Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Quest

By Frederik van Eeden

(The most widely read of modern Dutch novels, this story of the life of “Little Johannes” is perhaps the most successful of the many attempts that have been made to portray the coming of Jesus into the modern world. Johannes is a boy of good family, who meets a strange, homeless workingman, to whom he becomes devoted, and whom he calls his “Brother.” The present selection narrates how Johannes was taken to church.)
“YOU see, Father,” said the countess, “we have come to seek Jesus. Johannes, also.”  1
  “He is waiting for you,” replied the priest, solemnly, pointing out the great crucifix above the altar. Then he disappeared into the sacristy.  2
  Johannes immediately fastened his eyes upon that figure, and continued to contemplate it while the people were taking their places.  3
  It hung in the strongest light of the shadowy church. Apparently it was of wood stained to a pale rose, with peculiar blue and brown shadows. The wounds in the side and under the thorns on the forehead were distinct to exaggeration—all purple and swollen, with great streaks of blood like dark-red sealing-wax. The face, with its closed eyes, wore a look of distress, and a large circle of gold and precious stones waggishly adorned the usual russet-colored, cork-screwy, woodeny locks. The cross itself was of shining gold, and each of its four extremities was ornamented, while a nice, wavy paper above the head bore the letters I. N. R. I. One could see that it was all brand-new, and freshly gilded and painted. Wreaths and bouquets of paper flowers embellished the altar.  4
  For a long time—perhaps a quarter of an hour—Johannes continued to look at the image. “That is Jesus,” he muttered to himself, “He of whom I have so often heard. Now I am going to learn about Him, and He is to comfort me. He it is who has redeemed the world.”  5
  But however often he might repeat this, trying seriously to convince himself—because he would have been glad to be convinced and also to be redeemed—he could nevertheless see nothing except a repulsive, ugly, bloody, prinked-up wooden doll. And this made him feel doubly sorrowful and disheartened. Fully fifteen minutes had he sat there, looking and musing, hearing the people around him chatting—about the price they had paid for their places, about the keeping on or taking off of women’s hats, and about the reserved seats for the first families. Then the door of the sacristy opened, and the choir-boys with their swinging censers, and the sacristan, and the priests in their beautiful, gold-bordered garments, came slowly and majestically in. And as the congregation kneeled, Johannes kneeled with them.  6
  And when Johannes, as well as the others, looked at the incoming procession, and then again turned his eyes to the high altar, behold! there, to his amazement, kneeling before the white altar, he saw a dark form. It was in plain sight, bending forward in the twilight, the arms upon the altar, and the face hidden in the arms. A man it was, in the customary dark clothes of a laborer. No one—neither Johannes nor probably any one else in the church—had seen whence he came. But he was now in the full sight of all, and one could hear whisperings and a subdued excitement run along the rows of people and pass on to the rear, like a gust of wind over a grain-field.  7
  As soon as the procession of choir-boys and priests came within sight of the altar, the sacristan stepped hastily out of line and went forward to the stranger, to assure him that, possibly from too deep absorption in devotion, or from lack of familiarity with ecclesiastical ceremony, he was guilty of intrusion.  8
  He touched the man’s shoulder, but the man did not stir. In the breathless stillness that followed, while everyone expectantly awaited the outcome, a deep, heart-rending sob was heard.  9
  “A penitent!” “A drunken man!” “A convert!” were some of the whispered comments of the people.  10
  The perplexed sacristan turned round, and beckoned Father Canisius, who, with impressive bearing, stepped up in his white, gold-threaded garb, as imposingly as a full-sailed frigate moves.  11
  “Your place is not here,” said the priest, in his deep voice. He spoke kindly, and not particularly loudly. “Go to the back of the church.”  12
  There was no reply, and the man did not move; yet, in the still more profound silence, his weeping was so audible that many people shuddered.  13
  “Do you not hear me?” said the priest, raising his voice a little, and speaking with some impatience. “It is well that you are repentant, but only the consecrated belong here—not penitents.”  14
  So saying, he grasped the shoulder of the stranger with his large, strong hand.  15
  Then, slowly, very slowly, the kneeling man raised his head from his arms, and turned his face toward the priest.  16
  What followed, perhaps each one of the hundreds of witnesses would tell differently; and of those who heard about it later, each had a different idea. But I am going to tell you what Johannes saw and heard—heard quite as clearly as you have seen and heard the members of your own household, today.  17
  He saw his Brother’s face, pale and illumined, as if his head were shone upon by beams of clearest sunlight. And the sadness of that face was so deep and unutterable, so bitter and yet so gentle, that Johannes felt forced, through pain, to press both hands upon his heart, and to set his teeth, while he gazed with wide, tear-filled eyes, forgetting everything save that shining face so full of grief.  18
  For a time it was as still as death, while man and priest regarded each other. At last the man spoke, and said:  19
  “Who are you, and in whose name are you here?”  20
  When two men stand thus, face to face, and address each other with all earnestness in the hearing of many others, one of them is always immediately recognized to be the superior—even if the listeners are unable to gauge the force of the argument. Every one feels that superiority, although later many forget or deny it. If that dominance is not very great, it arouses spitefulness and fury; but if it is indeed great, it brings, betimes, repose and submissiveness.  21
  In this case the ascendency was so great that the priest lost even the air of authority and assurance with which he had come forward, and did that for which, later, he reproached himself—he stopped to explain:  22
  “I am a consecrated priest of the Triune God, and I speak in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—our Saviour and Redeemer.”  23
  There ensued a long silence, and Johannes saw nothing but the shining, human face and the eyes, which, full of sorrow and compassion, continued to regard the richly robed priest with a bitter smile. The priest stood motionless, with hanging hands and staring eyes, as if uncertain what next to say or do; but he listened silently for what was coming, as did Johannes and all the others in the church—as if under an overpowering spell.  24
  Then came the following words, and so long as they sounded no one could think of anything else—neither of the humble garb of him who spoke, nor of the incomprehensible subjection of his gorgeously arrayed listener:  25
  “But you are not yet a man! Would you be a priest of the Most High?  26
  “You are not yet redeemed, nor are these others with you redeemed, although you make bold to say so in the name of the Redeemer.  27
  “Did your Saviour when upon earth wear cloth of silver and of gold?  28
  “There is no redemption yet—neither for you nor for any of yours. The time is not come for the wearing of garments of gold.  29
  “Mock not, nor slander. Your ostentation is a travesty of the Most High, and a defamation of your Saviour.  30
  “Do you esteem the kingdom of God a trifle, that you array yourself and rejoice, while the world still lies in despair and in shackles?…  31
  “You are so commanded to serve your Father in spirit and in truth, and you have served Him with the letter and with lies.  32
  “His prophets, who loved the truth better than their lives, you have burned at the stake, and have made them martyrs.…  33
  “You pull the carriage of prince and moneyed man, and make grimaces before the powerful.  34
  “They build your churches, and you say masses for them, although they be Satan himself.…  35
  “What have you done for the sheep committed to your care—for the poor and bereaved—for the oppressed and the disinherited?  36
  “Submission you have taught them—ay—submission to Mammon. You have taught them to bow meekly to Satan.  37
  “God’s light—the light of knowledge—you have withheld from them. Woe be to you!  38
  “You have taught them to beg, and to kiss the rod that smote them. You have cloaked the shame of alms-receiving, and have prated of honor in servitude.  39
  “Thus have you humbled man, and disfigured the human soul.…  40
  “Of the love of the Father you have made commerce—a sinful merchandise. Not because you love virtue do you preach it, but because of the sweet profit. You promise deliverance to all who follow your counsel; but as well can you make a present of moon and stars.  41
  “Are you not told to recompense evil with good? And is God less than man that He should do otherwise?  42
  “It is well for you that He does not do otherwise, for where then were your salvation?  43
  “For you, and you only, are the brood of vipers against whom is kindled the wrath of Him who was gentle with adulterers and murderers.”  44
  While speaking, the man had risen to his full height, and he now appeared, to all there assembled, impressively tall.  45
  When he had spoken, reaching his right hand backward he grasped the foot of the great golden crucifix. It snapped off like glass, and he threw it on the marble floor at the feet of the priest. The fragment broke into many bits. It was apparently not wood, but plaster.  46
  “Sacrilege!” cried the priest, in a stifled voice, as if the sound were wrung from his throat. His eyes seemed to be starting out of his great purple face.  47
  The man quietly replied:  48
  “No, but my right; for you are the sacrilegist and the blasphemer who makes of the Son of man a hideous caricature.”  49
  Then the priest stepped forward, and gripped Markus by the wrist. The latter made no resistance, but cried in a loud voice that reverberated through the church:  50
  “Do your work, Caiaphas!”  51
  After that he suffered himself to be led away to the sacristy.  52

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