1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 25

Chapter 13

As Cardinal von Dietrichstein rose to his feet yet again — almost as painful a process for others to watch as for him to carry out — Larry Mazzare chided himself for the most unchristian envy he felt toward Sharon and Ruy. They had an ironclad excuse for not sharing in the tedium of sitting patiently in the Palais Granvelle’s grand salon, listening to every cardinal in Besançon discourse at length upon their opinions of the gathering, its purpose, its inadequacies, and so forth. Sharon and Ruy were not merely exempt: they were, by definition, excluded from the gathering. Convened as a preliminary session of the Cardinal’s Council that would follow the ecumenical colloquium, the doors were sealed and guarded from the outside: what transpired within was Church business, and was only for the ears of the consistory.

Atypically, Urban had begun by revealing — or “publishing,” thanks to the recording secretary — all the various in pectore cardinals in attendance, thereby bringing the attending numbers of the consistory from twenty-five to forty. It was not only a prudent step (one never knew what casualties fate or assassination might wreak upon the group with each passing month or even hour), but also a profound, if subtle, boost to the gathering’s morale and intrinsic sense of legitimacy. They might not be convening in Rome, but they had almost three times the number of cardinals that Borja could scrape together for a consistory of his own, should he attempt to claim the right of sitting upon the cathedra.

So far, Borja had not attempted to formally claim the pontificate, which was not surprising; the current situation did not provide him with a precedent for him to do so. This time, the papacy’s leadership crisis had not been brought about by competing claims during an interregnum, but by a failed attempt to kill the Church’s duly-selected and long-sitting pope. Only once Urban was dead, could Borja begin to move toward succession.

Once the in pectore cardinals had been named and confirmed, Urban had outlined, in broadest terms, the ecumenical ruminations that had been fostered by his reading of the up-time circulars and proclamations collectively known as Vatican II. He wisely avoided translating those inspirations directly into statements of Church policy, thereby giving the cardinals nothing to argue with or against; he was merely reporting the ways in which they stimulated his deeper contemplation upon God’s will, and how that involved putting an end to the internecine strife that had so bloodily riven Christianity for over a century.

These opening acts and remarks had all proceeded smoothly and fairly briskly. There was no disagreement over the heinousness of Borja’s actions or the dire circumstances in which they placed Mother Church. Consequently, there was little debate over the obvious need to reconstitute the consistory’s diminished ranks, and to do so with numbers that dwarfed the comparative handful of cardinals who had remained in Rome, but who had, three weeks ago, been notified of the gathering in Besançon. Of course, most of them had heard murmurs about it weeks before, but Urban had been in no rush to provide Borja’s minions with any concrete information any sooner than he had to. Unsurprisingly, none of the Roman cardinals expressed a willingness to journey to Besançon — and thereby, attract the homicidal ire of their overlord.

So it was that history would record that a papal council had been convened in Besançon on Tuesday, May 6, 1636, at approximately two PM, and then went immediately into a five-day recess, the first four days of which would be dedicated to the Besançon Colloquium.

About which Cardinal Dietrichstein of Austria had more than a little to say. Standing with the aid of a gnarled cane, the formidable soldier of the Counter-Reformation had made it quite clear that he had little enthusiasm for the ecumenical spirit that Urban was trying to foster. On the other hand, he had declared Borja’s actions monstrous, the man an abomination, and had been gratified when Ferdinand of Austria had encouraged him — with funds from the Imperial Treasury — to travel to Besançon to make it clear that Vienna could not and would not abide pontificide. But that did not mean that Dietrichstein was any more enamored of the legitimate pontiff than he had been before the terror in Rome, nor had he warmed to the notion of religious toleration.

Dietrichstein’s tone came as close to sarcasm as a cardinal might safely assay with a pontiff. “Your Holiness, as I understand it then, we shall postpone the Papal Council to chat with heretics, having no definitive aim or purpose, and that we shall then resume the Council to confirm our willingness to accept them as our beloved brothers…along with whatever Orthodox-rite rabble and Jews have deigned to attend?”

Vitelleschi’s assistant, a genial Jesuit by the name of von Spee who had served Larry in a similar role, leaned forward at a glance from his order’s Superior. “Your Eminence, it is difficult to differentiate the serious from the sardonic in your statements, when all your utterances are made in such a tone.”

“You may take all my statements and queries as serious. And as for my tone, that is my affair. And you would do well to watch your own, Father.” Dietrichstein emphasized von Spee’s humble title.

Von Spee nodded patiently, even smiled slightly. No one in the room, including Dietrichstein, could honestly think that the Jesuit’s tone had been anything but deferential. But since the old Austrian cardinal could not strike directly at Vitelleschi, who was clearly the one Urban had assigned to chase the staunch anti-Protestant back into the narrow doctrinal burrow he had dug from the rock of his own inflexible bigotries, he had to satisfy himself by gnawing on the Black Pope’s mild-mannered courser: von Spee.

But von Spee — a choirmaster who had been given the thankless and daunting job of overseeing the selection and performance of sacred music that would suit all the gathered faiths — proved to be up to the task of mollifying the rheumy old Counter-Reformationist. “Well then, Your Eminence, let me reassure you that, as per His Holiness’ initial remarks, the reason that we are suspending the Council during the colloquium is specifically so that you may all converse with those of other faiths in a completely unofficial capacity. The label ‘colloquium’ was chosen with great care and intent, signaling that the gathering is for discourse and deliberation, not decisions and decrees. It is for us to convey the change in Mother Church’s heart without committing Her to any specific policies, and for those of other faiths to reflect on what they have heard. That way, we may later move more easily toward mutually acceptable agreements that shall settle the religious strife that exists and create an understanding that shall prevent its recurrence.”

Dietrichstein raised his chin. “When I was given the privilege to wear the scarlet biretta, that was also the last day I could, in good conscience, speak of faith in an ‘unofficial’ capacity. We do not have the liberty to put aside our responsibilities as the fathers of the Church, von Spee, not for one second, let alone for four days.”

Von Spee spread his hands in response — so quickly that Mazzare realized that Vitelleschi must have coached him to expect this reply, and to have a ready response of his own. “Your Eminence, His Holiness has said nothing to constrain how any of us are to feel about our Reformationist guests, nor about altering our perspective or sense of duty while interacting with them. Such decisions lie within the compass of one’s own conscience. The only constraint is that, for the next four days, the members of this consistory may not presume to speak with the authority of the council that has been convened, particularly since it has not yet heard and decided upon the encyclical on ecumenicism that shall come under consideration when this consistory reconvenes on the twelfth. You speak as individuals. And His Holiness encourages you to listen as individuals as well. And please note: he encourages, not enjoins, you to follow these recommendations.”

Mazzare folded his arms slowly. Von Spee was good, and surprisingly iron-spined for a man with so mild a demeanor. He did a good job of keeping that spine both well-hidden and flexible, which was why Larry had recommended him to Vitelleschi.

Dietrichstein seemed on the verge of making another retort. Then he grimaced as if he’d bitten into a lemon seed and lowered himself back into his chair. Once seated, he grumbled, “I fail to see why, if we must come together with heretics to settle upon some accords, that we do not simply do so in the next four days. Why not get it all done now, rather than forcing us to make two trips to two councils?”

Von Spee was about to reply, but it was Cardinal Luke Wadding who leaned forward from where he sat beside his new and improbable friend Muzio Vitelleschi; the Irishman was as charming, poetic, and Franciscan as the Roman was aloof, austere, and Jesuit. “Brother Dietrichstein, would you choose to share your house with a man on the very day you first met him? Would you not wish to know him longer, engage him in conversation, get the measure of his character and temperament? And so, once he was known to you, then consider making him your housemate?”

Dietrichstein irritably waved the analogy aside. “We know who these Reformationists are. They are men who left the house their Savior built and have done their best to burn it down. If they occasionally follow the will of God, or do one of us a service, well — it is said that even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day.”

Wadding leaned forward, preventing Vitelleschi from uttering the sharp retort that had probably brought him quickly upright. “Your Eminence, when you meet these men tomorrow, I would ask you to observe them carefully. Watch and listen from a distance if you like, or if you must. Because at the end of the day, I will wish to ask you if, in your heart of hearts, you feel them to be any less sincere, any less eager to see the face of God, than those of us in this room. And if you cannot continue to maintain, in good conscience, that they are nothing but frauds playing at charades, then can we not also agree that we have the greatest of all possible common ground from which to work, and from which to rebuild a bond: a hunger to stand, adoring and loved, before our Savior Jesus Christ?”

Dietrichstein tried to stare down Wadding, but the Franciscan’s sky-blue eyes were as unchallenging as a kitten’s. The Austrian looked away. “I will watch them as I always have: carefully. As a soldier ready to fight for the sovereignty and supremacy of Our Savior’s Word.”

If Dietrichstein had meant to end on a tone of truculent defiance, it was either of no importance to, or missed by, Luke Wadding; he simply nodded, smiled, and leaned back.

The next query came from an unexpected source: Cardinal Cornaro, who did not bother to stand. “My brother Cardinal Dietrichstein indirectly raises a point about the colloquium that has not been adequately addressed: why only seventy representatives of other faiths? Although I have no particular desire to be up to my armpits in even more heretics and usurers” — a few chortles arose — “I fear that seventy representatives will be considered too small a selection of those who would wish to hear what His Holiness has to say. In which case, we may find ourselves back here — or, God willing, in some more suitable city — simply to revisit all that we shall discuss here.”

Larry felt eyes — Urban’s, Vitelleschi’s, Wadding’s — on him as he stood. “Although I am determined not to intrude upon your deliberations and discussions, I must answer this, since the size and structure of the colloquium was forced upon us by practical limits. Specifically, by the practical limits of the technology that were used to gather such a convocation so quickly.

“You are all certainly aware that, despite the rapid proliferation of the USE’s more basic model of airship, there were only a limited number at our disposal. Similarly, the number of passengers is also small: usually less than a dozen per flight. You are also aware that, although radios are proliferating even more rapidly, there is no organized relay network outside the borders of the USE as yet, and worse yet, the content of our transmissions cannot be secret unless the same code is in use by both sides.

“Consequently, we faced two challenges: limited ability to communicate swiftly, and limited ability to arrange equally swift transport. And you will all appreciate our need for speed: not only must we consider and prepare steps against Borja’s usurpation of the Holy See with all possible alacrity, but we had to remain mindful of his assassins, who went far abroad in their effort to reduce the numbers of us gathered here today.