Paris, 31st October 1376

His zeal for the Faith burns hotter than fire. He tortures for salvation and the greater glory of God. He is King of Terror, holy instrument of Mother Church, the Lord Inquisitor of Heretical Error: Pontius Fougeyron…

He snaps his fingers and a muscle-bound titan strides into view. The brute wears a red hood and a long leather apron stained with blood. He has the paws of a bear and deep scars criss-cross his arms. On the plinth before him is a hideous arsenal of hatchets and hammers, pincers and pliars. Beyond, two dwarves with sooty faces attend a glowing brazier; one heats irons in the coals whilst the other works a large bellows, the air seething through a serpentine nozzle.

On the left is a raised dais where the bishop sits with his attorney. Beneath them sit the sergeants of the bailiff and priests of the Holy Office. A young scribe trembles at his desk, head bowed, ready to write; a candle flickers beside his inkhorn, where two quills stand to attention, their winged shadows looming in the vault like the Angel of Death.

The entire Tartarus glows with bloody flame; the heat is stultifying and the judiciary scowls in a sweat, fanning their ruddy faces with their hats and sleeves. Apart from the bishop, they are strangers all, yet no less eager to see me suffer the pains of hell. Their sinister shades flicker on the walls: a devil-bishop with bodkin horns; a goblin priest with hatchet hands; a bench of satyr sergeants… Thus, my earthly counsel has its infernal counterpart, present only in shadow, powerless to deliver me.

My vision swamps in a limpid haze. I see through a glass darkly.(i) I glimpse hoists and chains; saws and scythes; mallets, maces, billhooks, skewers, razors, cleavers, gouges, chisels, wedges, reamers, needles, rowels, spurs, tongs, barbs – and many cusped and cornute blades, whose diabolic aim makes the blood run cold. But most terrible of all, is a monstrous machine that looms in the shadows, with levers, straps and wheels…

Pontius scowls and says:

‘Jacques Vallin, you have been brought before me for the blackest heresy. Not for Material heresy, arising from inculpable ignorance, but Formal heresy – a voluntary and pertinacious error, by which you preach things contrary to the faith of Mother Church. Your heresy is both internal and external; internal, because you secretly entertain profane thoughts and beliefs; and external, because you express those those beliefs in both occult words and signs, and in public meetings of more than two persons. Your heresy is not only a sin, subject to the forum internum, or forum of conscience, but also a crime, subject to the forum externum, or the judicial forum gathered here. If you admit your heresy, you might receive sacramental absolution, and be pardoned in the sight of God, but your crimes will still be subject to the judicial penalty of death. Do you understand?’

‘I understand…’

‘Do you have anything to ask?’

‘What shall you do to my body?’

He smiles gently and says:

‘Be not be deceived; the torture-chamber is not about the body; ’tis about the soul. This infernal chamber is furnished with many horrid machines, whose express purpose is to bring you back to God.’

‘You enjoy the shedding of blood?.’

‘My only delight is in obtaining your full confession and returning you to the fold. As for blood, I myself am forbidden to draw it. But my attendents are skilled butchers, and keen servants of the Lord.’

‘I am innocent.’

‘Naturally. All heretics are innocent. But ’tis always surprising what a man will confess when his nails are pulled. Do my iron pincers disturb you?’

‘Will they expiate my sins?’

‘Some say you are immune to their pains – that the Devil will not permit you to suffer their beastly bite.’

‘But you shall torture me all the same.’

Torture. ’Tis such an ugly, misleading word.’

‘What else would you call it?’

‘I prefer the term: spiritual edification.

‘A spade is a spade, Monsieur.’

‘Indeed. But would you call that horse a horse?’

‘What is that monstrous machine?’

‘Believe me, there is no confession more profound, no sin more black and irrefutable, as that procured by the horse. But before I strap you to the saddle, I would ask of you one thing…’

‘And what is that?’

‘I simply request that you forget your material body, and contemplate instead, the mystical body of Christ. For in Him, all things are resolved, and all evils vanquished…’

‘You ask of me much, Monsieur. To forget my body when you are about to put the pains upon it. How shall I meditate upon the goodness of God, or His mystical body, whilst I am racked upon that horse?’

‘Your sufferings will draw you closer to Him. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us: so also by Christ doth our comfort abound.(ii) And in like manner, you will ponder his passion and crucifixion; you will hear His exceeding cry, when in unquenchable pain, He called out to the Father: Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani? [My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?]’

‘You make a virtue out of torturing the body.’

‘As the body is clad in cloth, so the soul is clad in flesh and bone. To reach your soul, I must dissect your body.’

‘Do you know what they call you on the streets?’

‘No doubt I go by many disreputable names. Why?’

‘They call you the Dark Lord of all Flesh…’

‘You will address me as Monsieur.’

‘—Yet I wonder why they call you that. For you know naught of the flesh, let alone the soul.’

‘Oh? Perhaps you will enlighten me?’

‘Your entire faith is based on a lie.’

Impious blasphemer! Retract those words!’

‘I shall not. You are ignorant of God and his laws’

‘My holy office is well acquainted in all matters of ecclesiastical and theological law. Your Gnostic heresy is not only an offence to Mother Church, but causes great harm to the ignorant.’

‘Like all Schoolmen you subvert the scriptures for your own wicked ends.’

‘’Tis not I who pervert the word of God, but you. For the past twenty years you have been living as a Proselyte. But we both know your conversion to the Jewish faith is a lie: ’tis naught but a diabolic scheme, by which you disseminate your heresy. For you secretly believe that the law of Moses was given by the Prince of evil spirits…’

‘You think I am a Luciferan?’

‘I have it on good authority that you secretly remain a Cathar. Yours is the Dualist sect of the old Waldenses and Albigenses. That ancient heresy still smoulders in your bones and will not die. Gnosticism. That is your true faith.’

‘You know naught of my faith.’

‘I know more than you think. Last week I had news from Toulouse. Six members of your sect were condemned to the stake by the inquisitor of heretical depravity. Do you know why?’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘They preached that the Devil created the world.’

‘They have gone to the Light.’

‘Do you believe that in being burnt, they became holy martyrs?’

‘Of course.’

‘And do you believe that those who condemned them as heretics acted unjustly, and by so doing, became themselves heretics and persecutors?’

‘I do.’

‘Your acolytes ignominiously railed against the Lord Pope, the vicar of Jesus Christ, calling him the mystical Antichrist, precursor of the Great Antichrist, who shall prepare the way for Apocalypse. Did you teach them this wicked heresy?’

‘I did.’

‘They said that when you perform miracles, the Holy Ghost descends upon you like a fiery flame in a furnace. Is that true?’

‘Yes, Monsieur.’

‘’Tis the flame of Satan.’

‘You are steeped in ignorance.’

‘Yet I am not so ignorant as to believe this world was created by the Devil.’

‘Not the Devil. The Demiurgus.

‘And who is the Demiurgus? — According to your faith?’

‘The Demiurgus is that mysterious being, by which the Spirit of Life enters into this material world.’

‘Fine words. Shall I write them down?’

‘Your scribe sits idle. Why?’

‘Because I have not instructed him to write.’

‘Why not? Haven’t we started yet?’

‘Not yet. I like to get the measure of man before I put him on the horse.’

‘What use is my confession, if not recorded?’

‘You seem very eager to confess.’

‘My testament is important.’

‘Must the chronicle keep it for posterity? Methinks you have a very high opinion of yourself.’

‘I accuse you of the same.’

‘My notary always takes great care to distinguish between testimony obtained with torture and that obtained without. But to be honest, there is far too much of your Gnostic heresy in the annals of Mother Church. The Cathars were exterminated long ago. Why let their noxious poison rise again? ’Twould be better for all, if you were silenced altogether.’

‘Then why not kill me and be done with it?’

‘You are a fool Jacques Vallin, to stand there and demand a swift death. Life and Death are in the power of the tongue. The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious: but the lips of a fool shall swallow him up.(iii)

‘My words have always been misconstrued. Or pilfered by the Schoolmen.’

‘You despise the Schoolmen. Is that not so?’

‘I am beyond the shadows of their dull philosophy. My transit into Light is far removed from all their earthly schemes. My pen is heaven-gilded; my words channelled by divine oracles. But the Schoolmen refute my genius.’

‘You pompous ass.’

‘The Schoolmen always receive my works with contempt. They greet me disapproving silence or mocking scorn. They would have me believe that I am ignored altogether. But they plagiarise my books, chapter and verse — for which they receive much plaudit and approbation. A holy author writes according to his muse, but a Schoolman writes according to his purse. I am only concerned with the principal Authority of revelation. But the Schoolmen only care for fame and fortune.’

‘Who is your principal Authority of revelation? Speak.

‘I take my instruction from the angels.’

Fallen angels.

‘No. I am a holy prophet.’

‘And by virtue of this high claim, you have usurped the Apostles with heretical teachings, plundered churches and monasteries, given their property to the poor, and nominated your acolytes as ordained priests! Beware of false prophets, who come in the clothing of sheep, but are inwardly ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall known them. (iv)

‘Then what of my miracles? Have I not cleansed lepers, cured blindness, and driven demons into swine?’

‘All these things were done in commerce with the Devil.’

‘My balm could heal this broken world. But the Schoolmen denigrate my chymic art. May God protect us from the perils of the Schoolmen, mind, body and soul…’

‘Must we all take lessons from you? Even the priests?’

‘The priests are dunces who cannot be taught. They call themselves fishers of men, but they wouldn’t know how to a catch sprat. These hypocrites preach the miraculous draught of fishes, but refute my own miraculous cures. Yet they swear they can turn the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!’

‘You deny the doctrine of transubstantiation?’

‘I refuse to answer that question.’

‘Forgive me. Do you find my cross-examination distasteful? Did I offend your heretical sensibilities?’

‘Your plan is to frighten me into self-accusation.’

‘You have already condemned yourself ten times over.’

‘’Tis not I who am damned Monsieur, but you… I have seen your arrival at the Gates of Hell – accompanied by an escort of fifty devils dressed in red satin, with white and black feathers in their hats, with silver galloons and patent boots, all led by Beelzebub, the Inquisitor General of His Royal Satanic Majesty…’

‘Do not try me, Jacques Vallin. You have no idea of the terrors that await you. This chamber is full of many unnameable horrors, and yet more unnameable hopes. You will answer at peril of death.’

‘My testament is null and void if you will not write it down.’

‘Must I draw your nails first? Answer the question: do you deny the doctrine of transubstantiation?

‘Monsieur, is it really possible that mouldy wafers of flour, can hold within them, the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ?’

‘I am asking you.’

Vis me aperte loqui? [Do you wish me to speak openly?]’

Sane quidem. [Yes indeed.]’

‘Transubstantiation is a great mystery to me, Monsieur.’

‘Indeed. These sacred mysteries far transcend the limits of your intellect. But know this: the communicant receives the body of Christ in similitude. Yet he no less truly receives the virtue of its reality. Ask any priest.’

‘The priests are hypocrites. Corpus Dómini nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam meam in vitan ætérnam. Amen… [May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlatsing. Amen]. The priests don’t believe this change by which the elements of bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ.’

Fool! Of course they believe! The priests of Mother Church guard deep and heavenly mysteries. Wherever the body of Christ is, so are His angels.’

‘The priests are without Christ. They sell pardons for sins. You think their graces and indulgences are approved by god almighty? As for the Eucharist, they find that mystery utterly unintelligible.’

‘But a good mystery is always worth unravelling, don’t you think?’

‘Your talk makes me itch.’

‘I ask you to consider the words of Christ. The saviour gave clear and explicit instructions when he broke the bread at the last supper. He said: Take ye and eat: this is my body.(v) Christ did not say: This is the figure of my body. Neither did he say: With this is my body. But rather, he stated absolutely: This is my body — which plainly implies transubstantiation. And when he gave the chalice, he said: Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins… Answer, Jacques Vallin.’

‘I have nothing more or better to say for myself than what Christ has already said.’

‘Ah! So you admit it!’

‘I only admit what Christ said. But I do not admit that the priests actually believe it.’

‘All Catholics are obliged to believe that His flesh and blood reside within the Holy Eucharist. For ’tis by our communion with Christ in the blessed sacrament, that we are formed into one mystical body, His spouse, Mother Church.’

Mystical body? No. The priests propagate a shameless imposture. They no more understand the mystery of transubstantiation than the fouls of the air. Their lust for lucre far exceeds any love for Christ. Yet they still hold the faithful to communion, and preach the Incarnation.’

‘You deny the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ from Mary ever virgin?’

‘I assert that Christ had not a true human body, but a celestial body. And whilst on earth, he did all things figuratively, in similitudinem.

‘A wicked and pernicious blasphemy.’

‘But true.’

‘And what of you Jacques Vallin? Are you a real human being, made of flesh and blood?’

‘I am made of sterner stuff than you.’

‘We shall see what you are made of. All in good time…’

‘You play a stupid game Monsieur.’

‘Oh?’

‘I do not believe for one moment, that after hearing my confession, you will absolve my sins or enjoin my penances. I know that I am destined for the stake.’

‘Well, as the saying goes: save a witch from the flames, and she will cut your throat…

‘Condemn me to the pyre if you must, but your flesh shall burn, not mine.’

‘You’re completely mad, to threaten me with fire.’

‘You cannot destroy me Monsieur. This body is not my body. My flesh is indestructible – a celestial substance, transparent as glass. But your flesh is made of mortal clay, and will perish in the flames.’

Fool. No man can put me to the stake.’

‘But I am not a man.’

Nor woman either!

He stands there for a moment, his lips quivering with rage, his eyes bulging like black orbs. Then he smiles and asks politely:

‘How many have you slain in your mad crusade?’

‘To be honest, I’ve lost count.’

‘At least five hundred, according to the charges.’

‘And you Monsieur? You must have burnt ten times more, this year alone.’

‘Yes, but I only burn the wicked.’

‘You burn yourself.’

‘I beg you, abstain from mouthing empty threats. Your heresy is malignant and noisome to the Faithful. You show neither contrition nor regret. If you refute Christ’s human body, then you refute the Incarnation as taught by priests. Speak.’

‘The priests cannot grasp the Incarnation: it slips through their fingers like sand. They know naught of the Word or His eternal presence.’

‘Whose presence?’

Quæstio perobscura. [A very blind question].’

‘Yet not so blind as you. Vacillate in your replies, and I will put you to the horse. I ask again: whose presence?’

‘The Demiurgus.’

‘Is that the good god, or the bad?’

‘That all depends on your point of view.’

‘Like all heretics, you speak in riddles that cloak your true allegiance. You quote the Mass in earnest, but refute Christ’s human body. If you refute the Incarnation, then you deny The Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary. Answer.

‘The Son of Man was not incarnate in the Virgin Mary. She was not a carnal woman of flesh. She was sexless, and had same celestial body as The Christ.’

Blasphemy! No man shall receive a pardon of life, when he denies the Incarnation of the Word in the body of Jesus Christ, or his immaculate conception in womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Such heresy brings men to the very brink of Hell!’

*  *  *  *

I seem to stand for an inordinate time, watching the bench through my visor, as the lawyers mutter with the priests. Every so often, the bellows snort and the ping! of iron echoes round the chamber. The fire beats upon my helmet and the clasp grows hot about my neck, scorching my Adam’s apple. At length, Pontius draws beside me and says:

‘Is it all out? Have you confessed all? No! You have confessed nothing! Do not think you can hide your wicked works. The Lord knows all your evil ways, and He will put you to shame.’

‘Monsieur, will you unlock this cursed helmet? I cannot breath, nor hear myself think.’

‘Do not expect my sympathy. Your sufferings haven’t even begun. You shall remain masked until the pains are put upon you. Your visage is the very incarnation of Satan, and the less we have to see of it, the better.’

‘Methinks you should wear this helmet instead.’

‘Oh?

‘You are the real monster; the true incarnation of tyranny and darkness. Look at this chamber of terrors! Is it not obvious?’

‘What is obvious is your subterfuge. You find it necessary to invent sophisms, in order to defend a faith so absurd as Catharism.’

‘The subterfuge is yours.’

‘Your crimes are listed in black and white. They are depraved and lamentable; horrible to think of and terrible to hear; your detestable deeds and abominations are wholly inhuman; they are a pernicious evil which cause the faithful to tremble with violent horror; the enormity of your sin is an offence to God and a shame for all humanity…’

‘The accusations against me are false.’

‘Am I to assume that you only erred through the seduction of wicked men? That you’re just a lost sheep of Jesus Christ who has gone astray, without any malice in your heart? Do you take me for an ignoramus? How is it possible that you should still deny what I have here before my own eyes? Confess. Where is The Book of Death?

‘There’s no such thing.’

‘You are evasive and slippery as an eel.’

‘—And you as a greased pig. But I suppose we must try to find God in all His creatures.’

‘You are an agent of the Devil… Speak.

‘I am an agent of the Light. This earth is Pandemonium; a chaos of derangements and discords; a dark catalogue of sins, injustice, violence and death.’

An agent of the light? You are naught but a proud and haughty albino with fiery eyes, your head tressed with serpents, and your lips foaming with blood. You devour the entrails of Mother Church with one hand, whilst with the other, you hold the crooked cross of the Cathars; your singular purpose is to inflame discord, corrupt the Faithful, and bring Christendom to ruin.’

‘With those words, you dishonour Him who sent me.’

‘You speak of Satan.’

‘I speak of the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.’(vi)

‘You profess great sanctity, and claim great powers. But your commune with angels is naught but diabolic infestation. Your religious ecstasies are raptures of the Devil. And your miracles are counterfeits. Speak.

‘No Monsieur. My miracles are holy and true.’

‘I have a list of them here… The change of water into ink; and ink into blood; speech without tongues; cures of the blind, deaf and lame; disembodied voices; the appearance of Lights; manifest odours of heavenly perfume; instantaneous transport of the body; levitation; the union of two chains; a wasp killed by lightening; the clay figurine of a sparrow, that came to life and flew through the air; the descent of an angel into a pool of water; the gift of oracles; prophetic divination; the acquisition of supernatural knowledge; resurrection of the dead… And even a change of sex… But all these wonders are wicked deceits, worked by evil spirits, and done in the name of the Devil. Answer.’

‘No. They were done in Christ’s name.’

Liar! Not a single one of these miracles is recorded as being permanent. Which proves they were falsely obtained by witchcraft and demons; for the minions of Satan did not make this world, and cannot alter its arrangements. Such were the counterfeit miracles of Simon Magus, who could assume the appearance of a serpent, exhibit two faces, and transform into whatever shape he pleased.’

‘Yet such were the miracles of the infant Jesus. He too could animate clay figurines of beasts and birds.(vii) He changed his playmates into kids and back again. He could appear as a youth or an old man; sometimes very small; and sometimes so big as to reach the sky.’

‘Those childish stories are from heretical Gnostic writings. The divinity of an immoral doctrine cannot be evidenced by miracles. The Infancy of Jesus Christ is anonymous, inauthentic, and banned by the bishops of Rome. In the same gospel, ’tis written that Christ killed a playmate simply for running him down.(viii) Is that an act of the Son of God?’

‘What can I say? Boys will be boys. Why are you so offended? God takes vengeance on all His enemies; His arrows are drunk with blood;(ix) He has laid waste whole cities with fire and brimstone. A single boy is a mere trifle…’

‘You preach from forbidden books.’

‘But why are they forbidden?’

‘Because The Holy Spirit did not preside over their writing.’

‘How do you know? Were you there? The infant miracles of Christ are cited by all the early Church fathers – men of eminent character and learning, who conversed with the Holy Apostles. So why deny them?’

‘They are the work of the Church militant, and deemed apocryphal. All such gospels must be burned, and any person concealing them shall be punished with death and committed to the flames.’

‘You refute the miraculous infancy of Jesus Christ, yet believe He walked on water and arose from the dead!’

‘Yet you assert that Christ was not a man of flesh!’

‘Indeed Monsieur. Christ’s body was not of the same substance as ordinary men; it was a heavenly body, not a material body. All flesh is evil. And Christ cannot participate in what is evil.’

‘Then what of His five wounds? If you deny Christ’s human body, then you deny His passion. If you deny His passion, then you deny the omnipotent power of His divinity that was concealed in human form; if you deny His bodily death, then you deny that moment when He gave up the ghost, and the earth quaked, and the veil of the temple was rent in two. If you deny all this, then you deny the Roman centurion, and the many witnesses who went down from Calvary, striking their breasts in earnest, weeping: Indeed this man was the Son of God! … If you deny Christ’s carnal crucifixion, then you deny Joseph of Arimathea, who took Him down from the cross and wrapped Him in a linen winding sheet, and laid Him in the sepulchre, wherein no man had yet been laid… I ask you, how can any of this have happened, if Christ was not a man of flesh? Think about it. The burial of Jesus involves three considerations: the transport of His body to the place of burial; the placing of His body in the tomb; and the sealing of the door. ’Tis written in the gospel of Matthew: Joseph rolled a great stone to the door of the monument, and went his way. And there was there Mary Magdalen and the other Mary sitting over against the sepulchre…(x) But most heretical of all, if you deny Christ’s burial in the tomb, then you deny His resurrection on the third day. For if you deny the final victory of Christ, and His triumph over Death, then you deny His gift of eternal life, which is the reward of our temporal sufferings, and the hope of all faithful servants of God. Only Christ can deliver us from the sting of eternal Death; only He can deliver us into the verdant bloom of Paradise. Christ was given power over all flesh, that we might share in His glory and incorruption. His death is the exemplar of our death; His resurrection the seed and exemplar of our future state. Speak.

‘I deny the resurrection of the flesh.’

Blasphemy!

‘No Monsieur.’

‘Then how do you explain the Passion?’

‘The Passion and Crucifixion were illusions. The Devil tried to kill Jesus, believing His body was flesh and blood; whereas in reality it was a celestial body, and indestructible as His spirit. Ergo, there was no death nor resurrection.’

Sacrilege! Profanity! ’Twas by the Resurrection that Christ redeemed mankind. ’Tis deducible from revelation, that sanctifying grace, exemption from carnal relations, and immortality of the body, are supernatural gifts, all of which were enjoyed by Adam and Eve in Paradise; but Original sin destroyed their supernatural Nature. Yet by the resurrection of Christ, we live in state of repaired nature. Speak.

‘No Monsieur. Our terrestrial body is a corrupt and filthy garment – a cloak of darkness; a living death and sensate corpse; a tomb we carry as penance for our sins. But our incorrupt body is Spirit alone. When we escape the bondage of the flesh, we return to our glorified body in the air. This was our eternal state before we were cast from Heaven with Lucifer and His angels.’

‘Believe these these things, and you will surely go to hell.’

‘Hell is in this world.’

‘Many have been thrown to the flames for less.’

‘Which only proves that Satan is master of the world. He made us from the dust of the Earth. So all earthly creatures are subject to corruption. But I shall rise from the pyre as a phoenix, eternal and incorruptible.’

‘Are you telling me that you wish to perish by fire?’

‘How else will I escape this fallen realm?’

‘You think you can and thwart the world, the flesh, and the Devil, by a fiery death? The last Cathar I burnt was a relapsed heretic. When the flames touched her feet, she wailed and struggled as long as she was able. But being fat, the fire took her from the inside, and she burnt like a wick. Before the flames reached her breasts, her belly glowed like a coal, and bursting like a sausage, her entrails fell out… Yet still she screamed for mercy for two whole hours. Did she rise like a phoenix from her own ashes? No. She went to hell. The only protection against Satan is in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But you deny the doctrine of transubstantiation.’

‘I do not deny it per se, but I deny the priests who do it.’

‘Deny the priests, and you deny the sacrament.’

‘There is no sacrament at the consecration by a priest.’

‘Liar! Only a priest can give the consecrated wafer. ’Tis is a precept of Mother Church.’

‘Transubstantiation takes place in the hand, not of him who consecrates, but of him who worthily receives…’

‘The Cathar faith is a cesspool of pagan dualism and heretical gospel teaching; ’tis a profane blasphemy, rash, erroneous, scandalous, offensive to the ears of the pious, and atrociously injurious to pontiffs, kings, clergy, and the Holy Office. ’Tis a heresy that merits the most extreme penalty…’

‘’Tis the polygamous priests who are the true heretics; they are entangled with evils, vice and lusts; they believe in charms and omens; they practice witchcraft, confessional seduction, and even sodomy. No man can be saved by a priest. The sacraments of the Roman church are useless. And all who hold the Catholic faith are damned.’

‘You utter these profanities as a devil with monstrous horns; and even though they are hidden in that fantastic helmet, you look and sound perfectly absurd.’

‘The absurdity is you: to speak of Christ and His redeeming love as the cornerstone of state torture.’

‘Aberrations of the faith are the greatest crimes before God and man. None more so than the Gnostic heresy of the Cathari. Have you no fear for your immortal soul? A soul in hell retains all its natural knowledge. It remembers whatever it knew on earth. It ponders the evil for which it is condemned; and despairs of all the blessings it has lost; and by the misery of both, ’tis tortured even more.(xi) For as Abraham said to the rich man in hell: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and thou art tormented… (xii) These sufferings gnaw at the soul like fire. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And due to the incorruptible state of the body, the flesh is eaten up eternally by worms of remorse… Recant now, and be spared these horrors, or depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire…’

‘I am no stranger to the fires of the body. I have spent my whole life in the carcass of an Ox.’

‘Do you really expect me to believe that?’

‘I knew a Cathar who spent six lifetimes in the body of an ass. His back was raw with welts from carrying heavy loads up the mountainside. As a man he was a bed-bound cripple, who suffered horrible sores. The transmigration of souls is steeped in perils of the flesh…’

‘You will find no greater peril than in my Question Chamber.’

‘Do you have a soul beneath that skin-suit? Or are you just a hollow husk? Peel it off. Let me see your true colours.’

Pontius claps his hands in a slow mocking rhythm:

Well! Well! Well! What pourparler and tete-a-tete! I must say, this is most surprising; I was not expecting such provocative confabulation so early in the proceedings. Most men come before me struck dumb with terror.’

‘I have fought bigger devils than you.’

‘Your previous tortures are naught to what you shall suffer on the horse. ’Tis an infinite ladder of pains. No man can endure it without going insane. ’Twill turn your body into a twisted bag of bones.’

‘I am well acquainted with corporal defect. My descent into the body was torture itself. If only you could spy my inner state! Such beauty would make you weep.’

‘You speak of your deformity? You think you have suffered more than other men?’

‘Walk in my shoes for a day. See how you like it. The cloying of this rank and hoary flesh. Mine is the body of a beast.’

‘You place too much importance on the body.’

‘But not as much importance as you…’

‘A man’s character is strengthened and advanced by suffering.’

‘Is that why you break men on the horse? Truly, there are better ways to bring men to God.’

‘Your crimes are a grievous injury to Mother Church. Confess now, or you will suffer a great chastisement.’

‘This body is my chastisement. But my true nature is the mystery of mysteries; ’tis so hidden, so obscure, so incomprehensible, that the older I become, the more impossible it seems…’

‘You speak of the soul? Your soul is black as hell. And you are no more enlightened than a maggot.’

‘Last night I dreamt of two squires from the village of my youth. They were cloven down to the navel because of the wounds which caused their death; yet they continued to ride their two cobs, which had followed them into the after world.(xiii) The squires thought they were dreaming, even though they were moulding in their graves. You think I will make the same mistake?’

‘Your Cathar faith endeavours to explain the transition from one bodily state into an entirely opposite state. Yet you still deny Christ’s human body. Your heretical cloth interweaves the weft of Good with the warp of Evil.’

‘Just as Spirit is interwoven with Flesh…’

‘Hypocrite! That is the hypostatic union of the Christ!’

‘No Monsieur. Christ is too perfect to incarnate into this fallen realm of matter. For Satan is Lord of the material world, and the ways of the flesh yield to His dark power. The eternal pollution of Original sin expresses itself in the organs of the body.’

Imago animi vultus est. [The countenance is the reflection of the soul (xiv)]. If deformity is due to sin, that makes you the Devil incarnate.’

‘I will soon complete my metempsychosis. You will behold my glorified body at the stake, just as Christ revealed His glorified body at the Transfiguration. I shall arise, free of all blemish, clear as crystal, with a fiery rubeous hue, and clothed in the raiment of the sun!’

‘You mad apostate. You exalt the Christ as a fervent and pious believer. But the Cathar faith is without Christ and without the Holy Spirit. When you deny the Incarnation, you not only give Satan power over your body, but you grant him a far nobler estate – the sovereignty over your mind. For we wrest not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world; against spirits of wickedness in high places.(xv)

‘You fight the Devil if you want to. But I am a defect of fleshy substance. And my war is with the body…’

*  *  *  *

Pontius continues:

‘I once knew a nun who had completely overcome the body: a saint who remained alive without food or medicine for many years. ’Twas a supernatural thing of God. A manifest sign that her animal nature had been entirely consumed in the fires of divine love.’

‘I too knew such a woman. But she died in agony at the hands of the Inquisition.’

He leers:

‘Indeed. I remember her well. She was but an emaciated corpse, sallow as saffron. Her flesh was like a mouldy paste when a finger is put into it. She was given the grace of stigmata: a victim soul who suffered in union with Jesus Christ for the conversion of sinners. The blood that flowed from her wounds had a sweet flowery odour. They said that god was performing exceptional miracles upon her body. But I knew it was the work of the Devil. During her periods of suffering and despair, she oft’ mentioned your name. But in the end, she lost both sight and speech. Yet she could still hear and write. Before she penned her last confession, she endured many horrid torments. When the linen funnel was pulled from her throat, she spewed much green bile. But that was not the manner of her death… You shall not ask me how? Your silence speaks volumes. Methinks your soul clings to her still, even after all these years… I regret to inform you, ’twas was a most ignoble end. They stripped her naked, put a halter about her neck, and dragged her in chains to the square. Whereupon she was cruelly flogged to death. Her body was begorged with blood and cut through every part. But I can’t recall her name…’

Maria. Her name was Maria.

‘Ah! Your beloved Maria. The incarnation of all loveliness. How they revelled in her tortures! Day by day, moon by moon, she learnt to hate you more and more, until she despised you utterly. In the end, she renounced your miracles all together. She confessed many wondrous and terrible things. She had lain with the Devil thrice. His body was cold, not hot. His member felt like an icicle. He baptised her in a cavern, where all sin was permitted. He administered a Eucharist of pig’s blood and turnip rinds. He tormented her with fiery spirits, nocturnal visions, and ghosts of the dead… He put His mark, just below her left nipple. By this mark, she bewitched her sisters in Christ to suckle from her breast. She confessed many other diverse horrors that I dare not utter. Alas, she could not be returned to the fold, for she went completely mad. When her stigmata faded, she took to piercing her wounds with a bodkin. But the blood had lost its perfume, and was rank as a rat. I feign to tell the rest. For she was prone to the most shameful and diabolic lusts. One night, upon entering her cell, I found her squatting in the straw, with a bone crucifix thrust between her buttocks. Few women have sunk so deplorably low. She was a degraded most pitiable creature, and beyond redemption. During her final confession, she momentarily regained her power of speech. But she had the bark of a dog. She called you Antichrist, the Devil incarnate.’

You’re lying! I don’t believe you!

‘See how the Devil stumbles! Blinded with grief and remorse! Such hot and passionate tears! How they smart and sting! To think his greatest miracle caused the ruin of one so fair! ’Tis a perverse irony: I have so many instruments of torture at my disposal, yet love never fails to break a man’s heart.’

‘You may have broken my heart. But you shall not break my spirit.’

‘You overestimate yourself, Jacques Vallin. I will crush your spirit like a bug. You shall soon be sweating blood. Your pains shall become intoxicating fumes, and many horrible dreams will rise in your imagination; all the schemes of your life shall be as vain vapours, and you will ardently long for death.’

‘Must I fall on my knees and beg your pardon? You have driven the whole world mad with fear and pain. God will never forgive you – for turning blessed Maria, a harmless bride of Christ, into a depraved animal. There is more sin on your conscience than all the crimes in hell. Yet you do not frighten me, Monsieur. You may turn me into a blind and wretched creature, but I am resolved to suffer the horse, as Maria suffered the lash and trial by water…’

‘Do not think I am moved by such pathetic displays of affection; especially in a beast of such heretical deformity. The disposition of your soul has always been towards Satan. But the horse will lead you back to God…’

‘Have I not confessed enough?’

‘To your credit, you have willingly confessed many terrible heresies. But they are not what I seek.’

‘Then what do you seek?’

‘I want the secret of your chymic art…’

*  *  *  *

Pontius addresses the counsel:

‘In order to put the prisoner to the extreme question, I must first remove his helmet. Those unfamiliar with the monstrosity, are advised to look away…’

Then he turns to the official torturer and bids:

‘Master Loup, would you please unlock the helmet.’

The scribe shields his eyes as Loup steps forth with a long key. The brute grapples with my visor, his fat fingers twisting the key left and right.

‘What’s taking so long?’ asks Pontius.

‘This cursed lock!’ seethes Loup. ‘It’s stuck fast!’

‘Must I do it myself?’

‘No, no, Monsieur. Loup can do it… Oh yes, Loup will open the helmet. Watch him do it…’

But in his panic, Loup drops the key on the floor:

‘Forgive me Monsieur. This impious heretic has been meddling with his lock.’

Pontius throws up his hands:

‘I am a great deal too patient with you Master Loup. Pick it up and start again.’

Loup grovels about the flags, then finding the key, he slides it in the lock with trembling hands.’

‘Now turn the key a full revolution to the left,’ bids Pontius.

‘Is that your left, or mine?’ asks Loup.

‘Clockwise,’ sighs Pontius.

The key turns in the lock, grinding and squeaking.

‘Oh! This lock is very rusty, Monsieur! I’ll wager this helmet has not been opened for a hundred years!’

‘What are you taking about?’ flusters Pontius. ‘I opened it myself only this morning.’

‘Upon my soul!’ gasps Loup. ‘That cannot be! Oh Monsieur! What a calamity!’

‘What?’ frets Pontius. ‘What have you done?’

‘Monsieur! The key has snapped in the lock!’

‘You clumsy oaf! seethes Pontius, stamping his foot. ‘I said clockwise, you idiot!’

Loup draws a big circle in the air:

‘But I went clockwise!’

‘That’s anti-clockwise, you buffoon! Since when do the hands of a clock turn backwards? Grab a bodkin! Prize it open!’

‘Er, is that a good idea?’ qualms the bishop. ‘I mean to say, what point is there in seeing this monster? Perhaps ’tis better for all if we keep his helmet shut.’

‘No, we must open it,’ insists Pontius. ‘’Tis vital to interrogate the prisoner face to face. Only then will I know if his confession is true. The eyes are windows to the soul.’

‘But this fiend has sold himself to the Devil!’ retorts the bishop. ‘Hell has consumed his soul, as a devouring flame consumes a stook of straw. He has no fear of you, nor anyone else. I bid you leave his helmet on.’

‘What? And fail in my duty to return him to the fold?’

‘Jacques Vallin is as good as damned. He has already endured three rigorous tortures: one as a boy; another as a woman; and a third as a devil. Yet all without a single sincere confession. He shows no contrition for his sins. ’Tis quite clear from the preliminary proceedings that he remains impenitent. He will not recant nor break his pact, even if taken to the very Throne of God. There is naught else to do. Why not sentence him and be done with it?’

Pontius turns to me and asks:

‘What say you Jacques Vallin? The bishop offers you a choice.’

‘I offer him no such thing!’ protests the Bishop. ‘Burn him! Burn him now, I say!’

‘Your holiness, this is most irregular. The prisoner cannot be absolved unless he confesses judicially.’

‘Mon Dieu!’ gasps the bishop. ‘You will absolve a devil like that? ’Tis not your duty to absolve him, but merely sentence him to death!’

‘I cannot, in all honesty, condemn him to the flames without first putting him to the question. We must find The Book of Death. Therein are the acolytes of his sect.’

‘This malign devil is full of tricks,’ warns the bishop. ‘He calls himself a Cathar one minute and a Proselyte the next. Why interrogate him at all? It matters not if he’s a Gnostic or a Jewish cabbalist. He has slaughtered over five hundred men! Most of them clergy of the Church! All murdered in cold blood! Do you really believe that such a devil will reveal his chymic art? Forget The Book of Death. The acolytes of his sect have all gone with the wind. And even if he confesses, how can you be sure of his testimony?’

‘I am well acquainted with the whiles of the devil,’ replies Pontius. ‘If there is a truth to be found, I will find it. Once a man suffers the pains of the horse, he can hide nothing.’

‘Either way he is going to the flames,’ rejoins the bishop.

‘Then what choice is there?’ ask I.

‘The choice is simple,’ replies Pontius. ‘I can sentence you to the pyre as an impenitant, to suffer the flames without the grace of strangulation; or you can recant, and return to the fold. In which case, you will be garotted before the flames take hold. But only if I receive your sincere and unequivocal confession.’

‘You give me no choice at all. I find myself stuck between a rock and hard place. Or rather, a rack and hot place.

‘Only a fool would jest about such horrors.’

‘I always knew I would die in flames of infamy. There is naught to be gained from confessing anything at all.’

‘That is not entirely true,’ reasons Pontius. ‘If your confession satisfies the evidence, you will be formally reconciled before death; and if judicially absolved, your bones may be absolved sacramentally; in which case you may receive a Christian burial – but only in secret, of course.’

‘A Christian burial? For a devil like me? You would have me suffer all this, just for the boon of a Christian burial? I find the very idea absurd. Pah! I would rather go with the hares! I shall not recant in either case. The simple truth of the matter, is that the bishop wants me dead, before I say anything to condemn him.’

The bishop fumes, shaking his fists in fury:

‘A heretic cannot give witness against a bishop! Burn him!Burn him now, I say!’

‘Silence!’ seethes Pontius, stamping his foot.

Chastised, the bishop sits and scowls behind his crozier. Then Pontius adds:

‘I must warn the bishop not to lay hands on things beyond his jurisdiction; pray do not meddle with anything touching the Inquisition, or fitting measures will be taken.’

‘Forgive me Monsieur,’ fauns the bishop. ‘But I am only concerned for the preservation of Mother Church. This heretic is a devil amongst men.’

‘The devil is you!’ cry I. ‘The Roman church is a den of thieves! In the name of God, remove my helmet! Put me to the question! And let it be known, I want my testament on record!’

‘Fool,’ mutters the scribe, pale as death.

Pontius grins with malevolent glee:

‘The prisoner has decided. Remove his helmet. ‘’Tis time to see this devil face to face…’

*  *  *  *

The priests cower in dread as Master Loup sets about my helmet with hammer and chisel. He stabs at the hinges, heaving and panting, sparks flying as he pins me against the wall:

‘Be still you filthy beast! Do you want an eyeful? I’ll wager this helmet holds a thousand imps! Let me at it! Turn the other way! Now don’t move, or I’ll crack your miserable sconce like an egg!’

He struggles and snorts like a pig, his rank breath pouring through the visor. Several times the chisel punctures the metal, stopping just short of my eyes. There comes an almighty clang as the helmet cleaves in two and falls upon the ground.

The priests gasp in astonishment; the scribe vomits; and the dwarves shriek like girls:

Mon Dieu! He has the Devil’s horns!

And the Devil’s face!

Pontius spins on his heels and snarls:

‘Silence you faithless firebugs! Get stoking. I want those irons white hot!’

But Monsieur! He might put a spell on us!

And change us into toads!

Or worse, stone!

That’s true! His Temple frieze is full of victims! Toads and dwarves alike!

‘Avert your gaze!’ bids Pontius. ‘There shall be no spells tonight. Do you think the Devil has any power in the presence of the Holy Inquisition? Now turn away, the pair of you. Attend the coals, lest I find others more worthy of the task!’

The dwarves fight over their firebrands, spitting and cursing:

You shall apply the first iron.

Not me, you!

I will not!

You unlettered ass! Do as I say! Or Monsieur will kick us out. Shall we end up paupers, playing clowns for a living?

Give me the iron with the holy cross! I shall not brand him except with a crucifix!

No! That iron is mine! Use another…

I can’t look at him. He has the horns of an Ox!

Ugh! What a Moloch of a man!

May the devil fly off with him!

They continue squabbling as the priests review the charges. At length, the chamber falls silent. The dwarves cower behind the brazier, their firebrands glowing in the coals.

Pontius draws beside me and leers:

‘Your visage has frightened my assistants.’

‘The dwarves have naught to fear from me.’

‘But you have much to fear from them.’

‘You are the one who should be afraid.’

‘Oh? And why is that? Shall you turn me into stone?’

‘You are flint-hearted already. I will turn you into jelly instead.’

Jelly?

‘Frogspawn. Then I will feed you to the birds.’

He smiles and purrs:

‘Believe me my friend, the tortures suffered here, are nothing unto the eternal pains of hell. These earthly flames shall be as soft kisses compared to Satan’s raging fire. Marvel at the magnanimity of Mother Church: confess and she will show mercy.’

‘What must I confess?’

‘Scribe, prepare to write…’

The scribe dips his quill and waits, hand trembling over the parchment. Then Pontius begins:

‘Jacques Vallin, do you believe in one God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost? Speak.’

‘I believe.’

‘Do you believe in the Blessed Trinity and its three Persons?’

‘Monsieur, forgive me, but if I am to answer that question, you will have to define these Persons more clearly…’

‘Very well. The First Person of the Holy Trinity is the Father, Principium and Unbegotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, but proceeding. Is that clear?’

‘No. And I refute the Trinity in the Catholic sense.’

That is blasphemy.

‘If logic is blasphemy, then burn Euclid.’

‘By what logic do you refute the Trinity?’

‘Christ himself denies it in the book of John.’

‘Ah! You refer to John 14:28, where Christ declared: “If you loved me you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father: for the Father is greater than I.” Am I correct?’

‘Precisely. Ergo, there is a difference in esse substantia between these three Persons. The Father is greater than the Son and the Holy Ghost. But both the Son and the Holy Ghost were created by God the Father. But the Holy Ghost did not exist in this fallen world until after the Ascension of Christ.’

‘You err in this belief.’

‘No. My reason is sound.’

‘When Christ declared “the Father is greater than I”, ’twas evident, that He spoke of Himself as He was made a man. But as God, Christ is equal to the Father. You ignore the relative circumstance of the text: for Christ was about to suffer death, and by these words, He signified to his apostles his human nature. Yet as God he cannot die.’

‘Monsieur, I am confused.’

‘Is the union of God and Man not obvious?’

‘But Monsieur, how is such a union even possible, when Christ did not have a real body at all?’

‘Why do you persist in your heresy? Are you desirous for the pains to be put upon you? The hypostatic union of the Christ is proved from Scripture, wherein Christ is said to be true God and true man. This cannot be, unless Christ has a double nature, divine and human, distinct and unconfused.’

‘Distinct from what? The Father?’

Fool!

‘Forgive me, Monsieur. But my mind is in a muddle. I beg you, explain it to me, that I might better understand…’

‘’Tis perfectly simple. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, both God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the world; and man, of the substance of His Mother, born into the world. Perfect God and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who although He be God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.’(xvi)

‘Yet he is also three?’

Numskull!

‘Methinks the Catholic faith confounds this Trinity of Persons.’

No. Open your ears. The Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Do you follow?’

‘Monsieur, this dogma is a mystery to me.’

‘Indeed! ’Tis a mystery to all men! When speaking of the profound Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, Saint Ambrose said: ’Tis impossible to know this secret; the mind fails, the voice is silent; and not my voice only, but that of Angels. ’Tis above the Powers, ’tis above the Angels, above the Cherubim and Seraphim: it passeth all understanding…(xvii) Human logic is insufficient, Jacques Vallin. To scrutinize this Mystery out of idle curiosity is temerity; but to believe it, is piety; to know it, is eternal life.’(xviii)

‘Eternal life is given by Christ alone, and not by the dogmas of Mother Church.’

‘The bishop cannot contain himself; he jumps up and hops in protest, shaking his crozier:

‘I will hear no more from this poisonous heretic! His words are more lethal than the bite of the basilisk! The facts are as clear as the noonday sun! This evil sorcerer denies the Trinity! He denies the Incarnation of the Word! He denies the divinity of Jesus Christ and His presence in the Eucharist! And he refutes the Virgin birth! He denies the victory gained on the wood of the cross! And in his perfidious depravity, he believes in the heresy of the transmigration of souls from one body to another! From beast to man and back again! He utters so many horrible and heretical blasphemies, that I demand an iron gag be put in his mouth! Sentence him! Sentence him now, I say!’

Pontius holds up his hand and declares:

‘Your holiness, I pray you, be silent. The accused thinks himself wise, but by his words he condemns himself. His confession must be exact and comprehensive; it must be reduced to writing, signed and sworn to, and then forwarded to the tribunal to be filed amongst the records. Mother Church will be all the stronger for it.’

There is much consternation on the bench as the royal lawyer produces a scroll; he passes it down the line of legates who pass it in turn to the bishop. The episcopal secretary whispers at length in the bishop’s ear. The bishop nods gravely, frowning and pursing his lips; then he stands and waves the scroll in the air.

‘Er, what have you there?’ asks Pontius, concerned. ‘Is it something I should know of?’

‘Yes indeed, your eminence,’ cajoles the bishop. ‘Something you must consider as a matter of utmost urgency.’

‘Then what is it? Another list of charges?’

‘No Monsieur. Quite the contrary. This document offers a swift conclusion to this ghastly business. Jacques Vallin is no ordinary heretic. His crimes are so grievous and black in nature, that for the purposes of punishment and example, it has been determined and ordained that he shall burn without being put to the question. Any further interrogation of this devil will only bring slander and calumny on Mother Church. For that reason, I have taken the liberty of providing this sentence of delivery to the civil magistracy.’

‘Sentence of delivery?’ exclaims Pontius, astonished. ‘But I have yet to reach my verdict!’

‘The verdict is a foregone conclusion,’ retorts the bishop. ‘If the Grand Inquisitor of Heretical Error would just let me read the sentence, I am sure he will find that everything is perfectly in order…’

The bishop clears his throat then recites from the scroll:

In nomine Patris, et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti… We resolve, after due examination made of the proceedings and merits of the present case, that the Grand Inquisitor of Heretical Error has fully and duly proved his accusation, in the form and manner he was bound so to do. Wherefore, we decree and ordain that his object has been fully established, in consequence of which we ought and do declare that the said Jacques Vallin has been, and is an apostate heretic, a defaulter and a feigned deceptious abettor, and impenitent relapse, and that he has thereby fallen into and incurred the sentence of grievous death, to which he is liable, as well as of the confiscation and loss of all his property, the same which we order to be applied and hereby do apply to the Exchequer of His Majesty, and in his name to the Receiver thereof, from the day and time he began to commit the said crimes of heresy, the declaration of which we reserve to ourselves; and that we ought to deliver over and hereby do deliver over the person of the said Jacques Vallin to justice and to the civil magistrate, especially to the mayor of this city, or to his marshal in said office, whom we affectionately beseech and enjoin, as in the best form of right we are able, to execute Jacques Vallin and purge his body from this temporal world by fire… And we further declare that any sons and daughters of the said Jacques Vallin and his grandchildren in the male line to be unfit and incapable, and we hereby disable them from holding or obtaining any dignities, benefices, or offices, as well ecclesiastical as secular, or any public or honourable employments; and also from using or carrying about their persons any gold, silver, pearls, precious stones, coral, silk, camlet, or fine cloth; from riding on horseback, wearing arms, or using or possessing any of those other things which by common right the laws and regulations of these kingdoms, as well as the instructions and forms of the Holy Office, are prohibited to all such disabled persons. And by this our definitive sentence we accordingly judge and decide, and in and by these presents order, the same to be executed.’(xix)

Pontius sternly wags his finger:

‘The bishop has been warned before: do not trespass on anything belonging to the Inquisition. The verdict will obtained in the proper manner. The prisoner will be put to the extreme question.’

‘But I beg you Monsieur!’ pleads the bishop. ‘Stop now! Stop in the name of all that’s holy!’

‘I will not stop!’ fumes Pontius. ‘The Holy Inquisition is conducting this trial on direct authority of the Pope – the universal monarch of this temporal world, and Christ’s representative on Earth! Accordingly, I will fulfil my infallible duty assigned to me by the Holy Father: to protect Mother Church and root out heresy from the kingdom of France; to be zealous, diligent, honest, and maintain self control at all times. Your sentence of delivery is invalid! All procedure must be meticulously followed, lest the Jewish lawyers find anything to peg their objections and defence. There can be no space for ambiguity or political manipulation. Accordingly, the Formula interrogatorii will be strictly adhered to, and the confession extracted in the usual way… And if the bishop persists in disrupting the legislative procedure of my office, he will be forcibly removed from the Question Chamber!’

The bishop throws up his hands in despair, then sits back down, glowering in contempt.

Pontius turns to me and says:

‘Jacques Vallin, listen to me very carefully. I have asked you before, but I will ask you one final time. Remember, you answer at peril of the horse… Do you believe that the bread and wine, in the mass performed by priests, can be changed into the body and blood of Christ?’

‘Should I believe it?’

‘I ask not if you should believe it, but if you do believe it.’

‘I believe in what you and the other good doctors tell me to believe.’

‘I do not tell you to believe anything. I simply ask if you believe.’

‘Monsieur, I am confused.’

‘And I am no fool. Stop this fencing. Do you believe that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ is at the altar?’

‘I believe that a body is there.’

‘Whose body?’

‘The body of my Lord.’

‘But who is your Lord?’

Margaritas ante porcos.’ [Pearls before swine].

‘Oh come, come. I am an educated man. Cast your pearls before me; I will not rend you. I ask again: who is your lord?’

‘My Lord is the same as your Lord.’

‘That is not what I ask. I ask whether the body at the altar is of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin, was crucified, and arose from the dead. Answer me plainly.’

‘I cannot.’

‘Do you continue to deny the dogma of the Eucharist?’

‘Which is?’

‘Namely, the Totality of His Presence via the Transubstantiation of bread and wine, into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.’

‘Monsieur, do you and the other good doctors believe this?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Then I believe it also.’

‘Will you swear that you believe it?’

‘If you order me to swear, I will swear.’

‘I cannot force you to swear, because you might believe in heretical oaths. In which case, you will transfer your sin onto me (xx) – even though I venerate the cross.’

‘You venerate the outrage of the cross?’

‘That is a heretical proposition.’

‘Monsieur, I am ignorant of these things.’

‘All Christians venerate our Saviour’s Passion.’

‘By eating His flesh and drinking His blood?’

Vacillation! Shall you swear it?’

‘Swear what exactly?’

‘Imbecile! That the body at the altar is the Body of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ!’

‘Monsieur, I am old, and in my folly, have forgotten how to swear this oath.’

‘I see. If I had to swear, I would raise my right hand and say: “So help me God, I have never learned heresy or believed what is contrary to the true faith.” Do this, and I may return you to the fold.’

‘Monsieur, my right hand has palsy. Can I swear with the left one instead?’

Pontius crosses himself, turns to the bishop and says:

‘Let it be known that I showed the prisoner all possible leniency. Despite this, he tried to dupe me with his demonic inversion.’

The bishop nods:

‘The Inquisitor bears himself well in all things, and he laudably executes the will of Mother Church. His assistants also bear themselves honestly. Of mortal sin, they know nothing.’

Pontius glares like a gorgon:

‘Jacques Vallin, you leave me no option but to perform the duties of my office. Proceed…’

*  *  *  *

The torturer unshackles my feet and drags me to the horse. The machine consists of a stout oak frame standing three feet high. I lie naked on a bed of struts, facing upward. My wrists are tied to a beam above my head – my ankles to a large windlass at the other end.

Pontius perches on the side rail and fondles my horns, running his fingers down the cleft of my skull:

‘Methinks this sconce holds secrets; wonders; terrors. What jewels are those, twinkling like fireflies in the coils of your brain? What fiendish hordes lurk there? What filthy spells? It makes the blood run cold: if a witch can fly through the night like bat, then what can a magus do? What hideous forms do you conjure for your pleasure? These wolfen eyes – what sulphurous realms have they seen? These hoary ears – what forbidden whispers have they heard? What diabolic pacts have spewed forth from your corrupt lips? Who bore you? A witch, of course. Who sired you? The black goat she fucked at the sabbat. Oh yes, yours is a impeccable pedigree of evil. Conceived in blood and fire, no doubt that is how you shall die.’

He turns to the torturer:

‘Are we ready Master Loup?’

The titan nods.

‘Excellent. When I give the order, the first thing you will hear is the ratchet clicking. As the ropes tighten, your body will slowly rise, until it lies suspended, taut as a bow. The pain of being lifted in that manner is excruciating; but ’tis naught compared to the agony of repeated dislocations. Soon the cords will cut deep in your flesh. You are old and your sinews weak. The last man I racked was in his prime: but they carried him off one foot longer than the Lord God made him…’

‘I bear false witness against myself! Please, for the love of God, I have done nothing!’

‘Then tell the truth. I do not wish you to suffer. Confess. Reveal the names of your acolytes.’

‘But Monsieur, I have none!’

‘Why are you so eager to stand fast in your obstinacy? You seem desirous to be wholly convicted.’

‘No Monsieur. By the Virgin, I have only ever done the will of God. I find no heresy in myself. Do you not think I would confess all, knowing that I stand on the shores of this earthly life? I beg you, for Christ’s sake, untie me. I am innocent of the charges.’

‘You pile lie upon lie – but that is hardly surprising for one who serves The Prince of Lies. The treasures of wickedness will profit you nothing. (xxi) What shall you gain when you go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth? (xxii) For the last time, reveal the members of your sect. Speak.’

‘Oh Monsieur! I cannot recall. Tell me what to confess and I will confess it! I fear you will offend God if you put the pains on me!’

‘’Twas the hidden operation of God that brought you here in the first place. When you gave yourself to Satan, you took a pledge of predestination. To think, that all the days of your life, you have been walking blindly, into this final, inescapable trap… These sufferings are sent to you by providence. The cause of this pain is your contradiction to The Christ. Remember, I want you to think upon His mystical body. And know that Christ is not set for your ruin, but your salvation…’

He snaps his fingers and Master Loup turns the crank.

The horse awakens with a dismal groan…

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2021. All rights reserved.

i. 1 Corinthians, 13:12. [Douay Rheims version].

ii. 2 Corinthians, 1:5. [Douay Rheims version].

iii. Proverbs, 18:7. “The mouth of a fool is his destruction: and his lips are the ruin of his soul.” [Douay Rheims version].

iv. Matthew, 7:15-16. [Douay Rheims version].

v. Matthew, 26:26-28. [Douay Rheims version].

vi. James, 1:17.

vii. ‘The Gospel of The Infancy of Jesus Christ’, Chapter XV. [From ‘The Apochryphal New Testament’ compiled by William Hone, Gebbie & Co., Philadelphia 1880].

viii. Ibid., Chapter XIX.

ix. Deuteronomy, 32:41-42.[Douay Rheims version].

x. Matthew, 27:60-61. [Douay Rheims version].

xi. “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part IQQ LXXV._CII. Vol. 4 (Treatise on Man). Eighth Article: ‘Whether All The Powers Remain in The Soul When Separated From the Body.’ The Inquisitor is not quoting Aquinas but rather summarising Objections 3 to 4.

xii. Luke, 16:25. [Douay Rheims version].

xiii. Words of Arnaud Gélis, sacristan of a church in Pamiers. Fournier’s record (i. 132).

xiv. Cicero.

xv. Ephesians, 6:12.

xvi. The Creed of St. Athanasius.

xvii. Saint Ambrose was the master of Saint Augustine. De fide, lib. 1, c. 10. Lieberman, Theol. Dog. lib. 13, p. 1. De trinitate.

xviii. Saint Bonaventure, on the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

xix. Orden de Procesar, fol. 31. Entire passage in italics quoted in entirety.

xx. H. C. Lea., ‘A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages’, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1887), Vol. 1, pp. 414.

xxi. Proverbs, 10:2.

xxii.Psalms, 30:9.

Image credit: “A man dressed in a loincloth is tortured on the rack with a priest bending over him to extract a confession”. Wood engraving by B. Pug after J.M. Copyright Wellcome Images, Wellcome Trust.