Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) (02/19/09)
TITLE: Screwtape’s Wager
By Josiah Kane
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Just a quick note to remind you never to underestimate the Enemy. If you dislike this tenet, hereâ€™s a little anecdote just to show that we fight to defend the lost of the world. If a man is in the church he is an agent for the Enemy. By all means try to regain recent converts, but never underestimate their power. My story begins in our Father Belowâ€™s great office, during a game of pokerâ€¦
Lucifer puffed gently and a stream of smoke carried five cards into my talons. Sixteen simple sinnersâ€™ souls writhed in the simmering pot, to be devoured by whosoever won this hand. After six cards were exchanged and more souls were added to the cauldron, Lucifer casually flipped three Kings onto the table. He admired the artwork for a momentâ€”perfect renditions of Charles VIII, Fredrick III, and Lorenzo de Medici. Each had been taken from contemporary human artwork. How Lucifer wished that he could have these humans as slavesâ€”but his Enemy would never allow that!
Then I, his humble scribe, set down my hand. They were Queens, modelled on Botticelliâ€™s paintings of Venus, Diana, Minerva and Juno, four of them. Before I could reach the pot, a fiery pitchfork swung under the cards, and hurled them as sachets of ash into the filthy, sulphurous air. I sighed but did not complain. Even before I could refill the stakes in the poker pot from my depleted pile of souls, Satan motioned with the trident to a scene unfolding on Earth.
Girolamo Savonarola stood before half the population of Florence, Italy. Lucifer, I knew, considered Savonarola to be the most annoying of men. He had practically destroyed the entire Florentine Renaissance single-handedly. He was turning the entire city away from greed and gambling, from its fascination with Greek and Roman idols, from the proud pope and luxurious leadersâ€” from all the pleasures we had so painstakingly perverted. The Devil obviously longed to fly down in a column of hellish blaze and turn that man to dust. But we both could see Michaelâ€™s elite guard patrolling the square, and we knew the pain in those scimitars. Demons are not alone in fighting with fire.
So we watched, intrigued, as this infuriating monk preached in indignant rage against the evils of Florentine society. He told off the citizens for their venial sins. Then he preached against the city leaders for dragging the people into these errors. He screamed at the artists and scientists who so symbolised the evil days in which he found himself. He chastised the fathers of his own Dominican order. And he even dared reprimand Pope Alexander himself; rebuking him for bribery, for sexual immorality, for misusing his power and his holy title, and for his bloodthirsty militancy. The preacher amassed enemies, but he knew that God was on his side. He knew that God could protect him.
Suddenly men from Florenceâ€™s small army marched up to the preacher, swords glistening greedily for blood. The troops grabbed Savonarola and kicked his legs until they buckled. They dragged him and his two aides from his street corner to the town square. His protests availed him nothing. To the state he was a traitor. To the Church, a heretic. To the people, a simple killjoy. No one came to his aid when he and his two helpers were lashed to a pole and firewood was heaped around their feet. A raging conflagration hurried three souls to heaven, before they could convince any of their fellow men to join them.
In our spiritual dimension, Lucifer drained his ornately engraved goblet and handed me the poker pot. I was almost too busy mentally filing away the story for my next manual to hear him remark, â€śAfter all, you seem to have fivesâ€”all ashes it seems!â€ť He reckoned that he could afford to lose this bet, having just regained the entire city of Florence.
But the Enemy, it is worth remembering, has an infinite supply of Aces. When a German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther reformed all of Europeâ€¦well, simply put, Satan decided that five ashes wasnâ€™t a valid hand after all.
Your Affectionate Uncle Screwtape
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