“That’ll all come back,” smiled the Cardinal. “After all, the principles are the point. Well, I mustn’t detain you. You’re to be at Westminster at twelve.”
“Yes, your Eminence. We’ve nearly finished now. The monks are very well satisfied. But the main body of them do not come to Westminster until they formally re-enter. Cardinal Campello has written to say that he will be with us on the 20th for certain.”
“That is very good. . . . Then good morning, Monsignor.”
It was nearly midnight before Monsignor Masterman pushed away the book that lay before him and leaned back in his chair. He felt sick and dazed at what he had read.
First, he had studied with extreme care the constitution of the Heresy-Court, and had sent off a couple of hours ago the formal letters to the Dominican Provincial and two other priests whom he had selected. Then he had studied the procedure of the court, and the penalties assigned.
At first he could not believe what he read. He had turned more than once to the title-page of the great quarto, thinking that he must find it to be a reprint of some medieval work. But the title was unmistakable. The book was printed in Rome in the spring of the present year, and contained an English supplement, dealing with the actual relations of the Church laws with those of the country. There were minor penalties for minor offences; there was at every turn an escape for the accused. He might, even in the last event, escape all penalties by a formal renouncement of Christianity; but if not, if he persisted simultaneously in claiming a place in the Church of Christ and in holding to a theological opinion declared erroneous by the Court of Appeal ratified by the Pope, he was to be handed over to the secular arm; and by the laws of England—as well as of every other European country except Germany—the penalty inflicted by the secular arm was, in the instance of a tonsured clerk, death.
It was this that staggered the priest.
Somewhere within him there rose up a protest so overwhelmingly strong as to evade even an attempt at deliberate analysis—a protest that rested on the axiom that spiritual crimes deserved only spiritual punishment. This he could understand. He perceived clearly enough that no society can preserve its identity without limitations; that no association can cohere without definite rules that must be obeyed. He was sufficiently educated then to understand that a man who chooses to disregard the demands of a spiritual society, however arbitrary these demands may seem to be, can no longer claim the privileges of the body to which he has hitherto adhered. But that death—brutal physical death—could by any civilized society—still less any modern Christian society—be even an alternative penalty for heresy, shocked him beyond description.
A ray of hope had shone on him when he first read the facts. It might be, perhaps, that this was merely a formal sentence, as were the old penalties for high treason abandoned long before they were repealed. He turned to the index; and after a search leaned back again in despair. He had seen half a dozen cases quoted, within the last ten years, in England alone, in which the penalty had been inflicted.