"We have found thee clinging
to the Branch, and heedless of the Root."
Section 1- The End of the Holy Roman Empire
"The Empire of the Hapsburgs disintegrated and disappeared from the face of the earth entirely? Never! There has always been an Empire as long as Europe itself has existed." These might have been the words of any observer in Europe during those days in which Baha'u'llah addressed a special Message to Franz Josef, the autocratic king-emperor of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. "It will vanish as a mist before the rising sun."
Who could believe such a thing about the Holy Roman Empire? The Empire had suffered many vicissitudes; it had its problems, some of them very serious. But it held together the entire economic structure of central Europe. The Danube was Europe's highway and marketplace, and the Hapsburg Empire was its protector. No matter how desperate conditions got, its subject peoples would not bite off their noses to spite their imperial faces. Yet the Empire did vanish. "like a mist," and it vanished overnight.
Emperor Franz Josef journeyed to the Holy Land to pay tribute to Christ. He passed within a short distance of the prison in which Baha'u'llah was held captive. The prison city of 'Akka was called Acco in ancient times. It was a site referred to by Hosea who had prophesied that it would be a "door or hope" for mankind. Isaiah prophesied that this city would he a "place for the herds" of the flock of the Lord, "for my people that have sought me." Franz Josef did not seek out Baha'u'llah nor inquire concerning Him, despite the reputation as a reformer and saint which Baha'u'llah's life had won among European writers and diplomats.
From that prison-city Baha'u'llah addressed His historic words to Franz Josef:
"O Emperor of Austria! He Who is the Dayspring of God's Light dwelt in the prison of 'Akka, at the time when thou didst set forth to visit the [Jerusalem]. Thou passed Him by, and inquired not about Him, by Whom every house is exalted, and every lofty gate unlocked. We, verily, made it [Jerusalem] a place whereunto the world should turn, that they might remember Me, and yet thou hast rejected Him Who is the Object of this remembrance..." -Kitab-i-Aqdas, page 19
The first reaction of almost anyone who had not investigated Baha'u'llah's Faith might be to say: ''Who could blame the Emperor? If I were king and anyone spoke such words as those to me. I would ignore them. Such a claim is preposterous." Yet an answer like this is not possible for anyone who really believes in one of the world religions. Christians, Jews, Moslems are people who believe that God does speak through Messengers. That His Messengers have always made the same kind of announcement; that They have always been persecuted; that God has promised to send One, "in the fullness of time," who will be a "Prince of Peace." The Christian Church is based on exactly that same "preposterous" claim by a so-called madman Who was too "weak" to save Himself. Christ's words were also branded as "false" in His day.
Franz Joseph believed that. He heard Mass every day. Every day he heard the familiar story of Jesus Who had been rejected by Herod and Pilate. Every day, he appealed to God to keep His promise, "Thy will be done, on earth..."
The problem with promises given us by God, as the Pharisees found two thousand years ago, is that, inevitably. God will keep them.
To Franz Joseph, Baha'u'llah wrote:
"We have...found thee clinging unto the Branch and heedless of the Root."
"We have come to unite and
weld together all who dwell on earth. "
Section 2- Break in Pieces
The royal visit of Emperor Franz Josef to the Holy Land was one of pomp and ceremony. The cost of such pageantry throughout his empire of drones and princes was sustained by the labor and sacrifices of the neglected people of his realm.
Franz Josef, like his fellow-monarchs, was heedless of Baha'u'llah's words:
"Know ye that the poor are the trust of God in your midst. Watch that ye betray not His trust, that ye deal not unjustly with them and that ye walk not in the ways of the treacherous. -Gleanings, page 251
Baha'u'llah must have been sorrowed by the conduct of the Emperor, who came so near the object of his keenest desire. Yet His sorrow was even greater for humanity. Baha'u'llah comforted the downtrodden, saying that even if every ruler opposed the Revelation of God, this would sooner or later bind together all men in a common effort toward a common goal: peace, and freedom. The leaders of men could either hasten or delay Its fulfillment, but they would be powerless to stop it. Baha'u'llah wrote from the prison-city of 'Akka:
"We, verily, have come to unite and weld together all that dwell on earth. Unto this beareth witness what the ocean of Mine utterance hath revealed amongst men, and yet most of the people have gone astray."
Baha'u'llah, the Glory of God, had "come to the Holy Land" from the "east" by "way of the gate" as foretold in those passages of Scripture honored by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Franz Josef, one of the most powerful monarchs of that era, brushed shoulders with the Prisoner of 'Akka, yet was still oblivious to His words to the leaders of men: "It is incumbent upon thee to summon the people, under all conditions, to whatever will cause them to show forth spiritual characteristics and goodly deeds, so that all may become aware of that which is the cause of human upliftment..." -Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, page 27
Baha'u'llah, a prisoner, could not visit Europe but the Emperor of Austria came to the Holy Land and passed under His shadow. They were not destined to meet. Baha'u'llah's words to Franz Josef were to remain unheeded, until history could look back at their fulfillment.
Baha'u'llah declared that "the day" was approaching when men would "behold the Day Star of justice shining in its full splendor" and no one could prevent its "shining." He wrote: "Who is there that can put out the light which the snow-white Hand of God hath lit? Where is he to be found that hath the power to quench the fire which hath been kindled through the might of thy Lord..." -Gleanings, page 341
Certainly no king would be able to prevent the rise and spread of His Faith or to dim the light He had ignited in the hearts of His followers. Baha'u'llah Himself has written: "The fierce gales and whirlwinds of the world and its peoples can never shake the foundation upon which the rock-like stability of My chosen ones is based."
Baha'u'llah said "thus instructeth thee" the Messenger of God for this day from the "grievous Prison." Neither kings nor peoples could hold back the rising sun of His Teachings. They were God-directed for the betterment of all mankind.
"Members of the human race! Hold ye fast by the Cord which no man can sever. This will, indeed, profit you all the days of your life, for its strength is of God, the Lord of all worlds... Though encompassed with a myriad griefs and afflictions, We have, with mighty confidence, summoned the peoples of the earth... This Holy Land hath been mentioned and extolled in all the sacred Scriptures... Whatever hath come to pass in this Day hath been foretold in the Scriptures of old."Jeremiah, speaking of the great One Who would come from Persia in "that day" to destroy "the king and the princes," also foreshadowed the fate of those nations which opposed Him: "Thou are my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee I will break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms."
The fall of the fourth kingdom was underway. No nation, no empire, was to "break in pieces" in such a dramatic and permanent fashion as that of the kingdom of the Hapsburgs.
"Ye and all that ye posses, shall pass away."
Section 3- The Fourth Kingdom Falls!
The rumblings of an internal disintegration heralded the earthquake that threatened the kingdom of Franz Josef.
Baha'u'llah's counsel to the kings of the earth concerning the rights of their subjects was this: "Shouldst thou cause rivers of justice to spread their waters amongst thy subjects, God would surely aid thee with the hosts of the unseen and of the seen, and would strengthen thee in thine affairs." -Gleanings, page 234
The actions of the Emperor of Austro-Hungary were directly opposite. Rivers of justice did not "flow" through the land, and Franz Josef was neither "aided" nor "strengthened" in the deepening crisis which began to engulf his rambling empire in the late nineteenth century. The fate which awaited such kings was described in these words by Baha'u'llah: "Ye continue roving with delight in the valley of your corrupt desires. Ye, and all ye possess, shall pass away." -Gleanings, page 247
It has been said of the rule of Franz Josef that "repeated tragedies darkened his reign." With alarming persistence calamitous events succeeded one another.
His brother, Maximilian, was defeated, imprisoned, and then shot to death by a peasant revolution in Mexico. His son, the crown Prince Rudolph, disgraced the royal family, and finally perished in a dishonorable affair. His wife, the Empress Elizabeth was assassinated in Geneva. The archduke, Francis Ferdinand and his wife were struck down by assassins in Serajevo. This very tragedy was the spark that ignited the great world war. Shortly after, Franz Josef himself succumbed to death. The death of the Emperor brought to a close a reign "unsurpassed by any other reign in the disasters it brought to the nation." Composed of conglomerate states, races and languages, the Holy Roman Empire relentlessly began to disintegrate.
"All that was left of the once formidable Holy Roman Empire was a shrunken republic that led a miserable existence." The tiny Austrian republic was taken over by Hitler and restored in 1945 as the uneasy meeting ground of four armies of occupation.
The words of Baha'u'llah echoed from His prison cell in the Holy Land out across the Mediterranean Sea. They found their dire fulfillment in the overthrow of the dynasty of the Hapsburgs, sweeping away both king and Princes alike.
The Hapsburgs, like their fellow monarchs, punished themselves by wrong decisions. The first error, the rejection of the Messenger of God, was spiritual. Moral errors followed in such areas of concern as peace and justice. Finally, very obvious political miscalculations completed the work. Forgetful of both God and man, men of power seek to exalt their own position, party or nation; and as this is contrary to the spirit of justice and love, they bring about their own downfall -- some rapidly, some slowly, all inevitably.
The Messenger of God is the law-giver for His day. Those who break the Laws pay the penalty. In secular society, those who ignore or break the established laws suffer the consequences of their own neglect. These outer laws are a mirror of the realm of the moral, ethical and spiritual Laws of God which are the foundation and basis of all life on earth. Therefore the punishment is more severe, and is world wide, as the offenders are both the leaders and the people of the earth.
When the sun rises, all life on the planet must adjust itself to the new day. Flowers open their blossoms to the gradually warming sunlight. Should the blossoms neglect to open until the noon-day sun beats down upon them, they would be destroyed.
In like manner, kingdoms and peoples that have refused for over a century to open their hearts to the Sun of truth for this Day, Baha'u'llah promised throughout their own Holy Books, now find themselves endangered through their refusal to adjust to the light and heat of a new Day.
The new Springtime came with the birth of the Baha'i Faith in 1844, over a century and a half ago. The Spring has come and passed. The icy indifference and cold snows of opposition should have melted ages ago; now this glacial-like neglect is powerless to resist the summer-heat of the Sun of Baha'u'llah's Teachings. Helpless before the blazing rays, it melts and floods, and sweeps away all before it.
How startling and apt appear the words of the prophet Zephaniah when we consider the fate of Emperor Franz Josef and his family. Zephaniah prophesied concerning the coming of "the great day of the Lord" when the Lord would be in His "holy mountain."
Franz Josef visited that mountain and, as we have seen, passed within the shadow of the prison of 'Akka. In Baha'u'llah's own words, the Emperor had not even "inquired" about Him. Now the king and the princes of the royal House of Hapsburg were no more. Such a time had been envisioned by the prophet Zephaniah who said: "I will also stretch out mine hand upon... them that are turned back from the Lord; and those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him... And it shall come to pass in the day of the Lord's sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king's children..."
The fourth kingdom had fallen!
Prisoner and the Kings by William Sears