Dorothy, the old maid, holding the lamp with her right hand, led the ten-year-old Vincent, whose hand held in turn that of his younger brother, while they tiptoed through the dark corridor to the nursery.
"Well, you must go to bed now, young men," she said with her usual singsong voice. "Uncle Saint Nicholas has gone to visit the rest of the children. And we will wait till morning, and, if you were good, the Saint's servant will bring you his present."
"How excited I am, Aunt Dora!", said Vincent. "I don't know if I behaved well this year or if I'll get anything."
"Just sleep peacefully, young man," Aunt Dora comforted him. "I know that the Saint loves you just as much as your dear parents do."
"How do you know that, Aunt Dora?"
"Well," she whispered mysteriously, "I will tell you a secret, but don't tell anyone! When the Saint left, at the door he whispered to me: this boy Vincent pleases me. He is obedient to his parents and respectful to his teacher; he does not dirty his clothes or play with his food.'"
"Oh, how wonderful, Aunt Dora! Did he really say that?"
"If I say it, you can believe it! But let's go into your room."
She opened the door, stepped in, and attached the lamp to a hook hanging from the ceiling.
"Well, and your little brother doesn't want to know what Uncle Nicholas said about him?" she asked while starting about making the beds.
The young boy shrugged his shoulders with a smile.
Dorothy looked at him, shaking her head, but it was obvious that she was already accustomed to such things.
"So, you don't even answer me, young man? Don't you love your old Aunt Dora?"
"I know what the Saint said about me without your telling me."
"How is that? Is it possible? Well, what do you think he said?"
"That I often go against my parents, that I often talk back to Fra Benedetto, that I don't learn my lesson the way he wants, but I speak to him about thousands of stupid things, although I could learn the lesson if I wanted to, because I have a good mind. That I play with fire, tear my clothes, and that I broke the lock of my room."
"So he really said something like that. How did you guess that, young man?"
"Because the Saint has always said the same thing my parents say. But I already know why."
"Eh, of course he says the same thing. Your parents know you, and he knows everything that is in the hearts of children. You ought to pray, young man, and ask the Saint to help you to live for the joy of God and of your good parents. You are not a bad boy, just a bit unbridled."
"Aunt Dora, I prayed when the Saint was here. I recited the Children's Prayer to the very end."
"That was wonderful of you, young man. But how is it that you prayed without being asked, while at any other time you do it only with difficulty when asked?"
"I computed the time."
Dorothy had just been punching up the pillows, but now she stopped and turned to the little boy.
"What did you do, young man?"
"I timed how long Saint Nicholas spent at our house."
Dorothy dropped the pillow.
"He used prayer to mark time! Most Holy Virgin!" she cried. "Don't condemn this innocent little soul; he doesn't know what he's doing! How did that idea enter your head, young man?"
"I'm not going to tell you."
Dora, a bit annoyed, wanted to reproach him, but she was only a maid, anyway.
"As you wish, young man," she said softly.
Without a word, she punched some more pillows, made the beds, and left.
"Vincent," the younger boy now said to his brother, "I'll tell you why I computed the time."
"Because you're an ass and once again something stupid shot through your mind, so that you can anger our father and get a slap on the face!"
"At least listen to what I wanted to figure out."
"You already told me: how much time did Saint Nicholas spend here?"
"But you don't know why I wanted to figure it out."
"Because you're an ass and you always have something scatterbrained in your head!"
"So listen: I recited 11 prayers. And I figured out that with that amount of time, from lamplighting to bedtime, you can say at most 440 prayers."
Vincent looked at his little brother and laughed his head off.
"It's amazing what stupid things jump into your head! Look, on account of that you can't prepare for your lessons; you waste your time with that stuff instead of learning."
"Wait, Vincent. I'm going to tell you why I did it. Think about this: according to my calculations, Saint Nicholas couldn't even visit our whole street this evening, let alone all of Florence and all the children of the world."
"You're out of your mind!"
"Am I? You figure it out!"
"That's why you're insane. If you had learned anything, you would know that you can't figure out those things, like you can with the sheep in a flock or the price of flour."
"But the Saint must be in a thousand places at once!"
"Then he is in a thousand places. Are you trying to be smarter than your parents, than Fra Benedetto, than all adults? If they say so, then it's so!"
"Vincent", he now said mysteriously, "that was not Saint Nicholas."
"It wasn't? Why? How do you know that? Because you're smarter than our teachers? Tell me, then, who it was if it wasn't Saint Nicholas, and prove it!"
"All right, I'll tell you. It was Uncle Luigi."
"Our brother's steward?"
"Where did you get that idea?"
"Take a look! Do you see this cloth?" He pulled out a multi-colored cloth.
Vincent looked at it.
"Uncle Luigi's. How did you get it?"
"The end was hanging out of the sleeve of his fur coat and I pulled it out."
"You stole it from Saint Nicholas?"
"From Uncle Luigi. You still don't believe that Uncle Luigi was disguised as the Saint?"
"But, Vincent, didn't you notice it yourself--his voice, or when he cleared his throat? Remember how he walked as he shook a menacing finger? Think a little."
"I won't think! I'm not allowed to think about that and I won't!"
"Vincent, I don't believe you don't think the same as I do, secretly. You really must be stupid, then. You don't want to know the truth."
"Leave me alone, already."
"OK. I won't ask you anything. I'll tell Father."
"Just try it!" Vincent exploded. "I'll smash your head in!"
"Listen, you miserable wretch! Let's suppose you're standing in front of our father and say that we discovered the deception. What will that get you? That will get you a slap on the cheek, and in the morning both of us will wait for a present but we'll never get anything. Is that what you want? Well, let's suppose that Uncle Luigi visited us and we were fooled, because our parents enjoy it, and they're giving us a present if we believe in it. For that reason alone, even if I disbelieved in 100 different ways, I'd behave as if I believed it. Some day you'll be the father and you'll give out the presents; then you'll order children to believe something, but while you're a child, others will be ordering you about."
His little brother looked at him in amazement.
"Ah, Vincent, so you really know what I said is true. Why didn't you say so? Why did you act as if you didn't believe it?"
"Truth is what we believe, and we must believe what we are told, and not what a certain nine-year-old Galileo Galilei thinks up in his stupid head."
Dear friend and disciple Benedetto Castelli!
With joy I will have you know that finally I am again in Florence. The Officium Sanctum let me resettle here in a house outside the city. I am not allowed to enter the city. Every day I pray my psalms of penitence, and I am permitted to use my telescope.
How have I passed the time? Well, mainly I've been observing the sun. You know that many people, when I noticed spots on it, attacked me and declared that what God creates is perfect--it can only be pure--and that to talk about spots is blasphemy, and not a word is to be said about it.
Not a word is said about it anymore; I am silent, and I will confess to you if to no one else that I still see sunspots, just as you were my eminent disciple who made my telescope suitable for the observation of the sun.
Yes, you were my most eminent disciple and collaborator. A teacher of mine was also named Benedetto, and he, too, was a Benedictine monk. I feel that through you I will return the science I borrowed to your order in a purified form.
For that reason alone I would like to write to you very candidly. You were also my friend and even then had the courage to defend me the first time I was denounced to the Inquisition in the time of Pope Paul V on account of a letter I wrote to you in which I insisted that the dogmas must be adapted to scientific results and not the other way around.
I implore you: show this letter to no one. Someone who can be trusted will carry it to you in secret. After reading it, burn it, or at least hide it so that no one sees it. After my death you can do with it as you wish. You will not have to wait long; my eyes are already weakening and my days are numbered.
How long it is since I have written to you, dear friend! It's no wonder! The Holy Office is well-organized. Its spies are everywhere and they surely would have intercepted my letter. What I could have written would have been a lie, as my whole life has been lately.
Believe me, I wrote you a letter, several in fact. I poured my soul into each one, but each time I had to burn what I had written immediately. Now I finally have a chance to get a letter to you safely, so now I'm telling everything.
I don't know what you think of me and the oath I made in the church of Santa Maria Sopre la Minerva. You might pardon me, knowing what would happen to me if I had not denied everything I saw and knew. You might consider excusing my old age, but surely there must be some contempt: "Here," you are thinking, "is a man who found the truth, which will always remain true and which posterity will undoubtedly recognize because they won't be able to see otherwise with their own eyes. Yet he himself denied it like a coward. His truth will prevail but he himself has fallen before posterity."
Believe me, if I had the slightest hope that my truth would prevail, I would not have hesitated to offer my life for my theory.
But I no longer hope for anything.
So that you will understand this business, I must tell you what happened to me from my youngest days.
I must begin 24 years ago. Then Paul V was pope. Beside him, his family Borghese ruled the church and more or less the whole world. To satisfy their lust for controlling everything possible, they did not find it sufficient to raise taxes without end, they also accumulated debt upon debt, charging the state. Certainly you know that one of the pope's relatives, Scipione Caffarelli, had a yearly income of 150,000 scudi. And another relative, Antonio Borghese, received Sulmone, several palaces in Rome, and a gift of 600,000 scudi.
From what? From a debt. The debt of the state grew 600,000 scudi.
Wherever we looked, there was pilfering, corruption, and monopolization. And the material abuses were the least of the evil. It was the spiritual suppression which had the most terrifying, torturous effect. It was the Jesuits who trampled souls. Paul V used his power to strengthen their order; he initiated the canonization of their founder, Ignatius de Loyola.
Oh yes, I gazed into my telescope, but it was already prescribed what I must see in it and what I don't have the right to see. But I was already a court philosopher to the prince of Florence by that time, I established the truth of the Copernican theory, and regrettably I didn't keep it to myself. I was supposed to recognize as the Word of God those cerebral ramblings of Hebrew shepherds who dreamed them up over a thousand years ago without any knowledge of mathematics and without a telescope.
How did I manage to escape?
I challenged the Jesuit sages to show me one place in the Bible which declares that the Earth does not turn.
There is such a place, of course, but they didn't have the courage to mention it, so I threw this at them:
"Only one such place can be found: Joshua halted the sun and not the Earth. Well, who argued this point? Luther. Are we going to follow this infernal Antichrist?"
Then I proceeded to prove that I was a faithful defender of the Church; I even begged the pope for an audience as a precautionary measure against my enemies, and I complained directly to him and begged his protection, insisting that only an idiot or a heretic in disguise could attack the faithful servant of the Holy Father."
I finally succeeded in making him believe that I had intentions which I didn't really have. The Jesuits shrugged their shoulders and declared that they couldn't definitively decide the matter, and if God really ordained that the Earth turns around the sun, man couldn't do anything about it.
The pope assured me of his unalterable confidence. Then I went home--and became overconfident.
Then I wrote that unhappy letter, in which I risked my life and declared: "If the text of the Bible contradicts scientific experience, then it is the Bible which must be made to conform to science and not the opposite."
Like an idiot I thought nothing could hurt me anymore. I didn't ask you to keep my letter confidential; I even wanted you to show it to the more intelligent members of your order. The Benedictines are the order of science. You educated the people for the trades and mainly for the sciences.
And what a plague it caused! When the Jesuits found out, they cited me in Rome again--and said that this time they would still refrain from initiating proceedings against me, but if I dared to attack the authority of the Holy Scriptures again, I would be incarcerated.
So I was muzzled. I returned to Florence, and from then on I dared to speak candidly only with my most intimate friends--who were mainly members of the Barberini family-- the cardinal, my patron, being the first among them. He helped me a great deal in my work, and I can thank him for my previous escape. Many times he told me that he detested the Roman clique and nothing could be hoped for while Paul V remained pope. But he consoled me, saying that there were many cardinals who were already discontent, and that a new election for the papacy hopefully would sweep away his rotten regime.
You can imagine what an enthusiastic confidant of the cardinal I was. I never grew tired of emphasizing his eminent capabilities with whomever else I spoke. (These were the people who directly appointed him for the papal throne.) I can say that many of them agreed with me, and I was delighted every time I could find a new supporter for my patron. Of course I never told anyone of what I expected of his papacy.
My older brother Vincent was already a bishop at that time. I wanted to convince him too, of course. Well, he didn't contest the capabilities of the cardinal, but when I wanted to criticize the present regime of Paul V, he was immediately put off and declared my words a misdirected slander.
"You should be ashamed," he said, "how you repay the one whom you can thank for your liberty with your disgusting ingratitude. You have already earned yourself a jail cell with your upsetting stupidities."
I made it plain to him that it was not any good will on the part of the pope to set me free, but that I convinced him that I was a faithful defender of the dogmas. He responded that an even greater guilt accrued to me for attempting to deceive His Holy Majesty. Then he asked:
"And why must you persist in your Copernican principles, if the Church has already declared those principles contrary to the Scriptures? It would be better to renounce your theory and call it a mistake."
"That does not depend on me."
"What do you mean it doesn't depend on you? You said it; you can retract it."
"The Cosmos owns the theory, and every day the Earth refutes the Church by turning 360 degrees on its axis. God informs us of His laws, but not through the pens of ancient Hebrew brain-wrackers. His pen is a beam of light, his paper the star-filled sky, and on it is written a totally different text than in the canonical fantasies of mortal worms. My theory is objective fact, and therefore neither changeable nor refutable."
My brother shook his head. Obviously he had something serious to say and was now struggling within himself. I wanted to seize the moment.
"Listen," I said, "I will prove that the Old Testament is wrong."
My brother crossed himself.
"Your audacity is scandalous! Do you talk the same way in front of the cardinal?"
"Exactly the same! And he approves of every word I say. Let me explain the essentials of the solar system. I'm sure that you, once having understood it, will not refuse to believe it."
"Hold it. I read every word you wrote, and I understand all of it."
"You read it?" I asked, astonished. "Then how can you deny its truth?"
"I don't deny it at all. I have nothing to say against it from an objective viewpoint. Everything is just as you have written."
Now I didn't know what to think.
"I can't understand you at all! If you don't have any doubts about my theory, then why don't you accept it?"
"Because in this world there are not only objective facts but also moral obligations, binding us to the Church. Soon my work will appear in Rome. I recommend that you read it and follow my example. And now I ask you to go and leave me alone."
Thus he simply dispatched me, asking me not to visit him if at all possible, because our relationship would give the appearance that he approves of my heresy.
His work soon appeared with the title On the Way to Heavenly Grace with the Help of the Blessed Right Hand of Pope Paul V. In that book he praised to the skies the acts of the pope, deploying the most incredible panegyric. Here are some examples of these great acts: the Church succeeded in acquiring the estates of the prince of Savoy. Geneva forbade the meetings of the Jesuits, but the pope convinced the city magistrate to withdraw the decree. He liberated the priests in Venice from the tax and saved two priests whom the city wanted to try before a lay tribunal. The pope granted a franchise for the printing of books for Mass to Rome, made peace between the Jesuits and Dominicans and unified them in the service of the Cross, procured support for the Jesuit order from Spain and became so influential in Spain that the Spanish regent had to beg for absolution two months before receiving it.
This is how the book proceeded from beginning to end. I don't want to detail the main chapter for you--the description of his merits with respect to the campaigns against heretics--I'm sure you can just imagine it.
I read the book all the way through, but it nauseated me instead of converting me. How can I follow an example like that? To flatter for some obscure personal profit and deny the real world as seen through my own eyes? Never!
I had no further contact with my brother Vincent, but I waited all the more ardently for the future: maybe there would be a turn for the better; maybe a better time would come for thought and truth.
Paul V's death arrived and we expected great changes. What a shame that in the new election the power of the Borghese family was still so great that we couldn't crown a reformer. They agreed upon the neutral pope Gregory.
Cardinal Barberini did not lose confidence, however, but prepared himself for the approaching election, because everyone knew that Gregory's health was impaired and that his reign would not last very long.
I never saw Vincent in those days, but the cardinal mentioned once that my brother paid him a surprise visit. He told me that during their conversation, when they talked about me, my brother emphasized how highly I esteemed Barberini. He immediately added that he too had a very great regard for the cardinal's capabilities and he had heard the same opinion from several cardinals. He assured the cardinal that he, if he were a cardinal, would vote for Barberini without hesitation in the eventual papal election.
It may appear strange to you that Vincent, who did not tolerate a word against Pope Paul and his clique, now approached Barberini so humbly, whom he knew to be Paul's greatest enemy. But it was all perfectly clear to me; I understand my brother Vincent. The pope who made him a bishop was dead, the new pope was sick, and Barberini had a considerable number of supporters. You might guess that he mentioned the possibility of becoming a cardinal because he was after a cardinal's hat.
I did not want to insinuate anything against my bother; he is my brother in the end. So, when Barberini enthusiastically discussed his kindness, I didn't refute it in any way. In fact, I insisted that my brother was a quite lovable man.
Nevertheless I was puzzled about that sudden, surprising affinity. The cardinal had already read the hymnal panegyric about Pope Paul, and I knew that in his inner circle he referred to that book as hand-and-boot-licking. Can flattery so rapidly erase the memory of the past?
The watershed year arrived: 1623. Pope Gregory followed his predecessors into the grave; there was a new papal election, and Barberini was made pope. He took the name Urban VIII.
You can imagine my jubilation: the new world was born, the world of knowledge and truth, when I would be able to utter the objective truth without reprisal.
I traveled to Rome immediately and asked for an audience. Prostrating myself before Urban with sincere devotion, I kissed his slipper and expressed my unlimited joy that from now on I would be able to freely announce the truth of the telescope.
Pope Urban smiled at no one in particular; then he said with an intimate tone in his voice:
"Our dear son, you think rightly that a new epoch in the life of our Church is at hand. Soon our actions will prove it. But we are not yet in a position where you can preach your theory without danger. For the time being you must take steps to solidify our position so that we can smash the enemy forces left over from the past. If you wish to share in the construction of the new world, write about how, until now, the power of Satan corrupted the higher clergy, but that we will drive out Satan and restore the true reign of Christianity."
Of course I promised him that, but I asked him nonetheless when I could publicly announce my scientific results. The goal is indeed the reign of truth and all these steps are only means to that end.
"As we said," he answered, "we, too, want the truth: the true Christian world, which is the greatest of truths and which contains all the rest. We surmise that you, with your God-given capabilities, will do your part, and you can count on our blessing."
After that, he blessed me and left it at that. I felt in departing that his decision was not finalized, but I couldn't push him and I recognized that he had much to do.
Still I hoped I could publish my findings if I earned it from Pope Urban with my personal services. For that reason I fervently gathered clues of what to do, as the new pope put a stop to the crimes of the past and returned the Church to the way of Christian love and humility.
I received abundant information from the Vatican about how Pope Paul poured the money into the coffers of his family and the bosoms of his lovers. I heard about orgies, intrigues, assassinations, incitements of Christian kings against one another.
But what was there to write about the merits of Pope Urban? The archbishops now swam in riches; only the individuals doing it changed. The people were oppressed by their charges; the Inquisition not only remained but was made even stronger. The spirit and science were kept in chains.
He served the peace of Christ by arming his kingdom to the teeth. From the very beginning he declared that posterity would erect a monument to him, made not of marble but of iron. He fortified the walls of the Angelfortress, he built the fort of Castelfranco, he took the books out of the Vatican library and installed an arsenal. In Civita Vecchia he built a war-harbor, where afterwards pirates sold stolen goods from Christian ships. Those pirates were secret confederates against cities which were going to be conquered. And when he felt himself sufficiently strong, he attacked and occupied Urbino, enriched the papal state--or the Barberini family, to be more precise--by six cities, 300 castles, and a sea of treasures and revenues.
The spoils of course were divided among the members of his family. His brother Carlo was made General of the Church; his nephew Francesco was put in charge of a diocese, accruing an annual income of 6,000 scudi; another nephew, Antonio, was made a cardinal and camerlingo with the same income. But Taddeo got the best state, was made master of Angelfortress, governor of Borgia, and after the death of Carlo he became a general of the Church. He was given the luxurious palace near Quattro Fontane, full of valuable paintings, statues, and a priceless treasure of gold and silver.
The state debt in turn did not only not shrink, but almost doubled, reaching 30,000,000 scudi. The papal throne is not hereditary, so he had to hurry: he had a finite number of years to fill the empty pockets of his relatives. As to the debt, posterity would sweat it out.
Translated March 1970
Transcribed & edited 16-24 November 2000
English translation copyright by Ralph Dumain
All rights reserved.
SOURCE: Szathmári, Sándor. Vincenzo, el la hungara tradukis K. Kalocsay, en Maŝinmondo kaj Aliaj Noveloj (La Laguna: J. Régulo [Stafeto], 1964), p. 136-175. Translated by Ralph Dumain, March 1970, edited November 2000.
More about Sándor Szathmári in English & Esperanto:
By the Author at the Request of the Publisher
by Sándor Szathmári, translated by Ralph Dumain
de la Aŭtoro je Peto de la Eldonisto”
de Sándor Szathmári
Sándor Szathmári de Vilmos Benczik
Sándor Szathmári (1897–1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide
Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Retgvidilo pri Esperanto & Interlingvistiko
Sándor Szathmári @ Ĝirafo
Utopian Vision of Sándor Szathmári:
podcast by Ralph Dumain, 6 May 2012
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