The thief heard the door shut behind him soon after he finished the book. In retrospect, he thought, he should probably have taken the book somewhere safe before reading it. But after all the years of searching, he had grown impatient.
A moment of disorientation as he looked up. As he’d expected, the monk he’d seen before – the man he’d sneaked by on his way in – was sitting in the room with him. But the old man was sitting in front of him. The door was behind him. “How did you…”
“How did I get here?” The monk asked quietly. “There is no secret door, if you were thinking that. But God is not shy with his miracles, for those of us who know the Truth.”
The thief gestured to the book on the table. “You claim to know the true name of God. That you are the sole caretakers of the ancient secret hidden even from the vatican…”
“We do, Julian. Sit down.” Julian sat down, in a chair he was sure had not been there a moment earlier. “You know my name.”
“We know many things. Here in this house of God, where we know the true Name, We need not rely on blind faith. We see His acts around us, the blazing light of His fingerprints in every act. You should feel it even in that chair you sit on, as it was made for this conversation.”
Without consciously thinking about it, Julian knew what he meant. The chair didn’t just feel like a hunk of wood he was sitting on. It felt like the thing that other wooden chairs were a metaphor for.
But he still had questions.
“The book said you split off from the Church, or the church split off from you, back in Roman times. That Peter was one of you, and maybe Jesus too, and you created all of christianity to do… something. Like Hari Seldon creating the Foundation, leaving only the few who knew his secrets to run the Second Foundation in his wake.” He had always loved those books as a child. They’d what led him to researching Roman history, all the way down to the secret annals of the Vatican where he had first discovered hints about the Secret Monastery.
“Older even than that”, the old monk said. “As old as Abraham, we think, although even our oldest histories do not go back that far.”
“But why then? Why the secrecy?” Why keep The light of God to yourself, hidden in this monastery at the far end of the world, he thought, but did not say. He didn’t want to hurt the quiet old monk, being so patient with a burglar.
The old man sighed. “You see God’s light around you, but there is another side to it, we fear. The fires of hell are harsh, and we wish to protect people from them.”
“Hell is real then too?” That part hadn’t been in the book.
He asked the obvious question. “Do you know how to avoid it?”
“We do. It’s not complicated. You simply have to hold God in appropriate awe.”
“That doesn’t sound too hard, if you see miracles around you every day. But why keep it hidden?”
“Well, I’ll have to go back a bit for that.
It all started a long time ago, before even our records go. Long before the time of Jesus. Probably before even Moses, if he was ever a real person – even we’re not sure of that. Legend says it started all the way back in the time of Abraham.
As legend has it, Abraham was the first man in the first true civilized city – civilized enough that written language was commonplace – to have encountered God directly. The first encounter was, as the account goes, fairly straightforward. God appeared before Abraham when he was alone in his father’s shop, revealed the true nature of the world to him, and warned him about life beyond this world. We don’t know what the other options are – that part of the tale is rather garbled – but God was very clear that sinners go to hell, which is a worse fate than a mortal can possibly imagine.”
“What sins send you to hell? How can you be safe from going there?”
“That’s the first question everyone always asks. It was the first question Abraham asked too, back in his father’s shop in Ur Kasdim. And God said it was simple enough. You must hold the true name of God in honest reverence throughout your life.”
“Honest reverence to God? That’s it?”
“That’s it. But honest reverence is not so simple a matter. Finding honest awe within yourself is easy when you first see a miracle, as you are finding out now. Keeping reverence throughout your life is… hard. Men can get used to anything.
But there was another side to this. What do you think Abraham’s second question was, once he learned about hell?”
“He would have asked… what about his father, and all the other people who had never even heard the true Name of God? Were they all doomed to hell?”
“So he did. And God said that this only applied to people who actually knew the Name. Anyone who was honestly in ignorance, through no fault of his own, was safe.It would be unjust to condemn someone like that.”
“So Abraham reached the conclusion that people were safer never hearing about the Name, because keeping it in honest reverence would be hard for most of them. And you keep God’s Name hidden for the same reason?”
But Abraham also learned something else. He was the first man since the invention of writing to whom God had revealed himself so directly, but he was not the first man ever to have learned it. Every time God’s name was forgotten from this world, God revealed himself to a new mortal, chosen at random among humanity. And before writing was commonplace, and it was hard to keep written records, the knowledge had always died away again within a few generations.
But now writing was common in Ur, and was spreading throughout the known world. Abraham could not just take the secret with him to his grave – if the knowledge died with him, it might come to someone without his judgement, someone who would tell it to the world, where it would never be forgotten again. He couldn’t risk that.
So he did the only thing he could. He left his family to protect them, and travelled to a faraway land where few people lived. And there he started his clan, the hidden keepers of the Name.
Over the generations, his family grew, and eventually they became a mighty people. At some point – certainly by the time of Moses – it had become a secret kept only by the high priests, and then became more secret even than that. Jesus’s claim to be king of the jews was based not on him having the bloodline of kings, but rather on his family being the last descendants of the keepers of the Name.
But Jesus was careless, or perhaps was betrayed by one of his apostles, and the Romans learned that he and not the priests was the true Keeper of the Name. And the Roman governor decided to have the secret tortured out of him, and to present it to his emperor. For all its danger, knowing God’s true name truly does work miracles, and the Romans wanted that power for themselves, as they wanted to learn all the powers of all the peoples they conquered.
But Jesus endured the torture on the cross, and died before revealing the Name. But afterwards his apostles realized how close they had come to disaster, and that it could happen again, since foolish people who heard about the Name might try to uncover it. And so they forged the great masquerade.
They declared Jesus himself to be God, and based a whole religion around him. They spread it throughout the empire, and claimed that their new religion of christianity, a hidden sect of judaism, had been the secret Jesus kept all along. And a few of them escaped, and were forgotten by the empire, and came far here to build this monastery. The secret leaders of christianity were powerful allies, so they were kept in the loop that this monastery was a secret that must be protected, but even they were never told the full truth. And we have chosen our heirs very carefully, to be only those rare people who can keep the Name in reverence for all their days.
So now”, the old man continued, his voice growing weary, “you know the full story. You know what we keep here, and why we keep it hidden. It was good to talk with you. It has been many years since I spoke with someone from Outside.”
He got up and walked over to the highest shelf on the wall, and took a dusty old bottle of wine, from which he poured Julian a cup.
“I will not try to stop you from leaving, if you wish. We have kept the secret here for two thousand years now. I believe that God Himself is guarding it for us, and that if you decided to try to reveal it to the masses, you would find your path blocked in some unexpected way.
But if God guards His secrets, only you can guard your soul. And so I will give you a choice. If you trust yourself beyond all doubt to keep the awe you feel now in your heart, and carry it for all your days, you may get up and go. And if not, then you may drink the wine.”
Julian sat there for a long time. The old man got up and left, and Julian walked up to the window (had it been there before?). They had been talking for a long time, and the stars were starting to fade, and be replaced by the first light of dawn.