“The first Christian Emperor, you know, was Constantine, who was proclaimed Emperor in my own city of Eboracum—York, as the vile pagans who hold it now call it.”
“A good omen,” said Bruno confidently.
“It is to be hoped so. What happened was that he was beset by rebels—like you, Emperor—and in the night before a battle he dreamt a dream. In that dream an angel came to him and showed him the holy sign of the Cross, and told him, In hoc signo vinces: ‘In this sign thou shalt conquer.’ He did not know the meaning of the sign but the next day he ordered his men to put it on their shields, and fought and won the battle. Then, when wise men explained to him the meaning of the sign, he accepted it and the Christian religion, and imposed it on all the Empire. But he did one other thing, Emperor. He made the Donation of Constantine.
“On this document both Church and Empire are built. From it the Church receives authority in this world. From it the Empire receives legitimacy from the world above. That is why Emperors are the Lord’s Anointed. And Popes should be the Emperor’s creation.”
“It sounds a fine thing,” said Bruno with a certain skepticism, “but I make Popes without need of a document. And my authority comes from the relics I have recovered—we have recovered. Why do we need this Donation?”
“I think that as well as the Imperial Inquisition we need also a new Donation.”
The Emperor’s eyebrows rose warningly. He had already seen that this conversation was urging him to put down the troublesome John by force, and lock the College of Cardinals up until they voted in the correct way for his own candidate. Though Erkenbert did not know it—Bruno did not wish the new Pope to have any hand in the disappearance of the old one—he had already sent a strong squadron to deal with Pope John, and firm messages to the wavering Cardinals of Germany that they had better see sense themselves, and bring their Italian colleagues to do the same. But he did not like the idea of donations. The Church was rich enough already.
“It will be a Donation of Church to Empire,” said Erkenbert firmly. “Not of Empire to Church. A tenth of the Church’s temporal possessions will be handed over, for set purposes. The defeat of the heathen. The stamping out of heresy. War against the followers of the Prophet. War against the schismatics of Byzantium. New warrior-orders to be founded in all the realms of Christendom, not Germany alone. The establishment of the Imperial Inquisition, against rebels and heretics. We will call it the Donation of Simon Peter.”
“Simon Peter?” said the Emperor, mind still racing at the implications of what had been said.
“I will take the Papal name of Peter,” said Erkenbert firmly. “It has been forbidden to all Popes throughout history since the first. But I will take it not in pride but in humility, as a sign that the Church needs to begin again, cleansed of its weakness and its surfeit. We will find a document in the vaults of the Vatican, in the Catacombs, written by Simon Peter himself and setting out his wish that the Church should be the loyal servant of a Christian Empire.”
“Find a document?” repeated Bruno. “But how can we find it if we don’t know it’s there?”
“I found the Grail, did I not?” said Erkenbert. “You can rely on me to find the Donation of Peter.”
He means he’s going to fake it, thought Bruno suddenly. That is against every law of God and man. But a tenth of the Church’s possessions… Fat monks and idle nuns evicted, their lands made over for the support of warriors… No more counting the Ritters and the Brüderschaft in hundreds… And surely, a pious end may justify impious means.
It’s a fraud and he knows it’s a fraud, thought Erkenbert. But he’s going to go through with it. What he doesn’t know is that the Donation of Constantine is a fraud too, any scholar can see it, the Latin is quite of the wrong period for what is claimed. It was written by a Frank, or I am an Italian. How many more documents, I wonder, are frauds? That is the true danger of things like this: he took the heretic booklet from the Emperor’s hands, tore it across and threw it carefully into the glowing brazier. They start people thinking about whether books are true. We must stamp that out. Few books, and all those holy ones, that must be our goal. Whether they are true or not—that shall be for me to decide.