Late in life Mark Twain had to go on the road to raise money to pay his creditors because he’d invested poorly. In the process he probably invented stand-up comedy, which Vaudeville probably stole.
Over the years I’ve collected several of his one-liners.
At one of his sessions he mentioned that he wanted to shake hands with the Devil. “He must be a man of executive ability…
…”after all, he is the spiritual head of half the world…and the political head of the whole of it.”
It was a laugh line, Twain inferring that our Congress had abdicated its constitutional mission as a moral reflector of the people’s will. He often stated that Congress was America’s “only native-born criminal class”.
Satire aside, Twain was more correct than he knew, for according to the New Testament, in both Matthew 4 and Luke 4, when Christ had his one encounter with Satan in the wilderness, Old Clootie offered Christ all the great kingdoms of the earth if He would only bow down to him, “for they have been committed to me to give to anyone I choose” (Luke 4:6).
Of course, Jesus rejected the offer, Satan departed, and the rest, as they say, “was History.” But Satan had confirmed what Mark Twain had boasted, that he was indeed the political head of the entire world.
And arguably still is.
But Christianity found it almost impossible to survive in a hostile political environment that would not tolerate its citizens being missionized by any alien faith. For centuries the Movement had to hide in groves of trees, private homes, caves and catacombs, in order to practice even the simplest of religious devotionals. For three centuries most of its bishops were martyred. Then, in 312 AD, because of a bright light he’d seen going into battle, one of the Roman emperors, Constantine, declared Christianity no longer to be illegal. Just like that, the Christians had gained what they most wanted, physical security.
These were tough times for the Empire, for it was ruled by a tetrarchy, the empire divided between four emperors. Ordinarily one might say this was all right in Satan’s political design, as all the contestants for power were generally on his side in maintaining his top-down design, as he had been able to do with every dynastic change in history.
But then Constantine up and got friendly with the agents of his One Enemy. When Constantine despatched the other emperors, returning Rome to its previous line-of-succession, from the time of the Caesars, it was carrying Christianity’s banner as the state religion of the Empire (379 AD).
We can only speculate what Satan’s role as a moving agent might have been in this period. Between four competitors he had no dog in the fight. He ruled entirely top-down. And anonymously. Even their religions were his creation, so there was no competitive spiritual element challenging his political control. It had always been that way, and things always turned out well.
But then God had inserted a bull in his china shop that only he could recognize, for Christianity was composed almost entirely of people no king in Satan’s charge had ever stooped to notice for thousands of years. And it would take him several centuries of trial and error to fully grasp the magnitude of this sea-change.
At the same time, Rome the city began to decline. Constantine had literally dismantled much of Rome and carried it over to the Bosporus where he would build a new capital at Byzantium, since his 4th C architects and engineers could not replicate what 1st Century BC Roman architects had built. Rome became a shadow of its former self, like Chicago.
And the spiritual element grew, for Constantine caused the Church to be organized as a corporate entity, when he called a council in Nicea in 325 AD, to, among other things, settle theological differences, since there was no ruling doctrine, and which divided the Church throughout its many bishoprics stretching from England to Persia. Arianism was just one of those dividing issues.
1800 invitations to the Council in Nicea went out, and about 300 showed up, or about 16%. Those 300 created the Church’s first Front Office. The Church had no organizing canons and at Nicea they formulated the first twenty of what now number in the thousands. The codification of the texts of the New Testament would not occur for another 70 years, at another council. But at Nicea it was agreed that the Bishop of Rome, which was appointed to Peter by Christ, would be the ruling authority among the bishops, keeping Rome in the loop.
Satan could afford to be a little nonchalant, as he still controlled all the impulses that drove kings throughout history (and still do); vanity, avarice, greed, lust, pride, wrath, all bundled into a single power over their subjects. He was certain that this new spiritualism was just a phase among kings. And in truth, he was largely correct.
But once again Rome had declined to the point it was beset by barbarian tribes from the north who had been untouched by the civilizing effects of both Empire and Church. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and in 476 the Eastern Empire was formally split from the Western Empire. The Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches did not officially split for another 600 years but they went their own way.
So, once again, physical security became paramount to the Church in Rome. So, in 800 AD, in what could only be called a power-sharing agreement, established along quid pro quo lines, Roman Pope Leo III crowned Charles I (Charlemagne), the king of the Franks, as Holy Roman Emperor, blessing his brutal conquest of all the Germanic tribes of northeastern Europe.
Their compact generally guaranteed that the King would give the Church security as well as certain perquisites, such as land (and its rents and royalties) along with the people who belonged to those lands, as the Feudal System was just getting underway. The Church also got its own court system over which it would have exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate religious disputes and heresies, including the power to mete out punishments. (It was a Church court that burned Joan of Arc 600 years later.)
And the king generally agreed to deliver all the persons of his realm, commoner and nobility, over to the Church for religious instruction, and baptism. This saved the Church innumerable man-hours in having go about the tough job of missionizing the old fashioned way, where doors were often slammed in their face, and the occasional dog set loose on them.
In exchange, the king and his successors, all their nobility and members of the court, (the Front Office) agreed to be baptized, and upon death, regardless of the number of people they had caused to be murdered, property they had stolen, girls they had deflowered, if they confessed their sins they would be able to enter into God’s Kingdom as innocent as the day they were born.
Bottom line, the kings, forever and anon, gave up a tenth of all their lands, which they didn’t have to pay for, in exchange for life everlasting, as guaranteed by an elected vicar of Christ, based primarily on the fact that he and his team could read and the royals could not.
All this took Satan a little over 800 years to pull off, and another thousand plus to enjoy it more or less unfettered. And were it not for a nagging little event which occurred another 800 years later, when small bands of mostly English commoners set up camps in a total wilderness in North America, land which none of his European empires seemed to covet, history might have moved forward at a manageable pace for Satan, despite this infusion of a spiritual element into his front office design.
For some it was for freedom of religion, a hideous consideration for Satan after all the work he’d done in gaining some control over the new spiritual world that had sprung up. But for others it was simply freedom…freedom to open up new land, to build their own “house”, and make reciprocal arrangements with their neighbors without the approval of a front office. To buy, produce and sell, as well as worship, as they pleased.
These were human ambitions Satan hade never acknowledged, or perhaps even knew existed in Man. In all his centuries molding empires from the top down, the Devil had never even considered that the front lines of his empires might be able to go off and build a nation on their own. Without the benefit a Front Office.
It seems the coming together of the Church and State in 800 was not quite the fait accompli for Satan as he first imagined. Until Christ he had never even considered any “outside” spiritual competition, as all the gods of the kings before Christ had been his creation and they served his purpose. (Twain probably never thought of this either, but as I’ll shortly show, both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien had.)
At the time he encountered Christ, Satan had only considered the Front Office of his empires, as that was all that mattered in the world of kings he’d created. All his spies, stooges and snitches were found associated with the front office, whether a courtier in France or an aide to a congressman in Washington; easy to target and easy to seduce over to his side. There was nothing about the other 90% of wretcheds who inhabited his domains outside the castle gates he needed to bother with.
Christ, not just His words, but the people He mobilized, were able to circumvent Satan for the longest time, simply because they knew him by name and knew his purposes. When they were baptized they foreswore him…by Name! What an Infamy! So here he was,1600 years later, trying to assess what to do about a continent of commoners who believed all that religious bilge and hating him by name, as they built it.
Before Christ, no one even knew Satan as a force in their lives existed.
So, what happened in America cannot be written off as “an accident of Nature.” As scholars have debated for centuries about Creation, Mind had to precede Nature in order to make any sense of the creation of the universe, and of America.
But for the longest time all that Satan could of God’s plan was that a thin red line had been drawn from when Abraham moved from Mesopotamia to Canaan because of a deal he’d made with God. By the time of Christ, that part of the world still revealed little more than that same thin red line; of the travels of Abraham’s descendants from Canaan to Egypt, then back again, where the Children of Israel would finally get to settle, in, but more often than not, out of God’s pleasure in the Land He had promised them, proving that God always keeps His Covenant, even when His Chosen were almost always breaking theirs. From the time of last prophet in the Old Testament, Malachi, to the time of Christ, 400 years, they had lived under a succession of rulers; Persians, Greeks, and eventually Romans.
So, at best, the Israelites were but a shadow of their former selves from the time of King David, a thousand years earlier. Yahweh was still the spiritual Head of their small world, but their political territory consisted of little more than a magistrate’s office in a little backwater of Roman-occupied Syria.
So I don’t think Satan paid a great deal of attention to them. Through his spies he was always lurking, protecting his interests in the real world in which he believed he was sole master. But that always on the top floor. With that vain lapse, he mis-assessed the scope of God’s plan, a mistake that would take him 800 years to even begin to correct.
We all know that event with Satan in the Wilderness marked a turning point in history, for in the centuries that followed that “thin red line” actually did, by Mark Twain’s time, become the spiritual territory of almost half the world. A remarkable feat, it also had a palliative effect on the rest of the political world it touched for even the most barbaric had to “pay the price that vice pays to virtue” by paying public homage to virtues they despised. And just out of the blue, as Constantine would demonstrate, even some in the highest ranks of the Front Office would suddenly jump Satan’s ship altogether, and go over to the side of the “Enemy”.
After 5000 years there was uncertainty in his system. Nothing was a cinch anymore, and, as with Constantine’s conversion, it could throw a wrench into his works that would take centuries to undo.
About “executive ability”, a generation after Twain’s quip C S Lewis put Satan’s management scheme into print. His Screwtape Letters were a series of “letters” between one of Satan’s employees, what the CIA today would call “case officers”, named Screwtape, and one of his field operatives, Wormwood, as he tried to entice a citizen, The Patient, into leaving the Faith.
(John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, for younger and less lucky readers, does a splendid reading of the entire book on YouTube, each in 6-to-7 minute episodes. Recommended.)
The British, who probably designed the stylus for modern corporate communication even before Twain’s time, (if Charles Dickens is to be believed) probably knew more about front office thinking, and the class distinctions that naturally inure to rank in that dark world, so Lewis recognized Satan’s fingerprints in the bureaucratic world.
But when it comes to understanding the organization of kingdoms I defer to J R R Tolkein.
CS Lewis had a special relationship with Tolkien, if you didn’t already know. The master of fables, his Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbit story are masterpieces not only in the genre of fantastic story-telling, but in his minute creation of an entire world, Middle Earth, about which only a brief glimpse is portrayed in his four volumes. It was a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, maps, even invented languages, which he called a “legendarium”
And at the end of his final volume is a multi-paged “index” which alludes to source material and earlier eras running back to Middle Earth’s Beginning, much as our biblical Old Testament begins with a Void, before the Universe was formed, covering thousands of years.
So, in this “Devil’s History” there are two sagas here, already conveniently tagged as BC and AD for 2000 years, as a way to measure time more according to God’s liking than Satan’s.
But there is a third epoch in Satan’s crusade against God, and that is the period before the Beginning.
Bible scholars all agree that there was a “Beginning before the Beginning” in Genesis, only it has to be mined from biblical texts. It was Tolkien who talked Lewis back into the Church of his youth, and while CS Lewis is still probably the finest exponent of Christian apologetics who ever taught, J R R Tolkien was a Bible-scholar par excellence, a Catholic, and one of the editors of the Jerusalem Bible, first published in 1966.
Because of his intimacy with Norse mythology, Tolkien also gave great weight to indigenous peoples’ oral histories, in part because so many were similar, as if from a common source. And many of their cosmogonies also include a Beginning before the Beginning.
After he died in 1973, Tolkien’s son published his Silmarillion which was a tale of how the High Elves, (who saw their last days in Lord of the Rings) first came to Middle Earth. Although he denied any allegorical connection to the Biblical story in Genesis, Tolkien described the cosmogony of the universe by a god-head named Iluvatar, Father of All, and outlined how he shaped first his “orchestra”, the Ainur, (archangels) who were consigned to create celestial music based on “themes” given them by the Father. The most talented of these was named Melkor, who grew jealous of the Father’s themes, who devised themes of his own, (instead of Mozart, think “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, which is how I interpreted it in 1977). After a few failed attempts to bring Melkor back into the fold, Iluvatar expelled him and some of his followers from the band, and they would end up in what would later be called Arda, or Earth, on which Middle Earth and other named places existed.
Iluvatar had created as this to be the future abode of Elves and Men. He consigned his Ainur-archangels to become their overlords.
(Tolkien tells this tale in “Ainulindale”, as an opening chapter of Silmarillion, and to my taste, it is the finest piece of lyric prose written in English.)
Whether coincidental or intentional, the Silmarillion lays out a scheme similar to the lore surrounding Lucifer being cast out of Heaven, (Isaiah 14) also (arguably) before the Earth was populated. As with Melkor on Arda, Satan also considered Earth his personal territory. Jealous of God, but also petulant and vindictive, he’s carried out an endless war with God’s plans, but never directly against God, but rather against his co-equal archangels in the hierarchy. This may explain the many artistic renderings of St Michael doing battle with the devil.
Of course Genesis doesn’t elaborate. Thousands of years of history are buried away in the first 31 verses of the Book of Genesis, as laid down in print by Hebrew scribes in the 9th Century BC. (Source: Jerusalem Bible, “Introduction to The Pentateuch”, whose editors go on to mention that its purpose was to outline the course to salvation, and not to relay a precise history of the Earth, as historians are wont to seek.)
So, in all likelihood, Satan does not compete with God head to head. Nor does God acknowledge him directly, But Jesus does. Just as God keeps His covenants, He also abides by His own rules about interfering directly in the affairs of men. By giving Man free will, He will not allow Himself to simply squish people like bugs, or launch thunderbolts, but rather provide Man the means to recognize Evil and to defeat it in their homes and in the public square.
Satan stands beneath God, a minion, who not only organized his earthly empires according to certain well-established laws of human frailties (see the Seven Deadly Sins) but designed them around a corporate command and control structure as a way of managing affairs on Earth.
I’ve written several chapter outlines along these lines, and provisionally entitled my book “The Devil’s Political History of the United States”, taking my narrative style from Schweikart and Allen’s Patriot’s History of the United States.
Like Lewis’ Screwtape I think the entire story should be told from Satan’s point of view, only inferring God’s plans, but not as a first person tale. The “stars” of this book are only Satan and the elephant in the room, God. All the others are human wallpaper.
This is not a request for a collaboration, but I would be happy to entertain it, especially on a project that might take more than a couple of years, as I’m well past 70. Certain terms apply.
I am a very interesting person, having seen a lot and been a lot of place, and at great cost. Many of my essays at VassarBushmills.com have autobiographical sketches included, with dozens of references to themes I’ve outlined here, so please feel free.