On Saturday evening, Fr. A came over for a late dinner following the vigil masses, bearing a small white padded envelope that he was excited to tear open. Drawing out the contents, he gifted me with a copy of 1917: Read Banners, White Mantle (Carroll, W.H.; Christendom Press, 1981)(Amazon link), telling me that it was a “must read”.
According to the back cover, Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D. is a Columbia University-trained historian and Chairman of the History Department of Christendom College. He has also published a six-volume work on the history of Christendom, which, judging by the quality of 1917, is worth investigating.
Carroll’s fundamental premise is that the world events surrounding the beginning of the Twentieth Century, most specifically 1914 to 1918, cannot be properly understood without looking to several key (arguably supernatural) connections that were profoundly felt by all of Western Civilization, even if not exquisitely understood.
Carroll’s history does not neglect detail when it comes to identifying the central figures of the global crisis that was World War I, but it centers on a few prime characters: the saintly last Emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Charles II; the last Tsar and Tsarina of the Russian Empire; the impossibly demonic figure of Gregory Rasputin; His Holiness Benedict XV; Lenin and Stalin.
We also learn about Lucia Adobora, Jacinta and Francisco Marto — three young Portuguese shepherds — the oldest of whom (Lucia) was only 10, who were visited by Our Lady at Fatima over the course of the months of 1917, leading up to the “Miracle of the Sun” on October 13, 1917, described as the “most witnessed” miracle in history, because thousands of people attested to what happened.
Some of the connections that Carroll draws are beyond belief, and yet, from the Catholic perspective, are unmistakably true. For example, we are somewhat taken with apparitions such as Divine Mercy or Fatima, without always recalling their time and place in history. We can and sometimes do forget the context that would have been readily apparent at the time.
As Carroll points out, the visitations of Our Lady on the hillside near Fatima occurred at the height of armed conflict that was producing tens of thousands of casualties every month. Millions of soldiers died over what amounted to mere hundreds of yards (in best cases) of gained (or lost) territory.
Benedict XV was not soft-spoken about the terrors brought on by such violence, and he publicly prayed for the intercession of Our Lady. Carroll suggests Fatima constituted a response to those (and other) prayers. However, suggestion is not persuasion. The presentation is with an eye to historical accuracy, giving citations for basis. One can draw one’s own conclusions.
In another unforgettable example, Carroll describes a mangy fortuneteller/monk of sorts, who wormed his way into the good graces of the Last Tsarina of Russia. The man, usually filthy and reeking, with an unkempt beard and wildly penetrating eyes, was Gregory Rasputin (introducing him, the author pointed out: “early in his adult life his sexual promiscuity and prowess gained him the surname Rasputin, the Dissolute”).
Carroll goes on to describe Rasputin’s disgusting behavior — exposing himself in public, speaking loudly in vile obscenity, seducing women of the court, habitual drinking and debauching). Yet, the Tsarina grows entirely dependent on Rasputin, who ingratiated himself by demonstrating capability in protecting the hemophiliac heir — Alexis — from physical injury. Through this opening, Rasputin becomes second only to the Tsar in wielding imperial power at the end of the Romanov’s reign.
The means Rasputin used to achieve this are unclear, and again, Carroll suggests, but does argue for the supernatural. But when one considers the account of Rasputin’s death provided by Carroll, and Rasputin’s own wild statements leading up to his murder, and finally, the shocking effects of Rasputin’s involvement in tearing down imperial Russia and ushering in Communist Revolution, a Catholic perspective would permit the inference of demonic forces.
1917 was originally published in 1981, and while the latest printing occurred in 2000, it has not (apparently) been revised to reflect the new post-Cold War reality. It still very much reads like a story unfolding, where several intervening events have occurred (i.e., the release of the Third Secret of Fatima, the fall of Soviet Communism, the consecration of Russia to Our Lady). Thankfully, the book holds up and the time lock does not diminish the connection it draws.
Now that it’s been a full century since the events described in 1917, the book takes on a heightened tone of prophesy. Of particular significance to Catholics, it provides the context that forms the next major European conflict in the rise of national socialism, manifesting the demonic in the form of ethnic and ideological hatred that continues to confound and perplex, if for no other reason than that it is still going on.
Which is why, even though 1917 ably sets the table for World War II, and anticipates the not-yet-fully-baked dessert that was the 1989-1991 period that
ended the Soviet Union, Carroll’s work is most relevant now, because we see Europe once again at a new transition point, involved in a growing Islamization, where European communities and regions do exist that are impassible by infidels and unprotected by Western law.
This is the current moment, where the West threatens to cease being the West, and the threat is from within. Our failure to observe the refraining message found in 1917 dooms us — as they say — to repeat the same painful lessons. It wouldn’t hurt to heed the warning (considering the source credited by the book): “Repent! Repent! Repent!” And it wouldn’t hurt to take another lesson to heart: turn to Our Lady in times of crisis!