Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 4 – It is better that one man die
“That just can’t be!” exclaimed Leo, who was a sixth year seminarian soon to be ordained a deacon. Leo stood up to make his protest more noticeable while père Jacques tried to ignore him. Even though père Jacques was now the Rector, and even though “Liberation Applications of the Exodus Event” was a required course, Leo was sick of all the rubbish the administration and professors of the seminary were shoving down their throats. Little had changed since the last apostolic ‘visitation’ of the seminaries. Ignoring problems seemed to be expedient to those in Rome, especially if the difficulties seemed to be minor, relative to what was often still happening in some seminaries of the richer countries. The students were getting impatient with all the hypocrisy, for they knew first hand that so-called minor problems, like tips of icebergs, might hide greater problems, and could develop into nightmare situations. They wondered out loud what politics were at play that père Jacques could possibly have been made the Rector of the seminary.
Since père Jacques was still ignoring him, Leo spoke again, saying, “I just can’t believe that the words against Christ uttered as a prophecy by the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas – It is better that one man die for the people rather than that a whole nation should perish – can be applied to anyone except to Christ. And even then, although what Caiaphas said was true for us regarding our Redemption, that does not mean that what was done to Christ in torturing Him and putting Him to death was not a sin. God does draw good out of evil, but this was the sin of sins.”
“You are wrong, Leo,” said père Jacques. “Christ didn’t mind. That’s why He came. End of story. Moreover, whatever happened to Christ, we can make happen to his disciples, just like Caiaphas made it happen. Expediency is the supreme law. It is damage control at its best.”
“That’s insane. You’re capable of genocide,” insisted Leo. “Christ, innocent, took on what we deserve, and so had the right in justice to say, “Father, forgive them…”
“Sit down,” commanded père Jacques. “Theology is one thing, reality is another. Statistical analysis reveals the future, the cosmic omega point. You, instead, drag us back in time.”
“So, you can’t answer, lost in your jingoism,” challenged Leo, remaining on his feet.
“You wouldn’t listen anyway,” said the Rector, “which is a consistent problem you’re having. We may have to reconsider your ordination.”
“That’s a cowardly abuse of power,” said Leo. “If you are so sure of yourself, you’ll explain.”
As soon as he had become Rector, père Jacques had ordered all the desks and chairs to be removed from the classroom so that everyone would sit in a circle. This better represented a classless society and made academic life – something belonging, for him, to the élite – more difficult. Père Jacques always remained on his feet, not realising the contradiction. This is why Leo also stood up. The other students, both seminarians and laity, moved back, not wanting to be caught in the crossfire of words. Leo and père Jacques glared at each other. “Everyone, put your pens down,” said père Jacques.
“Are you afraid of your own words?” asked Leo, tauntingly.
“You are an enemy of the Church,” began père Jacques.
“The trouble with you is that you think of the Church as a what, not a who,” said Leo.
“Alright, if you want me to tell you the truth about what I think, then I will,” said père Jacques, “and I don’t care if anyone takes notes, or even records what I have to say.”
“Well then, please, go on,” said Leo, “for surely, I do not understand you.”
“You don’t understand because you do not want to understand. You are an élitist,” declared père Jacques. “But perhaps we should forgive you, as we forgive God for making mistakes in coming to know the people.”
Leo, who had heard this statement about forgiving God many times, and who noticed out of the corner of his eye that some students began to record the encounter, said, “Go on.”
“If the people cannot express their own culture, their own religion, their own power to change the world and the people around them, restricted as they are by the imperialistic doctrine and morality that was manufactured to keep them subservient, then they are as good as dead,” began père Jacques. “And if they are as good as dead, they may as well be used by us for their own good, even if some of them actually die in the process. That’s all part of it. They are already dead in the injustice in which they live. It is the common good which matters. There are no individual rights. That would be élitism. Individuals can be sacrificed for others, as Caiaphas said: It is better that one man die for the people rather than that a whole nation should perish. That’s what I call, with enculturated language, the voodoo of the living dead. You use living people like voodoo dolls and you get what you want. You get what they want. The zombie like living dead come back to life better than before. You can be a good Catholic only when you fully live your own culture, shutting everyone and everything else out. That’s why ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’.
“That’s insane,” repeated Leo quietly, knowing that he had just been sacrificed for the ‘common good’ in the view of père Jacques.
“Obviously, you are not to be forgiven. You will see me later today, Leo,” replied père Jacques, almost inaudibly, not because he was in control of himself, but because he was just that out of control, that angry. “You will then find out, Leo, what damage control is really all about.”
“What I want to know instead,” said Leo, “is how you will protect yourself with damage control when I ask: “Where were you last night?”
“What?!” asked père Jacques, revealing his fear. His voodoo rape of Ev was fresh in his mind.
“You’re wearing the same trousers and shoes and shirt that you had on yesterday. They are spattered with blood.” With that, some of the students started pointing out the speckles of blood.
“Get out!” said père Jacques.
“Don’t tell me you were participating in your so-called ‘voodoo of the living dead’,” said Leo. “Who is it that you put to death for the sake of the common good? Was there any resurrection?”
“Get out, now!” shouted père Jacques, moving toward Leo, who, as he calmly left, asked, “And who is this Father Alexámenos who is supposed to be coming soon? Is he just like you?” The other students went with Leo, much to the consternation of père Jacques, who did not know that Leo had found out about Father Alexámenos’ arrival by way of the archbishop’s secretary.
Don Hash was no biblical scholar, but he had followed the controversial issues surrounding the Scriptures during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation inasmuch as they had far-reaching impact in both Church and international politics. Because of this, although Cardinal Fidèle kept the conversation centred on Scripture, don Hash wasn’t surprised when the old Prelate suddenly involved the other Cardinals.
“Tell me,” Cardinal Fidèle said to Cardinal Elzevir, “you know something about political science and, please God, religion. What do you think was the structure creating the division in the Church at the beginning of the Reformation? What engine of division was it that sucked into its maelstrom all the petty social and economic divisions of the time? What kind of living hell was it that, besides the plagues, indirectly caused the streets of Europe to flow with blood, genocidally reducing local populations, in the end, by as much as twenty to fifty percent, from the late 1550’s to the end of the Thirty Years War which was to follow, like clockwork, a century after the Reformation began, a rancour that hardly came to an end with the false Peace of Westphalia, and which has extended its diabolical destruction until today? Since we are presently living the result of that mechanism of division – both religiously and politically – it seems that you should present your resignation as Secretary of State if you do not know what caused this.”
Don Hash suppressed a grin when the other Cardinals said, “This should be interesting!”
“Yes, well…” Cardinal Elzevir began, “I know it doesn’t sound very ecumenical of me…”
“Leave ecumenism to Froben, please,” interrupted Cardinal Fidèle.
“As I was saying, it seems like the ex-Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, had everything to do with it. The others just followed, for a while anyway.”
“Typical Secretary of State!” said Cardinal Fidèle, “always avoiding the question with no diplomacy.” The others laughed lightly, wondering if they were going to be put on the spot as well. “Now, Elzevir, I shall repeat myself. Please, tell us about what was pushing for division. If you can, you will change your mind about the responsibility of Martin Luther.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” replied Cardinal Elzevir.
“I wonder why not. I shall give you a hint. Treating the family of the Church like gray areas of law makes red blood flow in the streets. Do you remember the years of Donum Vitae?”
Cardinal Elzevir jumped to his feet, “Fidèle, come now. I must protest.”
“Precisely what I wanted you to say, Elzevir. Isn’t the one who protests a Protéstant?”
The other Cardinals laughed more heartily. Carpe Diem, hiding behind the door, laughed loudly, not knowing why.
“Yes,” said Elzevir, sitting down.
“And you’ve shown us that protesting is an emotional, irrational experience, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” he repeated, hoping that his humility would distract Cardinal Fidèle from drudging up details of some horrendous political mistakes he had made in the past, one of which almost certainly helped to bring about the death of more than a few innocent people.
“But that is not to say,” said Cardinal Elzevir, “that Luther worked out of pure emotion.”
“I didn’t say that was the case,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “You have all the hints you need. I shall come back to you.” Cardinal Fidèle looked at don Hash, saying, “For now, I turn to Froben.”
“Yes, Fidèle?” said Cardinal Froben.
Carpe Diem, meanwhile, was now standing in front of Cardinal Fidèle, showing his hands to him. The Cardinal, who learned to have a towel at the ready for just such events, began dutifully to clean the chocolate frosting of the cake off his hands and face. This was a triumph over autism… for now. “Cardinal Fidèle,” thought don Hash, “might be more human than I would give him credit for.”
“Froben, I realise that you’re a bit old for this…” said Cardinal Fidèle engrossed in cleaning.
“Why you self-justified…” came the retort, only to be interrupted.
“Intriguing terminology for you, Froben! Tell us, if you would, what you, of all people, are doing with all those ancient biblical manuscripts from the first centuries of the Church, all the papyri and parchments with their conflicting readings. I didn’t know that your Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic and Syriac and Coptic were up to scratch. What could you possibly know about textual criticism, about ascertaining the accuracy of copyists’ work in all the manuscripts?”
“What are talking about?” asked Cardinal Froben, as Carpe Diem brushed by him. “I don’t have any of those manuscripts. I’m not a linguist. I’m an ecumenist, and proud of it!”
“What’s this for?” asked Carpe Diem, behind them, holding up one of many dozens of bibles.
“That’s for listening to Jesus, the Word spoken by God the Father,” replied don Hash.
“Pretend I’m Protestant, Froben,” said Cardinal Fidèle, mocking him. “The lowest common denominator outlined by your Council for Christian Unity for participation in the ecumenical biblical project of textual critical translations is what? Scientific excellence, perhaps?”
Cardinal Francisco laughed loudly, having followed the matter as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He knew that there could be nothing more unscientific than the ecumenical biblical project advanced by Cardinal Froben for the sake of Christian Unity. Cardinal Francisco, however, had not made any interventions during his tenure as the head of the Inquisition for the simple reason that he did not know quite what to make of it all.
“I suppose you want the truth,” said Cardinal Froben.
“Truth can be utilised,” responded Cardinal Fidèle.
“Nothing,” Cardinal Froben said defiantly. “There are no rules for participation. Nothing!”
“Come now, Froben,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “You do not mean nothing with your nothing, do you?”
“I mean nothing, and I’m proud of it!” said Cardinal Froben. “Along with celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation with the Lutherans, it’s just the kind of bold move we must make these days for ecumenism. Everyone is welcome to make up any kind of Bible they want, with more books or less books, or parts thereof and so on. The more points of view there are, the better it is. It would be an evil thing not to bring people together. Our strength is our division, which is, then, not division at all.”
“What’s this for?” asked Carpe Diem, holding up another bible to his other ear, balancing the weight out on either side of his head.
“That’s for listening to Jesus, the Word spoken by God the Father,” repeated don Hash.
“Now Froben,” said Cardinal Fidèle,“your guidelines for participation in your textual critical biblical translations try to bring people together – in a divided sort of way – on grounds that are ‘traditional’, pastoral, liturgical, apologetic, sociological, organizational, cultural, political, geographical, psychological, intellectual, attitudinal and even economic. So, do you really mean to tell me that all these principles amount to nothing more than nothing, to a kind of principle of having no principles?”
“Prinzip der Prinzipienlosigkeit, is the exact phrase,” said Cardinal Froben. “And yes, that is exactly what I mean. It means nothing, the lowest possible common denominator of relativism for any excuse you want. We’ve studied the thing long and hard. We know exactly what we’re doing. It’s not “E pluribus unum” that is our motto, as if we wanted to make many one, but “E pluribus multo plures”. Creating more points of view is damage control. You can’t do better.”
“I see,” said Cardinal Fidèle to Cardinal Froben, though looking at don Hash, “a perfect example of militant self-justification. How very protéstant! Considering the common declaration on justification, just how ecumenical is that? I wonder just how much you understand what you are doing.” Cardinal Froben couldn’t answer, so he turned various shades of red instead. “Perhaps your great show of accommodationist gentility is just a bluff to get more people involved,” continued Cardinal Fidèle. “When they are frustrated with the shallowness, they will back down and say that it is the scientific excellence of, for instance, the Nestle-Aland edition of the New Testament that is acceptable to all, including non-Lutherans, including Catholics. That is your real prize, it is not… that this especially Lutheran edition enjoys ‘the sum total of authority,’ even for Catholics?”
“Yes,” said Cardinal Froben, “the phrase is ‘summam habet auctoritatem.’ That the Lutherans have the sum total of authority has been published for years by the Holy See in our edition of the Nova Vulgata. But, why do you care?”
“Excuse me for pressing the issue, Froben, but, if I’m not mistaken, you and your kind have been marginalising those who desire to do real scientific work on the Scriptures – which cannot but promote a true ecumenism – even while you promote the Lutheran Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament, not as an hypothesis, but as a book which has dropped out of the sky, and which can never be questioned, either now or in the future. That’s not scientific. The reason for bringing this up now is because someone wants to bring your ways and means to the attention of the world in an imprudent way. You should have seen it coming, but you did not. You have failed your mandate at the Council; you have failed the Church; you have failed the world.
“What’s this for?” asked Carpe Diem, holding up another bible, so that he now had one bible pressed to one ear and two to the other.
“That’s for listening to Jesus, the Word spoken by God the Father,” repeated don Hash again.
“You’re just a coward,” said Pyè the next morning, publically challenging one of the men the ‘Madame’ used to enforce that Ev went out to ‘work’ for Simon the previous night with Estè and the other girls and boys. Pyè had run out of his house next door when he heard Ev screaming, “Don’t make me go into the dark.” When she wouldn’t be forced down the steps of her house by the ‘Madame’, locking her arms into the wooden banister of the steps, the man had threatened Ev, shouting, “I’m going to give you a reason why you’ll be more afraid to stay here than go into the dark.” Pyè had put himself between Ev and the man who was about to brutalize her, but the man grabbed Pyè and easily flung him across the small dirt yard down to the edge of the shallow, open sewer below. Seeing this, Ev had loosened her grip on the banister and was immediately pushed down the steps by the ‘Madame’. The others quickly took Ev with them, saving her from the man, but only for a similar fate minutes later. When, in daylight, Pyè had challenged the man again, saying, “You’re just a coward,” the man, shamed and angry at the same time, could not do anything, for Pyè and his family were highly respected by the rest of the neighbourhood.
Turning to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Fidèle said, “Now, Francisco, tell us… Is the relationship of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church to be reduced to nothing, as Froben infers?”
“Bah!” interrupted Cardinal Froben. “Get with it! It’s ‘Word, Rule of Faith, and Witness.’”
“Of course,” interrupted don Hash, “witness points to the word martyr, which comes from the word for memory, which leads to the Holy Grail: ‘Do this in memory of me…’ And that’s why the Magisterium, in the fourth session of Trent, was able to make a liturgically inspired statement about Scripture and Tradition. The Scriptures which were used in the Mass are to be utilised to…”
Cardinal Fidèle glared at don Hash until he went silent. “Why is it, Francisco,” continued Cardinal Fidèle, “that the Holy Office ceded its protection of the Faith to the likes of Froben?”
“What?” Cardinals Francisco and Froben exclaimed together.
“You let Froben give everything to non-Catholics,” continued Cardinal Fidèle, “having it that Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium are irrelevant in deciding what books, paragraphs, words and letters are Sacred Scripture. Both of you are mindlessly carrying out the policy of a new Reformation within the Church, which is sure to bring only more division and more violence.”
Cardinals Francisco and Froben stood to protest, proclaiming their ecumenism to be nice.
“Ironically,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “reason against Scripture defined the ‘Reform’. The response was reason and Scripture and Faith. But you pretend to be nice by being unscientific.”
Again, Cardinal Fidèle looked to don Hash, and then to the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, whom he now addressed. Cardinals Francisco and Froben sat down defeated. Don Hash knew that his turn would soon come. “Now, de Colines, you should know something about bishops, about the religious and political implications of choosing a bishop. According to your name – ‘From the Hills’ – you should be like a warrior ready for defence and offence….”
With the mention of the hills, Carpe Diem mimicked Julie Andrews at the top of his tone-deaf voice, “The hills are alive with the sound of music…” identifying Cardinal de Colines with this song.
Cardinal Fidèle continued over the voice of Carpe Diem: “Should a bishop be one who is given over to this Prinzip der Prinzipienlosigkeit, just a shell of a person, someone who will continue the status quo of rushing inexorably to the lowest common denominator no matter how lacking in truth that status quo happens to be, someone who has proven ability to make damage control into heroic virtue, into policy? Everyone knows that the Congregation for Bishops and the Doctrine of the Faith and the Secretariat of State are not the power brokers of the Holy See; the real litmus test for episcopal candidates concerns their acceptance of Froben’s style of ‘ecumenism’. Cardinal Froben rules the roost. Isn’t that true?”
“That’s a deliberate provocation, Fidèle,” said Cardinal Froben on behalf of the others. “You know as well as I do that it’s Elzevir who has the completely different policy which says that for every would-be bishop perceived to be ‘conservative’, there must be a counter balance with at least two others, who, shall we say, are sure to broaden the horizons.”
Just then, Eliyahu and five other soldiers, dressed as civilians, were on their way to a restaurant, recounting to their commander how they had survived climbing the volcanic walls of Lago Albano near Rome, across the lake from Castel Gondolfo. Starting from the edge of the volcanic lake, the goal had been to notice pre-placed clues of the presence of the ‘enemy’ while remaining unnoticed themselves, even to strategically placed cameras, climbing to the top and then returning to the lake as quickly as possible. They remained out of site of each other most of the time, and were competing against each other. The task was difficult because of loose rocks, impenetrable briars and almost impossible to avoid blind drops of as much as twenty five metres. Four were dismissed from the special forces team for having been seen by their commander, who had been monitoring them from a boat offshore. They returned to their military base on foot. Another four returned to the lake in record time though Eliyahu was late by four minutes, carrying another soldier who, under orders, but unknown to Eliyahu, was only pretending to have a broken leg half-way up. It was Eliyahu who, with his no one left behind but get the job done instincts, covered the soldier with branches – thus revealing some clues – but then, after completing the mission at the top of the crater, returned to make a splint for the soldier’s leg in under a minute and, then, do the impossible, carrying him the rest of the way down.
Having everyone where he wanted them, paying attention, agitated, Cardinal Fidèle went back to Cardinal Elzevir. “Now, Elzevir, have you come up with an answer about Martin Luther?”
“No,” said the Cardinal Secretary of State.
“But you clearly see the problem we are in,” insisted Cardinal Fidèle.
“Clearly, Fidèle, there is confusion, but I do not know how to find my way out of it.” Don Hash’s stomach turned at the thought he might have to come up with an answer.
“Hash will help us,” said Cardinal Fidèle.
“This ought to be good,” muttered Cardinal Elzevir once again. All eyes turned to don Hash.
“Was Martin Luther the only Augustinian priest wanting change?” asked Cardinal Fidèle.
“Well, Erasmus was also an Augustinian priest, but he remained a Catholic, of sorts,” replied don Hash. “He was a bit of an arrogant humanist with no interest in theology.”
“Wasn’t he the unwitting father of the Reformation?” asked Cardinal Fidèle.
It was precisely these kind of comments which made don Hash uneasy, much to the entertainment of the Cardinals. “Your Eminence,” he said, “was it not the other way around? Was it not Erasmus who had been accused of being a follower of Luther? Did he not have to defend himself by writing harsh things against Luther, his one-time confrere, disciple and protégé?”
“Bravo, Hash,” Cardinal Francisco chimed in.
“You would do well to pay attention, Francisco,” said Cardinal Fidèle. Turning again to don Hash, he said, “Knowledge of the engines of division is a dangerous thing. It can be used to advance further division by those who would wish to divide the Church all the more, by those who would profit by the ensuing war machines, and, please, listen carefully, by those who would not only turn damage control and coverup into heroic virtues, but would understand their own worth or career advancement in terms of how well they have burned the truth. I do not blame Luther, even if he is an ex-Catholic priest. It is another Catholic priest, at least in name, that I blame: Erasmus.”
“Blame? Bah!” said Cardinal Froben, waving his hands in rejection.
Don Hash said: “Surely there were complex causes. But all Erasmus did was to publish the Greek New Testament. He even stopped his own publisher from printing Luther’s works.”
“Good, Hash! Keep it up!” exclaimed Cardinal Froben.
“I see you come to the point handily, Hash,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “You will tell me the answer yourself. Was this New Testament of Erasmus just an innocent, humanist desire of those Renaissance times to establish a scientific, textual critical edition of yet another ancient work?”
“I suppose there are some today who – because of their usage of Erasmus’ New Testament throughout these past centuries – would still claim that it was a truly critical edition,” replied don Hash. “Even Luther, who followed these events closely, used the second edition of Erasmus’ New Testament of 1519 when he began to translate the New Testament into German in 1521. And from what we know of that famous meeting at the Wild-Jackass-of-a-Man Inn in Louvain…”
“Never mind the Wild-Jackass-of-a-Man Inn!” said Cardinal Fidèle.
“Most people know,” said don Hash, “that Erasmus would later condemn his own work as an unscientific, precipitous exercise in marketing…”
“Praecipitatum verius quam editum’ were his exact words,” interrupted Cardinal Fidèle.
“Thank you, your Eminence,” said don Hash.
“Don’t thank me. You forget Erasmus’ satire, Encomium moriæ, The Praise of Folie, which he might have called ‘In Praise of a Jackass’, written seven years previously in honour of his friend, Thomas More. He was not in a position to praise More, but greed was not his major fault.”
“But that is what they say today…” said don Hash.
“Who are they?” asked Cardinal Fidèle, glaring at Cardinal Froben. “Are they the ones who have a conflict of interest concerning their centuries of using Erasmus’ work, which was reprinted in various editions more than two hundred times in the sixteenth century alone?”
“Perhaps, your Eminence,” said don Hash, “it was a kind of adolescent desire to be the first to market a mechanically printed ‘critical’ edition of the ancient New Testament manuscripts.”
“What’s this for?” asked Carpe Diem, holding up yet another bible to his ears. By this time, he had three bibles on either side of his head.
“That’s for listening to Jesus, the Word spoken by God the Father,” said don Hash patiently.
“What do you mean, ‘adolescent’, Hash?” asked Cardinal Fidèle.
“Adolescent rebellion, to be precise, your Eminence.”
“Against whom?” pressed the Prelate.
“Against the Pope,” answered don Hash. “Erasmus was obstinately set on being disobedient to the Holy Father, publishing without the Holy Father granting him permission to do so. It was a move against the Father of the Family of Faith, a move favouring individualism and division.”
“Well put,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “I hope Cardinal Froben sees the irony regarding his work in the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.”
“Not irony! Progress…” insisted Cardinal Froben with one of his trademark conclusions.
“Now, Hash,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “what does permission have to do with anything?”
“Your Eminence, I believe I see what has happened. This rebellion of Erasmus was widely known and, therefore, inextricably attached to the edition. It became the very symbol of the heart of the Reformation, as if his attitude in editing was divinely inspired, if not the editing itself. If the Holy Father was excluded from any decision regarding the editing of the manuscripts of Sacred Scripture – however scientific the analysis happened to be – then, a fortiori, he could not have a say in its interpretation, except, of course, privately, just for himself.”
“Instead,” Cardinal Fidèle prodded, “did not God let the copyists of the manuscripts make mistakes down through the centuries so that, while we are given the Faith directly by God, we, in looking to the Scriptures, must also to look to the Family of Faith for guidance, to the Holy Father? For, otherwise, we would be lost to our relativism, wouldn’t we?”
“I couldn’t have said it better, but…” said don Hash, but then hesitating.
“Go on,” said Cardinal Fidèle.
“Your Eminence, it seems to me that Luther was not original with his cry of Scriptura sola.”
“No, he was not,” said Cardinal Fidèle. It was a Catholic who pretends to have remained a Catholic who is responsible for the battle cry, ‘Scripture alone.’”
“What’s this for?” asked Carpe Diem, holding more bibles to his ears.
Don Hash exclaimed, “That’s for listening to Jesus, the Word spoken by God the Father.”
This time, Carpe Diem, like an acrobat, strong as an ox, had half of a bookshelf of bibles balanced along each arm, pressed against his ears, which turned his face bright red. “I can’t hear the Father speaking the Word,” he said, distressed.
“Stop and listen,” said don Hash raising his voice so Carpe Diem and perhaps even the Cardinals could hear him. He guessed how Carpe Diem would respond, loving it. Out of the mouths of mere infants…
“Stop! Listen!” Carpe Diem insisted with an earnestness which made the Cardinals stop to look at him as at a judgment of themselves.
“I can hear Him! I can hear Him!” shouted Carpe Diem, happily dumping the bibles in a heap onto the thick carpet. “He said, ‘Polycarp, carpe diem!’” The Cardinals looked at him, astounded.
Don Hash recalled that Saint Polycarp had been burned alive, and recalled the events on the other side of the Tiber that very morning, the flames in the mural of the Basilica of Saint Lawrence. What would he do?
Ev had been dreaming of the churches to which her great, great grandmother, Filmèna, had taken her to see in Port-au-Prince. Images of the Blessed Virgin and the Sacred Heart of Jesus passed through her head, as did various depictions of Saint Michael the Archangel conquering Satan. Ev found out only on the next day that she was wrong about being too insignificant to care about, for when she awoke late that morning, it was as if she had seen God in the face. She was beaming with happiness. “My guardian angel took me to see the gates of heaven,” she proclaimed.
Her brothers and sisters and cousins stared at her, not because they recognised in her words a desperate effort to escape the trauma all of them went through on a continual basis and would surely like to escape, but because she was unmistakably confident and sincere. “I saw Jesus. He has wounds worse than we’ve ever had. He will save us. He is with us.”
Her certainty made the others want to cry, thinking, “If only it were true…”
And yet, Ev had no smile of shallow anxiety on her face, which, instead, was set like flint. She was not hiding or cowering, but was emboldened with a radiant strength of character, as if she had, in fact, been to the gates of heaven. They were stunned by her simple but certain descriptions of the joy of the relationships she said were there, how the saints saw the good in her as their own good, and how she saw the good in them as her own good. “God is with us,” she said. “What I liked most of all is that we bowed down before the Father together. I didn’t see Him, but He loves me, us. It’s the most wonderful experience in my life. God is so good, so kind.”
But then her great grandmother, Mari, the ‘Madame’ of the brothel, who had heard the last part of what Ev had said from the doorway of the large room where they were sleeping, walked directly to Ev and slapped her hard across the face, sending her reeling backward. But Mari then immediately grabbed her own neck; she was clearly in pain. Yet, she shouted that none of them were to pay attention to Ev, that this was all a trick of her own mother, Filmèna. The others cowered at this, except for Ev, who, without any bitterness, asked, as only a child can, “But haven’t you seen heaven too? Didn’t you pray when you were a little girl?”
Ev’s conviction, ability of expression and down-to-earth forthrightness, yet, her otherworldly strength shook them. They could not yet understand what it meant to be hidden with Christ in God. Mari was especially shaken, for she had been a nun in her younger years, but left at the end of July, 1968, after signing a condemnation against Pope Paul VI for his encyclical, Humanæ vitæ, which promoted human life, family life, rejecting contraception and abortion.
Carpe Diem went triumpantly to the kitchen, repeating, “Polycarp, carpe diem! Polycarp, carpe diem!”
It just then dawned on Cardinal Francisco that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had long given away the Magisterium’s role of protecting Revelation – understood as being both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and, in effect, to non-Catholics, specifically, the Lutherans, who had spearheaded textual critical projects for the Greek New Testament, especially since the late nineteenth century. The New Testament of the New Vulgate, the Nova Vulgata of the Catholic Church, was simply a new translation into Latin of that Lutheran project, so that Cardinal Froben was now Erasmus redivivus, Erasmus come back from the dead. It was a rejection of Trent, a rejection of the counter-Reformation, an expedient kicking of the can down the road into the tyrannical peripheries of relativism.
“I think I understand the connection between theology and all the division with its consequent bloodshed,” said Cardinal Elzevir.
“Go on,” said Cardinal Fidèle. Don Hash was relieved that his future boss, the Cardinal Secretary of State, was finally joining the conversation.
“Well, the way I see it now,” said Cardinal Elzevir, not realising that he was repeating what don Hash said, “is that the spirit of disobedience is a thirst for individualism, an attack on the Family of Faith and society at large. It cannot but bring division enforced by egoism and violence. Even if Erasmus all too conveniently hated theological disputation, the emotional symbol of the Reformation was the manner by which he published the New Testament, in disobedience, individuality, rejection of the Successor of Peter, the sign of unity, the Father on earth of the Family of Faith. The very usage of this New Testament was the cry of Rebellion, the attack on unity. Anyone continuing this policy today,” he said, now glaring at Cardinals Froben and Francisco, “is continuing that policy of egoism and violence, of division and rancour, the policy of damage control, of having a principle of no principles, of insisting on the lowest common denominator. It must be stopped. It must be stopped now.”
Cardinal Francisco stared at the fire, his face as gray as the ashes which were collecting below the grate holding up the logs, which were now quickly burning down.
Cardinal Froben, for his part, protested, saying, “I will only say that… that… I disagree, that…”
“Your Eminence,” don Hash interrupted, speaking to Cardinal Fidèle, “Cardinal Ximenes, published a Bible with the permission of the Holy Father only a few years after Erasmus.”
“Only making matters more complicated and, therefore, worse,” said Cardinal Francisco, trying to redeem himself. “After that, no one could come up with any excuse to follow Erasmus.”
“Typical Holy Office!” exclaimed Cardinal Fidèle, “always so concerned with damage control. I suppose, Francisco, that you would also despise the very height of the Counter-Reformation, the fourth session of the Council of Trent, which treated of Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, a complete answer to Erasmus’ rebellion, which was promulgated just months after Luther died… Tell us, did that teaching of the Church make matters worse? You should know. You are the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of the Holy Office, of the Inquisition.”
Cardinal Francisco remained silent. Cardinal Froben defended him, saying, “Making matters worse. Yes. Erasmus should have been praised. That’s the way I see it, anyway.”
“Froben,” Cardinal Elzevir interjected, feeling the weight of the violence and blood of history upon his own shoulders, upon his own head. “Can’t you see the effect of Truth, or the lack of Truth, on society?” But there was no answer. No one knew what to make of this more insistent orthodoxy of the Cardinal Secretary of State.
“Surely, don Hash,” Cardinal Fidèle said, “what Trent had to say about Scripture was good. But what was to happen later? I recall you having spoken of this at your doctoral defence.”
“Damage control?” offered don Hash.
“Do not be so tentative,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “What happened to ‘heroic’ and ‘virtuous’?”
“I am lost, your Eminence,” replied don Hash.
“Oh, don’t give up now, Hash!” said Cardinal Froben, thinking he now had a friend in him.
The fire had burned down to a hot bed of embers, so don Hash started to go about putting another log on the fire, trying to buy time.
“Don’t bother,” said Cardinal Fidèle, much to the surprise of don Hash and the others, for it was now just past 5:00 P.M.; there were only a few minutes of sunlight left and it was quite cold. “There are other things to put on the fire,” he said. He took one of the pieces of paper next to his telephone that had been there since that morning, and held it out to don Hash, who thought the Cardinal was poking fun at his supposed lack of ability to light a fire earlier in the day.
Don Hash took the paper and went a few steps to place it on the hot embers, but stopped to complain, saying, “I wish this was the Jesuit’s magazine America, everything from A to Z in rubbish,” a comment which made the Cardinals laugh nervously. Don Hash turned and said, “If you were actually offended by the satanic verses which America launches against the Immaculate Virgin, you would say that despite the editorial board’s protestations of themselves being sinless, they are, nevertheless, lacking in competence, and the journal itself should be suppressed. But the editors know how to play Rome’s damage control policy for their own benefit.”
The Cardinals made no reaction, knowing his words to be true. Don Hash turned to the fire, about to toss the paper on the embers, but Cardinal Fidèle stopped him, saying, “You’re supposed to read what’s on it, Hash.”
Don Hash studied it for a full minute, then two, remaining on his feet. “It’s written in late Renaissance Church Latin…” he finally observed.
“That is obvious. What else can you say?” asked Cardinal Fidèle.
After some moments of hesitation, don Hash added, “It’s a set of directions about a confrontation to be made between the original language manuscripts of the Bible, the Latin Vulgate and a working document… But…”
“But what?” pressed the Cardinal impatiently.
“But if these six directions were followed… then…” Instead of drawing a conclusion, don Hash made the further observation: “Only Saint Robert Bellarmine would have been in a position to have written this, perhaps a half dozen years before he died… But…” Don Hash’s eyes widened. “Your Eminence,” he continued, “the relics in the third altar up to the right in the Church of Saint Ignatius belong to Bellarmine. Therefore…”
“I see you will fit in well at the Casa and the Secretariat of State,” replied Cardinal Fidèle, who, strangely, was not smiling as he made this comment.
“But, your Eminence, that means that Monsignor Sens will be…”
“Do not rush. We will come to that,” repeated the Cardinal gravely, who then stood up next to don Hash in front of the fire. “Look closely at the fourth rule proposed by Bellarmine.”
“I hesitate to criticise a canonised saint,” replied don Hash, “but, his words, for instance, vel plura, ‘or many’, are an abomination. For Bellarmine, this rule undoes what Trent wanted. Even if many of the original language manuscripts of the Scriptures agree with the Latin Vulgate, such an agreement, for Bellarmine, is to be cast aside in favour of the manuscripts which are more numerous simply because they are more numerous. That reminds me of what the head of the Jehovah Witnesses told me in JFK airport years ago. He said that he had to be correct about everything he said, since he personally owned more bibles than I personally owned, more than fifty million at the time. But industrious copying means nothing. If anything would have done great harm to the Church, it is what resulted from Bellarmine’s rules, what we will see, in fact, when Monsignor Sens arrives. Your Eminence, if I may speak freely…”
“I believe you are already doing so, Hash,” said Cardinal Fidèle.
“I don’t follow any of this, Fidèle,” said Cardinal Froben, before don Hash could say anything. “This seems to be some sort of esoteric topic that only you and Hash understand. You’re wasting our time. I have better things to do.”
“These are early days before the trial, when…” said Cardinal Fidèle, interrupting himself, knowing he had said too much. It was a rare slip.
“What trial?” asked Cardinal Elzevir, finally realising what was happening.
“The trial of your intelligence, or lack thereof,” replied Cardinal Fidèle, not quite redeeming himself. He then said, smiling, “Go on, Hash. Speak as freely as you want.”
Up next: Chapter 5 – Double edged damage control
© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers