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The Promised Day Is Come

  • Author:
  • Shoghi Effendi

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 revised edition
  • Pages:
  • 124
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Pages 49-55

Humiliation Immediate and Complete

Of all the monarchs of the earth, at the time when Bahá’u’lláh, proclaiming His Message to them, revealed the Súriy-i-Mulúk in Adrianople, the most august and influential were the French Emperor and the Supreme Pontiff. In the political and religious spheres they respectively held the foremost rank, and the humiliation both suffered was alike immediate and complete.
Napoleon III, son of Louis Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon I), was, few historians will deny, the most outstanding monarch of his day in the 50 West. “The Emperor,” it was said of him, “was the state.” The French capital was the most attractive capital in Europe, the French court “the most brilliant and luxurious of the XIX century.” Possessed of a fixed and indestructible ambition, he aspired to emulate the example, and finish the interrupted work, of his imperial uncle. A dreamer, a conspirator, of a shifting nature, hypocritical and reckless, he, the heir to the Napoleonic throne, taking advantage of the policy which sought to foster the reviving interest in the career of his great prototype, had sought to overthrow the monarchy. Failing in his attempt, he was deported to America, was later captured in the course of an attempted invasion of France, was condemned to perpetual captivity, and escaped to London, until, in 1848, the Revolution brought about his return, and enabled him to overthrow the constitution, after which he was proclaimed emperor. Though able to initiate far-reaching movements, he possessed neither the sagacity nor the courage required to control them.
To this man, the last emperor of the French, who, through foreign conquest, had striven to endear his dynasty to the people, who even cherished the ideal of making France the center of a revived Roman Empire—to such a man the Exile of ‘Akká, already thrice banished by Sulṭán Abdu’l-’Aziz, had transmitted, from behind the walls of the barracks in which He lay imprisoned, an Epistle which bore this indubitably clear arraignment and ominous prophecy: “We testify that that which wakened thee was not their cry [Turks drowned in the Black Sea], but the promptings of thine own passions, for We tested thee, and found thee wanting…. Hadst thou been sincere in thy words, thou wouldst not have cast behind thy back the Book of God [previous Tablet], when it was sent unto thee by Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Wise. …For what thou hast done, thy kingdom shall be thrown into confusion, and thine empire shall pass from thine hands, as a punishment for that which thou hast wrought.”
Bahá’u’lláh’s previous Message, forwarded through one of the French ministers to the Emperor, had been accorded a welcome the nature of which can be conjectured from the words recorded in the “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf”: “To this [first Tablet], however, he did not reply. After Our arrival in the Most Great Prison there reached Us a letter from his minister, the first part of which was in Persian, and the latter in his own handwriting. In it he was cordial, and wrote the following: ‘I have, as requested by you, delivered your letter, and until now have received no 51 answer. We have, however, issued the necessary recommendations to our Minister in Constantinople and our consuls in those regions. If there be anything you wish done, inform us, and we will carry it out.’ From his words it became apparent that he understood the purpose of this Servant to have been a request for material assistance.”
In His first Tablet Bahá’u’lláh, wishing to test the sincerity of the Emperor’s motives, and deliberately assuming a meek and unprovocative tone, had, after expatiating on the sufferings He had endured, addressed him the following words: “Two statements graciously uttered by the king of the age have reached the ears of these wronged ones. These pronouncements are, in truth, the king of all pronouncements, the like of which have never been heard from any sovereign. The first was the answer given the Russian government when it inquired why the war [Crimean] was waged against it. Thou didst reply: ‘The cry of the oppressed who, without guilt or blame, were drowned in the Black Sea wakened me at dawn. Wherefore, I took up arms against thee.’ These oppressed ones, however, have suffered a greater wrong, and are in greater distress. Whereas the trials inflicted upon those people lasted but one day, the troubles borne by these servants have continued for twenty and five years, every moment of which has held for us a grievous affliction. The other weighty statement, which was indeed a wondrous statement, manifested to the world, was this: ‘Ours is the responsibility to avenge the oppressed and succor the helpless.’ The fame of the Emperor’s justice and fairness hath brought hope to a great many souls. It beseemeth the king of the age to inquire into the condition of such as have been wronged, and it behooveth him to extend his care to the weak. Verily, there hath not been, nor is there now, on earth anyone as oppressed as we are, or as helpless as these wanderers.”
It is reported that upon receipt of this first Message that superficial, tricky, and pride-intoxicated monarch flung down the Tablet saying: “If this man is God, I am two gods!” The transmitter of the second Tablet had, it is reliably stated, in order to evade the strict surveillance of the guards, concealed it in his hat, and was able to deliver it to the French agent, who resided in ‘Akká, and who, as attested by Nabíl in his Narrative, translated it into French and sent it to the Emperor, he himself becoming a believer when he had later witnessed the fulfillment of so remarkable a prophecy.
The significance of the somber and pregnant words uttered by 52 Bahá’u’lláh in His second Tablet was soon revealed. He who was actuated in provoking the Crimean War by his selfish desires, who was prompted by a personal grudge against the Russian Emperor, who was impatient to tear up the Treaty of 1815 in order to avenge the disaster of Moscow, and who sought to shed military glory over his throne, was soon himself engulfed by a catastrophe that hurled him in the dust, and caused France to sink from her preeminent station among the nations to that of a fourth power in Europe.
The Battle of Sedan in 1870 sealed the fate of the French Emperor. The whole of his army was broken up and surrendered, constituting the greatest capitulation hitherto recorded in modern history. A crushing indemnity was exacted. He himself was taken prisoner. His only son, the Prince Imperial, was killed, a few years later, in the Zulu War. The Empire collapsed, its program unrealized. The Republic was proclaimed. Paris was subsequently besieged and capitulated. “The terrible Year” marked by civil war, exceeding in its ferocity the Franco-German War, followed. William I, the Prussian king, was proclaimed German Emperor in the very palace which stood as a “mighty monument and symbol of the power and pride of Louis XIV, a power which had been secured to some extent by the humiliation of Germany.” Deposed by a disaster “so appalling that it resounded throughout the world,” this false and boastful monarch suffered in the end, and till his death, the same exile as that which, in the case of Bahá’u’lláh, he had so heartlessly ignored.
A humiliation less spectacular yet historically more significant awaited Pope Pius IX. It was to him who regarded himself as the Vicar of Christ that Bahá’u’lláh wrote that “the Word which the Son [Jesus] concealed is made manifest,” that “it hath been sent down in the form of the human temple,” that the Word was Himself, and He Himself the Father. It was to him who styling himself “the servant of the servants of God” that the Promised One of all ages, unveiling His station in its plenitude, announced that “He Who is the Lord of Lords is come overshadowed with clouds.” It was he, who, claiming to be the successor of St. Peter, was reminded by Bahá’u’lláh that “this is the day whereon the Rock [Peter] crieth out and shouteth … saying: ‘Lo, the Father is come, and that which ye were promised in the Kingdom is fulfilled.’” It was he, the wearer of the triple crown, who later became the first prisoner of the Vatican, who was commanded by the Divine Prisoner of 53 ‘Akká to “leave his palaces unto such as desire them,” to “sell all the embellished ornaments” he possessed, and to “expend them in the path of God,” and to “abandon his kingdom unto the kings,” and emerge from his habitation with his face “set towards the Kingdom.”
Count Mastai-Ferretti, Bishop of Imola, the 254th pope since the inception of St. Peter’s primacy, who had been elevated to the apostolic throne two years after the Declaration of the Báb, and the duration of whose pontificate exceeded that of any of his predecessors, will be permanently remembered as the author of the Bull which declared the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin (1854), referred to in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, to be a doctrine of the Church, and as the promulgator of the new dogma of Papal Infallibility (1870). Authoritarian by nature, a poor statesman, disinclined to conciliation, determined to preserve all his authority, he, while he succeeded through his assumption of an ultramontane attitude in defining further his position and in reinforcing his spiritual authority, failed, in the end, to maintain that temporal rule which, for so many centuries, had been exercised by the heads of the Catholic Church.
This temporal power had, throughout the ages, shrunk to insignificant proportions. The decades preceding its extinction were fraught with the gravest vicissitudes. As the sun of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation was mounting to full meridian splendor, the shadows that beset the dwindling patrimony of St. Peter were correspondingly deepening. The Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh, addressed to Pius IX, precipitated its extinction. A hasty glance at the course of its ebbing fortunes, during those decades, will suffice. Napoleon I had driven the Pope from his estates. The Congress of Vienna had reestablished him as their head and their administration in the hands of the priests. Corruption, disorganization, impotence to ensure internal security, the restoration of the inquisition, had induced an historian to assert that “no land of Italy, perhaps of Europe, except Turkey, is ruled as is this ecclesiastical state.” Rome was “a city of ruins, both material and moral.” Insurrections led to Austria’s intervention. Five great Powers demanded the introduction of far-reaching reforms, which the Pope promised but failed to carry out. Austria again reasserted herself, and was opposed by France. Both watched each other on the Papal estates until 1838, when, on their withdrawal, absolutism was again restored. The Pope’s temporal power was now denounced by some of his own subjects, heralding its extinction 54 in 1870. Internal complications forced him to flee, in the dead of night and in the disguise of a humble priest, from Rome which was declared a republic. It was later restored by the French to its former status. The creation of the kingdom of Italy, the shifting policy of Napoleon III, the disaster of Sedan, the misdeeds of the Papal government denounced by Clarendon, at the Congress of Paris, terminating the Crimean War, as a “disgrace to Europe,” sealed the fate of that tottering dominion.
In 1870, after Bahá’u’lláh had revealed His Epistle to Pius IX, King Victor Emmanuel II went to war with the Papal states, and his troops entered Rome and seized it. On the eve of its seizure, the Pope repaired to the Lateran and, despite his age and with his face bathed in tears, ascended on bended knees the Scala Santa. The following morning, as the cannonade began, he ordered the white flag to be hoisted above the dome of St. Peter. Despoiled, he refused to recognize this “creation of revolution,” excommunicated the invaders of his states, denounced Victor Emmanuel as the “robber King” and as “forgetful of every religious principle, despising every right, trampling upon every law.” Rome, “the Eternal City, on which rest twenty-five centuries of glory,” and over which the Popes had ruled in unchallengeable right for ten centuries, finally became the seat of the new kingdom, and the scene of that humiliation which Bahá’u’lláh had anticipated and which the Prisoner of the Vatican had imposed upon himself.
“The last years of the old Pope,” writes a commentator on his life, “were filled with anguish. To his physical infirmities was added the sorrow of beholding, all too often, the Faith outraged in the very heart of Rome, the religious orders despoiled and persecuted, the Bishops and priests debarred from exercising their functions.”
Every effort to retrieve the situation created in 1870 proved fruitless. The Archbishop of Posen went to Versailles to solicit Bismarck’s intervention in behalf of the Papacy, but was coldly received. Later a Catholic party was organized in Germany to bring political pressure on the German Chancellor. All, however, was in vain. The mighty process already referred to had to pursue inexorably its course. Even now, after the lapse of above half a century, the so-called restoration of temporal sovereignty has but served to throw into greater relief the helplessness of this erstwhile potent Prince, at whose name kings trembled and to whose dual sovereignty they willingly submitted. This temporal sovereignty, 55 practically confined to the miniscule City of the Vatican, and leaving Rome the undisputed possession of a secular monarchy, has been obtained at the price of unreserved recognition, so long withheld, of the Kingdom of Italy. The Treaty of the Lateran, claiming to have resolved once and for all the Roman Question, has indeed assured to a secular Power, in respect of the Enclaved City, a liberty of action which is fraught with uncertainty and peril. “The two souls of the Eternal City,” a Catholic writer has observed, “have been separated from each other, only to collide more severely than ever before.”
Well might the Sovereign Pontiff recall the reign of the most powerful among his predecessors, Innocent III who, during the eighteen years of his pontificate, raised and deposed the kings and the emperors, whose interdicts deprived nations of the exercise of Christian worship, at the feet of whose legate the King of England surrendered his crown, and at whose voice the fourth and the fifth crusades were both undertaken.
Might not the process, to which reference has already been made, manifest, in the course of its operation, during the tumultuous years in store for mankind, and in this same domain, a commotion still more devastating than it has yet produced?
The dramatic collapse of both the Third Empire and the Napoleonic dynasty, the virtual extinction of the temporal sovereignty of the Supreme Pontiff, in the lifetime of Bahá’u’lláh, were but the precursors of still greater catastrophes that may be said to have marked the ministry of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The forces unleashed by a conflict, the full significance of which still remains unfathomed, and which may be considered as a prelude to this, the most devastating of all wars, can well be regarded as the occasion of these dreadful catastrophes. The progress of the War of 1914–18 dethroned the House of Romanov, while its termination precipitated the downfall of both the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties.