... If pow'rs divine behold our human actions (as they do): I doubt not then, but innocence shall make false accusation blush, and tyranny tremble at patience. Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, 3.2.27
Preparation for Tyranny
The world is in eclipse. It looks like we have almost entered the stage known as “totality,” in which the whole sun is obscured. Darkness, in the form of global tyranny, seems like it is about to cover the earth.
The Church has been in eclipse for these past sixty years, but in some sense it has taken longer for the world to suffer this fate. Until recently, we have largely been able to go about our business, living our lives and practising our religion with some normality.
Picture of Solzehnitsyn (Source)
But here we are. The time is late for preparing ourselves for the darkness. Let us draw comfort from Christ our Lord:
“I am the Light of the World,” said the Lord. “He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”John 8.12
We must start and end with our Lord Jesus Christ, without whom we can do nothing. His grace is sufficient.
But how can we dispose ourselves, naturally speaking, to this grace?
How can we make ourselves to adhere to the good, the true and the beautiful, above all things, even in the face of suffering, ignominy and death?
Let us turn to those who lived under tyranny and intense suffering, and thus immunise ourselves, as far as possible, from this darkness.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn needs no introduction. His time in the Gulag transformed him from a communist into one of the most impressive men of the last century, humanly speaking. Regrettably, he was not a Catholic, but rather embraced Orthodoxy.
There are Catholics, too, whom we can and will discuss.
In any case, that Solzhenitsyn was not a Catholic has little relevance to the question at hand, which pertains to his insights into the human psyche, found in the crucible of the Gulag. Certain texts of his are circulated, but there are many more that we need to consider.
Surviving arrest and torture
The world is not as it was. The old order of due process, habeas corpus, complaints – these things still exist, even to a very large extent, but they are fading away. We must realise now that unless Almighty God decides to spare us (and we are not giving him many reasons to do so), we are entering a global communist revolution. We must not expect those imposing it to act reasonably. They will not.
We must stop, now, hoping that things will go back to how they were. They will not.
That said, while there is no going back, neither are there foregone conclusions about the future. Maybe we will never face what Solzhenitsyn faced, and maybe God will sweep all of these things aside. We must pray daily, with trust and confidence, that he will do so. But the future does not seem that it will be like the past.
Whatever happens, however, internalising Solzhenitsyn’s ideas will be beneficial for our lives and detachment from the world.
In the first volume of the Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn spends about 40 gruelling pages enumerating the methods of torture used by the Cheka, the secret police, to extract false confessions and denunciations of friends, enemies, family, and colleagues. These confessions and denunciations were often made in some deluded hope that they would benefit the prisoner or his loved ones.
After this account, he asks:
“So what is the answer? How can you stand your ground when you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are still alive, when you are unprepared?
“What do you need to make you stronger than the interrogator and the whole trap?”Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago Vol I, Harper Perennial, London 2007 p 130
He immediately gives us the answer.
“From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you. At the threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me, those I love have died; and for them, I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and conscience remain precious and important to me.’
“Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogator will tremble.
“Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.”
Before any of this, as Solzhenitsyn himself points out elsewhere, we should try to avoid entering the Gulag apparatus at all. This monster must be prevented from rising again, and indeed a key way of doing that is by refusing to go quietly.
But that is not the topic for this piece. Let us break his text down.
Wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing
“From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you.”
We must realise that once we have fallen into the gears of this machine, our only hope is to stop hoping. We must not despair of our salvation, or of the defeat of this wicked revolution against both God and his creatures.
But once inside the Gulag apparatus, according to Solzhenitsyn, we must give up our little hopes that we will save our own skins and return to the outside world. We must decide that we will only do what is right, and that we will do nothing that is wrong – and discount all hopes of escape (at least through some form of compliance). Our only hope is to stop hoping, and to wait, all the while trying – with God’s grace – to make ourselves into little bits of unbreakable iron.
It may be helpful to ask ourselves why we would want to live in the outside world at all, under the conditions that the revolutionaries want for us. It is better to have internal freedom in a Gulag than pay the price of internal slavery outside of it. In some ways, that outside world, and the compromises it demanded of the Russian people, was a greater Hell than the Gulag.
For us still on the outside, these ideas are a preparation for being detached from the world and for disposing ourselves for grace. They are not a counsel to despair or to passivity. This is only preparatory advice, as we must continue working to the last. And even those on the inside can still hope for the right things, such as the end of tyranny, and the disruption of the machine in various ways.
As our Lord said:
“I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”John 9.4
For us on the outside, at least in many places, the sun is sinking: but it is not yet night.
Perhaps some who go in will return to the outside, as Solzhenitsyn did. Returning is not an unequivocal good: he returned to a marriage in which he and his wife no longer knew each other – and it broke down. But he also lived for many decades more under the reasonably good conditions we have spent most of our lives. He was also able to write and inspire us today.
But a crucial reason that he managed to return to the world is that, in a certain sense, he stopped hoping that he would.
Life and Death
“At the threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better.’”
Our Lord says:
“He that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.”Matthew 16.25.
Once we are in the gears of their machine, let there be no more frantic grasping at preserving our lives, especially through anything that will soil our consciences. Rather we should see ourselves as already dead, and just waiting for the clock to time out.
We could see this time as a Purgatory. It could save us time in the real thing.
But this gives rise to a question: Should we not always think in this way? Is this not what it means to remember the Four Last Things, of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell?
Yes, certainly – but it’s very hard to do that when we are comfortable. It’s a lot easier when looking death in the face.
Further, we do not have the excuses for the futile hope that the Russians had. Those men and women didn’t know how things would go there, and that kind of wicked regime was new to them. It’s not new to us: we know that the instigators of tyranny cannot be trusted in any promise that they make, whether to liberate us, to spare our lives, or to spare us physical suffering.
And as I mentioned above: Why would we want to live in the monstrous world that they want for us?
And again, I am not counselling despair. But it is crucial that we prepare for this, and more importantly for a holy death. The moment of death will be the most important moment of our lives, determining whether we have succeeded or failed as Christians and as men.
Loved ones on the outside
“I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me, those I love have died; and for them, I have died.”
One of the stupidest, most foolish things possible, would be to believe a wicked man’s promise to help us on the condition of our doing something wicked ourselves.
If we are inside the apparatus, leaving a house and family on the outside, should we not do what we can to secure their comfort?
How, dear friends, do we think we will do that? They cannot be trusted. We cannot make plea-bargains with devils. It is cold, it is hard, it is brutal: but those inside must accept that they are now powerless to help those outside. If, when inside, we can consider our property and loved ones to have already gone, perhaps it will be easier to deal with the temptation to do something stupid to save ourselves or them.
There are accounts of prisoners, on some worthless promise, doing grossly immoral things for their jailers and torturers, or those on the outside doing the same, to obtain better conditions for their spouses on the inside. What a pity, what foolishness.
Perhaps, at the time, people thought that these degrading things would achieve something. But it should be obvious to us that men so wicked as to instigate or co-operate with a tyrannical regime, cannot be trusted to honour promises to help us. Especially at the price of immorality.
“He that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.”Matthew 10.39
The paradox is that in that situation, the only hope of seeing our loved ones again is for us and them to consider each other already dead, and to refuse any pointless and foolish attempt to deny this paradox.
“’From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and conscience remain precious and important to me.’”
What can we say of this, we who are on the outside and have not experienced what these men experienced? We can only comment, abstractly, that this is true. We must fix it in our minds. Our Lord says:
“Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.”Matthew 10.28
All we can say is that under conditions of torture, we must just continue to say, “No” – and endure what we must, leaning on God.
Pictures of saints can seem rarefied and some accounts of martyrdoms can seem like mere stories. But they were real men and women.
The English martyrs during the reformation are perhaps the most accessible group of saints to inspire us. 500 years ago is nothing, and the accounts of their tortures and horrible deaths are clearly realistic accounts of what happened. Those Jesuits and other martyrs were men like us, Englishmen, recent enough to have even been speaking our language as we speak it.
Though many were priests, and so died without children, we know that the same blood that they shed for Christ, which flowed during horrible tortures – that same blood flows in our veins too. We are made of the same stuff as them. They are our countrymen and our family.
Though we maybe cannot claim to be descended from Edmund Campion or Margaret Clitheroe and the others, still we can see them as our glorious kin. Let us strive to live up to our family’s honour.
We have previously published an article about Robert Southwell, the martyred Jesuit priest poet. We can see in his poetry that he was not just a name, or a picture, or a story. He was a real man, probably even more aware of the reality of suffering than we are.
In addition to this, let’s fix in our minds the truth of the Penny Catechism, that “I must take most care of my soul,” as opposed to my body – let us start today to chastise our bodies. Will we have hot showers, coffee, wine, chocolate, and physical ease in the time ahead? Who can say? Should we not find ways to start preparing ourselves now?
And yet all of these things will be fruitless without the grace of God.
Winning the victory
“Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogator will tremble. Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.”
What a temptation it will be, if we find ourselves between the hammer and the anvil, to depart from this advice. It will be most tempting to think that we are different, or that our situation, our jailer, or whatever, are different.
No, no, no, no, no!
Our only hope is to renounce it all and to refuse to comply, to compromise, to confess, to denounce, to inform, to hope falsely, or to sin in any way at all.
After the quote we have been discussing, Solzhenitsyn adds:
“But how can one turn one’s body to stone?”
How indeed? The answer he gives is important, even if insufficient in its context. He tells us that those who persevered did so by firm “religious and moral principles.” He gives the example of Nikolai Berdyaev, an Orthodox philosopher:
“Berdyayev did not humiliate himself. He did not beg or plead. He set forth firmly those religious and moral principles which had led him to refuse to accept the political authority established in Russia. And not only did they come to the conclusion that he would be useless for a trial, but they liberated him.”Solzhenitsyn 130
He gives another stirring example of an old lady who was interrogated for having helped the Orthodox Metropolitan escape the country. Her words to her interrogators:
“There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me [because you would lose a possible informant.] But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute.”Solzhenitsyn 131
There are examples of Catholics with similarly admirable responses – for example Fr Walter Ciszek SJ – whom we will look at another time.
The Grace of God
None of this is possible without the grace of God. Inside or outside, we all must pray. The communists tried to take even that away from prisoners in some camps, which shows the importance of praying now.
For us, who are not in an Australian Gulag, things are not yet hopeless – but our time is short. “The night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9.4)
Our Lord revealed, in a series of approved apparitions, that communism was to be the punishment for blasphemy, atheism and profanation of Sundays – and that this reparation would defeat it. The wider devotion to the Holy Face contains inspiring, pertinent prayers against communism such as these:
May God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let all those that hate Him flee from before His face! May the thrice Holy Name of God overthrow all their plans! May the Holy Name of the Living God split them up by disagreements! May the terrible Name of the God of Eternity stamp out all their godlessness! Lord I do not desire the death of the sinner, but I want him to be converted and to live. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Sr Marie of St Peter’s Prayers against Communism.
The linked series below addresses this.
This is a series on the Holy Face.
Part I provides the Prayers used in the devotion, along with an overview of its history and ecclesiastical approvals.
Part II explains the revelations made to Sr Marie of St Peter and the link between blasphemy, communism, revolution and this devotion of reparation to the Holy Face.
Part III explains how our Lord revealed, over a period of time, that the object of this reparation was to be specifically his Holy face.
Announcement of the Third Rosary Crusade against our current tyranny, in reparation to the Holy Face for blasphemy
Reading Solzhenitsyn, or having firm principles, is not a guarantee that we will be protected from falling away or into despair. But let his words be warnings against the false hope for the “carrot” from those wielding the “stick.” Those who fall into the situation described must just hold on and not give in. As our Lord says to the Church at Laodicea in the Apocalypse:
“Those whom I love, I rebuke and chastise. Be zealous therefore and do penance… He who overcomes, I will permit him to sit with me upon my throne; as I also have overcome and have sat with my Father on his throne.”Apocalypse 3.19, 21
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Let us adhere to him; believe his words; hope and trust in his grace; and love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.
Let us decide, now, that whatever the cost, we will never depart willingly from Christ our Lord, who himself is the most perfect goodness, truth and beauty.
Preparation for Tyranny
This series will continue at considerable length.
Preparation for Tyranny
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