Being the Fourth Part of Once Upon an Aevum.
Indeed, the Fullness of Time is at hand.
All the angels have striven in combat against the forces of darkness, but have been unable to prevail alone. Time and again, the senseless on earth, mankind, rejected the Perfect Will and chose the pleasures of this life, offered them by the devils.
But now the world is settling, ready for the Fulfillment of the prophecies:
“He shall strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”
“Because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”
“The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs.”
“I will raise up my heir after you, sprung from your loins…I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me…”
“The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall be living on curds and honey by the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good.”
“Seventy weeks of years are decreed for your people and for your holy city: then transgression will stop and sin will end…”
“But you, Bethlehem-Ephratha, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel…”
All the angels know these prophesies, but the demons, too, are aware of them. The seventy weeks of years are up and the world is at peace. The demons don’t want the tumult of war to conceal the coming of the Messiah. No, a quiet empire will suit them best to find him.
But neither do the angels want to disobey the orders from on high. It is the Eternal Desire that the Savior should remain concealed for thirty years; no man nor demon should identify him as the Promised One, until God reveals it. How can the heavenly army assist the fulfillment of the prophecies, yet keep the King hidden? By breaking the peace?
* * *
Thus, Roma of the Principalities considered what she should do. She had accepted an honorable role: the guidance of the Roman Empire, which was destined to rule the world of Christ’s earthly lifetime. Only Michael, guardian of Israel, had a more honorable (and difficult) nation to rule.
From Rome’s beginnings, Roma had set it out for its destiny. Receiving legions of archangels from on high, she assigned an archangel to every household, to inspire the human virtues Rome would be famous for. These archangels were the genii: the guardians of each paterfamilias. With such close guards, no one would stop Rome’s relentless advance.
The demons tried in vain to arrest her growth in virtue. Other Italian tribes fell before Roma’s attendants: Virtues Minerva and Fortitudo. Of Rome’s opponents, Etruria, Samnium, Syracuse, Epirus, none could defeat her determination. Not even Moloch, the fearsome Idol of Carthage, could stop Roma when he sailed from Tyre to build his rival empire in Africa. Jupiter and all of the Olympian gods attempted to subvert the Roman households, but the genii made every house a bastion only time, ambition, lust and imperial pride could sap. The demons on Olympus had gained the Romans’ worship, but not their souls.
But Roma knew human virtue was nearly gone from Rome. In taking other nations, the Romans encountered new heathen gods, who directed all their infernal power at the Roman republic. The gods of Greece, Egypt, Persia, Spain, Gaul: all these demons now infiltrated the Roman system.
Above the Forum in Rome, Roma leaned on her spear and let her weary wings droop to her battered greaves. She tilted up her legionnaire helmet to survey the reeking metropolis. A few insulae burnt on the edge of the city: a common city fire. A funeral procession wended its way through the streets, mourning Julius Caesar’s fortieth anniversary of death. Emperor Augustus looked on from his palace balcony, arrayed in his armor and drinking in the brief peace he had won. Roma looked at him, wary of the knot of demons on his roof.
Mars of the Oppressions, huge, scarlet and muscular, had stripped his armor and was talking edgily with Mercury of the Anarchs.
“If we didn’t have to wait quietly for that…Anointed One,” Mars complained, “I’d have more opportunity to damn souls with violence and anger.”
Mercury was less quarrelsome, having some activity in the thefts taking place in the charring insulae nearby. He addressed Cupid, Aphrodite and Bas: “Wouldn’t you say, fellow gods, that this wait is entirely bearable, if we can finally defeat the Eternal Machination? We, my comrades, would show ourselves worthy of our dominion!”
They did not reply. All three had recently come from Egypt, the scene of their finest hour, and were basking in the afterglow of their own power. All three had triumphed in the greatest victory Vices had achieved outside of Israel itself: Cleopatra. Yes, Aphrodite had endowed that Greek beauty with a bewitching grace, enhanced by Bas, the cat-faced Egyptian Vice of pleasure and fertility. Cupid had brought the greatest men of Rome to the trap, struck them with burning lust, and all had succumbed to the Vices’ diabolical pleasure. After seducing Pompey, Caesar and Mark Antony through Cleopatra, Aphrodite topped it off by inspiring Cleopatra’s suicide: a decisive end to a grand drama. Only the greatest effort by Roma had preserved Augustus from falling by Cleopatra’s wiles.
Seeing Roma in the forum, Aphrodite smirked at her nemesis. Casually, the goddess tempted Augustus to utter a prayer of adoration to Roma herself, which he did impulsively. It was a favorite demonic pastime to embarrass the good angels with divine worship from their subjects. Even the beleaguered household archangels had been turned into “household gods:” no different in Romans’ eyes than the Olympians themselves.
“Yes,” Roma thought as she turned her head in disgust, “Human virtue is doomed.”
Still, Rome had not yet corrupted entirely. Roma had Augustus on the throne: an upstanding, peace-loving, reverent man. True, he had murdered, warred and intrigued his way to rule. But, though the demons had suggested many of his actions, he honestly believed he was helping Rome. And indeed, his empire fit Providence admirably. Now, however, was there anything else Roma could do to help the Plan?
Suddenly, she looked up, alarmed. In a brilliant flash, Jupiter had arrived on the palace roof and had addressed Mars. Quick as thought, Roma traversed the miles of air in between Forum and Palace, and got on the roof to determine the demons’ intent. Unlike before, this diabolical conversation was secret, communicated directly between intellects, and its meaning she could not detect.
“Father in the sky,” Mars greeted Jupiter, “your presence is a pleasure. May your power stretch to infinity!”
“Lord of war, Mars, this is a great day when the Romans, our worshippers, have conquered the world. None contest our might, the sacrifices to us continue, and Israel is again subjugated under our puppet! We must celebrate our hegemony and discover to Augustus,” here he gestured to the oblivious human, “how many dwell in his realm. We must display to the universe my kingship over the gods and our unconquerable sway over men!”
Mercury danced eagerly as he listened. “Yes! What better use of peace than to give the ruler a time for pride, even as he gives glory to us! His soul will fall more severely yet!”
Mars nodded and the entire group descended to tempt Augustus on the balcony. Detecting Roma nearby, Aphrodite contorted her voluptuous face into a sneer. “We’ll get your darling Augustus yet!” she threatened.
Roma, warned by Aphrodite’s pride, surveyed the images in Augustus’s brain. Praetorius, his guardian archangel, vainly battled the temptations the gods rained on his ward:
“Why don’t I count my subjects? Surely rulers have censuses quite frequently…Besides I will collect great revenues…allow for beautiful slaves in my apartment…establish my supremacy…honor the gods…bring honor to myself. It will be most…advantageous.”
Roma realized what mischief the devils wanted, but their combined strength was too great over such a vulnerable soul as the emperor’s; he barely even considered resisting the devils’ combined temptation. Praetorius was only able to establish the faintest qualm of conscience before Augustus’s will had been won over by rationalizations.
Praetorius groaned in despair, “Roma, I have failed you. After you saved his soul from the baneful lust of Cleopatra, I let him bend like a leaf before the Olympians! They have caused him to indulge his pride and collect a census, like David of Israel! Forgive me, my lady.”
Roma nearly rebuked him, but stopped suddenly. An idea formed in her mind. Leaving Praetorius on the balcony, she followed Augustus down the hall. This was her opportunity to assist the Divine Plan!
“In your census,” she whispered to him, “make sure the head of every household goes to the city of his birth.”
Augustus stopped short. “Undoubtedly a very excellent method of counting subjects,” he mused.
Roma left him, pleased at this turn of events.