The Cardinal and the Anti-Christ

Conservative Catholic cardinal Giacomo Biffi has made headlines:

According to Vatican Radio’s summary of his preaching, the cardinal explained that “the teaching that the great Russian philosopher [Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov] left us is that Christianity cannot be reduced to a set of values. At the center of being a Christian is, in fact, the personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Quoting the work “Three Dialogues on War, Progress and the End of History,” Cardinal Biffi told his listeners that “the Antichrist presents himself as pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist.”

“He will convoke an ecumenical council and will seek the consensus of all the Christian confessions, granting something to each one. The masses will follow him, with the exception of small groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants,” he said.

[“]There are absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty,” Cardinal Biffi said…The preacher of the Spiritual Exercises added that “there are relative values, such as solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature. If these become absolute, uprooting or even opposing the proclamation of the event of salvation, then these values become an instigation to idolatry and obstacles on the way of salvation.”

…Cardinal Biffi affirmed that “if Christianity — on opening itself to the world and dialoguing with all — dilutes the salvific event, it closes itself to a personal relationship with Jesus and places itself on the side of the Antichrist.”

This is a song that Biffi has sung before; back in 2000 the BBC reported that

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 71, said that the modern Antichrist, identified in the Book of Revelation as a seven-headed beast, was most likely now disguised as a philanthropist supporting creeds like vegetarianism, animal rights or pacifism, or advocating dialogue with Orthodox or Anglican believers.

…He was speaking at a conference of academics in Bologna last weekend, on the 19th century Russian mystic Vladimir Solovyov, who predicted horror and disaster in the 20th century.

For those of us who are not as familiar with nineteenth-century Russian mystical philosophy as we might be, The Transnational Vladimir Solovyov Society has a useful summary by Greg Gaut of the work cited by Biffi:

…This was a fictional work in the form of three dialogues among five Russians vacationing on the Mediterranean: a General, who represents a traditional Orthodox viewpoint; a Politician, who believes in Western cultural progress; the Prince, a stand-in for Leo Tolstoy; Mr. Z, a mysterious gentleman who takes an uncompromisingly religious view of all questions; and a Noblewoman, who facilitates the conversations and occasionally interjects pertinent questions and comments. Solovyov wrote that he totally agreed with the views of Mr. Z, but that he “fully recognized the relative truth of the General and the Politician” (10:87).

…To explain his view on the end of history and the Anti-Christ, Mr. Z then read a manuscript given to him by a monk named Pansophius, entitled “Short Tale of the Anti-Christ.” According to the tale, the last great war in human history occurred in the twentieth century when the movement of Pan-Mongolism, that is, the Asian nations led by Japan, conquered Europe. Later the Europeans rebelled and set up the United States of Europe. Then a remarkable man came to power, “whom many called a superman,” a man who believed in the good, God, and the Messiah, “but loved only himself” (10:197-8). He brought the whole world under a universal monarchy which provided bread and circuses to all. Seeking to unify all Christian believers under him, he called Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants to a congress. Most pledged loyalty to him, but three religious leaders–the pope, a famous Orthodox starets, and a Protestant theologian–recognized him as the Anti-Christ. Together with their few followers they escaped to the desert where they agreed to unify all true Christians under the pope. Just when it seemed that the Anti-Christ was established for all time, the Jews exposed him, and after a huge battle, overthrew him. Then the true Christ descended, and the Christians and Jews rose from the dead and ruled with Christ for 1,000 years. When Mr. Z concluded the tale, it came to light that the Prince had fled during the reading of the manuscript, precisely at the moment when the true Christians had unmasked the Anti-Christ.

Gaut adds some commentary on the “Pan-Mongolism” fantasy:

…He worried not just about the rise of the non-Christian East but also about the decline of the Christian West, including Russia. His deepest fear was that Christian culture was so weakened by pseudo-Christians (either believers who thought that mere faith was enough, or Tolstoyans who had no real faith), that the Church could no longer fulfill its universalizing mission in world history. The Christian West would have nothing to fear if it was spiritually strong and healthy, but if it continued its decline, then it was subject to retribution.

Substitute Muslims for the Yellow Peril theme, and we can see why Biffi might warm to Solovyov. However, an academic essay on the subject by Judith Deutsch Kornblatt (1) suggests that Solovyov is rather more interesting than to be simply grist for conservative punditry:

…our interpretation of the embedded story as a whole grows from a recognition of the distinction between the oral tale (a “joke” about the Antichrist) and the written one (his initial triumph, told in high melodrama), pointed out to us by Mr. Z. We might be tempted, as most Solovyov scholars have been, to read the prose text as declarative philosophy– it says what it means and it means what it is…Indeed, this is the type of reading of authoritative texts for which Tolstoy calls when he tells us, for example, that “Christ says exactly what he says”…When we go on to the oral story, however, we are reminded of Solovyov’s less transparent, problematic fictional discourse. We need literary tools, not to mention a sense of humor, to see the inter-play of the what and the how, of the content and the context…

One wonders if Biffi is aware of these subtleties. Either way, however, it is likely that the apocalyptic pop-culture of the English-speaking world will be interested in Solovyov only insofar as he can be reduced to some sort of Russian Hal Lindsey.

Meanwhile, WorldNetDaily carries a new piece on how “environmentalism is nothing less than the global elitists’ replacement ideology for communism/socialism.” The article champions senator James Inhofe, whose views on the subject I blogged here.

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(1) ‘The Truth of the Word: Solovyov’s “Three Conversations” Speaks on Tolstoy’s “Resurrection”‘, in The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 301-321.

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