Pius X.) Both the steward and Pius were given to visions of impending crisis, and both might be characterized as successful reactionaries who were criticized later for going overboard. (19) The greatest parallel, however, is the sense throughout "The Lord of the Rings" of "here we go again."
The imaginary history of Tolkien's imaginary world is characterized by a series of epochal struggles against evil, stretching all the way back into mythological time. These apocalyptic episodes are not cyclical. What they share is a certain "type." John Cardinal Newman, another English Catholic, summed up this way of looking at history in a sermon given about a century before the trilogy was published:
"In truth, every event in this world is a type of those that follow, history proceeding forward as a circle ever enlarging. The days of the Apostles typified the last days...In like manner every age presents its own picture of those future events, which alone are the real fulfillment of the prophecy which stands at the head of all of them." (20)
This is probably the smartest thing that anybody ever said about the Book of Revelation.
"The Lord of the Rings" is in the same tradition, and not least in the final chapters, when the ancient kingdom is restored. Many of the features of traditional millennialism are there. There is a great feast after a battle like that of Armageddon. The restored king hands out judgments. Want disappears. Major warfare ceases. The world is set to rights, but it's still the same world. When the protagonists get back home to their Shire, they find that it has fallen into the hands of socialists, so they have to organize a liberation movement. Frodo the veteran gets little honor in his own country, and his adventure leaves him chronically ill. Mortality is not repealed, and neither is the prospect that the Shadow could take another form in the future.
"The Lord of the Rings" is not simply an allegory of the life and times of its author, but clearly its point of reference is the first half of the 20th century. For my money, in fact, when people in the future teach courses on the 20th century, the only items the syllabus will really need is "The Lord of the Rings" and that Terry Gilliam movie, "Brazil." (21)
Tolkien, like Cardinal Newman, was using a method of interpretation that comes to us from St. Augustine, and which is the dominant way that the West has thought about the Last Things. Even if Tolkien's eschaton can be said to lie in the past, still the overlap of history and eschatology is typical rather than absolute. Is it possible to have a model of history that identifies some past event absolutely and uniquely with the eschaton? Sure: that is pretty much what Francis Fukuyama's did in "The End of History and the Last Man," and actually, when you see how narrowly he defined history, his thesis is still defensible. (22) Another such model, one that may have better hope of a mass audience, starts with the proposition that all biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the first century AD.
This idea is not new. (23) Its most recent incarnations are called Realized Eschatology, or Covenant Eschatology, or preterism, or Transmillennialism (TM). (24) Preterism is the generic term I use. In any case, I gather that most of the credit for reviving this class of eschatology goes to the Reverend Max King of the Parkham Road Church of Christ in Warren, Ohio. (25) He became vocal on the subject in the early 1970s, in opposition to the premillennialism that was then getting wide distribution thanks to Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth." (26) Preterism has its share of schisms and schools, but one thing that all preterists seem to have in common is deep embarrassment at the game of "pin the tail on the Antichrist" that many pretribulationists have been playing with secular history these last thirty years. Something else they all have in common is keen interest in any millennial disappointment that may attend the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They believe, not unreasonably, that this state of mind could get their ideas a wider hearing.
Preterism can be viewed as an attempt to deal with the so-called "Olivet Discourse" found in the Synoptic Gospels, where Jesus explains about the Last Things. In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of future false Christs. He speaks of coming persecutions and tribulation and says, "[t]herefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place -- let him who reads understand -- then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." A little later Jesus says, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty." The verses that C.S. Lewis called "the most embarrassing in the Bible" (27) are 33 and 34: "Even so, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened."
Now, something is not computing here, but it is not entirely clear what. The higher criticism has said for more than a century that this chapter is an oblique reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, recast ten or twenty years later as a prophecy. However, many people have had trouble understanding why the evangelists writing at the late dates favored by the higher critics would create what was already a stale prophecy. (28) A more traditional approach, like that of Cardinal Newman, has it that the people of Jesus's generation did live to see a type of the end of the age in the destruction of the Temple. (Preterists call this position "partial-preterism.") What the preterists say is that the end of the Temple was not just a type of the end of the age, it was the end of the age, and that AD 70 was the date of the final Parousia.
The details of the argument are ingenious. A popular work, "Beyond the End Time" by John Noe (29) shows how the prophecy of "70 Weeks of Years" in Daniel 9 can be used to date the fall of Jerusalem quite precisely, assuming you start the prophecy running from the right point in the fifth century BC. This use of Daniel in Christian apologetics is hardly new. In this version, the life of Jesus and the forty years before AD 70 become the last week. Noe expands on Max King's suggestion that those last 40 years were actually the Millennium of Revelation 20, which makes perfect sense if you think of the Millennium as the pause between the climax and the final resolution of a story. (30) Noe also explains how the imagery of the Son of Man coming on a cloud fits well enough with the imagery the Old Testament conventionally uses to describe the chastisement of a city. What Noe and other full-preterists wish to emphasize is that the prophecies and the types of the Old Testament were wholly fulfilled in the New Testament period, and there is nothing more to be done.
Preterism can have some striking implications. For one thing, preterism requires that the whole New Testament canon, including the Book of Revelation, must have been completed by AD 70. This is a hard proposition to defend. (31) Preterism also discounts features of the popular religious landscape. There is no Rapture or Second Coming to look forward to. The creation of Israel in the 20th century becomes just another political event. Extreme forms of preterism are almost antinomian. The New Testament Church, from a preterist perspective, was the creature of a transitional period that ended in AD 70, and so did its charismatic gifts. These include, for instance, speaking in tongues and the office of apostle. The end of the latter is not an uncommon idea among Protestants. However, the people to whom Jesus is represented as giving these powers are also the ones to whom he gave the Great Commission, and whom he told to perform the Lord's Supper. While most preterists are at pains to distance themselves from what they call "hyper-preterism," the fact remains that preterism can make it hard to argue that Christians are required by Scripture to do anything at all. (32)
On the other hand, preterists also believe that now is still the early church, so there is lots of time to address these issues. In fact, there will still be lots of time in 1,000 or 10,000 years, since the duration of the New Covenant is infinite. Though preterism itself does not logically require any particular political or social orientation, its modern incarnation was founded by people who were alarmed by the tendency to disengagement traditionally associated with premillennialists like Hal Lindsey. Many of its adherents are in fact simply rather extreme Reformed Presbyterian post-millennialists.
While preterism is therefore not so different from more familiar forms of amillennialism, it goes St. Augustine's eschatology one better. Augustine suggested that the age of the Church was the Millennium, but there was still a futurist element in his interpretation of prophecy, one that was to some extent still linked to the geography and history of the Middle East. In contrast, Preterism, to use a $10 term from complexity theory, is "non-scalar." Without breaking the link to history, it can at least contemplate a future that is not parochial. This might not be a bad idea.
There are many reasons why people become interested in millennial studies. For one thing, there is all that cinematic violence. Jonestown, the Tai Ping Rebellion, the Muenster Commune; all are great, gory history. And of course, revolutionary millenarianism is a key feature of history whose importance is often still not fully appreciated. However, if destructive and pathological behavior were all the apocalypse were about, it would be hard to see why the idea persists. You might think that even the human race would have learned something by now.
It is much more likely that we keep pursuing the millennium because that is, on the whole, a sane way to deal with history. The world has yet to come crashing down universally, but it has often done so locally, and people have to deal with that. When they try to make the world a better place, they need a model that offers both hope and caution. The three models of history we have examined can provide those things, and in that I think they are typical of the way the Millennium really works.
(1) "The Sense of an Ending" by Frank Kermode (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967) gives a manageable treatment of the apocalypse as a feature of story structure. See also "The Perennial Apocalypse," John J. Reilly (London: Online Originals, 1998)
(2) "History of the Idea of Progress," Robert Nisbet (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 68.
(3) William Strauss and Neil Howe:
______"Generations: History of America's Future, 1584--2029" (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991)
______"13th Gen : abort, retry, ignore, fail?" (New York : Vintage Books, 1993)
______"The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy" (New York: Broadway Books, 1997
______"Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation" (New York: Vintage Books, 2000)
(4) (September 15, 2000):
(5) "The Cycles of American History," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin: 1986) "New Viewpoints in American History," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1922, 1977)
(6) "Bobos in Paradise : The New Upper Class and How They Got There," David Brooks (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2000)
"The Greatest Generation Speaks : Letters and Reflections," Tom Brokaw (New York : Random House, 1999)
(7) The "Fourth Turning" (op. cit.) gives the mature form of Strauss and Howe's system. See the review of the book in "Apocalypse & Future: Notes on the Cultural History of the 21st Century," John J. Reilly (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2000), p. 222; also online at http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/tft.html
(8) "Inventing the Great Awakening," Frank Lambert (Princeton University Press, 2000). The standard work on the importance of the Awakenings is William McLoughlin's "Revivals, Awakenings and Reform: An essay on religion and social change in America" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).
(9) E.g., "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism," Robert William Fogel (University of Chicago Press, 2000) Despite the many similarities, Strauss and Howe's works are not cited.
(10) "The Fourth Turning," op. cit., pp. 305 et seq.
(11) This according to surveys by UK Channel 4 and Waterstones Booksellers.
(12) "Tolkien: Man and Myth," Joseph Pearce (London: HarperCollins, 1998) The Tolkien Society (http://www.tolkiensociety.org)
(13) "When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture," Paul Boyer (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press, 1992), p. 106
(14) David van Meter listed the following Catholic apocalyptic novels on his "Marian Apparitions" site (http://members.aol.com/UticaCW/Mary-App.html) as of September 15, 2000:
MacFarlane, Bud Jr. Pierced by a Sword : A Chronicle of the Coming Tribulations. Fairview Park, OH: St. Jude Media, 1995.
McInerny, Ralph M. The Red Hat. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.
O'Brien, Michael D. Eclipse of the Sun. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.
________. Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996.
________. Strangers and Sojourners : A Novel. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.
West, Morris. The Clowns of God. New York: William Morrow, 1981.
To these I would add:
Benson, Robert Hugh, "The Lord of the World," Long Prairie, Minn.: The Neumann Press, 1907
Walker, Percy, "Thanatos Syndrome," New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987
(15) "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), p. 78
(16) The Left Behind Series is written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Wheaton, IL.: Tyndale House). The first book in the series, "Left Behind," appeared in 1996. As of this writing, six more have been published. Five further books are planned to April 15, 2003. (There is also a children's series, "Left Behind: The Kids.") For a review of the second book, "Tribulation Force," see Reilly, op. sit., p. 20; also available at http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/trib.html
(17) "The Lord of the Rings," John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954, 1965), p. 5: "I think that many confuse `applicability' with `allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."
(18) "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," op. sit., p. 229
(19) Cf. the description of Pius X given from "A History of Christianity," Paul Johnson (New York: Athenuem, 1983), p. 469 with that of Denethor in "The Lord of the Rings," op. sit., ("The Return of the King"), p. 31.
(20) "Tracts for the Times," Vol. V, 1838-1840 (London: J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1840), Advent Sermons on the Antichrist, pp. 1-54
(21) "Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century," Norman F. Cantor (New York : W. Morrow, 1991), p. 207
(22) "The End of History and the Last Man," Francis Fukuyama (New York: The Free Press, 1992)
(23) "The Parousia," James Stuart Russell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1878, 1999). The Oxford English Dictionary dates the word "preterist," though not the doctrine, to 1843.
(24) The homepage for the International Preterist Association is http://www.preterist.org The homepage for Living Presence Ministries, the exponent of Transmillennialism (TM), is http://www.livingpresence.org
(25) "The Cross and the Parousia of Christ: The Two Dimensions of One Age-Changing Eschaton," Max R. King (Warren, Ohio, The Parkham Road Church of Christ, 1987)
(26) "The Late Great Planet Earth," Hal Lindsey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970, 1977)
(27) "The World's Last Night, and Other Essays," C.S. Lewis (New York: Harcourt, Brace,1959), p. 98
(28) "Redating the New Testament," J.A.T. Robinson (SCM, London, 1976)
(29) "Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told," John Noe (Bradford, Pa.: International Preterist Resources, 1999). For a review, go to http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/betet.html
(30) King, op. sit., p. 212
(31) E.g., "Before Jerusalem Fell," Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. (Amer Vision Pub, 1999)
(32) A response to hyperpreterism can be found on the International Preterist Association website at http://www.preterist.org/articles/Walt Hibbard Responds to Misunderstandings about the Preterist View.html
This is the kind of thing that encourages my more excitable Catholic friends, but here it is anyway: the Prophecies of St. Malachi. These, along with the prophecies of Nostradamus and witch burning, are precisely what James Franklin means when he discusses the Renaissance Myth. The Renaissance was an intellectual dead-end for Western Civilization. Many of the most popular ideas that even the best and brightest devoted their lives to were all for naught. We did get some great art from this period, but almost everything else was a wash.
By the by, according to this popular legend, Pope Francis would be the last pope before the end times.
The Prophecies of St. Malachy for the New Millennium
by John Hogue
Element Books, 2000(First Published 1998)
402 Pages, US$19.95 (Softcover)
“Inferiae. (Latin.) Among the Greeks and Romans, sacrifices for propitiation of the “Dii Manes,” or souls of dead heroes; for the pious ancients could not invent enough gods to satisfy their spiritual needs, and had to have a number of makeshift deities, or as a sailor might say, jury-gods, which they made out of the most unpromising materials. It was while sacrificing a bullock to the spirit of Agamemnon that Laiaides, a priest of Aulis, was favored with an audience of that illustrious warrior’s shade, who prophetically recounted to him the birth of Christ and the triumph of Christianity, giving him also a rapid but tolerably complete review of events down to the reign of Saint Louis. The narrative ended abruptly at that point, owing to the inconsiderate crowing of a cock, which compelled the ghosted King of Men to scamper back to Hades. There is a fine medieval flavor to this story, and as it has not been traced back further than Père Brateille, a pious but obscure writer at the court of Saint Louis, we shall probably not err on the side of presumption in considering it apocryphal, though Monsignor Capel’s judgment of the matter might be different, and to that I bow—wow.”
The Devil’s Dictionary
Introduction & Condemnation
The Papal Prophecies of St. Malachy are worth examining in a little detail. For one thing, the prophecies have great historical interest. For another, it’s a good bet that they will get another public airing during the next papal conclave. We will get to the prophecies in a moment. First, though, I must make a general disendorsement of this book.
A short passage of time can be cruel to prophecy in unexpected ways. It was only in early 1998 that John Hogue, best known for his interpretations of Nostradamus, completed this study of the famous papal prophecies attributed to St. Malachy. In “The Last Pope,” Hogue mines Nostradamus and Malachy for dramatic predictions of events occurring well into the 21st century, but makes rather pedestrian and conditional forecasts for the next few years. Still, by the summer of 2001, even his most plausible prophecies had failed. John Paul II did not die around the time of the great eclipse of the summer of 1999, for one thing. Yasser Arafat, another predicted goner for the year 2000, is also still with us at this writing. If you are looking for detailed information about the future, it’s pretty clear that this book is not a good place to start.
The chief problem with “The Last Pope,” however, is that it is mostly tendentious filler. Hogue does give the prophecies, and maybe fifty pages of useful supplementary material. However, the book as a whole is relentlessly anti-Catholic. The bulk of the text consists of short outlines of the careers of the popes to whom the prophecies allegedly refer. Hogue goes to the trouble to actively despise even the most obscure of them. If he can’t find something bad to say about their policies or personal lives, he makes allusions to their body lice.
The list of points on which Hogue is untrustworthy is catholic with a small “c.” No, the 18th century bull, “Unigenitus,” did not forbid Catholic laymen to read the Bible. No, the Third Secret of Fatima did not hint at Masons in high places. The text of that other famous prophecy appeared after “The Last Pope” was published, of course, but a discrete prophet would have known better than to endorse sensational rumors.
More generally, the author seems singularly incurious about his favorite themes. The Inquisition was a class of ecclesiastical court, staffed by judges who used procedures unremarkable for the time. A lot of research has been done into what the various Inquisitions actually did. There were episodes when Inquisitions were used in campaigns of extraordinary repression, but the same can be said of all judicial systems. An Inquisition was, for instance, less likely to conduct witch-hunts than were civil courts. In Latin America, the Inquisition was often the preferred venue for some types of action, rather as federal courts are in the US. You’ll get none of that from Hogue. For him, any connection of a pope with a court called an “Inquisition” is an unanswerable condemnation.
The same might be said of Hogue’s repeated allusions to the Jewish ghettos in the Papal States and elsewhere. Nowhere are we told that, to a large extent, they were segregated from the inside, as we see with some Hasidic communities today. When popes made regulations concerning the ghettos, they were usually regularizing a situation that would otherwise be left to the arbitrary oppression of local officials and the violence of the mob. The popes may not have had the ghetto dwellers best interest at heart, but they were often acting in the interests of civil peace. It was a complicated situation that lasted a very long time. “The Last Pope” does not burden us with real history, however. Hogue finds it much more telling to call the ghettos “concentration camps.”
Hogue ends the book by suggesting that the Catholic Church will face a persecution in the 21st century that will destroy it, and that this will be a good thing. That part of the book at least holds some interest, in a horror-story kind of way. Almost all the rest is a bile-burger.
History & Criticism
Now for the fun part.
St. Malachy (1094-1148), born Maelmhaedhoc O’Morgair, was a notable reformer of the church in Ireland during the generation before the Anglo-Norman invasion. He visited Rome, and became the friend of the famous St. Bernard, Abbott of Clairvaux, who wrote a biography of him. Among Malachy’s other virtues, both tradition and contemporary report attribute the gift of prophecy to him. However, the prophecies for which he is most famous are unlikely to be his.
According to Bernard McGinn in his study of medieval apocalyptic, “Visions of the End,” a fashion arose in the fourteenth century for prophetic lists of future popes. The lists gave allegorical names or other designations that were supposed to hint at the nature of their reigns. The example seems to have been prophetic lists of future Byzantine emperors, who were expected to play a major role in the events of the Endtime. This genre was adapted for the uses of Latin Christendom by Fraticelli, radical Franciscans who were influenced by the eschatological model of history developed by Joachim of Fiore (1132-1202), a Cistercian monk and founder of a monastery in Calabria. Abbot Joachim is one of the most ambiguous figures in intellectual history, chiefly because over-eager interpreters have twisted his ideas out of shape for 800 years. Hogue continues the ancient tradition in this book.
There was never any consensus scenario about the future role of the papacy, but there were common ideas. They were often mutually exclusive: an Antichrist pope, an Angelic Pope working alone against the Antichrist, an Angelic Pope working in conjunction with the Emperor of the Last Days. Sometimes Rome was destroyed. Gog and Magog might roar in from Nether Asia, if the writer was interested in things like that. None of this colorful stuff was ever actually part of Catholic theology. Catholic endtime dogma takes up all of five pages in the Catechism (sections 668-682), and remains pretty much were St. Augustine left it 1,500 years ago. Rather, these hypothetical popes were part of the bag of notions that the West had about the future, not just in the late Middle Ages, but also through the Reformation and into early modern times. That was when St. Malachy was probably put into the bag.
As Hogue tells us, the prophecies were first published in 1595. They appeared in a long work, “Lignum Vitae,” by the Benedictine historian, Arnold Wion (or Arnold de Wyon). Dom Arnold claimed to have discovered them in archival research. No one else, contemporary with either him or St. Malachy, had ever seen fit to commit mention of the prophecies to paper, or at least to any paper that has survived. Apparently, however, rumors of the prophecies were current at the time of publication, and reasonable people might surmise that the prophecies had been created to influence either the conclave of 1592 (which elected Clement VIII) or in anticipation of the next one, which occurred 1605 (and which elected Leo XI).
Hogue cites us some of the skeptical literature about the prophecies, which began to appear soon after their publication. We might simply leave the matter there, as an exercise in critical technique, were it not for three points. The first is that the prophecies have become part of Catholic legend. Like the prophecies of Nostradamus, which appeared about 40 years before Malachy’s and to which they bear a family resemblance, they just are not going to go away. The second is that some elements of the Malachy prophecies do present prima facie evidence of prescience, at least enough to require comment. The third is that, quite aside from whatever relationship the prophecies might have to the future, they still leave us with the question of what their author thought about the future.
The nature of the prophecies is well known. They consist of 111 mottos in Latin, plus a concluding epigraph. These items pertain to each of the popes (and apparently some of the antipopes) in a sequence stretching from Malachy’s time until Judgment Day. The mottos might refer to a pope’s name, whether his personal name, his family name, or the name he takes as pope. The motto might hint at elements of his family crest. It might refer to his birthplace, his nationality, or to some other geographical location associated with him. On a higher level of abstraction, it might refer to his character, the events of his papacy, or to his chief nemesis or outside influence. This is an awfully wide field in which to look for a successful prophecy; in fact, it is hard to see how a prophecy could be conclusively judged wrong. The principle of falsification, we must remember, is a 20th century invention.
Nonetheless, some of the mottos seem to be pointed and specific enough to give even Karl Popper pause. For instance, motto 46, “cubus de mixtione,” “the square of mixture,” pretty clearly refers to the family coat of arms of Boniface IX (1389-1404), which bears a diagonal checkerboard three columns in width. Motto 21, “Hierusalem Campaniae,” at least looks like “Jerusalem of Champagne,” and so is a plausible fit for Urban IV (1261-1264), who was born in the Champagne district of France and would later become Patriarch of Jerusalem. On the other hand, some are just obscure. Motto 49, “flagellum solis,” “scourge of the sun,” is in the right place to refer to Alexander V, an antipope during the great schism (though there is some argument about whether his pontificate may actually have been legitimate). Nothing in his history clearly merits the motto; his coat of arms features what might be a sun, though it looks more like a star.
The chief argument that the prophecies were composed in the late 16th century is that the nature of the successes claimed for the mottos changes after their publication. We get far fewer obvious match ups with personal names and coats of arms. We get more claims of matches with the events of a papacy or of personal character.
Consider two relatively recent popes. Motto 96, “Peregrinus Apostolicus,” “an apostolic wanderer,” would correspond to the papacy of Pius VI (1775-1799). In a medallion struck in 1782, he uses the term himself, referring to a trip he made to Vienna to confer with the emperor. Later, of course, he would be taken from Rome by French troops in the wars following the French Revolution. He died in captivity. In this instance, the motto has an apparent application, though there is also some likelihood that Pius was familiar with the prophecy and sought to fulfill it in some fashion. In contrast, possibly the least helpful motto in the whole list is number 99, “vir religiosus,” “a religious man,” which is in the place that would correspond to the papacy of Pius VIII (1829-1830). Still, the mottos for the last two centuries do offer what seem to be a few tantalizing correspondences.
There is an obvious reason for this. In the view of the author of the prophecies, the end of the age draws near with the end of the list. Therefore, the cast of characters from Catholic legend about the Endtime make their appearance. Meanwhile, in the real world, the papacies in question overlap with high modernity, which is an unusually dramatic period. Hogue notes the acceleration of history and its rough fit with the end of the prophecy list. His argument is not helped, however, by his invocation of the approach of the Age of Aquarius, if for no other reason than that the point at which that age begins seems infinitely flexible. (He begins to see its influence in the Renaissance.)
The tale of mottos corresponding to papacies beginning in the 20th century runs like this:
Number 103, “ignis ardens,” “burning fire,” corresponds to the papacy of St. Pius X (1903-1914), who himself had more than one well-reported apocalyptic vision. Paul Johnson, in his “History of Christianity,” characterized this Pius as both the last of the great reactionary popes and the first of the populist ones. Like his contemporary, US President Theodore Roosevelt, he turned what had long been a rather staid and formal office into a permanent spectacle. Pius X’s record runs from the suppression of theological modernism to the beginning of the long project of reforming the liturgy. For those in need of a surfeit of wonders, Halley’s Comet put on a spectacular show in 1912, thus providing all the burning fire a reasonable man could ask for.
Number 104, “religio depopulata,” “religion depopulated,” is the motto Hogue ascribes to Benedict XV (1914-1922), who had the bad luck to be the pope during the First World War. For someone seeking to apply the motto to Benedict’s papacy, the key point might not be the considerable demographic effects of the war on Europe, or even the fact that a large slice of Christendom declared itself atheist on his watch. Rather, it might be that, for the first time since antiquity, the cultural life of educated Europeans was no longer predominately Christian. Although Pius tried to arrange a negotiated end to the war almost as soon as it started, Hogue spends several pages criticizing him for not seeking to end it in some dramatic fashion. He says the pope should have marched with his the college of cardinals into Flanders and come between the opposing armies. Some of the strange ideas in “The Last Pope” are beyond even the power of prophecy to explain.
Number 105, “fides intrepida,” “intrepid faith,” belongs to Pius XI (1922-1939). This is the pope who finally came to terms with the Italian government (in the form of the Mussolini regime) about the status of Vatican City. He also signed a concordat with Hitler’s new government in 1933. Neither of these acts was extraordinary at the time: Mussolini was a respectable tyrant in those days, while the German concordat would have provided some space for civil society, had Hitler honored it. As it was, Pius did not give an inch: he is chiefly remembered for exciting the Nazi’s ire with his encyclical, “Mit brennender Sorge,” “With Burning Sorrow,” which criticized the regime.
Number 106, “pastor angelicus,” “angelic shepherd,” may excite the ire of many people today, since it is applied to Pius XII (1939-1958). “Angelic” is an eschatological title, one that the High Middle Ages applied to the chief enemy of Antichrist. There is an enormous file from the period of the Second World War of this pope’s public statements condemning racial and religious persecution, atrocities against civilians and particular acts of the Axis governments. There is an even larger file of his private efforts to rescue the subjects of Nazi persecution, Jews in particular, which in Italy met with substantial success. Nonetheless, for reasons chiefly connected with the liberal campaign to discredit the papacy because of unhappiness with the policies of John Paul II, Pius XII has been accused of silence, indifference, antisemitism and pro-Nazi sympathies.
Number 107, “pastor et nauta,” “shepherd and sailor” is a motto of which its bearer, John XXIII (1958-1963), was well aware. “Shepherd,” like “religious man,” is something that should be said of any pope. The “sailor” element was provided by John’s stint as Patriarch of Venice. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, the dust from which has not settled to this day. John is almost the only pope that Hogue can stomach. Hogue accepts the liberal thesis that, had John lived longer, he would have reformed the Catholic Church out of existence.
Number 108, “flos florum,” “flower of flowers,” is one of the relatively rare hits in the post-1600 Malachy list for a pope’s coat of arms: Paul VI (1963-1978) had three fleur-de-lys on his. The motto has no obvious bearing on his papacy. It might be said of Paul VI that he extended the hand of friendship to the modern world and had it bitten off.
Number 109, “de medietate lunae,” “from the half-moon, from the middle of the moon,” is applied to the likable but short-lived John Paul I (1978). No one knows what this man would actually have done had he sat on St. Peter’s throne for more than a few weeks. Nonetheless, liberals have fantasized about glorious alternative histories, in which an amiable John Paul I would have spent many years defining dogmas out of existence and turning the actual operation of the church over to people like themselves. Conspiracy theorists have outdone them, saying that reactionary clericalists murdered him to prevent these good things from happening, or to cover up an investigation he was about to launch into Mafia penetration of the Vatican Bank, or something. One could relate the motto to his name by observing that he was born Albino Luciani (“white light,” more or less) and that he once was the priest of a town called “Belluno” (which looks like “good moon”). On the other hand, “half moon” might be a good title for a cryptic and crepuscular reign that never really was.
Number 110, “de labore solis,” “from the labor of the sun,” is the title that the Malachy list assigns to John Paul II (1978 to at least 2001). Hogue spends a great deal of time condemning this most important of 20th century popes for his failure to reverse the Church’s stand on artificial contraception, the ordination of women, Vatican oversight of Catholic dogma, and other topics simple enough for newspaper columnists to understand. It is, perhaps, too much to expect any discussion of the topics on which the pope has spent most of his time, such as the phenomenology of ethics and ecclesiology. Hogue also speculates on how the motto applies to this pope; he suggests that JPII was born during an eclipse, and will also die during one.
For myself, I would suggest that the motto is an oblique reference to the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20). Some of the workers are destined, fairly or not, to labor during the hottest part of the day, but receive no more reward than the rest. The point is not whether such an interpretation tells us anything about the actual papacy; it is that the prophecy’s author was signaling the continuation of an extended terminal crisis.
Number 111, “gloria olivae,” “the glory of the olive” brings us into the future, when neither the actual names of popes nor regnal dates are available. Hogue suggests “John Paul III,” which might be plausible from a man with a better record. Hogue begins to wax loquacious with dates of wars and rumors of wars, based chiefly on his reading of Nostradamus. He suggests that, in a last reactionary spasm, the next pope will declare the Virgin Mary “Co-Mediatrix” with Jesus. He suggests that the credibility of the papacy will be undermined by the revelation of a great scandal. You can take that or leave it, but the really interesting point is what the author of the list meant by the motto.
Hogue directs our attention to several mentions of the olive tree in scripture. It can mean the body of believers, Jewish or Christian. It could be a reference to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus gave the extended statement on the Endtime called the Olivet Discourse. I would suggest, though, that the obvious reference is to Rev. 11:4, which speaks of the Two Witnesses who will preach and otherwise restrain evil in the latter days. They are “two olive trees and two lamp-stands.” In medieval speculation, the Witnesses were sometimes identified with the pope and a secular figure, usually the emperor.
Number 112, the last pope of all, does not get a motto. Instead, he gets an unambiguous name and a bit of narrative. St. Malachy, or Dom Wion, or possibly some combination of the two, have this to say about “Petrus Romanus,” “Peter the Roman”:
“In persecutione extrema Sacrae Romanae Ecclesiae sedebit Petrus Romanus qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus; quibus transactis, civitas septicollis dirvetur; et judex tremendus judicabit populum.”
“During the last persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there shall sit Peter of Rome, who shall feed the sheep amidst many tribulations, and when these have passed, the City of the Seven Hills shall be utterly destroyed, and the awful Judge will judge the people.”
There is not really much to add to this, so Hogue adds quite a bit. He speculates that this Peter II will be trying, unsuccessfully, to provide relief from famine and ecological collapse caused in large part by the Church’s refusal to countenance artificial birth control. This attitude will so outrage a desperate world that the Church will be finally and irrevocably suppressed, for the good of the planet. As Hogue puts it, “What the Church sees as its final persecution could actually be the next quantum awakening of human intelligence.”
One of the few insights to be gleaned from a reading of “The Last Pope” is a sense of the ossification of the mind of religious liberalism. Religious progressives adopted the Malthusian thesis on overpopulation in the middle of the 20th century and will not let go, no matter the state of the evidence. Today Europe in general and Italy and particular have birth rates well below replacement level. A canny prophet would have bet on a pro-natalist backlash in Europe by the 2020s or 2040s, when all this is supposed to be happening. A wise historian would notice that the popes who were most insistent on maintaining dogma were also the most popular. If traditional and New Age religion are to be in a Darwinian struggle for survival in the 21st century, there cannot be much doubt about which will win.
Finally, what are we to do with the notion of prescience in general? As a matter of physics, the arguments against foreseeing the future are the same as those against faster-than-light travel: both would allow for effects to precede their cause, and so create temporal paradoxes. However, it is not strictly true that faster-than-light travel is impossible, since some quantum effects move between two points instantaneously. Special Relativity is saved, however, by the fact that information cannot travel faster than light. Quantum effects are random. They can be used to encrypt information, but are not information themselves. This could be a useful property: quantum effects could instantaneously provide a completely secure key to a receiver, but the information to be decrypted could arrive no faster than light. In other words, you may be able to receive information that is real information, but that cannot mean anything until ordinary reality catches up with it.
Prescience could work like this. There may be real perceptions of future events, but they cannot mean anything until the future becomes the present. Or, as Cardinal Newman dryly observed about biblical prophecy, “Events interpret the text.”
It is hard to remember now, but Palestine was a sleepy backwater in the domains of the Romans, and then the Ottomans for a very long time. It was not locally ruled any time in the previous twenty centuries except for the longer Hasmonean Dynasty and the very brief Bar Kohkba revolt.
Warriors of God:
Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade
by James Reston, Jr.
364 Pages, US$27.50
The Third Crusade (1187-1192) is one of the best imaginable topics for a popular history. The people involved are pretty much the same disputatious crew that we meet in the film, "The Lion in Winter." They and their Muslim opponents and colleagues really did do the kind of things that are supposed to happen only in comic strips. James Reston, who has written about medieval subjects before, does not disappoint in this book. He is to be particularly congratulated for consulting Muslim sources from the period, to balance the well-known European ones. "Warriors of God" has a bibliography short enough to be useful.
The problem is that Reston has adopted uncritically the anticolonialist reinterpretation of the Crusades that became fashionable in the 20th century. The model does not fit. In the context of the Third Crusade in particular, it makes little sense to speak of a war of Arab resistance, much less of Palestinian nationalism. Richard the Lionheart of England and Phillip Augustus of France were not native to the Levant, but then neither was their principal opponent. Saladin (Salah ad-Din, born Yusuf ad-Din) was a Kurd. His most important troops and commanders were Turks. Those were the people who would dominate the area into the 20th century.
Neither does it make much sense to think of the Crusades in terms of Muslim natives against Christian aliens. Though Reston's years of research do not touch on the fact, much of the land conquered by the Crusaders still had Christian majorities throughout the Crusader period. Islam, we should remember, spread in the Middle East by force; only gradually did the religion filter down to the general population. We do know that Levantine peasants were often less unhappy when their overlords were Franks. (Frank is a generic term for "Europeans," though it also covered the indigenized aristocracy of the Crusader States.) Frankish lords treated the peasants like European serfs, which meant the peasants had enforceable rights and a personal relationship with their lord. Muslim landlords treated the peasants like sharecroppers.
The background of the Crusades is this. Islam in Africa and western Asia had been built on the conquest of Christian societies in the three generations after Islam was founded in the 7th century. Though the Jihad's penetration into Europe had been thrown back, as in Italy, or contained, as in Spain, militant Islam remained a lethal threat to all of Christendom. The First Crusade, launched in 1095 after the ringing endorsement of Pope Urban II, was a response to a request for aid from the Byzantine Emperor, Alexis I Comnenus, whose Orthodox Christian empire in Anatolia was being overrun in a renewed offensive by the Seljuk Turks. The Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099. They established a string of minor principalities, the Crusader States, along the east coast of the Mediterranean, in what are now Israel and Lebanon and Syria. The leading Crusader State was the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Franks of the Levant soon went native in most ways, not least in local power politics. They made and broke alliances with each other, the Byzantines and the regional Islamic powers. Most important among the latter were the mutually hostile Sunni regime in Damascus and the Shia regime in Cairo. The Second Crusade, directed largely at Damascus, failed because of Frankish disunity. Towards the end of the 12th century, in contrast, the Shia in Egypt were overthrown by Damascus. The resulting empire, controlled by Saladin, was in a position to attempt the conquest of the Levant. The key event was the Battle of Hattin in 1187, in which Saladin destroyed a combined army of the Crusader States and took King Guy of Jerusalem captive. Not long afterward he took Jerusalem, accepting a surrender on terms. All that remained of the Crusader States were a few ports on the coast, the most important of which was Tyre.
The revisionist history of the Crusades tends to contrast the magnanimity of Saladin in accepting the surrender of Jerusalem with the ferocity of the Crusaders in 1099, who sacked the city and depopulated it. In point of fact, Saladin depopulated Jerusalem, too. He enslaved the almost entirely Christian population, but let a large fraction ransom themselves for a fixed price per head. When the earlier Crusaders took Jerusalem by storm, they killed many of the Jews and Muslims who lived there. (There had been a large Christian population, too, but some genius decided to expel them as potential fifth columnists when the Crusaders approached; the refugees met the Christian army and told them their tales of woe.) For the rest, the Crusaders ransomed those civilians whose families or communities could afford to pay. Though there was nothing on the Muslim side quite like the anti-Jewish pogroms that broke out in Western Europe when the First Crusade started, neither side was superior in humanity to the other.
Western Christendom was appalled by the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. The principal rulers of the Franks immediately attempted to devise a coordinated strategy to recover the Latin Kingdom. The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, was to lead an army of over 100,000 Germans overland to the Holy Land, while kings Richard I of England and Phillip Augustus of France made their way by ship. Things soon went wrong. Having reached the Middle East, the old emperor died of a heart attack while crossing a river, and his army disintegrated. The remnants of it that reached the Levant received little help or respect from the other crusaders. The Germans bore a special grudge against Richard, the animating spirit of the maritime Franks.
Proceeding with a small fleet of his own, Richard had an extraordinary time before he even reached Tyre. Among his other adventures, he offhandedly conquered Cyprus, where the ship bearing his fiancee, the Princess Berengaria, had been ignobly detained by the local "emperor." Unfortunately, that petty tyrant happened to be a relative of a real emperor in Constantinople. The Byzantines took it particularly ill when, by and by, Richard installed the ransomed ex-king of Jerusalem as the new ruler of the island. Thus, both of the great Christian empires turned against Richard; the Byzantines routinely sent intelligence to the Muslims.
Richard and Phillip, as Reston loses no opportunity to remind us, had been lovers. This may explain something of the catty quality of their numerous disputes and reconciliations in Europe and the Holy Land. They did, however, collaborate in the great achievement of the Third Crusade, the successful prosecution of the siege of Acre. The city was in Muslim hands, but invested by a scratch army of Franks, who in turn were being besieged by Saladin. The arrival of Richard and Phillip made Saladin back off. The city surrendered not long thereafter, its population expelled.
The crusaders then had two objectives: securing more ports along the coast to ensure communication with Europe, and retaking Jerusalem. However, Phillip tired of being upstaged by Richard and returned to Europe. Richard demonstrated that he could defeat any Muslim army that came against him. Indeed, the comparative casualty figures from the engagements he fought were as lopsidedly in the Franks' favor as were those of the British Army in Indian and Africa five centuries later. However, he also came to understand that he could not replace his invincible knights and their huge quarter-horse mounts.
Richard took several more sites along the coast. He even rebuilt the city of Ascalon, a strategic key that could have supported the invasion of Egypt of which he dreamed. However, though he set out for Jerusalem twice, he never besieged it. On this one count the Franks accused their Lionheart of cowardice, but the fact was that he understood the logistics. Jerusalem might be taken, but the supply routes to the coast and to Europe could not be defended. Neither could the Latin Kingdom as it had formerly existed hope to maintain itself against the combined empire of Damascus and Cairo.
While all this was going on, Richard and Saladin were in continual communication. During one long truce they discussed the possibility of joint control of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, they could imagine no way of doing that other than through a dynastic marriage whose partners would rule the city. Neither of their religions would countenance such a union without one partner converting to the faith of the other. If the idea of a municipal republic with a Christian and Muslim for chief co-magistrates occurred to them, Reston does not mention it.
The negotiations between the two were prolonged, courteous, and sometimes hilarious, but the most interesting aspect of this part of the story is the strikingly different political cultures of the two sides. Richard had no equals, but he did have peers, even after Phillip departed. He could be outvoted in the council of leaders and often was. Saladin, though a restrained and reasonable man, was in the final analysis answerable only to his own judgment. He consulted his emirs and he sent polite notes to his nominal suzerain, the Caliph of Baghdad, but he was far less constrained than his notoriously impulsive Frankish rival.
The sources for the two principal biographical portraits Reston gives us have radically different tones. Medieval chronicles are blunt, even raucous; those qualities come through in Reston's depiction of Richard. Saladin, in contrast, appears as a pious old man, one who dealt with his problems by seeking for an apt verse in the Quran. Maybe patience was indeed Saladin's characteristic virtue. Still, it seems pretty clear that some of the people Reston talked to wanted to make the old sultan out to be a saint. The result is that sometimes "Warriors of God" reads like "Batman versus Gandhi."
Eventually, they reached a compromise. A diminished Latin Kingdom would continue to exist. Pilgrims passing through it could have free access to Jerusalem. However, the city would stay under Muslim control. Richard had to go. There was treason at home, and even his formidable mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was having trouble controlling it.
Going home was a problem, since Richard had alienated the ruler of every country through which he might pass. (An Atlantic journey through the Straits of Gibraltar was out of the question at that time of year, which was winter.) In those days, sovereign immunity meant that the king could not be sued; it did not mean that a sovereign could not be waylaid and held for ransom. That was what happened to Richard. Attempting to sneak through Central Europe by way of the Adriatic, he was taken prisoner by the Duke of Austria and imprisoned for a time in the appropriately sinister-sounding Castle Duernstein. The duke sold him to the new Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, who held him for quite literally a king's ransom. This was hard to raise, since his no-account brother John was trying to gain control of England for himself, while the ever-spiteful Phillip was picking off bits of Richard's continental territory, in violation of his Crusader's oath.
Nonetheless, the money was eventually paid, and Richard returned to England. We also know that he visited Nottingham Castle, and even Sherwood Forest. Did he meet Robin Hood and Maid Marian there and bless their union? Reston gives the only possible answer: "Of course he did!"
It would be possible to tell this tale without connecting it to events in the Middle East today, but Reston has not chosen to do so, so the matter requires some comment. The analogy he repeatedly seeks to draw is between Israel and the Crusader States. The comparison is not original with him. Muslims eagerly point out that the Franks held Jerusalem for less than 90 years. The Jews have held it for little more than 50, and there is no reason to think their tenure will be any longer. Many Arabs blame their weakness on their disunity, and pine for another Saladin to unite them. The claim to be the new Saladin, in fact, is how ambitious Arabs seek to legitimize themselves.
The analogy is scarcely irrational. Israel and the Latin Kingdom do have things in common. Both had military technique and equipment vastly superior to that of their enemies. Both of them, however, also have to win every war; the strategic depth of the Levant is no greater in the 21st century than it was in the 12th.
The real difference between the two eras is this. Islamic societies today do not need unity. They had centuries of unity under the Ottomans and choked on it. Cultures really do age. In the 12th century, Islamic culture was full of potential. That potential was actualized long ago, and now there is no more. Such a culture can still break things, but it cannot make anything new.