Vox In Rama: What a small change in history can do

In the 13th century Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was the ultimate authority. No one, not even kings would dare to cross the Church, due to the fear of being branded as heretics. The Church had an army of their own, called the inquisitors, who used to raid civilians’ homes searching for demonic objects. The Church also started to issue papal bulls and public decrees which ensured that scientific and rational beliefs were seen as devil worship. One such papal bull issued by Pope Gregory IX in either 1232, 1233 or 1234 (no one is really sure when) was called Vox in Rama. This decree described the modus operandi of a “demonic cult” who apparently have been engaging in “cat worship” (a giant black cat specifically). The Church decided to put a swift end to these heretics by issuing a very bizarre order. From now on, cats were meant to be seen as carriers of Satan himself. The Church, in subsequent decrees, encouraged civilians to kill cats in good faith.

Of course, this was only one of many such decrees issued by the Church in the Dark Age. During this period, many heretics were executed and many “demonic cults” were wiped out. So, these kinds of orders were issued on a regular basis. Surely, this very bizarre bull wouldn’t be of much historical importance, right? So, what if this order wasn’t issued at all? Well, it might have actually saved a lot of lives.

In the 13th century, the plague was starting to spread from Asia to Europe along the Silk Road and it was transmitted in many ways. The deadliest of these forms was, of course, the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague was transmitted by rats.

The best way to stop rats is with cats.

50 million people died during the plague. If only the demonic cat worshipping cult was tolerated, this tragedy could have been avoided. During the plague, the popularity of the Church decreased substantially. The Pope’s blessings couldn’t cure sick people. Countless prayers went unheard and when the plague was finally over, movements like Renaissance and Protestantism grew stronger. The Black Death had devastating consequences for the Catholic Church.

In a way, Vox in Roma was the Catholic Church’s death warrant in disguise. Atheism too, would not have gained in strength had it not been for these chain of events. Philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche would not have been celebrated for the criticism of the Christian morality (this critique was best manifested in his figurative response called “the death of God”). His theories of “existentialism” and his novel “Thus spoke Zarathustra” would not have gained widespread praise and attention.

The events that followed the papal bull “Vox in Rama” helped shape the modern world. It is highly likely that the world would not have remained the same without this bull. This, of course, is only a speculation. A similar possibility of “tweaking past events” was explored in Isaac Asimov’s fantasy short story titled “What If”. In this short story, the main characters learn that even if certain minor but pivotal events in their life hadn’t occurred, the result would eventually be the same. This would mean that in this case, maybe the plague was a certainty all along, or maybe not. The only thing we can do is speculate.

-Banagiri Shrikar

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Banagiri Shrikar

A man with a plan. That's not me.

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