The Truth About God
Phaulkon was troubled. Thoughts raced through his head and he could not sleep, try as he did. He got up from bed, went out on to the balcony and there below he saw Diego on duty guarding the entrance. He went downstairs to chat with him. Diego could sense that something was disturbing him as they took seats on the stone bench in front of the door. Diego lighted a cheroot and offered one to Phaulkon which he accepted. Diego waited patiently and shortly Phaulkon opened the conversation with a question, but not really wanting an answer.
“Why does one have to bend to religion?” he asked.
Diego did not answer. He knew there was no need. Phaulkon would tell him the answer. “No one has ever dictated to me how I should live my life, nor what I should believe,” Phaulkon said. “Now that I have been elevated to a position second only to a king, with the whole kingdom at my feet, no longer am I supposed to have control over the matters of the heart.” He thought for a moment, puffed on his cheroot and continued. “I came this far on my own and now I am faced with religion, this Christian religion that doesn’t give me the answers that I want.” He stood up, paced in a circle and sat down again. “Why should I bend to religion? Yet, without bending to God, I cannot have Marie. Ironic, but with all my achievements, with my position and fame and glory, they are not powerful enough to win Marie and quell the agony in my heart. Why, Diego?”
“I cannot answer that,” Diego said. “You must ask a man of God.”
Phaulkon suddenly seized upon an idea. “Go get a lantern, Diego,” he instructed. When Diego returned with a lantern Phaulkon said, “Follow me.”
Through the dark streets with the glow of a flickering lantern to light their path they found their way to the Catholic mission. The huge double doors were locked shut. Not hesitating, Phaulkon pounded on the doors. Presently a monk in a brown robe came and opened the door. “Tell Father Thomas I want to see him,” Phaulkon announced sternly.
“I am afraid he is asleep,” the brother said, annoyed at the disturbance.
“No more,” a voice in the dark called out. A priest in an ankle length gown appeared. It was Father Thomas. Phaulkon recognized him instantly, even in the faded light. His long gray beard gave him away.
“I am in a dilemma that’s tearing me apart.,” Phaulkon said and introduced himself.
“I know who you are,” Father Thomas said. “Only a fool would not know that. Come, follow me inside.” He glanced toward Diego.
“Diego is my good friend,” Phaulkon said. “I keep no secrets from him.”
Although it was late, Father Thomas had been reading and a lamp was aglow on his desk. He bid the two men to be seated, and turning to Phaulkon he said, “If you came to ask for God, I can help. If for Marie, there is nothing I can do for you. Thus, why do you come, my son?”
“So you know about us, Marie and me,” Phaulkon replied. Father Thomas nodded. “Well, the truth be, I came for Marie.” “Why come to me then?” Father Thomas asked.
“Because of the God you serve; I am told only He can release Marie to me,” Phaulkon answered, his voice quivering, betraying his anguish. Why is it, he thought, do we have to fear those who wear a cross? With his utmost effort he took control of himself “Why do I come?” he repeated, “Perhaps you can tell me. Why do I have to become a Catholic to love someone who already loves me? What has God got to do with love and the affairs of my heart? Isn’t it enough that He controls life and death? That He decides who lives and who dies? Isn’t it enough that He rules over heaven and Hades? What does He care about the hearts of men? What does He know about the heart? He doesn’t have one. Is He as real as you people claim Him to be, or is He only a spirit, and spirits don’t have hearts.”
“You sound like you are an expert on God but yet you do not know Him,” Father Thomas said. “God is real, and His heart is real, figuratively speaking that is. Can you see your love for Marie in the physical sense, in matter? Where is this love? Show me? If I cut you open and examine your heart, would your love for Marie be written on it? Can you see love? Can you touch it? Where is this love you talk so passionately about? You can’t show me, just like I can’t show you God. But I can tell you about God, and when you’ve learned about God, then you can feel Him. Such is God, and such is love, my son.”
“I want the truth,” Phaulkon said.
“I am sure you do,” Father Thomas replied. “But what truth do you want?”
“The truth!” Phaulkon responded.
“You have spirit,” Father Thomas said. “You may have left Greece a long time ago, but I see the spirit of Greek philosophers still runs in your veins. Philosophy! Philosophy!”
“I am not here to talk about philosophy,” Phaulkon fired back. “Philosophy, is that what you say!” Father Thomas repeated.
“Indeed, then Philosophy it be! It is beneficial, perhaps, in diplomacy and trade, and in the royal courts of kings and nobles, maybe, but you can’t philosophize when it comes to understanding God.”
Phaulkon could see a lecture coming. He was quick to respond. He vented his anger, not holding back, gathering strength from his own words. “I am in a foreign land,” he began, “because my poverty as a youth forced me to leave my home. You want to talk of God. Where was God when I needed him? I had no God, no king, no pope, and no mission to turn to. I watched my brother die because we could not pay the price for a doctor. I took care of myself, and now look! I have made it, alone. Tell this God you serve to leave me alone.”
Before Father Thomas could stop him, Phaulkon, with Diego close at his heels, stormed from the room and out into the street. Back at his residence he thanked Diego. “I guess I can sleep now,” he said. But he was wrong. He could not sleep.
Several days later, feeling he had an obligation to fulfill, Father Thomas went to Phaulkon’s office at the palace to further confront him. But Phaulkon was not in the office. “I am afraid he is quite ill,” an office assistant said.
“What’s this you say? Phaulkon is ill,” Father Thomas repeated.
The attendant then told him that Phaulkon was down with a fever. “When the king heard His Favorite was ill, he sent his best physician to tend to him.”
Father Thomas lost no time rushing to Phaulkon’s residence.
He arrived to find Marie at Phaulkon’s bedside. When she saw the priest she began sobbing. A fear struck deep at her heart.
“No, Father, no, he’s not going to die,” she cried.
“My child, I came only to see how he is,” Father Thomas said. “Only now did I hear that he is ill.”
Marie explained that the moment she heard Phaulkon was ill, against all protests, she came running to him, and for two days she sat at his side. “The strain has been hard on him,” she said. “But he will get better. I know he will. Please tell me that he will.”
“Only God can answer that,” Father Thomas said. He turned his attention upon Marie. “I wondered why you hadn’t been at school for the last two days. Your students miss you.” He studied her closer. The lines on her face were deep with dark circles under her eyes. “You must get some rest, my dear, or you will be next.”
Marie promised she would go home, which she did, but only long enough to get a change of clothes and return.
For the next week, without leaving the room but for a few minutes at a time, she remained at Phaulkon’s side. She caught what little sleep she could on a rattan couch next to his bed. There were moments when she thought she might lose him. Twice, when his shivers became violent, she curled up next to him in bed to keep him warm. In five days he began to improve. In a week he was sitting up. Ten days later he was back in his office in the Royal Palace serving the king. Marie returned to teaching at the Catholic school for young children. Every morning, as was his habit, Fanique walked her to school. One morning Father Thomas was waiting at the school for them to arrive. He told Fanique about the events that led to Phaulkon’s illness, that it was more than just fever. “He wants to marry your daughter,” he said to Fanique. Being devoted to his religion and to Father Thomas as he was, Fanique agreed to invite Phaulkon to his home for dinner, and perhaps Marie could teach him something about the doctrine of the Catholic faith.