Short Story Adaptation
“The Accidental Light”
an adaptation of an excerpt from his novel, “The Light of Occitania.”
By David Mampel
Master David walked faster than usual returning from his lecture on Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy at the University of Arts in Paris. His exposed scalp at the top of his head’s clerical tonsure started tingling, but not from the cool air. The warm, September rain blew sideways in the wind as he rounded the corner leading to his flat near the Seine River. Throwing the dark hood of his instructor’s robe over his head, he crossed the cobblestone street sparing no more than half a glance at market-goers. A clip clop of horse hooves echoed in his ears. He stopped abruptly, skidding on loose stones, as a pack-horse sidestepped around him.
“Hey! Watch yourself, Father!” the harried merchant scolded, riding on.
“Pardon.” Master David muttered, looking down at his leather satchel to make sure his quires had not slipped out. Shaking himself, he crossed the street and nodded to his innkeeper, Claire de Lunaire, beating a rug draped over the wooden fence on the side of the residences.
“Will you be eating here this evening, Master?” she called out.
"Non. Merci, Mademoiselle. I’ll be dining in my room tonight.” David hurried into his flat and closed the door. Despite the blowing rain, the last vestiges of sunlight were intermittently filtering in through fast-moving clouds on the horizon and the foggy windowpane near his bed. A soft citrine glow radiated in the sultry air and danced on the chiseled beams of his ceiling. Master David stood mesmerized by the ever-changing hues of orange, pink, and purple to the west. He pulled out his quires and a wax tablet and set it down on a small table in front of the windows announcing the cool air of sunset. Picking up a stylus, he quickly sat down and etched out his ideas:
Light actualizes the diaphanous environment…
He sat up with a start and put down the stylus.
“Yes, yes,” he whispered, gazing outside the window at the final setting of sun on the horizon. “Light is only a colour among others. It is an accident of the air! The eternal substance of light, our accidental eyes do not see. The light we do see is merely a temporary manifesting of the eternal light within every accidental form.”
“Ah, but perhaps I am missing something? Translating Aristotle on my travels to Constantinople certainly helped more than the Arabic translations. My students have been very encouraging. But, the Archbishop—”
A loud knock interrupted his rumination. He quickly got up and opened the door.
“Master David!” the twenty-two-year-old scholar at the door exclaimed.
“Theophilus! I was just thinking about my students. How fortunate my prized pupil should manifest before me. Come in!” Master David waved Theo inside. David’s heart warmed with gratitude when he considered Theo. Theo was not like so many of the other students who cared less about learning and more about pinching the bottoms of tavern wenches, drinking too many bowls of wine, and brawling with other students outside of The Croix de fer or Les Trois Chandeliers. Then again, David admired how those raucous students protested the high cost of wine which eventually led to the formation of the universitas guild of scholars in Paris. It was this very guild who threatened to leave the city if King Philip refused to support them as they were being attacked by merchants. Indeed, the king decreed the privilegium canonis granting scholars bodily protection and the privilegium fori which granted them immunity from secular courts.
Theophilus blushed, tossing back his hood as he crossed the threshold. He rubbed his recently re-shaved head in disbelief. Theo had received his clerical status as a scholar when he enrolled as a student of philosophy at the illustrious Paris university as a tender youth, but now found himself unconsciously touching his tonsure in hopes that he would feel his hair again.
“Thank you Master. I am delighted you perceive me that way.”
Master David smiled. “What brings you here this evening, Theo? Come! Sit.” The master pointed to a second chair by the table and the two sat across from each other. Theophilus immediately noticed the quires and wax tablet on the table. He sprang up.
“Have you been working, Master? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“Not to worry, Theo. Sit down. Sit down. I’m delighted you are here. I need to discuss something with you.”
Theophilus exhaled and sat down again. “Master, I came to tell you they are finishing the alchemy engravings on the front porch of Notre Dame.”
“Oh? Have you seen them?”
“Yes. And you were right about how odd they are, Master. What do they mean?”
“I am not certain, but my studies of Aristotle’s ideas on the imagination are leading me to something greater inside of the substantial form of the human, that is to say, the soul; which, as I’ve stated in my quires, are all one with the body, the senses, and God or eternal substance. Human reason and the intellect can only take us so far, Theo!” Master David stood and began pacing the floor. “Though, it is nevertheless a veritable phenomenon that this greater intelligence filtering through our imagination—like sunlight through this windowpane—Ah! Look at how beautiful the sun shines through those clouds, my dear Theo.”
Theo stared out the window at the setting sun, quickly returning his gaze on Master David.
“Light actualizes the diaphanous air, does it not? Ah, but it is all one, Theophilus! The mens, the passive intellect, interprets the light, but it is all unified in God, since God is the creator of it all. What we see, what we sense, must be interpreted by the faculty of reason. The intellect serves as the handmaiden to faith, which itself, springs forth from the imagination. So, reason is ultimately the handmaiden of the imagination. That is why I’ve become strangely attracted to symbols, to images; images which, of course the imagination creates, allows…God as one with all, with the imagination, comes through it all, the senses, the diaphanous air, my mouth speaking now, these symbols, these images…”
Master David stood still. Rubbing his chin, he smiled at Theo.
Theo looked at his instructor with humble courage. “Master, could we compare this tripartite reality to water?”
Master David’s eyebrows raised. His tentative smile blossomed. “Perfect, Theophilus! An analogy. Please go on.”
Theo’s face beamed with excitement. “Well, Master, perhaps the eternal, or God, can be expressed three ways just as water can be expressed in three accidental ways as liquid, solid, and vapor. But, all three are of the same essence, water.”
Master David’s eyes continued to shine with pride in his student. “Brilliant my son! Yes, yes! That is a perfect analogy. And, as you know, this is why I am accused of being a material pantheist. Which, of course, I am, but the Archbishop and others are very upset with these ideas, Theo.”
Master David resumed pacing the room. “They think I misunderstand Aristotle and worse, that my ideas contradict Christian doctrine which espouses a distinct eternal God outside of creation. This is not true. I do not contradict the faith in my view. I have stated that the eternal manifests in all things, but only as accidental expressions and therefore is still distinct and not a contradiction to the holy church doctrine of a distinct God. I think perhaps my view negates a more personal, immanent God, but that is still a matter of interpretation.”
Master David’s smile darkened to a worried frown. He pulled out his chair and sat down. Across from him, Theo looked out the window at the tawny clouds casting a spell of gloom on the last vestiges of sunset. He turned and studied his master’s consternation.
Master David continued: “They think I am advocating the Amalrician philosophy and, by extension, the Brethren of the Free Spirit who advocate free sexual love, among other things.” The master’s face reddened with a nervous twitch in his eyelids. He knew he was telling Theo too much and might be putting him in danger, but he needed someone to talk to, someone he trusted and admired. Theo’s intelligence and savvy discretion impressed David since Theo first arrived at the university in his teens. Theo was a young adult now and the master needed to confess his pent up anger to someone he could count on. David stomped his foot and pounded his fist in his hand. “I do think Amalrician insistence on personal responsibility with matters of love and sexuality between adults should at least be considered and disputed. I mean, why should the church dictate such personal matters?”
A stunned shadow moved across Theo’s face. His eyes darted from side to side as he wrestled for answers.
“I suppose it was my visit to Constantinople that inspired my latest ideas, Theo,” the master reflected, staring out the window. “Translating Aristotle from the original Greek opened my eyes to so much that has been hidden from us. Those ideas of the three parts of the soul… they came through Aristotle. They came through the imagination…from God. There’s something I can’t explain in my desire to apprehend images, however. Something has opened inside of me. This desire, itself, seems to be evidence of the distinct nature of the soul, and yet, it is one with God. Distinct, but unified. Reason is merely the interpreter of what this higher understanding allows, this, this…what is it? It is what comes to us in dreams, perhaps… in ideas that come when we are not even thinking about the very ideas that suddenly emerge! These images, unexpected ideas, this desire to know more…this desire is greater than my love for Aristotle! It is my…my…love for God! The eternal center of all reality. God is in it all. Though, of course, Aristotle inspires it too since God is in Aristotle. I must find out more, Theo. I must visit Notre Dame tomorrow morning and contemplate those alchemical images. If I consider each image as an analogy for something else, perhaps my imagination will work with reason to comprehend their meanings, to comprehend all symbols.”
Theophilus sat stunned as if a bright light had blinded his eyes. He needed time to adjust to the new level of illumination. Master David was lost in thought. After a dreamy silence, Theo looked cautiously at his master. “Master?” Theo gently implored.
“Yes Theo?” Master David gazed out the window at the twilight, then softened his gaze and turned to Theo.
“There is something I do not understand about the tripartite reality,” Theo said.
Master David leaned back in his chair and narrowed his eyes.
“If everything is divided into three forms, but all is one essence in God, how does free will fit into this?” Theo continued. Master David bit his lip. “That is to say, if we are created in the image of God, and we choose evil actions, does this mean God is evil too?”
Master David shook his head slowly. He rubbed his chin and took a deep breath. “I don’t know, Theo. This is something I haven’t resolved either, my son.”
The sounds of hunger gurgled from the master’s stomach. Theo heard the sounds and rubbed his own belly. Master David shook his head vigorously, stood, and patted Theo on the shoulder. “Let’s go to The Pannier, Theo. Perhaps the answer will come when we are not thinking about it.”
Theo laughed and stood up. “How odd to think we find the answers when we stop thinking.”
Master David laughed. “Yes, it is true. I do all my best non-thinking when I’m drinking a bowl of wine and laughing at the jongleurs at The Pannier.”
David Mampel is a former minister, semi-retired clown and artist. He writes fiction and poetry to bring a little sun to the cold, rainy darkness of the Pacific Northwest. His work has appeared in Copperfield Review Quarterly (Winter 2022), CommuterLit.com (January 2022), The Aurora Journal (Winter 2022), and The Remington Review (July 2022).
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