AFTERWORDS: TENSE BUSINESS
Disposition of the Sermon Texts
DAMIAN here, this Elder Luke, undertaking to report on the anticlimactic business of completing this Book after the death of S. Cornelius, Bishop, Had S. Cornelius made his own wishes known about the inclusion of the sermon texts or no, that would have influenced, but not determined our decisions. The squabbles divert our memories from the the tragic, the ugly, the profound and miraculous of which you have already read. And yes, I must grant it, the uncertain. There is no greatness in the business of this chapter. The disagreements have significance in reflecting diverging views of S. Cornelius role and of Christianity’s future. None of us were at our best during this time, we could be rather ugly ourselves.
With that in mind for the reader fulfilled, being warned that here there is no further story of S. Cornelius himself, and little enough of Helen, but simply the work of final decisions, how difficult that was because serious issues of faith emerged, you may elect to avoid what you already have experienced too much; the business of reality as it floats on the surface of faith and the unknown. There was anhealing element; Tyche returned to sing, In doing that she brought the harmony of wisdom.
Those who have undertaken this Book’s compilation, as biography, history, commemoration, inspiration, and, happily, play and the fanciful, also insult, indiscretion, tactic, aggranizement, polemic or fiction- lies as such most assuredly, are by no means in accord. Death and the shock of it are the ultimate discord for mortals anticipating or witnessing it. . Faith in God, Heaven, at these immediate times are palliative. Faith does not replace mourning, its grief. One must not be surprised if disturbance, the very perturbation in our universe, expresses itself, its resulting anguish and anger, in perturbed relations. Outside of our families, others seem strangers. When we must do business with them, as here, now, in one of the public rooms of S. Cornelius house- that we are here where there can be no putting him our of our minds is worse- we are irritable. That is also useful, for it diverts. There is little grace in it, but for some better moments.
You have read the homily texts if you bothered reading, as you should have, Balthus’ scribes’ small script. The fact of the text’s appearance in this Book is no proof of happy resolution. It is instructive that the disputes among us mirror some of their Assembly audience’s reception, and no doubt, any larger public’s. There are and will remain issues, personalities and forecasts contending, with contests for power, differing attributions and interpretation of the divine, and where fear, distrust, concepts of “ownership’ all played a part. Earlier animosities and affects are exaggerated in stressful times. Lest these ordinay imperfections arising enhanced in this extraordinary situation seem to overweigh the crass, one allows that profound appreciation, for some love, of the man were foundation sentiments. There were two exceptions, one an indifferent churl of a once- deacon you met early on and here will hear again, and myself.
As for the Princess’ Helen’s angel, about whose vivid presence the Elder Joseph testified, we would all have benefited from such direct support from Heaven, but it is true that Helen, understandably most bereft among us, was most in need, Balthus second in that. Yet I have little sympathy for Balthus who counted the Bishop his best friend, as well as patron. Balthus “sensible” life would have benefited greatly from an angel’s affectionate supervision, particularly if the fact of it is that Balthus was the Judas wielding the murdering knife. Baltus nickname, “the Knife” makes him suspect, but unfairly There is also a misspelling perhaps appropriate, “Baalthus”, for Baal, that blood god of the great temple in the Becca Valley in the Lebanon.
About the murder, “martyrdom” as some insist on calling it, given the turbulent forces that has set in motion at the palace here, also likely with the Emperor himself in Rome, and unquestionably in this fractious Assembly, investigation is seems blocked officially, and by ill tempered confusion among us. Accept that we will never know. There is an effort not simply to quiet this affair, but all evidence. memory of this Bishop’s revolutionary role and concepts. But for the actuality of the tombstone and those rendering loving or respectfull tendance there, but for the ever more imaginative tales generated that, unhindered, could make a cult of him, suppression of the evidence of him moves forward.
This Book, impossible to make public under these oppressive circumstances, is intended nevertheless to preserve the record of the life and thoughts of S. Cornelius, the events pertinent to that. What is behind these powerful efforts of eradication. Even Balthus, wise about clandestine Rome, says he has no idea, cannot ferret ot the facts of it. It is unlikely engineering arises not from Hadrian’s political fears, but could originate from his guilt or his personal sorrow. That orders for suppression arise more locally from governing P Marcellus, fearing hisown agenda, or his incompetence is revealed, or fearing Hadrian’s vengeance, is anot to be ruled out. Might other contending Christian Bishops also wish the ideas and memory of this famous, radical man, for his moment towering over these, mostly local, Greeks to be forgotten? I say absolutely, for I am a Greek and know them too well. We are also, all of us aware, that many within this Assembly were hostile, some of whom may have been the hands on the hilt of the slaying knives. Lastly, I by no means rule out Balthus himself, acting as instrument. He still lives in the palace where he serves.
In this enslaving, conspiring, Rome anything ugly is possible, but it is our duty not to ignore latent counter forces of love, thus salvation. I have no hopes for these for Romans, but S. Cornelius was lunatic enough, compassionate enough, to find these, he said, “pillars of Heaven supporting earth”, As for the God-powered emerging latent goodness. I hate the Romans enough to admit I have none to exercise on behalf of them. It is enough that we Greeks nourish, maintain, elaborate the faith, its scriptures, rituals and Greek institutions. An Eastern empire of Christian goodness suffices. Let the barbarians elsewhere devour themselves. Thinking that, Elder and respected though I am, and Christian after my fashion, am I also a kind of Judas who would deny the Latin empire its saving Christianity? I think not, for the West is beyond regeneration, beyond that saving. S.Cornelius did not plan reform, he dreamt of the impossible. Now as admission, I was unable to see Princess Helen’s supporting angel as Elder Joseph did, nor do I see the potential goodness in Rome as S. Cornelius did. Princess Helen, who has been kind to me, while I in turn serve as her physician, tells me my life’s pain has blinded me so that I can no longer see the good.
Now respecting our debate over the inclusion of the sermons in this Book: those disputing, all contributors, were able by and large to abide by an agreement that there would be no competing protestations of intimate feelings. The Roman rule of “gravitas” as dignity, sternness, was to rule remarks. The wit among us, I shall not put a name here, made a pun on the fact that “gravitas” also means “pregnant” and hoped we might soon be delivered of rancor. I doubt the success of these obstetrics. We will see a birth of great Greek minds one day to become what was lost by way of powerful, imperially respected leadership with the death of S. Cornelius. The new bishops will argue more over doctrine and meanings, none will be visionary, but this Eastern Christianity of us will progress to its own Empire. Toward this, I will say that S. Cornelius showed the way, was right when he foresaw Christian emperors.
Let me set out the positions respecting the reproductions of the texts:
I myself dismiss the sermon content as madness from the mouth of the lunatic, however grand his Roman personage, kind his motives, Christian his conceptions. I have voted against inclusion of the texts. Why? This Bishop was both wrong and dangerous. Christians are and will remain hereabouts a small Jewish Syrian Asian sect which at best will appeal to vaporous seekers who believe something can be made out of nothing by the magic of words saying so. More seriouss Christiany will expand northward among us Greeks, just as Paul forsaw on his saving missions to Roman Asia and Greece itself. Take notice: it was a Jew who understood Greeks, the Romans never. We Greeks are not vaporous. We make something out of words. They are tools for greatness, We have the knack of them. We use them, as did Jesus, to make treasures of and for the world.
Hear what the Princess Helen said:
“I am wife, Princess, oracle and favored by the Emperor himself. Legends, whether true or not, credit me with an history that would provide me some wisdom.. S. Cornelius’ sermons are thoughts, morals, great plans of the man. These will fall easier on the ears of his Roman fellows than on many Christian ears,. It was your conduct, character and future he would change. He saw the way to change the world. I have seen the doubt and opposition, the cowardice and selfishness, your anger and lack of vision. For all of your charity, you have made this your selfish religion, as will others to whom it is brought. For a while I allowed my self to believe S. Cornelius’ own hopes for it and for you, even though I myself believe none of it. Events have proven you are unworthy of your Bishop’s wisdom, courage and sacrifice, nor that of your own Christ God. My husband was assassinated in your own Lord’s House by some of you. I renounce vengeance as S. Cornelius would have wished. I don’t renounce my memory. As for the texts t , if further transcribed, distributed, they will only further false hopes and strife, be monuments to disappointment. You are unworthy of them. I order the texts, another Pandora’s box, be destroyed.
As for our major compiler, grateful to Balthus for his work as I am, I demand his obedience in this matter. The problem is that I can trust that man neither as close nor as far as I can throw the Minotaur.
As for that same Balthus I, this old Damian, was near when Balthus was complaining to Joseph, that senior Elder whom I grant is an holy man, even if I can’t define it. Balthus was saying,
“ I had been unsure how the iron woman, that Helen would decide. Now she has, and with no understanding at all. The sermon texts are essential to appreciating S. Cornelius. They are the culmination of his thoughts, his journey. They speak the vision of him. . I edited them. These words are mighty ones befitting a great Roman. He understood the uses of Christianity, its potential. That I value it little is no matter. I valued the man. As for that imperious Harpy, her history is indeed of a woman of many parts. I choose to believe the legend that she was the Whore of Tyre tells us she has put some of those parts to use on many a bed. Recall that raucous tent meeting, Helen the gilded Sophia pretending godhead. Simon Magus of the golden tongue was handsome, a womanizer. As to lengths she may have gone to with Simon, well, the Gnostic play of it called her the female half of him as Simon played the god. Neither are hermaphrodic, that a sacred condition in some sects. Nothing sacred here, I say, so, after that tent play, more play.
This Helen of Anywhere will not rule me. I know S. Cornelius’ mind better than anyone. So he made love to her, so what, that dance of the quivering of the sheets, The Mule and I talked together of the serious things. We were close and consequential. I bet she only fussed about which wine they would serve. Damn her! The texts will be included.
I heard Old Joseph respond, “Balthus, you are a brilliant man and shrewd, yet I fear a bit confused for all your thinking As far as the Princess, you react to the masks of her, and don’t sense her poignancy. She is in terrible grief and pain. that iron spine you think is there, well, that is held straight only by one angel’s hair extending down from Heaven to hold her up. She has an angel, be sure of that. But remove her angel, its support, she would collapse. Pity her, Balthus, and be kind”
Balthus muttered, “Nonsense.”
Joseph looked long at him, sadly but I could tell his eyes cast a spell, deep it was and not angry, and I understood some of how it was that he was an holy man. I can define it better now, as what he knows of other worlds and their intertwining with men, and the god-source from which he has learned it, and then delivers it in quiet ways to us. “Balthus, hear me,” this Joseph said softly, and Balthus was riveted by the words, the look, and yes, since I have seen the same around Asclepius, my god and teacher, the aura.
Old Joseph said, “God allows me to hear the voice in Helen’s mind speaking. It is a weeping voice, a woman lonely now, and quite afraid, and bereft because, until that reassuring deliverance arrives, her sorrows are profound. This woman like none we will ever meet again, carries an history of sorrows within her, and sacrifice. In order to love S Cornelius she became entirely mortal. To experience his love she gave up the quasi immortal of her, the god-possessed. She became a woman because it is only as a woman she could experience the human, their real flesh and love in human union, in marriage.. So, Balthus, child of the northern winds and seas, know that one day she will be reassured, be strong again. In the meantime, you wrong her not to remember, rejoice in her forgiveness of you- for what thoughts or deeds I do not want to know- in the garden, in the garden where scenes and miracles occurred, where it is given to me to know that our Bishop did rise to Heaven in God’s own tribute and favor. She was your solace then, for which you were exceeding glad. She too, as she was given to foresee, will rise to join him, as she promised you, you might as well. I add that we are all aware of the conditions for that. Be f mindful, be grateful, be changed and be obedient.
Balthus was silent. I could tell he was torn and troubled, his own parts clashing, that he knew not what it was he was to be and believe.
Old Joseph then said, “ I will give you a word glimpse to aid your confirmation of these things.
I have told you about that angel leaning over in Heaven so that her one shimmering, miraculous red- blonde hair is extended to earth below. By that is Helen secured, supported by Heaven’s own a clear. message clear. I have seen that angel, and I have seen that glistening line, and when I am in the Lord’s House in prayer, which I am most of these hours, that angel is there, before my eyes. I am allowed to know the will of Heaven. I am also shown their cemetery stone, its imprinted footsteps, their direction. I see the future women there giving tendance, woman in black, immortal and mortal. I am given to see these things wherein is revealed the further will of Heaven.
And now, once Centurion over Auxiliaries, I give you the power to believe me, to envision my vision. I offer you the healing power of trust, Balthus, of trust upon which all else good in this world and the next depends. It is a mighty gift, a pillar, whether one be Christian or not.
Balthus, this Swabian of the tree demons and shouting sky gods, could not abandon the ship of himself over which he had so long been captain, but he was not entirely insensitive He replied s “Yes, Old Joseph, I acknowlege my debt to her, the blessing of it. But here, respecting the texts of her husband, she is entirely wrong. Those texts, remembered, renewed, disseminated are fuel for the fires of the beacons of hope and change. They fuel the fires of resolve and courage that will reform Rome, just as. S. Cornelius planned” Balthus’ mixed-muscle, a contradictory, expression hovered between the sly, the triumphant, and the kindly. He said, “Old Joseph, you already know what I know. That hose texts are the power to change!.
Now I add my caveat of logic for your doctrine which is inconsistent. You speak of Heaven, its will, and its love for Helen and, you say demonstrated in the garden miracle, S. Cornelius. You see Helen, as she does herself, you say, rising undelayed to eternal life with her, I say “our”, Mule. But Helen is no Christian, and by your own Bible, whatever the nonsense of it, Heaven is for Christians, and only some of them at that.”
Old Joseph smiled, ”Ah Balthus, however much you ponder the gods and religion, and I know you do, whatever your intelligent skepticism, you have missed it all. Heaven is for all of us deserving, it is only that Jesus let us see, gave us confidence in the path, gave the course of it to any who are deserving. God, you see, has embracing arms. We are all his Kingdom, all mankind potentially there. You will understand that it is up to you whether you walk the path shown you, for it does require a tender kind of righteousness, a strange resumption of innocence. And at least a bit of awe and gratitude. Their visions have opened the path for you, but still, like the footprints on their stone, you are in charge of your own feet which must walk it. I say trust us for the truth in that!.” The Elder Joseph may, for that moment, have lost his temper. He turned away from Balthus. There were flowers in the vase on the table which seemed to require close examination..
I, Damian, physician, watching them, also had the gift of some insight. Balthus was staring at the old man, a rude stare which told me he was thinking the Elder Joseph a fool. Balthus was groping for trust, but when one has not been bred to it, it is slippery substance indeed. Again Balthus’ expression contradicted itself, that at least honest in its confusion. He had long ago learned the government of his tongue He turned to walk away, the direction opposite from where, some distance away- for the rooms in the Cornelii house were exceeding large- Helen, apparently calm, one grants she was exhausted and showed it-was reading her Euripides. Her personal female slave stood obediently by, her look solicitous. Balthus could have learned from the slave.
When only a few feet away, Balthus turned to say to Joseph, I heard him easily, even my old Damian ears did: “I apologize. I thank you foryour reminders. I will never be able to have visions of your kind, nor S. Cornelius, nor, respecting Apollo’s prescience, Helen’s, and so I am isolated. I have only reason as my company and my guide. It is a dull thing, is reason, achromatic, giving no great color to anything. And so, when I have color in my world, it is painted by emotion, as, for example the soiled purple I have stained Helen or doubt which is a misty white which is all I can see of any of the invisible gods. Ambition, which I know too well, is more sound than color, it’s a roaring noise, an always incoming high tiding sea smothering the patient sands. As for trust, it weakens my weaponry hands but, I promise you, I will try to improve its strength in me.
In the meantime, I know trust requires no religion, only character. I retain my logic for my dealings. For all its limiting chiaroscuro, my reason, when it comes to religion, stands like a rock. You know me enough, Elder Joseph, to know my rock, the Petrus of me, is itself stained dark, and pitted by suspicion. My sustaining rock of reason, if chiseled, can probably also be split, as we know minds often are. Still, it is my rock, and I am my own Petrus standing fairly firm on it. I owe you respect, old man, for your world is richer than mine, and I will try to appreciate that aloof and tragic Princess there. I will imagine, conforming to your word gift, her angel and her Heaven as best I can.”
The Elder Luke thanked Balthus for his disclosing, but I knew the old man also had a bit of trouble with that white mist which is the shroud of doubt as he heard those conciliatory words, the Swabian’s soft words. For myself, I could see him clearly enough, for I would not give this schemer the benefit of an hesitant trust necessary for the one side of the two sides making for doubt.
The Elder Joseph now spoke his views. “I agree with you entirely, Balthus, the texts deserve inclusion. I say that even though I found the new Bishop unsound in much doctrine, indeed, disinterested. He was too venturesome in some, but not all opinion, awesomely blessed in what is, sometimes, revelation and thus indeed, blessed by God who allowed his prophecy come among us, Consider: he offered no words of witness, no inspiring reminders of Jesus become God-willed the Christ. Of God he spoke little, of Heaven, nothing. In these things, he bordered, for those who only heard the words, on the irreligious. His are the politics of religion, whatever God –gift he enjoyed inside . He ws far too Roman and aristocratic, the general he reminded us he would be. But that is why Bishop Ignatius, clairvoyant and with later marvelous interventions by God, inspired the man to lead us as the strong bridge to Rome, not rendering coin to Caesar but, instead worldly and spiritual enrichment for everyone. And so, all in all in all I say”, and here the old man lifted his voice to a compelling quiver,
“All of his words must be included, ready here for study by any man literate and aspiring to lead Christians. Our Bishop’s words are the path and its light” Old Joseph, I forgot to mention he was seated this whole time, slammed the carved-wood chair arm with his red- swollen , joint-knotted fist, his face for a moment contorted by lumbago pain, with tears coming to those venerable eyes. Nevertheless, he was able to add threateningly, insofar as an enfeebled antiquarian, can be threat, “ I tell you, any one of you who omits a page of it, that person is an unregenerate barbarian. God brought him to us to cleanse our distractions, do the work of change, these scampering fleas that we are. As for Helen, we know from Illium and Argos and that Sophia charade, that she can be very, very wrong. I give you leave, Balthus, to disobey her.
Balthus turned around, walked closer to Joseph, now his ally in opinion about the texts. I, by no means a disinterested by stander also had things to say. As an Elder, I had the right. And so, joining them, I said,
“Be realists. This S. Cornelius, powerless, not kingly placed as an Alexander or Caesar himself, was this man on becoming Bishop not become also a madman, a lunatic driven by his god, his frustration, his vanity and ambition, a disproportionate value on ethics (we Greeks have grown notoriously casual about these) and a terrible incapacity for evaluating his simultaneous multiple battlefields, the first of which was in this Assembly itself? This general dead on his own chosen battlefield and his campaign hardly begun, where was the genius for battle which once he was? Impressive this man, yes, inspiring almost was his journey to this our newest version of the Eleusinian mysteries now strongly colored Hebrew, still insufficient Plato but that will come.
Shades of Zeus himself who was often not very clever, why should I or any future reader waste time reading his extravagant fantasies which confuse the potentials of this insignificant Assembly with hordes mightier than the Persian Darius, or his son Xerxes? I say there is no possibility that this Christianity, this tiny sect itself already fragmented, can grow to any Western Empire, convert its millions, change lives, fill the empty spirit with structure reigning in the rampant rrational, make Romans decent, give to some the souls of artists not the copyists of our earlier magnificent Greeks that they are now? Hear it! Hear how insane that ambition?. The essence as I see it, we Christians had no need for this Bishop while he very much needed Jesus and us. His Romaniv texts are irrelevant, best destroyed and forgotten. I say of them, no! no! no!
A man like him would have us believing that some day men might fly, and no, they won’t. The fish ate Icarus, no matter his father Daedalus might have flown and lived to tell the tale. Hear Icarus splash and drown before you wager on these Roman’s texts. . Nerve is not the thing these days, practicality is. I am a hands-on physician, a daily slog much of the time, the pay not sure and the smells not good either. I am practical. A madman this Bishop, were his texts available so any dreamer might read them, they become a breeding ground for lunacy and all the troubles that causes. I myself now prophecy to you: this religion is best appreciated by Greeks, for we already knew the One about which “One’ this Roman’s logic was also wrong. I say this religion will be Greek, not Roman, and any form of it Italian I say will be anathema. Our religion I say, and not for barbarians.
I tell you, and us Greeks are no fools, the Bishop Ignatius took a gamble of gigantic proportions in inspiring S. Cornelius conversion, or, if as the story of it goes, God inhabited Ignatius to speak directly to S. Cornelius, the phenomenon of which of course occurs, as in the Asclepions or oracles, but God here was himself gambling for major stakes indeed: emperors, Empires, his religion’s center itself. Some wager! Imagine: Ignatius shows us a gambling god. Imagine him partying in some drinking hall on Olympus, the gang of gods, after all they must all know each other, all playing at marble shots,, backgammon, “Robbers” , knuckle bone throws, die thrown, by which fate shows itself, yes, fate, and so oh my, so much for gods determining things!. A rhetor was this Bishop, so beware. Truths? From a Roman? The two exist in separate realms,
Understand how I suspect any Roman descended from a murderous bunch-you will remember those Cornelius family portraits Balthus presented- for example, that long ago Cornelia grandmother who, with her son-in-law, Scipio, conspired in the murder of her own reforming son, Gracchus There’s a real Roman root for you feeding this Christian tree.. This warrior bird nesting in it, recently levitating to Bishop, needing his flock fly on the breeze of his dreams. . And so? He set about recruiting fools like himself. Balthus there, you must color him ruby red, bloody fools. Yes, rhetoric can be fervent; fire or visions or revelations, or dangerous nonsense. You, stay sane, and tell me which we have here!”
I Damian, the Elder Luke, had gotten more wound up that was good for me, my heart was beating rapidly and irregularly. An Elder, Greek, and vulnerably dependant, I must be more politic. I looked at Balthus, quite unperturbed, whereas poor Joseph, it is hard to be the holy calm required when one is shocked, especially by another Elder. We do live in separate rooms in this mansion. As for Balthus, we all know him too well,. Of course he will write lengthily, the usual “I Balthus” posturing. A noise of a man he can be, but complex, oh yes, complex, so much so his motives and affections escape me.
I suspect he is lunatic too, but ambitious in it, believing S. Cornelius, his warrior patron can pull it off, be Emperor over a Mare Nostrum and more Christian Empire. That loyal Balthus who stayed by his side? Rewards!; Made Consul for life. Jesus was a Cynic counseling a simple life. As a man long enslaved I can tell you all about that life. It must be that Jesus exaggerated the virtue in privation, that he slept on silk sheets, but not overdoing the luxury due him. I laugh thinking about the court of any Cornelius and a Balthus Consul. See how the Bishop has lived in local grandeur. In Rome that indulging team would have outshone, outspent the riches of any court. The Persian Padishaw looking the piker.
Be practical about what his sermons actually produced. No one could miss the hissing and openly rude talk from several little groups seated together in that Great Hall of the Lord’s House, hostile cabals they were. Balthus, you ferret, you told me at the time, not without good sense, their open rudeness signified not simply their bad character but their confidence in making known, by ruckus in a sacred hall, their discontent with the Bishop. The insurgent noise of them is a warning. Let these texts loose, and we will destroy ourselves.”
The Balthus ferret remarked he had been surprised by their openness, such talk within his hearing. “My ears are dangerous weapons.” There was menace in his words. I saw him writing down the names of the insurgents. All quite Roman this.
The Balthus with us now began to tune himself a scholarly lyre, his own speech enough to credit him as some peripatetic philosopher talking for the income of it in an agora. He said,
“Let’s consider all of this in a gentlemanly way, addressing the issue of what these texts contribute to knowing this man’s life. Consider: anyone presenting himself or called by documentation as witness in a biography counts himself important. Biographers and historians are prospectors looking for gold in the sand and pebbles of mountain streams. Even fool’s gold’s nuggets will be weighed and considered for their value in the commerce of books telling of lives, the schemes, scandals, glorious or malignant histories deserved or not. They usually are chronicles showing causes and proposing lessons. In doing this, history and biography constitute one another’s interlocking parts. Even small events in lives of important people are the bricks which, if an historian is a clever bricklayer, will be seen to build an era’s monuments, an Empire’s course or lead to a king’s mistress’ beheading. As for the lives of unimportant people, the vulgar, the mob? It is their mass which constitutes the march of events.. An emperor may be the sharpest noise we hear, but the millions whose hearts beat beyond our ears hearing are the world, Gossip is of the great and notorious, but he world is carried forward, or backward, on ordinary, trudging feet. And so here, we are all big stuff because we are placed to say so. We command the quills and scribes. No wonder each of us being pages in this Book of Cornelius enjoys the fact of it.
Elder Joseph disagreed, “Princess Helen would prefer no cause for such a Book, nor what has been revealed by way of endings. We all know what she thinks of Balthus, fairly and unfairly. She trusts him no farther, and no closer, than she could throw the Minotaurus.”
Balthus, standing next to me, was unperturbed, indeed, amused. I spoke to them both.
Let me, Damian, through my life’s anguish become wise to the ways of Romans, reason with you advocates. My case is the trouble in these texts, limited now to being heard in this Assembly, but published? A mare’s nest, a Medusa’s head, cave canem I say, beware of this dog! You have heard it. You have read it, all shocking stuff. Few in this Assembly are ready for such revolution Charity and prayer are their activities, someone else’s martyrdom their safe- enough sacrifice. Since in their hearts they know he is right, in the abstract and imaginary, on every count-but for the Gnostic propaganda for equality of women. They will hate him the more if the texts circulate. Assemblies elsewhere will be shooting arrows at the Assembly. Our very size, our disciple founders, our prestige, even the richness of this Lord’s House are already reason enough for their jealousy. These texts give them reason for fear. These texts demand Christians do something well beyond their goodness and reach. I told you I vote against the texts because they ask the impossible while bringing on disaster.
Balthus grinned. I had amused him. There was malice in it. He liked Christians even less than I had thought. How then his close tie to the Bishop, his even being allowed in this House, this obvious pagan? That presbyterian title he agreed to wear? :What else had the two of them been plotting?.
Old Joseph was appalled, saying, “So, physician, that is what you think of us, this community over whom you are honored an Elder? Your practicality turns us into cowards? Would deny pagans the Words of salvation, peace? You have no vision for the future of this Faith, the path to that?”
I am practical man, I realized I had over-spoke my piece. Time to scuttle a bit, so I replied, “None of that Holy Joseph, not at all. I ask we be sensible about our, any congregation’s sense of it, not rush them forward beyond their abilities. Time, Holy Joseph, now is not the time. We would have our brothers everywhere admire our Bishop, not fear him. The rest of the Book is admirable testimony. The texts endanger it all.”
The Elder Joseph knew I lied. I have never before been so burned through by another’s eyes. This Joseph has some command of Hell as well as Heaven, His voice was low, not argumentative. He was a man sure of his facts, I was unsure of his, and even some of mine.
The Holy Joseph said, “There is no insanity in these texts, none, only wisdom, courage, vision. These, at this time, are what must drive us as Ignatius, Bishop foresaw. I tell you Luke, coward and uncertain Christian, I tell you my vision comprehends that all the Bishop’s plans will someday come to pass. Time, yes, more than he anticipated, but not your sort of time,you equivocating, procrastinating, temporizing Greek, not the time of bears hibernating, but the time for marching. I tell you this, , you are no good physician at all, for you have no interest in curing this world’s pain. The texts are our generous eyes offering clear vision to people everwhere. I foresee it. It is so.”
I was getting angry. Holy certainty is not enough to win an argument against good sense.
“Alright, I will remind you of bits and pieces of talk I heard after one or another of those sermons. These, considered altogether, are proof the texts divide us. We have quite enough by way of factions now. The texts amplify Balthus’ scribes’ whispers into trumpets. I’ll wager you heard much the same Balthus, and you, Elder Joseph, through those prayer-stuffed ears of yours, you will have heard them too!
As example, we all heard, close up front near the Bishop, loud whispering. Legionnaires, new members, attending since their Roman became our leader. Recall what one said, ‘Not bad at all this Commanders ideas, nor will he ignore that legions like to set their own emperors on the throne, and get their reward for doing so. Here’s S. Cornelius challenge, no matter how much we admire him, until Hadrian dies, the legions are content. We are the foundations of the imperial palace, Praetorian Guards not withstanding. As for the Emperor’s enemies, and this Bishop’s, their course is clear enough, Hadrian’s head becomes a goblet. Imagine them boasting: ‘The former Emperor is in his cups, so to speak’. The scoundrels drink from him to themselves, with their own heads well seated on the neck, rumps on the throne, and glassblowers busy with making their enemies useful’ “
“I trust” replied the other legionnaire, (we heard it, even the Bishop as he paused in his talk, likely heard these warrior companions of his) “that our Commander here is wary, and wears his sharp sword. He and the our Emperor might both be in danger.”
“That’s the assassin’s formula for succession” agreed the one veterans,” but not this Bishop’s, for no Brutus, he is entirely honorable. I cannot see his road ahead”
“Providing it is just his road. Someone even higher might have recruited him for this campaign”
The other legionnaire shrugged, “Anything is possible. I can imagine the Emperor Hadrian himself setting up the masquarade. S. Cornelius is seet as the clever goat leading the conspiring Christian lambs, Jews as well, into the slaughter house. If so, there will be a lot of mutton on the table”
“Lots of mutton” the other agreed. “S. Cornelius still well serving the Emperor himself, leading unsuspecting conspirators right to the abattoir. Yes, it might be. Hadrian and this Commander, the finest cuts of lamb. So tell me, what wine would we like best to go with all that mutton that’ s left for us?”
There in the Lord’s House, while the Bishop was still speaking, they guffawed, did these men of and making the world, these wielders of the Roman all-conquering new weapon, the carbonsteel sword. Their swords would be in this Bishop’s service anytime, providing there was no plot against the Emperor.
Balthus, wise to the ways of soldiers, chose to comment on the Bishop’s anger at John of Revelations. “That denunciation, and I agree with it fully, does him a world of good with Romans, but then he is one of them, as in loyalty I am. But anyone agreeing with the Bishop about Revelations has invited fury from most all Christians, for that John howls for them. Jews too, finding this is one of this religion’s few writings, will, through it, find Christianity the more sympathetic. On this matter then, I agreed with him wholeheartedly, The Bishop cannot be persuasive, although his text is entirely right.
I, this Damian and Elder, spoke to whomever in the group would listen. “We best all appreciate that so-called John truly understood hatred. It is a delicious emotion to cultivate. The Romans cultivated it in me at and after Corinth. I say Christians wallow in such that secret hate out of the slippery side of their souls. I say honest hatred, is good for a Christian. It is a counterweight to the sentimental hypocrisy, the sugar of its icing choking in the throat coughing up ”love, the sticky phlegm of it. “Love” indeed, forgive me Holy Joseph, but a sweet-smiling Christian sickens me with his hypocrisy. Attenuated by the lie of it, the word approaches the meaningless. Find me that sanctimonious Christian stranger, not a Greek of course, telling me he loves me, and I will gut him on the spot”.
The one we call “Young Luke” of Ignatius service, and disservice, had become fatter, sassier, more self-satisfied. This Luke, appointed Presbyter, but hardly with others’ enthusiasm, must speak respecting the texts. He hemmed, hovered and hawed , looking about to learn if there was gain in taking one side or the other. Finding neither profitable, and seeing his own views on Ignatius, and on life, were being included as chapters in the Book, which decidedly pleased him, he argued that every word of the Bishop must be included. The Bishop’s texts, however, he said, would be best as an Appendix to his own, this young Luke’s entries. He yawned his admission he had not read a word of the sermons, indeed had gone to sleep in the great hall while the Bishop was talking. He said he would find sermons in Aramaic to be as interesting—adding he had no Aramaic at all. He did insist, “You make no change in the central placement of my work which was to deliverthat that most important Ignatius letter I took to Balthus here, thence the Quaestor himself. It has all come came about through me”. The younger Luke turned from us and would soon go to sleep on a nearby couch.
I, Damian, threw a poisoning sneer at this Lukasian ecclesiastical catastrophe, made worse by the fact he was culturally illiterate since he had no Greek. This Young Luke had showed me he was of a sort that yet might go far. I was in a snit. I tried not to be as impatient as I am, as intolerant as is my pleasure, as sure as the gift my knowing this time I am right demands. I had to say it:
“Our Bishop Cornelius was not without cunning, so I cannot say certainly whether he metamorphosed into a pious Christian, or was simply, no, complexly, imperially ambitious as others have feared. Those texts allow both interpretations. Ambiguity, if you are communicating to the great unwashed, is extremely dangerous. People choose their own interpretation. There’s enough of Adam’s sin in any congregation, to assure a cadre of the ugly. If you ask me which is the more likely, the Christian of him and so sworn to good will or the two ambitions joined, so the two empires, this and the Other made one, with this consequential, well born, wealthy hero on an imperial march, well, I admit this Greek doesn’t know, but fears. I have told you earlier that the thrust of the texts disturbs me, and allows my medical opinion that our Bishop was insane when he spoke them. Distributed about, they will bring a fearful mess, all pointless, because this Faith of ours has little expansionist potential, bt for some more wordy Greeks from her doom and ridicule?”
Balthus was addressing me. “You are wrong, physician. There is nothing to fear in the texts but one’s own cowardice in wishing to delete them. If you are so suspicious, let the texts aid your detection of the kind of stupid treasonous ambition that seems your worry Read them carefully. Since I helped their preparation, and was best friend, I know there is practical sense in the whole of them. However, Greekling,The Emperor will want to know if your cryptography yields something. Hadrian is a man who appreciates the value of suspicion. Since there is no treason in the texts, try forging something and let me kill you for your labors. The Emperor does value Greeks for their past, so too bad you aren’t young or pretty enough to apply for his dead love, Antoninus’ bending positions. You Greeks, like Syrians, are quite Zotadic.
Elder Joseph walked over to where young Luke snored, and poked him awake. Old Joseph was of a mind we should all be part of the debate. Young Luke startled, was quick to assess the gist of us, He had not been present to hear Helen’s wishes respecting the texts, that order to omit, and seeing my tired old face wore no resolve, he said, oh very Lukasian of him,
“Of course, included somewhere then, his words. A sincere consensus showing our deep respect for an obvious dolt of a Bishop might as well be lied about as anything else.” Young Luke walked away, couch-ward.
Balthus sneered at this imbecile who dared insult the Bishop. Of course Balthus had earlier read Luke’s pleased self report of mischief with Ignatius. Balthus turned to me with what his face told me was a serious comment, “ Luke can play with us here, he is not worth the trouble of my having afterwards to clean my knife of him. Were he to have played so with Cornelius, Bishop, that impudent Luke would have had his (by all means cleaned) intestines roasting on a spit, a great favorite hereabouts, souvlaiki. “
I, Balthus saw the Princess was returning. Upon arrival in our sitting group, a slave quickly brought over a chair for her, She made no query about the conclusion of our discussion, what I and the Christians had now decided, that the texts be included. She said, and oh quite imperiously, the reigning bitch of her, “I remind you, Balthus, No sermons included. I order it so.”
I had not expected Old Joseph to nod, humoring her I suppose. But she does have her way with such as him, I have seen it before. Why? Because she has the taint of goodness to her, albeit condescending. Aye, the taint of goodness, and there’s a stain for you, I daresay, and worse, it’s indelible.
No such stains on this me, this Balthus. My rule: when in Rome do as the Romans do. Do as I have done. Be a good soldier, calculate where the upper rungs on your ladder are, when in the company of superiors, bow and scrape only as much as expected of a German auxiliary centurion. You must get that act exactly right. In private thoughts you may regret your lowly state, incubate hate if it pleases you, and, if you fancy to, play the Romans at their own game. I do and I don’t presume that is what S. Cornelius might have had in mind. I am too familiar with others’ conclusions, and their wishes, those awful wishes.. Be that so but the texts were as they had sounded when I first and then again heard his words; an honest, glorious, saving plan, although the means for its achievement were not clear to me. As for plotting, at this moment, the present mind of me insists that these texts will go in to his Book, the pessimistic Damian, the nay-saying Princess be damned. I say, be damned”
He walked out of the room, cursing.
My Damian note: The texts, as you have seen, are included. Balthus, not further confrontational in having his way, emphasized it was the Elder Joseph’s bidding and Joseph was a holy man. The scribes were instructed to put of the texts in whispers, but for where the Bishop himself had underlined major themes. pt. I accept this text-diminishing as a gesture to soothe those of us opposed to their inclusion here.
I have read this editing and, when not feeling too cantankerous- this old man is too much given to that- even I say he has done a good job. And so, our current rancour will pass. Knowing the human of us, we will too soon find other issues over which to fall out, to becme embittered, perhaps once again, with murderous outcomes. But once again, we are also instructed. We are shown by this Bishop, his Helen, that death is a new beginning, with love expanding there, with life itself our only purgatory, one which we ourselves can aat least somewhat structure as to the pain or joy in it, The worse our lot, , the more the learning and meanings of it. Life is preparation for the Way. It is ironic that multiple, differing interpretations of texts, of what is right Christian practice and promise or the economy, architecture of the Divine. become causes of the strife in our life’s journey. In this matter I side with the Bishop that all but mean-spirited and self-serving differences be treated as products of our individual selves as artists expressing God, reciprocal with God’s art in creating us ..Allowing that, we attend more to that art’s beauty, its diversity of views reflecting our creativity, so we need not exaggerate not suspect dissent.
It is unlikely, for Balthus was no man of faith, that he considered God might, in fact, be listening to these angry words, see even that moment of anger in a holy man. God has heard too much of contests and damnations like this before. What was left for a Lord God to do but shake his head? All of these poor creatures, his own, are we now God’s sorrow, those tears, over us, his now dubious experiment?
I said as much to Joseph still seated close to me, all others gone. Right then and there I told God I regretted my narrowness, spleen, my own embitteredness. I told him I knew how hard it must be for Him, all this human fussing and ingratitude. I had put on my physician’s face of reassurance, I talked slowly as I do for patients, using soft tones. I told Him, “God, all our commitment to love, to be kind, fail from time to time, probably more often than that. But, God, we do love you and, I at least, imagine you can be needy too. You carry great burdens. Do understand that some of us want to help you as well. This business of living is not so easy, we don’t say ‘thanks’ enough, doing it badly is not something we can blame on you. We want to help you help us.”
Old Joseph was horrified. “Elder Luke, you are heretical. God is all-powerful. You can’t talk to Him like that!.
For all our years here eldering, Joseph and I were not so close that he could not have known what I might talk so easily to God, that when I am alone, not busy doctoring, which I do for all in the Assembly. I talk to Him frequently and, from how I feel doing it, I know he responds. It is the same in prayer when one of my patients is on life’s balance, or for myself when I get too depressed. It is ridiculous that He might be offended by having us care; there has been no Zeus or Yahweh side of him thundering by way of disapproval. In fact it is God who has taught us to be caring for others, Doing that especially marks the Christian. The Bishop carried the idea too far, to everyone. Us Greeks know the worthy world is our own tribe, Greeks. -and not all of them!) One can carry this Christian business too far! It’s for us, not them. That was the Roman Bishop’s deadly mistake. I assure you of that.
I said to Joseph, “ Recall the Bishop on the art of it. We are not heretics, but spiritual artists. And for myself I will be God’s friend when I can. A physician knows we all need support, I say God needs us although of course in no way like we need him. I have a physicians’ experience enough, a kind word, a generous thought applied, these are welcome anywhere. Get off your holy horse, Joseph, when you pray, well, put in a good word for how His day is going. Give the One a boost” And I don’t mean all those silly, obsequious, sycophantic, liturgical complements, often self-debasing for the priest and members. I want no liturgical self-flagellating. Pride, Joseph, pride. We share it with God.
As I said this, his look told me Joseph’ thoughts were not entirely holy, if by that is meant only goodness inside and broadcast. He shouting at me, “sinner”, wishing me to hell. Then he managed some calm, , saying, “Damian, be that physician healing himself, now of your unthinkable hubris”
“Joseph”, I replied, “It’s not hubris to be kind or proud of it. Who deserves both more than love’s originator, God in whose image et ceterae we are made. I was enjoying my sophistry, adding honestly, as for “sin’, it is not a Greek notion, which is true measure of things. Be rational, Elder, be rational!
Holy Joseph, went down on his knees right there on the mosaic tile floor, praying, “So, God, you see what we are, unregenerate. You may have given your gift too soon, to the doubting and unready, the heresiarchs, these cheeky ones!. I pray, Lord, we not test you too greatly, for we know from the Hebrews your temper and impatience. Balthus, about whom we are too unkind, was right about the mists of ignorance. The mystical and the holy exist and are profound beyond our understanding; I am thereby become my own mystery. As was our likewise holy Bishop, S. Cornelius, a great man and God-possessed, this crusader whose self sacrifice was Christ-like, as was his message already misunderstood.,
Now our Elder Luke, that physician as was his namesake Disciple, becomes a different a mystery, the fool of him as we heard when he argued against the sermon texts inclusion here, and when he would make Christ’s gift a possession of his tribe, rather than the world. He is a rational Greek, he says, just as Balthus insists he himself is rational. The rational, yes, the great tool for caution, rules, thought, and material understanding. In mathematics it can also be playful. But just now, with Damian, , the instrument of the artful, of argumentby casuists.
Now, I speak seriously and without regard to Damian’s foolery. We suffer the broader curse of Antioch as we have just experienced so cruelly in the taking of our Bishop from us. Neither practical physicians, nor reason itself, are cures for these terrible troubles, the sins this Golden City nurtures, in which it revels. Reason is colored scarlet because of the rivers of blood that pure reason has led us to shed. Reason, this man-made tool, would deny us the holy, Grace, faith of any kind, and the sources ofgoodness which our community is and bestows. Is love rational? I daresay it is not, but is sustains the heart and the soul. It ties us to God Love and Heaven are irrational, the ideas and nature of them, It is the irrationality of its sustaining promise and love which save us. Irrationality embraces ecstacy. It allows us to generatee our understandings of the paradoxical gift of death and the eternal. We are not yet fully deserving, neither in heart or soul, so Lord, forgive us, not because we know not what we do, but because we know what we do.”
Listen: hear my song, for I sing again, this Tyche your Muse, spirit of this golden Antioch,. Your Tyche can also be Fortune, Luck, and unlike those foreign Furies, I am a friend to mankind. Understand, of course, that these are roles, duties, given to me, so there is no guarantee in them but in the minds of Greeks, and less so, Romans. Still, if I am to prerform as what I am said to be, let me give you proof, which is in my music. I also remind you that in this Book I participate as part of the wonder, the magic, the esteemed holy. Pagan yes, but all the holy beautiful and awesome, for that is our experience of it. Look at my statue in the fountain pool near the Forum fand see how beautiful I am.t As for guiding Fortune, even now when I am diminished, ask the four women in black who sat beneath me some time ago. A charitable woman offered food, brought one to a better life. Her friends all followed her to be that The new god and his followers provided.. I am not jealous. I am glad. And so in this Book we have told of wonders, the sublime, the ordinary of course, and also evil, mundane as that is. The flowering of the good does not go unopposed. That is in the nature of things.
Some people cannot hear my song, even though it is sung for them. I hear them say, “Tyche, pagan and long ago, why attend to her? My reply: that was also the Bishop’s charge to respect all that is, or has been holy. Allow for the mysterious, the awesome in its near universality, your marveling excitement in it. Am I unkind if I say that all of this is not simply appreciated within us, a glory we know, but may exist only there, and outside? The nstitutions where people gather to worship support the art of the imaginative and divine. However embracing is the holy, most people adhere to particulars of its expression.That is in their natures. Pondering these argumentative loyalties, as you hear the music of me now, we are aware of interjected sour notes, that even cacaphonic chorus.
At our beginning here, recall my song, I told you of one who had come to Antioch. I was careless, for with the one came two, his Visitor as well. I foresaw S. Cornelius, saw the events of him. Of course I know his Visitor as well, for the holy constitutes a union of gratifying wonders. My warning; that which pleases is not always to be trusted, nor indeed are we. Even so, be glad for what S. Cornellius brought and portended, his Helen too in her wisdom and courage, whether quasi eternal, well, who can say? All of this leaves you with puzzles, as does this world, for these are our condition. Marvelous puzzles and mysteries do we enjoy, ectsacy and distrust simultaneously, and as contrary, certainty which is a gift only as long as one knows who made and gave it.. Never mind You are yourself a precious gift. Bestow it, as Cornelius Bishop did, where ever you can. I close now, ein song and with love, wishing you good fortune
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