"H'm! impossible is rather a strong word," said Ivan Petrovitch. "You must allow, my dear prince . . . However, of course you value the memory of the deceased so very highly; and he certainly was the kindest of men; to which fact, by the way, I ascribe, more than to anything else, the success of the abbot in influencing his religious convictions. But you may ask me, if you please, how much trouble and worry I, personally, had over that business, and especially with this same Gurot! Would you believe it," he continued, addressing the dignitary, "they actually tried to put in a claim under the deceased's will, and I had to resort to the very strongest measures in order to bring them to their senses? I assure you they knew their cue, did these gentlemen — wonderful! Thank goodness all this was in Moscow, and I got the Court, you know, to help me, and we soon brought them to their senses.
"You wouldn't believe how you have pained and astonished me," cried the prince.
"Very sorry; but in point of fact, you know, it was all nonsense and would have ended in smoke, as usual — I'm sure of that. Last year," — he turned to the old man again, — "Countess K. joined some Roman Convent abroad. Our people never seem to be able to offer any resistance so soon as they get into the hands of these — intriguers — especially abroad."
"That is all thanks to our lassitude, I think," replied the old man, with authority. "And then their way of preaching; they have a skilful manner of doing it! And they know how to startle one, too. I got quite a fright myself in '32, in Vienna, I assure you; but I didn't cave in to them, I ran away instead, ha, ha!"
"Come, come, I've always heard that you ran away with the beautiful Countess Levitsky that time — throwing up everything in order to do it — and not from the Jesuits at all," said Princess Bielokonski, suddenly.
"Well, yes — but we call it from the Jesuits, you know; it comes to the same thing," laughed the old fellow, delighted with the pleasant recollection.
"You seem to be very religious," he continued, kindly, addressing the prince, "which is a thing one meets so seldom nowadays among young people."
The prince was listening open-mouthed, and still in a condition of excited agitation. The old man was evidently interested in him, and anxious to study him more closely.
"Pavlicheff was a man of bright intellect and a good Christian, a sincere Christian," said the prince, suddenly. "How could he possibly embrace a faith which is unchristian? Roman Catholicism is, so to speak, simply the same thing as unchristianity," he added with flashing eyes, which seemed to take in everybody in the room.
"Come, that's a little TOO strong, isn't it?" murmured the old man, glancing at General Epanchin in surprise.
"How do you make out that the Roman Catholic religion is UNCHRISTIAN? What is it, then?" asked Ivan Petrovitch, turning to the prince.
"It is not a Christian religion, in the first place," said the latter, in extreme agitation, quite out of proportion to the necessity of the moment. "And in the second place, Roman Catholicism is, in my opinion, worse than Atheism itself. Yes — that is my opinion. Atheism only preaches a negation, but Romanism goes further; it preaches a disfigured, distorted Christ — it preaches Anti-Christ — I assure you, I swear it! This is my own personal conviction, and it has long distressed me. The Roman Catholic believes that the Church on earth cannot stand without universal temporal Power. He cries 'non possumus!' In my opinion the Roman Catholic religion is not a faith at all, but simply a continuation of the Roman Empire, and everything is subordinated to this idea — beginning with faith. The Pope has seized territories and an earthly throne, and has held them with the sword. And so the thing has gone on, only that to the sword they have added lying, intrigue, deceit, fanaticism, superstition, swindling; — they have played fast and loose with the most sacred and sincere feelings of men; — they have exchanged everything — everything for money, for base earthly POWER! And is this not the teaching of Anti-Christ? How could the upshot of all this be other than Atheism? Atheism is the child of Roman Catholicism — it proceeded from these Romans themselves, though perhaps they would not believe it. It grew and fattened on hatred of its parents; it is the progeny of their lies and spiritual feebleness. Atheism! In our country it is only among the upper classes that you find unbelievers; men who have lost the root or spirit of their faith; but abroad whole masses of the people are beginning to profess unbelief — at first because of the darkness and lies by which they were surrounded; but now out of fanaticism, out of loathing for the Church and Christianity!"
The prince paused to get breath. He had spoken with extraordinary rapidity, and was very pale.
All present interchanged glances, but at last the old dignitary burst out laughing frankly. Prince N. took out his eye-glass to have a good look at the speaker. The German poet came out of his corner and crept nearer to the table, with a spiteful smile.
"You exaggerate the matter very much," said Ivan Petrovitch, with rather a bored air. "There are, in the foreign Churches, many representatives of their faith who are worthy of respect and esteem."
"Oh, but I did not speak of individual representatives. I was merely talking about Roman Catholicism, and its essence — of Rome itself. A Church can never entirely disappear; I never hinted at that!"
"Agreed that all this may be true; but we need not discuss a subject which belongs to the domain of theology."
"Oh, no; oh, no! Not to theology alone, I assure you! Why, Socialism is the progeny of Romanism and of the Romanistic spirit. It and its brother Atheism proceed from Despair in opposition to Catholicism. It seeks to replace in itself the moral power of religion, in order to appease the spiritual thirst of parched humanity and save it; not by Christ, but by force. 'Don't dare to believe in God, don't dare to possess any individuality, any property! Fraternite ou la Mort; two million heads. 'By their works ye shall know them' — we are told. And we must not suppose that all this is harmless and without danger to ourselves. Oh, no; we must resist, and quickly, quickly! We must let out Christ shine forth upon the Western nations, our Christ whom we have preserved intact, and whom they have never known. Not as slaves, allowing ourselves to be caught by the hooks of the Jesuits, but carrying our Russian civilization to THEM, we must stand before them, not letting it be said among us that their preaching is 'skilful,' as someone expressed it just now."
"But excuse me, excuse me;" cried Ivan Petrovitch considerably disturbed, and looking around uneasily. "Your ideas are, of course, most praiseworthy, and in the highest degree patriotic; but you exaggerate the matter terribly. It would be better if we dropped the subject."
"No, sir, I do not exaggerate, I understate the matter, if anything, undoubtedly understate it; simply because I cannot express myself as I should like, but — "
The prince was silent. He sat straight up in his chair and gazed fervently at Ivan Petrovitch.
"It seems to me that you have been too painfully impressed by the news of what happened to your good benefactor," said the old dignitary, kindly, and with the utmost calmness of demeanour. "You are excitable, perhaps as the result of your solitary life. If you would make up your mind to live more among your fellows in society, I trust, I am sure, that the world would be glad to welcome you, as a remarkable young man; and you would soon find yourself able to look at things more calmly. You would see that all these things are much simpler than you think; and, besides, these rare cases come about, in my opinion, from ennui and from satiety."
"Exactly, exactly! That is a true thought!" cried the prince. "From ennui, from our ennui but not from satiety! Oh, no, you are wrong there! Say from THIRST if you like; the thirst of fever! And please do not suppose that this is so small a matter that we may have a laugh at it and dismiss it; we must be able to foresee our disasters and arm against them. We Russians no sooner arrive at the brink of the water, and realize that we are really at the brink, than we are so delighted with the outlook that in we plunge and swim to the farthest point we can see. Why is this? You say you are surprised at Pavlicheff's action; you ascribe it to madness, to kindness of heart, and what not, but it is not so.
"Our Russian intensity not only astonishes ourselves; all Europe wonders at our conduct in such cases! For, if one of us goes over to Roman Catholicism, he is sure to become a Jesuit at once, and a rabid one into the bargain. If one of us becomes an Atheist, he must needs begin to insist on the prohibition of faith in God by force, that is, by the sword. Why is this? Why does he then exceed all bounds at once? Because he has found land at last, the fatherland that he sought in vain before; and, because his soul is rejoiced to find it, he throws himself upon it and kisses it! Oh, it is not from vanity alone, it is not from feelings of vanity that Russians become Atheists and Jesuits! But from spiritual thirst, from anguish of longing for higher things, for dry firm land, for foothold on a fatherland which they never believed in because they never knew it. It is easier for a Russian to become an Atheist, than for any other nationality in the world. And not only does a Russian 'become an Atheist,' but he actually BELIEVES IN Atheism, just as though he had found a new faith, not perceiving that he has pinned his faith to a negation. Such is our anguish of thirst! 'Whoso has no country has no God.' That is not my own expression; it is the expression of a merchant, one of the Old Believers, whom I once met while travelling. He did not say exactly these words. I think his expression was: