The real “conspiracy” of history

by Cristiana de Magistris

The conspiracies, intrigues, and plots that have unfolded throughout the history of man, and which inevitably continue to characterise it — from the emblematic assassination of Julius Caesar to the current pandemic — have recently been given a thorough and masterful explanation. This calls for a profound reflection.

We should pause here to consider how these sad categories characterised the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Nativity we have just celebrated, in spite of everything, as we do every year: with a heart full of hope and of filial abandonment to His Providence.

The life of Our Lord, just after His birth, is immediately marked by what appears to be a conspiracy. According to St Matthew (2:16), King Herod, a cruel and bloody man, mistakenly supposing that the newborn King of the Jews would usurp his throne, orders the Massacre of the Innocents. Such an act perfectly reflected his perverse and violent character. Herod, in fact, also had his wife and three of his sons killed and, on account of mere suspicions, sentenced his best friends to death. Herod’s fear was not based on reality but had its root in his passion for power and in the obsessive fear of losing it. But what was the result of this act of madness? It was to give to Heaven the first fruits of the martyrs, whom the Church has honoured with its devotion ever since on 28 December. And while the tyrant ended his days with an ignominious death — losing throne and crown — the victims received, by means of him, an everlasting crown. 

But Our Lord’s whole public ministry was assailed by attempts to eliminate Him, as all four Evangelists tell us in great detail. It did not take long at all for an alliance to be formed against Him by parties otherwise opposed to one another. Already in the third chapter of the Gospel of St Mark there appears the decision to eliminate Jesus, who had healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day: “And the Pharisees going out, immediately made a consultation with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him” (Mk 3:6). The Herodians constituted Herod’s political party and were in favour of Roman rule. The Pharisees hated them deeply but were not above striking a deal with them when it came to hatching plots against Jesus. In the Gospel of St Luke the intention to kill Christ is evident starting in the fourth chapter. When Jesus preaches for the first time at the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, his words arouse the fury of his listeners, blinded by a nationalistic vision of salvation: “And all they in the synagogue, hearing these things, were filled with anger. And they rose up and thrust him out of the city; and they brought him to the brow of the hill, whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong” (Lk 4:28–29). 

In the Gospel of St John, the resolution to bring about the death of the Saviour is taken after the healing of the sick in the pool of Bethsaida: “Hereupon therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he did not only break the sabbath, but also said God was his Father, making himself equal to God” (Jn 5:18). The sentence of death, however, is only decreed after the raising of Lazarus, by a counsel of the Sanhedrin: “But one of them, named Caiphas, being the high priest that year, said to them: You know nothing. Neither do you consider that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (Jn 11:49–50).

In St John’s narrative of the arrest, Jesus is assigned to “the cohort with its captain and the guards of the Jews” (Jn 18:3,12). The term “cohort” indicates the detachment of about 600 soldiers, under the command of the Roman procurator, for the maintenance of order in Jerusalem during the Passover; the term “guards” refers to the detail of about two hundred men, reporting to the high priest, for the security of the temple. There was deep rivalry and enmity between the two bands, yet they united for the arrest of just one man, which would culminate in His crucifixion and death.

So, the religious authorities were slowly but surely hatching a conspiracy against the Redeemer, which found its opportunity in the betrayal of Judas. A conspiracy and a private treason are therefore intertwined. The outcome is known to all: the death of the Lord. But what was the fate of the traitor and the conspirators? Judas, committed suicide (Mt 27:5), while the Sanhedrin, by condemning Christ under the pretext of public safety, not only failed to save their people, but doomed them to perpetual wandering after the destruction of the temple and the holy city by the army of Titus in the year 70.

But this is not surprising as, even in purely human affairs, conspirators often bring about their own destruction. What is amazing is, rather, the action of Providence, which is able to thwart human intrigues by directing them towards sublime ends known only to God Himself. The inhuman conspiracy of the Sanhedrin and the sinister plot of Judas, wisely permitted by Providence, were in fact the unwitting but effective instruments of mankind’s Redemption and of the eternal glory of the Redeemer. By killing the Son of God, the Jews condemned themselves to perpetual exile. But, by His death, God saved, not one, but all peoples — including, at the end of time, the Jews themselves — and glorified His beloved Son Who sits at His right hand.

In the birth, life, and death of the Son of God, there is the mysterious harmony between the most violent and unjust plot in human history and a divine plot by which God, making use of the human, fulfils His eternal plan of justice and mercy. “How can one not admit,” asks Saint Augustine, “that Providence makes use of the very sins of the wicked, when it was precisely through sins that the blood with which sins are remitted was mercifully shed?” Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, meanwhile, comments that “the obscurity of certain ways of God comes from a light too strong for our weak eyes”.

In the face of inexplicable personal, national, or planetary evils, the earthly life of Our Lord teaches us that there is a divine plan for the salvation of man — a conspiracy in the etymological sense of the term1 — a conspiracy of love capable of overturning human events in order to accomplish His supreme plans of goodness and mercy. Saint Augustine affirms:

There is no greater and more certain proof, not only that God cares for human affairs, but also of how great this care is, than that which comes to us from Christ as man: the radiant manifestation of Christ who is born; the patience of Christ who dies; the power of Christ who rises again”. 

Beyond all human conspiracies, intrigues, and plots, there exists a divine order that regulates and directs them all with sovereign wisdom. There is a divine conspiracy that governs the world. It is the chiaroscuro for the human intellect, which Christmas, by making visible the love of God for man, comes to remind us of each year.

  1. The word “conspiracy” derives from the Latin con- (“with, together”) and spirare (“to breathe”).