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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Thursday, November 27, 2003 23:33 EST




    Antonio Barberini looked sharply at Vitelleschi. “I do believe, Father, that that is the first word you have spoken in my presence today.”

    “My apologies, Your Eminence. I was deep in thought.” Vitelleschi gave every sign of still having his faculties at their utmost concentration.

    Not surprising, that. The narrow, blade-like man who stood in one of the many elegantly-decorated reception-rooms of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome had a potent reputation. Father-General Muzio Vitelleschi, like every General of the Societas Jesu before him back to Father Inigo Lopez de Loyola, was a man to be reckoned with. Part of it was the reputation for ferocious learning. Another part the famous fourth vow of the Society, of personal loyalty and obedience to the Pope. Still another, the Society’s iron-hard rule of regular and full reporting that made the man who sat at the centre of all its lines of communication arguably the best-informed man in Europe.

    Mostly, though, it was the sheer effectiveness of the organization that he headed, an effectiveness that had made the Jesuits the target of every Protestant propagandist in Europe. The Jesuits, they said, were like the night: they always returned.

    Vitelleschi was regarding Cardinal Barberini with a cool gaze that few cats could have matched. The Jesuit General was an old man, but not stooped. The high-boned, ascetic face was of a piece with the narrow hungry frame. The calm blue eyes and unwrinkled mien spoke of ice-water in the veins. Close-cropped hair, a short beard, both snow-white and fussily trimmed.

    “You have some thoughts?”

    “I was thinking about Giulio Mazarini. The young Monsignor is worthy of watching. I have a man who has marked him, and he is most marvelously disingenuous. But the principal matter has to be the doctrine, no?”

    “Ah.” Barberini looked at the papers on the table. They were a summary, in essence, of the books which Mazarini had brought with some months earlier from Grantville. Mazarini had written the summary himself, before he left for Paris. It contained the distilled wisdom and positions of a Roman Catholic church centuries in the future. The American priest in Grantville, a certain Father Mazzare, had insisted that Mazarini present them to the Holy Father.

    Barberini had read the accompanying letter written by Father Mazzare. It had been politely—even deferentially—worded, but neither Barberini nor his uncle Pope Urban VIII had any doubt that the letter and the accompanying documents were, in essence, an ultimatum. A declaration of war, if you would—except that the priest was making a final offer to make peace instead. Provided that peace was made on his terms.

    Not that Mazzare would have put it that way. Barberini had the sinking feeling that Mazzare was one of those pestiferous clerics who felt quite firmly that he was simply the organ for a greater truth—in his case, the distilled truth of the Roman Catholic church to which he belonged. He wasn’t demanding, however politely, that the Church make peace on his terms, but on its own.

    Barberini sighed. Another church, in another universe, whose spokesman in this one felt himself to be its voice—and had the documents to back up his claim. And, clearly, not a man easily intimidated. If the matter was not handled properly, Mazzare could become even more explosive than Martin Luther.

    “The doctrine. You have read it?”

    Vitelleschi stared hard at the cardinal.

    “Forgive me, Father-General,” said Barberini. “Have you formed an opinion?”

    “I have formed—” Vitelleschi paused. “Several opinions. The first is that any hope of another immediate Counter-Reformation is a slim one. The second is that, while I do not know what the reaction of the Protestants of the future might be, the ones of the present day will almost certainly denounce any new doctrine as strongly as the existing.”

    Vitelleschi lapsed into silence. Barberini waited him out.

    When Vitelleschi spoke again, he turned as much away from Barberini as he could without offering his back. He stared into space, his eyes half-closed. “If we are to act on this at all, we must act subtly. An elegant stroke, I think, needs to be found. One blow that sets in motion all that follows. A ‘Vatican Council’ is not, I think, that blow.”

    Barberini was inclined to agree. “I know nothing of the council they have in that other time, but now? I doubt we could even hold the Council of Trent again in these times. Not so? After the breviary fiasco?”

    Vitelleschi nodded. His Holiness had, a couple of years before, tried to convene a committee to reform the breviary; it was overdue to be done. Months of bickering had resulted in a testy Pope ordering the discussions ended with virtually nothing to show and a breviary that was, if anything, worse than before.

    “And have you an opinion as to these new doctrines?” Barberini’s aesthete manner was as arch as he could make it. He only technically outranked the Father-General, otherwise known as the Black Pope for the power he usually chose not to wield.

    “When His Holiness has read sufficient, heard sufficient and prayed sufficient to have an opinion, that will be my opinion also.” Vitelleschi’s eyes seem to close still further. “If His Holiness wishes my advice, I shall give it, of course. I have, as it happens, read the entirety of the books which Mazarini brought back with him, not simply the summary. But I will speak on each point separately, and in public only if His Holiness asks that of me.”

    “Thank Christ for hierarchy, eh?” Barberini guffawed, briefly.

    Vitelleschi smiled. “I believe we need to take one immediate action. Information is our principal need at this time, and I will send to Grantville for a summary of what they have that we have not already seen. That will inform our thinking in more detail. Most important.”

    Barberini nodded. “It is. And your plan beyond that?”

    “It is not a plan as yet. But I believe that Richelieu is suitably warned of what he is up against, as we took pains to send Monsignor Mazarini and his American companion Signor Lefferts to Paris, however briefly either might have remained. And, in the fullness of time, we will take further action if the Church remains beset by France and Spain in concert.”

    “You believe this United States could be an ally?”

    “I believe they may be convinced to be an effective enemy of our enemy. Allies?” Vitelleschi shook his head. “In a hundred years, perhaps. With much reform in both the Church and in the United States. Perhaps.”

    Barberini stared hard. “Muzio, either you really are addled in your wits or you are playing the deepest game I have ever seen.”

    Vitelleschi’s smile was, again, brief. “I have learned a thing or two from my brethren in the Japans. I commend their reports to your reading.”

    Barberini cocked his head on one side. “Muzio, you mentioned reform in the United States. What are you planning?”

    “No more than the Society ever plans. We open schools and wait. Give us boys of impressionable years, Your Eminence, and we will answer for the actions of the men.”

    “Including Tilly? Wallenstein?”

    Vitelleschi was not smiling, now. “Yes, Your Eminence. Including the Tilly who tried to prevent the sack of Magdeburg. And including the Wallenstein whose administration of his estates is among the most enlightened in Europe. We will answer for them, for good or ill.”

    Barberini looked away. It was at moments like this that he was reminded of the vast gulf which separated him—and all of the Barberini clan, including his uncle Pope Urban VIII—from the Father-General of the Societas Jesu. All of them were pious men, to be sure. But none of the Barberini, not even the Pope himself, had the pure raw faith of Muzio Vitelleschi.

    It was odd, really. Vitelleschi was much like them, in so many other ways. Immensely sophisticated, learned, cosmopolitan—as astute in the devious and intricate corridors of political power and maneuver as any man in Europe. He even shared the Barberini pleasure in art and science. But, in the end, he was no Renaissance prince of the church. He was shaped and stamped, molded and formed, in the same manner that had produced the Basque soldier who had founded the Jesuits. There was something ultimately medieval about the man.

    Not for the first time, also, Cardinal Barberini was relieved that Inigo Lopez had included that fourth vow of obedience. He shuddered to think what Muzio Vitelleschi would be like as an enemy, instead of—as he certainly was—the Pope’s most faithful servant.

    “Venice, then?” he grunted.

    “I think so, yes,” replied Vitelleschi softly.

    Barberini grimaced sourly. “They’re difficult, the Venetians.”

    “So are the Americans.” The Father-General of the Jesuits shrugged. “Where better than Venice, to begin the probe?”

    Barberini grunted again. “Mazarini as our go-between? That might be dangerous. The man is leaning in three directions at once—toward us, the French, and the Americans. Who knows where he might wind up, in the end?”

    Vitelleschi was back to that unnerving, cool stare. “Who better, then, than Mazarini? Do not forget, Your Eminence, that it remains unclear where we might wind up. In the end.”

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