It is possible to contemplate God not only outside us and within us but also above us: outside, through vestiges of Him; within, through His image; and above, through the light that shines upon our mind.
Act Two: The Master
July 11, 1327. Bonn, Germany
Whenever they put him in this room to speak with his brother alone, Peter worked his tired muscles. He pushed himself against the stone walls and the cold floor because he did not know what else to do, and it occurred to him more and more that his strength might be needed later.
His brother was a kind soul, stubborn in his ways, but the kind of pressure this Stefan put on him every day was not something he was good at standing up to. The Schwalls were made of tough stock—farmers for generations and not the sort to give in to the beating of the elements. Johann, though, got intelligence but not a lot of physical toughness, and he knew it.
Too often Peter’s brother’s thoughts overwhelmed him, and it sometimes seemed as though Johann was eating himself alive. Peter was content not to have complexities such as that. He had no need of them. He worked the earth, did what he could to make it produce, and crafted those things that could help his work. Life was sometimes difficult, largely unfair, but a straightforward matter: Get up, put in a day’s work, provide for your family, go to bed.
Peter was jarred from his thoughts when he heard the metal bar on the door slide back and he expected to see Stefan with his many guards, to escort Peter back to the room Johann was in. But instead it was a stooped, cloaked figure. Something about the man gave Peter pause. The door creaked open a bit, and the hooded man’s dark form leaned to the ground and pushed something forward. The object made a ringing noise as it rolled into the room toward Peter. By the time he had looked back up at the door, it had been closed and barred again.
Peter looked at the object. It was an metal bar, about a foot long. He picked it up. He gripped it like a weapon, and looked through the small window in the door at the cloaked man. While his face was mostly covered, Peter could see that he was smiling.
“To everything,” the black-cloaked man’s voice rasped, “there is a season.”
Peter stared for a long moment, then nodded slowly. The man, who had waited for his reaction, nodded back and turned away, disappearing down the hall. Peter looked at the metal bar again–the man was giving him a weapon on purpose.
“Wait!” Peter said in a loud whisper through the barred window. “Why would you help us? What’s going on here?”
The dark form of the man, already deep into the shadows of the hall, stopped and turned.
“There are many battles in this age,” he said, just loud enough to be heard, “but there is always only one cause. The crude acts of mankind, based on its petty concerns, normally have little to do with this cause.” He looked Peter in the eye. “But on occasion, action must be taken.”
Peter looked at the crude metal bar in his hands, and gripped it as a weapon. It was solid and heavy, but it was also hollow. Peter knew a little about metals for his tools, and this seemed to be lead. About three-quarters of the way up the one foot pipe was an indentation and in the middle of that was a horizontal slit. Peter had no idea where it had come from, or what its original use was, but he knew the value of it. He slid it into his belt and covered it with his thick woolen shirt. He looked up and the dark figure was again at the door, looking directly at him.
“Where was the man,” he asked.
“What man?” asked Peter.
“The blackfriar the two of you speak of. Where did you find him?”
Peter hesistated, but answered. “On the road, where it meets my property in Dungenheim.”
The cloaked figure nodded, turned, and disappeared down the hall.
A few moments later, the guards returned and to escort him to Johann’s room. Peter thought about using the weapon in this moment. He felt he could bring down the guards quickly enough, but he just wasn’t certain, and something about the deliberateness of the man who had brought him the weapon told him to wait.
To everything there is a season. It was from somewhere in the Bible, Peter knew. A time for peace, a time for war—or something of that sort. The man had been telling him there would be a time to use this weapon to free his brother and himself. All Peter had to rely on was his gut, and his gut said not now. They might find the weapon if he waited too long, but he decided to wait nonetheless.
“Do not play games with me, Father, I have not the time,” Stefan said. Somewhere in the streets of Bonn, outside the barred window, two wild dogs howled to each other.
“Monsignore, I do not know the name of the man who died in the street, in front of me,” Johann said with a wearied, plaintive tone. “I have told you this many times.” Johann walked slowly to the window, glancing out. He glimpsed the two dogs running through the streets, around the building he was in.
“I am not a fool, Father,” Stefan replied, his patience wearing thin.
The room was comfortable enough. It did not look like a cell, but neither Johann nor Peter had been able to leave since arriving here three days ago. At midday each day guards escorted Peter to another room and Stefan came in and to ask Johann the same questions. Each day Johann gave the same answers. Two meals a day had been brought to the room, but other than trying to figure out what was going on with his brother, pray and glance out the window at the gray sky and gray streets, Johann had done nothing.
“I have never thought you were a fool,” Johann paused. “May I ask you a question?”
“I believe that you know who the man was. I believe that rather than seeking information you are asking me to find out what I know about this man, which I promise you is nothing. So I would ask you the question you asked me, who was the man who died before me?”
Stefan gave the smallest hint of a smile at the change in routine, which quickly disappeared. “If you are done, I will return to asking the questions.”
Johann looked out the window at Bonn again.
“The women at the Mass, the Beguines, what do you know of them?” Stefan asked.
“Only what I have told you Monsignor. They kept to themselves, they were Beguines—unmarried women outside the church who honored the teachings of Francis. Perhaps they honored them too radically, heretically even, but I do not know such a thing. What I know is that when you came, they fled.”
Stefan let the silence fill the air for a few moments, then spoke. “I have changed my mind, Father, I will answer your question today.” He rose and began walking “When we took away the body of the blackfriar, which you call him, we were able to identify him. And he was not a Fraticelli at all.”
Johann looked back from the window, curious.
“He was, in fact, a Dominican. A disciple of a particular preacher.” Stefan pointed at the table beside him, and alone on it was the parchment Lily had given Johann, with the words written on it. “Do you know who said those words?”
Johann sighed. “I know the words, Stefan. Düngenheim is a small village, but I do hear news of the day. There was a preacher who preached things such as this,” Johann pointed to the scrap of paper himself. “His teachings ran afoul of the Church. He was called to Avignon to answer to the pope for his heresy. I have not, over the last three days and nights, been able to recall his name.”
Stefan nodded to himself slowly. He seemed to be trying to gauge whether Johann was telling him the truth. He merely stood silently while Johann waited. Finally he asked. “Do you know his name, Monsignor?”
“I do,” Stefan said. “First, I would like to ask you more about the Beguines. The eldest one, Hilda. Can you tell me what you remember of where she came from?”
Johann was uncomfortable with this whole situation Locked in a room, not knowing what his future held. There was always a tone of implication in Stefan’s speech, as if they thought he had done something wrong. Everything about this situation put him on edge, and he tried to conceal it, which only doubled his anxieties. He just wanted to be done and resting comfortably on his bed at home, and instead he seemed to be in a maelstrom of suspicion and uncertainty. He sometimes felt as though there was no ground under his feet. Why was he here?
“She was in the town before I got there,” he said hastily. “Perhaps six months before me, at the house where the few Beguine lived. They came to Mass but didn’t speak much to me, they came and went. They seemed nice enough. It’s hard to say one of them was a leader, but if any were, she was.” He searched his memory that might satisfy this Stefan so that this would all more quickly be over. “They reached out to those in need, let them farm or do tasks until they were back on their feet, but never made any trouble. She was quite able at farming vegetables, herbs and flowers.”
Stefan nodded, glancing to the window with impatience, suspicion and boredom showing plainly on his face, which seldom revealed this much emotion.
“So you claim you did not mix with them?” he said, looking to Johann’s eyes.
“I do,” Johann said, sensing an accusation. “I was their pastor, which is a solemn matter, but I do not know much about their doings.”
“And their history? Do you claim to also not know that?”
Johann looked at Stefan curiously, though his nerves were still raw with the accusatory nature of his tone. “What history?”
Stefan moved toward the window, changing his tone and the subject. “He was a disciple of Meister Eckhart, your blackfriar that is.”
“The man held by the pope for his heresy? The man who died before my eyes was a follower of his?”
Stefan nodded, his eyes watching Johann’s and measuring his response.
“Why would such a man be killed?”
Stefan turned away, toward the window, “we do not know. However, that is not the main concern.”
“What is your main concern?” Johann asked.
“We are concerned with whether he had a message. This man who followed a heretic. This man who was fleeing France. We want to know what information he was carrying. And who he was carrying it to,” Stefan’s eyes bored into Johann’s.
“Had he met with this Meister Eckhart in France? You’re saying he met with him and was carrying a message to give to someone? Why would he do that? Who would he be carrying it to?”
Stefan paced slowly toward the door, staring at the ground. Just shy of it he turned back to Johann and looked him in the eyes.
“Me?” Johann said in shock, “Monsignor, surely you can no longer be serious. I am a humble pastor, barely aware of the powers in this world. I have no care of them. But you believe that a charismatic heretic was conspiring to get a message to me? You must see that this cannot be.”
“What does this note mean to you?” Stefan asked, now at the table, holding the note written by Lily: “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” He put the note down. “Is that a coded message, Father?” his tone was sharp now.
“One of the Benguine gave me that note before she left, she supposed it might inspire me I believe. I know nothing more.” Johann shook his head in resignation. He could not convince this man he was a simple priest.
“What did the man say to you before he died?” Stefan asked pointedly.
“I cannot say, you know that.”
“So heretics are passing you notes and whispering messages to you before they die, and you stand there and claim you know nothing. You insist that what I say is not credible, but listen to yourself, Father.” He spoke slowly and deliberately now, his eyes boring into him. “What you say cannot be believed.”
At that moment the bar to the door slid open and there was a different man, not dressed like a cleric, with guards behind him.
“The archbishop will see him now,” the man said. “He is in the courtyard.”
The eyes seemed possessed. They locked into one spot, then darted to another. They took in everything, reacted to nothing. Sharp, crisp moves, on one level they were intimidating. On another they were calming–even when Peter Schwall’s world was upset, nature was always the same. When he was bothered he would often go out into the forest. There was something about its objective, cold beauty that settled him down.
The creature spread it wings, black atop, white below. They seemed enormous. The falcon rotated around to face the other direction, toward the door. It could turn its neck further than any creature he had ever seen. It was as fascinating as it was disturbing.
As he approached he saw that the falcon was on the arm of a man. The man had the air of a man in command of all around him. It was undoubtedly the archbishop himself. Peter had never met an archbishop. Archbishops often commanded armies in this time, and were to be feared. They were political, military leaders as much as, and sometimes more than, religious leaders. Peter, increasingly uncomfortable, didn’t even know how to address the man. With nothing to say, he simply looked at the amazing predator.
“This is Bavo,” the archbishop said to Peter, seeing the respect he had for the animal “Is she not beautiful?”
Count Heinrich II of Virneburg, Archbishop of Cologne, was a tall man with golden hair, speckled with white, which flowed down to his collar. He had a smile on his face but a furrowed brow which somehow made the smile seem more sinister than pleasing. He also wore a cape, everyone around him seemed to, Peter thought. His tunic was divided into a pattern of four with offsetting burgundy and cream colored sections, with his seal over his heart, and a black, jeweled belt. The cape was burgundy as well. On his head was a gold-leafed circlet. On his right hand was a thick, black leather glove. On it stood Bavo, a peregrine falcon.
“The females are better hunters,” the archbishop said, admiring it as well. “They are stronger and more reliable. This one, Bavo, has brought me ten pigeons, more than any other.” He looked at Peter. “People use pigeons to communicate between cities, castles. Bavo brings their messages to me.” He smiled his odd smile.
At this moment Johann was brought into the courtyard with the Monsignor and his guards.
“Stefan, how good of you to bring our other guest.”
They approached and Johann stepped next to Peter, a ring of now eight guards around them, with Stefan stepping through them to greet his master.
“As you require, Archbishop,” he said, moving to the Archibishop’s side.
Heinrich nodded and looked at Johann. “So this is the priest you mentioned?”
Heinrich looked over Johann as if to size up an adversary. Peter tried to be ready for anything. The courtyard was an exposed, park-like area in what must have been the center of the castle, surrounded on all sides by the stone walls of the structure. Then there were the guards encircling them. The time was not right to attempt an escape.
The Archbishop gestured to one of the guards who handed him a book. The book was exquisite, leather-bound with a silver band, with engraved golden lettering reading, “Sacris Bibliis.” The Holy Bible. Peter felt a certain reverence come over him.
“Are you an disciple of the heretic Meister Eckhart, Father Johann Schwall? I require that you to place your hand on these scriptures and swear to God in your answer,” the Archbishop demanded.
Johann placed his hand upon the Bible. “I am not in league with such a man. Nor, to my knowledge, have I ever met him. And, if he is believed to be a heretic by our Holy Father, I have no desire to meet such a man.”
Johann looked relieved, as if he had settled the matter once and for all, but the Archbishop’s brow remained furrowed as he looked carefully at the two brothers.
“I am a man who can tell liars,” he said finally. “Which has benefited me greatly in this life. And your words reek of lies.”
Peter looked at his brother. Johann looked as if he had been physically struck.
“But you say you do not know him, so let me tell you about him, Father. About this Eckhart. A man of letters,” he said with some disgust at the possibility. “He claims in his preaching to have a direct connection to God, and in doing so he sets aside the mediation of our Lord as the pagans did. He claims before crowds that God is not good, but that he himself is good. Could there be a greater blasphemy? He believes in fables and presumes to declare truth. He places himself before God and yet presumes to teach others about God. He is a deceiver.”
Heinrich had carefully been watching both brother’s eyes as he spoke.
“You still claim not to know this man?” he said as if he was tired of the denials he knew not to be true.
He turned to Peter, “and you?”
“I know nothing of these sorts of matters,” said Peter, unable to fully hide his building anger.
Heinrich looked back to Johann, raising his voice, “You deny you know him, and yet you carry his words around with you? Do you take me for a fool?”
Johann seemed to be melting before Peter’s eyes. He was unable to respond. Peter knew his brother’s emotions must have been out of his control. Here a prince and bishop, the likes of which many would never see in their lives, was accusing him of associating with heretics. Peter was not certain where his brother had gotten the parchment, but he was certain it had been innocent.
Heinrich finally broke the silence, shaking his head. “I am afraid for what lies ahead for the two of you. I regret it already, but with such heresy afoot in my lands, I must know what the man who died in your village said to you. And I must know of your involvement with such people.”
Johann seemed to gather himself slowly and bowed reverently, and said in a barely audible whisper: “What he said to me, your eminence, was, I believe, within the seal of confession. I must humbly apologize for not being able to speak of it.”
Heinrich scowled. “As a bishop of the Church, I ask you now,” he demanded, “whether the words were in the nature of a confession at all. You say this man spoke to you in contrition of his sins?”
Johann, visibly shaking, seemed to consider this silently. He was trying to live up to his obligations, his brother knew. Unlike Peter, he did not feel free to simply be angry with this man. To Peter he was in a position of authority, but the man had lost all of his respect. Johann, though, was obliged to defer to him.
Was the blackfriar exhibiting contrition, Johann considered. He was dying, and an air of solemness was present. He had an urgency in his voice, as one who might be confessing something on his soul. But the words “Friend of God” did not seem to be expressing any particular regret.
“I cannot be certain, your eminence, the words he spoke were few, but perhaps so.”
Heinrich looked like he was barely containing his anger. He said in even but fiery tones. “You do not know? And yet you refuse to answer the simplest of questions? I accuse you, Father Johann Schwall, of being in league with the heretic Eckhart of Hochheim and his followers, and of passing his words and commands along. Possibly to the Beguines I have been told lived in your town, possibly to others. I suspect your quaint town harbored many secrets, Father, and I mean to learn them all. You are in my custody until I know them.”
Stephan stepped forward. Heinrich looked at him and snapped, “Get them out of my palace. They can go to the prison with the rabble until their tongues have been loosened.”
The falcon on Heinrich’s arm turned his head to the heavens and screeched. The sudden piercing tone caused the brothers to step back. Johann looked up at Peter, and both knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
Copyright 2013 Patrick Pierce, Traditium.