A Short Story by Marcelle T. Fabie
Look at me. Yes, I'm talking to you. Look at my burnt carcass still emanating with a macabre scent that sends shivers down people's spines. Look at my eyes-or whatever else is left of them. Do they not speak of the utter guilt that I harbor towards the Mother Church? Look at my hands and feet; bound to this stake I fear and revile so. Look at my mouth; wide open in awe at the realization of my iniquities. As you examine whatever remains of my ashes, you will discover much about me. In fact, I even wonder why I became a Protestant in the first place. Or do I?
I am known to most as a heretic. An enemy of the Church. He who has cast down his belief in Romanism and embraced the teachings of Martin Luther. Now, I despise him and his teachings for he has caused me to go against what I was taught to believe. Or do I?
The moment that they sentenced me to death at the stake for heresy, I fell to my knees in grief, only then understanding the full extent of my crime. I have gone against the Holy Mother Church! She who has become the most exalted on Earth! She who has led me to the blessed Mary, our Mother. She who has brought me closer to the saints who I pray to for intercession. She who I have learned to love for her lessons in life! How I wish I could turn back time and do what I should have done! Or do I?
How I wish I weren't there by the church at Wittenberg that early morn in 1817. Had I not shown myself there, I would have not even known about all these "wrong-doings" that Luther was lamenting about. How I wish that I were more closed-minded to the truth, that perhaps then I would have stayed blind to what was otherwise a Christianized circus of paganism. Then again, each person has the right to his own opinions, and on that day at Wittenberg, I was captivated by what Luther had to say. The man had a charisma about him back then that seemed so irresistible. Despite that, he has led many of us to our deaths, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, are sure to follow in the next days to come.
Bah, who am I kidding? What Luther spoke of made so much sense back then, and it still does to this moment. He spoke of the fallibility of the papacy. He spoke of indulgences and idolatry. He spoke of Mary Worship and paganism. Why, he even spoke of things Catholics would fear to know about! Even though he was talking about a very sensitive matter, he carried it with ease. It seemed to everybody that he was a man who will enlighten the people to find the right church; the true church that will lead all into salvation. He spoke against the ways of the Catholic church which he believed were nothing but lies meant to blind people to the truth. He captivated my heart with the determination to show these Romanists the error of their ways.
That was the day when I decided to renounce my Catholic faith. Muttering a short but heartfelt prayer, I prayed to God to help me enlighten the people to the truth. We moved from one town to another all over Germany, preaching about the truth. We felt a sense of fulfillment in each convert we brought into the fold. On the other hand, it was a crushing blow to us whenever one of our members would fall back into Roman Catholicism.
I was so young; so idealistic. It seemed as though I were a human dynamo filled with energy. My zeal and relentlessness were unparalleled except by Luther himself. The occasional debate from stalwart Catholics resulted in their utter devastation as I crushed each of their arguments. Within a span of five years since the first time I saw those ninety-five theses nailed to the door of the Wittenberg church, I have devoted myself to preach the truth to all my fellow Germans. I took it upon myself to do this for I felt that it was my moral duty. After five years in Germany, Luther took notice of my work. It was then that I started evangelizing the rest of Europe.
Traveling all over Europe was no easy task. I started my journey by going to France, where I managed to convert a good number of people to the Protestant faith. It was then to my dismay that one ofmy closest colleagues, Antoine LeBlanc, was then reconverted to Catholicism, following an embarrassing trial that forced him to recant his teachings. I was dismayed at the loss of a good man, but more so at his weak faith for forsaking what he believed all too soon. Had he gone on and continued his work, perhaps he would be remembered as one of the key figures in the French Protestant Revolution all throughout time. It was sad to see that one of the leaders of the French Protestants would stoop so low. Needless to say, many of his followers abandoned the Protestant Church and returned to Catholicism with open arms. Within a few months' time, it was the best occasion to move to England.
England was the setting for my first run-in with the Inquisition. During one of our secret gatherings, what seemed to be an entire platoon of priests stormed into our room, arresting all those that they could. It was the first time I saw a priest in years, and it was anything but a joyous encounter. In the rush, I was able to go out the rear exit without their noticing. Up to that point, they could not attach a face to my name, perhaps one of their most despised adversaries. I was fortunate to have escaped, but to my dying day, I still bear the guilt of leaving behind those people. We never saw them again after that incident. Some rumors flew around that they became monks. We knew far better than that.
Despite all my precautions since that day, I was arrested in Italy almost fifteen years after my conversion. I may have been careful, but it was not enough for me to avoid being betrayed by a disgruntled former colleague whose brother was killed in the French incident. It was foolish of me to realize that his desire for revenge would cause my undoing. After three days in a dark cell without food and little water, I was taken to what seemed like a dark room filled with hooded priests that looked upon me menacingly. I have never been scared of priests any more than that moment. Only a small lamp lighted the entire room, as they hovered over me as though they were vultures.
They asked me to recant, but I never did. I received at least sixty lashes every three hours from them, but I never relented to their demands. I never flinched for even a moment when they began explaining to me what their reasons for arresting me are. They called me a heretic, and I even found that to be a compliment, coming from them. I was infuriated that these people claim to be "holy" men, yet they were acting no better than swine! They condemned Protestantism and Martin Luther for "leading souls into the gates of Hell". They accused me of going against the Mother Church, and for dishonoring Christ and Mary. I found that ludicrous as questions began coursing through my mind.
"What does Mary have to do with this?" I asked myself.
To me, it was nothing but a way for these Romanists to actually be able to convert pagans, playing upon their belief that the mother of God also, by logic, becomes God. I debated for hours on end with these priests, and they wore me down, but not my convictions. I believed I was right and they were wrong. I believed that they had no right to ask for money for indulgences. How dare they put a monetary price to salvation? Most importantly, I believed that their church was not the true Church. I saw their church as the "Whore of Babylon" that John spoke of in Revelations.
They started using worse methods to make me recant. With each day I was subjected to the torture rack, and despite writhing in agony, I never for one moment thought about recanting. It was a wonder how I survived that diabolical device. Then they started working on making my fingers useless with what they called "thumbscrews", another one of their fiendish methods of making a person capitulate. In spite of all the torture they subjected me to, I never did.
They finally gave up on converting me. They instead decided to do away with me once and for all, to serve as an example to those who would go against the Catholic church. Not the least bit satisfied with branding me a heretic, they accused me of witchcraft and produced fabricated evidence to prove their allegations. They wanted to show that Protestantism is a Satanic religion; one that is the heart of witchcraft. Lies! All lies! But then, who am I to prove them wrong? The trial lasted a mere two days, and the verdict was already made apparent from the first day: death by burning.
It was only then that fear and regret began filling the depths of my soul. I felt like a wretch, all of a sudden wishing that I had recanted. It felt as though all my work fell to naught. Words could never convey the sorrow that came across me when the sentence was passed down; albeit I was already anticipating it. I tried to fool myself that my will was strong enough to overcome a mere matter of the flesh, but I realized that I was still human, in spite of everything I've achieved.
In less than a week, I was to be burned to a stake. There was no chance to be spared from the sentence anymore, for I was given enough time to recant. Then again, maybe there still was, but I was simply too filled with pride to take it.
It was a fine, warm Sunday morning. Perfect for an execution. As the priest recited the Extreme Unction, I prayed for a miracle. Would some fellow Protestant emerge from the crowd and rescue me? My heart sank when the torch lit the straw and no miracle came. Feelings of fear and regret flowed through me far more quickly than the flames consumed the straw. Each second was witness to a growing, rising flame, going up to my feet. I screamed in agony as the flames ate through my clothes and started singeing my skin.
I wanted to recant at that moment, but my shock overwhelmed me. I tried speaking, but nothing came out. Soon enough, I realized that the ashes I were seeing already had a part of my body amongst them.
It was a grisly sight to see my own skin melting as though it were candle wax. The searing flames that scorched my entire body were nowhere as painful and humiliating as the jeers from among the crowd as they callously looked on as I burned to death. Not a single tear was shed for me. By a minute's time, I couldn't feel a thing anymore. I was fading fast, my consciousness giving way to my unconsciousness. Finally, I fell to a deep slumber.
A deep, permanent slumber.
And so I burn. But not in Hell.
Or do I?