1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 24

“Bragadin came from his bishopric in Venetian territory — Vicenza — and so was in no immediate danger, but we had to presume that Borja might be watching him, with an intent to intercept.” Larry smiled. “And of course, as Cardinal Bedmar is aware, Falconieri, the nuncio to Flanders, was notified in just the past few months.”

“And that is why I officially sent him south to consult with Cardinal Borja.” Bedmar smiled back “Strange how he decided to stop over here for these many weeks.”

Mazzare nodded, smiled, thought, Yes, and so convenient having your second-in-command here ahead of you, sniffing around to ensure that it wasn’t a trap. “There are a number of others that we would have asked, had their situations not been too precarious, or sensitive.”

Bedmar nodded. “Most prudent. However, I have it on good authority — Lelio Falconieri, to be precise — that there are more gathered here than that. Mostly Romans, I am told.” He tilted his head toward Urban, his smile congenial but his eyes alert.

Mazzare had known this moment would come. Bedmar would of course be this well-informed, and would also want to know precisely with whom he was walking this risky path. But before Larry could begin a tactfully oblique approach to the issue, Urban raised a hand in his direction.

“Lawrence, I shall speak to this. After all, it is my affair. I will not put you in the position of making excuses for me.” He drew himself straighter and looked directly into Bedmar’s eyes. “Over the years, I have identified men I trust, and whose faith and character commend them to the scarlet biretta far more than those who are senior to them in the Church. Some have been in pectore for years; more were made so within the last nine months. However, according to the up-time documents, all eventually did become cardinals. So although I chose men I knew, I also chose men who had been the beneficiaries of such a choice in that other world. I used those documents as a constraint upon my actions, and reasoned that if they were worthy there, they should be no less worthy here.”

He folded his hands. “They are not all the most learned of our brothers. They have been my aids and assistants in the Pontifical Household: prefects, secretaries, superintendents, treasurers. One was even the tutor of my nephews. But at this point, I deem it more important that they are all clerics of conscience and character.”

“And proven loyalty,” added Bedmar.

Mazzare was ready to take offense — suddenly realizing how protective he’d become of Urban — but paused; Bedmar’s tone had not been ironic or critical. No, Mazzare realized as he forced himself to lean back yet again, Bedmar the old general was acknowledging Urban’s choices as prudent, appropriate to the dangerous reality that lay ahead.

Urban smiled faintly as he echoed Bedmar. “Yes. And proven loyalty. You may have met some of them on your visits to Rome: Poli, Cesi, Panciroli, Ceva, Giori, and my nephew Antonio’s cousin, Francesco Macchiavelli.” Seeing Bedmar’s look, Urban waved a negation. “Please spare me the clever quips; I assure you I have heard them all. And we are nearly out of time, so I shall speak bluntly. Were I in your shoes — or old war boots — my brother, I would be concerned about sharing so crucial an enterprise as this with men I had never met. So I have arranged for you to dine with them — privately — this evening.”

Although Mazzare was sure that Bedmar would have made a fearsome poker player, Urban’s comment caused his eyes to widen slightly. “I am honored, Your Holiness, but have the other cardinals had the same benefit of making their acquaintance?”

Urban shrugged. “Some have. I brought these six out of Rome as soon as possible, both for their safety and so that they would have the opportunity to meet the rest of our consistory as they arrived here in Besançon. But it would be disingenuous to keep playing at a charade which presumes that your presence here is no more significant than any other cardinal’s.” Urban stepped closer. “Your presence is the harbinger and proof of the coming schism in the Hapsburg line, and so, the next set of battlelines that shall be drawn in Europe. Yes, we are here to do God’s work, to attempt to heal the wounds that have split the family of Christ into bitterly warring camps. But that same split threatens the world itself. It must be repaired or at least bridged before sectarian and secular strifes multiply each other and become so legion that they may consume the entirety of our species.” Urban’s voice was tense as he finished, his eyes searching Bedmar’s urgently.

The cardinal-protector of the Spanish Lowlands actually took a slight step backward. “Your Holiness, I am — am struck by the singular compassion of your concern.” His voice became careful. “But you have ever been a defender of the faith, and in that role, accepted that there was no way to achieve God’s will without prevailing over those who no longer recognized His authority in the form of Mother Church. Yet now, your urgency suggests that this colloquium is more than mere political expedience –”

“It is. Much more,” Urban interrupted, stepping into the space that Bedmar had vacated. “I know you have seen war, Cardinal Bedmar, have been on battlefields, but tell me this: have you ever been trapped in a house of desperate men and women, with ravaged bodies falling about you like red leaves in autumn? Where the only way to escape is to kill your attackers? And the only reason the attackers are present — and the men, and women, and children are dying — is because the killers are after you? You, personally?”

Urban blinked, collected himself, stepped back. “I am not a good man, Cardinal Bedmar. Few of us are. But last year showed me my failings — and their costs to others. Others who died for me, Protestants who died so that Mother Church would not fall into the hands of a butcher who would like nothing better than to have the scarlet of his robes come from the spattered blood of those he deems heretics, whoever and wherever they might be.” Urban drew up his cassock tightly, as if recoiling from that future path. “Our Father in Heaven knows that I am anything but Christlike, but at this late hour, I have finally heard his son’s words. And among them were these: ‘If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.'”

Urban’s eyes had wandered slightly, as if, looking inward, they had become momentarily blind to the world around him. Now their focus returned with sudden force. “Are we to slay the lost sheep? Or are we to accept Christ’s teaching: that it is greater to love the wayward of the flock, and to preserve them? And their children, in all their multitudes. This, this, is why we are gathered here in the name of ecumenicism: to stop the slaughter of the sheep. To call them back, that they might come as close as they can.”

Bedmar glanced at Vitelleschi, who would not meet his eyes. “Your Holiness,” — and he emphasized the title with a tone of surprised reverence — “I hear and attend your wisdom, but — can a shepherd remain a shepherd if he does not insist upon obedience?”

Urban smiled sadly. “Do you know, Bedmar, until I was forced to flee Rome and save my sinful life, I had never watched shepherds at work. Have you?”

Bedmar actually blinked. “No, Your Holiness.”

“Well, I have, just a week before the assassins came for me, while we rode higher into the Dolomiti. Do you know what I learned? The sheep do not follow the shepherd out of fear of reprimands or a blow from his staff. They follow because he is their source of nourishment, of safety, and, in the case of the best shepherds, because he sits among them with love as Christ sat among the children during the Sermon on the Mount.” He put a hand on Bedmar’s shoulder. “After Eden, the sword has always had a place this world. But not in our hands, Bedmar. Not any longer.” Urban VIII patted the stunned cleric’s shoulder. “Come now; we are keeping our brothers waiting.”