Chapter 3- The First Kingdom Falls!
Section 1- The Mighty Bell
"O King of Paris! Tell the priest to ring the bells no longer... The Most Mighty Bell hath appeared..."
These were the opening words of a letter which Baha'u'llah addressed to Napoleon III, Emperor of France. The Prisoner told the Emperor that this "Mighty Bell" was Himself, that He had come so that the "world might be quickened, and all its peoples united!" A remarkable sequence of events brought Baha'u'llah from the Black Pit of Teheran to the Turkish fortress of '''Akka on the coast of the Mediterranean, from which He wrote this letter. Not the least remarkable feature of the story is the precision with which these events had been foretold in the scriptures of the three world religions.
We will want to return to those events when we consider the fate of Nasiri'd-Din Shah and the Persian monarchy. The Shah was not, however, the first ruler to receive a specific summons from the Prisoner. That ruler was Napoleon III, the most powerful monarch of the day. It may help, therefore, if we jump ahead a few years in time to the story of this king's historic encounter with the Prisoner.
Baha'u'llah wrote not once, but twice to the Emperor of France. Napoleon III, it is reported, cast the first Letter aside angrily, and ridiculed its contents. Napoleon was the first Western ruler to whom the Prisoner sent one of his history-making Letters. He was also the first ruler to be caught up in the rushing winds about which the Letters spoke. In the very year when the Bab first announced the advent of the Prisoner- 1844- Louis Napoleon was inspired to write a treatise on the elimination of poverty. The King appeared to be in tune with the spirit of the teachings of the Prisoner of the Holy Land. The abolition of extremes of poverty and wealth was one of the basic principles which the Prisoner urged the kings of the earth to bring about.
"March at the head of the ideas of your century," Napoleon III declared, "and these ideas follow and support you. March against them and they overthrow you." In sixteen years the Emperor led his nation into three wars that ruined France economically.
Louis Napoleon was given the opportunity to become an instrument to advance the welfare of mankind, but the King was unable to put aside his own desires. His fate intertwined with that of the Prisoner time and again.
In the year of Louis Napoleon's death, 1873, the Prisoner wrote His greatest Book, yet another appeal to the kings and rulers of the earth.
In this Book the Prisoner directed a special Message to the "Presidents and Rulers of the Republics of the West." He also laid down the fundamentals for a peaceful and ordered society, and described the institutions by which this goal could be accomplished. Napoleon III professed to be a leader dedicated to such aims for social justice.
Throughout his career Louis Napoleon was motivated, he said, by "a social, industrial, commercial humanitarian idea." When Napoleon III turned away from those principles, his downfall began.
The Prisoner wrote from the fortress-city of
'''Akka: "0 King of Paris... We tested thee, and found thee wanting... Hadst thou been sincere in thy words, thou wouldst not have cast behind thy back the Book of God... We have prove thee through it, and found thee other than that which thou didst profess."
There is no place here for a detailed study of the relationship between the Second Empire and the rise of the world-wide following of the Prisoner. This story can do no more than give a few brief kaleidoscopic glimpses into those events which should have shaken and awakened the world.
It is our great loss that they failed to do so.
"The scratchings of a Pen."
Section 2- The Hidden Scroll
If anyone had suggested that Louis Napoleon's predecessor, the great Napoleon Bonaparte, would be turned back from his first conquests by a "pimple," the fortress of 'Akka, he would have been considered unbalanced. Yet Napoleon I himself later admitted that he had been beaten, not by the British or the Turks, but by a ''grain of sand" known as 'Akka.
When, half a century later, a contemptible Prisoner of the Turks sent out a Message from that same 'Akka predicting collapse of the entire Napoleonic dynasty, the world was equally unimpressed.
Baha'u'llah, it was said, "enchanted" those who came to visit Him in that prison-city. The Turkish officials at first found this amusing. Especially so, when a respected French agent of Louis Napoleon's government became a devoted friend of this condemned Prisoner. The influence which the Prisoner gradually began to exert over all those who came to see Him became so great, however, that the guards grew suspicious of every visitor. Each one was kept under careful scrutiny. None was allowed to carry messages either to or from the Prisoner.
In spite of this close surveillance, it was not possible to prevent the Prisoner's second historic Letter to Napoleon III from leaving the prison-city.
A prison visitor nodded pleasantly at the guards as he prepared to leave. They searched him thoroughly. Still they found nothing.
The visitor smiled to himself as he hurried away. He had been confident that the guards would never think to search beneath his hat. He walked nonchalantly through the streets of 'Akka carrying in that hiding-place Baha'u'llah's history-making second Letter to Napoleon III. The Letter was delivered to the French Agent in 'Akka who made the necessary translation and arranged to put the Letter into the hands of the Emperor. The fate of a king, a nation, an empire and a dynasty were all foretold on that scroll of paper hidden beneath the head-dress of a visitor to a condemned prisoner in the fortress of 'Akka.
"Thy empire shall pass from thy hands, as a punishment for that which thou hast wrought."
Section 3- The Day of Reckoning
The Court of Napoleon III was the talk of all Europe. It was no make-believe king whose dramatic fall the Prisoner had predicted.
The ceremony and pageantry of Napoleon III's Court had become the envy of his neighbors. His contemporaries were overwhelmed by his lavish display. Louis Napoleon's ship rode on the crest of the waves. He himself could hardly believe his own good fortune. It surpassed even his fondest dreams. Every golden door was opening. Napoleon III would make of his kingdom what he wished. The world was his!
The Prisoner had said:
"0 King of Paris! ... It beseemeth the king of the age to inquire into the condition of such as have been wronged, and it behooveth him to extend his care to the weak."
Napoleon III was interested in the strong, not the weak in the rich, not the poor. Least of all was he interested in Turkish prisoners. He, Napoleon, was in fact the ally of those same Turks against the Czar of Russia. The Crimean War had been his chance to avenge his uncle, the Great Napoleon. The Emperor had no desire to incur the disfavor of his Turkish allies.
Louis Napoleon's actions said plainly: "Don't bother me with trifles! The world is at stake!"
It was Napoleon's own world that was at stake. And he had already lost it. Following the initial contempt shown by Louis Napoleon, the Prisoner wrote in his second Letter to the French Emperor: "0 king! ... Arise, and make amends for that which hath escaped thee. Ere long the world and all that thou possessest will perish, and the kingdom will remain unto God, thy Lord and the Lord of thy fathers of old. It behooveth thee not to conduct thine affairs according to the dictates of thy desires."
The Prisoner warned the Emperor that unless his misdeeds were immediately corrected he would pay a terrible penalty: "For what thou hast done, thy kingdom shall be thrown into confusion, and thine empire shall pass from thine hands as a punishment for that which thou hast wrought."
The day of reckoning was on the way.
"We see abasement hastening after thee."
Section 4- The Swift Decline
It was the beginning of the end for the Napoleonic dynasty.
Napoleon III had provoked the Crimean War in order to satisfy his inner anger against the Russian Emperor. He had longed to rip up the treaty of 1815, and avenge his uncle's disaster at Moscow.
Another great inspiration of Napoleon III's reign had been to establish an empire in Mexico. He had conceived the grandiose idea before becoming emperor. Napoleon III envisioned for himself a "new Constantinople" on the Isthmus of Panama. He would he a monarch in both the East and the West.
"We shall," he said, "establish our beneficent influence in the center of America." Oddly enough, Baha'u'llah had promised Napoleon III almost that exact reward if the king would devote himself to the cause of unity and justice for all mankind. The Prisoner wrote: "0 King of Paris! ... Arise thou to serve God and help His Cause. He, verily, will assist thee with the hosts of the seen and unseen, and will set thee king over all that whereon the sun riseth.
Napoleon III made no attempt to assist the prisoner or listen to his words. Napoleon III's American venture came to a dismal failure. All his subsequent attempts at expansion were overtaken by the same fate.
Suddenly, the old days of Glory were gone. Earlier he had defeated both Russia and Austria in the Crimean and Italian wars. He had surpassed two of the most feared military powers in all Europe. He had astonished the world. When Prussia and Austria went to war with one another in 1866, Napoleon III sat on the sidelines. He planned to intervene on the "proper" side at the "proper" time, that is, on whichever side would bestow upon him the greater benefit.
He guessed wrong. Prussia overwhelmed Austria swiftly and decisively. Napoleon's error was the first of a host which were to multiply and haunt him as his prestige declined. It is written in the Bible that God "punishes the kings" and the "nations." Louis Napoleon is almost a classic example of this principle at work. In reality, "kings" and "nations" punish themselves. They bring on their own sufferings by their, wrong decisions. In this "Day of God," whenever a ruler acts unjustly in order to assure his own advancement or prestige, or that of his country or people, at the expense of others, the decisions made to achieve that ignoble end plant the seeds of disaster. The more opposed these decisions are to the fundamental Laws of God concerning justice, the greater will be the disasters, and the more certain the downfall of all those who make such decisions. However long the process, the end is always the same.
The Prisoner tried to explain this basic principle to the Leaders of mankind. His Mission was to call their attention to the Laws of God. If they disobeyed them, the resulting "punishment" was brought on by their own wrong decisions. That is how God "punishes" the kings and the nations. They punish themselves.
Kaiser William I later declared that this war of 1866, during which Napoleon III sat on the sidelines was the ruin of France. "Napoleon," the Kaiser said, "should have attacked us in the rear."
It was too late. The "shining hour" had passed. Napoleon III had no refuge now except in war. Already he was risking an imminent revolution at home. In July, 1870 Napoleon III led his nation into war against Prussia.
The French Minister of War proudly declared that France expected a great and total victory. History shows how pathetic this decision was. Wrong decisions on all sides became the trademark of Napoleon III.
Chaos reigned unchecked: "Frequently soldiers and even generals went astray, not able to find their places. 'Have arrived at Belfort,' telegraphed General Michel on July 21st. 'Can't find my brigade; can't find the general of the division. What shall I do? Don't know where my regiments are.' It has been observed that this document is probably unique in military records."
The fulfillment of the promise made to Napoleon III by the Prisoner of the Holy Land had begun: "For what thou hast done, thy kingdom shall be thrown into confusion... "
In an attempt to prevent mutiny, Napoleon joined the army personally along with his young son. Exhausted by the pressures on him, and with his health undermined by agonizing attacks of kidney stones, the Emperor was barely able to stay on his horse during parade. It is said that he rouged his cheeks to disguise his pallor from the troops.
Napoleon III advanced with his army into oblivion.
The French Agent in 'Akka became a follower of the Prisoner when he saw the devastating fruition of those very prophecies which he himself had translated into French and forwarded to Napoleon III.
"They made Us, with glaring injustice,
enter the Most Great Prison."
Section 5- The Tide Turns
When we contrast the life and position of Baha'u'llah with that of Napoleon III at the beginning of the Emperor's reign, then witness how their positions were completely reversed at the end, we begin to understand the true significance of the warning which the Prisoner sent to the king:
"Hath thy pomp made thee proud? By My Life! It shall not endure; nay, it shall soon pass away, unless thou holdest fast by this firm Cord. We see abasement hastening after thee, while thou art of the heedless..."
Words which 'Abdu'l-Baha used in another connection seem to apply with a special aptness to Napoleon III of France: "This glory shall be turned into the most abject abasement, and this pomp and might converted into the most complete subjugation."
It would be difficult to imagine a contrast greater than that between Napoleon III and the Prisoner. In the year 1852, Louis Napoleon had been raised up to become Napoleon III, Emperor of France. In that same year, 1852, Baha'u'llah was arrested in far-off Persia, and was marched for miles, bareheaded and barefooted in the blazing sun. He was led through a screaming mob of enemies. He was without food or drink during those hours when Napoleon III dined sumptuously in the capital of a brilliant empire. In January 1853, Napoleon III had married the Spanish Countess Eugene de Mintage. The Emperor's life was just becoming settled and his family established securely on the throne of France.
In that same month the Prisoner had been uprooted from his home, robbed of His position and wealth, and banished forever from his native land.
The higher the tide of Napoleon III's power, the lower had seemed to ebb the fortunes of the Prisoner of the Holy Land.
Baha'u'llah was exiled like Abraham, stoned like Moses, scourged like Christ. He was imprisoned, chained, poisoned and "persecuted from city to city." At last He had arrived at the most dreaded of all Turkish prisons, the fortress of 'Akka, standing in the shadow of Mount Carmel, the Vinyard of God. From that prison-city, He had sent his second Letter to the Emperor of France.
From that point on, with swift strokes from the hand of destiny, the Prisoner was raised up, and his Teachings spread into every corner of the planet, while the Emperor was toppled from the heights and his grandeur entirely eclipsed.
We shall never know what thoughts went through Louis Napoleon's mind as he was taken prisoner by a foreign king, following his defeat at the battle of Sedan. Did he recall those words once directed to him by the Prisoner of 'Akka? It is unlikely that Napoleon III grasped any part of the spiritual revolution that was already agitating the face of society. He was blind even to the part he, himself, was playing in this unfolding drama.
"The days in which you occupied
the seats of honor soon will end."
Section 6- The First Kingdom Falls!
The letters to Napoleon III from the prison-city of 'Akka contained several ominous prophecies.
The Prisoner prophesied that he would soon change fortunes and fates with all tyrant monarchs. Their positions in life, he said, would be reversed through the power of Almighty God. There was no king whose fate fitted these words better than Napoleon III of France:
"Hearken, O King, to the speech of Him that speeketh the truth... The tribulations that have touched Us, the destitution from which We suffer, the various troubles with which We are encompassed, shall all pass away, as shall pass away the pleasures in which they (the King's Ministers) delight and the affluence they enjoy."
The Prisoner described the great reversal that would take place:
"The days in which We have been compelled to dwell in the dust will soon be ended, as will the days in which they occupied the seats of honor. God shall, assuredly, judge with truth between Us and them, and He, verily, is the best of judges. Louis Napoleon lived to see these words come true.
The Prisoner had written:
"O King... For what thou hast done, thy kingdom shall be thrown into confusion... Commotions shall seize all the people in that land..."
Paris was besieged by the Germans. All resistance melted and the city capitulated. The French people were shocked by the cardboard collapse of their military might. They blamed the Emperor. The Franco-Prussian War was followed by civil war, a period called the "terrible years." It exceeded in ferocity the war itself and left scars on the French mind which affect France to this day. Confusion seized the entire nation and suffering from famine, revolution and disease took thousands of lives in Paris, Napoleon's "City of Light."
"we see abasement hastening after thee... a punishment for that which thou hast wrought."
The Emperor became the most thoroughly hated man in all of France. The mobs in Paris cried out for revenge against him. They blamed him for the humiliation of France. Empress Eugenie barely escaped with her life, and the monarchy was extinguished.
Napoleon had one son, the prince, Eugene Louis Jean Joseph had been educated in England. Even after his own fall Napoleon III hoped for a future restoration of the Napoleonic throne with his son as Emperor. Mercifully, he did not live to see the prince killed in the far off Zulu war fought between the blacks and whites in South Africa.
The Prisoner's prophecies had indeed "been terrible" to one of "the kings of the earth" as the Bible had centuries earlier warned. The prophet Isaiah in one single chapter, declared that a day would come when the "kings" would be "punished." The Lord, Isaiah warned, would "turn" the earth "upside down" in that day, and He would "scatter" the inhabitants. The "haughty" and proud ones would "languish" away because of their wickedness. In order that there might be no mistake about whom Isaiah was speaking, the Prisoner himself had written to the kings: "I am the One Whom the tongue of Isaiah hath extolled... Blessed be the king whose sovereignty hath withheld him not from his Sovereign, and who hath turned unto God with his heart."
Napoleon III had failed to meet the test of God and "went down to dust." He suffered the fate foretold for such kings by Isaiah so long, long ago: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth."
The first kingdom had fallen!