The Ecclesiarchy (or simply “the Church”) is the major human faith on Nova. Its clergy are known as the “white priests” for the color of their distinctive baroque vestments.
The Ecclesiarchy’s deity has no name as such. He is called the God-Emperor, or more colloquially simply the Emperor, a title that emphasizes His dominion over all mankind and the supremacy of His rule over that of earthly kings. He rules from a Golden Throne on the paradise realm of Terra (for reasons lost to time, the God-Emperor is always spoken of as being “on” rather than “in” Terra). The God-Emperor is omniscient, but not omnipotent. Instead He is locked in a constant struggle for the soul of mankind against the corrupting forces of the mutant, the alien, the daemon, and – perhaps most tellingly – the heretic. The God-Emperor is enormously powerful, but those who willingly leave His light are beyond his ability (and perhaps His desire) to protect. The God-Emperor’s desire and ability to protect His faithful is His distinguishing theological characteristic. “The Emperor protects” is a common Novan phrase.
Closely related to the Emperor’s protection is the Emperor’s provision. Just as the Emperor protects the souls of His faithful, so He protects their bodies by providing for their physical needs. In His role as provider, the Emperor is often identified with the sun. Many Novans erroneously believe that the Emperor is the sun, a minor heresy that constantly vexes the Ecclesiarchy’s priests. Because most Novans live at a subsistence level, this theological point most often takes the form that the Emperor has given each what he needs to live, if only he has the frugality to make proper use of it. “Do not waste what the Emperor provides” is the common formulation of this point.
The Ecclesiarchical Creed
The heart of the Ecclesiarchy’s doctrine is the concept of Imperium. The Ecclesiarchy teaches that all humans are part of a metaphysical “Imperium” that transcends House allegiance, estate, or other earthly distinctions. As this Imperium is the Emperor’s domain for His faithful, and the Emperor both provides and protects, it follows that the Imperium is instituted for the good of His faithful. It is thus incumbent upon the faithful to shore up the status quo by their thoughts and deeds. The cardinal virtues taught by the Ecclesiarchy are:
- Temperance – Passion corrupts, except for hatred directed against the mutant, the heretic, the alien, or the daemon.
- Humility – Do not aim above your lot in life, but be content with what the Emperor has provided.
- Constance – Neither despair nor doubt, but trust that the Emperor protects.
- Altruism – The needs of the many are worth the sacrifice of the few.
The Ecclesiarchy’s teachings are often dour. They encourage the peasant not to rise above his lot in life, and teach that a hundred workers may be sacrificed to build a castle that will protect a thousand. Non-religious celebrations are discouraged as tending to concentrate the mind on an individual’s pleasure and a distraction from godly work. Questioning the Ecclesiarchy’s teachings is itself a sin, or at least a sign that the questioner is vulnerable to heresy; the Church is part of the God-Emperor’s ordained Imperium and thus to question it is to doubt His provision. As the priests often say, “Blessed is the mind too small for doubt.”
However, there is another side to the Ecclesiarchy’s teaching. Life for most Novans is very hard, and starvation is often only a bad harvest away. It is comforting to know that the Emperor provides all that is necessary to survive. In addition, most humans have either suffered ork predation or know somebody who has, and the hard fact is that orks outclass humans on the battlefield in almost every way. In a world with such horrors, it is encouraging (to say nothing of socially important) to believe that the Emperor protects, and that mankind can persist if all do their part.
Forces of Corruption
The Ecclesiarchy’s moral teachings focus not on the avoidance of sin but the avoidance of corruption. The distinction is significant. While man can sin, the Church teaches that the greatest threat to the soul are external forces which actively seduce or force the faithful from the Emperor’s light. The four great forces of corruption are:
Arguably the least threatening of the four corruptions is the mutation of the body beyond the natural human form. The Imperium is fundamentally a refuge for men, and mutants are no longer men. The most commonly encountered mutants are simply humans born with birth defects such as dwarfism or hunchbacks. These minor mutations may be spared a fiery death if granted an Ecclesiarchical dispensation. However, occasionally more monstrous mutants appear, lost souls who can only be purged.
Worse than the mutant is that which was never even human to begin with. The threat of the alien (often, though incorrectly, conflated with the ork), is twofold. The most obvious threat to the Imperium is the death and destruction the alien can wreak. More insidious, though, is the threat of alien culture. The alien represents the epitome of non-human life. The more a mind understands the alien, the more it learns to think like an alien – and the less human it becomes. For this reason contact with the alien, and knowledge of alien customs, is considered inherently corrupting.
The heretic represents the human who turns away from the Imperium of his own free will, a true traitor to humanity. In some ways a heretic is worse than an alien. An alien cannot help being what it is; a heretic once enjoyed the Emperor’s grace and forsook it. The Ecclesiarchy’s reaction to a heretic – and, indeed, most Novans’ – is to treat the offender more like a traitor than an erring sinner.
Worst of all corruptors is the daemon. Daemons are malevolent, intelligent entities that inhabit the Empyrean, the insanity-inducing, mind-obliviating nether realm to which those who die outside of the Emperor’s light are consigned. The Ecclesiarchy teaches that daemons are capable of possessing human minds, and even human bodies, against their wills. While daemons have never been seen outside of legend, most Novans believe in them wholeheartedly. The accusation of consorting with, or worse, attempting to summon, daemons is among the most serious accusations a Novan can make against another.
It is appropriate to refer to any clergy of the Ecclesiarchy as a “priest.” Because priests’ formal vestments are white and gold, they are often known as “white priests” to distinguish them from the red priests. The humblest priests in the Ecclesiarchy are formally known as “preachers,” and addressed as such. A preacher has care of a parish (or may assist a senior preacher in a large parish), which consists of a single shrine and those Novans who worship at it. Multiple parishes are grouped into districts, overseen by a senior priest known and addressed as a pontifex. At the top of the Ecclesiarchy’s hierarchy is the cardinal, the most senior priest in the Ecclesiarchy.
Priests of all levels are assisted by an administrative staff of deacons and, at the pontifex level and above, arch-deacons. These attend to the financial and logistical needs of a parish, leaving the priest free to attend to the spiritual health of his flock.
Though they preach a stern faith, most priests are a welcome sight throughout Nova. Enough are sincere in their calling to shame those that are not. Though they may be barely lettered, most priests embrace a practical hard-working faith that sees them assisting the faithful with practical tasks from farming to war. The Ecclesiarchy is an honorable and prestigious calling, but its political and economic power pales in comparison to the noble Houses. It is not a popular profession for fewer cynical power-mongers, to the improvement of its clergy.
Shrines dot Nova wherever people live, each dedicated to a particular saint (of which the Ecclesiarchy recognizes many). Every castle has a shrine, and many villages as well. Even when a village does not have its own shrine, one will not be far away, as Novans are in general a highly religious people. The most pious attend services every day, and virtually all Novans attend services once every ten days, even if they have to walk to a neighboring village’s shrine to do so.
Shrines are generally humble affairs, although they are often the most ornate building in their village. District cathedrals, however, are grand affairs that may have been decades in the building. On high feast days, of which the Ecclesiarchical calendar contains many, the district cathedrals are packed with pilgrims from the surrounding parishes, and their baroque grandeur serves to remind the faithful of the God-Emperor’s majesty. The holiest site on Nova is the Spire, the cardinal’s own cathedral high in the Frosttooth Mountains. Such is the soaring beauty of the Spire that it is said to drive heretics mad, and every year a steady stream of pilgrims makes the arduous ascent to the Spire to prove their devotion.
The Ecclesiarchy draws its clergy from all walks of life. As the Church does not own land, its power is social rather than economic. As all are equal in the God-Emperor’s holy Imperium (at least theoretically), so do clergy members give up their estate (at least formally) when they are ordained.
Boys are apprenticed to the Ecclesiarchy by “dedicating” them at the age of eight to ten to the service of a particular shrine, together with a “donation” to the shrine. Girls may be dedicated to the Black Sisters, but the clergy itself is open only to males. The donation is similar to apprenticeship fees charged by other masters and is theoretically supposed to provide for the apprentice’s upkeep. In reality the amount is often much too small or much too great for that, as the exact amount is fixed by negotiating with the shrine’s preacher (or, if the shrine is large enough to require multiple preachers, its senior preacher).
An apprentice’s duties primarily involve caring for the shrine and serving the needs of its clergy. In their spare time, apprentices are expected to learn doctrine and observe the finer points of ministering to the Emperor’s faithful. In theory, an apprentice’s master will take time out of his schedule to instruct the apprentice in these matters, though not all apprentices are so lucky. There is no set period of training for the clergy; an apprentice is ordained when his master deems the time is right. The ordination process focuses more on a priest learning catechism and demonstrating his faith than on deep theological understanding, which also helps to make the clergy open to men of all kinds.
Clergy are promoted by the appointment of the next tier of clergy. Thus, each pontifex has been personally appointed by the cardinal. Promotion to pontifex is always uncertain, as it ordinarily requires the death of a previous pontifex to vacate a position. The Ecclesiarchy creates new districts but rarely.
Preachers are assigned duties by their district pontifex. If a newly ordained preacher is not needed to head a parish, he may be commissioned as an assistant preacher in a populous parish or, if he shows great promise, ordained as a confessor.
Confessors are priests errant who travel freely within a district (or, if appointed by the cardinal himself, across all of Nova), doing the God-Emperor’s work, absolving the faithful of their sins through penance, and generally extending the reach of the Ecclesiarchy to all corners of Nova. A confessor’s commission is often used as a reward for clergy who merit recognition when the Ecclesiarchical hierarchy does not admit of more parish preachers or pontifices.
Dress and Styles
Priests are entitled to use their rank as a style (e.g., Preacher Vandar Olire can use “preacher” as a title). Priests are addressed by their title and last name, except for preachers, who are addressed by title and first name to emphasize their closer connection to their parishioners (e.g., Preacher Vandar would be addressed as “Preacher Vandar,” but if he were promoted to pontifex, he would be addressed as “Pontifex Olire”).
Priests’ dress is distinctive from ordinary Novan costume. Priests wear their hair tonsured or completely shaved, which instantly identifies them to the populace (wearing a tonsure is tantamount to proclaiming oneself a priest). Though priests are permitted to wear normal clothing, most choose to replace their gardcotes with ankle-length habits. Informal habits, suitable for work or travel, have long, loose sleeves and are open at the front but tie at the throat, chest, and waist to completely cover the wearer from throat to ankle. They include voluminous hoods which can be draped to shade the face from the hot sun, though many priests prefer to let their hoods hang loose and wear a hat instead. Habits are either gray or brown, so as to avoid giving the appearance of House favoritism, though the decoration of informal habits may be of any color.
When celebrating services, priests wear formal vestments. Celebratory vestments are described at length in The Book of Thor, one of the Ecclesiarchy’s holiest scriptures. These are as expensive as a parish can afford (many priests are gifted a set of vestments by the parish they apprenticed in), as a vested priest is supposed to be a representation of the God-Emperor Himself. Vestments begin with soft shoes of yellow or cloth-of-gold, either embroidered with a winged motif or with actual miniature wings. The legs are clad in normal hose. The shirt is replaced by a long tunic, woven as a single piece of fabric. The tunic is covered by a formal habit, which resembles the informal habit but is cut to be more open in the front and thus display the tunic. A long belt known as a cincture is worn at the waist over both tunic and habit, tied in a formal knot with ends that hang low. The left end of a cincture (as viewed when facing the priest) is tasseled; the other is tasseled and ritually charred short. A stole is worn around the neck. Priests of confessor rank and above also wear a mitre, while pontifices add a hemispherical cape known as a cope.
Except for the shoes, neither the exact color nor pattern of decoration for vestments is specified. However, the vestments must be white and yellow or gold with the exception of the stole, which may be of a House color to reflect the location of services. Cloth-of-gold is acceptable, and indeed preferred, but silver is not – the Ecclesiarchy’s colors are white and gold, not solen and argen. Vestments’ fabric are not prescribed either except that The Book of Thor specifies that they are not to be leathern. Priestly vestments are one area of clothing where Novans are not averse to rich, dense decoration. In richer parishes it is not uncommon to see stoles and copes covered in intricate embroidery, cloth-of-gold habits, cinctures of gold chain, or priests dripping with necklaces and rings.
In addition to their distinctive dress and hairstyles, priests have two distinctive pieces of equipment. The first is the thurible, a censer swung on a chain. Thuribles are used to burn incense (or, if necessary, any fragrant wood) in services and blessings. Priests often hang thuribles from their belts or cinctures. Thuribles may be made of simple iron, though silver and gold is preferred.
A priest’s second distinctive piece of equipment is a ceremonial mace. Not to be confused with the weapon of the same name (though some priests’ maces can be used as a weapon), a priest’s mace is a symbol of the Emperor’s authority. It comprises a metal ball (the more ornate the better) atop a staff. Mace staves may be up to eight or nine feet tall, though most are a more practical three to four feet tall. Maces are sometimes used as walking sticks if a priest is carrying one as a badge of office, but when traveling most priests use a true walking staff so as not to cheapen the holy object.
Many priests wear a rosarius with their formal vestments. A rosarius is an amulet, shaped like a double-headed eagle with spread wings, worn as a necklace. The left-facing eagle (when facing the priest) is blindfolded. The double-headed eagle, known as the aquila, is a religious icon of the concept of Imperium rather than the Ecclesiarchy per se, for which reason the aquila is not formally part of a priest’s vestments. However, it is worn often enough that most Novans think of it as part of a priest’s formal garb.
Novans are fond of pageantry and fiery sermons, so many priests adopt a dramatic rhetorical style. Part of this style is the use of props during sermons. One of the most popular props are pieces of writing, be they impressive leather-bound copies of The Book of Thor or simpler rolls of parchment. Few Novans can read, but having writings on hand lends added weight to a priest’s words.
The Thorian Law
An important factor in the Ecclesiarchy’s strictly limited temporal power is the Thorian Law. Sebstian Thor, greatest of the saints, decreed in ages past that the Ecclesiarchy should maintain no men under arms, and the Ecclesiarchy has held fast to this principle ever since. The Ecclesiarchy does ordain knights, and when the faith is threatened priests are sometimes authorized to raise a temporary “frateris militia” of faithful men and women, but the Ecclesiarchy has neither standing forces nor feudal vassals to call.
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