By Joseph Roth, Richard Panchyk
Peter Owen Publishers Copyright © 2010 Richard Panchyk
All rights reserved.
THE ANTICHRIST HAS COME
How lonesome it is in such times with he who clings only to the intellectual! Ah, for whom should one write, in the midst of political clamour and shouting that deafen the ears to more moderate sounds ... with whom one can enter into a theological debate, since theology has fallen into the hands of doctrinaires and zealots, whose last and best argument for their point of view is to horse-riding troops and cannon? Your hunt ... has begun: with ball and chain and hangman's sword you think you serve the cause of Christianity ... Rome, the glory of the world, has been conquered by mercenaries – oh God, what bestial instincts rage in your name! No, the world no longer has room for the freedom of the heart! ... And now you die, Erasmus! – Stefan Zweig, Erasmus of Rotterdam
The Antichrist has come; so disguised that we, who have been expecting him for years, cannot recognize him. Already he lives in our midst, among us. And over us spreads the heavy shadow of his vile wings. We are already smouldering in the icy glow of his hellish eyes. Our unsuspecting throats near the reach of his strangling hands. Already is he licking at our world with the blasphemous flames of his tongue. Already is he lifting his fiery feet so he can stomp on the flimsy and flammable roofs of our homes. Long has he been pouring poison into the innocent souls of our children. But we do not notice!
For we have been struck with blindness, with the blindness that it is written will befall us at the end of time. In fact, for a long time now we have not been able to recognize the nature and face of things that we encounter. Just like the physically blind, we have only names for all these things in the world that we can no longer see. Names! Names! Sounds without shape. Hollow tones with which to clothe unimaginable and therefore bodiless and lifeless phenomena. Are they shapes? Are they shadows? The blind cannot differentiate one from the other. We, the blind, recognize nothing. To real things we give false names. Hollow words ring in our poor heads, and we no longer understand the meaning of the words. We can no longer recognize form, colours or dimensions. We only have names and terms for form, colours and dimensions. Since we became blind, we apply these names and terms incorrectly. We call something big small, something small big, the black white and the white black; shadows light and light shadows; the bright dull and the dull bright. Thus names and terms are devoid of content and meaning. It is worse than at the time of the Tower of Babel. Then, only tongues were confused and one man could not understand another, for each had different names for the same things. Now we all speak the same but false language, and all things have the same but false terms. It is as if we are building a horizontal Tower of Babel, but the blind, who are unable to recognize dimensions, believe it is vertical and growing ever higher; and they believe that everything is in order because they understand each other perfectly ... whereas their comprehension of the proportion, form and colour of things is only that of the blind. That is to say, they apply terms that were originally applied correctly, and which fit the phenomena of this world, in a false and inverted sense; the towering is flat and the flat towering. For a blind man cannot distinguish between what is high and what is low. At the time of the Tower of Babel it was only people's tongues and ears that were confused. A few of the builders could still understand each other by the language of the eyes, the mirrors of the soul, as they say. But now, people's eyes are blinded (and tongues are just servants, while eyes are masters in the hierarchy of the human senses). How can people still hope that the Antichrist has not yet come? This faith and this hope are further evidence of our blindness. For just as one can convince a blind man that night is day and day is night, so can we, who have been blinded, make ourselves believe that the Antichrist is not in the world, that we are not burning in the fire of his eyes, that we are not standing in the shadow of his wings.
But our blindness is worse than mere physical blindness of the type I have already described. For our blindness is one that can only be struck by the Antichrist, and that, as I said at the beginning, will be our doom before the end of time. It is a hellish blindness, for although we were blinded we think we can see. In truth, we are 'blinded' rather than 'blind'. We do not recognize the Antichrist because he comes dressed as an average citizen, in the garb of a commoner in every land. According to the legendary image we have of him, he should have come with all the hellish accessories, with his traditional attributes: horn, tail and cloven hoof, stinking of pitch and sulphur, enveloped by all the theatrical traits our childish fantasies demand from a creature of his nature and origins. People do not like to think that someone who looks just like them can bring them to ruin. Our egotism requires certain formalities at the hour of our ultimate death. But the Antichrist tries to outsmart us. He comes in the everyday dress of a commoner, yes, equipped even with all the signs of the base piety of the middle class, his innocent-seeming greed and what he imagines to be sublime love for certain human ideals – for example, faithfulness until death, love for the fatherland, heroic readiness to sacrifice himself for the whole, chastity and virtue, reverence for the tradition of his fathers and of the past, dependence on the future and respect for the high-sounding parade of phrases with which the average European is accustomed, even bound, to live. In this innocent-seeming masquerade has the Antichrist recently arrived into the world. For centuries we had been expecting his appearance in a spectacular theatrical entrance. Now that he has come, however, not as a destroyer stinking of sulphur but sometimes even as a pious man cloaked in incense, crossing himself while greeting us, murmuring the Lord's Prayer as he plays the stock exchange, praising human virtue (lowered to 'bourgeois' virtue) so he can destroy us, pretending to defend European culture with the very weapons with which he destroys it, promising to honour the past and proclaiming a future (all the while knowing that after him there will be none), promising to redeem mankind and humanity while he brings men to their deaths, as though his lying tongue does not know what acts his murderous hand is committing. Now that he has come in such a deceitful guise we have not recognized him, the Antichrist.
But I have uncovered him. I see through him when, in the east of this failing continent he proclaims the freedom of the workers and the ennoblement of work; when in the West he promises to defend the freedom of culture and raises the false flags of humanity over the roofs of prisons; when in Central Europe (meaning between east and west) he promises a nation blessings and prosperity while laying the groundwork for the war that will destroy it; when he persuades the island race of Europe, the English, the sailors of the old continent, to maintain indifference to all that may occur on the mainland – as seafaring sailors, although sons of the mainland, can be persuaded to disregard the fate of the homes in which they were born; when he promises the sons of the European mountains, the Swiss, and the children of the coast, the Dutch, profit and fortune from the mutual destruction of others; when he pits the yellow races against the white and the blacks against both; when he offers the Italians the might of Ancient Rome and the Greeks the glory of Ancient Hellas. Yes, even when he, the Prince of Darkness, visits the Vatican and dictates concordats ... I recognize him, the Antichrist.
And although his power is far greater than mine, I fear him not – and will try to unmask him.
A FORCE HAS COME BETWEEN US AND THE GRACE OF REASON
This has also been attempted, in order to guard against surprise; surprise is imitated, they try to anticipate it using machines. They manufacture technical surprises, so that it may seem as though there were only these and that spiritual ones were no longer possible. Surprise has been mechanized. There exists today a machinery of surprise. In the technical, there is such a tremendous potential today, that everything seems possible. All possibilities are contained in this machinery, and they need no longer become reality. And thus whatever becomes reality can never surprise – one knows that everything was already inherent in the great machines. – Max Picard, The Human Face
I have already said that the Antichrist did not come with pitch and sulphur as we had imagined he would arrive. His entrance was so excellently prepared that the hellish elements had long before been transformed into those that were seemingly natural, familiar and earthly. I should not be understood as agreeing with the opinion of those narrow-minded advocates of the view that industry and technical civilization are the works of hell. No! I am far removed from this viewpoint. For I believe that God himself has bestowed upon us the reason to investigate, to enquire, to uncover answers and solutions, better answers and solutions and still better answers and solutions. We were granted intelligence so that with its help we might relieve our hands of their heavy burden and gradually learn to hold high our heads, which were made in the image of God, so that they may project towards the heavens where, as it were, their sublime and eternal reflection is mirrored. When man was exiled from paradise and condemned to cultivate the earth in the sweat of his brow, limitlessly mild God – for He blesses even where he punishes – gave him the grace of reason to lighten his way, a memory of paradise, so to speak, a shining memory, a tiny jewel from the endless crown of divine wisdom. The good God gave man the blessing of reason to make the curse of labour milder and lighter. They are thus fools and knaves who say that inventions and discoveries are a curse, that machines are vices. But it is a vice to characterize invention, discovery, the fruits of research and the perceptions of the mind as victories that human understanding has gained over the eternally secret wisdom of the Infinite. As a tiny pebble to a mighty boulder, so does our ability to discover and invent compare with the wisdom of the Power that rules over us. For we have, as an example, conquered the air (for the moment), but this does not allow us to fly up to Heaven. Not only has it been ordained, as the proverb goes, that trees cannot reach Heaven, neither can men visit it. And never will we see a pilot harness the power that resides in an angel's wings. Yes, one could say that Heaven becomes ever higher and ever further away from earth the higher and further we fly. And when we have reached the so-called stratosphere we have done nothing other than transport our earthly selves to a sphere that so far no earthly inhabitant has reached. We have lifted the earth upwards, so to speak; however, in no way have we brought Heaven downwards. And if we were able to climb even higher, to some unnamed planet, Heaven would recede even further away. (Let us take all this as a parable. Let us say that it is the nature of God's fathomless wisdom that it remains unfathomable.) Oh, we have no idea what is above and what is below! We are so blind! And although we point upwards in 'blind faith' as we refer to God, there may be no such thing as above. And the folly of those who believe they have discovered the emptiness of Heaven because during their flight into the stratosphere they searched but found no God would be a hundred times greater than is the blindness of those believers who point upwards when they name the origin and the source of their faith. What is 'above'? What is 'below'? Alas, the world is populated with nothing but blind people! These blind are also confused! Many of them say that they are wise because they found knowledge in a place that other blind men, with no thirst for knowledge, showed them. And since a segment of those without sight declared that God is 'above', another portion of the blind make their way 'above' and, having not seen God, come back and say that He is not there. The reason that they do not see Him, however, is that they are blind. If they could see there wouldn't be any need for them to make their way along the path that their blind brothers have showed them! One cannot see God with one's physical eyes! One cannot smell God with one's physical nose! One cannot hear God with one's physical ears! One cannot feel God with one's physical hands! For He has, and by no means without reason, given us only five senses. Had He wished that we should know Him during the span of our earthly life He would have granted us not five but a thousand senses. But He has given us no more than five! Perhaps so that we may not be capable of knowing Him in our lifetime.
And now, arrogant as we are, many among us believe that we can deny Him because we are powerless to know Him. We therefore take revenge for His severity. If He withholds the grace of knowing him, we say that He doesn't exist.
Among us, the common blind, are those who are specially blind, those to whom one cannot explain the difference between night and day.
How could we have so misused our reason? And how is it that this, a gift from God, as mentioned, the unique and last memory of Paradise Lost, has led us to folly and the vice of arrogant behaviour, to blasphemous and false views?
It was in no way foolish, reckless or arrogant to use our faculties of reason, as I have said earlier, but in the course of its application a power that we cannot perceive with the help of our five senses has forced itself between us and the grace of reason that is our heritage; and thus the blessing became a curse. When we believed that we were capable of thinking clearly and logically, we were already confused. And, truly, it was not with the type of confusion that occurred at the time of the Tower of Babel but, rather, a confusion within the clarity itself. This clarity was not the same as the false clarity of a wanderer in the desert who takes a fata Morgana as reality and heads towards it. No, it was such that reality itself became a fata Morgana! It did not dissolve into the air when we reached it. It was physical; it was tangible. It was not our tired senses that gave in to an illusion but our fresh and well rested senses. As we were being led astray we were not suffering from what might be considered sickness or exhaustion; rather, it appeared to us to be quite natural. Our reasoning was intact, our senses were alive and the goal lay very clearly in front of us. We even reached it. But it was, none the less, a trick. And thus we are like wanderers in the desert who are capable of catching up with the deceptive mirage that beckons them, of taking up residence in houses and castles that do not exist, of quenching their thirst from fake springs, of resting in the shade of palms that are not there and refreshing themselves with dates that are not really fruit. They then believe that their thirst has been quenched, but they are still thirsty; that their bellies are full, but they are still hungry; that they have shelter, but they have none. So it is. Our satiety is still hunger and thirst; our home is still homelessness; and what we call reality is still an illusion, for what we call knowledge is a hoax. We believe that we are drinking from plentiful springs, but they are parched wells that are themselves thirsty.
HOLLYWOOD, THE HADES OF MODERN MAN
This could be recognized in the ancient faces. They were all distinguished from each other as symbols of the inexhaustibility and abundance of God, and they were at the same time all like one another because of the consciousness that all diversity is born from a single Creator. This eternal combination of similarity and difference, both through God, characterizes the ancient faces. – Max Picard, The Human Face
If I may take but a single example from the vast field of our progress: we are able to speak with each other across thousands of miles, but can we therefore understand one another? Are we speaking the truth to each other simply because we have placed a miracle between us, one that consists of making our voices heard across thousands of miles? And when a friend in Australia speaks to his friend in Colombia, as they say 'by wireless', does this 'technical wonder' eliminate malice, lies or treachery from their speech? Isn't it, in fact, easier to lie when the speakers are not face to face? And even if it should become possible for me to see my friend in Cairo while he sees my face in Paris, would we recognize each other more easily that way than when we are standing next to each other in the same room? Shouldn't it be more difficult to recognize each other? Can a telescope transform the inability of my eye to recognize into an ability to recognize? On the contrary – the telescope, even if it is perfect, merely strengthens the visual acuity of an eye, no matter if the eye sees falsely or correctly, but it cannot change a deceptive, lying eye into a genuine and true eye. And if the false heart of a false friend were to tell me of his affection from a million miles distant, through use of the most powerful loudspeakers, the so-called technical wonder would not have transformed the falseness of his heart into integrity but would only have magnified it. And if we have succeeded in making shadows move on the screen of the cinema as if they were living people and, further still, to speak and sing, their motions, words and songs are by no means honest and genuine; rather, these wonders of the screen signify that the reality that they so remarkably copy wasn't difficult to recreate for the very reason that it wasn't real. In fact, the real people, the living ones, had already become so shadowy that the screen shadows were bound to seem real. (Continues...)
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