The longest running battle in the entirety of 1635: The Papal Stakes does not involve guns or horses or ships, but holy writ. Arguably, the theological fate of Roman Catholicism—and consequently, the prospects for near-term cessation of internecine religious hostilities among the Judeo-Christian peoples of the world—rest with the outcome of the struggle between the tolerance-espousing tenets of the up-time documents known as Vatican II and the harsh Borgia-supported absolutism of the illegally usurped Papacy.
The respective spokesmen of these contending writs and cultural views are the up-timer Father Mazzare (now Cardinal-Protector of the USE) and Father Luke Wadding, a historical down-time Franciscan conservative who was an architect of the papal doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and yet also an innovative and often iconoclastic thinker.
The struggle, carried out in the upper floor of a humble abandoned farm villa in the remote mountain thorp of Molino, ranged between issues of the provenance of Vatican II (i.e., is it truly a papal document from the future or an infernal deceit?) and the extent of toleration that is advisable and supportable in the epoch of the Thirty Years War. With legitimate but renegade Pope Urban VIII looking on, Jesuit Father-General Vitelleschi (the Black Pope) oversees the often heated and desperate debate, many details of which had to be excised—but are shared here.
Mazzare spends much time defending against the suggestion that the appearance—and particular features of Grantville—might have all been infernal constructs. Of course, actual argumentation would have left no detail unexamined, no supporting perspective unpresented—but this is yet another illustration of how novels necessarily part ways with reality: the semblance of completeness, and the impression of definitude, are sufficient, even if they are not actual “simulations” of what would have been an interminable exegetical debate. One such excised line of argument was:
Mazzare turned a desultory wrist. “And if you should continue to argue that Grantville’s almost innumerable violations of the boundaries of contemporary or ‘down-time’ knowledge all arise as creations of Satan’s knowledge and power—but which he has only now decided to show–I must then ask: what has become of the Church’s long-standing doctrine that the age of worldly miracles has passed? For that, too, must be repealed if Grantville’s presence is to be attributed to a Satanic intrusion. Which would of course imply that either Satan has become desperate, or that God has become weak and something less than a Supreme Deity.”
Vitelleschi looked down his long, fine nose. “Those are both provocative comments that not only warrant, but demand, explanation, Cardinal Mazzare.”
Who nodded. “Of course. One possibility is that the Church’s august exegetes were mistaken, and that the age of worldly miracles is not past. However, this leaves Satan’s tardy exploitation of these powers inexplicable, except to assert that God has heretofore restrained them. But then why would He restrain them no longer? Perhaps He has grown so weak or inattentive that Satan was able to violate that decree?”
The stiffened spines among the clerics demonstrated just how unpopular that hypothesis was.
“Of course,” continued Mazzare, “such a proposition is absurd. The almost equally absurd alternative is that, although the age of miracles was not over, Satan has not conceived of such stratagems until this moment. With nothing but an eternity of torment to focus on in lieu of relentless, vengeful plotting, it is preposterous to impute such titanic oversight to a being known for his cunning and determined malignity.”
Although Mazzare seemed to have won that round regarding the basic provenance of Grantville’s appearance and existence as non-demonic, the status of up-time popes and papal doctrines was a far more closely-contended point, as exemplified by the scene in which Luke Wadding advanced this argument:
Wadding spread his hands in a gesture of appeal. “However, there may be another explanation behind the profound, even radical changes, articulated by Vatican II. It is possible that God’s reason for entrusting these ordinances to the up-time Church was not because it was more mature, but because its situation had become so desperate and grave that it required just such an inspiration. It may have been a necessary catalyst for the faithful to chart a new course for the world, a world that seemed determined to propel itself over the brimstone lip into fiery oblivion. And all for what? For one nation or another to prevail in a petty squabble to possess a globe which, when that final war was concluded, no man could live in, and no man would want mastery over?
“More provocatively, and sadly, we cannot even know if, in that future, God continued to favor their Church. I find it interesting that John XXIII claimed he ‘never speaks infallibly.’ Was this the quip of a pope who embraced a life of humility, or was it in fact a frank and honest statement: did he know that God had gone silent, had forsaken the humans of the up-time world, just as they had supplanted faith in him with confidence in science and machinery?”
“Are you saying that these up-time popes were not popes at all, that the Church was forsaken by God?” Vitelleschi’s eyes were sharp.
Wadding raised his hands in the gesture of the Reasonable Man. “I know I tread at the edge of blasphemy, Father-General, for Christ promised us that he would not forsake us. And yet it was also he who spoke of how it was easier for humans to pass through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And from every depiction of the up-time world, wealth and mammon reigned as supreme there as sodomy and blasphemy did in Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Which were only forsaken and destroyed because God could not even five good men, there,” added Mazzare with a faint smile. “However, I think you’ve already met more good up-timers than that.”
Wadding smiled and nodded in agreement; it was the expression of a man whose victory was so secure that he could afford that gesture of charity. “You make an excellent point, Cardinal Mazzare. And yet, we cannot know why God is ever silent, for He often is. And just when we most need the wisdom and comfort of His gentle voice. Perhaps he still spoke to the up-time popes and they responded to the vastly changed needs of the Church and world, fully infused with the guiding Charism of Sacred Magisterium. Or perhaps they worked on in silence, secretly despairing or hoping as their own natures dictated.”
But in the end, Urban called upon Vitelleschi to share his assessments of the contending arguments that had roved across the theological expanses of papal doctrine and canon law. And the outcome was anything but preordained. In actuality, the ramifications of the points made by Wadding and Mazzare would have wanted complete and painfully detailed explication. Consequently, certain of Vitelleschi’s remarks were left “off-screen”—such as this one:
“So let us consider how the arguments advanced by our worthy interlocutors bear upon the issues before us. On the one hand, our Pope is divinely enjoined to convey God’s instruction to all of Peter’s heirs: to care for His flock. On the other hand, our Pope must strive to remain in a state of grace, which is a personal matter between each pontiff and God, and which must not be compromised by favoring pragmatism over principles.
“Father Wadding has already outlined the many social perils that might reside in the ideas of Grantville. And those in turn point to the care that a Pope must take in considering their immediate utility in comparison to their long term impact upon his state of grace and that of the Church. More specifically: although Grantville’s ideas and perspectives brought us short term peace, they may also spawn long term debates, social chaos, and heresies which will end up producing a mixture of diffidence and decadence that could kill the Church like a wasting disease. But on the opposite side of this fearsome coin is a great and hopeful truth: never has Christendom needed unity more than now.
“And one cannot dismiss the tortuous implausibilities upon which the hypothesis of this Infernal conspiracy must ineluctably rest.” Vitelleschi’s voice and eyes became grim. “Satan is the arch-fiend, but he is no fool. He understands that the more complex a stratagem or conceit becomes, the more likely it is to fail. And even we humans can see that the intricate ploy of inveigling the Pontiff’s trust by orchestrating all this ‘legitimating’ bloodshed”—he swept his arms around to take in the sights and smells of the prior night’s destruction and death—“is so hopelessly twisted and byzantine that it must fail.”
And Mazzare, watching him, realized: Vitelleschi’s miffed because Urban put him on the spot, made him abandon his role as the ever-suspicious watchdog for his Pope. And in so doing, he had to give us all a look at optimistic conjectures that he probably hasn’t fully admitted to himself yet. It sounds like he half-suspects that the real reason that God sent Grantville down-time was to correct the excesses of the Counter Reformation: that it is an encouragement to start contemplating the sermon on the mount instead of the clearing of the temple. And of course, in his Jesuitical world-view, he’s probably subconsciously reassured that the lesson came from a bunch of redneck hillbillies. After all, the messiah came unto the City of David as a carpenter’s son mounted upon an ass. And, in his way of thinking, Grantville’s similarly humble origins preclude the presence of Satanic pride . . .
But Vitelleschi had barely paused for a breath. “In no document or doctrine is such a stark division between possible outcome so clearly and powerfully resident as the up-time Church’s Vatican II. As you suggested, Cardinal Mazzare, it was, from its conception forward, a recasting of the actualities of the Church into a form more amenable to the minds and idioms of your up time world. And, as I think you are right in pointing out, the mere act of rephrasing old truth induced additional, subtle changes that were needful in your epoch.
“Conversely, however, this epoch has its own needs, and they are not the needs that brought your Vatican II to pass, or which informed its outcome. The instructions and language of how that will was imparted in your world are not applicable in this world.”
Mazzare realized he was now holding his breath, realizing that Vitelleschi had just articulated a potential argument for disregarding the infallibility of up-time Papal documents, that they were wholly particular to their own time and place of origins
Vitelleschi drew himself up very straight. “However, the intent of Vatican II is as perfect and unchanging as any other dogma that arises from the Sacred Magisterium and thus enjoys infallibility of faith and morals. Indeed, it is this peculiar requirement of assessing and understanding how both these circumstances can be simultaneously true that confounds this theological situation. In times past, Mother Church’s legal and theological debates simply addressed matters of compliance to well-established standards. Simply put, they were trials to determine whether a questionable action or idea fell within, or beyond, the purview and permitted actions of well-established doctrine or canon. But now, the solidity of those very benchmarks, and the precedents we have built upon them, must be subjected to scrutiny.
Unfortunately, we cannot expect that all the conundrums of this moment will be presently—or ever—solved. Is an up-time pope is to be recognized as a pope in this world as well? I must answer—from a historical and doctrinal standpoint—that the issue is imponderable. It is akin to tautologies such as those which ask, ‘if God is capable of all things, can He then make a stone so heavy that not even He cannot lift it?
“However,” said Vitelleschi, “while our exegesis is customarily based in adherence to tradition, it is also true that not all new ideas are pleasing to Satan. Consider: the prophets who announced Christ, the apostles who continued his work, the great authors and thinkers of our own world who have expanded our understanding of both Holy Writ and God’s presence. All of them added new ideas to mankind’s collective consciousness, new ideas that strike both despair and fury in the Satanic breast. So, we must therefore ask: what kind of new words and ideas are coming from Grantville? Do they further the Devil’s work, are they neutral in effect, or do they actually serve to impede or counteract his infernal plots? Unless it can be conclusively be shown that the first of these possibilities is accurate—that the ideas and documents of Grantville innately aid and abet Satan’s objectives–then there is no logical reason why the Prince of Evil would bother to wrench the up-timers from the future and strand them in our present.
“Rather than simply asserting that no such conclusive evidence has been presented, I will go further and assert that Grantville’s books, ideas, and people might not only illuminate our efforts to build a society that is more just, but one that is more compassionate and Christ-like. If so, far from being an Infernal ploy, Grantville might even be a gift sent to us by our Heavenly Father. Consider what the up-timers’ own histories depict: their own imperfect world had been poised on the very brink of self-destruction for decades. And yet, those imperfect humans stayed their hands, wrestled down their fears, and ultimately reached out for peace across the divides and impasses that had long separated them. I ask you: would Satan send such a lesson of hope and perseverance to us? Would his pride allow him to do so?”
Vitelleschi bowed his head. “And if we find the answer to that query to be in the negative, then we are left with one final alternative to consider: what if Grantville’s displacement in time is not a trap set by the Devil, but also, is not a gift from God? What if it is, instead, a happenstance of nature? But still there is no quandary residing in this option, for resolving this event to the will of God is simplicity itself. For it goes without saying that, verily, Nature acts at the pleasure of God, not the other way around.”