The Devils of Loudun Page 67

“I see what it is,” said Grandier bitterly. “Not content with torturing my body, you wish to destroy my soul by plunging it into despair. One day you will have to answer for this to my Redeemer.”

Since Laubardemont’s time, evil has made some progress. Under Communist dictators, those who come to trial before a People’s Court invariably confess the crimes of which they have been accused—confess them even when they are imaginary. In the past, confession was by no means invariable. Even under torture, even at the stake, Grandier protested his innocence. And Grandier’s case was by no means unique. Many persons, women no less than men, went through similar experiences with the same indomitable constancy. Our ancestors invented the rack and the iron maiden, the boot and the water torture; but in the subtler arts of breaking the will and reducing the human being to subhumanity they still had much to learn. In a sense, it may be, they did not even wish to learn these things. They had been brought up in a religion which taught that the will is free, the soul immortal; and they acted upon these beliefs even in relation to their enemies. Yes, even the traitor, even the convicted devil-worshipper had a soul which might yet be saved; and the most ferocious judges never refused him the consolations of a religion which went on offering salvation to the very end. Before and during execution, a priest was always at hand, doing his best to reconcile the departing criminal with his Creator. By a kind of blessed inconsistency, our fathers respected the personality even of those whom they were tormenting with red-hot pincers or breaking on the wheel.

For the totalitarians of our more enlightened century there is no soul and no Creator; there is merely a lump of physiological raw material moulded by conditioned reflexes and social pressures into what, by courtesy, is still called a human being. This product of the man-made environment is without intrinsic significance and possesses no rights to self-determination. It exists for Society and must conform to the Collective Will. In practice, of course, Society is nothing but the national State, and as a matter of brute fact, the Collective Will is merely the dictator’s will-to-power, sometimes mitigated, sometimes distorted to the verge of lunacy, by some pseudo-scientific theory of what, in the gorgeous future, will be good for an actuarial abstraction labelled ‘Humanity.’ Individuals are defined as the products and the instruments of Society. From this it follows that the political bosses, who claim to represent Society, are justified in committing any conceivable atrocity against such persons as they may choose to call Society’s enemies. Physical extermination by shooting (or, more profitably, by overwork in a slave labour camp) is not enough. It is a matter of observable fact that men and women are not the mere creatures of Society. But official theory proclaims that they are. Therefore it becomes necessary to depersonalize the ‘enemies of Society’ in order to transform the official lie into truth. For those who know the trick, this reduction of the human to the subhuman, of the free individual to the obedient automation, is a relatively simple matter. The personality of man is far less monolithic than the theologians were compelled by their dogmas to assume. The soul is not the same as the Spirit, but is merely associated with it. In itself, and until it consciously chooses to make way for the Spirit, it is no more than a rather loosely tied bundle of not very stable psychological elements. This composite entity can quite easily be disintegrated by anyone ruthless enough to wish to try and skilful enough to do the job in the right way.

In the seventeenth century this particular kind of ruthlessness was hardly thinkable, and the relevant skills were therefore never developed. Laubardemont was unable to extract the confession he so urgently needed; and though he would not allow the parson to choose his confessor, he conceded in principle that even a convicted sorcerer had a right to spiritual consolation.

The services of Tranquille and Lactance were offered and, very naturally, refused. Grandier was then given a quarter of an hour in which to reconcile his soul with God and prepare for his martyrdom.

The parson knelt and began to pray out loud.

“Great God and Sovereign Judge, help of the helpless and oppressed, succour me, give me the strength to bear the pains to which I have been condemned. Receive my soul into the beatitude of your saints, remit my sins, forgive this vilest and most despicable of your servants.

“Searcher of hearts, you know I am in no wise guilty of the crimes imputed to me, and that the fire which I must undergo is but the punishment of my concupiscence. Redeemer of mankind, forgive my enemies and my accusers; but cause them to see their sins, that they may repent. Holy Virgin, protector of the penitent, graciously receive my unhappy mother into your heavenly company; console her for the loss of a son who fears no other pains but those which she must endure on that earth, from which he is so soon to depart.”

He was silent. Not my will, but Thine. God here, among the instruments of torture; Christ now, in the hour of extremest anguish.

La Grange, the captain of the guard, was recording in his notebook what he remembered of the parson’s prayer. Laubardemont approached and asked the young officer what he was writing. Informed, he grew angry and wanted to confiscate the notebook. But La Grange defended his property, and the Commissioner had to be content with ordering him on no account to show what he had written to anyone else. Grandier was an unrepentant magician, and unrepentant magicians are not supposed to pray.

In Father Tranquille’s account of the trial and execution, and in the other narratives written from the official standpoint, the parson is made to behave in the most naïvely diabolistic manner. Instead of praying, he sings an improper song. Presented with the Crucifix, he turns away in abhorrence. The name of the Blessed Virgin never passes his lips; and though he sometimes pronounces the word ‘God,’ it is obvious to every right-thinking person that what he really means is ‘Lucifer.’

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