THE sense that Jesus might have demonic twins reaches back to the origins of Christianity. St Mark’s Gospel speaks of those who are pseudochristos, or false messiahs. The First Letter of John says that many “Antichrists” have come. They are figures who subvert or twist the gospel.
This witty and penetrating new novella by Addison Hodges Hart brought to mind the exchange between the Grand Inquisitor and Jesus, in The Brothers Karamazov. The inquisitor tells Jesus that the Church no longer needs him, which sounds bad enough, although the reasons behind his conviction are the important bit. He recalls how Jesus refused the temptation of Satan to turn stones into bread. The inquisitor argues that this was wrong. “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!” he insists.
Similarly, if Jesus had cast himself from the temple pinnacle, people would have seen his divinity. If he ruled the kingdoms of earth, salvation would come. This is the desire to make the gospel more straightforward, practical, and believable, and it is mistaken. The Antichrist is an agent “not of freedom denied but of freedom perverted”, as Rowan Williams puts it, in his study of the Russian author.
Hart offers another parable of Antichrist church leaders working with the best of intentions. It begins with the voluntary abduction of a retired President of the United States. He is taken to meet a cardinal in Rome. The tale that unfolds carries echoes of Dante’s Divine Comedy as well as a Robert Harris thriller.
Another modern writer to contribute to the tradition is Philip Pullman. At one point in his book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, his Antichrist reflects: “[Jesus] does things out of passion, and I do them out of calculation.” It’s one way to try to tell the difference.
Dr Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist and writer.
Confessions of the Antichrist: A novel
Addison Hodges Hart
Angelico Press £14.50