much the Church spoke of forgiveness, he was beyond such things.
As the years went on he embraced his rediscovered faith, becoming a scholar of all things biblical. He absorbed religious history with a fervor, his lust for knowledge extending past the traditional books of the Bible into the more esoteric: the Gospels of Thomas and Enoch, of Judas and Peter and James. He explored the other major religions, wrapping his arms around the similarities of faith: Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. Religious texts such as the Koran and the Torah became his nighttime reading, which he devoured as others read Grisham or King.
His studies finally brought him to mysticism, that which is hinted at in many religions—Christianity’s divine intervention, the holy trinity; Judaism’s kabala; Islam’s reverence for angels and demons. He immersed himself in the study of witchcraft and druidism. He was fascinated with what people believed, the foundations of belief and blind faith, with religious adherence and sheer devotion.
And then he went deeper. He explored the writings of Dante and the neopaganists. He read of Aleister Crowley, dubbed the wickedest man in the world, of his beliefs and essays, and, in particular, his search in the early twentieth century for the forgotten places of magic and religion. Venue read of the cult of the Golden Dawn, of necromancy and Theistic Satanists, and devil worship. And he found the things of nightmares and of evil, of witchcraft and beasts. As a man who had committed atrocities in his life, he was rarely shocked, but what he found nearly turned his mind. And the more he read the more fascinated he became.
He finally brought these matters to the attention of his brethren, his family within the Church, and shared the mystical world with Father Oswyn.
Francis Oswyn was old-school: He longed for the age of the Latin Mass, for a time when man feared God as opposed to questioning him. He sat at his desk in the seminary and tilted his head, his gray comb-over falling aside as he listened to Venue’s words with attention and courtesy. He never once interrupted him, never once looked away. And when Venue finished, Oswyn spoke in a low tone, almost a whisper.
“Can you look into the heart of evil without being consumed by it?” Oswyn asked. “Seductive evil can be disguised by the goal of research, in the form of the quest for knowledge, but sometimes there is knowledge that we shouldn’t possess.”
“But we are men of God, the most capable to recognize and combat evil,” Venue protested.
“I wish it were so.” Oswyn nodded. “I have watched our pleas for peace, our prayers for the salvation of man go unanswered. Do they fall upon deaf ears or is evil winning the war for our souls?”
“All the more reason for us to understand it.”
“It has become your exclusive fixation, Father. One that has gathered interest and condemnation from those outside our community; even the Vatican has made inquiries about your research.”
Venue sat there listening to Oswyn’s words, watching his gray eyebrows arch with concern.
“You will discontinue this nonsense, this exploration of darkness, of evil. You have obtained an understanding but your dedication has become an obsession and it is at an end.”
“But … to understand God’s goodness don’t we have to understand evil in its darkest forms?” Venue pleaded.
Oswyn would hear nothing further and directed Venue to discontinue his fruitless research and focus his attention on God’s greatness and mankind’s true need.
For the first time in four years, Venue felt rage. It filled his soul. It was the feeling that had coursed through his body for all of his young life, a feeling that he thought he had abandoned when he entered the Church. But his mind calmed itself. He bowed his head in deference and left the monsignor’s office.
Venue had no intention of discontinuing anything. His fascination grew by leaps and bounds; he had become