Thursday, 20 February 2014

Church And State

Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991).

The basic idea in The Shield Of Time, Book Six, "Amazement of the World," is that both science and freedom were able to grow in Western Europe because neither the church nor the state won a decisive victory in their medieval conflict. Either a continental theocracy or a continental autocracy would not only have opposed progress but furthermore would have succeeded in preventing it.

Anderson dramatizes this idea by presenting two alternative timelines, alpha and beta, designated not, as here, by words in Roman letters but by the Greek letters, which I do not have on this keyboard. As often with Anderson, the details are hard to remember so I think that it is a worthwhile exercise to try to summarize them although this will require at least two posts.


Because of the military prowess of Lorenzo de Conti (a fictitious character), Roger of Sicily and his eldest, ablest son die, earlier than they should have done, at the battle of Rignano in 1137. Their successor, unable to cope, loses all Sicilian possessions on the Italian mainland and also all of their African conquests. When both Roger's ecclesiastical backer, anti-Pope Anacletus, and his political opponent, Rainulf, die, the Papacy, now the only real power in southern Italy, begins acquiring political control of Sicily and of the rest of Italy. Frederick Barbarossa is less successful than in our timeline against the Papacy and, when the Fourth Crusade captures Constantinople, "'[t]he Orthodox Church [is] forcibly united with the Catholic.'" (p. 365)

Barbarosa, prevented from extending his power south, turns west and prevents the unification of France, thus letting the English conquer the French and overshadow Spain and Portugal. Our title character, Frederick II (Stupor Mundi, "Amazement of the World"), a powerful Holy Roman Emperor who "'...gave the Popes a hell of a time...'" (p. 366), is not born, because his mother was to have been a later daughter of Roger, so the Empire falls apart and Germany becomes papal states, too weak to resist Mongol incursions.

The Catholic Church, suppressing all dissent, prevents the Renaissance, the Reformation and the scientific revolution. Clergymen rule Italian republics. Other secular states decay and become ecclesiastically controlled. Religious wars are schismatic, not doctrinal, but Rome prevails, with the Pope supreme over all kings.

American colonies, late, tightly controlled and with no support for explorers or entrepreneurs, are opposed by Mexicans and Peruvians and by an encroaching resurgent Islam, while Western Europe is threatened by Tsarist Russia. Muslims and Russians are expected to overrun Europe in the 1990's, then fight each other.

The Patrol studies the alpha timeline until about 1250 and Keith Denison, while imprisoned near Paris between 1980alpha and 1984alpha, studies world history, so it is possible to combine the results of these two studies into a coherent narrative. Denison's captor is an archcardinal, both a prince of the Church and a high noble of France which includes the British Isles. In our timeline, the Cardinals are the electoral college for the Papacy so an "archcardinal" who is superior to the king and even to the Chief Inquisitor must be powerful indeed. This one, his Venerability, Albin Archcardinal Fil-Johan, Grand Duke of the Northern Provinces, considers it his duty to burn heretics and massacre peasants. His ancestors scoured Europe clean of Jews, who may "'...command black arts.'" (p. 292) Finally, Albin thinks that Muslims worship "'...Mahound...'" (ibid.) Geocentrism is doctrine and there is a death penalty for owning a printing press.

In timeline alpha, we have seen, first, that Lorenzo de Conti plays a pivotal role in history and secondly what an absolute theocracy might be like. Timeline beta must again involve de Conti but instead show a secular absolute despotism.

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