Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty Seven

       Last updated: Saturday, March 6, 2004 13:08 EST



    Cardinal Antonio Barberini watched Mazarini’s retreating back for a while. The man had made his excuses—travel to organize, packing to supervise—and set off as if his boots were afire. It was a mark of the man that under the soutane were a cavalier’s breeches and boots, a holdover from his younger days. Days, Barberini reflected with a wry smile, when Mazarini had been his own age. Antonio was still shy of his twenty-sixth birthday, and owed his rapid rise in the church entirely to family influence.

    Behind him, his uncle was speaking to Vitelleschi. “Muzio, reassure me that this will achieve more than I sacrifice.”

    “Your Holiness.” Vitelleschi acknowledged the command, and paused. At length. “I have repeated several times in advising Your Holiness that it is the doctrine that must be our grounding. I confess alarm at the prospect of further reforms so soon after the Council of Trent, but we cannot ignore what seems so clearly to be messages from our future brethren in Christ.”

    “And the truth of those messages?” Cardinal Barberini was more of a skeptic about this than either of the two older men. He would cheerfully admit he was no natural philosopher—was not any kind of philosopher or theologian, come to it—but he did make a point of patronizing those who were advancing the arts, letters and sciences. Leave aside the essential implausibility of the story—”Ring of Fire,” indeed!—and it resolved to this: that the Americans had more and better devices and engines and weapons than anyone else.

    One could either believe that a secret coterie of geniuses had gotten ahead of the rest of the world in artifice and invention, and sprung like a deus ex machina onto the stage of the Germanies with their marvels fully-formed, or that they had been hurled back in time three hundred years from an age when such things were commonplace. Perhaps the older generation, unused to seeing what modern natural philosophy could do, might see something miraculous and wonderful in the American engines and weapons. But Antonio Barberini had seen demonstrations of all manner of newly-discovered principles and the only feeling they stirred was envy that elsewhere there were better—scientists, to use the new word—that he had been able to attract to his own salon. Yet.

    By itself, that was no problem. After all, the watchword of natural philosophy was what worked. Galileo had seen to that, with his trials and experiments. What matter the outlandish story the inventor told, if his invention actually worked? Who cared that he was changing fashion throughout Rome, or was the creator of a string of scandals?

    Yet the older generation were looking at the wonders Grantville had released as a token of the truth of their claim to be from the future. And when something that necessarily did not admit of proof—such as religious doctrine, or political theory—was being expounded, the speaker’s truthfulness in one sphere was often taken as a measure of his honesty in another.

    Both of the older men were looking at him now. “Your Holiness, Father-General, it may be that the Americans can prove Galileo’s claims. I for one would welcome it, frankly. The discussions at the Inquisition grow tiresome, and privately the astronomers are saying that Galileo’s claims are helpful, even if he cannot prove them. But that logically says nothing about the truth of their other claims.”

    “It does furnish me with a good excuse, though, Antonio.” His Holiness Urban VIII had developed a twinkle that was literally as well as figuratively avuncular.

    Barberini seethed inside. These two had concocted something between them, decided on something, and were now mocking him! Or as much mockery as the constitutionally humorless Vitelleschi was capable. “Does the Pope require an excuse in matters of faith?” he asked, knowing they probably had an answer already.

    “Certainly,” Urban said. “If the Pope was not visibly commanded by God to reverse himself, what price infallibility?”

    “Which is no more than a tradition!” Barberini snapped, regretting it immediately. “Your Holiness, I most humbly apologize for my tone.”

    “And so you should,” Urban said. “But as to infallibility being a tradition, yes, it is. And a most valuable tradition it is, for without it there is no last authority on the church’s teaching and thus no certainty.”

    “And so we need an excuse to proceed from what is certainly wrong to what is probably right?” Barberini smiled to show he jested.


    “And there is more,” Vitelleschi said. “We will have some chance to see the American priest in a sore trial of his wit and learning. A man may lie well and convincingly at his leisure. Under pressure even the most glib will err.”

    Understanding dawned on Barberini then. “The Galileo affair is not the real trial?”

    “Not the real trial,” Vitelleschi said.

    “Then what is? Your Holiness?”

    “That I do not know. I pray for guidance, Antonio. Your elder brother believes there is much to be gained by proceeding down this path, word-for-word and as fast as possible. He is more of an enthusiast than you for the new learning in every sphere of life. San Onofrio, my brother and your uncle, believes that we should place this material from Grantville in some musty corner of his library at the Lateran. Then, admit of its existence to only a few of our more trusted theologians and let the ideas out slowly and with great caution, if at all, and beginning only when we have seen the new politics established for perhaps a century, so as to be certain this has in some sense God’s blessing upon it.”

    Barberini could barely keep himself from laughing aloud at that last. “He thinks that God has ordained a trial by combat in the Germanies?”

    “Not really.” Urban’s smile was a little wistful. “He and I are less than an hour apart in age, but very different in some ways. He has always been the more studious of us, and I think he fears these things for which there is not ancient authority. May God bless him, he has not been well of late, and some of the things he has to say on these subjects are not entirely lucid.”

    “He grows unwell?” Barberini crossed himself, offered a silent prayer for his other uncle.

    “Not so bad that he cannot get about. He grows... testy.” Urban sighed. “I would that I could grow so testy as well. I prayed God to spare me this, such turmoil. And yet I see no way out of engaging with this new learning. This—basta!”

    Both Barberini and Vitelleschi moved closer to the Pope, whose face was now drawn and lined. “Are you unwell, uncle?” Barberini asked.

    Vitelleschi’s mask had cracked, for a moment, and was then back in place. “Shall I have a physician attend Your Holiness?”

    “No, no,” Urban said. “I am well enough, in body. It is in the spirit I ache, in the spirit. At once an opportunity and a challenge. I am reminded of that English saint, Thomas à Becket.”

    Neither of the other two priests spoke. Barberini, for his own part, could not place the Saint Thomas that his uncle was referring to.

    Urban went on. “He was commanded by his king to overlook some matter of the church’s interest, and refused. I misdoubt that that king’s penitence after the fact made the swords of his knights hurt any the less.”

    “I can assure Your Holiness that there is no sign of any current plot—” Vitelleschi began, almost hotly. Whatever the efficiencies of the Holy Office in Rome, the Society of Jesus had its own fearsomely effective apparatus of informers and spies, and had indeed been first on the trail of the last, albeit comical, plot to murder the Pope.

    Urban waved him aside. “No, no, I do not doubt you or your eyes, Muzio. I know for a fact that there will be such a plot, however.”

    “Your Holiness has decided--?” Vitelleschi’s voice had a note of doubt in it.

    “Not in any formal sense, no.” The Pope’s face had turned brooding. “But in my heart I see that there is a way to step ahead of the errors and missteps of the next centuries. I pray every hour for the courage to take that way. For, more importantly, the wisdom to see the path that leads on that way.”

    “Ah,” said Vitelleschi, and fell silent.

    “I do not understand,” said Barberini after a moment trying to follow. “What way?”

    Urban smiled. “My dear, dearly beloved nephew, have you read those papers that the American priest sent?”

    “Some of them, yes, but...”

    “But you are no theologian, or at least no more than you need to be a priest on those occasions when you discharge that small part of your office?”

    Barberini felt himself blush. Holiness and piety were no great part of his character and in the august presence of his uncle there was no way to hide that fact. He said nothing.

    “Ah, Antonio,” Urban said, “even if there is no truth in the picture that the American priest paints for us of that future, there is a terrible plausibility and such a great weight of learning. In itself, this speaks to its truth, does it not? How well might one man fabricate such a thing, with all its inconsistencies and blank spots? A liar would try harder to dress up the rough parts, plaster over the cracks.”

    “You believe the Americans’ accounts of future history?”

    “With caution,” Vitelleschi murmured.

    Urban nodded. “In some regards they may be being selective with the information they release, the Father-General tells us. It is what he would do in their place, for in the Father-General’s eyes the only word that should be passed freely is the Gospel, is that not so, Muzio?”

    Vitelleschi nodded.

    “But there have been too many unplanned releases, I think. The book that caused such trouble in England, for example, and the Congden Library, which may be under control in Grantville now—” Urban paused to let Vitelleschi speak.

    “The change in the information coming out of Congden argues for it. It is no longer the original printed books, but manuscript copy. Who knows what is added by the copyist?”

    Urban chuckled. “Muzio, I take counsel of your caution. But it remains”—he grew serious again—”that I have either an opportunity or a sure route to disaster and it lies in a Protestant nation.”

    “You seek to ally the Church with the Swede?” It was the only Protestant nation Urban could mean, and Barberini could hardly refrain from blurting out his amazement.

    “Ah, there is the beauty of it, nephew,” said Urban. “There is no establishment of religion in the United States of Europe. I cannot be their ally, can I? If nothing else, meeting the priest whom their prime minister trusts enough to appoint as an ambassador will give me some clue, some hint about how to harness their strength to the betterment of the Church.”

    “And what is that?” Barberini asked.

    “I do not know, Antonio,” said Urban, and turned away to look at his new-growing garden. “I do not know.”

    The Pope spent some time studying a moving insect. “I only know that I had never imagined it would come to this, in the long decades of my life. That, in my old age, God would place me before that same choice he gave Becket. What thoughts move through His unknowable mind, that He would choose two such worldly men for such a test?”

    When he had been silent for a quarter hour or more, both Barberini and Vitelleschi left, in different directions.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image