1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 27

Chapter 14

Larry suppressed a sigh as he prepared to ease into an unavoidable rebuttal, and thereby, unavoidably become the other side of a rift in the council: a rift which might widen dangerously over the ensuing days.

But before he could speak, Luke Wadding leaned forward again. “Cardinal Pázmány, I am flattered.”

Pázmány’s composure may have faltered an iota. “Flattered?”

“Why yes, Your Eminence, because you have clearly made a close study — a very close study — of the similar reservations I voiced at Molino. Although not at such length.”

Speaking quickly to drown out a few low chortles, Pázmány nodded. “I did study your arguments quite closely. I wish they had been better heeded, Cardinal Wadding.”

The Franciscan smiled and shook his head. “Well, that is where I am afraid we must differ. I feel they were heeded quite well. As you no doubt conjecture, I was involved in the organization of this council. Were you not interested in why I did not resist its location here? I would have been happy to discuss the matter with you.” Wadding’s tone was as mild as a May day, but his words put Pázmány in an awkward position: either he had to invite the Irish cardinal to explain why even he was satisfied with the current arrangements, or the Hungarian had to dismiss the opinion of the very man whose arguments had informed his own.

But Pázmány did not appear rattled, merely calculating. “I would welcome your insight into this matter, Cardinal Wadding.” By which, he avoided appearing dismissive or disrespectful of his peer, while also keeping his options open: either Wadding would make a convincing argument and the Cardinal’s Council of Besançon would go ahead without any lasting dissent, or Wadding would stumble and make Pázmány’s point for him.

But the Irish cardinal’s easy, confident tone left little hope for the latter outcome. “Approximately nine months ago, I stood in a far humbler home in the Dolomiti, making the same arguments against His Holiness sheltering in the United States of Europe. And as you recount, I won that argument. But I will now share with you the first thought that popped, unbidden, into my mind upon learning that we were not to take refuge in the USE: ‘then where may we find safety?’ Where may the Living Church survive, alienated from ready access to its flock, treasury, stout walls, loyal armies? Yes, my argument to avoid the USE had been one with, and won by, the Grace of God, but now I was faced with the terrible consequences of moving forward from it.

“For what would occur if the prince of our church did not find a safe haven from which to right the wrongs done to the cathedra and his flock? And make no mistake: among those many wrongs, it is imperative that we restore the Papal Court to Rome as swiftly as possible. A Holy See that answers to Borja is the devil’s delight. His use of its administrative and monetary traffic to further his savage policies ensure that the Church will become the agency of its own downfall, even among the most ardent Catholics.

“And so, I considered where we might establish a temporary papal court. But as I reviewed the natural alternatives — nations with Catholic monarchs — my heart sank. Spain tacitly supports Borja, as do Poland and Bavaria. To seek refuge in Austria is to pit one part of the House of Hapsburg against the other. The same is true of the Spanish Lowlands.”

“And France?” Dietrichstein crowed. “We live in strange days indeed that I hear myself suggest such a thing, but it is a Catholic nation.”

Cardinal La Rochefoucauld exchanged glances with Richelieu’s brother, as well as the de Valençay brothers. He cleared his throat. “At the present time, we would not deem France a prudent choice. This is our unanimous position.”

The great salon was utterly soundless. The only thing more astounding than France rejecting an opportunity to become the seat of the Papacy was that all her cardinals were in agreement. On anything.

Wadding broke the silence by completing his review of the unpromising options for establishing a temporary papal court. “The Doges of Venice have already had a taste of how willing and able Borja is to carry out an assassination plot in their lands and are rightly concerned about the Spanish tercios in Rome, Naples, and Milan. The small Papal States that once dotted the Holy Roman Empire have either been eliminated, reduced, or are indefensible islands in the midst of the state whose aid gives us such pause: the USE. And as for Ireland,” — he waved a hand dismissively — “to bring the pontiff to my homeland would be equivalent to delivering him to Charles in London.”

Wadding folded his hands and collected his thoughts. And is letting the anticipation build, the canny old fox, Mazzare thought approvingly, just before the Franciscan looked around the chamber again. “So I trust that it is clear that I find no fault with Cardinal Pázmány’s resolve to assume the worst of the Church’s current hosts and supporters in the USE. I understand his reasons quite well, and I concur that we would be foolish to simply accept that aid and assume the best.

“But similarly, we cannot waste time arguing over absolutes in a world which, as usual, is unfolding before us in shades of gray. Let us not allow our intense desire to protect the purity of Mother Church to lead us into that classic logical fallacy where we simplify the choices before us into polarized opposites when, in fact, they are not. Let us therefore also remember that we are gathered here, freely debating the wisdom of these steps in a city where Catholics and Protestants live side by side, and that the USE has provided us with the means and security to do so without any expectations or tacit agreements.

“And so, just as it is unwise to assume the best of these apparent benefactors, it would be equally unreasonable, and churlish, to assume the worst. Indeed, our faith tells us that good acts possess the power of redemption. Perhaps, then, the help we have received here in Besançon should tell us that the first concrete steps toward ecumenicism have already been taken — but not by us, for we lacked the resources to take them. Consequently, when we gather to give the imprimatur of Sacred Magisterium to a canonical embrace of broader toleration of our estranged brethren in Christ, we should perhaps be mindful of this: that what we put forth as ideas, as doctrine, follows after what Protestant Good Samaritans have already made manifest through deeds: this very council.”

Wadding nodded to the council, smiled, and sat. As did Pázmány.

Von Spee leaned forward. “Are there are other matters or concerns to be addressed before we recess the Council for four days?”

La Rochefoucauld steepled his long fingers. “Just one.”

Von Spee nodded his recognition of the French cardinal’s desire to speak; the room settled in their seats. La Rochefoucauld was less political than most, just as he was more philosophical. When he proposed to speak, it was invariably on a matter of substance.

The Frenchman folded his fingers together. “Since my arrival, I have read the ex cathedra decree concerning those persons we now call up-timers.” He nodded toward Larry, who nodded back. “While the determination and reasoning was in agreement with my own — that they are not the tools of Satan — I remain concerned that, to many minds of our time, your finding sounds far more absurd than what you rejected.”

Von Spee smiled. “You mean that not only did Grantville’s residents truly arrive here from the future, but that, by traveling back in time, they have now undone the events that produced the world they knew?”

“Yes, and so, have undone their own history.” Le Rochefoucauld rolled his eyes. “What could be more simple?” He indulged in a small grin before his brow restraightened and serious lines marked his face. “Happily, we are well versed in the convolutions of theology and cosmology. And again, happily, once we have put Borja aside, our flock will hear our determination and place their trust in us, as their catechisms and traditions teach them.

“But what of the guests with whom we shall begin our conversations tomorrow? Have the Reformationists been apprised of the Church’s position on these travelers in time?”

Von Spee glanced at Urban, who shook his head and replied. “No, my friend. For various reasons, we elected to withhold any pronouncement on the matter. Suffice it to say that such a decree should not be followed by silence. However, it was imperative that, after our deliverance from Italy, that we remain unseen and unheard until we could convene a council here. And we feared that Borja would take an aggressively, even violently, oppositional stance, which could have caused all manner of new suffering in Rome and the other places within reach of his army or decrees. Many Italian communities have adopted the machines, the entertainments, even the styles, brought by the up-timers. They could all have become targets of persecution, or worse still, targets for his growing body of inquisitors.”

La Rochefoucauld inclined his head. “I suspected as much, Your Holiness. But I also suspected that many of our Reformationist…er, colleagues…would be equally unaware of the Church’s positions on Grantville and its people. So I wonder: will we have to begin by reprising our position, and the reasoning whereby we came to it?”

Vitelleschi’s eyes reminded Larry of those of a hawk: sharp, focused, devoid of sentiment when in pursuit. “The Protestants were generally less likely to see it as a sign of demonic mischief than our clergy, Your Eminence. However, you seem to fear that this could arise as a serious impediment in our ecumenical conversation with them. Why?”

Le Rochefoucauld shrugged. “Because the origins of that conversation are to be found in Vatican Two: a document which has miraculously arrived here across vast gulfs of time. And because its primary advocate in Molino came back in time with it.” Le Rochefoucauld’s eyes shifted to Larry. “My apologies, Cardinal Mazzare. These concerns are in no way my own. But if they arise tomorrow, we would be well served by having considered them, and our responses, in advance.”

“Most prudent,” Larry answered, “and no need to apologize, Your Eminence. What you speak is simple truth.”

Le Rochefoucauld gave a playful pout. “Well, not so simple perhaps, this traveling across time. But in all seriousness, even if they are willing to accept our position on the matter, I wonder if they shall prove willing to be equally tolerant of disagreement within their own ranks.”

Pázmány stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I am not sure I understand your concern.”

Le Rochefoucauld raised a didactic finger. “Let us for a moment presume that there may be those among them who will grasp at any argumentative straw which would save them from what might be worse than death, or even damnation: coming to any point of agreement with us. A sentiment which no small number of us might share, albeit in reverse.”

The laughter in the salon was a low, genial rumble.

“What then if some arch-anti-Catholics catch upon this as the foundation of their contention to reject engaging us in discourse: that our ecumenical inspiration and initiative is akin to the apple Eve offered Adam? That it is, in fact, a poison fruit of the future, conveyed to us by the satanic spawn of Grantville?”

“They would be arguing athwart their own contention that the age of miracles is over,” Vitelleschi pronounced.

“So they would. And that is my greatest misgiving. Can we not imagine the theological brawl that would ensue among them? The rationalists will try to point to exactly that inconsistency. That, in turn, will compel the more provincial minds among them to insist that even the most enlightened sects still acknowledge the reality of witchcraft. And so their representatives may all devolve into a veritable froth of many-sided debates concerning whether the supernatural power of Satan may manifest in this world if indeed the age of miracles is past. They may even work in a few trenchant inquiries into the number of angels that may dance on the head of a pin. But, whatever the particulars of their theological imbroglio, we will be unable to converse with them once they have retreated to their respective corners, staring doctrinal daggers at each other.” Le Rochefoucauld rested his head in his hand. “It wearies me just to think of it.”

Mazzare thought, and not for the first time, that had the Frenchman not been called to a life in the Church, he might have had some modest success upon the stage.

Bedmar stared around the grand salon, genuinely surprised. “Do any sane men still harbor such ridiculous convictions regarding Grantville? Either Catholic or Protestant?” The cardinal’s nature as both pragmatist and a materialist was not just in his words, but in his incredulous and almost contemptuous tone. Mazzare still wondered if his faith went much deeper than the inner lining of his vestments. If that far.

Von Spee provided the answer almost sheepishly. “We know quite a number of our own priests who still do hold the belief that Grantville is an Infernal intrusion unto our world, Your Eminence. And if that opinion is held by some of the sons of Mother Church, we must conjecture that it will be present to some degree in all the sects with whom we will converse tomorrow. However, I suspect we may be able to curtail any significant disturbance over this question.”

Urban leaned out to look at von Spee. “Please share it.”

Von Spee shrugged. “Well, Your Holiness, as Cardinal La Rochefoucauld points out, it would be consistent with Reformationist doctrine to assert that the age of miracles is over, and that such a flagrant violation of that principle would be contrary to their teachings.”

Vitelleschi stared down at his assistant. “Yes. And so?”

“And so, we introduce the topic by simply remarking that our determination on the matter of Grantville matches with what we presume to be their own: that to characterize such a phenomenon to be an act of either God or Satan is also inconsistent with Mother Church’s position regarding the post-Apostolic diminishment of miracles. We may not wholly deny the possibility of smaller, individual miracles such as stigmata, but, in the matter of Grantville, given the size and global impact of its appearance, we may honestly point to how our deliberations followed the same theological paths articulated by their own doctrine.”

Vitelleschi looked at Bedmar. Who looked at Mazzare. Who looked at La Rochefoucauld. Who looked at Urban.

Who leaned back with a smile. “I think we may safely call that matter resolved, and this council in recess until after the colloquium. Thanks to you, Father von Spee.” Whose eyes were now as round as saucers.

Mazzare suppressed a smile as he rose with the rest to honor the departure of the pope. Well, von Spee, you just came to Urban’s attention by solving a problem for him. Congratulations and commiserations; you’re in the big leagues, now.