Only a God Can Save Us Now
The Grand Monarch
Prophecies of a Grand Monarch to come, who will save the world from degeneration, despair and decay - albeit temporarily - abound in Roman Catholic culture. Holy men and women over two millennia, from St. Ambrose to St. Padre Pio via Anne-Catherine Emmerich, Marie-Julie Jehenny and many more, have to a greater or lesser degree foreseen and foretold his advent.
As far as I am aware, none of these prophecies have been formally approved or even taken much notice of by the Church. But nor have they been officially condemned. They are, it seems to me, studiously ignored by the powers that be and relegated thereby to the speculative margins - sometimes fantastic, sometimes inspired - of Catholic life.
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Is this fair? In my view, no. These saints and mystics are tapping into a symbolic archetype which has wide and universal provenance. The Arthurian mythos is an obvious example, as is the Hidden Imam in Shia Islam. There are more - Frederick Barbarossa in Germany, King Sebastian in Portugal, etc. - but it it is not the point of this essay to list them all. It is likewise not my aim to dissect and analyse the prophecies and piece together when, where and how the Grand Monarch will declare himself. I will not speculate either on who he is and whether he is already alive and active in the world. This is an excellent overview for those who would like a bit more context and here, to accompany it, is a short and stimulating reflection on the strange smilarities between the Grand Monarch prophecy and the life of the twentieth-century Spanish priest, Fr. Aloysius Ellacura.
I want to keep things focused and simple and really laser in on what is essential - the spiritual, symbolic and imaginative puissance of the Grand Monarch motif. What we are looking at here - who we are looking at, rather - is a restorer and a renewer, a Lantern Bearer and a wielder of the Secret Fire, the living embodiment of the line in Martin Lings’s Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions that initially inspired these essays:
In the walls of the edifice of the modern world cracks are beginning to gape which were not there before, and these cracks give access to a point of view which expresses the very opposite of what the modern world stands for.
With the Grand Monarch we are getting down to the heart of things - the white-hot core of reality - all pretence and illusion stripped away. Where there is clarity, intensity and vitality, we can be assured that Christ is near, and in this respect the Grand Monarch acts as a herald and a forerunner of this ultimate King to come. He anticipates the New Jerusalem; he gives us a foretaste of what life in the City of God will be like. His luminous presence shines through the cracks. He is the Emperor, one might say, to Christ’s Pope. He breaks the power of evil in the earthly realm as Christ, in the Harrowing of Hell, shatters death’s dominion in the spiritual spheres.
Pulling the prophecies together and allowing for variations, the narrative arc of the Grand Monarch myth goes basically like this. A time of confusion and spiritual darkness will come upon the world. Evil will be called good, and good evil. All sense of purpose and direction will be lost. The countries of Western Europe will be particularly badly affected, and this inner dissolution will find its outward manifestation in a catalogue of disasters - plague, famine, economic collapse and civil war. Invading armies from the East and South - most likely an alliance of Russian and Muslim (and possibly Chinese) forces - will seek to exploit the chaos and conquer the continent. This will be a brutal, no-holds barred assault. Italy will fall and the Pope will be taken captive. Britain will go down after a fierce and prolonged struggle. Paris and Marseilles will be destroyed and the enemy will advance as far as Brittany before the Grand Monarch - a descendant of the martyred Louis XVI - will stake his claim from somewhere to the west of France, probably Spain. Much as De Gaulle did in 1940, he will call on those still willing to fight to rally to his standard. He will be mocked and derided at first, for defeatism will have taken hold everywhere, but a series of stunning, against the odds victories will turn the tables on the occupiers completely as the Grand Monarch and his followers build up an unstoppable momentum.
Britain will be liberated first, then France, Italy, and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. By the rumour of his presence, the Great King will spark panic in all his foes and the enemy commanders will have no alternative but to sue for peace. Like Aragorn at the Field of Kormallen, the Grand Monarch will be merciful and magnanimous in victory. In gratitude and relief, the whole world will turn towards God, and the Catholic Church will enjoy the most fruitful and successful epoch in her history. Together with an ‘Angelic Pope’ (I am unsure if this is the Pope initially taken captive or another) the Grand Monarch will preside over an era of unprecedented peace. He will be King of France and Holy Roman Emperor and will go by the name of King Henry V of the Cross. All nations will acknowledge his Divinely-appointed rule, yet his reign will be comparatively short - twenty-five to thirty years - and towards the end of it or shortly afterwards the Antichrist will rear his head. In an echo of the resignation of Benedict XVI, the Grand Monarch will renounce his rule, laying down his crown on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, and retiring to a life of monastic seclusion. The stage will then be clear for the Antichrist’s rise to power, his near-universal acclamation, his three and a half year reign, and the Second Coming of Our Lord. The Grand Monarch will have done his work by then. Mission accomplished, he will know when to depart as surely as he will know when to arrive.
‘How can these things be?’(John 3 : 9) Such a set of spectacular scenarios might seem hard to conceptualise but given the general drift of current affairs are they really that far-fetched? Imagine the cumulative shock of one catastrophe upon another - plague (way beyond the scale of Covid 19), internecine conflict, starvation, economic and social meltdown, and foreign invasion. What will it be like to live through the implosion of the world we were born into and which, for all its faults, we have become so deeply familiar with? This brings us back again to the first essay on these pages and the unparalleled shock felt by St. Augustine and his contemporaries at the sack of Rome in 410 AD. What we will see, I believe, when reality hits home this hard, will be a falling away of the false modes of being that have been imposed upon us since the Early Modern era. Liberalism, capitalism, rationalism, scientism, progressivism - all these illusions and more will drop off like the scales that fell from St. Paul’s eyes. A clearing is thus fashioned for the Grand Monarch to step in and restore the natural order: God → King → People. Only the vertical dimension - the path of transcendence - will feel relevant at this time. Horizontality will make no sense. It will seem unreal, and because so much falsehood will have been burned away in the terrible conflagrations of those days, it will go without saying for those that survive that this is the right and obvious way to restructure society.
The Grand Monarch will restore us to the ground of our authentic Being, yet not for an especially long time. Why is this? ‘Humankind’ as T.S. Eliot reminds us, ‘cannot bear very much reality.’and I think it is entirely conceivable to imagine an Antichrist-figure worming his way into hearts and minds after everything has settled down and folk have started to feel at home in the world again. I can hazard a guess as to the line of attack he might take. My sense is that King Henry’s overarching policy might be akin to that of the Irish Statesman Éamon de Valera (1882-1975), as illustrated in this extract from the Taoiseach’s speech on St. Patrick’s Day 1943:
The Ireland we have dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to things of the spirit, a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sound of industry … whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. It would, in a word, be a home of people living the life that God desires that men should have.
‘Dev’ struggled to make this splendid but by his own admission ‘frugal’ vision stick, given that there was apparently easy money to be made just a short boat ride away as Britain began to rebuild after the Second World War. Maybe the Antichrist will insinuate himself into Joe Public’s affections a little like this:
‘You have had the wool pulled over your eyes and have allowed yourselves to be duped. This self-styled Grand Monarch and Angelic Pope have exploited the trauma you endured to set up a theocracy which keeps them in power and you enslaved, deprived of the material wealth and the personal liberty that you enjoyed in the past. The old system was far from perfect but surely we can see now, from a distance of three decades, that all that was required was a little course correction, not a return to the Middle Ages and the imposition of Caesaro-Papism. The disasters are long behind us now. None of them were your fault. Never forget that. It is time to take back the power and control that is democratically yours and to kick these religious maniacs into the long grass.’
Perhaps he will not be so clear-cut and explicit, at least at the outset. But it will be with such-like words that Satan - that wily serpent - will twist the truth and turn men and women away from God at the end of human history just as he did in its beginning.
A consideration of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (Republic, Book VII) can assist us in taking this reflection one crucial step further. Socrates asks his interlocoteur Glaucon to imagine a group of prisoners sat bound together in a cavernous cell. They have been tied in such a way that they can only look forward, so they are unable to see the fire farther up the cave behind them. Shadows cast by objects passing between the fire and the prisoners cast shadows on the wall before them. They mistake these phantoms for reality itself, which is natural and understandable given that they have no experience or conception of a world outside their restricted parameters. Socrates goes on to speculate about what might happen if one of them succeeded in escaping. Even if that man got no farther than the cave and the fire at the far end, he would find it exceptionally hard to assimilate the greater reality that was being revealed to him: ‘Don’t you think he’d be bewildered and would think that there was more reality in what he’d been seeing before than in what he was being shown now?’
This shines a light on the role played by the great mass of people in the various Grand Monarch prophecies. They are passive throughout, switching seamlessly from immersion in late-stage liberalism to support for King Henry to following the Antichrist. Only a tiny minority will dare to oppose this last-named and they will undoubtedly be the same mavericks and outsiders that saw something in the Grand Monarch when everyone else laughed him to scorn. The masses are unable to integrate the depth of the revelation the Grand Monarch brings. They do not fully assimilate it, and are therefore unable to see through the spell cast by the Antichrist. They are like the seed in Our Lord’s parable that fell on potentially fertile soil but was choked and thwarted by thorns.
Socrates continues though: ‘The region which is accessible to sight should be equated with the prison cell, and the firelight with the light of the sun. And if you think of the upward journey and the sight of things up on the surface of the earth as the mind’s ascent to the intelligible realm, you won’t be wrong …’Now if an escapee manages to get this far - to the light of the moon and stars and sun - well then, such a one will have seen and touched reality - known it first-hand - and will never be deceived again by the shadows in the cave. Like a Bodhisattva, he will descend to his former colleagues and begin to preach the good news of the wide and bounteous kingdom above. But it will be a difficult process of readjustment and he will find it hard to make the world of light intelligible to the denizens of darkness. ‘Wouldn’t they say that he’d come back from his upward journey with with his eyes ruined, and that it wasn’t even worth trying to go up there? And couldn’t they - if they could - grab hold of anyone who tried to set them free and take them up there, and kill them?’
Such a one is the Grand Monarch, and this in my opinion is why his reign is shorter than might be expected and why the Antichrist follows so hard upon his heels. What can e do to help him? Our role right is to attune ourselves to his still occluded but nonetheless real presence - to pray for him, meditate on his person, talk to him even. What is crucial is that as many of us as possible recognise him when he comes and that he receives as much support as e can muster. In this way we can help hasten his coming and make his path to victory easier and swifter, potentially extending his reign and arming ourselves (and our children) with the inner steel required to outlast the Antichrist’s brief but bloody tenure.
Our situation in late-stage modernity is made more complicated, however, by our addiction (many would say enslavement) to technology. As Leo Strauss first noted and Michael Millerman highlights in this ground-breaking essay, we have fabricated ‘a cave beneath the cave’ and in so doing have dropped below the natural, non-technological state of ignorance represented by the prisoners in the ‘first cave.’ As Millerman sums it up aptly:
If the hubris of a technological society is not to destroy the possibility of being human through ever-accumulating soul-destroying perversions, we must become aware of the shakiness of the foundations of the modern world (the second cave) and, through a return to the primordial question of the right way of life, the Socratic starting point, make ourselves free for the god who, according to another great philosopher of the present, alone can save us now.
It was Heidegger who said that - ‘Only a god can save us now.’ Nothing is more true, more relevant or more appropriate, given where we are as a civilisation at the moment. This is a two-way, back and forth process - God to Man and Man to God - yet the onus is on us to reorientate ourselves towards the Divine, remembering that God is always reaching out to us and it is not His fault that our spiritual vision has grown weak and blurry. The scales have to fall from our eyes, as they fell from St. Paul’s, and that is when we will know who the Grand Monarch is and that is when things will start to happen.
King Henry of the Cross is not God or even a god, but he will act and speak in the name of the Most High and he will unfurl His Heavenly banner here on Earth. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domine. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Farasha Euker, speaking of D.H. Lawrence’s notion of the ‘Sun Man, nails it exactly in her essay Aristocracy:
Since things are so degenerate and decadent right now, we need to set in place a world-wide resurrection, and the only kind of person who can do this is a messiah, a saviour, the sun-man among sun-men.’
For those destined to meet and interact with the Grand Monarch - to work, to fight, to rebuild the world alongside him - I can imagine that simply standing in his presence will feel like a transfiguration. Yet the Grand Monarch is ‘not that light’ but is ‘sent to bear witness of that light.’ (John 1:8). He will point to another and tell us, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.' (John 1:30). So what or who will we see when we look into the Grand Monarch’s eyes? The one who sent him, in my opinion, and the one who will succeed him. It is the same Person, the same Logos, the same Creative Word, the same Sun of Justice:
… But Drem’s whole awareness was caught and held by the tall figure of Midir the Priest, naked as the rest, and crested with the folded wings of the golden eagle, standing in the midst of the circle, in the very heart of the brightness. He was no longer aware of the men on either side of him, not aware of walking forward, until suddenly he was close before Midir; not aware of anything but Midir’s eyes.
But Midir’s eyes, that were like dark sunlight, were no longer eyes at all. They had contracted to two pin-points of intense yellowish light, and the light ate into his very soul … Yet even as he gazed and gazed, his whole spirit caught up and held powerless, they were eyes again; yet such eyes as he had never seen before. Eyes that burned with a fire beyond fire, a blasting and shrivelling glory; and he was aware of a face growing up around them, and a figure, but not Midir’s. He had forgotten Midir. This was One who leaned on a spear as vast as the shaft of light when the Sun strikes through storm clouds. And the face? Afterwards Drem only remembered that looking into it was like trying to look into the Sun at noonday. He was aware of a shining and unbearable glory, a power that seemed to beat about him in fiery waves; and he knew in a moment of terror and ecstasy that he was looking into the face of the Sun Lord himself, which no man might see and live. The voice of a thousand war hosts rang in his ears, and he was flying forward, plunging, swooping like a hawk, like a shooting star, into the heart of the singing-brightness, the heart of all things.
Martin Lings, Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions (Archetype, 2001), p.61.
See Burnt Norton and Murder in the Cathedral.
Roger Buck, Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed (Angelico Press, 2016), p.401.
Plato, Republic (Oxford World’s Classics, 1993), pp.240-245.
Rosemary Sutcliff, Warrior Scarlet (Oxford University Press, 1958), pp.231-232.