01-01-2012 - Traces, n. 1

inside america

Vision of Crisis–
and Salvation

As the New Year of 2012 dawns, the turn-of-the century Russian author Vladimir Soloviev offers a cautionary tale pertinent to the precarious dualism of present-day society.

These days, almost all the educational cable stations are including in their lineup a program about the disasters that could destroy our world. From the Mayan calendar to certain interpretations of the Book of Revelation, all kinds of frightening scenarios describe how human history will come to an end.
In Christian apocalyptic literature, the figure of the Antichrist is a crucial component of the “end of the world.” Who or what is this Antichrist? In my opinion, one of the best fictional views of the Antichrist is that of Vladimir Sergeyevich Soloviev, who passed away on July 31st (August 13th, according to our Gregorian calendar) of the year 1900. As Cardinal G. Biffi, former Archbishop of Bologna, noted: “He passed away on the threshold of the 20th century–a century whose vicissitudes and troubles he had foreseen with striking clarity....” At the time of the great Russian philosopher, the general view–in keeping with the limitless optimism of the Belle Époque–foresaw a bright future for humanity in the new century.  Under the direction and inspiration of the new religion of progress and solidarity stripped of transcendent elements, humanity would enjoy an era of prosperity, peace, justice, and security. But Soloviev refused to allow himself to be swept up in this de-sacralized vision. On the contrary, he predicted with prophetic clarity all of the disasters which in fact occurred.
In his final work, The Three Dialogues and the Story of the Antichrist (finished on Easter Sunday of 1900), Soloviev clearly foresaw that the 20th century would be “the epoch of great wars, civil strife and revolutions.”
As Biffi observes: “The accuracy of Soloviev’s vision of the great crisis that would strike Christianity at the end of the 20th century is astonishing. He represents this crisis using the figure of the Antichrist. This fascinating personage will succeed in influencing and persuading almost everyone. It is not difficult to see in this figure of Soloviev the reflection, almost the incarnation, of the confused and ambiguous religiosity of our time.”
The Antichrist of Soloviev was a “spiritualist.” He is a promoter of “egoistic individualism,” of moral relativism, and of “a theological view which, out of fear of being labeled reactionary, forgets the unity of God’s plan, renounces spreading divine truth in all spheres, and abdicates the attempt to live out a coherent Christian life.”
In short, the religion of the Antichrist was a dualism of the spirit which can only be overcome by the presence of God in the flesh. That is why in Soloviev’s story, the Antichrist was terrified of the Resurrection of the man Jesus of Nazareth and by the woman Mary in whose flesh Jesus was conceived. The opposition that the Antichrist hated and feared the most was the sacramental Christianity of the Catholics faithful to the Pope, the Orthodox, and some Protestants who joined them because of the gravity of the conflict taking place. The Antichrist was also opposed by the Jews faithful to their identity as the chosen people who incarnated God’s plan for the human race.
In a certain sense, the religion of the Antichrist was salvation (happiness, peace, justice, freedom) through politics. The politics of the Antichrist could not be identified as liberal or conservative, left or right. On the contrary, it was by being able to transcend those categories that made him so popular that he was accepted as Emperor of the World. In our currently super-politicized society, we would do well to reflect on Soloviev’s story and remember that only Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.