All work together
"Half the Empire are heretics and blasphemers." Rosemary was emphatic. "Reincarnating as trees and rats? Treating unvirtuous acts as a commodity you can pass to a priest? Magic bird spirits coming to carry your soul to the labyrinth? Venerating so-called heroes? Virtuous ancestors? Hungry spiritual geography waiting to swallow you up? Dolphins? The broken wheel?"
"I suppose that's fair but is it really heresy or blasphemy to cling to old folk belief....""Yes." Rosemary put her cup down firmly on the table. "Yes it is. I can go through them all if you like. Let's start with 'only human spirits reincarnate' and whether a human spirit is still a human spirit when it's an apple tree..."
Nina of Cantiarch’s Hold and a group of Academy children (and chaperones) will take 25 liao to preach Virtue throughout the Empire, and inspire The Empire to better follow The Way.Statement of Principle, Summer 381YE, Nina of Cantiarch's Hold, General Assembly, Upheld 1206-28
During the Summer Solstice 381YE, Nina of Cantiarch's Hold raised this judgement to the General Assembly of the Imperial Synod, and it passed with a greater majority. Due to the peculiar wording which implies a mandate, it took some time before the civil service were able to determine what to do about it. (A mandate cannot be created ad hoc in this way, the Synod may only pass mandates in response to opportunities to do so identified by the civil service as it is a requirement that everyone knows that the mandate will actually do). Since it cannot be a mandate, the civil service treated the judgement as a statement of principle and, due to its greater majority, ensured it was communicated to every priest of the Way in the Empire.
This judgement came at an interesting time; the Yaelian Schism was coming to its dramatic conclusion. The Highborn were rejecting the philosophy of foundationalism, and the implications of the change of doctrine relating to the Imperial Orcs were beginning to sink it. After a period of turmoil and conflict, an opportunity to bring everyone together in their understanding of the Way looks like a welcome respite.
There is very little evidence to support Freeborn or Marcher beliefs about reincarnation as animals. There is no evidence to prove it isn't true either, but there are two relevant facts. The first is that any attempt to insight such an animal always gives the same response - not human, not orc, not a creature of the realm, not ghost. The other fact is that in nearly five hundred years of past life visions - nobody has ever had a vision of being a dolphin. Or a tree for that matter.
The acerbic priest Abbot Robin of Upwold argued passionately that this only proves that people don't experience past life visions of their time as a tree, not that they don't reincarnate as one. Robin was a controversial member of the Synod in the early years of the Empire and his claim that the "Labyrinth of Ages" was a metaphor for the time that a soul spent as a tree (and hence barely sapient) was flatly rejected.The only known evidence that supports the idea of reincarnation as dolphins is that these fish seem particularly intelligent, and garbled claims that pods of dolphins have occasionally defended sailors from attack by sharks when their ship has sunk or they have fallen overboard.
Except... not everyone follows the Way in the same manner. Each nation has their own opinions about spirituality and some of them are not supported by doctrine. A solid core of orthodoxy exists in the Way - the priests of Highguard, the League, and Varushka may differ on some points but their beliefs about the virtues and the soul are very much in line with one another.
The Navarr and the Urizen accept virtue, but have their own understanding about how to approach it - but the Great Dance and the Net of the Heavens are philosophies that are not particularly at odds with the Way. The Imperial orcs have likewise found a place in the Way thanks to the recent changes of doctrine.
There have been concerns about Dawn in the past, but the recent statement of principle by Vivianne de Couerdefer that the path to glory lies through true Virtue has gone some way to mollifying these concerns - at least for the moment.
There are three nations however whose commitment to orthodoxy is less clear. The folk of Wintermark place great value on heroism, and practice peculiar funeral rites in which heroes are interred in a swamp to sleep alongside their ancestors. The people of the Brass Coast believe odd things about dolphins and participate in a heretical festival every year in which they turn virtue on its head. And the Marchers... the Marchers believe any number of odd things from the belief that souls can be reborn as appletrees or rats, in passing unvirtuous acts on to others, and in burning people alive to "atone" for bad behaviour.
Of course nobody likes being told that they are doing it wrong - but if orthodoxy is to mean anything then at some point someone must pay the price to separate the wheat from the chaff. Changing views on these matters would take a lifetime or more - but you can't plough a farm in a day as the Marchers say - you have to start somewhere.
However the other place you could start is with the recent influx of foreigners. If you were going to look for the most egregious examples of heresy and blasphemy in the Empire, it would be difficult to argue that you shouldn't start with the Asaveans. Not content with the construction of a great temple to their false idol (some kind of bull deity that they worship), their architect has been repeatedly employed by the Senate to erect several major structures which increasingly feature blatant idolatry. They are not the only ones either - the influx of Faraden traders have caused more than a few to note that their faith appears to have some rather fundamental differences to the Way.
A number of mandates have been submitted to the Tribune's office in response to this Statement of Principle. Whichever mandate is approved by the Synod will enable the named priest to preach to the Empire, provided that 100 liao are provided to help spread the citizens words. Some of the mandates submitted would have additional effects if they are approved by the Synod - these are all presented below.
It is important to note that matters of faith are always complex and are resistant to any attempt to use day magic to forecast them, so any mandate can always have unexpected effects. All the listed effects of these mandates would last for one year; during that time the civil service would attempt to identify additional mandates that could be used to provide further guidance and encouragement to the citizens of the Empire, if any occur (the greater the impact of a mandate, the more likely it is that it will lead to further developments).
The original Statement of Principle was raised by Nina of Cantiarch's Hold and she has indicated that she intends to lead a group of the children from the Academy to spread the following mandate if she can get approval from the Imperial Synod.
The Way unites the people of the Empire, and it is time for us all to come together and reaffirm our commitment to the Virtues and the Doctrines of the Faith. We send (named priest) and 100 doses of liao to remind Imperial citizens of the need to embrace Virtue for the betterment of your soul and therefore the Empire.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
The explicit commitment to the virtues and the Doctrines of the Faith means that this mandate will provide significant encouragement to the congregations of those nations who are devoutly orthodox over those that are less orthodox. if this mandate were endorsed, the least orthodox nations - the Brass Coast, the Marches, and Wintermark would each lose 1 liao and 2 votes in the Synod. Congregations of the most orthodox nations - Varushka, the League, and Highguard - would see an increase in the size of their congregation, gaining 1 liao and 2 votes for the same period. The other nations would not be affected and there would be no other effects of this mandate other than granting the named priest the ability to preach to the Empire.
Bartimaeus of the Shattered Tower in Highguard has proposed a more strident version of this orthodox mandate:
In this time of Darkness, the Empire must be secured from threats within in order to defeat the Barbarians without. Unorthodox beliefs and superstitions are unvirtuous. The Synod sends (named priest) with 100 doses of Liao to encourage citizens to take whatever actions are necessary to seek out and punish such Heresy, Idolatry and Blasphemy.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
The unequivocal wording of this mandate mean that it will be similarly effective in providing support to the congregations of those nations who are devoutly orthodox over those that are less orthodox. Congregations in the Brass Coast, the Marches, and Wintermark would each lose 1 liao and 2 votes in the Synod, while congregations in Varushka, the League, and Highguard would each gain 1 liao and 2 votes for the same period. However it would also have additional effects which are difficult to predict with certainty.
In the Empire, heresy, idolatry and blasphemy are illegal, but the magistrates cannot prosecute any individual until they have been directed to do so by the Synod. Because of the final elements urging citizens to seek out and punish heretics, idolaters and blasphemers, it is likely that some orthodox citizens will respond by taking matters into their own hands and attempt to deal with religious crimes without waiting for further approval by the Synod. At present there are significant populations of foreigners in the Empire, including Asaveans, the Great Forest Orcs and the Faraden who would be directly impacted by this.
Rather than support or oppose orthodoxy, Severin Teyhard von Holberg has submitted a mandate encouraging unity:
We have learned to our bitter cost, the effects of national religious divisions upon the ability of Imperial armies to fight together. At a time when the Empire faces many foes, let us not rush to create another schism. It is the seven Virtues than unite us, not divide us. We send (named priest) with 100 doses of liao to remind Imperial citizens of our common belief in the seven Virtues, at the heart of belief in every Imperial Nation.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
This mandate provides clear instruction to Imperial citizens to put aside their differences and to remember that seven Virtues serve to unite the Empire beneath a common banner. This mandate would not provide support to the faithful of any particular nation - so no congregations would benefit as a result. However the clear endorsement to unity - and the explicit warning about the dangers presented by a schism mean that any attempt to incite people to confront religious differences or spiritual conflicts would be strongly inhibited for the following year.
Brother Orchard of the Marchers has proposed a mandate that embraces hetrodoxy:
The Way unites the people of the Empire, and it is time for us all to come together and reaffirm our commitment to the Way and our Seven Virtues. We must embrace the lessons of the Paragon Kethry, and take Pride in how each nation of this great Empire inspires Virtue among its people. We send (named priest) with 100 doses of liao to remind Imperial citizens that our spiritual traditions are an aid to the pursuit of Virtue, and a valuable guard against new-fangled Heresies and Blasphemous temptations.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
The clear reference to the paragon Kethry, whose tale of Pride emphasises the need for a community to stay true to their own traditions no matter what, mean that this mandate will support the congregations of those nations who are less orthodox over those that are more orthodox. if this mandate were endorsed, the most orthodox nations - Varushka, the League, and Highguard - would see a significant decrease in the size of their congregations losing 1 liao and 2 votes each in the Synod. At the same time, the least orthodox nations - the Marches, the Brass Coast, and Wintermark - would see an increase in the size of their congregation, gaining 1 liao and 2 votes for the same period. The congregations of other nations would not be affected.
Finally, Jorma Steelhail of Wintermark has prepared a mandate encouraging the Empire to persecute all the unvirtuous:
The Way unites the people of the Empire and we must not allow petty differences to cause division in the face of greater threats. It is time to cast out those who the Way calls for us to despise and reaffirm a truly Virtuous Empire. We send (named priest) with 100 doses of liao to unite the Empire and persecute the Unvirtuous and those who denigrate the Way with their vile ways.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
This mandate is similar to the mandate proposed by Bartimaeus, but it goes further in urging all citizens to actively persecute anyone they consider to be unvirtuous. Although each citizen is likely to read this mandate differently, a significant number will view this mandate as an endorsement to maltreat any occupant of the Empire who they feel is insufficiently virtuous. If this mandate were endorsed, all congregations in the Empire would gain 1 liao and 2 votes for the coming year, as people would feel a pressing need not just to attend their local congregation, but to be seen doing so.
Groups like the Asaveans and the Faraden would face active persecution by Imperial citizens, as would any individual deemed insufficiently virtuous. Any group of citizens whose demeanour was judged to be unvirtuous would suffer the same fate as the foreigners in that case.
While several competing mandates were raised, and indeed upheld, by the Imperial Synod, the mandate raised by Severin von Holberg succeeded by the largest margin. Severin has presented an address the Empire, and any attempt to incite people to confront religious differences or spiritual conflicts would be strongly inhibited for the following year.