I have been reading Confessions of the Antichrist by Addison Hodges Hart (Angelico Press) these last few days. It’s true that in my last book blog I stated that I wasn’t reading novels – and this is undoubtedly a novel. But I suppose in a time like this, when normal life is suspended and people’s thoughts might turn from total immersion in this world to fleeting fears of what happens next, such reading is not entirely inappropriate.
Although it is obviously fiction, Hart’s very accomplished first novel, is not merely fantastical. Like Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World (a novel said to be popular with Pope Francis), it elaborates on Revelation in a way designed to jolt the reader into looking at who he really is, behind his public persona. In the novel, the protagonist’s name is never given; we learn that he has been a world figure (formerly a US president among other significant roles); nonetheless, he still has to face himself when stripped of human glory, giving the plot an unexpected twist.
Given the potential for melodrama in his theme, Hart handles it with skill, combining enough theological argument in the midst of a surreal (and occasionally appalling) scenario, alongside real suspense (what is going to happen in this fearsome underworld?), so that the reader does not stop turning the pages. It would make an excellent film.
Two leitmotifs predominate: the first is Christ’s temptations in the desert when he is offered by Satan all the kingdoms of this world; the second is the corruption of the innocent through paedophilia (“Better a millstone were put round his neck…”), reminding us both that temptation of one sort or another is a constant in human life and that protection of the poor and weak, God’s “little ones”, is essential to any serious progress in sanctity.
If this suggests the novel (only 171 pages) is heavy-going, it is the opposite; the hackneyed word would be “gripping”: you encounter cardinals who are not what they seem; a Vatican riddled with intrigues (some things don’t change); an improbable guardian angel (yes, angels are real); and a glimpse of what evil really means. Behind everything is a sinister episcopal coat of arms, showing a serpent with a human face dominating an ape-like man and woman.
The setting is a palace/fortress not unlike the circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, the home of Cardinal Fieropasto, whose true identity is only conveyed obliquely and who tells the protagonist, “All along you have been living in my world without knowing it…” The novel faces squarely the questions of predestination, destiny and free choice. My single caveat is that there is a suggestion, despite Hart’s graphic account of Satan’s destructive interventions in the history of the world, that all may finally be saved. At the very least, this runs counter to the great prayer of Pope Leo XIII to St Michael.
That said, this is a lively addition to the genre of apocalyptic literature. I warmly recommend it.
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