Daily Prompt Tight Corner Have you ever managed to paint yourself into the proverbial corner because of your words? What did you do while waiting for them “to dry”? <== Because this is an abysmal prompt, I give you a random chapter of the draft novel, working title, The Schneebeli Brothers Go to Church.
Throughout the Canton of Zürich there was an exodus of Roman Catholic priests and clerics away from their long-seated monastery and cloisters, looking for new homes in Catholic cantons. While many monks from the Angel Mountain Abbey left for Zug and Luzern, the Prior planned to stay. He even put aside his white woolen robe for a black one.
The Abbey’s empty dormitory beds were given to the elderly poor where they could be watched over. Zwingli’s Bible replaced the beautiful handwritten Latin/German Bible in the sanctuary. A day came when orders arrived to destroy all the trappings of the Roman church lingering in the Abbey. Zwingli would send men from Zürich to help with the process.
“Nothing makes the point more clear than destroying the images,” Leo Jud had once said to his assembled students, pastors in the new faith.
“That’s true, Brother Leo, but I was shocked when I first walked into St. Peter’s. It creates quite a sober scene, the empty church,” spoke out Hannes who still had misgivings about the destruction of the story depicted on all church walls in the Christian world.
“It is not empty of God! God, not images, should fill the church.”
Deep in his heart, almost a secret from himself, but certainly not from God, the Prior hoped the change would not come. He could imagine working side-by-side with Hannes as he had for the last several years. He could even exchange roles, accepting Hannes’ leadership. He believed he could adapt to the new idea of “Communion” rather than Mass. With pleasure he taught in the new school and, though no on had asked, he offered his opulently decorated room to be used as an infirmary. These changes, many of them, corresponded to his own ideas for reforming the faith he loved. He was an old man and would soon step aside, anyway. He respected Hannes when, after weeks with no word, he had suddenly shown up in the black robes of the Protestant pastor. This was Hannes’ way, the Prior was sure, of marrying Vreni without abandoning his calling.
When Hannes returned, he had said, “I will continue working beside you, Father. We have our work as always, right?” Was this a wrong reason, evil in the eye of God? The Prior did not think so. Hannes had refused to lie, and the road he’d chosen might be the right one. The Prior could see the way the future was going. Other European states had suffered bloodshed during the recent Peasants’ uprising, but, so far, Zürich Canton had been spared. It was the Prior’s fervent prayer it would remain that way. His prayers were prayers of gratitude and for strength to continue working for peace. Even if it meant he sacrificed the old dogmas, his love of God would never change.
“Brother Hannes, what is it?”
“I’ve heard from Brother Leo in Zürich. I asked, you know, if for the sake of the elderly people here for whom our chapel has long been a place of inspiration and understanding, if for those old people, the paintings and hangings and statues could remain.”
“He has said no.”
Hannes nodded. “Here. You can read it. You’ll see I’ve been sternly lectured by Brother Jud — who is certainly right — that allowing our parishioners to continue in the way of superstition instead of teaching them the real words from the gospel condemns them not to know the truth. It will keep them in darkness.”
“Tell me, Brother Hannes, do you really believe that?” the Prior asked after reading the letter. “Do you really believe the paintings and statues lead the people to worship idols? Tell me your personal feeling, between us.”
“I understand the reasoning. If the Bible is printed and everyone can read it, what need have we of all this? And it’s true. There is nothing in scripture that says we should pray to a saint asking him to talk to God for us. God doesn’t need a lawyer to plead our case. He knows us already. It is WE who need to know our own sins and to go to God directly.But Brother Leo and Brother Huldrych say it is the invisible spirit of God that works in man. Of course, they’re right, but when I see the saints all along the wall, I don’t see idols. I see people just like me who did something right. If I pray to them, I am asking God to strengthen that part of them I wish to see in me,” Hannes sighed.
The prior nodded. “I believe Brother Leo and Brother Huldrych are right. Look at the women who go to that battered little Virgin,” the Prior crossed himself, “They believe she will help them conceive a child. Some leave her money which we collect and use for the poor, but these women believe they can ‘buy’ that kind of help from that statue. Still, when they return home, their heart is lightened. They have told her their troubles and they feel less alone. There is a fine line. Are these women worshipping the little broken bit of stone? Some are. Some do only as children speak to their toys. Do we take dolls from our daughters or the carved horses from our boys?”
Hannes could not answer. He simply hoped no one would think of or mention the small band of broken statues who had been his friends on many hard journeys.
It would happen on a Monday. Sunday, the parishioners would have service. The people were told that if they had given statues or relics to the Order, they should take them home. Then before the next sabbath, the chapel sanctuary would be emptied and whitewashed. Anything of value not belonging to others would be melted and sold and the money would be used to feed, clothe and house the poor.
Hannes found the Prior at prayer that Sunday evening at the time that would have been evensong, all the candles lit, every remaining bit of silver, gold and brass shining. Every statue seemed alive in the flickering light, and the small shrines along the walls offered themselves to world-weary sinners. Wearing sumptuous vestments, the Prior knelt in front of the small altar to the Virgin, on which, between silver candlesticks, stood a very old painted, linden wood statue of the Holy Mother. She leaned a little forward, holding her infant son in one arm. She had kept vigil in the chapel for centuries, perhaps as long as the abbey had existed. Her right hand was raised in blessing, and her left arm held the baby whose teachings would change the world.
“Our Order was dedicated to the Mother of Christ,” said the Prior, noticing Hannes. “Long ago. Some Benedictines wanted to purify themselves from the corruptions that had entered the faith. They split away to start again and dedicated themselves to charity and a holy life of poverty. Perhaps we have gone wrong, too, now.”
Hannes was not sure. The answer was not so black or white. All his life spent at this Abbey had been one of prayer and service to the people around. That the Abbey itself was wealthy the result of local lords who sought a way to escape their sins. In this the Roman Church had sinned. The Prior himself thought so, but the customs and endowments began long before his time. That the church taught men and women to buy their way out of hell was nothing but a kind of usury, paying gold to release their soul from debt. The Abbey had given such indulgences as had every other church.
“Yes. the commission is here already. They are sleeping in the dormitory.”
“Oh Brother Hannes. Such times. Forgive me. You know, I was asking our little Virgin to help me endure all this.” Tears ran down the old man’s cheeks. The Prior was trying very hard to hold firm that he could remain serving God and the people in this valley, but his heart was broken. In his mind all of this — the statues, the paintings, the shining objects of worship, his beautiful vestments — represented mankind putting on its very best for God. These beautiful things could be found in God’s house, the only place the poor, even just the ordinary, people could find them.
“I’m very sorry, Father. I fear I brought them here myself, through my love for Vreni.”
“No, no son. They would have come anyway. You have made it easier for me, for the abbey. I am sad, but in my heart I think that they may be right. With this printing invention, books are cheap, easy to make. These schools? People will soon no longer need me or you to tell them what Christ has said. They will read it themselves. It makes no sense to keep the Holy Word locked up. It was not meant that way. Our Lord wandered the countryside telling everyone. Still, I do not quite see why it must be this OR that. I would like that new Bible here, in this little chapel with our big one, one for everyone, and our chapel left untouched, but…”
“It is the new wine, Father. As scripture says, new wine is not to be put in old wineskins.”
The prior shook his head. “It is the power of scriptures that anyone can use the words to support their argument. Even the infallible doctrines of the Holy Church were disputed constantly, constantly, no matter who set them. Blessed St. Augustine, St. Paul, Pope Gregory, even the apostles who knew our Lord, disputed. It didn’t matter, really. People like to be right. They’ll fight just for that. It is not so complicated to follow Christ’s rule. As humans, we are fallen. We struggle against a thirst for power just as Eve defied God’s order.” The Prior sighed. “I very much fear that when he’s finished fighting the French, the Holy Father in Rome will do what he can to squash all of this. No one gives away power. No one. More’s the pity; more’s the pity. Those in Rome should heed the warnings of Erasmus of Rotterdam — a wise man, Brother Hannes, one who knows men’s hearts and the dark ways of the Church today. Mark me. We will have bloodshed here before it’s over, damage much worse than statues thrown on a bonfire. The Prince of Peace could never have meant to be the reason for war, but He has been all these long centuries. All the families in this valley have gone to war, year after year after year. Our land? Our land is based on war, mercenaries like your brother Peter. Buying and selling poor farm boys. Halberd, axe, hoe whatever tool they hold in their hand at the moment he comes riding through, all gorgeous in red and gold and blue and white. No one wins. One day this side, the next day that side and now? The Turks are at nearly at our door! That should tell us all that God does not favor one side of a fight over another. I do not think we should raise arms at all in defense of religion since it goes against Christ’s teachings, but it will come. You will see it, Brother Hannes, I’m sure you will, but… I ramble, Brother, I ramble.”
Hannes heard echoes of his brother Andreas in the Prior’s words. How strange, he thought, that the two would touch in any place, in any degree.
Looking around the chapel, Hannes’ heart was full. He, too, had always loved these things, loved them for their own sakes, loved them as beautiful paintings. “Yes,” he thought, “I am guilty of worshiping images.”
As if reading his mind, the Prior gave expression to Hannes’ thoughts. “I wonder that the new church does not see the power of these paintings and statues, in themselves? Art endures, a bridge through the lifetimes of us all, linking us one to the other. In this way, it seems to me, we should learn from the mistakes of the past, but each generation invents the world anew. The unchanging paintings are good reminders that it is we who are new; the world is old, old.”
“Do you want me to stay here with you, Father? It will be for me, also, the last night to see these things in this place.”
“My son, with all my heart I should like that, but you have a great deal of work to do tomorrow. Thank you for listening to me so patiently. Go to bed. God keep you, my son,” The Prior made the sign of the cross over Hannes’ head. It was not since Hannes had been a child that the Prior had spoken to him in this way. Suddenly filled with sorrow over the irrevocability of change, Hanne’s kissed the old man’s creased and spotted hand. It was wrapped around a white onyx rosary with an obsidian cross on which a small, silver Christ writhed in extremis.
The candles burned down; the chapel became dark. Hannes slept deeply in his little cell. At daybreak, he breakfasted with the men who would clear the chapel of its images. When be returned to the chapel, Hannes saw the linden-wood Virgin was gone. He was certain the Prior had .taken her to safety at Einsiedeln or Luzern, and Hannes was glad.
Sunday morning following, the chapel sanctuary was bare of paintings and statues, and the light coming through the stained glass windows was the only decoration on the white walls. Of the Seven Sacraments, only two remained; baptism and Holy Communion. The bread and wine were now only bread and wine and when people ate and drank, they were sharing symbolically with Christ and the apostles in the Last Supper.