I am much enjoying Dissolution, a splendid mystery novel by C.J. Sansom set during the time of the 16th century English Reformation. I am a little over halfway through and was delighted today to come across this particular passage. This is a conversation between the main character, Matthew Shardlake, and a dark skinned Moorish monk, Brother Guy. Shardlake is a reformer and investigator who has sworn allegiance to the king and Thomas Cromwell. Brother Guy serves as a infirmarian at a monastery that is being investigated in relation to a murder. Their conversation hints at the tensions that played out during the time of the Reformations, and echoes forward into our own time. I resonated with several levels of this dialogue and am impressed with Sansom’s narrative of intrigue cleverly set within the historical ethos. Dissolution is highly recommended for those interested in good fiction, church history, the mystery genre, or fans of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.
‘Tell me, Brother, do you believe like old Brother Paul that the world is drifting towards its end, the Day of Judgment?’
‘That has been the central doctrine of the Church since time immemorial.’
I leaned forward. ‘But must that be? May not the world be transformed, made as God willed it?’
Brother guy clasped his hands before him. ‘The Catholic Church has often been the only light of civilization in this world. Its doctrines and rituals unite man in fellowship with suffering humanity and all the Christian dead. And they urge him to charity: Jesu knows he needs urging. But your doctrine tells each man to find his own individual salvation through prayer and the Bible. Charity and fellowship then are lost.’
I remembered my own childhood, the fat drunken priest telling me I could never take orders. ‘The Church showed me little charity in my youth,’ I said bitterly. ‘I seek God in my heart.’
‘Do you find him there?’
‘Once he visited it, yes.’
The infirmarian smiled sadly. ‘You know, until now a man from Granada, or anywhere in Europe, could go into a church in England and be immediately at home, hear the same Latin services, be comforted. With that international brotherhood taken away, who now will place a halter on the quarrels of princes? What will become of a man like me when he is stranded in a hostile land? Sometimes when I have gone into Scarnsea the children have thrown rubbish at me. What will they throw when the monastery is not there to protect me?’
‘You have a poor view of England,’ I said.
‘A realistic view of fallen mankind. Oh, I see it from your perspective. You reformers are against purgatory, masses for the dead, relics, exactly those things the monasteries epitomize. So they will go, I realize that.’
‘And you would prevent it?’ I looked at him keenly.
‘How can I? It has been decided. But I fear without the universal church to bind us together, a day will come in this land when even Belief in God will be gone. Money alone will be worshipped, and the nation, of course.’
‘Should one not be loyal to one’s nation, one’s king?’
He picked up his potion, said a quick prayer over it, and poured the mixture into a glass bottle. He looked across at me sternly.
‘In worshipping their nationhood men worship themselves and scorn others, and that is no healthy thing.’
‘You are sore mistaken as to what we want. We seek the Christian common wealth.’
‘I believe you, but fear I see things falling into a different path.’
He handed me a bottle and a spoon. ‘That is my opinion as a scholar. There, you should take a measure now.’