The Bizarre Conspiracy Theory That Might Be Driving Russia

One possibility behind recent Russian actions is a conspiracy theory so bizarre that few people outside Russia give it serious consideration. But nearly a third of the Russian population of the country reportedly gives it credence.

In 1917, the Blessed Mother said, “If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.” Many people assume this admonition applied to the Russian Revolution that occurred the same year as the apparitions at Fatima and that with the breakup of the Soviet Union there is no more cause for concern. Given the rise of Vladimir Putin, however, we should consider the possibility that Our Lady’s warning has a much broader application; one that is more relevant in our day than ever before.

Western analyses of Putin’s annexation of Crimea, funding of insurgency in the Donbas, and the current “special military operation” in Ukraine have been hampered by the fact that no one is entirely clear why it started and what it is supposed to achieve. Was it to liberate ethnic Russians? Respond to NATO aggression? Acquire territory? Denazify and demilitarize Ukraine? Make Russia great again? What drives Putin?

One possibility is a conspiracy theory so bizarre that few people outside Russia give it serious consideration, treating it either as a joke or the ravings of a lunatic. Russians, however, treat it very seriously, with nearly a third of the population of the country reportedly giving it credence.

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Labeled “the New Chronology,” it is the brainchild of Anatoly Fomenko, a mathematician and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Fomenko based his theories on the writings of Nikolai Morozov, a Mason, esoteric philosopher, and associate of Karl Marx, who among other things advocated terrorism to bring about democracy.

Substantively, the New Chronology is the logical conclusion of a tendency Msgr. Ronald Knox called enthusiasm or ultrasupernaturalism that has plagued the Church from the very beginning. It is a manifestation of the “New Things” (rerum novarum), of socialism, modernism, and the New Age, the modern phase of which began in the early nineteenth century.

Fomenko’s creation is an example of what G.K. Chesterton called a new religion under the name of Christianity and Ven. Fulton Sheen described as a “Religion without God.” According to the New Chronology:

  • All history before A.D. 1600 was falsified by a consortium of the Vatican, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Romanovs to hide the fact that events allegedly occurring in the ancient world really happened during the Middle Ages.
  • The historical Jesus was born in Crimea and crucified in the twelfth century in Constantinople by Crusaders. He is a priestly construct based on Basileus Andronicus I Comnenus, and other historical and mythical figures.
  • A great world empire, “the Russian Horde,” existed prior to 1600, stretching from Europe, across Asia, and to the East Coast of what is now the United States.

Many of Putin’s actions, including his activities going back to 2014, can be explained by his desire to restore Russia to its former glory after being oppressed for centuries by the West. He wants to bring about the Russkiy Mir (“Russian World”), a temporal paradise, what some have called “the Kingdom of God on Earth.” Similar efforts are why Fulton Sheen commented in Philosophies at War (1943) that attempts to create Heaven on Earth seem inevitably to result in a living Hell.

Whether Putin believes in the New Chronology, and to what degree, or simply finds it a useful tool is another matter. Adolf Hitler certainly believed the racial and pseudohistorical theories of Theosophy, Ariosophy, Armanism, and so on. Der Führer, however, seemed to reject their more esoteric and occult elements, even as he used the symbolism and manipulated adherents to bring about the Thousand Year Reich, the Armanist version of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

The New Chronology may be the most extreme form of the New Things the world has ever seen, but that does not make other types any less deadly. Socialism and modernism, as well as New Age thought, permeate virtually every aspect of Church, State, and Family in the world today. How did this happen?

To summarize, the essence of the New Things is that something is true because enough people, or those with power, believe it; something is not believed because it is true. Instead of truth understood as conformity with reality discerned by reason applied to the evidence of the senses, faith determines reality, and might makes right.

As people lost power and economic control over their own lives with the rise of capitalism, they abandoned traditional forms of Church, State, and Family. They searched for something that would provide for their material needs and give their lives meaning again. Many believed they found it in socialism, modernism, and the New Age. All the New Things to some degree disparaged or attacked existing institutions—especially the Catholic Church—for having failed to provide material well-being and for deceiving people with the promise of Heaven or the threat of Hell. Objective truth, and thus reason, became irrelevant.

Russians therefore accept Fomenko’s New Chronology not because his pseudoscientific analysis is persuasive but because it tells them what they want to hear. Specifically, the Russkiy Mir by right encompasses the entire world. Resistance renders opponents less than human and subject to any coercion or punishment meted out by Russia.

To such enthusiasts, as Knox noted, the ungodly have no rights and may be used or destroyed as the godly see fit. Putin’s war against Ukraine is not, therefore, what Clausewitz called a continuation of policy by other means. Nor is it the failure of politics as others amended Clausewitz’s aphorism, and standard analyses do not apply. It is, rather, in the eyes of many Russians, a struggle for survival itself, a holy war to restore Russia to its rightful place, regardless of the cost, or perish in the attempt.

Neither is the rest of the world immune from this kind of thinking, nor will the usual remedies to establish a lasting peace be effective once the war is over. Given the pervasive influence of the faith-based New Things, only a shift back to reason guided and illuminated by faith as the basis of the natural law can restore a sanely oriented social order. That, in turn, must be based on respect for the dignity of every person without exception.

That is the whole message and objective of Catholic social teaching. Social justice does not mean providing for individual needs, even on a massive scale. That is the goal of the New Things, whether you call it the Kingdom of God on Earth, the Thousand Year Reich, the Russkiy Mir, or anything else.

Instead, social justice is the virtue directed at reforming the institutions of the common good, what Pius XI called “restructuring the social order.” The object is not to provide for individual goods directly. Instead, as Fr. William Ferree explained in his pamphlet Introduction to Social Justice, the goal of social justice is to make it possible for people to provide for themselves through their own efforts by exercising their natural rights of life, liberty, and private property. This will empower them to be able to lead lives of virtue, thereby becoming more fully human. As Leo XIII noted, only in extraordinary circumstances should the State step in and provide for individual needs as an expedient.

This casts Our Lady’s call for the conversion of Russia in a new light, giving it a less mystical and much more concrete and feasible meaning. This is essential, as—strictly speaking—only human persons made by God can be converted to a religion. The State (human civil society) is man-made, and it is not a person except as a legal fiction for the sake of expedience. To say that a Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or pagan country means anything other than a country where the people or culture are predominantly Catholic, or any other sect or faith, suggests a profound misunderstanding of Catholic teaching.

With that in mind, the conversion of Russia could very well refer not to making Russia an officially Christian country. Most Russians could argue that is already the case, especially given its traditional Caesaropapism. Instead, the Blessed Mother might have meant Leo XIII’s program presented in Rerum Novarum, what Pius XI described in Quadragesimo Anno as “the restoration of [the social order] according to the principles of sound philosophy and to its perfection according to the sublime precepts of the law of the Gospel.”

Specifically, what Leo called for was empowering people with capital ownership and, thus, the power to resist New Things—such as the New Chronology—and lead lives of virtue. As he said, “The law. . .should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”

Work and pray for the conversion of Russia, but it is good to have a specific goal in mind.

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